Peering through the window, Fahn stared distantly at the countryside rolling by. He'd been resting his head on his hand for the past three hours, lost in a sea of thoughts.
Over a month ago, Fahn's parents had been killed by a tragic fire at a movie theatre. Fahn, with not one else to go to, had to be sent to his aunt he hadn't seen in years. After the funeral, he began to prepare for setting off to southwestern Virginia to his aunt's country estate.
Fahn closed his eyes and yawned loudly, arching his back. The driver of the silver BMW, a kind middle-aged man named Robert, looked back at Fahn with a smile on his face.
"We're almost there," he told him. "Just a few more minutes."
Nodding, Fahn leaned his head against the headrest and stared back out the window. The trees on the side of the two-lane road became thicker, but Fahn could see a gap up ahead.
Robert slowed down the car and made a sharp right turn onto a dirt road. It stretched for a few hundred feet before bending a different direction. One side of the road was a deep forest, while the other side was a row of trees with an empty field behind it.
The road snaked a few times and the woods to the left thinned out. After about five minutes, the BMW turned one last time and onto a straight drive. Fahn was a bit impressed. It looked like an iconic, southern house; a straight road lined with arching trees leading towards a large, white house.
The road split into a circle around a ring of trees and met together on the other side. Robert parked in front of the house and Fahn stepped out. A long porch stretched across the whole front of the house with a porch swing at one end. Two floors of white-shuttered windows sat beneath a gabled roof. At least two chimneys protruded from the top of the house.
Robert popped the trunk and began hauling Fahn's bags out of the car. Fahn rushed over and helped his driver. He'd brought a total of three bags; one for his clothes, one for his books, and the last for his irreplaceable possessions, like pictures of him and his family. Lastly, he pulled out a medium-sized crate for his one year-old chocolate lab, Buster.
Fahn and Robert lugged the bags and crate to the front door. Robert rang the doorbell while Fahn took Buster out of his crate to go to the bathroom.
It took about two minutes for Fahn's aunt to answer the door. She stepped over the porch, her blond hair falling over her shoulders. She wore a long sleeved plaid shirt and blue jeans, stained and spattered with mud.
"Robert!" she exclaimed with a slight drawl, hugging the driver. "How are you?"
"I'm good, Miss Mable, very good," answered Robert.
Fahn stepped onto the porch, Buster sniffing around his feet. Aunt Mable and Robert both turned to look at him. An expression of sadness and pity hit Aunt Mable's face. She stepped towards him and wrapped him in a brief hug. "Oh, Fahn," she muttered softly, pulling away from him. "How was the drive?"
"Long," replied Fahn quietly.
Aunt Mable chuckled and then smiled at him. "Let's get your things up to your room." She picked up one of Fahn's bags. "Follow me."
Fahn picked up Buster's crate and followed everyone into the house. Aunt Mable began to step up a grand staircase right by the door. It turned halfway up and out onto a small balcony that gave a view of the parlor.
He had little difficulty going up the stairs, but he had to be sure not to bump the crate against the wall. Fahn reached the top of the stairs and walked left down the hall. Several doors stood on each side, paintings mounted on the wall.
The second door on the left was open; an empty room with a four-poster bed. Aunt Mable set the bag down in a corner and stood with her hand on her hips.
"Well, this is your new room," she said, pursing her lips. "I'd help you unpack, but I need to go help Caleb get dinner ready. I'll call you down when it's done."
"Who's Caleb?" Fahn asked curiously.
"Caleb is a good friend and the butler," replied Aunt Mable, moving towards the door. "You'll meet him later."
She pointed towards a closed door at the left corner of the room. "That's the bathroom," she told Fahn. "There's soap and a towel in there. Go a little easy on the toilet," she added humorously with a wink.
With that, she left the room. Robert dropped Fahn's other two bags on his bed. "The closet's over here and you can use the dresser for your clothes. There's also a desk with a lamp you can take out of the closet. Oh, and a fan too," said Robert, pointing around the room. "Now I'll leave you to yourself."
"Do you live here too?" Fahn asked.
