*

Two days later, Eve walked into the kitchen to find Granny Fischer scraping breakfast – it looked like burnt scrambled eggs – into the trash can. She was muttering under her breath. Eve caught some of the words and blushed.

This stove. I can't cook like this. There is something wrong with it. Everything I cook scorches. I've never had such trouble with a stove in all my life.” She turned to Eve. “Does it do you like this? Scorch everything you try to cook.”

Um. Only when I leave it in the pan too long.”

Eve's answer was sincere, therefore she did not understand the fire which blazed in Granny Fischer's eyes.

Why, I've never....you worthless old bag. If you had any iota of how to cook, my grandson wouldn't be eaten some forsaken chicken nuggets from some stupid restaurant that probably serves horse meat.”

No. It wasn't a farm. It was Hu Wu Noodles Number One.”

I'm sick of this. Jordan! Jordan, come on.”

Jordan ran in from the living room. “Where we going?”

We're going to get a new stove. Your parents left plenty of money. We'll stop by the bank and then go get something that cooks right.”

Eve walked upstairs and put on her shoes. When she came down, Granny Fischer and Jordan were already gone. She sat at the kitchen table, surprised at how dejected she felt.

Maybe it's a good thing I didn't tell her that Richard bought Mary that stove six months ago.

*

Eve had only gotten through half her movie when they returned.

That was quick,” Eve said, wondering where the stove was.

Granny Fischer glared at Eve for a few moments before stomping up the stairs and slamming her bedroom door. Jordan said nothing, but played with his video game while watching the remainder of the movie with Eve.

*

As her stomach began to grow desperate for lunch, Eve worked up the courage to knock on Granny Fischer's bedroom door. When there was no answer, she opened the door anyway.

Granny Fischer sat by the window with a paperback novel open in her hands. Eve was not sure if she was actually reading it or not.

What?” the woman snapped.

Jordan and I are hungry. We were wondering if you wanted to cook or if I should call for pizza?”

Is that what you do?” Granny Fischer growled. “Waste their money on pizza and chicken nuggets?”

Her words felt like a knife in Eve's heart, though she was not certain why. “I try to cook, but it doesn't go so well.”

The woman's anger did not abate. “You should have told me. I don't like being treated like a fool.”

Told you what?”

You took the money. You took all their money!”

Eve stepped back. “I didn't take it. They left it to me. So I can take care of Jordan.”

Well, he has me now. So you don't need their money anymore. Do you know how embarrassing that was? To have the bank tell me I had no right to my daughter's money. That she left it to you! How did you do it? How did you trick them?”

Eve shook her head. She was afraid she would cry if she tried to say something.

Did you do it?”

Eve said nothing.

Did you do it? Did you kill them so you could steal everything away from me!”

Eve's hope deflated. She felt worthless. Her anger came out as despair. She turned and ran to her room, locking the door behind her.

Not much time passed before she smelled a delicious aroma wafting up the stairs, but she did not give in. She stayed in her room all day, eventually regretting that, even though she had a television, all the Disney movies were downstairs.

*

The next morning, which happened to be Sunday, Eve got herself and Jordan ready for church as usual. Granny Fischer, still wearing her pajamas, perched herself on a stool in the kitchen with a cup of coffee and a book.

When a horn sounded from the driveway, she looked out the door with concern.

It's just Ms. Sandy,” Eve explained. “She picks us up for church every Sunday.” She paused. “It's alright if we go, right?”

Granny Fischer laughed. “Do whatever you want.” She turned to Jordan. “You stay home today, okay sweetie.”

Jordan looked up at Eve, who gave him a simple nod.

No need to make this harder on Jordan.

He simply turned and went back into the living room, still dressed in a dress shirt and slacks. Saying nothing more, Eve exited the house and sought sanctuary with Sandy.

*

When Sandy asked about Jordan, Eve just told her he had permission to stay home this time.

After a few minutes, Eve worked up the nerve to ask her question. “Sandy. Do you know somewhere I can stay?”

Stay? What do you mean? For how long?”

Oh, forever, I think.”

What's going on Eve?”

Granny Fischer asked me to leave. I've got to be out pretty soon. I guess I should have asked you before now.”

