Rules, pt 8

When Rex and Todd returned, they were even quieter than normal. Niki noticed that they were always touching in some way or another—holding hands or leaning on each other. At the dinner table, they sat straight and still, but below, where Mrs. White couldn’t see, they hooked their ankles together.

Niki tried to apologize to them, tell them how sorry she was, but they just shook their heads. Ada finally told her to stop trying, that it was only upsetting them more for her to bring it up.

The anniversary that had started it all arrived without further comment from Niki. Mrs. White appeared to have forgotten it and Niki hadn’t seen or heard from Miss Karen since the day she’d been dropped off. Niki didn’t say anything more about visiting her grandmother, but she spend that whole day thinking about it. It hurt her heart to know she’d failed to keep her promise.

As soon as she could get away after dinner—without upsetting Mrs. White, of course—she slipped up to her room. Tears already traced lines down her cheeks as she opened the door. She stopped. Sitting in the middle of the desk was a small jelly ar with a handful of wildflowers bursting from its mouth. Niki recognized the flowers as the ones that dotted the abandoned lot behind the house—the lot they were expressly forbidden to enter.

Niki smelled the sweet, dusty scent of the flowers and touched her fingertips to their delicate petals. I miss you, Grandma, she thought. If you were still alive, I’d never be stuck in such a terrible place. She set the flowers next to her bed and changed into her pajamas. Then she cried herself to sleep.

In the dream, her grandmother looked exactly as she had when Niki lived with her. Her eyes flashed and sparkled among the crows feed and laugh lines on her face. Her hands, soft and dry, reached out to cup Niki’s face, like she used to do when Niki got too deep into worrying about her mom.

“You can’t fix everything, little girl,” she said in her soothing voice. “You’ve got to decide—is this your problem? Or is this somebody else’s problem? If it’s somebody else’s problem, you’ve got to let it go. You are only responsible for fixing your own problems, my girl. That’s all.”


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