Monday, January 28, 2013

Fire Lily, Issue Two - Chapter Five

“Oh, Goodness, Deary, what are you wearing? You look like a little hobo.”

Lily's grandmother wrapped her in a tight hug and quickly pulled her through the door. She smiled friendlily at Sierrah as the van pulled away, turning its smashed passenger door at them. The old woman cringed, as though imagining what kind of nonsense the pair had been through to cause such damage. Lily frowned. Another young-lady-and-safety lecture was surely on the way. She glanced helplessly at the van as it sped off, almost wishing she hadn't stopped by.

Sierrah had left Lily in the car, marching proudly into the thrift store with a confident wink. An hour later Lily found herself shrinking into the thick seat of a purple armchair, wishing her, her mud-stained gray sweatshirt and her one-leg-longer-than-the-other shredded jeans could disappear into the crack between cushion and chair.

Her grandmother walked over to the couch and plopped herself down. Her body seemed to deflate as she relaxed into the seat. After a moment she was settled, and turned a sharp eye on her granddaughter.

“So, dear, why are you dressed that way?” She smiled pleasantly, but knowingly, as if expecting a certain answer.

Lily shuddered and gulped. Those eyes, wrinkled and weak but wise and deep, seemed to stare into her, extracting the information from her mind. She tossed her gaze to the side, answering with an odd tone. “I d-d-didn't want to-to ruin my good cloth-othes.”

“Ruin?” Grandmother's smile didn't fade, but she tilted her head curiously. Like a cat. “What were you doing that would ruin them? You weren't in the car when it got that smash, were you?”

“N-no.” Lily snapped her head up suddenly. “I d-don't know how that ha-happened. I thought my clothes would get r-ruined because we were going hik-iking.”

“Oh, hiking. I see.” Her grandmother nodded sagely. “When I was a girl I loved hiking. You know, I went hiking all the time with a group of boys—I was always more like a boy, you know. All that girlish stuff never made me feel right.--They were all such good boys. And good-looking too. We'd go hiking all over the country whenever we could. Almost every weekend it seemed like. We became kind of like a club. A hiking club just for us. We even had nicknames we'd call each other, sometimes just to confuse other people.” She rose suddenly, pushing all of her tremendous weight from the couch with a fast lurch that seemed for a moment like she was toppling forward. She found her balance and stood up straight, raising her arms into the air and swaying her hips. She eyed Lily coyly. “They called me 'Hot Stuff!'”

“Grandma.” Lily moaned. She was embarrassed for the old woman, and thoughts of young men clad in ascotts or whatever they were so many years ago swooning over her brought color to her cheeks. It was a relief when her grandmother stopped her rickety hula dance and sat back into the sofa.

“Oh yes, those were the days. Never telling our parents where we were going, just packing up and taking off. Speaking of which, did you leave a note? Your mother didn't mention that you had gone camping.”

“M-m-mom called?” Small drops sprang to Lily's face. She'd completely forgotten about her parents. No note, no phone call, nothing. For all they knew, she was just gone. Run away. If the police found her naked corpse smashed flat on the side of the highway... Her parents at the funeral...

“She did. We had a lovely chat about when she was young. I suppose I should let her share those stories to you, though, when she's ready.”

Lily sat grimly, thinking of what to do. Her parents would be furious soon as they got home, she'd be grounded for sure. Half-formed excuses flitted through her mind, but they were interrupted by the crash of thunder and lighting behind a hilltop headstone. Rain splashed around it, drenching the sulked figures of her sobbing parents.

She was so absorbed in this that she hadn't noticed her grandmother leave the couch until the old woman had snatched up her arm.
“Oh, you're always so cold. And these scratches, they're all over. Even up on your face and on your neck. All over. I suppose they haven't been cleaned properly, and it smells like you haven't, either. Head on up and give yourself a bath while I put something on for supper. Do you want some spaghetti? I'll make you're favorite meatballs. Perhaps some ziti. Oh yes, I would love some. That's what we'll have.”

Her grandmother shuffled off into the other room, leaving Lily alone with her thoughts. Unwelcome as they were, the morose daydreams followed her up the stairs and into the shower. The boiling water running thawed her icy flesh, but it did little to wash away the glum. Steam rose up around her, and she breathed it down deep, hoping it might cleanse her mind. It didn't. Her knees found the floor of the tub, and her hands masked over her soaking face.

When she finally eased herself out of the tub, the coldness of the air hit her like a brick wall. She fumbled through the thick steam for a while, clutching her elbows and hunching as she shivered like a loose motor. Her teeth clattered loudly, a sound amplified by the acoustic-fond tiles. She found a towel draped over the rung, but her clothes weren't beside it. She wondered if they had fallen, but the floor was bare. After a few minutes of glancing around with a perplexed and fuzzy mind, she spotted a heap of folded laundry on the sink. Bra, tee-shirt, two hoodies, thick pants, and more than three pairs of heavy socks. All from the extra clothes her grandmother kept in the guest room, incase Lily happened to sleep over.

But why so many? Lily wondered. Are they just for options?

Thinking little of it, she tossed on all but a pair or two of socks, as it made her feet feel like one clumsy toe to wear too many. The doorknob slipped under her hand, dripping from the steam, as she pressed the door open. Outside she could smell the meatballs sizzling in a saucepan. Her stomach groaned impatiently. “The best meatballs in the whole big planet!” she'd cheered as a kid each night they dined at her grandmother's. It was a tradition that sadly dwindled when her mother began to work.

The phone began to ring. Her grandmother didn't seem to notice, her happy humming still drifting up the stairs beside the sizzling saucepan. Lily crept down the hall to where the upstairs phone was, reaching it at the fourth ring. It clicked off, into the answering machine.

“Mom?” Lily's mother crackled over the phone lines. “Hey mom, can you hear me? Are you home? Listen, Lily's school called. They said she didn't show up today. She was sleeping over your house last night, right? Did she go to school today? Is she still there with you? It sounded like she was catching a cold the other night, is she sick? Hello? Mom? Fine. I guess I'll swing over after work.”

The phone went silent.

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