“H-hey,” Jessica said, her voice shaking with the cold, as she extended her hand out and grasped his to shake it. His hands were warm which she throughly appreciated right now as she was already freezing in the time it took her to walk the short distance from the front door to the driveway. She shivered slightly at a small gust of wind, and without saying anything Jake slipped off his jacket and draped it over her shoulders in one swift motion.
“Th-thanks,” she stuttered again, reaching out to pull the jacket closer around her. “Come on in, it’s a heck of a lot warmer inside.”
They walked into the garage just as she and Michael had done a bit earlier and up the small set of steps to the mud room. She hoped the dogs were still distracted eating dinner as she pushed open the door and stepped inside. She had purposely fed them right as she brought them in to keep them entertained for a bit while they settled down around the house. She kicked off her boots and slipped off his coat and draped it over her arm while Jake pulled his shoes off and re-adjusted his backpack over his shoulder. He went to set them on the ground just as Michael had done earlier, but she stopped him mid motion.
“Don’t leave them here, they’ll be fair game for the dogs. All of Michael’s stuff is upstairs in my room, you can put yours there as well if you want. It’ll be safer there, trust me,” she said as they started to walk out from the mud room into the kitchen. Jessica rounded the corner into the kitchen first, and was greeted by the smallest canine member of their family who jumped up and propped her tiny front legs on Jessica’s thigh. She reached down and scooped the corgi up with one arm and turned to Jake. “This is Sandy, she’s pretty much our baby. She’s the youngest and the smallest of everyone we have.”
“Hey there pretty girl,” Jake crooned at the dog, holding out his hand for her to sniff and decide if she liked him or not. Apparently he seemed to pass Sandy’s approval because she licked his hand and started squirming in Jessica’s arms, which made her laugh a bit.
“Looks like you pass the test for this one,” Jessica said, still laughing. “We’ll see how it goes with the other three, wherever they are.”
They walked down the hallway that lead to the entrance hall, taking the same path she and Michael had taken earlier. Jessica set Sandy down in front of the staircase, who wandered away into the living room while Jessica put her boots back down by the front door before leading Jake upstairs to her room. She could tell Jake was just as distracted as Michael was by the sheer size of the house, and her Aunt Sarah’s strange choice in decor. They made the trek up the stairs and took a right at the top to work their way down to Jessica’s room. Her door was propped open when they reached it, even though she knew she had closed it before she and Michael had gone back down stairs. She wasn’t worried because two of their four dogs were able to open doors on their own, so she figured one of them had let themselves into her room to make themselves comfortable on either her bed or in one of the chairs she had in her room. Sure enough, as she pushed open the door she was greeted by the sight of Roxy the chow sitting up on her bed wagging her tail in excitement. Jessica walked over to the bed and reached out to ruffle the fur on Roxy’s head, who responded with a bark of excitement and standing up.
“Go ahead and put your shoes on the floor somewhere. They won’t touch anything while it’s in here so it’ll be fine.” Roxy jumped off the bed as Jessica turned around to hang Jake’s coat on one of the hooks by her door, and Jake bent down to pet her as she stood in front of him, her entire body wagging with excitement. Roxy was the most excitable of all of the dogs, and usually made sure she was the first one to greet any newcomers to the house. Sandy barked from somewhere downstairs, which sent Roxy running out the door of Jessica’s room and down the stairs to see what was going on down on the first floor.
“I don’t know if you have homework or anything to do, but Michael’s stationed in the library working on his portfolio and I was going to head down there as well to get my own portfolio done. You’re more than welcome to join us down there, there’s more than enough room,” Jessica said.
“I’m actually not in school right now, so I don’t have anything necessarily to do, but I’m sure I can amuse myself somehow,” Jake said with a smile. When he smiled, his whole face lit up and it made Jessica a little weak in the knees. What is going on today? Seriously. I can’t get a break with anything. It had been a very long time since she had felt like she did today, but Jessica refused to believe it was anything except the memory of today already haunting her along with a streak of bad luck.
