Cagedon stepped back, looking at the man who practically filled the doorway. It wasn’t often that he ran into someone taller than himself, but the older man had to be well over his own six and a half feet. Dropping his book bag to the porch, Cagedon extended his hand.
“I’m Cagedon McGrath,” he started, pulling his hand back when the man made no effort to extend his own. “I was just, um, looking for a room.”
The man looked Cagedon up and down, barely finishing his initial check over, when a wiry, high-pitched voice sounded from somewhere back in the house.
“I told you someone was coming by,” she said. “Didn’t I, Paul?”
The older man, Paul it seemed, ground his teeth together. “That you did, Ellie.”
“Well, let him in,” Ellie said, coming up behind Paul and sliding under the frame his arm made with the doorway. She was a petite woman, all wrinkled skin covering bone. Her hair was grey and stood out in kinks and curls from all angles of her head. A few strands had been wrapped around neon pink hair curlers. A bright red kimono dressing gown hung so long it dragged on the ground. She extended a white gloved hand to Cagedon, and at the same time, elbowed Paul in the stomach.
“I knew you were coming,” she said. “Back up, Paul. Back, back, back. Now.”
“You don’t know nothin’ about this boy,” Paul said, unmoving.
“He’s fine. I know,” Ellie said, lifting her chin and squaring her shoulders. “I know.”
Paul let out something close to a growl, and stepped to the side, pulling Ellie back with him.
“She knows,” he muttered, before walking off through the house.
Cagedon stepped into a room that resembled something close to a royal dining room – post tornado. The table was covered with mix-matched tablecloths and serving dishes. Candle sticks of every shape and size took up any available space on the sideboards and tables. A chandelier, which was fixed with bulbs of all shades and sizes, hung low enough that Cagedon had to duck under it as he came inside.
Ellie slid her arm through his, and escorted him into her home. She stood behind the chair at the head of the massive table and waited there quietly. Cagedon gripped his backpack in one hand and rested his other on the back of another chair. She didn’t seem inclined to speak, and he had no idea what to say to her, so they stood there in silence for a moment.
“Well,” Ellie finally broke the quiet. “We’ll have to work on this.” She motioned to the chair in front of her. “You are supposed to pull that out for me, you know?”
Cagedon quickly reached out and yanked the chair back, so Ellie could sit down. Once she had, he scooted it in and went to sit next to her.
“Sorry,” he said.
Ellie smiled. “Not a problem, boy. Now, I told you I knew you were coming, didn’t I?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” he started. “But how did you…”
“Doesn’t matter how. Just knew you were and I was right. It’s nice to be right. Makes Paul mad, you know, but it’s worth it. You’ll be needing a room, and I’ve got one all ready for you. I got up early this morning and got it all cleaned up and nice.”
She paused and looked him over, before quickly getting to her feet. “Not sure why we’re sitting down here. I’m sure you want to get some rest. C’mon now. Off to bed.”
Cagedon hadn’t even managed to get out of his chair by the time Ellie was already at the stairs and on her way up. He watched her totter to the side and catch herself on the wall, realizing she was attempting to navigate steep steps, in a kimono that trailed to the floor, and a pair of what looked like stilettos. She would lift the kimono occasionally, and Cagedon got a glimpse of bright yellow shoes and the thin ankles that barely seemed capable of holding her up.
She led him to a room at the end of the upstairs hallway. After a moment or two of fiddling with the door, Cagedon finally stepped forward and shoved it open. The strong scent of flowers struck him full in the face, and he began coughing and sneezing.
“Oh dear,” Ellie mused, waltzing into the room. “I hadn’t thought about you being one of those.”
She went to the window and pushed it open, letting the fresh air sweep through the room. By then, Cagedon’s eyes were watering and he had pulled his t-shirt up over his face, breathing in the soft cotton. Ellie narrowed her eyes at him.
“There are just some things you are going to have to get used to, boy and a clean house is one of them. Paul did it, so I’m sure you can too.”
Cagedon just nodded and pulled the shirt back down. “I’ll only be here a night.”
“Of course you will, dear,” Ellie said, patting his arm as she made her way to the door.
Cagedon turned to look at her, and Ellie smiled. “I’ll be right down the hall. Breakfast at…whenever I get up. Goodnight.”
With that, Ellie shut the door and Cagedon listened to the sound of her heels clicking down the hallway. He shook his head and stared around the room. Fresh flowers sat in vases on the dresser and both nightstands. Candles were lit on the bookshelves, and a jar of potpourri sat wide open on the desk. Even the bed was covered with flowers, some bright pink and yellow rose print. Combining it with the flower and striped wallpaper, and Cagedon’s head began to swim.
He immediately put the lid on the potpourri and blew out the candles. Then, systematically, pulled all the flowers from the vases and chunked them out the open window. It did little to help the smell, and so Cagedon stripped his t-shirt off and tied it around his face like a bandanna. It was going to be a long night.