Heartthrob Catastrophe

by Kristin Hardy

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    As I casually peered out the window, an unexpected stomach spasm began at the sight of an all-too-familiar car pulling into our driveway. It shot from the pit of my stomach, tickling its way upward, stopping briefly to flip-flop my heart, then climaxed in my throat with a delighted scream. Matthew Conally was here! Actually here at my house! He was only the most coveted hero on campus. And he was actually here!

    I began to run to the door, but just as I realized it wouldn’t look cool, I tripped, falling flat on my face, and from my now horizontal position, I had a horrifyingly realistic view of our living room floor. It was covered with blocks, Lincoln logs, doll clothes, doll furniture, a dollhouse, and among other things, that rotten Tonka truck I had just tripped over.

    As I picked myself up, another unexpected spasm began. Only it began in my throat, draining all the moisture, and dropped downward until it landed with a painful thump in the pit of my stomach. The living room was a total disaster area! What kind of an impression would it make? Grabbing up an armful of coats, newspapers, and books, I relocated them into the next room. Next, I began kicking anything else that would fit into and under the sofa and then threw the cushions back into their natural position on top. As I ran past the window, I could see that Matthew was having a hard time climbing over the tricycles in the driveway. I dumped another quick load down the hall just as the doorbell rang. A final glance around the room revealed that I had cleared out most of the clutter.

    Putting on my calmest smile and trying to concentrate all my 16 years into a look of maturity, I opened the door. Then there we were, face to face, Matthew Conally and me, his biggest fan.

    “Well hi!” I said in my sweetest, most surprised voice.

    “Hi. How are you?” came his refined reply.

    “Just fine. Won’t you come in?” I most invitingly smiled back.

    Matthew strolled through the door and handed me a book.

    “Well, I just dropped by to bring you back your book. You left it in the car the other night. You know, the night I brought the gang home.”

    “Oh, really? Gee, thanks for bringing it by. I was beginning to wonder where I had left it.” That was my coolest response yet, but I was letting my cool go too far. I knew darn well that I had left it on purpose as an excuse to see him again.

    But of all times, why had he chosen this day to return it! The whole house was such a mess because I was in charge. Mother was in the hospital with a new baby. It was very evident that I wasn’t as organized as she. I watched Matthew’s puzzled expression as he looked around the room and into the kitchen. That was the worst spot in the whole house! Nothing in the kitchen was in its proper place. Aside from every dish, pot, and pan piled high in the sink, every box, package, mixing bowl, and canister was stacked on the counters.

    With a crush like I had on Matthew, I knew enough about his life history to write a book. He was an only child, and it didn’t take much to know he’d never seen a mess like this one. Matthew was suddenly aware I was watching him. He calmly lifted his eyebrows and tried to explain.

    “Oh, I, I was just wondering if, if I could have a drink of water.” He seemed pleased at his quick response.

    “Sure,” I said, “but you’ll have to excuse the mess.” This seemed like the only natural thing to say. I reluctantly led him into the kitchen and was even further embarrassed to find that there weren’t any clean cups. Quickly I grabbed a clean bowl and filled it. Then I handed it to him with an apologetic smile.

    “You’re lucky today,” I chuckled encouragingly, “sometimes it gets down to plates!” Matthew didn’t say anything. I was going to explain about Mom and the new baby and me being in charge of eight younger brothers and sisters, plus the house, when Kent and Steve came running into the kitchen chasing each other. They made it around our legs twice and over the kitchen table, throwing chairs for barricades. After they had made two more laps, I was furious and, without thinking, handed the baby I had rescued from the floor to Matthew and excused myself.

    I ran after the boys, even though their size was in their favor. They darted around the furniture in the bedroom—over, under, through, and between. I finally caught two handfuls of hair and found, much to my delight, a brother attached to each. After threatening them with the termination of their lives, I returned to the living room, panting. There I found Matthew still holding little Jerry in the same position. He hadn’t moved an inch. It was obvious he didn’t know what to do with the baby. When he saw me, he quickly handed him back, giving Jerry a nasty little smile.

    “What in the world is he wearing?” he asked.

    “Oh … ah … it’s a towel. We’re all out of clean diapers.”

    We sat down as I tried to explain about the circumstances.

    “You see, the washing hasn’t been done yet. My mom is in the—” Again my explanation was interrupted. Matthew’s eyes suddenly grew terrified, and he opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something. Quickly I grabbed Jerry, prying his teeth away from Matthew’s arm. Little Jerry was teething and happened to like the feel of flesh against his sore little mouth. But Matthew didn’t understand.

    “I think he likes you,” I told him reassuringly.

    “And I think you’re right,” he replied as the baby once again squirmed his way back onto his lap. But this time, very much to Matthew’s relief, Jerry sat quietly, beaming his toothy grin. Then into the room came Kent and Steve and Lori and Cathy, dancing and singing, “Ginnie’s got a boyfriend! Ginnie’s got a boyfriend!” One glance at the look on my face, and they knew it was time to leave.

    My anger and embarrassment were suddenly forgotten as I heard Matthew’s terrified voice announce, “I think he’s wet!” Again I quickly rescued Jerry from his lap. Jerry wasn’t wearing plastic pants and, boy, was Matthew soaked!

    “Where’s the bathroom?”

    “Gosh, I’m sorry about all this.”

    Matthew followed me down the hall. Then as I opened the door I found myself staring at another embarrassing mess! I had forgotten I had hung flannel sheets in place of towels on the racks. Again I was apologizing.

    “I used all the towels as diapers!”

    “What kind of a madhouse do you live in?” I was surprised to find his good looks fading away with his anger. “This place ought to be condemned!”

    Matthew stomped into the bathroom and slammed the door behind him as I began to apologize. The doorbell rang. I slowly walked down the hall back to the living room and sank down onto the sofa. I just couldn’t face anyone now.

    The bathroom door swung angrily open. Out charged Matthew with a huge wet spot on his pants. It looked terrible. He said nothing, just stormed out of the house.

    “My mom had a baby,” I quietly called after him. “It was a girl.”

    The front door had been left open and in through it came Charlie. Good old Charlie Miller, the best piggyback-ride-giver and sidewalk-snow-shoveler in the neighborhood, with a smile big enough to make a pumpkin jealous.

    “Hi, Ginnie! I rang the bell, but nobody answered. Hey, what’s wrong? What was Matthew Conally doing here?”

    He sat down and listened as I told him about the whole horrible mess. Suddenly I was surprised to hear the sound of laughter. Charlie thought it was funny! And then I was laughing, too. We howled until we thought we’d break. The tears were rolling down my face from pure delight. How come everything suddenly seemed so funny?

    Charlie had come over with a pie his mother had baked. But it was after he had changed Jerry’s diapers and was helping with the dishes that I realized he was truly something special. Quietly I slipped my name bracelet into his coat pocket—just in case he needed a reason to come back over.

    Illustrated by Phyllis Luch