Chapter 11

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A few hours later, they pulled up in front of a huge rambling two-story gray house in front of a lake. Another house sat to the right of it, though there were trees between the two giving it some privacy. A wooded area was to the left.

"Someone owns that property, though we have no idea who. But there are paths that we've hiked on a few times," Tyler said, seeing her gaze, and pointing to the woods.

"So you're trespassing?" Jenna teased him.

He shrugged and Jenna rolled her eyes. So like her brothers.

Michael had already exited the truck and Jenna started to follow him to the house, but Tyler grabbed her arm to stop her.

"Mom's had three chemo treatments already, Jenna," he said softly, gazing into her eyes. 

"Okay," she slid across the seat and out of the truck.  She stopped, looking around. The place was beautiful.  She had never really developed a love for the city, and being out away from the big buildings, people and smog was refreshing.

"Not New York City," Michael said, stepping up beside her.

"No. It's so much better," Jenna smiled happily.  She was already falling in love with the huge house.   

Her father stepped out the door and stood on the wrap around porch, staring at her, his arms folded across his chest, his expression stoic.

Jenna’s eyes widened in surprise. "Dad's here?" She asked Michael.

"He's here every weekend," Michael answered quietly.

Jenna walked across the yard, up the porch stairs and into her father's open arms. "Daddy," she whispered.

"Jenna. I'm so glad you're home," he said, his voice gruff as he squeezed her tightly.

She knew her father had never liked her living in New York. "I'm home to stay," she pulled back.

“No more city?”  he asked, brushing her hair back from her face. 

"No.  I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would.  This place is amazing."  Rocking chairs dotted the porch along with large potted plants.  She could already visualize sitting out here with her family in the evenings.

The general gave her one of his rare smiles. "I hope you'll be happy here. Even when you're married, there will always be a place for you here."

She smiled up at him. "Where's Mom?"

A shadow crossed his still handsome face, and Jenna felt her stomach clench.

"She's sleeping right now. Jenna, I want you to go take a look at her now while she's sleeping so you're prepared when she's awake," he stared down at her, and she could see the sorrow in his eyes.  She searched his face for a moment, then nodded. 

"I'll show you where her room is," Michael said, walking past her.

Jenna followed him inside the house and stopped, looking around.

The home had an open floor plan with the living room on one side and a large kitchen on the other. An oversized island separated the two spaces. Big, overstuffed furniture was situated around the room, facing a large fireplace, with a TV screen above the mantle.

The kitchen was huge with lots of white cabinets.  A large table sat in the back, and she could already visualize family meals there.  Too bad Jonah wasn’t home.  Or Daniel wasn't here.

Jenna glanced out the huge windows that covered most of the back of the house.  The view looked out over the lake.  Beyond a large backyard, a long dock stretched out over the water.

"How big is that lake?" Jenna asked as she stepped over to the windows to look out.

"Seven hundred acres," Michael smiled at her delight. "We're going to get a boat this summer."

Jenna nodded, returning his smile. "That'll be fun." She turned and followed him down a small hallway and passed a bathroom, before coming to a closed door at the end. Michael opened it slowly and Jenna stepped in.

The room was very large, with a bed on the far wall. The right side had a window looking out to the lake. In front of the window were two recliners and medical equipment.

A small figure was huddled under the comforter on the bed fast asleep. Jenna moved closer and was surprised to see a bald head barely sticking out.   She walked around the bed and was shocked at what she saw, barely stifling her gasp.

The woman in the bed looked nothing like her mother. Caroline Browning was one of the strongest women Jenna knew. While her father had served overseas on countless deployments, Caroline had been both mother and father to her four small children. She'd held it together and Jenna had no idea how. This frail woman laying in the bed was not her momma.

Jenna covered her mouth to hold back her cries as tears started flowing down her cheeks.  She bolted from the room and out of the house, collapsing on the front porch steps as she began hyperventilating.

Tyler sat down next to her and pushed her head down between her knees. "Breathe Jenna," he commanded.   He sat down next to her on the step, gently rubbing her back.

Jenna finally got her breathing under control, and she sat staring ahead as sobs wracked her body.  What had happened to her mother?  She knew cancer and chemo were hard on you but she’d never thought her mother would look this different.  The thought of losing her made Jenna’s heart break and she suddenly found herself longing for the comfort of Daniel's arms.  Tears streamed down her cheeks for her mother, and some she realized for the man she'd spent the night with.

She wiped at her face, then turned to her brother. "Why didn't you warn me?" she accused, sorrow making her angry, and wanting to lash out.

"I did," he said with a frown. "I told you she'd had three chemo treatments already."

"That's not a warning Tyler," she muttered. 

He shrugged. "Let's get your stuff moved in before Mom wakes up,” he said, standing up and reaching a hand out to her. 

Jenna grabbed his arm.  “Is she…” she couldn’t bring herself to say it.

Tyler looked back at his sister and wrapped his arm back around her.  “Anything is possible, Jenna, but she’s doing pretty well so far. Mom is one of the strongest people I know.  She’ll pull through.”

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