I will probably never finish this book. But I discovered a couple of chapters tonight, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that they didn’t completely suck!
I wrote this around August 2005.
I did not have access to many books back then, so my reading consisted of a lot of Stephen King and V.C. Andrews.
This was my attempt at gothic with a twist.
Emilea Gramm and Bobby Angel meet in 1957.
Eventually, they marry, and on the night that Emilea gives birth to their twins, Bobby is in a car accident.
Emilea believes him to be dead, but in truth, he is held captive by someone. I’ll leave it there, because this is just Chapter 1.
Kind of a lame premis, but hey, I was doing what I could back then.
Anyway, the story starts out very sweet, high school in the 50’s, so here’s chapter 1.
The house was quiet. I lay on my stomach, hands clasped under my chin, gazing at the world through half-closed eyes. A dusky sunbeam danced across the floor, illuminating every speck of dust in the crevasses of aged wood. My thoughts drifted like delicate golden prisms of late-afternoon light slanting in through the dusty windows. I dozed in the month of green grass going brown, insects droning in their summer concert finale, hazy skies, and warmth in its final glory.
Fluff padded into the den on powderpuff paws. She circled the room in silence, then meowed indignantly. Her amber-green eyes glittered with disapproval HOW DARE YOU, you took the only patch of sunshine, need I remind you who runs this house. I apologized to Fluff for being human, and left her to rule the den. She flopped down in the sun, licked her paws, and purred forgiveness.
I sat down at Grandma’s drop-leaf dining room table. Every last day of summer since the first grade, Grandma and I wrote our predictions for the school year. On the cover of the loose-leaf notebook, Emilea Gramm’s School Days, was written in red ink. That title had looked so important when I was six, and it had held up well over the years. The pages told the story of my life. The earliest ones were in Grandma’s flowery handwriting. Emilea will learn to read, and make LOTS and LOTS of friends. Then in my block print, Emilea will sit by Linda and Suzzy, and she won’t talk to Joe Harper EVER at all, and she’ll read ten books, and makes S’s in all her subjects. (S’s stood for Satisfactory, and you got those before you got actual grades.) In very shaky cursive; In third grade, Emilea will learn to write better cursive letters, and Uncle Chase will get married. One prediction had come true, the other hadn’t. In fourth grade, I had tearfully written; Emilea will be Linda Hamilton’s best friend even though we have different teachers this year.
The prediction for eighth grade, Emilea will be confident and gregarious, hadn’t exactly come true. I won awards, I went to parties and a dance or two, but I felt awkward doing it all. I never hated looking in a mirror, but it was a chore on more days than any year before eighth grade. The shape of my body felt all wrong, but my hair was still pretty, and I’ve always liked my eyes. That was the thing about eighth grade, no matter how odd things felt, there was always something good to make up for it. My arms and legs no longer felt too long for the rest of my body, and over the summer I’d gained curves, where there had been a lean tomboyish figure. The pimples that had seemed to pop up at the most inopportune times throughout eighth grade vanished. I was taller too. I felt very good about myself, as I wrote–Ninth grade; Emilea will be a Homecoming Dutchess. Emilea will make all A’s and B’s. Mother will stop nagging Emilea to do things, and give her a chance to do them on her own. (That was more a wish than a prediction.) Linda will go steady with Jimmy Cameron. The predictions had broadened over the years, to include my classmates. The screen door banged, and Grandpa jogged in. “Where’s grub,” he teased, knowing FULL WELL what we did on the last day of summer. “HONEY,” Grandma feigned exasperation. “You’d think we had forty acres instead of a vegetable garden! What do you do on that tractor? Go wash up, you’re tracking dirt on my clean floor!”
“Clean?” The twinkling brown eyes held no signs of age, as Grandpa jigged on through the dining room.
“Well, we’d better start supper before he starves,” Grandma complained happily. She took off her reading glasses, rubbed the bridge of her nose, and set them down with an absentmindedness that said she was already making hamburgers in her mind.
“Wait,” I called, as she headed toward the kitchen. I pointed at the book. “It doesn’t look”’ finished.” Grandma stopped in the doorway, and gazed at me for a long moment, seeming to see me for the first time. She nodded, crossed the room, and took the pen from my hand.
