Dandelion Summer | Chapter 19 of 41

Author: Lisa Wingate | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 2135 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 10
 
Epiphany Jones
 
 
 
 
After J. Norm told me about the house with the seven chairs, I wanted to dig through every box in the attic. It was a mystery, and I like mysteries, so I kept working even after J. Norm got sleepy and went downstairs for a nap. I was afraid he’d say I needed to go on home now, but he didn’t, and I was glad. Home was the last place I wanted to be.
The closer it came toward evening, the more nervous I got. Sooner or later, I’d have to leave, and with Mama and Russ gone, there was DeRon to think about. What if he came by tonight? Part of me was still saying I was stupid for not doing whatever it took to be DeRon’s girlfriend. Guys like DeRon expected a real woman. Of course he figured that if we were going out, we were gonna go out all the way. DeRon knew his way around a girl. . . .
I felt sick, standing there thinking about it. You’re as worthy of Camelot as anyone, Epiphany. J. Norm’s voice was in my head. It wasn’t Camelot to have some guy grope all over you in a car and tear your shirt. What if I was alone with DeRon again, and I panicked again, and this time he went ahead and got what he wanted?
Maybe it’d be easier to just give in, I thought, and my brain went through the whole thing again. Yes. No. Why not? What if? Who else is ever gonna like me? If I didn’t make up with DeRon, school would be torture. Everybody would be on me, and DeRon would be right in there with them.
Finally, I went downstairs. It was time to catch the bus home before it got too dark. My insides were bubbling like water in a hot pot when I found J. Norm in the living room.
“Any luck in the attic?” he asked, giving the stairs a tired look. He was probably too wiped out to go up there and get in any trouble tonight. His skin was chalky and kind of bluish.
“Not so far, but I’ll find it. There’s lots of cool things in the attic, though. I got a little distracted looking at the toy rockets and stuff. Sorry.”
“Take any of those models you’d like for your project.” He backhanded toward the stairs like he didn’t care what I got from up there. “Most of them are in pieces inside the boxes, though. I could help you with the assembly when you come on Tuesday, if you like.”
Tuesday . . . Tuesday seemed like a long way off—a whole night and a day at home by myself and then two days at school. “Sure, that’d be cool.” I took a step toward the door and it felt like somebody was pulling a piano wire tight inside me, wrapping it around and around my lungs. I stopped in the entryway door, blurted out, “Hey, I got an idea. We could do it now.” By the time we put some rocket together, it’d be dark and way too late for me to catch the bus. I could bunk on J. Norm’s couch. Nobody’d know the difference but him and me.
J. Norm’s bottom lip pushed up into his top one, making half-moon wrinkles in his chin. “You’ll miss your bus.”
I swallowed a lump the size of a baseball and words came out. “I could just stay here. I was thinking I could come back in the morning anyhow, since tomorrow’s Sunday. If I just stayed, I could keep looking through boxes till way late, maybe all night, because I don’t sleep a lot. But if I get tired, I can just, like, crash on the sofa. I’ll call my mom and tell her. It’ll be all right with her, so long as I’m working. She doesn’t care.” That last part was both true and a lie, of course. Mama didn’t care, but I wasn’t about to call her.
Rocking back in the recliner, J. Norm scrunched his nose like he smelled stink. “It’s a bit difficult to feature, a parent not caring whether her daughter stays overnight in a house with a single man.”
“Geez, J. Norm. Yuck!” If I wasn’t sick before, I was after he said that. “I’m not staying with you; I’m crashing on your sofa, and besides that, you’re old. You could, like, be my grandpa. It’s not the same thing at all.”
He drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair. “But I’m not your grandfather.”
He said it like he was glad, and for a second I felt a little stab—the kind that always comes when you know somebody just wants to get rid of you. Big, stupid tears needled my eyes and I felt like an idiot. “Yeah, well, lucky for you, right?” Of course J. Norm didn’t want me hanging around all night.
I looked past him out the window. In the backyard, all the birds were gone and the shadows of the trees hung long and deep. I needed to leave now, walk out the door and head for the bus. I had a little money in my pocket. I could ride the bus around all night, then go back home and change clothes in the morning.
J. Norm was blabbering on. “It wasn’t my intention to offend. . . . I mean to say that . . . I was . . . I was merely considering the practicalities of—”
I cut him off. “You know what, just never mind, all right? I was stupid to bring it up.”
I heard the footrest click shut on his chair. “But you aren’t stupid, Epiphany, so you must have a reason. One other than putting together rockets or spending the evening sifting through old boxes. Suppose you try being honest with me, then?”
“Whatever,” I said. “I gotta go catch the bus. I shouldn’t have bothered you.” I looked around for my stuff and then realized I didn’t have it—just my keys in my pocket. It was time to quit being such a baby about the thing with DeRon. I was sixteen, after all. I was probably, like, the only girl in the school who hadn’t been with somebody. Afterward, I’d probably be glad I just . . . got it all over with. At least everybody would think I was normal.
“Are there problems at home, Epiphany?” I heard J. Norm suck air through his teeth when he stood up. He stumbled a little when the chair bounced back. “We don’t mince words, you and I, now, do we?”
