Thursday, June 9, 2022

FAMILY MATTERS - Chapter 13

 






                          Chapter 13 


It was nearly ten o’clock Monday morning and still Delaney was asking herself if it was safe to go upstairs. Her mother had gone to her Newport job, leaving her alone with her grandparents. It was bound to be another one of those days she told herself....walking around on egg shells, hoping to avoid their angry confrontations.

In light of those concerns she approached quietly, up the stairs and down the hall, listening for signs of their presence. Nearing the kitchen, she heard the rattling of dishes....housekeeping sounds, with no hint of conversation. 

Rounding the corner she saw her grandmother at the sink, rinsing dishes and placing them in the dishwasher. She appeared to be alone, so engrossed in her work that Delaney was nearly at her side before she was noticed.

“Well, you are up and around,” Nell noted with a decidedly pleasant smile. “I was beginning to wonder. Would you like some toast?”

“I guess so.” 

The girl turned, glancing conspicuously through the arched doorway leading to the dining room and beyond to the family room. Obviously she was looking for something, or  perhaps someone.

“Your Grandpa’s not here, Honey. He had what he called some ‘very important business’ this morning. I’m not sure if he’ll be back for lunch, but he’ll be here for dinner.”

From her perch on a high breakfast-bar stool Delaney watched her grandmother complete her dishwasher task, then move on to butter her toast. A moment later, wiping her hands on her apron, Nell moved to the bar to ask matter-of-factly, “Do you have anything going today?”

That struck Delaney as a rather odd question. There she was, stranded in Tanner, Oregon, an isolated foreign outpost populated by strangers. What would she ‘have going’ there....on that day or any other?

“I don’t think so,” she replied. “There’s not much to do around here. I suppose I’ll just hang out in the basement.”

“Antonio will be coming by later this morning. You know, the boy who mows the lawn. Maybe he’s someone you could visit with.”

That was a surprise, hearing her grandmother play social matchmaker. “I’m not sure what we’d have to talk about. The way you people talk about him he doesn’t sound like the sort of guy I’d be ‘visiting’ with.”

Nell was chuckling at that. “You mean, because he’s a ‘geek?’ That’s what you called him, wasn’t it?”

For an instant Delaney was struck by how much she enjoyed hearing her grandmother’s seldom-heard laughter. “Yeah, I suppose that’s it. That’s how you made him sound. I guarantee, no one’s ever called me a geek. I don’t have much experience socializing with guys who are.”

“Maybe he’ll be different around you,” Nell replied. “In any case, he seems friendly enough. He’s a bright boy, that’s true. He was at the top of his class. But he doesn’t strike me as the kind to flaunt all that. You might be surprised.”

Delaney was willing to let that unlikely possibility die a natural death. Yet, for the next few seconds, as silence reigned in the Padgett kitchen, she sensed that her grandmother had more to say.

Instead of moving back to her household chores, Nell stood across the counter from the girl, fidgeting with the folds of her apron. Finally, she looked up, making eye contact....apparently ready to explain.

“I’m not sure how to say this,” Nell began. “But I’ve decided that I have to get away from here for a while, to sort out some things.”

“Where are you going?”

“I can’t tell you that.” She was chewing her lip, sensing the ironic paradox of enlisting her own granddaughter, a teenager of all things, as her chief confidant. “It’s better that you don’t know. There’s no reason for you to get caught up in the middle of this. That wouldn’t be fair.”

Delaney was struggling. To think that someone her grandmother’s age still needed time to ‘sort things out’ was hard enough to comprehend. To imagine that she had to run away to do that was all the more so. 

“How long will you be gone?”

“I don’t know,” Nell answered. “We’ll just have to see.”

“When are you leaving?”

“Now. I already have a few things in the car. Everything I’ll need.”

Delaney was filling in the blanks, and growing more uncomfortable by the second. “Grandpa doesn’t know, does he?” she asked tentatively

There was no response. Biting her lip, Nell simply answered with a shake of her head.

“What should I tell him when he finds out?”

“You can tell him exactly what I’ve told you.”

By then the girl was aware of a new and upsetting possibility. “He’ll be mad, won’t he?” She grimaced at the prospect of her grandfather’s loud and sarcastic reaction.

“He’ll be angry,” Nell nodded, trying for a reassuring smile as she started toward the garage. “But not at you. You mustn’t be afraid. He may get loud, but that’s all.” 

She was nearly at the back door when she paused to turn back. “Your Grandpa says some silly things and has some silly ideas. But he’d never hurt a flea. So don’t you worry about that.”

A moment later the garage door slammed shut, leaving the girl alone in the middle of the kitchen.



        ~~~


Delaney spent the next hour trying to get interested in the same MTV videos that had bored her the day before. Her grandmother had left, and Grandpa Dan was off somewhere on his ‘very important business.’ She was alone in the basement apartment, pausing every few minutes to remind herself how miserable it was to be stuck in Tanner. As if she was likely to forget that unfortunate fact.

More than once her ‘poor me’ lament was pushed aside by another, more daunting prospect. Sometime in the course of the next few hours she would have to stand face to face with her grandfather, bearing news he would not like to hear. 

No matter how she imagined herself broaching the subject, the intimidating likelihood of his angry, even explosive response remained. It was bound to be a long and tense evening. Beyond that, how would the two of them cope alone if her Grandma Nell stayed away for days or even weeks?

It was the loud, unmuffled sound of the lawn mower that finally drew Delaney from her worrisome revery. Parting the curtains, she looked out to see young Antonio Calle pushing his mower along the back fence. In a matter of seconds her idea took shape. 

