Squall, By Kristina Neihouse

When I left the library parking lot on my bicycle the rain drops were few but fat. I made it one block before it started to pour. Pulling under the awning of the Café Marquesa, I put the kickstand down on my bike and sat on the brick step to wait. A man crossed Simonton Street on his bicycle. He propped his bike against the pole and sat next to me. We smiled at each other.

“Another day in Paradise,” he said.

I recognized him. He worked at the Faustos Deli. I bought black bean salad or tabouli from him for lunch most days. We usually exchanged small talk about the weather and the tourists. Today he had on cut-offs and a faded T-shirt. His baseball cap was spotted with rain.

“Day off?”  I asked.

“My one day weekend.”

“I know about those,” I said.

“What the tourists don’t want to hear when they ask what it’s like to live in paradise.”

A man and woman ran down the sidewalk. He had a fanny pack belted around his waist. She wore a large straw hat tied on with a flowered scarf. They were carrying their sandals and running through the puddles  I watched until I could no longer hear their laughter and shrieks.

“I do think of leaving sometimes,” I said. “But that’s as far as I get.”

“Just can’t get motivated enough for the rest,” he said, finishing my thought. “It’s certainly no vacation to live here, but it’s a hard place to leave.”

“I’d never been here before,” I told him. “I used to live in New England. I woke up one morning and knew I couldn’t handle another winter. A month later I packed my car and headed south until I ran out of road.”

“Sold your car?” He asked.

“Needed the money to rent a house.”

He laughed.  

“You too?”

“A house I share with four other people.”

“I have three roommates,” I said. “Paradise isn’t’ cheap.”

I looked at the street. This wasn’t the usual quick downpour followed by clear steamy skies. It was still raining hard and the sky was grey as far as I could see over the La Concha hotel one block away. I looked at him. He was already looking at me. His eyes were light blue, almost grey but brighter than the sky. He bent to retie the lace of his sneaker.  

“It can be lonely,” I said, looking back at the street.

“What?” He looked back at me.

I bent to scratch my shin. “Can’t it be lonely?”

“Definitely,” he said. “It’s easy to meet people, but hard to get to know them. Everyone works so much. It seems people are always leaving, changing jobs or moving. It’s hard to keep track.”

“Businesses too,” I said. “As soon as I find a place to have coffee or get lunch between jobs the place is sold or they just close down. Now I spend a lot of time at the public library.”

He nodded. “My main hangout is my front porch.”

The wind picked up and blew rain in where we sat. He moved over. We were now sitting very close, wet pavement all around us.

“But,” I said. “The weather doesn’t suck.”

“Usually,” he said.

A woman rode by on a bicycle, trying to hold a newspaper over the small dog in her basket. The sky was still grey with rain and I didn’t care that I was late for work.   

“There are things that I love,” I said. I could see him looking at me out of the corner of my eye. I focused on my finger nails.

“I like to check the sky at night, see where the moon is or how many stars are out. I rode down to Higgs Beach once when the power went out during a full moon. It was so bright there were shadows. I’d never seen a moon shadow before.”

“I remember that night,” he said. “I went out on my porch and could read the headlines in the newspaper by the light of the full moon.”

“That’s all I read anyway,” I said.

“Me too,” he laughed.

“How about when you do see someone who changed jobs or apartments,” I said.  “If you run into them at Winn Dixie or the post office, it’s such a surprise, it’s almost like we’re all in an exclusive club, that we share this special place.”

I looked at him.    

“It is special,” he said.  

“Maybe that’s why we don’t leave.”

“I’m not ready,” he said. “To be a part of it all again.” He gestured behind him in the direction of what could have been north.   

I stretched my leg. My sandal was now touching his sneaker. I didn’t know what to say, but I knew what he meant. He looked at me.

“You know,” he said. “There’s an isolation down here, a comfort at being so far away.”

“I don’t think people take this place seriously,” I said. “They come here to go snorkeling, get drunk, buy a t-shirt and go home.’  

“Good riddance,” he said, still looking at me. “We’re still here.”

We didn’t say anything for a few minutes. The rain was steady but not as loud.

“It’s easy here,” he said, “to blame work and the cost of living for not having the time to do anything or even care.”

“Sometimes it’s easier that way.”

“Sometimes,” he said.

The street drain was clogged with leaves. A car drove by and washed water onto the sidewalk, almost reaching our bicycles. I turned to him. His forehead was wrinkled in concentration. He seemed to be studying my face. I wondered if he could see the small pimple on the side of my nose. I wondered if he would care. He was so close.

Another car splashed by and then we were kissing. We moved and turned at the same time so our noses didn’t bump, and our lips met softly. I closed my eyes in the silence and wondered how this had happened. His lips were dry on the outside but smooth and warm on the inside where they met mine. I wanted to reach for his hand, to feel for calluses or soft skin between his fingers.  

Then I registered the hush. He must have noticed as well. We stopped kissing and looked at the street. The rain had stopped. I could still see dark clouds but they were moving away. There were weak shadows on the sidewalk.

“It stopped,” I said. I could see him nod out of the corner of my eye. I looked at my watch but didn’t notice the time. “I have to get to work.”

“I’ll be making fresh tabouli tomorrow,” he said.

“I’ll stop by.” I looked at his hand resting on his knee. I still wanted to know how it felt.  

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said.

“Tomorrow.”

I got on my bike and rode way, trying to avoid the puddles.

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