Ivy vines crept up the manor walls slowly, over the course of decades. The Ainsworths always refused to tear them down, or any other part of their home, for that matter. They loved every brick and board, from the creaky basement stair (third from the bottom) to the rusting, dragon-shaped weather vane with the missing tooth.
Then Lord and Lady Ainsworth died in a motor accident, leaving one young daughter named Sara - along their vast fortune - in the temporary care of Mr. Ainsworth’s brother. Sara did not know Uncle Jack very well, but her expectations dropped the moment she heard his plans for the wake.
“Who are all these people, Uncle?” she inquired, picking up the stack of invitations. The invitations were written on heavy paper in fine blue calligraphy, with gold leafing around the edges. “I don’t know most of them.” She’d heard of them, though… all of them rich and influential.
“Oh, they’re neighbors, mostly.”
“Neighbors? You forgot the Westbrooks. They live in the cottage just south of here.”
“In a COTTAGE?”
“Then there’s Mrs. Goode…”
Uncle Jack curled his lip derisively and plucked the invitations from Sara’s hands. “Careful not to wrinkle these letters. Also, I contracted some workers for small renovations around the house. I want this place as presentable as possible before the wake, so be a good girl and stay out of their way.”
Sara retreated to her room and clutched a faded blue teddy bear to her chest. “Renovations?” she whispered as the understanding button eyes rested on her. “What’s Uncle going to do to our home?”
* * *
Perhaps Sarah should have asked what Uncle Jack would NOT do to the house. Within a week, the ivy was gone, the dragon weather vane was replaced by a shiny new horse, and the basement was boarded up as a hopeless case.
An army of landscapers swarmed in one day, frightening the old gardener half to death with their flashing tools and matching overalls. They trimmed back the rambling bushes and tore out a series of flower beds to make room for a new cobblestone path.
Inside the house, movers replaced Sara’s favorite broken-in furniture with a matching set of items that were square, modern, and above all, uncomfortable. Sara was in tears, and the stuffed bear was nearly there himself.
The only thing she could do was save the weather vane and prop it up on her bookshelf, but that didn’t seem like enough.
* * *
The day of the wake arrived, and Sara struggled into the smart little black dress that Uncle Jack picked out for her. Guests piled into the manor one by one. Each one complimented Uncle Jack on how much he had done with the place, given so little time. After that, they all expressed how sorry they were for his loss and forgot all about Sara’s presence as they exchanged the latest gossip. Occasionally, Jack would give his niece a chocolate to keep her happy, like feeding a treat to a dog.
She was only happy, however, when his guests left and her special guest arrived. “Uncle Dugan!” she cried, flinging herself into his arms. He’d scrubbed up for the occasion, but he smelled of the outdoors, as he always did, and his broad arms gave her more comfort than all of Jack Ainsworth’s chocolates.
Uncle Jack, meanwhile, choked on a bonbon and demanded, “Who is this… person?”
“This is my mother’s cousin, Uncle Dugan. I noticed you forgot to send him an invitation, so I did that myself.”
“Sorry I’m late, my dear,” Dugan drawled out in his heavy brogue, “but a journey from Scotland is no easy matter, and I had a stop to make first.” His piercing blue eyes turned to Uncle Jack. “I talked with your brother’s old solicitors in London, and they said that Sara only had to stay here as long as she was healthy and happy. She may look well enough, but from the letter she wrote me, it’s clear that she’s not happy.”
“Now, then, Sara, would you like to stay with me? I only live in a small house, but…”
She raced off to her room before he could finish the sentence, and when she returned, she held the old weather vane in trembling hands. “Could we put him on the roof?”
“My home,” he replied with a grin, “is your home.”
That was all she needed to hear.
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