Chapter 3: I’ve Been Here Before

One week later Chantal was a mixed bag of emotions during the flight to Woodbine. She reminisced about the good times she had with Miles. She missed him and still felt sadness from when he said goodbye to her on his birthday. She hoped she would get over the pain, and they could one day be friends. At the same time, she bubbled with excitement and anticipated her new adventure at Brooke Manor with Sierra, who read quietly in the seat beside her on the plane.

Their flight touched down thirty minutes later. They disembarked from the plane and proceeded to the baggage claim area to get their luggage. While they waited, a tall rugged looking man with salt and pepper hair, about forty, wearing blue jeans and a tweed sports jacket approached them.

“Hello, are you Ms. Sierra Rhys?”

“Yes,” replied Sierra.

“Welcome to Woodbine. I’m Leslie Brent, the engineer inspector for Brooke Manor.”

“Mr. Brent, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Please, call me Sierra.”

“Thanks, you may call me Leslie.”

They both extended their hands for a handshake.

“This is my sister Chantal,” said Sierra.

“Nice to meet you,” he said to Chantal.

“Hello,” said Chantal.

Leslie held a glossy folder with the logo of Sierra’s company, Rhys Architectural Restoration, Inc., on the cover. A photograph of Sierra and her associates slipped out of the folder and fell to the ground. Sierra noticed the picture and smiled at him.

“I wanted to make sure I recognized you,” explained Leslie with a look of embarrassment on his face.

Chantal noticed the chemistry immediately between Leslie and her sister.

“Here let me help you with those,” said Leslie as Chantal and Sierra picked up their luggage from the baggage carousel.

“Thank you,” they both said.

He carried their luggage and walked beside Sierra.

Chantal slowed down her pace deliberately and walked a few steps behind them.

“How was your flight?” said Leslie.

“It was fine. Thanks for offering to lead the way to Mystic Woods.”

“My pleasure, I will escort you to the front door,” he replied.

“Do you mind? I need to stop by the airport’s rental car reservation desk,” said Sierra.

“Not at all,” he said. “I can sit here and wait.”

“Thank you,” said Sierra.

Chantal whispered in Sierra’s ear, “I have to go to the ladies room.” She excused herself.

After Sierra completed the car reservation paperwork, she walked outside with Chantal and Leslie to get the car.

“Ms. Rhys, it’s all yours,” said the rental car agent. He gave Sierra the car keys and walked away.

Sierra unlocked the car doors and trunk, and Leslie placed the luggage in the trunk

Leslie asked, “Do you mind taking me to the airport parking garage to get my car?”

“Of course I will, get in” said Sierra.

“There’s my car over there, it’s the black sedan,” he said moments later.

¨Very nice,¨ gushed Chantal.

He got into his car and Sierra followed him as they drove on the interstate through the town of Woodbine.

An hour later, they approached a guide sign.

Chantal read the words aloud on the sign near the exit, “Welcome to Mystic Woods, population three hundred.”

Sierra followed Leslie as he got off the interstate at the exit ramp. They drove past a small strip mall, to a gas station attached to a farmer’s market with a deli, and parked their cars.

Leslie walked over to Sierra and Chantal, “The Brooke Manor estate is only ten miles away from here,” he said.

“Great. We want to buy a few items from the farmers market,” said Sierra. “We won’t be long.”

Minutes later, they were back on the road. Their cars passed an engraved wooden sign.

“Welcome to Brooke Manor,” said Chantal reading aloud again.

Leslie made a right turn off the main road. They drove up a long winding driveway alongside a white water-lily pond filled with violet colored blue flag iris flowers that stretched for three miles.

“The countryside is so tranquil,” said Chantal.

“The fresh air will be good for you. Did you bring your medicine?” Sierra asked.

“Yes mom,” Chantal said sarcastically and they smiled at each other.

They drove through a tall iron gate and parked their cars in the gravel driveway of the mansion nestled behind two giant sycamore trees. They got out of the car and walked towards the mansion. Leslie carried the heavy luggage and the sisters carried the smaller bags.

