You can see all of the chapters (in descending order) here.
Steve and Ned checked all the fluids in their car in preparation for the long drive back to see what kind of damage the hurricane had done to their home. While the men prepped the car, Jess went through the stuff they had packed in the car to make certain they hadn’t forgotten anything back at the cabin.
As Jess checked off the last item on her checklist, she heard the hood of the car slam shut. She closed the back of the Durango and walked toward her husband. “Well, are we all set for the drive back?” Jess asked. Steve nodded.
“It looks like everything is good. We doubled checked the tires. No guarantees of course but they look like they’ll get us back home without going flat. Jess nodded.
“Two flat tires in the same week would be unusual.” she said. Jess turned to Ned and hugged him briefly. “Thanks Ned, for everything. You saved us out on that road and you’ve gone above and beyond to help our family. I really appreciate it.” Ned grinned sheepishly.
“Shucks. I just did what any good neighbor would do.” Steve reached to shake Ned’s hand. “I hope you’ll seriously consider becoming part of our group.” Ned added.
“We will definitely think about it, Ned. It seems like a good plan. It’s just, we have to consider the kids and how everything impacts them.” Steve explained. Ned nodded.
“Oh I get it. I know it’s a lot to ask. A big change to make. If someone had asked me the same thing when our kids were little, I would have had the same reservations.” Ned said.
“You two talk to over. Then see what your kids think about it. If it will make a difference, we could figure something out so you could all be here without having to run back and forth to your cabin. There’s plenty of room here. And I’d love to have young ones underfoot again.” Ned said.
“Oh we couldn’t impose like that.” Jess said. “Thank you for the offer. We will talk it over and come to the meeting. We should have a decision for you after that.” Jess glanced at Steve who nodded in agreement.
“Alrighty then, I guess I’ve done what I can. I hope it’s enough to sway you.” Ned winked at them. Jess laughed. “You two stay in touch now. I’ll be heading back in a few days so if you need anything at all, you call me. I can always head back early.” Ned assured them.
“Thanks Ned.” Steve said. “We appreciate it. Do you want us to check in on your place or anything when we get there?” Steve asked.
“That would be very kind of you. Everything should be buttoned up pretty tight though.” Ned said. He reached into his pocket and removed a key from his key ring.
“Here, this key opens the back door. Focus on getting your placed taken care of, but if you want to take a quick look around my place for me, that’d be just fine.” Ned said.
“No trouble at all. It’s the least we can do.” Steve said. “We’ll call if there’s any serious damage to report,” he added.
“That’s great. Now don’t be doing any clean up or anything at my place. I’ll take care of all that when I get back. I got a young kid down the street who is saving up for his first car so I’ll just pay him to come help me out when I get back.” Steve nodded.
“Okay Ned. I guess we’re off then.” Steve said. Jess climbed into the passenger’s seat and Steve got behind the wheel. He started the car and rolled his window down.
“Thanks again, Ned. We’ll be in touch.” Steve called out through the window. Ned nodded and waved as they drove down the drive.
“Well, tell me what you’re really thinking about Ned’s offer?” Steve said as they reached the end of the drive.
“I think Ned’s a great person.” Jess said. Steve pulled out onto the highway and glanced over at his wife.
“But I just don’t think we can uproot the kids based on the chance that something bad could happen sometime in the future.” Jess said.
“I mean I see the value in being prepared for stuff like this hurricane. Having our bug out plan in place and the cabin ready for us to be there, it all makes sense. And it makes me feel good to know that if something goes wrong, we can get the kids to safety. But this would be changing our entire lifestyle? I’m just not sure it’s fair. The kids would be more isolated. They would have to make new friends. Do you really think the kids would go for a move like that?” Jess asked.
“I think I want to do whatever is necessary to keep our kids safe.” Steve said quietly.
“Look Jess, I know this kind of move will have a huge impact on the kids. There’s no denying that. But I really do believe that things in this country are going downhill fast. And after talking to Ned, I’m even more convinced that we need to get out of the suburbs if we truly want to be able to protect our family.” Steve glanced at Jess and then back at the road.