“I’m going to write something, but I don’t want you to look at it just now. I’ll show it to you at the end of the year.” This was new! A secret prediction intrigued me. Grandma wrote a short sentence carefully, then closed the book, and put it in its place of honor on top of her china hutch.
Soon the whole house smelled of greasy frying hamburgers. The small kitchen was stifling in the summer heat, but I was happy there. Grandma said the kitchen was the heart of a home, and I believed it. At any time of day, the aroma of lovingly prepared food would bring everybody together, no matter where they were in or out of the house. The supper table was relaxed and jovial. We ate most of our meals with Grandma, Grandpa, and Uncle Chase, since we lived within shouting distance of one another, but Uncle Mike, Aunt Donna, and my cousins, Melissa and Jason, drove in as often as they could. Carolton was 35 miles away, and we saw them at least once a week, if not more, but we treated their visits like Christmas.
I watched Melissa move to her seat, and wished for so much grace. She never walked, she glided. At ten and a half, she was already a willowy blue-eyed blonde with a figure! Her early development had caused jealousy among the girls, and teasing among the boys in her class, but Melissa had the personality to handle it. She was bubbly and confident, mature enough to understand that her friends would catch up to her, and gracious enough to forgive them for not understanding. Her three true loves that summer hadn’t betrayed her, her best friend (my sister) Hope, ballet, and swimming, so she was fine.
Within a family, each person develops special ties to one or a few family members, and Jason and I were special to each other. I watched with fascination as he grew, from the baby Aunt Donna brought home from the hospital, into the handsome little boy he was. Strangers commented on his wavy black hair, and wide dark blue eyes. I heard more than one ask Aunt Donna if he was a child actor. But I loved Jason for his sweetness, for his ever-changing fascinations. He was into motorcycles and cars that summer, and tough guys like James Dean and Vic Morrow. He wanted to be a good tough guy, he told me, and ride a motorcycle up and down the street.
Daddy said he had an announcement, and a hush fell over the dining room. “For fourteen years,” his eyes crinkled in a smile at me, and I thought he was going to say something special because I was starting high school, “we’ve been growing. Now it’s time that we move on. In that regard,” another pause for effect, “Gramm’s Grocery will vacate its little wooden shack, and move to the brand new building that everybody’s been DYING to know about all summer.”
There was the briefest of shocked pauses, then loud laughter and celebration. The adults had known the cause for the special dinner, but it was new to me, Hope, Sandy, Jason, and Melissa.
The new building had been a source of mystery since November. On the Monday after Thanksgiving, workmen had cleared the tangle of trees and bushes from a lot on the corner of Helen and Maine. It wasn’t far from Cottonwood Elementary and Junior High schools, and every afternoon, kids congregated across the street to watch the work and speculate on what was going to be in the empty lot. Nobody seemed to know, not even the construction workers! As spring worked its way into summer, the new building took shape. It was a good-sized brick structure, with lots of glass. That’s all we could tell about it. We guessed that it was a new store, and every kid hoped for his own favorite. Sandy wanted a sporting goods store. I wanted a record store. Hope hoped for a toy store. Mother and Daddy hadn’t said a WORD, so we never thought of a new grocery store.
Gramm’s Grocery had been in the same location since 1943. Its narrow aisles and small storage room served the needs of Cottonwood well, and if we had to have cases of canned vegetables and pet food in our garage, in our closets, in our spare room, in Grandma’s garage, well”’ what of it? That was life as we knew it. Daddy ran the store, Mother and the rest of us helped out as needed, and we prospered. But it was OURS, that beautiful brand new building was all OURS, and we demanded to see it.
“After supper,” Daddy promised. “we’ll all go take a look, tomorrow, we’ll start advertising the move.”
Talk turned to the upcoming school year. Sandy was on the verge of junior high, and Hope and Melissa would be in fifth grade. Neither grade seemed particularly special to me, but I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Hope and Melissa idolized me, and Sandy adored me in his teasing but complimentary way. They were fixtures in my life, the handsome popular athlete clown, and the tiny beautiful
ultrafeminine social butterfly princesses. I loved them in the offhand way of a teenage big sister, whose life is of monumental importance, at least in her own eyes. Jason was starting first grade, and that WAS important. We went around the table, each person telling him about his or her first day of school.
