Ede woke to the smell of breakfast cooking.
“Morning honey,” Coop said to her cheerfully.
Well. This was different.
“G’morning mom.” Ede sat at the table.
“I’ve gotta run to work in a minute, but please eat before you go off and do things with your boy today.”
“He’s not my b –” no, Ede, don’t have that argument. She’s trying.
“Thanks mom,” she said instead. “It looks great!”
Ede managed to hold her tongue while her mom finished her plate, and Coop headed off to work in a good mood for a change.
All other things aside, Coop was a pretty darn good cook. Despite focusing much of her training on becoming a badass secret agent, her domestic skills were top notch. Ede was starting to appreciate that more and more, now that she was having to do stuff herself.
There was just enough time for a shower before Malcolm showed up.
And maybe just a quick bit of primping too.. try one of mom’s many perfumes?
And, thank plum, time for just one more shower to wash that crap off.
While she awaited the arrival of not-her-boy, Ede spent some minutes downstairs trying to coax her brain and body to cooperate with one another. She’d been pretty good about staying cool with Malcolm in public, but there was something about having him here in the house, alone, that kind of awoke her inner bear. She had to control her damn self, this time. No hugs. No leering.
“Hello, Malcolm,” Ede grinned. That’s not leering, right? Confident grinning? ;D
Uh oh, he thought, maintain safe distance.
“How are you feeling this morning, Edelweiss?”
“Really clean,” she proclaimed, “I showered twice!”
An eyebrow went up at that. “Pays to be thorough?”
Malcolm launched right into business. This whole budget management stuff was actually right up his alley. His own finances were impeccable, but he was just a single guy who’d worked for the government — he was pretty excited to get the chance to tinker with something complicated like a sprawling legacy estate that’d been around for generations.
“So I figure we’ll talk a little bit about what you like and what you don’t like, and then we can walk around and you can show me the parts of the house I won’t have seen yet. Sound good?”
“Yeah! I’m stoked.”
“Do you have any strong feelings upfront?”
“I do, kinda, yeah,” Ede said. She’d actually been thinking about this a lot. “The house feels too square, if that makes sense. The ground floor especially is like a series of disconnected boxes separated by walls. You’d think I would like that, but I don’t — I would like it if it were arranged more into distinct spaces you’d want to hang out in, you know? And there are parts of the house, and even pieces of furniture, that nobody ever uses.”
“Here.” Ede handed him a folder. “This shows what our bills are, and there’s a list in there that shows all the weird stuff we have in storage. I’m sure we can get rid of some of that, but I just don’t know what I need to keep and what I don’t.”
“Damn,” he said, seeing the figures. “Wow. Yeah, we can definitely improve this. Is it okay if we start upstairs?”
“You’ve seen the entertainment area,” she said.
“This space seems to get good use,” he nodded, “but what about the rest of this floor?”
Ede nodded. “There isn’t much else up here, but since you haven’t seen it, you might as well.”
“When Easter had the twins and they were all still living with us I sort of claimed this space for a bedroom for myself. Probably doesn’t make any sense,” Ede apologized in advance. “Right outside the party space and stuff.”
Rather than some sultry dungeon with red walls and mounted bondage gear, the living space Edelweiss had made for herself was downright serene. The colors were soothing and subtle. Simple shapes and draping fabric. Lots of natural light.
Malcolm walked over to the dresser. When he saw what was in the fishbowl he cracked a huge grin.
“This guy looks familiar.”
“Oh god, I should have hid that,” she blurted.
Malcolm laughed. “Hid the fish? Why? Better yet, where?”
“Under the bed?” she shrugged. You know, where I’m going to crawl in a minute to die?
Malcolm didn’t press it. She was clearly embarrassed and he didn’t want to discourage her sentimentality. He actually liked this side of her quite a lot.
“You know what I notice about this room?” he asked.
Ede was sure he was about to launch into a list of technical flaws and/or make fun of her for keeping the fish they caught together, but he didn’t.
“It’s on the very furthest corner of the house, most away from everything – including the front door. It’s calming and quiet and it’s got a really nice view of the undeveloped land behind your lot.”
“I didn’t really plan it that way, but I guess you’re right!” Ede laughed. “I really am a loner.”
“It’s perfect for you.” he smiled.
Suddenly Ede felt very exposed. Her sweater was starting to feel itchy at the neck and her palms were getting clammy. Cute boy in my bedroom alert!
“Oh!” Ede remembered, and kind of walk/ran out of there, heading over to the far side of the stairwell. “Trophy room!”
“This is where my grandparents stored their collections. They aren’t quite complete and I don’t even know if we need to keep this stuff. If there were a way to display it that didn’t look like a museum workshop, it might be cool. But, I dunno.. I never go in here.”
