Friday, December 19
The following week was a blur of finishing out the semester – quarter, in my case – and preparing to be out of town for a week. On Friday Pete picked me up from work and we drove to Jack’s house one last time. We took a cooler, sheets and blankets for the air mattress, and our own soap and towels. We picked up a veggie pizza once we got into Lancaster and ate sitting on the kitchen floor, not disturbing any of Paul’s careful staging.
After dinner we drove both the Jeep and Jack’s truck to the storage unit and emptied it, dropping the key into the after-hours box. When we got back to the house I realized we had a minor problem. We both pulled into the garage – Jack’s neighborhood had some issues with car break-ins at night, and we had Christmas presents with us – and Pete pushed the wall button to lower the garage door. I said, “You’re going to have to keep the garage door remote so we can lower the door when we leave.”
“Oh. I hadn’t thought about that. We can’t leave through the front door, can we?”
“No, it’s got the lockbox on it. Tomorrow when we get to Tucson, text Lisa and ask her if you can mail the remote to her.”
“Or we could just bring it…” Pete stopped and laughed sheepishly, embarrassed that he’d forgotten. “We’re not coming back.”
“Not any time soon.” I reached out and squeezed his shoulder. “Does that bother you?”
“No.” He looked around the house. “I guess it hasn’t completely sunk in yet. But it doesn’t bother me. I don’t have a lot of wonderful memories associated with this house.”
“Still. This was your dad’s house for a long time.”
“Almost thirty years.” Pete smiled. He reached into the cooler, retrieved a bottle of beer, twisted the cap off and handed it to me. He opened one for himself and held the bottle up. “Here’s to the house. May the new owners make wonderful memories here.”
“Hear, hear.” We clinked bottles and drank.
We finished our beer, bagged our trash, and got into our pajamas. Pete inflated the mattress, while I dug soap and towels out of our overnight bag and unfolded my clothing for the next day. We made the air mattress up with the sheets and blankets and snuggled together. Pete said, “What will happen to your dad’s house, when the time comes?”
“I don’t know. I suppose he’ll leave it to all of us equally. Then we’ll have to decide if we’re going to keep it or not.”
“Why would you?”
“I can see Kevin and me using it as a guest house when we visit. It’s not like Jeff and Val will ever move. We’ll still be making plenty of visits to Oceanside, even if my dad’s not there.”
“True. Or maybe we’d want to retire there. We could buy out Kevin and Jeff’s portion of the house with what we’d make off the sale of our place.”
“Mm. Maybe. Let’s hope my dad lives as long as my grandfather and we don’t have to think about that for a long, long time.”
“Amen to that.”
Saturday, December 20
The next morning we rose while it was still dark, showered quickly, and broke down our impromptu bedroom. We made one last check of all the rooms and closets, ensuring that we weren’t leaving anything that would create apoplexy in Lisa Tierney, and headed out.
Pete drove Jack’s truck and I drove the Jeep. Most of the trip was a long, monotonous haul through desert, and we couldn’t talk to each other on the phone until we got to Arizona. I’d brought audiobooks to ease the boredom, and we stopped every couple of hours to stretch our legs, rid ourselves of the caffeine we’d been ingesting, and ingest some more.We got to the ranch at about 3:30 in the afternoon. Neither Pete nor I had ever been there. The ranch was north of Tucson, in a river valley surrounded by mountains – a gorgeous setting. The main house was two stories, similar in style to a southern plantation house, with deep porches and overhangs to block the desert sun. We turned off the main drive to the left and pulled into Jack’s new front yard.
The guest house was about the size of a large apartment, or our townhouse back in Santa Monica. The rooms were bigger, with an open floor plan throughout the living areas, and one spacious bedroom with a plush master bath. I noted that the doorways and bathroom were large enough to maneuver a wheelchair throughout the house, and there were no steps anywhere, inside or out. French doors from both the bedroom and the great room opened onto a screened patio, with ceiling fans and several comfortable chairs. The patio faced west. When it wasn’t too hot, Jack could have a front-row seat at some spectacular sunsets.
We carried all of Jack’s things inside and placed them in the spots he indicated. Pete maneuvered the pickup into the garage; we left Jack and Chris sifting through boxes and drove the Jeep to the main house. We emptied the Jeep of the Christmas presents we’d brought and ended up in the kitchen, where I smelled potatoes baking. Andy was taking steaks out of the fridge. “You guys hungry?”
I said, “Absolutely. How can we help?”
“Grab yourselves a beer and go on out back. Everything else is ready.”
Once the sun went down it got cold quickly. We ate inside around the big farm table in Christine’s casually furnished dining room. Jack was quiet through the entire meal. I tried to observe him without anyone else noticing. He ate well but didn’t participate in conversation unless someone spoke to him directly.
Maybe he was still tired from the journey in the RV. Or maybe he was just being Jack. In one-on-one conversation he’d been fine, but he’d never been one for big groups of people. Even if they were relatives.
After dinner we sat around the table talking for a bit, then Jack stood. “If you’ll excuse me, I’d like to get back to the house. Finish unpacking those boxes.”
Andy said, “Sure, Dad.”
I stood. “I’ll go with you, Jack. I didn’t get much chance to check your place out earlier.”
Jack look surprised, but not displeased. “Sure, son. Let’s go.”
We put on our coats at the back door and exited into the night. There was a wide, flat walkway created from large paving stones between the main house and Jack’s. Solar path lights along the borders gave us plenty of light to walk comfortably. I said, “You’re still in the desert, but I think it’s prettier here. You’re gonna have some gorgeous sunsets off that back porch.”
“Yeah. Didn’t have that in Lancaster.” Jack gave me a sideways glance. “You boys spent the night at the house, I take it.”
“Yes, sir. We had to bring the garage door remote with us. Pete will mail it to the real estate agent.”
Jack chuckled. “Think it’ll sell quick?”
“The agent seemed to think so.”
He nodded, satisfied. We reached his house and entered. Jack had left a lamp burning; now he flipped on the stove light in the kitchen. I said, “This is a terrific house.”
“Yep. Just right for me.”
He slipped his jacket off and hung it on a peg by the door. As he did, I noticed something around his neck that I’d failed to spot before. “Is that one of those life call buttons?”
“Yeah.” Jack lifted it from his chest and examined it. “Chris says she’ll sleep better at night knowing I’ve got it.”
“I’m sure she will.” Pete would too, when I told him. “Are you still doing cardiac rehab here?”
“For now. I’ll go in once a week to get checked. The rest of the time I guess I’ll be walking around here.”
I said, “Make sure you get some hill climbing in, when the doc says you’re up to it. Pete and I are getting married on the top of a hill.”
“I’ll do that.”
“Pete is gonna miss you.”
Jack nodded. “I’ll miss him too.”
I summoned up my courage and said, “I bet he’d like to hear you say that.”
Jack looked surprised, then gave me a contemplative look. “Then I reckon I’d better say it.”
I smiled. “I’d better get back before they send out a posse. You sleep well.”
“You too, son.”