I love my parents, I really do, but sometimes I just wish I were born from someone else's chromosomes. I've been living with my mom and dad for sixteen years, going to the same, tiny, private school for 10 of those years, and never, not even once, had I thought about the possibility of me being stuck out in that big scary world all alone. I've always had this small community of people and friends, and so far nothing had disturbed it, and I never considered that, hey, maybe there's a big threatening world out there. Maybe my parents are going to decide to stick me in it. Maybe they won't be there to help me out either, because they're going to be on another freaking continent, getting their freak on while I'm stuck in my crazy grandmother's house, getting ready to go to a new school--a public school, no less. Not that I have anything against public schools or anything; I knew some people who went there. I've just always heard scary stories about what happens there: shootings, poor budgets, teachers who don't care, bullies, and God only knows what else.
"Oh sweetie, it's really not that bad. You love Grandma Elsie remember?"
Uh, no mom, actually, I don't remember that.
"It's not that, mom; it's just that I'm going to miss you guys so much."
The thing is my parents have had a mostly happy marriage, up until last year, when my father made a really bad decision. He made the decision to have an affair with a coworker. I remember how hurt my mother was when he told her. My mom and I are like best friends, so I was there to support her and such. She cried, I cried, we cried together, and then she asked me if I thought that dad was going to leave her. In my opinion, I had thought at the time that she should be the one to leave him. I mean what kind of husband cheats on his wife? But I didn't want to tell my mom this because I was afraid it would hurt her even more. So I told her that maybe she should just talk to dad and try and rekindle the fire in their relationship.
God, I hate playing marriage counselor.
In any case, they did talk, and as it turns out, dad was really sorry for what he did. He didn't want to get a divorce, he loved mom. Mom didn't want a divorce; she loved dad. Their conclusion: a year long vacation in order to rediscover whatever may have been lost in the years that they had been married. They planned to leave in September to go on a trip to explore Europe. At first I was really excited because I was under the impression that I would be going with them. Then dad told me exactly where I would be going instead. I was going to spend the year with mom's mom, my grandma Elsie. I hadn't seen Grandma Elsie since early in my childhood, but I remember that she was weird, and sometimes she freaked Dad out. Mom always said this was because dad didn't understand her counterculture lifestyle, but I couldn't help but share some of Dad's apprehensions about Grandma Elsie. She was also the reason I had my name, Crikket. My grandmother was big into nature, and thought that I should have a "natural name." Growing up I did not share these feelings. I knew my grandma was some sort of hippie or something. She liked nature, she meditated and she owned a shop of some kind in the mountains somewhere. She also practiced magic. Which wasn't completely unheard of in society, but it wasn't exactly social norm either. People who did magic ("practitioners," my mother called them) were few, and the rest of society wasn't exactly accepting of them. My Grandma was one of these people, and when the people of our town learned of her, she moved away to avoid trouble. That's all I knew about her.
In any case, that pretty much sums it up. Now I find myself in a car with my mom and dad (me in the backseat) on my way to Grandma Elsie's mountain house/counterculture-style shop. It was a relatively long drive, considering Grandma lived two states away in a little town called Black Briar, North Carolina (As if that wasn't an ominous warning…).
I tried to remain cautiously optimistic during the ride down there. Maybe Grandma isn't as weird as I thought. Maybe my thoughts about her being a hippie were simply the exaggerated fantasies of my youth. Maybe she's just a normal grandma.
My mother noticed my downcast expression and tentatively asked me, "Are you alright, honey?"
"Yeah mom," I replied, "I'm fine."
"You know, if you really don't want to do this, we can stay home; you don't have to do anything you don't want to."
I knew my mother meant that with all her heart, but I could just picture the hurt look on her face if I told her that what I really wanted to do was just go home. If I went home then that meant they didn't go on their trip. They weren't too keen on leaving me home alone for a year. Pfft, what? Don't they think I'm responsible? Seriously, I couldn't forgive myself if I hurt my mom like that. It would kill me. We have too good of a relationship for that. No, I told myself, I can tough it out for a while so mom and dad could have a good time. I'm that good of a person; I can sacrifice a little for the benefit of my parents. I knew that any other teenager wouldn't do it, but I prided myself on being a bigger and better person. I had a good relationship with both my parents, and for the most part I hadn't gone through the teenage rebellion stage, and I didn't plan on starting now.
Four hours and two rest stops later we found ourselves in the middle of a tiny, historic looking downtown in North Carolina. The flags that were proudly displayed on the light posts proclaimed this place to be "Historic Downtown Black Briar." The shining midday sun betrayed my foreboding and apprehensive feelings. I wished it would rain.
