Nothing interesting ever happened in her neighborhood. Or so she thought.
- Posted on Mar 27, 2013
Going for a bike ride! See you later!” I called to my mother as I bounded through the kitchen to the back door.
“Mmm,” Mom said from the couch, her fingers tangled in crocheting yarn, eyes fixed on Alex Trebek. Dad didn’t respond. He was engrossed in his music reference book. Just like every night. My life is so boring, I thought, letting the screen door slam behind me.
Everything was always the same. School, homework, bed, repeat. An endless loop through all of my 13 years. Mom and Dad always did and said the exact same things. So boring. A bike ride was the best I could do for excitement—and how unexciting was that?
A light mist fell from the sky as I walked to the shed, determined to get out of the house despite the iffy spring weather, which had been wet and dreary for days. Finally it was clear enough to go for one quick spin.
I hopped on my bike. A lot of kids from school couldn’t go anywhere without adult supervision. But here on Willow Lane, no one worried. Nothing dangerous—or exciting—ever happened on our quiet cul-de-sac.
Willow Lane was surrounded by fields and woods. There were only nine families on the entire street, and we all knew one another. I’d explored every inch of land. There was nothing new here for me. No one to meet. Nothing to discover. Nothing surprising.
I rode down Willow Lane, then turned off the road to head up to the orchard next to the street. There was a well-worn path there, steep enough to let me gather decent speed. I reached the crest of the hill and stopped to look at the sunset, but the hues were muted thanks to the oncoming rain.
A soft breeze blew back strands of hair that had come loose from my brown ponytail. Rain was on its way again. I put my feet back on the pedals and pushed.
My tires sped over gullies and bumps, splashing through puddles. Behind me, something moved. I turned my head to look. A herd of deer! I glanced at the path and back to the deer again.
I felt a jolt. My front tire had hit something. I jackknifed to the right and flew over the handlebars. The apple trees and the golden grass swirled into scribbles. I landed—hard—and knocked my head. The world went black.
When I came to, the sun had almost set. Waves of pain undulated through my limbs. My head ached. Rocks poked my body. My bike rested on my legs, the upturned wheels still spinning. Light rain began to fall on my face.
It took a moment for me to realize where I was, and what had happened. I was just riding my bike, and then...
I have to get home, I thought. I heaved the bike off me. It took all of my energy. I lay back down. Blackness began to creep in again. Maybe if I just lie here a little while... The world receded.
I heard a voice. “Are you okay?”
My eyes fluttered open and I lifted my head just high enough to see Willow Lane in the distance. A figure stood on the road. A woman in a bright yellow rain coat. I squinted my eyes and tried to make out her face, but the oncoming night shadowed her features.
She didn’t reach for me. She stood still, totally still, as if a part of the landscape. As if she belonged there.
“Are you okay?” she repeated, her voice clear despite the breeze blowing across the orchard. Slowly, I sat up. For a moment, my physical pain was replaced by a feeling of warmth. It was as if the woman had knelt beside me and comforted me. But that was silly. She hadn’t so much as moved.
“Yes,” I croaked, “I’m okay.”
“You get home, then. And take care of yourself,” she said. She turned and continued down Willow Lane. I watched her till she disappeared, then dragged myself to my feet. After a few minutes of deep, deliberate breathing, I made my way through the fields, heading back to my house.
The yellow lights from my parents’ kitchen shone through the window and illuminated the backyard. If I could just get to that familiar light, I’d be okay. Finally my hand grasped the doorknob. I fell into the house.
“Kelly!” my mom said. “What happened?” She bent down to pull me up. “You’re bleeding!” Soon we were on our way to the hospital. Fat drops of rain hit the windshield as we drove.
“Who’s the president?” the doctor asked when we arrived at the ER . “What’s your birthday? What is your mother’s name?”
It took me a second, but the answers came. I put the whole story together for Mom and the doctor.
“I was going to lie there, but a woman called to me. She stayed with me until I was able to get up.”
“Who? Was it Gail? Or Mrs. Sunkes?” Mom asked, naming neighbors one by one.
“I didn’t recognize her,” I said.
“You didn’t recognize her?” Mom couldn’t understand why a stranger would be walking on Willow Lane. Come to think of it, neither could I. There were no other roads around ours. No sidewalks leading there. The only people who walked on Willow Lane were the people who lived on it. And we knew everyone.
“It’s a good thing you didn’t just lie there,” the doctor said. “You would have fallen asleep with a minor concussion—never a good idea.”
When we returned home, I joined my parents on the couch. My dad switched on a movie. I grabbed one of my mother’s yarn skeins and rolled it into a ball. We sat quietly, grateful for the calm.
If I didn’t see that woman, I might still be out there in the rain, I thought as I rested my head on my mom’s shoulder. But instead I was warm. Safe. Somehow, it had never occurred to me to appreciate that before.
The following morning my mother asked around the neighborhood to find out who had been out walking at twilight, wearing a yellow coat. No one knew what she was talking about. She never found an answer.
Turns out, sleepy old Willow Lane had at least one mysterious stranger. And my boring world held a few surprises after all.
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