"Oh, no," said Robert, shaking his head. "I live in Richmond. I'll drive back there and every month or so Miss Mable needs me so I'll come and help her."
"Okay," answered Fahn. "I guess I'll see you in a month."
"Good-bye, Fahn," bade Robert, striding out the door.
"'Bye," Fahn murmured. He turned to Buster who was sitting on his bed. The lab whimpered and Fahn patted his head.
"This is our new home, boy," Fahn sighed despondently.
A few hours later, Fahn was standing at the doorway to his room. His bed was made with his sheets; his clothes were in the dresser. He'd set his stereo on the bedside table and stacked his books in a corner. Pictures of him and his parents were mounted on the dresser.
Fahn had dragged the desk out of the closet and placed it to the left of his bed. He placed his laptop on top of the desk and was finished unpacking for the moment.
As he walked over to his bed, Fahn sadly wished for his old house, his old room back in Boston. He wanted to see his parents again.
Fahn snapped back to attention as he heard footsteps coming up the stair. A few moments later, Aunt Mable appeared at the door.
"Dinner's ready," she said quickly. She looked around the room and smiled. "I like it. You did this fast."
"Thanks," answered Fahn.
"Let's go down," said Aunt Mable. "After dinner, I'll show you around the house and yard, then tell you about the rest of the property."
"Sounds great," Fahn replied. "How big is the property?"
"About fifteen square miles," Aunt Mable told him. "But we'll go over that after we eat."
Aunt Mable and Fahn set off down the stairs, with Buster following close behind. She looked over at the dog and smiled. "Just to warn you, I have two cats. They can be…aggressive, so Buster might want to learn to stay away."
Fahn nodded as they walked into the dining room. An elegant wooden table sat in the center of the room. Six chairs surrounded it, one on each end and four in the middle. A small chandelier hung above it and a painting of the house hung above the fireplace.
Two seats at the table were set, one at the head and one right by it. Aunt Mable sat down at the head and Fahn sat at the other spot. Buster curled up at his feet.
A noise came from the kitchen at the back of the dining room and the door opened. A man walked out in a white-collared shirt, blue jeans, and a blue apron. He was average height, his white hair mounted by a chef's hat. He carried a large tray with several plates of food. Steam curled up from the tray and delicious smells wafted from it.
"I picked a first night dinner I think you'd enjoy a lot," Aunt Mable said.
Caleb sat down a basket of delicious looking biscuits between the two of them. then he set down a large glass of Coke at each of their plates.
"Fahn, this is Caleb," introduced Aunt Mable, taking a sip of her coke.
Fahn smiled. "Nice to meet you."
"The same to you, Fahn," replied Caleb, smiling as he set down a steaming bowl of mashed potatoes. That was followed by a plate heaping with friend chicken. Fahn's mouth watered, but he waited for Aunt Mable to take the first bite.
"Don't worry about manners, honey," said Aunt Mable as she picked up a wing. "Fried chicken is a bit tedious to eat with forks and knives."
Fahn took a bite of mashed potatoes. They were warm, buttery, and delicious. The biscuits were equally amazing. His stomach growling viciously, Fahn grabbed three of them and set them on his plate.
"So, Fahn," said his aunt between bites, "tell me about yourself."
Fahn swallowed his chicken, unsure where to start. "Well… I'm fifteen…" He trailed off as Aunt Mable began to chuckle.
"I know that. What do you like?"
Blushing, Fahn though for a moment. "I like to read. Fiction and fantasy, stuff like that."
Fahn saw something flicker in his aunt's eyes, a flash of interest and a bit of what he thought might be dare. But he blinked and it was gone, so he decided he must have imagine it.
"What else?" she prompted.
"I like nature and animals," said Fahn.
"Good," Aunt Mable muttered. "There's plenty of that here."
Fahn smiled and felt, for the first time, a bit glad to be at his aunt's estate. "I also like music."
"Do you play any sports?"
"Not really, but I like to run," replied Fahn, wiping his mouth and taking a sip of Coke. "I played soccer last year…"
"You can play once school starts next fall," said Aunt Mable. "The high school has a decent soccer team."
