MOM PARKED THE SUV ALONGSIDE a green and white Mayflower tractor-trailer that had moved our meager belongings donated by friends and various charity groups, as well as our few ones that had survived fire, smoke, and water damage. We were parked on a long, stone paved driveway on the left side of a white foursquare farmhouse trimmed in a vivid blue color that hurt my eyes to look at for more than a few seconds at a time. At the far end of the driveway, a two-car garage painted to match the house sat in front of us.
Grandma and Grandpa Lybrook had moved here two months ago after a sinkhole began destroying parts of their dairy farm two summers ago.
I unbuckled my seatbelt, slid from my seat and out my door, and stood like a newborn foal on wet asphalt next to the sweet smell of country grass, glad to be out of the SUV.
“This is it, huh?” I said when Mom, Dave and Amy got out.
“It’s not very big,” Dave said, looking around.
“It’s big enough for now,” Mom said. “When the rest of your father’s life insurance comes, we’ll find a place of our own. Until then, I don’t want to hear any negativity from any of you.”
She crossed the driveway and headed to the front of the house. I followed Dave and Amy to a large porch and up some cement steps. Grandma Evelyn, a shorthaired, red-haired woman wearing a white blouse, blue jeans and pink tennis shoes, stepped out of the front door and greeted us. She and Mom embraced. Then my plump and rosy-cheeked grandmother took Mom by a hand and led her inside. Dave and Amy followed.
I stood on the porch and took in the countryside of Myers Ridge. An odd sound came from the blacktop road in front of the house as a reddish-brown horse pulled a black Amish buggy, clopping noisily along as though it and the bearded old man in the buggy needed seen and appreciated. My forehead muscles relaxed while I took in a sight I had only seen in pictures. The horse and buggy disappeared over a small hilltop, but I listened to them go until I heard nothing more than the sound of crows cawing in the distance.
Above the hilltop, large white and gray anvil-shaped clouds choked the sky. Sunlight shone in rays around the clouds, and where it touched the earth of woods and fields of barley and knee-high corn on both sides of the road, it colored the land in ripeness.
This was good.
I went inside, stopping in the center of a rectangular living room filled with plush brown and leather furniture on a sea of cream carpeting. I quickly checked the bottom of my purple and white Nike tennis shoes for dirt, saw that they were clean, and breathed a sigh of relief.
Two men carried cardboard boxes into the room from a side door. They wore green and white uniforms and moved gracefully over newspaper someone had strewn across the carpet.
Dave and Amy had followed the newspaper into the dining room. They stood with Grandma and Mom while I stood in the living room, uncertain of what to do or where to go until Mom entered and told me to find my bedroom upstairs and unpack any of my boxes that may be there. So I climbed the squeaky but polished wooden stairs and discovered that the first room at the top contained Dave’s secondhand bed and nightstand that Mom had purchased at Goodwill. The room was smaller than his old one. A lot smaller. And it was wallpapered in pink and white roses on a blue background. A smile threatened to curl the corners of my mouth.
Oh, well, dear brother … what are you gonna do?
Down the hall, I passed another small bedroom. This one had cream-colored wallpaper with blue floral and butterfly patterns on it. A dismantled queen-size bed lay on the cream-colored carpet inside. A tall, thin man wearing a black T-shirt and brown coveralls stood at the walk-in closet with a screwdriver. He had bushy but well-groomed gray hair, frowning brown eyebrows, serious looking brown eyes, and an upturned nose above a pinched mouth on a clean-shaven face.
Grandpa Jack stopped working a screw in the doorframe and asked, “Will you help me lift this door?”
I sidestepped past cardboard boxes and lifted the wooden door until Grandpa told me to stop.
“Thank you, um … Amy? Or Verawenda?” Grandpa squinted at me a moment while he turned another screw to adjust the track of the closet door. “You two look so much alike.”
“I’m Verawenda, the blonde one.”
“Yes, of course.” Grandpa finished turning the screw. He rolled the door back and forth on its track. “How was your trip? Uneventful, I hope. Your mom says it’s time to trade in that van of hers.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “It was hot the whole way without the AC. Mom tried to call you at our last stop for drinks, but no one answered.”
