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Mushroom



The spring rains had come to Joplin, Missouri, which meant it was time for Randy to return to his hometown and go hunting for mushrooms. And like he had done every year for a decade, he would call his daughter Kimmie on the telephone and invite her along.

Randy had been a mushroom hunter since he was old enough to walk. The best mushroom to be found in the forests of Missouri was, without a doubt, the morel. His father explained that morel rhymed with Jor-El, which was the name of Superman's dad, the one played by Marlon Brando in the movie. Randy's dad loved morels. The elusive little mushrooms would only bloom for a few weeks in the middle of spring, and hunters started to invade the woods as soon as conditions were right. Some seasons were better than others, depending on the temperature and humidity, but morel hunting could be challenging in any case. The ultimate discovery in this game is an untouched patch of yellow morels. There were black ones too, but yellow morels were the tastiest, as far as Randy was concerned. Randy looked for yellows under sycamore trees. Other hunters claimed that elms or oaks were better luck, but Randy stuck with the sycamores. They had been good to him in the past, and he believed in loyalty. Patterns and persistence: that's what mushroom hunting was all about.

But the hunt is only the first part of the experience. For Randy, the morel was a succulent delicacy, and over the years he had become quite a mushroom chef. He started the process by rinsing his treasures with cold water; they were always a little dirty and might be infested with bugs. Once rinsed, the morels were ready to be prepared. For a simple snack, he would sauté the mushrooms in butter and garlic -- sometimes he used lemon juice. For a more elaborate meal, he could slice each one down the middle, from top to bottom, and dip them in a batter made of eggs, milk, and cracker crumbs before frying the little fellows in shortening. Before his death, Randy's father would whip up a batch of morels with his late wife's fried chicken recipe. Randy didn't care for that, because it made a special treat taste like a regular Thursday night dinner. Now his mother and father were both dead, and he never had to taste that chicken recipe again.

In any case, Randy liked to eat his morels alongside a thick steak. As far as he was concerned, that was the meal of kings.

 

 

Unless there was an emergency, like a funeral, Randy didn't come back to Joplin very often. He spent most of the year driving his rig across the country, listening to the radio in the daytime and exploring a new motel room every night. Kimmie, his daughter, lived with her grandparents in Joplin and had a fairly comfortable life, as far as Randy knew. His in-laws were well off and lived north of town, away from the feed lots and stockyards. He never liked them much, and didn't phone them regularly during the year. But when the spring rains came, Randy made the call like clockwork. It had been this way since Kimmie's mother died.

This year, however, Kimmie wasn't home when he called. She was out with friends, her grandmother said. Randy maintained a tense, guarded dialogue with his mother-in-law for about twenty minutes before he ran out of quarters and had to get off the phone in the motel lobby. "I'll be there the day after tomorrow," he said. "Tell Kimmie to expect me."

The old lady sounded bothered. "I'll tell her, Randy, but I don't know if Kimmie is free this weekend."

"What could she have planned?" Randy asked. "The girl is only eleven."

"She's thirteen," Kimmie's grandmother said. "She just turned thirteen. But I wouldn't expect you to know that."

Randy counted the years on his fingers. "Time flies," he said. Kimmie's grandmother said goodbye and hung up the phone.

 

 

The rig rumbled through the wet, shiny streets of Joplin late on Friday night. Randy enjoyed seeing his old hangouts from up high in the driver's seat: the vacant lot where he once constructed a clubhouse, the elementary school where he first smoked a butt, the baseball diamond where he whacked a line drive into the first baseman's crotch, the drugstore where he had stolen comic books and later bought condoms. He drove past the high school where he met Kimmie's mother, the movie theater where they shared a kiss, and the courthouse where they got married. He took a right turn when he reached the park where he had pushed young Kimmie on the swings.

He couldn't see any of these places very clearly in the dark. He had planned to get home in the early afternoon, but the stop in Wichita had taken much longer than expected. Now it was too late to see Kimmie. Or was it? He decided to make a quick phone call and check in.

Randy drove past St. Robert's Church and pulled into the gas station on Elmwood Street. One of his high school buddies owned the place and let Randy park the rig there when he came to visit. Randy always gave him a little bag of morels before leaving town and they called it even. The rig rolled into a spot behind the station and the engine chugged to a halt. The windshield wipers stopped in the middle of a sweep. Randy pulled the parking brake, took a deep breath, and dug into his jeans pocket for change.

"Hi, Fran," Randy said. "Is Kimmie home?"

"Where have you been?" Kimmie's grandmother barked. "We expected you hours ago."

"Wichita was a disaster, that's all. No big deal."

"You should have called, Randy. What were you thinking?"

"I was out of change, Fran. I didn't think it was a big deal."

Kimmie's grandmother fumed, breathing loudly through her nose. "She has been expecting you all afternoon. She was going to see a movie with her friends, but I asked her to cancel her plans."

"I'm sorry. What else can I say?" Randy held the payphone to his ear, staring into the darkness, listening to the rain. "Can you put her on the phone?"

A minute later, Kimmie picked up the phone. "Hello?"

"Hello, sweetheart, it's your daddy."

"Hi, Dad." Kimmie wasn't smiling; he could tell that for sure.

"Sorry I'm late, but Wichita took longer than I thought it would."

"Don't worry about it. Are you coming over?" She didn't sound very excited about the idea.

"No...I thought I would just get some sleep here in Todd's parking lot. You know, the Mobil station out on the highway -- "

"I know," she said.

Randy cleared his throat. "Anyway, I figured I could come over tomorrow morning and pick you up, and we could get some breakfast, and then go out to the woods. It's morel season, you know."

"Yeah, I know."

Randy was starting to feel like he was intruding, But how could that be? He was her daddy, wasn't he? They set a time to get together, quickly, and got off the phone. That much accomplished, Randy walked back to the rig, squinting to keep the rain out of his eyes, and tried to remember when Kimmie started calling him Dad. Didn't she always call him Daddy before? When did that change?

 

 

At daybreak, Randy drove the rig north of town and rolled into the development where Kimmie's grandparents had moved a few years back. Theirs was a small, practical house with a lush garden in the front yard, full of shrubs and flowering bushes. Now was about the time of year when they would start planting marigolds along the front walk, but as he approached the house Randy saw that the ground had not been broken. Late start this year, he supposed.

Kimmie popped out of the house just as he reached the driveway. After a few steps, she turned back and yelled something through the screen door, but then continued walking toward the rig. Randy checked her face to see what kind of a mood she was in. Kimmie wasn't really a pretty girl, but had large expressive eyes that would give her a way in a second. Was she angry? It was hard for him to tell from a distance. He noticed that she had gotten taller, and she was just as chunky as always. She still wore her hair short, unflattering on a stocky body like hers. Randy knew that her grandmother preferred short hair and thought she probably wouldn't allow Kimmie to grow it out.

She was closer to the rig now, and Randy could see that she dragged her heels as she walked. Randy reached over to the passenger side of the cab and unlatched the door for her. "Good morning, darling," he said, looking down. " Do you need any help getting up here?"

"I'm fine," Kimmie said. Her voice sounded the same as last night, a little forced and shrill. She pulled herself on the running board and stepped up into the seat.

"Well done!" Randy marveled. "I know a lot of grown men who can't do that so well."

Kimmie leaned over for a hug. "I'm glad you're here, Dad." She gave him a quick squeeze and then rolled back into her seat, looking for the seat belt. "Are we going to Denny's like usual?"

"I thought so. Unless you want to go someplace else."

"No, that's fine."

He put the rig in gear and started on down the road.

"Grandpa's waving to you," Kimmie said.

Randy slowed down and glanced to the bay window that overlooked the garden. There, a tall man with salt-and-pepper hair held up his hand in a friendly gesture. Randy waved back, and so did Kimmie. Then Randy pulled the rig into a cul-de-sac and turned around.

"What's new, sweetheart?" Randy started to put his arm along the back of the seat, trying to be fatherly, but thought better of it and put his hand on the stickshift.

"Nothing. Joplin is always the same. But I'm sure you know that." She was looking out the window.

"If there's one thing I know, that's it."

"Grandpa's been sick," Kimmie said. "He had to go to the hospital and get his blood sugars all worked out. They changed his medication, and now he's okay."

"That's good. He's a good man."

Kimmie just nodded.

 

They both ate pancakes for breakfast. Randy had coffee and Kimmie drank a large glass of orange juice, and neither of them had much to say. Randy saw one of his high school friends and spent a few minutes talking to him while Kimmie went to the bathroom.

When she came back, Randy introduced his daughter. "She's going to break some hearts, isn't she?"

"Yeah," said the friend. "You stay away from my son, you hear?" He giggled.

Kimmie looked annoyed. "Who's your son?" she asked.

"Andy Parker. Andy's in sixth grade."

"I know Andy. He's a creep."

The friend burst out laughing. "Yeah, I guess he is!" he chuckled.

"We'd better head out," Randy said. "We're going morel hunting this morning."

"Perfect day for it," said the friend. "Good luck!"

Randy motioned for Kimmie to say goodbye to his friend, but she just grabbed her purse and headed for the parking lot.

"Would it have been so hard for you to be nice to my friend?" The rig was rolling down the highway now, on its way to the woods.

"He was making fun of me."

"When? What are you talking about?"

"Never mind, Dad."

Randy looked at his daughter. That haircut really did something to her appearance. If she had long hair and resembled her mother more closely, she might have a better attitude. Kimmie's mother was a knockout, and she always had such a great way about her. What a shame that she died before she could pass that on to Kimmie. What a shame.

"Here's something funny," Randy said, "I was telling this warehouse manager in Wichita that I was on my way to Missouri to hunt for morels, and he thought I was saying more L's. Like the letter L."

"Yeah..."

"So this guy, he must have weighed three hundred pounds, he starts singing this old Sesame Street song about the letter L. He sounds just like Bert, and he's singing: la la la la lightbulb, la la la la lampshade. It was a riot."

"I don't watch Sesame Street." Kimmie sounded annoyed again.

Randy gulped. "I know that, honey. You're too old for Muppets and all that. But it's a funny thing to picture, isn't it?" She said nothing. "Maybe it's not that funny."

"Did you tell that guy that you were going to see your daughter?" she blurted.

"Of course I did. Of course. Why do you ask?"

"Never mind."

Now Randy was thinking about it. Did he mention his daughter to the fat manager? Maybe not.

After pulling the rig off the road and hiking across the flood plains, Randy and Kimmie made it to the woods. They welcomed the shade after suffering for in the heat of the morning sun. The air was uncomfortable and muggy out in the open, but Randy felt refreshed by the moist forest air. The stench of decaying leaves and the sweet smell of newly growing vegetation mixed in his head and brought back pleasant memories. He looked around at the ancient trees, tall and majestic, growing so closely together that the sky was nearly hidden from view. Oaks and maples abounded, with some sick-looking elms here and there.

"Let's find some sycamores," Randy said.

He found a dead tree and pulled down two long branches that could be used as walking sticks. Kimmie took one from him and they hiked into the woods.

Randy looked like he was sneaking up on someone. He would take one careful step while scraping leaves off the ground with his walking stick and looking around. Then he would took another step, making sure that he doesn't smash a mushroom by accident. Kimmie's focus was less intense, but she obviously knew how to hunt for mushrooms. She swept her stick in front of her like a blind person might and covered more ground than her father. She found some big shelf fungus growing at the base of an old maple tree, but neither one of them found a patch of morels.

Kimmie called out to her father. "Where's that big dead tree?"

"You mean the floating tree?"

"Yes. Where is it?" she asked.

Randy stepped up on his tiptoes and looked around. He reached up to shade his eyes, even though the sun couldn't reach them until cover of the forest. "It's around here somewhere."

"The floating tree has always been good luck," Kimmie said, poking the ground with her stick. "Let's try to find it."

"That's the spirit!" Randy said.

The floating tree was a gigantic elm that had died many years earlier. It had fallen, but gravity had not done its job as completely as possible. The elm had landed on the backs of several sturdy trees and stayed there, never touching ground. As a result, the tree remained three feet above the forest floor and seemed to be decomposing at a very slow rate. Randy had remembered the floating tree from his childhood and was glad to hear that Kimmie remembered it too.

They stomped through a soggy hollow and came across a small stream. Randy said it looked familiar and suggested that they follow it deeper into the woods. Kimmie agreed, but was starting to get a little impatient.

"I'm going to need a bathroom soon," she said. "I just want to warn you."

"We'll be okay," Randy said. "I brought some toilet paper in my backpack. You're not scared of the bushes, are you?"

"No." Kimmie looked like she had more to say, but didn't speak.

The stream meandered through the forest, and they continued to follow its path. The ground was squashy and loose around the stream, and Randy had gotten mud all over his boots. The floating tree was still nowhere to be found, and they hadn't spotted any morels yet. Kimmie grew indignant.

"I need to use a bathroom, Dad. We should start heading back."

"Hold your horses, darling. We didn't hike this far to come back empty-handed. You were smart to remember the floating tree. Once we find it, our pockets will be bursting with yellow morels. You'll see."

Kimmie sighed loudly. "You don't understand..."

"I've got the t.p. right here when you need it."

They continued the hunt, but the results were disappointing. Randy was starting to see morels when he blinked, and would swear that he had seen a morel among the leaves until he looked closer. He wanted to succeed so badly that his mind was playing tricks on him. He was getting tired too, but didn't want to admit it. Kimmie wasn't even bothering to search anymore. She was steaming.

"You still want a bathroom?" Randy asked.

She looked to her father with big, pathetic eyes and nodded.

"Okay, we'll head back to the rig and find a gas station for you. I don't know when you got so dainty. You never used to mind crouching before."

Abandoning the stream, Randy and Kimmie turned around and headed toward the highway. Kimmie seemed relieved to be on her way out of the woods, but still stepped gingerly through the rotting leaves. Randy started to brood, felling like his trip had been a complete disaster so far. He wasn't sure if he could convince Kimmie to come back out again, or if the conditions would be this good in the days that followed. He looked at his daughter and shook his head in disgust.

"Oh my gosh," Kimmie said. She pointed into the distance.

There, Randy saw, she had found the floating tree. The blackened corpse looked like a trapeze artist trapped in his safety net. It hung proudly in mid-air, a striking horizontal in this world of vertical lines. Younger trees snaked around the trunk, having found new directions for growth when it got in the way. They may have sprouted straight to the sky otherwise, but the strange fate of nature had created a relationship between the healthy trees and this old carcass that couldn't seem to admit his day had come.

"Our luck has changed!" Randy said, starting to laugh. He stepped over a puddle on his way to the dead elm.

"Daddy, I still need the bathroom. Let's just mark the spot and come back later."

"No way, Kimmie. Why should we come back when we're already here? Look at all these sycamores! We're be sure to find some yellows."

"Please, Daddy." Kimmie really sounded desperate.

"Cross your legs." Randy was glad to hear her call him Daddy again, but couldn't understand why she was whining. She used to be such a tough kid.

Sure enough, once he came closer to the tree he spotted a yellow morel. And then another. Excited, he plucked them out of the ground and tugged a plastic bag out of his jacket pocket. "Look at this!" he called, holding up the prized mushroom. "And there's more up here! Get up here, Kimmie!"

Under the tree, there was a patch of morels as large as a manhole cover. Down on his knees, picking morels as fast as he could find them, Randy could feel his heart starting to beat faster. "You did it, Kimmie! You thought of the floating tree, and now it's paying off!"

Kimmie trudged up a muddy hill, checking the ground for more morels as she walked. She stood next to the black elm and sighed again. "Can we go as soon as you fill up your bag?" she asked. "It's really important."

Randy didn't say anything. He crawled under the floating tree and continued to pick mushrooms. He filled up one plastic bag and fished another one out of his pocket. Randy couldn't see it, but Kimmie's eyes were starting to tear up. She turned to the big dead tree and started picking at it, causing rotten splinters and bark to fall away from the trunk. She kicked one of the younger trees, over and over, with increasing violence. She grabbed a branch, hands shaking, and started to yank it, making the whole network of trees shake. The floating tree started to creak.

"What are you doing up there?" Randy asked. He was still on his hands and knees, filling up his bag of mushrooms. "Don't climb on the tree. It might not be safe."

She was still tugging on the branch, and something snapped. The black elm succumbed to gravity at long last and groaned loudly as one half swung to the ground. Randy cursed in a loud, shaky voice as he scrambled to get out from under the crashing tree. Kimmie lost her balance and stumbled a few steps before falling on her backside, falling hard. As the tree trunk creaked to the ground, more branches snapped and collapsed. Finally, everything became silent again.

Kimmie heard her father grunting under the tree. He called out to her: "I'm stuck. My leg is stuck. What happened up there?"

She was lying in the mud, sobbing and shaking. "Are you okay?" she forced through her lips.

"Nothing's broken. I don't think so, anyway. But I'm stuck. My leg is wedged in here. I need your help." Her father's voice seemed distant, disembodied. He was hidden under the fallen trunk and could not be seen.

She took a long, labored breath and got to her feet. She tried to wipe off the mud but only succeeded in smearing it.

"I need your help, Kimmie."

