Beep, beep, beep, beep! Dana jerked awake and fumbled to find her phone. The sun had come up and it was blinding to her tired eyes. She squinted around her car in search for her phone. She felt around her seat and eventually found the beeping device under the driver’s seat. Dana immediately reached for it and stabbed the off button with her finger. Emily began to stir in her seat, mumbling to herself. Once Dana silenced her phone, she brushed loose strands of red hair out of her face. One side of her hair was flat from the car seat and the other half was full of static, so she decided to put it all up in a ponytail. She took the old blanket off, balled it up, and tossed it into the backseat. She adjusted the driver’s seat so that she could comfortably drive and started her car. Emily stirred some more and cracked her eyes open to look around.
“Where are we?” Em groaned, pulling her blanket over her head.
“A gas station in the middle of nowhere,” Dana replied.
“When did we stop?”
“About four hours ago,” the older sister explained while pulling on her cowgirl boots. “I’m going to go in and get some coffee. Do you want anything?”
“Coffee and donuts sounds good. Thanks.”
Dana left the car running as she made her way to the building. The bell chimed as she opened the door and stepped in. Again, she was greeted by a cloud of smoke, and the same clerk apologized from behind the counter.
“Man, I am so sorry! To be honest, I forgot you were still here,” the clerk confessed.
“It’s alright,” Dana coughed in response.
She made her way to the donut aisle and grabbed a bag of chocolate and powdered donuts. She and her sister always argued about which was better, so she just grabbed both. She then moseyed over to the coffee counter and filled up two large cups of black coffee. She left her own black, but Emily’s she sprinkled in some sugar and peppermint. Dana carried everything she had collected over to the clerk and he rung her up. She dug through her wallet for some cash and realized all she had was a five-dollar bill. Why didn’t she check before she picked up the donuts? When the clerk said her total was more than five, she almost slammed down her wallet. It had been a long day and night and she just wanted some coffee and donuts. She was working three jobs, so why wasn’t that enough? It made her infuriated!
“I’m so sorry,” Dana began, trying to stay calm, “but all I have is a five.”
The clerk looked at her for a moment, contemplating on what to do. On normal occasions, he would have to tell her to replace certain items and only buy what she could afford. But this was not any normal circumstance. This woman had driven all day and spent the night in the parking lot. It was clear she could not afford much and that she was desperate to get to her destination. So the clerk made a quick decision that would probably get him fired.
“It’s alright,” he declared. Dana blinked. “Just give me the five and I’ll pay for the rest.”
“What?” Dana squeaked.
“Take the coffee and the donuts and have a nice day,” the clerk smiled.
Dana couldn’t believe it, but she quickly grabbed her items and rushed out before he changed his mind. She was careful to balance the coffees so that nothing spilled, and then gently placed them on the top of her station-wagon as she opened the driver’s door. She tossed the donuts at Emily and then carefully grabbed the coffees and placed them in the cup-holders. Dana plopped into the driver’s seat and fastened her seatbelt, ready to get on the road. Emily noisily opened the donuts as her older sister pulled out of the gas station and started driving. It was going to be another long day, but at least they had coffee and donuts to help them along the way. They had eaten – or Emily had eaten – almost all of their other snacks.
“Did you get the sugar and peppermint?” Emily inquired, blowing on her coffee.
“Of course. You didn’t actually think I’d forget, did you?” Dana slightly smirked.
“You’re my sister, I never know what you’re going to do.” Emily took a sip from her coffee. “Thanks.”
Dana picked up her IPod, planning to turn on the country music, but then glanced at her sister. She had listened to country the entire trip yesterday, so maybe it was fair for her sister to pick the music. So she tossed her IPod into Emily’s lap and smiled. Realizing that Dana was going to let her pick the music, Emily energetically scrolled through the music. There was barely anything but country, but every once in a while, Em would come across some rock or rap. She knew that Dana only kept that kind of music for her. So Emily quickly put together a playlist consisting of rock, rap, country, and Disney. That way they each got to listen to a little bit of everything. Emily plugged in the IPod and turned up the volume, filling the car with the first song that came on; it was a Disney song. She had the urge to switch the song, but Dana began singing along, and Emily thought what the heck. The song would soon be over, anyways.
“Look for the bare necessities!” Dana sang. “The simple bare necessities! Forget about your worries and your strife!”
