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The Unexpected - Chapter 1


Nancy Brar

I stared at the eccentric looking old woman standing in front of me, and I couldn't help but continue to stare. I had not expected this short, non elegant curmudgeon of a lady, assessing me with calculating old blue eyes. I had not expected her to be wearing large faded coveralls, gardening gloves hanging from the back pocket, and a wide brimmed straw hat, failing to hide wildly curling silver hair.

"So," she said, giving me a squinting one-eyed look. "You're the girl, eh?" I clutched the brass handle of my suitcase and nodded.

"Willie," I said, feeling suddenly defensive. "My name is Willie." I gave her glare for glare, and for moments we stood like that, just staring, neither one backing down. This I was definitely not expecting to happen. How had I suddenly wound up having a staring contest with my grandmother?

Finally she nodded in satisfaction. "You'll do, girl. You'll do." I could not help but reminisce back to the movie Babe, with the pig who believed he was a sheep dog, and the farmer saying the exact same words to him, only this time instead of "That'll do, pig", it was "You'll do, girl." I felt a churning in my stomach.

Then the lady turned around, giving me her bony back and stalked towards the house, and I stood there, not sure if I should follow her. She stopped at the porch steps and sighed impatiently. "Well, for Pete's sake, I haven't got all day, y'know." I quickly scrambled after her when she turned her back the second time, wondering what I did know, and if that knowledge would prove a match against this old cantankerous woman.

I stopped thinking for a while about my grandmother and instead focused my attention on the house. Wild plants seemed to swallow it and behind it all I could see were vast fields of farmland. We went in through the front door; t
he screen door was left open. I began to feel cautious after I fell through the broken step of the tall, long staircase in the house.  I walked slowly up the stairs, awed by the pictures of a family I had never known.

I froze when my eyes landed on a familiar face, familiar eyes, cat-like yellow, and a stubborn jaw. I sucked in a harsh breath, realizing the identity of the man in the picture, the man surrounded by hot suns, and washing tides. It was my father. I wanted to hate him, and I felt the feeling coil inside me, waiting to be sprung free, but how could I hate someone who looked so much like me? Who was a large part of me? It would be like hating myself.

"What're you doing down there, girl? Didn't anybody tell you not to dawdle?" my grandmother's irritated voice broke into my thoughts. I stepped away from the picture and looked up to see her staring at me intently from the second floor of the house.

"I-I... I was just looking at the pictures," I explained when she raised one bushy brow at me. I cursed myself for my nervous stutter and lifted my chin defiantly, daring her to comment on it. She just nodded, but didn't tell me to hurry up this time. Instead her sharp eyes studied my face, and I felt my cheeks pinken in embarrassment at the close scrutiny of her knowing gaze.

"You know," she said after a long time, "You're pa's name was Willie too. You look a lot like him."

I watched, surprised at her comment, as she turned once more and stomped away from the ledge. This time when I scrambled to catch up with her, I did it slower than I had the first time. I managed to match my long strides with hers, and began noticing all kinds of different things about her. How her broad shoulders bounced in rhythm to her jaunty stride, how she occasionally slowed enough for me to walk close behind her, but she did it consistently enough that I wondered at it. Why did she even care? She was a hardened cantankerous old woman who didn't have a heart... wasn't she?

Finally she stopped in front of a large oak door, old and worn. She didn't look at me, but gave it a gentle push that belied her strong, controlling nature, and it swung open revealing a beautiful large room with glass windows on the roof, an opening through which light poured. My eyes finally fell to the large, four poster bed beside the large window seat. A white comforter spread neatly on top of the two mattresses made the room look nonexistent, invisible, bare. A cell which had claimed me its prisoner. That thought made me notice that no pictures hung on the white plastered walls, no personality held the room captive. I shivered, feeling the deadness of it.

She was eyeing me closely, as if looking for my reaction. "This is your room," she said. I could almost hear a hint of awkwardness in her voice, before she muffled it with her harsh manner. "Dinner's in an hour." With that, she left the room, slamming the door behind her. I hadn't even had a chance to explore the rest of the house, not with the brisk presence of my grandmother so near. I sighed and heaved my suitcase onto the bed, and threw myself on it as well, tired from the trip. It had taken hours to get here, to this nonexistent little town from nowhere.

I knew I should unpack what meager possessions I had, anything to brighten up this silently screaming prison. I closed my eyes, wanting to sleep for hundreds of years, and never wake up. I didn't want to face my grandmother again. She seemed so cold, so unyielding, the opposite of my own nature, much as I tried to disguise it. And there was another thing; what did she want me to call her? Somehow Granny didn't suit her, and neither did the formal Grandmother; she was too eccentric for that normalcy. I stared at the ceiling contemplating the matter. I knew so little of her I wasn't sure what to expect, but I supposed it was in a way a good thing; it would constantly keep me on my toes.

