Short Story: The Storm

After her boyfriend breaks up with her in front of half the school, Hailey dashes into the storm.

Clouds billowed in the south as Hailey dashed outside, her flip flops twisting under her feet and her arms pumping at her sides. It didn’t take long for summertime dew to form on her brow, but she didn’t slow. The breeze concentrated around her, brushing over her skin and through her ponytail, relieving only the slightest amount of discomfort caused by the heat. She kept running.

Her physical angst had yet to suppress her emotional turmoil. Nothing could. It pummeled her mind harder than the hot, muggy weather exhausted her physique. Heartbeats thudded in her chest as roiling misery swirled within her stomach. How could he do that? Walk away as if she were nothing? Look at her and laugh when the burning sensation in her eyes had relented to tears?

The tops of the trees waved gently just before their trunks bent with fury from the first gust of wind. Hailey watched the tempest roar toward her as she gazed southeast. There, under the glory of the white clouds, was the swirling wall of dust and sand. Her foot slipped off her sandal and onto the hot concrete, but she sped on.

She’d been warned. Not worth it. Scum. Stay away. They’d all said the same thing. Still, Burk’s silky smile and that weirdly exhilarating tingle she got when he stood close enough for his breath to tickle her neck were intoxicating.

The first flurries of sand whipped past her, stinging her eyes almost as much as the tears.

“It’s over.” He made the statement in front of half the school as she stood with books in her arms, waiting for him to walk her to class.

She giggled. “Stop it, Burk. Come on.”

How had she been so stupid as to think he was joking? The soft gleam in his eye morphed into a sardonic luster, yet it hadn’t been enough to tip her off.

“I’m going to be late,” she said.

“I’m not stopping you.” He draped his arm over Lisa’s shoulders, who smacked her watermelon gum between blinding teeth framed by cherry-red lipstick. “Lisa has algebra.”

Wind lashed at her ponytail as the dust churned in umber sheets that latched onto her, sinking into hidden creases and lining her tear-streaked face. She squinted at the sky. A dim amber shone in the southwest, nearly concealed by the storm. Her arms still pumped as pain rose from her feet into her shins.

The last class of the day had ended, and she’d stared at the empty parking lot, wondering how to get home. Her backpack had fallen from her shoulder as she’d sunk to a bench. Why would Sarah have waited? She’d gone to the chemistry early, angry at Hailey for her servile attitude around Burk.

Sarah narrowed her eyes at Hailey. “You don’t have to do everything he wants.”

“I don’t,” Hailey sputtered. “Besides, he hasn’t asked me to do anything today.”

“So I didn’t see you slip him your algebra homework this morning?”

“I, I…he just wanted to compare answers.”

“With an eraser? Sure.” She turned her back on Hailey but stopped short with her first step. “He’s using you.”

The clouds, so gloriously white before, gathered over the roiling dust and sand. Though Hailey knew they were gray underneath, the dirt spun too thickly around her to see anything but filth. It wasn’t just on the outside, though, it also laced her insides, pouring in with every breath.

She’d let him cheat off her homework, given him answers in the guise of tutoring, prepared research for reports. And it took him breaking up with her to see it. A few silky sentences had taken who she was and twisted her into something she’d sworn she’d never become. She couldn’t recover.

Though her legs tired and her lungs burned, she continued. Rolling thunder soon crashed within the sky as fingers of lightening fought to reach her. Pain seared in her side, yet she pushed on as drops of water struck the pavement, drying seconds later.

The last car in the teacher’s parking lot had turned onto the road before she started home. A note hung on the door when she got there. Went to dinner for Grandma’s birthday, expected you sooner. Leftovers are in the fridge. Grandma’s birthday. Hailey had thrown her backpack against the wall and screamed. It hadn’t helped. Yanking the door open, she’d run.

And she hadn’t stopped.

