Chapter 2: Brooke Manor

The sunlight, high above the horizon, flashed into the bedroom window and peered down on Chantal awakening her from sleep. She rolled over on her stomach with her head turned towards a clock on her bedside table. She looked at the time. At that moment, there was a knock on her bedroom door.

“Chantal, are you awake?” asked her sister Sierra.

“Yes.”

“Breakfast is ready.”

“OK, I’ll be right down, thanks.”

Chantal got out of bed and brushed her teeth. Dressed in her pajamas and a robe, she stepped into her slippers and walked down stairs to the kitchen.

Sierra used a juicer to make fresh squeezed orange juice.

“Do you need any help?” asked Chantal.

“You may get the glasses out of the cupboard,” said Sierra.

They both sat down at the table to have a hearty breakfast of bacon, pancakes, and scrambled eggs.

“I cooked your scrambled eggs like you like them with cheese and diced tomatoes.”

“Thank you,” said Chantal.

Sierra noticed Chantal’s puffy red eyes as she passed the pancake platter to her.

“You don’t look so good, you look pale. Are you taking your heart medicine?” she asked her with a worried expression on her face.

“Yes,” said Chantal. She resented the pampering, but she understood Sierra’s concern. After all, they only had each other now.

“How was the dinner party for Miles last night?” Sierra asked.

“Miles broke up with me last night,” said Chantal. Tears welled up in her eyes.

“I am sorry,” Sierra said. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Chantal poured syrup on her pancakes. “I think his mom made him do it,” she said.

Sierra picked up a slice of bacon, made a fist, and crumbled the bacon into her scrambled eggs.

“I had an uneasy feeling about Miles’s mother when he invited us to their Christmas party last year. She was not particularly cordial to us. Right away she gave me the impression that you were not good enough for her son.”

“Really, why didn’t you ever tell me this?”

“Because you were smitten with him and I wanted to be wrong about her. Besides, you would not have believed me anyway.”

“I remember the Christmas party like it was yesterday,” said Chantal.

Sierra finished her sentence, “You rang the doorbell, and the butler opened the door and announced our presence. Miles smiled as he walked hurriedly to greet us.”

“He seemed so happy,” said Chantal with a melancholy look on her face.

“Yes, he did. Then his mother walked up behind him, and Miles introduced us to her. She looked right past us as if we were invisible and made a comment about the crooked Christmas wreath on the door,” said Sierra.

“Then, Miles loudly introduced us again,” said Chantal.

Sierra finished Chantal’s sentence again, “Miles literally forced her to look in our direction to say hello and welcome us into their home. It was a most unpleasant experience.”

“Experience is the best teacher,” said Chantal.

“Now do you understand, there is realization in the process and some things are better left unsaid?” asked Sierra.

“Yes, I love you. ” said Chantal.” She walked over and gave her big sister a hug.

“I promise you, I will always be here for you when you need me,” said Sierra affectionately.

They cleaned the kitchen after eating breakfast. Music played on the radio. Then, there was a breaking news story and they both listened attentively.

“Authorities say an investigation is underway following a small explosion earlier this morning in an underground natural gas storage facility at Kwest Oil and Gas, Inc. located in Woodbine, just fifty miles west of the small town of Mystic Woods. There were no serious injuries or deaths reported but the blast caused minor power outages. Officials believe a malfunctioning valve switch may have caused the accident. We will keep you updated as more information becomes available.”

“Miles left today to do an internship with the corporate division of that oil company in California,” said Chantal.

“California? Why so far away?” asked Sierra.

“That’s what I wondered too.”

“Oh, that reminds me, I have some news of my own,” said Sierra.

“What’s that?” asked Chantal.

“Our firm was hired to do restoration work on Brooke Manor. It is located in Mystic Woods, the small town mentioned in the news story about the gas explosion.”

Sierra was an architect and managing partner of an architectural restoration firm that specialized in doing renovations to repair the original stonework and plaster work on the interior and exterior of historical buildings.

“What is Brooke Manor?” asked Chantal.

“It is a privately owned, Gothic styled twenty-room mansion built in 1899, near the turn of the twentieth century. The late owner was the town founder of Mystic Woods and a wealthy philanthropic tobacco magnate. Most of the rooms in the mansion are still intact but areas of the first floor suffered major flood water damage during the Woodbine Hurricane of 1938. A relative of the late owner applied for a grant to have Brooke Manor restored and listed in the Woodbine register of historic places to recognize its importance to the town.”

“When are you leaving?” asked Chantal.

“I am scheduled to leave next weekend to begin my research. I have to develop the architectural plans and estimate requirements for materials, equipment, costs, and construction time for the rest of the team. No worries, Aunt Josie has offered to stay here and look after you while I’m away. I plan on living in the mansion until the report is finished.”

Chantal had a puzzled look on her face. “Is it safe to stay in the mansion? You just said there was major damage on the first floor.”

“Yes, we hired an engineer to do an inspection of the structure.” Sierra took a blueprint from her handbag and unfolded it on the kitchen table. Pointing to the drawing she said, “This area by the foyer and main stairwell was damaged. There is a second set of stairs near the servants’ quarters, here, by the kitchen to get to the second floor. I will live in this part of the mansion where it is safe and sound.”

“Will you come home at all while you are working there?” asked Chantal.

“I had not planned on it. Hey, I have an idea! Why don’t you come with me?”

“Yeah but won’t you be busy? Will I be in the way?”

“Don’t be silly. Sure, I will be working during the day but I will have plenty of time in the evenings. The two of us can get together and explore the town,” said Sierra.

“It sounds like fun. I’m all in,” said Chantal.

“Great, I will make your plane ticket reservations today,” said Sierra smiling. “We will fly into Woodbine and then drive to Mystic Woods. I will have a rental car to use while we’re there.”

They spent the rest of the day cleaning the house and discussing their trip.

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