by Tommy Mooney
DAYS universe. Early work. First true attempt at romance genre.
“What’s wrong, man?”
“This damn storm’s supposed to continue for a while,” Connor replied. “Might even continue into the night a bit.”
John wore only the faintest of frowns.
“They’re not going to let us out of here until it passes, are they?”
“Probably not, but, who knows?”
“That’s what we get for going on a hike all the way out here without checking the weather first, I guess.”
“How can you take this so easily?”
John smiled brightly and pointed to the sleeping girl.
“Well, aren’t you special.”
“Don’t be like that, man. Don’t you have Ashley?”
“No, we’re not even dating!”
John laughed, but remembering Emma he quickly ceased.
“Well, go change that. She doesn’t have anyone here, either. Go talk to her, bro.”
“No way, man. She probably doesn’t even like me like that.”
“You two have been friends for a while now, though, right? Just go talk to her as a friend, then.”
Connor seemed to consider it for a moment.
“Yeah, maybe I will. Just as friends.”
He began to stand when a girl emerged from a doorway on the far side of the room. John noticed her and smiled wolfishly.
“Well, speak of the devil.”
She walked past the front desk and the front doors and sat down in a chair across from Connor.
“Hey guys,” she said. “What’s the word?”
“Hey Ashley.” Connor sighed. “The storm’s not supposed to let up for a while now.”
“We could be here a bit longer than we anticipated,” chimed John.
Ashley frowned a bit, looking from the boys to the window and back again.
“Well, it doesn’t seem that bad. I mean, there’s no thunder or lightning, so it may just be passing by.”
The group was silent for a few minutes. Connor leaned back his head and stared at the ceiling, groaning.
“What a way to spend the day, trapped in a nature lodge in a national park.”
“Not something I really saw myself doing this summer,” came John’s voice.
“Same. But, this has been a really eventful summer. I mean, first summer in college, it’s gotta be great, right?”
The boys nodded their heads in agreement. Emma began to stir. John extended a finger and gingerly poked her cheek. She slowly blinked open her eyes.
“Hey, guys...what’s up?”
“We’re still waiting. Storm’s not supposed to pass for some time.”
She nodded slightly, but didn’t really seem to care.
“Are we getting a room?”
The group looked at each other.
“Well,” Connor started, “we could get one, but I’m willing to bet we’ll be out of here by tonight.”
“Then at least just to sit in for a while? This couch is getting a bit uncomfortable.”
“Sure, why not. It’d be a good excuse to get away from the rest of these people anyways.”
Connor looked around the lobby. More people had filtered in, probably coming from the deeper areas of the park, he figured. It was starting to feel a bit crowded, and the place certainly didn’t smell that great. Connor and John left the girls and went over to the front desk. A few minutes later, they returned. Connor spoke.
“Guy at the front desk said he’d only charge us for half a night just to use it until the storm passed. Let’s go.”
The group followed Connor as he lead them back through the door Ashley had come through earlier. They reached the end of the hall, whereupon Connor procured a key and opened the door on the right. The room wasn’t particularly glamorous; just a bed, dresser, and two nightstands, but it was certainly better than being in the lobby. The girls lay on the bed, John sat on the foot, and Connor lay on his back next to the bed. Continuing their idle chatter, Connor found himself hungry. Standing up, he announced his intentions to go to the gift shop and buy some food. Ashley stood up, too, saying she wanted to go with him.
“Now don’t you two go doing anything while we’re gone, ‘kay?”
John and Emma laughed as Connor and Ashley left the room. Connor shut the door behind them.
“Seriously, though, you don’t think they’ll do anything stupid, do you?”
“John’s a great guy, but...I don’t know; they’re pretty close.”
Ashley slapped his shoulder.
“Oh shut up, you dork.”
