Alternate Universe: Unexpected
Story Title: Can't Buy Me Love

Chapter Title:


The House That Built Me

Chapter Summary:


Bess makes it to Philly … what will she find there?


Time line:

November 2010



MacKenzie Verity Weckerly born October 9th, 2010

Edmond “Eddie” Giles Rosenberg-Maclay born March 11, 2010

Joshua "JJ" Harris was born on April 21st, 2004

The twins (Danielle Dawn, "Dani" and William Rupert, "Billy") were born on February 12th, 2004.

Annie was born on February 14th, 1999

Spike and Buffy  were married in  February 1999

Buffy was born January 19th, 1981

William/Spike was turned by Dru in 1880 1890; first came to Sunnydale in September of 1997


All the Potentials were endowed with full Slayer power in February 2003.

Buffy and Spike learned of the other dimensions and got the memories from the 'Rome' Universe in May, 2003.

The ‘Wish-World’ lasted from January 19th, 2005 to January, 16th 2010.



Music Referenced:

The House That Built Me by Miranda Lambert


ScreenCaps courtesy of ScreenCap Paradise:



Thanks to 'epd4' for betaing this chapter. Any mistakes are mine because I can't stop fiddling ...

Rating / Warnings:

NC17. Content is only suitable for mature adults. Contains explicit language, sex, adult themes, and other adult situations that some people may find objectionable. If you are under the age of 17 or find any of these themes objectionable – GO AWAY.

Bess, Cleveland, OH to Philadelphia, PA:


Bess and Angelpie made their way from Cleveland to Philadelphia through rain and snow and freezing temperatures, which didn’t bother the kitten so much since she was tucked away safe and sound in her cozy rain and wind-proof saddlebag, but forced Bess to stop several times and wait out the weather when it got too hard to control the bike.  She didn’t want to take a chance of wrecking the Harley … she had $250 to her name and that wouldn’t buy many repairs. Spike had bailed her out before, she doubted he’d do it again.


Bess continued working with Angelpie, massaging her leg and hip and moving it like the vet had shown her in order to restore the range of motion, and she thought the kitten was actually improving and not limping as badly. Dr. Lowenbram said it could take a while, so Bess remained patient and diligent with the kitten’s physical therapy routine, hopeful that her little friend could make a full recovery.




(Four days since leaving Cleveland),

The day before Thanksgiving, Wednesday, November 25th, 2010, noon, Philadelphia, PA:


Bess had no problem following the map that Sammy had given her all those weeks ago to Philly, however once she got to the city that she’d spent almost ten years in with Wanda and John, Bess was lost.  She found the hill and the river, and Chestnut and Walnut Streets, but almost everything looked different now. There were shopping centers and ballparks and movie theatres and Starbucks and McDonalds. Streets that she remembered as going through to her neighborhood were now dead-ends, bisected by interstate highways. She was starting to get the idea that it was an omen … perhaps she was simply too late.


She finally stopped at a quick mart and bought a map of the city (along with some condensed milk and a box of cat food) and asked the clerk for directions to Cherry Street.


“Which one?” the clerk asked.


“There’s more than one?” Bess questioned with a sigh.


“A few … here,” the clerk offered, opening the city map that Bess had just purchased. “There’s an index … see, it gives you the coordinates of them … looks like … six or seven?”


“Are any near Lemon Tree Hill?” Bess wondered.


The clerk shook her head. “Not sure, hun… you’ll just have to look.”


Bess sighed and folded the map back up and thanked the woman before heading back outside.  Bess sat on the curb with Angelpie and studied the map while the kitten lapped up some milk and munched on the cat food. Bess should’ve asked the clerk to point out just where she was now, but she felt stupid admitting that she not only didn’t know where she was going, but didn’t know where she was, either. It took Bess fifteen minutes to figure out where they were … she should’ve bought a pen too. Damn it.


Bess left Angelpie on the curb cleaning up after her meal and went back in the store to get a pen, when she came back out there was a woman kneeling next to the kitten, petting her and Angelpie, as usual, was purring and arching her back against the woman’s hand.


“Sorry … I hope she’s not bothering you,” Bess began, retrieving the kitten, picking up the empty saucer, the bottle of milk, and the box of cat food and starting towards the motorbike with them.


