"You sounded so upset. I had to come over," Valerie said.

Peter nodded and invited her in.

"Where's Susie?"

"She's down. Fell asleep before I called you, in fact."

"What's wrong?"

"It's Melanie."

"Pete ... Pete," she said, imploringly.

"I don't blame you for thinking that I should have put all this behind me months ago."

Valerie ran her hand through the hair above his neck and started rubbing. "More like weeks, Peter. Seven months isn't forever, you know. You are overcoming quite a lot."

"It's not so much her death, though."

"Is it your boy, then? Um ... um. ..."

"Clint. We were going to call him Clint."

"Susie's all right?"

"Yeah. She's doing better than I am."

"So, is it Clint?"

"No."

Peter started crying. He fought the initial teardrops, but soon began sobbing. Valerie dropped her coat and hugged Peter closely.

"You're going to have to say it," she told him softly, "because I don't know what's wrong."

"I'm not sure," he said, fighting to regain his composure. "I'm not so sure I know either."

Valerie waited quietly.

"I was thinking about the house today, comparing taxes from this year to last and adjusting for the insurance," he said.

"So, what's wrong?"

"Little things. It's just a bunch of little things."

Peter followed Valerie to the kitchen. She poured him a glass of water and fumbled in her purse for a tissue.

"I haven't been happy at work lately. Maybe it's just me. But I wasn't happy with the way the board handled my leave. Plus, I'm not feeling the same spark -- not there, not anywhere."

"And the house?"

"Part of me feels like it might be time to, I don't know, move on. Thirty-four is not too old to change career directions. Finances may not be this secure next year. Susie starts school in just over a year. There are lots of good reasons to shift gears, cash in the house, try to move away from my problems, maybe move into some new problems."

"How far away?"

Peter smiled. "Not out of your grasp, I promise you that."

"Have you talked with Susie?"

"No. I just thought about it for the first time this weekend. Anyway, how is she supposed to understand?"

"What about your family?"

"No. After mom died, dad hasn't exactly been a fountain of information. Melanie's parents are on top of things, but I just wouldn't feel comfortable."

"Granted."

Peter started crying again. "These are the decisions I used to make with Melanie! How can I possibly get on with my life without her to point the directions?"

Valerie's eyes started to well, too.

"Mel and I used to ... I don't know ... bounce these kinds of ideas ... off each other."

"I'm here. Here today, and any other time. Can I help?"

"It's her house," he said.


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