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Untitled '07 NaNo Part II

I swear to god, the fantasy part of it is going to come in before too long.

Word Count: 3602

"Okay, okay," said Grandpa, putting his hands up like a criminal on "COPS" and getting out of the truck. "You know the story." Jane unbuckled her seatbelt and opened the passenger side door, looking around.

The house was small and squat, with a wide covered porch and peeling green paint. Down the worn concrete steps bustled Grandma, plastic curlers in her faded red hair and a threadbare gingham apron tied around the waist of her worn blue dress. She still had a quilted oven mitt on one hand, and her face an apron were streaked with flour; it looked like she had been crying.

"Janey!" she cried, barreling into Jane and tackling her with surprising strength into a tight, warm hug.

"Hi, Grandma," said Jane.

"Come in, sweetheart," said Grandma. "Bob, get the child's things." Grandma took Jane by the arm and hustled her into the house.

"Well," she said. "This is the living room, and that's the kitchen. Through there is the laundry room--you know how to do laundry?"

"Yeah, Grandma," said Jane. "I been doing my own laundry since I was eleven."

"Good," said Grandma. "I don't know when I'd have the time to teach you."

Grandma led her into a short little hallway on the left. "Here's the bathroom," she said, opening the door and turning on the light. "You can have the bottom drawer for your toothbrush and stuff. Your grandfather and I can't be reaching all the way down there at our age." She turned the light off again and opened the door at the end of the little hall. "Here's your mom's old room--Bob, get over here with Janey's suitcase. You can go ahead and unpack, the dresser should be empty, although I think some of Annie's old clothes might still be in the closet. They might even fit you." There was no way Jane was going to be caught dead wearing dusty old crap from 1985, but she didn't tell Grandma that. "Then this room is your grandfather and I's bedroom."

"What's this other door?" said Jane.

"That's the furnace," said Grandpa. "Don't go messin' around with it. It's temperamental."

Jane sighed. "I'm not gonna play with the furnace, Grandpa."

Grandpa looked at her suspiciously. "Good," he said. "Don't break nothin'. We can't afford to fix it."

"Now, Bob," said Grandma. "I'm sure Janey won't mess nothing up."

Grandpa's face scrunched up into a scowl. "You 'member how much trouble Annie was."

"Robert!" cried Grandma. She turned to Janey. "Your grandfather loved your mother very much. He's just upset and don't know how to deal with it."

Grandpa's face crumpled. "'Scuse me," he said, and, dropping Jane's suitcase and backpack where he stood, hurried into his and Grandma's bedroom and slammed the door.

"You see," said Grandma, sniffling, "he misses her, too."

Jane spent the better part of a half hour unpacking her suitcase and coaxing her books to stand upright along the top of the dresser. She finally decided to prop them up against the dusty pink-and-purple Caboodle Mom must have left behind when she'd moved in with Jane's sperm donor. There was probably still makeup in it, Jane figured, but she wasn't about to open it up and see. Who knew what sixteen-year-old lipstick could turn into?

She sat on the bed, smoothing the faded quilt and pulling at the little yarn tie at the corner of one of the squares. This was Mom's quilt. This was the quilt Grandma had made for Mom when Mom was a baby.

Jane pulled her little photo album out of her backpack and lay on her stomach, opening it to the first page. There they were: she and Mom, smiling and holding hands, Jane in a tiny pink cap and gown, Mom in black ones with a couple different honors collars and cords around her neck, each of them holding up her certificate. Jane's was for graduating from kindergarten, Mom's from college.

It had been Karen who had taken the picture, dressed in cap and gown herself. Jane could remember very little from that day, but she remembered Karen holding Mom's Polaroid and crying, "Say cheese!" After Karen had taken the picture, the three of them had picked up a pizza and a sheet cake and gone home to celebrate. Karen had been their roommate then. That was before Karen had gotten Moose; she had had a different kitty back then, but Jane couldn't remember whether it had been Ginger, Karen's old fat tabby, or Nipper, the little calico kitten they had picked out after Ginger went who had turned out to have feline leukemia and had passed away within a couple of years.

She turned the page. There were the three of them (must have been after Karen got a camera with a timer), sitting around the kitchen table and leaning forward to blow out the candles on Jane's sixth birthday cake. And there was Ginger in the background, sitting next to the refrigerator (which had about seven crayon drawings hanging on it) and washing a paw; it must have been before Nipper after all.

The next picture was of Jane and Mom at Michigan's Adventure, standing in front of one of the waterslides. They were both dripping, their mousy brown hair hanging in stringy wet pieces. Jane's too-big sunglasses were slipping down her zinc-white nose.

