The Rent.

Part 1, The Proposal.

The house looked wonderful.  Set in a four-acre parcel of land about two miles from the ocean, it glowed with the air of something loved and well looked after.  At three stories, it was a tall house, with gabled roofs, huge windows, shutters, and even a small glass-enclosed fourth floor on one end, almost like a tower in appearance.  White, the house looked clean and well maintained, and it went well with the landscaping that complemented the isolation the owner wanted.

It seemed a shame to Nina that such a home was hidden away from the outside world.  Around the property was a ten-foot-high brick wall and plenty of trees obscured the view of the surrounding properties as well.  Not that anyone lived very close to each other anyway.  This area was exclusive, with one and two-acre lots butted up against each other, all well landscaped to get the most of the space, yet providing some seclusion for their owners.

But the house Nina looked at was the only one to be completely hidden, and had the largest lot of all.  Even most of the grounds were invisible.

Nina sighed as the cab came to a stop at the house end of the driveway.  She couldn't believe her luck, thinking how wonderful it would be to live here.  She had just moved halfway across the country, her new job as a paralegal at a rather prestigious law firm necessitating her transfer from the town she grew up in.  Just getting the job had been a coup, although in actual fact that had been the easy part, since her college scholarship had been mostly paid by the firm in return for her spending the next two years in their service.

Her grandfather had been a founding partner, hence the unusual arrangement, a part of his will that Nina had been glad to agree to.  Her grandfather had known of her desire to join the firm, despite her parents' protests, and had made arrangements that lasted beyond his own death the year before.  Now Nina was set; two years as a paralegal, then on to law school.

Nina would have preferred to go straight to law school, but her grandfather told her that taking a couple of years between schools to work in the trenches would teach her more than any school could do.  It would give her a leg up when she went back to school, and would always give her perspective after she passed the bar exam and came back to the firm as one of the 'Team'.

So Nina followed the plan, not that everything was laid out for her.  She STILL had to work her butt off making the grades, taking the courses.  Her grandfather had made the path of her life available to her, but she still had to walk it on her own.

But the hard work paid off; she graduated college with honors, and even some of the Partners in the firm, who had at first regarded this bit of nepotism with distrust, agreed that Nina had earned her place in the firm and a chance for something big.

Do well over the next two years and she would get an all expenses paid trip to law school.

There was one more incentive for Nina to succeed, though.  Her school loans were just that, loans.  Her grandfather wanted her to realize that you paid for everything in the end, but that if you worked hard, the rewards would be great.  So repayment on all her loans were deferred until she became a lawyer and joined the firm, and her salary then would ensure no problems repaying her debt.  But if she failed, then other arrangements would be made for their repayment.

Nina did not plan to fail, and others watching her career thought the same.  One of those interested in her future was the owner of this house.  No longer a member of the firm, Brian Good was a contemporary of her grandfather.  He had retired as a full partner, retreating to this secluded home where he could pursue his other interests uninterrupted.

Nina had heard her grandfather speak of Brian many times, but had never spoken to him herself.  But when she found out that the apartment she had reserved for herself had been rented out to someone else the week before she got there, she had called the man out of desperation.  With little money of her own, she could not afford the few places left to rent in this exclusive community, and her grandfather had always said that his friend Brian was a man to be trusted.

Brian of course knew of Nina's coming; he had helped make the arrangements for Nina's education himself when he still worked at the firm, and even retired, he liked to keep his hand in.

He told Nina that he had a room he could let her stay in, and that he would be glad for the company.  Having a young woman about the place again would be good for his blood pressure, he joked.  But like her grandfather, Brian believed that you shouldn't get anything for nothing.  So he made it clear to her that she would be paying a rent, but that it would be something she could afford.

Nina jumped at the chance, especially after she heard the address.  She wasn't a snob, but the idea of living in that area of town made her head spin.

Yes, things were looking good.

