She came in with the storm. If you believed the news, the Eastern Seaboard was drowning: Hurricane Harry dragged tidewaters up and over train tracks, beach clubs, and highways on its steady way north. I'd prepared Declan for the eventuality that she might not make it to us. It wouldn't have been the first time. But she left Philly just in time to stay ahead of the floods and the worst of the weather, pulling her car into the garage as the first fat drops of rain fell on the driveway. When he heard the low thrum of the garage door heaving open, Declan abandoned his markers.
"Is it her? Is she here?" he asked me, dancing antsily in the mudroom.
"Sounds like," I said, closing my laptop. "Put on your shoes if you want to go check."
He pulled on his Crocs, neon green and studded with crazy charms she'd brought him on her last visit. A baseball pack filled with miniature versions of the sport's paraphernalia, even a tiny peanut. He hated the game - had in fact refused to entertain the idea of joining the peewee league just the month before - but he put those Jibbitz on his shoes as soon as she handed them to him, just thrilled to have something she gave him.
"Mommy!" I heard him shout from the garage. I closed my eyes and imagined the scene: her, stretching lanky arms over her head to relax her spine after the long drive. Him, thumping down the wooden stairs like the world's smallest elephant, throwing himself around her knees.
I hovered by the kitchen sink, looking for something to wash and keep my hands busy upon her entry.
"... and then we watched Finding Nemo, because it was the last day before vacation. Have you watched it?"
"Yes, baby, so many times! I even wanted to name you Nemo, you know, but your Daddy wouldn't let me."
I rolled my eyes before turning to greet her.
"Welcome back, Natalie."
The clouds were dark as bruises. The thunder came before the lighting - low growls from the south that made Declan shiver and pause his stream-of-consciousness update on his life for Natalie. He'd never been good with bad weather, sneaking into my bed whenever a storm blew through.
"Honey, why don't you go collect some of your drawings to show me?" Natalie asked in one of his pauses. He scurried upstairs as though he were being chased. "Thanks for letting me stay. Work sent us home, and my apartment is smack dab in the middle of the flood zone."
"It's still your house."
"I know." A pause, filled with the steady drum of rain on the deck. "But I also know it's not my home anymore."
"I didn't say that. I didn't make that choice."
"Dan, this really isn't fair. You know I needed -"
"Yeah, I know what you needed. More than I could offer you."
"I needed that job, and we needed that money. Stop making this harder than it has to be."
"Look at these!" Declan shouted, tossing crumpled and colorful sheets of printer paper on the table. She crooned over them, twisting them this way and that.
"Wow, these are so good. Is that a dog?"
"No," he grumbled, all the wind taken out of his sails. "It's an alligator. Can't you see the teeth?"
"Oh, yes, now I do. Thanks for helping me see it."
"Whatever. When's dinner?"
Flickers of lightning forked in the distance. Outside, trees thrashed in whipping winds. I peered at the gush of the gutters I could see through the windows and prayed they wouldn't clog with the storm's detritus.
The power went out just as we cued up Finding Nemo. Declan screamed and Natalie cuddled him while I went scrambling for candles and flashlights. When I returned, burdened with light, I found him crying in her lap.
"It's ok, honey," she said. "We can watch the movie later, when the lights are back on."
"You won't be here later," he sniffled. "You always leave before you keep your promises."
"I'm gonna keep this one, little guy. Now we just have to figure out what we're going to do in the dark!"
The game of Monopoly fell apart when the hail started. Declan hid under a blanket, like it would protect him better than the roof above. A roof I worried about. In the blinding flashes of lightning, I saw blueberry-sized nuggets of ice dimpling the grass of the lawn. Were those shreds of shingles I saw there, too?
"Hey, scaredy-cat," Natalie sang. "What's got you hiding?"
"The thunder's gonna 'splode the house," he mumbled.
"Can you come out from under there? I want to show you something that will help you feel better. Dan, put out the lights."
"What? That's not going to help anything," I said, but did as she asked.
"Come to the window with me."
"Natalie, I really don't think any of us should be by the windows right now."
"Shush. Come here, you little lump of blanket. I'm going to teach you how far away the lightning is."
Long ago, there were two lovers named Lightning and Thunder. They were one and the same, call and response, light and the sound that came with it. In the air above the world, still new, they wound around one another and were together always.
But one day, the clouds that swam around them swirled and parted, and Lightning saw that there was something new on the world. There were tall trees and buildings, small people milling around with beautiful clothes and things to say.
"Let's go see what's there," she told her lover.
"No," he growled. "There's nothing there for us. Stay with me here, in the place that is our home."
But Lightning was not easily dissuaded. So one dark night, she left her lover and speared down into the Earth. She tasted the bark of the tall pine, the metal of the sky scraper, the dusty chalk of the desert. Full of delight, she plunged again and again, bright in the night.
When he woke and found his lover gone, Thunder roared with fury. He flew across the world in search of her - but always just behind her, always chasing.
That's why, when you see Lightning, you don't hear the Thunder until after. Now, there, you see the flash? One one thousand. Two one thousand. Three one thousand. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Boom! There he is!
Don't be scared. He's still two miles away from us, and he's just looking for his love.
Declan settled easily into bed, no longer trembling with the thunder, pleased with his new understanding of the world. We left him with a flashlight.
Natalie followed me into my bedroom. Our bedroom, really, though she'd been sleeping in the guest room on her last few visits.
"You couldn't have just told him something scientific?" I asked her, sitting heavily on the old mattress. I didn't bother turning on a flashlight.
"He's too young to have all the magic stripped from the world."
"He's too young for his mom to be three states away."
"Then come with me," she pleaded. "Sell the house. You can find a new job in Philadelphia."
"I won't chase you, not like you wanted in your fucking story. You knew the deal when you married me. This place has always been my home. You can't ask me to sell the place that kept three generations of my family safe."
"Yeah, I know," she said sadly. "It's not easy for me, either." She sat beside me, curling into my side, my arm cradling her of its own volition. "I miss this."
"Then come back."
The storm was upon us. The wind screamed in the eaves, thunder shook the windows in their frames as lightning struck nearby, no separation between their iterations.
Declan came sprinting into the room, the flashlight's beam bouncing before him.
"He found her!" he shouted. "They're here together!" He jumped into the bed and squeezed himself between us. The core of our love. We watched the light play on the walls, diluted by streams of water that rippled across the windowglass. For how long we sat there, I couldn't tell. I stopped counting.
Slowly, slowly, lightning and thunder separated again, the seconds stretching between them.
"Why is she going?" Declan asked Natalie.
"He wants her to go home. But she has more places to see, so she has to go again."
"I wish she could just stay," he sighed.
"I thought you hated storms, silly goose." He yawned and stretched his arms up and over his head, so like her it brought a lump to my throat.
"Not so much anymore. Can I sleep with you tonight?" he asked us.
"Sure, buddy," I said, and Natalie and I shared our bed for the last time with him snoring between us.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
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The story invoked strong personal emotions
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Writing reflected the title & theme