Without waiting, Mark turned and began walking towards the opposite side of the conservatory, where the lectern was. After several moments of careful consideration, Carie followed. To the right of the lectern was a smaller door which he held open for her. Carie looked through the door before entering, still feeling off balance at the entire situation. She’d gone from losing everything to having more than she could imagine.
An ice cream shop.
A sprawling estate.
Did she really want to know what was through the door? Did she really want to know what the Amor Ice Cream Company was up to?
Hell yeah she did.
Carie walked through the door and found herself in a small room with another door.
Mark pressed a button to the right of the door and smiled, crossing his arms as he seemed to be waiting for something.
There was a ding and Carie realized they were standing in front of an elevator.
The faux wooden door slid to the side.
“Could Angela not make it up stairs?” Carie asked, genuinely interested. Angela had always seemed to be able to move about however she wanted so it was surprising to see an elevator in the woman’s house.
My house, she thought. Rollingwylde is my house now.
“She could absolutely make it up stairs, but this elevator goes down, not up,” Mark said.
“Huh… Down?” Carie chewed on her lip.
“I don’t understand. What’s underneath the house?”
“The Amor Ice Cream Company.”
The door to the elevator opened silently and Mark held his hand out, gesturing for her to enter. She did so, and the smell of vanilla enveloped her. There was also an earthy smell she couldn’t place. Not unpleasant, but also uncommon.
The elevator began to descend, moving slowly as though it was ancient, or carrying precious cargo.
“How old is this thing?” Carie asked.
“Maybe a decade? It’s not super old.”
Carie nodded, but was still surprised at how slow the thing was moving. Another thought popped into her head.
“What if it stops working? And we’re still on it?”
Mark shrugged. “There’s no call box or anything, but someone from the office would come get us.”
“And on the weekend? What happens then?”
Mark frowned. “I don’t follow the question.”
“On the weekend. When people go home. What happens if you get stuck on the elevator then? You have to wait until Monday?”
“No,” Mark laughed. “There’s always someone in the office. Always.”
Carie frowned at that. It seemed a strange thing to say. She’d never worked in an office building, but she didn’t think that there were always people present in an office as Mark was making it out. Before Carie could ask another question, the elevator came to a stop.
Slowly, the doors began to slide open and Carie frowned as the noise of what was occurring in front of her flooded the small space.
Desks could be seen from just outside the elevator to far in the distance. She wasn’t sure how large the room was because she couldn’t really see where it ended.
At each desk was a person feverishly typing.
“What is this?” Carie asked.
“Amor Ice Cream Company,” Mark said. “Welcome to your new business.”
Mark clapped twice and all the typing stopped at once. All the workers at the desks stood, turning to face Mark and Carie.
“Everyone,” Mark said, raising his voice to be heard at the far end of the room. “Meet the new owner of Amor Ice Cream Company. Carie.”
There were several confused looks, but most of the people assembled before her seemed to accept it as normal.
Carie felt Mark’s hand on the small of her back.
“Did you want to say something?” He asked.
“No. Should I?” She asked in return.
“I think they would appreciate it.”
Carie chewed her lip. “Okay. Fine. I’ll say something.”
She stepped forward, not really knowing what she was about to say, feeling her heart beating up in her throat, and just wanting the whole thing to be over with.
“Hi, everyone. My name is Carie and I guess I just inherited this company. I want you all to know that I will always look out for your interests.”
No one moved.
“Thanks for your time,” Carie said.
All the workers sat down and immediately started typing again. Carie glanced back at Mark.
“I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t this.”
“What did you expect?” Mark asked.
“I don’t know. Ice cream? Mixers?”
Mark smiled. It was a nice, understanding smile, not a condescending one. “Oh, we don’t keep that equipment on premises. That’s all held in a warehouse.”
Carie nodded. “And this is what, the business wing?”
Mark nodded in response, leading her back to the elevator. They got on and rode up in silence.
“You ready for the tour?” Mark asked when the elevator opened.
“Sure, but I don’t have a lot of time. My ice cream shop opens tomorrow.”
“So I hear. Are you excited?”
“Yeah. I’m pretty excited. It’s the first time I’ve ever had…” Carie trailed off because she didn’t know where to start. It was the first time for so many things. It was her first ice cream shop. It was her first coffee shop now and it also looked as though she also owned her first major company as well as estate.
