Emily was having a very strange birthday. Any birthday which happened in the middle of a hurricane was definitely going to be weird, but so far, hers had been totally and completely—well—weird. Peculiar. Odd. Different. Confusing. Eventful. Exhausting.
One thing for sure, she was never going to forget turning twelve!
Now, she was in her parents’ car, and they were riding home—and she mostly just wanted to take a nap.
“Quite a day,” her father said, from the front passenger’s seat.
Emily had to wake herself up to nod. “Yeah, it sure was,” she said, and gave her dog, Zachary—although she also called him Zack—a pat on the head. He must have been worn out, too, because all he did was wag his tail twice, without opening his eyes. Her cat, Josephine, was sound asleep in her carrier, and even snoring a little.
“Well, we’ll be home soon,” her mother said, slowing down for a stop sign. Normally, they would have just gone right down the dirt road to their house, but so many trees had crashed down all over Bailey’s Cove, that they had to take the long way around. “But, this birthday is certainly going to be one to remember!”
Emily nodded again. That was an understatement.
The day had started inside her town’s emergency shelter, where she and her parents—and, of course, Zachary and Josephine—had been evacuated to escape the storm. So, that alone would have made it an unusual day.
But then, with Zack’s help, she had spent the morning rescuing her very mean neighbor, Mrs. Griswold, from the wreckage of what had once been a nice living room. After that, she had been down at the boatyard all afternoon, trying to help her best friend Bobby rebuild his boat. She and Bobby had been working on the boat for weeks—and the hurricane had destroyed it in a matter of seconds. It would have been a beautiful wooden dinghy, but now, it was just a pile of splintered wood.
All of that would have been enough to make her birthday feel very complicated, but the worst part was something Mrs. Griswold had told her by accident. Her neighbor had been pinned under part of her roof, and a fallen tree. While they were waiting for the ambulance, they had had an awkward conversation to pass the time. And, out of nowhere, Mrs. Griswold had said something bad about Emily’s parents.
Well, not bad, exactly, but upsetting. Emily had always known that she had been adopted right after she was born. Of course, since she was biracial, and her parents were Caucasian, she probably would have figured it out on her own, anyway. She had never been told anything about either of her birth parents, and she was pretty sure that her parents didn’t know anything about them, either, because they had never been able to answer any of her questions.
Except that Mrs. Griswold said that her parents had known her birth mother, like maybe she had been a friend of theirs, or something.
So now, Emily couldn’t help wondering whether her parents just hadn’t wanted to answer her questions.
If, of course, what Mrs. Griswold had said was even true.
Which she was pretty sure that it wasn’t, because her parents would never do that to her.
She hoped not, anyway. Besides, Mrs. Griswold was famous for being scary and cranky and unfriendly, so she had probably just been making a bad joke or something.
Emily had been waiting all afternoon to ask her parents about it, but it had never seemed like the right time. A lot of the lobster boats and sailboats down at the marina had been badly damaged by the storm, and they had all been too busy trying to help people clean up to have a conversation.
When everyone took a break at one point, her mother had somehow managed to scare up a few dozen cupcakes and some soda. So, they all stopped for a snack, and everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to her, which was really nice. It was also pretty funny, because some of the fishermen and dock workers were completely off-key.
They had turned onto their dirt road now, and Emily could tell that her parents were very tense. None of them had seen the house yet, so they had no idea how much damage to expect.
“Well, if it’s gone,” her father said heartily, “we’ll just start driving south until we find a good hotel somewhere.”
Her mother laughed nervously. “Yes, that sounds like a good plan. Then, we’ll stake out a plot of land, and start fresh.”
Her father nodded. “Build a cabin with our own little hands.”
The house couldn’t actually be gone, right? That would be too awful. They hadn’t heard any news about how bad—or not—the storm had been in the rest of Maine. But, their part of the state, on the coastline, had been hit really hard.
Once they turned onto their street, her mother drove very cautiously. There were so many branches on the road that they had to stop twice, and Emily and her mother would have to get out of the car to move them out of the way. Her father couldn’t help much, because he had broken his ankle during the storm, and was going to be on crutches for the next six weeks or so. Zachary barked each time they stopped, and Emily knew he wanted to help, but she thought it would be safer for him to stay in the car.
Then, finally, they saw their house—and her parents both let out huge sighs of relief. It was obvious that there had been a big storm, but mostly, it looked okay. A few of the shutters had blown off, and at least two of the upstairs windows were smashed, including one in her bedroom. The backyard was covered with broken branches and torn-off leaves, but as far as Emily could tell, they had been lucky enough not to lose any trees. A massive branch had landed on top of their garage, and part of the roof had been crushed, but it was still intact, otherwise. And their picnic table had blown over, and ended up about twenty feet away from their wooden deck.
Her father let out his breath. “Well, okay. It looks as though we were pretty lucky.”
Her mother nodded. “Thank goodness. I was really expecting us to come back to a disaster area.”
The path of the storm’s destruction had been pretty random. Down at the boatyard, some of the boats were completely untouched, while the boats on either side had been destroyed. The same thing seemed to be true, as far as the houses and other buildings in town were concerned—some were fine, and some had been severely damaged. It didn’t make much sense, but Emily figured she should probably just be grateful that their house seemed to be okay.
They went inside, first, to get Josephine settled down and to see how much broken glass needed to be cleaned up, and whether there had been any water damage. Emily’s bedroom had so much glass on the floor that she had to grab Zack’s collar to keep him from bounding into the room and maybe getting cut by accident. He was a big white retriever mix who weighed just over a hundred pounds, so she had to hang on with both hands to keep him safe.