They each studied the scenery when they stopped near the nineteenth century neo Gothic styled benches that sat on each side of the pathway to the front door.

“Look at the mosaic of bright colors in the tall stained glass windows,” said Chantal.

“The mansion is a little weather-beaten but the Gothic styled pointed arches and flying buttresses, attached to the exterior walls are well-preserved,” said Sierra.

Sierra turned to Leslie with a puzzled look on her face and asked, “Why did the mayor want to demolish the estate?”

“Because he thought restoration costs would be too overwhelming for the taxpayers,” said an unfamiliar voice behind them.

Startled, Sierra and Chantal jumped and turned around. “Where did you come from?” asked Sierra.

“You gave them a scare. Who are you?” asked Leslie.

The unknown man lifted a tan-colored straw fedora hat from his head. “Forgive me, my name is Devlin Lloyd. I am the late owner’s relative and property manager of the estate.”

“Oh Mr. Lloyd, I’m Sierra Rhys, the restoration specialist. How are you? This is Leslie Brent, the engineer who’s assisting me on the project.”

“Hello sir,” said Leslie extending his hand for a handshake with Devlin.

“I’ve been expecting you,” said Devlin.

“This is my sister Chantal. She will stay here with me until my research for the project is finished.”

“I’m pleased to meet you Mr. Lloyd,” said Chantal, captivated by the aura of the young man’s presence.

Devlin was tall and slim with coal-black hair and light brown eyes. His classically styled clothing seemed dated. He wore a tan-colored double-breasted linen suit with two toned tan and white Oxford shoes.

Devlin looked at Chantal with a charming smile and said, “The pleasure is mine. Shall we go inside?”

“Excuse me, I have an appointment,” said Leslie. “Mr. Lloyd, do you mind please carrying the luggage inside for the ladies?”

“Not at all,” said Devlin and he took the luggage.

“Sierra and Chantal, please call me if either of you need anything,” said Leslie.

“I will, thanks for all your help,” said Sierra.

“You’re welcome, goodbye everyone,” said Leslie and he left.

“Goodbye,” said Chantal.

Devlin opened the tall oak, front double doors to Brooke Manor. Sierra and Chantal followed him inside to the foyer separated by a barrel arch from the stair hall where a crystal chandelier was hanging from the ribbed vaulted ceiling.

“Pardon the musty smell. It is most noticeable on the first floor. The floodwater from a hurricane badly stained the wood flooring and discolored the walls,” said Devlin.

“Oh no, it’s beautiful,” said Sierra.

They stopped for a moment in the huge parlor room decorated with artwork of painted family portraits and exquisite Victorian styled burgundy furniture.

“A housekeeper was hired to come in and clean once a week while you are here to do your research. Her name is Ella,” said Devlin. “She will also cook for you if needed.”

“That was nice of you,” said Sierra.

“I imagined Brooke Manor would be eerie, but on the contrary, it is quite enchanted. I almost get a sense that I’ve been here before.” said Chantal.

“May we put away the groceries?” asked Sierra.

“Yes,” said Devlin.

They went into the kitchen where Sierra and Chantal put their groceries away in the refrigerator and pantry.

As they left the kitchen, Devlin told them, “You must always use the stairwell here behind the kitchen near the old servants’ quarters to get to your rooms on the second floor. The staircase near the foyer is not safe.”

Chantal looked at Sierra whose prior admonition was almost verbatim and they followed him up the stairs to the second floor.

“Sierra, you may use the master bedroom,” said Devlin and he opened the door to a large beautifully furnished bedroom complete with a private bath. “It has a miniature study room for your work.”

He walked across the hall to another room. “Chantal, this room is for you. The windows overlook the garden courtyard and fountain.”

Chantal walked over to the window to have a look. “It’s heavenly and there’s also a gazebo,” she said.

“Sierra, this is the master-key to all of the rooms in the house except the room at the end of the hallway,” he said and he gave the key to her.

“Which room is yours so I will know to knock before entering with the key?” Sierra asked.

“My room is the room at the end of the hallway.”