“Are you okay?” Mark’s brow creased. “You just got really pale.”
“I’m fine. Just… Overwhelmed, I guess? This is a lot.”
“Yeah, I can see that. We can do the tour at another time if you’d prefer.”
“I think I would. I just want to sit down for a little.”
“Sure. Did you want something to eat too?”
“Yeah. Something small.”
“Sure.” Mark led her from the tiny elevator room, back through the conservatory, across a hall, and into an entertaining room of some sort.
The only things in the room were a dark green couch with flocked fabric and a painting on the wall.
Carie took a seat and sighed, looking at the painting as Mark left the room.
The painting wasn’t the most comforting thing she’d ever seen. On one side of the painting was a burning mansion and what looked like people in some of the windows. In front of the mansion was a combination gallows and guillotine set up. Men and women in frilly dresses and suits were being marched up the stairs by other men and women with angry looks on their faces and dirty, tattered clothing. The dirty people far outnumbered those in the nicer clothing and all seemed to be watching in brutal fascination at the scene playing out before them.
As Carie examined the painting closer, she noticed that a woman who stood at the corner of the gallows was speaking to the crowd, a large pitchfork held above her head. This woman seemed to be the focus of the painting. This woman looked exactly like Carie.
Frowning, she had a weird moment where she recalled some images she’d seen online of people walking through the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was a series of pictures where people stood next to paintings they thought resembled them in some way. Some of the paintings were completely different than the people standing next to them, but others were so will alike it was uncanny. She’d often wondered if some of the more uncanny ones were distant relations, but had discarded that idea as the odds seemed to be too skewed.
Now, however, the considerations came back. Was this woman at the edge of the gallows, leading the unwashed masses, related to her in some way?
Carie didn’t know and didn’t really think she’d be able to find out.
She noticed another face in the painting that stood out and then a third.
A man who looked strikingly like Tanner was pulling down on the rope of the guillotine, lifting the blade for the next person in line.
The third person that Carie recognized was far away from the gallows, in fact this person was on the far side of the painting in the crowd. Carie wasn’t sure she’d have noticed the person if she didn’t recognize them. Where everyone else in the crowd was cheering on those working the gallows, this person was turned and looking out of the painting. Almost as if they were looking at the artist, or the person looking at the painting.
This person bore a striking resemblance to Angela.
Mark returned with David, who held a plate with a bagel with something that looked like raw fish on it.
“Miss Flint,” David said, handing the plate to her.
Carie took the plate and stared at the food, her mind whirling with what she’d seen in the painting.
“Do you not like fish?” Mark asked.
“Oh, it’s not that,” Carie said. “I’ve just never eaten raw fish on a bagel though?”
David glanced at Mark who shrugged.
“It’s smoked,” David said. “But I can bring you something else if you’d prefer? Lox and a bagel seemed like a neutral choice.”
Carie shook her head. “No, it’s fine. I’ve just never had lox and a bagel.”
She brought the bagel and fish to her lips, the vague smell of smoky seawater drifting up. Taking a bite, she let out an unconscious groan. Her eyes slipped shut and she smiled. The fish almost melted in her mouth, the saltiness mingling perfectly with the bagel.
She remembered to chew and did so before swallowing.
“That good?” David asked, a tiny smile playing at the corner of his mouth.
“Yes. That good.” Carie took another bite, pleased that the second bite was just as good as the first.
Carie finished the bagel in silence that was only punctuated with the occasional groan. When she was finished, she handed the plate back to David.
“Anything else?” David asked.
Carie nodded, pointing at the painting. “Who did that painting?”
Mark and David exchanged a look before Mark answered. “One of the previous owners of Rollingwylde painted that.”
“Angela?” Carie asked.
“No,” Mark answered.
Carie frowned. “Then it had to have been the owner before Angela?”
“No,” Mark said. “It was several owners before Angela.”
Carie chewed her lip as she nodded. If they were all related, maybe they just looked like Angela.
“So the house has been in Angela’s family for a while?” Carie asked.
Mark and David exchanged another look before David slipped out of the room.
