I set down a small platter of breakfast scramble on the island. I couldn’t help a flicker of irritation as my eyes once again took in the total mess before me. For as long as I’d lived in the apartment, it had always been cozy – some would say cramped, but I preferred the former. Now, though – now, cramped was the only description. How many times had I stubbed my toes on all of the new junk taking up the precious little space in my living room?
It’s not junk, I corrected myself with a sigh and a shake of my head. Parker couldn’t have put all of his belongings in storage.
“We’ll have a new place soon.”
I blinked and looked over at my husband in surprise; I hadn’t heard him approach. “What?”
He grinned at me. “You were looking like you were about five seconds from throwing things out of windows.”
I laughed softly. “Was it that obvious?”
“Just a bit.” He turned back towards the end of the hall. “Caleb, move your butt or no breakfast,” he called.
I made plates for each of us. “I’m beginning to think we’ll never find a good house.” We were looking at rentals and for-sale’s, but everything seemed to either be too tiny or too big for our budget. Was a simple two- or three-bedroom house too much to ask?
The answer was yes, if you wanted a reasonable price.
Parker took a plate and sat down at the island. “We could start looking at Newcrest. The commute isn’t ideal, but it could work.”
I shook my head. “If we can’t find a place here, we’ll never find one in Newcrest. I don’t know how Alison and Luc can afford a two-bedroom apartment. Maybe Riverview, though.”
“I don’t wanna move,” Caleb said petulantly as he trudged down the hall. He climbed up next to Parker and pushed a clump of eggs, cheese, and sausage around his plate with his fork. “I wanna stay here.”
I picked up my plate to eat standing. “I know.” He’d thrown a fit when we’d told him that we were looking for a new place. “But don’t you want a yard you can play in?” He shook his head stubbornly.
I sighed and looked at Parker for help. Caleb had never seemed resistant to change until the prospect of moving came up. We’d thought he might have a problem with Parker moving in and the two of us getting married, but he’d run head-long into that with enthusiasm. Moving to a less-cramped place, maybe with a yard he could play in, though? Literal feet digging into the ground.
Parker shrugged. “The next time we look at a place, I think you should come too.”
Even though Caleb shook his head again, I smiled and wondered why we hadn’t thought of that sooner. Once Caleb got a look at something he liked in another house, he’d be sure to come around. “Good idea, Parker. He’s right, Caleb. You’re going to come with us next time.”
“Maybe we’ll even look at a two-story, and I can teach you to slide down the bannister,” Parker said with a grin. Caleb perked up at the suggestion, interest flickering in his eyes.
I rolled my eyes. “Neither of you had better hurt yourselves.”
Parker got to his feet with a grin. “Nah, we’ll be fine.” He clapped Caleb on the back. “Alright, twerp, let’s go. Time for school.”
After they left, I washed up the dishes and went downstairs. I needed to finish getting ready for work, but, first, I was going to check on Paula.
Usually, she was an up-before-dawn kind of woman, but not even the hall light was on. Even on her worst days, Paula always got up and made a pot of tea, but there was no scent of Earl Grey in the house.
With a bad feeling, I went to the end of the hall and knocked softly on the bedroom door. “Paula? Mrs. Burgess, it’s Nora.” There was no response.
Oh, no, please…
I opened the door but didn’t make it further than the threshold. I didn’t have to go any further into the room to know the truth. I didn’t need to go to the bed and shake her or find a mirror to check her breathing. The room smelled of death.
Tears burned my eyes. Hurriedly, I shut the door and pressed my hands against my face. The tears fell.
The press to find a new place to live had gotten worse. We had no idea who would inherit the house or what the new owner would do with it. For all we knew, they’d give us the boot as soon as they found out about it. I hardly even had any time to grieve for the woman who had become like a grandmother to me because I was too worried about where we’d be living the next week.
I trudged up the stairs. In my apartment, I dropped a stack of mail on the island. Most of it was from people offering condolences. Which was very kind and thoughtful, but not altogether helpful, really. In a short while, I’d be meeting Parker to look at another house.
Not looking forward to it at all, I sat down and reached for the first envelope in the pile. I was about to open it when my phone rang. I accepted the call and put the phone to my ear. From the other end came a friendly yet professional masculine voice.
“May I speak to Nora Jennings, please?”
“This is she,” I replied, a note of confusion in my voice. I’d gotten a lot of calls from unfamiliar numbers lately – people coming out of the woodwork to tell me how they’d be there for me and such as if I really were Paula’s granddaughter – but none of them had started off so professionally.
“Mrs. Jennings, this is Ryan McDowell. I’m Paula Burgess’s lawyer. She entrusted me to be the executor of her will.”
A lump formed in my stomach. Is he calling to evict us? But we don’t have a new place yet. We’d have to move back in with Mom and Carter if we had to move out now. “Yes? Can I help you?” I wasn’t exactly sure what kind of response he was expecting.
“I’d like to meet with you at your earliest convenience, Mrs. Jennings.”
So he wants to tell me in person who’s inheriting the house and kicking me out? “Ah, okay. My husband and I could come in tomorrow at two, if that will work.”
“That will be just fine, ma’am.” He gave me the office address and then we disconnected the call.
For a long minute afterwards, I just stared at the phone. So, this was it. They’d finally tracked down some distant relative or Paula had named one of them as her beneficiary, and now this McDowell guy was charged with unceremoniously evicting us.
I really hoped the house Parker and I looked at today was a winner.
Parker and I stepped into Mr. McDowell’s office. He somehow wasn’t quite what I’d imagined. Seated comfortably in middle age, he looked more like a librarian than a lawyer with his glasses and sweater- button-down combo.
He smiled kindly at the both of us and gestured for us to sit down. “Have a seat, please.” He took his own seat behind the desk. “Thank you for meeting with me so quickly. I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting like this. I imagine you’ve been left in limbo since Mrs. Burgess passed.”
I forced my lips to curl in a slight smile. “Well, yes.”
“I hope you can forgive me,” he said, seemingly sincere. “I was on vacation, and my secretary didn’t pass on the news until I got back.” He spared a brief irritated glance towards the door, outside of which sat his bubbly blonde secretary. “She’s new,” he muttered.
He shook his head. “Anyway, I’ve reviewed Paula’s will – “
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. “Can you just tell us when we have to leave?” I blurted.
His eyes went wide. “Leave? Mrs. Jennings, the house – everything – belongs to you.”
Mr. McDowell gave me a letter Paula had left for me. When we got home, I went into the bedroom to read it in private.