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Sixteen By Jessamyn West

“Sixteen” by Jessamyn West is a heartwarming story about a young girl’s relationship with her grandparents. Despite the generational differences between them, the two bond over their shared love of family. This touching story is sure to resonate with readers of all ages.

Outside in the orchard, the man from the smudge company was refilling the posts with oil. The greasy odor of last night’s burning lingered in the air. Mr. Delahanty gazed out at the barren orange grove; Mrs. Delahanty watched her husband eat, nibbling up to the edges of his toast and then staking it about his tea cup in a tidy fence-like pattern.

“Mr. Delahanty,” she said suddenly, “I want to speak to you about something that’s been on my mind for a long time. It isn’t easy for me to bring up, but I feel I must. You know how much I love you—”

He looked at her quickly, his Adam’s apple jerking in his throat. “Yes, yes, I know that, Mollie. What is it? You’re not worried about my health, are you? The doctor said I was as sound as a—”

Mrs. Delahanty put her hand over his arm. “No, no, it isn’t that. It’s something else. I want to talk to you about our granddaughter, Susan.”

Mr. Delahanty frowned and took a sip of tea. “What about her?” he asked gruffly. “Well, it’s just that she’s sixteen now, and— well, to put it bluntly, Mr. Delahanty, I think she should be married.”

There was a silence while Mr. Delahanty stared at his wife in astonishment. “Married!” he exclaimed finally. “Susan married! Why, she’s nothing but a child!”

“We’ll have to contact Cress,” Mr. Delahanty acknowledged at last. “I’m not sure your father will make it through the night. She’s his lone grandchild. She should be home right now.” Mrs. Delahanty pressed her palms against her temples as if pressing them to bones above her eyes. “Cress isn’t going to like being called away from school,” she added unhappily.”

“She’s doing so well there.” Mr. Delahanty inclined his head in agreement, but said nothing. There was no use in sugarcoating the situation – Cress would have to come home, and soon.

The news that her grandfather was dying came as a shock to Cressida Delahanty. She had always been close to him, even though he lived on the other side of the country. She packed her bags and headed home as quickly as she could.

When she arrived, her grandfather was already gone. But in his final moments, he had made sure that she knew how much he loved her. And for that, she was grateful.

“We’ll have to call her anyhow,” Mr. Delahanty said as he swirled the dregs of his tea in his cup to avoid missing any sugar. “Cress will get angry if she has to come and Father won’t be able to tell whether she’s there or not. Why not let Cress stay at Woolman?”

“She’s sixteen.” “So? You were married at sixteen. I was only fifteen when we met. What difference does a year make? She can catch the nine o’clock train in the morning. It would be better for her, and Father, if she did.”

Mrs. Delahanty was right, of course, but Mr. Delahanty couldn’t stand the thought of his only grandchild being so far away when he died. Cressida was the light of his life, and he wanted her by his side during his final days.

But Mrs. Delahanty was adamant. “It’s not fair to Cressida,” she said. “She’s a child. She doesn’t need to be saddled with this.”

In the end, they compromised. Cressida would come for a week, and if Mr. Delahanty was still alive at the end of that time, she could stay for as long as he needed her.

There was no mention of Cress during their misery for the excellent person whose life was coming to an end. What had become of Cress since she departed for college? She, who had been open and loving, now lived within a world that was entirely suited to her own size and shape, making any intrusion, even the death of her own grandfather, feel like an undeserved invasion of her privacy. Black magic couldn’t have altered her more quickly or unwillingly; nothing but magic appeared to be able to restore them their lost daughter.

The first time, Cress went home for Thanksgiving and found that she no longer fitted into her old room. It had been turned into a sewing room while she was away and there was no place for her to put her clothes or put herself to bed. She slept on the daybed in the living room, among the coats and hats and shoes, feeling like a piece of furniture that had been shoved into a corner and forgotten.

The second time, she came home for Christmas and found that her grandfather had died. This invasion of her privacy was even more unpleasantly than the first and she shut herself up in her room and would not come out for three days.

On the fourth day, her grandmother came to her door and asked if she would like to come down and help with the Christmas dinner. Cress shook her head, not trusting herself to speak.

“Very well, then,” her grandmother said. “But I’m going to tell you something, Cressida. Your grandfather loved you very much. He didn’t want to die and leave you here alone.”

Cress turned her face to the wall and did not answer. The third time Cress came home was for her grandfather’s funeral. This time she did not try to hide away from the family; she knew that it would be expected of her to be there, in the front row with her grandmother and her aunt and uncle. She stood silently through the service, her face pale and set.

Afterwards, as they were walking out of the church, her grandmother put her hand on Cress’s arm. “He loved you very much, you know,” she said. Cress turned her head away and did not answer.

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