Emily simply shook her head at her sister. She enjoyed Disney music way too much. Em thought it was so overrated. And so predictable. The princess always became the damsel in distress, and the prince always saved her. Then they fell in love and lived happily ever after. Who would want to watch that over and over again? And the songs were so cheesy and unneeded. Emily just didn’t understand. But she let her sister have her little Disney moment, and then the song changed to one of Em’s. It was a rap song, and the little sister knew every word. And now it was Dana’s turn to wrinkle her nose at her sister’s taste in music. Rap and rock were Emily’s favorite types of music, and Dana just didn’t understand why. How could someone like dark, unclear, vulgar music? She didn’t understand any of the words, but Emily knew every single one. But instead of changing songs, Dana let her little sister have her moment. Maybe this car ride wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Dana reached over for her coffee and blew on it before taking a sip. When she did take a drink, she nearly spit it back out. It was burning hot and extremely bitter. She never believed in putting sugar in coffee, but maybe she should have for this cup. The coffee they drank at home was Folgers, which wasn’t the best but it was better than this. And they always drank the really dark stuff, and Dana imagined the gas station coffee was on the light end. But she couldn’t do anything about it now, so she set her cup back in the cup holder and gently took the lid off. Maybe if the lid was off it would cool faster. Since she couldn’t drink her coffee, Dana reached over for the donuts. Emily was hogging all of them even though she only ate certain ones. But the older sister managed to snatch a bag from her sister’s lap. As she munched on the donuts, she began dunking them in her own coffee. It was something she had seen her mother do several times, but Dana had never been brave enough to try it. But since she was stuck in a car, she might as well try it. And, surprisingly, it wasn’t bad.
“Ew!” Emily remarked. “Why would you do that?”
“It’s actually not that bad,” Dana responded with a donut in her mouth. “Don’t say something’s gross until you try it.”
“You’re starting to sound like mom,” Em muttered, munching on a coffee-free donut.
The two sisters continued to sing along to the playlist Emily had put together. They took turns enjoying their own music, but never switched it. They had always been opposites when it came to music, and almost everything else. Maybe it had to do with the age difference, but who knows. Emily had always liked hard music: rap and rock. She also liked skinny-jeans and dark clothes. She wore a lot of combat boots and black t-shirts. It was always odd, though, because she would dress in dark colors and her hair would be strawberry blonde; it stuck out like a sore thumb. She didn’t die her hair until after their parents died. She started liking darker stuff once their parents died, and Dana didn’t know what to do. Dana had always been the positive, optimistic one. She loved her boot-cut jeans and cowgirl boots. She wore a lot of buttoned shirts and lose-fitting clothing. And she loved bright colors, unlike her sister. If people looked into the station-wagon and saw them in the car together, they would see an emo girl and a hippie. Their parents did a good job at raising two girls who enjoyed their own things, that was certain.
Dana decided it was time to try her coffee again. She very carefully lifted it out of the cup-holder and brought it to her mouth. There was no lid on it so she had to be cautious not to spill anything. It was tricky, though, because she was driving with one hand and had to watch the road while drinking from a cup with no lid. She was successful at taking the first drink, but the second seemed a little more difficult. The road began to get bumpier, and the hot liquid began to splash and spill over the edges. As she went to return the cup to the holder, the car went over a nasty bump in the road and Dana let go of the cup to grab the steering wheel with both hands. Her coffee cup tumbled onto her lap and spilled all over her jeans and onto the floor of the car.
“Shit!” Dana cried.
The coffee was still hot enough that it burned once it touched the girl’s skin. She quickly picked up the cup and put it in the cup-holder, and then reached around for a napkin or towel. The first thing she grabbed was the grubby blanket, so that’s what she used. While concentrating on the road, Dana mopped up the coffee that had spilt all over her lap and onto the floor. The blanket soaked up most of it, but there was still a large wet spot in the middle of Dana’s jeans. She balled up the blanket and threw it into the back seat and leaned against the steering wheel, not sure what to do. The trip was actually starting to go well, and then something bad happened. She couldn’t just drive the rest of the way with coffee stained jeans that smelt horrible. And she hadn’t packed very many clothes because she wasn’t intending to stay on the ranch very long.
“You alright?” Emily piped up, finally realizing what had happened.
“Does it look like it?” Dana snapped. She took a deep breath and then got an idea. “Em, do you have any jeans that would fit me?”