I heard my mom tell dad that she was going to call and tell Elsie that we were close. My mother turned around and looked at me, "We're almost there honey. Do you want to stop and shop in some of these cute little stores before we get to Grandma's house?"
I briefly turned away to look at some of the quaint mom-and-pop shops that lined the streets. I thought they were adorable. What the heck. I thought. It wouldn't hurt to spend my last few hours with my parents doing something fun.
"Sure," I replied. "Can we go in that one?" I pointed to a book and coffee shop. I had a passion for books and I figured that I might as well stock up since I wasn't sure what else I was going to have to do around here.
Dad parallel parked the car on the side of the road in front of the door of The Second Chance book store, a place that sold new and used books, according to the sign posted on the front door. Mom had already pulled out her cell phone and was talking animatedly to her mother when we entered the door.
Immediately I made it a point to split from my parents for the time being. I didn't want to be the one seen with the loud, obnoxious woman talking on the phone in the bookstore. Nope, immediately I made a beeline for the young adult section of the store. I figured that if I got at least half the section, I might have enough to do me until Christmas.
I was in the middle of judging between two particularly interesting titles when a perky female voice asked, "Is there anything in particular that you're looking for?" I looked at the girl, who looked about my age, maybe a little older. She had possibly the biggest and brightest smile I had ever seen, and her name tag said, "Andie."
"Actually," I replied, "there is." I gave her the names of three of my favorite authors, and sent her off on a quest to find every title by them in the store. I could pick out the ones that I didn't already own, and sucker dad into buying them for me. Fun, fun, fun.
Finding nothing really interesting in the young adult section, I took a few moments to browse around the rest of the place. It was fairly large, with bright fluorescent lights humming overhead. In the corner to the left of the door was a small coffee shop called The Mean Bean. I wondered how good their coffee was. A middle aged, pleasant faced woman was standing behind the counter beside a guy who looked about eighteen or so. The woman (Julie-Ana, her nametag read) smiled pleasantly at me and asked what I would like. I asked her to give me a second while I read the menu, and she asked if I was new in town. Remembering what a small town Black Briar was, I wasn't all that surprised that she could tell. I considered telling her that I was moving in with my grandmother, but she would probably know who my grandmother was, and I wasn't sure if I wanted that kind of attention. Instead, I simply told her yes, I was new in town. She accepted my answer, and while I was inspecting the menu, she sent the young man, whom she called Elliot, off to do some chore or another.
After ordering my drink (caramel latte with whipped cream on top) I sat down in one of the really tall stools around a small round table. My feet dangled, but were about a foot from the ground. In the middle of the table was a bowl with plastic bubbles in the center, similar to the ones found in quarter machines. A sign next to one said, "Have Some Advice." I picked up and opaque purple bubble and snapped it open. A small piece of paper fell out onto the table in front of me. Handwritten in barely legible print was a note: "Take reality in only small doses." I stared at the message, with mixed feelings. On the one hand, part of me wanted to take the message to heart. The rest of me wanted to demand exactly how an entire year counted as a "small dose." As my inner consciences raged, Elliot appeared in front of me, carrying my drink.
"You order the caramel latte?" He had a big grin printed on his face. Judging by his looks, he seemed to be the average, run-of-the-mill small town boy. He wasn't too buff like a jock, nor was he particularly "nerdy" looking. He was just…a boy, plain and simple. I wasn't too into judging guys by their looks, but this guy was passable, though nothing too incredible.
When he set the drink down in front of me, he caught sight of the paper in my hand. "Oooh," he cooed," I see you found our Advice Bowls."
"Yeah," I half chuckled. "Good idea."
"What does yours say?" Before I could tell him, he grabbed the paper from my hand and laughed. "I totally wrote that. But Julie-Ana made me change it."
I looked at him curiously. "What did it say before?"
"'Take reality in only small doses. Too much of it may lead to autism, delirium, and in some cases, heavy diarrhea.'"
I found myself laughing. Maybe this guy could make up in personality what he lacked in the look department. He leaned over and winked at me, "I like my version better."
I felt compelled to say, "Truthfully, I do too."
He laughed and stuck his hand out to me, "I'm Elliot."
Smiling back at him, I shook it and replied, "Crikket."
"Interesting name," he remarked. I scowled a little on the inside. I hate my name. "So are you just passing through or are you moving here?"
"Well, it's a bit complicated. I'm staying with…family…for a while. My parents are…" I hesitated again, "going on a second honeymoon."
"Ahh," he nodded, "for how long?"
"A year," came my less-than-enthusiastic reply.
