A.N. This isn't the first story I've written, butit wasa lot of fun writing the beginning, so I thought I'd give it a try on fictionpress. Honestly, I've never finished a story longer than a few pages, and I was hoping that publishing online, with an audience and their comments, would give me some lasting inspiration. Therefore, I'm going to make use of this empty space by thanking whoever's out there for giving Hourglass a chance and reading it. So, without further ado, here is the story!


Hourglass

Prologue

I've never been one to ignore the irony of life. Grandpa, being the delirious old man he is, encourages this. He encourages a lot in me.

I've always wondered why he and grandma ever married. From the stories he told, she wasn't a very pleasant woman, didn't seem to match grandpa at all. Always off gallivanting about, according to him, and never home to be a proper mother to her children – of course, whenever I asked mum about this, she brushed it off as nothing, found more pressing matters to take care of. I came to the conclusion that it was a touchy subject for her, but then, she'd never really gotten over grandma's disappearance.

Yes, disappearance. I used to think she'd died, too, but the way everyone talks about her – alright, the way grandpa talks about her – it's like she just went away for a while, like he's just angry that she hasn't come back yet. He's terribly afraid of dying, too. He tries not to show it, but when I ask him, he won't hide it. I don't know much, but I'm pretty sure it's because he doesn't want to kick it before he sees her again, gives her the last piece of his mind.

In any case, I've never seen her gravestone, and that about clears it up for me.

Grandpa and I talk a lot. I'm not a very social kind of person around my own generation – I've never really felt an overwhelming inclination to go out partying with friends or run around town with graffiti… Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not mean. People just don't 'hang out' with me. I'm not cool.

My grandpa, on the other hand, is one cool old man. You can tell he's seen a lot, just by the way he gestures with those huge callused hands, or by the ancient scars running down his face. He was born in Ireland, but he's traveled around the world and oh boy, has that gotten him a lot of stories. That's one of the highlights of retirement, for him: his stories. He's pretty bigheaded about the whole thing; I can practically see him preen himself every time I go ruffling through some of his old boxes and find a picture that looks promising.

He's got a full head of hair, too, and I guess it always surprises me to see younger pictures of him with the exact same haircut, looking exactly the same. Old age didn't change him much. He's still about six and a half feet tall, has huge muscles, and doesn't wobble, tremble, or lose his breath while climbing stairs. He's in perfect shape (better shape than me, actually) and moves with the speed and grace of a spoon into melted ice cream. The only way you'd be able to tell how damn old he is is by the saggy skin and deep wrinkles imprinted on his leathery face.

Or by the wild gleam in his eyes. I've noticed a lot of old people go around like that, these days.

His name is Robert Sullivan. Mine is Kerry Sullivan. Yeah, that's my mum's last name, and shut your trap, alright? My mum never got married.

I've talked about it with her, and although she never tells me much about him, I think I've figured out the story. She didn't want to explain it to me at first, had some theory about polluting my mind, but grandpa put his foot down. He said if she's not ashamed of what she did, then I wouldn't be ashamed either.

My dad, it turns out, was one of those perfect prince charmings. He was smart, kind, chivalrous, and he loved her. I took it upon myself to ask if he was handsome (hey, I was a little kid when she told me the story), and was rewarded with a blush from my mother as well as a dreamy look into the distance. They'd only known each other for a little over a month, if I understood it correctly. He didn't want to leave, apparently, but he had to – duty calls and all that. She said that he loved her, even though he left. I assume he must've had some attachment to her, at least, because he left her all the money he'd brought with him (to take care of the baby, probably), along with a picture of them together and a few trinkets. She said he came from another country, a different lifestyle, so a happy marriage would have been impossible at that point – but she knew he would be back for her, someday. Well, she never actually admitted that last part vocally, but I can tell it's what she's thinking.

I consider her rather naïve, as does grandpa. But neither of us has tried to talk her out of the idea – recently, at least. When we were alone again, he'd explained that he'd tried to talk sense into her a looong time ago already, with no success and a whole lot of smashed vases. (Mum has red hair and a temper, when she's not being sentimental. No, not the hair, you idiot.) So we let her be.

Yeah, my family has had its share of romanticism. All except the youngest generation, bless my innocent little soul. I guess that must be one of the perks of inheriting the only antisocial gene that ever connived its way into the family pool.

Grandpa doesn't believe that I'm really as shy as I say. Around him, I always talk, and very colorfully, too. At school, though, I'm never able to gossip or anything, and when anyone tries to include me in their posse talk (which isn't often – this is high school, after all) I just kind of sit there and listen politely.

And boys… Gosh. But they are a different story.

