Heading into the final stretch here: two more days after tonight. I'm at 45,468 out of 50,000, so I have just over 4,500 more words to write to hit the word count goal. According to my outline, I have three more full chapters, which I'm guessing means another 20,000 words at least. So this definitely has another couple weeks to go. We should get a long ways in the next two days, though, especially as I have Friday off from work.
My apologies for any issues in proof reading or formatting. I'd sworn I'd be in bed before 1AM tonight, and here it is almost 2.
Over the next two weeks paperwork ebbed and flowed: inspections, loan paperwork, proof of employment, equity advance from the relocation company for the California condo. Katie, in a burst of enthusiasm, got a library card and returned home with what appeared to be the entire home improvement and decorating section. Kristy gently mocked this development, especially when Katie brought her new passion into the modern age and started a Pinterest account, but this aloofness did not prevent Kristy from quietly contemplating the relative virtues of Wolf and Viking ranges. Carol assured them that they should be able to close within thirty days. “You can be in by Thanksgiving if you want.”
Their parents were enthusiastic at the news and promised a visit, which occurred on the second weekend since the offer had been placed. The four of them walked down to view the house, Kristy and Katie pointing out its many virtues with the consciousness of impending ownership.
“I’m glad to see you and Katie getting along so well,” Pat said, as she and Kristy were cleaning up the apartment kitchen together that evening. Katie, having made the dinner, had retired to the living room where Tom was watching the football game. “I was real worried about her when she picked up and moved out, but you seem to have been a steadying influence.”
This we-are-the-adult-women-talking-together-about-your-sister dynamic was not one which was familiar between them, and Kristy was not immediately sure if she was gratified by it. “I’ve enjoyed having her with me,” she replied blandly.
“I keep looking back to those couple months she was back with us after college and trying to think what I did wrong,” Pat confided. “How did you get through to her?”
“I did yell at her to go get a job after she’d been sitting around for the first couple days she was with me,” Kristy conceded. “But honestly, she’s matured a lot on her own over the last few months. I can’t take credit for it.”
“You must be doing something right,” Pat persisted. “When she was staying with us she was staying out late without telling us, coming in drunk some nights. I was terrified I’d get a call from the police some night that she’d been pulled over DUI.”
“Nope, I never had that happen,” Kristy said, having no intention of telling her mother about Katie’s court appearance. “I think after she had some space for a while, and thought about things, she found her own reasons to mature,” she added, with truth.
“I feel some times like I failed her as a mother. But it’s so hard to make up that ground now. I wish I’d done a better job when she was younger. I wish I’d known the sort of things that go on at secular colleges these days. Maybe if I’d pushed her to go to a Catholic college she would have had better influences. You were so responsible in college, but not everyone has the strength to resist peer pressure like you.”
Kristy shrugged, divided between the drive to argue with her mother and the desire to move the conversation on to another topic. “You know, Mom, I probably did a lot of stuff you wouldn’t approve of when I was in college and afterwards, it’s just that I kept my grades up and never moved back home while I was going it. Honestly, though, Katie’s a good kid. It’s probably be easiest on both of you if you stopped trying to bring her up and just to to know her better the way she is.”
Pat dashed at her eyes with an elbow as she finished loading the dish washer, and Kristy feared the conversation was in danger of taking a maudlin turn. “How have you and Dad been doing?” Kristy inquired. “It’s good to see you guys. I know I’m terrible about calling.”
“Oh, we’re doing all right. Actually… I was wanting to tell you…” Pat looked around as if afraid of being overheard or guilty over imparting something that was supposed to remain secret. “The latest contract negotiation at your father’s work hasn’t been going well. You know how things are these days. They’ve announced a buy-out for people over between 55 and 65 who are willing to take early retirement, and Dad’s been thinking about it very seriously.” She nodded sagely.
“Wow. Is Dad really thinking of retiring? He’s not that old.”
“Sixty-two next year, honey. That’s not old, but he’d be glad not to have to go out with the trucks anymore. And his knee has been giving him a little trouble sometimes lately. He says if he’s going to keep working, he’d like it to be on something he cares about. If he took the retirement offer he could look into something like teaching a shop class part time at the high school or the community center.”
“Wow. Dad retired and teaching shop classes part time. I guess I really am a grown up.”
“Well… And I’ll tell you something else.” Pat paused dramatically. “Your father’s been talking for ages about what a big yard we have for just two empty nesters like us. And the house is really bigger than we need and so much work to keep clean and decorated. With you girls back nearby, we’ve been talking about whether it’s time to put the house of the market and move somewhere smaller. Maybe even somewhere nearer to your girls. You know that nice young priest we had at our parish for a couple years? Father Larry?”
