Chapter 1 - The Green Book

Chapter 1 - The Green Book

A Chapter by Susanna F

Grandma gives Lara a gift.



The room felt cold, despite the pine and oak logs Grandpa had piled on the roaring fire. I sat on the hearth of the stone fire place, the heat burning my face but going no deeper. Outside, snow flurried against the windows. It seemed somehow fitting. I shivered, moving closer to the flames. 


My parents, brothers and I had arrived yesterday to spend the holiday with my grandparents. The farmhouse was as familiar to me as our own home, and yet everything felt different. The house itself was unaltered. Dark wood still paneled the walls of the small living room, which was as crowded as ever. It had a couch, too many chairs, and a television and bookcase crammed on either side of the chimney corner. Diffuse sunlight came from the narrow foyer window and the doorway to the kitchen, making the paintings seem to glow on the walls. It was the same as always. We were the ones who had changed.


Dad and Grandpa sat on the couch, intently watching a football game on television. Their cheers sounded subdued when their favorite team scored a touchdown. Grandpa's pipe sat forgotten in his hand, the wisps of smoke dying as I watched.


Soft, low voices wafted in from the kitchen with the scent of baking. I could barely hear Grandma and Mom, but it was obvious they were talking about Paul. I turned my attention to the game. I hated sports, but at least TV took my mind off things.


            A commercial with sad music came onto the television. It took me a few seconds to realize it was a fund drive for a children’s cancer hospital. I stared at it, vaguely surprised by the irony. The now-familiar numbness that filled me was punctured by a stab of emotion, which I quickly suppressed.  Bad timing, that’s all it was. I wasn’t going to let myself be bombarded by the thoughts I’d spent the last four months blocking out. 


Grandpa grabbed the remote control and changed the channel. I didn’t look at him, but felt his and Dad’s eyes upon me. Mom came into the living room, wiping her hands on a towel. She looked at our tense faces.


"Lara, would you like to help decorate some sugar cookies?" she asked.


I was reluctant to leave the fire, but definitely didn’t want to watch TV anymore. I slowly got to my feet and followed Mom into the kitchen. It was actually warmer, thanks to the busy oven. It was also much bigger than the dark, oppressive living room. Christmas music played softly on a small CD player in the garden window over the sink.


"I'm getting a little old for decorating cookies, don’t you think?" I said as I washed my hands and rolled up my sleeves. “Maybe you should ask the boys if they want to help.”


They looked at each other, probably because I usually have a horrible sweet tooth and would have jumped at this. Grandma smiled brightly and set out a jar of tiny silver orbs and another of snowflake sprinkles. "Nonsense, it’ll help you get into the holiday spirit.”


If only, I thought. That was just her wishful thinking. Nothing could help me feel better.


"Besides, fifteen is not very old," Mom objected. She stopped like she’d meant to say more but decided against it. She attempted a smile that didn’t fool anyone. There were dark circles under her eyes, and her wheat-gold hair hung limp from its ponytail. She fussed about the kitchen, sticking dishes into the big double sink and wiping flour off the vast shiny wood counters and butcher block. Grandma patted her arm, trying to give her daughter what comfort she could.


Grandma and I sat at the kitchen table to frost and decorate. I stuck a few silver orbs on a green-frosted tree shaped cookie. I remembered doing this last year, with my twin brother, Paul. He ate more sprinkles than he put on the cookies, and laughed when Grandma half-heartedly scolded him. My eyes began to burn. I tried to think of something more cheerful.


"What a wonderful holiday this will be," I said with a short laugh, then realized with horror how sarcastic it sounded.


Mom sighed and put her hand to her forehead. "Lara, we're all trying to make the best of it. You could at least try. This attitude isn’t like you at all."


"I'm sorry, Mom.” My voice quivered. I put the cookie on the huge platter that was already almost full. "You're right." I lapsed into silence, wondering why they had bothered to include me at all. They should have known better.


Just as Grandma finished detailing the last cookie, my two younger brothers came bursting through the front door, pulling off beanie hats and snow boots and puffy jackets. They were laughing, and snow went all over the entryway carpet.


"Boys, settle down!" Dad yelled from the living room. "We're trying to hear the game."


But Alan and Michael didn't care at all about the game. They headed straight toward the cookies.


"No, no, lunch first," Mom said, and pretended not to see that they had each already grabbed one.


"I want mac and cheese," Alan piped up, his fat cheeks bright pink from the cold.


Michael’s dark hair dripped onto his sweat shirt. "I want more of Grandma's chicken pot pie from last night.” He was almost eleven, and long past his own macaroni and cheese obsession.


Grandma obligingly got out the food. "Are you hungry, Lara?" she asked.


"No, I’m not hungry now. Maybe in an hour or so.”  I just wanted to be alone. The cheerfulness was getting to me.


“Lara.” Michael was at the table, waiting for his food to heat in the microwave. “Would you like to play outside with us when we’re done eating? You always make up the best games!”


I shook my head as I got up from my seat. “No, thanks.” I saw Michael’s look of disappointment before Grandma handed him his plate. Alan looked let down, too. A pang shot through me. Maybe they felt more than I was giving them credit for. But I just couldn’t pretend to be my chipper old self.


“I'm going to find something to read, if that's alright."


"That's fine, honey. You go relax and we'll finish up." Grandma began humming along with the radio, irrepressible as always. Mom watched me leave with worried eyes.


