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I walked in the house and was hit by the intense smell of burning food. Great. That meant mom had set something else on fire, while no doubt trying to cook something she saw on the Rachel Ray show. I rush into the kitchen and see her flapping a dish towel over top of a pot that is bursting flames. She shrieks as that too catches fire.
I roll my eyes and walk over to the fire extinguisher pulling it off the hook on the wall. I pull the safety pin and point the nozzle at the fire. The white fluffy substance sprays out dying down the fire and landing all over my mom. Once the fire is out I put the extinguisher back carefully. My mom stands there covered in white fluff and slowly turns toward me.
She wipes it away from her glasses and smiles, “So how was your day, Honey?”
I laugh and sit down at the kitchen counter. “Great mom, how was yours? Did you enjoy trying to burn the house down for the sixth time?”
She tries to look stern, but it’s not working. “No, and its not the sixth time.” I give her a look, “Ok, it’s the sixth time, but everybody makes mistakes!”
I shake my head at this crazy mother of mine. Ever since dad left she’d been kind of scatter brained. Leaving me to clean up after her. I loved her, but sometimes it was hard always having to be the one to take care of things.
“So guess who I saw today?” Her eyes sparkle like they always do when she talks about him.
“Ummm, lets see, Paul?” I give her a smirk as she blushes. Paul was a guy my mom goes to work with. She’d never admit it, but she had a major thing for him. Now that dad was off dating other people I wanted her to do it too. I wanted her to have fun. So I had no problem with her liking him.
“Yes, and he told me they are hiring people down at the nursing home.” She gives me a careful look.
I groan. She had been bugging me to get a job all summer. Me not needing to get a job with only her to support us was a blessing. She made enough, so it wasn’t to help pay the bills. It was for the experience she said. Yuck.
“Kyrie, you love working with people! And you’re sixteen, everyone else your age has a job.”
“Mom, noooooo.” I lay my head on the table, bored with the conversation.
“Well, here’s the thing, that’s just too bad. I said you’d love to and Paul said the job was yours. You start tomorrow. 9:00 A.M.” She smiles triumphantly.
The next morning I get up at eight and take a shower. The night before my mom made me go to bed early to be ready. I knew there was no point in arguing. I was showered and dressed and ready for work at 8:45. It only took me about ten minutes to get downtown to the home. I went down stairs and kissed my mom goodbye.
When I arrived at the nursing home, I was surprised by how cozy it looked. I was also surprised by the fact that Erik Church was here in uniform. Which could only mean one thing, my crush was working at the same place as me. Crap.
I walked slowly up to the doors in the itchy uniform which my mom had happened to get from Paul for me. I stand up the front desk waiting for someone to come over and tell me what to do.
A few seconds later up walking comes Erik. I lean on the counter looking as cute as I know how. I smile and say, “Hey, it’s my first day and I was wondering what I need to do. My name is Kyrie Evans.”
He smiles and looks at me, “I had you in homeroom, right?”
I laugh, “Yep, that’s me.” I stand up and take a inch step back to stand up without the desktop jamming into my stomach. At that exact moment I slip on a small puddle. My feet go over my head and I fall right on my butt. I quickly jump up like nothing happened. He looks worried and asks if I’m ok. I give a fake laugh, “Uh, yah, just, yah know…thought I saw a bug on the ground. Ending up being a speck of dirt. Who knew?”
I feel like ramming my head into a wall. A bug? That was the best I could come up with? He nods and pulls out a clip board.
He scans it with his finger until he finds my name. “You’ll be taking care of Mrs. Reed. Room 203. She just needs someone to help her around her apartment here and mainly needs companionship.”
I nod and quickly walk out the front doors. Once outside I take a deep breath. I just embarrassed the poop out of myself in front of a guy I’d had a crush on since the sixth grade. Working here with him was gonna be hard.
I follow the sidewalk until I reach room 203. I carefully knock on the door. I hear a shuffling inside and then an old woman maybe early nineties opens the door. She in tiny and frail but has a warm smile.
