I drove to Hanes Mall Boulevard—our area's most bustling retail zone—where I was certain I could find a stand for our new patio market umbrella. I'd been harping on about one for so long that when Mom came across a lovely smoke blue one on sale for $40 (at Food Lion, no less!), she bought if for me as an early birthday prez. Food Lion didn't carry any stands, but let's not get picky, it was already going above and beyond the call of a grocery by stocking a good-quality patio shader.
My official second stop was Lowe's; the first stop, the Lowe's by our house, was completely out of stock. Unfortunately, this one was too. My third stop was the Home Depot across the street. No dice.
My fourth stop was Target.
My fifth stop was Costco.
My sixth stop, Kohl's.
Pier 1 for lucky number seven. No luck.
Home Goods rang in at stop eight.
Walmart was the ninth stop, and they did have one umbrella stand in stock, but it was hideous, and although I'm by no means the next Design Star, my ethic of style is something above Grotesque. Moving on.
World Market was stop ten. I nearly wept when I saw a stack of market umbrella stands that matched perfectly my black wrought-iron patio furniture and my unfussy style. I wept in earnest when I saw it cost $10 more than the umbrella itself.
No matter; I had something up my sleeve for stop eleven: Casual Furniture World. This is a store dedicated year-round to the patios and pools of the apparently uber-rich, because who else buys lounging furniture off-season. I walked in only to discover that their particular model of umbrella stand is specific to their umbrellas. In other words, there was no guarantee that this, the priciest of my very few options, would work for my Food Lion umbrella.
I called and consulted with Noah. He gave me the go ahead for World Market.
When I got home, I couldn't wait to put to use my new goodies, so I had Kyle help me assemble and place the stand under the table. Only to discover that the stand is an inch too tall to fit.
* * *
After Noah came home, we went over to my parents' house for a dinner of pizza with them and my visiting grandparents and uncle, who are in town from Albuquerque. I discreetly asked Mom if she'd mind keeping an eye on Ethan for an hour while Noah and I ran out to return the star-crossed market umbrella stand and go buy the homely one at Walmart. Because it turns out I can live with the ugly if it means I can live with my market umbrella as well. I brought a mini-size Ben & Jerry's for courage.
As we pulled out of their neighborhood, I noticed the hot pink flash of a blonde girl's boots as she whizzed past on a moped. I looked down to scoop a spoonful of ice cream.
When I looked back up, I saw her tumble into the lane of oncoming traffic.
She hit the ground and flipped onto her right side, skidding across the two-lane road as a green sedan slammed on its brakes and swerved. She was so close to the car, it looked as though her moped would go under it. It didn't. Her head bounced on the asphalt, knocking her helmet off.
I was the first one to her. While Noah threw the truck into park, I was already out the passenger-side door and running up to her. She tried to get up, but flopped back down like a rag doll. I told her not to move, that my husband was a police officer and he was already calling an ambulance. She was shaking and breathing irregularly. I grabbed her left hand and squeezed while other witnesses and bystanders began crowding around. One of them, a dark-haired man in black pants and a rust-colored shirt, turned out to be a doctor.
While he talked calmly to her, taking her vitals and keeping her still, I kept squeezing her limp hand, helping her breathe through the panic and shock that were causing her to simultaneously gasp, shake, and go numb. Her right arm was extended straight out. Her hand and the soft underside of her arm were blistered and badly scraped.
"I don't want to go to the hospital," she said.
"It's okay, sweetie," I told her. "The paramedics will check you out and we're going to take care of you."
"I can't go to the hospital," she cried. "I don't have insurance."
"Don't you worry about a thing."
She asked for me to call her friends that she had been following. She was sixteen. I enlisted the help of a man with another phone who called them. When they arrived, bewildered and scared, I had one of them phone the girl's mother, who was out of town. The friend handed me her phone, and it became my responsibility to tell a stranger that I was standing by her badly hurt young daughter on the side of the road.
"Is this C–'s mom?" I asked.
"Yes it is," said a woman on the other end, who also sounded bewildered.
"My name is Erin. First of all, your daughter is fine, but she's been in an accident and the paramedics are with her."
"Don't send her to the emergency room unless she has to go. We don't have insurance."
Beneath the numbness of adrenaline, I felt a bubble of anger and disbelief rise. "I'll let you talk to the paramedics."
I kept the girl's friends informed as the EMTs and the State Trooper did their jobs, taking our statements and asking details. The girl had slid across traffic into the 20-foot space between a mailbox and a telephone poll.
"Can you take off my shoes?" she stammered. One of the EMTs fiddled with the black laces, then asked one of the girls if she could get her friend's boots off.
As they braced her neck and rolled her gently onto a stretcher, I tried to soothe her. I don't know what I said.
One of her friends told me that her mother was sending a neighbor to the scene.
"Do you have a way of getting the moped back to her house?" I asked the girls. They didn't. I told them we could load it into our truck bed and drive it back.
The neighbor and the friends gathered around the ambulance while some of the firefighters helped Noah lift the moped into the truck. The state trooper came over to get some more information from the vehicle. It was some random Asian brand, and it turned out to be a motorcycle. Although it was shaped like a scooter, the engine was three times more powerful than is legally allowed for a moped. The speedometer topped out at 75; the legal top speed for a moped is 35. Although she wasn't going over the posted speed limit, she was driving a machine with a lot more power and capability than she was aware of, or could handle.
And then something truly stunning happened. The paramedics helped the girl step out of the ambulance. She wouldn't be going to the emergency room.
They had cut off her shorts to dress a bad wound on her hip; a friend provided a pair of soft athletic shorts for her to go home in. Her right arm and hand were bandaged. With a friend under one arm and her neighbor under the other, she hobbled barefoot across the grassy ditch she had just been pulled from minutes earlier and got into her neighbor's car.
Noah and I followed the neighbor's BMW into a nearby development. We pulled into the driveway of an expansive brick house. The neighbor's husband and a couple of the girl's guy friends who had just arrived at her house helped Noah unload the motorcycle while I stood with her and the gaggle of girls. Two of them lit up cigarettes.
I wanted to hug her, walk her into her house. Turn on lights. Get her comfortable. Bring her medicine. Take care of her. I'm only ten years her senior, but my instinct to mother became overwhelming. Yet it wasn't my place.
"You're one lucky girl," I told her. She thanked me for staying with her, even as a small crowd of teenagers lingered in the periphery. Her hair was falling out of the ponytail she had carefully arranged earlier that evening. Dirt smeared across her forehead, a tuft of grass dangled from a frizz of hair at the side of her face.
I walked down the driveway back to our truck. She began to cry again. "It hurts so bad," she said to one of her friends. The paramedics couldn't give her pain medication because there was no parent or guardian there to authorize it.
She turned toward the open door of her large, empty house. I walked back to the truck. My hands began to shake. They smelled of her perfume. As we pulled away, I glanced back, worried. All I could see was a wisp of blonde hair, a flash of hot pink boots.