A Ragged Bunch and A Motley Crew, Chapter Fifteen
by Echo Lewis, illustrated by Elaine Blier
A serialized story for the summer of 2003
Sometimes the gift that Laura carried in her heart, the tiny treasure of light from her parents, faded and almost disappeared. When that happened, the darkness closed in around her again. Laura grew frightened, lonely and cold. She wanted to run — it didn't matter where — to get away.
When it was at its worst, she couldn't even let the twins get near her. They became like strangers. Once more, the entire world became the enemy and she withdrew into her own quiet safe world in order to survive
But slowly Laura began to fight against the darkness and the fear. She was angry that it still tried to keep her lonely.
Late one Sunday evening, a few days before they were to go back to university for the new school year, Davey and Jennifer strolled into the living room carrying a cassette recorder and several tapes.
"Time for fall practice!" Davey announced
"Dynamite!" Andy jumped up from the floor, where he, Tony and Uncle Don had been sprawled out playing a lively game of Scrabble.
"Clear the decks!" Tony commanded to nobody in particular, but everybody in general. He started gathering up the tiles from their game.
"Uh one, uh two, one-two-three, one-two-three..." chanted Christine as she began to pirouette around the room. She danced in and out among airborne chairs, coffee tables and couch as Uncle Don and the three boys put the furniture back against the walls to clear as much floor space as possible.
Laura stared in disbelief at the madcap jumble of activity. Only seconds ago she had been quietly and contentedly reading totally absorbed in helping Nancy Drew solve the mystery of the old clock. Now her own chair began moving backward through the air.
Uncle Don and Davey came up from behind, picked her chair up and carried it — and her — back against the wall with the rest of the furniture.
For the zillionth time that summer Laura concluded that this family had definitely lost its mind. What was she doing here?
"No loafing now!" Uncle Don pulled her up out of the chair and stood her beside Aunt Amelia, Christine and Jennifer, standing in a line in the middle of the cleared floor. Facing them, Uncle Don, Davey, Tony and Andy formed another line.
"This is great!" exclaimed Davey
"With Laura, we have even numbers. Nobody has to sit out anymore."
Jennifer laughed at the look of bewilderment on Laura's face.
"We always have at least one night of dancing practice before school starts," she explained. "We've been doing it since Davey was in Grade Six. Their class started out the year with a square dance. He came home all excited and lined up Mom and Dad and him and me to show us everything he had learned.
"Even the twins, who were only about three and sound asleep when we started, woke up and begged to be included. They caught on so fast it surprised us all!"
After that year, we made it a before-school practice. You can imagine that we've added lots of other dances through the years to practice."
Laura nodded, pretending to understand every word Jennifer said. But in truth, she didn't have a clue what her cousin was telling her. Music was a mystery to Laura. She had never heard it much. The one time her father had tried to teach her some easy steps, he quickly gave up on her awkwardness.
Getting involved in this practice did not seem like a very hopeful idea. Laura wished she could slip away to her room and read.
But there was no chance of that. Davey started up the first tape and began calling out orders like, "Bow to your partner!" "Aleman left!" and "Do-si-do!"
Much to her surprise, Laura found herself enjoying the square dancing. All she had to do was listen to the calls — which took no time at all to become familiar — and do what Aunt Amelia, Jennifer and Christine did. Before long she was clapping her hands and stomping her feet to the music along with everyone else. What a good idea to have this practice night!
Then other dances began. At first, that was fun too. Tony and Andy both loved music and they were good dancers. They took turns helping Laura only laughing when she stepped on their toes.
But after a while, she got discouraged at being such a slow learner. Every minute, she grew more shy and awkward.
Finally, while trying hopelessly to follow Tony in a quick-moving dance, she could hardly keep back tears of frustration and ineptness.
"May I have this dance?"
Davey appeared behind Tony and tapped him on the shoulder.
"You don't mind if I steal away your girl for a 'while, do you, young fella?"
Tony looked a bit disappointed but he gave in to his big brother. "Only because you're going away to school in a couple days. Otherwise, I wouldn't let you."
Even in her unhappiness, Laura felt a momentary pang of satisfaction at having the two brothers competing to teach her.
Reality quickly shattered her sense of satisfaction though.
