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Can't Go Home Again

"Mommy, your t-shirt was comfy but I look fab-boo-lush now!"

"Sit down, squirt. You look like a big wad of cotton candy. We didn't need this stuff."

"Coley shush. You know you like your shoes so pssssssh."

+* Tibby's tongue wagged out of her mouth, I yanked her arm and she begrudgingly sat back down in the booth.

"If you get syrup on your sweater you're going to be in big trouble Tibs," I warned.

"Mommy, duhhh. I'm gonna be careful."

Fifteen minutes later, Tibby had covered her entire sweater with napkins, but she was keeping her word. I glanced down at my own dark blue top and then over at the benefactor of the clothes. Brian was watching me closely.

The whole more had been a nightmare. I just kept replaying the words. It's been burned to the ground. Burned. To the Ground. Everything we had was gone. Everything except Hoover.

Thank God I had begged Mikael to go get Hoover.

Brian had practically picked me off the floor with the news. We didn't have a home to go back to. There were no more clothes. No more toys. Furniture? All gone. Charred rubble.

I still hadn't told the kids. Brian had gotten Tibby out of the room the second he saw my face twist from the news. Even now I was still numb.

"Can we go shopping again tomorrow?" Tibby asked Brian. He laughed.

"Whatever you want."

"Whatever I want?" Tibby squealed. "I want a pony!"


"You're not getting a pony cause we're going home soon. Right mom?"

"They're not staying much longer, right dad?"

"Like we want to stay around you, mop head!"

"Blow it up your--"


"Cole, apologize!"

"Brothers," the waitress laughed. "What can you do?"

"We're NOT brothers," Cole scowled. Baylee folded his arms and slumped down, glaring at the waitress as she revealed everyone's orange juice.

"I'm getting a pony!" Tibby said happily.

My head officially began to pound.


"Hi mom."

"Jillian, we've been worried sick! I tried calling the house but there wasn't an answer. Did you get my voicemail?"

"Yeah, I did. Listen, I--"

"Where are you? Are you home?" She sounded panicked and I knew it was the anxiety of not knowing where one of her ducklings had gone.

I glanced out Brian's kitchen window. He was playing basketball with all three kids. Tibby was clinging to his leg, her head tilted back, laughing. Brian's words reverberated in my mind.

You know you can stay here as long as you want.

I'm going to kill him.

"This is going to sound like it's coming out of left field, but I um, I'm staying with Brian."

"Brian?" mom repeated. "Brian who?"

I licked my lips. "Littrell."

"Brian Littrell?"

"Yeah, we bumped into each other a little while ago and --"

"He lives in Sandusky?"

"No, he lives in Roswell. Roswell, Georgia. I thought we could use a little vacation."

"Didn't school start?"

"Well, yeah, but," I twisted the dish towel. "It was the only time that worked."

Mom didn't answer.


Still nothing.


The line went dead. I looked down at the phone. Disconnected.

I had escaped that awkward conversation for the moment.

"Jill, you coming out?"

Brian's hair was wet with sweat. He clung to the screen door, swinging just like he did when he was younger. "You okay?"

"I have to tell Cole and Tibby about the house," I said.

"Baylee and I can go shoot some pool downstairs. Give you guys some time."

"Would you?"

"I'd do anything for you," he said. "I have a lot of missed time to make up for after all."


"Yeah, I do. We can argue later." He turned around. "Baylee, c'mere a sec!"

I smiled gratefully. "Thank you."

"Anything for you Jilly Bean."



"What do you mean the house burned down?"

"Is Mr. Fluffers okay?" Tibby asked, her eyes widening.

"Mr. Fluffers didn't make it, baby," I said. "But we can get you a new Mr. Fluffers."

"But, but, Mr. Fluffers is my baby kitty," she whispered. Tears welled up in her eyes.

"What do you mean the house burned down?" Cole repeated. I wrapped my arms around Tibby and looked at Cole. A silent exchange was all that was needed. He turned his head, trying to mask his anger. Or fear. Or both.

"Bastard," he muttered.

"I want Mr. Fluffers!" Tibby wailed.

"What about Hoover?" Cole asked, his voice tight with emotion.

"Hoover's okay," I said quickly. "Auntie Bee and Uncle Mikael have him."

"Where are we going to live?"

"I want my Smurfy blanket!" Tibby screeched in my ear.

The conversation was going exactly as I feared. For the umpteenth time I cursed being an adult.

"We're staying here for a little while longer," I said. I began to rock Tibs, her hysterical cries causing every nerve ending in my body to stretch to the point of snapping.



"It's going to be okay," I said calmly.

"Gregg's crazy, mom. He's not going to stop."

Tibby's cries paused momentarily. "Who's Gregg?"

"Your dad."

All crying was forgotten. "My daddy?" Tibby looked from Cole to me. "Where's my daddy?"

Cole looked like he wanted to slap his hands over his mouth. He glanced at me in desperation.

But I was at a loss for words.

How the hell did I explain to a five-year old that her daddy would like nothing more than to see her mommy dead?