“Just saying.” They continued through the lobby, past where they were sitting, and passed through another door, opposite the one that lead to the rooms. The gift shop was small, and already full of people, but the duo managed to maneuver their way through, nabbing a bag of chips and another of candy along the way. They walked over and stood in line. Suddenly, just as Connor grabbed the bags off the counter, a loud clap of thunder shook the building. A few people jumped, including Ashley, and his face reddened a bit as he noticed she had ended slightly closer to him than before.
“Wow, some storm, huh?” he asked.
He started walking, waiting for Ashley’s response, but upon hearing nothing he stopped and looked back. She hadn’t moved, but rather stood stock-still, like a statue. Her sky-blue eyes were wide open and shaking slightly. Upon closer examination, he found her whole body to be shaking. He rushed over to her, grabbing her shoulders.
“Hey, Ashley, you okay?”
Getting nothing from her, he shook her gently. She was gripping the bottom of her shirt, knuckles turning white. He released one of her shoulders and snapped a few times in front of her face. Seeing something move in her eyes, he tried again.
“Earth to Ashley, are you alright? You don’t look too good.”
People were starting to watch. Not wanting to make a scene, he gently prodded Ashley, leading her back to the room.
He opened the door with his shoulder and dragged her in. John and Emma, who had been lying next to each other on the bed, got up and looked at them.
“Hey, Connor, is Ashley alright?” asked Emma.
“I have no idea.”
“Well, we were buying food when-” He didn’t get the chance to finish before another peal of thunder rattled the windows.
Ashley tensed up, tears now forming on the edges of her eyes. John and Emma hastily moved out of the way as Connor took Ashley and sat her on the bed.
“Hey, John, do me a favor: run to the front desk and ask for another blanket.”
John nodded and sped out of the room.
“Ashley, are you okay? Talk to me here, what’s wrong?” Emma tried.
She got nothing.
“She’s been like this ever since the thunder started,” said Connor.
John returned, blanket in hand. He handed it to Connor, who lay it on Ashley’s shoulders. John spoke up.
“I think we should let her sleep, give her some space.”
He turned and made for the door, Emma close behind. Connor started after them when he felt a hand lightly tugging at the tail of his shirt. He looked over his shoulder and saw that that hand was Ashley’s.
“Don’t...go. Please.” Her voice was barely audible. Connor looked from John and Emma, who were standing in the doorway, then back to Ashley. Another clap of thunder. Connor could feel her grip tighten on his shirt. He gave John a look, who nodded, and lead Emma away. The door swung shut.
“Sure, I’ll stay.” He removed her hand from his shirt as he sat down next to her.
The next few minutes went by in silence, the only noise being the rain. Connor broke the silence.
“Are you afraid of the thunder and lightning?” No reply. “Hey, Ashley, talk to me here.”
He felt her hand crawl into his.
“Promise you won’t judge too harshly?” she whispered. He could only nod. “I am.” Again, only a nod. He sat in silence, letting her answer sink in. Another clap of thunder sounded, and she dove into him, her head tucked into his chest, blanket falling to the floor. Connor felt his face turn red, and it took all he had not to back away.
“Hold me,” came her whisper.
“Eh...um...w-what was that?”
“Hold me, please.”
He just sat there, not believing what he was hearing.
Finally processing her request, he slowly wrapped his arm around her, placing his opposite hand behind her head, gently bringing her deeper into him. They just sat. More thunder came, but Connor noticed that while she did still jump, she wasn’t tense anymore. He could feel her warmth, and it was a strangely calming sensation. She seemed to melt into him. Connor smiled to himself. This felt so natural.
A while later, John returned. Connor looked up at him and put a finger to his lips, pointing to a mass of long hair on his lap with another. John smiled and ducked out of the room. Connor looked back down at her. Her breathing was quick and light, but he knew that she would be alright.
He knew, at that moment, that she was keeping a secret from him. A very big, very important secret, and one that he would like to have her tell him. Maybe not today, though. But he could, and would, wait for her. He knew that there was a lightning that she wasn’t scared of. He knew that there was a lightning that she wanted more than anything. He knew that she had been struck by the heart’s lightning.