The bus drove up one side of the U-shaped driveway onto a rougher, gravel path, and the design team quietly piled out of the bus. Ty gathered them all together to explain their next move. "Now since the house isn't safe for the family, they've been living in the barn in the backyard since the end of winter. So we need to sneak around the back." They opened the cattle gate at the end of the gravel and snuck across an open field, around to the barn in the back. Then Ty grinned at the others, leveled his megaphone, and yelled at the top of his lungs, "Good morning Steinbrecher family! Chad, Diane, Luke, Sierra, Tori, Kira, Mor-"
That was as far as Ty got before he was struck down by a very happy little girl with a bulldozer of a hug. Then there was a very high-pitched squeal and Tracy had to brace herself when the oldest of the girls plowed into her, still jumping up and down. Preston thanked his lucky stars that he was in the back of the group as the second little girl and another of the teen girls bolted out of the small white door in the side of the barn and joined the charge. Suddenly, Ty was without a blonde limpet as the eight year old ran back into the barn shouting. "Mom, Dad, they're here! They came!" The second oldest girl, Tori, stuck a yawning face through the door and started yelling too, running out. By the time the oldest boy and the two parents made it out of the barn, the crew was in the middle of a very happy pile of girls. Even Preston had been pulled in at some point.
Finally, Tracy asked to be let up and the older girls quickly got up. Natania had to be called away by her mom before she would let go of Paul, though. When the girls finally backed off, the mom Diane came forward and gave Ty a warm hug. "Thank you for coming. This is the answer to a lot of prayers," she said, "We've watched the show so much, so it means a lot that you would pick us."
She let go of the team leader and he just smiled at her before turning to look at the rest of the family. "Well you guys deserve it, so we're here to help. So the good news is, you guys are going on vacation-" The whole family held their breath, "To New Zealand." The girls couldn't help it. Tori, Kira, and Natania broke ranks and mobbed Ty again, squeezing and shouting. Tracy and Paul walked forward to join the hug and soon enough, the whole family and design team was again entangled in a mess of hugging. Paul looked down at the grinning little girl who'd attached herself to him again and knew whose room he wanted to work on. They gave it about a minute before Ty broke up the group hug. "I love the hugs guys, but we don't have a lot of time, so kids, meet your design team. Parents, show me what you can of the house."
Paul immediately spoke up. "Natania, Moriah, why don't you guys come with me? Show me where you sleep." So he and the two little girls walked into the barn. Paul saw the three partitioned stalls, one with sleeping bags laid out on the floor. The three of them sat down on the bags and he asked Natania, "So what do you do for fun? What do you girls like?"
"I like playing the piano and singing with my sisters, and I love the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and I really like hugging people," the little blonde giggled.
Paul's smile turned real. "I could tell." He turned to the older of the two littlest girls. "What about you, Moriah?"
She shrugged. "I play soccer, but I really like to draw zentangles, and I read a lot."
That peaked his interest. "What do zentangles look like?"
She got up and walked over to the row of backpacks sitting against the barn wall, rooted through one of the bags, and came back with a black book. "I have most of my zentangles in here. I take it with me on car rides, so it was with me when my room got smashed." She flipped it open to a page in the middle and Paul stared at the intricate black patterns and designs worked around each other.
"This is really cool," he said, reaching for the book. "Can I have this while you're on vacation? I promise I'll give it right back." Ideas were already unfolding in his mind. Then he noticed something. "Hey, what's that smell? It smells like chickens." His brow creased. "Are there chickens in here?"
Moriah shook her head. "We used to have chickens and ducks," she said, and pointed to the stall space in the back of the barn. "That was the chicken coup."
Paul looked over at the stall and, yeah, he could see it now that they'd pointed it out. But the smell, that couldn't be good for the family's health. Not acceptable. "What happened to the chickens," he asked.
"The hawks ate them," Natania said, her face perfectly straight. Paul took that in, made a mental note to watch out for the wildlife, and started asking the girls more questions.
Preston stood across from Luke, the only boy, leaning against his frankly pretty awesome sports car. Well, that was one thing the young man definitely was into. "So Luke, what is your passion?"