Who's this Granny Fischer exactly?”

Mary's mother.”

Sandy nodded. “We'll talk about this more after church.”

Okay.” Eve feared she had said more to Sandy than she should have.

*

Despite her hopefulness, Sandy did not resurrect the topic on the ride back home. Eve did not want to pester her friend, so she remained quiet the whole trip, prayerfully hoping that Sandy would offer her a spare room or something.

Eve walked into the house with dread and fear, but was surprised to find a plate of chicken and fettuccine waiting for her on the kitchen table. It had gotten cold, but she figured cold food was better than no food.

Granny Fischer walked into the kitchen. She said nothing, but gave Eve a smile. Then she took her place on the stool and picked up her novel.

Eve stopped chewing the food in her mouth.

She poisoned the food. She's going to kill me? Is that it? Kill me in a false act of generosity?

Grabbing a napkin, she spat out the food. Though she had not eaten since early the day before, she sat down her fork and straightened her posture. If she were going to lose this battle, it would not be through a dish of cold pasta.

The doorbell rang unexpectedly. Both Eve and Granny Fischer were curious enough to remove themselves from their seats and almost race to the front door. Jordan beat them both. Sandy and the lawyer, Chandler Locklear, were greeting him.

Hello, Ms. Sandy,” Jordan welcomed.

Hello, Jordan,” the pastor's wife said warmly. She looked up. “Ladies,” she stated with a nod.

Can I help you with something?” Granny Fischer asked in her usual brusque tone.

I understand your Mary's mother.”

That's right.”

My name is Sandy Revis. My husband is pastor at Twin Oaks Community Church. We tried to contact you after your daughter and her husband died.”

Granny Fischer looked uncomfortable. “Yes, well, I was out of town when you tried to call.”

This is Chandler Locklear. He served as your daughter and son-in-law's lawyer. Do you have a few minutes to talk?”

Certainly,” Granny Fisher said. “Eve, if you'll take Jordan upstairs for a bit while we handle business here.”

Actually, this conversation concerns Eve as well.” Mr. Locklear spoke firmly. Granny Fischer's expression fell slightly as they all moved into the living room.

*

Granny Fischer listened to all that the lawyer had to say. The fire in her eyes grew more intense with each passing moment. Though Eve struggled with many of the words Mr. Locklear said, she felt certain she understood the meaning. Granny Fischer could not make Eve leave.

This house belonged to Eve.

Furthermore, responsibility for Jordan belonged to Eve.

Any input from Granny Fischer was only welcome if Eve chose to welcome it.

Granny Fischer refused to make eye contact with Eve.

Eve was glad for it. She was greatly relieved that, when Mr. Locklear left, Sandy did not. She took Eve into the kitchen and helped her prepare supper.

Granny Fischer went upstairs. She spent nearly an hour in her room before returning to the kitchen, dragging her luggage behind her. She smothered Jordan with hugs and kisses. She gave cordial words of departure to Sandy. She said nothing to Eve before loading her things into her car and leaving.

Eve just stood in the kitchen, uncertain about what to do. She did not mind being ignored. It was what she had hoped for. However, one aspect of Granny Fischer's departure troubled her.

Eve knew she could not consider herself intelligent. However, she liked numbers. She liked to count. When Granny Fischer came to this house, she unpacked three bags. Now she left with four.

Eve said nothing to Ms. Sandy. She just tried to pay attention in the kitchen in the hope of learning how to do a few things right.

*

After supper, Eve went to Richard and Mary's bedroom. Granny Fischer had stayed there. The extra bag had belonged to Mary. Maybe that gave her mother the right to it.

Except Mr. Locklear said that everything belonged to me.

Some of Mary's clothes were missing. So was some jewelry.

Eve had done nothing to this room since Richard and Mary had died. Despite possessing ownership, she did not feel that she had the right to disturb the peace here. She kept it pristine. Now, though, it had been defiled. It looked the same, but the thefts disturbed her. It made her fear that change was coming. Nothing was safe.

She was not safe.

It was as if Granny Fischer had disturbed their graves.

For most of her life, Eve had regretted not having a mother involved in her life. Now, she thought maybe she was lucky not to have had one.

