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I definitely do have buzzard’s luck. That’s what grandma calls it when everything goes wrong. She told me all about buzzards but all I picked up on were that they are nasty birds with some relation to vultures. It seems like everything in this small, dinky town in Nowheresville, Virginia relates back to birds somehow. Or maybe that’s just Grandma’s weird obsession rubbing off on me.
I thought the framed pictures of pelicans and hummingbirds were bizarre but they are nothing compared to some of the other things around her house. The creepiest has to be the statues of the cowbird and cactus wren, which stare me down from her backyard. Where does she even find this junk? Besides, I’ve only been here for barely a week. What other freaky collections will turn up?
The thing is, I shouldn’t even be here. My mom had to send me off somewhere for the summer while she works three shifts, leaving no time to take care of me. Despite all my best arguments, I still couldn’t persuade her to let me stay in Concord with her. “There is absolutely no way Holly. There won’t be anyone to take care of you here.”
It was so typical of her to act this way. I’m 16 for Pete’s sake, old enough to take care of myself. A whole summer is a long time to spend in the middle of nowhere with someone you’ve never met.
I hear the stairs creak and see my grandma shuffle down the tall, wooden stairs. Of all the images of my grandma that have been piled in my head over the past 16 years, I have never once pictured her like this. Her silky white hair just barely brushes her shoulders, straight as a board, just like mine. But that’s about all we have in common. She has soft blue eyes, small lips and cheeks that are always a little red. I’m shorter, paler and I have dark hair and eyes. I’d expected her to be rounder with short curly hair, but maybe that’s just my grandmother stereotype.
After examining her for a pretty long time I realize I’m making her uncomfortable. “Looks like we’re running out of milk Holly. Would you mind running out and getting some for us?” She asks. “Sure, why not.” I mumble. After all, there is nothing better to do around here. She hands me just enough money in coins and I’m on my way.
I have to admit, it is kind of convenient to have the one town grocery store only 2 blocks away, especially since I can’t drive. I don’t even feel stupid walking all by myself carrying a heap of coins, because compared to everything around me I looked surprisingly normal!
The small grocery store isn’t exactly regular either. In places like this, you have to wonder how they get enough food. Not everyone can live off pork rinds, Scrapple and grits can they? But even though the place didn’t appeal to me in the least, the locals sure seem happy to be there. Men are out leaning on their trucks talking to each other as women inside flirt with the butcher.
Although everything seems well and good, as I’m walking through the store, I feel funny. For some reason, they all seem to have one eye on what they’re doing and one eye on me. They’re suspicious looks read curiosity. They couldn’t all know each other, right? I couldn’t be the outcast in this town, I tell myself, trying to believe it.
As I walk towards the milk aisle, everyone’s loud chatter and laughter turns to a hushed tone until the place is almost silent. I pretend to be examining the milk labels when my mind is still stuck on the silent room. Their curious eyes are burning a hole in the back of my head. Do I stand out that much? I quickly grab the milk and walk to the cashier.
Luckily, there is no wait. An old man with a welcoming smile was standing behind the counter, ready for me. “Well hello! I don’t believe I’ve seen you around here before. Are you new in town?” he invites. “Yeah, hi I’m Holly. I’m staying with my grandmother for the summer.” I mutter nervously.
I’m not sure whether to be freaked out by how friendly he is or just grateful that someone is actually talking to me.
“Oh that’s wonderful! And who’s your grandmother?” He asks politely.
“Gracie Jenkins,” I respond. If it isn’t her name that makes his face light up and his eyes sparkle then I don’t know what does.
“Gracie! Of course! You’re awfully far from home. I should introduce myself, I’m Hank, I own the store.” I don’t really know what to do after this besides smile and put the milk down on the counter even though he looks like he wanted to reach out and hug me.
“That will be $1.99.” As I furiously dig through the stash of coins, I can’t help but notice someone stroll up behind me. “Paying in dimes are we? Here, take this, it will make your life a whole lot easier.” A teenage boy looking about 4 years older than me hands Hank two dollars and winks. “Thank you,” I say.
Hank turns to the boy, “Well look who the cat dragged in. So Adam, you finally decided to get out of bed this morning?” The boy smiles and says, “I realized that if I want to keep my job I have no choice.” Hank looks at Adam and chuckles. “I may be your grandfather but that doesn’t mean I can’t fire you for being late,” he says jokingly.
