Today’s post comes to us from Val Muller, author of the Corgi Capers mystery series and the supernatural chiller Faulkner’s Apprentice—just $2.99. Watch for the upcoming anthology Forging Freedom, which Val is editing.
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This was it. So very simple actually. Just the end. And no one could prevent it. Even as a kid I knew I wanted to live in that house. I often imagined how I’d rearrange the furniture—I always assumed the same upholstered couch and warm, worn carpeting. I thought of how the guest bedroom would make a great office, and how Grandmother’s bedroom would transition to a nursery, how the master bedroom would be something I’d share with a husband one day. Even as a young woman, I still picture the way that furniture looked when my mother sang to me on dark, scary nights. I even knew that I’d sing the same songs to my own children in front of those very pieces.
There’s just something about the house you grow up in. No matter what, it will always be home. And I was determined to keep it that way. I remembered the way a patch of sunlight warmed my back as I played on my carpet in the dead of winter. I remembered the creaking clicks of the radiator keeping the cold of autumn at bay. The way the air conditioner rumbled as it changed cycles, locking me in a cold, dark room on the most unbearable days of summer.
The house had protected me, had made me. And I would never give it up.
Of course, such a childhood dream fluctuated with marrying Prince Charming and becoming an astronaut. When the unexpected happens, childhood dreams don’t account for things like job opportunities and relationships. They don’t account for a boyfriend—fiancé, now—with a job on the other side of the country, and a school nearby with a stellar doctoral program.
I went ahead and did the logical thing, the thing my parents would have told me to do. I put the house on the market. When no offers came in at first, I took it as a sign. But the night I wanted to breach the subject with Kevin, I got a call from the real estate agent. I had an offer. Kevin was ecstatic, of course. My roller-coaster emotions brought me no resolution.
But I was not happy.
Which is why, when the buyers contacted the agent post-inspection, demanding a credit for a new furnace (my parents had always kept the house’s original), I saw my opportunity. My agent said there were other houses on the market, and if I didn’t credit them the cost of a furnace, they would walk.
I was very happy.
I didn’t tell the agent quite yet—I already had a flight scheduled for the next day so I could supervise the emptying of the house and the shipping of its contents. Now instead of flying out to move out, I would fly out to move in. I would tell the agent in person, maybe even watch her void the contract. I was not going to sell. And then I’d tell Kevin. Maybe even over the phone. I’d drop out of the grad program and start something near Rockland. After all, I’d have my house. That’s all that matters. That house was me. I lived in its walls. So did my parents. And my grandparents.
It was home.
I was weeding the garden when I heard the car pull into the drive. I turned to the noise, smiling, ready to tell the agent my final decision. But it wasn’t the agent. It was the buyers.
The parents stepped out of the car, the man with his arm around the woman. I squinted and could see my father there, with his arm slung around my mother’s waist. The man’s eyes looked at the house the same way I’d seen my father look at the house when he was sizing up Christmas decorations he’d put up, or a new paint job on the shutters. It was a look of pride and potential. The woman smiled content. She looked at the house the way she might look at an old friend—as something she could trust for protection and comfort.
And out of the back door hopped a little girl. She had on fairy wings and a cowboy hat. The wild, happy look in her eyes was me—capricious me, the child. The explorer of basements and attics. The builder of tree houses (the one my dad and I built still graced the old oak out back).
“Good morning,” the woman said hesitantly. “I hope you don’t mind. Your agent said you would be here.”
I bit my lip and watched the little girl. Nostalgia overwhelmed me.
“She said it sounded like you didn’t want to sell. Because of the furnace.”
“We came to say we’re willing to meet you halfway,” the man said.
I swallowed hard. The girl was picking dandelions. Making a flower crown. My childhood memories flashed before me.
“My agent was wrong,” I said, my brain hearing the words for the first time as they came. They were the words of the heart. “I’ll take your deal. The house is yours.”
Houses are living things. They thrive on love and potential and care. But like living things, they can also suffocate and fester, and that’s all I would have done to the place I loved so much. But this new family, they would give the house a new life, a new generation. I returned to Kevin the next week after donating most of the house’s goods to charity. Each item would bring a little piece of my house, of me, to someone else.
When I boarded the plane, I did so smiling. And that was it. So simple, really. Not the end, but another beginning.
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Catherine A. MacKenzie