Chapter One, Section 3

Amanda Brooksghostly_love_by_magicsart-d67keka.png drove up the driveway of her pretty, two-story house overlooking the Ipswich River. With the gabled roof and large picture windows, it stood out in a town of prim Colonials.

Inside, Amanda stowed her purse and keys on a table beside the door. As she climbed the stairs, she decided to play a game with herself. It was something she called “moving day.”

She began in her bedroom, taking stock with a critical eye. She circled her sleigh bed and plumped the quilted coverlet. “This room is too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer,” she said loudly, “It will be easy to leave that!”

On her left were two sash windows that overlooked the backyard. Peering through the thin glass, she saw a neglected lawn, a thicket of poison ivy, and a broken Adirondack chair. After I move, I won’t feel guilty about not weeding, Amanda noted with palpable relief.

She shifted her focus to the elm tree and the old treehouse. It was missing a few shingles and the varnish was worn away but it was still intact. Gazing at the rope ladder, Amanda felt the warm, tempting arms of nostalgia; she could almost hear the excited shouts of children as they shimmied up the trunk and captured the clubhouse. Averting her eyes she turned away.

Whew! Dodged a bullet.

Her next stop was the boys’ room, the emptiest corner of the entire house: twin beds, a plain Swedish desk and two winter coats in the closet. Scott, who had always traveled light, had left nothing behind. And Jeremy, living nearby in Boston, had driven away his books, DVD collection and sports equipment years ago. “Nope,” she said breezily, “I’m not attached to anything here.”

The last challenge was Charlotte’s room, a virtual shrine to the teenage daughter. Even the air seemed to reek of that poisonous perfume so favored by the high school girl. The wallpaper, a pink and white striped, was mostly obscured by class photos, strings of beads, pictures of mangy musicians, fashion spreads, and movie posters: Bridget Jones’ Diary, Titanic, Pulp Fiction.

“Charlotte was always too busy to clean her room,” Amanda muttered. “Always rushing towards the next important thing.”

There was an ivory bureau with painted roses that Amanda had bought when Charlotte was about ten. On top, stood a row of adventure books, and a framed photo of Charlotte and her brothers standing in their vegetable patch sometime in the late 80s.

Amanda reached for the picture, and felt a tightness in her chest. The children were captured, as in a snow globe, in a perfect moment in time. Scott was 12, tall and lean, effortlessly holding one lumpy end of an enormous pumpkin. On the opposite side was Charlotte. With her furrowed brow she had the look of a fierce competitor as she struggled to balance the gigantic squash. Jeremy stood behind her, his arms circling her tiny waist.

If only I could go back to that time, when my children were growing their pumpkins and making their plans and still needed me, Amanda thought tearfully. She dropped the photo and dashed from the room.

Leaning against the banister, she waited until the sadness receded back into its hidden cave. That room is still too hard, she admitted, as she descended the stairs. I really should pack away that photo.

She sought comfort in the living room, settling on the couch and gazing up at the chicken painting over the mantle. It was a picture with a story: a trio of noisy children chasing a hen around a sunlit farm kitchen. Amanda had found it long ago in a thrift shop and it always made her smile.

The chicken painting comes with me, she thought firmly. Really, along with some clothes and my bureau and my bed, it’s all I need to be happy in my new life at Peace House.