Her mother just pressed her lips together, gathered her things and nodded. "We'll be leaving in about an hour. I've left some meatloaf, beans and a bunch of vegetables from the farmer's market in the fridge. You should be good until the end of the week."

Em got up and wrapped her long arms around her mother, holding her tight. "I love you, mom. I'm going to be fine. I'll see about driving up in a few weeks if there's a break in practice for a weekend."

"We'd like that, Em. Very much."

That had been the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, which drifted into the last couple weeks of school and then freedom! Nothing but a long open stretch of summer before she left for school. Practice. Volunteering. Sunbathing. Sex. Just fucking chilling. She had worked really hard to get into college. She was going to relish the time off.

"What are you going to do with all those guys crawling around the house?" Naomi's eyes told Em everything. She could just see Naomi walking around in her underwear or negligee or something. Em just swallowed the coffee and shrugged.

"It's not like that. By the time they get there, I'll have already left for practice. Although it does fuck up my plans for a tan."

Naomi stared at her, waiting.

"Shit, Noami. I'm not going to lie out on the lawn in my bikini with those guys staring at me. It's bad enough at the lake."

And Naomi nodding, as if to say, "Sure, like you really hate doing that."

But Em meant it. That was a thing Naomi would want to do, but not Em. If you're waving a weapon, be prepared to use it, her dad had said too many times. An occupational hazard from bringing his work home. Em didn't think of her body as a weapon...mostly...but she knew it gave her a "negotiating position," as her father would have put it.

Not only was Em smart, she had acquired the cunning from her father that had made him top-notch. She could read a room in a flash. She often thought of the first time he'd mentioned her talent. He'd taught her the basics of poker, and soon after she was winning against her friends. She begged him to let her play at one of his adult games, but after he saw her performance, he sat her down.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"Em. About last night."

She nodded, mumbling around the spoonful of cereal.

"Ummm. Yeah. So, how'd you make out last night?" He knew perfectly well how she did.

"Great! I think I left with about 100 bucks. That was soooo cool. Thank you so much! That straight I bluffed with? I was so convinced Charlie, er, Mr.Perkins, wouldn't fold and then I saw him twitch and I knew I had him."

"Okay. Okay, partner. Slow it down. Yes. You did amazingly last night." He shook his head, smiling. He was proud of her, but she didn't need to boast so much. "The thing is...you have a gift, Em, and I want you to use it carefully."

She stopped mid-crunch and listened. She'd done something wrong?

"No, no, no...," he switched his tone seeing her reaction. "No, Em. Listen. You're amazing at cards. Yes. But you're amazing at cards because you are amazing at reading people's tells. That's far more important than being good at poker. It...hell...listen, I don't want you wasting that talent on card games."

She nodded, still confused. "But I can still play, right?"

He smiled and nodded. "That's not my point. Just don't get too big for your britches when you're at the table." He saw she understood. "Seriously. You have a gift. Use it wisely."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

She knew she had a lot of gifts. Her people-reading skill wasn't as obvious as her body or even her intelligence, but once he called her attention to it, she realized she was different in that way. She knew people could tell she was smart, and of course she had an athlete's physique. But her dad had been talking about a hidden talent, one she hadn't even realized she had.

On the other hand, Em had concluded, people noticed her other gifts more quickly, especially her body. It was stupid, she'd decided, that the thing guys (and other girls) focused on first was how she looked. They didn't catch on how much smarter she was than them (usually) and her ability to read? They never got that far. She took her father's warning to heart to use all of her gifts wisely, but she struggled with what that meant exactly.

At least as far as her body was concerned, she wasn't interested in using it to attract guys. Her body was an amazing machine, one she'd been training all through high school for athletics. And now, with high school over, she was focused on an Ironman triathlon at summer's end. At 5'10 and 125 lbs, Em was mostly muscle on a lean frame. Long arms, medium torso and long legs were the killer structure for all three events, but she didn't have the mass she'd need to be a true contender. For most of her final semester she'd been on a custom diet and muscle building to sculpt the body she needed to win.

