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Authors: Carolyn J. Gold

Dragonfly Secret

BOOK: Dragonfly Secret
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F
or my Mom and Dad

Chapter One

M
y grandfather was out in the backyard of my aunt's house, cussing a steady stream of words so nasty it was a miracle the grass didn't wither and die around him, all because the lawn mower wasn't running to suit him. He had to raise his voice to hear himself over its roar, and he raised it enough that everyone in the neighborhood could hear him.

When Gramps can't hear her, Mother calls him a cantankerous old grouch. The corners of her mouth always twitch when she says it, as if she's trying not to smile. She knows he's not really mean. He just likes to sound as if he is.

His name is Nathan, the same as mine, but we always call him Gramps. He once told me he'd lived so long that all his friends were dead. He's eighty years old, so maybe it's true, but most everybody who knows him figures he never had any friends to start with. He isn't what most people call likable, but Jessie and I love him.

I sat on the back porch and fingered the bandage on my arm where I'd scraped it falling out of a tree that morning. One of my eyes was turning black from landing on my head. I looked as mean as Gramps sounded.

Jessie sat beside me on the bottom step, wearing an almost new blue dress with a matching ribbon to tie back her red ponytail. Her ice cream melted slowly beside her. Our cousin Allison sat on the top step, wearing a frilly pink party dress and nibbling the icing off a piece of Gramps's birthday cake.

Jessie studied her spoon. “I wish Gramps wouldn't yell like that.”

“He wouldn't use that language if he thought we could hear him,” I told her. It was true. She's eight, and I'm twelve. Grown-ups think there are a lot of things we shouldn't hear. They also seem to think children are deaf.

“My
mother says it's a nasty habit and only bad people swear.
My
mother says talking like that will make your heart turn black.” Allison gave a self-righteous little smirk and returned to digging a cherry out of her ice cream. She was six, but half the time she acted as if she was four. She had every toy Jessie had ever dreamed of, and if she played with them at all, it wasn't when anyone else was around.

Sometimes I wondered if Aunt Louise had bought Allison somewhere, to be sure she'd get a perfect child. Blue eyes, golden hair, never a speck of dirt on her shiny white shoes. Aunt Louise thought Allison was perfect. I thought she was a pain.

“Your mother doesn't know Gramps,” I said.

I sighed and jabbed my fork into the big slab of birthday cake on my plate, smearing it around so it would look as if I'd eaten most of it. I don't much like spice cake, anyway, and this one was the main reason we were here, instead of fifty miles away in our own backyard enjoying the lazy warmth of a summer Sunday.

Every year, Aunt Louise insists that we spend Gramps's birthday at her house, even though Gramps lives with us and hates to drive so far. “I hardly ever get to see him,” she says in a sweet whiny voice. “He's my father, too, you know.”

Every year, Mother gives in and talks him into going to visit his other daughter.

“You know darned well she doesn't give a hoot about me, Kate,” he always complains to Mother. “She wants me in a nursing home so she can sell the old farm and spend the money on another highfalutin trip to somewhere nobody speaks English.”

“Now, Dad,” Mother soothes, straightening the collar on the old plaid shirt he always wears. “You haven't even been out to see the farm in ages. Why should you care? Louise loves you as much as I do. She just thinks that's what would be best for you.”

He'll snort and rub his nose, as if the big wart that grows there is suddenly itching something terrible. “If she cared about me half as much as you say, she'd get me something I could use for my birthday for a change. Like a pair of socks, or a new jacket. I never in my life smoked any pipe except the one your mother gave me thirty years ago. Louise should know that by now.”

And finally we all pile into the car and make the trek to Hamilton, where Aunt Louise lives in her big modern house with her husband, Edward, the executive, and their perfect daughter, Allison. Just the way we had today.

When we first got there, Aunt Louise fussed about my black eye as if it was something awful. Then we sat uncomfortably around the living room while she told us all about the cute, smart things Allison had done. We all smiled politely, except Gramps, who pretended to be deaf and just sat there frowning. He thought Allison was a pain, too.

After a while Aunt Louise told Allison to get the present she had made for Gramps. She ran off to her room, flouncing white petticoats as she went, and came back with a package that looked as if it had been wrapped for the queen of England. It had gold paper and a gold-and-silver bow as big as a grapefruit. Gramps thanked her more politely than I expected.

“Now be careful and untie that from the back, Father,” Aunt Louise said in her whiny voice. “So you can save the bow. I bought it for you specially at Cuthbert's.” Cuthbert's is a big store in town that has really expensive stuff nobody really needs. I guessed Aunt Louise thought that would impress us.

Gramps muttered something under his breath and turned the package over so he could untie it from the back. The knots were all under the bow on top, though. After a minute Aunt Louise said, “Here, let me help you,” and grabbed it away from him. When she handed it back to him she kept the ribbon and bow.

Gramps tore off the gold paper and Aunt Louise winced. I could tell she thought he should save that, too. Inside was something that looked like a white pancake that had been folded up around a tuna fish can. Gramps stared at it a minute, trying to figure out what to say.

