As they crossed the Eisenhower Parkway boundary, they were met by a road sign: "Welcome to the Village of Bellwood."
"I didn't know it was a village, James. That has a nice sound to it," Wilona mused.
"I know it do. A village. Bringin' my kids to a village." He chuckled a little sheepishly. "Almost sounds a little hokey."
"Daddy, is we gonna be like the Village People?" Lisa piped up, curious. They were always on the grainy TV and even with the bad picture, who could miss the flamboyance of the group's costumes. Schwartz almost spat his coffee as he tried to cover a laugh.
"No, baby, we ain't no Village People like that," James said, trying not to laugh himself. Kids..got to love them. They were still chuckling as they followed the realtor's car onto 22nd Avenue, and James and Wilona's eyes bulged when the car stopped. The For Sale sign was outside, and it was the only For Sale sign on the block...no way could this be the house.
James had put a modest cap on what he was to spend on the house, and the accountant told him to apply for a small mortgage as well, as James' credit had been fouled up by a computer error, and what better way to fix it than through ownership of a home, and no worries about paying a small bill every month? With that modest cap in mind, though...
"Got to be a mistake, or it's a war zone inside," James said, grimly, as everyone exited their respective vehicles. Lisa, now in Wilona's arms, looked up at the house and said "OH."
The first floor was a brick facade, with an aluminum sided upstairs. The front door was set to the left side, front of the house, under a bricked arch, and six painted concrete steps led up to the front door. The steps were flanked by brick columns..nothing fancy, but very elegant.
The front door was recessed in a way that gave the house an unusual yet very appealing look; the realtor joined the group at curbside and explained. "The octagonal shape before the front door is an addition on the house, but it was done in such a way so as not to compromise the look of the home."
They nodded and followed her up the stairs. The realtor explained a bit more.
"This house was built in the early 1930s, but has been well-maintained..the windows, for example, were replaced five years ago, and the roof is almost new. The basement is fully finished, with a full bathroom and bedroom down there, and the attic has been roughed out with plumbing, if you'd ever care to add another bedroom there.
"There are four bedrooms, the master suite with its own bath, and another full bath in the hall, on the first floor. The garage is a two-car, which is also an addition, and is detached from the house. Did I mention that the furnace is only seven years old?"
"It's older than me," Lisa said with a little shrug.
"Hush, baby," Wilona whispered as James threw his daughter a look. He stood with his mouth slightly agape as he looked at the house...each of his children would have their own room. Junior and Thelma would likely fight over who'd get the basement, but the loser, James knew, would find themselves in the attic..James resolved to finish it for him or her, right there.
A bathroom in his bedroom. Good Lord. No more waiting turns. And he could've fed his entire platoon from back in Korea in this kitchen. Then he came to his senses.
"What's wrong with the house," James asked, almost gruffly. Wilona tensed, being shaken out of her thoughts, as she heard James' tone. She'd just visualized Florida right at that double wall oven, humming and taking out a pan of cornbread. Florida would've loved this house, and they'd be so happy here.
"Mr. Evans, nothing is wrong with the house, if you mean structurally. Not even cosmetically, if the colors are to your liking," the realtor said, her arm sweeping the kitchen's neutral palette.
"Then why this house so cheap," James asked flatly. The other two properties were listed at 10k higher than this one, but this one blew the others clear out of the water..and they hadn't even left the kitchen.
"Mr. Evans..this house is part of an estate sale. The owner passed away and his children are fighting over their shares in the house. None will sell to the others, so buying each other out isn't an option. They decided simply to get rid of it quickly, so the fighting stops and they can have peace."
Schwartz nodded. "James, I can vouch for her words, because one of the inheritors is another of my clients. I thought this house might be just what you're looking for."
Wilona and Lisa were now wandering the house, and Lisa asked Wilona as her wide dark eyes surveyed the beautiful home, "Auntilona, which one is Penny's room?" Wilona blinked. "Honey..you don't understand, do you. Oh, baby..Penny and I are gonna live where we live now. It's you and your Daddy and your brothers and sister who are movin' out here."
That might not have been entirely true at that moment, because JJ had been begging Wilona to talk to James, to allow him to stay with Wilona until the end of the school year. He wasn't ready to leave his friends and girlfriend Henrietta quite yet, even though the trains ran nearby back to the heart of Chicago...but that is another issue for another time.
"But..well then I'm not goin'. I ain't leavin' Penny." A meltdown was sure to follow..Wilona set Lisa down and said, "Honey, we'll talk about this later," and quickly went into her handbag to pull out an emergency candy for Lisa. "I don't want it!" And the meltdown began. Lisa, when in the midst of a tantrum, couldn't be reached. There she was, on the floor, wailing, kicking and screaming.
Wilona winced, and walked out of that bedroom, closing the door and letting the child cry it out..it was the only way to make her stop. Meltdowns like these were rare but memorable. She rejoined James and the group back in the kitchen, where Lisa's wailing was beginning to reach.
"What's the matter?" James asked, and Wilona shook her head. "You know kids," she said noncommittally, and added, "Let her be. She's overtired."
Wilona stayed near the closed door as James toured the house with the realtor..and once he was done, he almost ran to Wilona. "You GOT to see the whole place. I'll stay here..you go with them and let 'em show you. Oh, Wilona..this might be it."
Wilona felt a strange pull in her chest but nodded...it dawned on her, the realization that they'd be leaving her behind, was like a baseball bat to the head. Granted, she'd known about it..she was the confidante..but to think of the Evans apartment empty, or worse yet, filled with someone else..that Wilona would always think of as trying to take the Evans' place...she looked back at James and realized as well that she'd been harboring feelings for him.
It was something she'd always tried to deny. After all, one doesn't look at their best friend's husband! But even when Florida was alive, James had times, when he'd put on his grey suit, or just be caught in a certain light, and Wilona felt an attraction, one she was positive was one-way and one she'd never divulge. She let Schwartz lead her by the arm and pretended to listen to the realtor explaining the house. Showing the laundry room, the living room, the dining room, each room, noting the gleaming hardwood floors, the crown moldings...this was truly a home.
Meanwhile, James quietly entered the room where Lisa had finally calmed. He opened the door to find her in a little ball, her so-proudly-zipped-by-herself-jacket off and being clutched like a blanket, as she lay sniffling. This sight broke James' heart. Even though Lisa's conception and birth were not something he was proud of, he loved this little girl fiercely. It was without irony that he realized that had the girl's mother lived, that he'd never have known fathering his littlest as he was. And had Florida not passed, he'd have had to continue the charade of being the slightest bit disinterested in his baby's accomplishments.
All that was aside right now. He knelt on the floor and scooped her up in his powerful arms. "Baby, don't you like the house?" he asked, wiping her tears and fumbling for his handkerchief to clean Lisa's face and nose. She'd truly cried herself out.
"No," she sniffled, with a hiccup. "I wanna go home"
"This could be home, it's a nice place, Lisa, and the backyard..you can go outside and play on grass. Maybe get you the puppy you was wanting, to play with you"
"NO, Daddy. I don't want a puppy..I WANT PENNY!" And fresh tears began.
Oh..so THAT's what the tears were about. James stroked Lisa's hair and held her close, telling her not to cry, that everything would be okay, he promised. And he thought to himself...
We're gettin' out. Why leave Wilona and Penny behind? My children ain't got a mother. Penny ain't got a father. The kids think of her as an aunt..hell, Lisa even calls her aunt. Penny calls me Uncle James. Mentally counting the bedrooms..it could be done. They'd been in tighter quarters.
He was going to ask Wilona to come with them, he decided silently.
(To be continued..and feedback most certainly welcome. :)