Now that she was actually looking at the house, she felt even better.  It gave her a warm feeling to know that she was going to be sleeping here that night, IF she could pay the rent.  Nina chuckled; she doubted she would have any problems with that.

As the cab driver helped her haul her bags out of the back of the car, the front door opened to reveal a rather dour looking woman in a sensible dress and apron.  Brian had told Nina that the only other occupant of the house was his housekeeper, Mrs. Alison Terry.  She had apparently been with Brian for years, but she too had only recently moved into the house, after her husband passed away the year before.

"Miss West?" she said, passing a critical eye over the young woman.

"Yes," replied Nina, looking up with a smile.  "You must be Alison.  Mr. Cook said you were his housekeeper?"

"That I am, but it's Mrs. Terry to you girl.  We're not so friendly that you can use my first name or I yours!"

Nina was a little taken back, but figured that a little formality was normal for this area.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Terry," Nina said.

"That's quite alright, Miss West.  I expect that's not the only thing you will have to adjust to around here."

Nina smiled.  "I expect not.  Is Mr. Wood around?"

"He's in his studio.  He wanted to see you when you got here, but you're early.  He's very protective of that time though, and dislikes to be disturbed for anything.  You can meet him when he is done."

"Studio?" asked the young woman.

"Oh yes.  Since he retired, Mr. Cook has had time to indulge himself in his hobby.  He's a sculptor, and a good one, I might add.  Now pay for your cab so we can let this man go, and I'll help you with your bags."

Nina nodded, and handed over a significant portion of her remaining money to the overweight cab driver, who nodded his thanks and got back in his vehicle.  As he drove away, Nina watched him go before grabbing two of the four suitcases she had brought.

Mrs. Terry picked up the other two, displaying a hidden strength for someone of her years, and led Nina into the house.

The inside was just as spectacular as the outside.  All in white and with plenty of glass, the first floor looked open plan, with a huge entrance hall leading to what looked like two different lounges on either side.  An open staircase led upstairs, and to the rear was what looked like a formal dining room.  Looking up, Nina could see that the entrance hall went all the way up to the roof, the landings for each floor very visible.

It was all very airy, especially since the few solid walls the place must have needed to hold itself up were covered in mirrors that reflected the room over and over again.  Large windows completed the affect, letting in copious amounts of light, hardly separating the outside from the inside at all.

Mrs. Terry led Nina up the stairs to the second floor, where she paused.

"That's Mr. Cook's suite," she said, pointing to the left at a closed door.  "You don't go in there unless invited."

"Certainly not," agreed Nina.

Mrs. Terry nodded and pointed the other way.  "And over there is his studio.  When he is working, you can't go in, but otherwise I doubt he would mind.  Just don't touch anything, and don't poke your nose into anything he has covered up!"

"Yes, Mrs. Terry," replied the girl.

The older woman led Nina up a second flight of stairs, lit by the light of a huge window that dropped all the way to the first floor.  Looking down, Nina could see through the open treads the front door she had come though.  A thought struck her that anyone walking around the house would be visible for quite a way around it, especially with all the mirrors sending your reflection everywhere.  Nina smiled, not knowing why.

The third floor contained normal bedrooms.

"I have a group of rooms on the east end.  Again, I would thank you not to go there unless I invite you.  Mr. Cook was kind enough to let me have that space, and he says it is mine to use as I will," said the housekeeper, not even out of breath after hauling the two heavy suitcases up here.

"I would certainly not intrude on your privacy, Mrs. Terry," Nina replied, breathing normally herself.  Nina was an active swimmer and kept herself in shape.  One of the things that excited her about coming to live in this community was that it was so close to the ocean.  Even a couple of miles away she could smell the sea air, and couldn't wait for her first trip out there.

"Your room," continued Mrs. Terry, "is down here, the west end."  She led Nina down a short hallway and opened the door.