“Stay!” Emily said. “Good boy.”
Zack wagged his tail, and peered curiously into the room.
One of the windows had blown in completely, but the other one was just cracked. It looked as though the pounding rain had reached all the way over by her desk.
“Do you think my computer’s all right?” Emily asked her father, who was just coming up the stairs, very slow on his crutches.
He nodded. “It should be, but I don’t want you to go in there until your mother and I take care of the glass. Why don’t you take Josephine down to the guest room, and get her all set up, so she won’t start wandering around in all of this mess? You and she and Zack can bunk in there tonight, and we’ll try to get someone in to fix the windows first thing tomorrow.”
Emily nodded, since that sounded like a good idea.
Josephine was complaining bitterly inside her carrier, yowling loudly, although she was also lying on her back, playing with a little catnip ball, so she seemed to be happy enough.
“Come on, Zack,” Emily said, and led him down the hall with one hand hooked through his collar, while she lugged Josephine’s carrier in the other hand.
Once they were in the guest room, Emily carefully closed the door, so that neither of her pets would be in danger of cutting their paws anywhere else in the house. She opened the carrier door, and Josephine stalked out. She was a very small tiger cat, but she had a big—and fierce—personality. She hissed loudly at Zachary—who was just standing in the middle of the rug, not doing a single thing in the world to bother anyone. Zachary let out a sad, soft whine in response, because he was a very sensitive dog, and his feelings got easily hurt.
Emily quickly fixed Josephine up with her litter box, some fresh water—from one of the many bottles her parents had bought before the storm—and a dish of cat food. It was only about six thirty, which meant that it would still be light outside for about another hour. So, Emily went downstairs to help her father check the yard again to make sure that everything was okay, while Zack galloped around the wet grass and tangled piles of branches, barking happily. Emily’s mother was still inside, covering the broken windows with thick sheets of plastic, and sweeping up all of the glass.
It was pretty windy outside, and the air smelled even more briny and salty than usual. Their house was right on the water, and the ocean was grey and choppy, with waves slapping against the rocky shore.
“I guess we should pile up most of the branches over here,” her father said, using one of his crutches to point towards the stack over by the garage. “When everything dries out a little, we can put it all on the kindling pile.”
Emily nodded. Every fall, her parents bought a cord or two of firewood from Mr. and Mrs. Bolduc, who ran a Christmas tree farm on the outskirts of town. But, during the year, she and her parents would pile smaller branches and sticks into a big, neat stack, and use the kindling all winter long to help start fires in their fireplaces.
She was pretty sure that Zachary was going to love lying in front of cozy fires at night. She had found him during the summer, after he had almost drowned and washed up on the rocks by their house. So, even though it seemed as though he had always been part of her life, this would actually be his first winter with them.
“Can you do it, though, on your crutches?” Emily asked.
Her father looked down at his cast, which was already a little muddy, and sighed. “No. Probably not.”
“Well, I can get started,” Emily said.
Her father nodded. “Okay, just for a few minutes, though. Not much fun to spend your birthday doing a bunch of work.”
Zachary seemed to think that the sticks and branches were all part of a special game, because every time Emily put a branch down on the pile, he would grab the other end and try to get her to play fetch.
When Zack pulled the pile apart for the fourth time, her father laughed.
“Okay, let’s call it a day,” he said. “Why don’t we go over to the Peabodys’ house, and make sure everything is all right over there, before we head in?”
Their neighbors, the Peabodys, were down in Florida—they were retired now, and spent at least half of the year there—so they had missed the storm entirely. But, a couple of days earlier, Emily’s father and one of their other neighbors, Dr. Henrik, had gone over and closed all of the shutters, and put tape on the windows, and moved the lawn furniture into the garage, and that sort of thing.
Emily and her father walked—well, her father limped—around the Peabodys’ house, while Zachary wandered along behind them, wagging his tail and playing with sticks.
“Does it hurt?” Emily asked.
Her father shook his head. “No, it’s not so bad. I guess it’s a little uncomfortable, maybe.”
It probably did hurt a lot, since she had seen him wince a few times, but he was moving along pretty well, at least.
For the most part, everything at their neighbors’ house looked okay, but they found a wheelbarrow that had blown up onto the porch, and the mailbox was just plain gone. Then, as they rounded the corner of the house, they saw that a bunch of tree limbs had fallen onto the Peabodys’ garden, and crushed a lot of the plants.
Above them, some of the trees were creaking loudly as they swayed in the wind, and her father glanced up.
“I think we’ll have to see how soon we can get a tree surgeon to come out here and take a look,” he said.
Emily laughed. “They’re actually called surgeons? Do they have to go to special schools and everything?”
Her father thought about that. “I assume so. But, I don’t actually know,” he said, and took out his iPhone so that he could look it up on the Internet. “Oh. Right,” he said, and then sighed and put it away, since no one in town had had any cell phone service for hours now.
“It’s totally weird not to be able to get on the Internet,” Emily said.
Her father nodded. “I hope we get our service back soon, because I am definitely going through withdrawal.”
Emily was, too, actually, especially because she hadn’t been able to check her email for—wow, more than a whole day now! She started to say something, but then stopped, sensing that her dog was alarmed a split second before she saw him straighten up, looking very alert. She wasn’t sure what was bothering him, until she heard the creaking sounds above them turn into a loud cracking sound.
A massive tree limb had just broken off—and it was going to hit her father!
Copyright © 2012 by Nicholas Edwards