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I Don't Belong Here

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Chapter 1

Two months earlier

Charlotte

“What do you see, Grandma?” I asked, impatient.

My grandmother smiled and looked up, and her ocean-blue eyes met mine. Looking into her eyes made me feel as if I was looking into a mirror, and a much older version of me looked back.

“Be patient. You’ve only just handed me the cup!”

I bit my bottom lip to prevent myself from speaking again as I watched as my grandmother searched my teacup. I knew better than to rush her, because if I put too much pressure on her, she might miss something. She always took her time when reading my tealeaves, and I had to wait for long minutes to pass before I got any feedback.

I had decided to visit my favourite, and only, grandmother before I went to work. At first, when I had knocked on the door, she had not heard me. She was eighty years old, and although she was healthy, she was slowly becoming deaf. Yet I’d known that she was home, because the door had been unlocked, so I had let myself in and found my grandmother baking muffins in the kitchen. My grandmother, May, had been overjoyed to see me. Although she never admitted it out loud, I knew I was her favourite grandchild. I did not know if it was because we looked alike, or because we had so much in common, or because I visited her more often than anyone else in our family.

Grandma had immediately offered me cookies and tea – and I had eagerly accepted. I had left a small sip of tea in my cup, then I had broken the tea bag and mixed the remaining tea with the leaves. I had sloshed it around my cup, so that the leaves covered the bottom and sides, before I emptied the last bit of tea into the basin. I had then handed Grandma May my cup and asked her to read my fortune. Tea reading had become a tradition between the two of us. The first time Grandma May read my tea I had been thirteen years old and a sceptic. That day Grandma May looked at the pictures the tea leaves had formed in the cup.

“A boy is going to kiss you,” she had said. At the time, I had not had a boyfriend or a crush, and I had dismissed the idea of being kissed. Then, a few weeks later, I was at a birthday party. The boys there dared one of their friends, Jared, to kiss me. He was shy and scared but had wanted to prove to his friends that he could do it. I had been eating a pink cupcake when he walked over, and did not have time to talk to him before he leaned in and planted a kiss on my cheek. I was so shocked I had dropped the cupcake and blushed. Jared, too, had blushed. He did not say anything, but had walked away with his head held high.

Since that day, I was a firm believer that my grandmother could predict my future by reading my teacup. My grandmother never declined when I asked her to do a reading – and I asked almost every time I visited. It was one of the things over which we bonded, and it gave us something to talk about.

I shifted my weight on the couch. May was a frail, short woman with thick glasses that sat on the tip of her nose. Her hair was grey and curly, and it was not as thick as it used to be. Her long nails were painted red, and she wore clothes that did not hug her figure.

Grandma May looked up. “I see you are going to be surrounded by plenty of people.”

“That’s vague.” I was unable to hide my disappointment.

Sometimes, my grandmother saw objects or animals that did not make sense. Sometimes, she predicted things, and they did not happen. Then she would simply say, “The future can always change.” I did not know what I wanted my grandmother to see. Maybe I wanted to become rich? But my grandmother never saw money in my cup.

“It looks like a party,” Grandma May said. “There is dancing and food.”

I sighed, unlike most sixteen-year-olds would when there was talk of parties. “I don’t even like people.”

Grandma May laughed. “You get that from me.”

I smiled because I could easily relate to my grandmother. We viewed life the same way and did things the same. Both of us preferred our own company. People drained my energy, and after being around them for too long, I felt an unbearable need to retreat into the quietness of my room so that I could recharge. Grandma and I were nothing like Andrea, my mother, and Juan, my older sister. Andrea and Juan got along well with people. They were talkative, spontaneous, and outgoing. They could never understand why I would rather lock myself in my room and read than go out and do something.

“I see a boy,” Grandma said, and I pricked my ears. Romance was something that did not exist in my life, which was one of the reasons I read so many romance novels.

“Yes?”

