Evelyn stood in the kitchen of her boarding house, Peerbaugh Place, lit only by the light of the fridge. Gone
were Mae’s zucchini and bean sprouts, gone were Tessa’s labeled Tupperware containing dabs of this and that,
gone were Audra’s Diet Coke and Summer’s yogurt with sprinkles.
Her appetite left her. Who would have thought the food in a refrigerator could tell such a story?
Or rather, the lack of food in a refrigerator.
She shut the door, throwing the room into darkness. It was depressing. After vibrating with life for nine months,
Peerbaugh Place was empty once more—and had been for two weeks now.
Evelyn let her eyes adjust to the dark before she snaked her way past the kitchen table to the light switch.
With the lights blazing, with the clutter of coupons and recipes on the counter and the yellow curtains at the
window, it looked like a cozy, lived-in place. The scent of last night’s split pea soup lingered.
But without the sounds of her dear friends—her sisters—it was a hollow coziness and a phantom family. There
one minute, gone the next.
At least that’s what it felt like.
In truth, the emptying of Peerbaugh Place had been gradual—and joyful. In the ten months since the death of
her husband, in the nine months since she’d opened her Victorian home to boarders, Evelyn had been witness
to some wonderful milestones in the lives of her friends.
Tessa Klein had won a national contest and was off on a three-month world cruise. Just last week, Evelyn had
received a postcard from Naples picturing a mosaic wall from Pompeii. History and Tessa Klein were the
perfect match—if Tessa didn't make a pest of herself correcting the tour guides. But a cruise? Evelyn had
trouble imagining Tessa lounging in a deck chair, sipping a drink with an umbrella in it. But maybe her good
fortune had loosened Tessa up. Or not.
And Mae Fitzpatrick was—as of a month ago—Mae Ames, the boisterous and loving wife of their neighbor, Collier.
As expected, she’d defected to Collier’s house across the street, so Evelyn still got to see her, but somehow
having Mae visit was not the same as having Mae in-house, akin to ordering a bowl of Apple Brown Betty but
having someone pull it away after only taking a nibble. She felt unsatisfied and a bit cheated.
Evelyn was drawn toward a picture that hung in the place of honor above the phone and straightened it. The
artist was five-year-old Summer. The biggest blessing amidst the wistfulness was that Summer was officially
hers now. With Audra’s marriage to Evelyn’s son, Russell, nearly two weeks ago on the Saturday after Christmas,
Evelyn was an instant-grandma. And once the three of them got back from the honeymoon, Evelyn would take
up her childcare duties with Summer on weekdays before and after school. That was a continued blessing she
needed to count. But until then . . .
The clock in the entry chimed the hour: six o’clock. She’d been wandering through the house for over an hour.
The world was waking. She might as well get something done besides wallowing, wandering, and worrying.
She was unsuccessful. During the next hour, Evelyn’s entire achievement—other than making herself a cup of
coffee and getting dressed—was to worry and wander some more.
She’d grabbed up her cat, Peppers, and together they had visited each empty room, trying to see things as a
prospective boarder might see them. Though she’d been running an ad in the Carson Creek Chronicle for over
a month now—with first Mae’s room up for grabs, then Tessa’s, and now Audra and Summer’s—she’d had lookers
but no takers. The reasons cited had been varied: too small, not enough sun, too much sun, too many antiques,
no modem hookup. Evelyn hadn't dared ask what a modem was.
She strolled through Mae’s room, ran a hand along the walnut dresser that had belonged to Grandma Peerbaugh,
and straightened the seascape painting that now hung over the bed since Mae had taken away her awful Picasso.
From the very beginning Evelyn had removed most of the family knicknacks, providing space for each boarder
to add their own pretties, but now she wondered if the rooms looked too bare. Too sanitized. Maybe if she put
the fancies back, people would sign a lease?
She moved to Tessa’s room. It was painted a pale pink. Was pink in style anymore? Maybe she should paint
the walls a neutral beige. And the quilt on the bed in the room that Audra and Summer had shared . . . it had
been in the Peerbaugh family for generations, but boarders wouldn't care about such things. They would see
only the faded colors and the slight fraying at the corners. Maybe she should call her friend Piper over to
redecorate all the rental rooms. Piper had been such a help giving the master bedroom a redo, helping to
turn it from Aaron’s and Evelyn’s room, into Evelyn’s.
Evelyn let her doubts push her onto the bed. Why was this happening? When she’d first made the decision to
open her home to boarders, the rooms had virtually rented themselves. Within twenty-four hours of calling
out to God in desperation after her husband’s death and the unexpected financial crisis; after getting the
idea to hang the old Peerbaugh Place: Rooms 4 Rent sign she’d found in the attic, the rooms were rented.