Fahn nodded and they finished dinner in silence. Caleb came in and quickly cleared all the dishes. Aunt Mable and Fahn both stood. Fahn's stomach was about to explode and he felt like sitting down and not getting back up.
"I'll show you around," Aunt Mable said, brushing some hair out of her face.
She led Fahn out of the dining room and into the parlor. To the right of the front door was a large room with a comfy-looking leather couch and a big TV. "This is the den," she said. "A great place to watch movies on a stormy day. I don't use it much though…"
Fahn looked around the room. A few armchairs were placed about, facing the TV, and there were some cushions on the windowsill. Aunt Mable opened a door at one side of the den and Fahn followed in as she flickered on the lights. "This is my study, where I work and think."
It was a narrow room with a single window on the long wall. A desk with a computer and a chair sat at one end while a few filing cabinets and a bookshelf were on the other side. A door stood beside those.
Fahn and Aunt Mable walked through the door into a large room. His mouth dropped open and a rush of excitement surged through him.
All four walls were covered from floor to ceiling with books of all sizes.
"The library," whispered Aunt Mable, a smile on her face.
"This is amazing," said Fahn. "How many books are in here?"
"Over one thousand" she told him. "Took me several years to fill this place up."
"It's great," Fahn replied, looking at the cover of an edition of Sherlock Holmes.
"I'll show you the rest of the house."
They walked out of the library and back to the dining room. Fahn entered a hallway he hadn't noticed before. An open door peeked into the dining room. Another door was open that led to the kitchen.
"This is the sunroom," said Aunt Mable.
Two walls were covered with windows emitting sunlight into the room. Double doors led to a protruding screened-in room that gave view of the large yard.
Aunt Mable showed Fahn the breakfast room, a small room to the side of the kitchen that had baby blue walls. Then they went to the lounge, a tiny room with a window seat, a TV, and two squashy armchairs. She told him the laundry room was behind the breakfast room but didn't show him.
"Let's go out in the yard," Aunt Mable said. "Buster will like it. There's plenty of space to wander around."
Buster perked his ears up at the sound of his name and followed Fahn and Aunt Mable out of the house.
A warm breeze ruffled Fahn's hair as he stepped out into the large yard. He was standing on a flagged stone patio that was about thirty feet long and ten feet wide. A large expanse of green grass stretched about two hundred feet to a wooden picket fence. Situated in a corner was a small shed surrounded by a patch of what Fahn assumed were vegetables.
"That's my gardening shed," Aunt Mable said, pointing at the small building. "I have tomatoes, carrots, and onions that grow around it. And around this side of the house are my garden and pond."
Fahn noticed for the first time that the house was shaped like an L. The parlor, study, library, and den were on one leg of it while the dining room, kitchen, breakfast room, sunroom, and lounge were on the other leg.
"Let's go out to the garden," suggested Aunt Mable.
They walked around the house and about a minute later, they were standing beside a small pond. A weeping willow and three river birches surrounded the pond and beyond that were tall bushes, ferns, and beds of flowers. Fahn felt comfortable in the warm garden.
"To the north," Aunt Mable said, pointing in the distance, "are some hills. That marks one edge of my property. To the west is a lake and the far bank is about where my property ends, but I do have a small boathouse there. IN the south is a forest. I own most it, but it ends at the abandoned railroad track. Lastly, to the east, there are mostly fields and some craggy hill. My property ends at the road."
"I'll have to explore," said Fahn earnestly.
"Before you do that, you should get some rest," instructed Aunt Mable, smiling. "It's getting late. When you wake up, just head down to the breakfast room."
Fahn nodded and he and Aunt Mable walked back into the cool house. Aunt Mable bade Fahn goodnight and then walked to the kitchen. Fahn walked up the stairs and into his new room, Buster lolling behind him. He quickly brushed his teeth, changed clothes, and crawled into bed. Buster curled up on the foot of the bed and closed his eyes.
Although it was only 9:30, Fahn was exhausted from the busy day and he fell right to sleep.