"Come on honey bunches," Grandmamma said.
"Okay," I said and got up off of the white wicker couch in the dining room of her condo and headed into the living room to collect my shoes. It was summertime so there was no need for a coat.
Once the shoes were securely on my feet and tied tightly, we headed out the door. Grandmamma put her key in the door once it was shut and locked it. It was then that I noticed that she didn't have her purse with her, which was something she always carried around with her when we were going to go on an outing that involved taking her car. Something fishy was going on here, of that I was certain.
"Where's your purse?" I asked her as she yanked her house key from the lock.
"It's inside the house," she replied.
"Why? Where are we going?"
Grandmamma took a moment to decide what to tell me. Finally, realizing that she had been caught red-handed and was cornered by my intuition and questions, she broke down and said, "We're going to Nick's house."
"WHAT?!!!!! You said that I didn't have to see him this time. You told me that this visit was only going to be between you and me, that we would have a private Grandma/granddaughter date!"
"Well, it pretty much HAS been a private grandma/granddaughter visit, hasn't it?" she countered.
"I mean, your visit's almost over. Your mom is going to pick you up in just a couple of hours to bring you home."
"I don't want to go to Nick's house," I said and planted my feet firmly on the ground. Grandmamma took hold of my hand and attempted to haul me away from the door but I didn't budge. I flexed all my muscles and fought back. Eventually, her grip slackened and she dropped her hands to her sides in exasperation.
"Why are you being like this Ashlee? What has Nick ever done to deserve this kind of dislike from you?"
"He hasn't done anything," I admitted.
"But he's very cold and detached and I don't like him. Why do I have to see him anyway? It's not like you guys are going to stay together for life."
"Well, you never know, maybe we will. And we're not breaking up anytime soon. Nick is my partner for now and if you want to continue to come over and visit me you're just going to have to accept him and push back all those negative thoughts and feelings towards him."
So, basically what she was saying to me was that it was Nick or nothing. If I didn't accept Nick, I wouldn't get to see her anymore. Back then, I still really loved her and felt close to her, much closer than I felt towards my mom. So I decided right then and there to try and accept him and push aside the negative feelings I had towards Nick. After all, she was right, I thought to myself as we climbed the stairs leading up to the sidewalk.
Nick really hadn't done anything to deserve the harsh feelings I had towards him.
"Where does he live?" I asked as I waited at the top of the steps for Grandmamma to catch up.
"He lives on the third floor, just two floors above my condo," Grandmamma said as she clippity clopped up the stairs in her obnoxiously loud heels. I always wondered how anyone could walk in those things. I still wonder to this day about it sometimes whenever I hear someone clippity clopping around in them. I tried wearing them once and I felt like I was drunk. It was a total disaster and I had to take them off to prevent a major fall from occurring.
When we reached the third floor I began to feel shy. Now, I'm not a very shy person. I never was and I never will be. But, standing there next to Nick's door, I felt like I didn't belong there, like I really didn't know what I would say once Nick opened the door. It wasn't like Nick would be warm and welcoming when he opened the door. He just wasn't a hearts and flowers sort of guy.
"Knock on the door," Grandmamma said her voice sweet like honey.
"You knock," I told her, backing away back to the stairs where I had come.
So Grandmamma went up to the door and knocked much louder than necessary, loudly announcing our arrival. I kept my distance from Nick's door, hoping that, by some miracle, Nick wouldn't be home to answer the door.
But luck wasn't on my side, for, no sooner had Grandmamma knocked on the door I could hear footsteps approaching.
The door opened and Nick's head came peeking out of it.
"Hi there," Grandmamma said, pushing her way into Nick's house and throwing her arms around him. A second later I could hear the sound of them making out. Right there in front of me.
When they were done, Grandmamma said, "Come on Ash, come in. Nick made a delicious lunch for us."
"We're eating at his house?" I asked, baffled. I thought this was just a quick visit, just a quick hello to get me slowly warmed up to the guy. This was way more than I had bargained for.
Slowly and reluctantly, I came towards the entrance and then stopped.
"Come on," Grandmamma said, her voice heavy with irritation now.
"He won't bite."
So in I went. What choice did I have? I didn't want to annoy Grandma more than I already had and the thought of not being able to see her anymore if I didn't behave myself around Nick really concerned me and stuck in my mind. So I plastered a big, fat, fake smile on my face and said, "Hi Nick, how are you?"
