"You thought I'd run you over?" I heard a familiar voice ask.
In a second the fear was gone and I jumped up to see Grandma's huge smile.
She was still smiling as she stepped out of her spiffy red sports car.
"Come and have a hug!"
I flew into her outstretched arms. I never really hugged my mom, but I loved hugging Grandma. Maybe it was because she loved hugging me. Mom was more reserved. I knew she loved me, but she had never been much of a hugger. If she had to hug, it was one of those awkward, one-armed hugs, and she even patted my back just like men always do. I was sure it was embarrassing to look at, so I let Mom off the hook and did not hug her in public.
No such problems with Grandma. I squeezed her with all my strength, and she did the same back. She had really developed hugging into an art form. Despite her small frame she grabbed you like a bear and laughed with joy as she hugged, making you feel like you were the only important person for her at that moment. And to be honest, that was probably the case. She hugged you as if she was not sure if she would ever see you again.
Suddenly I felt a surge of happiness. Surely things would be better now that Grandma was here.
"And how are you now?" she asked me, pushing me to arm's length and looking me in the eye.
She knew, of course, but she didn't pity me, I could see that. She was simply asking a question, knowing what had happened. She knew exactly how to interact with me. I hated all that mushy pity talk that was going down.
"I'm OK, more or less," I shrugged.
"Well, it gets easier with time. But were you on your way somewhere nice?"
"I was going to our special place. Or in fact, it seems Muffin is headed there. We called it our den. Would you like to come along?"
Having someone with me suddenly felt like a good thing.
Grandma left the car where it was - no one ever drove along that road really, and it wouldn't have done the neat little car's suspension any good to go offroad - and we jumped over the ditch onto the path that encircled the hay field. Grandma always wore jeans and trainers and never acted her age ("How should I know how to act my age? I've never been this age before!"). She was the wild child of the family. How or when this had happened I never really knew. Her early life as far as I could tell had been quite staid and rural, in a farming community, but at some point she had kicked back and become the glamorous and rather intriguing figure that I knew. She was sure fun to be around.
Our trainers and jeans got all wet from the still dewy grass that brushed against us as we followed the little footpath around the turn towards the forest, across the meadow. It entered the forest through some old oaks, and led, curving gently among the trees, to our secret place, mine and Kitty's.
It was Kitty who had originally found it, a little abandoned hut, big enough for two people to take shelter in. It stood at the edge of what had originally been a cultivated field that was now almost overgrown with small trees, and we had concluded the hut had been meant for agricultural tools. Its roof was still whole, and someone had taken the trouble to cover it with felt. It was overgrown with moss now, but still waterproof. It even had a little gas stove.
We had brought two old plastic garden chairs to the hut, and a little table, from our garden shed – the kind you see all around the world in cafeterias and on beaches. My mother was a bit of a pack-rat, and never wanted to throw away anything that wasn't broken, and these chairs and the table must have been from the early days of my parents' marriage, gone into storage when they travelled around and then brought back into service when we came to live here. The white plastic had darkened into a dirty gray that no cleaning could remove. My parents never noticed they were missing. Not that I had ever expected them to. Dad always tried to chuck old stuff out without my mother noticing, and was quite successful at it too, being careful to throw only those things away that had not met her eye for a while. If he had noticed the furniture gone, he'd never have said a word anyway.
There, in our shed, we had sat and talked and laughed... Watching the forest change from season to season, through the open door. We had tamed some curious squirrels, and they frequently came to see if we had brought any nuts for them. I thought about them now and wondered how they were doing. They probably missed us - we must have seemed to have disappeared from their lives quite suddenly.
"So this is where you and Kitty used to hang out?"
I nodded, lifted the latch, and pulled the door open. Grief hit me in the face with such strength I could not help a little sob from escaping. Grandma's hands were on my shoulders instantly.
"Come here. Sit down. You need to talk about it." She turned me towards the chairs and gently pushed me down on one.
"I miss her so much," I cried.
"Of course you do. You were the best of friends." She squeezed my hand. "Now; you need to get it out of your system. Tell me how it happened."
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