Chapter One CHAPTER ONE
Rosie Flynn raced toward the figure across River Bend Park, trampling the orphaned leaves along the path. She recognized that particular hitch in the step and the halo of marigold curls. Even better, she spied the bulky tote bag underneath her arm.
Rosie skidded to a stop beside a tree that twisted and turned upward like ropes of licorice, her stomach fluttering. Please, please, please let the bag be for me.
Betsy Broome held out the bag. “I’ve brought you some—”
“Rope!” Rosie reached for the tote in Betsy’s arms and opened it to reveal a neat coil, the perfect length to loop around a tree. It was the same rope she’d forgotten at home, which wasn’t a surprise. After all, Betsy usually remembered what someone forgot—ever since her Miracle.
“Thank you! I’m filming my biggest scene right now, and this rope is crucial for establishing my lead’s motivation,” Rosie said, beaming at Betsy.
“I saw it on your front porch and knew I had to bring it here right away. I would never have guessed it was for one of your movies though,” Betsy said.
“You’re a lifesaver. Want to come see the set?” Rosie looked up as a breeze tickled her arm. Puffs of clouds slid across the sky and from behind the trees, silver-tipped water glinted on the horizon. It was a perfect day for filming.
Betsy looked down at her watch, her wrists jangling with gold bracelets. “Can’t. I’m late to senior choir. I missed half our practice last week because I was returning a ring to Miss Matilda. My choir teacher said he’s going to take away my solo if I can’t make it to practice on time.”
Rosie gave Betsy a quick hug. “Thanks for bringing the rope. Sorry I made you late.”
Betsy flashed a smile. “I’m used to it. Good luck with filming.”
Rosie skipped back across the park, swinging the rope above her head in triumph. “You’ll never believe it,” she called out. “Betsy brought us the rope, so now we can film the scene.”
Henry Thompson’s pale hair stuck up around his head in at least four places, and his skinny shoulders hunched over his chest. The script called for him to climb ten feet to the top of a tree limb and shimmy down the rope in a dashing, adventurer-like manner. Instead, he was pacing the ground and muttering something about unsafe working conditions.
Rosie sighed. Actors were so dramatic.
“Maybe I can wear a helmet. At least then I’d have some protection against skull fractures. You know head injuries can cause subdural hematomas, right?” Henry knotted his hands together. “Think about Betsy. She was selling peanuts to raise money for new band uniforms when she fell off the Landon High bleachers. A Miracle was the only thing that saved her from permanent amnesia.”
“You’re not going to fall,” Rosie said.
“I’ve already got an anxiety rash.” Henry thrust out his freckled arm.
Rosie tried to be patient. She gave Henry an encouraging smile.
“Henry, on our best friendship, I need your help. Sheriff Parker could show up at any minute, and he’ll tell us to stop filming because I don’t have a permit. How am I going to win an Academy Award someday if I never practice directing?”
Henry hesitated and then expelled a long breath. “Fine. I’ll do it. But you owe me.”
“You have my blood vow,” Rosie said in a dramatic voice.
Henry looked alarmed. “There’s no need for blood.”
Arms crossed and black braids quivering, Cam Abbott stomped over from the sidewalk. A cyclone of dust swirled around her feet. “Please tell me this is almost over. I have soccer practice in twenty minutes. Leila says we’ve got to improve our ball control.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll finish in fifteen,” Rosie said. She watched Henry attempt to swing a leg over the lowest limb, lose his balance, and tip over. Maybe she and Cam could somehow throw him onto the first branch like a professional stuntman.
Cam peered at the base of the tree and pointed to a notch in the trunk. “If you stick one foot there, you can hoist yourself onto the first branch. It’s like when we went to that ropes course for my birthday last year.”
“It took me a half hour longer than everyone else to finish,” Henry mumbled.
“But the instructor said you were the most careful person he’d ever seen,” Cam said brightly.
Rosie was pretty sure the instructor hadn’t meant it as a compliment. Still, Henry beamed at the memory.
“That’s true. Okay, I’m ready.” Huffing out a breath, Henry used the notch to anchor his right foot and clamber onto the lowest branch.