"Yeah, my dad co-owns a company with his best friend, so he was able to get off work."
"And your mom?"
"Stay at home mom."
As I gingerly sipped my drink, I saw Andie rolling a cart full of books in my direction. She still had that huge grin on her face.
"Here they are," she proudly announced, "every title by James Woodson, Annie Conan, and John Wesley. Is there anything else you need?"
I was a little surprised. I hadn't expected them to actually have every book by all three authors.
"Thank you, this should be fine."
Then she turned to Elliot, "You're not pestering the customers, are you?"
"Me?" He replied, slightly indignant. "I would never."
"Uh-huh," She seemed playfully suspicious. "So why aren't you working?"
"I'm taking a break and acquainting myself with the new resident." He shot me a wink that caused me to unceremoniously blush. "Andie, this is Crikket. She's moving in with some family while her parents go on a second honeymoon."
"Really?" Andie beamed in my direction. "Who are you staying with?"
Elliot looked my way and whispered conspiratorially, "Andie knows EVERYBODY."
Seeing no way to weasel out of this situation, I feared that I would be forced to admit that I was going to be rooming with perhaps the most insane person on the planet. I wasn't sure how Grandma Elsie was viewed in the town, and my fear of being an outcast prevented me from taking such a risk. However, just as my mouth was beginning to open to reveal the truth, my parents walked up to me.
"Hey Puff-Cake," my dad called. I silently cursed his tendency to make up random and humiliating nicknames for me. And use them in public.
Mom then looked at me and smiled. "I just got off the phone with Grandma. She says she's ready for us any time. Have you already started making friends?" She asked, looking around at Andie and Elliot.
"Yeah," I said, feeling kind of awkward. Were they considered "friends" yet? "This is Elliot and Andie." The four of them exchanged hellos and then Andie and Elliot announced that they had to get back to work, leaving me and my parents alone.
"Any books you don't want, just leave on the cart and I'll reshelf them later. And call me when you get settled in and we'll hang out sometime." Andie grabbed the small piece of advice paper from the table and wrote her name and number on it. Elliot also jotted down his info in the same messy handwriting as the advice.
"See you later," he said, smiling and walking off. Andie followed him.
"Bye," I replied, feeling absolutely elated that I had already been accepted by people here. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad.
I could tell that I would be spending a lot of time here.
I started rifling through the books when my parents got curious.
"What are you looking at, Crikket?" My dad asked.
"Crikket, surely you aren't thinking of getting all of that are you?" my mom asked, a little astounded.
"No, mom, just the ones that I haven't read," I replied.
She warned me not to go overboard. "You don't need too many books. After all, you're going to be spending a lot of time here. There will be plenty of time to read all of those later."
"I know mom, I just want to get the ones that I haven't already read. Really, I just wanted to see if they had all of these in the store."
"How's the coffee here?" Dad asked.
"Good, I like it." I answered. He wandered off to get him some.
Mom turned to me and looked at me with a serious face. "Angel, I know this is hard for you." Oh, no. Not again. "I just want you to know that if you really feel like this isn't going to work, you can tell me. We'll take you home and forget this whole thing."
"Mom, really, I want you and Dad to have a good time. I'll be fine." Really what I wanted to say was, "DEAR GOD TAKE ME HOME RIGHT NOW!!!" But I just couldn't do it.
"Are you positive that you're OK with this?"
"Yes mom, one hundred percent."
I know she wasn't satisfied with my answer, but I just couldn't bring myself to tell my mother how I really felt. I wanted my parents to fix their problems, however they must. I didn't want them to get a divorce. I don't think I would've been able to handle that.
It was no time at all before I found myself, feeling alone and helpless at Grandma's door. My mother stood behind me, arms on my shoulders, while dad stood off to the side somewhere, looking like he'd rather be anywhere else.
Me too, Dad, I silently sympathized with him.
Mom knocked on the door of the two story house. Mom told me that the first floor was where the shop was, the second floor was where she lived. My doubts about this place just kept piling higher and higher. First of all, the shop/home was at the end of about a quarter mile driveway the led back into the woods. The trees here were so dense that it seemed almost as if the sunshine was permanently blocked out. Here and there an odd ray managed to poke through the brush. The house itself was old looking, and while it didn't quite look foreboding, it wasn't exactly a welcome sight to me either.
The front door swung open, and on the other side of it stood the tall, slender woman that I recognized as my grandmother. She hadn't changed a lot from what I remembered, but I still didn't know that much about her. She gave a big smile and hugged me.
