Slow Burn
first try, swung the big rounded door
open and disappeared, I took a deep breath, stepped inside and was stopped in
my tracks.
    The place bore
almost no resemblance to the theater of my childhood. The house, as I
remembered it, was a place of heavy drapes and dark wood, where silence and
shadow were valued above all. A place to whisper rather than shout. To turn on
more lights rather than open the drapes. All that was gone. Hell, the stairs
were gone.
    Used to be that
when you walked in the front door, you were faced with a wide expanse of stairs
leading to the second floor. To what my mother called the Ballroom. To the
right of the stairs was the front room; on the left, the parlor; and behind the
stairs, the kitchen and servants' areas.
    They'd gutted
the place. Now all was light and airy. What appeared to be a rough-textured
plaster had replaced the dark wood. The narrow, twelve-pane windows had been
removed, the openings expanded and new white windows installed. We stood in the
middle of the gigantic front room, which now rose above us for the full two
stories of the house. Whatever the upstairs looked like, one thing was for
sure: -the Ballroom was long gone.
    "How's
your checking account?" Duvall asked.
    "Pretty
good," I said. "Why?"
    "Because
everything you and I own, separately and collectively, doesn't begin to make a
dent in furnishing this room. The other eleven rooms I don't even want to think
about."
    "We'll do
what me and the old man did after she died."
    "What's
that?"
    "We just
decided what parts of the house we were actually going to live in, and closed
off the rest of it." A chill ran down my spine as I recalled, the
disconnected feeling that the old man had once described as "like living
in a museum."
    I'd come back
only long enough to lay him out in the front room, before the mile-long funeral
procession took him up by Volunteer Park to the Lake View Cemetery and laid him
next to my mother while the fire department band played "Across the River
and Far Away." I'd never set foot inside this house since that day.
    The stairs now
came down in two stages, on two sides. The kitchen was where it had always
been, but was completely renovated into something out of a magazine, with a
half-acre center island and enough recessed lighting to land airplanes.
    The
back of the
house, which hung out over the cliff, was now completely glassed in,
offering a
panoramic view of Lake Union, the west side of Capital Hill and the
glistening Cascade Mountains beyond. My parents had no interest in the
view. The help lived on the view
side. My parents had no interest in looking out; what they wanted was
to make
damn sure others couldn't look in.
    Rebecca took my
hand. "Come upstairs," she said.
    I let her pull
me to the second floor. We started at the top of the stairs and worked our way
through the maze of skylighted conversation areas, bathrooms, walk-in closets,
and as nearly as I could tell, about six bedrooms. At the far end of the hall,
a master suite hung out over the corner of the house, looking both east over
the freeway and north over the urban sprawl of Seattle. The room was furnished.
    "What's
this?" I said.
    "It's our
new bedroom furniture."
    "It's beautiful,"
I said honestly.
    The bed was an
antique. Walnut. Ornate and rounded all over in an Art Deco sort of way. The
footboard was decorated with intricately carved seashells. The matching
nightstands and the trunk at the end of the bed were part of the same elaborate
set.
    I put both arms
around her from behind.
    "How'd you
get all this stuff up here?"
    She squirmed
out of my arms and escaped. "I got Tyanne's boyfriend and a couple of
buddies to do it."
    "How'd you
know where to tell them to put it?"
    '1 called the
architect," she said smugly, sounding just like she used to in school when
she was the only one who knew the answer.
    "Oh, well,
missy, I guess that big-time education of yours is paying dividends now, isn't
it?"
    "Except in
my personal life."
    "Oh,
yeah?" I

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