“Hello dear. Are you the one the nuts here at the home sent to spend time with me?” She chuckles.
I nod, “Yes ma’am. My name is Kyrie Evans. What’s your name?” I ask politely as she takes me inside and shuts the door.
“Tabitha Reed. But you can call me Skeeter. It’s a nickname my momma gave me when I was a little girl. Always liked it better than my real one.” I sit now in a chair across from her in the living room. She looks at me for a long time before saying anything. “You look a lot like my daughter would have at your age. She died in 1953, she was only twelve. She drowned out in the gulf.”
I have no idea what to say. This woman I’d just met was telling me extremely personal things. “I’m sorry to hear that. She was probably very lovely.”
She smiles warmly, “She was, that she was.” She takes my hand in hers, “You and I are going to get along just fine. I can tell. You got a kind spirit.”
“Why thank you. And I think so too.” I smile.
“Well it’s 10:00, you don’t get off work until six, am I right?”
She chuckles, “You don’t got to call me ma’am girly. Makes me feel old. And I must say, for being 91, I’m a sexy looking woman!” We both laugh. “You want to see some old pictures of me? Haven’t seen them in years.”
“I’d love to.” She tells me they are inside the coffee table. I lift up the lid and pull out about five photo albums.
She sits on the couch. I go to sit in the chair across from her when she pats the empty spot beside her, “Come side here, I promise I don’t bite.”
I sit beside her as she opens up the book. All the photos are black and white. The first picture is of a little girl, maybe three or four. She’s in a little dress and is playing with a water hose. She is spraying the water up into the air, obviously having the time of her life. I read under the photo. “Tabitha, age 4. Playing with the hose. 1925.”
It’s hard to believe this woman was born in the twenties. She was alive and full of spirit. And that seemed impossibly long ago. She flips the page to one of her at thirteen playing with a new doll. Life back then was so simpler. A thirteen year old today would want the newest phone, not a doll.
We look through the album, watching as the photos show her rapidly aging over the years. The last photo is from her senior prom. She is very beautiful. The year was 1939. She smiles while her hair is done up in a difficult beehive. Her dress is simple, but elegant.
She points to the man beside her. “That’s my Jack. We met our last year of high school. He was amazing. We got married that same year. We then went to college together. I was one of the few women that went back in the day. They thought women had no purpose having an education after high school. You were to get married, have kids, and have the perfect say at home mom life.” She sighs as we look through their wedding album.
“But I told them I didn’t need a man to support me. I could become something of myself. Jack always said he loved that about me. In 41 I found out I was pregnant with Eleanor. She was born November 19th. She was the most beautiful baby you’ve ever seen.” We flip through the book dedicated entirely to pictures of her daughter Eleanor. “And I know every parent says that about their child, but she really was beautiful.”
The girl in the picture has raven black hair and what I believe to be blue eyes. I realize that she does actually look like me. I felt closer to Miss Skeeter now. So maybe I could ask her the question that had been bugging me.
“Miss Skeeter?” I ask nervously.
‘Yes, dear?” She looks up from the book with a smile.
“Do you know the Erik Church that works here? Is he nice? Has he ever said anything about me?” I clamp my hand over my mouth not believing I let the last question slip.
She laughs and takes my face in her hands, “Dear, you are so gorgeous, don’t waste your time on a boy like him.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Well it’s obvious you have a liking for this young man. But, I must warn you, he is the farthest thing from kind you’ll ever meet.” She sees the confused look on my face and continues. “He hasn’t been working here long, only a few weeks, and he’ll probably be gone soon with that temper of his. He likes to hit and scream at the residence when they don’t do what he says. Horrible.”
I let this process. The cutest guy I’d ever seen liked to beat up on old people. Great. So that meant I was no longer going to be the future Mrs. Church.
“Has he ever hurt you?” I ask ready to go beat him up if her did. I feel defensive of this woman who was so kind hearted and after only spending a short amount of time with, I felt incredibly close with. She shakes her head. “Good, because I was ready to go kick some butt if he did.”