“He is tall, and he has thick hair.” Grandma paused. Did she do so to make the situation more dramatic? “Yes, I can clearly see that he has dark, bushy hair.”

“Who is he?” I asked. The description she gave me did not resemble anyone I knew, and I was thrilled at the thought of this mysterious stranger.

“How should I know?” Grandmother May laughed. “I only see what I see.”

“But I want to know his name,” I pressed.

“It does not work that way, and you know it.” Grandma May turned the cup so that she could look at it from a different angle. Then she frowned.

“What is it?” I asked. When Grandma May did not answer, I asked, “Grandma?”

“Hmm.” Grandma looked up with a forced smile. “It’s nothing.”

I could easily tell when my grandmother was lying to me – she couldn’t look me in the eyes, and the pitch of her voice was slightly higher. What could my grandmother have seen that she wanted to hide? She only ever saw good, pleasant things. I had a feeling she would not tell me if she saw something bad.

I studied my grandma and refused to let her go. I was a puppy dog, begging for a treat, and Grandma couldn’t deny me…

“I see someone needs your help,” Grandma May finally said.

“Who?” I asked.

“I don’t know, but I can clearly see you standing there, with your long hair. Then there is someone else who is reaching towards you for help.”

“I have no idea who it can be,” I confessed. No one ever asked me for help – or anything. Juan had told me multiple times that people didn’t come to me because I was unapproachable. She said I should smile more – but it was stupid to stand around smiling if there was nothing humorous.

“Neither do I,” Grandma May said. “That is all I see: a party, a boy with lots of hair, and someone needing your help.”

I took my cup from Granma May’s wrinkly hands. I did not look into it, because that would bring me misfortune – according to Grandma. I got up and made my way to the sink, where I rinsed my cup and placed it on the drying rack. Then I returned to the living room, which was connected to the kitchen, and sat on the couch again. My grandmother’s teacup was full, and she would get distracted, either with knitting or gardening, and the tea would later have to be reheated in the microwave.

“I have to go,” I said and watched Grandmother’s face fall. “I wish I could stay, but I have to work.”

“You’re in school the whole week – between people you don’t like. Then over weekends you work in that DVD shop. When do you ever do something that you like?”

I thought about this before answering. “I like the money.”

“Money isn’t everything.”

“But it can buy me books. Stories are everything.”

My grandmother smiled. “I just don’t think a sixteen-year-old should work. You should enjoy life before you have too many responsibilities – like paying rent and buying food.”

“I know you feel that way,” I said.

“How do your parents feel?”

“They think it is good for me. It gives me work experience, and more importantly, it gets me out of the house.”

Grandma May gave me a sad smile. “I never struggled to get your mother out of the house. I only ever struggled to get her back in.”

“She keeps telling me that she should come visit you more,” I said.

“But she never does, and she never will.” Grandma May had never had a good relationship with her daughter. She did try, but Andrea did not agree with her on anything. They always ended up fighting, and it was best for them not to see each other too often. Despite her poor relationship with my mother, Grandma May did put in a lot of effort with her grandchildren. She knitted us jerseys and baked us cookies. Although Juan loved our grandmother, she was too caught up in her own life to visit often.

Grandma May accepted that Juan’s friends and social life were more important to her than her family. She assumed that her elder grandchild would grow out of it and realise the importance of family. She did blame Andrea for not allowing her to see us more when we were little. Andrea had a way of cancelling our time together and thinking of excuses.

“Does your mother know you came to visit me?” Grandma May had a naughty smile that suggested she already knew the answer to her question.

“No,” I said. “I prefer if she does not know.”

Grandma May sighed. “She can be a very difficult woman. I know she does not like it when you are here.”

“She thinks you fill my head with nonsense – like fortune telling and ghost stories.”

Grandma May laughed. “She is right.”