“I need to change out of these or else I’m going to smell like coffee for the rest of my life.”
Dana found a side road and pulled onto it. She turned the car off, unbuckled, and climbed out. Emily followed suit and they met at the back of the car. The older sister opened the trunk and the younger sister dug through her suitcase for a decent pair of pants. She ended up finding a dark red pair with black stripes up the side. Emily held them up in front of Dana, and Dana wrinkled her nose. She must be truly desperate to put on her sister’s clothes. But the more she stood there wearing her coffee soaked jeans, the more uncomfortable she became. So Dana snatched the red pants out of Emily’s hands and climbed into the backseat of her station-wagon and changed pants. The little sister kept a watchful eye out for any peeping toms. It was quite cramped in the backseat with all of the girls’ junk, but Dana was able to wiggle out of her pants and into her sister’s. The red pants were a lot tighter than her own, but at least they weren’t wet. So once Dana got as comfortable as she could, she climbed out of the backseat, tossed her stained jeans into the trunk, and slammed it shut. Both girls climbed back into the car and buckled their seatbelts. Dana then put the car in drive and drove back onto the main road.
“Thanks, Em,” Dana said, still wiggling around to find a comfortable position.
“Course! You look like a clown in those, anyways,” Emily chuckled.
“What? They were the only ones I had that might possibly fit you. It’s not my fault you spilled coffee everywhere.”
Dana just shook her head, trying not to laugh. Emily couldn’t seem to stop giggling. She was evidently getting a kick out of her older sister wearing red pants. Dana was trying hard not to laugh, but eventually she couldn’t hold it anymore. It was pretty ridiculous that she had to borrow her little sister’s pants. And they happened to be red pants with black stripes; the opposite of what Dana would wear. So the two sisters laughed together until their stomachs hurt. It felt good to laugh. They hadn’t laughed that hard since their parents died. Once the car accident happened, it felt like all of the laughter had been taken out of their lives. Their father was the family clown; he always dressed up in his daughters’ clothes and marched around the house like a giant. But once the accident happened, there was no more family clown. There was no more laughter. Everything seemed to go downhill once Dana moved her and her sister into the tiny apartment. But now, with laughter echoing through the car, it felt as though all of their cares disappeared for a moment.
“How much further?” Emily whined.
The sun was beginning to drop from the sky and the moon had started to appear. It had been hours since they last stopped and Emily was starting to feel claustrophobic from being in the car for so long. The playlist from earlier was still playing on shuffle and repeat, but it had been playing for hours and both girls were getting tired of it. Emily really had to pee and Dana really needed to get out and stretch her legs. It felt as though the tight red pants she had borrowed from her sister were cutting off the circulation to her feet. They were both grumpy from the long trip, and neither of them wanted to spend another minute together or in the car.
“An hour or two, I think,” Dana grumbled back.
The road was starting to flatten out and there were barely any turns or hills. This made Dana’s job of driving a lot more difficult because she had to concentrate on a flat, straight road that seemed to lead nowhere. The older sister had one hand resting on the top of the steering wheel and the other was braced against the door, supporting her head. She didn’t get as much coffee as she wanted, so she was forcing her eyes to stay open. Emily had a whole cup of coffee, and it hadn’t worn off yet, so she was bouncing off the walls. She was still grumpy, of course, but she was wide awake. Dana wished that her little sister would give her some energy so that they could arrive to the ranch safely. She was worried that she would doze off at the wheel and get into a wreck just like their parents. She had been scared to drive right after her parents’ car accident and was still unsure about. But despite her fear, she just drove her and her sister across the country and to an unknown state. It was a risk she was willing to take in order to help her sister. Even though her sister wasn’t very grateful about it, Dana still hoped that this would help her change. Not that she needed to change; she just needed to change some of her habits.
“Will I have my own room?” Emily inquired.
Really? The only thing she was worried about was having her own room? Well, if that was all she was worried about then Dana was pretty relieved.
“Yeah, probably. I mean, he lives in a big farm house, so I’m sure there’s a guest room,” Dana replied, widening her eyes.
“Will I be able to sleep in?”
“You’d have to ask Pa what chores he wants you to do. That would depend on what time you get to wake up.”
“Chores?” Emily remarked with a snotty tone.
“You didn’t expect a lazy vacation, did you? It’s a ranch, Emily. You’ll have to get your hands dirty.”