"Fine, thank you," he said tersely.
Now, this is going to sound strange to you folks, but I've always liked to imagine everything in the world as food. Ever since I was little I've always found great enjoyment in doing this. I still do it today. I'll write more about it later in another story.
Anyway, when I finally entered Nick's condo, I immediately looked around the place with the limited vision that I do have just to get a feel for the place in case I really wanted to leave by myself if Grandmamma wouldn't leave with me. The carpet in Nick's housed really grabbed my attention. It was very, very dark carpeting. It reminded me of very rich, dark thunder cake. Thunder cake is a very rich chocolate cake with extremely rich chocolate frosting. There is a recipe available online for all to read if you are curious about what thunder cake is. Thunder cake is a very rare cake that I've only had the honor of eating twice, once when I was in the first or second grade and after I graduated from high school. The first thunder cake I ate, which was when I was in elementary school was the best one because it didn't have berries all over it, tainting it and taking away the very important flavor of chocolate like the one someone made for me for my high school graduation present.
This thunder cake carpeting had NO berries in it at all. It was pure chocolate. I wanted to bend down and touch it because I was curious about what the texture felt like and I wanted to pretend like I was eating the thunder cake carpet to relieve some of the anxiety I was feeling then but everyone was looking at me so I decided not to. I was always being scolded for doing strange, out of the ordinary things in front of strangers, and I wasn't in the mood for being scolded. Well, I never was in the mood for it but, on that particular summer day, it was even MORE crucial that I didn't do anything out of the norm. If I did, I might not get to see Grandmamma anymore until she broke up with Nick, which, judging by the way they made out and hugged might not be for a long time.
The other thing that caught my attention was the way the house smelled. As soon as I had walked inside, I smelled a hint of cigarette smoke accompanied by the scent of rich wine. I remember standing there, smelling the fragrance of the house and imagining that I was at my dad's house instead of being at Nick's house. I would have much rather been at Dad's house than where I was then. Cigarette smoke smell often offends people. It often makes people wrinkle up their noses and make snotty comments about the smell. I, however, basked in the smell of second hand smoke, so long as it wasn't very strong. A light perfume of cigarette smoke always makes me feel happy, safe, relaxed. It reminds me of being close to my dad.
So, after smelling the faint odor of cigarette smoke, I started to relax a little bit. Maybe Nick wasn't such a bad guy. Maybe, just maybe, I had enough room in my heart to accept this strange, cold, dry, boring man. Just MAYBE!
"Come on Ashlee, let's go out on Nick's deck," Grandmamma said, grabbing my hand and steering me through his thunder cake carpeted living room, through the sliding glass door, and onto the sunny, warm deck. Once outside, I squinted in the sunlight until my eyes adjusted a little better, then I started to look about me. There was a small table and a set of chairs on the deck. To the right of me I could hear a SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS hissing noise and I could smell the rich, tender flavor of meat on the grill.
"What is Nick grilling?" I asked, turning to where the hissing sound was coming from. Next to the sliding glass door, which was open to let some fresh, non-cigarette tainted air into the house I spotted a small grill, working diligently to provide us with a delicious lunch of some meaty sort.
"Why don't you ask Nick," Grandmamma told me. It was her way of telling me I needed to have a decent conversation with Nick instead of ignoring him. Taking the hint, I sighed and then called, "Hey Nick, what are you grilling? It smells delicious."
It didn't exactly smell DELICIOUS but I thought that I could ham up the compliments a bit to get on Grandmamma's good side. Perhaps if I earned enough brownie points with her she would reward me with a Derry Queen treat after this visit was over.
"I'm grilling chicken. We're also going to have some prawns."
Prawns! Gross! I hated seafood! I kept those thoughts to myself and said, less enthusiastically this time, "Sounds good."
Nick had a certain name for the barbecued chicken but it isn't coming to mind right now. I think he might have called it Casian chicken or something. It wasn't any ordinary chicken. I think it might have been a sort of Swedish dish, but who knows.
It wasn't long before the food was ready and set on dishes for all of us.
"Where are we going to eat?" I asked, standing there on the deck, not sure where to go and feeling very out of my element in this strange, somewhat comforting but not quite all the way comforting house.
"Let's eat outside," suggested Grandmamma animatedly.
"It's beautiful out."
