“Right on time. Come on in.”
Emmy smiled and stepped into the foyer. At a glance, the place looked like the photos — dingy, old, empty, but beautiful bones. She took in a few pretty details, like a stained glass transom window, flourishes on the moulding in a corner, a glass newel cap. Still, nothing seemed like it didn’t need work of some sort.
“I’m Graham,” her host continued, extending his hand. Emmy shook it, feeling its warmth. He looked like a hipster, or maybe more like if a hippie had money, a brightly patterned shirt, corduroy pants, and well-kept facial hair. He was a good ten years older than her, at least.
“Emmy,” she replied politely.
“I appreciate you responding to my ad with such a detailed account of your experience,” Graham said. “I do love a jack of all trades! Want to have a seat and start hashing out some details?”
“Sure,” she responded, “Do you want to give me a tour first? Then I can do a supply run or see if I have what we need in my truck.”
“Oh, I would love to give you a tour, of course. Let’s just take a minute to talk, first.”
Emmy nodded, and Graham showed her forward, past the transom, and to the right into what could likely serve as a living room. All that stood was a little card table, and two folding chairs. Emmy sat down into it, hers sitting a bit lower than his.
“So, as I said in my post, I was lucky to get a place like this, and the exterior is lovely just the way it is. But the interior obviously needs more than a little work.
“Now, I’m not interested in flipping it to sell; I like to be able to enjoy the fruits of my own labor. This is going to be my home. And I do have a good deal of renovation experience. But this isn’t a one-person job.
“As I said in the ad, I’m in no rush; I currently live nearby and haven’t sold the old place yet. But I do want to let you know that I’m not committed to the idea of working with one contractor. I figure you and are start on just a couple of projects here, and give it a few days, and take it from there. Would that work for you?”
“I mean, I suppose it could.”
Emmy tried not to sound either too excited or too disappointed, but sensed she gave away both. She hadn’t had a gig that lasted longer than a week in months now. When she had found this listing, for a ton of work with no real deadline, she had hoped it would mean a really long term project. But she should have known that only requesting a solo contractor instead of a bigger team may have been too good to be true.
Perhaps sensing her apprehension, Graham continued.
“I don’t want to keep you from other clients for no reason, of course. How about I pay you your proposed hourly rate, 100 hours for two weeks? If I shift gears partway through that time, or don’t quite need you for all those hours, you’re not up in the air. Does that work better?”
“Oh, that would be great, thank you!” Emmy once again felt her emotions betray her, audibly sounding a bit relieved. She was good with her hands. With people, not so much. No one ever had any complaints about the work she did, but after three years of independent contract work she felt like she hadn’t made any progress on the hustle aspect of the job.
“Great, so if that helps you relax a bit, I’d appreciate your attention for a few minutes while I lay out my big picture philosophy for renovation, so to speak. Then we can see the space.”
Emmy smiled politely, shifted in the chair.
“Emmy, why do you enjoy your work?”
“Oh. Um. I suppose I really like seeing how I make something go from point A to point B. Like, how it can look completely different.”
“Of course. I think the transformation aspect is beautiful, as well. But it’s not just a superficial change, when you work on a renovation. It’s a space that’s going to be inhabited, to be enjoyed by somebody. You’re making a home. In this case, my home.”
It felt a little personal, but he was right. Emmy did love to think of families sitting around tables she had finished, of somebody curling up at a fireplace where she had repaired the brickwork.
“Emmy, I want you to think of this house as a living, breathing thing.”
“Like — sorry, what?”
“It’s a little out there, I know. Here, humor me and pick a spot in the room that interests you. Now, focus on it.”
It was a little weird, but Emmy’s eyes flickered towards a second stained glass transom, leading into what looked like a hallway.
“Perfect choice. That’s original to the house, you know. At this time of day it doesn’t get direct sunlight, but you can still see the sheen of it, the texture. Now, in a second, you’re going to take a breath in, and you’re going to notice something you didn’t about it, before. OK, go ahead.”
