3-9-2016 Prompt: “sunflower tattoo”
She moved into a rental my grandpa owned the spring before my twenty second birthday. I made it a habit back then to never let much of anyone close to me – male or female. I was equally as terrified of friendships as I was relationships and she came into my life like a mini-tornado cut loose on Oklahoma red dirt.
I wanted to welcome her the way my momma had taught me when I was young; I chose to go meet her without prompting and to ask if she’d need any help unloading or unpacking. Years of southern hospitality being shoved into my daily diet motivated me to bring a loaf of homemade bread I’d fixed that morning. If there was one thing I could try to do to honor my momma’s memory, it was to get this introduction part right. When I pulled into the drive my tires crunched loudly on the gravel and I saw her head pop up from beneath the front porch railing. I pulled my ponytail tight at the back of my head and adjusted my tank top, not wanting to frighten her the first time like I had a tendency to do with my oxymoron of a personality: casually, walled up. Good at listening but not at conversation. Adventurous but conservative. Nerdy and bookish but loved a dirty bar with peanut shells littering the floor.
“Good morning,” I smiled, making my way up the steps. I found my plastered on, fake smile quickly replaced with a dropped jaw when I caught sight of the girl and her possessions unpacking on the front porch.
“Don’t judge me,” she laughed a tad nervously. “Girl, I know what this looks like.”
Several boxes lined the front step, book after book overflowing out of stretched cardboard. Gun cases lay neatly on the porch’s table, several handguns tucked away neatly and a shotgun leaning against the door. A smooth coated, mountain of a dog lay passed out behind her on the edge of the porch with random snores permeating the air between us.
“Holy shit.” Laughter bubbled from my chest before I could stop it. Her answering smile was almost as warm as the bright flame of hair plaited haphazardly in a braid down the side of her neck. Her attire consisted of jeans ripped in several places and a broke in NAVY t shirt, her presence already exuding comfort and friendliness.
I found myself already calculating the similarities and differences before I even realized it: her muddy Jeep and my rusted old pickup, her auburn locks against my chocolate waves, the top of her head barely reaching my shoulders, and her higher pitched sugary accent to my lower drawl.
“I got everything unpacked in the house already for the most part. This chaos just happens to be what’s left over. I was told there was a gun safe but I can’t seem to find it,” she said, leaning heavily against the screen door catching her breath. I noticed all the windows were open, the spring breeze probably doing well to air out the old, blue farmhouse.
“There’s a shop behind the house. It’s in there,” I replied, waving my hand toward the backyard. The big brute of a hound shook off sleep before rising to come smell my hands. His tail wagged lazily, eyes hooded with black and tan fur. “Come on, I’ll show you.”
On our walk off the steps, I introduced myself and gave her my cell number to plug into her phone. I was only a few miles away, the closest neighbor she had and was quicker to answer my phone than Grandpa.
“Lily is such a pretty name. Very classy. I’m Emilia and this mutt is Rudy,” she said, reaching down to pat the coon hound’s back. I noticed a tiny speck of black and yellow ink in the shape of a sunflower on the underside of her wrist as she stroked the dog’s spine gently. “He’s been with me for three years and several hundred miles. You seem like a dog person. Do you have any?”
Nodding, I dodged the edge of a rosebush at the back of the house and kept up pace with her quick steps. She was awful quick for such a tiny thing.
“Two of them actually,” I confirmed. My flip flops quacked softly in the grass as we closed in on the shop. Reaching down, I grabbed the spare key under a pot of petunias and waved it for Emilia to see. “I worked at a shelter for most of my senior year. Ended up with a German Shepherd and a Labrador mix out of the deal. Hank and Lou. Funny how they turn into family. They’ve been with me through several years and some hard things, too.”
Unlocking the side door, the smell of sawdust enveloped us in the cooled concrete floor of the entrance. Pictures of old saw mill horse rigs, 1950 Chevys, and smiling kid’s faces dotted the office walls. Grandpa’s chair had a jacket with several welding burns and oil stains thrown across the back of it.
“Why don’t you keep this key? Grandpa and I both have one, along with Jake. He’s your other neighbor. He uses it rotate his tires or change his oil every now and then. Good guy, I promise. Gun safes are back here,” I rambled, pointing to the back room. “Both of them are probably pretty full but I’m sure he’s in the works of getting a third one. I’m sure he’ll tell you to put them wherever you’d like. We try to keep the main doors locked up as much as possible in here – you’ll have to talk to him about the individual combinations though. I’m sure he’ll want to do a full assessment of all your firearms so he can talk your leg off, in the process anyway. He’s quite the collector.”
I watched her eyes take in the overflowing filing cabinets, the bucket of peppermints on the scuffed up desk, and rows of mud-boots on the floor by the door. A gentle tug of smile lit at the edges of her mouth and for some reason I knew in my gut she was feeling something akin to nostalgia.
Pushing open the inside door, I showed her around the shop itself. Basic tools if she needed them were available although I admitted my Grandpa to having a tidbit of controlling obsession over their placement. He was a good man, willing to help anyone even if he didn’t know them but he liked his tools organized.
Everyone has their “thing.”
I pointed out the bin she could use for dog food if she’d like, telling her she was more than welcome to let Rudy sleep in the office if she didn’t want him on the porch. Soon enough, I found her eyes wandering up curiously to the loft above us.
“What’s up there?”
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