I was in the cafeteria, eating my sandwich and working on homework. (Yep. I multitask.) And then these boys walk over to my table and sit down around me, just like that, no pretense. For self-esteem issues, I'd like to say they came to my table voluntarily, but alas, the entire cafeteria was full and they'd chosen my table for the sole fact that it was the one with the most available space.

I must've looked terrified, although of course I wasn't. I was just… a little… taken aback. Well, the guy relaxing across the table gave me this little grin, just as the one on my right bumped my elbow. I was about to scoot down the bench and make room, but unfortunately, there was another boy sliding in to sit on my left. I had been effectively trapped.

"Hey sweetheart, hope you don't mind us sitting here. What's your name?" said the guy across the table. He had a nice scratchy voice that reeked of post-puberty goodness. What? Don't look at me like that. I may not be good at boys, but I'm not immune to them.

I let out a kind of half-wheeze to elegantly clear my voice, remembering midway through that I had a bite of sandwich down my throat. I clapped a hand over my mouth so it wouldn't pop a peek-a-boo, and hastily swallowed again. "Kerry," I said at last, trying to ignore my own lapse in dignity. I hoped none of them had noticed.

The boy on my right slapped his lunch onto the table – a couple slices of droopy cafeteria pizza oozing off a Styrofoam tray – and then he started gobbling it down, splattering a little bit of tomato sauce on my cheek. I tried not to wipe it off too conspicuously.

The boy across from me (my, this is getting a mite confusing, isn't it?) grinned broadly and stuck out an oversized hand for me to shake. "Jared," he said and then broke a couple of my fingers (no, not literally). All in all, I don't think I've ever shaken hands with anyone from my generation before, but suddenly they were all shaking my hand in knuckle-crunching grips. I learned that the boy on my left was Brad, the one on my right was Slob (they wouldn't tell me his real name), the one across from Slob and next to Jared was Nick, and the one on Jared's other side was Frank.

Gosh, I'll be damned if all that didn't just go right through my head.

Anyway, the extent of my speech so far had been my name and a meek hello. I decided to try something new.

"So, uh, you, uh, you're sophomores?" I was a sophomore. But I didn't recognize any of them from classes – although, that doesn't say much, since I don't recognize most kids in my classes. I just don't pay attention to these things.

Jared grinned again. "Juniors." Score.

I know, I know, I shouldn't have thought that. I mean, they only sat here as a last resort thing. But still. They were cute, there were five of them, and they were all within three feet of me.

Something like this must've shown across my face because he added, "Have you ever eaten with guys before?"

I blushed. It sucks to be a redhead and blush. Yeah, I've got red hair too, did I mention that? Although it's darker than my mum's, almost brown like grandpa's.

"It's not like I'm implying anything," which he was, the tactless jerk, but I took this in stride, "just guys can be kind of messy eaters…" He grinned, shrugged, and delved into his own meal: cafeteria-direct chicken salad. It looked a little brown. Some of it got on Nick and Frank. Then again, some of Nick's hamburger and some of Frank's canned mush got on Jared.

All's fair in the world of boys, I guess.

I hurriedly finished my sandwich before any parts of my body began to feel ill watching the cheerful exchange of food. That left me free to concentrate solely upon my homework. Oh, fine – That left me free to pretend to concentrate solely upon my homework while in actuality I was gawking at the guys sitting at my lunch table. Seriously, c'mon. A girl should be allowed to gawk once in a while. Especially a girl who gets as little action as me.

Brad finished eating. He got up to dump out his Styrofoam tray, along with the unidentifiable yucky bits of whatever he'd been eating. "Want me to take that for you?" he asked me, pointing to my brown paper lunch bag, currently squished up in a ball.

I nodded eagerly – shoot me, I'm lazy. "Yes, please…" He grinned, and he was gone. I had enough time to reward myself with a small smile. And then he was back, standing behind me, his huge hands on my shoulders. I was pretty sure he meant nothing by it, but it scared the shit out of me and I must've jumped a foot. Jared was grinning again. There was lettuce in his teeth.

"Hey, what was your name again?" said Brad from behind me, and his voice was soft and rumbly. Well, he said it so nicely that I couldn't be mad at him, but still, I was a bit miffed he'd forgotten my name so quickly.

"Ker–" I stopped with my eyes wide because he had just put his mouth very close to my ear, so close I could feel his rancid breath on my neck as he spoke.

"That's a pretty name," he said. It honestly freaked me out so much that I didn't even think. I just kind of jumped up and whirled around and pushed him as hard as I could with that kind of leverage, grabbed my homework and – yes – ran. Dashed out through the double doors and rocketed down the hallway. Shut up. He freaked me out. He really freaked me out.