Feeling a little silly, Emmy took the breath. She held it a moment, and waited.
“Great. Breathe out, and you’ll realize what changes just a little bit.”
Emmy exhaled, and suddenly, the colors looked just a little brighter. Had the lighting in the room changed? Unprompted, she took a second breath in. The window seemed to glint, despite the relatively dim light. She gave a little smile.
“Neat trick,” she said quietly, glancing back at Graham.
“No trick,” he replied. “You’re just really getting in tune with the place. And that’s how I work best, alone or with someone else. We’re going to take our time here because we’re really going to feel the house, get fully into the work we’re doing. I already trust that you’re skilled at handiwork, but what I’m looking for is if you can really get into the right headspace, to be one with the space a little bit. In my experience, you really will see a difference with the end result.”
It was crunchy, but if Emmy just had to get in the house-y zone to get a longer contract, that seemed doable. Honestly, it sounded a little bit like how she worked already, in a steady focus.
“Let’s do one more exercise in here. I want to give you just a couple of minutes to really notice this room. To really take it in, I want you to keep breathing, to think about you and I from the outside. We’re here. We’re part of the room. But we’re only a part of it. So is the flooring. So are the windows, and the moulding, and the furniture that we have. A lot of that will change. Some sooner, some later. But as you keep breathing, I know you can feel what this room is like the way you might know a person. Or the way you might know your own mind.”
The words were cheesy, but Emmy stopped feeling awkward as she looked around, her eyes taking in details in a new way. Which spots on the floor were the most worn. How the windows seemed to angle just a tiny bit forward. How small she and Graham and the table and chairs were inside so much emptiness.
“Do you see it? Do you see the two people sitting and enjoying the space? Can you feel what that feels like?”
Yeah. It was nice. The obvious work the room needed fell into perspective. But so did what was good about it now. The feeling of two people, small but warm, was important. A wild spark in the quiet.
“You’re doing great. I want you to remember this feeling. This is the living room. No matter what we do to change it, this is the soul of the living room. Anytime you’re in here, no matter what’s going on, you feel the sense of the space above all.”
“This is my living room, because this is my home. That’s what we’re working towards. We’re making this the best space for me, and it’s what the house wants. It wants to be my home.”
At that, Graham came into new focus. He was a part of the room, but also distinct. Not just a warm body but something brighter. A focal point.
“Emmy, It’s time to get up. I’m going to give you the rest of the tour now, and in each room we’re going to take a few minutes for you to get acquainted with it. Sounds good?”
Emmy shook her head, realizing she hadn’t been moving. The intensity of the room faded a bit, but it still permeated. Honestly, it was more comfortable than she had felt in ages. But she had a job to do.
Graham took Emmy through the short hall to the kitchen, which on first glance was really a wreck.
“No furniture in here right now,” he explained, “And I wouldn’t put my weight on that counter. But this time you can stand, and you can put a hand on the wall. Try getting a physical feel when you take a look around. And the house can feel you back.”
Calmly, Emmy reached out and touched the plaster, and took a breath. It wasn’t silly at all, and it was easy this time. The feeling of the kitchen, sadder and more lonely than the living room, came to her quickly. Despite herself, she gave a little sigh.
“We’re going to fix it up,” Graham reminded her quietly, sliding his hand up next to hers on the wall. “This is going to be my home. Do you feel it notice notice us, notice me? Do you feel it saying hello?”
Emmy kept breathing and felt what else the room was like. Funny, too. A bit eager. It welcomed her, but it seemed almost fawning towards Graham. That made sense. She grew more comfortable, more quiet as the room got just a little bit louder in her head.
“Are you ready to move on?,” Graham eventually asked, and taking one more breath, she nodded and stepped away from the wall.
