“Wow,” Hunter said from the entryway of Emily’s apartment. “This place looks worse than I imagined.” The insurance agent looked over at him, pausing in his writing on a clipboard. “Sorry, thinking out loud.”
“Your boyfriend is right,” the agent said, shaking his head. “This place is a total loss. It’s a good thing you had your own insurance. Your landlord’s wouldn’t have covered any of your high-end items. You’ll be lucky if you get more than $1500 in compensation from his insurance company.” He looked back down at his clipboard. “You’ll have to speak to him directly about the terms of your lease but unless he has another property he wants to move you into, I’m going to guess your lease is terminated.”
“What about my neighbors’ place?” Emily was standing in the doorway of her kitchen and the agent pointed up at the holes in the shared wall.
“The fire was caused by a pizza box left in the stove while they were at the store, reportedly buying beer. Since it went unreported until it was visible from the neighboring houses, the damage was far more severe. Almost everything has been destroyed, and because the fire was caused by neglect very little of it will be covered.” He tore the top page off the form on his clipboard and handed it to Emily. “I recommend you start going through your things to find out what can be salvaged. Where would you like me to send your check?”
“Can you do direct deposit?” The agent shook his head, and she looked up at Hunter. “Is it okay if I have it sent to your place?”
“Of course,” Hunter said with a smile. “You can forward all your mail if you want.” His words made Emily’s heart swell and she picked her way across the water-damaged carpet to kiss him. “We’ll put your name in the mailbox when we get back.” Emily didn’t get a chance to reply to this before the insurance agent looked at his watch.
“I have to be going. If you have any other questions, feel free to email me.” He started for the door and Emily followed him.
“Thank you,” she said, opening the door for him. “Have a good day.” The agent nodded and went to his car, leaving Emily and Hunter alone in her apartment. “Well, I guess we’d better start figuring out what’s salvageable and what isn’t.”
“You’re going to need some sort of things to put things in. Those plastic things,” Hunter said, then closed his eyes. “You know what I mean, the ones with the lids.”
“Storage tubs,” Emily said, kissing him on the cheek. “You feeling up to running to Target and getting some for me? All you have to do is go straight down Addison. It’s fine if you don’t, I’ll completely understand.” Since she’d driven Hunter back from the airport after he came back to Chicago, Emily had done most of the driving and she had come to enjoy it when there was no traffic. Arriving at work at the same time as Hunter on a daily basis had gotten the attention of some of her coworkers, and for once the gossip she had caught was speculation about her relationship with the director rather than talking about her methods. “I can always go myself once we sort things into piles.”
“That shouldn’t be too difficult,” Hunter said, following her into the half room that she had made into a tiny office. “How many do you want?”
“I don’t know,” Emily said, opening the closet door. It was the smallest closet she’d ever seen but there was enough room for the squat gray safe that was inside. She knelt down, then grimaced as the knee of her jeans was soaked. “Ugh. How is this carpet still wet?”
“It’s probably the carpet pad,” Hunter said. “What’s in there?”
“Important family stuff,” Emily said. “Diplomas, financial information, and a few legal papers that can’t be replaced. I also have copies of Melissa’s and my birth certificates, her husband’s death certificate, and I think I’ve got their marriage license. There are some family pictures in here too.” She smiled and took out a small photo album, then stood up. “Check these out.” She opened the photo album and handed it to Hunter. “This is us as babies.”
“You’re so cute,” Hunter said with a grin. “You’re dressed alike. How did your parents know which of you was which?”
“See those little bracelets? They had our names on them.” She squatted in front of the safe this time to avoid getting her pants wet again and took out a small jewelry box. “I still have them. There’s some of my grandmother’s jewelry in here too.” She handed him a tiny bracelet with ‘Emily’ engraved on it in script.
“That’s a cute idea,” he said, turning the bracelet around. “I assume they stopped having you wear them when you got a little older.”
“Yeah, they started getting non-matching clothes for us when we got a little older and outgrew the family hand-me-downs. Mom gave these to Emily when she got pregnant and I got them after Emily died, along with some of her most precious photos and the jewelry Grandma Ashton gave her.” She took the bracelet back. “I think she intended her to give them to her granddaughter.”
