Late Night ConversationsbyJoeDreamer©
Please note that this is a long romance about young love during these trying times. There are a lot of themes in relation to the pandemic woven through it, but honestly very little sex. These longer stories tend to write themselves and sometimes that's the way they end up. Just thought I'd let you know what you were walking into if you choose to read on.
"Gramsy, you're incredible!"
The words slipped out along with a grin as I walked up to my grandmother's house. It was still relatively early in the day. She was outside with a rake doing only God knows what because there wasn't a blade of grass out of place on her front lawn. It was always that way. In fact, winter, spring, summer or fall, I'd never seen it anything but perfect.
"Grandson, don't talk such nonsense." Gramsy was old school, and had no patience for those things she considered unnecessary or frivolous. She didn't take or give complements unless she felt they were truly deserved. "And what are you doing here? I told your father I didn't need a nursemaid watching over me. I've survived far worse than this pandemic."
My grandmother was getting up in years and slowing down, not that she'd ever admit it. This virus had more than just my father worried about her. The truth was that he hadn't sent me. I volunteered. A woman her age shouldn't be alone through something like this. Oh, knowing Gramsy, she'd be fine, but honestly, I couldn't think of anyplace else I'd rather be anyway.
If you saw a picture of my grandmother, you'd most likely see a short, grey and frail looking old woman, but if so, you'd be mistaken. Well, not mistaken, but missing the real her. Gramsy was still a force of nature despite her eighty-four years, or perhaps because of them. There was an inner strength about her that came from facing life head on and pushing through the hard times. She'd certainly had plenty of those.
My grandmother was an orphan by the time she was eight. Her older brothers made sure there was food on the table by working construction, but as the only girl back in a time when that mattered, she was the one who took care of the house. She cleaned, cooked and cared for her brothers the way she thought her parents would want her too.
"Nursemaid? I'm here for the food." I was only half kidding, and my grandmother knew it. You could see it in her eyes as her annoyance lessoned and was replaced with a touch of humor.
Gramsy met and fell in love with my grandfather when she was seventeen. They were married not long after that. What followed was ten years of fighting to make ends meet as their family grew to five. The accident that killed my grandfather devastated my grandmother, but in a completely different way than losing my Uncle David had. My father's older brother died in the Vietnam War.
My grandmother seldom talked about either loss, but one of her brothers got drunk while visiting once and told me about my grandfather's death and how it affected her. It was heartbreaking. My father often shared stories about Uncle David and how they survived after his loss.
"You came all this way for a decent meal?" The disbelief in her voice was thick as she leaned on her rake and looked at me in that way I knew so well.
"Gramsy, Hillary is good for dad, but her cooking..." I shook my head, not wanting to say anything bad about my stepmother. "Recently she's decided to cook 'healthy'. Apparently, to her that means putting kale in everything!"
My grandmother was well into her seventies when cancer took my mother, but that didn't stop her from all but moving in and taking care of me and my older sister until we were old enough to take care of ourselves.
I was happy when dad met Hillary. She was good for him, but there was no way I'd ever think of her as mom. She'd come into my life too late for that. Besides, I already had a mother who I still missed every day. I also had Gramsy who helped raise me and make me the man I was.
"Dear lord, kale?" The look of disgust on my grandmother's face was priceless. I doubt very much she'd ever tasted it, but Gramsy didn't abide what she considered those 'newfangled fad foods'.
"Gramsy, it's bad enough that I'm missing out on my last semester of college because of this stupid pandemic, please don't make me go back and have to eat that food!" The truth was that it was more than just the food that bothered me when I was at my father's house.
Dad met Hillary toward the end of my junior year of high school. They married the summer I went away to college and spent a few weeks traveling Europe for their honeymoon. My sister and I spent the time at my grandmother's. I'd complained half-heartedly, but honestly, it was a good thing. Gramsy had a way of grounding me. Being with her helped me get past the whole having a new stepmom thing.
Still, going home was always weird because it was my home, and not my home at the same time. Hillary had changed so much of what I remembered. It was the same house, but the décor was very different. I didn't blame her for making the changes. It was her house too now, but sometimes I found myself wishing they'd simply moved. That way, I could always remember my home the way it was when I was growing up.
