Not Thunder, But Closer

A clattering sound roused Jane from her book. The pouring rain had tied the wind chimes into a lumpy knot, bumping against the glass door with the full force of a small bird ramming into the glass.

With a sigh she slid off of her stool to fix it. Thunder rumbled in the heavy clouds above. Through the rain-stained glass Jane watched the city's crowd swelling forwards in the streets, businessmen with briefcases over their heads, umbrellas sprouting from the gray crowd like poppies from the damp earth.

Closing her eyes, Jane could almost see them. Crumpled red petals never fully unfurled, with the clinging scent of soil. Her mother's voice close by her ear, almost low as the hum of bees, telling her about the different colors—

"No," Jane said aloud, almost gasping. She opened her eyes. The familiar sight of the convenience store racks under white fluorescent lights calmed her.

Blurriness came into her eyes, not the cold of rain, but warm, too warm. Biting down her lip, Jane swallowed a sob. She would not cry. She would not be weak.

Another clatter. The wind chime slammed against the glass.

Raising her hand, Jane wiped her eyes with a sleeve. Outside the people still passed by, little blurs of color on the other side of the glass.

The clock above the ice cream counter read 5:34. Just a while more before he came. Just a little while more before she could forget about all this.

She used to love the rain. The soft patter of it soaking into the earth soothed her.

That was too long ago. How the rain shattered against the cold concrete, running down into the drains—it ground against her nerves. She didn't like the city, but what choice did she have. School was school, and work was work.

It would have been unbearable, if she were alone. But of course, she wasn't.

Jane laid her hand against the glass door.

It was a stupid quirk. Nothing she couldn't get over.

Besides, it would only be a second.

Taking a deep breath, she pushed.

Rain battered against her face, her clothes, soaking them immediately. Grinding her teeth together, Jane stood on her tiptoes, reached for the wind chimes. They swung just out of reach, ringing a disordered jingle.

Wind whipped around her, pushed at her, ripped the chimes from her fingertips once more. She stumbled, almost lost balance. But she was so close—

In the distance, a rumble. But not thunder; no, this was closer, higher-pitched… a car speeding across the road, tires bursting through puddles in sprays.

One moment Jane stood, frozen, suspended in the doorway.

Then she was on the ground.

Cold concrete pressed against the warm patches on her bare arms. Raising them, she saw red.

People swarmed around her. Some stopped, stared. They loomed above her, in her wavering sight.

"No, no, no," Jane muttered, pressing her hands into her face, trying to get away. Anything to get away.

In that split second, she was there. Years younger, in the worst place possible.

Rain, dripping from the roofs, puddling across the uneven streets. Her mother's warm hand, pulling her through the crowd that towered over her. So many people in the city, so different from what she knew at home where the children played on the narrow sidewalks, and cars were far and few between.

The red lights jumped to a little green man. Jane giggled as everyone began to walk. The hard angles of the city seemed softer under rain, less menacing. They trailed behind the others crossing the road as Jane looked all around, drinking in the sight of the city.

That's when she heard the rumble. Like thunder, but closer. A screech, grating against her eardrums, splitting through the haziness of the rain.

For a split second she felt her mother's hand tighten around hers, squeezing it until it hurt.

Then it was gone.

Smoke rose from the tire tracks of the car, halfway across the crossing. People swarmed around Jane, even taller than before. Someone had pushed her to the ground.

Red clouded the puddles around her. Clambering to her feet, she pushed through the crowd, crying, calling for her mother.

Sharp pain brought her back. A deep shudder shook her body. She curled up on the ground, sobbing. Weak, useless. Just like always.

""It's all my fault…" she muttered, "It's—"

Arms closed around her, the surprise muffling her. Warm arms, hands pressing against her back. All too familiar.

"Hey," a voice said near her ear, "You're going to be all right."

She felt weak. Too weak even to lift her arms.

"John," she whispered, "It's my fault…"

He pulled away. Fear coursed through her body, stark as electricity. He was going to leave her now. She was going to be alone in this city, forever and ever.

When she looked up, she looked into his eyes, softer than the rain. A tiny smile curved his lips, too small even to bring the single dimple into his cheek.

"Hey," he said, "Don't be silly."

She knew those words. Words that he had said, that rainy day when she cried under the arches in the college. Alone in this city where her family broke apart, where she held her mother for the last time without knowing what that meant.

Under those arches, in the heart of that cold city he held her, looked into her eyes, smiled, and spoke.

"I love you," she said, wrapping her arms around him, holding him tight as if someone would tear them apart, "I love you so much."

They held each other until the rain stopped, and the sun shone over each puddle until they turned red, like poppies.

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