“I’m sure you can. Our library is enormous, and if that fails you I’m sure we can find some way to annoy Michael,” she said with a small smirk as she tried to shake the fluttering sensation in her stomach. Jake laughed at her suggestion, a deep laugh that if projected the right way could probably shake walls.
“I take it he’s already found a way to get on your nerves? That’s almost a record. You’ve been with him for, what, three hours?” Jake asked, cocking his head to the side.
“Yeah, something like that. I take it this is a normal occurrence, then? I’m not the only one who gets annoyed by the argumentative whining?”
“Not at all. In fact, I’m pretty impressed you let him in the house if he’s already annoying you. Most people would have made him walk home, and locked their doors.” Now it was Jessica’s turn to laugh at Jake’s statement.
“Well, I thought about it for a split second. But I’d rather not see tomorrow’s paper have the front page headline of ‘Scrawny Art Student Found Frozen to Death in Woods’ and have that on my conscience for the rest of my life. I’ve got enough of that, thanks.”
“So you’ve thrown someone out of your car before and let them freeze to death in the woods? That’s impressive. I don’t know many people who can do that and still be living in their own house without a tether,” Jake said, and Jessica laughed again. He’s got a sense of humor. That’s good. Much better than Michael. Maybe today won’t be too bad. Remembering Michael downstairs in the library by himself and the fact that all four dogs were currently unaccounted for and roaming the house somewhere, she figured it was probably a good idea to head downstairs and start working on her portfolio.
“Not quite. I’ve never actually thrown someone out of my car. I’ve threatened too quite a few times, even stopped once. But I don’t let people freeze to death in the woods. I’m not that cruel,” she said. “Alright. I kind of forgot Michael was downstairs by himself. If he’s not already getting licked to death by the dogs, he’s probably wondering where I am with the water I said I was getting. I’m going to grab a hoodie out of the closet and then we’ll head back down, if that’s okay.”
“Do I have an option? I mean, it’s your house. Or your mansion, if we want to get technical about things.”
“Ha ha ha. Good to know the smart ass gene carried through the family,” she said over her shoulder as she walked toward her closet. Like everything else in the house, her closet was over sized and slightly cluttered. She opened the door and disappeared into the rather large walk-in closet which probably could have doubled as another spare bedroom. Jake took a look around her room as he waited for her to emerge again. Her bed was the first thing he had seen when they walked into the room, not that he had actually been looking for it though. It was directly in his line of sight as he stood in the door way, and it carried on the theme of the rest of the house being large and extravagant. It was a King sized mattress (but looked pretty big even for that) perched on a slightly elevated four poster frame, complete with a gauze veil canopy draped across the top. The bedding was quite a bit more modern than the rest of the bed looked, but it seemed to match and fit the fairy tale look that the canopy gave to the bed. The veils draped over the top of the four posts were layers of cream and navy that stretched across all four posts and down to the floor on the shorter sides of the bed. The rest of the bedding was a cream base with a layered geometric pattern of navy and teal squares and a grey border, and Jake noticed that the bed was a bit of a mess. Jessica seemed like the kind of person who would make her bed every morning, so he chalked it up to the fact that the bed had just been recently vacated by the dog. A quick tally of the pillows let Jake realize that if he ever needed to borrow a pillow from anyone for some strange reason, Jessica would be the one to go to. He could see two large body pillows (one grey and one navy), about four throw pillows that matched the comforter, and about seven regular pillows of various sizes (that he could see). Just past the end of the bed was a short, but rather wide, bookshelf that was filled to max capacity with books of every shape and size. He recognized a few just from a glance at the covers, and was happy to see that they shared the same taste in books. The top of the bookshelf housed a variety of odds and ends, including picture frames of various sizes and a few small stuffed animals. The wall shelf about the book case had a few more picture frames and stuffed animals, but also a handful of small trophies. To go along with the trophies, there was a row of award ribbons above the shelf ranging in sizes and colors from the standard