“Mom, I haven’t been to your place in three or four years.”
“I must have told you about him on the phone, though, hon. You should hear him speak. He gave a bible study on the Epistles last year, and there were a hundred people crowding into the parish center every Tuesday night just to hear him talk. Well, we were all so sad when he got re-assigned this spring. But where to you think it was they sent him? St. Anne’s right here in Johnson. I told him when he left, ‘It’ll be a long drive, but Tom and I will come out and see you some time.’ So when Katie told me the job you were interviewing for was in Johnson, I knew it was meant to be. And here you are!”
Kristy did not venture an opinion on the providential nature of this coincidence. Pat tried to entice her to come to mass with them the next morning with promises that she would be able to meet Father Larry, and this his sermons were short but always made her think, but Kristy passed on the opportunity, slept till eight, and got a run in while her parents were still gone, returning in time to help Katie in preparing breakfast.
The closing date for the house was set for the Friday before Thanksgiving. The sisters were united in their desire to host Thanksgiving dinner at the new house, both to show off the house and as an act of independence. This deadline created certain logistical difficulties, which were solved by Kristy convincing the relocation company to fly Katie, rather than her, back to California for the week leading up to the closing, to supervise the packing and loading of their possessions in the condo. This allowed the movers to arrive the day after they took possession, and would give the sisters nearly a week to unpack and settle in before their parents arrived.
With Katie in California, and thus no other set of eyes to see her succumbing entirely to the lure of the new house, Kristy found herself driving up to the outskirts of Chicago to visit a kitchen showroom, and walked away several hours later telling herself that the savings she had realized by picking a Kitchen Aid refrigerator over a Sub-Zero completely justified the money she had spent on the resplendently red-knobbed Wolf range. Both were scheduled to be delivered on move-in day, and their decrepit predecessors carted away.
Throughout the drive back to Johnson, Kristy felt the most extreme temptation to call Katie and tell her about the purchase. However, although she had assured herself that Katie would enjoy cooking with top-of-the-line appliances, Katie’s enthusiasm for the house had found its expression in planning do-it-yourself project and selecting paint colors rather than contemplating brand name appliances, and she could too easily imagine Katie asking, “You spent how much on those?” She would leave the new appliances, instead, for a surprise on move-in day.
The great day came, and Katie tagged along to the closing, though during the endless iterations of, “This document says…. Please initial each page and sign here,” she quickly lost all relish for the process and gradually became absorbed by her iPhone.
Part way through the signing marathon, Kristy and the title agent paused to get coffee.
“Do you want anything?” Kristy asked her sister.
Katie shook her head silently, a look of intense concentration on her face. Kristy and the title agent stood sipping their coffee and making small talk, while Kristy flexed her signing hand.
“I wish,” Katie suddenly observed from the background, “That someone who knew all about science would write a book on the physics of Angry Birds. I feel like I’m not doing this right.”
At last they left the title agent’s office, Kristy carrying a large, legal-size folder full of papers and the keys to the house. They drove straight there, let themselves in, and wandered slowly through the empty, echoing rooms.
“Let’s stay here tonight,” Katie said, bursting into Kristy’s room, where she had been sitting on the window seat quietly daydreaming.
“There’s nothing to sleep on,” Kristy pointed out.
“We could get a couple sleeping bags or air mattresses or something.”
The idea had an unquestionable allure. The next day, their furniture would arrive, but the house was hers now, and Kristy couldn’t help seeing a night spent anywhere else as a waste.
They went out and laid in cleaning supplies, a pair of air mattresses, and a case of beer. The afternoon was spent cleaning the house — hard, grubby work which neither of them had ever enjoyed as much before, nor would again — and at last, tired and feeling far less fresh than the newly scrubbed house but deeply gratified to look around at the glistening floors smelling of Murphy’s Oil Soap, they sat on the floor of the empty dining room and relished a dinner of pizza and beer.
“Was it like this when you bought your condo?” Katie asked.
Kristy tried to turn her mind back to those days. She and Kevin had started dating during the weeks she was waiting to close on the condo and he had helped her move her things from her old apartment. There had been no need for a day of cleaning then, the newly built condo had been utterly pristine when the agent at last gave her the keys and showed her around. Still, there had been a headiness to placing furniture and unpacking boxes together, which no doubt had speeded her invitation that he move in.
“No,” Kristy said, dismissing the memories. “The condo was different. I was excited, and it’s always fun the first time you go into your new place, before the furniture comes. But it was brand new and perfect, like being shown into a hotel room. I ran around barefoot so I wouldn’t get anything on the new white carpet and showed my boyfriend where each piece of furniture would go.”