“Oh no, child,” the woman assured her. “She’s perfectly adorable.”


When the woman spoke, Bess turned around – the voice – it sounded like … but no, it couldn’t be. It was her mind playing tricks on her again, just like it had done in Renaldo when she thought her attorney was her mother.  Bess studied the woman carefully, the resemblance to Wanda was nothing short of amazing, certainly older, but still … and the voice … But Wanda was long dead. Long, long gone.


Bess furrowed her brow and moved back towards the woman. “What’s her name?” the stranger asked Bess.


“Huh …who? Oh!” Bess realized, bouncing the kitten gently in her hand. “Sweetie Puddin’ Angelpie … I just call her Angelpie for short.”


“That’s a lovely name. Is she your guardian angel?” the woman wondered. There was no mocking in her voice, just a kind gentleness.


Bess looked down at her little friend. “Yeah … you could say that. She saved my life, so now I belong to her.”


The woman smiled softly and nodded as if that was something she heard every day, then asked, “Are you from around here?”


Bess snorted softly and shook her head. “I’m not really sure where ‘around here’ is,” she admitted. “I grew up on Cherry Street, but now … I don’t know which one.”


Bess sat Angelpie on the seat of the Harley and put the saucer and food in the saddlebag before unfolding the map again. “I mean … I guess there are a few,” Bess observed with a sigh. “The one I’m looking for is near Lemon Tree Hill…”


The woman took the pen from Bess’ hand and put a mark on the map designating where they were now, then drew a line, following the streets on the map and ending up on Cherry Street. “Lemon Tree Hill is here,” the woman pointed out, putting an ‘X’ on the map not far from where the route she’d drawn ended.


“Don’t dawdle too long, child …” the woman advised, handing the pen back to Bess. “Things can change minute to minute in this city.”


“Oh, thank you … I …” Bess looked up from the map and the woman was gone. Bess looked right and left, then turned in a complete circle, scanning the store and the street, but there was no sign of her. She furrowed her brow and shook her head as she looked at the route on the map the woman had drawn.


“Well, Angelpie … I guess we shouldn’t ‘dawdle’ around here anymore,” Bess told the kitten as she got her bearings and folded the map so she could see the whole route easily.  Bess slipped Angelpie back in her saddlebag and tucked the map under her so it was sticking out between her legs within easy reach and started the Harley.


Bess drove slowly, stopping frequently to check the map, but finally arrived on Cherry Street.  This section of the street, which was another of the roads bisected and cutoff by the modern interstate, was completely lined on each side with six foot high chain link fencing; not the nice kind, but the temporary kind like you’d see around a construction site.  All the houses on either side of the street were abandoned, doors and windows stood open, the planters that were once well tended now held nothing but brown, frozen weeds, the sidewalks that had once been smooth and new were broken and crumbling and strewn with crack pipes and syringes and brass bullet casings.


Bess blinked back tears as she realized that this was, indeed, the street where she grew up.  She made her way down the road and stopped in front of a house in the middle of the block and cut the motor.  The once red brick had been painted over white, and was now covered with graffiti, gang tags, and obscenities. The front porch, where she and her siblings had spent many a summer evening playing games and telling stories, now stood at an odd angle from the house, the rafters rotten, the floor nearly non-existent. The yard that her dad took so much pride in, and fussed over all summer long, was overgrown with weeds some in places and reduced nothing but bare dirt in others. The windows all stood dark and empty; the lovely, hand woven, Venetian lace curtains that her father had saved nearly six months for and ordered directly from Italy to give Wanda for their wedding anniversary shortly after they moved in, were long gone.


Bess’s chin quivered as she surveyed the remains of her house and the tears she’d been holding back leaked from her eyes. What had Spike said in London? ‘You can’t go home again …’


“You aren’t supposed to be here. Didn’t you see the signs?” a male voice brought Bess out of her bittersweet memories.


Bess looked around at the man that was speaking to her. He had on a uniform with a fire department insignia on the sleeve.


“No … I … what signs?” Bess stammered, looking back the way she’d come.


“Damn junkies!” the man exclaimed, looking down the street as well. “They keep tearing them down …”


“Why can’t I be here?” Bess wondered, remembering Spike’s contention that it was a ‘free country’, she could park wherever she wanted.


