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A Merry Little Christmas

Lonely Hearts

Snooping Around

Snooping Around
By Amanda Berendt
Copyright March 2004

    Hope Keating pulled into the driveway at 347 Brunswick Avenue. It was the first time she had been here when Nick wasn't home. He had called her late last night from New York to tell her he would be away for a few days and to ask her if she could stop by the house to feed Angel.
    She got out of the car and crossed the front lawn. Stepping onto the front porch, she unlocked the door with the key Nick had given her. As soon as she closed the door behind her, she saw Angel running down the stairs to greet her. The snow-white cat meowed as she rubbed against Hope's legs.
    Bending down to scratch the cat behind the ears, Hope smiled. "You must be hungry, huh? Your dad almost forgot about you."
    She took off her jacket and draped it over the stair rail and followed Angel down the hallway into the kitchen. She filled the little ceramic bowl with a scoop of cat food and refreshed the water dish. She gave the cat another stroke then left her to her meal.
    Hope stepped back into the hallway and looked around at the decor. Having always been here with Nick, she had never really had a chance to look around.
    She stepped into the library, which was dominated by the black baby grand piano. The shelves lining the walls were filled with books on every topic. Pausing at the piano, she strummed a few notes of chopsticks (the extent of her musical abilities) before crossing to a glass fronted cabinet of seemingly very old books.
    She unlatched the door and examined the volumes. Most of the titles were not legible. Noticing a leather folder on one of the shelves, she picked it up and untied the ribbon holding it closed. Inside were several old sheets of hand written musical manuscripts. She flipped through the stack wishing she could read the notes, but stopped when she came across signature on one of the pages. She almost dropped the folder. In her hands she was holding what appeared to be an authentic original manuscript by Beethoven! Not wanting to damage it, she carefully closed the folder and returned it to the shelf.
    Turning her attention to another folder on the shelf, she was both nervous and excited as to what it might contain. She picked it up and opened it. It contained a series of hand written pages from what seemed to be a play. There were notes written in a different hand that looked very similar to Nick's. Reading through the pages she recognized several lines from 'Hamlet.' A thought sprang to mind, Did Nick know Shakespeare? Carefully, she replaced the folder and closed the cabinet doors.
    Returning once more to the hallway, she stepped over Angel, who was grooming herself thoroughly after her meal, and walked over to the living room. She paused in the doorway and took in the luxurious decor - woven oriental rug on the floor, rich brown leather furniture, and a large oak mantle surrounding the fireplace. She stepped further into the room and saw some kind of stick leaning against the fireplace. She picked it up to study it. It was expertly carved and engraved with symbols. One end was hewn into quite a sharp point. As she returned it to where she had found it, she thought to herself how odd it was for a vampire to have something so closely resembling a stake in his house.
    A few minutes later she stood at the bottom of the stairs. She was torn between the thought of what treasures might lie hidden up there and the idea of possibly violating Nick's privacy.
    Knowing this might very well be her only chance to delve into Nick's carefully guarded past, she took a deep breath and started up the stairs. Angel followed her, meowing. It was almost as if the cat was protecting her master's personal domain.
    Hope paused at the top of the stairs facing the bathroom door. The mid-afternoon light filtering through the front windows behind her illuminated the hallway. Hanging on the walls between each of the three bedroom doors were antique circus posters, similar to the ones that hung in the loft. These were expertly framed and, aside from the style of artwork and the advertised admission charge, appeared brand new.
    Hope passed by the posters, looking at each closely as she went by. The door to the front bedroom stood open slightly. Peering inside she saw it was set up as a guest bedroom. The sun filtered through the blinds and fell across the bed. The room was tastefully decorated with various figures and statues. They looked Aztec or Mayan and seemed very old. Knowing Nick wasn't that old, she figured they were probably from one of the archaeological digs he had told her about. She picked up one of the figurines from the night table and wondered what the Royal Ontario Museum would be willing to pay for this collection. Replacing the figure on the bedside table, she turned and stepped back into the hallway.
    The next doorway led to a room that Nick had converted into his office. A large oak desk dominated the center of the room. Thick forest green drapes covered the single window. It appeared as if Nick spent many daylight hours here - probably grading papers or preparing lectures.
    Mounted on the wall behind the desk was a gleaming sword. The silver pommel was engraved with a Greek cross. The weapon was well cared for, but was obviously very old. Hope stepped around the desk to take a closer look. As she ran her finger down the blade, a chill ran down her spine when she wondered if this were Nick's own sword from so long ago.
    Turning around, she directed her attention to the large desk. The lack of personal photos downstairs was compensated for here. Most of the photos were of Natalie, but three black and white photos piqued her interest. She sat down in the plush leather chair and picked up one of the photos. It was a picture of Nick and another couple. It appeared to have been taken around the time of the second world war. Looking closely, she noticed there was a tear running down the middle of the photograph - separating Nick from the couple. She set the photo back in its place and picked up the next one. The second photo was of Nick and three other people - a young woman and two men. They all looked extremely happy. She smiled. It was nice to know that Nick did have some pleasant moments in his past. She set the picture down in its place next to a large chunk of concrete. Looking closer she saw golden plaque identifying it as a piece of the Berlin Wall.
    The final photo sat behind a black lacquer box with a Chinese motif. She picked up the frame to take a closer look. The black and white photo was very old. It was a photo of a young man in a military uniform that looked like it was from the American Civil War. She gasped. In her mind, she knew how old Nick was, but it always startled her when she was presented with proof.
    She returned the photo to his place and stood up from the desk. Moments later she found herself standing in front of the final doorway. It was closed and she knew Nick's bedroom lay on the other side. It was his private retreat and she was reluctant to intrude. But, as she decided at the foot of the stairs, she knew this might be her only chance. Turning the knob, she pushed the door open and stepped into the room.
    The large king-size bed took up most of the room. Heavy dark red curtains blocked the sun from coming in through the windows. The mahogany furniture and red fabric suited Nick, she thought. A painting of a woman hung on the wall opposite the bed. She stepped across the room to examine the painting more closely. The woman was unfamiliar but something about the style of the painting was recognizable. Not being an art scholar, she couldn't identify the artist, but by the cracks and the condition of the canvas, she surmised that it must be very old.
    On the table below the painting, a small wooden chest lay open. Hope was surprised to find a simple wooden cross. It was actually little more than two sticks bound together by a string of leather. Obviously it was very old, but why would a vampire keep a cross in his bedroom, she wondered. As she reached down to pick up the relic, she was jolted back to reality when her cell phone rang.
    "Hello?" She said, answering the call.
    "Hope? It's Nick. How's everything going?"
    She took a couple of deep breaths, hoping he couldn't detect her racing heartbeat over the phone. "Fine, everything's great. How's New York?" She crossed the room as quietly as she could and stepped out into the hallway, closing the door behind her.
    "It's okay. It looks like I'll be only a day or so more. I really appreciate you taking care of Angel. I guess I'm not used to having to take care of anyone but myself."
    "No problem, Nick. We're just relaxing here on the couch." As if to catch her falsehood, Angel meowed from where she stood at Hope's feet.
    Nick thanked Hope once more then said goodbye. When she turned off her phone, Hope looked down at the cat. "Don't you dare tell him I was snooping." She said as she followed Angel back down the stairs.