“I can do it,” I stated.
“All right, just be careful.”
After an exciting morning of running on padded mossy ground, swimming the length of an ocean, and telling stories of small, plastic animals, we decided our stomachs had growled long enough. Mikaela and I finally found a day to play together. The half-hour car ride to the resort seemed like a lifetime to my eleven-year-old mind. I had known Mikaela Ahrendt for a while. My mom cleaned cabins at her mom’s resort, Half Moon Trail Resort, for many summers so I got to know her through extra hours after church and stolen moments between cabins being cleaned.
Upon arrival, I had jumped out of the car and ran up to the front door of the main building; the Ahrendt house. From my perspective of two and a half feet from the ground, it looked like a Hallmark house every kid wanted to live in. With walls lined with windows and glass sliding doors, who would ever get bored playing tag from one side of the house to the other? As my shoeless feet bounded up the neat concrete path between freshly cut grass and hot, dry gravel, my yellow play dress bundled up between my scraped knees like waves crashing on the North Shore rocks. Trying not to trip, I pulled up my cascade of fabric with one hand and reached for the doorbell with the other. I had to stretch to reach the small button until my hand finally managed to find its way. The door swung open not a moment later and I saw what seemed to be a mirror image of myself: dirty toes, bruised shins, a pale yellow dress, and messy, nutmeg-colored hair.
“Hello,” remarked the girl. Mikaela flung the door open as a means to invite me in. My grin melted into a lopsided smile as I accepted her invitation into her home. Her carelessness for the door’s hinges caused it to thump against rain coats and mud boots behind it on the mudroom floor. As a little one, I always thought that was why mudrooms were called what they were; It didn’t matter if you got it all muddy because, well, that’s what it was for. Our feet left puddles behind us as we ran through a small corridor and into the big kitchen.
From what seemed to be out of nowhere came the sound of Mikaela’s mom, Mary. “Don’t forget to wipe off your feet, girls! Be careful not to dirty the stairs!” At first glance, you’d think, Wow, Mary must really like to keep her house clean. She doesn’t want any messes. In reality, it was more like, Oh, she just doesn’t want to clean anything up. As a little girl, my connection of the house and Mary’s need for cleanliness; or lack thereof; puzzled me. Why would someone not want to clean yet decide wide, long stairs heavily covered with white carpet would be a great idea?
After scraping off layers of dirt, Mikaela and I thundered up the steep mountain carpeting the loud sound of feet on hollow, wooden steps. With my heart already pumping and my lungs grateful to be done with the climb, we entered the first door on the left, Mikaela’s room. The look of Micaela’s room matched the rest of the house in its tidiness and hugeness. All that tidiness would soon disappear, however, when we lumbered all the toys we could muster out of her gigantic closet. Barbie dolls, Polly Pockets, and Littlest Pet Shop animals each found their own piece of the floor. The only clumps of open space left were those filled with two eager young girls. After about an hour or so of swapping stories of this mermaid doll, that small rubber blonde, and a few exotic animals bedazzled to no end, Mary announced that the pool was now open.
Excitement took over as my mind raced for new games we could play in the water. The look of joy and impatience wilted away when - “Did you bring a swimsuit, Tori?” Oops. It was one of the warmest days of the summer and I had forgotten to pack a swimsuit.
“Don’t worry. You can borrow one of mine.” Mikaela’s kind eyes quickly shifted to her collection of clothes hidden in a dark corner of her closet now filled with emptiness. I glanced up at her mom as a sign of an apology for forgetting a necessity for any playdate. As I strained to look up any further, I saw the same kindness in Mary’s eyes as I had seen in her daughter’s.
A good hour or so later, Mikaela and I dragged our tired bodies out of the sun-warmed water. Chlorine stung our eyes and nostrils as we rushed into the game room merely twenty-or-so feet from the clear blue vastness of our imagination. Swinging screen doors slammed shut behind us as we stepped from a world of warm sunlight into one of air conditioning. The cold hit us all at once and we each looked over at the other to see if they, too, had felt the chill of the cool breeze inside the building. The chilling air went to work and tried to remove as much warmth as possible which meant bad news for us. As we shivered in our swimwear, drops of chlorine-infested water found their way down our small, shaky legs.
“Oh, hello, girls.” Once again, there seemed to be a voice coming from nowhere, except this time it was much deeper. “Try not to bring the whole pool in here, will you?” A chuckle echoed off the cabin-like walls and old-fashioned arcade games each singing their own little tune to themselves as if keeping themselves occupied while no one plays with them. To our right was a man with glasses and a smile as kind as his eyes.