The massive bookcase took up one of the living-room walls. Its shelves were mostly covered in board games and Christmas decorations, with a few condensed novels, magazines and westerns. I sighed as I scanned its shelves, wishing my parents had let me bring some books from home. My favorite reading was fairy tales, poetry, stories of faraway places and other worlds. None of my grandparents' reading material looked at all interesting.


“You need a break from reading those books,” Mom had said when we started packing for the vacation.  “We hardly ever see you anymore.”


I’d instantly gone cold with anger. “You can’t seriously be forbidding me to read?” I protested. “Books help me feel better. They’re keeping me sane.” Mom was one person who should’ve understood - the real world is rarely fair and there is no magic to help through hard times. But Mom was not to be moved.


I stared at the sad selection on the shelf, longing for a tale of wonder to disappear into for a few hours. I needed an escape, something to still my swirling thoughts. What would I do until Christmas? It was still a week away.


I didn't hear Grandma walk up beside me. "Lara, I have something you may like to read. Come with me."


I followed her down the hall to the master bedroom, a room I'd rarely entered. The bed was covered with a lacy crocheted bedspread with a pattern of roses in deep burgundy. The antique headboard was entwined with realistic pink silk flowers on vines, and the snowy light coming through the pink lace curtains made the whole room feel like the inside of a blossom.


Grandma led me over to a small wooden chest beside the bed. She opened it slowly, as if it had been a long time since she’d last looked inside and wasn't sure what she would find.


"Did you know that twins run in our family?" she asked. "I had a twin sister named Eleanor."


I shook my head, not wanting to speak. She lifted a girl's sailor dress out of the chest, laying it aside.


"Did she gone?" I guessed the answer before Grandma said it.


"Yes. When we were nine years old, we both came down with a fever. I remember the strange dreams I had. Parents were superstitious back then. Ours hung a pair of scissors over our bed with red ribbon. I recovered, but Eleanor went into a coma and died soon after." Grandma's eyes never left the contents of the chest, her hands gentle on a blue hairbrush, a faded black and white photo, a pale green picture book.


I wondered if it was different losing a sister than losing a brother. Paul had been my protector, my bear. As lanky as I was, he'd stood a foot taller, with broad shoulders and muscles that kept away the kids at school who usually picked on bookworms like me. Grandma’s sad eyes, so unlike her, showed a deep, enduring pain. Still, no one could feel like I did. It wasn’t possible.


Grandma picked up the green book. "This is what my sister was reading when she lost consciousness. It was brand new, a gift for us both. She loved reading as much as you do. I want you to have it, Lara, but please take care of it." She handed the book to me.


I didn’t know what to say. 'Thank you' didn't seem enough for something with so much sentimental value. I ran my finger over the cover. The title was "Baroëa," and was printed in gold. There was an oval cut out of the cover, gilded to look like a picture frame around a miniature painting of a garden, about four inches across. The book was beautiful, but slim. It would absorb me for a little while, at least.


"I love you, Grandma," I murmured, and was enclosed in those gentle arms. "I'll take care of it."


Grandma held me tight, the scent of vanilla still lingering on her clothing.


Then I fled the box’s faded memories, clutching my new treasure.

© 2012 Susanna F

Author's Note

Susanna F
MAJOR revision - this is working much better in first person!

My Review

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First person makes it easier doesn't it? cuuuuuuuuuuuzzzzzzzzz the first person can be wrong and only sees a part of what goes on then can twist it.

Posted 6 Years Ago

What a great chapter :) I almost had tears!
The characters were incredibly real and natural and they all reacted in very human way.
I could imagine this perfectly. This is so very engaging and I definitely can't wait to read more, I'm hooked! :) Thanks for a great chapter :)

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 9 Years Ago

Very nice. Lara's pain is so evident that the reader can actually feel it. Grief is not an easy emotion to portray but you have done it well.

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 9 Years Ago

Wow, this is an absolutely amazing chapter. Your characters are so life-like, and your descriptions immediately suck me in.

Absolutely wonderful job, keep up the superb work! :)

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 9 Years Ago

This is, hands down, the best first chapter I have come across on writers cafe, and perhaps the first story of this kind to grip me so strongly, right off of the bat, since I was a teenager myself. Well done, Susanna! If only I didn't have to get some sleep... Sigh. At least I can continue this journey tomorrow! :)

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 9 Years Ago

a beautiful chapter, great character. I could feel the emotions of the character while reading the lines. Eagerly waiting to read the second chapter. This is indeed a great opening.

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 9 Years Ago

This was beautiful. I loved how you used so much imagery. Like Em said it had a nice horse too! Great job!

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 9 Years Ago

Of course I read this it had an awesome horse!! LOL I love writings that I can picture easy peezy...

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 9 Years Ago

This is a great first chapter, you have such a way with words that make even the simplest word seem magical.

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 9 Years Ago

A most enveloped tale of secure minds breaking the normal adventures of life, does magic hold keys to which we know not, can't wait for oyur next installment, well done, great read.

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 10 Years Ago

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10 Reviews
Added on July 22, 2011
Last Updated on November 2, 2012
Tags: baroea, chapter 1, book, death, twins, family
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Susanna F
Susanna F

Private, AZ

My name is Susanna. I love writing, and have written stories since I could spell. I write mostly fiction and poems, and have had several poems published. As a full-time working wife and mom, I hav.. more..

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