Emily sunk lower in her seat and grumbled to herself. “As long as I don’t have to clean out the barn.”
Dana decided not to say anything because her sister would just retort back to her. The two sisters remained silent for the rest of the drive. A small town came in to view and Emily perked up a little bit. The town was about the size of the block they lived on in the city. It consisted of a grocery store, a drug store, a gas station, and select stores that probably didn’t sell anything Emily was interested it. A tiny movie theatre sat off to the side, along with a broken-down motel. A family restaurant rested in the middle, and the sisters noticed there were still cars parked in the parking lot. At least something around here would be opened late. Dana slowly drove through the town, her station-wagon puttering along the way. They finally exited the town and drove onto a dirt road that went through a field. The tires kicked up sand, making Dana squint through the cloud of dust. The car bounced along the field road and the two sisters started to get anxious. Emily was about to meet her grandfather for the first time, and Dana was about to see a grandfather she hadn’t seen in years. Both were nervous for different reasons.
As Dana steered down the dirt road, fences started to appear on both sides of the car. It wasn’t very tall and looked like it needed repaired; the girls hoped that it kept whatever lived inside in. Emily squinted into the dark, seeing a moving figure. For a second she became really nervous, and then a black and white spotted horse cantered up to the car and stopped in front of the broken fence. Dana nearly slammed on her breaks, spooked by the creature. She slowed down a little, but kept driving. The horse began trotting next to the car, and a few more joined in. As Dana drove, Emily watched the five horses trot along with the vehicle. They were each a different color and size. One was brown, one was tan, one was black, brown, and white, and one was plain white. But Emily’s favorite was the black and white spotted one.
A light appeared in the distance, which meant that the sisters were almost to their destination. Dana had the urge to step on the gas so that they arrived sooner, but she kept the car at a safe speed. A rickety barn came in to view, and soon a tall white farm house. Dana breathed a sigh of relief; they had arrived safely. Emily, however, tensed up. She would soon have to meet her grandpa and move into a place she had never visited before. The older sister pulled the car up next to the house and parked it. She heard the front door of the house open and an energetic Rottweiler came hurtling towards the car. Following the Rottweiler came a much slower Old English Shepherd. Emily had never liked dogs – probably because she never spent much time around them – so she was slightly afraid to get out of the car.
“Dusty! Joe! Come here!” a gruff voice came from the porch of the house.
Both dogs immediately turned around and went to their owner. A hunched old man made his way carefully down the stairs of the porch. He had a full head of white hair that stuck up in random places. Above his lip grew a mustache that matched his hair. His mustache, however, seemed to sag at the sides. His nose curled at the end, and his neck seemed to disappear into his shoulders. He walked towards the car with a slight limp and a frown upon his face. Dana wasn’t stunned by this man’s appearance. Once she saw him, she immediately jumped out of her car and embraced him. Emily was a lot slower to react.
“Pa!” Dana exclaimed as she hugged the old man. “And you must be Dusty and Joe,” she bent down to pet the dogs that were standing next to Pa’s legs.
“The English Shepherd is Dusty, and the Rott is Joe,” Pa explained, patting the dogs on their heads.
Emily watched her sister from the car and then slowly unbuckled her seatbelt. Once she got out of the car it meant she was stuck on this ranch for who knew how long. But she also couldn’t just sit in the passenger’s seat and hope Dana would reconsider. They were already here, and her grandfather was standing in front of her. So the girl opened the passenger’s door and got out. She leaned on the door for a long time, waiting for someone to notice her. Eventually, one the dog’s did; Joe jogged over and started sniffing Emily’s unfamiliar combat boot. And that’s when her grandfather saw her.
“So,” he began, resting his thumbs on his belt, “you must be Emily.”
“Yeah…” she replied shyly.
Pa limped over to his granddaughter and held his hand out to her. “It’s nice to finally meet you,” he smiled, making his cheeks wrinkle even more.
At first, Emily wasn’t sure about the handshake, but she eventually placed her hand inside of her grandfather’s. His hand was rough and giant around hers. She noticed his fingernails were slightly yellow and chewed off. And some of his fingers were bent in directions they weren’t supposed to be. She looked up into his face and noticed his sad gray eyes. They had circles underneath of them and his eyebrows hung down so that they almost touched his eyelashes. But never the less, he had a smile plastered to his face.
“I’m sorry it took so long for us to arrive, Pa. We had to stop several times,” Dana came up behind him and explained.
