'A tree house?' Amelia's eyes widened and she gripped her father's hand tighter in her sudden excitement. 'Really? Can I really have a tree house, daddy?'
'You can.' Her father promised. 'Just as soon as we've settled in, we'll go shopping for wood.'
'Is that a good idea, Mat?' Amelia's mother spoke from behind them. 'Aren't they dangerous?'
Amelia winced inwardly. Her mother worried too much sometimes, she thought to herself. If it wasn't the fact that she sometimes got home from school late, it was that she wasn't eating the right foods, or getting enough sleep. Her father told her that it was a mother's duty to worry about her daughter, and that her mum was very good at her job. Still, she was almost an adult now; and surely she could be trusted.
'Not if they're built properly,' her father was saying. 'Trust me, Annie; by the time I've finished with it, it'll be as safe as houses.' He smiled at his joke. 'It'll be right.' He assured her.
'Well,' Amelia held her breath as her mother considered. 'We'll see.'
Amelia grinned. She'd learnt, at quite an early age, that when her mum said, 'we'll see,' that it was almost as good as yes.
'Okay,' her father nodded, 'shall we take a look inside? I waited for you, before I went in.' He paused, and looked at Annette. 'Are you going to be okay with this?'
Annette looked around, taking in the overgrown front garden and the weathered house, in desperate need of the attentions of a handyman. 'I think so.' She said finally. 'I think I've been away long enough for the place not to bother me like it did. At least, I think so.' She glanced at her husband and daughter. 'I hope so.' She finished.
'If there's a problem, we can always sell the place, and get something else.' Mathew told her. Annette smiled; a grateful twitch of her lips.
'I hope it doesn't come to that.' She told him.
The old front door was swollen in its frame. After a few tentative presses, Mathew threw his shoulder against the wood. Flecks of paint that might once have been a green color flew around him in a small cloud as, with a tired grunt of protest, the door swung inwards. Stale air, redolent with the must of decay, wafted out and greeted them.
'Yech!' Amelia's hand rose to cover her nose and mouth. 'It stinks!' She took a step backwards, into her mother's protective embrace.
'Don't worry, sweetie.' Her mother soothed, 'it's just that the house has been shut up for quite a while.' She stroked her daughter's hair with one hand. 'We'll open up the windows for a few hours, while we're here, and before you know it, the smell will be gone.'
'Can I stay out here?' Amelia twisted, and looked up into her mother's face. 'Just till the smell's gone? I can explore the garden. Please?' Suddenly, Amelia did not want to go into the house.
Her mother gave her a puzzled look, before glancing towards her dad. 'I suppose,' she said after a moment. 'For a little while anyway. Will you be okay out here?' The question was directed as much towards Mathew, as it was Amelia.
'Of course she will.' Mathew smiled. He knelt before Amelia. 'Stay in the garden, sweetheart?' Amelia nodded. 'I'll open the back door as well, so that you can join us when you've finished exploring, okay?' Another nod. He rose, planting a kiss on her forehead as he did.
'She'll be fine,' he assured Annette. 'It's a large garden, and there are hedges all around. She'll be as safe as houses out there; till she's ready to come inside. And, it's only for a couple of hours; Amy's a sensible kid; she'll be fine by the time we move here.'
'Dad!' Amelia protested. She hated it when people shortened her name. The fact that her father did it just to tease her only made it all the more annoying.
Her father grinned. 'Sorry princess; I forgot you were still here.' He told her, laughing. He ruffled her hair. 'Go explore; we'll be inside when you're finished.'