Hank hands me a penny in change even though it wasn’t even my money in the first place. “Holly, this is my grandson Adam. He’s a real slacker but we keep him around â€˜cause he’s family, you know.” Adam reaches out his hand to shake mine, something I am a little uncomfortable with. Only grown-ups do that at home. How old is this guy?
“Nice to meet you,” He says. “You too. Well I better get back to my grandma, she’s probably starting to worry.” Hank agrees, “Yeah, we don’t want to upset anyone, we all know how that goes.” Adam nods. “We’ll see you Holly, and tell Gracie Hank sends his best.” Hank sounds so sincere I wonder if he’s kidding. Could anyone be so genuinely nice? “Thanks, I will,” I say with a grin. They both wave and watch me leave. I grip the milk harder and walk out quickly.
The walk home, as short as it is, seems a lot longer carrying a quart of milk than on the way there. I am really relieved when Grandma’s robin’s egg blue house comes into view. “Oh good, you’re back,” she says with relief as soon as I open the squeaky front door. “I’ve been waiting, did you find your way there alright?”
She reaches to take the milk out of my hands and puts it in the refrigerator. “Yeah,” I say, “I met Hank, the guy who owns the store.” Her eyes widen in awe when I say this. “You did?” she questions. “Yeah grandma, he seemed pretty nice. Oh, he says hello and sends his best.”
One thing I have learned to count on is how easy Grandma’s face is to read. When she has an emotion, she shows it. She looks completely and utterly shocked.
“Seriously? You guys talked? Does he know you’re my granddaughter?” She sounded unconvinced. “Yeah, jeez Grandma, you don’t have to be so shocked,” I say. I don’t understand why she is making such a big deal out of this.
“No it’s not that, oh never mind,” she mumbles. “What is it?” I ask. “Forget it, I won’t pollute your little head with gossip from decades ago.” “Please,” I beg, “I love getting my little head polluted!” To think something actually happened in this boring town is unbelievable but a bit exciting.
Grandma looks unsure about revealing whatever she has to say. “Holly dear, I’m not quite sure if I should tell you or just forget about it. “Forget about what?” I can’t help but to be curious. “Grandma, please.”
She obviously feels bad for keeping this from me because her eyes filled with sympathy. She places the birdseed mix down on the counter and shoots me a defeated glance. “Oh alright, you won’t tell anyone anyway.” I sit on the edge of my chair with my chin resting in my hands as my elbows press on the table, waiting for her to begin.
“Well years ago, Hank’s wife Linda and I were dear friends. And you have to understand this was about 20 years ago, longer ago than you’ve even been alive.”
I try to imagine Grandma with a best friend but it is hard. I’m so used to her being alone. She must be so depressed and lonely all the time. As I sit feeling bad for her she interrupts me with her story.
“So when your grandfather and I got together with Hank and Linda one night, it wasn’t the same. Normally we could laugh about anything but I remember everyone being tired and irritable. At the end of the night I was cleaning up the kitchen with Linda when we started to argue over something. I still remember the vicious things we said to each other and it makes me sick.” I couldn’t imagine Grandma ever fighting with anyone. She is the gentlest lady I’ve ever met.
“Wait Grandma, what were you guys even fighting about?” She thought about it for a minute. “The terrible thing is, I don’t even remember how it started. I clearly recall how spiteful we both were, but honestly I don’t know what brought it on.”
I clear my throat and start asking questions again. “So what happened between everyone?” I ask. She answers very quietly and slowly as if not wanting to give away too much information. “Well after that, Hank took Linda home and we barely ever spoke again. When your grandfather Brett passed away, they never even bothered showing up at the funeral or sending a card. No nothing. That was when I realized it was really over---our friendship that is.” She sighs with grief and pauses for a second, dabbing her eye until she is ready to go on.
“So two months ago, when Linda died, I sent Hank a card, but I never heard back. I have been driving to the grocery store 20 minutes away just to avoid him,” she explains. I have never seen her look like this before. Her eyes are squinted and her lips are pressed together as if she is really uncomfortable. “Well, Grandma it sounds like he’s ready to forgive you. He probably misses you. Besides, with Linda being dead and all, he must need a friend right now.”
She stiffens in her dark wooden chair looking forward out at the birds solemnly, thinking about something. Her face is puzzling. Everything feels strange, even the kitchen feels cold and unfamiliar.
“Holly?” She finally whispers. “Yes?” Her deep dark blue eyes pierce into mine but I can’t read her expression. “There’s something I should tell you.” She pauses and takes a deep breath. “Something even Hank doesn’t know.”