He hung one hand off his shoulder as he answered, "Well, I like cool cars, but I also like to sort of…keep fit. I work out a lot with my sisters, sometimes we go mountain biking or hiking, but I also really like video games and games online." He shrugged. "I like having friends over too, a lot. We'd play ping pong in the garage, usually, or pool upstairs. Sometimes we'd have bonfires in the back."
Preston nodded, getting a good idea already. "Now, you're the only one in the family who's finished college. What did you go to school for?"
Luke ran a hand down the hood of the car and said, "I'm a mechanical engineer, so I work with planning buildings, making sure everything's up to code. It's…it's alright." He grinned a little.
"Well," Preston answered, "maybe you can help us plan this one." He stuck out a hand and they shook on it, Luke laughing with his eyes.
Connie and Michael brushed off a mossy log and took a seat with Tori and Kira in the woodsy part of the backyard. As she looked around, Connie breathed in deep. This is a really beautiful woods, she thought. The smell of the pines, the moss covering everything…I don't want to touch this.
Michael wasn't distracted by the trees, though, and started asking, "So what do you girls do for fun?"
"Well, we both play soccer," Tori mused, "and we like hanging out with our friends."
"We actually have a lot of the same friends from soccer and swing dancing and stuff," Kira piped up. "We go dancing, and kayaking, and a lot of other stuff with friends." She swiped her hand along the mossy log. "We love bringing them back here too, and having bonfires and stuff."
Connie nodded. That last part she could understand. "So what was your room like – because you shared- what was it like?"
The girls looked at each other for a moment. Kira started to fiddle with the ends of her hair and wouldn't meet their eyes. Tori spoke again. "We both love the colors teal and lime green, so there was a lot of that in the room, and we used to take a lot of art classes about painting. So we had a city skyline that we painted on one side of the room. It had a lot of cool shapes, like the Space Needle, and the Golden Gate Bridge. That was pretty cool." Her voice dropped at the end of her sentence until she was almost mumbling.
If I can give these girls even a fraction of what they lost, Michael thought, I'll consider this a job well done. "So who plays soccer in your family?"
The girls perked up again and Kira replied, "Pretty much everyone except Sierra. Dad and Mom play with us sometimes. It's a lot of fun because the three older kids teach Momo and Tani moves, and then we get to see them use them in their games. It's pretty cool."
"What else do you guys do together," Connie asked.
Kira shrugged. "All the girls sing together, when we're working in the kitchen or driving somewhere, and we go hiking and camping together a lot in the summer."
"We've been to most of the states," Tori added, "especially the National Parks."
The two designers nodded. "Can you show us some more of the woods," Connie asked.
Sierra fidgeted with her fingers as Tracy looked around in the third stall, crammed with stuff. "Was this all from the house?" There were a lot of damaged things.
She nodded. "Yeah. Most of it is from my mom and dad's room because theirs was the only one we could get into easily." She leaned over a pile of blankets topped with a basket of shoes and pulled a cardboard box off one of the stacks. "This is what we saved of my room."
Tracy looked in and saw a cracked stain glass picture, some collectable spoons, pieces of embroidery, and one lone china teacup. "Did you get any clothes," Tracy asked. That was a pretty small box.
Sierra nodded. "They're in the backpacks over there." She pointed at the stall where Paul was talking to her littlest sisters. "They were in my dresser, so they were mostly okay."
"What about the dresser," Tracy asked. Could this be something to salvage?
The girl ran a hand over her lips. "It got kind of…crushed."
Silence. "So, I see teacups and embroidery. Does this mean you are, like, into the old England styles?"
She started nodding enthusiastically. "Yeah, I really love Victorian England. I collect a lot of teacups and have my friends over for tea. Usually we just fool around, but it's fun, and we're all actresses so, it's like adult pretend."
"And did you make these," Tracy asked, lifting a stitched picture out of the box.
"Yeah," Sierra answered, with a little more pride. "That one took me almost two years to finish. It's a picture of Jesus welcoming someone into heaven. I had a lot more of them, but, well," she looked down again. "I couldn't really find them."