“This whole area is condemned. We’re going to be burning these houses down as training exercises starting Friday…” the man explained.


“Burning … you’re going to burn them down?” Bess asked with distress, looking at ‘her’ house. “But … but surely they can be repaired …”


“The developer needs them gone to make way for new condos … they’ve been sitting empty for months now while they got the permits required and this whole area’s turned into one big crack house,” the fireman explained.


Bess frowned as her dream came back to her of her family inside the house as it burned. She looked back at the house, but the windows were dark and empty, there were no faces looking back at her.  Her family wasn’t in there, they were gone – long gone.  There was no one left to save.


“I … I grew up here …” Bess told the man. “Could I just stay a little while? I swear I won’t hurt anything. I’d just like to look around one more time,” she requested, her eyes misty.


The man sighed as he looked at her. She was obviously upset and not one of the junkies that had been using the houses… “Ok, but be careful, don’t go inside, it’s not safe. Just stay in the yard,” he advised her. “There’s a gate over here you can go in…” he offered, waving a hand towards a gate that looked like it had been jimmied open a time or two … or ten.


“Thank you,” Bess replied with an appreciative smile as she dropped the kickstand and dismounted.  She retrieved Angelpie from the saddlebag and tucked the map away before following him to the gate.


“Be careful and don’t stay too long; you don’t want to be here after dark, it’s not safe. If I’m not here when you come out, lock it back up, ok?”


“Sure … that’s no problem. I won’t be long …” Bess assured him as she slipped through the gate and started down the sidewalk towards her childhood home.




Bess walked slowly around the dilapidated house with Angelpie’s head tucked up and under her chin. She peered in the windows with a mixture of melancholy and disappointment.  She wasn’t sure what she expected to see … her mother’s furniture? The lace curtains? Her siblings reading or playing games in the parlour? Her father filling his pipe and reading the newspaper? Whatever had once been there was gone, all that remained was an old wooden, kitchen chair, a few mismatched sofa cushions, a couple of broken, plastic dolls, apparently left from the last occupants of the house, and a whole lot of dirt. Her mother would’ve been appalled.


Bess chuckled sadly as she stroked a hand softly down Angelpie’s back and the kitten purred against her throat. “If Mom was here, she would’ve put us all to cleaning this mess up,” Bess told the kitten. “Even you.”


The kitten meowed her agreement … or perhaps it was a protest, and Bess dropped a kiss on the top of her friend’s head. “Don’t worry … I won’t make you clean it up.”


Bess looked up as she heard a car pass on the street out front – the fireman was leaving – finally! Bess headed back out to the street, tucked her kitten back in its little ‘room’, and rolled the Harley in through the gate in the chain link fence and all the way to the back yard of her house before setting it up on its kickstand near the back door.


The sun was nearly down now … it would be dark soon.  Bess got Angelpie back out of her saddlebag along with the rest of the cat food and the milk as well as her little friend’s saucer, and together they ventured up to the back door of the house.


The door stood slightly ajar. Bess pushed on it lightly, but it didn’t budge; she pushed harder.  The door scraped roughly over the wooden floor and the hinges creaked shrilly, protesting her insistence that the door move from its resting place.  With the backdoor now fully open, the Slayer-vamp took a deep breath as she looked into the old kitchen. How many family meals had been prepared here? How many times had Bess herself stood at the sink, looking out that very window into the backyard and washed the dishes as Anne or William dried them?  It seemed somehow ironic now that, at the time, Bess wanted nothing more than to be out in that backyard rather than inside doing the dishes, and now Bess would give anything to have a sink full of pots and pans to scrub alongside her siblings.


Bess blew out the breath she’d been holding and stepped over the threshold into the kitchen. “Welcome to my home,” she whispered to Angelpie. “Sorry about the mess… the maid hasn’t come yet this century.”


Suddenly there was a swirl of gold and silver sparkling lights, like a hundred little stars, which twirled around Bess and Angelpie then spread out and multiplied, transforming everything they touched from a cold, ramshackle mess to a warm, pristine, turn-of-the-century home.


