Home > When Gracie Met The Grump

When Gracie Met The Grump
Author: Mariana Zapata

 

CHAPTER

ONE

 

 

Oh boy, my stomach hurt.

Grimacing, I pressed my hand against my abdomen as I tried to stop panting… but fuck, that didn’t feel right. It wasn’t a cramp. It was a twisty kind of pain that made me push my hand harder against my abdomen like that would make it better. All day my stomach had been feeling funky, but the minute I’d walked outside, it had gone straight into kind of painful.

Running already wasn’t my favorite thing to do in the world. I wouldn’t say it was in the top ten. Really, it wasn’t even in the top twenty. If I had to rank it, I’d put it after scrubbing my bathtub. Maybe even after cleaning the baseboards, and nobody liked doing that. But I could probably count on two hands the number of times I’d taken the day off from squeezing a run in over the last fifteen years.

Just thinking I had been doing it for so long in the first place made my stomach hurt even more.

But that was beside the point.

Unfortunately, running was one of those things anybody could do anywhere, so it was hard to come up with a legitimate excuse to skip going for one that didn’t leave me feeling guilty afterward. It was too easy to picture my grandma tilting her head to the side and piercing me with one of her signature glares as she silently reminded me why I had to suck it up and go.

If I ever had to run, I was going to have to run. Not jog. Not sprint. Run like my life depended on it, because it would.

So, slacking off wasn’t really an option, even though I wished it could be. It was bullshit, but it was what it was—reality.

I winced as I tried taking a deep breath, pressing my hand tighter against the middle of my stomach. Yeah, that definitely isn’t a cramp. And that couldn’t mean anything good either. The last time it had hurt like this….

Stopping right where I was, in the middle of my long driveway, I did a slow circle, looking around. I listened, but there was nothing other than some crickets somewhere in the distance. The usual.

I’d had a grilled cheese with bacon sandwich for lunch. Maybe it was gas? The cheese had only been expired about a day, but….

I listened again.

Slowly, I turned in another full circle, taking in the trailer sitting in the middle of the five acres that made up the property I’d been renting for the last three years. Next, I stared at the greenhouse building, then focused on the small shed set off to the side. There were bushes scattered around, but most of them were right along the fence line, giving the mobile home some privacy from the road.

Then I listened some more.

There wasn’t anything out here.

Which was exactly how it should have been. I’d been careful. I was always fucking careful. Cautious might as well have been my middle name. I was just being paranoid.

Taking another deep breath in through my nose, I let go of my stomach and palmed the pepper spray I’d stuffed into my pocket after I’d turned into the driveway at the end of my run. I should probably stop doing that. I should keep it in my hand the whole time, at least until I got inside and locked the door. I didn’t love running at night, but I hated waking up early, and I sure as hell hated running in the heat. Temperatures in New Mexico were no joke.

Keeping my ears peeled, I finished catching my breath the rest of the way down the driveway, but there really wasn’t anything or anyone out there other than the crickets. Even the clouds were hiding the stars, and if there was a member of the Trinity up in the sky creeping on me, I couldn’t see them. The thought almost made me snicker as my stomach suddenly hurt a little more sharply.

It's the cheese. It has to be the fucking cheese, I thought as I unlocked the door and went inside, engaging the dead bolt and the flimsy bottom lock that was mostly for decoration. There was a gallon of rocky road ice cream in the freezer that I’d been dreaming about tearing up all day, so my stomach needed to quit its bullshit.

After toeing off my sneakers and setting my keys and pepper spray on the nightstand, I picked up the towel I’d left there and wiped myself down before slipping my hoodie from earlier back on so I wouldn’t sweat up the couch. Only then did I take a nice, deep, even breath, and almost immediately stopped in the middle of it as I eyed the coffee table. Specifically, the map I’d left on top of it before I’d gone outside, telling myself I needed to get my run over with. I wanted to watch some TV while I cooled down. Then I’d have dinner, shower, squeeze in my last lesson, maybe finish reading my book while I ate that rocky road, and finally go to bed.

Just like every day.

And if that made my chest get a little tight, then it made my chest get a little tight.

C’est la fucking vie, right? But even knowing that, I couldn’t help peeking at the atlas, which was almost as old as I was, as I circled around the couch and plopped down in the middle. Right in front of it.

It was already open, just waiting for me.

I can do this.

All I had to do was choose somewhere. Fucking anywhere, or just about anywhere, as long as it was within the continental U.S.

Eyeing the stained pages, I tried to decide if I should close my eyes and randomly point at a place or eeny-meeny-miny-moe like I’d used to when I’d been a kid and my grandparents had let me pick where we’d head to next. They’d tried to make moving around as much of a game as they could, at least at the beginning. To be fair, I hadn’t really seen it as too much of a chore until about middle school. Bouncing from town to town had been fun for a really long time.

Then, in high school, it had become a necessity.

Now, it made my eye twitch.

And made me want that ice cream even more.

But I knew I needed to move, and I really was planning on it. It was just easier said than done. Six months ago, I’d told myself I couldn’t leave because I wanted to harvest my garden first. I’d put so much work into it; I couldn’t let it go to waste. Then, I had convinced myself that I should wait until after the holidays. Moving during winter would suck. What if it suddenly snowed? My car wasn’t all-wheel drive, so I needed to take that into consideration too.

Then there was the biggest factor: I hadn’t been able to pick a place yet.

It might have not helped that every time I’d sat down to make a decision, I’d done the same thing I had tonight—I spent all of two minutes total looking at the map before I’d come up with something else that needed to be done that was just as important. Like running. Or folding the mound of clean laundry that always seemed to pile up even though I was the only person in the house and I usually wore my pajamas all day unless I had video lessons with my students. Then I got real fancy and put on a nice shirt while I sat in front of my computer in sweatpants or shorts.

It wasn’t like it mattered where I went. It was time to bounce.

It was one of the rules I’d been raised with after all: Don’t stay in one place for too long.

Lifting the back of my palm to my face, I dragged it across my forehead before dropping it onto my lap as I blew a raspberry with my mouth.

My stomach clenched again.

It doesn’t mean anything. It was a coincidence; my body was being annoying and had nothing to do with me moving. There was no reason for me to believe I needed to panic, get in my car, and peel out of here. It had been a long time since my stomach had done this funny shit. It doesn’t mean anything. It was the cheddar. Or maybe it was a sign that, yes, I needed to get out of here at some point in the very near future.

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