Old House With Pillars

Mary Alice Brandon was four-foot-eleven without her Manolos, and yet she terrified me. She always had, and probably always would. We met about seven years ago, during our first year of college, when we bonded through mutual trauma. Her roommate was a furry. Yes, THAT kind of furry, complete with some kind of large cat as her totem animal. We never could figure out if it was a tiger or a cougar; the animal-ear headbands she wore were somewhat ambiguous.

It was amusing at first. Everyone should know at least one person who is completely bonkers, for both comic relief and to help one feel secure in one’s own sanity. Cat Woman, as we’d dubbed Alice’s psycho roommate, went through periods of communicating only through animal sounds. It was harmless enough, until one Friday morning when Alice asked Cat Woman if her boyfriend would be visiting that weekend and received nothing more than a growl in response. Alice assumed this meant that he would not be, and Cat Woman was upset about it. Imagine Alice’s shock when she walked into her dorm room to find Cat Woman and her own personal king of the wild buck naked reenacting a scene from the triple-X rated version of The Lion King.

It was some very kinky fetish play that sweet, virginal, eighteen-year-old Alice was not ready to know existed—let alone witness firsthand. After the shock wore off, Alice noticed Cat Woman wearing her favorite pair of leopard print Manolo Blahnik mary janes and flipped out. She clawed her shoes off Cat Woman and decided to spend the rest of the weekend sleeping in the dorm lounge.

By this point, I had also taken up semi-permanent lounge residence. My roommate, tame in comparison to Alice’s, was a theater major who considered herself a method actress. This was all fine and good until she was cast in a production of Man of La Mancha, and the director suggested she would be able to better “feel her role” if she ceased bathing.

The entire disinfectant aisle of the local Walmart did not have enough Lysol to cover up the stench in my room. Call me prissy, but I like nice smelling things. I burn scented candles. I have a body wash addiction. I consider myself a fairly tolerant person, but permeating BO was not something I could handle.

I was sitting on the couch in the lounge getting ready to go to sleep, when Hurricane Alice stormed in, hyperventilating and clutching a pair of shoes.

“That psycho pussy, and I mean pussy in every sense of the word, had sex in my Manolos,” she wailed.

I wanted to laugh—after all, it was kind of funny. She flopped next to me on the couch and sat there for a good fifteen minutes, looking as if  she was about to cry. I wanted to go to sleep and needed her off my bed, such as it was.

“Um…” I gestured for her to give me her name.


“Alice,” I began. “I’m Bella, and you’re sitting in my bed.”

“Sorry, but it looks like you’re hosting a slumber party.”

She then started crying and laughing at the same time, and proceeded to fill me in on the events that brought her to the lounge, hysterical and clutching $600 shoes.

She was hyper. She was OCD. She desperately needed some Xanax. And by the end of the night, she was my best friend.

After college, I moved with Alice to Philadelphia. Her then-boyfriend-now-fiance, Jasper, was accepted into the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate program in history. Alice did not even entertain the idea of a long distance relationship with him, nor was she willing to give up having me as her partner in crime. Besides, as she pointed out, I was going to be an English teacher; I could do that anywhere.

Moving east was easier than I ever would have imagined. Despite having only previously lived in small towns, I settled right into Philadelphia. I found a teaching job in South Jersey, and Alice soon found her calling as a personal shopper at Neiman Marcus. We lived together in Center City until about four months ago, when Jasper proposed to her. They bought an apartment together in Northern Liberties, a trendy up-and-coming neighborhood by the river. It was located in a converted warehouse with high ceilings, exposed brick, and amazing views.

I stayed in our apartment by myself until the lease ran out, but I didn’t feel comfortable living alone in the city—it just wasn’t me. I loved the culture that Philadelphia offered—the arts, the nightlife, the food—but I wasn’t all that into city life itself. I contacted a real estate agent and found a twin in a small town across the river. I was still ten minutes by train from Alice, but now I had a house, a porch, and a small yard.

My new home seemed untouched by time. It’d been built sometime around 1920, and had the original hardwood floors, a built-in corner cabinet in the dining room, beautiful wood trim, and a fireplace that screamed, “Curl up with a book in front of me.” The enclosed front porch would serve as the perfect place to unwind after long days teaching and the postage-stamp sized backyard was just large enough for the occasional barbecue.