Bess sucked in a deep, surprised breath as the world around her morphed and time rolled back.  The kitchen was suddenly full of life, Anne and William were at the table helping their mother shape candy cane cookies, just like Nellie had done in years past, the smell of turkey roasting in the oven filled the whole house with nothing short of love, her father was in the parlour, she could smell the sweet tobacco of his smoldering pipe as he called to Wanda asking when dinner was going to be ready.


Bess stepped forward. “Mom? Mommy?” she called, reaching out to them “Anne! William!” she cried, but her hand passed right through them – they didn’t hear her, didn’t see her. Was she the ghost or were they?


Bess sat Angelpie down next to Anne then turned and headed to the parlour. “Dad?” she tried. “Please! Please tell me you can see me!” she begged, but he was tending his pipe, cleaning it and re-stuffing it with fresh tobacco, heedless of her presence.


Bess scanned the room. A simple, hand-cut Christmas tree stood in front of the picture window at the front of the room. The decorations were mostly things that they kids had made or found in the woods … mistletoe and holly berries, popcorn strung on long strings, garlands of snowflakes cut out of paper. The top was decorated with one of the few store-bought things they had; a beautiful porcelain angel with blonde hair, swathed in an ivory cloak made of delicate paper, with golden wings and a gold lamé shawl.


The front door opened and Bess watched herself bound in from the cold, her arms full of firewood and her cheeks rosy from the brisk winter air.  She dropped the wood on the floor next to the fire which crackled in the hearth and cast a warm glow over the entire room. Her father came over and helped her stoke the flame and added another log. “Now … go see if you can light a fire under your mum 'fore I waste away to nothing,” John instructed the ghostly Bess, his English accent still quite evident despite the years in America.


She watched herself roll her eyes and laugh as she patted a hand on her father’s bulging tummy before bouncing happily from the front room to the kitchen, passing right through Bess like she wasn’t even there.


Bess remembered this – it was the last Christmas before she was taken away to England … it was her last Christmas at home, her last Christmas as a normal girl – her last Christmas with her family … with love.


“They can’t hear you, child,” a familiar voice divulged from behind Bess.


Bess whirled. It was the woman from the quick mart – the one who had drawn the route on the map for her. “Who are you? What’s … what’s going on?”


The woman shrugged slightly. “I’m Angelpie’s partner in crime, my child …” the guardian angel advised.


Bess looked from the apparition of her mother to the woman standing in front of her. Her mother was younger … by many years, but now there was no doubt in Bess’ mind – they were one and the same person.


“Mom?” Bess whimpered, unable to stop the tears from flowing as she moved quickly towards Wanda and pulled her into a tight hug.


“There, now, child … no need for tears,” Wanda cajoled, wrapping her arms around her daughter.


Bess cried against her, taking comfort in her embrace, as the family from her past carried on around them – laughing and talking and just being a family, oblivious of them or that this would be their last Christmas together.


When Bess had calmed down a bit, Wanda guided her into the front room, Angelpie tagging along behind them, and they sat on the floor near the warmth of the fire.


“How is this possible?” Bess wondered, leaning into her mother’s side and holding tightly to her hand lest she disappear again.


“When I passed, the Powers gave me a choice – I could go on to the next dimension, or stay in this one as a guardian angel and watch over my family.  I had faith that I would be able to help your parents bring you back into the fold one day … and that day finally came,” Wanda explained as she ran a hand gently over Bess’ soft curls.


“What … what do you mean my parents? You and John are my parents,” Bess insisted.


“No, child – you know that’s not true. We never hid the fact that we were your adopted parents from you children,” Wanda chastised lightly. “You’re a special girl, made from two very special people, two strong warriors who love you very much.


“I’m sorry that John and I were unable to protect you … we were ignorant in the ways of magicks and demons then. I promised William I would keep you safe and love you as my own. I could only keep one of my promises to him, and for that I am truly repentant,” Wanda continued softly.


Bess stroked one hand down Angelpie’s back as the kitten rubbed against her leg as she listened to her mother and considered her words. “So … Spike and Buffy really are my parents…” she deduced softly.


“Yes, child … but you already knew that, didn’t you?” Wanda pointed out.


Bess snorted out a sigh, then nodded slightly.


“If they love me so much, why did they leave?” Bess questioned, drawing her glistening eyes away from the kitten and up to Wanda. “Why does everyone always leave? What’s wrong with me?”


