Jessie breathed a sigh of relief the day the "Sold" sign went up in the yard of her childhood home. She and Jaden had moved out weeks before, but now her mom and dad could join them in their new place and they could all start over together, finally put the horror of the last few months behind them.
She'd always been her daddy's favorite. It had nearly killed her a couple years ago, when she found out she was pregnant, to have to break the news to him. She was just 20 then, and wasn't even married, and she knew he'd be so disappointed. Perfect little princesses did not sneak their boyfriends in late at night and have sex in the basement and get knocked up in the process.
The day she told her dad, she brought Tom over for moral support and shared the situation with her parents over dinner. Her mom sat in shocked silence, but it was the hurt on her father's face that cut her deep.
He had yelled at Tom and pounded his fist on the dining room table at the disrespect. Tom had practically ran from the house, tires squealing in the driveway, leaving Jess to face her parents alone.
Her mother had asked for them to pray then, extending her arms across the scarred wood of the farmhouse table. Jess and her father took her mother's shaking hands and lowered their heads as a family.
"Lord, I know you are always with us, watching over us. We could really use your counsel right now. Please help heal our family. Please give us the wisdom to make the right choices for Jessica and..." her voice caught, "and for our grandbaby."
In the stillness, a sniffle came from Jess' right and she opened her eyes to see her father crying, head still bowed. She had risen and rushed to his side, cradling his head against her chest.
"I'm sorry, daddy, I am so, so sorry!" she cried.
"A baby, any baby, is a gift from God," her father said and he reached up to wrap his strong arms around her smaller ones. Her mother rose and joined them.They were a family and they would weather this storm as they always had - together.
Instead of kicking her out, her family bonded over the pregnancy. Her daddy had insisted that she and the father of his grandchild live in the house with them. A girl needs her mama when a baby is young and they could fix up the basement, make a little apartment down there with their own kitchen and a nursery and everything until they'd "figured things out."
The baby was born, but two years had passed and Tom still hadn't figured anything out. Hadn't asked her to marry him, hadn't even kept a job longer than a few months so they could get a place of their own.
Jess was sick of waiting for something to change. She was young, dammit, and plenty of men would love to date her. She grew frustrated with Tom's dithering about a wedding date and watching him lie on the couch her parents had given them and play video games while she went to her job at the Best Buy every afternoon.
Their bickering became constant, exploding into screaming matches late at night that prompted her mom or dad to sometimes stick their heads through the door to the basement and call down to make sure everything was all right.
Tom resented being a father at 25. He had never wanted a kid so soon and now that he had one he hated all the responsibility it put on him, Plus, he was sick of how Jess' parents got so damn involved in their lives. He wanted to be the man of the house. He was an adult for fuck's sake and their precious little babygirl was a grown ass woman - a mother now. They needed to just back off!
One night Tom came home late, a little drunk. Jess started in on him about where he had been and he told her it was none of her goddamned business. "Oh it IS my business! I am the mother of your child and as long as you live under my parent's roof you will tell me where you are going!"
He sneered at her. "What are you now, my mother? You let your parents walk all over us. I'm not about to let you start doing that shit to me. I'm done!"
"There are a thousand other men that would marry me instead of your lazy ass. But don't think I will ever let you see Jaden. If you walk out that door, you can consider him gone. I'll make sure he's adopted by some man that is actually worth a damn and you'll never see that boy again."
Tom was headed for the door but he swung around, head low, like a bull ready to charge. "That boy is as much my son as he is yours, Jessie. Don't you threaten me with shit like that. What makes you think some other man would want to be with a used up whore like you anyway? Are you cheating on me? I will not put up with that shit for a second."
"Good! Get the hell out then! You can walk, but you will never see that boy," she repeated, and turned away from Tom, a satisfied smirk on her face. She had certainly won this argument she thought, and then the shotgun blast hit her in the back in a blinding, searing burst of pain. She fell to the floor in a shower of her own blood.
Tom walked around her prone form and knelt by her head. "Don't you ever threaten to take my son away," he whispered hoarsly, raising the gun to point direclty between her eyes. For a moment she focused on the mouth of the gun then her eyes rose higher and she whispered "Daddy..." before her head fell to the floor.
"Your daddy isn't here to help you now, you little bitch," Tom growled, moments before his head split open and showered the couch with gore.
Jessie's daddy had always been a fine hunter. He knew that boy his daughter was shacked up with had been acting real strange lately and when he heard the gunshot from down below, he'd grabbed his hunting rifle and ran for the stairs. As his wife screamed into the phone for 911 to get to their house he had rounded the basement stairwell and seen that sonofabitch pointing a gun right at his daughter's head. He'd only done what any father would do. He had rescued his princess from the monster in her bed without a second thought.
He ran, practically falling down the steps, to his daughter's side. She was a lucky girl. She was bleeding but the blast had hit her shoulder more than her spine, and he didn't think the wound was mortal.
He grabbed a pillow from the couch and applied pressure, and Jessie tried to smile at him.
"Thank you, daddy," she rasped, and he nodded at her. "You're safe, baby. You're safe."
"Mommy?" a plaintive voice called from the hall. Jessie's father turned from the carnage in the living room and hurried to grab his grandson before he saw his parents both lying in pools of blood on the floor.
The Freemans were amazed when they found the house on the Internet. It was for sale by owner, fifteen acres of wooded property, with three bedrooms and three baths and a wraparound porch. The part they liked best was the finished basement. It looked like the whole house had a fresh coat of paint and the basement was especially prime with new paint and baseboards and carpet! The ad said the sellers were "motivated" and they weren't kidding.
The price had already been a steal and they were willing to haggle even then, throwing in the stainless steel refrigerator and a wrought iron woodrack just because Mrs. Freeman mentioned liking it.
Mr. Freeman kept asking his wife "What's the catch?" expecting at every turn they'd discover termites or black mold or a haunted pet cemetery deep in the backyard.
On the day of closing, the deal was so good he had to ask the owner "Are you sure there's not like, an old indian burial ground under the basement you aren't telling us about?"
The man had looked across the lawyer's table at his wife for just a moment before laughing heartily.
"Most definitely not, sir! Nothing in that house but a lot of old memories."
On move in day the Freemans pulled up to their new home in a packed U-Haul truck followed by a little Honda Civic.
Mr. Johnson hopped out of the cab with a grin and walked back to the car where his daughter sat eyeing the house through the bug-splattered windshield. Liz been away at college and hadn't even seen the new place yet.
"So this is it?" she asked him. "It seems a little...remote."
Mr. Freeman's smile faltered a bit. "It's just private. There's plenty of land for me to go hunting! Come on, you are going to love it inside."
She opened the car door and he helped her stand up. Six months pregnant, her balance was a little wobbly.
"Your mom and I knew this was perfect the minute we saw the basement," he told her as they walked up the porch steps.
"There's a whole apartment down there just for you, with a nursery and everything! And when Matt gets back from Afghanistan, there will be plenty of room for all three of you," he patted his daughter's belly, "to make a bunch of memories here!"
As she stepped into the cool dark of the house a little chill ran down Liz's spine. It was pretty all right, but something about the place seemed off, she just couldn't put her finger on what. Pregnancy hormones, she decided. They really made her feel crazy sometimes. She shook off the feeling and followed her father to the basement door.
Hopefully Matt would love it as much as her dad did.
So, my husband discovered this house for sale a few days ago - he was exclaiming over the impressive price until something about the address jogged his memory.
This actually happened three months ago here in my hometown.