“I get that. And I know that this world is getting tougher. I don’t want to believe that it will get as bad as you and Ned think it will. I don’t want to think about our kids having to live in that kind of world.” Steve nodded.
“I know Jess. I don’t like thinking about it either.” Steve said. “But living in Blairsville wouldn’t be all bad. It’s closer to your parents which means you could spend more time with them and so could the kids. Plus, Ned’s place, with all those animals and all that space. I think the kids would love it, especially Delia.” Steve said.
“They would love the animals.” Jess agreed. “And I would love to be closer to mom and dad, especially with mom’s health not as good as it used to be. But stockpiling food for a whole group of people? That’s a huge responsibility. And caring for those animals full time would be a lot. I don’t even think I could work and do that role justice.” Jess said.
“The kids and I could help with the animals.” Steve said. Jess simply nodded. They drove in silence for awhile. Finally Steve spoke. “Jess, we’re a team. We’ve always been a team. Let’s agree to read what Ned sends us and go to the meeting and meet some of the other group members. Can we agree on that much?” Steve asked. Jess nodded.
“Yes, I can agree on that. I do think we should meet the rest of the group.” Jess said. Steve reached out and took Jess’ hand in his.
“If after we meet with the group, you still don’t feel this is the right move for us, then we won’t do it.” Steve said. “Okay?” Jess nodded. She reached out and turned on the radio, set it to their favorite country station. “Hey, no kids, we can listen to country music!” Jess said with a grin.
“Yep! It’s been awhile since we could do that, huh?” Steve said. A short time later Steve glanced over and realized Jess had fallen asleep. He stopped once for gas and filled the extra gas cans just in case gas closer to home wasn’t available. The rest of the trip back to Walterboro was pretty uneventful. As they got closer to home and Steve could see damage from the hurricane, he reached over and shook Jess to wake her.
“Jess, we’re getting close to home. Starting to see damage from the storm.” Steve said.
“Oh wow.” Jess pointed to a church on her side of the road that had lost its steeple. “Steve, if it’s like this here, what is our house going to be like?” Jess asked. “What if we don’t have a house to go back to?” she added.
“I don’t know what we’re going to find. But whatever it is, we’ll deal with it together, right? And we have the cabin. So worse case scenario, we stay there a couple days longer or however long it takes to get things back to normal.” Steve reassured her. Jess nodded.
She continued to point out damage on both sides of the road as they drove along. The closer they got to home, the more damage there seemed to be. As they turned the corner into their neighborhood, Jess gasped.
“Oh my gosh Steve, it’s so much worse than I thought.” Jess exclaimed.
Several houses on one side of the street were completely destroyed. Trees and utility poles were down. A tree still standing looked almost normal except for the car wedged into its branches. There was still water standing in the yards and covering the edges of the road. Steve slowed the car to go around a branch lying partway in the road.
“It’s worse than I thought too.” Steve said. “But look, Mr. Cranston’s house is still standing. He’s on our side of the road, maybe we’ll be okay.” Steve said. Jess nodded. She leaned forward in heer seat trying to get a glimpse of their house.
“There it is! It’s still there at least.” Jess said. Steve grinned at her.
“That’s more than I thought we’d see after what we just passed.” Steve said. He sped up a little bit, eager now to check out the house.
“Maybe we can have the kids back home by tomorrow.” he said hopefully. Steve turned the car into the driveway of their home and shut it off. There was standing water in the driveway and their front yard was knee deep in water.
“We should put on those boots you packed.” Jess nodded and pulled the two pairs of rubber boots from the back seat. He and Jess put them on, and then got out.
They got the cleaning supplies Jess had packed from the back seat and walked toward the house. Steve pulled his keys from his pocket and opened the front door. Jess groaned in dismay at what she saw.
There was mud, silt, and water everywhere. But worse than that, their house, which looked fairly intact from the front, was missing several walls on the back side.
“Oh Steve! I expected the mud and water. But those walls are just gone? What will it take to fix that?” Steve shook his head.
“It’s doable, but we’ll have to wait for the insurance money. Honestly Jess? It could take awhile. I’m sure they’re backed up dealing with all the claims from our neighbors and others in this area.” Steve said.
