Shortly after lunch, Gran announced she had a hair appointment.
“Why didn’t you say so when we were out?” Cat asked, resisting the urge to sigh.
It wasn’t so much that she minded driving, but she hated the idea of having to go out for a second time that day.
“Well, I just remembered,” Gran replied innocently. “Wait til you’re my age, dear. The other day I forgot my teeth til I realized I was gumming the cereal.”
She chuckled and hobbled towards her room.
“I just need to get my purse!” she called.
Cat gathered the dishes and looked for the sponge, which had been buried under dirty cups in the sink. She wondered if she should call Mom and let her know how spacey and tired Gran was today.
Not yet, she decided. They would be back tomorrow for sure, and Mom could see for herself.
Some of the dishes required a hot soak in soapy water before they finally became clean. Cat couldn’t help but wonder how long they had been waiting for a wash. It must be hard to be so old and live alone in a house.
Gran was still somewhere looking for her purse. At least, that’s what Cat guessed since it had been several minutes, and she still didn’t hear Gran hobbling back yet. She searched for cleaning supplies under the sink. The least she could do was dust and wash a bit before taking Gran away.
Cat sprayed down the kitchen windows with the blue cleaner. She thought she saw animal prints on the other side of the window, but everything was so dirt-specked. Besides, the glass was so thick it was hard to tell. Cat hadn’t seen any kitchen with such thick windows. Was Gran worried about thieves breaking in? Or bears?
But there weren’t any bears in Texas, as far as she knew. She couldn’t think of any large animal that would warrant such thick windows. Especially since the large windows had thick bars running across them.
She thought she remembered thinking about bears before. Hadn’t she seen one the first night she arrived? Cat shook her head. That was just her dream from the first night, she reminded herself.
She looked around, but Gran still wasn’t back. She was going to clean a bit more and then look for Gran. Maybe she was stuck in the bathroom after chugging her room temp Metamucil tea. She hoped Gran hadn’t locked herself in the bathroom, though it wouldn’t be surprising with how many locks were installed in the house.
Cat washed the doors, having to carefully wipe around six locks on the back door and five on the front door. The locks looked like they each required a different key, too. Cat felt like that was a recipe for disaster for an old lady living alone. What would happen if she lost her keys and was stuck inside for days? No wonder Mom wanted her to pick up Gran and take her back home asap.
Cat swept the hardwood floors that covered the house. She stopped outside each of the locked doors, three in the hallway where her bedroom was and one in Gran’s hallway. She tried kneeling down and peeking underneath the doors, but she could only make out a thin layer of dust on the other side.
Tap, tap, tap.
Cat put away the cleaning supplies as Gran shuffled into the living room. With a triumphant “Ha!” she hobbled herself into the living room.
“Found it!” she called, picking up her purse from the couch.
Cat tried to give a polite smile and followed her outside. She hoped Gran hadn’t missed her appointment with the hour spent looking for her purse.
Cat tapped her fingers on the steering wheel as they waited for the light to turn green.
“Hey, Gran,” she said in what she hoped was a casual tone. “Why do you have so many locked doors?”
“Because I don’t want them opened,” was Gran’s simple, yet disappointing reply.
Cat tried a different approach.
“Is it hard keeping track of all the keys?” she asked. “I mean, I lose my car keys all the time, and I’m not even—” she stopped herself.
“Old?” Gran finished with a chuckle. “No, my keys always stay in my pockets, dear. I’m not worried about them.”
Cat wondered if every conversation with Gran was going to be this disappointing. She pulled into the hair salon’s parking lot silently and followed Gran inside.
“Ms. Betty!” a woman with bright pink hair greeted warmly. “I wasn’t expecting you today!”
“I’ve got an appointment,” Gran said with furrowed brows.
The girl, Daphne according to her name tag, looked confused for a moment. Then, she gave a bright and fake-looking smile.
“Oh, of course!” she said a little too high-pitched. “How silly of me to forget. Come on over and sit in this chair right here.”
She hovered as Gran hobbled over to the salon chair slowly. Cat wished she could be swallowed up by the floor. This was too embarrassing. She sat on the couch in the waiting area, half-listening.
“Are we getting a trim today?”
“No, no, just a perm.”
Daphne nodded nervously and began rummaging through her cart. She hesitated when she made eye contact with Cat.
