Michela Walters’s Picture Choice: Both
Title: Summer Slidin’
Stephan wasn’t impressed with his parents right now. In fact he was livid for having to take the train down from New York to see some grandmother he’d never actually spoken to before. Not to mention he was headed to some tiny town in the middle of nowhere-ville Pennsylvania.
His parents usually took him with them when they jetted off to Europe for the summer, but for some inexplicable reason, they’d decided he needed to bond with his grandparents. People, mind you, he’d never actually met. His Mom had never shared what precipitated the family feud or any other reason why he never even knew these people existed prior to their discussion a mere two weeks ago about their summer plans. He was being forced to spend the summer in the country with the elderly, and he couldn’t be less thrilled about it.
The train was pulling into Harrisburg and he quickly stood up, trying to gather his suitcase and belongings before stepping out onto the platform. His mother had shown him a dated photo of his grandmother, but he wasn’t sure he’d recognize her now, more than twenty years since the photo had been taken.
Stephan glanced around the station, walking slowly to keep up with the crowd. Living in New York his whole life, he knew better than to stand and gape for fear of being run into by the guy behind you. It was a pet peeve of his and one of the reasons he avoided the tourists milling about Times Square whenever he could.
“Stephan?” an elderly woman shouted out to him, waving frantically over the crowd to get his attention. His thoughts immediately went to her appearance. She was shabbily dressed, like she’d just come in from harvesting a month’s worth of vegetables. The mere thought of getting his hands dirty made him shudder. Sighing with a curse under his breath, he waved nonchalantly at the woman and strode towards her petite frame.
She hugged him tightly, scaring him slightly with its ferocity. “So great to finally see you. I can’t believe Mary’s been keeping you all to herself.” His grandmother was tutt-tutting along as she took his arm and steered him out into the bright and humid day towards the parking lot. “Your Grandpa Joe wanted to come, but his back has been acting up, so I came down to fetch you. How was your trip? Are you hungry? We have a bit of a drive to get to the farm, so let me know.”
Her rambly sentences showed how nervous she was to meet her grandson at long last. Stephan’s reaction to the overabundance of affection was to clam up and try to sort out this strange woman who called him family.
“My, you’re awful quiet.” She rose a bony hand to her mouth as if realizing for the first time she’d completely forgotten to introduce herself. “Dear me, I am being horribly rude, aren’t I? I’m your Grandma Joan. So dear to meet you, my boy.”
Again with the hugging. Stephan could feel his ears getting pink from the embarrassment of being mauled by an old lady in public, but for some reason there was something about her that made him feel oddly comfortable and safe. If his friends at the yacht club had seen him now, he was sure to not hear the end of it.
“Okay, here we are.”
She unlocked the passenger door of a beat up white pickup that had to have been at least thirty years old. The rust on the fender gave it the appearance of barely being drivable, but when he got in, the interior had been lovingly taken care of. When his grandmother started the engine, it rumbled to life in a moment. “Ol’ Bessy’s been around a long time, but she still gets the job done,” she commented, lovingly patting the steering wheel. “Shouldn’t take much more than an hour, but we need to stop by the hardware store to pick up some supplies for tomorrow’s reunion.”
“Reunion?” Stephan groaned, looking out the window at all the greenery passing him by. He couldn’t imagine living out here in the country, away from the hustle and bustle of the city and its protective embrace of towering skyscrapers.
Grandma Joan looked over at him with a wry grin littering her face, “Ay, the boy does speak. Good to know.” She chuckled at her own attempt at humor, but Stephan merely nodded sullenly. “We have some family coming over for a barbecue tomorrow afternoon. Should be a chance for you to meet the whole clan in one fail swoop.” She glanced over in his direction and couldn’t quite tell what he was thinking about. “Imagine you have some questions for me, and while I won’t pull them outta you, know I’m ready when you are. I know this wasn’t where you planned on comin’ this summer, but I think if you give it a shot, ye might just find yourself having a grand ol’ time.”
Stephan tried not to smirk at her funny accent and way with words. Her cadence was relaxed and nonchalant, so different compared to the city and its rough tone and speedy delivery. His brain had been mulling over all the questions he wanted to ask this portly woman since he first found out about his major change in plans. His parents said it would be good for him to experience how the other half lived. At thirteen, it was about time for him to have an entirely different kind of vacation than their usual yachting around the Mediterranean. Sitting here in this rumbling truck bouncing down the two lane road presumably leading them to someplace outside of Shippensburg, he tended to disagree.
“If you’re not going to ask, then I’ll quiz you. How ‘bout that?”
He turned to face her, trying to get a sense about the person who he’d be forced to live with for the next six weeks. “Sure,” he mumbled with a shrug of his shoulders, even though sure was the exact opposite of how he actually felt.
“How’s your mom doing? Still have a nasty chocolate habit she tries to hide?”
His grandmother smiled wistfully, and for the first time since the trip was announced, he thought about what she might be getting out of his visit.
“I don’t know, good I guess?” He couldn’t contain his grin when he also confessed she was constantly leaving chocolate wrappers around the house in the most unusual places.
“I guess somethings never change. “ She exhaled deeply and began to tell him a story about his mom back before she’d moved up to New York. Way before she’d decided small town living was too embarrassing and had vowed to never come back. “Her favorite thing to do was go slidin’. It’s why we need to stop at the hardware store. Your cousins are expecting a slide, and I’d hate to be the one to disappoint them.”
“Sliding?” Stephan asked, having no clue what she was talking about.
“Oh, I forget you’re a slick city boy who's never had any fun in his life. Well starting tomorrow, we’re going have you wanting to come back here every year. You’re gonna head back to the big city tanned with ruddy cheeks that show you actually did something other than sitting on a silly boat seeing sights you’ve seen ten times already.”
With every passing mile, Stephan’s opinion of his grandmother was growing. Her warmth and amicability made him actually wish her prediction would come true. A life of leisure was only leisurely for so long. Eventually he grew bored of being cooped up with the same people and talking about the same mundane things. Maybe the summer would actually turn out better than he’d thought. “Still didn’t answer my question, Grandma Joan.” he replied with a smirk.
“Just you wait. You’ll know soon enough. Besides, me saying it’s like a homemade waterslide just doesn’t do it justice. Your Grandpa’s cooked up one heck of a run for this year, just you wait.”
The thought of his grandparents building a waterslide on their property made him smile. Stephan assumed incorrectly it was a mere slip-n-slide they’d been referring to, but their stop at the hardware store proved him wrong.
By the time they were pulling up to his grandparent’s big farm house at the top of a hill, Stephan couldn’t contain his curiosity any longer. “What happened between you guys and mom?” He was surprised at how weary his voice sounded, but after spending a mere couple of hours with the woman sitting beside him, he couldn’t figure out how someone would want to banish her from their lives.
“Ah, there you go. I was wondering when you’d finally open up. How about you help me carry these supplies to the shed and I’ll tell you all about it over a glass of iced tea and oatmeal cookies.”
“Okay,” he consented, yanking open the door to the truck and grabbing his suitcase and backpack out of the bed. “Leave the tarps and stuff, I’ll grab ‘em in a minute.”
His grandmother smiled brightly, knowing she’d already put a chink in his armor and they still has six more weeks to feel each other out. Hopefully by the time she shuttled him back to the train station, they’d have forged a relationship that might just mend fences that had long been broken.
Funny enough, Stephan was thinking the very same thing.
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Michela Walters is a wife, mother and book enthusiast. She is currently attempting her hand at writing her first romantic fiction novella. You can read her other stories on her blog: michelawalters.wordpress.com