yellow, red, and blue to various combinations of yellow, white, green, purple, and pink. He mad a mental note to ask about those later, as he felt weird walking around her room and examining things without her there. Just past the book case was an over sized arm chair that didn’t seem to match the rest of the room at all, but looked well loved. It looked like the original upholstery had been either off white or cream and was covered with small dark pink flowers, and it had faded to a soft cream and light pink flower combination. There was a hard cover book placed over the arm of the chair, which was being used to mark her place in the book instead of a bookmark. The dust jacket had been removed from the book, but combination of the black spine and purple cover was a familiar sight to Jake’s eyes and he knew exactly what it was without even taking a second glance at it. His eyes continued to wander from the chair, across the window clad with navy drapes, and stopped on the desk that was on the wall opposite of the door. There was a large dark mahogany writer’s desk with even more piles of books stacked around its edges, and a black rolling desk chair pushed off to the side in front of it. There was a black cordless phone set on the back right corner, and right in the middle sat a shiny iMac with a matching keyboard and mouse situated in front of it. Jake was a technology nerd, so naturally anything shiny excited him and if it had an Apple logo on it, even better. He was about to break his own rule of not exploring to go investigate Jessica’s iMac when she finally walked back out of the closet with a hoodie hanging over her arm and she had changed into a new pair of jeans as well. She saw Jake staring lovingly at her computer, and it made her smile.
“If you’re done drooling over my iMac, are you ready to head back downstairs?” she asked as she shrugged the hoodie on over her head and pulled it down over the rest of her torso. Jake tore his eyes away from the desk to crack another witty comment at Jessica’s remark.
“Yeah, now that you’ve returned from Narnia, we can go see what Michael’s up to,” he said with his trademark smile, sending a fresh wave of butterflies through Jessica’s body. Okay really. Stop that, Jess. You’re fine, cut out all this emotional stuff. She gave him a weak smile in return, and took a second to collect her thoughts.
“If Narnia was really back there, I would have disappeared into the wardrobe a long time ago,” she shot back, quickly matching his wit. “Come on. I need to figure out what all the dogs are up to as well.”
Jake led the way out of the room and Jessica closed the door behind them for safe keeping, even though two of the dogs could let them selves in if they wanted to. They walked down the hallway and the stairs in silence with Jake still taking in his surroundings. He had a feeling he could spend a few weeks in this house and still not see everything it had to offer. Just like Michael had done earlier, Jake had failed to notice the massive double doors that lead in to the library as they had headed upstairs the first time. He let out a low whistle of approval as he continued to walk down the stairs, and saw a bit more into the library with each step he took. They took a left off of the bottom of the stair case when they hit the main floor again and Jake slowed his pace a bit before they reached the doors to the library. Jessica had made it half way into the library before she realized that Jake was still standing just inside the doors with the same awe struck look that had adorned Michael’s face when he first stepped inside the library as well.
“Come on in, nothing here is going to bite you. Unless you’re afraid of books. Then we might have a problem,” Jessica said, taunting him.
“Hey Jake,” came Michael’s voice from the table closest to the front window. He had found the studio table Jessica had been talking about tucked behind one of the book shelves by the window and had stationed himself in front of the window.
“Hey Michael. Good to see you,” Jake said, raising his arm in greeting in a typical boy fashion. He walked over to the large meeting table next to the studio table Michael had set up and set his bag down on top of it before turning around to take in the sight of the library. Jessica had followed him over to the table and followed his lead, setting her bag and a small stack of work books on the other end of the table that both boys were at.
“Alright sorry Michael, I’m actually going to the kitchen this time. Do you still just want water?” Jessica asked him as she walked around the end of the table and started to make her way toward the doors.
“Yeah, that’s fine, thanks,” he said, looking up from his sketch book for a split second before burying his nose back into his work.