That was the first time they had gone to Michigan's Adventure--the weekend after Jane's birthday, when Mom had the time off from her new job to make the trip. It had become a tradition; every year, on the weekend closest to Jane's birthday, the two of them would hop in the car, drive out, and spend the whole day at the park. She turned the page again; there she was at nine in the number five bumper car, stuck in a corner but valiantly trying to fight her way out--and the next picture was of Mom, in the number sixteen car, gleefully ramming some teenager into the wall. Mom had loved the bumper cars. They had been her favorite.

Two drops splashed on the plastic covering the picture of Mom. Jane rubbed at her eyes.
This was bullshit, was what it was. It wasn't fucking fair. How dare God or the Universe or whatever take Mom away? She needed Mom! What the hell was she supposed to do now? She was a goddamn orphan, for Christ's sake! It wasn't fair!

Dinner that night was a casserole somebody, one of the neighbors or the mom of one of the kids who rode Grandpa's schoolbus, had brought; there were green beans on the side, and baked potatoes, and the kind of salad that looked like what you got in the high school cafeteria, with precut slices of radish and little carrot shavings and stringy pieces of purple cabbage. Jane drowned hers in ranch dressing--normally she didn't put this much on, just a drizzle, but she felt she'd earned it.

It wasn't worth it. It didn't taste like anything.

They were just finishing the meal when the phone rang, and Jane remembered she'd been supposed to call Karen, to tell her she'd made it safe to Pine Hill. She hadn't called; she'd been so busy with her own grief she hadn't remembered.

Grandpa answered the phone. "Hello? ... Yeah, she is; who's this? ... Hang on." He put one knobby hand over the receiver, turning toward the dinner table. "Janey, it's your mother's friend Karen."

Jane nodded. "I told her I'd call and let her know I got here okay. I forgot to do it."

Grandpa handed her the phone while Grandma started clearing the table.

"Hi, Karen," said Jane into the phone. "Sorry I forgot to call."

"That's okay, kiddo," said Karen. "You got a lot on your mind."

"Yeah," said Jane. There was a pause. "Well, so I got here okay."

"How are you doing?" said Karen.

Jane snorted. "Well, how do you think?"

"Right, silly question." Another pause. Grandma was running the dishwater now, and had tossed Grandpa a wet dishcloth; he was shaking the placemats and wiping the table. It was cute how he helped. "So, you know you can call me any time, day or night, if you need to talk to me."

"Thanks, Karen," said Jane. "You know, the same goes for you. She was your best friend. I'm here if you need me."

There was a staticky, wet, sniffing kind of sound. "You and me, we'll prop each other up, eh kid?"

"We're a team, Karen," Jane said, hearing her voice break. "Listen, I should go. I gotta do something constructive or I'm gonna go nuts."

"I hear you," said Karen. "Give me a call tomorrow if you feel like it."

"I will," said Jane. "Bye, Karen."

"Bye, kiddo."

Jane hung up the phone. "Grandma?" she said, turning towards the sink. "Do you need somebody to dry?"

Grandma was standing over the dirty dishwater, her head bent forward, not looking up. She nodded silently, scrubbing at her eyes with one hand as she handed a ratty orange dishtowel to Jane with the other. She put her hand over her mouth, trying to get hold of herself. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. I--your mother used to help me dry."

Jane bit back a sob, turning away and leaning against the cabinets. Her hands fisted in the dishtowel and twisted it; she clamped her teeth down on her bottom lip and shook, sobbing uncontrollably, her eyes scrunching up, tears pouring down her face.

Somehow between the two of them they managed to get the dishes done, and Grandpa, saying nothing, looking away from their displays of emotion, put the placemats away and went over to the couch to put on the baseball game. Jane figured he was bottling it up, the way guys seemed inclined to do. She knew he and Mom had had some friction; it was part of why they'd stopped coming up here to visit. He probably didn't really know how to deal with it.

Ten o'clock, Grandma informed her, was bedtime in this house, which didn't mean she had to be sleeping but did mean she had to be in her room. Nine fifty-nine saw her in the bathroom brushing her teeth, studying her own face in the mirror and trying to find Mom in her the way everybody said they saw. She had Mom's nose, for sure, and Mom's lips. But her eyes--Mom had always said she had her father's eyes. It must be true; Mom had Grandma's hazel eyes and Grandpa's were blue, but Jane's eyes were gray.

Jane had always wondered why Mom would sound so sentimental about her daughter having the same eyes as the asshole who knocked her up at seventeen, married her, and ran off with a stripper before the baby was even born. It didn't make sense. Mom was so strong; she wasn't the type to carry a torch for a jerk for sixteen years. In fact, the way Mom told it, she hadn't even wanted to marry the guy, but Grandpa had insisted.

Sometimes, secretly, Jane wondered if Chris Johnson--the sperm donor--wasn't the real sperm donor after all. Maybe there was some secret other dude, some dude Mom had actually loved, and that dude was her real father.

Maybe he'd come and find her, take care of her so she wouldn't be an orphan anymore. Maybe she wouldn't have to be alone.

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