The phone rings, and Beth Guarnieri's heart jumps into her throat.
The last time the mortgage company called, it was to say her house would be sold on the courthouse steps Nov. 1.
A few calls before that, it was to say the foreclosure was on hold.
"But for how long?" Guarnieri would wonder.
No one seemed to know.
She and her husband are in default because there was a time when they couldn't pay their mortgage, and didn't. Now, they could, but they're not sure they even own the house they live in anymore.
Because Guarnieri and her husband, Kevin Collins, joined the thousands of families being handed foreclosure notices, they also became one of thousands competing for attention and answers from their mortgage company.
The Chase Home Finance representatives they talk to give out first names only and say "sorry, no extension to call me back on."
The back-and-forth and its uncertainty have been almost as bad as the thought of foreclosure itself, Guarnieri said.
"Every time I call, I get a different person who knows nothing about my claim," Guarnieri said. "We're not a toy. We're people with feelings and lives."
It started in early October when Guarnieri saw her home posted for sale on Page 6D of The Aiken Standard.
The four bedroom, split-level North Augusta home she had lived in for seven years would be sold to the highest bidder Oct. 4.
"I opened the paper, and there we were," Guarnieri said. "My heart dropped. I broke into a sweat. I was barely breathing. I just didn't know what to do. We started praying. We've been praying very hard."
Before that, Chase had been working with her, Guarnieri said.
After she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2008, her family's financial security fell apart with her health.
The cancer required surgery, the recovery was long and difficult and she lost her bartending job at a local American Legion.
Then Collins' truck engine blew up and he had no way to get to his job in North Charleston.
"That's when it all fell apart,' Guarnieri said.
BY APRIL 2009, the couple used up their savings and payments on their home stopped. It came down to eating or paying their $595 monthly mortgage.
"We tried a yard sale," Guarnieri said. "We sold everything we could to make a payment: knives, forks, pillows, blankets, towels, chairs."
From April 2009 to April 2010, the couple didn't make a single payment on their mortgage.
The calls from Chase began earlier this year, and Guarnieri told Gary, Angela, Steve and all other call reps a payment was coming -- she was trying to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.
Representatives asked her to submit a 47-page financial package with tax returns, assets and bank statements.
When she sent it to Gary, Angela called and asked for the same thing.
"We've faxed the same paperwork six different times," Guarnieri said. "They say they need an update, but it's always a different person."
Tom Kelly, a Chase spokesman, said the company launched a relationship manager program in August to assign one representative to each client.
The program is only for loan modification applicants, not foreclosures in general, so foreclosure clients still deal with whichever representative is available to assist each caller.
"The whole process can be confusing even if you have a relationship manager," Kelly said. "You're in an emotional situation, and I would imagine people don't always hear what's being said."
After the first foreclosure notice was published Oct. 1, Guarnieri started a call cycle into Chase that went through "at least five representatives."
Guarnieri was approved for disability benefits in September and planned to use that money to begin to pay her mortgage again.
The couple applied for a loan modification so that their delinquent payments could be attached to the tail end of their mortgage and they could start paying where they left off.
"We never heard back from them about that," Guarnieri said.
All the family heard was that the sale was rescheduled for Nov. 1.
With disability payments, the couple has money to make payments, but they're hesitant to pay and then lose that money if the bank goes through with the foreclosure anyway.
So, they wait to hear back from Gary or Angela or Steve.
WHEN DEALING with a foreclosure, even good news does not provide relief.
"The stress, the nerves is unbelievable," Collins said. "I don't sleep. I sleep a couple of hours at a time and stare at the TV until 4 o'clock in the morning."
With what little money they could spare, the couple hired a lawyer. Perhaps he could get through to them. Maybe he could get an answer.
Late last week they heard the foreclosure is off. But they still haven't been able to find out why, so they don't know what to do.
"We don't know if we were approved for the modification, if it's because of the national freezes on foreclosures, we just have no idea why and no one can tell us," Guarnieri said.
Until Guarnieri can hear from a consistent representative or receive a confirmation for why her foreclosure was halted, the couple still live in fear, she said.
It's fear of the future, of the unknown, of the ring of the telephone.
"It's like living on the edge of the cliff and a wind comes around it could go either way," she said.