Happy Monday! Hope it’s a great start to a great week. As promised, here is the first chapter to my upcoming book, The Book of Joy, which is set to be released August 8. Enjoy.
#TheBookofJoy #RuthEGriffin #AwardWinningAuthor #Love #LoveStory #Romance #WomensExperiences #WomensStories
Evelyn Barton Reece did not consider herself a nosy neighbor. She was curious, concerned even, but not nosy. So, when she heard the sound of a school bus coming to a stop at the end of her street, she knew something was off. She paused the telephone conversation she was having with her friend Gail, then marched over to the window to investigate. There were several children in the neighborhood, ranging from kindergarten to high school. Most of the older kids rode the bus home, none of the younger ones did.
As a concerned neighbor, she knew this.
“Hold on,” Evelyn advised her friend, as she reached the window, a little out of breath. As a septuagenarian, she had long passed the prime of her life. She had also passed her ideal weight decades earlier and was on the heavier side of the scale. However, a person only lived but so long, and life—and food—had to be enjoyed. This was the maxim she lived by and damn, if it hadn’t led to a good, enjoyable life.
“What’s wrong?” she heard Gail say, but Evelyn gave no response. She pulled aside the curtain and watched as the school bus opened its door. She didn’t see anyone get off, but then the kids were small, and her eyes weren’t as sharp as they used to be. Still, just to be on the safe side, she waited until the bus drove off before deciding nothing was wrong. It was then she spied a young girl, about five years of age, skipping to her house. Evelyn recognized her as the daughter of the new neighbor she had only briefly met. She thought it odd that the mother, who worked full-time, would be home at this hour, but Evelyn wasn’t keen to her schedule. Still, she continued watching and found her curiosity was justified when the little girl walked up to her front door and turned the knob, only to discover it was locked. She tried the side door but found no one was home. Perplexed by the situation, the little girl just stood there.
“Gail, I’m gonna have to call you back,” Evelyn said. Without waiting for a response, she hit the off button on the phone and set it on the table. Then she lumbered to the door and opened the screen far enough so that she didn’t have to venture too far out. It wasn’t officially summer yet, but the days were hot, and sticky.
“Hey,” she yelled out, trying to get the little girl’s attention, but to no avail. The girl continued staring at her house, as if trying to will someone to open the door.
“Hey, little girl,” Evelyn called again, a little louder this time, as she swatted a fly attempting entry into her house. “Little girl!”
The child finally looked over towards her.
“Come here,” Evelyn yelled, impatiently waving her hand towards her.
Still, the girl hesitated.
Evelyn let out a noisy sigh. She knew she wasn’t making a very inviting impression on the girl, but she couldn’t leave her standing out there by herself.
“Come here, child,” she said with more force in her voice.
The girl vacillated for a moment longer before finally deciding to walk over. She cut through the adjacent neighbor’s yard and arrived at Evelyn’s doorstep in no time.
“What’s your name, child?” the older woman asked.
“Hannah Myers,” she replied, matter-of-factly. She squinted as she looked up at Evelyn. She was a beautiful girl, with large, round, curious eyes and black, curly hair that fell onto her face. Though her skin was the color of rich caramel, much lighter than Evelyn’s dark brown tone, her features—nose, hair texture—were that of a black child. Mixed parentage, the older woman figured, no different than her son, Jackie.
“What are you doing home?” Evelyn demanded, getting back to the topic at hand. “You don’t normally catch the bus.”
With an attitude befitting someone much older than her, Hannah placed her hands on her hips and replied, “I wanted to come home.”
Evelyn glared back at her, surprised to hear such a tone come out of a small package.
“But you don’t get to decide that, especially when your mother isn’t home,” she said.
“Well, I didn’t want to go to after-school,” Hannah returned, her eyes fixed on Evelyn, almost daring her to argue.
Evelyn marveled at her gumption. She had never met such a strong-willed child in her life and wasn’t sure if she should be annoyed or impressed. Still, there was no excuse for the youngster to go out on her own and as the little girl’s elder and neighbor, Evelyn had a responsibility to make sure Hannah was safe. She swung open the door to allow the little girl entrance.
“Come on in.”
“What now?” Evelyn asked.
“I’m not supposed to go with strangers.”
The child was strong-willed and smart—probably too smart for her own good.
“Well, I’m not a stranger, I’m your neighbor.”
“I don’t know your name.”
“Evelyn,” she replied and extended her hand.
Hannah took hold of it and shook it.
“Now come inside before I get a house full of bugs,” Evelyn insisted. Hannah didn’t hesitate this time and entered. She had never been in the house before, but it didn’t stop her from walking around like she knew where she was going. Evelyn stared at her curiously before closing the front door and following her into the kitchen.
“Can I have a snack?” Hannah asked, gazing up at the refrigerator.
Humored by the little girls’ forwardness, Evelyn replied, “Sure. Have a seat.”
The little girl removed her backpack and promptly obeyed. While Evelyn made her a sandwich (peanut butter and honey, as requested), Hannah peppered her with questions.