“This is my grand-child,” Gran said. “Can we get her a magazine or something before she dies of boredom?”
“I’m ok, Gran,” Cat mumbled. “I’ll just be on my phone if you need me.”
Cat tried to focus on her social media feed. It was three days into summer, and her friends had barely messaged her. Sure, one was at camp without a phone and two were on their way to Europe and Asia, but still. All they did was like her pic and give a comment too boring to respond to. She wondered if she had to send the first message.
But how embarrassing, to hear their fun stories and only be able to say she’s been stuck with her Gran so far.
“Are you sure?”
“It wasn’t a false alarm—”
“I have no idea who—”
Cat glanced up, but Gran and Daphne fell silent. Neither of them were looking at her, but she felt like somehow they stopped talking when they knew she was listening.
“It must be so nice having your granddaughter here,” Daphne said loudly, just a little too slowly for Cat to think they weren’t changing the subject.
“Oh, yes, it’s so nice,” Gran replied. “She’s here for a few days, I think.”
Oh, god, no. Cat slumped further into the couch.
“Well, that sounds lovely,” Daphne said in too sweet of a voice. “Have you taken her to Wendy’s?”
“We have Wendy’s where I’m from,” Cat responded.
Did they really think they were the only town with a chain restaurant?
“Oh, yes, but the frosty is so divine,” Daphne said, giving Gran a meaningful look.
Cat wondered if Daphne was always so passionate about chocolate shakes.
“My niece’s friend Hector has a job there,” Daphne continued. “Such a sweet young boy, mind you. Though, I hear he’s very busy these days, what with his family reunion and all. So many of his kind— I mean his family— there”
Cat wasn’t sure if any of that was supposed to be scandalous news, but Gran’s brow seemed furrowed as she heard it. Maybe they were uptight about large family gatherings, she thought. The comment about “his kind” made her nervous though.
Either way, Gran seemed set on going to Wendy’s after her hair was finished. Cat was already a little salty that Gran’s hair looked exactly the same as when she came in, but she couldn’t find an excuse to not take Gran.
“I’ll buy you one, too,” Gran offered.
“How many calories are in a shake?” Cat asked with a raised eyebrow as she packed Gran’s walker into the car.
“Well, it’s not a shake,” Gran retorted. “And calories don’t count when you’re getting it for free.”
Cat shook her head, but she resisted the urge to argue. She had nothing better to do anyway, she reasoned. No harm could come from taking Gran on one more errand. She immediately regretted her decision.
Thunk. Tap, tap, tap.
Gran walked slowly around the car. Cat had no idea why, though. She had parked near the entrance so Gran didn’t have to walk around. But then she didn’t stop once she went around the car. She kept going.
“Gran? Gran! The door’s over here!” Cat called, walking after her gran.
Why Gran would think the entrance was near the trash cans, Cat had no idea. But that was where Gran was headed, giving the poor employee who was dumping trash bags a surprise.
“Do I know you?” Gran asked with a polite smile. “Are you Wendy?”
“Gran!” Cat said, catching up to her and tapping her shoulder. “We have to go inside.”
“Huh? Oh, silly me,” Gran said with a chuckle.
She patted the confused employee on the shoulder.
“When you’re my age, you’ll understand,” she said.
She turned and let Cat lead her back to the entrance, and she hobbled inside with a contented sigh.
“Oh, the air is nice and cool here,” she noted.
Cat didn’t know how to respond. She just gave an awkward nod and looked at the menu, like she had never been to a Wendy’s before and had to think hard about what she wanted.
The confused employee returned inside and (hopefully after washing his hands) waved them over to a counter.
“Hi, welcome to Wendy’s. May I take your order?” he asked with a large, fake-looking smile.
“Cat, sweetie, what do you want?” Gran asked, looking from the employee to Cat. “Huh, you two look the same age.”
Cat flushed. What was Gran getting at? She glanced at the boy. Besides, she looked older than him. Which was a bit odd because she was sixteen and he looked twelve.
“Uhhhhh,” Cat began, but was cut off when Gran snapped her fingers.
“We’re here for frosties!” she exclaimed, tapping her forehead. “See, I’ve remembered.”
“Anything else for you?”
“How do you say your name?” Gran asked.
