You can see all of the chapters (in descending order) here.
“Hey Ned, it’s Steve.” he glanced at Jess who still had her eyes closed and her head back against the seat. Tears were streaming down her cheeks.
“We’ve got a bit of an emergency. We’re on our way back your way. No, well our house is pretty damaged, yours a bit, but not near as much. We snapped some photos for you. But it’s Jess’ mom. She’s been hospitalized. Her heart.
Well yes, thank you, if it’s not too much trouble. That’s why I was calling. If you could swing over and pick them up from Don at the hospital. Yes, we’re all praying.
I don’t know much yet. I’ll text you the hospital information and Don’s phone number.
Sure, either way, your place or our cabin. There’s a hidden key under the mat at the back door. Okay thank you very much.”
Steve ended the call and placed a reassuring hand on Jess’ leg. “Ned’s going to get the kids. He’ll ask the kids if they want to go to our cabin or go tour his place and he’ll text to let us know. I’m going to pull over up here and text the hospital information to him.”
“Okay, that’s a relief. I know Dad has to be overwhelmed having the kids at the hospital and trying to be there for mom.” Steve pulled into the gas station and parked.
“There, I sent the info to Ned. Just try to relax if you can. We’ll be there in a few hours. I’m so sorry, Jess. I’ll get you there as quickly as I can.”
“It’s not your fault. We had to check the damage. But maybe we shouldn’t have left the kids, maybe the added stress was… Jess let her words trail off.
“Jess, don’t do that to yourself. You know the doctor gave her a good bill of health at her check up just last month. I know you’re scared but try not to think only worst case scenario here. Let’s wait until we talk to the doctors, see what they’re thinking.”
“You’re right. But it’s so hard not to go there. We do need to talk about some things though. Whatever happens, I’ve realized something since we got that call.” Jess said.
“What’s that?” Steve glanced at his wife. He could see she was struggling not to break down.
“I need to be there for her, Steve. If it’s two days, six months, or if there’s a God, many more years. I want to be closer to my parents. I can’t be this far away and get that call and regret not spending more time with her. With them both. While I can. And the kids. Delia is so young. We see my parents a couple times a year, some years less than that. I want the kids to know them better. To have that time with them.” Jess wiped away silent tears.
“Okay. I get that. So what are you thinking?”
“I haven’t had much time to think about specifics but maybe we should talk it through some now, while we’re driving. And without the kids within earshot.” Jess said.
“Alright let’s list our possibilities with everything that’s happened in the last week. Is that what you’re thinking?” Steve asked.
“I think we should start, yes. I doubt we’ll be able to decide much at this point. But it will help to talk it through, I think. For starters, I know when we talked to Ned the other day, I wasn’t really on board with a move at all. But that was before we saw the house. The damage to our beautiful house. And before we got this call about mom. When I still naively thought I had all the time in the world with her.”
“Okay, so what I hear you saying now is you want to talk about how to make a move to be closer to your parents full-time?” Steve asked. “Is staying in Walterboro even on the table now?”
Jess was quiet for several minutes. Steve could see her eyes were closed. But he knew her. She was thinking about his questions.
“I love that house Steve. You know that. Even more after the renovation. Our kids have grown up there. Delia has never had another home. And I don’t think Sammy remembers the apartment. Jeff does a little, I think. But he was only seven when we bought it.”
“I know. A move will be tough on them all. But kids survive moving, Jess. It happens all the time.”
“I know. And I’m trying not to be selfish here. I don’t want to put the kids through a move because I needed to be close to my parents.” Jess said.
“For what it’s worth, I don’t think it would be selfish. The kids will benefit from spending more time with your parents too. I will. And with everything we’ve heard from Ned recently, it will take us one step closer to being safer as a family from this crazy world.” Steve said. He took a deep breath.
“If I’m being honest, Jess, I love our house too, but with the damage that was done by the Hurricane, I’m just not looking forward to having to deal with that repair process.”
Steve admitted. He reached over and squeezed his wife’s hand. “So, for the moment, let’s talk about what a move would look like, for everyone.” Jess nodded.
“Well the main benefit is more time with my parents. But if we were at the cabin, we could also take Ned up on his offer and help at the compound.” Jess said.
“Right. Those are both good things. But we need to talk about school options for the kids, don’t you think?” Steve asked.
“Yes, definitely. And I think we need to consider letting the kids choose. Blairsville is a small school system. It would be a change for the kids, a new school and all, but it’s still public school. They would still have social interaction, I think they’ll want that, especially Sammy. Delia is young, she’d bounce back and make new friends once she was in the school system. I’m not sure what choice Jeff will make. It will be tough on him, to make new friends, to not graduate with his friends from Walterboro.”
