Chapter 1: Heading Home
She drove around before heading to her new home, though it wasn't new to her. When she left, she never thought she would come back like this. But come back she had.
Her aunt had taken her in after her parents died fifteen years earlier, giving her a place amid her five cousins, and no one ever complained. That's what her family did. And now her aunt was gone, too.
Just as her cousins had done, she left when it was time. She hadn't looked back. Now, as she drove around to re-familiarize herself with the area, she inhaled the salty sea air and remembered. Fun, family days at the beach; the pain and sorrow at her parents' funeral. The weekly visits to see her aunt, cousins and grandmother; the day her "visit" became permanent. Her childhood scars resurfaced to mix with the scars of her most recent past. But, regardless of her sadness, she felt at home. The familiarity of this area, her hometown, breathed into her a strength she had not felt for many months. She was being wrapped in the bosom of her ancestors and she felt safe.
When she pulled into the driveway and turned her car off, she noticed not much had changed about the old house in the past ten years since she had left. Longer than that, actually. Yes, she was sure she would need to work on the house some, but it would be well worth it. It saddened her when none of her cousins wanted it, but was pleased when they allowed her to buy it from her aunt's estate -- it would remain in the family now.
She was pulled back to the present when she heard a knock on the hood of her car.
"What 'cha doin' theh-ah?"
"I'm sorry." She undid her seatbelt and got out of her car.
"How can I help you? No one's home hee-yah right now," the man said, pointing to the front door of the house.
She took a minute to size up this interloper. She knew she should have felt nervous, but he smelled of the small-town neighborhood she remembered this to be.
"I know. I bought it."
"Didn't know it was foh sale. Didn't think tha Bradley's would let it out of tha family." The man paused and took a step back. "Well, welcome to tha neighba-hood. Tha name's Edwood McCah-thy. I live next doh-ah." He extended his hand while looking over his new neighbor.
"Nice to meet you, Edward. I'm Liz McKenney." Liz took the proffered hand and shook it politely.
"Nice to meet you, too, Lizzie. Everyone calls me Eddie, by tha way. Except my motha when she's mad!" Eddie laughed at his own joke. "Well, I'll let you get settled. If you need anything, just let me know."
Eddie turned and left before Liz could say anything more. No one called her "Lizzie." It was "Liz" or "Elizabeth." Pushing that issue aside, Liz turned toward the house. She breathed deeply once she was inside the front door. She could still feel her aunt and grandmother in the house. Walking slowly, Liz wanted to survey her surroundings and see what furniture her cousins had left her and what she would need to replace.
The front hall was just as she remembered. The wooden seat was still nestled at the foot of the stairs. Liz laughed when she noticed the old dial telephone sitting on the table adjacent to the seat. Picking up the receiver, she heard the familiar dial tone buzzing through the line. Her aunt had sworn to never replace the phone as long as it worked, and it ended up surviving longer than her. Liz quickly decided not to replace it until it was absolutely necessary, in deference to her aunt.
Walking through the front hall, passing the door leading to the basement, Liz entered the kitchen. Her aunt had renovated this room. Gone were the stock metal cabinets and black and white tiles from the fifties. Modern appliances decorated one wall, while wooden cabinets flanked the other. Continuing through, she peered into the half-bath her aunt had installed when Liz's uncle took sick. Liz fondly remembered the pantry that used to be there, with its dark wood cabinets and shelves that stood floor-to-ceiling.
After peeking out the back door, Liz turned to make her way through the kitchen to the dining room. She was pleased that the built-in china cabinet still held many of its treasures. Her cousins took some special trinkets but left most for Liz to do with as she wished. She opened one of the drawers and inhaled the smell of cedar; this was home to her.
One of her cousins had taken the dining room set but left the upright piano undisturbed along the far wall. No one had ever questioned its presence in the dining room. It just was. Liz made a mental note to look for a new dining table with chairs. The room wasn't big, so she'd need to keep that in mind when looking -- so the piano could remain in its hallowed spot.
From the dining room, Liz entered the adjacent living room. This room had aged the least gracefully of all the first-floor rooms. The sofa and chair were still covered in the slip covers her aunt had purchased when Liz first came to live there. The wallpaper had been on the walls for as long as she could remember. And the big console television still sat in the corner. Expecting to see rabbit ears, Liz was surprised to see a cable box sitting on top, instead.
