[Click here to read the first part of this story]
I swam out of the blackness to find I was still lying in the doorway of my house. But now my feet were propped up above the threshold by a wad of tissue, and I'd been covered by another thin sheet of tissue that wasn't doing a great job of keeping me warm.
"What happened?" I groaned.
A very large voice responded, "I think you fainted? I treated you for shock, but you might want to stay down for a while."
He was looming over me, staring curiously at me -- great, another mother hen -- and swigging from a quart carton of chocolate milk.
"Do you have to stare?" I asked.
He looked at the floor. "Sorry," he said. "I've just... I've never met somebody your size before."
So that part actually happened. Helen's grandson had seen me, had told me Helen was in the hospital. And something about assisted living... and...
I pushed the tissue sheet aside and sat straight up, and everything in my vision immediately spun and rippled. I leaned against the doorframe, trying to banish the spinning. "I need to talk to Helen," I said. "Does she have her cell with her?"
"Should be in her purse," he said, taking another swig of milk. I tried not to watch; seeing this gigantic person stand over me taking huge gulps of liquid made me uneasy. And a little nauseated.
"Where did you get that?" I asked, mostly to try to take my mind off the dizziness.
"What, the milk?" He held up the cardboard carton. (Helen always bought cardboard cartons; she claimed the plastic containers made the milk sour faster.) "It was in the fridge. This stuff's gonna expire soon. Figured I'd finish it up." After a moment, he added, "Why, you want some?"
Bleah. "I'm good. Be right back, I'm going to call Helen." I staggered to my feet, shook my head hard in an attempt to clear it, and walked -- gingerly -- into the den.
"Wait, you have a phone?" I heard him mutter, but I was too busy dialing Helen's number. It rang once and went straight to voice mail. I tried again; same thing. Mom and Dad told me never to leave a message; Helen knew to call us back. But where was she?
My head was still whirling, but I felt a little less queasy. I crossed back toward the front door, trying to think. If I couldn't get Helen on the phone...
"She's not picking up," I reported.
"Hmm. Last time I visited, the nurses kept turning her phone off," he said. "They told me she doesn't need any extra excitement."
"Well, that's probably true, but I've got to talk to her. And I think I'm going to need your help... um... did you tell me your name?..."
"Oh, no, sorry. I'm Grant. And you're Paula... do you have a last name?"
"Of course I have a last name," I said, feeling vaguely cross that he'd asked. "It's Forty-Seventeen."
"Forty. Seventeen," I repeated slowly.
He smirked. "I've never met anybody with a set of numbers for a last name before."
I was still feeling out of sorts, and Grant's amusement at my name was rubbing me the wrong way. "And I've never met a monstrosity who lips right off the milk carton and then offers me a helping of his spit," I retorted.
"Hey," he muttered. "I'm not a monstrosity."
"You are to me."
Now he looked annoyed as well. "Well, excuse me, Arrietty," he said. "I may be a lot bigger than you, but it's not fair to blame me for that. I can't help being this size any more than you can help being yours."
I was about to fire back when I thought of Mom: Soft answers, Paula. You have a sharp tongue, and it can cut your mouth just as easily as other people's ears. She was right. It would be stupid to anger or alienate Grant, just because I couldn't keep my temper. I took a breath, tried again.
"I'm sorry," I said. "It's been a rough few days. I just... I really need to get hold of Helen. If I could just talk to her, I'm sure we could straighten this all out."
Grant sat down again, finishing off the milk. "I could take you to the hospital," he said after a moment. "But we'd have to figure out how to get you there. Grandma says you don't like being seen, and you really don't like being picked up."
I felt a sudden swell of gratitude for Helen. "I don't," I said. "And I'm not about to be stuffed in a pocket, either."
Grant thought for a bit. He looked at me, then back at the now-empty milk carton. And I could practically hear the idea go ping! in his head. He pulled a multi-tool out of his back pocket.
"If I made this thing into a carrier," he asked, already cutting the top off the container, "would you ride in it?"
"Um. Assuming you wash it out first?"
"Don't worry, I'll clean it up." Suddenly his right hand was next to me, with the multi-tool in it, and I started away, thinking he was about to grab me. It took a second to realize he was measuring me. "OK, just over five inches," he muttered.
I clutched at my heart. "Will you warn me before you do that?!"
"Oh, right. Sorry. Didn't mean to scare you." He had the decency to look embarrassed. "I just want to get this the right size."