“It will definitely be hard for Jeff, but he’s old enough, I think he’ll understand the reasoning behind it. But Sammy is middle school. It’s going to be tough for her to go into a new school at that age, to be accepted, and to make new friends. She’ll be an outsider on top of it. You know how small towns can be when you’re an outsider.”
“You’re right, I think. Sammy will have the hardest transition. But maybe she would want to homeschool? I’ve always wanted to have the time to do that anyhow. If she did that for a year or two, she could have time to meet kids in the area. It could make it easier for her to return to public school for high school.” Jess said.
“That could help, yes. A few years with summers and weekends to meet people. It’s a shame we didn’t encourage that a little more during the times we visited the cabin before. But we could make sure we encourage her to get involved in activities and meet other kids. What if we ask them both to homeschool? At least for this school year? If we’re going to help out at the compound, it would be nice to not have to work around public school schedules on top of it. You and the kids could spend time at your mom’s without having to limit it to weekends or after school.” Steve said.
“I don’t know, Steve. It feels selfish for me to make everyone move so I can be closer to my parents. The kids will have to leave their home and we’re going to ask them to homeschool on top of it all? I’m not sure it’s fair.” Jess said.
“I think our kids may surprise you. They love your parents too, you know.” Steve said.
“I know that, Steve. But it’s one thing to love your grandparents and quite another to just pick up and leave the only friends, house, and school you’ve ever known to be closer to them. Not to mention your job and mine. You can likely get a transfer, but what about my job? Can we really survive in the cabin without both of us working?” Jess was quiet for several minutes. “How long would it take to repair the house? Do you think I can talk mom and dad into coming to stay with us for awhile?”
“I have no way of knowing how long to fix it. The reality is we’re either going to have to live at the cabin for awhile. Either that or we’re going to have to pay for a hotel or try to rent something. We have to wait for the insurance to come through, get estimates, and find a contractor. That could take weeks and with all our neighbors putting in claims and needing repairs at the same time, maybe longer. You know the renovation pretty much depleted our savings.” Steve said.
“Well we have to figure something out.” Jess said.
“I know. We will. I’ll talk to Tom at work tomorrow, see what my options are for a transfer.” Steve said. “I think we could get by at the cabin for a little while. After you see what’s happening with your mom, you can talk to your boss about possibilities. Maybe you can work from home?” Steve suggested.
“I can probably do a lot from home if we upgrade the Internet at the cabin. That’s a good idea, Steve.” Jess smiled. “It helps to have you on my team right now.” Jess said. She patted Steve’s leg. “Want me to drive for awhile?” she asked. Steve shook his head.
“Nope, I’ve got this. I think you should rest. You don’t know what’s coming in the days ahead. Why don’t you climb into the back seat and lay down? We’ve still got about another three hours till we get there. I threw those extra pillows into one of the tubs. Not sure how, but they were still dry.” Jess ran a hand through her hair and sighed.
“Okay. You’re right. I’ll give it a try. I’m going to call Dad, first. But pullover somewhere ahead. I’m not climbing over the seat.” Jess said as she dialed the phone. “Dad? It’s Jess. Have the doctors told you anything, yet?” Jess glanced at Steve and shook her head. “They did? Well I’m glad they were there too, then. Dad it’s okay, we’re already on our way back. Maybe three hours. Ned Crankston’s coming to get the kids. I know you didn’t ask, but it’s better for everyone. They’ll be fine with him and he said he doesn’t mind. I know Dad, but they were. It’ll be okay. Did you call John yet?” Steve pulled over into the parking lot of a bank. “I know. It’s okay. I have it. I’ll call him. I love you, Dad. We’ll be there soon. Okay. Bye” Jess hung up and dropped her phone back into her purse. “He’s a wreck, Steve. The doctors still haven’t really talked to him, except to say she’s stable and they are still running tests. Apparently Dad was out in the barn and mom got dizzy and was having trouble breathing. Jeff called the ambulance while Sammy went to the barn to get Dad. He hasn’t called my brother yet. He just kept saying what if the kids hadn’t been there.” Jess said. Steve leaned over to hug her.
“We have great kids. Everything happens for a reason. There’s a reason for this, too. And we’ll get through it all, together.” Steve said.
“I know. They are great. At least mom is stable. Maybe I can rest now. Although I am worried about Dad now. He didn’t sound good at all.” Jess said. Her older brother, John, lived in California with his wife and kids. She knew before she dialed that he wouldn’t come but she called him anyways. After relaying the details of her mom’s current status, she hung up. “I knew he wouldn’t come, but at least he knows.” Jess said to Steve. She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek and then got out of the car and into the back seat. She pulled open a couple lids on the tubs in the 3rd row of the Durango until she found a pillow and a small blanket. “Alright, you drive, I’m going to try to sleep.” Jess said. She settled onto the seat and closed her eyes.
