Rory stood stock still, reeling with shock. Jason, her preschooler, was clutched against her pajama-clad leg.
Next to her, her husband Jack stared fixated at the scene before them; the heap of burnt-out cinders softly whirling smoke and steam into the chilly morning air. Rory shivered and pulled her son closer.
“You always wanted a big house in the country,” Jack said.
Leave it to him to try and lighten the moment, even at a time like this. “This isn’t quite the way I imagined it.”
“I know.” He pulled baby Rose’s plump body closer to his. “At least we’re together.”
Rory thanked God for that. But she was anxious. They’d lost so much, so suddenly.
It didn’t take long for the children to fall asleep, both tucked into one bed in the guest room at Jack’s mom’s house. Friends and family had come that afternoon, bringing them clothes to wear.
Rory closed the bedroom door with a soft click. Cradling her arms around herself, she made her way down the hallway. Her heart ached, filled with the pain of uncertainty. She knew it was unfair of her, that to have her loved ones safe by her side was enough to ask for. But her home . . . She worked so hard to create a soothing atmosphere for her husband and the children. Now it was gone.
Jack was given time off work to get their affairs in order, mainly working things out with the insurance company.
He was just getting off the phone when she entered the kitchen.
Jack, her pillar of strength, somehow managed to smile as soon as he saw her. She smoothed her hands over her hair. Funny, how he still had that affect on her. “So?” she asked.
“Everything’s fine. It’ll just take some time for the claim to go through.”
She winced. “How long?”
Jack reached for her, never a good sign at a time like this. Nonetheless, she tucked herself against his chest, much like baby Rose had earlier. “Mom says we can stay here for as long as we need.”
“I’m grateful, but . . .”
“It’s not our home.”
She nodded into his barrowed sweater. “Everything we have is gone. Insurance won’t cover it all.”
“It’ll cover enough. From there we’ll just have to make do, and trust.”
“Where are we?”
“I’m not sure.” Jack tossed a smile at her as he pulled the car onto a dirt driveway, following his mom’s red Cavalier. Rory was once again reminded of how fortunate she was to have her husband and children unharmed.
Still, deep in her woman’s heart, she ached.
Rain fell in dark torrents around them as they poured into an abandon Victorian house, Rose once again tucked against Daddy’s chest. In passing Rory noted peeling paint and a sagging front porch.
“It’s Lucy’s house,” Jack laughed. “My mom’s best friend. She left the house to my mom when she passed away last year. She hadn’t decided what to do with it yet.”
Jason scampered off, investigating. “Wait,” Rory said. She reached out to snag him, but missed by a full arm’s-length.
“It’s alright,” her mother-in-law said, her smile reminding Rory of Jack. “It’s safe.” She went around flipping on lights.
Rory peeked at furniture covered with old sheets, and great big oil paintings on the walls. She shifted from side-to-side on the worn oak flooring, listening to the boards squeak. “It reminds me of a haunted house,” she noted. “I love it.”
“I thought you might.” Jack’s mom smiled again. “I want you to have it.”
“What?” Rory and Jack said in unison.
“It’ll probably take that whole insurance check to restore the house, and the grounds.”
“W-We,” Rory stuttered. “We can’t take it.”
“Nonsense. What else will I do with it?”
Rory looked at Jack. Jack looked at his mom. “You should sell it. Use the money for your retirement.”
She shook her head. “I used to play here as a child. This house was beautiful. It can be that way again, with a loving hand to guide it, make it into more than just a house, but a home.”
Rory couldn’t believe her ears. It would take a lot of work, but then again, all good things did.
Hot tears stung her eyes as Jack crushed her in a happy embrace.
“Thank you,” she croaked to his mom. And thank you, she prayed.
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