Opening the French doors, Liz walked back into the front hall.
The second floor was more modern. Over the years, the four bedrooms had received multiple make-overs to adjust to the maturing family. Liz was especially saddened when her aunt had gotten rid of the claw-foot tub in the bathroom. She might just have to fix that with her renovations.
Liz was still surveying the second floor when she heard the doorbell ring.
"Hi-ya!" Eddie greeted when Liz opened the door. "My motha wanted me to see if you wanted to come ova foh some lunch?" Eddie noticed the look on Liz's face and raised his hands as if to stop her. "Befoh you jump to anything. Yeah, I live with my motha. I used to live on my own til she had a stroke. I moved back to keep an eye on hah. But come to lunch and find all that out. Ma wants to meet ya."
"Thanks for the invitation. I'll be over in about fifteen minutes, okay?"
"Shu-ah. I'll let Ma know."
Before heading next door, Liz made a quick call to one of her cousins to let him know she had arrived.
Once she stepped on his front porch, Eddie was there to welcome her. He led Liz through the house to the kitchen where his mother was sitting.
"This is Lizzie McKenney, Ma. She just bought Mabel Bradley's place next doh-ah. Lizzie, this is my motha, Joanne McCah-thy."
"Nice to meet you, Mrs. McCarthy." Liz held out her hand to the older woman at the table.
"Nice to meet you, too, Lizzie. Please have ah seat." Joanne waved her right hand toward the available chairs after squeezing Liz's extended hand softly.
"Thank you. And, um, it's just Liz." Liz blushed slightly after making the correction.
"That's Eddie foh ya," Joanne chuckled. "Always adding tha "ee" to everybody's name. And, please, call me Joanne."
"What do yah want to drink, Liz-zz?" Eddie stuttered her name trying to correct himself.
Liz smiled. "What do you have?"
"Wata, iced tea, and tonic. Oh, and we've got milk and bee-ah but it's too hot foh milk and too early foh bee-ah."
"Water's fine, thank you," replied Liz with a smile.
"So, how did you come to buy Mabel's house? I didn't think heh kids wah selling it. I never sah a sign outside."
"They did, but they didn't. Sell it, I mean." Liz nodded her thanks to Eddie for her drink. Joanne pushed bread and sandwich meats in front of Liz and waited for her guest before making herself a sandwich.
Liz took a small bite of her food and continued her explanation.
"Mabel was my aunt. I bought the house from the estate when my cousins told me they didn't want it. They all are pretty well settled in their own homes now."
"I was so sorry to hee-ah about Mabel. She was ah good woman."
"Yes, she was. She lived a good life, but it was a hard one sometimes. She took me in after my parents died. My uncle died a year after I moved in. And, my grandmother was already living there. Aunt Mabel was taking care of her until she died a couple years after I moved out."
"That musta been about tha time I moved in. I had just lost my Danny and Eddie didn't want me staying in tha city alone. When I found this house, I just fell in love with it."
"Yah," Eddie added. "Then, a couple yee-ahs ago, Ma had a stroke. So, I gave up my place in Roxbury and came to live hee-ah to help her out."
"It's actually easie-ah foh Eddie to get to wohk."
"Right, Ma," admitted Eddie. He turned to Liz. "I wohk foh tha "T" at Hah-vid. So, now I just take Route 2 to Alewife and I'm at wohk three stops lay-tah. I used to have to take tha Orange Line from Roxbury, then switch to tha Red."
"So, dee-ah, whey-ah ah you moving from?"
"I've been living in Florida for the past ten years; I went to college down there and started working there after graduation."
"Ya left they-ah foh hee-ah?" Eddie shook his head in disbelief, remembering the harsh winter they had just lived through.
"After too many green Christmases, I was looking for a reason to come back! Besides, nothing was keeping me there anymore."
Joanne noticed a sadness flit through Liz's eyes.
"Well, you ah back now! I'm not shu-ah what the jobs are like around he-ah. What do ya do foh wohk?"
"I've been working as a free-lance computer consultant for a couple of years now." Liz easily recognized the confused look of her neighbors. "I help companies with their computer needs. Sometimes I travel, but I do most of my work from home. Since, I can live anywhere and still work I don't have to worry about finding a job around here."