Of course, he was just flirting, but I reasoned that out a bit too late for my convenience. And even if it was just harmless flirtation, it was still creepy and I hereby stand by my judgment and proclaim that if any guy tried to flirt like that with me again I'd do the same thing: hit and run. As defense tactics.

I went to class and from then on tried to avoid all boys, especially those five – I could admire the male population from afar. I'd leave the flirting for later in life.

This is one of the things I do not tell my grandpa about. And really, there's not a lot I won't tell grandpa. I just like to stay away from the topic of my romantic life, even though I always ask very subtle questions to learn about his – and honestly, he doesn't mind my subtle questions (so long as it stays away from grandma), since he's had enough romantic misadventures for both of us and is pretty damn proud of it. I've got to say, it's a lot more powerful to be told personal love stories by a toughened old man like him than people like my mother. Just because you know the mush is actually there, and it really means something to him.

I was digging through one of his old boxes one day, listening half-heartedly as he chattered good-naturedly on the phone with someone trying to advertise a chimney repair service, and came upon a small, ornate wooden case. It was simple but disastrously attractive, and so small and cute – well, no, cute wasn't really the word. I opened the box and found to my immense delight a tiny hourglass resting in a soft velvety material. I picked it up and held it to the light, admiring the little thing. The sand inside was black, which was slightly odd, but only added to the beauty.

"… and then she said, oh well why don't we get a new one? We could always use a couple extra bats in the house, darling – you know, adolescents are hard to raise – so I said right back to her, you know what I said? I said – Oh pardon me? You have to go now? No! That's not what I said, you idiot, I was talking to you. I said to her, why that's a dandy idea, dear, you go on and buy those – what? Chimneys? Are you quite sure? Why, come to think of it, I don't believe we have a chimney, after all! Would you just look at that? But really now, as I was saying – hello? Hello?" After a few moments of silence grandpa reluctantly hung up the phone and turned back to me.

"Those people – great talkers," he remarked, his voice back to its usual gruff tone. "What's that you got, eh?"

I stood up and handed it to him. We were in the attic room, and storage boxes were scattered everywhere. He was sitting in an old, tattered rocking chair next to the phone, looking rather as if he should be knitting. I'd been sprawled out at his feet, making a mess with the newest box of treasures. Light was clawing its way through the low, dust-coated window right next to the pile, making some things glint enticingly and others crawl away.

This was one of our favorite things to do. Sit in the attic, go through his old things, and talk.

"I remember this…" he muttered. My ears perked up. "Got it at a market in Cairo. I got a lot of odd trinkets that day." He chuckled to himself.

"It's really cool. I think the glass is warped, or something, did you see? It bends the light, makes a rainbow." I took it from him and held it in front of the window, admiring the odd rainbow effect on the dusty floorboards.

"Hm," he said cryptically.

I flipped it around a few times. Grandpa held out his hand for it again, brought it right up against his nose, and squinted at it.

"What was this intended for, do you suppose?" he rasped.

I shrugged. "Telling time."

He rolled his eyes. They went out of focus briefly, before they snapped back on me. "But what did it time, eh? Why was it made?"

"Don't ask me." I watched him fiddle with it. "How long does it last?" The black sand was almost entirely piled on one end of the hourglass. I assumed the bit that had leaked out was from grandpa and me.

"I don't know. Would you like to bet on it?"

I nodded, grinning.

"Ten minutes," he said.

I pursed my lips, narrowed my eyes at the glass. "It couldn't possibly take that long. Five."

He shook his head. "You're mistaken. These last longer than they appear to. The trick is looking at the little hole in there – "

"Oh, please, grandpa, like you've had any more practice than me predicting hourglasses."

He looked affronted. "In fact, I have. Did I tell you when I was in Cairo with my friend Max, we took – " he paused suddenly and craned his neck, as if straining to hear something. Just then, the door slammed.

"Kerry! Dentist, now!" came mum's voice, wafting up the attic stairs.

"Oooh, crap, I forgot." I jumped up, smoothed my jeans, and strode to the door.

"Hey, wait, you forgot something," called grandpa. He'd replaced the hourglass in the case and tossed it at me. "You can time it tonight, before you go to sleep. I'm going out this evening, so I'll see you to collect my pay tomorrow." He grinned.

"Five bucks says it's five minutes," I called on my way down the steps. Mum was waiting by the back door, looking cross.

"Five minutes and I'll kick your puny rear, kid. Get in the car, we're late."


Now you can review!!! (Suggestions are welcome, especially since the plotline isn't completely figured out.)