Jaimey’s younger brother and sister, home alone too long in the grinding prestorm quiet of nowhere, are frightened into hiding, crying for a father who rarely comes back when called and a mother who never does, by the looming presence of the storm, the kind of electric storm that is expected somewhere from a weight in the chest.
For Jaimey, the energy charging the air is a current of irresistible excitement, calling away from another night in silence and solitude. She ignores her brother and sister’s calls as she puts on her father’s oiled jacket, wrapping it tightly by its leather cord so it encompasses her, hood over her face and hem just at her ankles. She is tall for thirteen, almost as tall as her father.
The rain has not started yet. It is a sting in the wind pulling at her face as she comes out onto the groaning porch. As she runs down the steps a brown dog with flopped ears and a downcast tail runs out from under the porch. Together they start down the dirt road leading to the highway.
Jaimey runs almost the entire way–now running full out with determination in her eyes, now running backward, sidestepping, laughing at the dog jumping beside her.
The first close lightning strike makes her scream and bolt like a startled deer, she laughs at herself and the frightened dog. “What are the chances, pup?” she asks it, and runs skipping down the road, her jacket flicked with mud kicked off the dirt by the growing flurries of rain. By the time she reaches the highway sheets of rain are whipping and snapping in the wind. The dog leans heavily against her leg as the big trucks and semis shoot past them on the highway.
It seems to take a long time to reach the exit where the truck stop glows brightly through the rain. The dog runs under the porch as she opens the door to the bar and shakes the water off her coat, feeling nervous for the first time. She doesn’t remove the coat or hood, but walks very slowly and straight to a corner of the bar. People look at her and away again, their attention on their glasses and conversations.
“What’ll it be?” the bartender asks the space over her left shoulder.
“Whiskey and Coke,” she says, making her voice sound husky and thick like a smoker.
He brings it to her. She puts a few dollars from the coat pocket on the table. He walks away, still without looking at her.
The bar is dark and heavy with smoke. The floor is crunchy and slick. The music is loud. A few stools down a short thick woman with a red face and very blue eyes is quietly and rapidly guzzling the beers of the men around her, who are being engaged by a pretty waitress balancing a tray of glistening wings.
Jaime sits and drinks her drink. She lets the hood back a little bit, pulling her hair down around her face. She recognizes some of the people at the bar. The mechanic at the gas station, a clerk at the convenience store. She avoids their eyes. Then someone comes out of the bathroom and she coughs on the sip she just took.
It is Ms. Sandsby, her teacher. Ms. Sandsby sits down next to a tall man with a small bald spot at the top of his head. Jaime recognizes him from somewhere, but she can’t remember where. Ms. Sandsby and the man sit close together on a bench close to the speakers. She speaks quickly and quietly to him. He nods seriously and rubs at the back of his neck.
Jaime sits frozen to her stool, wondering if they will notice her if she stands up. They are looking straight in her direction. She wishes she could go away and she wishes she could hear what they are saying. She sits for some moments, watching from under her cloak, unable to decide whether to flee or move closer. Suddenly, they get up and move to the bar, sitting seats away from her, solving her dilemma. Now she can hear everything they say clearly.
“Another vodka tonic?” the man asks. His voice is even more familiar than his face. Jaime strains to remember where she has met him before.
“I suppose. No, I shouldn’t, don’t you think? Oh I don’t know, I suppose I might as well.”
“You know I’ll be happy to drive you home.”
“No I couldn’t, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do and Mitch is home. I told him I was staying late tutoring. I don’t want him wondering anything…oh it’s all just so terrible.”
“You don’t have to tell me, Jenevine.”
“You’ll do it now?”
“As soon as the rain lets up. He was holed up with Sammie Brooks after getting kicked out of here last night. Sammie’ll only put up with him for so long. He’ll be heading home after this storm.”
“What will become of…?”
“God only knows. They don’t have any family do they? The shelter I suppose. Maybe they’ll be adopted. They’re cute kids.”
“What about Jaime? She’s thirteen, what are her chances of getting out of there?”
“Tough luck.” The man shakes his head.
“She’s such a smart girl. If only there was something I could do…Mitch wouldn’t hear of taking in a stray though. We’ve just had the twins.”
“Tough luck. It really is.”
Jaime suddenly realizes where she’s seen the man before. Tough luck. He brought the news of her mom’s death. He’s the police chief. Jaime feels dizzy. She swallows over and over again as the rum rises in her throat. She struggles to stay upright and not panic
Jaime slips off of her stool and walks slowly to the door. The dog silently joins her as she walks back towards the highway, heading in the opposite direction from where she came. She doesn’t feel sad or guilty for leaving her siblings like she thinks maybe she should. She still feels the rush of the lightening in her chest. She’s ready to run.