Andrea was a stern woman, and she rarely lost an argument. Grandma May had read her tea once when she was very young. Afterwards, she had decided that it was nonsense and that she would not do it again. She did not believe in ghosts – or anything supernatural – unlike me and Grandma May. Grandma May used to tell Juan and me ghost stories. Although Juan did not believe in ghosts, she still enjoyed the stories a lot and knew each of them by heart. Andrea had blamed my sleepless nights on the stories. She said I had an overactive imagination and that my grandmother was scaring me. Slowly, our visits had become fewer and fewer.

I visited my grandmother more often once I got my driver’s licence. Grandma May had become incredibly lonely since Grandpa passed away a few years ago, but I did not visit out of guilt, I visited because I truly enjoyed her company.

“How is Juan?” Grandma asked.

“She’s doing well. She’s enjoying her first year of college. She wants me to go and party with her more often.”

“She enjoys your company.”

I laughed. “No. She just wants me to be the designated driver.”

“Well, you should take good care of her. She takes after your mother with that wild side.”

“I know. I just don’t like being among most people. I get bored with them so easily.”

“You have a very beautiful and deep soul,” Grandma May said. “You search for something real, and that’s why you struggle to connect with people. Realness is hard to find.”

“You’re so wise.” I glanced at the clock that hung against the far wall, then got up from the couch. “I really have to go.”

“I love you,” Grandma May said, and I leaned forward so that I could receive a sloppy kiss on my cheek.

“I love you, too.”

My grandmother did not walk me to my car. She was slow, and I preferred she stayed where she was – comfortable on the couch. I closed the door behind me and headed down the stone path. The garden was filled with flowers, plants, and garden gnomes. I got into my car, a silver Hyundai i20, and turned the key in the ignition.

My phone rang, and I kept the car in park as I leaned back in my seat and answered. I never drive when I speak on the phone. “Hello.”

“Sister!” Juan exclaimed. A lot of people were talking in the background, and I knew she was on campus. “I have a favour to ask.”

“Yeah?”

“There is a party next weekend. It’s out of the city. It’s on one of the farms.”

“And let me guess; you want me to be your taxi.”

Juan laughed. “Don’t sound so bitter! It’s an open house party. There will be a bonfire and free booze! You have to go with me.”

I groaned, although I had not been to a party in a long time. I usually felt out of place, lost, and confused. I’d rather read about parties in one of my novels than attend one. “Do I have to?”

“Please.” Juan stretched out the word. “I can’t drink and drive that far.”

“When is this?”

“Next week Saturday.”

“I’m working,” I tried.

“You work during the day. The party is at night,” Juan told me. “Come on. Do this with me. It will be fun.”

I sighed and my soft side gave in. She was my sister and one of the most important people in my life. I would do this for her. “Fine.”

“Yes!” Juan exclaimed. “You are the best.”

“I know.” I hung up the phone.

I tucked my hair behind my ears and wondered what I would wear to the party. Fashion was something I really enjoyed, although I hardly ever went anywhere that made dressing up worthwhile. My long blond hair reached my bum, and I wondered if it was time to cut it. I had a side fringe that needed a cut – it hung in my left eye. As I swiped my fringe to the side, I looked into the rear-view mirror and observed my reflection. My blue eyes matched my pale skin. My lips were a bit thin, but with the right lipstick they would look full and luscious. I was skinny, and my body was beautiful, but small. I did not look old enough to drink – but then again Juan was not even twenty-one, and not allowed to drink. That was why the party was on a farm – so that they would not get caught. I looked young, but I was pretty enough to stand out in between the students. I’ve been told plenty of times that I was the prettier sister and that Juan simply received more attention because of her talkative, warm personality.

I started driving towards the DVD shop where I worked and kept to the speed-limit without touching my phone. Autumn leaves danced in the wind, and a smiling sun shone down on my world. I thought about the things my grandmother had seen in my teacup.

I see you are going to be surrounded by plenty of people.

It looks like a party.

There is dancing and food.

I smiled and wondered how my Grandmother had so easily predicted the party next weekend.

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