Katie stifled a smile behind her hand.
“Did you—” Katie stopped herself, apparently struggled, then burst out with her question. “Did you want to have sex with him on the carpet just to show it was yours?”
“Katie— Well. Yes, I did want to. But I was so worried about those new carpets that I waited till we moved the furniture in the next day.”
Katie laughed awkwardly for a moment. Then she stopped and hit the floor with a fist. “Agh! How do you stand it? I just feel so… randy sometimes.”
Now it was Kristy’s turn to laugh, but her laughter had a wistful edge.
“What?” Katie demanded.
“You won’t always be the bundle of hormones you are at twenty-three. The loneliness stays, though. Loneliness is worse.”
“Oh, Kristy, I’m sorry!” Katie gave her sister an impulsive hug. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I can be such an asshole.”
It grew dark outside. The evening was cold, and the furnace was gently growling in the basement, warm air sighing out into the house through decorative brass grilles. Kristy had picked up a case of fire logs at the store, and the put one into the fireplace and sat talking in the living room until late. At last, they each went to their own rooms, where they had made up the air mattresses using bedding borrowed from the apartment.
Kristy snuggled under her blanket and looked up at the unfamiliar ceiling. The moon was nearly full, casting its blue-white glare in through the curtain-less window, and the trees in the backyard cast strange, dancing shadows across the walls. She heard the click-click-whoosh of the furnace starting up again in the basement. Then, as the ducts warmed, the sighing of the air moving through the house, and the pingings and creakings of the house changing temperatures. A floorboard creaked. There was a strange, quiet rattle somewhere in the house. Kristy pulled the blanket up over her head like a child and felt very wide awake. She found herself wondering if anyone had ever died in this nearly hundred-year-old house. This line of thought only magnified every sound in the empty house, and she found herself wishing very strongly that they had waited until the furniture arrived before spending their first night in it.
She heard footsteps and the door creaked open.
“Kristy?” said Katie in a very quiet voice.
“I know this sounds really stupid but: The empty house sounds spooky. Can I get in with you?”
Sharing an air mattress with another adult did not promise for a very comfortable night, but the ominous sounds of the house had already receded to nothing.
Katie crawled in under the blankets next to her, curled up, and fell almost instantly to sleep. It was some time before Kristy drifted off as well, but with the warm presence next to her, the night held no more fears.
The movers came early the next morning, and all was chaos from there on out. Just it was at its heigh, the truck arrived from the kitchen showroom, and yet another set of workmen entered to carry out the old appliances and bring in the new fridge and stove. Such was the madness at that point that neither sister has time or inclination to stop and wonder at the glistening new stainless steel appliances until after they were left alone in the house together that night.
Nothing is quite as comforting as breakfast, and so when they were alone at last that night Katie fried up bacon and scrambled eggs while Kristy unpacked dishes and put them in the cupboards.
By the end of the weekend, they had most of the everyday accouterments of life unpacked. Kristy went in to work for three days, while Katie laid in extravagant supplies for the Thanksgiving dinner, and simultaneously embarked upon painting her room — a project which she finished in the small hours of Thursday morning, and which Kristy (who had nurtured certain hesitations about Katie’s do-it-yourself abilities) was forced to admit to be entirely successful.
The Thanksgiving dinner, too, was a success. Katie devoted herself to the turkey, which she had brined for two days prior. Kristy took charge of mashed potatoes. Tom and Pat arrived just after noon, bearing the two signature family dishes: green bean casserole topped with french fried onions and a concoction involving cool whip, green jello, and marshmallows. Conversation was ebullient. The sisters could not be more excited about the new house, and the parents were in the throws of their own real estate excitement, having put their own house on the market three days before.
“The way the market is these days,” Pat explained. “You really can’t list too soon. If we’re lucky, it’ll sell within the next six months or so. After New Years, we’ll get into doing some serious looking for a new place closer to you girls.”
The moment, however, that all would remember in years to come did not come until late in the evening, after the dishes had been put in to wash and the football game was concluded, when Pat and Tom were making noises about getting on the road. Pat’s cell phone rang, and as she answered it her shock became obvious to all those in the room.
“Yes? Oh. Really? Well, that’s—”
She turned off her phone at last and tucked it away carefully in her purse before facing the rest of her family. “That was Susan, our real estate agent. A couple faxed an offer on the house over to her this morning. A full price offer. I never— I don’t know what we’ll do. But so long as it goes through, we’ve sold it. I hadn’t even thought we’d start looking till after Christmas, but they want to close as quickly as possible.”
Silence reigned for a moment, and then Kristy heard herself saying, “Well, you’re always welcome to stay here for a few weeks until you can get into a new place.”