“This house has never been passed down to a family member before. When it’s changed ownership, it’s always changed ownership to a new family.”
“I don’t understand. How is Angela’s face in the painting? How is my face in the painting? How is…” Carie trailed off on that last one, not wanting to mention Tanner.
“This painting is… Look, I don’t really know how to explain it. The painting is strange. It changes when you look at it. Don’t be surprised if you come back in and see something different the next time you’re here.”
“I can’t even explain it. The faces might be different. The location painted might be different. Sometimes, the subject matter might even be different.”
Carie pursed her lips. She didn’t buy that. She didn’t buy that the painting was going to change over time. That didn’t make any sense.
But having sex with a carton of ice cream that changed into a human does make sense? Her mind asked.
She didn’t have a good answer to that.
“There’s some other things you need to know about this place,” Mark said. “I brought you in here to see if the painting would speak to you. It did. That means some of Rollingwylde’s more… eccentric features may make themselves known to you.”
“Eccentric features? What does that mean?”
“You might enter a room one day and later find that the room has moved to the opposite side of the manor. Everything inside the room will seem mostly unchanged, but the room won’t be where you remember.”
Carie snorted out a laugh. “Right.”
Mark wasn’t smiling. “It can, at times, be disconcerting to live here.”
Carie still thought he might be joking, but was unsure. “Okay, we’ll see how that all works out when I’m faced with it.”
“I’m just trying to prepare you. If you’re seeing things in the painting that means the manor is already communicating with you.”
Carie did her best not to roll her eyes at this. She didn’t believe the building could communicate. She didn’t believe that inanimate objects could…
“What else do I need to do?” Carie asked, cutting her thoughts off before they could get away from her.
“Nothing. I’ll bring all the papers to you. I assume you’ll be moving into Rollingwylde?”
“Alright, well, talk to David and he’ll have movers out at your house today. You won’t have to do anything.”
“How long will they take?” Carie asked.
Mark gave her a little smile. “If you go to work today, you’ll be completely moved out of your house and moved into Rollingwylde before you get home.”
“You mean my stuff will be at least. I’ll still have to unpack any boxes.”
“No, you won’t. They’ll take care of all of that. I don’t think you fully understand the resources you now command.”
“I guess I don’t.”
“You will. Just give it time and it will all eventually seem normal.”
Carie wasn’t sure she wanted to become so divorced from regular life that normal events were taken care of for her.
“Okay. Thank you, Mark. For everything. You’ve been very helpful.”
Mark nodded. “No problem. It’s my job. If, and by if I mean when, those detectives come back, send them my way. Don’t say a word to them.”
“I haven’t yet.”
“Good. Well, I think we’re finished here. David will arrange transportation to your work.”
“I can drive.”
“You have a personal valet on the payroll so you might want to take advantage of that.”
Carie hadn’t thought of that. She now owned just about everything Angela had. That including employing all of Angela’s employees.
“Okay. I’ll talk to David,” Carie said.
“Good. I’ll talk to you tonight or tomorrow sometime. Like everything else, David will arrange it.”
Carie watched as Mark left the room. She stayed where she was for several moments, looking at the painting again, searching for anything that had changed even though she knew that was ridiculous.
No surprise, nothing had changed.
After getting up from the couch, she headed out of the room, again half expecting to exit into a new room she’d never seen before. She ended up in the exact same room she’d been in previously.
David stood there, waiting for her.
“Mark told me I should talk to you about moving arrangements?” Carie asked.
“Consider it taken care of,” David said.
“Do you need my address?”
“No, I already have your address.”
“Oh. Okay. Mark also said I should talk to you about transportation?”
“Sure. I’ll have Lisa bring the car around.”
“Lisa? Is that the valet who took my car?”
“No. That was Josh. He’s merely a footman. Lisa will be your personal valet and accompany you everywhere.”
Carie nodded. “Okay. Where should I wait?”
David gave her a small smile and let out a chuckle. “Wherever you wish. Rollingwylde is yours. Lisa will find you when the car’s pulled around.”
“Right. Of course.”
David spun around and left the hallway, leaving Carie standing there, looking around as though she was a stranger in someone else’s house. And really, she was. Rollingwylde might’ve now been hers, but that didn’t mean it felt like it. She wasn’t sure if it would ever feel as though she owned it.
