She took a wrong turn on her way home from therapy and found the house by accident. Claire Todds stopped the car at the curb and stared at the three-story building. The dilapidated house had obviously not been taken care of, but the “For Rent” sign in the window caught her gaze. She quickly wrote down the phone number listed on the sign and then sat back to stare at the house. A smile broke through her normal austere expression as she gazed at it. As Claire saw herself living there, she finally took note of the surrounding area. The nearest house stood a block away, which ensured utter privacy. A high fence encompassed what looked like a huge back yard from her vantage point. She did frown as she finally noticed all the weeds in the front yard. Claire would definitely have to hire some of the local boys in the neighborhood to help out. She suddenly laughed, already feeling as if the place were hers.
Her mood lifted greatly, Claire pulled away from the house and made her way home. She normally had nothing to be happy about on her way home from the painful ordeal of therapy. Her hips and legs would scream in agony for at least two days afterwards, but she knew it was important. If her parents hadn’t made her go to the necessary sessions every week, she might never have regained her ability to walk. She sighed as she remembered the accident.
Claire had been crossing the street when a car made an illegal turn and struck her. Many painful surgeries had followed to repair her crushed hips and legs. She had only been sixteen at the time and even a decade later, she still suffered from the accident. She couldn’t even be overly mad at the driver of the car, who had been an old man that claimed he hadn’t seen her. Due to his bad vision, he had only lost his license as punishment for the accident. Though she tried not to remember him being more concerned with his expensive BMW than whether or not he had killed her. She couldn’t remember much about the accident, but she could never forget him glaring down at her where she lay on the street. At least he had full coverage, so all her medical bills had been taken care of. She still wished someone had the sense to take away his license before that fateful day.
She sighed as she shook her head. “No use crying over spilt milk,” Claire muttered to herself as she pulled into the driveway of her parents’ house. She had been able to move away from home for several years, but it took time to work up the nerve. Since the accident, her parents spoiled her and hadn’t wanted her to live on her own. They always feared that she would fall and would be unable to make it to a phone to call for help. Claire would laugh at their silliness. “Nothing’s wrong with my arms, you know?” She would always answer.
Claire now sat with the slip of paper in her hands where she had written the phone number. She would call first and see if she could afford the house before telling her parents about it. With a deep sigh, she pushed open the car door. Grabbing her cane from the passenger side, she used it and the door to get out of the car. Pain shot through her, and she bit her lip to keep from moaning. The front door opened and her mother raced out.
“Honey, do you need help?”
Claire held up her free hand and shook her head. “No, Mom, I’m OK! Just landed wrong.” She finished with a forced smile.
Her mother shook her head and wrung her hands as she watched her daughter limp her way toward her. “You sure, Claire?”
Claire sighed, feeling her joints loosening up a bit. “I’m just a bit tight right now. I’ll feel better in a few hours.” She spoke the truth after all, since some days she didn’t need the cane’s assistance. Pain didn’t always accompany her noticeable limp. After ten years, she had almost gotten used to the dull throb that constantly plagued her.
“Well, I made a cake…chocolate… your favorite. Would you like me to cut you a slice?”
“Sure, Mom. That sounds great!”
While her mom went into the kitchen, Claire walked into her room. She had been upstairs until the accident, but usually tried to avoid stairs. Her therapist made her use the Stair Master, which she absolutely hated.
She walked over to the phone and dialed the number on the slip of paper. A man answered. “Sam here.”
“Oh hi! I’m calling about the house on Elm? Is it still for rent?”
At first she heard nothing but the shuffling sound of paper. “Well, yes it is. Actually it was just listed this morning.”
“This morning?” Claire repeated, clearly shocked that she just happened to run across it the very day it listed. “Well, I’m very curious what the rent is.”
“Eight hundred a month.”
Claire gasped. “For that mansion?”
Sam chuckled on the other end. “Well, I wouldn’t call it a mansion. Might have been back in the day, but…well, you saw it. It hasn’t been taken care of and is a bit of a fixer upper. I’m actually surprised the owners aren’t trying to sell it instead of renting.”
“I’ll take it.” She said quickly.
“Well, how about that. I’ll just need you to come into the office and fill out the paperwork, then Miss…?”
“Oh, Todds…Claire Todds.” Her happiness made it very hard to concentrate on the rest of what he said, but she wrote down the address of his office, made an appointment and then hung up the phone. Her hand still rested on the re-ceiver, when her mother came into her room.
“Did you make a call, dear?” She asked, the slice of cake in her hand.
Claire nodded, the smile slowly fading. Now she had to tell her parents.