*

Eve got out of bed the next morning excited for the opportunity to get back to normal life.

Life refused to cooperate.

Jordan would not get out of bed. “I'm too tired,” he argued.

Come down now, or I'll eat breakfast without you.” Reluctantly, he complied.

Eve got to the kitchen and discovered that the toaster did not work.

It broke last week,” said Jordan. “Granny just toasted it in the oven.”

Eve shook her head. “Uh-uh. I don't like the oven.”

I like the oven,” said Jordan.

What?”

I liked the oven when Granny used it.”

What kind of cereal do you want this morning?”

I didn't get out of bed for cereal.”

Fine. The one with the marshmallows.”

Jordan steamed while Eve poured the cereal and milk in the bowl, spilling a little of both in the process.

Gram,” Jordan said. “After breakfast, can we go ride bicycles?”

How about we watch a movie instead?”

We always watch movies.”

Well, we have a lot of good ones.”

Gram?”

Yes?”

When is Granny coming back?”

Granny doesn't live here. You and I do.”

But we see Ms. Sandy a lot.”

She takes us to church.”

And we see Fred and Joni McNeal a lot.”

Yes.”

Why can't we see Granny a lot?”

You have me Jordan. Why do you need Granny?”

I miss her.”

Well, I don't.

And I miss her food.”

Okay. Maybe.

And she had nice hugs. And she gave me peppermints.”

I didn't get any peppermints.

Jordan, Granny had to go home. To her home. It's just you and me now.”

Jordan groaned and looked at his cereal.

Eat your cereal.”

No!”

Why not?”

I think you burned it.”

Eve reached out, grabbed the bowl, and dumped its contents on Jordan's head. Milk and cereal flowed down his clothes and onto the floor.

Then she stormed into the living room, scared to see his reaction.

*

The week that followed was challenging. Eve began to realize all the areas that she was failing Jordan and, to a degree, herself. As frustrating as Granny Fischer had been, Eve had to admit how much good her presence had contributed.

Still, Eve could not neglect the fact the Granny Fischer had stirred the waters just as she had disturbed Richard and Mary's room. As much as Eve wanted everything to stay the same, she knew that it was impossible. Nonetheless, Jordan was also growing. Change would be constant.

Jordan had been excused from school for a while due to the hardship of losing his parents. Eve knew, though, that it was time for him to return to school. Unfortunately, the bus would not come out this far. She could get Chinese food, but not a school bus. Ms. Sandy agreed to help for a couple of weeks, but Eve knew she was pushing this resource to its limit.

The doubt was there – Eve could see it. Sandy was beginning to question Eve's capability to handle her responsibilities.

She would not accept failure as an option. She might be stupid and slow, but she would not fail the charge that Richard and Mary had entrusted to her.

In order to succeed, Eve would have to embrace what she feared most - change.

She started in the kitchen. She withdrew a little money from the bank and bought a cookbook. Her meatloaf was a disaster. She tried spaghetti again. Even Jordan ate it this time.

Her attempts were hit and miss, but the successes encouraged her.

After Jordan's first day back at school, Eve thought she would celebrate. She bought a box of cake mix the week before and dug it out of the pantry. She followed the instructions, baked the cake, and covered it in frosting.

Jordan arrived home from school (courtesy of Sandy) slouched and drained of enthusiasm.

Hey, Jay. How was school today?” She decided not to point out that what she said had rhymed.

He shrugged. “'Kay.”

Do you like your teacher?”

Another shrug. “I guess.”

Um...I have a surprise for you.”

The news failed to perk him up. “What kind of surprise?”

A cake.”

Hope lit up his eyes. “What kind?”

Vanilla. With strawberry icing.”

Sprinkles?”

Yes,” Eve replied fervently. “Sprinkles.”

Awesome!” Jordan pumped his fist and, finally enthused, followed Eve into the kitchen. The sloppily made cake sat in the middle of the counter. To Jordan, it was one of the most beautiful sights he had ever laid his eyes upon.

Eve cut them both liberal servings, proud of helping put a smile on her “grandson's” face. All this responsibility might not be so bad after all.

Then she put the first bite in her mouth.

This doesn't even taste like cake.

