Her house is in foreclosure and she has just been laid off work. Because she is finding it difficult to get another job, when an opportunity to marry again for the sake of security is presented to Brooke she grabs it with both hands. Fed up of being nagged by his mom to settle down, Jake, who is looking for a a wife, decides to give her what she wants. The arrangement works well for both of them until Jake is forced to make a decision. But procrastination might cost him the greatest prize of all: love.
Ignoring the "Notice of Foreclosure" sign on her front door, Brooke Sandstrom struggled with her bag of groceries as she found the right key and opened the door to her townhome.
Setting the bag in the kitchen, she turned on her voicemail and listened while putting away the groceries.
One message got her attention.
"Mrs. Sandstrom, this is Katrina down at the elder care center," she said without emotion. "We're going to have to discuss your mother's options, please give us a call."
Tapping in the number to the facility, which she knew by heart at this time, Brooke asked for the woman who handled her mother's care.
"What 'options' are you talking about?" she said, without greeting the woman.
"Health care won't pay for a longer stay," Katrina said. "If you come down to the center, we can discuss other options. Maybe a state run home in the city," she lectured. "We could also leave her in your care, that would be another option."
"How am I supposed to take care of my son, and my mother, I just got laid-off and my home just got foreclosed on?"
"I can only discuss the options with you Mrs. Sandstrom," Katrina said as if they were discussing a late credit card payment and not her ailing mother's health care.
Outraged, Brooke kindly told Katrina she would be by tomorrow to talk about the "options."
Brooke stood in her kitchen and held the phone to her chest. Slamming it back down on the cradle, she picked up a bag of frozen peas and threw it at the refrigerator and it popped open. Peas flew like a hailstorm of hard frozen little green pellets. Sinking to the floor, Brooke cried. Sobbing loudly and screaming, she finally fell against the cold tile floor exhausted.
Looking at the clock she realized it was time to pick up her son from kindergarten, so she pulled herself up, washed her tear-streaked face and combed her hair. Only looking long enough to see she was presentable, she carefully walked around the boxes marked "Matthew storage" and touched a picture of her and Matthew smiling and holding baby MJ before heading out the door.
Walking to the school, Brooke hoped her son's teacher wouldn't want to have another "discussion."
Just like Katrina, MJ's teacher always wanted to talk "options" regarding his education. MJ was thought to be slow. Brooke had sent him to a specialist and they determined he might have to go to a special school. They didn't have a clear diagnosis. Brooke had set up an interview for a second opinion. Her son was not slow.
Right now, buying food and keeping their health insurance was a priority for Brooke. Getting the best education for her son was also a high priority, but if they couldn't eat, what would an education matter?
MJ greeted her at the gate and Brooke signed him out quickly before his teacher could lecture her. Brooke didn't want to hear she was a bad parent today. Katrina already thought she was a negligent daughter. A person could only handle being bad at one thing at a time.
Arriving at home, a new sign had been placed on her door. It was a "3 Day Notice." Fear ripped through Brooke but she didn't want her son to get concerned, so she acted as if it were just another ordinary notice.
"Why do they keep putting notes on the door, mom?" he asked while putting away his backpack and waiting for a snack.
"I wasn't home, and they wanted to make sure I got the message," she said, spreading jam on a piece of wheat bread.
"What's the message?" he asked, getting jam all over his face.
"Nothing, just a reminder to pay a bill," she shrugged.
After dinner, there was a bath and story time. Kissing him good-night, Brooke looked into her son's eyes before he closed them to go to sleep.
Eyes the same as his father's always made her sad. His father was extremely intelligent, there was no way MJ had developmental problems. There has to be another explanation, she thought as she turned out the light and went to the living room.
Dialing her friend Melinda, Brooke sat down and looked around the room wondering how long it would take to put what she needed in storage.
"It's Brooke," she said when her friend answered the phone.
"How's everything going?" she asked while distracted with work.
Unable to contain herself, Brooke started crying.
"I'll be over when I can," Melinda sighed and hung up the phone.
"Damn it," Brooke hissed as she put the phone in the cradle. Wiping her tears away, Brooke assembled a packing box and started filling it angrily with books and toys that were laying around.
Assembling another box, she threw all her clothes and shoes from her room into it. Pictures were removed from their frames and placed in a baggie. Stuffed animals and tchotchkes of personal value were packed among the clothes. Her life fit in two brown cardboard boxes.
Melinda showed up late and hugged Brooke after seeing the sign.
"So it's official?" she said, taking off her coat and sitting on the couch.
"Almost nine months without a payment," she said, trying to find the bright spot in her dark hour.
"What's the plan?" Melinda asked.
"Put some stuff in storage and find another place," she shrugged.
"I only have an extra room, so it's yours until you find another place," Melinda offered.
Brooke lowered her head. "Thank you," she whispered.
"My other offer still stands," her friend asserted while putting on her jacket and getting ready to depart.