A flash of lightning lit the sky, followed almost immediately by a crash of thunder. The sky burst open. Rain fell too fast for the dry ground to soak it up. Hailey’s ponytail plastered itself against her neck. Loose strands of hair stuck to her cheeks. Gritty skin softened, and Hailey jumped into the water rushing down the gutter. Water splashed her thighs. She stopped running. As she glanced up, the rain pelted her face and streamed toward her ears. Opening her mouth, tiny droplets caressed her dry tongue and throat. Arms wide, she spun in a circle.

So she’d been stupid—fell for a guy because he sent tingles down her spine? She wasn’t the first. Probably wouldn’t be the last. It hurt, but she could climb beyond the storm, start anew, blossom in a different way. But first…

She spun one last time and looked up the block. The house hadn’t changed. That was a good sign, right? After knocking, she waited.

“What?” Sarah had opened the door a crack and peeked through. “You’re soaked.”

“Yeah…” Hailey scratched the ground with her foot. “Burk broke up with me.”

“Oh.”

Hailey crinkled her nose. “You were right.” She startled as a crash of thunder ripped through the sky and the rain tempered. “I screwed up.”

“You did.”

“I’m not going to fall for that kind of thing again. I shouldn’t have in the first place.”

The corner of Sarah’s mouth raised, and she swung the door wider. “Well, he is pretty cute.”

“Not that cute.”

Sarah giggled. “Want some dry clothes?”

Hailey held her t-shirt out and glanced at it. “Nah. I’m good in these. See you tomorrow, okay?”

The door shut behind Hailey as she shuffled down the driveway. Sore muscles and exhaustion brought a smile to her face as she gazed at the street. A few fallen tree limbs blocked the sidewalk, and sand blanketed the road where water had run toward the retention basin. Lifting her eyes, she gazed at the sky. The last of the sunlight set behind the hills in the west, leaving red, pink, and orange painted across the remaining wispy clouds. Listening, she heard lizards rustling under the bushes and reveled in the fragrance of creosote and mesquite as it wafted through the fresh air of the renewed desert, cleansed by the churning monsoon.

                  Photograph by Alan Stark 2011
Please follow and like us:

A Christmas Prayer

With Bria gone, Christmas dulled my life, but then I discovered she still lit everything around me.

Loosely based on a true story. A Christmas Prayer remembers grief while celebrating life.

A Christmas Prayer is loosely based on a true story.

A Christmas Prayer

The blaring beep from my alarm sent waves of stress through my body, and I slammed my hand against the off button. My pillow soon dampened as sobbing wails found themselves lost in its fluff. No one should expect me to get out of bed, not today. Not this month.

“Why Christmas?” The words slipped past my lips though no one listened. Lights and baubles, reindeer songs, and happy wishes adorned the world outside. Everyone else forgot. Not me. I couldn’t. With only dry laments remaining, I crawled from my bed and sank to the floor.

Slurred words and stumbled steps filled my memory. Bria had left her bedroom expecting an exhilarating Christmas only to find herself rushed to the hospital instead. We lived a nightmare that day.

Pulling myself from the rug, I dressed without worry of what I wore and staggered to my car. With the steering wheel in my hands, I repeated the same mantra I had for several weeks: work will force my mind to other things. I never believed the lie.

At work, happy faces blurred as I walked past co-workers. I bowed my head and clutched my purse. Smiling hurt when my sincerity failed.

Bria always knew when I faked smiling. She would never have forgiven my sallow behavior. The year I lost my job, she forced me through the front door and down the street. Pointing at every light we passed, she’d mentioned something that made her happy. Then, after a block, she looked at me.

“Your turn Mom.”

I shook my head and backed away. “We should go home.”

“Not until I see you smile.”

My lips parted and I flashed my teeth at her. It probably looked like a grimacing growl. “There.”

She rolled her eyes. “Nice try. Look,” she pointed, “what do the lights on that house remind you of?”

