“Well, well—who do we have here?”
Millie Lane lived about three houses down in our small community and had a voice that made me cringe, like when you bite a fork or watch some guy take a baseball bat to his privates.
Millie was the last person I wanted to run into, which is precisely why I should have expected her first. Still, when her voice came floating across to me, I groaned.
“Poor Jerry, do you need some help?” she said in the sweetest tone she could manage and flashing me a smile. “You look a little tied up.”
All I wanted to do was try out my dad’s new parachute. I knew how to use it and how to pack it; I knew how to get to a high point and jump and when to deploy the parachute. It had taken half of my Saturday to get to the overlook site on Wolfrug Mountain, and another hour or so to psych myself up for the jump.
I classify that trip from the mountain to the riverbank as a spiritual experience because I spent most of it praying. First, that I wouldn’t die, and second, that my dad wouldn’t catch me. Somewhere in those moments I had a brilliant flash of madness, picturing Sharon resting a hand on my tombstone crying about how she never got the chance to kiss me, and that was the upside.
The downside was the landing. I’d never landed in anything but an open field, and never alone. I wasn’t prepared for the long line of trees along the riverbank.
The parachute snagged high on a branch, and I found myself dangling in midair, twisted just enough to be uncomfortable and unable to reach my cell phone or emergency flashers. I must have looked like a macabre marionette, something Millie no doubt found entertaining.
To her credit, she jumped into action, scrambling across the narrow bridge and looking up at me as if she were trying to solve a puzzle.
“This might hurt a little,” she said. I saw a flash as she pulled something from somewhere under her skirt. In the next second, she flung a shuriken in my direction.
“What the hell are you doing?” I yelled, and a second later I landed on the grass below. Everything hurt, and I just lay there for a minute.
“Jerry? You okay?”
“Yeah,” I said, my voice muffled by the soil and shame between my teeth. I pushed myself to a sitting position with my fists, wincing with every movement, and then looked at Millie. “What was that?”
“What was what?”
“You just threw a ninja star and cut me down from that tree.”
“Uh. Yes. I saw you.”
“Well, let’s make a deal, hm? If you didn’t see me throwing anything, then I didn’t see you stuck in a tree in a stolen parachute. What do you say?”
“Okay, deal.” I smiled despite myself, and that’s the day I fell in love with a ninja.