Lillypad snored, music to the ear of Eleanor Long. The sturdy, peanut shell colored body was curled on her favorite cushion and her black velvet snout was deliriously buried in silk.
“Are those lights in our drive way, precious one?”
The pug perked up. She knew she was expected to bark but nine P.M. was most definitely past her bedtime. Lillypad dropped her head, closed her eyes and returned to the pleasure of sweet canine visions, perhaps a romp across the lawn with a Border collie.
Eleanor went to the window. The glare of the headlights made her turn away. “Who the hell is this?” she said.
The car made a smooth sound on the gravel, picking up small stones in its thread.
“Expensive tires,” Eleanor said. “Looks like a Jaguar.” She squinted through the lace.
The pug was not in a conversational mood and barely opened one eye.
“What do you think, Lillypad?” Eleanor whispered. “Could it be a thief in a Jaguar?”
The woman that stepped from the sleek, new Jag was beautiful, if not altogether young.
Eleanor was not afraid and opened the door after only two knocks.
“So sorry,” the stranger said as Eleanor took her in from head to toe. “I hope I’m not intruding, but I was told it wasn’t necessary to call.”
Eleanor was confused. “Call about what?” she asked.
The woman smiled, showing her cosmetically perfect teeth. “You’re renting a house? I hear it's secluded.”
“Who told you that?”
“A young man in that cottage behind you.”
“I believe that’s his name. I met him in town and followed him back here. He told me I didn’t need to call, just knock.”
“Oh? Well, do come in.” Eleanor stepped aside and watched as the woman entered.
Lillypad leapt from the cushion and made circles around her feet. The dog's barks were not high pitched; Lillypad often thought she was a Pit bull and acted accordingly, with guttural growls.
“Oh, don’t mind her,” Eleanor said. “She won’t bite.”
The woman was nonplussed and bent down to pet the dog. Lillypad immediately rolled on her back, and without shame, displayed her stomach.
“Oh, she is a flirt.” Eleanor took the woman’s arm and led her into the living room. “Please, sit,” she said.
“I know it’s late in the season to find a rental; I’m sure most of the houses are gone by Memorial Day,” the woman began. “Not even sure how long I’ll need it, but I’ll pay you cash.”
Eleanor sat upright. “My Lord, this is your lucky day. The renovations were just completed, not more than a week ago, as a matter of fact. You know how that goes. Promised me the moon, those damn contractors. Should have been ready by April and here I sit in late May, finally able to rent it. Well, it's my lucky day, too. Must be kismet. I haven’t even listed it yet. You’d never be able to find anything now, not in the Catskills at the very start of the season. The house is absolutely gorgeous, by the way. You couldn’t do better. I think you’ll love it. My decorator knows Oprah.”
Eleanor looked at the woman’s long tan legs. Gold bracelets dangled from her wrists and the diamond studs in her ears were glistening in the dimly lit room.
“Three thousand for the month with a five hundred dollar deposit … for damages.”
The woman reached into her bag and took out a wad of cash. “Here’s sixty five hundred. I may want it for two months, like I said.”
Eleanor sprang to her feet. “I’ll get you a key,” she said. “It's not hard to find. Make two lefts when you pull out my drive. The barn is up that road on your left. You’ll pass two farmhouses and a church. Go a half-mile beyond that and you won't be able to miss it, doesn't look like anything from the outside, but wait till you see the inside. I leave a light on above the door. Beds are made; it's ready to go.”
The woman got to her feet, as well. “I would prefer that you tell anyone who inquires that it's rented.”
“Oh, yes, of course.” Eleanor closed the drawer and returned with the key. “I’ll have to give my nephew a broker’s fee. How nice of him to find you.”
“You’ll cancel any ads in the paper?”
“Oh, I haven't had a chance to list it yet, like I said.”
“I'll love it, I'm sure. You won't need to knock on the door to see how I'm doing.”
Eleanor was taken aback for a moment but quickly collected herself. “Oh, no, I wouldn’t intrude.”
“That’s good,” the woman said with a smile, as if, perhaps, she was joking?
“It’s very private up there, you’ll see. This road is a cul de sac.” Eleanor wanted to be accommodating. "So very private."
“The key?” she said.
“Oh, yes, here you go." Eleanor went back to the drawer. "Well, before you run off, there’s a lease that I wrote up; just a simple one page agreement.”
“Where do I sign?” The woman stood very close to Eleanor as she took a Mount Blanc pen from her purse. Her perfume was intoxicating. Channel. Eleanor was quite sure. The ink from the Mount Blanc was very blue.
Eleanor stared at the signature. “Betsy Smith?” She laughed. “You don’t look like a Betsy Smith.”
“It’s late and I’m tired.”
“Oh, yes, of course. If you need anything….”
The woman cut her off. “I’ll be sure to call, but I wouldn’t count on it. I'm a careful packer.”
And with that, she left. Eleanor watched the lights of the Jaguar fade.
“Now, what to make of that sweet Lilly?” She brought the cash to her lips. "Huh, honey bun, what to make of that?"
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