“Okay. Jake, do you want anything?”
“Uh, sure. What all do you have?”
“Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. My aunt was supposed to go grocery shopping on her way home tonight, but obviously that didn’t happen so I don’t really know what all there is other than water.”
“Totally fine. I’ll come with you and see what you have,” Jake said as he followed Jessica to the doors. The pair walked out of the library and walked past the stairs, and turned right down the hallway the had taken earlier to make their way back to the kitchen. Just as with the rest of the house, Jake hadn’t really noticed how big the kitchen was either. He figured he should have expected it considering the size and stature of everything else they had encountered so far, but it still took him by surprise when they hit the end of the hallway and stepped into the glittering mass of chrome and marble.
“Woah,” Jake said, slightly under his breath. The kitchen didn’t quite meet the library’s standards in terms of contents and extravagance, but it was still quite impressive compared to most other kitchens.
“Sorry, what was that?” Jessica asked. She wasn’t sure if she had heard him say something, or if she was just hearing things. Considering the way today had been going, anything was possible.
“Nothing, sorry. Just ...” he didn’t finish his sentence, just kept looking around at everything that was in the kitchen.
“Just what? You can’t just say that and not finish your sentence,” she said, half serious and half joking about wanting him to finish what he was about to say.
“Well, just that if you can compare culinary technology to books, this kitchen could almost rival the library.”
“Oh come on. It’s not that bad, is it?” Jessica asked as she looked around, following his gaze around the kitchen as she walked into the middle of the kitchen and pulled a couple of glasses out of a rack that hung over the square island in the middle of the kitchen. They clinked slightly as she set them down on the white marble counter and reached up to get a third glass, setting it down with another clink next to the other two.
“Well, probably not if I knew anything about cooking and kitchen appliances. But it looks pretty impressive,” he said with a small laugh. Jessica smiled at him, and decided she liked the way he laughed. He didn’t force it, and when he laughed he had dimples that made him look like an adorable five year old. His laugh was also contagious, she noticed, as she gave in to a small giggle as well.
“I really don’t know what half of the stuff in here does, to be honest with you. My Aunt Sarah is the cook in the family, and she always wants the newest and best electronics and appliances. I stick to books and computers, she sticks to food. We’re pretty okay with that agreement,” Jessica explained.
“Wait, how does that even out? She makes all the food and you get to read and be on the computer. Somehow that doesn’t seem quite like an even trade,” Jake said as he crossed his arms over his chest with a playful smirk. It was quite obvious that he was clearly teasing Jessica in hopes of getting an argument out of her, which she immediately caught on to.
“If you knew my aunt you wouldn’t even question that arrangement. I’m an alright cook when I’m left on my own, but she can barely start a car without blowing it up. She is quite possibly the worst person I’ve ever met when it comes to technology. I’m not even joking a little bit when I say she managed to completely fry the hard drive on a brand new iMac within ten minutes of bringing it home, it’s that bad. On top of that she’s always buying books and letting them just pile up everywhere, both new and used, whether it’s off the shelf at Borders, scouring the basement of a used book store, or bidding a ridiculous amount of money on the hand written first copy of the Macbeth script at an auction. And yes, before you ask, she did spend far too much money on it and it’s upstairs in the library if you want to see it,” she said, answering the question Jake was undoubtedly about to ask her seconds later.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. You have an original Macbeth script? As in written by William Shakespeare. As in ...” he trailed off, his words failing him.
“As in original ink and paper from the 1500’s, as in touched by the man that wrote some of the world’s most famous plays. No, I’m not kidding.”
“Not that I’m not impressed with that, because I clearly am, but why on earth would she want that?”