"I don't know how to do this. I'm no good at it." She looked up at Davey almost in defiance.
"Take off your shoes,"
Startled and immediately suspicious, Laura stood unmoving.
"Take off your shoes," Davey repeated smiling, "and toss them into the corner by the couch."
She shrugged her shoulders and obeyed.
"Good. Now we can get down to serious business."
Davey had Laura step right up onto his feet and then he started to dance.
At first, Laura kept slipping off. But then she moved her feet with his and as Davey whirled her around the room, she stuck right with him.
"Wow, this is really like dancing!"
"It's a good way to learn," Davey agreed. "Are you ready to try again on your own?"
Laura hesitated, then nodded.
For few steps she did fine, automatically moving as she had while standing on Davey's feet. But soon she got all confused and mixed up again.
"It's no use," she sighed. "I guess I'm just all thumbs when it comes to my feet, Dad was right."
"Don't worry," Davey assured her.
"We'll try again. You'll get it."
Laura wasn't sure. She had learned many things from this crazy family, but music and dancing seemed more than she could manage.
Tired and discouraged, awkwardness descended on her again. Unable to stand it any longer, she made up an excuse about being too tired to stay up any longer and bent to pick up the shoes she had tossed into the corner.
"Don't go to bed now!" Andy called from the other side of the room. "In a couple hours it'll be morning and Mom's going to make a picnic breakfast!"
"I'll just take a nap."
"Great!" Andy, with his unflagging energy, went back to learning the Charleston from his mother.
Laura walked from the living room out into the hallway. Once there, hidden from view, she broke into a run. Heading through the kitchen, she ran out the back door and into the night.
By the time she stopped running, she realized that she had unconsciously headed for the river, to where she and the twins came nearly every day to swim.
A narrow sliver of new moon shone above the water, casting a faint light. Laura could barely make out the shape of the river below.
Feeling her way to the edge of the bank, she sat down, hunched up her knees close to her chest and wrapped her arms tightly around her legs.
Caught up by the need to get away, no thought of fear had entered Laura's mind. But now she was scared. And cold. She pulled her hands up into the sleeves of her sweatshirt, to protect herself against the chill of the night.
Sitting still, staring out into the darkness, she wondered why she came here. She found herself listening carefully. For what? She didn't know. But her whole being continued to listen, to wait.
Some kind of strange anticipation started to well up in Laura's heart, diminishing the cold and fear. Caught up in its grip, she continued to sit very still.
Time passed. The moon moved slowly across the sky. Laura kept listening, staring out into the darkness and waiting.
Then the night began to change. Though she still couldn't see or hear very much, Laura felt the weight of the night lifting. She peered even more intently out into the darkness.
Suddenly, the single, sweetest, purest sound she had ever heard rose up out of the dark not twenty feet away. Laura felt that her heart would break with the beauty of it.
The night had ended. Darkness — and with it the cold and fear — faded in the wake of the thrush's bold, beautiful, confident song.
Her heart filled with peace, Laura let herself get caught up in the gentle grays of pre-dawn that slowly penetrated the black shadows of the night. Before long the grays, themselves gave way to the crisp, bright light of early morning.
More birds joined in the thrush's chorus. A butterfly and then another, dipped and swooped through the air above the dew-tipped grass and out over the river. A monarch landed on Laura's runner and sat there resting. Laura gazed at it in wonder and tenderness toward it flooded through her. As she watched, it lifted its orange and black wings for flight. Circling once in the air in front of her, as if to say goodbye, the butterfly flew off toward a patch of milkweed a little way down-river.
To the tune of the thrush's triumphant song, the early sun's rays slowly drove away the chill of night and touched the air with light and warmth. Feeling the warmth penetrate her stiff limbs, Laura realized that a second treasure now lived in her heart - the thrush's brave announcement in the dark that dawn would surely break forth and dispel the night.
The joy of this new treasure, added to the one her parents had given her, lifted Laura to her feet. She took a final long drink of the beauty of the morning, then turned toward home.
No longer wanting to be alone, she ran back to join Uncle Don, Aunt Amelia and the ragged bunch, her wonderful motley crew of cousins.
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Read Chapter Fourteen again.