“You keep asking the same question, child – but you aren’t hearing the answer,” Wanda advised her gently.


“Buffy said they didn’t have any choice…” Bess offered. “Spike said it wasn’t me, it was him that was ‘unworthy’.”


“And do you believe they were lying?”


Bess sighed heavily and looked back down at the kitten. “No … I guess not.”


“You guess not or you know not?” Wanda pressed. “Have Buffy and William lied to you about other things?”


Bess sniffed and wiped at her nose with the sleeve of her jacket, but didn’t answer.


“You think they were being too hard on you … too many rules, not enough freedom,” Wanda surmised.


“I’ve lived over a century … I’m not a child,” Bess defended.


“That may be true, but the world has changed since you last lived in it. They were only trying to keep you safe … perhaps let you get some of that childhood back that you were cheated out of. Everything they did they did out of love, you must know that,” Wanda pointed out.


When Bess remained silent, Wanda tried a different approach. “Look around you … what do you see here?”


Bess looked around them at her ‘other life’, a life that she wished above anything else she could’ve stayed in, that she could jump back into right this minute if given the choice.  “My family…” Bess murmured.


“No … you see a memory … a dream of a family that is long dead, my child. Your family is in Sunnydale, and they’re waiting for you to come home,” Wanda declared.


“Bess … I know you had to build a wall around your heart and soul in order to survive. You walled this memory in there with you … a golden, happy time that your heart clung to when the world outside was dark and painful. But it’s time to let this dream go, my child.


“Buffy and William risked everything to get you out of the dark. It’s time to drop the walls, open the gates, and let them into your heart – it’s time to make new memories with a family that loves you just as much as we did.  Don’t be afraid, Elizabeth, I know you’re strong – you need to fight now … don’t let the bastards win,” Wanda admonished her.


“Mom!” Bess exclaimed, looking at Wanda with wide eyes. “When did you start cursing? You would’ve made me eat a whole bar of soap if I’d said that!”


Wanda smiled softly and shrugged. “Well … it makes me cross to think that the Council not only stole you from us, but they’re still keeping you from your family,” Wanda defended. “The Lord will forgive me for calling a spade a spade.”


Bess pulled her bottom lip into her mouth and looked around the house. It was one of her favorite memories – that last Christmas with her family was one thing she clung when she had nothing else. It gave her warmth when she was cold and company when she was lonely and a little slice of comfort when she was distraught.


“You’re a beautiful girl with a generous heart and a strong soul, and you deserve to feel the love that you’ve been denying yourself.  The heart always knows what the mind cannot fathom,” Wanda repeated the ageless advice that she’d given more than one of her children and charges over the years. “But it can’t guide you from behind the walls you’ve constructed, my child. You have to let it out into the light…”


Bess looked back at Wanda with a mixture of fear and disbelief. “I … I don’t know if I can. I don’t know how to be anything but alone … I …” she started.


“You know how, child, you’re simply afraid,” Wanda corrected her. “When your little savior was hurt, were you frightened?” the guardian angel asked, running a hand over Angelpie’s back.




“But that didn’t stop you from trying to save her, did it? You didn’t shirk from the fear … you didn’t take time to think, you just reacted, you let your heart guide you with your new little friend and you saved her, didn’t you?” Wanda asked softly.


“Yes…” Bess admitted.


“You have it within you, child. You are a Summers, you are a Weckerly, you’re a warrior – you’re a Slayer.  If you believe nothing else, believe this. You can do anything … absolutely anything that you set out to do is within your reach,” Wanda admonished her.


“I … I did some … bad things. I said some horrible things to Buffy … I’m not sure they’ll even want me back,” Bess confessed.


“They are your parents, child. They will love you with their last breath and forgive you your every trespass. Go to them, let them remind you what love can be, what a family can be.  This memory is all that’s left of us, sweet Bess,” Wanda told her, waving a hand at the ghostly apparitions of Bess’ childhood family.  “But there are a million new memories just as wonderful waiting to be made if you’ll just give them a chance,” Wanda assured her.


“Will you … can you come with me?” Bess wondered hopefully.


Wanda shook her head slowly. “This is something you must do on your own.  Only you can take the walls down and let them into your heart – only you can overcome the hold the fear has on you. But I’ll never be far, child … just as close as your fondest memories of this house and this family.”


