Melissa shifted awkwardly in the driver’s seat. They’d been stuck in traffic for hours, and her bladder swelled like a water balloon while the incessant drone of pounding rain exacerbated the discomfort. “Any luck?” she asked Leland, who held his phone to his ear.
“It went to voice mail again.”
“She’s probably gabbing with her friends.”
Leland tucked his flip phone away and pointed to the dashboard’s GPS display. “Can this thing find us a detour?”
Melissa poked at the touch screen. “I hope so. I need to find a restroom, stat!”
“How’s your gas?”
“Half a tank.”
Leland rubbed a clean spot on his window and noticed the water level rising in relation to the tires on the cars stuck in traffic beside him. “The road’s really starting to flood.” He changed the radio station to find a weather update. “We should get to higher ground.”
“This is crazy,” Melissa grumbled to herself.
…heavy rains continue to pound the Nashville metropolitan area, triggering flash flood conditions in certain low-lying portions of Davidson County as more thundershowers move in from the west. Standing water on Interstates sixty-five and forty have brought traffic to a halt with more than six inches of rainfall already reported by the National Weather Service. A dynamic jet stream moving in from the Gulf of Alaska southward into central Mexico and then northward through the Mississippi Valley region continues to drive widespread thunderstorms and heavy rainfall over the mid-Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland River Valleys. Forecasters predict another four to five inches over the next thirty-six hours as a string of thunderstorms continue to siphon warm air from the Gulf of Mexico. Dozens of road closures have been reported in Bellevue, Franklin, and Antioch as water continues to rise.
Melissa tried Jonathan’s cell phone. When the call dropped, she tried Adam’s and left a message. She tried Tomás but kept getting a busy signal. “I can’t get through.”
Leland tried Abby’s phone again and heard an out of service prompt. “Me neither.”
Melissa forced her knees together and rubbed her legs to suppress her swollen bladder. “If I were a man I could stick my junk out the window and pee.”
“I suppose a penis has its advantages,” Leland offered with a straight face.
Melissa grinned demurely. “Should I be worried about my boys?”
“I’m sure they’re fine. This storm will let up soon.”
Melissa tapped her fingers on the steering wheel and tried her phone again. She needed her boys to tell her they were okay; to make her feel guilty for worrying about nothing. But she had reason to worry and reason to accept what her intuition kept telling her. The storm was not a passing front or a run-of-the-mill disturbance dumping water for a couple hours. It was a living, breathing beast with its teeth sunk in and no intention of letting go. “What if we can’t reach anyone?”
“We keep trying until we do.”
Melissa laid on the horn to prompt the driver in front of her to move up. Then she pulled a U-turn, clipping the car’s back bumper.
Leland stiff-armed the dashboard and braced himself against the passenger door. “What are you doing?”
“Getting the hell out of here.”
“You just hit that car!”
Melissa drove on the shoulder to pass the stalled traffic that extended for miles along I-24. Deep water splashed inside the wheel wells. “Desperate times. Desperate measures.” She accelerated to thirty miles an hour, and for the moment, the urge to pee subsided.
Jonathan kept his phone tucked away with the ringer off while the action movie Losers played on the big screen in front of him. Seated near the back of the packed theater with Abby on his right side and a large Dr. Pepper in the cup holder on his left, he found it awkward to hold the popcorn bag for a girl with one arm—on account of her having to reach across her own body from right to left every time she had the munchies. To complicate matters, he couldn’t put his right arm around her shoulder without having to hold the popcorn bag with his left, which seemed like no big deal at first until his nerves got the better of him. He thought about switching seats, but that proved difficult as well. First base never seemed so far away.
Abby didn’t just look different from other girls. She was different, and in a good way. He could tell she liked him as a friend. He hoped she liked him as something more.
He sipped his drink and kept the popcorn bag in Abby’s reach. Even with all the gratuitous violence unfolding on the screen, Abby held his undivided attention.
If he sat on her other side, he could reach for her hand. A task less daunting than trying to swing his arm around her shoulder and look cool in the process. Does she want me to? Will she care if I do? Will she be mad if I don’t?
The situation seemed overly complicated, and the more he thought about it, the more he second-guessed every move. No matter how hard he tried to convince himself to make the move, his arm failed to budge, which left him holding the popcorn bag. Tomás warned him girls were complicated.
He leaned in closer to Abby. He wanted to touch her leg in lieu of a left arm that wasn’t there, but he knew better. At least he thought he did. If her arm was there, he’d touch her hand. Nothing wrong with starting slow. What he gained in desire, he lacked in confidence. If he got up and moved to her right side, problem solved. Then again, she might wonder what he was doing in the middle of the movie.
He thought about excusing himself to use the restroom and then returning down the opposite aisle. Seemed simple enough. Yet even the simplest approach brought major trepidation. If he couldn’t bring himself to put his arm around her, he had no hope of trying to kiss her. Unless she tried to kiss him first, which never seemed to happen in the real world.
Don’t over-think it, Tomás would tell him. Girls know when a boy is interested in them. They have a sixth sense about such things. If she likes you, you’ll know it.
But how? he wondered. Abby wasn’t holding flashcards with “kiss me” written on them or sending text messages with instructions. Practically everyone in school had a girlfriend they made out with in the hall between classes. Everyone except Jonathan Hamilton.
He sipped his Dr. Pepper, preoccupied by his own shenanigans when Abby reached across for the bag of popcorn and parked it between her legs. Now he didn’t dare touch the bag. Just when he thought he had the inside track, Abby changed the rules again.
Then genius struck him.
He could lean a little closer when she wasn’t looking and gradually bring his cheek toward her face. He would ask for the popcorn and startle her. She would turn her head and brush her lips against his cheek. If she liked him, she could kiss him on purpose. If not, no harm, no foul. The plan seemed easy enough, assuming he could get close enough without looking lame.
He let her chew for a moment, timing his move during an action-packed scene. He had his mind made up with no intention of backing down—until the soundtrack stopped abruptly and the image on the screen disappeared.
Emergency lights came on, followed by a collective moan from the audience who furthered their disapproval when the manager entered the theater to announce the power was out.