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Part III

So still no fantasy content. Nothing much happens in this part, really. It's just Jane thinking about stuff. I think next time, though, her mom's ex-husband might be making an appearance.

Word Count: 5,147

It wasn't too hard settling in at Grandma and Grandpa's. It was weird, sure, living in a new place with people she hadn't seen since she was three, but so was everything.

After about a week Jane realized none of her friends had so much as called her. They'd known she'd be at Karen's all weekend and that she was moving up here; she'd even given them Grandma and Grandpa's phone number, but they hadn't called. It wasn't really surprising, when she thought about it. Gabby was mostly into herself and her clothes and Rita didn't really know how to talk to Jane at the best of times. Alex was too busy with the new boyfriend; Jane had had to leave a message on her voice mail--she wasn't even sure Alex knew her mom was even dead.

She could see now that she'd been drifting away from them already. They had clung together for the first year of high school out of self-preservation, but this past year had been--weird. Alex had the new boyfriend, obviously. Gabby had been in the play, so she hadn't had time for anything else. Rita had always been Gabby's friend. Jane herself had been so busy with her AP classes that she had hardly had time to hang out with Mom, much less other people.

And when she thought about it--it had been a long time since she'd talked to any of them about anything personal. Besides Mom's accident, the last personal thing she'd told any of them had been the time in freshman year when she had told Gabby she'd had a crush on Billy Motts, and Gabby had gone and told him.

Maybe she'd be able to make some new friends in Pine Hill in the fall when school started. They couldn't all be deluded hicks, could they? Well, actually, they probably could. But she was stuck here.



Jane spent quite a bit of time helping around the house when Grandma and Grandpa were away. Grandma worked at the county hospital's nursing home, just part-time, but she also did a lot of volunteering at her church and read at story hour once a week at the public library. Grandpa was a school bus driver; in the summer he picked up odd jobs around town, helping people redo their kitchens or raise barns. He wasn't as old and decrepit as he liked to pretend he was, and he could climb a ladder and stick nails in things just fine. Anyway, it did seem like they could use the money. Jane figured maybe before school started she would see about getting a job, just to help out; they did have another mouth to feed, now, because of her.

For now, though, she did the laundry and weeded the vegetable garden and mowed the lawn. Somebody had to do it and she had to do something; it worked out okay.

When Grandpa picked up the U-Haul and drove down to Lansing to pick up Jane's stuff, she didn't go with him. She wasn't sure if she could handle sitting in the cab of that truck for two and a half hours, not talking--or talking, maybe, about Mom, and crying the whole time. It wasn't worth it to dwell on it like Grandma seemed to want to do and Grandpa was doing underneath (and even out on the surface when he didn't think anybody was looking). Mom was gone and there was nothing anyone could do about it. They just had to move on and learn to live without her.
Anyway, she'd boxed up all her stuff and written "Jane's" in magic marker on the boxes; Grandpa would probably be able to figure out what was hers.

Grandma was gone that day too; it was Vacation Bible School and she was helping the other church ladies teach the little kids about Jesus. Jane had declined her offer to help--she didn't know much about Jesus beyond that she didn't really believe in him, and she didn't think that was really what the parents in Pine Hill wanted their eight-year-olds learning.

There wasn't much to do around the house. Jane wished they had a cat or a dog or something, so she could play with it or take it for a walk, but the only pets Grandma and Grandpa had were Grandpa's weird fish in their tank next to the TV.

But that was another thing--at least after today she'd have her own TV, and Mom's computer, and she could sit alone in her room and not have to be thinking about Mom all the time. If she got a job, maybe they'd even let her get the internet. Actually, she would probably need it for school assignments, so they'd have to let her.

She didn't have any of that right now, though. She couldn't watch the TV in the living room because Grandpa had it taping his baseball game and she didn't want to screw it up. What could she do? Well, they didn't have a dog, but maybe she could take herself for a walk.
Yeah. That was probably a good idea. Explore the place a little, learn her way around.
She thought she'd go check out these "haunted" woods Grandma and Grandpa were so freaked out about. It wasn't even a big woods; there couldn't be bears or anything in there. Maybe a few coyotes. But coyotes were little, like medium-sized dogs; they couldn't hurt anybody. She went out the back door, not bothering to lock it behind her. If anybody tried to get in, the neighbors would be able to call the cops and probably tell them who it was.

The two-track on the north side of Grandma and Grandpa's yard went past the corn field toward the woods; Jane walked along it, watching little brown-black birds hop in and out between the blades of grass. Grandma had called them "grackles" and "a big nuisance". Jane thought they were kind of cute, hop-hop-hopping along in their little flocks. She followed the two-track to where it made a sharp right to cut across between the corn field and the woods.

There was no path into these woods. People, Jane was given to understand, didn't go into them. People were so silly. She'd bet the people in this stupid town were afraid of black cats, too. She looked between the trees and into the undergrowth, trying to find the best place to enter. There was a spot between two birch trees that looked easy; she made for it, slipping between them.

It was quiet in the woods. They were mostly deciduous, though there were a few pine trees here and there, and the lush summer foliage blocked a lot of the sunshine, dappling the forest floor with shadows. She heard a scrabbling noise, and looked--a squirrel, racing up a treetrunk. Within a few moments there was the beating of wings and the cry of a bluejay. Jane almost smiled; she remembered Bambi, not the Disney movie but the book--the jays warning the rest of the animals: Man is in the forest.

Maybe she shouldn't go in too far. With no paths, how would she find her way out again? She'd have to stay within sight of the corn--she looked over her shoulder; there wasn't much of the corn field visible through the trees. Not much further, then.

She found an old, rotting hunting blind, almost falling out of its tree, next to a little pond before deciding to head back. It was a nice little spot. There were a couple of pretty trees near the pond; they looked like more birch trees, but she wasn't sure birch trees grew that big. They were almost in a circle, around a little clearing. Jane wondered if maybe that was where Mom had gone camping with the sperm donor all those years ago. Maybe that clearing was where she, Jane, had been conceived.

Ew.

Yeah, it was probably time to get back to Grandma and Grandpa's house. Maybe Grandma would be home soon and they could put something together for dinner. Jane liked cooking with Grandma; Mom had used to do it, and Jane had used to cook with Mom, so it felt like the two of them were being close to Mom together.

Grandpa, of course, always spent that time watching his sports programs. He wasn't into cooking.



Jane started taking her walks just about every day, after that. As long as it wasn't raining, she'd head out to the woods, and spend some time in that little clearing. She started bringing a notebook with her and writing letters to Mom; she'd stick them in a hole in one of the trees. The first letter she wrote, she was surprised to see it still there the next day; she wouldn't have admitted it, even to herself, but she felt such a connection to Mom sitting there in that clearing, she thought there had to be something special about it and that maybe Mom would be able to get and read that letter. But that was silly. She was being just as ridiculous as all the people in Pine Hill who said the woods were haunted.

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