All her family and friends came out for the move. They had her packed and transported over as soon as her application went through, and she signed the lease. She had been pleased to learn of the basement, which made a perfect location for her dark room. Photography had always been her passion, and she made a good living from it as well. Some of her photos had even made it into national magazines.
Claire did as much as she could, but for the most part just stayed in one place and unpacked things. Her friends helped clean up the downstairs. No one did much with either of the upstairs floors, since they felt she wouldn’t be spending any time up there. Her parents had been shocked to see the house their daughter had rented. They just couldn’t under-stand why their crippled daughter would want a three-story house. She tried to explain that her therapist had been pushing for her to use stairs more often, as that would work out her legs and hips more. Just going down to the basement would surely help out, though she couldn’t wait to explore the entire house. The pain of her recent therapy session had mostly faded, and the excitement of the move made her feel more than up for the task.
As her parents attacked the lawn, and her best friend put things away in her new bedroom, Claire made her way down to the basement. She cringed the entire way and sighed as she reached the bottom. She smiled to see that someone had already cleared away the cobwebs and left the boxes of her photo gear on the worktable. They had even put up a clothesline that spanned the width of the room. Claire hobbled over to the boxes and opened the first one. As she set things on the table, her gaze went about the room and stopped directly across from her.
“What is that?” She asked herself. Putting the bottle of solution on the table, she walked around it and headed for the far wall. She gasped as she recognized the dumbwaiter. She slid its door open and peered inside the huge compartment, wondering if it even worked anymore. She pushed the button to the right of the miniature elevator and jumped a bit as it began moving up, slamming her palm against the button again to bring it back down. Biting her lip as an idea formed in her mind, she turned and sat on the edge and then slid herself in backwards. Claire bit her lip at the throb in her hips and pulled herself in the rest of the way. Being very curious as to how far up it went, Claire reached over and hit the button, wrapping her arms around her knees as the dumbwaiter began its slow journey upwards.
She counted the doors on her way and held her breath as she passed the first door, wondering if anyone in the house could hear her. It ran remarkably silent for not being used in many years, and Claire giggled like a schoolgirl as she passed another door. She felt a bit surprised when it didn’t stop at the third door, before realizing that the dumbwaiter must go all the way to the attic. She couldn’t believe her luck at being able to get throughout the house without having to endure the pain of using the stairs. Claire silently clapped her hands together in excitement, totally anxious to see what she would find in the attic.
When her little personal elevator stopped, she slid the door open and gazed out into the dark attic. Frowning, she leaned out a bit to look for windows. She slid out of the dumb-waiter and limped her way over to the far wall. Light filtered around the edges of something propped on a few boxes. She focused on the large picture frame and moved it aside. The sudden brightness nearly blinded Claire, who shielded her eyes with her hand, before turning her back to the small round window.
Her gaze scanned the many boxes and articles that cluttered the large attic. As she looked around, she figured that the attic must cover the entire top of the house. She spotted the descending staircase on her right but paid it no mind, knowing that she would be going down the way she had come up. Claire looked from one item to the next: an old rocking horse, jack in the box, dollhouse, dolls, baby carriage, and the list went on and on. There had to be at least fifty boxes, all varying in size.
“Maybe that’s why they’re renting and not selling. They don’t want to clean out this place,” she said aloud with a smile. Claire looked back at the picture frame she had moved out of the way. It now leaned against the boxes beside her, and she reached for it. It had to be at least three feet high and maybe two feet wide. She immediately noticed the antique frame and absently wondered about its worth. As she remembered that nothing in the attic belonged to her, she shook her head at her own thought. Claire held the portrait up in front of her and gasped.
The woman within the frame certainly looked younger than Claire and far prettier. She had only seen the old fashioned hairdo in a few movies, as well as the style of her dark blue dress. Claire finally looked at the woman’s face, and her eyes widened. She looked sort of lost and a bit sad. As she looked into the younger woman’s eyes, she had the deepest desire to touch them. They seemed so real that it looked like a living photograph. That’s what she thought at first, though as Claire held the frame closer to the light, she could clearly see the brush strokes. She reluctantly tore her gaze from those haunted eyes and looked at the bottom of the painting for the artist’s name. She couldn’t decipher the tiny scrawl and shook her head.
“So very beautiful,” she sighed. Not wanting to leave the portrait in a dusty attic, Claire took it with her back to the dumbwaiter. Though she still wanted to explore, she might be missed soon and didn’t want anyone to worry about her. The painting fit nicely in the back of the dumbwaiter, and Claire slid in beside it. The two of them then made their way back down to the basement.
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