Tracy dropped the cloth back into the box. Shopping for this room was going to be fun. "So what else do you like to do?"
Ty followed the two adults through the French doors into the living room. "Well, this isn't too bad," he quibbed. "I love the wood on the walls and-" He looked up. "Oh." There was an enormous crack running the length of the ceiling. "Is that from the tree?"
Diane nodded. "That's from the tree." She moved towards a hallway branching off the big room, but Ty didn't follow.
The team leader walked over to the wall opposite the entertainment center. "I love this art,"
"Our girls did that," Chad said, coming up to stand next to Ty.
He looked over at the father, eyebrows raised. "Your girls did that? Which ones?"
Chad laughed. "Tori and Kira. Tani and Mo like art too, but they mostly draw."
Ty nodded, then played back the words in his head. "Tani and Mo?"
Diane spoke up from the hallway. "They're our nicknames for Moriah and Natania. You should probably get out of there."
"Yeah," he said, looking back up at the cracked ceiling. They walked into the hallway, but Ty stopped before they could go farther, turned around and pointed at the stove. "Does that heat the whole house?"
Chad nodded. "Yes. The game room had its own heat, but we usually don't turn it on."
"Does it ever get cold, like, upstairs?"
"Yes," Diane replied, "Especially for the rooms that are further from the stairs. Every morning, the girls would race down here after getting ready and put their hands in front of the stove to warm up. We'd have school in front of it too." Then she gestured at the door right next to them. "Do you want to see the bathroom?"
"Absolutely," Ty said with a grin. "Let's see the bathroom." Later, he would say to an interview camera, "I walked in, and I did not get what I was expecting. This family had turned a small bathroom into a tropical paradise." Back in the moment, Ty gaped at the beautiful paint job on the walls. He ran a hand over the nearest one and was surprised to find that it was a flat surface, because the whole bathroom had been painted to look like warm yellow brick. "You guys painted this?"
Chad nodded. "Yeah. Everyone in the family did a brick, but Tori and Kira did most of the mural with their art teacher." He pointed at where some of the painted bricks looked like they'd crumbled. "It sort of makes a window here, and you look out onto that beach."
Putting a hand on his chin, Ty gazed at the mural of a hole in a brick wall gazing out on a tropical cove, with lush green, steep hills, beautiful water, and a hammock strung between two palms. "This is really beautiful. I can't believe your daughters did this." He looked around the rest of the room and smiled at the shells on the marble counter and the potted bamboo shoot in the corner. "This is a really cool room, and it's just a bathroom."
Diane smiled and nodded. "We're really thankful that this was one of the rooms that didn't get hurt."
He looked back at the mom. "What would you guys say, if we could save this and put it in your new house?" He was sure they could work it in somewhere.
With a grin, Chad answered. "We'd love that, no matter how you guys choose to do it." He pointed back through the door. "Do you want to keep going into the kitchen?"
"Oh totally," Ty answered, and they walked into the kitchen. It was like stepping into a sea of warm yellows, tans, and dark browns to balance it all out. "So this is your guys' kitchen?"
"Yeah," the mom smiled. "We had to have an electrician friend come in to make sure it was still safe to use with all the damage, but it's pretty okay."
Ty turned around and spotted two fat chef pictures along with a chalkboard. "Did your daughters do these two," he asked, pointing at the framed photos.
Chad nodded. "Yeah. Kira did the pictures, and," he pointed at the chalkboard, "wrote that. She likes calligraphy."
"What does it say," Ty asked. He recognized most of the words, but the list baffled him.
Diane smiled a bit wider. "They're the seven daily meals of the hobbits from J.R. Tolkien's books. We're big Lord of the Rings fans."
"Wow, that's kind of fun, to have above the dining room table. And you all fit around this table?"
"Yeah." The mom sat down on the bench closer to the kitchen on the long side of the table. "It was originally for six people, but we switched out some of the chairs for benches, and now it seats everyone. It's been especially nice, with how it is now, that we can all sit down and eat together."
Ty ran a hand over the tabletop, and felt the scratches from so many years of kids eating at it. Then he walked over to the tiled countertops. "This tiling is really cool. Did you guys do this too?"