“I don’t know… The electric bill I can’t afford.”

Her head flung back and she stared at the sky. “M-o-o-m.”

“Okay.” I stomped my cold feet. “It reminds me of…tucking you in at night.”

“That’s better.”

A few houses away, I pulled her into a hug, a genuine grin on my face. “Bria, I’ll forever be happy as long as I have you.”

“I still expect a big Christmas gift.”

A snort escaped me but was accompanied by a smile. “I’ll get right on that.”

“Good. And I suppose I can give up cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate for breakfast.” She nudged me with her shoulder. “But don’t burn the oatmeal, okay?”

The office relaxed through the holidays, and once the party started, I slipped out. I might not get away from all the celebration, but I wouldn’t ignore the presented escape either. Leaving my car in the lot, I walked down the street. My fingers reddened in the cold breeze, and I slipped my gloves from my jacket pocket.

The city always set up an ice rink in the winter. It was right around the corner. Ice skating was Bria's favorite winter activity. As she and her friends got older, they went without parents, but Bria still found time to drag me onto that ice. She twirled and skated. I shuffled and fell.

People said the pain would wane. They were wrong. I missed her more each day.

Recent snow lined the walks, and I listened to it crunch under my shoes as I passed the rink. The local churches had set up nativities under the picnic ramada for the week, and a vendor cart with warm drinks greeted people at the park’s entrance. I joined the queue.

My eyes fell on a young girl dressed in a worn coat dancing in the distance. Her long ponytails swirled behind her with every graceful pirouette she made. The woman with her heartily applauded. She could only be the girl’s mother. With a drink in my hand, I found a bench and sat, captivated. How many times had I watched Bria the same way? My eyes burned and I blinked rapidly, then followed the crowd of people toward the nativities.

A year of pent-up anger surged within me, and I clung to it with all my might. How could I celebrate without Bria? God could have stopped it. She would still be with me if He’d allowed it. But He hadn’t.

Blinking no longer satiated the burning in my eyes. I swept tears away with my gloved hand, then stilled as a quiet voice spoke in my mind. Listen.

I stepped down the aisle, gazing at the various nativities. Porcelain. Wood. Some were Precious Moments. One was Peanuts—Woodstock played the Christ child.

Listen.

I tried but heard nothing.

I took another step.

Listen.

The crowd buzzed quietly among separate groups. I waited.

“Why?” a young voice asked.

“We can’t afford it this year,” an older voice answered.

“But we always have a tree.”

I spun. The same mother and daughter I had seen before stood near the nativity behind me.

“I want one too.” The mom bent down, holding her daughter’s shoulders. “What if we take old boxes, color them green, and make a tree?”

Bria would have loved that.

The girl bounced on her feet. “Okay. Can I color ornaments on it too?”
“That’s a great idea!”

As they passed, the girl met my eyes and smiled. I smiled back—not a fake smile—a sincere one. A warmth surrounded my heart, and I reached for the mother’s arm. She turned.

“I heard your conversation.” My fingers dug through my purse. “Something told me to listen. I think God placed you in my life today.” Money slipped from my hand to hers, my chin trembling. “My daughter died on Christmas day last year from a brain aneurysm. She still lights up my life when I let the happiness in. Please buy a tree.” I bowed my head. “But will you do one thing for me?”

The mother’s eyes glistened. “I can’t take this.”

“You can. It means everything to me. Please.”

She nodded and squeezed her daughter’s hand.

“One thing, though. Buy an angel ornament, too, and hang it on the tree.” I tilted my head as my face crumpled. “Say a little prayer for my Bria.”

The mother reached her hand toward mine. “We will. Thank you.”

As I headed toward the office parking lot, I smiled sincerely for the second time. “God, please send me a family to help every Christmas. Bria would like that.”

Read more short Christmas stories on kameomonson.com, where you can also download your free copy of Sometimes a Bird has to Fly.

Please follow and like us: