"They'll be fine up there." Janice said.
She motioned for Jim to sit. The old wood of the floor creaked as he hesitated then settled gingerly into an immaculately kept embroidered couch. The furniture was extremely old and appeared to be fragile. The side tables, other chairs, drapes and rugs were kept to a near museum level of impeccability. There were hand-stitched doilies gracing each side table and lace curtains hung from the windows.
Jim kept his hands folded neatly on his lap. He looked around, wanting to touch and exploring his surroundings, but his will was weak with grief.
He looked up at Janice and she looked on him. There was a tired smile on her face and sadness in her eyes.
"When we heard about Lisa," her voice caught and she lifted a polite hand to her mouth before continuing, "I never expected that we'd never see her again."
She dabbed at her eyes neatly with a handkerchief, her own antiquity reflecting that of the furniture.
Jim wanted to reach out and comfort her but his own weariness pulled him deeper into the couch. His own expression was pained and he could feel the welling up of barely restrained pain stirring just below the surface.
He shook his head, afraid that saying anything would start the flood again. Tears fell on the carpet as he leaned forward and rested on his hands. She reached forward and put a comforting hand on his shoulder.
Jim picked up a leather messenger bag he'd brought with him, lifted the flap, and produced a small, unmarked leatherbound book. A worn leather strap kept the cover in place with a small metal peg. Janice lifted her hand to her mouth in shock.
"She remembered." She said gently.
Jim shrugged at it, "She hardly wrote in it, but the important moments are in there."
Lisa had only written the most poignant moments of her life in that journal. There were entries from her childhood, speaking of this very house he sat in. Sporadic entries dotted her teenage years. Then there was when she'd met him. She'd been sure of him well before he'd even known she was interested. The thought brought a smile to his face.
There were other entries, though. The darker times. Feeling haunted by her childhood. Their first loss, Missy, their stillborn daughter. Then, shortly after that, the death of her mother and the dark thoughts that chased her.
Abigail had reversed her darkness and brought light to both of them. Lisa had said she wanted to name her after one of the ancestors she'd felt closest to and we agreed to the name. Daniel came to them a little more than a year later.
It was about then that we realized that she had never fully recover from Daniel's birth. She was constantly tired. Shortly after that, she had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. She clung to life as long as her will would allow, wanting the children old enough to remember her.
"Two days before she passed, she handed it to me with new entries and a lock of her hair. She wanted you and Rachael to have it." Jim said.
He handed the book to Janice and she nodded. She flipped to an earlier page and saw the lock of hair from Missy. She ran her fingers over the downy softness. Jim covered his nose and mouth holding back the ache of those memories. Tears streamed over his fingers.
She dabbed at her own tears, nodding, then closed the book, gently putting the leather strap back on the metal peg.
"I will get to work on this," she said, then stood.
His felt confusion at her words. They tried to mix with grief, but only one emotion fit in his heart.
"You are free to stay here as long as you'd like. Our home is your home," Janice said, gesturing around her, "The children are a delight to have here, too. They bring a new energy to this place that has long been absent."
Jim nodded, he still felt weak from keeping so much in.
"I haven't been good for the children. I hate them seeing me like this." He said, eyes misting over as he looked up a Janice, "I need a space to think. Work doesn't expect me to be back for some time. I'm hoping I can take the time to process."
"Take a walk around the ranch, then. It may help clear your head. Lisa had many memories here. Maybe you'll run into a few of them?" she said,"And don't worry, we'll take care of the children."