Rosie gave Cam a little bow. “Great save. Now we’re finally getting somewhere. This could be our best film yet.” She hurried over to where she’d set up the tripod and camcorder.
“You told me last month’s film was the best one yet when you made me dress up in that green monster suit,” Cam said, following behind Rosie.
“And I will never forget how convincing you were as a swamp monster,” Rosie added.
“Neither will Sheriff Parker,” Cam said darkly.
“Sheriff Parker shouldn’t have shut down our production because we scared a few kids. I’ve had to put the filming of Monster Town: A Most Frightening Epidemic on hold indefinitely. It was my homage to King Kong and The Bride of Frankenstein and all the old horror movies of the 1930s, and he ruined it.”
“Well, we can’t get caught this time. Dad said he was going to wake me up at five a.m. to run laps if I got in trouble with the sheriff again. He’s started calling himself SDA—Strictest Dad in America.” Cam rolled her eyes, but her lips curved up at the same time.
Rosie stopped adjusting the camcorder and swallowed hard. Longing unfurled inside her and rose like smoke off a summer campfire. “You’re lucky. I’d take an SDA over nothing.”
Cam grabbed Rosie’s arm and squeezed it tight. “You’ll meet him someday. I know it.”
Rosie managed a small smile and bent back to her camera lens. An image of her father flickered in her mind: tall and handsome with blue eyes crinkled in laughter. She imagined him swinging her around in a circle as the sun set behind them and painted the sky a brilliant shade of tangerine. Panning the scene in a slow sweep, she saw matching smiles on their faces and the hint of a breeze ruffling their hair. Nodding to herself, she straightened and ignored the ache in her chest. Of course Cam was right. She would meet her father someday.
“Come on,” Rosie said, handing Cam the voice recorder. “Let’s get this scene filmed before Henry chickens out.”
“Having a little trouble with your friend there?” Charlie Blue asked. All three Blue brothers had wandered over. They leaned on identical ivory canes and gazed upward at Henry, their matching blue eyes squinting.
“We have it totally under control,” Rosie huffed, using her best professional director voice.
“I don’t know about totally,” Cam said.
“Branch doesn’t look too steady,” Arthur added.
“Reminds me of the mast on the Blue Dolphin,” Bill chimed in.
“That mast tore right off in the wind,” Arthur said. “We shouldn’t have dared each other to take the Blue Dolphin out in that hurricane.”
“It was a big hurricane too, the likes of which Glimmer Creek hasn’t seen since. It was a Miracle we got back to shore alive,” Charlie finished.
“Yeah, we get it,” Cam muttered. “You were Miracled a million years ago.”
Arthur squinted up at the sky. “Expect it will rain in the next hour. Best get this movie business done quick.”
Rosie’s pulse hiccupped. Rain would ruin everything. “Henry, can you please hurry? We’ve got to get this rolling,” she yelled.
Cam pulled Rosie out of the Blue brothers’ earshot back beneath the tree. “Relax. It’s not going to rain.” She gestured to the patches of blue between the leaves. “There isn’t a cloud in the sky.”
“The Blue brothers are always right about the weather,” Rosie protested.
“Do you honestly believe that?” Cam asked, shifting on her cleats. “Maybe they just watch the weather radar every day.”
“The Channel Four weatherman uses a radar and gets the forecast wrong all the time. The Blue brothers never do. Mama said Mayor Grant only calls out the snowplows when they tell him to expect a couple inches,” Rosie said.
Cam shrugged. Why wasn’t she agreeing with Rosie? The air around them thickened as if a dense fog had seeped beneath the canopy of leaves.
“Hey, guys,” Henry whisper-yelled from above. “Did you ever think you’re both right? The Blue brothers could watch the radar and have Miracled powers. It’s like how beetles have wings same as other bugs but are also different because they only use their hind wings to fly since their forewings form elytra.” Henry closed his eyes. “Oh wow, I’m a little light-headed.”
Cam and Rosie looked at Henry, then at each other, and grinned. It was impossible not to smile when Henry used his weird bug logic to convince you of something.
Cam nodded up at the sky. “Rain or not, the movie is going to be great. I don’t know anyone else who could think up this cool of an opening scene except for you.”
