One Foot in Front of the Other

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I headed upstairs with the intention of finally setting up my work space. I'd already lost a whole day of my vacation and I hadn't even pulled out the Allen report yet. I wondered if I'd actually get a chance to even start my next project given the rate I was going.

However, when I approached the desk, my eyes immediately went to the little leather journal sitting on the empty tabletop. My fingertips brushed over the soft cover, the natural ridges flattened by the harsh oils of human skin and the wicked touch of time. It appeared a dull grey, but a part of me doubted that was the original color.

A string, that undoubtedly had not been part of the original book, held the journal together. I pulled one of its ends, giving it a gentle tug, fearful it may snap. With the cover released, the wrinkled pages pillowed and the journal grew in size as the yellowed paper sighed with relief.

I turned the book over, starting at the back and flipping through the pages until I found one with writing on it. It didn't take long. My aunt had been in need of a new journal and as Jordan expected, the most recent entries were notations of a grand Christmas display. From what I could decipher, it appeared my Great Aunt Georgina was hoping to create an arrangement of trees around the circular driveway in front of the house. Each tree would represent a specific year and showcase the history of Hereford Hills. It also indicated where lights would be strung along, which of her wreaths would be used on the windows, and other miscellaneous notes. However, the key component was these trees.

Unfortunately, she hadn't finished.

She had the idea down, but the actual particulars of the decorations were missing. I had vague notations about a fire in the 1940s, an extravagant wedding of the town's mayor in the 1870s, and the opening of the ski resort in the 1980s. Other than that, she hadn't specified ornaments, light colors, garland, tree toppers, nothing.

I wasn't sure how Jordan was going to make out anything from that, but I had done my part. I located the journal and found the notes Gina had left for her display. I looked over at my laptop bag, knowing full well that I wasn't going to be getting any work done once the guests showed up that afternoon, so if I was going to do anything, it would have to be that morning. Yet, there I was, eyes back on the journal, looking to see if previous years' displays could help fill in the gaps left in the wake of my aunt's death.

I decided to just start at the beginning and work my way up. If I was lucky, the journal would go back a couple decades and maybe the aesthetic of displays from that period would be enough on its own to meet my aunt's wishes. To my surprise, the journal went back more than a couple decades. In fact, it went back to the beginning.

October 15, 1974

This is it.

I'm holding the keys in my hand and I'm looking up at a house three times as big as the one I grew up in. I've spent five, maybe four, maybe more, I don't really know...No, that's a lie. I know exactly how long it's been. It's been seven years, two months, and eighteen days since I made the decision, so I guess that's also how long I've been saving up for this moment.

I don't know what to do.

I'm sitting out here alone on a porch that may crumble beneath me if I put too much pressure on it. I'm not even sure it's safe for me to sleep in this house or if any of the plumbing really works, but I have no where else to go. But, I'm not complaining. I just don't know what to do.

All my money is right here beneath my feet and it may collapse at any moment. The agent told me the structure was good, that it won't fall down, but I'm not sure I can feel safe until I've pulled up these boards and seen for myself that the bones are strong.

I lose this, I lose everything.

I have to get this place renovated. I have to fix it up and make it profitable. I have to prove to Norma that I am responsible, that I am reliable. I don't need her forgiveness, I know I'm never going to get it, but I hope she can at least believe me...that I have learned my lesson. If I can provide for Jack, then maybe she'll see I'm doing what I can to make amends, to provide where my brother can't. Maybe she'll even let him come and visit me here.

I have to get this house in shape. There is no other option.

"Norma," I mumbled. "Jack..." My throat tightened and my hands shook as I reread that first journal entry. Norma was my grandmother and Jack was my father. Georgina knew them and clearly, my grandmother knew her, yet I was left completely in the dark about the woman who only lived a few hours from us.

My fingers traced the words "responsible...reliable...forgiveness."

"What happened?" I asked to the empty stillness of the room, my eyes looking over my shoulder towards the bed as if my great aunt's ghost may drift in and tell me her secrets. Yet, I already had them. They were sitting in my hands and wrapped in leather.

I looked to the next entry.

October 28, 1974

I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to write again, my hands are practically bloody from all the work, but I've managed to clear out all the debris from the rooms and swept out the cobwebs. Today, I decided to make a list of all the pressing matters and I'll just work through them one at a time. Got to put one foot in front of the other if I hope to move forward at all.

The remainder of the entry was a laundry list of rather horrifying to-dos for renovating the house, but no mention of my grandmother or father. I started flipping through the pages, stopping every now and then to see if either of their names popped up, but all I got were snippets of home repair, interesting guests, and eventually those Christmas display notes I had originally been looking for.

Just as I was about to go back to page one and start flipping again, the doorbell rang. With a groan, I placed the journal back onto the desk. It wasn't even lunch yet so I knew it couldn't be guests, but I also knew plenty of people back in the city who would have felt entitled to an early check-in for no reason other than their own bloated ego.

I checked myself in the mirror and though I would have preferred a more tailored outfit to greet clients, I wasn't in the mood to do a quick change and the person at the door was already on their second ring.

I headed down and pulled the door open with a plastered smile on my face.

"Good morning!" chimed the petite Saundra Waverly. "I come bearing gifts." 

***

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