I was the last in a long line of grandkids on both sides of the family. No one has ever said as much, but I’m pretty sure I was an “oops” baby; the result of one too many glasses of wine and a couple over forty who thought unplanned pregnancies were for teens.
By the time I came along, both of my grandmothers had already passed away and my grandfathers were elderly and lived in different states. Trying to coordinate travel plans for a family of five, including an infant, was difficult on a budget and neither of my grandpas were up to frequent trips, so visits were rare and spaced out over long periods.
Still, both of my parents wanted me to have a relationship with them, so we’d trade phone calls so they could hear my nonsensical baby babble, they’d write me letters for Mom and Dad to read to me, and they’d get crayon scribbles in return.
When I was three, they both started to experience declines in health. First my maternal grandpa, then my paternal one. Fearing the worst, Mom purchased a pair of teddy bears, the kind that had recorders in them so you could record a message that would play when the bear was hugged, and made sure to get a message saved from both.
My mom’s father died when I was four. A few days after his funeral, I was given a white teddy bear with bright blue eyes that twinkled from beneath a plaid flat cap and a green sweater. When I gave it a squeeze, I heard my grandpa’s slightly muffled voice from its stomach.
“I love you, Sadie.”
Two years later, after Dad’s father passed, I got the other one. It was a slate gray color and the stitching on his face gave him a rather serious expression for a stuffed animal. A pair of red suspenders held up his tan trousers. I fell asleep hugging it and my dad told me some years later, with tears in his eyes, that randomly throughout that night, he kept hearing Grandpop’s voice coming from my room.
“I love you, Sadie.”
I named my white bear Fran and my gray bear Jock and put them on a shelf above my bed, where they sat throughout my childhood. Honestly, I didn’t give them much thought; they had become fixtures of my room, the same way the lamp and dresser were. Every now and again, I’d come home from school to find one of my parents standing beside my bed, looking up at the bears or giving them a little squeeze. Even as time passed, they still recited their single phrase without fail.
Aside from those instances, though, Fran and Jock were little more than dust collectors from my childhood.
When I went away to college, the two didn’t make the cut and were left behind while I made my way out into the world for the first time. I think my parents were a little disappointed that I wasn’t more sentimental over the teddies, but any memories I had of my grandpas were hazy at best and I didn’t have the same emotional connection that they did.
When Mom gently asked about whether I would like them when I moved into my first apartment, I told her no, that they were probably better off with her.
“Ok.” She said. “Well, they’ll be here if you change your mind.”
I was pretty confident I wouldn’t.
The next time I went back to my parents’ place was to housesit while Dad took Mom on their long awaited vacation out west. He’d been promising her they’d go for over thirty years and they were both buzzing with excitement. In typical Mom fashion, however, she was also very nervous.
“You remember where all the financial documents are in case anything happens to us, right?” She asked from the backseat at least six times on the drive to the airport.
“Yes, in the white bin under your bed.”
“And the wills?”
“Fireproof lock box in the back of your closet.”
“I think she’s got it, hon.” Dad said, reaching back to give her knee a squeeze.
Mom harrumphed and sat back. “Just call if you need anything.”
“I’ll be fine, don’t worry! You’re only going for a week.”
“A lot can happen in a week.” She said.
I grinned at her in the rearview mirror, unconcerned, and she made a face at me, but seemed to relax.
After I dropped them off, I drove back to their place and started to make myself at home again. I tossed my suitcase on my bed and went to the kitchen to make some dinner and catch up on one of my shows. It had been a while since I’d had a true, completely free week all to myself and I planned to take full advantage of it. After I ate, I kicked up my feet, stretched out, and commenced “Lazy Lump” mode.
I managed to get almost three episodes in before I started to nod off. I checked the clock over the TV and sighed. It was only just after eleven; was I really turning into an old, early-to-bed woman already? The horror! I rolled off the couch and shut off the tv and all the lights, plunging the house into a deep darkness.
Even in the inky black, I didn’t feel even a twinge of nervousness. I’d grown up in the house, I knew it like the back of my hand, and all of its creaks and groans were almost comforting. I made my way to my room and flipped on the light. It had been at least five years since I lived there, but my parents hadn’t done much to change my room except store a few bits and bobs in the closet. They said it was so I’d know I’d always have a place with them. I thought it was because changing it would make the fact that I was out for good more real.
Whatever the reason, I appreciated the familiarity.
As I started to unpack my bag, my eye was drawn to the shelf over my bed. Fran and Jock, ever vigilant, were sitting in the same spots they’d occupied for most of my life. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t help but smile and reach out to them.
I took Fran down first and gave his little cap a tweak before squeezing him around his stomach.
“I love you, Sadie.” Grandpa said.
After putting Fran back, I did the same to Jock, who stared up at me with his usual sternness even as I plucked one red suspender.
“I love you, Sadie.” Grandpop said.
It was the first time I’d listened to them in a while. Even if they didn’t resonate as deeply with me as they did my parents, I was glad to find their recordings still worked.
A quick trip to the bathroom and a change into my pjs later, I was in bed and fast falling asleep.
