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“As we have discussed our ancestors and how their choices affect us in the present, I would like all of you to think of one person who is deceased that had an impact on your life. How did their choices affect who you are and where you are today? I want you to do some serious research on this and interview family members. Quote some things they say in your paper. This is due next Wednesday. That gives you a week for interviews. You all are dismissed.”
I turned around in the hallway as I heard my name called. Simone was walking towards me. Her arms were full of books she was carrying against her chest. Her back pack was flung over her shoulder as the strap was sliding down her arm. The stack of books she held was almost as tall as her.
“What’s up?” I asked as she approached me.
We walked outside of the old stone building and down the steps. “Who are you going to write about?” she asked I tried to look at her as we walked past the metal sculptures.
I was silent for a few seconds looking down the sidewalk watching students walk past us and in front of us. Everyone knew I was curious about my mom and her death. My family hid it from me. I finally answered, “My mom.”
“Will that be hard for you? You never really talk about her.”
“I don’t talk about her, because I don’t really know anything about her and no one talks about her. I’m hoping this assignment will help me get the answers I’ve been looking for.”
“My mom said one time when I asked about her that there was a lot of information in the papers when she died. You may be able to get some research completed there.”
“You heard Professor Jennings. He said we must interview our family. This will force my family to talk. Why would you ask about my mom?”
“I hope that doesn’t open up a can worms that you won’t be able to close. I was curious, because nothing is ever said by anyone.”
“I have to get to my next class. I can’t be late. We’re doing a lab today. I’m sorry.”
I walked in the opposite direction of Simone. I watched as her boyfriend Tarren approached her and kissed her on her head. She smiled big and looked into his tan face as she ran her fingers through her long blonde hair to put behind her ear.
As I watched them. I didn’t pay attention to a car coming down the street. It honked its horn and tires screeched as the driver slammed on his breaks to avoid hitting me. I reached up and put my hand at my throat. I stepped back up on the curb, scared. I swallowed and looked around before stepping into the street again.
I paid more attention as I walked across campus. I purposely walked through the grass most of the way because I loved the feeling of the grass as it tickled the edge of my feet. I loved wearing sandals because my feet felt free. I wore them year-round. I know it sounds crazy, but I felt confined wearing normal shoes.
I walked past study groups, friends hanging out, and couples as I walked to Milton Hall. Sometimes, I questioned how all my classes were so far apart. Chemistry was the last class I had today. When I got to my station, my partner, Carl, already had everything set up. I probably wouldn’t pass this class if it wasn’t for him. He was a chemistry major and loved every aspect of it. I just wanted to get the requirement out of the way.
I pulled the glass beaker between us and picked up the blue chemical that was to be poured in. I had no clue what I was doing. Carl guided me through the process. Professor Keel was wonderful and knew most of us took this class only because we had to. She didn’t give us written tests. As long as we didn’t start a fire, blow anything up, and appeared to make an effort we passed. Carl put in the effort for me.
I hugged Carl when class was over. “Thank you so much. I’m sorry I can’t stay and talk, I have to get to my grandpa’s shop.”
“When do you get off work today?” His blue eyes pleaded for an early night. My heart jumped a beat.
“Um, I’m not sure,” I replied as I looked down and licked my lips. I felt awkward.
“Hand me your phone. I’ll put my phone number in it and you can call me when you’re done.”
I was shaking as I handed him my phone. He handed it back to me and smiled big. He walked away, but my eyes followed his muscular body out of the classroom. I couldn’t get my feet to move. My heart was pounding so hard I thought it would come out of my chest.
Forcing myself to move, I jogged to my dorm room to change into my uniform. Grandpa would be furious if I didn’t get there before the supper shift started. He felt that it looked good for family to be there first.
I tied my apron on and picked up the keys from my desk. I looked at my laptop and wanted to sit down and research my mother. My grandparents raised me, and I’m grateful to them. At least I wasn’t thrown into foster care for strangers to raise me. They are paying for my college and have given me a life most people would only dream of.
Growing up, I had everything I wanted. We lived in a large house. They bought me a horse I named Corn when I was ten and I took riding lessons. I barrel raced Corn when I was in high school. I traveled the mid-west going from rodeo to rodeo. My aunt or grandma would go with me because grandpa had the restaurant to run.
Our family restaurant, "Hal’s Chicken Coup," was best known for its fried chicken. People from all over the state came just to have grandpa’s chicken. We served all meals family-style. We used antique dishes and platters to serve the food. At the end of each meal, our customers had a choice of pie or cake with ice cream. Grandma made all the desserts from scratch. Our restaurant was unique in that we only cooked for a few families each day. Sundays, we closed. Grandpa said, "that is the lord’s day and we rest. There won’t be any work on the lord’s day."
I wish that were true, but grandma and I cooked a big meal every Sunday and cleaned it up. That isn’t rest, it’s work. Grandpa got to rest. I laughed to myself thinking about it.
“Raven!” Grandpa yelled as I entered the restaurant. I looked at the curtains that covered the windows, and saw a few cobwebs. I grabbed the feather duster and ran it over the top of the curtains as he yelled at me.
“Sorry, grandpa, I saw the cobwebs and knew you would want them gone. What’s up?”
“You need to do the prep tonight. Mercy called in so I need you to do her prep work and work both stations. Thankfully it’s a slow night.”
Grandpa always doubled me up when someone called in. Sometimes it annoyed me, but I knew why he did it. It’s the family business.
“Hey Grandpa, I need to talk to you, Grandma, and Aunt Liyla this week. I need to interview all of you for a paper I’m doing.”
“Sure. You’ll have to do it here or on Sunday.”
“I have to do the interview before Sunday because the paper is due next week.”
“What is this one about?”
I got quiet and pondered whether to tell him the truth now or just be vague and tell them all at once. I felt a knot in my stomach and tears started to well up in my blue eyes. I looked up as he was walking towards me.
“Don’t tell me it has to be about your mother? Your grandma raised you as if you were our child. Why can’t you write about her?” he asked as he cupped my face in his wrinkled hands. “You know she is hard for us to talk about.”
“I know. I’m sorry, Grandpa, but it must be about someone in our family who is deceased. We have to go into detail about how that person affects our lives today. Their choices, basically. Her choices are the reason that you and grandma raised me. Can I get a picture of her please? I think that would help me. I’m also going to research articles written about her.”
“The news wasn’t friendly in writing about her. I’m going to be honest. You will learn things that will hurt you. You will never recover from the things you are about to learn. Be very careful. Your grandma and I have tried to protect you.”
Avoiding what he said, “Grandpa, can I please have a picture of her? I have never seen a picture of her anywhere. She died when I was two. I don’t remember her.”
“There is a picture of her in the hallway closet tucked away in a cedar box. Look at what you want. There are also newspaper articles in there. Whatever you do, don’t take that stuff to your dorm room. It’s dangerous if removed from the house.”
“Grandpa, that’s crazy. Pictures and articles can’t be dangerous if they leave a house. I can’t do all my research there. I have to do it in my dorm. That’s where I study best. I’ll be okay. I promise.”
His eyes turned bright red. Honestly, the look of terror on his face scared me. There is no way that information could hurt me physically. Some of it might be mentally hard for me to understand and it may hurt, but I would never believe it could physically harm me.