Healing Grace

By: Lisa J. Lickel

For Lane, Jane, Ryan, and Matt—

family is everything.


My thanks again to early readers, and my friends in the medical and family court and legal communities who contributed to the original story. I’m grateful to Lea Schizas for the opportunity to tell this story again in a way I can be proud of, with the help of ever-faithful Annie Duguid and Greta Gunselman. Thank you.

Chapter One

Grace Runyon paused in the doorway of the little house. She listened to the real estate agent drive away with a little zip and a crunch of the gravel drive and felt a moment’s panic.

“Not buyer’s remorse at this stage of the game, my good woman.” She marched inside, carrying two overloaded paper bags of supplies from the convenience mart. “And stop talking to yourself.”

The real estate lady had checked the lights to make sure the local electric company in tiny East Bay, Michigan had “turned her on” —her words. Grace’s responding chuckle came out like a zebra snort, one that smelled lion and was trying to warn the herd.

“You’ll be all right,” the plump, business-like woman reassured her before she left. “It’s a ways out of town, but not too far, and the neighbors are good people.” She looked down at the drive and stirred some gravel with her brown patent pump. “In fact, this place used to belong to one of the brothers next door.”

She pressed a card into Grace’s limp hand. “Now, here’s my card. You just call any time.”

One of the brothers? Not information pertinent to the deed, she hoped.

Grace had merely glanced at the place before signing the papers yesterday. “The house hasn’t been opened up in a number of months. The last occupant was ill,” the agent said. “I can give you the name of a good cleaning crew.”

“A little dirt doesn’t scare me. I can handle it,” she’d blithely replied.

Today, in the sparse rays of early spring through fly-specked windows, she wondered if she’d been a little hasty. The dusty, braided rug did not look like an inviting place to set down the sacks she toted in from her green Subaru.

Deep, calming breaths read the story of the place: sickness and neglect hovered almost tangibly. Cobwebs, glittering dust motes. Dangerously lopsided drapes.

A lonely pile of toys, a car and some plastic figures she didn’t recognize, and a cobbler bench huddled beneath a weight bench in the corner near the open stairway.

Passing through an opening across the long, narrow room, she found herself in the kitchen—a sad, neglected kitchen—and definitely not the heart of this home. She set the bags on the table and dumped her purse on a chair. A slow turn made her wonder what she’d seen that made her crazy enough to buy this house.

“What kind of person paints her kitchen ice-green? And what’s up with the grinning daisies? Honestly.”

Remains of the day were left as is. Her Tennessee kitchen had been painted a cheerful yellow and kept as spotless as her exam room at the clinic.

Something rustled in the cupboards. Hopefully only mice. She sighed and picked up two forks and a bent serving spoon that had been left on the kitchen table. Little flotsam, napkin bits, and nut shells of some kind decorated the cracked and scorched ancient linoleum countertops.

She opened one of the packages of cheap, white paper towels she’d purchased and used one to gingerly swipe away attached spider webs. With a grimace she quickly thrust the wad into the trash and slammed the lid, its metallic echo a hollow laugh. You wish it was that easy to erase your past, don’t you? Created a web of a mess. Ran. Who’s left to clean up after you?

Grace blinked and twisted the porcelain handle of the tap. Warm orange gunk gurgled out and spewed thickly around the stained sink bowl. At least it didn’t smell bad. She cheered when it soon cleared up.

“Call me easily pleased. And, seriously, stop talking to yourself.”

She pulled a pad of paper from her leather handbag and toured the little one and a half story cottage, making notes of the supplies she needed. Clean first, then patch. Definitely painting. And figuring out some furniture. Something to sleep on. “Do I even have a hammer? Talk about starting from scratch.”