Ridgewood continues to change. The same goes for her characters. After all, real-life 2017 is a bizarre, stranger time than 1970 when I began creating the place and her residents. And no matter how fictional they are, they need an essence of reality to make them current and believable.
I have told Vree Erickson’s story before. But no matter, it wants to change with the times. So I stopped wrestling with it over the summer and let it happen—let it write itself.
Here is the beginning of Vree’s story with new life breathed into it.
Vree Erickson yanked the steering wheel of her father’s John Deere riding mower and dodged mowing over her brother’s black leather baseball glove. The maneuver sent her and the lawnmower across several surface roots of the old oak tree in her parents’ backyard. The roots jostled her while she tried steering away from them, pitching the lawnmower and tossing her about like yesterday’s roller coaster ride on Old Shaky. She struggled to hold her phone while the mower pitched left, right, left again, and then… BAM. The mower’s deck slammed down on a root. The blade stopped. The motor whined. Vree took her foot from the gas pedal and groaned. She had promised her father that she would be careful mowing the lawn this time.
Summer vacation had begun two weeks ago and she had been in trouble with her parents every day. But this was not her fault. Chase had promised that he had picked up his sports equipment from the yard before he, Emma and their mom left to shop at Ridgewood Village Mall an hour ago. Now Vree pondered what to do about the mower. All she knew was how to check and fill the gas tank and oil, and how to start it and turn it off. Driving the thing over the hilly terrain without killing herself was a plus.
“Hello? Vree? Are you there?” Zoey’s voice brought her back.
“Let me call you back,” Vree said at the purple smartphone in her left hand. She shut off the engine. Zoey’s voice grew louder from the phone’s speaker.
“Are you okay? It sounded like you dropped your new phone. You didn’t, did you? Your mom will freak if you cracked the screen again.”
“No. My stupid brother left his ball glove in the yard, which caused me to get the lawnmower stuck on some tree roots. My dad’s gonna kill me if I broke anything.”
“Do you need me to come over?” Zoey asked.
Vree sat forward, tugged her red KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON T-shirt from her sweaty back, and wiped her palms on her cotton blue jeans. The summer’s humidity had increased and the once silvery sky had darkened.
“I’m okay,” she answered. A wet breeze blew her long blonde hair across her face, covering her eyes for a moment. “You get ready for my birthday party. I’ll push the mower into the shed and finish cleaning the kitchen and living room.”
“I’m so excited for you,” Zoey said before she squealed. “You’re a teenager now.”
Vree shrugged and started to say that she did not feel any different, but Zoey interrupted with, “See you at six, birthday girl.”
Vree’s phone buzzed and vibrated in her hand as Zoey ended the call. Vree climbed from the tractor, tucked her phone in a back pocket, then pulled her hair back, twirled it into a bun, and went to the rear of the lawnmower. She needed to finish her chores by four o’clock and shower before Mom got home from shopping.
She placed both hands on the back of the seat and rocked the mower, grunting and pushing it until it was away from the roots. The damaged root exposed a white, wet wound where the lawnmower blade had cut it. Luckily, there was a can of tree wound sealer in the shed left over from the last time.
Thunder banged from a sky that had grown darker with bruised looking clouds. Her phone’s weather app had told her it would rain today. If only her phone had an app to let her know when she was about to screw up her life.
I could dodge life’s embarrassments and stay out of trouble.
She actually wondered if such an app were possible before she hurried to her seat and tried to start the mower. The engine coughed but did not jump to life as it was supposed to do.
“Come on,” she begged. Things had to start going her way. If not, Daddy would be disappointed in her for damaging his grandfather’s oak tree … again. And if the lawnmower was broken…. This was different from staying out past curfew, or cutting her hair uneven with Mom’s good scrapbook scissors, or vomiting corndogs on Daddy at Alice Lake’s Old Shaky rollercoaster ride yesterday.
More thunder banged, vibrating its way into her. The sky seemed to open and drop a flood of rain on the tree she sat under, rushing past the umbrella of leafy branches and drenching her. She stood and scampered to the tree trunk and shivered from the chill beneath heavy branches. Thirty yards away, her parents’ spacious Craftsman home beckoned her inside where it was dry and warm. Her orange tabby cat sat at the living room’s middle bay window, watching from behind the rain-streaked glass, and waiting for her. Three o’clock was Mr. Whiskers’ feeding time.
Rain fell past the leaves and splattered on the lawnmower. It was time to get it out of the storm that showed no signs of letting up. She darted to the left side of the green and yellow mower and pushed.
“Come on,” she begged again. “Move.”
After three steps and nearly losing her footing twice, she looked up and saw her father’s black Escalade pull in the driveway. She groaned. It wasn’t five o’clock yet. He wasn’t supposed to be home.
Charles Erickson hurried from his vehicle, leaving its headlights on, the engine running, and frantic wipers slapping rain from the windshield. He juggled his umbrella while he took to the right side of the mower and helped Vree push the tractor across the soggy ground, closer to the shed behind the garage.
A flash of bright white light and tremendous heat engulfed Vree. Something popped in her head. She fell unconscious to the freshly mowed grass, unaware that lightning had struck the oak tree, her, and her father, knocking Charles Maxwell Erickson, Esquire, out of his polished, black leather Florsheim wingtip oxfords.
An hour later, not long after Karrie Erickson returned home from shopping with Vree’s older brother and sister, the successful private practice lawyer, who had earned as much as five figures last year, lay dead inside the same Ridgewood ambulance that rushed his comatose daughter to the hospital.
To be continued, for sure.