“No problem, Dana,” he turned around and patted her cheek. “I have the room all fixed up for you. Why don’t you grab your things and head inside?”
Emily walked into the guest room and dropped her bags on the hardwood floor. It felt odd walking into a room she had never been in before. And she was expected to live there. The girl walked over to the closet and pulled the sliding doors open. The closet was completely empty except for some wire hangers. Her shoulders slightly sunk as she turned around to inspect the rest of the room. At least the bed was a double, which meant she had plenty of space to sleep. In the small apartment in the city, she and her sister had to share a bed. The quilt on the double bed represented many colors and shapes; there wasn’t an exact theme to it. Emily looked at it and noticed several flowers, but there were also faces of animals, and then some camo patches. Whoever made it must’ve not had OCD, because the unique pattern was starting to irritate Em. She flopped onto the bed and found that it was rather soft. She looked up at the ceiling and stared at the three bladed fan as it made its way around and around. There were dust particles collecting in the corners of the room. And the vent that was next to the closet continuously rattled. Emily let her arm fall off of the side of the bed and her fingertips met a furry object. She quickly jerked her hand away and looked to see what it was. A large, furry dog bed sat next to the double bed. Great, Emily thought, I’ll be sharing a room with a dog. Could this day get any worse?
Emily rolled off of the bed and sauntered over to her suitcase. She unzipped it and flung it open. She began to dig through it until she found what she was looking for. The girl pulled out her favorite stuffed animal – a bear with sewed on buttons for eyes – and crawled back onto the bed. She held onto the bear as tightly as she could, remembering the day her mother gave it to her.
“He’s a little fragile, Em, but he could use some love,” her mother grinned as she held the bear over Emily’s crib. “Take care of him for me.”
Emily smiled to herself as a tear suddenly escaped her eyes. She had tried to be strong; she really had. After her parents died, she wanted nothing more than to stay locked away in her room and waste the days away. But Dana was determined to continue to live life like normal. So she dragged her little sister to a rough neighborhood where they moved in to a crumbling apartment. That’s when Emily had lost it. She had tried to continue to go to school, but the kids just looked at her like she was wounded. And then she began skipping school. She would lie and say she picked up an extra job to help her sister, but she was really just sneaking around the alley ways. She would give herself little pep-talks about how she had to be strong for her sister. She had to be strong because that’s what her parents’ would want. But the more she ventured by herself, the more she realized that it was impossible. How could she be strong when her parents just died in a car crash? How could she continue her life when they were never coming home? Her father would never walk her down the aisle. Her mother would never hold her grandchildren. Her parents would never see their daughters grow old. And that’s when Emily broke. That’s when she shattered.
“I’m so sorry, mama,” Emily cried into her bear. “I’m so sorry!”
Dana and Pa were downstairs, unaware that Emily was crying herself to sleep. Pa was busy making tea, Joe tailing behind him every step of the way. Dana was sitting in the rocking chair while petting Dusty. She looked around the house, taking everything in. It seemed that not much had changed since the last time she had been there. The slanted couch was still pushed against the wall with a rocking chair on either side of it. End tables were scattered around the room, and each held a different style of lamp. The bookshelf across from Dana was stuffed full of books; it looked as though her grandpa just shoved books wherever they would fit. The older girl slightly chuckled to herself, shaking her head. She got up – disturbing the dog – and shuffled into the kitchen. The teakettle whistled as she entered, and her grandfather frantically picked it up and poured the hot water into a mug. He placed it back on the stove and fumbled with the teabags. His crooked fingers were too large to grip the openings of the bag, and Dana could tell he became more frustrated as he worked at it. She reached over and gently took the teabags out of her grandfather’s hands and opened them. He watched her as she placed a bag in each mug.
“Thank you,” he grumbled. “Sometimes life gets hard with these broken hands of mine.”
“It’s alright, Pa,” Dana smiled, walking back into the living room.
She held her warm mug with both hands as she curled up on the couch. Dusty promptly jumped up on the couch next to her and laid her head on Dana’s lamp. Dana patted the dog’s head, and then took a sip from her tea. Pa was a lot slower to get in to the living room. He gripped his mug by the handle – his fingers barely fitting through the loop – and hobbled into the living room. He placed his mug on an end table and carefully lowered himself into the rocking chair. The chair slightly squeaked and rocked backwards as he sat himself down. Once he was seated, he reached for his tea and began drinking. Joe trotted into the room and curled up at Pa’s feet. Dana and her grandfather sat in an awkward silence for several minutes. Neither of them knew what to say to each other. It had been years since the last time they saw each other; more years than either of them wanted to count. Emily hadn’t even been born yet.
