Her phone binged, notifying her that she had received a message. Without even looking at it, she placed it by her bedside and began her evening routine. A cold shower would revitalize her, surely.
Well, that didn’t work.
Bleary-eyed, she brushed her teeth and then plopped onto her bed.
Boring rote days, toss-and-turn nights, and high humidity drained her will to live.
She stared at the fan. “Don’t just hang there.”
Padding to the wall switch, she did the needful and then grabbed her phone on the way back to her bed.
“Dad?” She scrolled to the message.
Your grandpa is arriving on Sunday to celebrate his 90th.
Hope you’ll come too.
The scene from The Lord of the Rings where Frodo sets off from Rivendell, heading to Mount Doom in order to save the Shire flashed through her mind.
It’s not quite that bad.
Ignoring the jittery goosebumps that raced up her arms, she scrolled down.
Yep. There’s the address. “Dad doesn’t miss a beat.”
With a mighty effort, she gripped her will by the collar. Behave yourself! She talked out loud to encourage her flagging spirits. “Dad never asks for much, and he hasn’t seen Grandpa in years. I’ll be merciful and go along.”
She squinted as she googled the address.
“Oh, wait! That’s way south. Nearly in another state. There’s no direct road!”,
Panic reared its ugly head, and Everleigh sucked in a shuddering breath. Then her phone binged again.
What now? The whole thing’s been canceled? Sure, that’s it. Thank you, God. I promise I’ll—
The thought—Check the message before making any promises—wiggled through her brain.
She scrolled down.
Aunt Kate needs a ride. Pick her up on the way, okay?
No “please, dear daughter.” Not even an emoji grimace—a way of saying “Sorry for the horrific situation I’m putting you in.”
Her fingers itched to tap back a formal message stating, “Everleigh died last year and was peacefully buried in the local cemetery.” She’d even be willing to pay for a tombstone to make it look good.
Dying was one thing. Being buried under her family’s strange coping mechanisms was quite another.
The thing about Aunt Kate, Everleigh reminded herself as she sped along the country road, was that she had lost the ability to communicate decades ago, but no one had the heart to tell her.
She parked her car in front of the tiny white ranch house in the quiet neighborhood and peered in the back seat, mentally reviewing her to-do list. Blanket for Auntie—since ninety-five degrees in the shade just won’t cut it for her old bones. A bottle of cola, two root beers, a water bottle, and a flask of gin. She’d make her way through them with unerring determination. Heaven help her if she forgot one of the nectars of the gods.
Her sainted sister, Jane would take care of the food. Jane would also take care of the decorations, insurance policies, and would make sure that two televisions were blaring—one covering the conservative side of world affairs, the other keeping the liberals in touch with hot-button issues. Of course, the internet would be available at all times.
Or the universe would evaporate.
Ready to leap forth and assist her eighty-something aunt, Everleigh froze when the old woman speed-hobbled down the walk swinging her cane. “Open the door, honey cakes! Can’t ya see, I’m ready?”
According to Google Maps, the drive was only supposed to take two and a half hours. According to Everleigh’s comfort barometer, the drive was interminable.
The old woman chatted rapid-fire for several minutes, then asked incomprehensible questions.
After using every stock answer in the omniverse, Everleigh soon reverted to “Hmmm” and “You don’t say?”
Aunt Kate was not amused.
Everleigh’s dad, on the other hand, seemed to find everything and everyone funny. He never laughed out loud, just let the glitter in his eyes chuckle at the cymbal-clash reality of the family gathering.
Out back, her brother-in-law-number-two, Donnie, barbecued ribs and turkey burgers for those who either wanted delicious food or clean arteries. Jane sent the vegans into ecstasy with crispy buffalo cauliflower bites, oil-free pumpkin pancakes made with gluten-free flour, and no-tuna salad sandwiches.
The two teens in attendance peeled off into opposite corners of the house and played multiplayer games with people on the other side of the globe.
Grandpa sat stage center stretched out on a lawn chair, a mild afternoon sun brightening his pale face. His wandering wide-eyed gaze reflected little of his glory years serving in two wars and then managing a realty business for forty years, till grandma died and all her money sense was buried with her.
After seeing that Auntie was stashed safely at the picnic table where she could snatch whatever food or drink took her fancy, Everleigh wandered about, checking to see if there were any friendly aliens about the place.
Naw. Just family.
Then a hand tapped her shoulder and Everleigh shrieked. She turned and stared into the blackest eyes she had ever seen. Set in a golden face crowned with blue-black shiny hair that trailed down a straight back, Everleigh realized that beauty knew how to arrange her jewels.
The woman thrust out a hand. “Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you. Just wanted to introduce myself. I’m Lekha, a nursing student from the hospital where your sister works. I watch over your grandpa whenever she’s too busy or something special is going on.”
Everleigh shook the offered hand and tried to think of coherent words. “Oh?” Where was Auntie’s quick wit now? “Well, that’s good of you. To come all this way—” She glanced over her shoulder.
Jane’s boy, Earl, sat beside the old man, showing him something on his phone. A game probably.
Unabashed, Lekha took in the scene with an expression suggesting that not only was her eye color different, but her vision was also. “I enjoy it. Seeing a family together is refreshing, lifts my spirits.”
Everleigh gawked. She clamped her mouth shut to keep it from dropping open. She swept her gaze over the yard. Probably fifteen people in all and no large family confabs. All intimate clusters. Each to their own niche.
“We’re not a very cohesive group, I’m afraid. We get along by not having too much to do with each other.”
Lekha grinned. “Most of my family is home in India. I’m here studying. At least your family is on the same continent. That’s something.”
Earl stepped up, barging into the conversation as entitled people often do. He beckoned Lekha with a waving hand. “Hey, you gotta come and check on Grandpa. I think he’s thirsty, but he’s trying to drink the hand sanitizer.”
Undisturbed by this newest proof of borderline insanity, Lekha hurried away to her duty.
Everleigh strolled over to her dad who stood near the empty grill holding a sampler plate—a bit of everything on there. “You having a good time?”
He shrugged. “I don’t come to have a good time.”
Everleigh sighed. “I thought that was the point.”
Her father took a bite of a buffalo cauliflower and shook his head. “Honey, we can’t make each other happy. But we can get along well enough to celebrate a person’s life while he’s still with us. That’s pretty good, in my book.” He lifted a pumpkin pancake and offered it to her.
Hungry for the first time in days, Everleigh took a bite.
A. K. Frailey is the author of 17 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
Make the most of life’s journey.
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