“There’s nothing wrong at home.” It figured he would make a federal case about this. Adults were always that way. “I gotta go.” I heard him shuffling across the room as I headed for the door. He turned and started down the hall toward his bedroom, and even that hurt me a little bit. I guess I wanted him to chase me down or something.
I messed around turning the locks, then opened the door and smelled night coming. Chills went over me. J. Norm was coming up the hall, puffing air like he’d just run a mile. He rounded the corner with the hatbox in his hands, but he took one look at my face and set the box on a side table.
“What in heaven’s name . . .” he muttered.
“Look, there’s just nobody at home, and I don’t want to go there tonight, okay?” I said. “Mama and Russ are gone selling at a gun show for the weekend, and it’s just . . . well . . . DeRon, okay. He’s probably still ticked at me.”
J. Norm blinked real slow, like I wasn’t making sense. “I believe it’s you who should be . . . ticked, Epiphany.”
“Whatever.” The last thing I wanted right then was a lecture. “So can I stay here or not?”
J. Norm stuck his hands in his pockets and jingled some coins in there, like he was going to decide the answer by how they sounded. Then finally he said, “All right. Provided your mother approves.”
I thought about pretending to call Mama, but then if J. Norm said something to her about it when she came to clean his house, there’d be a problem. “Listen, since we’re not keeping secrets and all, I’ll just tell you. There’s nobody to call. They’re at some campground someplace, and they probably can’t get cell service. They’re not gonna call home to check on me. They never do, and we don’t even have a home phone anymore. They don’t want to be bothered. That’s just how they are, okay?”
J. Norm took a long time to answer again. For a minute I thought he’d tell me no, but then he shrugged like it was all the same to him. He backed up a few steps so I could shut the door behind me. “I don’t approve of this business with that boy, that DeRon, though. If he’s threatening you, something should be done about it. An assault like that should be reported—to your mother and to the authorities.”
Panic zipped through me like an electric shock, but I tried to keep my face calm, so it wouldn’t show. “Listen, DeRon and me were just goofing around. It was my fault, too, and if Mama finds out, there’s no telling what she’ll do to me for being in DeRon’s car. The whole thing is no big deal. Guys like DeRon just . . . expect stuff, okay?” I wished I hadn’t brought up DeRon again. I didn’t want to talk about him or think about it anymore. “You don’t know how things are nowdays, J. Norm, that’s all.”
“I don’t believe I want to.” He headed for the living room, shaking his head. “Let’s have some dinner, and then we’ll get back to work. We’ll leave the rocket building until morning, when the light is better and my eyes are good.”
“Yeah.” I let out a sigh, but under my breath where he couldn’t hear it.
We ate a quick sandwich in the kitchen, and then went back to work. The attic was cooler after the sun went down, but it was dark up there, too, with just a couple lights overhead. The house creaked and groaned, and tree branches scratched on the walls, so that it felt like I wasn’t alone in there. I thought about how many people must’ve lived and died in a house this old. I don’t really believe in ghosts, but still, it was creepy.
I figured out some things about J. Norm while I was up getting boxes for him. There was a reason he had a stack of boys’ furniture and toys in the attic and an empty room on the second floor of the house. J. Norm had a son, Roy. He died in a car wreck when he was a senior in high school. In one of the plastic tubs, I found a bunch of his old books and drawings—cards he’d made on Mother’s Day, school projects, some trophies he won in sports, and school pictures of him. Somebody had packed his stuff away real carefully, and on top of it all was the paper from his funeral. There was also a diary his mom wrote—just letters to him, telling how much she missed him. I thought about asking J. Norm about Roy, but I decided I shouldn’t.
While J. Norm was looking through boxes, he told me more about the dreams he’d been having and how he wanted to know if it was something that’d really happened. “The odd thing is that each time it occurs, I see something new—just scattered bits, puzzle pieces tossed at random.”
“I only dream about stuff that’s not true—like flying and things like that,” I told him. He was closing the boxes, and I could see myself about to take another trip up the stairs. “But I guess somebody could have true dreams. Maybe even see things they didn’t know they remembered.” I thought about my father. Did he ever see me or hold me when I was little, before he died? He must’ve, because that had to be his family in the shoe box pictures at home. If I tried really hard, maybe I could dream about him and see what he was like.
I took the latest load of rejects and headed back up the attic stairs, and for a while, it was up, down, up, down, up, down. Finally, J. Norm was ready to turn in for the night. He showed me where I could sleep. “This was Deborah’s room,” he said, opening the door to a room that had lacy curtains, a bed with four tall white posts, and a ruffled canopy like the one I dreamed about in my Someday Book. The shelves on the other side of the room looked like they could’ve been a boy’s, though. They were loaded down with model cars and rockets and gadgets made out of old Tinkertoys, nails, screws, bottle caps, and other stuff.
“Cool,” I said, swinging a pendulum on one of them and wondering what it was meant to do. “Who made all these?”
