Nobody said anything.
Jay shook his head and gave an awkward laugh. What had he really expected? The man was clearly crazy, after all! Regardless, seeing how serious the old man was as he spoke nearly caused his mind to go blank in momentary panic.
It didn’t matter that what he had said made absolutely no sense at all. Jay was an only child. Only child as in, without any siblings. Lexie was his best friend, or at least she had been. They had only just found each other again, literally moments before!
Lexie twisted her head to look at Jay, her face mirroring his own in a twin mask of blank, disbelieving surprise. Both were wondering what the heck was going on inside her grandfather’s addled mind.
She quickly dropped her gaze to the ground in front of her and focused on her shoes. Bringing a hand to her face, she covered her eyes in shame and to avoid Jay’s own searching eyes. She couldn’t hide the embarrassed blush that stained her cheeks and spread down her neck until it enveloped her arms as well.
Her grandfather released her arms, and without any sign that he had seen their reactions, stood. His eyes were focused on a corner of the backyard as he motioned for them to follow him. He walked quickly off the patio and onto the grass.
Lexie finally raised her head, letting the hand that had covered her eyes fall at the same time. The color of her eyes had morphed into a violent and stormy shade of violet. There was a silent and almost heartbreakingly needy plea etched across her face.
Despite their time apart, he could still read her silent cues. She was begging him to play along with whatever craziness her grandfather had in store. It was something she couldn’t bring herself to ask him out loud, and he wasn’t going to make her.
Jay smiled, and with a slight nod, held one hand towards the backyard, and the other to her. He was letting her know that he would follow her lead. They hadn’t had a chance to talk or reconnect in private, but she was asking for his help. Regardless of everything else, he still considered her his friend and kindred spirit.
Lexie wasted no time in taking his hand in hers and following closely behind her grandfather.
Neither noticed when exactly Jay’s thumb started to softly circle and massage the back of her hand. It wasn’t until her pinkie started to caress the inside of his wrist that Jay noticed at all. Lexie made no further move to acknowledge the action, keeping her eyes firmly fixed on her grandfather’s back.
It was not a long walk. The backyard, while nice and obviously cared for, was still part of a small suburban plot.
They were led to a fire pit that occupied the back corner of the property. It was tucked away from everything and angled just right so that it would be hidden from the house.
Lexie’s grandpa knelt next to the pit and almost immediately started mumbling to himself again under his breath. Lexie’s hand tightened around Jay’s as she witnessed this.
Reaching into the pit, he began pulling up the rocks that lined the bottom and sides. Carefully, he set each one to the side of the hole, making sure that none fell back into it, and onto his searching hands.
Jay glanced down at the hand that was tightly gripping his own. The inside of his wrist already missing the caressing movement from earlier.
Lexie saw the action and looked down at their joined hands. Her eyes were shaking as she looked up and met his for a second before hurriedly untangling their conjoined hands. A hint of red entered her cheeks, giving them color once more.
Focusing on what was happening in front of them, they watched as Lexie’s grandfather dug through the rocks. That he had something to show them was apparent, though neither had any idea what he might have buried under the pit.
A shadow covered the sun for several seconds as the previously clear blue sky started to fill with dark, heavy clouds. The temperature dropped a couple of degrees and the sweet, earthy smell that always precludes rain began to fill the air.
Still, the old man kept removing stones through it all. His hands not stopping, as he failed to even notice that it had gotten slightly colder and darker. Finally, he stilled. His fingers touching the dirt at the bottom of the now rock-less fire pit. A grunting noise filled the air as his arms flexed and he struggled to lift whatever it was from an awkward position.
Stepping forward, Jay finally thought to offer his help to the old man. He did not need it. Still, he moved back from the pit, grateful for the momentary distraction it had provided from the brunette standing by his side.
The old man gave a final grunt and lifted a metal lockbox of some kind from the ground and dumped it unceremoniously at their feet. The unsecured and rusty lid flopped open with a groan from the equally rusty hinges as it hit the ground at an angle. Flakes of paper, dirt, and bug remains spewed out of the opening.
The inside was filled with the dried remains of insects and pieces of paper that had been mulched into several nests. Whatever he had stored in it was now gone. Destroyed by the elements and hungry bugs searching for a home.
Lexie’s grandfather started ranting and raving at the sight of the ruined box. Words that were barely coherent flooded from his mouth, the words ‘too late’ and ‘it’s all gone’ kept coming up. He stood next to the box, shaking his fists and ripping at his hair. He kicked the lid shut hard enough that the weakened hinges broke, sending the metal top bouncing onto the grass.
All the while, her grandfather continued his incoherent ranting.