The only topic that came close to rivaling the grocery store was Sandy’s decision not to play football. Sandy’s athletic abilities were godgiven talent, and Cottonwood was in an uproar about his decision, all except for the Gramm family. Sandy made decisions THE SANDY WAY, and no other. He liked football, but he would eat, sleep, and breathe baseball if Mother let him. His plans for the fall were; conditioning for baseball without risking a football injury that would jeopardize baseball, working at our grocery store to buy things related to baseball, and joining the English Club. Sandy’s other love, second only to baseball, was writing. It had been a clearcut and simple choice to him, and we were proud of him for making it, instead of bowing to everybody else’s expectations of him.
There was still light in the sky, as we piled into our cars, and headed for the new grocery store. Hope rode with Melissa, Sandy rode with Uncle Chase, but Jason and I went with Grandma, Grandpa, Mother, and Daddy. I sat between Grandma and Grandpa in the back seat, smelling the sweet, almost transparent, Gardenia perfume Grandma loved. It suited her, in all seasons, even in the coldest winter day, when nobody else would think to wear Gardenia.
“I wanted to have it open by the start of the school year,” Daddy said, but even his complaints had an optomistic tone. “Emlea, keep your eyes open for hard workers at the high school, honey. I’m going to need employees.” Our one nonfamily employee was Rodney Gaston. He was nineteen, handsome, and in my opinion, one of the laziest sneakiest most self-important people on Earth. I would be more than happy to find new employees for Gramm’s Grocery.
“Will Rodney move with us,” I tried to keep my voice even. Daddy liked for everybody to get along, he wanted everybody to be happy, he viewed Gramm’s grocery as a family in its own right. He knew Rodney’s faults, but he couldn’t bring himself to fire a boy who’d lost his father. Disregard the fact that the boy lost his father when he was too young to remember him, forget that the boy’s family was rich and he didn’t need the money AND HE KNEW he didn’t need the money, don’t mind that he did half the work he was paid to do. Daddy would do the work of two men, and some of Rodney’s, and never complain.
“Well,” Daddy paused, “He’s thinking about it. Do you know what he asked for?” His voice dropped to an incredulous whisper. “He wants DOUBLE what he’s making now, because the store is three times larger than what we have now. See, he’s doing us a favor only asking for double when the work’s going to be so much heavier, that’s how he explained it to me.”
“I’ll go to work,” Grandma flared. “I’ll stand up there and stock those shelves, if that’s how he wants to be.”
“Now Momma,” Daddy wheedled. “It isn’t that bad, maybe I’ll give him a raise, smaller than what he’s asking for of course.”
“Not if I can help it,” Mother said under her breath, and we all laughed. The parking lot of our new store was spacious and clean. The glass storefront gleamed in the last of the evening sun, and I envisioned new product displays in the window. There was a
coin-operated carousel under the awning, for our smallest visitors. We pulled into a space by the door, and I could see buggies lined up in front of the checkout stand. We’d never had shopping carts! We never needed them in our little wooden building! I could see a soda machine right up front.
Though it was a work in progress, the inside of the store was as exciting as the outside. There were two checkout lanes! The aisles were so wide and long, compared to our old store. The shelves seemed endless! We had enough refrigerated cases to carry exotic fruits and vegetables, and enough flavors of ice cream to please the most finicky of shoppers. The store room in the back was almost the size of our old store!
“You hit the BIG TIME, Uncle Jim,” Jason’s excited yell came from the front of the store, and we all laughed. He had discovered the soda machine.
The possibilities of all the new products we could carry kept us going back and forth, mentally stocking shelves, until our parents had to bribe us to leave. We said goodbye to Uncle Mike and Aunt Donna in the parking lot. Their visits always ended the same way. Hope would ask, why can’t Melissa live in Cottonwood. Melissa would chorus, YEAH WHY NOT. Uncle Mike would say, oh maybe we can someday. But the visit on this night ended differently.
The question was asked, and Uncle Mike said, “Hope, Melissa, your DREAM has come true,” in his best Don Pardo voice. “WE have bought a house in Cottonwood, which we’ll be moving into this year. You get a big backyard, your own room, AAAAND”’ A SWIMMING POOL!”
We had to wait for Hope and Melissa to calm down, so we could learn that Uncle Mike and Aunt Donna were going to work at the new store. That’s what FINALLY brought them to Cottonwood. Uncle Mike’s new house was two blocks from the school and the park. I knew the house they meant, and it was beautiful!