Jordan wore a similar expression of distaste on his face. He grabbed a napkin and hastily spat it out, making a gagging noise in the process. The disappointment, coupled with whatever other frustrations he had encountered throughout the day, weighed heavily upon him. Frustration was nearly pouring from his eyes.

The same weight pressed on Eve's heart as she sat at the counter, contemplating her failure while continuing to chew the disgusting lump of cake in her mouth.

*

Finally gathering courage, Eve ventured into the living room. She found a melancholy Jordan sitting at the piano in the dining room, punching out was sounded like “Mary had a Little Lamb.”

The piano had not been played in quite a while, but Mary Blankenship had been bountifully blessed with talent. She had just begun giving Jordan lessons a few weeks before her passing. It had also been a point of bonding between her and Eve.

Eve, overcoming the fear of failure, sat beside Jordan on the piano stool. She said nothing, but played the song he had attempted to play. He watched her before making another attempt. He did not play if perfectly, but evidence of improvement showed immediately.

Eve kept playing, trying to recall the more complicated pieces Mary had taught her. Jordan stopped trying to imitate her and just watched. Both their souls were comforted by the music.

Eve finally took a break, gently putting her arm around Jordan. He gave her a smile that indicated his thanks.

With the piano now silent, Eve heard someone breathing in the doorway. Fear initially assailed her, but by the time she turned around, she knew who it was.

Granny Fischer stood in the doorway.

Eve immediately noticed something had changed. Something in the woman's eyes communicated a softness and sympathy that Eve had not seen before.

She entered the room and slid a chair up by the piano stool. “Who taught you that” she asked. “Mary?”

After a momentary hesitation, Eve nodded. “She tried to teach me several songs.”

You played it well.”

Eve did not know how to respond to the compliment.

I taught Mary the piano all through her childhood. I didn't think she had kept it up.” Granny Fischer dabbed at her eyes with a flowered handkerchief. “Did she ever play this one for you?”

Granny Fischer put her fingers to the piano keys and played with beautiful skill. Her play even outmatched Mary's. Eve and Jordan sat there, fascinated by the beautiful music.

Eve could not fathom how such wondrous music could come from the fingers of such a bitter soul.

Granny Fischer played for quite a long time, but her audience did not mind.

When she finally stopped, she wrapped her arms around Jordan and gave him a tight squeeze. “Would it be okay if I fixed us some supper?”

Jordan nodded his head. “Chicken and mashed potatoes please.”

Granny Fischer looked at Eve. “Would that be okay?”

Eve smiled. “Yes.”

With a nod, Granny made her way to the kitchen.

*

The night went smoothly. Eve was glad of it. She feared it would not last, but for one evening, at least, she felt like part of a family again.

She had not realized how much she had missed that.

Jordan went to bed easier than normal. She was certain he was missing having a family too.

As Eve returned downstairs and sat on the couch beside Granny Fischer, she was surprised by the look in the woman's eyes. Maybe she feels the same way.

Maybe 'family' was stronger than all the nonsense that happened between us the first time she was here.

I...I was hoping to come stay for a few days,” Granny Fischer stated, “but I should've let you know first. I'm willing to come back another time.”

For a moment, Eve was afraid. This is an evil ploy to get permission to wreak havoc in our lives again. She learned from last time and is now coming back with a new strategy.

The look in her eyes, however, convinced Eve to respond peacefully. “It's okay, Mrs. Fischer. You can stay.”

Granny Fischer smiled. “Don't call me that. Call me Elsie.” A strange spark flickered in her eye. “Or you can call me Granny.”

Eve's heart dropped. She knows.

Elsie turned on the television. “Care to watch a movie with me? It's one of my favorites. Audrey Hepburn's in it.”

Eve decided not to ask who Audrey Hepburn was. “I'll watch it with you.” Then she added quickly, “Elsie.”

*

The next few days were enjoyable. Elsie could drive, which lessened their dependence on Sandy and others. Elsie's attitude had changed. She remained ornery and cross at times, but she displayed it with love and mercy.

At times, Eve was reminded of Mary.

The whole time, however, Eve could not stop expecting it all to end. Granny Fischer – Elsie – did not act oddly around her. She made no further odd comments. At any moment, though, she could bring out the truth. If that happened, Eve had no idea what to do.

