Hours later, the party moved indoors as evening dimmed the sky. Katrina sat near the window, watching the house. They’d left all the outdoor lights on, and the small dog barked furiously when it found itself alone in the yard. Katrina listened to the dog while she watched the sky continue to darken.
How was she going to get past the dog? She hadn’t noticed it in the yard the night before. Was it a dog they kept inside at night? She whispered a prayer the dog would be taken inside.
Not many minutes later, the door opened and the dog was called by a female voice. A prayerfully whispered thanks left her lips.
She could now hear the distant sounds of voices from the front yard, and car doors slamming. Apparently the party was breaking up at last.
A few minutes later, the back yard came to life again. The entire family shared the clean-up detail, with the twins loudly discussing how fun the party had been, and how sad they were their cousins and their cousins’ new dog had gone home so soon. The family soon had the yard straightened up and retreated indoors, dousing the floodlights.
Katrina waited until they had turned off most of the lights in the house before she dared stir from the tree. She made one last use of the chamber pot…she would gladly have emptied it herself, but had no way to rinse it out, and Denny had promised they’d take care of it for her.
She slipped out of the back yard, and noted the address as she passed the mailbox. Maybe someday she could come back to say thanks. If she lived long enough.
Two hours later, Katrina was still walking. She was so tired, she knew she wasn't making good time, but at least she was still moving. She had traveled nearly an hour before she had known where she was, exactly. Ruefully, she'd acknowledged to herself that she was clear across town from where she lived.
She was walking slower and slower, and Katrina realized it was taking almost all her concentration just to put one foot in front of the other. Her head was throbbing, nearly blinding her with pain.
Looking up, Katrina saw a well-lighted area just ahead. Hoping it was a small shopping center with a coffee shop or restaurant, she urged her tired body forward, drawing a little energy from the promise of a short rest the coffee shop would afford, and some food for energy.
Reaching the lighted area, she found it to be a large used car lot with an adjoining repair shop. It was closed. Disappointment, with its accompanying fatigue washed over her. Tears came to her eyes, blurring her vision. Katrina stumbled on a small, cracked corner of sidewalk. She was just able to catch her balance, wrenching her ankle in the process. Stopping for a moment to dash the tears from her eyes, she looked down at the piece of concrete. With supreme effort, she suppressed the urge to kick the offending chunk of cement. That would only hurt her toe, also, and she didn't need any more pain.
Gingerly, she put her weight slowly onto her foot and ankle. The sharp pain of the initial wrench was gone, leaving a dull ache in its stead. At least she was able to walk, though she realized she wouldn’t be able to walk all the way home in one night. Katrina looked around her once more. She spied a telephone booth at the corner of the repair garage. Hobbling over to it, Katrina held her breath, hoping it was in working order. She fumbled in her wallet for some change, and, a smidgen of luck still with her, she found the correct coins and dropped them into the slot.
The phone book had long since disappeared, so she dialed directory assistance. When they finally answered, Katrina asked for the number of a taxi cab company. Receiving the number, she repeated to herself in a sing-song chant as she hung up, waited for the coins to drop through, and re-deposited them. After hearing the dial tone, she punched the buttons for the number in the little chant, and listened to the receiving phone ring and ring. It continued ringing for several long moments, and Katrina began to doubt she had dialed correctly.
'One more ring,' she thought, 'and I'll hang up and try another company.' A long sigh accompanied her discouragement.
Halfway through the ring, the sound stopped and a bored-sounding voice answered, giving the name of the taxi company. Katrina gave her location to the man, and he said he'd start a cab her way, then hung up in the middle of her question of how long it was going to take it to get to her. She gasped at his rudeness, then slammed the phone receiver home, wishing his ear could hear its crash. Katrina moved out to the street corner to wait for the cab, checking her watch every few moments. The hands moved so slowly, for a time she wondered if her watch was still working.
An interminable amount of time had passed, according to her lacerated nerves, when a car full of boys in their late teens or early twenties roared by, the windows open and the radio blaring its garish music. Several arms and heads were hanging out of the openings, gyrating to the music's beat. They whistled and shouted, inviting Katrina to join them. Frightened by her situation, she turned and limped away from the roadway. The car continued to rocket down the street. A squealing of tires made her look up. She watched as the car careened around the corner.