There was no happier group of people saying goodnight on that evening. I thought about it later. The twelve of us wrapped around each other in an impenetrable fortress of love and support that no outside influence could ever hope to equal. You could count on it like you could count on your own heartbeat. There might not be 100% agreement in the fort, but there would always be support. That fortress was such a constant in my life, I had never thought about it until that moment. In my prayers, I thanked God for it, and hoped he wasn’t too upset that it had taken me almost fifteen years to realize what a gift he had given me.
I lay awake for two hours after I went to bed. Cool Daddy Dave was on KNBY, playing all the rock and roll hits. I LOVED rock and roll, but this night, I was too distracted to listen, and I turned it off after only one song. Who would I meet? What would happen tomorrow, the next day, this year? I dreamed with eyes open, with the unshakable confidence of one who hasn’t yet seen anything but good in the world.
In the morning, my classmates looked smaller somehow, standing on the steps of Cottonwood High. I stood between my two best friends in the world, Suzzy Baker and Linda Hamilton. Tiny Suzzy with her bouncy blonde curls and infectious giggle, and pretty sweet-faced Linda, with her big hazel eyes. It was her eyes that made us best friends. Even at age six, they made me think of September, and that’s why I chose her as the first person I spoke to on the first day of first grade. I chattered along with everyone else, until the ringing of the first school bell sent us all scurrying for our lockers. My class was happy to be there. We knew we were only freshmen, which doesn’t amount to a lot in high school, but we were determined to do our part to make a difference at Cottonwood High.
I ran the four blocks home, then rushed to Grandma’s to tell her about the whirlwind of activity. For a fleeting moment, a sad smile clouded her eyes, replaced by a smile so full of pride for me that it hurt my heart. Grandma had never been to high school. She’d had to stop in eighth grade, and care for her brothers and sisters. She didn’t know anything about high school, and as I leaned back against the soft lemony Naugahyde of the couch she’d had since I was small, I realized I was going for both of us.
Each day brought something new. I struggled with Algebra. Suzzy, Linda, and all our friends joined Future Homemakers of America. I was invited to join the Honor Society the second week of school. I was asked to work on the yearbook. That was an honor bestowed on few freshmen, and a senior had to sponsor each freshman. It helped that I was a baton twirler, because I talked to more seniors in the marching band, than I would have reason to otherwise. Suzzy and Linda were also on yearbook, and we had a ball. We had our first pep rally and football game that Friday night. I went out afterwords, to a place called Buzz’s Burger Stand, where all the high school kids liked to hang out after school and on weekends.
My first dance was a huge success. I danced with nearly every boy in my class, a few sophomores, and one junior! It was too early in the year for anybody to care about going steady, but we enjoyed the company of boys who had known since childhood, and we all had crushes on juniors or seniors, all of us except me. By the third week of high school, I was beginning to think something was seriously wrong with me.
Jason and Melissa loved their new school, and we all loved their new house. We helped them get settled, and their only complaint was that it was too late to open up the swimming pool. Jason found a best friend to play “motorcycle guys” with, and Melissa didn’t have the problems she’d had at Carolton. The kids loved her grownup looks. We all kept busy with the new grocery store. Daddy let us help him choose new kinds of candy and new flavors of ice cream to add to his inventory, and we got to paint the store room. Daddy hired a few new workers, and I liked them all. Opening day was set for October 9th.
As September drew to a close, football season was in full swing, building to a fevered pitch. The leaves were beginning to turn, though the weather was still hot. On the last Thursday night of September, as we left Grandma’s house after supper, she said, “Emilea, you take your sweater tomorrow baby, we’re going to have a cold snap.” That afternoon, we had practiced baton twirling in dg90 heat, but I knew better than to argue with Grandma’s innate knowledge of weather. I awoke during the night, shivering. Breathing felt like a cleansing bath for my lungs. The house was dark and quiet. I crawled out of bed, and tiptoed to the linen closet for another blanket, but others had visited before me. My favorite was still there, a warm fuzzy quilt my Nanna’s mother had made a few years ago. Roses were embroidered all around its borders, and each square was a miniature work of art during daylight. As I snuggled underneath it, I had no way to know that some days change your life forever, and that tomorrow would be one of those days for me. So I drifted easily, down, down”’ into dreams of golden September.