Nina took a breath.  The bedroom was huge, almost the size of the apartment she had lost in town.  Again, the open motif of the house was reflected in the enormous windows and the open plan.  Looking at the windows, Nina couldn't help wonder about her privacy, as there was no part of the room not exposed to the outside.  But all she could see through them were trees and the property itself.  No nosy neighbors to spy on her, so she felt she could live with it.

Mrs. Terry had put her bags down and had opened another door.  "Over here is your bathroom."

Nina walked in to find a well-equipped room, which again was larger than she thought a bathroom could be.  It was a shock to see that the outside wall was nothing but another ornate window, this time looking over the back of the property, but again there was no one out there to see IN.

Looking out, she forgot her concerns as she spied the pool.  It wasn't big, but it was large enough for her to do some decent laps in.  Her fears at not getting any swim time in were averted.

"I'll clean the bathroom for you," said the housekeeper, "and take care of your room.  But I would appreciate your picking up after yourself and not making a pig sty of the place."

"Oh, you don't have to do that, Mrs. Terry.  I know how to clean," protested Nina.

"I'm sure you do, Miss West, but it's my job and it all goes toward earning my keep here.  I'll leave you here to unpack, and you can come find me in the kitchen when you are done.  It's through the dining room downstairs."

"Yes, Mrs. Terry," said Nina happily.

Mrs. Terry actually gave the young woman a smile before leaving her alone in her new digs.

Nina wandered around her bedroom, at one point falling on the king size bed.  She felt really good about it all and hoped that she wasn't going to let these good people down.

She wanted to succeed, to become someone her grandfather would be proud of.  Maybe, she thought, even her parents would be proud of her too.  Nina never understood why her parents hated her grandfather, but was glad they didn't put up much of a fight when he insisted on getting to know his baby granddaughter all those years ago.

Her grandfather had been the only one to listen to her during her formative years, lending a helpful ear when she had problems she couldn't talk to her parents about.  He must have spent thousands in long distance calls over the years, and his twice-yearly visits were the high points of her young life.  His death had been hard on her, but Nina was a strong, positive person who never let things get her down for long, and she was sure that her grandfather, looking down on her now, was proud of her getting this far.

Eventually she got up and put her clothes away in the spacious closets.  Even though she had brought four bags full of stuff, her closets still looked empty.  The rest of her gear was in a storage locker in town, and she knew she would be bringing more over, but as for clothes, this was it.  She hoped her salary from her new job would permit her to buy some clothes better suited for the class of clientele the firm dealt with, but that would all depend on the arrangement she would make with Brian Cook.

Nina changed her own clothes before she left to go find the kitchen.  She had been wearing some old sweats, comfortable for the long trip out here, but she wanted to dress up for her first meeting with her landlord.  So she changed into a summer dress and sandals, and let down her ponytail.  A quick wash in the sun drenched bathroom, and then out the door she went.

As she left her room, she saw something Mrs. Terry hadn't pointed out to her, a spiral staircase leading up.  Remembering the tower she had seen from the outside, Nina wondered if this was the way into it.

It was, and again Nina had her breath taken away.  The room she climbed up into was completely glassed in, walls and ceiling.  Around the room were scattered sun chairs and pillows, and one or two small tables.  This was a room designed for one thing, being out in the sun, and Nina realized that winter or summer, you could come up here and work on your tan.

It was also fairly warm up here.  Nina could already feel her dress start to stick to her, so she went back down in search of Mrs. Terry.

The kitchen, when she found it, did not let the house down.  A large central cooking island was surrounded by cupboards, appliances, and countertops.  Yet the place still looked very open due to the clever use of windows and mirrors.  It looked big enough to cook for a lot more people than actually lived here, and Nina wondered if Brian Cook entertained a lot.  Certainly the twelve seat dining room set she had passed in the dining room was a clue.  Mrs. Terry was busy at one of the counters, pouring lemonade from a pitcher into a couple of glasses on a tray.

"There you are," she said.  "Good timing, Miss West.  Mr. Cook has just come down and is waiting for you out on the patio."

"That's great, I'm eager to meet him!"  Nina replied.