“So,” Pa cleared his throat, “did you have any car troubles?”
“Good, good,” he nodded. “I’m surprised, actually. That car’s a hundred years old.”
Dana chuckled, “Yeah, but she’s a good car.”
“I remember when I gave your dad that car. It’s been in the family for many years.”
The two sat in silence, sipping from their cups of tea. Pa slouched in his chair, a frown upon his face. His chin nearly touched his chest, and his toes had to reach for the floor. He wasn’t a very tall man, and was even shorter due to his hunched back. Dana’s dad always said that his father was a stern man. He wasn’t very forgiving if the ranch chores weren’t done, or if something went wrong. Her father always said that Pa blamed everything on him and his brother. But whenever something did go right, or if it was a good day, Pa was the nicest man in the world. But he always wore a frown upon his face. That was probably because he had been alone for most of his life. Dana’s dad’s mother died in child birth, so Pa had to raise his two sons by himself. He had helpers on the ranch, of course, but the two boys were another thing that Pa had to worry about. From the stories Dana had heard, her father and uncle were ornery little bastards that drove their dad crazy. Her dad said that Pa became grumpy after his wife died, and he just took out his emotions on his two sons. But now, as Dana looked at him, all she saw was sadness. She didn’t see a mean old man. She saw a broken heart that had been alone for far too long. The corners of his eyes were turned down, and nothing but emptiness filled them. His mouth was in a constant frown, and his cheeks sagged. Pa’s shoulders were slumped, and his hands constantly shook. Dana felt sorry for him, actually. Her dad had left the ranch as soon as he could because he wanted to get away from Pa. And her uncle committed suicide shortly after his brother left. Having both of his boys gone, Pa just grew grouchy. The only thing that made his life worth living was having grandchildren. And he was secretly grateful that Dana and Emily had made the trip down to Texas to spend time on the ranch. It actually made him happy.
“Will you be staying long?” Pa broke the silence.
“I’ll probably either head back in the morning or in a couple days.”
Pa raised his heavy eyebrows, shocked. “You’re not staying?”
“I want to go back to the city and see if I can’t get things straightened out,” Dana quickly explained.
“What about Emily? I’m a stranger to her. She’s not going to listen to me?” Pa griped, sitting up in his chair.
“She may not be happy about it, but she’ll listen.” Pa didn’t seem convinced. “She’s a good girl, Pa. She just needs a little straightening out.”
“So you’re just going to leave your sister here? By herself?” Pa inquired with a raise of his eyebrows.
“She’ll be fine,” Dana stated, convincing more herself than her grandfather.
The older sister went to drink from her cup of tea, but she found that it was cold. Slightly frustrated, she gently moved Dusty’s head off her lap and stood up. Both dogs watched anxiously as Dana walked out of the living room and into the kitchen. She made her way over to the stove and reached out for the tea kettle. Not realizing the stove was still on, Dana rested her elbow against it as she lifted the kettle off of its burner. Dana’s shirt sizzled against the stove-top, and her skin immediately roasted against the heat. The girl rapidly removed herself from the stove, letting go of the tea kettle. Dana gripped her elbow as the kettle fell to the floor and shattered. Watching her feet, she leapt over to the sink and turned on the cold water, sticking her burnt elbow underneath the faucet. Exasperated tears sprung from the girl’s eyes as she cursed under her breath.
“Shit,” Dana moaned, knowing that she shouldn’t curse in front of her grandpa.
Pa limped into the kitchen and stared at the mess Dana had made. The bright red tea kettle was now shattered on the floor. Spilled hot water was soaking into the hardwood floor. And Dana was crying at the sink with her elbow soaking in cold water. It had been a while since Pa had company, and he had forgotten how much of a pain it was. Both dogs didn’t mind, though. They curiously sniffed the mess on the kitchen floor, careful not to step on any broken pieces. After checking out the floor, both dogs padded over to Dana and sat by her feet. Dusty stared up at the girl with old puppy eyes, and Joe simply wagged his tail at the girl.
