I jerked upright out of a sound sleep. My newly broken ankle squawked in complaint. I peered at the sliver of streetlight slitting through the window and stilled my breath.
Well, nothing but the sound of Ralph sawing sequoia-sized logs in the next room.
I wasn’t afraid. No one but an idiot would break into the house of a six-foot-eight, 270-pound man who bellowed bass down the block. This was New Smyrna Beach, not Miami where I worried about black-white riots; hippies high, then low, on LSD asleep on playground benches; and a buffet of dangers at the docks.
R.J. rolled over and said something unintelligible in his sleep from the upstairs sleeping porch.
Tiny feet scratched across hardwood—the sound that must have woken me.
My heart thumped.
Mom, usually the one who sucked it up and killed roaches and spiders for me, worked eleven to seven at Fish Memorial Hospital.
I hopped on one foot to the doorway, flinching with each jostle to my injury, flipped on the light switch, and pogoed back to French provincial safety.
Then I saw it.
I screamed like Charles Manson stood in my room, rubbing maniacal hands together, instead of a three-inch mouse.
Ralph’s snore broke.
He blustered into the room. “What the hell is going on?”
My arm shot out, pointing at Charles Manson Mouse, poised for mayhem, beside my closet door.
He swore. “What do you expect me to do about it?”
“Kill it!” I knew he squirrelled away kindness. The guy cried at Hallmark commercials with the cat curled around his shoulders and our ugly German shepherd sprawled across his lap. But I wasn’t sure if his valor would bend toward the animal kingdom or a noisy stepchild.
He harrumphed away and came back with a broom.
For a big man, Ralph lunged fast—agility left over from his football days when they called him Tiny—but the mouse scurried from under the bristles.
I dove beneath the covers.
A few grunts and thunks later, Ralph lumbered down the hall.
The toilet flushed.
I sat up. Relief and adrenalin pooled inside me. “Thank you!” I called as Ralph grumbled back to bed.
Wide awake, I wedged the pillow between me and the headboard.
I’d been so focused on the creative writing party yesterday afternoon, I hadn’t thought about how my summer plans to be a counselor at Our Lady of the Hills Camp in North Carolina had collapsed as surely as the bone in my ankle. Me and my stupid klutziness. I punched my pillow and rolled over. Pain shot up my leg.
Then I remembered the dinner dance at the yacht club—tonight!
I’d almost fallen over in shock when Jim Bennett—a guy I didn’t know—invited me. When I called last night to give him the option of taking a girl with two working legs, he assured me he still wanted to take me. I think he was relieved he wouldn’t have to dance.
I smiled in the dark. A date with a V.I.P. senior headed to the Air Force Academy almost trumped a mouse and a messed up leg. I’d worry about the ruined summer later.
At the dinner dance—my foot stretched out under the table on a chair, throbbing time to Rufus Thomas’ high decibel band—I was a peg-leg Cinderella at the ball. I shot smiles at my date so he’d know I was glad he didn’t ditch me. I couldn’t think of anywhere I’d rather be.
Two weeks later I parked my crutches against the wall at the beachside recreation center. I hopped to one of the long arts and crafts tables. It wasn’t my beloved Our Lady of the Hills, but working for the New Smyrna Beach summer rec program planted me mostly in one spot all afternoon.
In the mornings I laughed at Bill Cuthbert playing the roles of both soldiers and Indians in summer school American History. Only Mr. Cuthbert could morph moldy military minutia into something interesting. He called me Miss Fetterman as if I’d arrived at adulthood early and I sat a little taller.
A purple pipe cleaner sailed past my nose and I spun around to Steve’s smirk. Usually, I looked forward to seeing the kid and whatever hijinks he conjured for Arts and farts as he called my session of the rec program. Steve had enough personality for a pack of prepubescent boys. But today he’d ticked me off.
Yelling at him would stamp us enemies for the summer. If I barked an ultimatum, he’d call my bluff. I sucked in my irritation. “I’ll tell you what, finish yesterday’s Popsicle stick jewelry box for your mom and I’ll let you skip today’s picture frame—”
Steve rolled his eyes. “Lam-o.”
He had a point. “You can have the last 20 minutes to work on your yo-yo moves.”
Steve narrowed his eyes, considering my offer. He looked down the row at a couple of his buddies, Elmer’s Glue up to their first knuckles, as they pasted pipe cleaners to cardboard. “Deal.”
After dismissal, Steve opened the passenger door of a station wagon. I crutched toward the car where sun glanced off the driver’s window. It wouldn’t hurt to wave at his mom, pave the way if I needed her on my side another day.
The window rolled down.
I stared at Mike Zwicker’s cheeky grin. His ginger-colored hair and riot of freckles had earned him the nickname Pink Panther around New Smyrna Beach High School and on the golf team.
His smile held the same swagger Steve’s did, but on a guy my age, it looked hot.
My step faltered.
Mike eyed me like I’d just transformed chauffeuring his kid brother into a good thing. “Hey, I didn’t know you were working here.”
I shrugged. “Summer job.”
“I pity you, having to deal with this dip-weed,” Mike cast a glance toward his brother.
Steve glowered and slammed the car door.
“What’s up with the tripod?” Mike gestured at my crutches. I gave him the long version while Steve yelled insults out the window at a friend.
I watched them drive away. Maybe being stuck at home this summer wouldn’t be so bad.
Much later, after I gained more than a catechism comprehension of God, I thought how like Him it was to care about a klutzy teenager and her crappy summer prospects. To cushion a broken ankle with a couple of parties. To toss in a cool job, crazy summer school teacher, and cute guy. No matter what I’ve had to hobble through in life—some things far more excruciating than a broken ankle—I still find Him cognizant of the things I care about and unflinchingly kind.