“Why is your hair white? Why do you have hair on your chin? Why is your house so old? Do you have any pets? Do you have any kids I can play with? Can I have some juice?”
Apparently, they were all rhetorical, because she kept right on talking.
“You look like my Grandma Wilma. She doesn’t have white hair, but she’s brown like you. Grandma Margery is peach like my mommy, not brown like you, and sometimes I stay with her when Mommy is working. She doesn’t like my daddy. She said he’s a loser and she’s glad he’s gone, but she likes Grandma Wilma, who calls me a lot and sends me letters in the mail. I’m going to see her in the summer. I’m gonna fly in an airplane and I’m gonna have fun with her. Can you cut my sandwich in half like my mommy does? It tastes better like that…”
Hannah was not a shy child; and Evelyn was enjoying her company, even if it was accidental…which reminded her.
“What’s your mom’s name?” Evelyn asked, finally able to get a word in edge-wise as Hannah started eating.
“Ashley Myers, but I’m not allowed to call her by her grown-up name—”
Evelyn interrupted her.
“Does your mom have a cell phone?”
“Yes. Sometimes she lets me play on it—”
Evelyn had to cut her off again.
“Alright sweetie, do you know her number? We need to call her to let her know you’re here.”
“She made me memorize it in case I got separated from her,” Hannah stated, then gave Evelyn the number. While the little girl continued eating, Evelyn dialed. A young woman’s voice greeted her.
“Are you Hannah’s mom?” Evelyn asked.
There was a pause, followed by a sigh.
“What happened now?”
Evelyn reintroduced herself, then explained why she was calling. The woman immediately went from hesitant to frantic. She thanked Evelyn profusely and promised to leave immediately to pick-up her daughter.
“Don’t rush and get yourself into an accident. She’s fine. Just eating now, so take your time.”
“I don’t want to trouble you any further.”
“Nonsense. It’s no trouble. I don’t mind the company. An old woman like me doesn’t get too many visitors.”
“Thank you, Ms. Evelyn.”
“You’re welcome,” the older woman said and hung up. Then she sat down opposite of Hannah and listened as the little girl continued talking. The topics varied, but not her enthusiasm. She was energetic and animated as she talked. Evelyn couldn’t help but smile. She didn’t have grandchildren of her own, but she imagined this is what it would be like—talking, having fun, enjoying each other’s company. Hannah was a good fill-in for right now, but oh, what joy that would be, if she had her own granddaughter.
Unfortunately, at the rate Jackie, her only child, was going, Evelyn was never going to realize that dream. He was fifty-years-old and though he was still young in her eyes, he was older than most single men out there looking for a potential spouse. At this point, Evelyn was happy to give up her old-fashioned standards if he chose to simply procreate. Regrettably, he wasn’t even willing to do that. It wasn’t fair to the child, he told her, to the mother or to him. Apparently, Evelyn and her husband had done too good of a job raising him…
Dammit, she thought.
The doorbell rang.
“Mommy!” Hannah shrieked and jumped up from the table.
“Hold on, Missy,” Evelyn stated, pulling Hannah’s attention back to her. She held her hand out to the little girl and said, “Here, help me up and we’ll go see who’s at the door together, okay?”
Hannah complied and took her hand. Evelyn stood up, her old back creaking and cracking in various places. Together they walked to the door, Hannah still holding onto her hand. Evelyn’s heart melted a little.
“Mommy!” the little girl shrieked again when Evelyn opened the door.
A young woman stood there, a frenzied look on her face. She hugged her daughter then asked, “What were you thinking getting on that bus?”
“I was ready to go home,” Hannah replied matter-of-factly.
The woman sucked in a deep breath and through gritted teeth, said, “We’ll talk about it when we get home. Where’s your bookbag?”
“In the kitchen. I’ll get it,” the little girl stated and ran off to get it.
Evelyn smiled as she watched her go.
“Thank you again,” Ashley said to the older woman. “Hannah’s always had a strong will. It gets her in trouble and keeps me busy.”
“It’s alright, child. I’m glad to have helped out. And listen, if you need someone to watch her, just call me. You have my number now. Not too often, I’m an old woman, but I’ll do what I can.”
Ashley offered an appreciative grin then focused on Hannah as she came bounding back into the living room.
“Did you thank Ms. Evelyn?” her mother asked her.
Hannah grabbed Evelyn around the waist and hugged her.
“Thank you, Ms. Evelyn. See you later,” she said, nonchalantly, as if their visit had been a planned one. Then she left, skipping alongside her mom as they walked to their house.
Evelyn felt good for having helped, but as she closed the door, she couldn’t help the ache that crept into her heart. She wanted to believe she could still become a grandmother, but the truth was, with circumstances being what they were, it was much too late for that.
Yeah, right, Evelyn chuckled to herself as she wandered back into the kitchen. There might be an ache in her heart, but as long as there was breath in her body, it was never too late.