Oolong…Earl Grey…Black…the tea selection was daunting in the cabinet. Grandma Charlie always had boxes of tea although I never saw her drink any. Now, as I was sifting through her belongings it only seemed right to make myself a cup of tea. That and there was no coffee pot in the house and the nearest Starbucks was a twenty-minute drive into town.
I had been the only visitor to Grandma Charlie’s since she refused to move into the nursing home last year. She threw my mother out of the house and never liked my father, so he didn’t even try to come and persuade her. I was her only grandchild, and I thought her rebellion to stay on her farm was excellent and very her. Her farm never looked neglected, and she was able to continue the upkeep with me stopping by daily to help with chores she physically couldn’t manage anymore.
Among other things, I took the garbage to the end of the road, fed the barn cats, and went up to the attic to retrieve photo boxes and other items Grandma Charlie wanted for the next day. She was always pleasant, and I struggled to understand why my mother wanted her out of this house when Grandma so eagerly wanted to stay.
The microwave beeped and I took the steaming mug of water from it. I opened a packet of Earl Grey and let it drop softly into the water. The tea streamed out from it in colored ribbons that floated around the mug. Then, I walked over to the table where a box left specifically for me sat. Grandma Charlie’s death on Sunday hadn’t been a surprise. She had taken to bed the week before and had told me that time was finally catching up to her. I never argued. I just made her comfortable and even slept over a few nights to make sure she didn’t need anything or was alone.
“You’ll miss your classes,” Grandma Charlie said through a few fitful coughs.
“I’m online for college Grandma, remember?” I would gently say as I looked up from the pink loveseat I had pushed into her bedroom.
“That’s right. Computer school.” Grandma Charlie would say and then smile slightly.
“Make sure you finish before Pat Sajak and Jeopardy. I’m going to beat you tonight.”
It was my turn to laugh. We were both pretty competitive considering she knew most of the history answers and I knew the majority of the current events. We considered it a personal triumph to get the final jeopardy question correct. It didn’t happen often.
I laughed when I thought back to Saturday’s competition and then sighed remembering how the next morning Grandma Charlie didn’t ask for her orange juice anymore. She simply stayed asleep with her arms folded across her stomach. Her lips lay as though she had one more smile for the world before she left it.
I opened the rusted tin box and set the lid beside it. The container was slightly smaller than a shoe box and inside was a myriad of treasures. Old pictures, new pictures, newspaper clippings, ribbons from events, pins, and then the ring. I pulled the gold band with the dark red stone out and carried it back to the kitchen to get my tea.
“I never saw her wear this ring,” I said to no one in particular.
I inspected the stone as I carried my tea back to the box. I sat down at the table, placed the ring beside a small stack of recent pictures and sipped the tea. The tea was still too hot and made me cough and sputter the tea all over the table. Frustrated, I went for a paper towel and started cleaning up my mess. I paused when I cleared a very old photograph of tea droplets. Grandma Charlie was standing in a forest with a cloak about her shoulders. Her smile was the only indication it was her. It was the same smile she had when I tried to wake her on Sunday. The rest of her face was dark. Only her lips were discernible. It was her knowing smile. In the photograph, she was wearing the ring and holding a large ornate key. Fascinated, I looked in the box and found the same key. The metal was heavy, and I almost dropped it when turned it over in my hand.
Gingerly, I sipped my tea again and without melting my tongue I enjoyed my first taste of Earl Grey. I looked out the back window and realized I was looking at the photograph’s background. I held the mug in my left hand and picked up the picture with my right. The forest wasn’t really a forest at all. It was the grouping of trees behind Grandma Charlie’s house. She was standing in front of them as if she was about to turn around and run away forever inside. I took another, longer drink of the tea and decided it was worth an investigation.
I walked over to the rack of coats and scarves beside the door and grinned. There had to be twenty-five coats on this rack and a dozen different scarves. I had never noticed how cluttered this rack was before and as I reached for the nearest warm jacket, they all fell to the floor. That is of course except a dark, green cloak. I gasped slightly when I saw it still hanging and almost abandoned my journey into the woods. Then, I thought about Grandma Charlie and her smile, and I reached for the cloak. After rehanging the rest of the pieces that fell, I grabbed the key, ring, and the photograph. There was a small pocket sewn into the upper right side of the cloak and I used it for the key and photograph after I put it on. Then, I finished off the Earl Grey and put the mug in the sink. The January air felt crisp as I opened the door and headed for the woods.
In the photograph, Grandma Charlie wore the ring on her right ring finger, but it was too large for my right hand. I wore the ring on my left index finger and as I spun it into place, so the stone was facing up, it began to glow. It was also started to pull my hand toward the darkness of the trees. I tried to resist, but it was no use. All I could do was smile and be led into the unknown.
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Great story. Now I want to know what happens next! :-)
Thanks for reading! I am excited to write more of this story too.