“Come over here, and let me hug you, sweetheart.”
Jillian’s entire body stiffened as her aunt enfolded her in an embrace that smelled suspiciously like goat.
I still can’t believe I’m living on a farm.
Jillian pulled away.
What am I doing back in Orchard Grove?
Connie chuckled, easily hoisting Jillian’s two suitcases toward the attic stairs. “Is this all you packed? I sure hope you didn’t leave anything important back home.”
What was there Jillian could have forgotten? It wasn’t like she’d need anything fancy out here in the middle of nowhere. Only one thing could be worse than living in Orchard Grove with her Aunt Connie, and that was staying in Seattle with her parents.
Connie led her into the tiny attic room that had been the pirate ship, the castle, the theater, and the art studio of Jillian’s childhood years — years of imagination and excitement living so close to Grandma Lucy’s farm.
It wasn’t that long ago really, but for Jillian it may as well have been a lifetime.
“Do you feel all right, hon?” Connie asked with that special, condescending knowing in her voice. “Can I get you anything? A glass of water maybe? You don’t want to get dehydrated.”
Ugh. That’s why Jillian most hated the thought of living here. Hated it almost as much as the idea of staying in Seattle. Hadn’t she known it would happen like this if she came to stay at Safe Anchorage Farm, her aunt fussing and making a big scene?
“I’m fine.” It wasn’t worth jumping straight into an argument her first night here. The long drive over the North Cascades had been tedious enough. Jillian was surprised she made it all the way to the attic without Connie making her memorize and recite a whole bunch of house rules.
She was an adult, but her aunt would always think of her as a child.
Connie stood there, looking helpless. If Jillian had to guess, she’d say her aunt was trying to come up with a way to broach the incredibly awkward subject of what had caused Jillian to get kicked out of her parents’ home in the first place. That or she really had to use the bathroom but didn’t want to appear rude.
Jillian turned her back to her aunt and hoisted her suitcases onto the bed. Some little old ladies collected dolls or trinkets. Here at Connie’s, Grandma Lucy’s prayer shawls and blankets lay in every room. Some grannies baked pies or tended flower gardens. Grandma Lucy spent her days talking to God.
At least Grandma Lucy was asleep. Jillian didn’t know exactly what kind of lecture her grandmother might have in store for her, but tomorrow morning was soon enough to find out.
A goat bleated outside.
“Oh, that’s Peaches. I’m coming, you old thing.” Connie called out as if the goat were a child waiting at the bottom of the stairs and not an animal who was (hopefully) locked up outside in its pen where it belonged. Jillian hadn’t stayed at the Safe Anchorage Farm in years, but she knew enough to expect that bright and early, Connie would come in and invite her to go out and milk the goats, a job that could take over an hour and a half start to finish.
It had been her favorite part of her summers growing up.
Now she was just tired.
Tired and ready to drown her anxieties in dreamless sleep.
Tomorrow would come all too soon, with its share of awkward conversations and forced reunions.
Tonight she was glad for the chance to be alone once Connie bustled out the door, calling to the whining goat as she hurried down the stairs.