Casandra curled up in a blanket on the rocking chair on the front porch of her great-grandparent’s home. Their Labrador Retriever sauntered over with a shy tail wag, fishing for a pat on the head and settling down at her feet after its request was met.
The cool, gray October morning’s only bright spot was the cluster of golden-leaved trees in the front yard. Birds called to one another as they darted back and forth, a cozy sight that Casandra found consoling after so many years of living in the heart of a loud and chaotic downtown. In the distance, the hum of traffic on the freeway reminded her that, in spite of the pandemic, the world was still in motion; still breathing.
The front door opened and a tray with a coffee mug and a bowl of oatmeal appeared, presented by the ever-smiling person of Casandra’s great-grandfather, Ralph.
“It ain’t fancy, but it’ll warm you up.”
Still a very tall man at 98 years, Great Ralph, as Casandra and her siblings and cousins called him, defied the notion that aging was a debilitating process. He was healthy, fit and full of energy.
“Is that bacon I smell?” Casandra asked as she eyed the tray.
“Grams insists we have the full breakfast spread this morning to celebrate the end of your quarantine but didn’t want you to wait, out here in the cold. Wanted to get you started with something hot.”
Casandra unwrapped an arm from her blanket and took a spoonful of the oatmeal. Plain, unsweetened and without milk, probably the instant variety, but gratifyingly warm, as promised. She unwrapped the other arm and took the coffee mug in both hands up to her nose, breathing in the rich smell of roasted beans before taking a sip.
“A girl could get used to all this service, ya know.”
“Best room service in the country, no doubt!”
“I can’t thank you guys enough for letting me stay here.”
“Enough of that. We’re here for you, and all you kids. We’re fortunate we can still help in any way we can. We’re just so happy you reached out!”
“Well, again, thanks. So much. I’m sorry the quarantine thing has been so weird.”
“It’s so damned strange to not be able to touch people. Give a hug! And staying in the guestroom like that? You could have come out, you know. Seemed a ridiculous business.” Ralph said.
“I’d never forgive myself if I brought the virus into your house. It’s the only way to make sure.”
“Well, let’s not worry anymore about that,” Ralph leaned forward and gave Casandra a kiss on the forehead. She smiled at Ralph and then turned to the opened front door.
“Grams? You need help in there?”
“No, no, honey,” the distant voice of her great grandmother Dorothy replied. “You keep visiting.”
“She remembered her hearing aid!” Ralph chuckled.
Dorothy stepped onto the porch with a thermos and another mug. Quick on her feet with an equally charming smile as Ralph’s, Dorothy was in as much defiance of her advanced age as her husband. They were quite the pair, Ralph and Dorothy. Always grinning and laughing, as if nothing could ever phase them, and still very much in love. It was a mystery to Casandra how people like her great-grandparents managed to make the happily-ever-after thing actually work.
Dorothy handed Ralph the mug and topped Casandra’s coffee off from the thermos. “You certainly are a night owl, sweetie”, she said.
“I like working at night, I guess. In the city, nighttime is the best time. It’s quiet. I’m sorry if I kept you up, though!”
“No, no,” Dorothy shook her head, “not at all. I just noticed your light on when I get up to use the bathroom, is all. Well,” Dorothy continued, “I’m going to finish up in there. How ‘bout you two come in in a bit, OK?”
An easy silence passed between Casandra and Ralph as they drank their coffees. It felt good to Casandra to just sit still without the worry that she should be somewhere else doing something else. She allowed the dog to finish her oatmeal.
“Don’t tell Grams,” Ralph teased.
“Great Ralph, do you mind if my plans are still indefinite?”
“Of course not. Love having another person around the place. Been kinda lonely these past months, just me and Grams. But, don’t they don’t need you at work?”
Casandra shook her head. “No, still have a work-from-home-until-further-notice order.”
The two sipped their coffee, again in silence. Ralph fidgeted in his chair and cleared his throat.
“Honey, you know you can tell us anything,” he finally ventured. “Of course, your folks are worried about you, but we wouldn’t betray your confidence.”
Casandra watched the dog lick the oatmeal bowl clean, avoiding Ralph’s gaze. She knew she owed her great grandparents a full explanation in return for their generosity, especially given the risk they took that she might be one of those with the virus and not know it.
“Garrett’s OK, he’s just not…It’s not like he’s a total jerk. I made mistakes, too.” Casandra gaged Ralph’s reaction. He only offered the same smile he perpetually wore. “Coming here, I know it’s like running away, but, the past two weeks, holed up in the guestroom, no distractions? It’s forced me to take stock. To be honest, I don’t know if it was lust or love. I mean, it was something. We care about each other, I guess. Anyway, I’ve thought it through and I’ve decided he can keep the condo and all our stuff. He can even keep the cat, if it comes to that. I just need a fresh start.”
“My darling girl…” Ralph began, when Dorothy interrupted, calling for them to get a move-on before breakfast got cold. As they stood to go, Ralph held Casandra back.
“My girl, if you have to ask that question, ‘bout whether it’s this or that? Then the answer is plain as the nose on my face. Now, Grams and I have no problem you staying here as long as you like. We’ll get a desk up in the attic for you and Grams will make the guestroom all yours. Besides, it’ll give me a legit reason to get internet cable installed, which will finally get everyone off my back! No, you take all the time you need. In fact, why don’t you just plan to stay through Christmas. That’ll make Grams so happy!”
A couple weeks’ of prompts: The dog in you; rocking chair; night-time is the best time to work; the world breathing; it ain’t gonna be pretty; lust or love, plus the image I found online.