They walked through the rest of the house, taking time to get acquainted with each room. Sometimes Graham would point out a particular detail, or talk about why a room was going to be important to her, or encourage her to listen a little harder. Some of the rooms were louder, or more eager, or even a little sexy (the bedrooms in particular, though Emmy didn’t share this observation). Graham explained how the rooms all fit into the house together, how understanding each part of the space added all together into something much bigger than any of them. The place was big, and Emmy’s thoughts were a jumble of banisters, and doors, and corners, and old stains. Graham was consistent through it all; she never lost him. Each room was happy to see them both, but Graham was special. This was going to be his home.
The last space they met was the foyer, which was so different than when Emmy had first entered, humble and excited to see people come or go, to greet whoever was in Graham’s home.
“This was a great first day of work,” said Graham, shaking Emmy’s hand again. “Shall we say tomorrow at nine?”
Emmy blinked a bit back into herself. She had noticed it getting dark as she had examined the windows, but hadn’t processed that that meant she was going to leave. “Sorry, I didn’t realize — we used a whole day.”
“No, don’t be sorry at all!,” replied Graham eagerly, “You came by in the afternoon, anyway. And you were wonderful. I have a really great feeling about working with you. This is part of the work I’ve paid for.”
At that, he took a check out of his pocket, already made out to the full amount for the hundred hours. Emmy accepted it graciously.
“I promise. Tomorrow we do real, physical work. It’s just going to be much better than if we hadn’t taken the time on the tour today. Thank you, Emmy. Have a great night.”
Emmy knocked on the door the next morning and waited a bit eagerly. She had dreamt of the house the night before, and almost felt nostalgic for it. In any case, she was ready to finally get her hands dirty.
“Right on time, again!,” exclaimed Graham as he opened the door. Today he looked a little less formal, in old jeans and a T-Shirt he could get messy. “Please, come inside.”
As soon as Emmy stepped through the door, she felt the foyer again, deeply familiar, though she had only been through it twice before.
“Take a breath, say hello to the house.”
Emmy did, with a little smile. The feelings from the day before came rushing back, the orientation in space, the chatter of the rooms, the outstanding presence of Graham.
“We’re going to get right to it. We’re starting today with the walk-in closet in the primary bedroom. We’ll take the rods out and whitewash the walls for now. I took the liberty of selecting and ordering new shelving that should get here later this week, but everything we need today I should have upstairs already.”
“You don’t want to start with like, plumbing or something?,” asked Emmy, incredulous they would start with a little task like that. At that, she felt a bit foolish. All that time in the house yesterday and she hadn’t really figured out everything that actually needed doing. She hadn’t examined wiring or anything like that.
“Don’t worry. I have a more involved plan, I promise. But I’d just like us to get warmed up this morning, and the light in the closet still works.”
Emmy shrugged, and followed Graham upstairs to the bedroom. As soon as she entered the bedroom, her headspace shifted to match. She felt the room recognize her, regard her, and especially Graham.
“You won’t hurt it, you know,” said Graham as he opened the door to the closet and switched on the light. “Even if we have to knock down a wall or two, the house won’t feel it as physical pain. It knows that it’s improving, becoming a home.”
Honestly, the thought hadn’t occurred to Emmy, but the solution still provided relief.
“Look, it’s going to love what we do this morning. Let’s start with these rods. As you work, feel how the room responds, listen closely to it.”
He looked at Emmy expectantly, and she took a deep breath, felt her thoughts and vision narrow. There was a task to do, and the room was waiting. Graham was waiting. At that, they began.
Graham didn’t make small talk as they worked, and that more than suited Emmy. All she was thinking about was the next step in renovating the closet, in the buzz of the room as it filled her mind, its excitement at Graham’s evident satisfaction with its progress. When they needed to speak to get the job done, they did, but other than that, they worked in silence, the focus on making progress blotting out all else.
“And I think we’re good for now!,” Graham finally declared. Emmy’s focus didn’t break, but it shifted. The closet seemed to swell with a renewed joy, that radiated out to the bedroom, and rippled through the rest of the house. Emmy took a longer look at Graham, standing with his hands on his hips, satisfied. The house noticed, and Emmy felt a flutter rise up into her throat.
“Yeah, you feel that,” he smiled. It wasn’t a question. “Wonderful.”
