Willa Baker pulled into the gravel drive, rolling over the clutches of weeds getting an early spring start on absorbing the stones. Parked next to the house, she fiddled about with the paperwork in no rush to exit the relative safety of her car.
A loud slap on her windshield yanked a strangled squeal from her throat, heart racing she looked up to see a shingle slither down the pane to lean nonchalantly against the hood.
"Fine, you old bitch. I'm coming. Don't know what for...you've chased off at least two dozen prospectives." She ran her fingers through her dark, shoulder length curls before gathering her purse and briefcase. Taking a deep breath, she opened the sedan's door and cautiously stepped out.
When no more shingles fell, she began her customary walk-about of the property. Starting from the drive, she made a circle from her car to the rear, reacquainting herself with house and yard while watching for evidence of vandalism or signs of breaking and entering. As usual, the place looked no different than when she'd first inspected it.
Willa made her way around the other side of the house and down the front lawn to the street. Sighing, she slowly made her way up the uneven pavers, her mind appraising the house for the umpteenth time.
The old Victorian had seen better days. Neighboring homes stood well away, as though the peeling paint might disease their vinyl facades. Though the spring sun still shone brightly on the few boards still boasting their lavender hue, grey held sway and was gaining ground.
Plush green lawns held the wayward weeds and rocky soil at bay either side of the Victorian's lot. A ramshackle shed stood at the edge of an abandoned garden. The only clue of its prior existence was a gnarled rosebush stubbornly clinging to life.
Boarded windows with shutters atilt gave the house an air of isolation. Passers by averted their gaze. Neighbors never mentioned it. Even the children shunned it, not worthy of imaginative adventures.
She stepped onto the porch, mentally running through the list of clients that had come to see the Vic. She turned to the faded red front door, eyebrows raised. "What are you gonna pull today, huh?"
The last young man that had come to see the old place had immediately begun planning renovations before stepping foot inside.
"That cupola will have to go, or be enclosed. The shed will need to be razed. It's a mess. Who paints a door red?" He continued his criticism up the porch. Willa knew this wasn't going to go well when the she had to fight to open the door.
He kept up his running monologue of changes from the front hall, around the kitchen, and all the way up the stairway. Willa could feel the resentment building. She wasn't shocked when they opened the first bedroom door to find the ceiling caved in and plaster falling from the walls.
"You've got to be kidding me! You said the inside was in decent shape!"
"Well, it is an old house, I didn't say it was perfect." Willa answered. She muttered under her breath, "Really, a little overkill, don't you think?"
"What?" She hadn't realized she'd spoken aloud.
"Oh, nothing, just chattering to myself." Though she knew it was pointless to continue, she asked, "Would you like to see the rest of the rooms?"
Willa breathed a sigh of relief, hard telling what other surprises the old Vic had in store if they continued. She followed the young man as he hurriedly made his way back down the stairs and out the front door leaving it wide open.
As he opened his car door, he looked at Willa, "Maybe if the seller drops the price, I'd be interested in the property. But the building is worthless, needs to be burned." As he finished speaking the front door slammed shut. Startled, he gave Willa a suspicious glare, jumped into his car, twisted the key, and sped away.
Willa stood at the end of the walk, her eyes sweeping from the wide porch to the square cupola. As she strode forward, she fished for the keys in her pocket.
"Oh,hell." She reached the porch and tried the door. It was locked, with her briefcase, purse, and keys inside. "Give me a break. You're awfully fussy, you know. Cute trick in that bedroom."
On her walk through the previous day, the interior of the house had been tidy and the rooms as neat as the long years of in-occupancy would allow. As they had been every time she inspected it after a disastrous showing.
Eight interested parties had come to see the house in the last month. Each one had evidently been deemed unworthy by the Vic.
Willa glared at the locked door, "You know, if you don't come down off that high horse of yours, the bank is going to take you down itself. They're already getting antsy."
The door remained solidly closed. Willa turned as she heard a car pull into the driveway behind her own. "Great, last client of the day and I can't even show them your inside. Though that might be for the best."
She pasted an apologetic smile on her face as a young woman exited the car. "Hi, I'm Willa, and you're Tina?"