On his way out the door, J. Norm gave the shelves a glance. “Those are Deborah’s creations. You can see that she had more interest in those than in dolls. She steadfastly resisted her mother’s attempts to turn her into a girl. Stubborn to the last.” His lips squeezed up like he’d just swallowed a spoonful of vinegar. He always looked like that when he talked about Deborah—like he had a bad taste in his mouth.
For a sec, I felt sorry for her. I knew what it was like to have somebody who should love you not like you very much. “That’s cool,” I said. “You think she’d care if I used a couple of these rockets for my project?”
“I don’t think she cares about any of it.” He went out the door, and I thought about what it’d be like to grow up in a place like this. It seemed like a girl who got this kind of a room would have to be happy, but whenever Deborah and J. Norm had anything to do with each other, they seemed about as unhappy as people could get. It must’ve been hard for J. Norm’s wife, loving two people who hated each other, and also having a dead son. Maybe she’s glad not to be here, having to deal with it anymore, I thought. After going to a bunch of funerals with Mrs. Lora, I’d decided that, once you get to heaven, you don’t have family fights anymore. Everybody just gets along and loves everybody else. That’s what makes it heaven.
I went back up to the attic to work some more on the pile of plastic boxes where J. Norm’s wife had stored their family memories. It was after midnight when I finished. By then, the moon had come up outside one of the windows where the roof jutted out in a long tunnel. The peak was barely high enough for me to stand in, and old boxes and trunks sat piled against both walls, so there was just a narrow path to the window. On the other side of the glass, the moon was big and bright, so close it seemed like I could stretch out an arm and touch its face.
I took a few steps toward the glass, the attic floor creaking under my feet. Around me, the air was musty and still, so thick with dust it hung gritty in my throat. Outside, the moon glowed with patches of dark and light, the shadows of hills and valleys and craters. Somewhere up there, J. Norm’s machine, Surveyor 1, was sitting in the shallow dust, as silent as the toy rockets on Deborah’s shelf, a relic nobody thought about anymore. But it meant something once. Once, it was the most important thing in the world.
It was still there, even if no one could see it. Maybe it would sit all alone for a hundred more years, or a thousand. What would it feel like to look at the moon and know that what you built was up there? One of these days, I was gonna do something like that—something so big it would change the world, and people would talk about it forever. I didn’t want to be like Mama, or DeRon, or the rest of those losers at school. I was gonna be different. . . .
My mind flew a million miles away, left the attic behind for a minute. I thought about the future, and what it might be like . . . and then I heard scratching and chewing in the wall right next to me. Yeah, this part of the attic can wait until daylight, I decided, and backed away. My foot caught the edge of some picture frames, and they fell, sending up a clatter that made my heart jump.
A sliver of moonlight caught the place where the frames had been. It pressed through the wall of boxes and reflected against something metal. I leaned in, got closer. Something was back there, tucked way under the eaves—a trunk with brass corners. It looked like the one that’d chased J. Norm down the stairs, only smaller.
Scooting the boxes a couple inches, I checked it out a little more. Maybe if I could push it along under the eaves, I could get it loose without unstacking all the stuff in front of it.
Whatever was chewing inside the wall stopped when I scooted into the narrow triangle between the boxes and the roof. Cobwebs slid over my arm, and I caught a breath, the sound dying in the dark space by the wall. All of a sudden, I felt like things were crawling all over my skin—creepy little things with six or eight legs. I pictured red-eyed rats, and black bats, and other creatures you’d see on Halloween. J. Norm was so gonna owe me extra for this. But if I didn’t haul the trunk out of here now, I probably never would. Once I got out of this spot, no way I was crawling back in here again.
I sat down and wedged my feet against the trunk, bracing my hands behind me and pushing it through the tunnel. The metal corners let out a long, high whine as they scraped along. I felt them grinding deeper and deeper into the wood floor before the trunk hit a rafter and wedged solid. Hopefully, it was far enough that I could grab it from the other end and wiggle it on out.
A few minutes later and a few pulls from the other side, and the trunk came loose all at once, toppling over. Something shattered inside, and right then I felt a breeze on my shoulders, like someone was behind me breathing on the back of my neck, waiting for me to tip the box upright. I heard whispering, and a quick, high-pitched sound, like a little girl laughing. I thought about J. Norm’s story—the little red-haired girls playing on the stairs and then his dream about a fire. Maybe he’d had friends or relatives that’d died when a house burned down, and they were, like, haunting this trunk, and whoever opened it would be in trouble.
“All right,” I told myself. “You been in the attic w-a-a-ay too long. There’s probably fumes up here.”
Pieces of glass filtered down like sand in an hourglass as I turned the trunk over. One thing was for sure: This baby wasn’t full of magazines.
Something dark, like a shadow, moved in the corner of my eye. I thought about that TV show where they go to old houses and hunt for ghosts.
Then again, maybe this thing was hidden for a reason. . . .
Leaning close, I studied the latches, tried the sliders different ways, but they wouldn’t budge. There was an old-timey keyhole in the center, which probably meant the trunk was locked. No telling where a key might be, or if there even was a key. After all that work, I was out of luck.
Crossing my arms on the trunk, I sagged over it and let my forehead rest against the cool metal.
So much for my big discovery.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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