Emmy nodded, still not feeling like speaking if it wasn’t necessary.
“Let’s have lunch. I ordered in sandwiches this morning; we can have them in the living room. I’m going to wash up and lay them out. Take a few minutes in here to see how it feels now.”
Emmy was alone in the bedroom. Well, not alone, exactly, since the bedroom’s presence outshone her own, but it was the first time she had been in a room without Graham. Emmy had no idea how many walls she had whitewashed in her life, but the three of the closet shone brightly to her. She remembered Graham’s smile, felt the hum of the house get louder. She closed her eyes and it still felt bright, and vibrant, and humming. It once again pushed away any errant thoughts.
“Emmy?” Came the call from downstairs. “Wash up and come eat!”
Over lunch, Graham asked Emmy some polite questions about herself, but the talk was mostly business. Pleased with her trial task, Graham laid out more of his plans for the next several weeks (Emmy was starting to think she might be sticking around for awhile) and she absorbed the list of projects with an expert’s ear. He really did know his way around home renovation, and it was also a relief to not have to explain to a client every little thing she’d be doing and why. She also waited for his compliments, his praise, felt the house brighten and warm just a little bit each time.
The afternoon was essentially tearing apart the downstairs bathroom; it would need light plumbing work, but Graham wanted all new fixtures, besides. Emmy told him he could take a break, but he waved her off.
“The house needs to feel my touch, really know whose home it is. It’s really important I work on it myself. Though I know it already loves you.”
As he promised, the house didn’t mind the demolition, but yielded, opened softly as they wedged out the sink and the toilet. Emmy’s body exerted itself with the effort of lifting ceramic, but inside, she felt soft, felt Graham’s determination to make his home his own. When he sent her home that evening, he let her take a minute to say a brief goodbye to the bedroom she had worked on earlier. She could have sworn she heard a “thank you.”
The next day was more bathroom work, both sweaty and meticulous. It passed in a blur of progress, punctuated by Graham’s comments, of his vision for the house, or sometimes, approval. Emmy said maybe ten words the whole time, was happy to follow Graham’s lead even though she was the professional. It was his home, after all. He would stop and pat a wall affectionately, or run his hand lightly over a banister. The house noticed with a shudder every time.
Graham provided cold lunch again, and Emmy didn’t even consider asking for any breaks other than using the (working) bathroom.
Going back to her little apartment felt strange. Emmy felt almost homesick, or more like she missed a friend. She dreamed of the house again.
The rest of the week passed quickly, mostly with bathroom work, but also starting on the kitchen as they waited for needed parts to arrive. Graham was hardly talkative, but he did chat a bit more as they worked, sometimes talking about his own interests, sometimes narrating what the house was thinking, how excited it was to receive him. Emmy could always hear it, too.
At the end of the week, Graham came back from a bathroom break to find Emmy, who needed his feedback before going forward, standing still with a hand on the wall, staring at a blank spot.
“Emmy, you’re doing even better than I could have hoped,” he said, laying a hand briefly on her shoulder. Emmy felt a flutter. The house responded as though he had touched it.
Graham insisted on taking Saturday off, and Emmy used the time to run a few errands, including restock on some supplies. On the drive home from the store, she let herself take a detour, go slowly past the dark house. She couldn’t wait for the next day, to dive back in.
On Sunday, Graham greeted Emmy with a light hug, and she felt the whole house shudder.
“Bathroom first today?,” she asked brightly.
“Actually, I’m going to strip off the old wallpaper of the dining room. I’ve already prepped some solution.” While that was a surprise, Emmy was excited. Graham hated that wallpaper, and so did the house. And so did Emmy. She headed down the hall to the room, felt it say hello to her and excitedly greet Graham. She looked at him expectantly, ready to get started.
“No, this I’m going to do alone. I want to give the dining room a little attention myself.”
“Oh. Um, what should I do then?”
“I don’t have another solo project for you right now, but would you like to watch?”