“Did you ever consider having kids?”
“No,” Emily said, taking a second photo album out of the safe. This one was white and she opened it to the first page. “I assumed that since I have all the same genes as my sister, I could be carrying the one that caused her disease and I was worried about passing it to a child. Here, look at this.” She took the first album out of Hunter’s hand and set it on the desk beside the ruined computer and printer. “This is my sister and Brian on their wedding day. And if you flip all the way to the back her maternity photos are in it too.”
“It’s a good thing these were all in the safe,” Hunter said, turning the pages. “You can’t replace memories like these. Wouldn’t your parents want some too?”
“My parents and I don’t speak anymore,” Emily said, looking through the jewelry box so she didn’t have to look at Hunter. She didn’t particularly want to talk to him about her parents. Not because she didn’t think he could handle it, more because she didn’t want to talk about it to anyone at all. It was still too difficult for her to accept their ultimatum about Melissa, and she honestly didn’t know if she would ever speak to them again. “This is the engagement ring Brian gave her.”
“It’s gorgeous,” Hunter said. “I wish I could have kept Ellen’s. There was a mistake with her jewelry and her burial clothes and she ended up being buried with it. I had hoped to give it to Robin when she got old enough.”
“That’s too bad,” Emily said, closing the jewelry box. Hunter had never talked to her about his wife before, and she couldn’t help wondering what Ellen had been like. She knew firsthand about waiting until he wanted to tell her more, so she smiled. “Honestly, I could care less about most of this stuff. The only things that are really important are in this safe.”
“What about your computer?”
“I can probably have the data on the hard drive recovered, but the majority of my work is on my laptop and the computer at the lab. Insurance will cover the other hardware.” She sighed and put her hands on her hips. “I don’t want to do this, Hunter.”
“I know it’s probably hard to see your home ruined like this but you need to get your things. I’ve got plenty of room in my attic, you shouldn’t have to make any tough choices just yet.” He tapped the photo albums. “I’m going to get your storage containers. How many do you want?”
“Get me three to start, I guess. I’m going to see what clothes and books aren’t completely ruined,” Emily said. “I’m sure they all reek of smoke.” She walked to the door with Hunter. “If you have any problems, call me.”
“I will.” He leaned over and kissed her, then opened the door. Emily was just about to turn and go up the stairs to her bedroom when Hunter leaned back in. “That agent called me your boyfriend. Is that what I am now?”
“Maybe,” Emily said with a smile. “If you want to be.”
“It’s been a while since I was anybody’s boyfriend,” he said. “That being said, I can’t think of anything that would make me happier.” He closed the front door again and she put her hand on the back of his head and pulled him into a kiss that was much deeper than he had kissed her a moment earlier. Hunter held her tightly and kissed her back, then surprised her by picking her up and throwing her over his shoulder in something of a fireman’s carry.
“What are you doing?” Emily laughed as she slapped his back and he started up the stairs. “You’re going to hurt your back!”
“My mind may be going, but there’s nothing wrong with the rest of me yet and I intend to take advantage of it as long as I can.” The door to Emily’s bedroom was open and he dropped her onto the bed, then took his shirt off. The bed seemed to have dried out, though it smelled a little musty, and she decided that since it was probably the only time she’d ever get to have sex with someone in the townhouse, she was going to take advantage of it herself.
“All right,” she said with a smile, unbuttoning her jeans. “Don’t throw your clothes on the floor, though, they might get wet.” She tossed her jeans onto the dresser near her bed and took off her shirt as Hunter threw his pants on top of hers, followed by his shirt and finally his boxer briefs. He pulled Emily’s panties, the last piece of clothing she was wearing, off and dove into her. Once he was inside her, he rolled onto his back, pulling her on top of him.
A ridiculous sudden fear that her landlord would choose that moment to come back made her burst out laughing, and she decided she didn’t care. She started to ride him, thinking that if this was what having a boyfriend again was going to be like, she was extremely mad at herself for waiting this long. A moment later, all she could think of was Hunter and nothing else really mattered.