Grandma plopped on the couch with a book in her hand, a fan on high speed aimed at her face. “I need to lie down, Harper. it’s so hot out there you could fry an egg on the pavement.”
Harper looked out the living room window at the hayfield. If she squinted, she could almost make out the paved road beyond it. Not like where she lived, with city blocks full of sidewalks, paved driveways, and parking lots. The best two weeks of the year were almost over. Her mom was coming back to the farm tonight to take her home. She would start fourth grade next week.
“C’mon, Barney.” She held the door for him, and they scooted out together. The Jack Russell sprang ahead as she grabbed a bucket of tennis balls and an old racquet from the porch. Harper had a decent swing. Barney bounded after each ball as it sailed over the lawn into the field. Each time he trotted back with the ball in his jaws and dropped it at her feet, ready for the next one.
“Oops! Sorry, Barney!” A ball had landed in a thicket. Barney stood at a distance, barking. “Couldn’t find it, buddy?” She laid the racquet down and plunged into the chest-high weeds. A cloud of angry yellowjackets arose to attack her. She had invaded their nest. The sound of her screams pierced the stifling August air.
The kitchen door flew open, and Grandma came tearing across the lawn. Wide-eyed, she grabbed Harper around the waist and lugged her over to the vegetable garden, dropping her in the soil. “Roll, roll!” she shouted. She pushed a sobbing, dirt-covered Harper in the back of her car and headed to the hospital twelve miles away.
2023Three weeks into the semester, Harper’s heart still lurched when she opened the classroom door. “Entomology 101” fulfilled her science requirement and, more importantly, her therapist’s recommendation. Systematic desensitization. Passing the course would bring her one step closer to managing her PTSD. Once you’ve been terrorized, hospitalized for twenty-three stings, was a fear of the enemy really something to overcome? But she wanted to sit at an outdoor café without breaking into a sweat, wear tank tops and shorts without feeling vulnerable. Grandma was getting older, and she still couldn’t bring herself to return to the farm. She didn’t want those feelings ruling her life anymore. She had skipped class last week. If she skipped again, she’d never go back. And there was that guy who sat next to her. So here she was.
It was too late for Matt to drop the class, so here he was. The temptation to doze was almost irresistible, sitting in a dark auditorium listening to the professor drone on again about Lepidoptera, but he was too embarrassed to admit that he, an aspiring artist-poet, mistook entomology for etymology in the course catalog. Note to self: Never register for classes with a hangover.
He did need a science course to graduate, and his father was pleased, even if it wasn’t real science. He had managed to disappoint the old man yet again. Not only would he not be pursuing a career in medicine or engineering, but he had no interest in sports either. He was most content, alone with his watercolors or laptop, creating works of art. He would find a way to make art a career and to make a living, even if it meant a simpler lifestyle than the one he had grown up with.
That girl he liked just walked in the room and sat down beside him. Her name was Harper. He could tell she wasn’t enjoying the class either. What made her so sad? She was always looking at the exit, and she never smiled. She had even skipped class last week. He reached in his backpack and pulled out the card he’d made for her. He handed it to her with a smile, hoping to earn one in return. On the inside, he had penned a poem, inviting her for drinks and offering to go over the work she’d missed. The painting on the front cover was one of the best he’d ever done. He almost hated to give it away.
She didn’t smile as she reached for the card. Her forehead wrinkled and she bit her lip. He had caught her by surprise. Matt held his breath as she opened it.
Harper’s eyes rolled back, and she fainted dead away. The card fluttered to the floor.
“Oh my God! Harper, what’s wrong?” He knelt by her and shook her. “Help, help! Call 911, somebody!” She was breathing, so at least he hadn’t killed her.
Harper came to in a matter of seconds, but the ambulance was already on its way. They carted her off to the emergency room.
Ellen smiled at her three favorite people, seated around the table, in what was once her dining room, and was now theirs. Her great-grandson, three-year-old Will, was drawing contentedly with his crayons. She uncorked the champagne and poured. Her granddaughter Harper and Harper’s husband, Matt, raised their glasses. “To your new home!” she toasted.
Harper looked into Matt’s eyes, “And to your new job as a scientific illustrator!”
Matt gazed back at her, “And to your new psychiatry practice!”
As they clinked glasses, he nodded toward the wall and the framed artwork that started it all: the watercolor with a poem inside and a note on the back: “Eastern Amberwing - the dragonfly that mimics a wasp.”
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