"Hey Em! I want you to meet a couple of new crew members."

Her first true week off school, back from an early 10 mile, official Ironman practice not beginning until the following week, showered, dressed and ready to drive up the coast to visit her folks. She looked at Mac sitting in the living room, the make-shift office he'd set up in stark contrast to the chaos going on behind him in the kitchen. Two guys were leaning over the table, staring at the plans. They both looked up, the one on the right shifted in a way only Em noticed. She kept her eyes on Mac but her attention on the guy.

"Em, this is Slim. And Cos."

She walked up and reached out her hand to the first one. Prepared for a palm cruncher, she was surprised when Slim barely grabbed it. "Slim. Interesting name." She let him see her eyes drift down his frame. He was not slim in any way. 6'2 and 250, easy. Linebacker in high school, she'd bet on it. He smiled at her and nodded.

She turned to the guy. "Cos? As in Cousin?" He gripped her hand the way she'd expected, and gave as good as she got. He looked at her in surprise, grinning.

"Cos, as in 'just because.'"

She figured it was an old joke for him and she nodded, carefully keeping her eyes on his face as she scanned the rest of him in her peripheral. Well built. A hunk. Arms as thick as her calves for sure, and her calves were pretty ripped.

"They'll be taking lead on this in a week or so as I peel off to another job starting up. I've told them the ground rules and they'll respect your privacy." The way Mac said it, she got the impression they'd have their licenses torn up if even the smallest slight got back to him. Good to know, she filed the thought away.

"I'm sure everything will be ship-shape Mac. I'm not worried one whit." She turned to grab her bag. "Gentlemen, I've got to go, but no doubt our paths will cross again."

She left, hearing them snicker at her "grown-up" talk just before she closed the door to the driveway. They could patronize her all they wanted. They had no idea.

Mac turned to the two of them after she'd gone. "She's trouble, gents. Let me explain the situation to you so we're clear."

The remodel had sort of been her idea, she recalled as she drove up the coast.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Back in January, at the beginning of the new term, her Civics assignment was to get to know the services available through the city. The house had always been a presence, like another adult helping her grow up. She'd asked her folks over and over when the thing had been built, who its prior owners were and on and on. They'd given her vague answers. She knew her mother had found it, through one of her familial connections: an aunt had a good friend whose sister, etc. etc. Em could never figure out why they had bought such an enormous place. Even with a family of six it had rooms to spare when cousins came for holidays.

The class assignment gave her an excuse to answer her questions. She arrived at the Department of Environmental Services and asked to see the earliest plans on file for 34 Spruce St. What she got back was not terribly helpful. In 1960 the house had been sold. As part of the transfer of ownership, the old owner had included the original deed, dating back to 1876, but had no plans to go with it. The new owner eventually did file plans for a remodel of the ground floor, a remodel that had been the house she'd grown up in, except when her mother moved things around. The microfiche of the mid-20th century blueprints were dangling threads; Emily was compelled to pull them.

Her parents were of no use at all. While they both admired her interest, they confessed that the house's past held little interest for them. In a passing remark one morning over breakfast, her father suggested she might try the historical society.

And that afternoon Em found herself on the steps of an imposing classical structure, granite columns rising from a plinth of pink stone stairs. She must have passed this thing hundreds of times whenever they came into the center of town, but she'd never given it a second glance. Now she stared at it wondering what other secrets it might contain, if it contained the one she was interested in at all.

Approaching the front desk, she explained what she was looking for and the woman, a character as old as the building itself, or so she appeared to Em, directed her to the "City Beautiful" room, on the second floor.

The building was like a museum, or maybe a library, to Em they were almost the same thing. The stairs to the second floor were grand, sweeping a broad curve, the center covered in a wool runner, the exposed granite on the edges worn smooth. At the top, she looked for the sign and made her way to a room on the northwest corner, the afternoon sun flooding through floor to ceiling windows. Wood everywhere. Dark wood paneling, wood window frames, wood molding on the ceiling and floor. And wood cabinets and shelves. It wasn't a huge room, but the ceiling was high and the light slanting in caught the dust. To Em it felt grand. She approached a volunteer and again explained her interest, and without missing a beat, the woman led her to a long low set of cabinets with a dozen thin drawers, wider than Em had ever seen.

