When first meeting 10-year-old Riley Harris, he's on crutches, wearing a blue T-shirt depicting a big shark taking a huge bite out of a surfboard.
Riley politely shakes my hand and deftly climbs into a booth alongside his sister, Sophie, and mother, Leslie.
He's had some summer. He also feels like he might just be one of the luckiest kids in the Lowcountry.
On Aug. 6, Riley and some friends were on their boogie boards in shallow water near the Washout at Folly Beach.
They were in a tidal pool near a sandbar in barely 18 inches of water and people were fishing nearby. These details are still very clear as we talk.
At first, he thinks he steps on something. He feels a sharp tingle on his right heel. Then, there's another sensation further up his leg and he's very aware of intense pressure.
The fifth-grader yells "Help, holy moley - a shark!" He also confesses to saying a few other words as he began to paddle to shore.
Three minutes earlier, Leslie and Sophie decided they were leaving the beach and Riley would stay just a while longer with his friends and their mother, Wendy McKenzie.
Before they were off the island, Leslie's phone rang and her friend, Wendy, was telling her to come back.
Wendy, a trained nurse, would only say Riley needed her and to hurry.
Upon her return, Leslie saw her son and his bloody leg in the hands of emergency technicians. As she held her son's head against her body, 8-year-old Sophie began to cry.
During it all, as the techs attempted to stop the bleeding, Riley reached over to his little sister, grabbed her hand and said, "Don't cry, it's gonna be OK."
This is one brave little man.
But wait, there's more
If this was all that happened to Riley this summer, it would be enough. Three weeks before his shark encounter, a huge storm settled in over the family's James Island neighborhood. Riley decided to sleep with some other children in his sister's room.
The thunder was deafening, the lightning was popping everywhere. About 11 p.m., a huge bolt of lightning delivered a loud crack that made everybody shiver.
The next morning, the computers, televisions, coffee makers and toasters in the house all were fried. There was an additional discovery. A gaping, charred hole in the side of the house outside Riley's bedroom.
Once again, Riley understands he's a lucky little boy.
What's the takeaway?
As Riley starts his fifth-grade year at West Ashley Montesorri Community School, he knows he'll be asked one or two questions about what he did this summer.
The surgeon said he lost count of the number of stitches he used to close the bite marks on Riley's foot and leg.
In time, Riley says he'll go back into the water because he's certain what happened was an accident and the shark didn't mean to hurt him.
Besides, he says, shark bites are so insanely rare, how could it possibly happen again?
Soon, the crutches will be in the closet and he'll be cleared for running and jumping and climbing and doing all the other things 10-year-olds do.
What he still can't understand is how kind and generous people have been. He's been overwhelmed. There have been gifts that included shark-themed T-shirts and the very edible gummy sharks. There's also a gift certificate to a local tackle shop to secure this special rod and reel he's been eyeing.
It's a summer he won't soon forget. Not many people have stories of shark bites and lightning strikes within the space of three weeks.
When he's totally recovered, Riley says his grandfather wants to ride with him to buy a lottery ticket.
Above all, Riley may ultimately realize how lucky he is to have so many people who care about him. That's a valuable lesson to learn so early in life.
Reach Warren Peper at 937-5577 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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