“We may have to stay at the cabin for awhile.” he added. “Let’s see what we can salvage for now. There’s really no point in cleaning up this water and mud unless we can get that closed up.
“I’m really glad we sent the kids and cat with mom and dad. The kids don’t need to see our home like this. So we’re going back to the cabin, then?” Jess asked. “At least for now?”
“Not tonight.” Steve said. “I think we should take the rest of the day and salvage what we can. If the garage is dry, we can move stuff around to store it until we can get things done. I need to try to get someone in here to appraise the damage, start the insurance claim at least. I’m thinking we can check on Crankston’s place, move what we can around for now and get a hotel tonight? Then we can start packing up what we can tomorrow. Let’s see how much we get done.” Steve said. Jess nodded.
“You know? I think this wouldn’t be such a huge blow if we hadn’t just finished the renovation. I mean I know it’s bad, regardless. But the renovation was so hard on everyone, now it looks like we’re going to be in limbo again while we get this cleaned up and fixed.” Jess said.
“I know Jess. It won’t be easy. But we can do it. We’ll spend some time at the cabin. The kids are doing okay in school, and I’m sure they’ll make allowances for families that have been displaced by the storm. If not, we can pull them and homeschool from the cabin. You’ve been wanting to give that a try anyhow.” Steve said. “Let’s check out the garage and upstairs.” he added.
“Do you think it’s safe to go upstairs?” Jess asked. Steve nodded.
“I think it’s okay. That back wall isn’t close to the stairs. We won’t be able to get anything out of that upstairs bathroom on that side though. Not today. We’ll stay on this side once we get upstairs. Thank God the bedrooms are on the front side. Let’s check the garage first, to see if its dry. If it is we can bring stuff down from upstairs and store it there.”
It took several hours for Jess and Steve to go through the upstairs bedrooms and hall closets. They pulled out what they would need over the next few weeks. Anything they could do without was stacked in the garage temporarily.
“Okay. Let’s go check on Ned’s place. I truly hope his house fared better than ours.” Jess said. She and Steve walked next door and opened Ned’s back door, expecting the worst. Surprisingly, Ned’s house seemed to be intact. Some of the windows were broken out and the carpet and floors were muddy and wet but the damage wasn’t nearly as bad
“I’m so glad he doesn’t have a lot of damage.” Jess said as they headed back to their house.
“Yes, that’s a good thing. Strange though isn’t it? How a storm can do so much damage to those houses down the street, barely touch Ned’s place, and then wipe out our walls?” Steve said.
“I guess that’s Mother Nature for you.” Jess said. “If I didn’t know better I’d think we’d done something to piss her off.” Jess added. Steve smiled.
“Well, let’s call it a night. We’ll get a hotel room and come back in the morning to pack the car with the stuff we’re taking with us to the cabin.” Steve suggested.
The next morning bright and early, Steve and Jess were back at the house. Steve was carrying the boxes and tubs from the garage and Jess was arranging them in the Durango.
“These aren’t all going to fit in here. We’re running out of space, Steve.” Jess called over her shoulder. She faintly heard Steve’s cell phone ringing.
“Jess.” Steve’s tone of voice told Jess something was very wrong. Steve was coming toward her from the garage as she turned around.
“What’s wrong?” Jess asked. Steve took her by the hand.
“Jess, it’s your mom. She’s in the hospital. We have to go now. It’s her heart again.” Steve said.
“Oh Steve no.” Jess sobbed.
“I know Jess. I’m sorry. Here, get in the car. I’m going to close up the house.” Jess nodded. She got into the passenger’s seat, lay her head back and closed her eyes. A few minutes later she heard Steve get in and start the Durango.
“Steve? The kids. Can you call Ned? See if he could pick them up from my dad? I’m sure it’s stressing him out to have the kids there now.” Steve nodded.
“Of course. I’ll call him. I need to let him know his house is okay anyhow.” Steve put a hand on Jess’ shoulder. “Just try to relax. Sleep if you can. I’ll get us there as quick as I can. Your dad is going to call back in a bit, once he knows more.” Steve dialed Ned’s number as he pulled out the driveway and onto the road.