Mrs. Terry turned and looked over the girl once more.  "That's a nice dress, much better than that outfit you had on when you got here.  It's so nice to see girls your age paying attention to your appearance."

"Thank you!" Nina said, not sure if Mrs. Terry was complimenting her or not.

The housekeeper just nodded and picked up the tray.  "Well, come along then," she said, and she led the young woman outside.

The patio was large, with a brick barbecue at one end and the pool at the other.  Several sets of outdoor tables and chairs were scattered around, and again Nina thought that her host entertained groups of people.  Her first sight of Brian Cook himself was of a gray haired man sitting at a table close to the pool.  He heard the clipping of Mrs. Terry's shoes on the flagstones and turned.  With a smile at Nina, he stood up.

Brian Cook was just a hair taller than Nina, and certainly around her grandfather's age.  He had a pleasant smile and bright eyes that he brought to focus on the young woman.  Barefoot, dressed in slacks and a loose T-shirt, he seemed at odds with the opulence around him.  Nina never would have guessed that this man owned all she could see around her.  She wondered what he looked like when he used to work, all done up nice in a suit.

"Nina!" he said, when they drew close.  He extended a hand.

"Mr. Cook, it's nice to meet you after all this time," Nina said, taking his hand.

"Oh, call me Brian," said the old man.  "I'm only ever Mr. Cook at the office."  He winked at Mrs. Terry, who was putting the tray down on the table,

"And to Alison of course.  Isn't that right Alison!"

Mrs. Terry turned, a half smile on her face.  "Some things must remain sacrosanct between employer and employee, Mr. Cook."

"As you say, Alison."  Brian gave her a smile, and the housekeeper actually chuckled before walking away.

"She's been with me for over twenty-five years," Brian said, motioning to the table where both sat, "her husband helped me design and put in the gardens around this house."

"He did an incredible job," Nina said politely, meaning it.  From what she could see, the gardens were beautiful with flowers in bloom everywhere.

"But you haven't even seen it yet.  Come, I'll show you around while we talk; you can bring your drink."

Brian led Nina around the whole property, talking to her about her grandfather and the business and asking after her own family.  Of himself he didn't say much, but Nina didn't mind. She found it a joy to be with him, and could easily see how her grandfather considered Brian Cook to be his best friend.

At one point they reached a gazebo at the far end of the property, invisible from the house and completely surrounded by the garden.  Inside were some chairs, and Brian settled down with a sigh.

Nina continued to stand, and she walked slowly around the gazebo looking at the masses of flowers that lit up the garden.  She saw on display a life-sized statue of a woman, apparently nude although that really wasn't clear, one hand half covering her groin, the other to her throat.  The face of the figure was neutral, with no features beyond a general shape.  But the attitude of the figure suggested to Nina a moment of uncertainty, as if the figure was undecided as to what to do next, where to place her hands.  It was very good.

"Is that one of yours?" Nina asked.

"Yes, I finished that one not too long ago."

Nina nodded.  Unlike the other more abstract works Brian had shown her during their walk around the garden, this one was more representative, and the best he had done in her opinion.

"I like it," she said.  She didn't notice Brian giving her a critical looking over before he spoke again.

"You know, Alex showed me pictures of you as you grew up," he began, "and listening to him talk about you, I can't help feeling as proud as he did at what an attractive woman you became."

"Er...thank you!"  Nina said, not quite knowing how to respond.  Nina had always found that hard.  One side of her was always happy for the compliment, for she did work hard to build and maintain a good looking figure, although like most women she had her little insecurities.  She thought her bust too big, her hips too wide, and her ears stuck out too much.  Being a swimmer, she was jealous of those women with almost no chest, which meant less drag to pull through the water.  Yet at the same time, she was trapped in the modern woman's thinking that a compliment from a man only meant that he was looking at her for her body and not considering that a real person lived there.