Chad nodded. "Yeah. We did pretty much everything in here, like the lattice ceiling, the cabinets, the flooring. It's a very different room from how it was when we moved here."
Quickly, Ty looked up at the ceiling, which was long bar bulbs hidden behind a wooden lattice, intertwined with fake ivy, ribbon, and dangling ornaments. "What's with the ornaments and ivy?" He asked.
The mom ran her fingers over the crucifix at her neck. We put the ornaments up at Christmas, and they kind of just…stayed there, I guess. I'm trying to grow real ivy through the ceiling, but it's not quite working, so Sierra got me some fake ivy for my birthday." She grinned up at it.
Reaching up, Ty barely touched the interwoven ribbons. Then he looked back at the couple and asked, is there anything else you can show me?"
"Well, there's the entrance, and you can probably look at the dining room, but it's pretty dangerous to go in there." Chad opened a door in the kitchen Ty hadn't noticed before that moment and Ty stuck his head in. The room was pretty much wall to wall shelves, expect for the glaring space where a big picture window had probably been at one point. Since then, the window had completely shattered, and he could see where some of the ceiling had crumbled and the support beams had cracked and bent out of shape. "When the tree fell, that was where it landed, right through Sierra's and Tori's and Kira's bedrooms. This whole room was covered in glass and drywall."
Ty brought his head back into the kitchen, looking a great deal more serious that when he stuck it out. "Wow. I can't imagine coming home to that. What were your first thoughts?"
Chad grabbed Diane's hand and they both smiled at Ty. "Our first thought was that we were happy no one was home when it happened. Nobody was hurt. And also, we thought of our small bible study. They're good friends with us, and they've been a huge help through this whole thing. So we called them over, and they came and helped us save most of the stuff in our bedroom, and some of what was in the girls' rooms."
He had to smile. "That's incredible, that those were your first thoughts. That you were thankful."
Diane's hand tightened on her husband's and she smiled again at Ty. "We've been through so much already, with finances and Chad's job, but whenever we prayed to God, he took care of us. We knew he would take care of us again."
"And here you are," Chad said, and it make Ty smile even wider. "Would you like to see the entrance?"
"I'd love to." The couple walked into the entrance and Ty quickly wiped at his eyes before following. The walls were painted in the same warm yellows and tans as most of the rooms, but kind of covered up by the upright piano below the stairs and the picture frame on the other side. "So who plays piano?"
"Sierra and Natania," Diane answered. "The whole family really likes music, except Luke. Tori, Kira, and Moriah play the drums, I play the guitar, and everyone loves to sing. Sometimes Tani will start practicing, and Kira walks up and starts singing the lyrics, and Moriah comes over and starts singing a harmony. It's very pretty." She brushed a hand over the piano lid.
Ty nodded. "I'll bet. I'm seeing a lot of religious pictures too," he noted, pointing at a picture of Jesus on the wall right next to the piano. "You guys really love your faith, huh?"
"Oh yeah," Chad said with a smile. "We actually have our small group meetings in that living room, and the youth group comes and hangs out in the game room. We do a lot of things with our church here."
"Sierra calls our house party central," the mom spoke up, "because if the church needs somewhere to have a party, it's here."
Oh really? Well that was interesting to Ty. "What kinds of things do you mean?"
The mom shrugged. "We've had parties, big and small. We've had a lot of Bible studies and small faith sharing groups. We've even hosted retreats here, full day retreats. Sometimes people bring tents and camp out in the backyard with a bonfire, or something."
"That's really cool, that you guys do that for your church," Ty commented. He looked around for a moment, noticed the time on the clock, and decided to wrap this up. "Well, thank you for showing me the house. I've got some great ideas already. But let's get you guys packed and loaded up!"
With that, the trio went back into the backyard, and with an almighty bellow from the mom, all the kids were back in the barn, grabbing their stuff. The family piled into the limo with many shouted goodbyes, thank yous, and a "Have a good every day of your life!" from the littlest. Then they were off and the design team was left staring at a broken home, full of good ideas.
And here is the second chapter! My family doesn't behave exactly like this, but it's pretty close. Please review!