Jenna walked out of the office and down the hallway to the front door of the school. She stomped outside into the cold air. She didn’t have her coat on, but she did not care. The clouds cast a blanket across the sky, a white and grey, moody, gloomy blanket. The sun was a dull white glimmer that tried its best to shine through the haze.
Jenna angrily shoved her hands in her pockets. She wasn’t sure where she was going. She wished she could cry, but she had run out of tears for now. Maybe I’ll run away and nobody will take care of me, she thought.
She turned a corner and didn’t recognize the street. She looked around and saw the mountains. Somewhere up there Grandma Sandy lived. Thin wispy fingers of clouds snaked their way down some of the slopes.
Did she want to see Grandma Sandy again? Did she really want to run away from Miss Laurie and Mr. Dan?
She ran back down the street, past the houses and streetlamps and cars. She didn’t know where she was. Her heart was rat-a-tat-ing fast. She just knew she wasn’t going to find her way back to school. She would be lost forever.
She ran faster. Never going to find it. Lost forever! An old man hobbled down the street, using a steel walker to keep going. Out of the corner of her eye Jenna noticed he only had one leg. She ran around him, terrified.
Oh no! She was at the end of the road.
She stopped and caught her breath. She had to lean over and put her hands on her knees. She thought she might throw up.
She stood up and looked around. Her school was across the street.
Carefully she crept through the doors and tiptoed down the hallway. She walked past the office. Peeking through the big glass window, she saw Colton sitting on a bench, twitching and scowling. She walked faster and found her room. Jenna reached for the door and walked inside. Nobody looked up. Nobody knew she had left the school.
She sat down in her desk and saw a math worksheet. An easy one, thought Jenna, with a couple of tough problems at the end, just to keep people like me happy. Jenna scribbled down her answers and smiled to herself, a very small smile she hoped nobody would notice.
Elephant ears, she thought. Parents and teachers didn’t always know when kids were listening. Grandma did, but she was kind of a big kid herself. Last Saturday Grandma Sandy and Miss Laurie were whispering about how scared Mr. Dan was the first time he asked her on a date. Jenna played with her toys and listened carefully, not even looking over, trying to stay “hidden in plain sight.” Grandma Sandy slyly glanced over at her and said, “Elephant ears is listening.”
Jenna heard Miss Laurie in her bedroom on the phone and knew she was talking about her. She stood near the bedroom door, trying not to make any noises as she breathed. Miss Laurie’s voice was loud and a little raspy sounding, not like she wanted to cry but like she wanted to get mad.
“Jenna said we hit her?” snapped Miss Laurie.
Jenna’s hands curled into fists. It wasn’t fair. She didn’t say anything.
“I see,” said Miss Laurie. “Her father said…”
Jenna peeked around the corner and saw Miss Laurie nodding her head. One of Laurie’s hands was balled up into a fist too.
Jenna hid back behind the door, glad Miss Laurie did not see her.
Jenna leaned up against the wall, still listening. Miss Laurie’s voice grew quiet. Jenna could barely hear.
Laurie mumbled. Jenna could make out only a few words:
What was meth? Jenna wondered.
Laurie kept talking. She said, “I understand, Miss Ortiz.”
So, that’s who she was talking to, thought Jenna.
“Hello, elephant ears,” said a female voice.
Jenna wheeled around. There stood Grandma Sandy. Jenna thought she was in trouble, but Grandma Sandy had a wicked smile on her face.
“I didn’t know you were here,” said Jenna.
“I can see that,” she said. Sandy reached out for her. Jenna took her hand, and they walked out into the front room.
“Your mother has been getting some interesting phone calls today,” said Grandma Sandy. “People said some nasty things about her.”
Jenna looked down at the ground. Did Grandma Sandy think she made up some awful things about Miss Laurie?
Grandma Sandy smiled and put a hand on top of her head and moved it quick, back and forth, like she was going to mess up her hair. She didn’t of course. Jenna grinned.
Grandma Sandy hollered, “Laurie, Jenna and I are taking a walk down to the park.”
Jenna’s heart leapt. She loved the park. She ran and grabbed her coat. They opened the front door. And walked outside into a bracing cold breeze.
“It’s so cold,” Jenna said. “Even the polar bears are wearing jackets.”
“That’s pretty cold,” said Grandma Sandy as they hurried out to the sidewalk.
There was something about the cold that made you want to run. They both jogged down the sidewalk. If Grandma Sandy worried about what other people thought she never showed it. Jenna ran ahead.
“Not too fast,” ordered Sandy. “I’m just an old lady. I can’t keep up with you.”
Jenna glanced backward and slowed down, letting her catch up.
“You don’t look old,” said Jenna.
“Well, thank you,” said Grandma Sandy. “Mostly I don’t want to think old.”
They walked side by side. “How do you think old?” asked Jenna.
Grandma Sandy thought about that for a moment. She said, “Some people worry all the time. They never enjoy themselves or the people around them. They go through life like they’re chewing on a lemon.”
“I like chewing on lemons,” said Jenna with a grin.
“Yeah, but I bet you smile when you do it. Some people eat ice-cream, and they look like they are sucking on a lemon.”
Jenna chuckled and said, “You’re funny, Grandma Sandy.”
“You’re my special girl,” said Sandy.
“Special girl,” whispered Jenna to herself.
In spite of the gray, almost black clouds, the sky lit up. Lightning flashed. Thunder shouted its presence, first as a low rumble, and then getting louder and louder until the earth seemed to shake. “Uh oh,” said Jenna.
Uh oh was right. Rain started falling—not a few scattered droplets but thick, heavy rain. Right away, they were drenched from head to toe. Grandma Sandy took Jenna’s hand and they turned around. “You like to run?” asked Grandma Sandy.
“You bet!” said Jenna, shouting to be heard over the crashing rain.
They sped down the sidewalk. “You don’t run like an old woman,” shouted Jenna, but the rain was so loud. How could anybody else hear?
They reached the porch, and got out of the rain, laughing and catching their breath.
“I love you, Grandma Sandy,” Jenna whispered. She was too shy to say it out loud. She didn’t think Sandy heard her. The rain kept pouring down.
Grandma Sandy leaned over, gave her a sideways hug and said, “I love you too, Jenna.”