Kimmie looked at the rotting mess before her, and then over her shoulder. If she squinted, she could see the woods breaking up into a clearing, which meant the highway was not far away. Without much thought, she turned away from the fallen tree and hiked down a bank toward the clearing. Randy continued to call her name, but she ignored it. Before too long, she was too far away to hear his cries for help. The highway was now in sight.

 

 

Randy waited a half-hour before trying to escape from his predicament. He had expected Kimmie to come back after a few minutes, when she had recovered from the embarrassment or guilt or whatever she had been feeling and realized that she had a duty to help him. It didn't happen, though.

He shifted his position so he could use his free leg to push the tree. He couldn't get the proper leverage. He started to feel a throbbing pain in his ankle and knew that he had been hurt badly. He changed positions again, found a broken branch and jammed it beneath the fallen tree. Then he gathered a pile of branches and crammed them under the long one, creating a lever. He sat up, twisting his ankle painfully, and put all his weight on the end of the long stick. The tree shuddered and then rolled a few inches, giving Randy enough room to push himself to freedom. Gasping, he crawled on his elbows for a few feet and then collapsed. Pain stabbed through his ankle.

Taking stock of the situation, Randy found that he was sprawled in a patch of yellow morels. He had smashed dozens of them; now the mushrooms were mush. Randy rolled over and looked to the sky. He formulated a plan. He needed to reach the road, and flag someone down so he could get back to the rig. He could use the walking stick as a crutch and limp to safety. And maybe along the way he would find Kimmie and figure out what happened.

Before he could find the walking stick, he came across the plastic bag of perfect morels. They had survived the falling tree without damage. Randy slipped off his backpack and gingerly placed the plastic bag into the front pocket. He zipped it up and rolled over so he could get the straps back over his shoulders. The walking stick lay under a mess of broken branches adorned with spring leaves. Randy found it, pushed himself to a standing position, and took a few careful steps. He was able to keep his weight off the wounded ankle, but he still felt sharp pains as he moved forward. More damage was being done with every step, certainly, but he had little choice. He moved slowly through the woods and stopped to rest on the flood plains, taking a moment to examine his ankle in the light of day. Not broken, but badly swollen. How could he drive the rig with a busted leg? He would miss a lot of work, and couldn't pay bills without that income. Gritting his teeth, Randy hopped back to his feet and continued to limp toward the road. To avoid climbing up the steep incline at the edge of the pavement, he had to go a few hundred feet out of his way and walk in a wide arc. Even so, he encountered a hill where he could not use the crutch. He had to hop up the incline on his good foot, holding the walking stick up in the air like a throwing spear. He felt like a fool. Once he reached the road, he went down on one knee and rested. He could see his rig parked a quarter-mile away. Kimmie must be hiding in the rig, he thought. He put the walking stick under his arm and stood up again, driven by anger, and limped down the road.

Before he could get very far, a humming automobile pulled up from behind Randy and idled at his side. The automatic window rolled itself down.

Kimmie's grandfather was driving the car. "Are you okay?" he asked.

Randy leaned against the roof of the car. "Hello, Carl. I got hurt pretty bad. My ankle is all messed up."

"Get in the car." Kimmie's grandfather pulled the parking brake and waited for Randy to open the passenger side door.

"How did you know I was out here?" Randy asked.

"Kimmie told me. She's safe at home."

"How'd she get home?"

"Get in the car, Randy."

He threw the stick to the side of the road and limped to the other side of the car. The passenger door was unlocked. "I don't want to get your seats muddy."

"Don't worry about that. Just sit down."

Randy sat down.

They drove toward Randy's rig. "Are you going to be able to drive?"

"I don't think so. I won't be able to work the clutch. Maybe we should go to the hospital."

"That's what Kimmie said."

They drove past the rig and headed further down the highway. Kimmie's grandfather was rubbing his finger along his lips, and the silence was making Randy crazy.

"I don't understand, Carl. How did Kimmie get home?"

"She flagged down a car and hitched a ride."

"Good Lord! That's so dangerous!" Randy suddenly became indignant.

Kimmie's grandfather gave him a hard look. "She was safe. This is Joplin. And Kimmie is a smart girl. She rode home with a family in our parish. They recognized her from church. She wouldn't put herself in danger."

Randy started to pout. "Did she tell you what happened?"

"Yes, she did."

"She practically pushed that tree on me. What the hell was she thinking? She could have killed me!" Randy looked to his father-in-law for sympathy. "Am I right?"