“Yep. You can keep the room company while I work. Houses have a different concept of privacy,” at this he winked, and the room flickered with a little laugh. “I think it’ll be a really good bonding experience for you with the place. But if you aren’t interested, you can take the day off and come back tomorrow. No change in pay.”
“No! I’ll stay,” Emmy blurted out. The thought of losing another day away from the house was unbearable. “Just… let me know if you need anything.”
“Same to you. The house is going to get a bit rowdy with me touching it this much, but if you need a break before I do, just say the word.”
Emmy blushed involuntarily, and nodded. Graham nodded towards a folding chair he’d provided, and she sat as he began to work.
Graham ran his hand once over the wall, like a caress, and Emmy felt the house focus in on it. She experienced her usual tunnel vision, but watching him work without working as well was a new experience. A more overt dissociation set in, but it was pleasant.
“My touch establishes that this is my home,” Graham said matter-of-factly, before moving towards the bucket with the solution. “You know to yield to me, that this is going to be a place that’s just for me.”
The next few hours could have been minutes or years. Emmy was aware of every movement Graham made as the wall transformed, shedding its old skin. He spoke more than usual, addressing the house directly, only periodically making an aside to Emmy. She hardly noticed a difference, consumed with the feeling of the house reveling in Graham’s attention. She didn’t feel the need to move a muscle. Finally, as he went to set up lunch, he addressed her.
“Clean up the mess so far, please. Then wash up and come eat.”
Emmy felt the change as Graham left the room, his presence lingering as a shadow instead of shining brightly. With less to focus on, she moved to follow his order automatically.
At lunch, Graham talked sparingly, mostly about how much the house was enjoying the renovations, how strong her bond with it had clearly become. She ate her lunch as she was told, but her thoughts were of how the dining room had embraced Graham.
After lunch, Graham told her to watch him finish the room. She did so, and didn’t ask to leave, even when the project went late. She finally went home to get sleep before coming back the next day.
“You really did help today,” he grinned at her before she left. “It’s getting to be like you’re a part of the house.”
The house welcomed her back the next day, and Graham gave her another hug when she came in. She let herself hug him back, but didn’t keep holding on when they parted, though the house immediately wanted them to renew the contact. But it was back to bathroom work, said Graham, and the thought heartened her.
As the end of the second week neared, Emmy felt her odds were good, but was afraid to ask about Graham’s decision. The bathroom wasn’t close to done, the kitchen was barely started, and a handful of other projects stood in half-completion around the house. Luckily, Graham didn’t wait till the last minute to put her mind at ease.
“You’re so a part of this project that I can’t imagine continuing it without you,” he said on the second-to-last morning. “I don’t know what you have lined up after this, but for now, could you possibly commit for the rest of the summer? Let’s say two months for now?”
It felt almost like a marriage proposal, and Emmy blinked tears out of her eyes as she accepted. Graham went on to offer her a raise, but at this point she hardly cared. The house celebrated, and let herself fade into the feeling.
Emmy and Graham worked with a renewed energy for the following weeks, and it seemed like every day the house grew more into a home, became louder and more vibrant in response to Graham’s wishes, and being able to fulfill them. Emmy’s days off were entirely based in planning next steps based on Graham’s directives, researching and honing skills that had before had felt too specialized. Those days were a mix of loud and quiet. It was quiet without the noise of the house, but Emmy’s thoughts without it felt loud, almost disjointed. She craved the focus of coming back on a Sunday.
Graham was letting her do projects on her own, as well. When she was in rooms without him, she felt the space hunger for his presence, wonder how he would react at its transformation. But she grew used to this feeling as comfortable as well. Without Graham to let her know what else to do, everything felt all the more automatic. She would start a project and then look up to see it done, with no memory of having worked. She mentioned it once to Graham, a more personal admission than she usually volunteered.
“Maybe the house is learning to take care of itself, taking over a little bit of the mental effort,” he offered. “It means you’re doing perfectly.”