“Will I ever see you again?” Bess asked, her voice small and sullen.


“Perhaps one day. But your little angel here will be my proxy, and I think she’ll be by your side for a long while,” Wanda assured her, stroking Angelpie’s soft coat gently before touching a magical finger to the kitten’s injured hip, once again bending the rules governing her position as a messenger ever so slightly.


“I love you Mommy…” Bess whispered to the woman she would always and forever consider her mother.


“I love you too, Bess – I couldn’t love you more if you were my own blood,” Wanda replied, pulling the girl into a tight hug. 


Bess closed her eyes and held to her mother with all her strength, not wanting to ever let go. That soft breeze that had been billowing lightly through her mind since she first met Spike began to blow again within the Slayer-vamp’s heart. The refreshing zephyr seemed to swirl all around her, carrying the sweet scent of Lily of the Valley with it and kissing her skin with delicate wisps of … love and hope. They were the feelings she’d been fighting for so long and now they engulfed her like an ethereal shroud. They had escaped their dungeon where she’d locked them, deep in the darkest recesses of her heart, and now they were free – there was no putting them back now. Now that they were dancing in the light, wafting higher into the clear blue sky like fluffy clouds, there would be no way to contain them again … Bess would now have to learn to live with love and hope – she had no other choice.


Bess began to weep against Wanda’s shoulder – she wept for the family she lost, she wept for everything that being a Slayer stole from her, she wept for lost dreams and lost hope, and finally, she wept for the friends and family she’d left behind in Sunnydale. Despite her best efforts and the protective wall, they had embedded themselves into her heart, she just hadn’t wanted to acknowledge it before … she’d been afraid to admit that she loved them – that she actually needed them and hungered for their affection. Not caring seemed easier to her frightened heart; running away seemed safer to her fragile ego; if you didn’t try, you couldn’t fail; if you left them, they couldn’t leave you. But she now realized what her heart truly yearned for and it wasn’t just being loved, but giving love in return. 


At long last, all of her: body, heart, and soul, was free of the dungeon.  The question now was – what would she do with this newfound freedom?




(Two days later) The day after Thanksgiving, Friday, November 27th, 2010, 6am, Philadelphia, PA:


A shaft of warm sunlight filtered through Bess’ closed lids, slowly waking her from the most wonderful dream. She’d been with her family, her Philadelphia family. It was Christmas and all the children were giddy with excitement over the presents that ‘Santa’ had left under the tree.  Bess and Anne, of course, were too old for Santa, but William still believed, so they all had gifts under the tree from Jolly St. Nick. As they were opening the presents, Billy had appeared and, for the first time in a very long time, Bess invited him to join her. She introduced him to Anne and William and Wanda and John and they all spent a magical day together, laughing, playing, eating, singing hymns and carols … just being a family.


Bess sat up slowly, rubbing her tear-swollen, bloodshot eyes and Angelpie stirred next to her, yawning widely and stretching her back and limbs.  Bess looked around … the house was empty, the fireplace at her back, which had been so warm during the night, was cold, not even an ember remained. Had it all been a dream? Not just her family, but Wanda coming to her … it felt so real; her puffy eyes a testament to the tears she’d shed … she thought she could still smell the turkey roasting in the oven.  Bess stood up stiffly and stretched her arms over her head and the aroma of turkey and dressing and sweet potatoes seemed to get even stronger.


Bess drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly as Angelpie rubbed against her leg, arching her back and making small mewing sounds as she moved.  Bess took another look around the abandoned parlour and a feeling of melancholy came over her. For a moment she wished she could’ve just gone back into the dream … just stayed there and never woken up.  Then Wanda’s assurances came back to her and Billy’s words in the dream … “Please come back,” he’d begged her before he had to go. “We all miss you.”


Tears stung Bess’ eyes as she leaned down and picked her kitten up and cuddled her against her chest. She closed her eyes and let the hazy, warm memory of the dream run through her mind so she wouldn’t forget – she never wanted to forget that feeling. It was the feeling she’d fought for so long, it was the monster hiding in the shadows under her bed, the thing that frightened her the most, and now she didn’t want to lose it; didn’t want to let go.