"I suppose so," he said.

"You know why she was mad at me? Because she needed to use the bathroom. And we had just come across a huge patch of yellows, Carl. It was beautiful. I don't know what she was thinking."

"Randy..."

"Did she have anything to say for herself? Is she sorry?"

"Of course she is." Carl looked out in the distance, down the road, toward the horizon. "Randy, did you ever ask yourself why she wanted a bathroom so badly?"

Randy didn't understand the question. He sat there, silent, rubbing his ankle tenderly.

"She didn't need to pee, you fool. The girl is on her period. She needed to change her napkin."

"What?"

"Maxi-pad. Whatever they call it now."

Randy took a breath, and held it. Then he spoke: "Why didn't she just say so?"

"Think about that question, Randy. Think about it real hard."

Carl didn't say a word for the rest of the drive. Randy wanted to, but he thought he would sound like a fool. He kept squeezing his toes together and noted the little jolts of pain.

 

 

"Where is she, Fran?" Randy limped into the living room, leaning on Carl for support.

Fran scowled at her son-in-law. "If you're angry, you can turn right around and get out of here."

"I'm not angry. I want talk to her."

"I have a set of crutches in the basement," Carl said. "Let me fetch them for you." They helped Randy onto the couch, and then Carl hurried to the basement to find those crutches.

"How did you make out at the hospital?" Fran asked.

"Okay, I guess. My ankle is just twisted real bad. At least it's not broken."

"They do good work," Fran nodded, and then she disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Randy alone in the immaculate living room. He stared at the Bible on the coffee table. He looked at the pictures on the wall: there were several photos of his late wife, a bunch of his in-laws, and dozens of Kimmie. She was smiling. Randy couldn't remember the last time he saw her smile.

Randy called for Kimmie to come out to the living room. He yelled her name, but was careful to remove all anger out of his voice. She didn't come. He yelled again. Nothing.

"Leave her alone," called Fran. She was still in the kitchen.

"I want to talk to her," Randy said. He received no answer. "Do you hear me? I said I want to talk to her!"

"I hear you!" Fran barked.

Carl emerged from the basement with the crutches. They were ancient, stained, wrapped up with electrician's tape. He stepped to the couch with cautious grace, laid the crutches against the coffee table, and picked up Randy's backpack.

"May I?" he asked.

"Go ahead."

He unzipped the front pocket and pulled out the plastic bag of morels.

"Good haul, Randy. Why don't we fry these up?"

"Well..."

"If I remember correctly," Carl continued, "Your dad used to fry up his mushrooms like chicken. Quite tasty. Why don't we give that a try?"

"I want to talk to Kimmie," Randy repeated.

Carl reached into the bag and pulled out a plump morel. He held the mushroom to his nose and sniffed it.

"I'm her father," Randy said.

"Then start acting like it, you fool." Carl sat down in the easy chair and glared at his son-in-law. "You've been out on the road for her whole life. The two of you are strangers. You're missing everything, and pretty soon she'll stop caring."

"She doesn't need me. She's got you and Fran -- "

Carl sighed. "I'm a sick old man. Her mother is dead and her father is nowhere to be found, except when the mushrooms are coming up. She needs you. She needs all of us."

They sat in silence for a few minutes. Finally, Carl leaned over to grab the bag of morels and stood up. He went into the kitchen and spoke to his wife. Randy heard them whispering, and then the banging of pots and pans. Soon, Fran would be mixing up some chicken batter and frying the mushrooms. Those are my mushrooms, Randy thought. I should be cooking them.

He squeezed his toes together.

Slowly and quietly, Randy used the old crutches to push himself up. He limped across the living room, turned a corner, and hobbled down the hallway to Kimmie's bedroom. He knocked.

"Come in," she said.

Leaning on one crutch, he reached for the doorknob and swung the door open. Kimmie was sprawled out on the floor, looking through a glossy magazine with pictures of teen models in prom dresses. She didn't look up.

"Your grandparents are going to cook the morels," he said.

She turned a page.

"My ankle's not broken, Randy said. "It's just twisted."

"That's good," she said, staring at the carpet.

"I can't drive with my ankle all busted up. So I'll be stuck in town for a few days. I hope that's okay with you."

"Yeah," she said, turning another page.

Randy took a hesitant step into the room. "No more floating tree, huh?"

Kimmie looked up at him. Her eyes were stained red.

"I never knew you were so strong, Kimmie."

* * *




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