What Elsie did do was spend more time with Eve. They played the piano, watched old movies, and baked.

Baking a cake – strawberry shortcake – was what they were doing the day a sharp knock was heard from the door. The two women looked up to see Mr. Locklear standing at the back screen door. He gave a courteous wave, but eyed Granny Fischer suspiciously.

Hello, Mr. Locklear,” welcomed Eve, allowing him to enter. A woman, introduced as his wife, accompanied him.

Mr. Locklear carried a sealed bag in his hand.

He looked at Eve. “Forgive my intrusion, but I have at least one more item of business to take care of with you.” He glanced at Elsie. “We can do this wherever you'd prefer.”

Granny Fischer moved towards the door. “Take your time,” she said.

Elsie, wait,” Eve called out. “Stay.”

She shook her head, a peaceful expression on her face. “This is your business, Eve. I'll go play with Jordan.”

Mr. Locklear and his wife sat with Eve around the table.

The lawyer hesitated. “Is everything okay, Eve?”

Yes, Mr. Locklear.” Then she realized the reason for his question. “She's not being a problem. We've worked things out.”

Not completely convinced, he nodded. Then he placed the bag on the table. “Forgive the way this has been done, Eve. The legal process takes time in some of these matters. Plus, for whatever reason, Richard desired that not everything be given to you at once.”

Why not? “Okay.”

Mr. Locklear reached over and tore open the bag. A single silver key clattered onto the table.

Eve looked up. “What is it? I mean, I know it's a key. But to what?”

A safe deposit box. At a bank a little ways from here in Pine Forest. Ownership of the box, and its contents, belong to you.”

Okay. What's in it?”

Frankly, Eve, that's none of my business.” He pulled some papers from his briefcase. “All I need are some signatures and I'll be out of your hair.”

Not quite sure what her new possession meant, Eve obediently signed.

*

Eve insisted Elsie accompany her. Elsie reaffirmed that the contents of the box were none of her business, but for some reason, Eve did not desire to explore the contents on her own.

Jordan was left to be watched with Lindsay, Fred and Joni McNeal's adult daughter. Due to Jordan being sick much of his childhood, he had no real friends his age, which concerned Elsie.

It took longer at the bank than Eve had expected. Some paperwork had to be filled out and the bank had to record Eve's identification. The banker eyed the card curiously. Elsie glanced at it with suspicion as well. Eventually, Eve was given access to the box. She and Elsie were escorted into a small office for privacy. The box was the largest size the bank had available.

Eve looked up, unexplainably nervous about opening the box. “Why, Elsie?”

Why what, dear?”

Why me? Why did they leave everything to me? I don't...I don't deserve any of it. I'm the worst person to have this. Why didn't they give it to you?”

A strange looked gleamed in Elsie's eyes. For a moment, Eve expected this was the moment she was waiting for. This would be when Elsie would tear into her and take the contents for herself.

Eve. Do you know why I wasn't at the funeral?”

Because Pastor Revis didn't call you?”

No. He did call. Or, his wife did, at least. But I couldn't be bothered. I was in Europe at the time. I'd been there for three months. I planned to stay there for over a year, maybe more. I hadn't even told Mary I had planned to go there. I was angry at her and that husband of hers. They had ostracized me. Given me no grandchildren. When they did decide to expand their family, I wasn't included. They didn't discuss it with me. I had no part in the process. I wasn't part of the family. My problems with my daughter went much deeper. Deep enough that when I heard of their deaths, I pitied myself more than I mourned for them.

Then I remembered my grandson. I was needed once more. But I came to this backwards hick town and found you. This woman who wasn't family had taken mine. I had given up everything valuable in this world, and, now, when I desired to have it back, it was out of reach.

I didn't find you worthy to fill my shoes.”

I...I wasn't trying to steal your family,” muttered Eve. “I...I guess Mary adopted me kind of like she adopted Jordan. I never meant to make a mess of things.”

I know,” Elizabeth replied.

Eve looked up. In Elsie's hand was a faded journal. It had belonged to Mary.

I know everything,” Elsie clarified.

Eve wanted to cry. It's over.

And Mary was right to give everything to you.”