There were no words for the feeling of pride I felt as I walked into the house I’d purchased entirely on my own. When I reached the kitchen, I noticed a stainless steel ice bucket, a bottle of chilled Veuve Cliquot, four stemless flutes, and an envelope with my name on it. I opened it to find a card from my real estate agent welcoming me to New Jersey and congratulating me on becoming a homeowner.

Alice and Jasper were due over this afternoon to help with the move, and I knew should wait for them to toast with me, but this was house for me and me alone. I loosened the top of the bottle and popped it open. The cork hit the plaster ceiling with a thud, but it didn’t even leave a smudge.

I spent the next two hours in blissful silence sitting on the floor of my empty living room, sipping champagne and day dreaming about paint swatches. When I realized it was mid-afternoon and I hadn’t heard from Alice, I fished my iPhone out of my purse. There were fifteen missed calls. Alice was going to be pissed.

I sighed and called her back.

She answered immediately. “Bella! Where are you?”

“Home.” It felt so good to say that.

“No, you’re not. I’m at the apartment, and you’re not here.”

“I meant I was home in New Jersey.”

“No one considers New Jersey home.”

She was still being a bitch about the fact I didn’t buy in the same building as she and Jasper. It was a moot point—I couldn’t have afforded it even if I’d wanted to stay in the city.  In all honesty, if not for her parents, they wouldn’t have been able to afford it, either.

“Are the guys just about finished?” I asked.

“Yes. We have everything loaded into the truck and should be leaving momentarily.”

“You’re amazing.”

“I know. Oh, and we have a surprise coming for you as well. If a guy shows up and asks for Jasper, just let him in.”

“I’m not sure I like the sound of that.”

“Go with it,” she dictated before ending the call.

I had to smile. That was exactly how I got here, and now I was exactly where I wanted to be.

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  1. on 24 Aug 2010 at 7:13 pmMonday the 14th

    I loved Counterpoint, and I’m so excited to get the chance o read this as well. It’d different from what I expected, but I really like it so far!!!


    Colleen reply:

    Thank you. Counterpoint and Art After 5 are very different. AA5 was the first thing I’d written since college, and though it’s not my best work, the story is compelling (I think).


  2. on 28 Sep 2010 at 2:10 pmlisa89

    Okay, this is the last chapter I have time to read before I get back to work. But I can’t wait to continue with it! I love your writing style – it’s really to the point and not all poetic/pretentious. THANK YOU for that. I don’t know where people got the idea that good writing was purple prose and lofty words. Anyway. Not that I’m anything close to an expert on it.

    I was at first wondering how Jasper and Alice were able to afford their home, but then you cleared that up quickly. :D

    I’ll shut up now, but I loved the beginning of this, and I can’t wait to read more. <3


  3. on 09 Nov 2010 at 7:12 pmbevey99

    I started with Counterpoint yesterday, and throughly enjoyed the whole story. Even the parts that required lots and lots of tissues. Your intellect and vocabulary is a amazing. Your writing style seems effortless. Jealous much. I’ve been trying to write for 6 years.

    I’m very glad that I decided to check out your web-site. I’m assuming that Art At 5 was the original tale, and now have to start over. Poor pitiful me. Can’t wait.

    Thank you for this wonderful story.


    Colleen reply:

    Oh dear. Yes, Art After 5 was written first. In fact, it was the first thing I’d written since 1999. (Got to have my disclaimer.)


  4. on 25 Nov 2010 at 12:25 pmBooksgalore/Bookishqua

    Laughing over how she met Alice. I have lost track of the number of times I saw kids sleeping in the lounge of their dorms.


  5. on 27 Dec 2010 at 9:44 pmFancastride

    Bella has her own place and someone is coming to visit…? Glad I found your story.


  6. on 03 Jan 2011 at 7:53 amSea4Me

    Strong & yet reasonable. Good start to B! Too bad I read 3 ch of one-shots on FF before I understood I needed to come here. Still looking fwd to the ride, tho!


    Colleen reply:

    Oh no. When I saw the review this morning, I was wondering if that was what happened. Well, glad you figured it out, and welcome.