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Becca’s heart raced like a truck running through her chest. Her initial reaction of excitement and signing a contract, turned into a mounting anxiety and a dreadful reminder that her impulsive actions tend to get her in to trouble. She could feel the sweat form as she thought about staying in that house for a month and she had no idea how she would juggle work and her apartment during that time.
Her last memory of the place jumped into her head. It was something she had blocked, or rather avoided, as each time it came into her head, she pushed it away. This time it replayed in its entirety.
There were a lot of people occupying the space of that house and Aunt Jo was yelling and running around. They surrounded her like a rabid dog they wanted to trap without injury. She thought is was a bit much for them to have tackled her on the floor. The giant, intricately designed rug with hues of bright purple and gold that she used to lie her head against and rub her fingers across became the holding place for her Aunt Jo, as she wriggled to free herself.
“You don’t understand,” she heard Aunt Jo screaming. “I figured it out.” She push them off her in a moment where she had feigned weakness and they had lessened their grip. She dashed over to the bookshelf in the library, pulling books from the shelf. The books were heavy and tattered, papers flew out of them and scattered across the room sending dust into the light coming from the windows. Becca remembered watching several pages swim through the light as they slowly landed in mayhem around the library floor. Her family members slipped on them as they chased after her. Then the police came in and her mother backed out, grabbing and dragging Becca by the hand. Becca tried to watch how the scene played out, but the door frame eventually blocked her view and then it all disappeared.
She wasn’t allowed to go to Aunt Jo’s after that. Her mother simply said Aunt Jo had a mental illness and she didn’t trust her around her baby. No matter that Becca was 12 by then and in her own mind, able to fully take care of herself.
Today, Becca thought of what it might be like to go back. She was almost saddened that she hadn’t reached out to Aunt Jo since that day. She wondered why she would choose her to leave the house and all of her belongings to, considering she had had her own children. Sure, they had moved away and quit speaking to her, but hadn’t she treated them the same?
She realized she was still sitting in her car in the driveway when she was pulled from her trance by the phone buzzing in the seat next to her. She wasn’t sure how long it had been ringing, the wooden box was in her lap where her phone usually sat. She picked up the phone. It was her sister’s number.
“So what was it about? You haven’t called and I’m starting to freak,” Jenny blurted out.
Becca had let Jenny listen to the strange message when it was left on her voicemail. Jenny was the one who convinced Becca to go and check it out. Becca would never had walked into an attorney’s office after having been told she was left a substantial gift by someone who had “loved her deeply in her past.” She assumed it was an ex who was trying to get back at her in some way.
“It’s from Aunt Jo,” she said. She looked down at the box and felt the soft leather strap as she spoke.
“Aunt Jo?” Jenny repeated. “Why would she leave you something?”
“Not something, everything.” She realized how absurd that was and wondered if that had truly happened or if she had just awakened from a dream. The box in her lap was the only thing keeping her grounded in this being a reality.
“Everything,” Becca said. “If I agree to stay at her home for one month.”
“Well, shit. That’s easy enough,” Jenny said and then added,” Wait. What the fuck? How is it that you get everything?”
“Stay with me and I’ll split it with you,” Becca laughed. She could not believe what was happening and the thought of staying alone at that house was now feeling impossible to do alone.
“Hell yeah, I will,” Jenny didn’t miss a beat.
“I really don’t want to do this,” Becca admitted. “This is so weird.”
“It is a little fucked up,” Jenny said. “Like, who does that? But Aunt Jo was crazy so I guess it’s whatever.”
Becca didn’t speak. Her chest felt like someone had wrapped themselves around her and was not only squeezing, but pulling her with the fullness of their weight. Aunt Jo and the word crazy had always been synonymous, but she had always secretly admired Aunt Jo. She had a fun spirit. She was lively and excited, and now that Becca thought about it as an adult, maybe she was mostly high. But, she thought, she had every right to be. How would anyone react if they lost their daughter and grandchild in an accident right in front of their face?
“Listen,” Jenny said. “If it’s one month, anyone can do that. It’s not like the house is even that far away. You wouldn’t even have to take off work. We can think of it like vacation.”
Becca heard a beeping in her ear and pulled the phone away. It was a call coming in from Andrew. Her stomach dropped. Just like it did every time she saw his name. She couldn’t help it. She wanted so badly for that to stop but it just wouldn’t. Something about him made her fall within herself. The squeezing turned to racing and she thought her body might explode.
“Becca,” she heard. “Are you still there? I can’t hear you.”
“Yeah,” Becca answered. She couldn’t tell her sister who it was. Andrew was one of her biggest secrets. Why? She didn’t know. It just happened and made them all the more exciting.
Becca barely listened as Jenny droned on about the plan. She was already figuring out how they could stay together and ride together into town for work. She knew Jenny wanted an excuse to get away from her husband. They had been married for years and were miserable together. She literally heard it all the time.
“Okay,” Becca said when the words coming from the other end of the line didn’t stop. “I’ll do it.” She hung up the phone without even saying goodbye. She dropped the phone back into the seat next to her and lifted the latch to the case. Inside was a small envelope with her name scribbled on it in her Aunt Jo’s wobbly handwriting. She traced the letters with her finger, imagining Aunt Jo at her giant desk, with her shaky hands caused, no doubt, by the copious amounts of coffees and teas she enjoyed throughout the day. Underneath the letter, there were several candles, a lighter, and some satchels of what appeared to be herbs.
The decision was made. She was doing it. She was going to stay in the country for one month. She would stay and use that time to assess the house so she could list it afterward. She had no intention to live there or do anything with the property. She was quite content with her little apartment in the city above the restaurant she worked at.
Andrew’s name stared at her from her phone. Missed Call. Of course he didn’t leave a message. On the one hand, she wanted to hear his voice and see what he needed. He only called when he needed something, even if it was something made up. On the other hand, her heart couldn’t handle any more today.