Around ten, Kristine called. "Where are you?" her cousin asked.
"North of the Grapevine."
"You should have let me fly down and drive up with you."
"I'll be fine. You have eight kids to deal with. They would die without you."
Kristine laughed. "It's three kids."
"When I visit, it feels like more."
"That's because they're loud." Her humor faded. "You okay?"
"Never better." Especially if she didn't count her broken heart and ragged spirit.
"I am, but that's okay."
Kristine sighed. "I'm glad you're coming home. I'm worried about you."
"I'll be fine."
"I think the warehouse is still for lease. I want you to see it the second you get here. This is Blackberry Island. It's not as if we have more than one warehouse. If you don't grab this one, you're going to have to have your offices on the mainland, and driving there every day would be a drag." Sophie felt her sense of dazed sadness ease a little. "Already done."
"I signed the lease last week."
"Seriously?" Kristine's voice was a shriek. "But you haven't seen it."
"I know, but you said it was great. Besides, you're right. It's not as if there are six warehouses to choose from."
"I said it was available, but I don't know what you need. Sophie, you signed a lease? What if you hate it?"
"Then I'll be mad at you." She smiled. "It's fine. I'll make it work. Really. Right now I just want to be home."
"You leased a warehouse you've never seen. Sheesh. Next you're going to tell me you rented a house, sight unseen."
"Technically, I saw pictures online."
"It's just for a few months, while I figure things out."
"That's insane," Kristine told her. "I will never understand you. Okay, focus on your driving. I can't wait for you to get here tomorrow. The boys are very excited to see you."
"I'm excited to see them. You have six, right?"
"Love you, too."
"Think of it as a rite of passage," Kristine Fielding said cheerfully. "You're twelve now. You deserve to take on more responsibilities."
"You say that like it's a good thing," her twelve-year-old son, Tommy, grumbled. "I'm a really good kid, Mom. Maybe I deserve not to do laundry."
"You'd rather I did it for you?"
"Well, yeah. Of course. Nobody wants to do chores."
They were in Tommy's bedroom, facing a massive pile of laundry.
Kristine had been doing her best to convince her middle son it was time for him to learn a few life skills. As his older brother had before him, Tommy resisted. In the end, she'd had to threaten JJ with the loss of Xbox privileges before he was willing to take on the task. She was hoping she wouldn't have to resort to anything that dire with Tommy.
"So it's okay for me to take care of this entire house, cook the meals and do your laundry, while you do nothing?"
Tommy grinned. "It's your job, Mom. My job is school. Remember how I got an A on my last math test? Being a great student takes a lot of time." His expression turned sly. "Which would you rather have? Me doing my own laundry or a super-intelligent kid who gets straight A's?"
"It's not an either-or proposition. You're twelve now. It's time to start doing your own laundry."