“Gabby, stay off your phone!” Mom called as I left with Grandma Louise. We were going to one of my favorite places, Henrietta’s Tea Room. I tucked my phone into my Vera Bradley hipster purse and vowed to be good, meaning not to constantly text or facetime my friends. I thought it’d be better to spend a few hours off my phone rather than have it taken away. My life on social media had been an ongoing battle between Mom and me for about a year. Surely, there would be enough distractions for me not to be tempted. Then I thought about it. Every jingle and buzz would drive me crazy. I already texted my friends that I would be AFP for a few hours, but they couldn’t be trusted not to contact me. As we drove away, I pulled out my cellphone and shut it off. Grandma looked at me and smiled as I quickly stuffed it back into my purse. “Gabrielle.” My grandmother never used my nickname and often told me how beautiful my name was. “Are you ok to go shopping after we eat? Or do you need to get home?” “No, I’m fine.” “I found a new boutique for younger people. I thought we could start your school shopping. We’ll go home after that. Okay?” “Sounds great.” Twenty minutes later we turned into the parking lot of Henrietta’s, a two-hundred-year- old colonial mansion. Like many old homes on the East Coast, George Washington once slept there. At fourteen, even I knew that was probably not true. What I liked about the place was that my grandmother had been taking me there since I was little. Back then I took advantage of the more unusual features of the restaurant. The second floor had a dress up room with big floppy hats with feathers, boas, old fashioned fancy dresses, elbow length gloves, and high heels. When I was little, picking out my outfit was the first of many joys. I often brought my Teddy bear or American Girl doll, who was given a seat at the table. On the menu were sandwiches in the shape of a heart or a shamrock. The waitress taught me how to properly hold out my pinky and use my napkin while sipping tea from a delicate china cup. As a teen, I was interested in the stories that the place was supposedly haunted by a little girl who died on the property in 1891, when it was a farm. Grandma Louise always reassured me the ghost was only “a legend to enhance the ambiance and increase the restaurant’s business.” Now, I understood what she meant when she claimed, “People have a morbid attraction to the paranormal.” I guess I was no different because I hoped I’d see the ghost one day, but I wouldn’t dare tell Grandma. We ate our lunch and enjoyed watching the kids, dressed in clothing that didn’t fit, spoon feeding their dolls and bears. While waiting for our dessert—another reason I love this place—I excused myself to go to the restroom. They used the four large rooms on each side of the central hallway for dining. A grand staircase curved down into the large foyer. Past the stairs, the restrooms were at the end of a dimly lit corridor in the kitchen annex. Portraits of family members who had lived in the house lined the walls to the restrooms, including the little girl. When I was younger, I scurried past her, never wanting to look at her. Today, when I was returning to the dining room, her portrait captured my attention. Her long straight hair was pulled back and fell below her shoulders. A large bow topped her head. She wore a prim and proper dress with a high lace collar and puffy sleeves, which narrowed just above the elbows, while her hands were folded in her lap. The fragile girl’s eyes expressing a deep sadness and her turned-down mouth made me wonder if she lived a miserable life. “Excuse me.” A waitress nudged me to pass by. Her touch startled me out of my thoughts. “Sorry,” I said. “You know who that is?” “Yes,” I said. “Her name is Isabella, right?” “It is. I pass by her all the time. Once in a while, I stop to look. She always makes me sad.” “Yeah, I know what you mean. May I ask you something? Uh . . .” I looked around to see if anyone were listening. “Have you ever seen her ghost?” The waitress studied me, probably wondering what she should share with a person my age. “Well . . . I don’t believe in that stuff.” She paused and continued, “But, some of the people who clean at night have been freaked out by noises. One of the owners claims she’s heard a child crying.” “Hey, would it be okay if I take a picture?” “Sure.” The waitress smiled and continued to the dining room. I felt guilty slipping out my phone, but as soon as I snapped the picture, I turned it off, put it away, and returned to Grandma. After Grandma dropped me off, I got a message to go to Sarah’s to swim and stayed until eleven. By the time I got home, I was tired and fell asleep on top of my comforter. It was after two a.m. when I got up to wash my face. I noticed my phone’s battery was dead. Too sleepy to hunt for my charger, I slipped into bed. Having already slept for a couple of hours made it hard for me to go back to sleep. I thought about the arrangements I made with Grandma to spend a couple of nights at the family’s lake cabin to help her with some cleaning. I could tell Mom was pleased I was going along to help. Besides. I could use a few days away to avoid more arguments with Mom. My eyes began to feel heavy. They flittered open when I noticed a flash of light and heard a jingle that I had