by JD Obermeier
This is the first couple pages of the romance novel I recently started working on.
| As the guilt gnaws at me, I give my head a shake in an attempt to clear away the emotions and to focus on the road. Trees line each side of the winding highway, their colorful branches mingle over the road. Sunlight, streaming through the multi-colored leaves and dancing branches, flickers in my eyes. The fresh, warm air whips my hair against my face, leaving a welcome sting. Music emits from the radio, but I'm too preoccupied by my mind to notice much.
My thoughts are on Gram. She was so energetic the last time I saw her nearly two years ago. It seems like only yesterday. Eighty-six or not, she was too full of life to be gone now. The Lawyer, Mr. Jenson, said Gram had been struggling with cancer for quite some time. I don't understand why she didn't tell me. Granted, we didn't talk often, but we did talk every couple months or so.
In a sudden burst of anger, I slap the steering-wheel, hardly noticing the pain. I'm angry because Gram is gone, angry because she didn't tell me she was sick, and angry at myself for not visiting her.
Deep in thought, I unconsciously turn off the highway, unaware of the gravel under my tires and the increased density of the trees until I am nearly upon the overgrown driveway. I recognize the mailbox, with an array of wildflowers planted around it's base and rust giving it an antique quality that wasn't there before. The thick weeds dragging roughly under the bottom of my little ford ranger has me cringing a little on the inside.
At the sight of the small, single floor, two bedroom house, the ache of sadness in my chest intensifies. Someone should have came: replaced the rotten boards on the porch, cleaned out the drooping gutters, removed the dead limbs from the yard. My vision blurs, which makes the chipping paint and rickety shutters a little less obvious. On a good note, the roof has not started to sag. "There is that," I say to myself.
At the end of the drive, I put the truck in park and kill the engine. Cliff's noisy rumble and the music is replaced by the much quieter sounds of early fall: crickets chirp, frogs call out for a last mating attempt, birds loudly singing as they gather in treetops, and a rusting breeze dances through the meadow just beyond the house.
I step from the truck, shutting the door quietly. A fish flops in the pond, or perhaps something else splashes in Chippewa Brooke. More likely the latter, considering the time of year; however, it is a warm day. How many times did I swim in that pond? chase tadpoles in that creek? a hundred? a thousand? Memories of picnics and running barefoot through freshly cut grass, now prairie weeds, come rushing back. Oh how long ago that was, another lifetime. So much has happened since then. I am no longer the same person.
I have no right to it, Gram's place, but it is what it is and I intend to make it mine. The ache in my chest that has plagued me since I was told of Gram's passing intensifies. A shaky breath leaves my lungs. Unnoticed tears dampen my cheeks. My hands rub my upper arms, a comforting gesture that comes unconsciously.
Eleven years, that's how many years of my childhood was spent exploring this bit of land and trailing after Rick and Charlie. Sabrina, 6 years my senior, would brush my hair on the porch swing, now hanging by one partially rusted chain. Although I have missed them over the years, I have never missed them more than I do in this moment.
A sound calls out to me and I wonder if it is real or simply a memory attempting to resurface. It comes again and I know it is not in my head. Momentarily pulled from my troubled thoughts, I move toward the pathetic little noise coming from the rickety shed that once served as a majestic castle. The tall, golden prairie weeds whisper as I move through them. I hold my hands flat; the soft tops tickle my palms.
It must hear me coming; as I reach for the door, the source of the noise, a white kitten with one black mitten, wriggles through a hole in the wall. It cries again, rubbing against my leg, purring loudly. I reach down to pet the skinny kitten's silky fur and a sympathetic bubble lodges painfully in my throat.
"What are you doing here all alone?" I ask him, my voice thick with emotion.
He meows again, arching under my fingertips. Scooping him up as I stand, I’m sickened at how little he weighs, feather light. How much longer before he would have been nothing more than a pile of bones for the scavengers to pick over.
More tears slip down my cheeks as I press my lips to his head. His dirtiness is the farthest thought from my mind. "Don't worry, little one," I whisper, feeling a sort of comradeship toward him, "You're not alone anymore."
As if in answer, the purring kitten nestles under my chin and becomes still with contentment. Holding him against my neck, I make my way back up the narrow path leading to the house.
The porch's planks groan in protest, bowing a nerve wrecking amount, under my weight. The screen door rests against the house, next to the door. Paint chips litter the old wood beneath it. They scatter across the porch, accumulating around the broken swing.
It is of no surprise that the doorknob, turns without the need of a key, although roughly. The heavy door opens easily at the slightest pressure from my fingertips, emitting an eerie squeak. Goosebumps spread across my flesh and my hair stands on end.
From under my chin, the kitten squirms free. He lands on the dusty hardwood floor and prances inside with tail held high, quite obviously feeling right at home.
I realize then, as I release the pent up air from my lungs, just how on edge I had became. Even my heart can be felt pounding against my ribs. The kitten meows again. Rubbing against the doorframe between the living room and kitchen, he looks at me with a look of impatience.
It's an odd feeling, being back in this place, once so warm and inviting, now cold and lonely. Signs of abandonment are everywhere, from the cobwebs decorating the corners to the picture frames missing from the walls. The scent of delicious food and fresh air has been replaced by a the strong musky scent of neglect.
Although the kitten's footprints can easily be seen in the dust and the outside does not look like it has been touched in years, the inside of the house seems to be in fair condition. The furniture needs a good dusting, the floors scrubbed, and cobwebs swept from the corners.
In the kitchen, I find evidence that someone at least checked in on Gram from time to time. The gas stove, covered in a layer of dust, looks used but not worn. The refrigerator could very well have been purchased in the months leading up to her passing. The old wooden table, at which I remember eating soup on rainy days, remains. As does two of the four chairs.
The kitten meows again. Another rush of sadness trickles through me. I wipe the tears from my face with the backs of my hands. A shaky breath fills my lungs. When I blow it out, I attempt to let go of some of the tension spread across my tight shoulders, to no avail.
"Well, I suppose I should open this place up and get you something to eat,” I murmur to the kitten.