A year had taught all of them a lot. Turns out God’s not so much in the business of dropping Prince Charming on lonely widow’s doorsteps out of the blue. Nope, Annie had gotten a big fat frog. Instead of tithing on the inheritance she’d received Annie bought the church a nice used fifteen passenger van to replace the bus that they’d been using since the days when they came to pick up Ruth and Karen. Ray grumbled about it, but she did it anyway. Between the kitchen remodel, the van purchase, and Ray’s propensity to buy toys and trinkets the money had long since been blown through. Ray wasn’t quite the loving and doting husband he was at first in spite of Annie’s medical situation. He’d throw barbs her way and she would just grit her teeth.
On Malachi’s first birthday Annie hosted the typical one year old’s birthday party. She gathered friends and family to celebrate. She baked two cakes – one for Malachi to dig into and and one for anybody else who didn’t want a piece of cake that had been christened with Malachi’s entire face and dirty little fingers. They video taped the entire event. Jackson, MaryBeth and Renee were crazy about Malachi. By that time Karen and her husband had gotten divorced. She’d moved back to town and gotten remarried herself. The whole family was back together.
Twelve days after Malachi’s birthday and just two days before Ruth’s nineteenth birthday she and Charles were having their usual Sunday morning breakfast when the phone rang. Charles answered the phone. It was Ray and Charles’ end of the conversation was cryptic with one word answers of yes and no and then finally, “we’ll be dressed and over in twenty minutes”. He hung up the phone and Ruth knew by the tone in his voice and the look on his face, Annie was gone. She’d been fine the day before. In fact, for the first time in the year since Ruth and Charles had gotten married Ruth and Annie had spent the entire day together. Ray said she’d been fine when they went to bed that night. But in the morning she was gone. He couldn’t wake her.
Ruth was devastated and in shock. It just didn’t seem real. They got dressed and went to Ray and Annie’s. There were so many people already there, the house was abuzz with activity. Jackson, MaryBeth and Renee had huddled up in the tree house and Sam climbed up there with them. They all had a good cry together. Ruth felt like she was having an out-of-body experience. It was like she was floating on the outside, just watching everything that was going on, not really there. Was this a nightmare? Wake up Ruth, wake up! But it was real and it would only get worse from there. She really doesn’t remember much about the wake or the funeral. She was in a stupor for days.
When J.L. died he didn’t have a will. The house was paid for so when Annie probated the estate, the house, which was their only real asset, was divided equally five ways between Annie and the four children. She had asked both Karen and Ruth after they turned eighteen about the possibility of signing over their part, which they would have gladly done – it was her house, but she never followed through with it. She’d considered consolidating the entire thing back into just her name, but she decided against it. Later we found out that she was afraid Ray would pressure her into borrowing against it so it was just easier to tell him it couldn’t be done.
But the fiasco that was left behind when J.L. died had prompted her to have a will drawn up for herself. Just one little problem: she’d had that done before her remarriage and before Malachi was born. Annie had no idea that invalidated her will. She had told Ruth herself just a few weeks before she died she intended for that will to stand, leaving her sister as guardian of the children, including Malachi. Annie was concerned with Ray’s line of work as a sheriff’s deputy and with crazy hours he wouldn’t be able to handle four small children. She also had no life insurance because she and Ray had let it lapse while she was pregnant with the intention of applying for new insurance after Malachi was born. With her diagnosis soon after no insurance company would touch her with a ten foot pole and her former company declined to reinstate her.
A few weeks after Annie’s funeral Ray called a family meeting. He’d asked a woman from the church to move in to be a nanny to the children. Ruth asked about the will and about guardianship of the children. Ray was furious that she’d even bring it up. He loved the children like they were his own and he wasn’t about to split them up from Renee. He said he’d attempted to probate the will but that it was invalid. This seemed fairly reasonable, so Ruth let it drop. But what about guardianship? He was taking care of all of that, no need to worry. He’d would petition the court for guardianship. Then there was the matter of paying for Annie’s funeral. Ray didn’t have the money. So at the dining room table of their childhood home both Karen and Ruth agreed to pay for one third of the bill. Ray also showed them pictures of the granite headstone and slab he’d picked out that he needed help to pay for. All together it came to about $12,000. Charles was incensed that Ray would ask such a thing but he and Ruth borrowed their part from the bank and the funeral home agreed to accept payments from Ray and Karen.
Within months everything spiraled downward. Ray hadn’t paid the taxes like he agreed to on the property, nor was he making his payments to the funeral home. They were both filing liens against the property and calling for foreclosure. Karen and Ruth started to check into things and he hadn’t probated any will, nor her estate. He hadn’t petitioned the courts for guardianship. Jackson and MaryBeth were unprotected minors. He hadn’t reported her death to the social security administration. He was still collecting Annie’s social security disability check and J.L.’s death benefit for the children. The sweet woman from the church…she had the children calling her mama and was walking around half dressed in front of them and Ray. It was all quite cozy. She informed Karen and Ruth that she would ask Ray to marry her on Sadie Hawkins Day. Was she out of her mind?!? She already had a husband, he was working out of town! When confronted with this Ray moved her out, but within a few more months he had proposed to yet another woman from church.
Karen and Ruth had to do the unthinkable. They filed a petition for guardianship of the children and probated Annie’s estate. Her one fifth of the house was now divided six ways between Ray and the five children. What a mess! Jackson and MaryBeth went to live with Karen and her husband. Ray married the woman from the church and she adopted Malachi. The only way to get him out of the house was to serve him with an eviction notice and buy out his and Malachi’s share. Karen and her husband both also worked for the sheriff’s department and in the malaise the three of them were fired from their jobs.
The silver lining in all of this was that though Ray had convinced his new wife that Ruth and Karen were doing all of this because of her, that couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Malachi was only a year old and he would never remember Annie. Linda was a precious person and they couldn’t have chosen a more suitable mother for him. Ray had found a Godly, lonely, vulnerable woman once again.