Graham continued to work as much as Emmy did, if not more, asserting himself into his new home. Sometimes, for as little as an hour or as much as a whole day, he had Emmy watch him work, let her feel the progress alongside the rest of the house. Once, while he ran an errand, she watched paint dry, felt the house bask in its new coat as it set, but didn’t think much of anything until he returned.
Graham continued to offer advice that made the house seem to assemble itself. Some of it was technical tips, though Emmy was learning more quickly than ever before. But he also explained how she could let the house take over while she labored, work through her to build itself.
“When you’re here, you’re a part of the house, after all,” he explained.
That was a relief, because the house was getting stronger all the time, as floors were replaced or finished, as all the lights came on clear and strong, as even the occasional piece of furniture made its way inside. Emmy entered the house every day to find it quickly envelop her, a missing piece that had returned.
Emmy could never feel Graham the way she could the house; it was his home, after all. But no matter what noise the house made in her head, his voice was louder, each movement vital to watch, to intuit what he wanted. Whenever he gave a little caress to something Emmy had done, her heart caught in her throat. The house needed him there. To inhabit it.
“Your hair is absolutely full of plaster,” remarked Graham one day. Emmy blushed. She had noticed, she supposed, but she wasn’t really going to think about it until she went home to shower. Occupational hazard.
“Sorry, should I be more careful?”
“Only so much you can do. Why don’t you go rinse it out in the sink and come back and meet me in the kitchen?”
Emmy hurried to obey. When she got to the kitchen, she found Graham holding a pair of scissors.
“How about I give you a haircut?,” he asked directly, gesturing towards a chair in front of him. “It’ll do more than just continuing to tie it back.”
Emmy instinctually started to walk towards the chair, and then stopped. She reached up and grabbed her damp hair. Should she say no? She had been proud of her long hair, once, but she hardly thought about it these days. She looked up, didn’t know quite what to say.
“I’m no barber, but I think I can manage something like a pixie,” Graham said reassuringly. “It’s going to make it easier for you to work on the house going forward. And for what it’s worth, I think you’d look great with short hair. I’d actually prefer it.”
Emmy’s hesitation dissipated with Graham’s words. There was a clear purpose, and reward in his approval. She sat down in the chair and faced away from him.
Graham slowly gathered her loose hair in one hand, and Emmy felt a shiver run up her spine. It felt the same way it felt watching him touch the house, size up a piece of wood or dip a brush into a bucket. He gave her hair the slightest tug, and Emmy moaned out loud. Graham didn’t react.
“Just think of what the house is thinking right now,” he said, as he began to cut. “Focus on how excited it is.”
Emmy let out another little moan, this one seeming to come from somewhere else. The house was excited to watch Graham change her. The feeling was fierce, like an attack, and Emmy surrendered to it, going limp in the chair as he worked.
When it was done, Graham came around and lifted Emmy’s chin, admiring his handiwork. She leaned into the touch, gazing at him expectantly.
“You look great,” he finally said. “This is a huge improvement. Good work.”
Emmy’s insides lit up, though it was him who had done the cutting. She thought only of the praise as he directed her to clean up the fallen hair on the ground.
The summer quickly turned into fall, and Emmy kept working, only cashing the paychecks when she needed to pay the bills. Graham fed them both lunch and dinner most days from the now fully functional kitchen. No space was fully finished, but the ending was in sight. The pace seemed impossible for only two people, but they weren’t doing it alone. The house was doing most of the work, now. Emmy barely remembered some days, blurs of purpose punctuated by Graham’s approval, or laughter, or touch of her arm, or squeeze of her shoulder. On two occasions he trimmed her hair as it curled past her ears, complimenting his own improving barber skills as he went. Those days she felt closer to the house than ever, knowing what it was like to get lost in its owner’s attention and touch.
“We’re on the home stretch, pun not intended,” announced Graham, nodding approvingly. “But we’re really going to need a final push. Emmy. I’m going to need your all on this. The guest room is decently comfortable now. Would you stay here until we finish?”
“Of course,” she responded without thinking, then feeling the elation of realizing she didn’t have to go back to her apartment for some time.
