Ch. 2 - Rules

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Beige carpet sank plushly as Rhianna stepped in the room. A dark oval table centered the dining room. It was an expensive real-wood kind of table. Pippa laid dishes out on the table like she was at a funeral, setting steaming dishes on pot holders with a reverence that told Rhianna this table wasn't used often. Pink and green floral-patterned china remained sealed away behind the glass of a hutch that matched the table. With all the flower patterns in the house, Rhianna puzzled over the empty vase in the middle of the table as she sat down.

Pippa's brows arched in surprise upon seeing Rhianna with her face freshly washed, hair combed neatly back in a ponytail and a fresh set of clothes. If there was one thing Rhianna knew, it was how to be a polite guest. Rhianna laid her napkin across her lap, just to prove the point.

"Everything looks delicious."

Her grandmother grunted in response and began to spoon lumps of food onto the plate set out for Rhianna—one of the unbreakable type plates, suprisingly devoid of flowers or patterns. It was hard to believe that this stern, silent woman could have raised someone as unreserved and chatty as her mother. But there were similarities. Gray eyes, like stormclouds, strong jawline—rounded on Mom, sagging on Pippa, but still the same. How did the young girl who grew up in a house of flower patterns become the woman who drove helter skelter around the country, dragging Rhianna from one temporary "situation" to another?

"Thank you, Pip—er Grandmother?"

Tapping a spoonful of peas onto her plate, her Pippa's expression grew thoughtful—a mirror of Mom's in the way she tilted her head and stared up into the corner of the ceiling. "'Gran' suits me."

Rhianna's mouth quirked up sideways, but then flattened again. Was Mom ok? Her mother had been alternating between agitation and silence during the three day drive to Pippa's farm. Rhianna hadn't even known it was her grandmother's farm until they'd arrived; she hadn't even known she had a grandmother who had a farm. Her mother only told Rhianna, over and over, to remember that nothing was her fault, no matter what happened.

"Rhianna?"

She startled out of her worries. The plate before her was full of potatoes, peas and chicken, waiting to be eaten.

Rhianna hesitated, in case Pippa was the kind of old lady that said grace before every meal. But Pippa just watched her expectantly.

"So, what grade?" Pippa asked, tearing off a bite of chicken with her teeth, as Rhianna nibbled awkwardly on some potatoes.

"Eighth." It was easy to remember, the ending number of the year always matched the grade she was supposed to be in. Rhianna hadn't been in school since about the fourth grade. Mom aquired books on long-term "borrow" from libraries instead, and called it home-schooling. It counted as borrowing because they dropped them in the slot of whatever library, in whatever town they were in, when she was finished with them.

Pippa was nodding. "It makes no difference I suppose. You won't be here by September. Just making small talk, and you're too young to ask about your job."

Rhianna didn't want to think about being here as long as September. Her job was keeping mom going in a straightish line and she needed to get back to it.

"Is there a library in town?" she asked, hoping to steer the stunted conversation in a better direction.

"Doesn't every town?"

Rhianna blushed and poked at the untouched food on her plate with her fork. She swallowed her next question about the selection. It didn't matter, she loved all kinds of books. Science, philosophy—fiction especially. No matter what was happening in the book, or what it was about, everything was organized into a system—beginning, middle, end. Which was a weird thing to like best about books, she supposed, given that there was so much to like about them. But Rhianna had given up on being a normal girl a long time ago.

Which is why she was glad to stay far away from any school. Books were better than school. School was just mean kids and disappointed teachers. She could even read in the car when mom was driving and it never made her sick. That didn't stop mom from asking, "Don't you get car sick?" every time.

"What's the matter, don't you like chicken?"

"Oh, um, I'm just not used to..."

"Real food?" Pippa smirked. "Nugget is not a body part on a chicken, you know."

Rhianna suppressed a frown. Sarcasm reminded her of mom too. She twisted some chicken off the bone with her fork and took a bite.

Satisfied, Pippa dabbed her napkin on her lips and then tossed it on the table. "Ok then. Some house rules would be a good place to start. Lights out at nine." She paused at the horrified look on Rhianna's face. "Ok, ten."

Rhianna still wasn't very happy with that, but Pippa didn't budge another hour and rolled off a list of other things including the chores of cleaning dishes after dinner and sweeping the floor. Rhianna groaned inwardly.

"Also, you may explore most of the farm as much as you like, and go into town as long as you let me know, but stay away from the north end of the property. You don't need to be anywhere near that field or those trees.

"But why? I am thirteen. I've been in woods before."

"That's as may be. But it's my farm and my rules."

Rhianna bit her lip. She needed to stay on Pippa's good side so the time passed quickly.

"Are we clear?"

"Yes, Gran." What could the old woman be hiding out back? Bodies?

She ate in silence after that, trying not to get her plate too dirty, since she would be the one washing it.

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