It had happened in a blink, as if the thought becoming reality were one and the same.
Evelyn never regretted the decision. With the full house and new friends, she’d found the strength to carry
on after Aaron’s death.
“But now, they've deserted me.” Evelyn hadn't meant to say the words aloud, and upon hearing her voice,
realized how angry she sounded. Did she really begrudge Mae her new husband, Audra and Summer her son,
or Tessa her cruise? Was she really that selfish?
She nodded, and the motion propelled her off the bed. Enough of this pouting. She had work to do. She’d call
Piper and have her stop over after work and take a look at the rooms. Piper was great at decorating on a
shoe-string, which was good, because that’s all Evelyn had.
She went downstairs to call, but detoured onto the front porch, wrapping her sweater around her torso. A
scattering of leaves skittered over the snow and up the steps to meet her. The Peerbaugh Place, Rooms 4 Rent
sign swayed in the breeze and Evelyn found herself wondering if a coat of fresh paint would help draw
attention to it. Maybe if she used some neon color?
That would never do. A garish sign on her lovely Victorian home? Besides, such a move would shout
She watched her breath vaporize in the cold yet didn't want to go in quite yet. The cold woke her up and
helped her think. She hoped she was a smarter landlord this time around. Where she’d filled Peerbaugh Place
with Mae, Tessa, Audra and Summer without so much as a renter’s application, this time she was prepared.
It’s not that she’d had a bad experience. Just the opposite. It was a God thing.
No, that wasn't exactly true. Evelyn knew God was behind the filling of Peerbaugh Place the first time around.
But this time, she felt it was her responsibility to be wiser and show God she’d matured as a businesswoman.
She was prepared to have applicants fill out the paperwork, then she’d check references . . . the whole
She heard the screen door slam across the street.
“Well, top o’ the morning to you, Evie.” Mae zipped up a ski coat and headed toward her, diverting through
a pile of snow Evelyn had watched Collier shovel the day before.
Once again, Evelyn was amazed at her gumption. “Collier’s not going to appreciate you messing up his hard
“Oh, pooh,” Mae said, coming up the walk. “What good are piles and puddles if you can’t walk through
Evelyn thought of her own late-husband. How would Aaron have reacted if Evelyn had walked through a pile
of just-shoveled snow? The question was moot. Evelyn would never consider walking through snow, and that
knowledge made her kind of sad. Sometimes she felt like an extremely elderly fifty-seven-year-old, while Mae
made over-fifty look positively youthful.
Mae took the porch steps two at a time and snapped her on the shoulder. “How’s the landlord business? How
many you got filled?”
Evelyn shook her head.
“What’s up with this town? They don’t know what they’re missing. I loved my months at Peerbaugh Place.”
“Care to move back in?
Mae leaned close. “You’ll find people, Evie.”
Evelyn turned her ring—the silver friendship ring Mae had made for each of them. “But it’s taking so long.
I’m beginning to wonder if the whole thing was a mistake. Maybe I should close her down.”
“Gracious geckos, Evie, Peerbaugh Place is a wonderful home.” She stilled Evelyn’s hand and held up her own
to show her matching ring. “It was the birthplace of our sister circle. And it will be again, to another set of
“It won’t be the same. They won’t be sisters.”
“We weren't sisters either. Not at first.”
“But why is it taking so long?”
Mae stepped back. “I don’t know.”
Evelyn was surprised—and not comforted. Mae always had an opinion. About everything. “I was thinking I
should redecorate the rooms,” she said. “Take out some of the antiques and replace them with some modern
“Don’t you dare. Who wants to live in a Victorian house decorated with Danish Modern?”
“Then what’s the answer?”
“Stop thinking so much.”
Mae knocked some snow off the railing. “You’re analyzing this thing to death. You've done everything you
can do to get the place rented, right?”
“Then quit dissecting the problem and let the big Landlord of landlords rent it for you.”
“He did it the first time, didn't He? We've all admitted that.”
Evelyn put a hand over her eyes. “Oh dear . . . I’m so ashamed. I didn't pray, I haven’t asked—”
“Hey, better late than never.”
Evelyn looked over the yard and watched some leftover leaves relinquish their hold and fall into the graceful
care of the breeze. Where would they land? There was no way to tell. And maybe it didn't matter. Why not
enjoy the journey?
Relinquish your hold, Evelyn. I've got you.
Evelyn turned back to Mae, taking her hand. “Will you pray with me?”
They bowed their heads. As they said “Amen,” they saw Collier come out of the house across the street. He
eyed the scattered snow pile. He looked up and saw them. “Mae!”
She sprang from the porch. “Coming, Mr. Husband”... (continued)
Copyright 2003 Nancy Moser and Vonette Bright
Mustard Seed Press