This is from chapter 3.
Jake and I stepped into Granny Millie’s apartment behind her, which was decorated in warm brown, dark brick red, and tan colors. It was gorgeous, which made me wish this were my home instead of our apartment, since our furniture was old hand-me-downs. This place was so beautiful and the leather couches were so inviting. I could sit with my feet up in one of the two overstuffed chairs and never have to figure out how to keep them in front of me with a book on my lap.
I sniffed and smelled the cookies. “Did you need sugar?” I asked Granny Millie.
“We will for the next batch. But first, we need to make fried chicken.” She reached into her refrigerator and, as if by magic, she had at least eight pieces of chicken dipped in batter all ready to go into the giant fryer on the center island counter. It was as if she knew we were coming, which was very strange in itself. But eight pieces of chicken? Who else was she expecting and who was this lady, anyway?
As she flipped on the fryer, Granny Millie touched the side. “It was already hot, but I turned it off. It won’t be long now.” She lifted a banana from the center island and handed it to Jake. “Hungry?”
His innocent blue eyes studied the object. “What’s that?”
Granny shifted her gaze to mine. “He doesn’t know?”
“No.” I took it from her hand and put it in front of his eyes. “This is a banana. You peel it before eating it.” I directed my attention toward Granny again. “Thank you, from my brother.”
“How do you peel it?” he asked, grabbing it from me as he studied the stem. “It’s hard.” He hit it against the center island. I was afraid he’d hurt the marble countertop.
I sighed and seized the banana, broke the stem, and peeled it for him. It smelled wonderful. I remembered back to the days when Dad had been living with us and how we’d eaten lots of fruit. Jake wouldn’t remember, though, because he was three when Dad walked out. Dad didn’t want us and just disappeared one day.
“Would you like one, Heather?” Granny asked me, pointing to the bowl of fruit.
I crossed my arms. I didn’t need a friend. “I’m fine. So you’re going to work at my school?”
She lifted her eyes to mine, almost in surprise, and glanced toward my brother. “Jake, there are some toys in that toy box over there. See if there’s anything that looks like it would be fun.”
“Toys?” he asked her. “You have toys?”
She hesitated for a moment. “Don’t you have toys?”
“Don’t answer,” I said. Granny didn’t need to know anything else.
He headed toward the side of the room.
“Have a seat,” Granny said, pointing to a barstool. “I haven’t gotten a chance to meet many people. It would be nice to talk to someone.”
I sat down and studied her. There was no way I’d tell her anything about me or about my life. I had tons of secrets no one could ever know.
Granny dropped the chicken into the hot sizzling grease. “We’re going to have fried apples with this. Want to peel some with me?”
Since she was offering us a meal, I couldn’t refuse to help. “Sure.”
She fished two paring knives out of a drawer and handed me one. After opening a cabinet, she removed two empty bowls, bringing them to the island along with a huge colander of apples. “Use one bowl for the trash and the other for the peeled apples. These apples are already washed, so we can just eat the peelings, if you want. I hate things going to waste.”
I grabbed an apple, cut it in half, and removed the center core. I’d learned a lot in home economics classes, but we never had to peel anything at home, so it was kind of fun.
As I started to cut the outer skin off the apple, Granny brought me a glass of milk.
I lifted my eyes in disbelief. “For me?”
“Yes. Do you like milk?”
“It’s my favorite.” How could she know that?
“Want chocolate in it?”
Affected by the sentimentality of the thought, I blinked back the tears burning behind my eyelids. “Do you have any chocolate?”
She stared at me, but I didn’t know why. “Sure.” She paused for a moment. “Heather, you can tell me anything and I’m all ears. I promise I won’t tell anyone.” She brought me a spoon and the chocolate bottle from the refrigerator, setting them both in front of me. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s just been a while since I had chocolate milk. Thank you.” I put a little bit of chocolate into the milk and stirred.
“Oh, girl, you don’t know how to live. You need more.” She grabbed the bottle, opened the top, and squirted a ton of the chocolate into the milk. “Mix that and see if it’s any better.”
I chuckled at her, because she was right. I did need to live a little.
I stirred it and lifted the glass to my lips, the scent of the chocolate hitting my nose before I could take a sip. I gobbled it down, because in my mind, chocolate milk was the perfect dessert.
“Good?” she asked.
“The best.” I wiped my lips with my hand. “Man, that’s good.”
“Want more?” she asked. “I have maraschino cherries to drop to the bottom, to make it taste more like a sundae. It’s delicious.”
“No. I’m okay.” I didn’t want to be an ungracious guest. But cherries? I bet that would be good. “Thank you so much for that.”
While Granny made idle chatter, I grabbed the knife and peeled a few apples.
“So I got this new job,” she said. “I moved to this place because one of my best friends lives here.”
“But you didn’t move near your family?” I stuffed some of the apple peel into my mouth. I really missed eating apples. These fruits, though, were so sweet, tasting like they’d just been picked off the tree at the ripest of times.
She kept working. “I lived back East near my family for quite a while and it was time to have some fun. I heard the people in this apartment complex have a lot of fun.”
“If you’re old,” I muttered.
She laughed at me, shaking her head. “I can imagine. What’s your school like?”
“It’s not that big, I guess, compared to other schools, but it’s big to me. There are around eight hundred ninth through twelfth grade students in our school.”
“Will I get lost?” she asked, peeling her apple.
I watched what I was doing with the apple while eating the sweet red outer skins. “Naaah. It’s not that bad. Just don’t let on that you know me. They’ll make fun of you if you do.”
“Why is that?”
After sticking another piece into my mouth, I looked up at her, but she was watching her knife as she cut her apple.
“Well, I’m kind of the laughing stock of the school right now,” I said. “But it’s okay.”
She didn’t talk for a moment, her eyes still on her knife. “Why?”
Her eyes lifted. “Why are you the laughing stock?”
I lowered my eyes, peeling again. “You really don’t want to know. It’ll pass…probably by the time I’m a senior.”