So we ate outside. Nick asked Grandmamma if she wanted to have some wine with her meal. She said sure and so Nick poured two glasses of wine. One for her, one for him. Nick, I had learned by now, was a pretty major booze lover. He always had a drink in his hand it seemed, the one exception being the time Grandmamma introduced him to me. I guess Grandmamma had told him that he needed to be sober for our first introduction and, not wanting to get on her bad side, he obeyed her orders and came down to her condo empty-handed and as cold as ice.
"What would you like to drink?" Nick asked me.
"I'd like some water please," I told him, staring at the huge plate of food that Grandmamma had set in front of me. It smelled strange, not bad but not quite good either. I sat there, wondering if I should wait for them to sit down and eat or if I could start eating. I decided to wait for them, not wanting to be rude and scolded for it. Grandmamma never seemed to mind if I started eating before everyone else at the table normally, but it was a HUGE no-no in my mom's house. And, this was no ordinary occasion. I had no idea what was expected of me then.
"Why aren't you eating?" Nick asked in his deep, nasally voice as he came back with a tall glass of water and set it on the table next to my almost overflowing plate.
"Aren't you going to try it?"
"Yes I am. Um… Um… Er, I'm just waiting for you two to start eating, too," I finally managed to stammer out.
"Okay," Nick said, the tone of his voice lightening up just a teensy bit.
"That's good because I was starting to think that you were going to be rude and not try the meal that I worked so hard to make all morning long."
"Never," I said and quickly picked up my fork.
I was surprised when, after I had taken my first tentative bite of chicken, that I decided right away that I liked it. The chicken wasn't spicy nor was it bland. It was tender and easy to chew. There was no fat or gristle on it at all to be found.
"Mmmmmmmm Nick, this is good," I found myself saying before I even knew I was about to compliment him.
"Try the prawns," ordered Grandmamma as she sat across from me and right next to Nick.
The tentativeness returned as I surveyed the prawns. I really didn't like seafood at all, yet I had never tried prawns.
"Just TRY them," Grandmamma insisted. The irritation was starting to come back. I could hear it at the very edges of her words, could feel it in the air. Behave, behave, And BEHAVE!!! I had to keep reminding myself of that for almost the entire visit.
I caught a prawn between the tongs of my fork and slowly brought it to my mouth. After a tiny pause, I took a tiny bite out of it. And again, I found myself very surprised. The prawns were absolutely SCRUMPTIOUS!
"Wow Nick, where did you go to chef school?" I asked him, totally serious with the question.
Nick just laughed and said, "No chef school for Big Daddy. I'm just a natural born excellent cook. Do I get an A on lunch for today?"
"No," I told him as I took another bite of the prawn, this time a more confident, bigger bite.
"You get an A PLUS!"
Grandmamma laughed and all the tension vanished. FINALLY!
"The prawns are fried, breaded prawns," Grandma explained to me as I ate hungrily. I hadn't even realized just how hungry I was until now.
"Well, they're outstanding," I said and this time, the smile that spread across my face was sincere.
I ate until my plate was clean. After the meal, we all just sat there on the deck, enjoying the beautiful summer weather and the refreshing, fragrant breezes that kept coming over to say hi to us and shower us with coolness and wonderful natural smells from the woods, and overall, a feeling of contentment. It was in this visit that I began to feel differently towards Nick. Just a little. I didn't trust him all the way yet, nor was I about to give him a hug, but I did give him a handshake and thanked him earnestly for our yummy lunch.
"A person who knows how to meet my high standards of eating often becomes a true friend for life," I told Nick as we got up to clear off the table and wash up.
"I'm glad you liked it," Nick said. At first, I thought I was just imagining it, but no. I wasn't imagining it at all. His voice had changed. It was lighter, more jovial. It was the kind of voice that one hears when someone who isn't quite sure about you either finally decides to accept you into their own hearts and become your friend, too.
So, it was in that moment, standing there on his deck, that both Nick and I decided silently that we would accept one another. He showed me by being friendlier and regarding me with more respect and dignity. I showed him I would accept him by thanking him and talking to him more freely and with less tension.
As the story unfolds, you'll see that we got even closer still. And that's when things all went CRAZY!!!! My life, indeed, would never be as I knew it before Nick came waltzing, unexpected and unwelcome, into my once innocent, once pure, once untainted life.