“Because Sarah is a bit ... well ... strange about things like that, I guess. And it’s not like it’s something we’re going to own but never do anything with it, or have it just for the sake of being able to say ‘I own an original Shakespeare script’. I love absolutely everything to do with English, whether it’s writing or reading or whatever else, so it’s basically like a dream come true for me. We don’t actually do much with it because it would probably literally fall apart if we tried to read the whole thing cover to cover, but I’ve looked through a few pages a few times, and Sarah’s going to have a historical document expert look at it soon, and we’re going to get a proper display case for it at some point.”
“That’s ... that’s amazing,” Jake said, still a bit in shock. He wasn’t entirely sure how to take this bit of information, and he was starting to realize just how much money Jessica’s family had at their disposal.
“Yeah. Anyway, let’s see what we have to drink.” She walked across the kitchen to a set of large wooden pantry doors and opened them to reveal rows and rows and rows of stacked boxes of everything from cereal and oatmeal to flour and sugar to cans of soup. There was a dull thud that came from somewhere over head and she glanced up at the ceiling when she heard it.
“Three ... two ... one ... Sandy,” she counted down and said the dog’s name as the little blur of tan and white fur sprinted into the kitchen and skidded to a stop at Jessica’s feet. Seeing the amused look that Jake was giving her, she just smiled and bent down to pet the dog. “I don’t know what you think you’re getting, baby. You just ate dinner. Go find Roxie or Bruno.”
The little tan dog just started up at her with a wistful look in her eyes, still waiting for something. Jake spotted a box of dog treats on the top shelf of the pantry Jessica had just opened and now understood why the dog had come running quickly at the sound of the doors opening.
“No, Sandy.” Jessica repeated to the little dog, who gave a rather uptight huff (or at least the dog equivalent of such a noise) at Jessica before turning around and waddling out of the kitchen down the frequently used hallway they kept using. “She’s such a mooch sometimes. I swear, that dog is more spoiled than Vanessa is.”
“Vanessa? As in Fordson?” Jake asked as Jessica turned to rummage through one of the shelves for any sign of a stray can or bottle of soda.
“The very same,” came Jessica’s muffled voice from inside the pantry. “Sorry, I know she’s apparently dating your brother. I’m not too fond of her, and it’s pretty obvious on her part that the feeling is mutual.”
“No, don’t worry about it. I can’t stand her either,” Jake said with his trademark soft laugh. “She’s way too spoiled for her own good. It drives me insane when people with that kind of money fill the Waldorf stereotype and prove a point like that.”
“Please tell me you didn’t just make a pop culture reference that most guys of any age wouldn’t actually understand.”
“Nah, don’t think too much into it. My ex is absolutely obsessed with that show, and I used to have to watch it with her. I know a hell of a lot more than I would ever like to about the lives of Blair and Serena.”
“Uh huh. Right,” she said mocking him just a bit as she emerged from the bottom shelf of the pantry with a few bottles of soda in her hands. “Well, this is what we have other than water. I’m almost ninety seven percent sure there’s a jug or two of apple juice in the fridge, and that’s the extent of our beverage selection I’m afraid. Sarah was supposed to hit up the grocery store on her way home tonight, but she’s not coming home because of the storm so this is what we have.”
Jake glanced at the bottles of soda she had set down on the center island next to the three glasses she had pulled down earlier. He wasn’t a very big fan of soda, he liked his caffeine in the form of energy drinks and coffee, but if he had a choice he would take either Coke or Dr. Pepper straight out of the plastic bottle. Seeing that none of the options were his preferred choices, he figured it would be safe to just stick with water for now.
“I think I’ll just go with water for now. Sorry. I’m kinda picky about my soda,” he said as he reached for one of the glasses that was upturned on the counter top.
“Hey, no worries so am I. Sarah’s the caffeine freak in the house. I usually stick with water and Rockstar energy drinks. If I have to have soda, it’s either Coke or Dr. Pepper,” she said as she reached across the island for the other two glasses and turned them over as she picked them up. Jake raised an eye brow at her statement; it was as if she had read his mind when she said that. He knew it was entirely possible for someone he just met to have the same taste in beverages, but it was still a strange coincidence. He didn’t say anything about it though, just picked up the glass he was reaching for and followed Jessica around the island in the middle of the room to the sink that was on the other side of the kitchen. “If you want ice, there is a dispenser on the front of the fridge. Be careful, though. It tends to be really temperamental sometimes. Last week we ended up with a miniature ice skating rink in here because of it.”