a message, but there was none. The photo of Isabella’s sour face stared back at me. My heart jumped into my throat. I didn’t leave Isabella’s picture open, but then I remembered I showed it to Sarah, who told me it was creepy and asked why I had that awful picture. I didn’t understand why my cell was working since the battery showed it was empty. Suddenly, the bottom burned my hand. I threw the cell into my nightstand’s drawer, turned on my side, curled up with my stuffed animals, and after what seemed forever, went to sleep. * * * * * “Gabby, time to get up.” I threw the covers over my head, hoping Mom would give up. I slipped my arm out, slapped my hand down on the nightstand, my fingers searching for my cell. Then I popped my head out to see if it was on the floor. Remembering it was in the drawer, I found my dead phone. A grave sadness swept over me. I clutched the phone to my chest and started crying. Mom came into my room and said, “Grandma’s downstairs. Remember, you’re going with her today. Hey, what’s wrong? Why are you crying?” Damn, the last thing I wanted was an interrogation. “I’m fine.” “Did someone say something nasty in a text?” “Nooo, Mom.” I wiped tears away and sat up. “If I find out you’re being bullied, that phone’s going in the trash.” “Tell Grandma I’ll be ready in a few.” I hopped up and headed for my closet to avoid any more discussion. I had no answer for my crying, and I didn’t want Mom imagining anything worse. Downstairs, I put on a happy face, but I felt awful. For some reason the goodbye hugs made me feel even more depressed. We drove to the lake cabin in silence with Grandma stealing concerned glances as she drove. My phone on the car charger, I could finally check who’d been trying to contact me, hoping my friends could change my mood. The screen flashed off and on repeatedly. I tried powering off, but the flashing continued. “That’s odd.” “What is?” Grandma asked. “Oh, nothing. It’s just my phone’s been doing some strange things.” I didn’t share that last night it felt hot and that I had no messages, no posts on Instagram. Nothing! “Are you feeling better?” “Yes.” Great. Mom must’ve told her I’d been crying. “I’m excited about going to the lake,” I covered. I was close to tears. Everything seemed useless. A feeling of dread I couldn’t understand came over me. I turned toward the window, brought my legs up to my chest, and watched the passing scenery. When we pulled up to the cabin, I helped unload everything and immediately went down to the lake to sit on the dock. Usually, I’d go for a swim or take out the canoe, but I simply didn’t want to do anything. Grandma came down, smiling with an iced tea and left with her brows furrowed. I trusted her not to press me. The drink sat there until the ice melted. When I returned to the cabin, I helped Grandma with a few chores. I felt like I was moving in slow motion. While going through old photos, I listened while she told me about them, but I began to feel nauseous, excused myself, and went to my room. I checked my cell again. Earlier, I sent out several texts, but I’d received nothing. I lay down on the bed to anxiously wait for contact with my BFFs. It was dark when Grandma quietly cracked my door open. Groggily, I said, “Sorry I haven’t been very good company.” She felt my forehead and set my dinner on the desk. “I remember how it was at your age. Sometimes a young person just needs to be alone. From what your mother told me, you’ve had a very busy summer. It’s probably just caught up to you. If there’s anything you want to tell me, you know I’m a good listener,” she said softly. “I know. Thanks for dinner. I think I just need some downtime.” After Grandma Louise left, I took a bite and nearly gagged. What’s wrong with me? I can always eat. My phone flashed on. Thinking I had a text, I grabbed it, but there was nothing. After several unsuccessful attempts to type a message, I gave up. It seemed my phone was totally jacked up. The tears returned. I went back to bed and cried myself to sleep. Sometime later that night I woke again and saw the light from my phone. The screen no longer displayed the time or any of my aps, except the message icon. The envelope had the Number One next to it to show I had a text. Finally! It read, “Follow me.” An ice-cold sensation went through me. Isabella’s picture disappeared and I saw her, standing at the foot of the bed, beckoning me. Feeling weightless and at peace, I rose and followed. I noticed the screen door banging, the rough boards of the back porch on my bare feet, and the stars sparkling. I walked until the silky warm water covered my ankles and mud squished between my toes. The next thing I felt was the water lapping against my chest. I felt lighter, less burdened as I saw Isabella a few feet ahead of me, sinking into the lake. A hand clamped onto my shoulder. “Gabrielle! Gabrielle! Turn around!” It shocked me that my grandmother was in the lake, standing next to me. “You’re going under water. The ground drops off there.” With Grandma holding my arm, I shivered violently and walked into the shallow water. I held the cell up to my face and looked down to the dark, empty screen. It all became clear. I turned, threw my cellphone as far as I could into the lake, and grabbed my dear, dear grandmother.
by Sherry Cerrano | Dec 2, 2019 | Uncategorized