Turning off the television she hurried upstairs to the kitchen. A minute later she was standing on the patio, holding a glass of ice water, waiting for Antonio to return on his next circuit of the yard. When he appeared around the corner of the house, she stepped out on the grass, glass in hand.

The boy’s initial greeting was lost in the sound of the rumbling mower. Then, shutting down the machine, he smiled broadly as he stepped forward to accept her offering.

“Why, thank you,” he said. “That’s very nice. What’s the occasion?”

“Do I need an occasion? It’s kind of warm out here. It seemed like the neighborly thing to do....the kind of thing folks in Tanner, Oregon would do.”

“I didn’t realize that Tanner manners had made it all the way to L.A.” After a long, thirsty drink Antonio wiped his forehead with the back of his hand as he asked, “Could we do this over on the patio, in the shade?”

Pulling a pair of wrought iron chairs away from the round, glass-topped table, the boy offered her a seat, then sat down facing her. 

“I didn’t think anyone was home,” he said. “Mr. P usually comes out to the garage when I’m getting the mower out. I didn’t see him, or Mrs. P either.”

“Yeah. They’re both gone. It’s just me holding down the fort.”

Without responding he studied her for a moment, long enough for her easy grin to morph into a self-conscious frown. Her first impulse was to look away, but his gaze seemed not to let her go. Finally, setting his empty glass on the table, he nodded his thanks. 

“So it's what?" he asked. "Your second or third week here. Have you had a chance to check out beautiful downtown Tanner, to see if it’s as grim as you thought? I'll bet you've seen some of the highlights by now.”

“There are highlights?” Delaney laughed. “I’m afraid I haven’t come across any of those. Actually, my Mom works at the coast during the week, so I don’t have any wheels. But I do have her laptop, and the Mall has wifi. So I’ve walked over there a few times. That’s the closest thing to a ‘highlight’ I’ve found....using their hot-spot to catch up on my emails and Facebook.”

“Don’t they have wifi here in the house?”

“Are you kidding? They don’t even have a computer, let alone internet. It’s like they’re living in the dark ages.”

“And they haven’t offered to show you around town?” Antonio asked. “Seems like they would have done that for someone who’s visiting from out of town.”

Delaney paused, wondering how much family detail she ought to be sharing with a near stranger. A moment later she settled for what seemed like a safe middle ground. “The thing is," she explained. "I don’t think they consider us company. Probably more like a nuisance. Besides, what ‘highlights’ would they know about....except maybe the Senior Center and nursing homes?”

“Hey, come on. Don’t be too hard on them. They’re giving you a place to stay, aren’t they? And probably feeding you too. Seems like you ought to be sort of thankful for that.”

Standing, Antonio pushed his chair back under the table and started back to his mower until, at the edge of lawn, he turned to offer one last observation. “I suppose that means it’s up to me, eh?”

What’s up to you?”

“Showing you the sights of Tanner....those ‘highlights’ I was talking about.” His wide grin was asking his question. “What do you think? Would that work for you? You’ve already decided we don’t have anything worth seeing. I’m thinking I ought to show you how wrong you are.”

“You’d do that?”

“I’d be willing to try.” He turned, edging back into the shade of the patio. His grin had vanished as he offered what sounded like a retraction. “But you know, California Girl, on second thought that's maybe not such a good idea.”

Delaney was on her feet, stepping closer, apparently ready to challenge his hasty retreat. “Wow. It didn’t take much to talk you out of that, did it?”

“I wasn’t ‘talked out’ of anything.”

“Well, you certainly changed your mind in a hurry.”

What did it mean, she asked herself. Her new friend, the one her grandparents thought might be a geek, had suddenly turned quiet. In fact, her gentle insistence appeared to have him blushing.

“Look. Here’s the deal,” Antonio explained softly. “What I have to offer wouldn’t be a California kind of tour. Nothing like you’re used to.”

“How do you know what I’m used to?”

“I think I can tell. Anyway, I can’t do that. I’m not up to a chauffeured grand tour.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Delaney countered.

He must have touched a nerve, enough to push her beyond her proper-young-lady persona. He took that to be a good sign. Stepping back onto the patio, he stifled the urge to reach out and touch her shoulder. Instead, he leaned closer. 

“I’m saying that seeing Tanner with me would have to be a walking tour," he explained. "I don’t have a car. And since I’m saving for college I’m usually broke. So we’d be seeing Tanner on a budget, on foot. How’s that for making a first impression?”

Antonio had started for the mower. Though he was downplaying his notion of a ‘first impression,’ Delaney was already dwelling on a second one. Not only was her new friend able to speak his mind, he was obviously willing to let her know who he was, and was not. That was different, and a bit appealing.

Before the boy reached the mower she was calling from the patio. “So when do we go?”

“Go? You mean to town? To see the highlights?”

“Of course,” she offered. “I have lots of time on my hands. I can go anytime.”

“You heard what I said about walking?” he asked, a bit flustered by her renewed interest. “It’s quite a hike, all the way to town and back.”

“I can do that.”

Scratching his head, Antonio started back toward her. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Yeah. I’m serious.”

His response was slow in arriving. “How about Thursday, late morning? If that’s okay I’ll spring for lunch, as long as a McBurger works for you.”

“I thought you were broke.”

“For special occasions I sometimes rob the piggy bank.”

“You’ve got a date. See you Thursday.”

Back in the apartment Delaney took a moment to replay their brief visit, reminding herself that not once had she noticed a single hint of the boy’s geekiness.


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