That first night in the house, Graham knocked politely on the door to Emmy’s new bedroom.
“All set?,” he asked. “I’m heading back to my old place for the night.”
Emmy nodded, not having to speak.
“Good. I don’t know what exactly the house will do when you’re asleep, but I know it’s thrilled to have you here.”
Emmy fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. In her dreams that night, she was the house, simple as that. It didn’t feel that different than the daytime, in some ways, but it was constant and uninterrupted by her daytime sense of her body. As if from above and about, she watched her own prone form, felt love and warmth for it the same way she felt the bed, the windows, the spare dresser in the corner. She also dreamt of Graham, speaking to her, touching her counters and face and doorframes.
“Soon,” she thought. “I will be his home soon.”
The next day, Emmy awoke with another knock on the door.
“Good morning,” spoke Graham through it. “It’s early, still. Just about six. Take your time, but I just wanted to let you know I’m here.”
As if still in the dream, Emmy watched herself get up and make the bed, get out clothes to change. The house had had her all night, and still had her this morning. The breezy attitude of the foyer, or its humbler partner in the back door, had not interrupted her reverie. It was time to continue to transform into a home.
Graham greeted her when she came downstairs, but then frowned.
“What is it?,” she asked reflexively.
“It’s not a problem or anything,” he replied, “But if you’re not coming from outside, there’s really no need to wear extra clothing. Of course you need underwear while we’re working, sometimes more, whatever is safe, but there’s no point in continuing to ruin the same few sets of clothes if it’s just paint or dust or whatever.”
Emmy reached automatically up to her t-shirt, and then paused. Graham nodded encouragingly.
“You’re going to shower every night, anyway. What’s the difference? And think how much of the house you’ll feel throughout the day. Plus, I think you’ll really work better if I can see more of you. The less getting in the way, the better.”
The reasoning made sense, was almost a relief. Emmy resumed stripping off her shirt and old jeans, and brushed briefly against a wall. The house purred.
Graham was right that she worked better when she could get away wearing less clothing. The hours of work grew longer with Emmy staying at the house, and Graham didn’t seem to mind the extra time for him, as well. He had savings, or something, didn’t need to work. That wasn’t Emmy’s concern. Her concern was final coats of paint, refinishing antique furniture Graham had found online, building a custom shelf for the primary bedroom, even starting to do yard work. Emmy had long had a sense of Graham’s aesthetic, but it came into clearer focus with finer details falling into place. The house’s personality grew more distinct. It was refined, but not self-serious, open to surprises, and loving just a little bit of incongruity. A zebra-striped drawer in a mostly conservative color scheme. A row of bookshelves creating an unnecessary nook in a room. It all made the house louder, more confident, and Emmy found it even easier to hear what it had to say.
Graham told her how pleased he was with how physically strong she had gotten.
“Not that you were weak before, by any means,” he explained. “But now I can really see the definition in your arms. It looks great. I’m glad I’ve given you a way to get more muscular.”
He gave one of her biceps a playful squeeze, and Emmy moaned. Graham always touched her a little bit longer when she did.
The house was so close. Graham had sold his old place and was getting ready to move out of it. He wasn’t taking any furniture, he explained, but soon he would bring in boxes with the like of clothes and books. He seemed excited, but for the first time in months, Emmy started to have errant thoughts in the evening, when work was done as she prepared to give herself over to the house for bed. What would happen when the projects were all done? The house would be fine without her, the same way it was fine when they tore out appliances, or knocked down plaster, or got rid of other waste. But the thought of a future without her in it seemed incomprehensible, her own tiny thoughts scary and lonely without the energy of the house.
One evening after her shower, Graham knocked on Emmy’s bedroom door, entered after a moment’s pause. She supposed it was to say good night, as usual, braced herself for an assessment of something she or the house had done during the day. He was never cruel, always constructive, but there had been a few missteps in the past week despite how the house used Emmy to set the final few details into place.
Graham sat next to her on the edge of the simple bed, and it warmly received his attention. Emmy felt herself flush.