"Oh darling you've grown so much! Still as pretty as a flower, I see." She grabbed my shoulders and held me at arms length. "Oh, you have the most beautiful brown hair! The color of beautiful oak! And those eyes, so green, so full of mystery and magic! You certainly are one of our children!" I got nervous as Grandma rambled, but managed to keep my composure. She beckoned us inside and gave us all a cup of hot tea, which we sat drinking inside a small kitchen that seemed to be right next to the shop. Mom eagerly drank hers, I tenderly sipped mine, and dad just sort of played with his.
"You'll have to excuse the cramped feeling in here. I only use this area for preparing my herbs. The main kitchen is upstairs."
"That's fine, mom." Mom said. "I'm afraid we can't stay long. We have to get back home tonight so we can catch our flight tomorrow."
Grandma smiled at them, "I'm so glad you two decided to work things out. And dear Crikket here, she's being such a sport. I'm so glad to have her here for such a long period of time. This will give us plenty of time to catch up!" Suddenly, my dad's cell phone rang and he dashed outside to answer it. I had the feeling that he was a little more than grateful for the excuse to get out of here.
While Mom and Grandma laid out the details of my stay, I took an opportunity to explore the store. There was a section for herbal remedies, which was extensive and contained many things that I could not pronounce. There was a section of crocheted hats, scarves, and sweaters, each one bearing a tag that boasted, "100 Organic goods made by Elsie Khol," on them. I picked up a scarf and examined it. The one good thing I remember about Grandma Elsie was her teaching me very early how to crochet. That was the only thing I remember liking about her, and even though I could only make a hat or a scarf, or something easy, I still made a hobby out of it. And darn it, I thought it was fun.
I wandered away from Grandma's handmade goods section into another part of the store that, according to a sign, was for "Local Artistic Pieces." I saw some amazing carvings, beaded jewelry, some wolf paintings, and a few other pieces. Attached to each thing was a card that gave the name of the person who made it, a title, if the piece had one, and the price. I picked up a small carving of a wolf. It was about the size of my palm, and painted with red and grey fur. I set the wolf back down and started to head back over to where my mother and grandmother were still chatting. As I came up behind a dividing wall, I heard grandma say, "I think it's high time Crikket got into the family practice." I assumed that by this she meant moving to the middle of nowhere and becoming a hippie sales lady, but my mother's next statement sparked something in me.
"Oh Mom, I don't think Crikket's suited for that kind of stuff." What stuff?
"She may have too. I'm starting to suspect that the curse is coming back. She had the energy all over her."
"Oh mom, don't be ridiculous. There is no curse. Not anymore."
"Of course there is. It was cast upon our family hundreds of years ago, and it's still here. It was only because of my efforts that the effects on you were minimal; however, with you not giving Crikket the proper care, she may become even more susceptible to it. If not cared for in the proper way, it could be very dangerous." Everything in my being told me that this was a load of bull, but perhaps it was the conviction in Grandma's voice, or maybe it was the fact that she was talking about me as if I could die any day that made me slightly nervous regarding what she was saying.
"Hello Crikket," I jumped upon hearing Grandma Elsie's voice so close to me, at the same time, knocking over a display of books..
"Oh, hi Grandma," I smiled nervously back at her, and something in her eyes caught my attention. Fear?
"Please, call me Elsie. I just don't feel like a grandma, sweetheart." She gave me a warm smile and led me over to the stairs. I looked back to display I had knocked over, but there was no mess. the shelf was standing back up, with all the books neatly arranged. Strange, I though."You mother has gone outside to help your father carry in your things. They'll help you unpack and get settled, and I'll leave you three alone to say your goodbyes, alright?"
"Great," I replied, shaking away the thoughts of curses. That was stupid and impossible. My grandma's crazy, that's all. She led my down the hall to the very end, pointing to a door. "That's your room. I hope you like it." Then she went back downstairs. I opened the door to my new room and took a look around. It didn't look too bad. Actually, I rather liked it. The bed was simple, a king size, with comforter decorated with matching pillows. The floors were hardwood, something I had always wanted in my bedroom but never gotten, and the walls were a light shade of purple. I wondered if Elsie knew my favorite color, or if it was just a coincidence.
Seconds later my parents came up the stairs, each with bags in tow.
"Is there anything else?" I asked, feeling slightly guilty for not helping with my own bags.
"No, this is all," Dad said. "You want us to help you unpack?"
"Yeah, if you don't mind. It'll give us a chance to say goodbye before you guys leave."
"Of course we don't mind, Pumpkin," Mom looked on the verge of tears, exactly how I felt. I wondered if they could see the tears behind my eyes as well.