"Me-bee you can help. I've been trying to get Ma to use tha computa foh ye-ahs now. I've got a sista in Maine with kids and she wants to send Ma pitch-ahs." Eddie's face lit up with the idea of his mother finally using the computer he had bought her.
"Sure, I'd be happy to! And, Joanne, it's easy; I promise!"
"Let's let hah get settled fuhst, Eddie! She just moved back!" scolded Joanne. While the three ate, Joanne and Eddie caught Liz up-to-date on the local gossip.
After lunch, Liz thanked her neighbors, but said she needed to get back to start unpacking. Joanne insisted Eddie walk her back across the lawn.
"Thanks again for lunch."
"You ah kidding, right? That's tha most Ma's talked since heh stroke! You come by anytime! And if you can find the time to help Ma use the computah, I'll pay you back by helping with jobs around the house. I'm pretty handy."
"I just might take you up on that!"
Liz watched from the doorway as Eddie walked back to his house. She waved back at him and then closed the front door, shaking her head and smiling.
"I can't have been gone that long!" she said to the spirits in her house. "Was my accent just as strong when I lived here? I wonder how long it will take before I talk like that again, or at least don't want to laugh at the accent. But," she promised herself, "I will NOT have 'tonic' in my house! It'll be soda, or cola. But, NEVER tonic!" Liz couldn't help but chuckle.
She had only taken a couple of steps when she felt the vibration from her cell phone. She read the caller id before answering it.
"Yes? ... I arrived a little bit ago ... I just came back from having lunch with the neighbors. Do you have someone watching me? ... I didn't tell them anything! ... Look, he's single, probably early 30's. He lives with his mother who is recovering from a stroke ... Yes, I believe she is. Her speech was a bit slurred and movement on her left side was minimal ... No, I don't believe she was faking it. Look, are you trying to make me paranoid? ... Well, you're doing a good job of it! Was there something you wanted? ... I told you, I got here about two hours ago. I called my cousin, Stephen, to let him know I was here and then Eddie invited me over for lunch ... Joanne and Eddie McCarthy. He works for the T, probably in maintenance or on the train. I don't know, he didn't say what he did; just that he worked for the T out of Harvard ... When is the truck arriving?" Liz reflexively looked at the calendar her aunt kept hanging on the basement door while listening. "Okay, that gives me four days to get the office ready. Do you know what time on Saturday they'll be arriving? ... Okay, I'll wait for their call ... Would you please stop watching me, though; it's creepy ... Okay, then, just don't call me afterward and quiz me on what happened ... Bye."
Liz busied herself for the rest of the day. She unpacked what she brought with her and set up her computers; she had one for work, which she set up in the basement office, and one for personal use she deposited in one of the second-floor bedrooms.
Over the next couple of days, Liz worked at settling in. She checked her work e-mails every morning and tried to get a couple of hours of work in each day. Most of her time, however, was spent going through the numerous boxes and closets throughout the house. Her cousins left Liz the task of boxing up many of the articles from her aunt that still remained in the house. She would need to check on the nearest charity to donate all the clothing and household items she didn't want; and check when the garbage pick-up was so she could get rid of the rest.
Liz went through some rooms quickly, deciding what should stay and what should go. When she decided to concentrate on the dining room, Liz gave herself the time to travel back into her family's past. She carefully emptied the shelves of the china cabinet and cleaned every item reverently. As she handled various trinkets, she could hear her mother, grandmother or aunt's voice explaining the significance of the treasure.
Once the shelves were cleaned and restored, Liz emptied each drawer of the built-in cabinet. Under the linens in the middle drawer, Liz found a family Bible beside a box. Looking through the Bible, she found the names of her mother, aunts and uncles; this was her grandmother's Bible. Gently, she traced her fingers over the line that identified her mother's date of birth, and that of her death. Tears threatened to fall, but Liz closed the Bible and took a deep breath to hold them off.
When Liz tried to open the box, she realized it was locked. She would need to keep her eyes open for keys while she finished going through the house. She placed the Bible back into its hiding spot. But she kept the box on the piano, hoping to locate a key so she could open it without damaging it.