The bouncing rust cover drew Jay’s attention. There was something taped to the bottom of the lid. A single folded piece of paper was stuck there. Quickly he bent down and retrieved the paper, taking care to not damage it anymore than it already was. He showed the water and rust stained edges of it to Lexie as he did so.
A fat raindrop hit the ground beside Jay as he straightened. Quickly he placed the paper in his pocket, being careful of the edges. The fabric of his jeans would at least protect it a little.
Lexie grabbed her grandfather’s arm and began to drag him back in the direction of their house. It was impossible to calm him down, and he kept pulling against her.
“Do you mind helping out here? Help me get him calm or at least back inside!” She snapped at Jay angrily. “We need to get him and ourselves out of the rain.”
Jay grabbed the arm she wasn’t holding as quickly as he could, shocked into the movement at her angry tone. They had to fight the old man for every step they took as they forced him back towards the house. Rain started falling around them with a vengeance, soaking them before they had even made it halfway back to the house.
The grass quickly grew slick, making them fight for every step forward.
Standing at the opening of the house, holding the door open for them, was the same lady that Jay had seen on the landing earlier. She was shaking her head sadly as she saw how they were forced to nearly carry the deranged man.
Lexie and Jay dragged him through the door and into the house with a quick nod at the lady holding the door. Lexie led them through the house and into a bedroom, where they forced her grandfather down.
“Hold him still! I’ll be right back!” Lexie demanded as she left the room.
Lexie returned a moment later with the woman in tow. In her hand, she held a couple of pills and in her other; she had a glass of water.
Jay tried to hold the struggling man still as they forced first the pill, and then the water, into his mouth. His eyes were wide at what he was helping them do. Lexie joined him on the bed, taking hold of an arm as she did so. They continued to hold him, ignoring how wet and cold they both were.
Finally, the old man quieted and fell back onto the bed; his eyes were glassy and unfocused as he continued to mutter softly to himself.
Lexie released her grandfather and took Jay’s shivering hand. “Come on, follow me. We need to get you out of those wet clothes!” She told him as she pulled him from the room and pushed him into another.
“There’s a shower through that door and there should be a robe hanging on the door that you can use.” Lexie said, pointing toward the door in question. “Get warmed up first. Then bring your wet clothes out when you are done, and we’ll put them in the dryer.” She finished speaking and fled from the room without another word.
Jay stripped as quickly as he could and stepped into the steam-filled shower. Relishing in the sting it caused on his chilled skin and the warmth that rapidly sank into the depths of his body. Despite that, he remained under the steaming spray, his mind going in circles.
He wanted to go over everything that had just happened, but he couldn’t bring his confused mind to focus properly. Jay stayed in the shower for another minute before giving up and shutting off the water. Putting on the soft blue robe that hung on the door, he wrapped his soaked clothes in a towel and left the bathroom.
Stepping from the room, he followed their path from earlier, stopping when he saw Lexie standing in the kitchen. Lexie opened the refrigerator to her side when she saw him and withdrew two bottles of water. Turning to offer one to Jay, she tossed it to him lightly at the nod of his head.
Walking over to the counter and with a cute little hop, she sat on top of it, crossing her legs in front as she did. “So…” She began as she fingered the lid of her water bottle. “What was the paper that you found?” She asked, obviously ignoring everything else that had just happened.
“Oh no, you don’t!” Jay told her firmly, standing there in his soft blue bathrobe with his towel full of wet clothes in hand.
“Just wait for now, we can talk later.” She told him softly, looking at her feet as she did.
Jay swung the towel onto the counter with a grunt as he dug through his wet clothes to find his pants. Pulling out the damp piece of paper when he found them.
“Lexie,” Jay started, only to be interrupted as they were joined by a third person.
Closing his mouth angrily, Jay carefully unfolded the wet paper beside Lexie’s leg.
“It got a little wet,” Jay ground out pointlessly, feeling his jaw click painfully as he unclenched it to speak.
Lexie sighed beside him. “Jay I’m sorry! I know we need to talk, but later, please!” She pleaded in the same soft one as before, with a quick look at the lady that had joined them.
“Now, before we do anything else, I believe introductions are in order,” Lexie said as she hopped off the counter. “Jay, this is my aunt Tracy, auntie, this is Jay. He’s the one who brought grandpa back, as you know.”
“I’m really sorry about before,” Jay interjected hurriedly at the mention of what he had done earlier. “I was just trying to keep an eye on him. I didn’t mean to enter your house without permission.”
Tracy waved away his apology. “It’s fine. I figured it was something like that. He’s been getting worse lately, so thank you for taking care of him. I’m just glad you were there to help.”
She focused her gaze on the paper Jay had spread out on the counter. “Putting everything else aside for the moment, what is that?”
Jay looked at the paper before responding. “I’m not actually sure. We haven’t had a chance to read it yet.” He looked over at Lexie as she joined him, her eyes on the paper.