Grandpa grunted. “Phone reception is lousy here. All of Myers Ridge, for that matter, depending how the wind blows, ever since that sinkhole appeared at my farm and forced your grandmother and me to finally move.”
A noise at the open window next to us kept me from asking what a sinkhole had anything to do with phones. Someone had erected an aluminum extension ladder. A boy in a white T-shirt appeared and caulked the top of the window. He was almost featureless behind the gossamer film of dust on the glass, but I could tell he was good looking.
Grandpa went to the window screen and said to the boy, “I’ll pay you an extra twenty if you wash all the dirt off these windows when you’re done caulking. I have glass cleaner and towels in a box on the workbench in the garage.”
The boy rubbed dirt from the glass with his fingers and peered in. He had an unclouded, intelligent looking face, although caulk marked his high forehead and the left side of his slender nose. He glanced at me from beneath a head of thick, burnt sienna hair, and looked to be my age or a little older.
“Yes sir,” he said. His full lips thinned as he grinned at Grandpa.
Grandpa broke my attention from the boy as he excused himself and headed for the stairs. When he stopped and turned back, I saw a thoughtful look cross his dark brown eyes.
“Your mother tells me that you like to paint pictures,” he said.
I felt my cheeks flush. “I dabble,” I said. “I’m not that good.”
“She says you’re very good.”
I raised an eyebrow. “My mom really said that?”
“Says you’re very talented.”
I heard the boy descend the ladder. I glanced at the empty window.
“His name is Lenny Stevens,” Grandpa said, nodding at the window. “I bought this house from his father, the high school art teacher. They live up the road.”
“His dad is an artist?”
“When he’s not teaching it. Both he and Lenny are very good at drawing animals.” Grandpa cleared his throat and spat into a white handkerchief from a back pocket. “I set up your easel next to the north window of your bedroom. I’ve heard north light is ideal.” He pointed at the ceiling. “You and your sister have the attic. Your grandmother fixed it up pretty. I think you girls will really like it.”
“Is it as pretty as Dave’s room?”
Grandpa smiled and winked. “Prettier,” he said. He turned and headed to the stairs once more.
I went to the window. Lenny hiked up the waist of his khaki pants and looked up. Our gazes met for a second before he moved the ladder to the next window. I went to that window and waited at the screen.
When he did not show, I looked down and saw that he was gone.
“Good grief,” I mumbled, “get hold of yourself. He’s just a boy.”
At the hall’s far end, someone had removed the attic door and taken it away, along with the hinges and strike plate from the doorjamb.
So much for privacy.
Up squeaky wooden steps and inside a vast A-frame loft, the smell of fresh paint filled my nose. Someone—probably Grandma—had painted the A-frame ceiling pink and the floor lavender. The stairs and a pink throw rug at the top separated the loft and divided the room. My artist’s easel, which survived the fire because it had been in my garage studio, sat in front of the tall window on the right. My Goodwill bed sat to the right of the window and my Goodwill dresser to the left. Either the movers or my grandparents had set my box of paints and brushes on my Goodwill desk and the black plastic and metal chair next to the dresser. Lavender curtains—not from Goodwill, I hoped—hung at both sides of the window.
Across the room on Amy’s side, I peered out the window and down at the road. Something moved in the dark green shadows of bushes and young trees on the other side. I tried to see what sort of animal foraged there when someone knocked at the attic’s doorframe.
Before I turned from the window, a pair of beady red eyes peered from the shadows. With a gasp, I took a step back. When I looked again, no red eyes peered back at me.
The person below knocked again at the doorframe.
“I came to introduce myself,” Lenny Stevens said when I went to the top of the stairs. And he did, introducing himself by name and saying he lived up the road.
“Vree Erickson,” I said, telling him my name. “Hi.”
He looked puzzled. “Your grandmother called you Verawenda,” he said.
“Vree’s a nickname from my initials: VRE.”
“I see. So, do I call you Vree or Verawenda?”
“Vree will do.”
Lenny smiled and asked to come up.
“Oh, good grief,” I said, though not too unkindly. “Just do it already.”