Writing leveled readers is probably my favorite kind of freelance. Just knowing that lots of kids are going to read (and hopefully want to write) because of an idea that came from me is amazing.
Message in a Bottle
Ribbons of color filtered through the bedroom window casting a delicate pink glow across my room. The early morning sunshine did nothing to shake my need to crawl back under my covers, but I could hear Catherine clambering up the porch steps to the front door. "Coming," I yelled as I scrambled to get ready. Catherine always came early to meet me when we went to the beach. She said the prettiest seashells were always gone by mid-afternoon. I grabbed my sunglasses and tote bag and trudged downstairs, wiping the sleep from my eyes. About halfway down the doorbell rang again. "Hold your horses!" I screamed, I’ll be there in a sec!"
Patience was not one of Catherine’s virtues and this morning was no exception. As usual, she couldn’t wait for me answer the door, and like always Catherine opened the door and marched precociously inside. She looked more like she was more prepared for a month at Camp Katydid, than just one day in the sun. "Come on Liz," she whined as I eyed a donut on the counter, decided against it and grabbed an apple instead. I followed her out the door, silently chuckling at her weighted-down walk. It was a gorgeous day outside. The sun wasn’t scorching yet; it was pleasantly warm, and the breeze made it a perfect day for the beach. I swung my leg over my bike and rode up the street.
We got about two house down the when I sensed crazy old Hattie Thompson before I actually saw her. I tried to look preoccupied as I rode by, but I made the mistake of taking a sideways look to see if Ms. Thompson noticed me. Unfortunately, she caught my glance and I was forced to acknowledge her presence. I tried to avoid Mrs. Thompson whenever I could because she was the craziest crankiest woman I ever met and frankly, she scared me a little bit. In fact, she gave me the creeps.
"Hi, Ms. Thompson," I stammered in as friendly a tone as I could muster, "How’ve you been?"
"Slow down on that bike before you fall off and end up on my grass," she snarled. I assumed that was the end of the conversation, at least I hoped it was, and began to pedal off, when once again, I sensed old Hattie’s eyes boring a hole in my back. "Always say goodbye," Hattie singsonged, "Always say goodbye." "Don’t answer her," Catherine whispered, "You know she’s loony as a bat. Pedal f-f-faster…. Let’s get the heck away from her!"
We rode like there’d be no tomorrow, the muscles in my calves began to knot up like baseballs, and sweat began to trickle down my face and drip on the handlebars of my bike. I looked over at Catherine and couldn’t help laughing out loud. Her once triangle-white sunscreened nose was now void of protection, but the ooey gooey white stuff was running down her face and she looked like a clown ready for the performance of her life. The tension broke.
We left our bikes on the bike rack, rusted from years in sea mist and sand, and started walking along the shore. Shell collecting isn’t exactly for me, I’d prefer kicking a soccer ball any day, but since Catherine is my best friend, I strolled with her at a leisurely pace.
Before long, Catherine was ahead of me, bent over searching for seashells. I was in a relaxation mode, listening to the gulls and splashing water, when a dark green glass bottle hit my ankle and broke my concentration. "Oh great," I thought, "She’s finding shells and I’m finding old trash." I grasped the old bottle by the neck and was about to fling it back into the sea, when I noticed a slip of paper inside. I stuck my finger in the neck of the bottle as far as it would go, squeezed the paper between two of my fingers and as gently as possible, pulled it out.
By now, I had Catherine’s attention…I’m sure she thought I’d found the most extraordinary conch shell of the day…. and she came to inspect my treasure.
"Lizzy," she asked in a tone that usually implies she wants what I have, "What did you find?" I didn’t reply. "Liz?" For a minute I couldn’t talk, in fact, I couldn’t move. Catherine grabbed the paper out of my hand and read it out loud, "My darling Hattie, today is the day I’m leaving to fight the Nazi’s, we both agree it’s important for me to go. My heart aches because I can’t find you to say goodbye. Know that you will always be with me in the air that I breathe and the moon that I sleep under at night. When I come home, we will make our life together. Since I’m going to put this note under "our rock" I have do doubt that one day you will read my words. Goodbye Hattie Thompson, wait for me. Forever yours, Jonathan." The tattered yellow note was dated September 5, 1944.
I stood stone still and dumbfounded. Catherine was the first to break the silence as she shrieked, "This note can’t be to the crazy old Hattie Thompson we know, can it? No one could have ever loved her like this, Liz, it’s not possible…is it?!" "Let’s go find out," I whispered. sounding only a little braver than I felt. Catherine took longer than usual to gather her paraphernalia, but she did it, and then somewhat begrudgingly unlocked her bike from the rack.
It seemed like it took us twice as long to get back to Hattie’s house as it did to leave there…in fact it seemed like an eternity. Now instead of muscles knotted like baseballs, my legs felt as though they were made of heavy lead, and my mouth was so dry I could spit cotton. I didn’t ask Catherine how she was feeling, somehow, words just didn’t seem right.
As we approached Hattie’s paint-chipped house, I had an overwhelming sense of trepidation. I could see her old face peering from behind the lacy curtains that kept the sunshine, and everything else, out. Before we had time to think, Hattie flung open her door. "Now what," Hattie growled in her usual way, "Didn’t I tell you girls to stay away?"
My hands were shaking like a washing machine out of balance as I reached out to hand her the crumpled up note. "We think this m-m-might be yours," I stammered. Hattie started to turn on heel and slam the door, but something made her change her mind. Her withered hand took the note from me, and as she begin to read, tears fell from her eyes and softened her wrinkled face.
"Come on Catherine," I said, "Let’s go." The moment seemed surreal but as we began to pedal away something made me turn around to look back. Old Ms. Thompson was still standing where we left her, but a small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth and I could swear I saw a twinkle in her eye. "Goodbye, Liz," Hattie singsonged, "Goodbye."
"Hello Ms. Thompson," I whispered.