After few minutes, Bess opened her eyes and furrowed her brow.  The house was empty, cold, dirty … nothing remained of the dream at all … except … she could still smell it – and it wasn’t her imagination.  Bess started walking towards the kitchen, but the smell seemed to get weaker, so she turned and followed her nose towards the front door. She opened the door with some difficulty, as its one remaining hinge protested with a rusty creak, but finally found the source of the aroma.  Outside, on the listing front porch, were two Tupperware containers filled to overflowing with food – turkey and yams, potatoes and gravy, green beans and stuffing filled one and desserts of every description in the other.  Beside the containers sat the angel tree-topper from her youth, just as beautiful and unmarred as it had been all those years ago.


Bess picked up the presents and brought them back inside. It hadn’t all been a dream after all … Wanda had been there; she really was a Guardian Angel. Bess smiled sadly as she cleaned a place on the hearth and sat the angel tree-topper down and Angelpie immediately snuggled up against it.


“My two angels …” Bess murmured rubbing a hand down Angelpie’s back before opening the Thanksgiving feast and sharing the bounty with her little friend.


Bess pulled the note off the top of the dessert container and opened it, but confusion furrowed her brow … it was all numbers…




25-15-21-18   16-12-1-3-5   1-20   15-21-18   20-1-2-12-5,   9-14   15-21-18    8-15-13-5   1-14-4   9-14   15-21-18   8-5-1-18-20-19   23-9-12-12   1-12-23-1-25-19   2-5    23-1-9-20-9-14-7   6-15-18   25-15-21.


23-5   12-15-22-5   25-15-21   1-14-4   20-8-1-20 23-9-12-12   14-5-22-5-18    3-8-1-14-7-5.


13-9-19-19-9-14-7   25-15-21,


2-21-6-6-25, 19-16-9-11-5,  1-14-14-9-5,   4-1-14-9,   2-9-12-12-25,   1-14-4   25-15-21-18   14-5-23   19-9-19-20-5-18   13-1-3-11-5-14-26-9-5


Bess turned the note over in her hand, looking at the back, then looked at the front it again. Not only were they putting letters in math, now they were putting numbers in notes… where did the insanity of this world she’d been delivered into end?


As she turned the paper over in her hands again, a shaft of sunlight flashed off her Scooby decoder ring. Bess laughed and jumped up from where she’d sat down on the floor with her meal and sprinted out the back door to retrieve her pen from the Harley.  Angelpie took the opportunity to help herself to more turkey and gravy as she waited for her human to come back.


Bess plopped back down on the floor next to the kitten and began eagerly decoding the message using the ring.  Tears stung her eyes when she read the decoded message:




 Your place at our table, in our home and in our hearts will always be waiting for you.  We love you and that will never change.

 Missing you,

 Buffy, Spike, Annie, Dani, Billy, and, your new sister, MacKenzie


Bess looked around the room – had Billy actually been here too? She jumped up again and ran up the stairs and searched the whole house, but there was no sign of her brother … her brother


“My brother, Billy …” Bess repeated slowly out loud as she came back down the rickety stairs. “My new sister, Mac - Kenzie … MacKenzie …” she sounded out, enjoying the feel of it on her lips.


Then she thought perhaps they were waiting outside for her, so she ventured back out the front door onto the rotted front porch to see if they were out there, but they weren’t.


“Hey!” a familiar voice called to her from the street. “What are you doing here?! I told you we were burning these down today! You need to get out of there!”


Bess looked towards the voice – it was the fireman. “Oh! I … today?” she questioned. “But … I thought Friday…”


“It is Friday, missy! What are you doing back here?” he asked again moving closer to the house.


“Oh … I … uhhh … must’ve lost track of time. I’m just … I was just saying goodbye,” Bess explained, wondering how she’d slept for an entire day and night. Perhaps she’d simply not wanted to leave the magic of the dream she’d been drawn into, didn’t want to leave the comfort of that time with Wanda and John and her siblings. “I’ll be right out…” she called back to the fireman.


“You better be! If my boss finds out I let you in there, he’ll have my hide!” the man informed her tersely.


Bess nodded and picked her way across the wobbly floorboards back into the house. She quickly gathered up both her angels, the kitten and the tree-topper, along with the meal and stuffed the note down into the pocket of her jeans and headed out back to get the Harley.