“Emmy, how have you been doing?,” he asked, gently.
Emmy was momentarily confused by the question when she realized he meant just her, and not any particular project. She reached for an answer, and it wasn’t much changed from what the house thought.
“Excited by the progress. This is finally almost your home. The one you want.”
“That’s very good. Is that what’s the most important to you?”
“Then tell me what’s been bothering you.”
A flash of the thoughts of doubt, of fear for what would come next. She had forgotten them again in Graham’s presence. But she answered truthfully, as best she could.
“I don’t know if I can leave.”
A gleam entered Graham’s eye and he leaned forward.
“And why would you?”
Another difficult question. Despite her concerns, Emmy couldn’t fathom a permanent separation. Luckily, Graham continued.
“You’ve been a part of this house for some time, Emmy. In some ways you’re not like other rooms or fixtures or pieces of furniture, but where it counts, you’re not different, either.”
Emmy knew. The house hummed in agreement.
“I told you from the very start. So much of making this house a home has been the soul of it, making it fit exactly what I want, own not just these walls but what they represent. It’s a space where my desires have the utmost priority.
“You also know that that power to change things to suit me includes you.”
Emmy also knew. She had known for some time. But hearing it out loud finally let her accept it. She gave a little, involuntary sigh, leaned back onto the headboard, a weight lifted off her shoulders. She continued to look at Graham, waiting.
“You are going to live here with me when I move in, and you’re going to continue to change as I want you to change. You’re going to be so, so important in what makes this home for me. There’s still some work to do on you, inside and out, but you don’t need to be anything other than what you are.”
The house beamed. It genuflected. There was no need to parse who was thinking or feeling what.
No response. Clothes at bed weren’t necessary, and Graham had recently, just once, complimented Emmy’s body before she went to sleep. He wanted her to be naked. She was naked.
“I inhabit what I own,” he continued. “And owning things of beauty is important to me.”
At this he reached out and for the first time, grabbed one of Emmy’s breasts. The gesture had intent, and she felt it, and accepted it, and started whimpering.
“Lie down on the bed,” he said, starting to unbutton his shirt. “You know how patient I am, but I’ve been waiting on this for a long time.”
Emmy didn’t even consider the sex she had had before as he took her. The bed moved with his force, and the whole room moaned, the whole house shuddered. Her body was strong, but he pinned it down and she went limp in response, felt him not only inside of her but fucking every nook and cranny of the home he was finally claiming as his own.
When Graham came, Emmy’s body came too, but it was like every light in the house blazed on, like the doors all swung on their hinges, the walls themselves rippled.
When it was over, and he had gotten dressed again, still leaving for the night, he told Emmy to clean herself up.
“That was exactly what I wanted,” he said intensely, the way he did when he looked at a newly furnished room. “Go to sleep as soon as you’re done. You don’t have to think of anything yourself until I come back in the morning.”
When he left, the house, including Emmy, settled in for the night. It was so empty without him there. But he would be back.
The final couple of weeks were completely different. Without having to hold onto the façade of thinking thoughts of her own, Emmy worked more seamlessly with the house than ever before, unpacking boxes and putting out knickknacks and changing her body hair according to Graham’s instructions. The joy throughout was overwhelming, and the sex most nights let Graham further establish himself in what was finally his home. When he was out, there was the vacuum and longing for him, and when he was home, the most Emmy felt of herself when he didn’t address her directly was his proximity, assessing how he felt. She was the roving eyes, ears, arms, and cunt, of the house, able to see quickly what he needed, tend to it quickly, even leave for a bit if she needed to run an errand. It was different knowing she was coming back. The rare moments there was absolutely nothing else to do, she simply sat, and waited.
Then the night came that Graham was there to stay. He let Emmy kneel at his feet after she had done the dishes, serving as a stool as he rested his feet on her back and read a book.
“I did it,” he finally said. “I’ve never felt so at home.”
The house glowed at the compliment. Emmy didn’t respond differently.
“Next, I’m thinking that I’d love to build a back porch.”