“Hi, dad,” remarked Mikaela. David Ahrendt was always one of my favorite people to see whenever I went to the resort. It had only been a couple times, but on rare occasion, he would spoil Mikaela and me to a scoop or two of ice cream. To my joy, he just happened to be standing behind the counter, refilling and restocking whatever needed his attention.
My joy must have been obvious because David laughed to himself and said, “Would you like some ice cream, Tori?”
Before I could answer with a whole-hearted smile, Mary appeared in the doorway behind him. “No treats until you eat actual food. I don’t want to getting sick because of me.” Mary proceeded to shuffle Mikaela and me back into the main room of the house. My childish instinct wanted to stop every five feet to marvel at each thing: colorful fish in a fish tank, a puzzle or two, talking fish on the walls. Mary, with years of experience under her belt, had successfully ushered the two of us back into Mikaela’s room. After the quickest change in an ocean of toys, we rushed back down the mountain of stairs sounding like an avalanche. Mary heard us and turned from behind the island of the kitchen with a bowl in hand. “Hungry much?” Mary reached into the bowl and took out a few pieces of what seemed to be chex mix. After tossing them into her mouth, she set the bowl on the island and swiftly slid it across the smooth, white countertop that matched the tiled floor and floating cabinets. As Mikaela and I jumped into the high stools around the island, I noticed small clumps of mud where we had stepped only a moment ago. Preoccupied with food, I decided to leave it be and focus on the task at hand.
As Mary explained her lunch plan to us, I couldn’t help but notice how hungry I was. Had my stomach been grumbling before? Was my throat really this impatient for a glass of cold water? My mind focused on the food as Mary kept talking. Apples, chex mix, crackers, meat, cheese; Simple yet still delicious for any eleven-year-old. Out of the side of my eye, I saw Mikaela jump down from her seat and start gathering as quick as a squirrel getting ready for winter. Following her lead, I hopped down and trotted around the island to start my own collection of apples, meat slices and crackers.
“Oh, I forgot to slice the cheese for you,” said Mary.
“I can do it,” I stated.
“All right, just be careful.” I could hear hesitation in her voice, but disregarded it as a motherly notion. Mary walked back toward the mudroom after announcing that she was going to wash some laundry. As I got back up onto my high stool, I noticed Mikaela at my side, waiting for me to slice the cheese. I reached over and grabbed the block of cheddar and started to push it against the cold, silver touch of the cheese grater. My job of slicing was going rather well until -
A sudden pain shot up from my pointer finger. I inspected it and saw a small prick of scarlet grow ever so slowly until it started to slither its way down my hand onto the white countertop, down the white cabinets, and finally onto the white tiled floor.
“Are you okay?” I heard panic in Mikaela’s voice. She rushed to the sink to get a wet paper towel. As she did, I watched as the blood started to grow deeper and deeper in color.
I responded with a weak, “What? No, I’m fine.” Half a second later, I found Mikaela back at my side with the wet paper towel offering it to me in her state of panic.
“Should I go get my mom?”
“No, I think I’ll be okay. Do you know where any band aids are?”
Mikaela rushed me into a bathroom around the corner of the kitchen and rummaged under the sink until she finally found a first aid kit. She quickly grabbed a band aid and covered my finger with its comfort. “Thanks. I think I’ll be okay.” For some reason, my eleven-year-old self thought it would be fine for me to continue with the cheese grater. After a minute later, I was looking at my hand again and noticed that a pool of blood was starting to ooze through the comforting band aid. I stared at it without a word.
“Mom!” Mikaela ran, yelling for her mom to come help her. After a minute of panicky breaths, I heard Mikaela return with Mary.
“Oh, my goodness. What did you do?”
“I, uh, cut my finger on the cheese grater.”
“Does it hurt?”
“How about we get you a new band aid, huh?”
I nodded my head and followed Mary up the stairs. My mind was so focused on the throbbing of my finger that I could barely notice anything else. I don’t remember the trail of red as it crept behind me up the white mountain. I don’t remember the washcloths soaking with my juice. I don’t remember the soft padding of a wet paper towel on my heated forehead.
I do remember the fading, though. My sight blurred from the sides to the center like the ending of a cartoon. The blotches looked like the white noise of a television on no channel. The darkness that lasted five minutes only seemed like five seconds to me. I do remember the relief in Mary’s eyes when I opened my own and words fumbled out of my mouth, “Did … Did I pass out?”
“Yes, yes you did. You scared me, Tori,” Mary hid her fright with another kind smile.