“That is a lot of mud,” Dad commented from up front.
Pushing the bag aside with a bored huff the boy said, “Let’s play a game, Lauren.”
There was silence. Cody strained to see his sister in the passenger seat in front of him, groaning as he caught sight of a book in her hands. She was blonde with brown eyes and dark rimmed glasses, but you wouldn’t know because they were always behind a book.
Dad chuckled and glanced at his glum face in the rearviewmirror. “Don’t worry, we’re almost there,” he said.
The tires crunched on gravel as they slowed and turned into a long driveway. Cody sat up with interest. Thinned trees lined either side of the driveway for a ways, but ahead a stretch of green grass and sunshine came into view.
Lauren came to life and rolled down her window. She breathed in the cool, fresh fragrance of new flowers and marveled at how still and peaceful everything was. It was as though they were the only people around; just them and the birds who sang happily somewhere above.
“I never knew G-ma’s place was so pretty!” Cody said, pressing his nose against the window glass.
Spying a patch of ‘forget me knots’ growing up the bank of a lazy stream, Lauren squeezed her hands together happily and whispered, “It’s like a storybook!”
A moment later when they came upon a mowed lawn and little wooden house she squealed and pointed. Happily wagging his tail, a fluffy farm dog dashed off the front porch to meet them.
Brother and sister popped their doors open even before the engine was shut off and both tried to rush forward to the stopped man carefully climbing down the porch steps. The dog tripped Cody up first and then his sister, circling with joyful bounces and yips.
“Grandpa!” Lauren called as she untangled her legs with a laugh and gave him a hug. His eyes wrinkled into a smile.
“Stephen, you’ve grown a lot since I last saw you!” he said to Cody, “Where is your mom and little brother?”
Cody glanced worriedly at Lauren and saw she had those two little lines between her eyebrows. She flashed a fake grin that said “be gentle”, and Cody hugged his grandpa, saying quietly, “Mom and Stephen are flying in sometime tomorrow. They had a few more things to take care of at home so we came first.”
Grandpa mumbled something about siblings looking too similar and names being a nuisance, and bent to pet the dog settled between them.
Cody swallowed hard and shoved his hands deep into their respective pockets. He hadn’t expected this when Grandma had warned that Grandpa was a little different since his stroke. Cody hated to see him be so reliant on the stair railing and hesitantly let go to greet Dad. Where was the spring in his step and the confident way of talking? Cody couldn’t look at Lauren, he was afraid it would make him feel worse.
Grandma was suddenly there and giving hugs all around, apologizing for staying inside to take out the cookies, and chattering at an illegal speed about everything that had happened in the two years since moving to the country. The lump in his throat slowly melted, and he joined Dad to help unload.
“Now make sure you don’t spoil them while I’m gone,” Dad told Grandma, “I’m gonna drop some of this stuff in a storage unit in town before flying back to spend the night and coming here with the other half of my gang.”
Cody grabbed the last suitcase from the back, slung one backpack strap over his shoulder, and gave his dad the ‘all set’ thumbs-up.
“I never spoiled you, did I,” Grandmother’s eyes danced.
Dad put on a frightened expression and shook his head violently, backing toward the driver’s side. Everyone laughed.
Then Dad fished the keys from his pocket and hugged each of them again before driving off with a cloud of country dust following the disappearing vehicle.
Cody loaded his arms with luggage and turned toward the house, excitement filling his veins. “Oh the adventures that await!” he said to himself.
He looked up at the golden sunlight filtering through the leaves of a maple tree standing sentinel by the front of the house. Its branches peaked into what he guessed was an attic window, seeing that it was dark and dusty. He grinned.
“Cody, G-Ma says to come wash up for dinner!” Lauren called from somewhere inside. Cody mounted the steps and imagined what a meal cooked in the country by the best cook ever might taste like.
It was good and not soon forgotten. He was still licking his lips as he followed Grandpa out the door for farm chores.
Lauren watched them for a moment before turning to fill the sink with hot water. Squirting some dish soap onto the dishes below water, she ran a hand thoughtfully along a plate. “How’s Grandfather doing?” she finally spoke.
Grandma placed her hands on the counter and stared at a stack of yesterday’s mail. “Oh, he’s ambitious as ever, always wanting to do things and keep the farm perfectly neat. It just hasn’t clicked that his body isn’t up to it anymore. I’ve been trying to get him to rest, but the farm…” she shook her head and then smiled at the girl working busily, “That’s why your father decided to come here and help.”
Lauren paused to throw her wet hands around the old lady’s waist and give her a squeeze. “And I am so glad he did,” she whispered.
The next morning at breakfast a plate mounded with cookies was sitting in the middle of the table beside a jug of milk. “As nice as a centerpiece,” Cody told Lauren across the table, who replied she wasn’t sure if it was right to eat a whole meal of cookies.
“Grandma says breakfast on a farm is always quick and ‘fend for yourself’ style,” he replied promptly.
Cody wrapped the last cookie in a paper napkin and stuffed it in his shirt pocket.
“What’s that for?” Lauren asked suspiciously.
Cody grinned. “Exploring.”
Of all the doors he opened Cody counted two bedrooms, one bathroom, a broom closet, and a pantry. Coming out of the guest room he stared at a curious, narrow door. “Another pantry?” he wondered aloud.
It wasn’t. In fact, when he turned the doorknob and the door swung open with an energetic creak stairs confronted him.
“Ah, the attic!” he breathed.
He grabbed a small flashlight from his back pocket and shone the tiny beam up the narrow staircase. Putting one foot on the first step, he leaned his weight forward to test the wood. Not dead yet, he thought, pleased.
His shoes left footprints in the thin layer of dust that had settled since last time someone had climbed to the attic. There was another door at the top, and Cody cautiously pushed it open.
His eyes took some time to adjust to the dim lighting as he felt for a lightswitch along the wall. He finally found it and was blinded as the whole room flooded with yellowish light.
A window covered in dirt and cobwebs was on the opposite wall and, tripping over a stack of Scrabble boxes, he picked his way across to it and sat on the big, flat-topped trunk that stood like it had always been there. He cleared a peephole on the dirty glass and looked out at the maple tree.
“Yup, you were right,” he told himself, “This was the attic window.” His words didn’t echo, there was such an abundance of old furniture and bedding stacked along the walls.
Cody looked around at the cluttered room and the millions of dark nooks and corners to hide in and found himself wondering how many escaping slaves might have stowed away here for a night. “Nah, I don’t think the house is that old,” he laughed.
A door slammed, and Lauren raced across the yard with a book tucked under her arm.
“Probably that epic adventure again,” he mused, “She’ll go read it in a special, tucked away place.”
Cody grinned and rubbed his hands together. He was in a special, tucked away place that was its own, real live adventure. And best of all, there was exploring to be done.
To Be Continued...