Then something occurred to me. "Oh wait, wait! Can I take my phone with me?"
"I... guess? How big is your phone?"
"Hang on." I went back to fetch the phone. It was too heavy to pick up, but I could slide it across the floor. I unplugged it from the charger and started scooting it along, stopping every now and then to let waves of dizziness pass.
When I was about halfway through the living room, Grant's voice echoed all around me. "Uh, Paula? Can I get permission to pick that up?"
One of his big dark eyes was looking through the open living room window. He could have just reached right into the house, but I had asked him to warn me -- and he'd listened.
"Sure," I said, and stepped back as a huge hand came through the open window and gathered up the phone like it weighed next to nothing -- which, for Grant, was probably true.
"Hmm. Well, I could jam it in there, but it won't give you much space," I heard him say. "I could put the phone in my pocket, if you're good with that."
I wasn't sure I was good with that, but I also wasn't up to arguing the point. "As long as we take it." After a minute's thought, I grabbed an oversized pillow off the living room couch and brought it to the door.
Grant had poked holes in the side of the carton and was busy cutting up a hinged lid. He glanced at me. "Pillow, huh?"
I sat down on the stoop, hugging the pillow to my chest. "Well, I'm guessing it's gonna be a bumpy ride."
He cocked his head in agreement. "Good point. I'll try to be careful, but I've never done this before."
"Yeah, me neither."
Grant stood up, and I had to suppress an urge to dart back into the house -- he was alarmingly huge. "Lemme see if Grandma has some string or yarn or something."
"T-there's string in the junk drawer," I said, and watched as he went into the kitchen.
What was I doing? Was I really going to leave this place with some massive stranger multiple times my size? I'd gotten used to Helen, of course, but even she wasn't as big as Grant.
When I was younger, every time someone visited, Helen would warn us and my parents would gather me up and hide in the secret attic room of our house until the visitors left. I wondered how often Grant had been one of those visitors, and yet I'd never seen him before. Did I dare trust this behemoth to take me anywhere?
There was still time to hide. He didn't know about our attic.
But he had my phone. I'd made him take my phone. My only connection to the outside world was currently nestled in his pocket.
I buried my face in the pillow and screamed mightily at my own stupidity. It didn't fix anything and my woozy head throbbed. Ugh. Mom and Dad would have known what to do, but me? I'd just turned 20 and had never set foot off Helen's property in my life. I was in no way prepared for this.
Well, I had to see Helen. And I wasn't going to let him take that phone away. I dropped the sofa pillow, went upstairs to my parents' bedroom and searched everything until I found Mom's dagger, small and still very sharp, in the chest of drawers. It wouldn't be much of a defense against giants, but it might buy me some time if I had to get away. I slipped it into my pocket and went down to see what Grant was doing.
He was back, having threaded the string through the holes on each side of the carton so he could wear the contraption around his neck. "All cleaned up and ready to go," he said as soon as he saw me. "Let's see how well it fits you." And he set it on its side in front of me, with the lid open.
I hesitated. I could still run. I could hide in Helen's house and he'd never find me. But he has my phone. And just as I wavered, there was a loud pounding at the front door.
"Helen Pratt?" came the VERY loud voice behind the pounding. And after a short pause, the pounding became a splintery thumping.
Grant went pale, swore softly. "They're breaking the door down," he whispered. "Quick. Quick!" And almost instinctively, I grabbed the pillow and dived into the carton. My stomach turned over as Grant flipped the container right side up, slipped it on over his head, and bolted for the back door.
For a while I had no idea what was going on. I was being jostled around so completely that it's a wonder my brains weren't scrambled, and the pillow didn't provide much insulation. I just curled up in the bottom of the carton and prayed I wouldn't scream, throw up or fall out.
Grant was panting, and I could feel his heart hammering right through the carton. "Hold on, Paula," he said. "I don't know... who those guys are... but something tells me... we don't wanna find out..."
Everything went dark. I guessed he had zipped up his jacket with the carton inside. And after that I couldn't make head or tail of the noises I was hearing, but at some point he must have stopped running, because I was no longer in constant danger of throwing up.
I thought about trying to get Grant's attention, or at least trying to get some fresh air, but I wasn't sure we were in a spot where he could respond without drawing attention to me. So I slumped on the pillow, leaning my head against the side of the carton -- which still smelled faintly of chocolate milk. I guessed I'd just have to sit tight for however long it took until we got to Helen.