Pa hobbled over to his granddaughter and took her arm in his rough hands. “Let me see.”
“It’s fine,” she sniffled, wiping her nose with her other hand. “I’m so sorry, Pa. I’m so sorry.”
Pa was angry at first. That tea pot was a wedding present from years ago. His wife always made tea, coffee, and hot cocoa with it. He cherished that bright red pot because his wife cherished it. So when he heard it shatter on the ground, his first instinct was to yell. But then he saw Dana’s arm and realized that the tea kettle was just a tea kettle; Dana was his granddaughter.
“It’s alright,” he reassured her. Pa looked up into Dana’s tear filled eyes and gave her a crooked smile. “It’s just a pot.” Dana nodded, wiping her nose. “Now, let’s put something on that burn. There’s some medicine and bandages in the bathroom. I always keep them on hand in case the helpers injure themselves on the ranch.”
Pa hobbled into the back hall of the house and into the bathroom. Dana thought about waiting for him by the sink, but then followed him into the brown bathroom. It was a very gaudy bathroom, the girl noticed. Every wall was the color of mud, and three horse shoes hung above the toilet. The workers must need good luck while they’re in here, Dana thought to herself. The mirror above the sink was surrounded by rope, and the shower curtain was a country theme. The girl simply shook her head at her grandfather’s decoration skills. He didn’t even seem to notice the clashing theme of the bathroom because he was busy digging around in a cabinet. He fussed to himself as he pushed aside medications, band-aids, toothbrushes, and towels. Eventually, Pa found the antibiotic and bandages at the back of the cabinet.
“Come here,” he motioned.
Dana stepped forward so that her grandfather could take care of her burn. He gently rubbed some antibiotic on her elbow and then wrapped a bandage around it. His rough hands rubbed against Dana’s soft skin, but he was careful not to hurt her. His movements were very precise and delicate. He had the same hands as her father, which made her smile. The similarities between Pa and Dana’s father were unbelievable. The only difference was Pa’s sternness and her father’s kind heart.
“There,” Pa remarked, tying a knot in the bandage. “All better.”
“I’m sorry, Pa. I didn’t mean to –”
Pa held up his hand, silencing his granddaughter. “It’s just a tea kettle, Dana. I can go buy another.”
“At least let me help you clean it up.”
Pa agreed to that, so the two of them headed back into the kitchen. Being careful not to step on any broken pieces, Dana grabbed the broom from behind the fridge. Pa grabbed a rag from a closet and handed it to Dana; she gave him the broom. Dana proceeded to mop up all of the spilled water with the rag. Pa swept up all of the pieces that belonged to the broken kettle. Joe, being a young dog, wanted to be in the center of all of the action. He sniffed at Dana’s rag, and followed Pa’s broom. Pa actually had to shoo him away with the end of the broom, but Joe would just trot back into the kitchen. Dusty sat in the doorway of the kitchen and just observed everything. She was a pretty old dog and couldn’t handle a lot of action. Her job on the ranch was to watch everything from the front porch. Joe did the herding. Well, he was supposed to, but he got distracted easily. Dana enjoyed the dog’s company, though, however difficult it made the job at hand. It was nice to have someone smiling at her, even if it was a dog. Pa kept to himself as he swept up the kitchen, occasionally mumbling to himself. So Dana carried on conversations with Joe, even though he only responded with a wag of his tail.
“I think we just about got it,” Dana commented, mopping up the last drop of water.
Pa swept the last pieces into the trash and placed the broom back in its place. Dana threw her saturated rag into the laundry. She wiped away the sweat droplets on her forehead with the back of her hand. Pa pulled a handkerchief out of his sleeve and dabbed his face with it. They stood in the kitchen and just looked at each other. Dana wanted to apologize again, but she knew that that would only upset her grandpa. Pa honestly didn’t know what to say. Yes, he was upset that his wife’s kettle was now in the trash, but he also wanted to reassure his granddaughter that it wasn’t a big deal. He would just drive up to the store tomorrow and get a new one. He had to have a tea kettle no matter what because the ranch helpers loved their coffee and tea.
“Well, I better get to bed,” Dana commented, nervously shoving her hands in her pockets.
“You can either sleep out here on the couch or in the guest room with your sister,” Pa explained, resting his thumbs on his belt.
“Okay…” Dana turned to the stairs. “I’ll go to town tomorrow and buy you a new tea kettle.”