“It looks to be an article of some kind, I think. I think that is French there at the top and then English at the bottom.” Lexie told them.
“It looks like a newspaper article from a French paper.” Tracy said, peering over Lexie’s shoulder, suddenly very interested. “The English at the bottom must be a translation of what it says.”
Jay skipped the French section at the top, since he didn’t speak the language and quickly skimmed the translation at the bottom.
“It seems to be an article about a house fire that took the lives of a family in France. It says that the fire killed the mother and father, along with a young toddler aged boy. Their daughter is alive and being treated at the hospital.” Jay quickly summarized, feeling them both stiffen at his sides as he spoke.
“Where is the date? What does it say the date is in the article?” Tracy demanded in a whisper, backing away from the counter. Jay saw her hand reach out and grab Lexie’s tightly.
“Hold on,” Jay began.
“It’s dated eighteen years ago on the 20th of June.” Lexie interrupted him, whispering now as well.
“Right.” Jay agreed with her, stopping as he saw how they were both reacting to the article.
“Why does he have this?” Lexie demanded as she turned to face her aunt.
“I don’t know,” She began to reply before Lexie spoke over her.
“I thought we got rid of all the articles he had on that fire, a long time ago.” Tears were in her eyes as she spoke.
“I thought we did as well, obviously we missed one.” Tracy said, looking at the wet paper with a puzzled look on her face. “I don’t remember this one, though. Not only that, but what it says is slightly different from the others.”
Jay cleared his throat, drawing their attention before speaking. “Can I, uh, borrow a phone while the two of you talk? I need to call my grandpa and let him know where I am. Um, and maybe something with the address of this place as well?”
Lexie briefly perked up and then slumped as his words sank in. “You’re not here with your parents?”
Jay struggled to maintain a straight face at her innocent question. “No, not this time.” He answered her in a strangled whisper.
Clearing his throat once more, he spoke louder. “I left the house after having an argument with my grandfather. I sort of left my wallet and phone there when I did. I ran into your grandfather soon afterward and well…” He trailed off with a shrug.
Tracy’s head shook lightly to side as she answered him. “We don’t have a landline here, so just use one of our cell phones instead. If you want to stay for dinner, then he is more than welcome to join us as well.” She told him as her eyes flicked between his and Lexie’s. No doubt trying to figure out what was going on between them. “Is that alright Lexie?” She asked, focusing on her niece.
“Yes, Jay and I have a lot to catch up on!” Lexie responded enthusiastically, jumping at the opportunity her aunt had given her.
Tracey’s eyes widened at Lexie’s response. “Your name is Jay?” The name finally clicking in her mind, despite the earlier introduction.
Jay looked at Lexie, puzzled, before replying. “My name is actually James, but I go by Jay.”
Tracey gazed turned to one of disbelief as she turned to look at her niece. “Jay? As in the little boy you used to have a crush on? The same one that kept showing up wherever we moved? I thought he was make believe, an imaginary friend or something.”
Lexie’s cheeks reddened in embarrassment at her aunts’ words. She didn’t respond except to look at Jay from the corner of her eyes.
“Yes, I believe that would be me, and she wasn’t the only one with a crush.” Jay felt his cheeks redden as he spoke the words. He hoped that by admitting it had been mutual, it would help Lexie to calm down.
As a kid, she had been his best friend and first crush. If they had remained in touch instead of losing contact, then maybe it would have fizzled out or changed into something more. Just seeing her again after all this time was doing things to his insides.
Lexie shook her head lightly, her eyes firmly fixed on the floor. Her cheeks were blazing red as she reached into her back pocket and withdrew a cell phone.
Jay took the offered phone, gripping it as far from her hand as he could. His stomach growing unbearably heavy as he did. They had too much to talk about to worry about that right now.
Jay stepped from the room, accepting a piece of mail with their address on it from Tracy as he did so, and dialed his grandpa’s number. Speaking quickly, he told him where he was. After telling him that they had been invited for dinner, he hung up and walked back into the now silent kitchen.
Tracy looked from Lexie to Jay as he walked into the room. “It sounds like the two of you have a lot that you need to talk about with each other. Why don’t I wait outside for his grandfather while the two of you talk?”
Lexie and Jay glanced at one another for a second before turning to Tracy. “That would be nice, thanks, aunt Tracy.” “If you don’t mind doing that, I would be grateful.” They replied in turn.
“Let me put those in the dryer for you while we wait,” Tracy said, holding her hands out for Jay’s wet clothes.
“Oh, thank you. It would be nice to wear actual clothes.” Jay said, laughing as he handed the bundle of wet clothes to her with a smile.
Tracy backed away from them with a grin and walked towards the front of the house.