"You can stay." Gramsy obviously read more into my words than I'd said. It didn't surprise me. She was always good at knowing what I needed. "But don't expect to lollygag around my house. There's plenty that needs to be done where I can use a set of strong hands."
"Whatever you need." I didn't quite groan, but it's not like I was surprised. Gramsy was big into the whole 'Idle hands are the Devil's tools' thing.
"And don't think you can slack off just because it's your senior year of college. I'm sure you have online classes you need to be taking."
"Yes, mam," I replied, fighting off a grin, remembering how she used to get on me about school work.
"Don't 'yes, mam' me," she frowned, seeing my expression and knowing that at least a small part of me was laughing at her. I did my best to wipe the smile from my face, but was only moderately successful. She sighed and shook her head before adding, "Well, what are you waiting for? Come give your grandmother a kiss hello."
I was sorely tempted to say 'Yes, mam' again, but my sense of humor had gotten me into more than enough trouble with my grandmother growing up, and now wasn't the time. I wouldn't put it past her to send me home if I annoyed her enough.
I know that sounds crazy, but that was just Gramsy for you. The world bent to her will at this point in her life and not the other way around. That included me when I was here. It was okay because in my heart of hearts, I knew she was the one woman in the world who truly loved me unconditionally. She was always there for me and would always be, but that didn't mean she'd put up with what she called 'my nonsense'. That just wasn't her.
"It's good to see you Gramsy!" I said as I hugged her tight and kissed her cheek.
"You too, grandson," she replied, squeezing back briefly. "Now let an old woman breathe!" I laughed and stepped back.
This pandemic was some scary stuff and had definitely put a damper in my senior year of college, but I had a feeling that spending the next couple of weeks with my grandmother was going to be a memory I'd cherish for a very long time.
"Make sure you get all the seams near the flashing!"
I looked down from the roof and saw my grandmother watching me with a frown. Her hands were on her hips as she directed me without being able to see what I was doing. I'm sure she would have preferred to be up here overseeing my efforts to tar around the chimney more closely, but she was too old to be climbing a ladder. Who was I kidding? If she could get up here, Gramsy would be doing it herself.
"Seams near the flashing? I thought I was supposed to be pouring this down the hole on top?" I gave my best mischievous smile, but my grandmother was mostly immune to it.
"Very funny," she called up. "Keep it up and I'll give your dinner to one of the neighbors!" I was about to reply when someone beat me to it.
"Oh man! Please keep it up!" I quickly followed the voice to a kid in the next-door neighbor's yard. He was probably around thirteen or fourteen. It took me a minute to realize that it was little Lorenzo Ramos. The last time I saw him was the summer before I went off to college. "I haven't had a good meal in weeks!"
"Is that you Renzo?" I asked, already knowing the answer, but giving him a chance to recognize me in return. He held his hand up to shade his eyes from the sun as he looked up at me. A quick smile flashed as he caught on.
"Davey!" His excitement made me smile, but before he could continue Gramsy interjected.
"Lorenzo, your sister Miranda is a perfectly good cook." Even from up here I could see my grandmother's half smile despite her words. That meant two things. First, her feelings toward Renzo had only grown since I was last here. And second, I'd probably be sharing my dinner tonight.
"Mira burnt the chicken last night!" the boy argued, forgetting me for the moment and looking pitifully at my grandmother through the green chain link fence separating the yards. I didn't blame him. Renzo obviously sensed my grandmother's willingness to feed him and she was an amazing cook.
"It wasn't that bad," a dark-haired girl a few years younger than Renzo added as she came out of their house through a sliding door. She was immediately followed by a much younger boy. "It was just a little dry is all."
"It was burnt!" Lorenzo insisted, clearly ready to argue with his little sister.
"And whose fault was that!" The somewhat shrill and obviously annoyed voice came from inside the house. "You were the one who 'forgot' about that math test. I was facetiming your teacher and all but begging him for an extension instead of pulling the chicken out of the oven!"