"It's organized by map section," the woman explained, opening a fat black binder, its back scuffed with age. "What was the address again?" Turning to the index, she scanned down, and apparently finding what she needed, opened the book, leafing through pages. "Here you are," she said, pointing to a map with Em's street curving through three squares. "34...that would be E3..."

The woman walked to the end, looked down the drawers and opening first one, then another, eventually finding a large black portfolio which she slipped out. "I don't know if anything will be in here for your house," she explained, untying the flaps and flipping them open. "But if it's not here, we can look at the microfiche."

Em wasn't at all sure why they would start with the paper and was about to ask when the woman kept explaining.

"The really old stuff...we just haven't had the money to transcribe it all, so if you really want to know the earliest, I thought we should start here. Oh! Here's something!" The portfolio was large, almost three feet across and at least two feet deep. The woman had laid it onto a nearby table and, after putting on a pair of cotton gloves, had been carefully leafing through plans, setting each folio off to the side. "34, right?"

And there, on the top of the lefthand stack was the first floor to Em's house. As it had been in 1876.

"May...I?"

"Of course! Please use gloves if you're going to move anything. Hold on, let me see if there's anything else." She pulled the page out and laid it on the table, and carefully looked through the next several pages. "Hah! Yes! Sometimes they don't put them back the way they should. Here you go."

Two floors. The house had been built with only two floors, and a sensible number of rooms. Only two bathrooms, which, Em would later discover, was actually a lot for its time.

"Is there a way to make a copy?" She looked around wondering what sort of machine was big enough for the job.

The woman tsked under her breath, not, as Em looked up in alarm, in judgment, but as she considered the options. "Yes. Well. Hmm. We can get you PDFs or hard copies, but it takes a little while and I'm afraid it comes at a cost."

"How long?" She wasn't worried about the money, just whether she'd have something in time for her final.

"Oh...I'd have to check, but the last patron I helped...last week, they said they were running about three days."

Em laughed in relief. "No problem! I was thinking you were going to say three weeks! How might I get PDFs?"

The woman carefully set aside the two sheets, closed up the portfolio and shut it back safely in its cabinet before turning to her desk and grabbing a pad. "Please just fill this out and bring it down to the front desk. They take checks or cash."

"May I...may I take a photo of it for now? Until the real thing comes?"

"Of course. No flash, please. Here, let me help you."

Em wasn't sure how it would turn out, but at least she had something, and she felt this strange excitement, like she'd found part of her history.

"Mom! You wouldn't believe what I found today!" She rushed into the kitchen, more excited about school than she'd been all year.

A few days later she got an email with three attachments.

"Emily,

Please see attached the drawings for 34 Spruce, dated 1875, signed John Sebastian, Architect. You can learn more about Sebastian and Co, here.

You might also be interested in learning more about the original owners Jay and Belinda Crewitt for whom J. Sebastion and Co. designed the home. It appears the home had some controversy about it. I did a little poking around and found a couple of articles you can read, here and here. You might check at the library to read past issues of The Barker and Trumpet, Crewitt's publication.

Finally, given what I had learned in those articles, I was curious to know more about the house and discovered that after Jay Crewitt had died, the home passed to his younger sister, Abeline "Abby" Baker Crewitt. She died intestate in 1915 and the home was eventually sold in auction as there were no heirs. If you want to learn more about the sale, you can come down to look at the county records. It appears to have been remodeled after the war, although I couldn't find any references to the specifics, just an entry in the building department from 1923 indicating an extension to the city water system, which suggests the new owners added a bathroom or made some other improvements.

Barbara Shelby, City Beautiful Volunteer

P.S. I know we only found two originals while you were here, but when I put them back I found a third. No worries about the payment, it's on me -- bls"

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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