CHAPTER ONE A NEW ADVENTURE FOR THE HILLS
It was a cold day in March, even for Chicago, but the sky was a bright blue, and the frigid winds embraced the city as it has done for hundreds of years. A brisk 18 degrees above zero was not the best day to be house hunting, but this family of five huddled into a luxury Mercedes sedan, braving the cold to find a much-needed new home.
“Yes, that’s it up ahead. East Townline Road, route 60. Take that exit and go east toward Lake Forest,” said the adult woman sitting in the passenger seat.
“Aunt Susan, this is far from our school and all of our friends. I don’t think we should look this far out,” stated a cute 10-year-old redhead girl with freckles.
“Rose, we all decided that we cannot stay in your current house. There are just too many memories of your parents." Susan replied, we have to find a new home and have a fresh start,” Susan replied.
“This is a load of crap! I hate this area of the city. Every year, we play against Lake Forest in football, and they are so stuck up. The girls here think they are better than anyone else. I can’t go to Lake Forest High School. I won’t go,” said a cocky young man of 16-years old.
“Victor knock it off, or you can walk home, you little piss ass. You will do what we tell you to do. You are lucky you aren’t in jail after that stunt you pulled, taking my car out for a joyride. You don’t have a license yet, you idiot. Then to sideswipe another car on Washington Street downtown and run from the police, thinking you would be safe if you made it home. What the hell were you thinking?” asked the man driving the car.
“Harry, let it go. You’ve been yelling at the poor kid for over a week now. We are all stressed from living in close quarters in our condo. Lake Point Towers has been great for us, but it’s no place to raise three kids and a dog,” stated Susan, Harry’s wife.
“Ya, Uncle Harry quit picking on Victor. If he were in jail, he wouldn’t be able to protect me from all of his friends who want to get into my pants,” said a lovely 13-year-old redhead that was overly developed for her age.
“Damn it, Caitlin, how many times have I told you that you are not old enough to date. No more boys. It’s bad enough that Victor goes after every guy that hits on you, and then he hits on them literally, but you don’t help the situation by wearing clothes like that short skirt you have on today. Jesus, it's 18 degrees outside, aren’t you cold?” asked Harry.
“Yes, I’m freezing, but you never know who you might run into in Lake Forest. Maybe the football team captain,” she said with a smirk.
“Caitlin, Harry is right. I don’t want you dating yet. You are too young to be dating,” said Susan.
“Aunt Susan, most of my friends are hooking up with a new guy every week,” Caitlin replied.
“Having sex? At 13? Oh, my God. Are you having sex, young lady?” she asked.
“Me? Why… no, of course not. I am waiting for the right guy,” She replied.
“But until then, she spends lots of time in the bathtub. I walked in on her just last night, and she was moaning with her eyes closed. It was hilarious,” said Victor.
“Why were you moaning, Caitlin? Was the water too hot?” asked 10-year-old Rose. “Shut up, Victor! I’m going to tell all the girls at the new school that your weenie is the size of a pencil,” and she laughed.
“You better not Caitlin, or I’ll... I’ll…
“You’ll what, Victor? Tell mom. Well, mom is dead, and no one else cares.”
A silence fell over the car as Caitlin turned her head toward the window and gazed into space.
“Okay, that’s enough. I don’t know how my sister was able to deal with the three of you and work with your father at the bar,” said Susan.
“It’s not a bar! It’s a bar and grill. They serve great food there, too,” said Victor.
“With a name like McNasty’s, it sounds more like a bar. We have to get that place sold too. There are not enough hours in a day. Turn up at the next street. Yes, that’s it, Festive Lane. Now look for 148,” said Susan as Harry followed her instructions.
“You can’t sell dad’s business. You must keep it. How will there be money for us to live and go to school?” asked Rose.
“We are going to take care of you, honey. Uncle Harry and I both earn enough money, and you don’t have to worry about going without; I promise it will be fine.”
“I guess so. I wish daddy were here,” Rose said in a sad little voice.
“You were daddy’s little girl, weren’t you? He’s here with you, Rose. He is always with you,” said Susan.
“Okay, here we are,” Harry said as he parked across from the massive, new home at 148 Festive Lane.
“I thought there was an open house today. I don’t see any signs?” said Harry.
“It’s Lake Forest. Maybe they don’t allow for sale signs. We received a letter in the mail saying that this was a by-appointment-only showing. I called and made the appointment for 2:00. It’s 2:05 now,” said Susan.
“Wow, that house is huge! All the houses in this area are mansions,” said Caitlin.
Suddenly there was a knock on the drivers’ side window. Covered with frost, Harry could not see out the window, so he pushed the button, and the window slowly began to roll down, scraping the frosty ice from the outer surface.
As the window lowered, a small figure of an older woman was revealed. The gray-haired woman wearing a worn-out coat and gloves poked her head into the car.
“Are you here to see the house?” she asked.
“Why, yes, we are. Are you the owner?” asked a startled Harry.
“Oh, no. I’m just a noisy neighbor. My name is Martha. And you are?” she asked.
“My name is Harry, and this is my wife, Susan. The kids are our nieces and nephew. That’s Caitlin, Rose, and Victor,” Harry replied.
Susan spoke up. “Martha, you must be freezing. It’s freezing out, and you aren’t dressed very well. Where is your hat?”
“Oh my, I must have left it at home. If someone doesn’t help me dress when I’m about to go out, I’d probably leave my head at home,” and she and Rose laughed.
“Ah, do you live in a home Martha,” asked Harry.
“No, not really, but that’s neither here nor there,” she replied.
“Harry, we should get going to see the house,” Susan stated as she gave him a nudge.
Martha replied, “Oh yes, you are already 8 minutes late. Better get a move on.”
“It was genuinely nice to meet you, Martha. Maybe we will see you around sometime,” Susan said.
“I am sure we will, dearie. I am usually around and about at Christmas time,” Martha replied.
Harry tried to open his door as the kids and Susan exited the car, but Martha leaned against it.
“Um… excuse me, Martha, but I need to…”
“Where is my head today? Ha, Ha! Of course, you need to get out of the car to see the house. But Harry, let me ask you a question or two before you go in. How are the children dealing with the death of their parents?”
“No one mentioned that their parents had died. Why would you ask me that?” asked Harry.
“Well, it’s obvious that something happened. Why would they be looking at a house with their aunt and uncle? How are they doing, really?” she asked.
“Rose misses them terribly, Caitlin is angry, and Victor is in denial. We hope this house will bring us all together and make things better, but I have my doubts,” replied Harry.
“What are your doubts, Harry?”
“Their grandparents on their dad’s side are fighting us for custody of the children even though their parents, Rick and Carin, appointed us their legal guardians in their will.”
“Where do the grandparents live?” Martha asked.
“Just outside of San Francisco,” replied Harry.
“California? Oh no. That will not do at all. These children must stay right here in Lake Forest, IL, and live in this home at 148 Festive Lane. There will be no such talk about moving the children to California,” Martha said sternly.
“No offense Martha, but I think that is for Susan and me to decide, not you,” stated Harry.
Martha realized her mistake in speaking out and apologized.
“Harry, I am so sorry. It’s just that I can sense how much the children love you and Susan. It would be a shame to break up the beginning of a wonderful family nucleus,” she said.
Harry just smiled and nodded.
“I have to get going now, Martha. It was nice to have met you.”
“Oh, Harry. It was so nice to have met you too. By the way, will your parents be coming to the housewarming party when you move into this home?”
“My parents have been deceased for over 10-years, Martha.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, and what about Susan’s parents? Surely they will be coming to see the children soon?” she asked.
“No, Susan lost her folks a couple of years ago. I don’t think either set of parents will be showing up any time soon, Martha.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” Martha said under her breath.
“What was that, Martha?” asked Harry.
“Nothing, nothing at all; why are you standing out here talking to some crazy old woman when you should be going into that beautiful house? Get going, Mr. Hill. Go buy that house for your family,” she said.
Harry turned and walked toward the house. As he walked, he shook his head and thought, “what a strange old bird that Martha is. Wait a second… how did she know my last name? I never told her that.”
He stopped in his tracks and turned back toward the car.
“Hey Martha, how did you know…” he stopped talking.
Martha was gone, nowhere in sight. He looked up and down the street. He walked back to the car, thinking maybe she was hiding behind it; nothing. She disappeared into thin air.
Harry walked back to the house, questioning what had just happened.
“Did you forget something in the car Uncle Harry?” asked Caitlin.
“Yes, Harry, why did you go back to the car? We’re freezing out here waiting for you before I ring the doorbell,” asked Susan.
Harry replied, “I went back to find Martha. She said something to me that was strange.”
“Well, I think she is strange. Nice old lady, but a little kooky, don’t you think?” asked Susan as she pressed the doorbell.
The interior door opened, and the storm door was pushed out toward the family standing on the front stoop.
“Hi. You must be the Hills. Please come in. My name is Michael Carter.”