They headed back down to the ground floor, and Ede gave a quick peek into the downstairs bedrooms. Just like she’d said, it was a series of rectangular spaces with furniture arranged in mostly the same layout. Bed against one wall, dresser opposite it.
“I see what you mean,” he said. “So, three more bedrooms and a nursery.”
“Yup,” she said. “Just a couple more rooms left.”
She led him to the end of the hallway where the gym was.
“Mom used to spend a lot of time in here.” Ede explained, “I like having access to the equipment but we don’t necessarily need to keep the room like this. And I think that’s like the 4th computer in the house — definitely don’t need 4 of those things.”
Malcolm had been keeping track of all of this, adding and subtracting in his head. “Someone’s been to space, I see,” he said, noticing the alien specimens stored along the far wall.
“Yup, my grandpa Clematis was an Interstellar Smuggler.”
“I suppose that explains the rockets outside, too,” he grinned.
“Yeah,” she smiled, “we probably don’t need two of those, either.”
This was going pretty well. Almost done now, and Ede was feeling really good about the prospect of having some direction as far as what to do with the house itself.
Ede had been saving Dia’s room for last.
“I haven’t been in here since right after dad died,” she warned, in case it was a mess.
She took a deep breath and opened the door so the both of them could go inside.
It was kind of like stepping into a little personal memory pocket. Ede inhaled sharply, surprised at the sudden rush of feelings.
“It’s quiet in here,” Malcolm noticed.
“Yeah.” Ede said. “Good for writing.”
“Kind of dark, too.” Nice one, plumhead, keep pointing out the obvious, he scolded himself.
“I don’t know why he never put more windows in,” she said, barely connecting to the present.
Sensing her unease building, Malcolm reached over and turned on the desk lamp so she wouldn’t have to.
Dia had written a LOT of books. And most of them were right here, in shelves and stacks around the room. Pretty much every milestone in the lives of his family members was documented in the form of some work of fiction. He had written children’s books to commemorate the birth of each of his kids. And there were so many extras – Malcolm figured those must correspond with whatever challenges life had thrown at them along the way. In each book, the person he wrote for was the hero of the tale, and clearly someone he loved very much.
“I didn’t know these existed,” Ede said wistfully. “I mean, we all knew he wrote all the time – I remember him reading some of the Ede books to me when I was a kid – he made me a porcupine in one of them.” She paused, looking sharply at Malcolm, anticipating some kind of remark about that, but he only had caring in his face.
She continued, “he never really talked about what he wrote, though. And I guess I just never thought about it. He was so humble. And.. awkward,” she smiled weakly. “He was a loner like me. And a romantic.”
Malcolm smiled at her warmly. “Rough combo.”
Ede had to sit down. But Malcolm was fascinated by this strange private memorial the man had built to his family. He could pick up a book and thumb through, and soon he was able to recognize the characters as these living, breathing, flawed people he just barely knew. But Dia had somehow captured their true essence — those glowing secret parts that made them special — not capitalized on their quirks or made them into caricatures. It was pretty incredible.
“Wow,” he said, taking it all in. “This is heavy.” He glanced over his shoulder towards Ede, “You okay?”
Ede just kind of squeaked from the bed behind him.
Malcolm went to her. “Do you want to get some air?” he asked.
“Please,” she nodded.
They walked together, outside to a bench across from the house so that Edelweiss could sit down. It was a nice spot, near the water.
“Do you want to be alone?” Malcolm asked gently.
“No.” Her eyes were wet.
He sat down next to her and they stared out at the water. A family of ducks occupying the space paid them no mind. There was a slight breeze swaying the cattails by the shore. It was peaceful here, calm and quiet.
“Will you help me get those where they need to go?” she asked.
“I can write up a list for you, summarizing some of the issues we found and some possible changes that can be made to address them, if that would be helpful,” he offered.
“Please,” she said, leaning into him. “I don’t want to forget anything.”
“Of course.” You keep saying ‘of course,’ meathead, he thought.
Malcolm put a comforting arm around Ede. She let her head dip down so that it was against his chest, feeling the stretch of muscle over bone, concentrating on the soothing thud, thud of his heartbeat, reminding her that she was here, in this body, in this moment. She was flesh and bone. She had a heartbeat too, but hers was faster. Thud, thud, thud. She had lungs to breathe air. Inhale. Exhale. Calm down, Ede. Match his beat. Inhale. Exhale. That’s it. Thud, thud. Thud, thud. Thud, thud. There.
“Malcolm?” she said after a while.
“I think you’re my best friend,” she said.
He rested his chin on her head and held her close. “I kinda like you too, kid.”