The woman clutched her purse nervously, her eyes bouncing from the house to Willa, across the yard and back to Willa. Finally, she shyly nodded her head. "Yes, I'm Tina. I came to look at the house?"
Willa thought, "Oh dear, this beast will make a meal of this one." Aloud she said, "That was the plan, but...I managed to lock myself out. I'd be glad to show you outside and the property." Willa waited a moment. "I can get another key tomorrow, if you want to come back then. I am so, so sorry."
"Oh, I see." Tina's head dropped, "Well, um, I guess I can just look around outside."
"All right, but there's not much to see." Willa automatically went into sales mode as she led Tina around the property. "The house has been empty for some time. There will be the need for some repairs, but the price is low enough to allow for that. There are some windows obviously need to be replaced, and the exterior will need painting."
Tina spoke quietly,"Is that color lavender? Is that the original paint?"
"Well, it was the last time someone painted, I expect."
"It's pretty, I wonder what the whole house would look like if it was repainted in that."
Willa raised her brows with hope. "I imagine it would be grand, Tina. And then add a nice contrast to the trim and shutters...it could be gorgeous!"
Tina smiled cautiously at Willa as they walked toward the back yard.
"Is that a garden? And a potting shed? What kind of rose bush is that? Oh my, it has a bloom already!"
Willa jerked her head toward the weedy patch that was once a garden. A perfect red rose peeked out of the overgrown bush, a rose that hadn't been there and hour ago.
"May I look inside the shed?" Tina was already reaching for the door. "Look, lavender paint here too! And look! There's some left on the trim. I think it's green, oh, I like that!"
Willa was enjoying the young woman's enthusiasm, "Just like a lilac, and you're welcome to look inside, just don't expect much."
Tina pulled the shed door open and squealed with delight. "Look at the old gardening tools, and pots! This is perfect! Oh, I wish we could get inside, the house must be awesome!" Her timid nature evaporating with every step.
"I'm really sorry about that," Willa repeated, "I swear I'll get a key tomorrow." Tina barely heard as she trotted up the back porch and peeked through the window of the kitchen door.
As Tina leaned against the door, she twisted the knob unconsciously. "It's open! Can I go in? You must've left it open earlier and forgot. Now I can see the inside and you can get your keys." Tina scooted inside before Willa could answer.
"What're you up to, you old biddy? I've never opened that door." Willa muttered her suspicions as Tina explored the kitchen. The centerpiece of the room was a large work table, a worn Hoosier cabinet stood next to a huge one basin sink. Tina walked the entire room, gushing about it's personality.
From there to the dining room. The ornate oak trim shone as if it has just been polished. The peeling wallpaper didn't even seem faded. Willa smiled at Tina while surreptitiously casting suspicious glances behind and ahead. The Vic had never looked better.
From attic to basement, the old house showed only its best to Willa's client. Tina's originally shy demeanor had disappeared by the time she'd investigated every room, closet, and corner at least three times.
Willa cautioned Tina to think about the time and expense it would take to bring the old Victorian back in shape. "No need to rush. There aren't any other offers. Sleep on it, make sure you really want to invest so much."
Her thoughts were running a different route. "This place must be getting to me, I'm actually trying to discourage the only client to get through the whole place."
It was no matter, her advice went unheard, "Oh no! I'm ready! I love this house, I want this house, and it needs me. I'll have to get started matching paint and wallpaper." Willa tamped the frown that wanted to take over her brow.
An hour later, the offer signed and ready to be delivered, Willa finally convinced Tina to go home.
"But this is home now," Tina whined.
"Not yet. I'll turn this in first thing. Then we'll go from there, dear. There are hoops to jump through." Willa promised she'd call as soon as the everything was properly attended.
After multiple reassurances, the young woman had finally driven away, Willa sat alone in the kitchen. The Vic had been a difficult property and Willa wasn't convinced that the house was through playing games. She'd read resentment and anger regularly as she had led other clients through the Vic. Now, she felt arrogance infuse the space.
"Happy now, you old beast? Find your soul mate?" a loud flapping sound echoed down the stairwell. Willa arched a brow, "Fine. I'll leave. But if you chase her off after your performance today, I won't bring anyone else. I'll leave you to the wrecking ball."
She packed the papers into her briefcase, made sure the house was secured and headed for her car. Five more shingles lay on the hood.