In what seemed like no time, I found myself back downstairs, crying like a baby, with my dad consoling me and my mom looking as if she were going to break down as well any second. The reality of me not seeing my parents or my home for a whole year was just hitting me. It was going to be a long time before I was anywhere familiar again. Suddenly I didn't seem as if I could handle it. My resolve had shattered and I was all but begging my parents to take me home as waves of sobs and torrents of tears flooded from my body. However, instead of my parents picking me up and taking me back as they had promised they would had I decided to, they were doing that thing that parents do—trying to make the situation seem not as bad as it really was.
"I'm sure you'll be fine pumpkin," Dad said.
"I just don't know if I can do this now. A whole year? You guys are going to be missing my junior year of high school. This is the time that I get a car and take the SAT and get ready for college. You guys can't miss that!"
"Honey, we're going to be in contact with you constantly. I promise, we're not going to miss a thing! Plus, Elsie said that she had a car for you." Dad tried rubbing my back, which only made me cry harder.
"And don't forget that you can call us anytime you need us. One of us will have a cell phone with us at all times, and you have the numbers, so don't hesitate to call us." Not helping, mom.
"I'm going to miss you guys so much though," I tried to compose myself.
"We're going to miss you too." My mom's eyes were starting to tear up. With considerable effort, Dad pulled her to the car and they got inside. Mom waved to me as Dad drove off, and I watched the car become smaller and smaller, until finally I could no longer see it through the trees and brush. I had never felt so alone in my life, even though Grandma was standing right behind me. Almost unwillingly, I turned to face her, she smiled at me, and put an arm around me to lead me back into the house. We sat down at the same table the had previously occupied my parents, and Grandma looked said to me, "I thought you might like a couple days to adjust, so you won't be starting school until Wednesday. Is that alright?"
"Yeah, that's fine. Umm…" I hesitated. "What's the school like here?" I asked, even though I didn't think she'd know.
"It's a bit larger than the school you're used to, if I'm to believe what you mother has told me. It has a nice reputation among the schools in this state, no drugs or alcohol, save for the odd marijuana smoker, although I don't really see the harm in that."
Wow, my grandma was even more liberal than I thought.
"Like I heard your father say, I do have a car for you. It's not new, and it may not be what you were hoping for, but it does run well. Right now it's still at the previous owner's house. I though we might go over there later and get it. Is that fine?"
I smiled so she wouldn't suspect my current apathy, and said yes. There was a pause between us. I so desperately wanted to call my friend back home, Samantha, but I didn't know if Grandma would let me call long distance, and I didn't have a cell phone. Just before the silence got too unbearable, Grandma spoke, "You mom told me that you met some people down at the book store earlier. What were their names?"
"Elliot and Andie," I replied. "Andie is a girl," I added as an after thought.
"Ah yes, I know them. Andie is quite fond of my little shop. She even makes some little trinkets of her own and sells them here sometimes."
It made me feel slightly better that at least one of the two people I tentatively called friends was on good terms with my grandmother.
"What about Elliot?" I asked, out of curiosity.
"I know more of his parents than I do him. They're the ones I bought the car from. Tell me Crikket, do you still crochet?"
"Yeah, I do, actually. I can't do much more than make a scarf or a hat on my own, but I can follow a pattern."
"Ahh," Grandma smiled in a nostalgic kind of way. "I remember teaching you how to make a chain when you were very young. Picked it up right away you did. Of course I also tried to teach you knitting, but you rejected that idea rather quickly. But then I moved away and I didn't know if you'd still do it. I'm glad to see that you're doing something creative. What would you like for supper? You should know that I'm a vegan, but if you still wish to eat meat, then I won't pressure you, you know."
"Actually vegan food is fine with me." I figured that the best way to make the best of my time here would be to just give in to her lifestyle. Who knows, maybe it would grow on me. Besides, my mother was a vegetarian, so I was used to eating little to no meat. I was a little nervous about giving up the dairy though. "So, are you a vegan because of animal rights, or is it something else?"
"It's mainly animal rights, and religious views I guess as well. I'm not sure what you know about me, but I've been a Buddhist for some time and it swayed me to veganism. It also taught me many valuable things about the world we live in and how our actions affect one another. I learned that if you respect nature, it will respect you in turn. You think I sound like some hippie don't you?"
I did, but out of politeness, I said no. "I think it's interesting. How did you…er…become a Buddhist?"
"Oh, that's a story for another time," she replied vaguely. "I'd probably just bore you to tears anyway."
And then, out of the blue, Grandma asked me the question that I probably should have expected of her, but it nearly floored me nonetheless.
"Do you believe in magic?"