MUSE WARRIOR - Chapter 6
I stared at the email from Grandma Cleo for a long time before answering. I zeroed in on a few things – have you come across anything unusual… there may be strange things afoot – but also noticed that I wasn’t frightened until the part where she said she didn’t mean to frighten me.
Goosebumps appeared on my arm in spite of the August heat wave and I wished my dad and Troy weren’t across the street at the commissary. Grandma Cleo wasn’t your typical grandma, and definitely not the worrying kind. But would a tall man in a weird suit or a homeless woman gifting me a necklace count as unusual? What about nightmares about a firefly?
I decided to wait to tell her those things in person. Instead I replied, Hi, Grandma! Sorry I haven’t written, but we’re all doing well. Dad’s still looking for a house and we start school soon. I’m looking forward to it, which is unusual! Miss you, too. Can’t wait to see you! xo Eden
Startled by a key jiggling the lock, I covered my laptop with a pillow. Troy bounded into the room with two plastic shopping bags, followed by my dad, who was grinning so wide his cheeks might get stuck.
“Gotcha some sour patch kids and gummy bears.” Troy pelted me with candy packets. “No gummy worms, sorry.” He stuck a finger in his mouth to pick something out of his teeth.
I fake-gagged and rolled my eyes. “Thought that counts, eh?” I ripped open the package of gummy bears and popped a red one in my mouth. My dad stood at the foot of my bed, still grinning. I asked, “Uh, are you okay?”
Dad set a case of water on the floor and clapped Troy on the back. “Better than okay. This weekend, we’re saying ‘sayonara’ to the American Hotel.”
“I think you mean ‘arrivederci.’” Troy grabbed the gummies from me and stuffed a handful into his mouth. He pointed to the pillow over my computer. “Whatcha doing with your laptop there?”
“Nothing,” I said, but glanced once more at my email to Grandma Cleo, and clicked send. “Wait, you found a house?”
“A villa, that’s what they call ‘em,” Dad said. “But yup, we’re moving out of the hotel and into a lakeside place in Lago Patria.”
“A lakeside villa? Awesome!” I pictured an old farmhouse with lace curtains and weathered walls.
“Yup. And it’s big! Three floors, if you count the basement. You’ve got a good-sized room with a view of the lake, too.” My dad ruffled my hair. “Things’re looking up, kiddo. We’ll be all settled in by the time school starts.”
“Right…” I gnawed the legs off an orange gummy bear. “School. Forgot about that.”
He rubbed his hands together. “I’ve got some paperwork to finish, so if you’ll excuse me…”
I waited for him to leave the room, then turned to Troy, lowering my voice. “Hey, did Grandma tell you she’s coming soon?”
He tore apart the bag of sour patch kids and held it to his mouth. A few dropped onto the bed and before he could answer, his eyes tightened in pain. “Ooo-wee, that’s sour!” Eyes watering, he shook his head. “Uh-uh, but that’s good, right?”
“Yeah…” I hadn’t told Troy about my weird firefly dreams or what the gypsy had said to me. What was I afraid of? I eyed the hallway, hoping my dad wasn’t listening. “Listen, has Grandma Cleo said anything unusual to you lately?”
Still chewing, Troy popped a couple more sour patch kids into his mouth one by one. “Wike whaa?” he mumbles, mouth too full to close.
“I dunno…” I sucked on a gummy bear and chose my words carefully. “Like...in her email, she says something about ‘strange things afoot’ here in Italy. What’s that supposed to mean?”
With an elaborate gulp, Troy said, “C’mon, it’s a weird place, right? It stinks, for one thing. Never smelled anything like this place.” Curling his nostrils, he added, “The drivers suck. Oh, and there was that weird thing between you and the homeless lady.”
I felt the blood leave my face. “You didn’t tell her about that, did you? It was nothing—”
“Uh-uh, but—” He pointed to the hourglass around my neck; I’d forgotten it was there.
“You’ve gotta chill out, little sister.” Troy smiled at me with his kind, honey-colored eyes. “I know you’re nervous. New place to live, new language, new school. You’re feeling like everything’s weird and strange and all that stuff, am I right?”
“It’s just… maybe Grandma Cleo knows something…”
“Or maybe you’re just homesick.”
My eyes welled up and I nodded. He had to be right. I was reading too much into my grandmother’s email. Everything had changed. Maybe I was tricking myself into believing anything strange was more than what it really was: adjusting to a new life in a new place. My lips started to quiver and I tried to blink away tears, but there were too many and I couldn’t stop blinking.
Troy opened his arms. “C’mere. That’s right, bring it in.” I fell into his big sweaty bear hug, just like I used to when we were little, and then the ugly crying started.
“Shhh… Yep. Let it out.” Troy patted my head. When my sobbing slowed to a few heaving breaths, I sat back, he handed me a paper-thin napkin from the espresso bar downstairs that barely sopped up my dripping nose.
“Look,” he said, “we’ve already moved halfway around the world. The hard part is over.” He pulled an open bag of M&Ms from his pocket. “Here, have an M.”
I laugh-sputtered, “How much candy did you buy?” and took and orange one, sucking on the candy until the hard coating dissolved and the chocolate melted on my tongue, just long enough for my crying to come to a complete stop. “Thanks. For everything.”
“No prob. Sugar solves everything.” He lifted his chin and tipped the bag into his mouth. Crunching on the candy, he said, “You’ll see… by the time Grandma Cleo gets here, we’ll be fine.”
Troy gave me another candy, then hesitated, staring at my necklace.
It was time to tell him about the old gypsy and my firefly dreams. I was ready to come clean, no matter how crazy I sounded.
But Troy had already shaken off whatever he was thinking. After a second, he wagged his head and gave me a goofy smile. “Are we done with this feelings stuff? ‘Coz I’m ready for a nap.”