“It's an ashtray, Father,” Aunt Louise said, beaming. “Allison made it for you all by herself in her pottery class. Isn't that sweet?”

Gramps looked up, and I think he would have actually thanked Allison, but even she knew what a stupid present it was, and she had gone in the other room to help herself to the ice cream.

“Sweet,” Gramps said at last, setting the thing on the coffee table beside him.

Aunt Louise gave Gramps a little package with another big fancy bow on, it and said, “Happy Birthday, Father. Edward picked this out for you. I know you're going to love it.”

Gramps muttered under his breath while he tried to untie the ribbon. He finally gave up and shredded the paper out from under it, letting the bright blue scraps fall to the floor. Nobody said anything when he eased the present out of the loops of ribbon.

It was a pipe, of course. Aunt Louise always gives him a pipe. He rubbed his thumb along the bowl of it, which was carved like an old man's face, and stared over at my mother, his look saying I told you so louder than any words could.

Finally, he stuck it in the pocket of his vest and stood up. “If I was ever looking to buy a pipe, I'd be sure to see Ed first.”

“Edward,” Aunt Louise corrected automatically. She took his comment to be a high compliment. I saw Mother bite her lip to keep from saying anything.

“Looked to me as if your yard could use a trim,” Gramps said. “Guess I'll take a look-see.”

“Don't you want a piece of the cake I baked?” protested Aunt Louise.

“Nope.” The screen door slammed behind him, filtering the rest of his words. “. . . poison. Got to keep fit.”

Aunt Louise looked from Mother to Jessie to me and back to Mother. “I honestly don't know how you put up with him, Katherine. He's completely impossible. Now he thinks I'm trying to poison him.”

Mother laughed. “It's the sugar. He read how it poisons the system. He's all right. He's getting old and set in his ways, but we're used to him.”

Aunt Louise didn't look convinced. She started to say something and then changed her mind. “Why don't you children help yourselves to cake and ice cream? You can sit on the back step to eat it while your mother and I talk.”

Which is how we came to be sitting on the porch with Allison, listening to Gramps swearing out behind the garage and Aunt Louise raising her voice to Mother in the house behind us, while the ice cream melted into slushy puddles in the bowls between us.

“It's so obvious, Katherine. He should be in a home!” Aunt Louise's words whined out from the front room.

“He is in a home,” Mother said mildly. I could imagine her taking a little sip from her coffee cup before she went on. “He's in our home, with his grandchildren. Where he wants to be.”

“That's not what I meant and you know it. A
home.
A
retirement home.
Where he can get the best care . . .”

There was a sharp clink as a coffee cup hit a saucer. Mother's voice sounded ominously calm. “Are you saying he isn't getting the care he needs living with us, Louise?”

“No, of course not. But I meant professional care. Listen to him out there. He should be seeing a psychologist. And besides, what sort of influence is he having on your children?”

“Probably the same sort of influence he had on you and me when we were growing up. He's happy where he is, Louise, and we're happy to have him.”

I glanced over at Jessie, wishing that Gramps would cuss a little louder and drown out the argument in the house. There are some things kids shouldn't have to hear. It was too late, though. Jessie was hanging on every word, a worried little frown pulling the freckles together on her forehead.

“They won't make Gramps go away, will they?” she whispered.

“My
mother says he should go live with the other old people where he belongs,” Allison chimed in. “She says if your mother won't make him go, she will.”

“She can't, can she?” Jessie asked me, her eyes dark and scared.

“Of course not.” I tried to sound sure and confident, but inside I wondered. Could Aunt Louise do that? Because if she could, it was as good as done.

Chapter Two

“W
hy are we turning here?” Mother asked as Gramps slowed the station wagon down. We weren't even halfway home.

In the backseat, Jessie sat up and looked around, wondering what was happening. I looked, too, but there wasn't much to see. An unmarked crossroad led off toward some wooded hills and on one corner a small crowd of black-and-white cows swished their tails and stared back at us.

“I figured I ought to go see how the old farm looks while I still can.” Gramps sounded sour, and I wondered if he knew what his daughters had been talking about while he mowed Aunt Louise's lawn.

He drove more slowly now that we had left the main highway. There were a few farmhouses along the way, usually set far back from the road so that all we saw were neat brown roofs and maybe the top of a white-painted wall. They were mostly dairy farms, with lazy herds of milk cows grazing in the sunshine. Some of the fields had been planted with hay or alfalfa, and the stubble looked as even and green as lawn.

I remembered when we'd last been out to the farm. Jessie had been a baby, and Dad had walked around with Gramps, saying we ought to all move out there and try to make it a working farm again, with chickens and pigs and milk cows.

Gramps had walked a little quicker, pointing out the spring and the stone silo for storing feed through the winter, and talking about how he and my grandmother had built the place from bare ground and raised my mother and Aunt Louise there through good times and hard. He had sounded proud, and hopeful. If Dad hadn't been killed in that car accident a few months later we might all have been living there now instead of in town.

BOOK: Dragonfly Secret
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