Washing the House with Jasper was surprisingly fun. It was also hard work, because the House had years of embedded grime in her shingles. “Did you somehow roll in the mud?” Mélanie found herself accusing the house at one point. “And… in a pine tree?”
The House bumped one set of shutters in her direction.
“I can’t tell if that’s a yes or a no,” Mélanie admitted. “But I need some sort of brush that can get up here under the shutters. Maybe a butter knife, actually. “
Jasper frowned at the scrub brush he was holding. “I could–“
A window opened and a butter knife slid out into Mélanie’s hand.
“How did you — you know what, I’m not going to ask.” She slid the butter knife carefully up under the shingles and worked chunks of dirt, pine needles, and pebbles out from beneath the shingles. A whispered Jasfe repaired the cracks in some of the shingles, and a nice scrubbing showed her every place that needed more paint.
The whole wall took over an hour to wash properly, both of them working at it The upstairs vent — she’d never seen an attic, but the roofline and windows suggested there had to be one — was clogged with birds’ nests; the shingles had broken hinges in a few places and one of the window panes had a crack. “You know,” she murmured, “You should say something if you’re in pain. Cracks hurt, don’t they?”
The shingles flapped at her again; she still didn’t know quite what that meant.
“I don’t know a Paint Working,” she told Jasper, while they worked on cleaning the windows. “Do you?”
“You know, I don’t, but I think we could work one out. It’s not all that hard-“
The house twitched twice from side to side; suddenly, the paint job on the wall they’d just washed was fresh, complete, and bright, not a chip or a drip to be seen.
Mélanie giggled in surprise. “Oh, that’s amazing! So — were you staying with your derelict look to fit in, or because Jasper wanted to put forward the whole haunted-house idea?”
The shutters clacked again. Mélanie still didn’t know what that meant, but she figured it was as much answer as she was going to get. She patted the house, surprised at how tired her arm felt. “There you go. Once we get the whole house clean, Jasper, maybe we can do something with this garden area back here?”
“That sounds like a lovely idea, my dear. But for now, why don’t we go inside and have some dinner? And a bath, and then to bed, mmm? It’s been a long day for both of us.”
Mélanie yawned at the word bed and chuckled, embarrassed. “It hasn’t been that long,” she protested. “Not compared to–“
“I, my dear, do not ever want to be considered a slave driver, nor compared too much to anyone who was, very literally, one. You’ve had a few days to relax and your body is remembering what a normal schedule should feel like. And that’s good.”
He patted the house, too. “Thank you,” he told the house. “And thank you, Mélanie. It’s been a very nice day.” He squeezed her hand. “I do think you’re good for me.”
“Well.” She peeked over at him. “I think you’re good for me, too. So I’m glad I’m good for you.” She snorted. “Okay, I used to be more eloquent than that, I swear.”
“It’s been a long day,” he repeated, and shepherded her around the house and in the kitchen door. “You’re allowed to be a little bit ineloquent.” He paused; Mélanie paused. Both of them stared at the full meal laid out on the kitchen table. “Some day, I will figure out how she does that with no hands — and sometimes without ingredients she has in the — in herself. Thank you,” he called more clearly. “Do you have a hidden stash of – is that saffron I smell – somewhere upstairs?”
“Why not just Meentik it u-” Mélanie stumbled over her own words. “No, that’s an Ellehemaei thing. Haunted houses can’t normally create stuff out of thin air. Can they?”
“Well, I have to admit, this is the first haunted house I’ve lived in. Well, other than the one that I made appear haunted before this one — but then I was run out of town most unkindly.” He wrinkled his nose. “Anyway. This house is quite impressive and, perhaps, she has her own ideas about what she can and cannot do.” He bowed towards the table. “Thank you, House. Shall we, Lady Mélanie?”
“I’m not sure I count as lady,” she protested. “This isn’t the Goose-Girl and the Princess or anything.”
“Indulge me, then?” He pulled out a chair for her.
“Of course. Why thank you, my lord.” She managed to sit with a modicum of grace and he pushed her chair in for her. “This smells delicious. Thank you, house.”
In the middle of the table, next to a vase of flowers that also hadn’t been there before, a note flapped. She picked it up.
Thank you for all your kind work so far. Please know it is amazingly appreciated and, more than that, the very fact that you’d think of it is beautiful.
She passed the note to Jasper and touched her eyes with the napkin. She wasn’t crying, was she?
“You’re quite welcome, house. Thank you, as always, for the shelter and care – and correction, when needed.”
His fork danced in the air. Jasper smiled and picked it up, taking — Mélanie assumed — the “correction.”Want more?