Dana turned away from Pa and prepared to go upstairs, but then turned back around. “Pa?”
“There’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you for a while now…” the girl trailed off.
“And what’s that?” Pa inquired.
“Well, you never came to mom and dad’s funeral,” Dana blurted out.
The man was shocked. He had not expected his granddaughter to ask that question. He had expected her to ask about the ranch or the pets, but not about his son’s funeral. He rubbed his face as he leaned against the counter. Dana watched as more wrinkles seemed to appear around his eyes. She waited for him to answer, but Pa remained silent. She desperately wanted to know why her grandpa hadn’t attended her parents’ funeral, so she spoke up and broke the silence.
“Well?” Dana requested.
“Dana… I… I didn’t go because…” Pa trailed off, looking away from her.
“Because?” the girl crept closer.
“Because I couldn’t bare it. I had already buried everyone in my family, and one more funeral would’ve…”
His eyes began to get watery, so Dana walked over to him and took his hand. “It’s alright, Pa. I just wanted to know.”
The girl hugged the old man and then exited the kitchen. Dana climbed the stairs and walked onto the second story. She noticed that the door to the guest room was mostly closed, so she tried to be as quiet as possible while opening it. She peeked inside and noticed Emily curled up in the middle of the bed, hugging her teddy bear. Dana tip-toed into the room and closed the door behind her. She carefully unzipped her small duffle bag and pulled out her pajamas. She yanked off her sister’s red pants that she was still wearing and pulled on a pair of sweatpants. She wiggled out of her shirt and put on a loose fitting t-shirt. Dana stuffed the day’s clothes into her duffle bag and then placed it against the wall. She went to climb in bed, but then she heard a scratching at the door. Nervously, Dana opened it and glanced out into the hall. Joe automatically walked into the guest room and curled up in the dog bed that was in the corner. Dana just shook her head and closed the bedroom door before climbing in bed. She gently nudged her sister to one side of the bed before pulling the covers up to her ears. After two days in a car, it felt nice to sleep in an actual bed.
Pa remained downstairs for a while longer. He was used to staying up late, usually reading. He drank the rest of his tea even though it was cold. Then he picked up Dana’s half-empty glass and carried both mugs into the kitchen. He threw away the tea bags and then dumped out the excess tea. He turned on the faucet and ran some warm water while he squirted some soap onto a sponge. Pa proceeded to wash the two mugs, and then dried them. He carefully placed them in the cabinet with the rest of the mugs, and then rinsed out the sponge so that no soap was left. While he did all of this, Dusty patiently waited by his feet. The dog watched as he washed and dried the two dishes. Then, as Pa turned around, Dusty perked up. The two of them staggered towards the stairs, and slowly climbed them one at a time. Even though the dog could’ve made it to the top pretty quickly, she waited for her master to make it up safely. Before heading to his own room, Pa peaked his head into the guest room to check on the two girls. They were both fast asleep, and snoring. Joe was also curled up in his bed, sleeping soundly. Pa then limped into his own room, Dusty following him, and closed the door behind him. He slowly undressed himself, his hands shaking the whole time. He flung his dirty clothes into the laundry, and those that remained clean he neatly folded and placed in his dresser. He pulled the covers back on his bed and picked up his nightgown. He tugged that over his head and let it fall over his frail body. He cautiously sat down on the side of the bed and reached towards the end table. On it sat several bottles of medication. Pa struggled to open them, but eventually managed to open all of them. He poured the necessary amount of pills into his free hand, and then placed the meds back on the end table. He placed one pill on his tongue and grabbed his glass of water that always sat next to his bed. He swallowed his medication one at a time, and then returned the glass of water back to its home. Pa then reached for the picture frame that sat off to the side of his meds. In the frame was a black and white picture of a beautiful woman with a huge smile plastered to her face. Pa brought the frame up to his face and kissed the picture.
“Goodnight, Isabelle,” he whispered, and then put the frame back on the table.
It had been years since his wife had died, but he always said goodnight to her before he went to bed. Pa cautiously lied down on his back and pulled the covers up to his chest. Dusty proceeded to leap onto the bed and laid her head on Pa’s chest. Pa stroked the dog’s fur, enjoying the comfort it brought him. Dusty had been with him for twelve years, and he knew that she wouldn’t be around for much longer, so the old man enjoyed every minute he had with the old girl. The two of them slowly fell peacefully asleep.