“Like that old school Tom and Jerry cartoon episode?” He asked as his eyes scanned the room and settled on the dispenser on the front of the bright chrome fridge on the opposite wall.
“Almost exactly like that. It was really weird, but pretty funny when you take into consideration that the dogs had a really hard time walking or doing anything really when they tried to come in here. Especially Sandy, because she hardly ever actually walks; she’s always running everywhere,” Jessica said, laughing to herself at the memory of it.
“That’s awesome. I always wanted to try that, the whole ice skating rink in the house thing. Mom never went for it though. I almost convinced Michael to try it with me once, though.”
“I can’t really see him doing something like that, strangely enough,” she said a bit sarcastically as she lined up her glass underneath the faucet and turned on the stream of cold water.
“Yeah, that’s why it didn’t work too well. I didn’t tell him what we were going to do until we had barricaded the kitchen, and then he told me that it was a dumb idea and he left me to clean up on my own,” Jake said as he handed off one of the glasses to Jessica and took the full one from her and set it on the counter next to him.
“That sounds more like it. You’re the older one out of the two of you though, aren’t you?”
“Believe it or not, yes,” Jake said as he laughed, and Jessica felt the familiar tingling sensation in her stomach. “Most people don’t believe things like that are my idea, but Mr. I’m an Art Student So Therefore I’m Mature and Well Rounded is usually pretty quick to prove them wrong.”
“Wow. I’d almost say that’s a bit harsh, but I’m not entirely thrilled with Michael’s behavior enough to defend him. So I’ll just agree with you.”
“Yeah, well he has that effect on a lot of people,” Jake said as they switched glasses again, and watched as Jessica let it fill to just below the rim before using her free hand to turn the handle on the counter and turn off the flow of water.
“Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that. Would you mind picking up the other two glasses? I’m going to grab a couple bags of chips and bring them with us,” Jessica said as she walked toward the pantry again. She had left the doors open after looking through it for soda earlier, so there was no need to worry about Sandy running in again.
“Yeah, no problem.” He picked up the now full glasses and waited for Jessica to grab the bags of chips. As she reached up to the top shelf her hoodie rose up from the waistband of her jeans as she stretched up to reach the into the pantry, and a small spot of black on the lower part of her back caught Jake’s eye. He caught a short glimpse of what he thought looked like either a tattoo consisting of some kind words or maybe a butterfly, but Jessica grabbed the chips and brought her arm back down before he could see what it was. She turned around to show Jake that had grabbed two bags of chips, one bag was barbeque flavored potato chips and the other bag was unsalted tortilla chips, and to ask him if he wanted anything else.
“Nice choices,” he said, giving a verbal affirmation of his approval before she could ask him about it.
“I thought so. Do you want me to grab some kind of salsa or dip for the tortilla chips?” She asked, nodding toward the fridge.
“Salsa, if you have it. Michael won’t use it but I sure will,” he said with a small smile. She returned his smile, and made her way to the fridge. He was about to offer to open it for her, even though his hands were full just like hers were, but she had somehow used her foot to pop open the door before he could even open his mouth. “That was slightly impressive.”
“I do what I can,” she said with her head in the fridge. She emerged a few seconds later with a large jar of colorful salsa in the same hand as the chips, and stepped back from the fridge. As she used her hip to swing the door shut, she turned back around to Jake and asked “Would you mind closing the pantry? I don’t want the dogs getting in there, I should have closed it after I got the chips.”
“I’m on it,” he said as he worked his way around the island in the middle of the kitchen and used his elbow to close first the door on the right and then the one on the left before following Jessica out of the kitchen.