Lorenzo blushed in embarrassment before Miranda followed up with, "And Sophie, what did I tell you about leaving the screen door open? You're letting all the bugs inside!" Someone was having a bad day.
"Mateo was the last one out," Sophie complained, but only halfheartedly as she turned around to close the screen door.
"Davey, can we have a catch later? Or maybe kick a soccer ball around?" Renzo was looking up at me hopefully. "Papa is working a lot since all of this started." Mr. Ramos was one of those fathers who worked hard, but was always willing to spend time in the yard with his kids.
I frowned in confusion. I mean, Mrs. Ramos was a nurse so it made sense that she was working crazy hours, but Mr. Ramos worked in a factory, which I doubt was considered essential. He should either be working from home or on unemployment.
"Their father is part of the local rescue squad," Gramsy explained, guessing the source of my confusion. "He's been out on calls a lot since his factory closed down due to the pandemic. Some of the other volunteers are high risk." I nodded in understanding.
"Sorry Kiddo. Maybe when this is all over," I responded to Renzo.
Kicking a soccer ball around probably wouldn't be that big of a deal, but in this part of the country the virus was running rampant. I hated disappointing the kid, but I couldn't risk it with both of his parents having a high likelihood of being exposed to the virus. I couldn't take any chances now that I was living with Gramsy.
"Yeah, I get it." Renzo was clearly disappointed. He turned away and focused on his little siblings. They started playing soccer.
I glanced at the three visible Ramos children and forgot my sadness as they played together. I hadn't seen them in years. Well, Lorenzo and Sophie anyway. Little Mateo wasn't even born the last time I visited my grandmother. His mother was pregnant with him at the time.
Renzo still looked like the boy I'd played plenty of games with that summer, but it was a close thing. My guess was that he'd recently had a growth spurt. You could tell by the way he moved. His face was also just starting to shift into something more adult.
I didn't know little Matteo, but he was cute as hell and the spitting image of his father. He was a 'late in life' baby. Although to be fair, his parents had spread out having their children more than most. I watched him interact with his brother and sister for a moment and smiled. My guess was that I would end up liking him just as much as his siblings. The Ramos family were 'good people', as Gramsy would say.
I remembered Sophie as a pretty little girl, and although she was still a couple of years away from being a teenager, she had the look of one of the lucky ones whose good looks would blossom into true beauty as she got older. I was betting she was going to be a handful for her father and mother one day.
I caught myself wondering about their older sister Miranda. I always liked the name, although I sometimes used the nickname Mira like her family, especially her younger siblings. I remembered her as a fun loving fourteen-year-old who was a bit of a tomboy, but she'd obviously changed a bunch based on how she sounded.
Although, to be fair, I'm not sure how I would have sounded at eighteen if I'd not only lost out on my last semester of my senior year of high school, but also had to take care of three younger siblings while my parents risked their lives caring for others.
If memory served, Miranda wasn't as lucky as her little sister in the looks department. She had the same dark hair and eyes as all of the other Ramos children, but she was built stockier without really being heavy. Not that any of that mattered. She was just a kid. Still, she used to make me laugh all the time.
Mira always insisted on being included in any of the sports Renzo and I played with the neighborhood kids. If there were a lot of kids, I ended up being the automatic pitcher, official quarterback or referee depending on what sport we were playing since I was older by quite a bit.
I could remember one basketball game where I was refereeing and Miranda threw a hip check that sent one of the more aggressive boys to the ground. He was a big kid and seemed more than a little surprised, especially when I didn't call a foul. I remember having a hard time holding in a laugh as he visibly fought with himself on whether he should complain about a girl half his size knocking him over.
That was bad enough, but when I looked at Miranda, she said with a shrug, "A little hip check never hurt anyone." I had to cough to hide my laughter.
"Stop dawdling up there!" Gramsy called up to me, breaking me from my memories. "I'm going inside to start dinner." All three of the Ramos kids in the yard looked up at that. The hopeful expression on their faces was priceless. "Lorenzo, make sure to tell your sister that she doesn't have to cook dinner tonight. I'll send it over when it's ready."