"I am at the point of accepting," Brooke said. It was a last chance, end of the world scenario that seemed unimaginable just three years earlier. But she had run out of insurance money and didn't have a job. Going on welfare was only lower on her list. That would still leave her mother with less than sub par care. Not to mention what that would mean to MJ if he were in special education and on welfare. This was not the future she intended for her child, for their child.
"You say the word and I'll set something up," her friend urged.
Brooke nodded, and they hugged before Melinda left Brooke in the aftermath of her life.
Grabbing the special family photo by the door, Brooke stared at it and wondered how she got here, in a foreclosed home without a job raising a child with special education issues and a sick mother about to be thrown out of the facility that had provided her care for the past five years.
Why aren't you here to help? she insisted to the photo of the happy family.
Packing the frame carefully in clothes, Brooke taped up the boxes, and put them in her room so her son wouldn't wonder why she was packing in a hurry. He knew they were moving, but Brooke didn't want him to worry that they were leaving in two days.
After sending him off to school with a friend and his mother, Brooke packed up her son's room, filled two suitcases with just enough clothes and toys to get by at Melinda's and then packed a suitcase for herself.
Calling a storage facility that offered moving services, Brooke packed her life into a 5x10 foot space and headed to the elder care facility.
Meeting with Katrina in her office, Brooke reminded herself to leave her other problems on the other side of the door or else they would remove her mother from her care entirely.
"I wanted to know what you think of the options," Katrina announced after reading the short list.
"How long until this takes effect?" Brooke asked in the same unemotional monotone manner.
"Two months," Katrina noted, looking at the paperwork.
"I will let you know in a month," Brooke said and left while Katrina stammered for her to not leave until a decision was made.
Heading to her mother's room in a blur of fury she had to contain, Brooke sat in the chair next to her mother's bed and waited for her to recognize her only child.
"Is that you, Brooke," she asked, reaching out for her.
"It's me, mom," Brooke choked then took a deep breath and asked her mother how things were going.
"I'm fine, dear," she said, patting Brooke on the arm. As a child, Brooke remembered how comforting it was in her mother's care. There was never a problem she couldn't solve. Now, she had to solve all of her mother's issues but she no longer had the support financially or emotionally.
Not able to confide in her mother without causing her more distress, Brooke stayed and talked and then said she had to pick up her son.
"You look so tired, Brooke," her mother said as Brooke got up to leave.
"I'm working hard, mom," she said, trying to get out of the center before breaking down.
"I love you, Brooke," her mother said, clasping her hands in prayer. "I pray for you, dear."
"I love you, too, mom," Brooke said and headed out. Walking to the bus stop, Brooke sat down and cried in her hands until the bus pulled up. Waving it away, she caught her breath, wiped her tears and waited for the next one.
When she got home with her son, she had to console him because he was distressed that his room was almost empty.
"What happened to all my stuff?" he said puzzled.
"We're going to have to move in with Melinda," she said, cheerfully not showing that his questioning brown eyes were breaking her already broken heart.
"What about school?" he insisted. Even though his teacher didn't have faith in her son, he still loved going and being with his friends.
"You'll still go to your school, we're just gonna be living with Melinda until we find a place to live," she shrugged as if it were just a normal thing.
"Where's all my stuff?" he asked again.
"It's in storage," she said, putting peas and hot dogs on the table. "We'll get it out when we move into our new place."
Eating in silence, Brooke didn't deviate from their normal routine. There was a bath and story time for the last time in the very same room Brooke and Matthew had brought him when he arrived from the hospital six years prior.
As she read the last page, she realized it was the last story time in their home. Brooke read the one book she didn't pack. It was MJ's favorite about the sleepy elephant. Without him asking, Brooke read the book over and over until he fell asleep.
Brooke sat frozen on his bed. Once she got up, turned off the light and left, there would be no turning back. MJ was supposed to grow up in the room. This was supposed to be his home where he would bring his kids someday.
Closing her eyes and holding back the fresh hot tears, Brooke remembered the day she and Matthew brought him home and watched as he slept that first night as a family.
Kissing her on the forehead, he admired the tiny baby.
"MJ," he had marveled. "Matthew Junior. I have a son. We have a son," he beamed and hugged her. Brooke had hugged back. It was supposed to be like that forever, a happy family.
Six short years later, she was faced with decisions that never entered her mind back when Matthew held her and vowed always to be there for her and protect them.
For three years, Brooke had tried to protect what she had left. Soon one thing after the other wore at her resolve. She couldn't do it alone anymore.
Turning off the light for the last time, Brooke crawled in her bed and rolled up into a ball. Gathering all the strength she had left, Brooke dialed Melinda.
"We'll be there tomorrow," she told her friend.
Melinda acknowledged and then Brooke gave in to the last chance in the world as she lay in the darkness.
"Set it up, Melinda, set it up," Brooke whispered. "I'm ready."