The words shocked Eve. “I don't know how to do anything. I can't cook. I can't read. I can't drive. I'm...not even as old as Jordan.”

And yet you understand him better than anyone else.” Elsie embraced Eve and wiped her tears with a handkerchief. “If I had been trusted...Eve, listen. Mary separated herself from me for a reason. I wasn't mature enough to handle it. You...you poor, dear, special girl was more mature to handle the burden that Richard and Mary had taken on.

Jordan's a special boy, Eve. He came into my daughter's life for a reason. And so did you. Mary did right in choosing you to care for her son.”

Eve shook her head. “No. You really trust me to take care of him? You know and you still trust me?”

Elsie hesitated. “I read this journal and, at first, I hated you more. I was insulted. Angered. Then I stood at that door and I heard you play. In that moment, I missed her more than I had before. I wanted to hold her and hug her. I finally realized my child was gone. But there was a piece of her in you.

I've been alone for a long time. It was a choice I made. But since then...I've been diagnosed with cancer. I don't have...I don't have a lot of time left. I thought I'd enjoy the rest of my time. That's why I went to Europe. Then I realized I had nothing to leave behind.

Nothing but Mary. In a way, our children help us cheat mortality. We, in a way, live on through them. Our teachings. Our memories. Then, my Mary was gone. My mortality stared me right in the face.

Then I stood at that door and heard your fingers singing the song I taught Mary. I would have a case in saying you aren't fit to raise Jordan. But in doing so, I'd be destroying his best chance at a good life. And I would be wrecking Mary's family. My family.”

I'm sorry you have cancer.”

Elsie smiled. “Well, I'm not dead yet.” She pushed the journal to Eve. “I'm glad I read it. But it belongs to you. As does everything else in that box.”

Eve took a deep breath. She opened the box.

At the top were two keys in separate bags. One was labeled with Jordan's name. Inscribed on the key was the numeral 19. The other, inscribed with the numeral 9, was labeled with her name.

She found a unique metal box, cold to the touch. Inside was a frozen sample of Jordan's old medicine.

She pulled out a folded copy of an article. It was Richard's writing. Eve could not read it, but she was certain it was his story about the company that had made her and Jordan.

Next, she pulled out a rolled laminated paper. Her hands trembled as she tried to comprehend what she held. She could not read the words, but she understood enough. The paper was a map of the United States. Red and blue dots peppered the country. Underneath it was a map of the entire world. The same red and blue dots were scattered on this map as well.

Underneath, she found a third map. This map was also of the world, but this one only had seven dots scattered across the world. Three of them were in the United States.

Whoever – whatever – had created her and Jordan had a larger presence than she had ever imagined.

Shall we ever escape this burden?

Eve's heart grew heavy. She wanted to throw it away. Burn it. Destroy it.

Looking at Elsie, she saw that the two women shared understanding about what this meant.

Whatever rested in Eve and Jordan's past would not lie dormant forever. There would come a time when what Richard and Mary died for would rise from the ashes. The battle would need to be fought again. With the enemy this widespread, what chance did she and Jordan have of escaping this conflict forever?

She put the items back in the box. This was not a battle she could ever win.

It was not fair that a burden this large be placed on the destiny of a child so small.

Her heart nearly broke. She had never felt this way before.

Elsie squeezed her hand. “It's okay. If you need my help, I'm here.”

Eve held on to Elsie's hand as she stared at one more item in the box. It was a picture of a much younger-looking her. In her arms was a baby. My baby.

What a cruel life I have been given.

But, oh, how blessed I am.

*

Eve found a strong friendship in Elsie. The cancer robbed the woman of some strength, but not of her determination and feistiness. The two argued, but Elsie became the mentor to Eve that Mary had once been.

Eve learned to cook, drive, read, write, and play tennis. On occasion, they smoked cigars, but Eve did not have the heart to tell Elsie she did not like them.

Elsie died less than two years after meeting Eve, though that was eighteen months more than what the doctor had given her.

Eve cried at the funeral, but she was not in despair as she had been at Richard and Mary's funeral. The night of Elsie's funeral, Eve's entry in her journal was simple.

What a cruel life I have been given.

But, oh, how blessed I am.