"Thanks Mrs. Stahl!" Renzo's grin was bright and full faced, the same as his younger siblings. I guess Mira wasn't a very good cook. I mean, anything Gramsy cooked was great, but the kids hadn't even asked what she was making.
The three of them went back to playing soccer after my grandmother left and I focused on finishing what I was doing. I still needed to get the air condition out of the shed and put it in the living room before dinner.
Gramsy didn't believe in central air so my father had gotten her a large unit to put in the oversized living room window. Knowing my grandmother, I'd be surprised if she put it on more than a handful of times each year.
I thought it was a little early to be pulling the air condition out of the shed. I mean it was warm today, but it wouldn't last this early in the season. I guess Gramsy was serious about putting my 'set of strong hands' to good use while I was here. I didn't mind. Whatever made her happy.
I was so focused on finishing tarring the chimney that I didn't notice when Miranda joined her younger siblings in the yard. Well, not until Sophie cried out in glee. Apparently, the Ramos kids liked to play girls against boys, and Mira was just as competitive as always. Sophie wasn't particularly athletic and Matteo was still very young, so it pretty much became a contest between Miranda and Renzo.
I glanced down to find her laid out fully on the lawn, having just blocked one of Renzo's shots. I grinned for a moment in amusement, but then really looked at Miranda for the first time and found myself swallowing unintentionally.
She was in a tee-shirt and old jeans, but that wasn't what caused me to pause. It was the fact that the stockiness of her youth had turned into rather impressive curves. So much so, if fact, that I had problems reconciling the sight of her with the young girl I remembered.
I think my mouth might have honestly fallen open as she stood. Miranda still wasn't a beauty, but there was something different about her. Maybe it was the shape of her face or the way she moved, or maybe it was her triumphant smile. I don't know.
Mira had a full head of long, dark hair that was far more stylish than I expected. It was highlighted and looked really good, but I didn't spend much time looking at it because her eyes drew me to them. They were just as dark and mischievous as I remembered, but there was a sense of confidence to them that wasn't there before. Her jaw was still square, but had softened slightly, and her mouth...well, it was hard to tell from my vantage, but I had a feeling that her lips were the tantalizing kind.
Frankly, if I'd just met Miranda, I would have thought of her as sexy, hot even, but I forced myself to remember that I wasn't just meeting her. This was fun-loving Mira, the same girl I treated like a little sister for an entire summer. I shook my head and forced myself to focus on the chimney. That didn't stop me from stealing glances at her and her younger siblings every once in a while.
I was just finishing up when I saw Sophie dribbling the soccer ball toward the small goal. Renzo was obviously ready to cut her off. Apparently, he'd lost track of his older sister because a moment later he was on the ground as Sophie shot and scored. I couldn't resist as I neared the ladder to climb down from the roof.
"I guess a little hip check still never hurts!" I called down with a grin. The surprise in Mira's expression made it pretty obvious that she hadn't realized I was on the roof.
"Hello Davey," she said as she quickly recovered. "I thought I heard Lorenzo say your name."
"I go by Dave these days," I corrected, but there was something in her eyes that made me think it was a wasted effort.
"Is Lisa with you?" she asked as she moved to the fence. My sister had taken to the Ramos family as quickly as I had that summer, but in a different way. I'd played with the kids while she hung out more with Mrs. Ramos. Mira spent her share of time with them. I guess they'd grown closer than I thought.
"No, she's camped out with her fiancé in their apartment. She promised to check in on dad and Hillary at least once a week while I'm here with Gramsy." I was sitting on the edge of the roof. Gramsy owned a ranch just like all of the houses in this neighborhood so it wasn't that far to the ground.
"Speaking of your grandmother, you'd better call her before climbing down the ladder. You know how she is." Miranda wasn't wrong, but it seemed silly to me since I could probably jump down easily enough.
"No need to bother her. It's only a single story."
One of Miranda's eyebrows lifted slightly, but she didn't say anything. The funny part was that I'd seen that look plenty of times growing up. It was the same one Gramsy gave me when I was about to do something she deemed stupid. I guess the two were close. Knowing Gramsy, she treated all of the Ramos kids like another set of grandchildren.