She laughs and then looks at her watch. “Oh, dear. It’s already four! Lets go start making dinner so you can have something to eat before you leave. I’m going to let you go home at five today.”
“Miss Skeeter that’s ok. You don’t need to feed me and you don’t need to let me go at five. It’s ok.”
“No I want to! And you’re a teenager, you have better things to do a night that take care of this old woman.”
I walk with her into the kitchen knowing there is no point in fighting. She pulls of some ingredients to make fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. She really knew how to appease and teen’s appetite!
I ask if she needs help and says she has to it and to pull up a chair while she cooks. I do and it reminds me of when I was little. I used to watch my mom cook while I waited for dad to get home. But mom burned things then to. But now, there was no dad to look forward to seeing at dinner. Just me, my mom, and an empty chair.
I watch Miss Skeeter expertly cook everything. She turns to me and says, “I went to college for the culinary arts. Watched to be a big time chef. Jack and I said we would have our own cooking show someday.”
For the first time I wonder where Mr. Reed is. As if reading my mind she says, “He past away about a month ago. That’s why they hired you to watch me. We promised each other we’d die together. And if one went first, the other would shortly follow. Like Johnny Cash and June Carter. Now that was true love.”
I nod slowly. She puts my dinner on a plate and I follow her into the dining room where we eat our dinner. “I’m not afraid of dying. I mean when I was younger, it used to scare me. But now that I lived life, I’ve done all I can do, I want to go to heaven. I want to see my husband and dance with the angels, feel free again. And I don’t regret anything I’ve done. If I haven’t made those mistakes I wouldn’t be the person I am today. And I don’t have anyone else here, no one to miss.” She looks at me and smiles, “Except you. I’ll miss you. Now I know I may sound like a crazy old woman since I’ve only know you for a couple hours, but I feel a strong connection to you.”
She kisses my forehead and take both our plates into the kitchen.
“Do you need any help?”
She starts washing the plates and says, “No dear, I’m fine. You go ahead and go home.” She turns around and looks me in the eye. “Thank you for coming today. I haven’t been this happy in a long time. Thank you for that.”
I nod and walk out the door, thankful for my mom getting me this job.
The next month with Miss Skeeter is so much fun. She made me excited to get up in the morning and go to work. We talked about everything. Her family, her life, my family, the boys I liked. She was like the grandmother I had always wished for. She even taught me how to make Danishes and strudels. Even thought the first attempt ending up exploding batter all over her kitchen. We took a picture of us with my finished pastries.
We became closer and closer. She told me more about the real person Erik was. After hearing it all I wasn’t surprised when he was fired for screaming at a woman who was choking to shut up.
But then August hit and Miss Skeeter wasn’t as excited and energetic when I saw her. She seemed tired and often took naps two or three times while I was there. She started getting very thin. She still put on a brave face for me though. Always telling me she was just fine. I told the nurses about it and they told me not to worry. She was a very old woman, and that it would be her time to go soon.
August 10th was like the past two weeks. I had to coax her into eating and I let her sleep a lot. At some point she finally spoke. She asked me to come and sit with her, like I always did when we had our talks. She takes my hand and kisses it.
“Kyrie, honey. You are so wonderful. You have so much potential and so beautiful. You are going to go so far. And even though we aren’t technique family. I want you to know I love you like my own daughter.”
I let a tear slide down my cheek, “I love you, too.”
She pulls a box off her nightstand and opens it up. She pulls out a necklace that has a simple but gorgeous diamond dangling in the center. “I want you to have this. I wore it on my wedding day. I lean forward as she puts it on me. She then kisses my forehead.
Miss Skeeter died later that night. I cried for I don’t know how long. But I knew she was in a better place. She was with Jack and Eleanor. The day of the funeral I went to her old apartment. I grabbed her newest photo album. At the cemetery when it was my turn to place a rose on her casket I set the photo album down. It was open to the very last page. On it was a single picture. The one of me and her the day she taught me how to make pastries. She if smiling and happy and alive. Just the way she’d want to be remembered.