On her way down the back steps, she pulled a loose brick out of the piling that held the back porch roof up … it had been loose even when she lived there – it really was a wonder it was still sitting there in place.  She packed Angelpie and the topper and her brick into the saddlebags, sat the holiday meal platters on the seat and pushed the bike out of the backyard, down the sidewalk, through the gate and into the street.


She’d no sooner gotten out than a several fire trucks made their way down the closed-off street and men and women began scurrying around, attaching hoses to fire hydrants and getting ready for the training exercise.  Bess took the Harley down the road a bit and tried to be invisible as she watched the spectacle.  The only one that seemed to even notice she was there was the man that had originally let her in, but he pretended to not see her.


The firefighters dropped the chain-link fence on one side of the street and before long it was time to start the actual training.  Bess watched as they burned, then extinguished one house after another on the street she’d ‘grown up’ on.  The Jansen’s, the Baker’s, the Reibenfeld’s … then it was the Weatherford’s turn.


Tears stained her face as she sat on the motorcycle and held Angelpie as her house … her family’s house … began to burn.  The memory of the dream that originally spurred her to leave Cleveland flashed in her mind and she studied the windows for the faces of her family … and there they were. But they weren’t upset or crying or calling to her to save them, they were smiling and waving at her – they were saying goodbye, their final farewell.


Bess watched as the house was engulfed in flames and the ghosts of her family rose up in the dark smoke that lifted to the heavens. Diaphanous angels in the billowing clouds of smoke waved and smiled softly down on her as they implored her silently to let them go. 


Bess lifted her hand waved tentatively towards the sky in bittersweet acquiescence as Wanda’s words echoed in her mind. 


“This memory is all that’s left of us, child. But there are a million new memories just as wonderful waiting to be made if you’ll just give them a chance.”


Bess sighed sadly as the firefighters began raining water down on the house, extinguishing the blaze. “I love you all so much. I’ll never forget you … I’ll never forget this place or the love you gave me,” Bess assured her ghostly family as tears continued to streak her face.  She tucked Angelpie back into her cozy saddlebag and secured the rest of the Thanksgiving bounty in the seat behind her with some bungee cords then cranked the rumbling motor of the Harley and guided it slowly away; away from Cherry Street, away from Lemon Tree Hill … then away from Philadelphia.




Fun Fact:

To call a spade a spade, which means, ironically, 'to speak plainly and bluntly; to speak without euphemisms', is first found in Ancient Greece. The exact origin is uncertain; the playwright Menander, in a fragment, said, "I call a fig a fig, a spade a spade," but Lucian attributes the phrase to Aristophanes. Later, Plutarch notes that, "The Macedonians are a rude and clownish people who call a spade a spade."

After it first appeared in English in the sixteenth century, the saying became quite common, and was used in various forms and allusions. My favorite English example:

Cecily: When I see a spade I call it a spade.

Gwendolen: I am glad to say I have never seen a spade. It is obvious that our social spheres have been widely different.

--Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest






The House that Built Me, Miranda Lambert


I know they say you can’t go home again
I just had to come back one last time
Ma’am I know you don’t know me from Adam
But these handprints on the front steps are mine

Up those stairs in that little back bedroom
Is where I did my homework and I learned to play guitar
I bet you didn’t know under that live oak
My favorite dog is buried in the yard

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
This brokenness inside me might start healing
Out here it’s like I’m someone else
I thought that maybe I could find myself

If I could just come in I swear I’ll leave
Won’t take nothing but a memory
From the house that built me

Mama cut out pictures of houses for years
From Better Homes and Gardens magazine
Plans were drawn and concrete poured
Nail by nail and board by board
Daddy gave life to mama’s dream

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
This brokenness inside me might start healing
Out here it’s like I’m someone else
I thought that maybe I could find myself

If I could just come in I swear I’ll leave
Won’t take nothing but a memory
From the house that built me

You leave home and you move on and you do the best you can
I got lost in this old world and forgot who I am

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
This brokenness inside me might start healing
Out here it’s like I’m someone else
I thought that maybe I could find myself

If I could walk around I swear I’ll leave
Won’t take nothing but a memory
From the house that built me



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