“Your wish is my command, milady.” Steve started the car and pulled back onto the road. He turned the radio on Jess’ favorite station but kept the volume low. “I’ll wake you when we get there.” Steve said. Steve smiled to himself a short time later. He could hear Jess snoring from the back seat. Thankful that she had in fact, been able to go to sleep, he switched the radio to his favorite station. A little more than three hours later, Steve pulled into the parking garage of the hospital near Blairsville. He parked the car and reached over the back seat to shake Jess awake. “We’re here sweetheart.” Steve said softly as Jess opened her eyes.
“I guess I did sleep.” Jess said. She sat up in the back seat, folded her blanket and tucked it and the pillow back into the tub in the back.
“I got a text from Ned several hours ago, right after you fell asleep. He picked up the kids and they wanted to go see his place, so we can pick them up there when we’re ready.” Steve said.
“He really is such a sweet man. I can’t believe everyone in the neighborhood, including us, misjudged him so much before. He’s gone above and beyond for us.” Jess said.
“Yes, he really has. You ready to go see your mom?” Steve asked. Jess nodded.
“I’m ready. Did you hear anything more from Dad while I was asleep?” she asked. They got out of the car and walked hand in hand toward the doors.
“No. But let’s assume no news is good news.” Steve suggested. A few minutes later they were inside the hospital and entered Jess’ mom’s room. Jess hugged her dad as he stood up from a chair in the corner and went instantly to her mom’s bedside. Steve shook Don’s hand.
“Thanks for coming back Steve. I know it was a long drive. They had to reprogram her pacemaker. I got to talk to her but she’s been sleeping for awhile, so she should wake up soon.” Don said.
“Of course, Don. I’m just sorry we were so far away. Can I get you some coffee? I saw a machine on the way in.” Steve offered.
“I could use some, yes. But I’ll walk with you. I need to stretch my legs a bit.” Don said. “Jess? Can we get you coffee?”
“Sure dad, that’d be nice. Thanks.” Jess said. She gently held her mom’s hand. Tears slid down her cheeks. “So, you talked to the doctors, Dad?” Jess asked.
“They came in, yes. They said she should recover and it’s good we got her in here quickly. They were able to reprogram the pacemaker.” Don said. “She should be able to go home soon.” Don said. Jess smiled and nodded.
“That’s great news.” she said. “I’ll sit with her. Go, get coffee. Take a break, dad.” she said. Don nodded. He and Steve left the room. Jess bent her head and closed her eyes, thanking God her kids had been with her mom and had taken action.
After about ten minutes, Jess felt her mom’s fingers moving. She glanced up to see her mom’s eyes open. “Hi mom.” Jess said quietly.
“Hi honey. Sorry to scare you.” Sheryl said.
“Don’t be silly, mom. We’re all just glad you’re okay.” Jess said.
“I had your kids looking out for me. You know, you’ve taught them very well. They made me sit down right away and Jeff called for an ambulance.
He sent Sammy to the barn to get your dad. And little Delia held my hand the whole time until the ambulance came. She made the EMT promise he would get me to the hospital safely.” Sheryl smiled.
“I’m glad they were there with you, mom. And I’m glad they knew what to do.” Jess said.
“How bad is your house, honey?” Sheryl asked.
“It’s pretty torn up, mom. But we don’t need to worry about that now. We have insurance. We have our cabin. Our focus now is getting you up on your feet.” Jess said. Her mom smiled and nodded.
“The doctor said tomorrow maybe. They want to observe to make sure the adjustments are working. Sorry honey, I’m so tired.” Sherly said. Jess leaned over and kissed her mom on the forehead.
“Of course you are mom. It’s okay. Go back to sleep. I’ll just sit over here and read.” Jess said motioning to the chair in the corner. Her mom drifted off and Jess moved to the chair in the corner. Relief flooded over her as she sat down. Steve and her dad came in a few minutes later with coffee. “She was awake for a moment. She’s pretty tired. Should we go to the waiting room and check in on the kids?” Jess asked Steve.
“Sounds like a good idea. You coming with, Don?” Steve glanced at Jess’ dad.
“I think I’ll stay with her. I don’t want her to wake up and find no one here.” Don said.
“Don, I can stay with her if you like and you can go with Jess?” Steve offered. Don shook his head.
“No, no. I’m fine. Go with Jess. Check in on the kids. But I wouldn’t worry too much about them. They seemed pretty excited when Ned offered to show them his place.” Don smiled. “He’s definitely one of the good guys.”
“Yes, he is.” Steve agreed. Jess stood and hugged her dad.
“We’ll see you in a bit then, dad.” Jess said. Don nodded.
“You tell those kids I love them.” Don said. Jess nodded. “They may have just saved their grandma’s life today. They’re heros in my book. Every one of them.” Don said.
“I’m glad they were there, dad. We’ll get through it. We just have to stick together.” Jess said. She followed Steve out of the room to call and check on the kids.