THE TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
The wind suddenly picked up as she looked out from the porch. A wall of dark clouds was pushing across the horizon and a light chop had developed on the lake, gently rocking the tiny rowboat tied to the dock. The changing seasons always brought unpredictable weather. Just as she was about to turn toward the door, movement in the water caught her attention. She squinted and then her eyes opened wide. Rushing down the stairs, she kicked off her shoes, and raced to untie the boat…
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
It was the peak of monsoon season and the Arizona heat infiltrated the crevices of our home, filling every room with warm, humid air. Despite heavy curtains and a cooling system, the master bedroom still felt like a sauna.
I had just stepped out of the shower, my second one that day, when squeals of laughter penetrated the thin, exterior walls. The sweet giggles of our son playing outside in the yard. A sound that should have warmed my heart, but instead, summoned sadness.
I slipped on a sundress and sandals and wandered out of the bedroom to the raised deck that overlooked the backyard. Looking down, I surveyed the action. Jack was splashing around the toddler pool with dog toys, foam noodles, and plastic boats, while our Boston Terrier, Dodger, supervised, occasionally dashing off in search of additional goodies.
Our trusted babysitter and nephew, Ryan, unfortunately was less attentive, sprawled out on a nearby lawn chair, chatting on the phone with his latest fling. Obviously aware that I paid the bills, he sat up and waved when he spotted me on the deck.
“Ryan,” I yelled. “Watch the weather. The radio mentioned a possible storm.”
“Sure thing, Aunt Nicole.” He stood and peered into the sky in each direction, then paused to point at dark heavy clouds that hung low in the eastern horizon.
“There.” He smiled broadly, proud of his main achievement for the day.
“Very good. Now do that again every ten minutes,” I added.
He nodded before resuming his lounging position.
“Mommy.” Jack clambered over the ledge of the pool. With his Spiderman trunks glued to his legs, he waddled towards the stairs leading up to the porch.
I met him halfway. “Hi, sweetie.” His soggy dark hair stuck to his scalp and remnants of baby fat protruded over his waistband. “Having fun?” I sniffled, holding back the tears.
“Ryan won’t get in the pool,” he muttered, before jutting out his bottom lip.
“Teenagers can be so boring. I bet Dodger would play with you.” I forced a smile.
“Maybe. I’ll go find him.” Jack hurried off and, as I advanced up the stairs, his voice boomed over the yard. “Stop Dodger. No digging, boy. Drop it.”
“Great. Now he decides to start digging.” I shook my head as I re-entered the house.
As the door closed behind me, my phone rang across the room. I bolted to pick it up off the nightstand and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the image of my husband flash over the screen.
“Derek, thank God it’s you.”
“Sorry, I missed your call. Busy day. Is everything okay?” His words rushed together and I heard typing in the background.
“No. Things are far from okay.” Annoyance rolled thick off my tongue. “It’s Teddy. It happened. Early this morning. Just like we feared.” Tears flowed hot against my cheeks. The keyboard tapping ceased, and silence ensued. “Derek? Are you still there?”
“Crap. Why is this happening now? Teddy was only four years old. That’s way too young.”
“I know. Jack will be devastated when he hears he lost his best friend.” I wiped my nose with the back of my hand.
“Wait. Nicole, you haven’t told him yet?”
I hesitated before responding in a hushed voice. “I’m not sure I can.”
“Remember our emergency plan?”
“Yes.” My hands trembled at the flashback of my early morning endeavors. “I did most of it before Jack got out of bed.”
“That’s good. Stick to the plan, honey, and everything will be fine. We’re prepared for this.”
“Easy for you to say, miles away in Los Angeles,” I quipped, then bit my lip.
Before Derek could reply, a crack of thunder rumbled through the windows. “Oh no. I’ve got to go. Monsoon.” I ended the call and threw the phone on the bed before sprinting for the porch. The wind whipped my hair against my face as I maneuvered down the steps towards the yard, my heart pounding against my ribs.
“Jack,” I cried.
He didn’t reply, but I spotted him wading in the pool, seemingly unfazed by the violent turn in the weather. I called out for Ryan, but my voice was no match for Mother Nature. And besides, Ryan was fighting his own battle with a wayward patio umbrella.
When my feet reached the ground, I rushed towards Jack, leaning my weight forward against the force of the wind. “Get out, baby. Come to Mommy.”
Jack disregarded my pleas, and continued pacing in a circular pattern alongside the inner edge of the pool.
“Honey, please.” I moved in closer, and could see he had looped the string from his plastic boat around his ankle. When he walked, the boat trailed behind him, bobbing in the choppy water. I reached into the pool to free his leg, but he shook his foot away.
“No Mommy. Teddy likes riding in the boat.”
“Dodger found him hiding in the flowerbed.” He turned, and pointed towards the water rippling behind him. “Look. He’s swimming.”
I squinted to see through the swirling dust, but then my eyes opened wide when I observed Teddy, Jack’s pet guinea pig, floating belly-up. The fresh dirt I had shoveled upon him earlier that morning, still adhered to his rigid little paws.