It was a duality hard to come to terms with.  But with Brian, it seemed easier; after all, he wasn't some college guy who couldn't look her in the eye for staring at her chest.  Brian was...well, old enough to be her grandfather.  He grew up back when men could honestly compliment women without fear of being sued for harassment!

"Yes..." said Brian, focused on her once more.  He shook his head and put down his drink.  "Come, we have to talk about your staying here."

Nina walked over and sat across from the old man.  "I'm not sure what my salary at the firm is going to be yet," she said.  "I have an idea, but I was supposed to make final arrangements there next week."

"I know, but rather than tax your earnings, which won't be much at this point I'm afraid, at least for this town.  Rather than tax you financially, I was hoping for trade of another kind."

"What do you mean?" Nina asked, suddenly a little nervous.

"No, no, no," Brian said with a smile.  "I know your young mind, Nina, and I can see you blushing."  He laughed.  "It's nothing sexual, I promise you.  I'm an old man, and while I can still appreciate the sight of a pretty young woman like yourself, I'm too far gone to do anything about it!"

He grinned and Nina began to relax again.  She wasn't sure why she had thought what she did; he was right in what he guessed at.  She didn't feel that wave of lust she was accustomed to getting from men who asked her out, so she felt safe.  She smiled and laughed with him.

"That's okay, but you can't blame a girl for thinking that with a handsome man like you sitting with her," Nina flirted.

Brian laughed again.  "You flatter me.  No, what I need is something more important to me right now.  That piece," he pointed at the statue outside, "was created through inspiration, and I'm very proud of it.  I'd like to do more of them, but it's hard to be that inspired all the time.  You never know when it may come."

"Are you asking me to pose for you?" Nina asked, thinking she was quick on the uptake.

"In a matter of speaking, yes.  But not in the way you think."

Nina was a little taken back.  The idea of posing for an artist didn't bother her in general, she rather liked the idea, but the statue seemed to be a nude, and that was another matter entirely.  Yet, looking around at where she was going to live, was that really a high price to pay?  All these thoughts buzzed through her head before she caught Brian's last statement.

"What do you mean?"

"It's not a model I need, in the strictest sense.  But an inspiration of the moment."  He looked at the statue again.  "I caught her in a moment of vulnerability, and that look stayed with me as I created...that.  It was inspiration of the moment, something I could never have created in the studio.  THAT's what I need.  But it will entail some sacrifice by you, if you agree."

"What sacrifice?" Nina asked cautiously.

"In return for your free room and board for the two years you work at the firm before heading back to law school, all I require is that you give up your right to clothing of any sort while on this property, so I can observe you for my sculptures."

"You must be joking!" Nina said, shocked.

"No, I'm not.  I'm quite serious.  You need not worry; you will not be touched, you will be perfectly safe, yet you will also spend your time naked on the grounds and in the house, only to dress whenever you have to leave."

"How does that help your art?"

"It helps because in this state you will have reactions to things and feelings that you would not have being dressed.  Being nude will add some vulnerability to your state of mind, at least at first.  Later, once you adjust, if you do, that same nudity might bring you a joy you never would have gotten otherwise, which again would be inspiration for my work."

"Couldn't I just pose for you a couple of times?"

Brian frowned and leaned forward.  "Look at what you are getting in return; a wonderful home and no worries about your next meal or bills or any of the other things that come with striking out on your own.  You will be able to concentrate on your new job with no distractions, no worries."

"Is my job in jeopardy if I say no?" Nina asked.

Brian smiled, glad the girl was quick off the mark.  "No, you earned it, the job is yours.  But saying no means you leave here as soon as you have found other accommodation.  And around here, that's spendy!  Can you afford to say no?"

Nina looked at him wide eyed.

Brian stood up.  "Don't answer me now, take a few days.  Get to know the place and enjoy it.  I can wait for your answer."  He smiled.  "It's really good having you here, Nina.  Don't worry, it's just to look at you that I want, nothing else."

Nina sat in silence as Brian left.

What was she to do?

End of Part 1