“So tell me how school’s been going?” She grabbed come lettuce off the island and began rinsing it in the sink.
“It’s fine.” My bed wasn’t far off now, and my body was too listless to even entertain the idea of actually telling her the truth.
Her eyes shot up at me, though, and she turned off the water. “What’s wrong?” She was breathing through her nose. That’s never good. This woman knew me too well.
“Nothing’s wrong. I said everything was fine.” Please just leave it alone.
Her eyes narrowed. “When you’re happy, you tell me everything: homework, Science Club, France, Cross Country—“
“I’m totally fine,” I interrupted, running my hand across my forehead. “It’s been a rough day is all. I woke up late and got off on the wrong foot. So what time did you get in?”
She raised a perfectly plucked eyebrow at my change of subject but let it go. “About noon I guess. I thought I’d get in a little early to clean up and start some laundry…” Her words trailed off as she waved a hand through the air. “But you seem to have it all under control.”
“Well, I was taught by the best. Not that I’m not glad you’re here, but you really don’t need to worry. I’ve been doing great.”
“That’s good.” Frowning a little, she continued, “Actually, it’s great. Knowing you’ll be going off to New York next year worries me, and seeing how well you’ve taken care of yourself and the house helps. I guess you don’t need me or your dad so much anymore.”
“I don’t know about that. My cooking stinks, so having you around means I’ll eat better!” I giggled as she shook the leafy lettuce at me and droplets of water flew across my face.
“Hey!” I laughed, taking a paper towel from the stand on the island and patting my face.
Already feeling a bit lighter, I bounced off my chair to help out with dinner. My grandma put together a salad, pasta, and sautéed mushrooms. I made my mouth-watering garlic bread, which was about the only thing I actually baked in the oven. The rest of my diet usually included whatever could be cooked in the microwave. She set up the table in the back patio, and I put on some ambient music, which was common ground for both of us.
“So you think I’ll get into Columbia?” I asked as we served each other.
“I have a feeling about these things.”
“Yeah, you also had a feeling my first kiss was going to be epic. We both know how that turned out.” I joked with her, completely content with this moment. The food looked succulent, while the weightless breeze brought the trees to life and the smell of roses to our table.
She started laughing, almost choking on her sip of wine. “You know”—my grandma held up a finger— “in all fairness, I didn’t know your first kiss was going to be with someone you barely knew. I thought it would’ve been that kid next door.”
My face instantly fell with the reminder of him. Distant memories of the now-ancient dreams I once had for Jared danced through my head. There were so many times growing up that I wanted to kiss him.
“Just because we hung out when I was a tween doesn’t mean we were into each other like that. We were just friends,” I mumbled, my brow now creased with aggravation. The conversation was pleasant until the subject of him came up.
“No, but it was other things too.” My grandma’s pensive expression made me want to change the subject again. “There were things I’d pick up on. The way you two always had your heads together, the way he would look at you when you didn’t know it,…and the way he would sneak over for sleepovers.”
She drug out the last part slowly, her knowing eyes mocking my wide-eyed expression. Oh, crap!
“You didn’t think I knew about that, did you?” she asked.
Of course I had no idea my grandmother knew about that! From as early in our friendship as I could remember, Jared would climb through the tree between our bedrooms and sneak through my French doors. It wasn’t a lot, just when his mom had been drinking and he needed to get away. Since I always had a queen sized bed, we were very comfortable and maintained our own spaces, even though his hand would eventually find mine during the night.
“Well, you don’t have to worry about that anymore. We’re not close.” Twirling some pasta around my fork, I stuffed my mouth hoping this subject would end.
“How has he been treating you since you got back?”
Mouth still full, I rolled my eyes and shook my head to indicate that things still weren’t good, and I didn’t care to talk about it.
“Have you ever talked to him like I suggested?” She inquired before starting her salad.
“Grandma, I don’t even care to try. We were friends once; now we’re not. My heart’s not breaking over it,” I lied.
“Tate, I know it hurts. He’s been an ass to you.”
“Really, I couldn’t care less. And even if it did hurt, I certainly wouldn’t let him see it. He’s done horrible things to me, and if my tears are what he needs to get off, then he can suffer. He doesn’t deserve my attention.”
My grandma put her fork down, uneaten salad dipping into the pasta, “Tatum, that’s your mother talking.”
My eyes darted up to her, shocked by her annoyed tone.
“Honey, I loved your mom. We all did. And I know she meant well, trying to teach you to be strong, since she knew she wouldn’t be here to guide you through tough times. But honey, letting yourself be vulnerable isn’t always a weakness. Sometimes, it can be a conscious decision to draw the other person out.”