After trash ball, Duncan tucked me in my car. “It’s getting late. I don’t want your parents hating me even before our first date.”
Date. With Duncan. This Friday. The Tardeada. I didn’t need Brie or Mercedes. I didn’t need lunch table fourteen or OurWorld connections. I had Duncan. And a date.
My earlobes were still tingling when I arrived home. The entire second floor was lit up, all bright and cheery. I hurried up the stairs to tell Grams about my date when I smelled smoke. Smoke?
Gray, gritty swirls seeped from the tiny gap under Zach’s old bedroom door and pooled near the ceiling. The fire alarm went off. “Grams!”
I ran to the door, my fingers sliding along the wood and handle. Not hot. I pushed. Billows of gray smoke poured out. “Grams!” The only sound was the hiss of smoke as wisps of gray snaked from the microwave on her dresser.
Putting my hand over my nose and mouth, I lunged through the choky air and flung open the microwave door. After I fanned away the smoke, I found a lump of coal, which in another life had probably been a twice-baked potato.
“Grams,” I called out as I walked through every room on the second floor, opening windows.
I finally found Grams in the backyard on the swing, her feet dragging in the pea gravel. She didn’t notice me at first, a small trickle of drool falling from the corner of her mouth. I sat on the swing and placed my hand on her shoulder, giving it a squeeze. “Grams, you okay?”
She blinked then twitched her nose. “What the hell’s that smell?”
I told her about the nuclear wasted potato.
The saggy skin at her throat bobbed as she swallowed. “Any damage?” Like me, was she remembering the Tuna Can fire alarm with no batteries? The fire sprinklers she ruined with a hammer?
“No, just a little smoke.”
She tossed off the haunted look and winked. “Good, but it’s too bad a fire fighter crew didn’t come over.” She leaned toward me. “Now there are some smokin’ hot hinies.”
I smiled. This was vintage Grams, my Grams.
She started to swing, and I joined her. In the cool night, the tangy smell of ocean nudged aside the lingering smoke. I pictured garbage games and Tardeadas. I pumped harder, flew higher. I felt Duncan’s warm touch, the crazy flares across stupid body parts.
I giggled. Grams laughed. The pole tips of the swing set popped off the ground, almost like it wanted to fly, too.
It felt good. Grams and mom. 88.8 The Edge. Even my JISP. And Duncan. I was ready to fly over the moon with Duncan. I leaned back, pointing my toes through the inky night. The swing set popped higher, a good two feet off the board. My body tilted back farther.
“On, no, I think she’s gonna blow!” Grams cackled. “Abandon ship!”
The swing set groaned and popped. The metal legs whipped through the air. I dove forward, Grams at my side. Smooth pebbles rained down on us as we land in the cushiony pea gravel. I landed on my stomach, Grams on her butt.
Grams picked gravel from my hair and tossed the pebbles at the metal swing set. “Not moving. I think it’s dead,” she said.
The metal poles were twisted at grotesque angles, and gravel covered the seats. I sat up and noticed a smear of blood on her arm. A wave of wooziness washed over me. “You’re bleeding.”
With the sleeve of her shirt, she wiped away the blood. “Just a little scrape.” That seemed to be the case, but in the moonlight, her skin looked so fragile as she pointed to the swing. “But we need to fix this thing.” Grams looked at me out of the corner of her eyes. “A hammer! We need a hammer!”
Grams started to giggle, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. Not with blood smudged on her arm and smoke drifting out the window.