The Ivy House - By Drea Stein
Phoebe Ryan could feel the real estate agent eyeing her as she surveyed the house. “It has charm,” Sandy Miller said. “Perhaps if you added a fresh coat of paint, cleaned out the backyard…”
“Hmm.” Phoebe just made a noise, wishing the woman would be quiet and let her think. She was still bleary-eyed from the time difference. She had left Los Angeles yesterday morning, landed in New York, hit the lawyer’s office, rented a car, and finally found her way just after dark to the Connecticut shore. She had checked in at the Osprey Arms, the only hotel in town, and after a bland salad and a glass of wine, had curled up on the big four-poster bed and cried herself to sleep.
Now, less than twenty-four hours after she’d left California, she was getting her first view of it. Ivy House was a short walk up from town, at the end of a little lane that jutted off from the main road, commanding a prime piece of property on a bluff overlooking Queensbay Harbor.
Phoebe breathed in deeply. She could smell the fresh tang of salt, see the white caps that flecked the blue-green surface of the water, hear the gulls cawing as they wheeled around the clear sky. It was beautiful, and she could already see herself here, watching the boats come and go, enjoying the sunset while sipping a glass of wine. At least that’s how she had imagined it back in Los Angeles.
But if Queensbay Harbor and town were New England charm personified, Ivy House was not. It was the eyesore, the black sheep in the town’s collective spic-and-span family. It was Victorian in style, seeming taller than it was wide, with a steep slate-covered roof, pointed gables on either side, and a tall, thin square tower topped with the classic widow’s walk. A deep porch wrapped around the front, and a black iron picket fence separated the house from the street.
Paint peeled, the porch sagged, shingles were missing. Weeds choked the front yard, and the iron fence was rusted through. The flagstone path was uneven and while there had once been an extensive garden, now everything was wildly overgrown. The plant that had given the house its name covered one side almost completely, even the windows. Everything about it screamed genteel decay and Phoebe took a moment to ruminate about the prospect of fully renovating the place. It wasn’t as she had imagined it. But then, things seldom were.
Phoebe had only glanced toward the side yard, but she could see stuff. Some old wicker furniture, perhaps a refrigerator, plastic jugs, maybe even a beer keg. It was hard to imagine the late, great Savannah Ryan having anything to do with this place. The thought of her grandmother threatened a fresh onslaught of tears, but Phoebe forced them away.
“The major appliances are all there,” Sandy said and then corrected herself, “I think.”
“Electricity? Water, heat?” Phoebe asked. If she focused on the details, the little things, she could avoid thinking about the big things. She closed her eyes briefly, ready to sense the possibilities. That was her gift, a vivid imagination, a mind that saw things in pictures, one that could turn those pictures into reality. She envisioned the house as Savannah had described it to her, as it had been, when the sun set across the expanse of the harbor and the backyard, with the sloping lawn leading to the sandy bluff.
“You’ll have to have all the utilities switched to your name, but I have the numbers for you to call. Shouldn’t take more than twenty-four hours for it all to come on once you do,” the agent assured her.
Phoebe nodded, ready to walk up and into the house. She put a foot on the first step to the porch, tested it with her weight, and was pleased to find that it was solid. Good bones, she thought. All the house needed was some TLC.
“Here are the keys,” Sandy said, dropping them in Phoebe’s outstretched hand. Phoebe closed her hands over them tightly, afraid perhaps that it wasn’t true, that the house wasn’t hers.
“I did a walk-through after the tenants left and there are some scrapes and scuffs and a hole in the wall. They left it broom clean, though, if you want, I can give you the name of a local cleaning service I use. In my opinion, you’d be better off gutting the place first.”
“Gutting it?” Phoebe tried to keep the horror out of her voice.