Craving Vera(6)

By: Nicole Jacquelyn

“It won’t be as bad as all that, Nadine,” my mom said, trying to lighten the conversation. “And imagine the tans we’ll all have by the time we get home.”

“Right,” Grandma replied, as if she was talking to a small child. “Let’s focus on the important things.”

“Enough,” dad said, setting his knife and fork down almost too carefully on his plate. “This mission trip has been planned for months and we’ll be leaving at the end of August. That’s the end of it.”

We ate quietly after that and I prayed that the silence would hold and no one would talk to me. When dad had informed me about the mission trip I’d been excited. The plan was for us to travel all over South America so my dad could preach to little congregations that didn’t have regular pastors. It was something he’d cooked up with the deacons at our church and some missionaries that we sponsored. Honestly, it had sounded like an adventure.

But the closer it came to the day we’d leave, the more nervous I got. Yes, we’d be meeting new people and seeing parts of the world that I’d probably never get to see again, but we’d also be far from anything familiar and even scarier, we’d be far from anyone that my father had to hide from. He’d be free to act however he wished and that terrified me.

“I need Vera to stay here tonight,” my grandma said abruptly as my mom stood to clear the table. “I’ve got some things in the attic I need her to help me with.”

“You know we have church tomorrow,” my dad replied, frowning.

“Of course I know that,” she said. “I’m there every Sunday, aren’t I? You’re taking her away for months, the least you could do is let her spend some time with me before you go.”

I held my breath as my dad thought it over. Grandma had no idea how much of a favor she was doing me. I needed to get to the house next door.

“That’s fine,” my dad said finally. He stood from the table without another word and walked into the living room to sit on the couch while the rest of us cleaned up. I’d never seen my dad lift a hand inside the house. He was meticulous when it came to his appearance and I’d never seen his dirty laundry outside the hamper in my parents’ room, but anything else was my mom’s responsibility to clean. I’d never even seen him throw away a candy wrapper.

“What’s in the attic?” I asked my grandma as we stood at the sink. My mom always washed, I rinsed, and grandma dried and put away the dishes. We were creatures of habit in my family.

“I’ve got some old picture albums I’d like to find,” she said, grinning. “And there could be some things up there you might want.”

“Like what?” I couldn’t imagine anything in the dusty old attic I’d be interested in, but I had to admit I was intrigued.

“Things for your hope chest, perhaps?” Gran replied. “I know I’ve got an old lamp that your grandpa got for our wedding that I think you’ll like. It’s a real simple design so you could put any type of shade you wanted on it.”

“Oh, that sounds lovely, Nadine,” my mom said, glancing at me with a smile. “It won’t be too long before Vera’s setting up her own house.”

It could be even sooner than you’re imagining, mom, I thought, my stomach twisting with guilt.

As soon as the dishes were clean and the kitchen set back to rights, my parents left. My dad was still in a mood, and once again I was thankful that my gran had asked me to stay. Things wouldn’t be pleasant when they got home, I could tell just by watching my dad’s body language.

“You can stay right here with me,” Gran said, wrapping her arm around my waist as we waved from behind the screen door. “I riled him, but he’ll calm down before you get home.”

I glanced at her in surprise. Maybe Gran saw more than I gave her credit for. “But she’s going with him,” I murmured, the familiar anxiety hitting me hard as I watched my mom smile at me through her window.

“Your mother can handle herself,” Gran said, giving me a squeeze. “And she chose the life she’s living. You didn’t.” She closed the door as my parents drove off down the street.

* * *

“Gran, these dresses are incredible,” I said later that afternoon. The attic turned out to be a treasure trove of Gran’s old clothes, keepsakes, and household goods. I had a feeling that she had a hard time getting rid of anything and once she decided that she couldn’t use something she just packed it away instead of giving it away or selling it.

“They’ll probably fit you,” she said from behind a stack of boxes. “I was about your size before I had your father. Never got back to that size, though, and even if I had, everything had shifted!” She laughed.