A while back I shared the opening paragraphs of Gram and Me, my newest novel. I promised more as progress was made. I’m actually approaching 20,000 words, but here’s more of a taste of Chapter One:
We–my family and I–lived in Washington State. We visited Gram and Gramps for three weeks every summer. I loved being with Gram and Gramps. My gram was a happy woman. I knew nothing about her past, but whatever life sent her, she managed to shape it into a something safe and comfortable. I loved snuggling with her on the couch–she was soft and warm–wrapped up in a thick, cozy afghan cocoon on a rainy, chilly night, watching a movie and eating popcorn. But it was even better when she did the wrapping and then held me snugly against her. Gramps was a jokester. His eyes had a mischievous twinkle. His half-grin let me know when he was goofing, and I laughed every time he joked with me.
My other grandparents – my dad’s parents – were out of the picture. I don’t know why for sure. I guess it was some kind of family secret. I know I never met them, at least not since I was old enough to remember. But I heard my parents talking about them before Christopher was born. I guess they figured I wouldn’t understand what they were saying or something, because I was right there at the kitchen desk, playing on the computer.
“I don’t want them to know we’re having another child,” Dad was saying. “They are nothing but trouble. Next thing you know they’ll be on our doorstep expecting us to take them in. Remember how they tried that after Sarah was born? I escaped them and made my way through college and life on my own. Let’s leave it like that.”
“It doesn’t seem right,” Mom said. “Your mother’s not so bad. We sort of bonded when they camped out here that one week. Don’t they have a right to know their grandchildren?”
“My father’s certifiable. God only knows why my mother stays with him, given what he does to her on a regular basis, but that is her choice. I don’t trust him, and by association, I don’t trust her.”
“The subject is closed.”
“Oh, really? Since when do I take orders from you? Does talking about your father turn you into him? Well, I’m not your mother, and we make decisions mutually.”
Dad didn’t say anything for a while. I didn’t dare turn to see if he was still there, because they might figure out I was listening. Finally, I heard him let out a big breath.
“Look, I’m sorry. You’re right. I just worry so much about their snaking their way into our lives. And trust me, they might be able to hold it together for a week. But you really don’t want them around our kids alone. Ever. Please promise me you won’t let that happen.”
I’m guessing Mom nodded, because I didn’t hear her say yes, but the conversation ended. And Christopher was born and there was no visit from my dad’s parents.
Because we had visited Gram and Gramps for three weeks before the accident, they weren’t the strangers they might have been, living so far away. In a way, I might have known too much about them. At least, I knew enough to think they might not be too happy about having me dropped in their laps.
On the night before we were to head home, my friend Allison, who was also eight years old, and I were coloring in the family room. Allison’s grandma lived next door to Gram and her mother was my mom’s best friend in high school. The family room was adjacent to the kitchen, where the adults were finishing dinner. We were lying on the braided rug in front of the brick fireplace. Christopher, my four-month-old baby brother, was asleep in his car seat, which doubled as a bed when we weren’t in the car. There was no fire in the fireplace because it was summer. Gramps did light it one rainy night, and we roasted marshmallows and made s’mores. He said they were called that because every time you eat one you want “some more.” And then he winked at me as the other adults moaned. I think maybe it was an old joke for them.
I wasn’t really eavesdropping–I was just within view and earshot. Grown-ups seem to think little kids are in their own world, not paying any attention to the adults. But we’re not. The combined kitchen/dining area was so brightly lit, we didn’t need another light where we were. I remember it wasn’t completely dark outside, because I could still see the barbecue grill that Gramps had cooked the chicken on for dinner. It was on the patio through the sliding glass doors. The adults sat around the dining table drinking coffee and talking – Gram, Gramps, Mom, Dad, Allison’s mom, Mrs. Maxwell, and Gram’s neighbor, Mrs. Callahan, who was Allison’s grandmother.
“It can’t come fast enough for me,” Gram was saying. “Your dad’s been retired for two years already. In just thirteen days and—“she looked at her watch “—twenty-one hours I will be officially retired.” She wore a huge grin, her eyes were bright, and she looked happy. She tucked a lock of silvery hair behind one ear, revealing one of the diamond stud earrings Gramps gave her on their fortieth anniversary, which they celebrated the first weekend we were there. “We can’t wait to hit the road. First thing on our bucket list is a cross country trip. No timetable. No commitments dragging us back here. Just pure freedom to explore the country for as long as we want.”
“What about the house?” Mom asked. “Won’t you worry about leaving it vacant?”
Gram waved away the question.
“It’s going on the market the day she retires,” Gramps explained. “We don’t dare list it before then, because properties are selling too fast around here. Everybody wants to move to Saratoga.”
“You’re selling the house?” Mom looked horrified. “But where will you go when you’re done traveling?”
“We’ll get an apartment,” Gram said, shrugging. “No hassles of homeownership. For the first time in our adult lives, we want to be free of all responsibilities. Maybe that will changeafter a while and we will want to buy something. But right now–” she sighed “—I can’t think of a more perfect and relaxing way to live.”
“But you’ll get bored,” Mom whined. “You’ve never been one to be idle. You won’t be happy!”
“Watch us. And who said we’ll be idle?” Gram wore that knowing smile that always made me feel safe. Like she could control anything and make bad things disappear. “We’ll just be doing only what we choose to do, when we choose to do it.” Hands out, palms up, slight shrug. “What could be closer to heaven?”
Children absorbed more than adults thought they did. Gram’s announcement worried me. Where would we visit them when the house was sold? It sort of felt like home away from home here—would I miss it? But Gram and Gramps made a fun adventure out of everything. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t matter where they lived.
Comments received from readers last time were helpful for shaping where the story would go. I hope to hear from several of you again!