One Boring Summer
Katherine, a.k.a. Cricket stared listlessly out the back window of her mother’s Jeep Cherokee as the car bumped and rolled down the old gravel pathway to her grandmother’s run down ranch. The sky was a washed out blue, with only a few hesitant clouds passing over.
Cricket could hear the buzzing of summer cicadas in the tall wispy grass that threatened to overwhelm the old Jeep, as well as the whinny of a bored horse in the distance.
The crunch of gravel under the car tires was not loud enough to drown out Cricket’s exasperated sigh, and her mother rolled her eyes and gripped the fake leather of the steering wheel all that much tighter.
“Please, Cricket, tell me how you truly feel.” her mother said sardonically as she negotiated the barely visible driveway. The old ranch house was still invisible beyond a grove of dense trees a few hundred yards away.
Cricket sighed once again, an exaggerated and overly dramatic gesture. “Mom, I don’t understand why I have to spend the whole summer with gran. I just got out of high school, and I should be, like, out with friends and living up my new freedom.”
Cricket’s mom scoffed. “Freedom? You call hanging out at a dead end mall and cruising around our almost empty court square freedom? More like a phenomenal waste of time. You could get away with this when you were still in school, but it’s time you did some growing up. And spending some time with my mother at her ranch is the best thing in the world for you right now.”
Cricket’s mom gave her a lopsided smile as the Jeep went over a particularly big bump that lurched them both crazily sideways for a moment. “Besides, your grandmother needs you. She specifically asked that you come stay with her for a summer after you graduated. And you promised you would.”
Cricket rolled her eyes as she scrambled to press a hand on the roof of the car, steadying herself. “I promised when I was ten years old! Of course the idea of staying at a ranch with horses and streams and forests all around for miles and miles would appeal to a little girl! But I’m not a little girl! I’m 18 now and playing with ponies is the last thing I want to do!”
Cricket’s mom gave her a withering look. “It doesn’t matter now, honey. We’ve already rented your room out” She said jokingly.
Cricket knew her mother was lying, but was just saying that to tease her about the whole situation. Cricket could not believe that not only was her mother forcing her to honor a promise made 8 years ago, but that her father and grandmother both were adamant that she did so.
She’d rather be just about anywhere else in the world but where she was about to be. Deep in the heart of South Dakota, her grandmother’s ranch was large without being immense, and was well hidden by thick forests and what were called the Black Hills. Cricket was tired of living in boring, podunk towns with plain vanilla folks with pain vanilla ideas. She often called “normal” people NPC’s. Cricket loved to play video games, especially role playing games. NPC’s were the boring, 2 dimensional people who often stood around in shops and bars and just recited the same boring phrase over and over as they pace back and forth in an endless cycle.
She could not fathom why her grandmother Laura would want her around. Laura was tall, thin, with long flowing white hair and piercing blue eyes that would rival any cloudless summer day. She was fierce, independent, and despite her age she was as spry and full of energy as any woman half her age. And Cricket thought she was kinda crazy.
Her grandmother would always send her strange gifts for her birthday as a child. One year Cricket got a suitcase full of old clothes and jewelry from the 20′s as a birthday present. While she had fun dressing up and reading through the old journals, her parents had raised eyebrows about such an odd present.
Cricket had just graduated high school with great grades. She loved to read and study, and was naturally adept at anything that involved remembering facts or learning some system. She loved math and science, and all things fantasy. Her room was full to the gills with books, comics, video games, and anime posters. What she hated, however, was anything involving any great effort, or exercise. She avoided sports like the plague, and only barely passed Gym in high school.
So when her grandmother called her mom the day after Cricket had graduated, she was surprised to hear from her mother that she should break out her suitcase and get ready to spend the next 3 months living with her grandmother, who lived way out the the sticks. Cricket had seen enough Saturday Morning specials to know that ranches were notorious for working poor girls like herself to death, and the last thing she wanted to be doing on her first summer free from school was shoveling horse manure or bent over some garden in the hot sun.
“You’re going and that’s final. You promised” Her mother had said with great finality.
“But mom! Why? Why does gran want me to come stay with her? Not enough free labor out there in South Dakota?” Cricket had complained.
“That’s not why and you know it. Your grandmother is not getting any younger. She needs your help, and you could stand to get some exercise. Get your head out of your books for a change.” Her mom had mused.
Cricket had just flounced and sulked and had threw herself on her bed in mock despair. “Maybe it won’t be so bad.” She had thought. “Maybe she just wants to go for walk in the forest and teach me the ways of nature.” Her mocking words in her mind’s ear fell flat even to herself. “Who am I kidding? She has it out for me.”
The Jeep finally pulled up to the main ranch house with a last crunch of gravel under the tires. The house was long and sprawling, with a rough stone outer facing and blue-green shingles on the many rooftops. The two story building curved in a rough C-shape with a long, open porch right next to the driveway. Two other cars were parked nearby, as well as a old looking but well taken care of tractor off to the side, and another really old rusty car further away. It’s hood was open and empty - like a gaping maw of some long-dead metallic creature.
Cricket shivered and exchanged a long pleading glance at her mother.
Her mom cut the Jeep’s engine and playfully ruffled Cricket’s long mousy brown hair. He smiled conspiratorially and exited the car with eager grace.
Cricket unconsciously stuck out her bottom lip, and proceeded to stare at the dashboard. She could hear dogs barking in the distance, and the sound of her mother greeting her gran.
“Maybe if I stay in the car, and be really really quiet, my mother will forget I’m here and take me home.” She sulked. “This is so completely unfair.”
She heard the approaching crunching sounds of feet on gravel and a shadow passed over her passenger side window. It was her gran.
Cricket looked up slowly and tried a weak smile. Her grandmother stood before the car, wearing blue jeans and a red plaid flannel shirt with her sleeves rolled up from the heat. The heat. Cricket could feel the waves of warmth in the heat of the day coming in from outside. Her nose twitched as she caught the vaguely fecal and straw scent of animals, and dust. Lots of dust.
Gran’s piercing blue eyes looked straight through Cricket like two blue lightsabers. She was smiling with a face full of smile wrinkles and a layer of dust and sweat.
“Good afternoon Katherine. I’m so glad you finally made it. I’m so glad you are here.” She said in a vaguely British accent. Cricket cringed. Nobody called her Katherine, not even her parents. Nobody, that is, except her gran.
It was going to be one long, boring, and tiring summer. Cricket sighed.