Carie had only strayed several rooms away when a woman with a shaved head entered.
“Carie? Your car is ready,” the woman said.
“Are you Lisa?” Carie asked.
“I am. If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you to the car and we can get you to your shop.”
“Right.” Carie followed Lisa from the room and through the rest of the estate to the front door. Lisa held the door open for her and Carie stepped out. Her feet hit thick, green carpet she hadn’t noticed before. It was rolled from the front door of Rollingwylde to the door behind the driver’s seat of a massive, silver Mercedes-Benz. Lisa held the door open and waited as Carie stepped into the vehicle.
Inside, Carie, already overwhelmed, was greeted with more luxuries that she never knew existed. The seat she now sat in not only reclined, but also had heating and cooling controls as well as a massage setting. A screen was built into the back of the driver’s seat that showed the local news on mute. In the upper right-hand corner of the screen was a tiny map that showed where she was as well as the estimated arrival time to the ice cream shop.
Lisa pulled away from the curb and Carie jumped when her voice whispered through the speakers built into the headrest.
“The television is a touchscreen, so you can change channels however you wish that way. There’s also an extensive library of movies you can choose from if you prefer to go that route. Additionally, you can stream just about any song or album you wish. It’s looking like, with the current traffic, we’ll be arriving at Honeybee Sweets ‘n Treats in thirty minutes, or at around 11 AM. If you have any questions, just hit the red button on the handle to your left and speak.”
“Thank you,” Carie said.
“My pleasure,” Lisa responded.
As the car drove towards Honeybee Sweets ‘n Treats, Carie played with the touchscreen for several minutes before reclining the seat, turning on the massage, and closing her eyes. She woke up to Lisa gently placing her hand on Carie’s shoulder and saying her name. Carie yawned and stepped out of the Mercedes.
“Thank you,” Carie said. “When I’m ready to leave do I just call you?”
“I should be here waiting unless I’ve stepped away to go get a bite to eat. In that case, feel free to give me a call or just use this.”
Lisa handed Carie two items. One was a card that simply read Lisa and had a phone number, the other was a black metal square with a red button.
“What does this do?” Carie asked.
“All you have to do is hit the button and I’ll be there in no time. Some people prefer not to call.”
“I’d love to answer you, but it’s frowned upon to speak of the previous owners of Rollingwylde.”
“That’s fair. Okay, well, thank you again.”
“My pleasure,” Lisa said. “Enjoy your day.”
Carie nodded and headed to the front door of the ice cream shop. She paused there for a moment, considering heading over to the coffee shop to see what needed to be done there. She decided against it though. She still had so much to do to prepare for her grand opening that she was afraid she wouldn’t finish everything. Adding in dealing with the coffee shop would push things from near impossible to absolutely impossible.
After unlocking the door, Carie entered the shop and locked up behind herself. She watched as Lisa walked away from the car and into the coffee shop.
Finally alone, Carie headed straight to the walk-in, stepping in and allowing the door to close behind her. She let out a deep breath and relaxed in the cold air. So much had happened that she wasn’t sure how she would ever get through it all. She needed help and the person who she thought would be helping her had disappeared.
Carie hit the light in the walk-in, staring at the Freezer Amor. She already knew the solution to her problem. Well, the solution to one of her problems. She could get everything finished if she had another pair of hands to help her. She could get through her grand opening if she just opened the Freezer Amor and allowed Rocky Road to enter her world.
Nodding, Carie moved towards the Freezer Amor. She felt an exquisite tension begin to build within her. She felt as though she needed to release some stress. She wondered if Rocky Road was the same as Tangerine Dream.
Carie reached out and pulled the door to the Freezer Amor open. Thick mist poured out from the smaller freezer and pooled around her ankles. Licking her lips, she took a step closer, peering through the packaging that held Rocky Road. She could barely make out his features, but she could see his dark skin through the plastic. Biting her lip, she reached out for the tab that would animate Rocky Road and bring him into her world.
Something buzzed faintly, from far away, and Carie paused, her hand right above the tag to Rocky Road, fingers brushing against it.
She held her breath for a moment, preparing to pull the tab, but the buzzer sounded again.
Someone was ringing the bell on the loading dock.