Chapter 24

AT THE LAST minute, with nothing else to do, Chris and Francesca decided to go back to Vermont with Ian for the New Year’s weekend and use Marya’s house there. They had no babysitter for Ian now with Marya gone, and they were happy to have him with them for a family weekend.

They liked being together, and the revelry in the city didn’t appeal to either of them. He had been invited to a few parties, and so had she. But being in Vermont seemed like a nicer way to spend it, so they drove to Vermont the day before New Year’s Eve.

Francesca went to the grocery store when they got there and got food for them. Chris lit a fire in the living room, and Ian had brought DVDs and toys with him to keep busy. It felt like the perfect way to spend the holiday to all three of them. And it looked like a Christmas card when they woke up on the morning of New Year’s Eve. It was snowing. Francesca only wished that Marya could be there with them. But she was in Courchevel in the Alps with Charles-Edouard and his friends. Francesca had had several e-mails from her and she sounded happy.

Francesca and Chris played Monopoly and Clue with Ian that night. The two of them played Scrabble, and Gin and Go Fish with Ian. And they slept in in the morning, and then played in the snow. They made a snowman and had a snowball fight, and went skating at a nearby lake that was frozen, although Francesca was nervous for Ian. She didn’t want him to fall through the ice, but he didn’t. They toasted marshmallows and made s’mores. They did all the things that all three of them liked, especially together. It was a totally perfect weekend.

Francesca heard her cell phone ring on the day after New Year, and she was almost too lazy to answer. She finally got up and answered it, annoyed that it wouldn’t stop ringing. It went to voice-mail twice, and they called again. Francesca finally picked it up and was glad she did. It was Marya, calling from Paris.

“Guess where we are?” Francesca said happily. “In Vermont. It’s been snowing for two days and it’s gorgeous.” They were sleeping in Marya’s room, and Ian was in the four-poster in the guest room, as Marya had suggested the last time they came here with her. “Happy New Year.” She assumed that that was why Marya was calling. “How’s Paris?”

“Beautiful. It snowed yesterday here too. I think we found a flat on the rue de Varenne.” It was exactly where they had wanted to be, in the seventh arrondissement. “Charles-Edouard has been negotiating for it all week.” She hesitated for a minute and then went on. “I have something to tell you.” Francesca waited, and missed her fiercely. “We got married yesterday. Just the two of us and a few friends. His divorce came through before Christmas. The papers were here when we got back. I feel a little crazy, but I’m glad we did it. And if he ever cheats on me, I’ll kill him.” They both laughed, and Charles-Edouard got on the phone a minute later, and Francesca congratulated both of them. It was amazing how destiny intervened and life worked out. Marya had thought she was going to be alone forever, and then his wife left him and everything changed. Now five months later they were married. A year ago she would never have dreamt that this could happen.

“I’m so happy for both of you,” Francesca said. She meant it, and Chris was beaming too. They sounded so happy, and they deserved it.

“I wish you’d been here,” Marya said wistfully, and Francesca wished she had been too. It was one wedding she would have liked to be at, with two people who meant so much to her. She and Chris were still smiling when they hung up, after talking to them for a few more minutes.

They lay in bed afterward, talking about it, and how happy they were for them.

“So when are we going to do that?” Chris asked her. For a long moment, Francesca didn’t answer.

“I don’t know. What’s the hurry? Things seem to be working like this.” They had only been dating for four months.

“I’d like it better if we were married. You’re not going to turn into your mother if we do,” he said, and she laughed out loud.

“That’s probably true,” she admitted. “I wouldn’t have the energy for five husbands. And I sure as hell wouldn’t be looking for a sixth.”

“How about just one?” That had always seemed like one too many to her before. “What do you think?” He rolled over on his side, and looked at her, propped up on one elbow in bed, and he was smiling. So was she. For the first time, she wasn’t scared when she thought about it. She didn’t need to get married, but maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing, and it might even be nice for Ian.

“Maybe,” she said, and grinned. It was as far as she was willing to go at the moment. She wasn’t her mother, or Marya. She had to find her own way with him.

“That’ll do for now,” he said happily. “I’ll settle for that.” He kissed her as they lay in bed, just as Ian bounded into the room. They were going back to New York that afternoon. It had been a heavenly three days.

“Let’s make another snowman,” he said, looking excited, and Francesca got out of bed. They made two more snowmen to go with the one they’d done before. There was a family of them now, right outside Marya’s windows.

Ian waved goodbye to the snowmen when they drove back to New York. On the drive home, Francesca was relaxed and peaceful. She had heard recently that Todd was getting married in the spring, and she wasn’t upset about that anymore either. She had her own life without him. And Chris was perfect for her. The pot had found its lid, and it was a perfect fit. All she had had to do all along was find the right one.

They got to New York late that night after a long drive, and Francesca helped Chris carry their bags into the house after he carried Ian up to bed, sound asleep. She looked around as she set down their things in the hall. The house seemed quiet and empty, and she looked surprised as she turned to Chris.

“I want to sell the house,” she said softly. He looked stunned.

“Are you serious? Why? You love it.” They both knew how hard she had struggled to keep it, even recently. And a year before, she had been willing to live with three strangers so as not to lose it.

“I do love it, or I did. I want a fresh beginning for us, a new start… a clean slate…” She was thinking of Todd and Eileen when she said it. “Too much happened here. There’s too much baggage.” She was instantly sure, as sure as she had been when she wanted to keep it a year before. And Chris didn’t disagree with her. He just didn’t want her to sell it if she loved it and wanted to stay.

“Why don’t you sleep on it and see how you feel about it in the morning?” he said, and she nodded, and then they went upstairs to their bedroom. Ian was sound asleep in his own.

She said the same thing to Chris the next day. She looked at him over breakfast with a determined look. “I want to sell it. I’m sure.”

“Okay.” He nodded. “Let’s put it on the market.”

“It could take a while to sell. It’s an old house,” she said cautiously. That afternoon, she called the realtor she had used before. They agreed on a price, and then she raised it a little bit. They were putting it on the market that weekend. She called Avery and told her what she was doing.

“I think it’s a good idea. The market is high right now, and you should get a decent price for it. I haven’t felt right about that house for you since Eileen was killed there, but I didn’t want to say it.”

“It’s not about her. It’s about me. I think I outgrew it. I kept it when I wanted to. But I think I want a life with Chris. I don’t want a house that was part of another life. Todd has a new life. I want one too. I feel like I’m dragging four hundred tin cans tied to my tail. I want to be free. And we need something new.” It all made sense to her. She told her the price that the realtor had quoted her, and it sounded fair to Avery too.

“You’re not giving up the gallery, are you?” Avery wondered if she was making a clean sweep, but Francesca was quick to answer.

“Of course not. I just feel like I outgrew this house. It’s an albatross around my neck. It’s too heavy, in too many ways. Eileen, the cost of running it, the size of the mortgage payment, the repairs. It’s too big for us without other people living in it, and I don’t want to do that again. Maybe an apartment or a smaller house. We can rent something for a while.”

“See how fast it sells and how much you get for it,” Avery suggested. Francesca was fully prepared to do that, and Chris was pleased. He liked the idea of finding something with her.

There was an open house that weekend, and two weeks later she had an offer. It was for almost the full asking price. And they had disclosed what had happened to Eileen there. It made no difference, the people who wanted it loved it. They had four children, and they could afford it. Francesca was thrilled, and so was Chris. He would never have asked her to sell it, and he would have helped her keep it if she wanted to, but he was happy she wanted to move on. And he loved the idea of a fresh start for them. She wanted a whole new life that was only theirs, not a hand-me-down from someone else, even if it was now hers.

The house was due to close on the fifteenth of March. On Valentine’s Day, they found an apartment to rent that they liked and was just the right size, and moved two weeks later. Things were moving fast, which told her that everything was right. And the family that was buying the house was thrilled with their new home. It was a blessing for all concerned, and especially for Ian, Francesca, and Chris. They had a new home, they were a new family, and they had a new life together.

The day after they moved, Francesca went to the house alone to close it. Chris and Ian were waiting at the new apartment, but she wanted to turn on the alarm and lock up at Charles Street on her own. A service was coming to clean the place up and make it sparkle for the new owners. The realtor had arranged it, and Francesca didn’t need to be there. But she wanted to say goodbye to the house.

She wandered from room to room and remembered the good times they’d had there, and the bad ones. She didn’t go upstairs to Eileen’s room, which was open and empty now. But she went everywhere else. And she smiled standing in the kitchen, remembering all the wonderful times and meals with Charles-Edouard and Marya.

The house had served its purpose in its time, and Chris was right, she had loved it, and part of her still did and always would. But like people, sometimes you had to let them go, and houses were no different. It was a question of timing, of who belonged in your life when. And she was letting this one go. She stood in the front hall for the last time, and looked back at it as she set the alarm. She punched in the numbers and locked the door. She whispered goodbye and ran down the steps, and she took a cab to the apartment where Chris and Ian were waiting for her. It was a whole new life with people she loved and who loved her.

The apartment smelled delicious as she walked in. Ian had baked her cookies.

“Look what we made for you!” Ian said, looking excited. They were four-leaf clovers for St. Patrick’s Day, and he had sprinkled them green.

“Those look like lucky cookies to me,” she said, and bent down to kiss him, and then she kissed Chris. “And I am a very lucky woman,” she said to them both. The pot had found its lid, just as Avery had said. And she didn’t even have to go out looking for it. It had found her. She knew she had been right to fight to keep the house. If she hadn’t, she would never have found Chris. Everything had worked out just right, except for poor Eileen. But there was nothing they could have done to save her. Sometimes you just couldn’t.

Francesca helped herself to one of the cookies, and looked around. There were boxes everywhere. They had tons to unpack, and a lot to do. It was exciting to be here. And more exciting still to be here with them. Francesca had found her people and her place. And it was no longer 44 Charles Street. Charles Street was part of another time, another life, and now it was gone, to a family who would love it just as she had. 44 Charles Street was a chapter in her life, more than just a house. The chapter was closed. And a new one had begun.

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