"Be back for ya, Babee-e-e-e!" floated to her as the vehicle streaked out of sight. Katrina's stomach lurched as she realized they meant to come back for her. In a panic, she looked around her. There was no place to hide…nowhere to turn…no place to run; not if she wanted her cab-ride to safety. If they came back for her…she closed her eyes. The thought was terrible.
"Dear God," she prayed fervently, "please let the taxi beat those boys to me; please, oh, please!"
Opening her eyes, Katrina looked up and down the street. It was empty.
"Please," she whispered under her breath, still pleading with the powers that be. She looked at her watch. A whole two minutes had crawled by since she had last checked it. Time was moving as if through cold syrup.
She looked up the street again, and was rewarded by the sight of a cab just pulling around the corner, heading for her. An explosion of air whooshed from her lungs as she expelled the breath she had been holding, and she quickly closed the remaining distance between the curb and herself, despite the pain in her ankle. Her prayer was answered, the cab had arrived first.
She was almost to the door of the taxi when the boys' car turned the corner, taking it on two wheels. Their car almost hit the taxi as it came down on four wheels and swerved until the boy driving could bring it back under his tenuous control.
Katrina had stopped dead as she watched the car careening down the street. The boy driving had slammed on his brakes and, as his car slowed, Katrina moved. Fast. She dove the rest of the way into the cab and yelled at the driver to move so the boys could not get her. She slammed the door tight.
The taxi's engine roared, the car coming to life, and the cab made a quick U-turn and sped away, Katrina watching the boys' car from the rear window. She watched them sit there a moment, and then saw the car lunge forward, smoke burning from both back tires. The screaming noise from their wheels reached her ears as the cab driver made a quick right turn and shot down the street to put the area behind them.
Giving a sigh of relief, Katrina turned from the back window and faced forward. Smoothing her hair with her hands, she strove for a semblance of calm.
"Thank you, Sir," she said to the driver. "You came in the nick of time!"
"Always try to help a pretty lady in distress," the softly spoken words drawled from the front seat.
Katrina blushed at his words, keeping her eyes lowered. She knew even without looking that she didn't appear the least bit pretty right now. Not after climbing walls and trees, being nearly overrun with little carts and being shot at while hiding beneath scruffy bushes! She put it down to straight flummery and words to induce a large tip; she also thought he was just trying to put her at ease. Still, the words were welcome.
"Ah, well, I don't know about that, but I'm very glad you were there." She gave the driver an address in the block behind her own and several doors down.
Some twenty-five minutes later, the taxi pulled into the street next to the one on which she lived. Pulling up to the curb where she directed him, she was told the amount due. It was lucky she had enough to pay him, Katrina thought as she counted out the bills, making sure to add a good amount for his tip. She normally didn't carry but a couple of dollars with her. This week, though, she hadn't gone shopping for her groceries yet, and still had the currency in her wallet.
Just as well, she thought wryly. She wouldn't be able to use the food that she'd have bought because she was going to have to leave in a hurry. A very big hurry.
She scrambled from the car and watched the taxi drive away. Looking around her, she tried to see if things looked normal for the street. Katrina almost laughed out loud. Normal. Would her life ever be 'normal' again? She doubted it, somehow.
Satisfying herself there was no one about; Katrina turned and limped to the house directly behind her own. She moved quietly along the outer edge of the dark driveway. There were, Katrina noted gladly, no lights on in the house. She realized it was now very late.
Passing swiftly through to the back yard and then across the grass, she paused at the bushes between the houses, listening.
Two summers ago, the family living in this house had included a three-year-old who loved nothing more than to slide under the hedge into Katrina’s back yard and eat her carrots straight from the garden, dirt and all.
Hearing nothing, she stooped low, trying to see exactly where the child had scooted through into her yard.
Many scratches and several aborted attempts later, Katrina finally found the place. Because of the growth over the past years, she ended up on her stomach, wriggling like a snake. Some of the branches tore at her hair, pulling it cruelly. Katrina fleetingly wondered how the new scratches to her face and arms were going to adorn her already ratty appearance.
Then her indomitable spirit came to her rescue. 'If I simply get out of this alive,' she reflected dryly, 'I won't mind the scratches! It's just staying alive for the next twenty-four hours that counts!'