“Oh, it’s, uh, Hector,” the boy said, pointing to his name tag.
“Is that your real name?”
Cat looked over at Gran, who had a curious look on her face.
“Um, yes ma’am,” the boy stammered.
“Given by your parents?” Gran asked, furrowing her brows at the boy’s nod. “Do you live with your parents?”
“Or are they in another place?” she continued, ignoring Cat.
Cat really hoped Gran wasn’t being racist.
“I live alone,” the boy said, looking visibly nervous.
“Really? No family in town?” Gran asked. “No one… visiting you? Legally or the other way?”
“My stylist Daphne mentioned you had family coming for a reunion,” Gran continued, smiling sweetly at the flushed boy. “Are you having a party?”
“W-w-well,” he stammered.
“I hope you have permits,” she said. “Otherwise things can get… messy. Real quick. I’m sure you know what I mean.”
“Gran,” Cat groaned in a pleading tone.
If there ever was a time for the ground to swallow her up, Cat wished it would at that very moment.
“My legs are tired,” Gran said, turning her walker around and shuffling towards the tables. “Where do you want to sit?”
“I am… so sorry.” Cat mumbled to the boy. “She’s really old.”
The boy wiped some sweat from his brow and gave a nervous smile before rushing away. Cat couldn’t blame him for needing a break.
“Gran, what was that about?” she demanded, sliding into the chair across from Gran. “That was so rude.”
“I was making small talk,” Gran said with a confused look on her face. “I wasn’t being rude.”
“It kinda sounded… racist.”
“I’m not racist,” she said. “And if I was rude to him, that wouldn’t be racism.”
“Just ‘cause you’re a person of color or whatever and he’s Mexican—”
“Who ever said he was from Mexico?” Gran asked. “Now you’re sounding racist.”
Hector came and put two frosties in front of them before rushing off. Cat shut her mouth and stared at Gran, who seemed oblivious as she enjoyed her frosty with an occasional hum. Cat kept glancing around, but the poor employee Gran harassed was nowhere to be found.
“I’m ready to go home,” Gran announced.
“Nothing else you need while we’re out?” Cat asked, hoping to not make another trip til it was time for the long drive home.
“It’s my nap time,” Gran replied with a shrug. “I think you could use a nap, too.”
“We had a nap time today already,” Cat said. “So… I’m ok.”
“I’m not. Let’s go home.”
Cat sighed, but it was no use arguing with the woman.
Gran snored the whole way home, and she slowly shuffled into the house and immediately towards her bedroom.
Cat tiptoed to the door and put her ear near the small crack in the door frame. She thought she heard scraping sounds, like Gran was dragging a table across the floor. Or maybe she was pushing her walker, and one of the tennis balls fell off.
Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap.
The taps sounded different. Cat wasn’t sure how she was certain, but she knew those weren’t the taps of Gran’s cane.
What am I even doing?
Cat snapped her head away quickly. What had her life come to that she was eavesdropping on an old woman? She backed away and trudged down the hallway.
Then again, what kind of old woman locked most of her doors, Cat pointed out. She glanced at the door across from her room. What could Gran possibly be hiding that she’d need so many keys?
Gran would probably be asleep for a while, Cat guessed. Maybe she could pick the lock and see what was in the room before she even woke up.
Cat set about looking for something that could pick a lock. She’d seen people in movies using a credit card… but she didn’t want to risk breaking hers. She thought about a paperclip, but she couldn’t find any in the house.
Cat settled for a metal chopstick, poking it into the keyhole. It was the only thing that fit, but it didn’t do anything. She wiggled it around and tried the doorknob. Still locked. She sighed and jiggled the chopstick more.
“That won’t work,” Gran noted.
Cat jumped about a foot, dropping the chopstick. How did Gran sneak up on her?
“You need a tension wrench, even a makeshift one,” Gran continued.
“I thought you were napping,” Cat said, trying not to look guilty.
“I just came out for a glass of water,” Gran replied. “Are you going to nap?”
“Uhhhhh, yes,” Cat said, figuring that was her easiest way out of the conversation. “I was just on my way.”
She quickly walked over to her room.
“Sweet dreams!” Gran called as Cat shut the door.
Cat laid on the bed and pressed her hands to her head. Embarrassed didn’t even begin to cover what she was feeling.