Saundra realized that running between the raindrops, like so many things in life, wasn’t meant to be taken literally. So why was she scurrying madly to her neighbor’s house with any expectation that she would be dry when she got there?
Bradley stared hard as she leaped over the threshold into the open living room-kitchen of their ranch-style house.
“An umbrella was out of the question, huh?”
Saundra didn’t deem it necessary to reply. She knew why she’d come, and it outweighed mere comfort. She couldn’t look Bradley in the eye.
A woman’s voice screeched from the top of the stairs. “Hey! Kiddos, get ready for bed now, or Sandy won’t read you a story.”
The collective sighing, whimpering, and bickering over who got to pick out the first story plucked Saundra’s raw nerves. Who did she think she was? Superwoman coming to the rescue?
She peeled off her soggy shoes and figured that one evening in damp socks wouldn’t kill her. The kids might. But that was merely theoretical.
Anne tottered down the stairs on skyscraper heels, wearing a tight-fitting, burgundy dress that clearly hadn’t been outside the closet in years. Once landed, she tinkered with her earrings and shot a glance at her husband. “Get up there and make them behave.”
An eye roll clarified Bradley’s lack of enthusiasm for the assignment as he mounted the steps.
The initial plea-bargaining Anne used when asking for one night out with her husband without the kids had merely sent a flicker of anxiety through Saundra’s evening plans. No big deal. The kids were a little rambunctious Anne had said but easier than her nephews. Of course, Godzilla was easier than the aforementioned nephews.
A little girl’s scream, a man’s barking order, serious commotion, two slamming doors, pounding footsteps, and Bradley’s flushed face glowering at his wife made Saundra reconsider her assessment. Maybe Godzilla would be easier. After all, there was only one of him.
Anne snatched a lavender purse off a scratched end table and charged for the door. “They’ll settle down. Just let them cool off and read a story with milk and cookies before bed.”
Bradley jerked his car keys around like he’d prefer to catapult them rather than put them to their rightful purpose.
The thought, Get drunk fast, shot through Saundra’s mind. She nodded at Anne’s retreating back, dumbfounded.
It wasn’t until the Ford Explorer squealed into the night that she realized that the kids didn’t even know her. And she didn’t know them.
A little girl’s voice called from the tops of the steps—Sandy?
The milk and cookies were easy to locate.
Five-year-old Jimmy had a future in mountain climbing the way he scaled the kitchen counter, scrambled to the cabinet over the refrigerator, plucked the hidden cookies from the depths, (next to the chardonnay), and leaped to the floor with his prize.
Jan, at the cultivated age of seven, demurely retrieved three short glasses, lugged the gallon of milk to the table, and sportingly poured everyone a full glass.
Remarkably, a story compromise was reached on relatively benign terms. Each child picked out a short story, and Saundra got to pick a long one. After teeth had been brushed, the kids joined their sitter on the couch and curled up one on each side.
Their body warmth, light patter of rain, and the yellow lamplight settled Saundra’s nerves into a state of peaceful repose. Books made for an evening of simple pleasure. Every Friday afternoon, she read a short story out loud to her high school class. They always groaned the first time. They never groaned the second.
She cracked open the first book and climbed inside. Along with the kids.
By the time the clock chimed midnight, Saundra wondered if she should call the police. After The Velveteen Rabbit, the kids had gone to bed quietly. She shuddered through the late news, and the rain had quit, hours ago. She stretched out on the couch fully aware that she’d fall asleep within seconds.
Before her eyes closed, a door was thrust open and keys slammed on the counter, jolting her nerves wide awake. Loud voices. Slurred speech. Hard soled shoes pounding up the steps.
Saundra’s first instinct was to quiet the two down before they woke the kids. But the realization that this was their house shushed her mouth.
“Sandy? Where’d you get to, girl?”
Sandy rose and stepped into the kitchen.
Anne’s smeared eyeliner, drooping lower lip, and glassy stare froze Saundra in place.
“There you are. Thought maybe you’d abandoned me.”
“I’ve never do that.”
Water ran. Bradley’s heavy tread crossed the room above.
Saundra frowned as she glanced up. “The kids are asleep.”
“Sure. You did great.” She dropped her purse on the counter. “Mind if I pay you in the morning? I doubt my writing’s too clear right now.”
Slipping on her damp shoes Saundra sucked in a deep breath. She wanted the quiet peaceful time with the kids cuddled on each side of her, listening with bated breath, their eyes glued to the illustrated page. Sharing their love of a good story, life itself.
A lump rose in her throat, and words got stuck on the way out. “You two have a good time?”
Anne shrugged. “We drank and talked about the garbage in our lives.” Kicking off her shoes, she lost balance and had to grip the counter. “Piss poor world we live in. Kids will hate us when they grow up. Might hate us now, for all I know.”
Tears threatened. Saundra turned the door handle. “They don’t hate anyone. Yet.”
A star-filled sky accompanied Saundra home. The smell of late summer rain, wet earth, a faint rose scent lifted her spirits. She could hear Jan’s voice pleading, see Jimmy’s dark eyes imploring. “Will you come again and read to us?”
She would. She’d even run between the raindrops if she had to.