Rosie’s cheeks warmed at Cam’s praise. “Let’s get the set ready.”
Rosie and Cam jogged back to the camcorder. Eight of the nine Nelson children were also gathered nearby and pointed at the tree, bouncing around like grasshoppers. Mr. Willis, who ran the Glimmer Creek Museum of Extraordinary Artifacts, and Mr. Waverman, the postman, had stopped walking and stared up at Henry. The Blue brothers readjusted their canes to get more comfortable.
“Can you please move out of the way,” Cam said in a loud voice to the crowd.
“That’s the problem with an open set,” Rosie whispered. “Ignore them.”
Henry inched his way out on the limb and grasped the rope, which he had looped and knotted around the tree. His skin had taken on a distinct greenish cast.
“Ready?” Rosie called to Henry.
“You’re sure this will hold me?” Henry said.
“Ropes don’t always hold,” Arthur said unhelpfully.
“Rope on the Blue Dolphin was triple knotted, but it still blew off,” Bill cautioned.
“Miracle we ever survived,” Charlie said.
“Oh brother,” Cam exclaimed a bit too loudly.
“Quiet on the set,” Rosie bellowed.
The murmuring of the makeshift audience ceased. Rosie leaned down and switched on the microphone and audio recorder. This was it, her big opening scene. Finger hovering over the record button, Rosie called out her favorite word, “Action!”
Henry pushed off from the limb, the rope gripped in his fists. For a second he dangled above them, not moving. His hands started to slide as the limb buckled. With a giant crack, the limb split off from the trunk.
“Ahhhhhhhhhh!” Henry screamed as he plummeted and crashed into the dirt with a terrific bang!
Rosie rushed over to Henry, her heart pounding. The fallen limb had cracked the seat of a nearby bench but luckily missed Henry entirely. He was already sitting up. Rosie would have breathed a sigh of relief if she hadn’t caught sight of a determined figure in a lemon-colored dress and a matching turban coming up the left-hand side of the park. She was moving slowly, but she was moving right toward them. It was Henry’s mama, Miss Betty.
“Henry George Thompson, what exactly is going on here?” Miss Betty screeched from halfway across the park.
Henry buried his head in his knees.
Miss Betty on a tear was bad enough, but it was about to get worse. Barreling straight at them from the right-hand side of the park was Sheriff Parker, his expression grim. Rosie considered the enormous tree limb and the damage to the bench and the filming without a permit (again). Her breath constricted as if someone had tied a bowline knot around her lungs.
“Oh no.” Cam groaned. “My parents are going to kill me.”
Rosie had to do something. She jerked her chin at Cam and Henry. “Run! You can still escape. I’ll handle this. Mama has plenty of practice in dealing with Sheriff Parker.”
Miss Betty was yards away but laser focused in on Henry. “Do I need to remind you that growth-plate fractures can cause crooked bones for the rest of your life?”
Henry shook his head at Rosie. “It’s too late for me.”
“Anyway, we’re not going to leave you here alone,” Cam said, tugging Henry to his feet. They took their places on either side of Rosie.
Sheriff Parker glared in Rosie’s direction. “Rosie? Care to explain?”
Rosie plastered on a smile. “Would you believe this branch just fell out of the sky and we happened to get caught beneath it?”
“No, I would not believe that. I’m getting tired of this movie business.” Sheriff Parker looked from the nearby tripod to the frayed rope to Rosie. “I think it’s time we had yet another talk about the appropriate use of town resources.”
“Don’t blame Cam and Henry. This was my fault.”
“Why am I not surprised?” Sheriff Parker said.
Miss Betty swooped in. She was clucking over Henry’s torn pants and lecturing about a “perilous situation.”
The littlest Nelson boy was crying, and the Blue brothers began examining the bench and shaking their heads in sorrow. Deputy Cordell, whom Rosie guessed had been immediately radioed by the sheriff after he saw them in the park, showed up and offered to take official statements on account of the destruction of town property. Sheriff Parker rubbed one hand along the top of his head, looking as if he wanted to scream.
Rosie gazed out at the endless sky, which was beginning to darken at the edges with ashy clouds. Arthur Blue was right. A storm was blowing in, and it looked like a big one.