Hmmm...I knew her full name was Danonea Horatia Wilhem. I bit my lip and then it hit me, the name came so quickly to mind, I wondered how I hadn't seen it before. Nona! I smiled at my small triumph and sat up, feeling more lighthearted than I had in days. Humming, I sprang off the bed and snapped open my suitcase and was about to put things in the closet when I halted. I frowned. I was starting over, a new life was beginning for me. This time I wouldn't have to resort to practical measures and fit into the mold foster parents had made for me. This time I could let all of that go, and just be what I had been longing to be since my mother died... myself.

I grinned, and threw all of the neatly folded clothes in the air, pulling them out of their arrangement and crumpling messily to the floor. Whooping, I tore up my practical mathematic formula posters and threw my pencil and sketch pad on the middle of my bed. I opened the closet and found a ratty old chair. I smiled happily to myself. A new project. I pulled it out and put it in the middle of the empty room, feeling the emptiness being driven away.

The door opened as a half an hour later I was jumping on the bed, singing a Sum 41 song loudly. It was Nona. She looked annoyed and her annoyance turned quickly to shock as she saw the messiness of my room. I could see the question lurking in her hanging mouth. How could a fifteen year old girl so quickly take over such an empty jail-like room in a short thirty minutes?

"Dear lord," was all she said as she surveyed the room, corner to corner. I grinned at her, eyes twinkling.

"Like it?" I asked, more daring and brave than I would have been half an hour ago. I was happy that I had surprised the old woman. I stopped jumping and slid off the bed, and strode towards her, serious now. "How far is the nearest store around here?" I wanted to find some supplies so I could fix up this room and give it color and I also wanted to find some posters.

Nona blinked and came out of her shock. "It has to be about six miles. The library and the high school are just beside it." I almost crumpled. Six miles? I had been hoping to walk over after dinner. My spirits sagged.

"Do you think you could take me?" I asked tentatively, then I quickly corrected myself, "Or is there some means of transportation I could take there?" Nona raised a brow at me. I saw a ghostly hint of a smile lift the corners of her mouth, but it was gone before I could dwell on it.

"You can walk," she said, and I thought I saw a twinkle of mischief lurking in her eyes. I straightened my spine and looked at her. I was on the defensive. Was she poking fun at me? I didn't like the thought of her doing that, and her knowing something I didn't. It made me feel uneasy.

"I'll do that," I said in a calm voice, disguising my fear of venturing out there, not knowing what to expect, but then I corrected myself. What would Mom have said if she had known what I was thinking? 'Life is full of the unexpected,' I reminded myself, using Mom's motto and feeling a tiny bit of comfort. "How long is it open?"

Nona nodded at me as she had half an hour ago. "You'll do, girl, you'll do," she said, and stomped out of the room and down the stairs. This time I was sure it was a compliment and I felt some pride that this unyielding woman could pay me one. I looked at my watch, and realized it was a quarter to six. I had fifteen minutes until dinnertime. Then I ran down the stairs after her, ready to help. She was in the kitchen stooped over a large pot, stirring a red bubbling liquid, in a circling motion. I watched her for a minute, seeing the stubbornness in her set jaw; she looked as if she wasn't just stirring the liquid, but conquering it. I shivered, wondering if she meant to to break me, mold me, conquer me like that liquid.

She looked up, but didn't look startled. "You have to get it just right," she said and it took me a minute before I realized she was talking about the liquid. "Have you ever had chili?" she asked. I shook my head, mentally saying, Oh, so that's what that stuff is.

"Uh, I just wondered if you needed any help," I said, feeling foolish at my shyness. What had happened to my rough tough attitude? Nona looked at me as if she didn't quite believe, as if she wasn't sure of my motives. To tell the truth I was eyeing her in the same way, not particularly sure of hers. 

She nodded after close scrutiny. She pointed to a worn cupboard and said, "The bowls are in there and the spoons are in the third drawer. Pour yourself a glass of cold water, 'cause you'll need it. That's in the second shelf of the cupboard..." I was grumbling by the time she finished. She was like a military sergeant, always shouting out orders, but I still set the table. She poured the chili in our bowls and we sat down to a long table that I had thought only existed in mansions. Of course it wasn't lavish, but it was still a long table.

"Thanks, Nona," I said when she passed the bowl back to me, my secret name slipping from my lips easily. I gasped in horror when I realized what I had said. She looked a bit surprised, but shrugged and I felt myself breathe again. I admonished myself. What did I have to fear? I didn't even know the old gal.

The rest of the meal followed in silence and that night as I crawled under my bed covers, I felt as unsure as I had the moment I stepped into the house. And tomorrow school would begin. Yippee. I couldn't wait for the terror to ensue. Right now all I felt was numbly aware and tired. Just tired, but I was sure I would feel more so the next day.  And I hated knowing things like that, because I was always right.

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