“Oh I see,” said Sierra.

“Please excuse me while I leave you two alone, to settle in and make yourselves at home,” he said.

“Are you staying here too?” asked Sierra.

“No,” he answered.

“When will we see you again?” asked Chantal.

“Soon,” he said.

“Thank you for everything,” said Chantal.

“Yes, thank you,” said Sierra.

“Goodbye, have a nice evening.” said Devlin. He left the mansion and walked towards the sycamore trees disappearing out of sight.

“Wow, I expected someone much older. Devlin and I only corresponded by snail mail so I had no idea he was so young,” said Sierra. ¨It’s unfathomable to think he coordinated the arrangements to restore the manor without guidance from someone older.”

“He seemed so mature beyond his years, in the way he spoke and his style of clothing but he cannot be much older than me and Miles,” said Chantal. “I think he’s nice.”

“You do have to admit, the way he appeared from out of nowhere was creepy,” said Sierra.

“Perhaps he was there all the time and we were too enthralled with admiring the beauty of the estate to notice him,” said Chantal.

“I suppose you’re right,” said Sierra. “Leslie Brent was easy on the eyes too.”

Chantal chuckled and they went into their rooms to unpack their bags and put everything away.

Sierra slid her finger across the wooden dresser as if she was checking for a hint of dust. Everything is so clean and spotless,” she thought.

Later, Chantal walked into Sierra’s room with a bottle of all-purpose cleanser they bought at the farmer’s market. “Will you need this?” she asked.

“No, the housekeeper did a great job,” said Sierra. She took a notebook computer from her handbag. “Hey, I’ m going to take a look around outside to do a simple assessment of the mansion before it gets dark. Will you be fine if I leave you here alone?”

“Sure,” said Chantal.

“OK,” Sierra said and she went on her way.

Chantal took out her e-book reader to browse through a collection of her favorite books that she downloaded. After a while, she walked downstairs to the foyer and leaned her shapely figure against a partially opened stained glass bay window that overlooked the front entrance of the mansion. She basked in the beautiful scenery below. The flower bed arrangement of daylily perennials triggered her thoughts about Miles. They were the same flowers used to decorate the terrace for his mother’s dinner party to welcome him back home.

She had an epiphany when she thought about the dynamics of Miles’s relationship with his mother and the implications for them as a couple.

“Parentification, that’s it. Miles will never be free to love me or any other woman as long as his mother expects him to be present to meet her emotional needs. Our love is lost forever.” Chantal told herself. She sobbed silently and tears rolled down her cheeks.

She asked herself, “What do I do now?”

As if responding to her, the evening breeze turned into the soft whispers of a distant man’s voice that sounded a lot like Devlin.

“Don’t worry, you’ll be fine,” the consoling voice told her.

“But I feel so confused and alone,” Chantal replied.

“Be still, you will thrive and find solace at Brooke Manor.”

“Do you mean like the blooming flowers coming into their own?” she asked.

“Yes, and you will love again”

Unnoticed, Sierra had returned from outside and saw that Chantal appeared to be having a conversation with someone as she stood looking out of the window.

“We’ll talk another time, I have to go now,” the breeze seemed to whisper.

“Where are you going? When will we talk again?”

“I am going to rest now but we will talk again soon, I promise. Now go and enjoy your time with your sister.”

“Chantal, who were you just talking too?” asked Sierra standing behind her now.

“Who me? No one,” said Chantal. “I was just daydreaming and thinking out loud.¨

“Are you ready for dinner?”

“Yes, I’m famished”

“Ok, let’s eat.

They went into the kitchen.

“Would you like some baked macaroni and cheese and beef stew?” asked Sierra.

“Yes, that sounds good, thanks.”

“This restoration project is going to be interesting,¨ Sierra said as she prepared a plate for Chantal.

¨How so?¨ Asked Chantal.

¨It just is,¨ said Sierra.

¨It’s been a long day but I am so looking forward to tomorrow. I like it here,¨ said Chantal.

They ate their dinner quietly and then retired to their rooms.

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