I can’t say exactly what woke me. A nightmare, I figured, given that my heart was beating quite quickly, but I couldn’t remember any details. I took a deep breath and rolled over, already falling half asleep again, and found myself face to face with a dark figure on the pillow beside me. I yelped and sat up, grabbing at my phone, my nearest source of light, and shined it towards my bed.
Fran was lying on his side beside me.
I let out a small chuckle and gave myself a little shake to dismiss the lingering fright that he’d caused and picked him up.
“Did you fall off the shelf?” I asked him quietly. I must have put him back too close to the edge earlier and gravity had done its duty.
I gave Fran a gentle squeeze.
I stared down at the bear and blinked once, very slowly. I must be more sleepy than I realized, I thought. I was hearing things. To prove to myself that it had just been my imagination, I squeezed him again.
It was still Grandpa’s voice, but instead of the soft warmth it had always had, it sounded cold, almost menacing. I threw Fran across the room, where he hit the wall.
From over my head, I heard Grandpop’s more gravely voice.
I whipped around and looked up at Jock. He was sitting in the same place as always, but now he was turned towards the door instead of facing forwards. Had I put him down like that? I couldn’t remember.
“Get out!” Grandpa’s voice came from Fran again, louder this time.
“Get out!” Grandpop echoed from Jock.
The two went back and forth, their voices getting louder and louder, until I slapped my hands over my ears and leapt from my bed. I wanted to scream, but my voice was stuck behind my fear tangled tongue. I stumbled across my dark room, chased by my long dead grandfathers’ voices.
“I know you’re down there!” Jock shouted with Grandpop’s voice.
I froze. Down there? Down under the shelf? I glanced over my shoulder at the gray bear staring silently down from over my bed. I had to get out of my room. I had to get out of the house! I yanked open my door.
“I see you!” Fran said in Grandpa’s voice.
I was halfway out into the hall, tears streaming down my face. I didn’t know what was happening, was I going crazy? Was I dreaming? All I knew was that my two childhood toys were screaming threats at me and I had to get away from them. I turned towards the stairs.
“You take one more step, I’ll make sure it’s your last!” Jock bellowed.
“Get out!” Fran roared.
From somewhere downstairs, a step creaked.
Someone else was in the house.
They weren’t yelling at me at all, I realized with a very strange mix of confusing relief and newly formed horror. They were yelling at the intruder who was making their way up the stairs, towards me.
“Get out!” My grandfathers howled together.
Footsteps clamored across the wood floor downstairs. Something fell over in the living room with a loud crash, and again in the kitchen, before the back door slammed against the counter as it was thrown open and a car engine rumbled to life.
Somehow, I regained my wits enough to run to my parents room and look out the window to the driveway below. An SUV was peeling backwards out into the street. It slammed into the neighbor’s mailbox, righted itself, and then screeched off into the night.
A heavy quiet had fallen over the house again.
After waiting a few, long, tense minutes, I crept back across the hall and peeked into my room. Fran and Jock were where I’d left them, both completely silent. When they stayed that way, I hesitantly approached Fran, who was lying on his side with his little flat cap beside him. I picked him up and, with trembling fingers, squeezed his stomach.
“I love you, Sadie.” Grandpa said warmly.
I put his cap back on his head and gently put him back on the shelf beside Jock and backed out of the room, watching them the whole time with wide eyes. As I rounded the corner, heading downstairs to the phone, I heard Grandpop’s voice trailing after me.
“I love you, Sadie.”
The police arrived a bit later, following my frantic call to 911. I filed a report, leaving out the bit about my talking bears, and allowed them to collect whatever evidence they could. Every so often, I found myself glancing at the stairs, almost like I was expecting a repeat of whatever had just happened. It never came and the cops wrapped it up, leaving me alone again.
When I called my parents to tell them about the break in, they immediately wanted to rush home, but I assured them there was no need.
“Really,” I said, “I don’t think I have anything to worry about.”
“We could be on the next plane.” Mom insisted.
“No, I’m ok. Whoever that guy was, I’m pretty sure he won’t be back.”
It took a few more go arounds, but I eventually convinced them I was safe.
And I felt it, too, for the most part. After the initial shock had worn off and I’d had time to process what had happened, I really was ok. I couldn’t explain it, I couldn’t tell anyone what had happened without sounding crazy, but I knew it had been real and I knew, as long as I had Fran and Jock sitting on the shelf above my bed, I could sleep easy.
A few days later, the cops did find the guy who broke in. He was a coworker of my dad’s who’d overheard he’d be out of town. He thought the house would be empty and easy pickings. When he tried to tell them about the two crazy guys upstairs and their violent threats, they rolled their eyes and laughed at him. He was very surprised to hear that only a twenty-two year old woman had been in the house during his botched burglary.
When I returned home to my apartment a week later, Fran and Jock were with me. I keep them on the tv stand in the living room now, where they have a full view of the front door. Whenever I start to feel a bit anxious about being alone, I’ll give each bear a little squeeze and smile as they speak.
“I love you, Sadie.”
And now I respond. “I love you both, too.”