storm (part one)

©2021 Michael Raven

We managed to get to Mac’s car about the time a meter attendant had rounded the street and was making their way in the direction of Mac’s admittedly creative parking. If there was an actual parking spot where the black seventies-era Challenger was sitting, I’d have been surprised by the knowledge. So would have the person who Mac had parked behind who had utilized a legitimate parking slot, who glared at her as she briskly made her way towards the car.

“Hey, missy, I hope they gave you a ticket f–“

“They didn’t,” Mac interjected as she grabbed my carry-on from my hand opened her door and tossed it into the backseat before I could even reach the passenger side of the car.

“But they might,” she muttered as we sat down and she made the car keys magically appear and turned the ignition. The car roared into life — whether it was a muffler in need of replacement or because that’s just they made cars sound back when the car was manufactured, I couldn’t say. Mac put the car into drive and made the tires bark a bit as she put her foot on the accelerator, apparently anxious to be away before the attendant could get much closer.

It had been a close call, too. While driving past the meter attendant, the wannabe police officer gave Mac a good long stare that said, I almost gotcha this time. Next time you won’t be so lucky.

Mac waited until we had rounded the corner before she gunned the engine and it leapt into action, a panther on the hunt. Before I knew it, we were cruising along the interstate at a high enough speed to avoid raising the ire of the other drivers, yet slow enough to avoid drawing unwanted attention from anyone whiling away their day in a speed trap meant to catch people going well over the posted limits. Where I came from, that would be about ten miles over the speed limit; apparently Baltimore was more liberal with their interpretation of appropriate exceedances and we averaged about twenty over, with a good number of other drivers passing us like we were not moving at all.

The radio was playing some eminently forgettable tune and I thought about asking if it needed to be on at all when I realized that neither of us had said more than a few words each since we found each other at the station. Rather, Mac found me while I was expecting the worst, much like I always seem to do.

I looked in her direction and she was very focused on her driving, which seemed uncharacteristic for her. During our various discussions, I was always left with the impression that Mac was the type of woman who would talk about nearly everything and anything that suited her. If she knew something, she’d dig in and share what she knew about it, especially if she had a strong opinion about the subject matter. If she didn’t know much… well, I was under the impression she would learn fast, or she would stake a position on the fly just to keep the conversation going. Somehow, her carefully watching mirrors with both hands on the steering wheel at the ten- and two-o’clock positions was not her style.

I took the opportunity to compare her to the pictures she’d sent over messages and found that the pictures had not really done her the justice she deserved. She was even more beautiful that I had seen up to that point and, believe me, I had quite a few pictures I had begged her to send to me from which to make that assessment. In her presence, I felt almost shabby, although there had been a point in time when I had been more confident in my appearance.

Mac may have felt my eyes on her, because she looked at me through the corner of her eyes, which narrowed when she realized she was being examined.

“What?” she asked, a hint of that steel in her voice that she had revealed over the months we had been communicating with each other.

“Nothing,” I said, turning away, and pretended to take an interest in the dark clouds rolling in from the ocean. I recall thinking it might rain soon and wondered if the rains were anything like Seattle’s usual mists, or if the rain was the kind of downpours you see in those crime shows where everything always seems to happen in either a heavy rain or in snow. “I was just admiring your looks, is all.”

“Pffft,” she blew through her lips, something not quite a raspberry, but pretty damned close to one. “Flatterer.”

“No, really… I have always found you beautiful, but… in person… wow. You’re knockout.”

“Liar. I somehow managed to look like a wreck on the one day I didn’t want to look like a wreck. Or, you need glasses.”

“No. Really,” I insisted. She said nothing in response aside from a disgusted noise and the long silence returned, filled only by the decay notes of the song that had been playing when this discussion had began. I am not the kind of guy who knows how to fill up empty spaces very well and I would be lying if I failed to admit that I was hoping she would carry the conversation for the both of us until I could overcome my anxiety about the whole thing. And so it fell to the radio personality to fill up the emptiness.

“…and folks, you might just want to cancel those picnic and bar-b-que plans you might have made on this otherwise lovely evening. The National Weather Service is telling us that some unexpected unsettled weather is moving in from the Atlantic, apparently quite faster than normal, although they had insisted just a few hours ago that we were going to have a picture perfect evening ahead of us. Anyway, the headwinds are apparently similar to what they say are similar to hurricane strengths. Obviously, they didn’t overlook a friggin’ hurricane, but I swear, those guys couldn’t predict they were going to get wet if you held a bucket of water over their heads and started to tip it. I mean, meteorology has got to be the one job that they are happier than hell to pay you even when you are completely and utterly wro–“

Mac had turned off the radio. “DJ’s like to hear the sound of their own voices, too,” she told the radio, with an apparent certainty that the message would be conveyed to the station over the airwaves.

“Hey,” I said and Mac looked over at me, her own anxiety painted over her face. I offered my hand across the space between and and, with some hesitation she laced her fingers in mine as she went back to watching the road. Her hand was warm, but not unpleasantly so, and soft. “Thank you,” I said and I swore I saw the faint curve of a smile turn up the corner of her lips.

“Thank you,” she replied. “I’m not used to being at a loss for words. It’s making me turn into a real bitch. I’m sorry.”

“We’ll worry about talking later. Let’s just enjoy each other’s company for the time being and get comfortable. Once you get comfortable, you’ll find I’m easy to talk to. At least — I hope so.”

“You may end up wishing that I wasn’t so comfortable by the end of it. Chances are, I might talk both your ears off your head.”

“If that’s how it ends up, I’ll just nod dumbly and smile a lot when your mouth moves.”

Mac extracted her hand from mine to give me a light punch in the shoulder. But her fingers were immediately tangled in with mine moments later as she drove through the thinning density of the city of Baltimore to our hotel outside of the city limits, where the daily fees were significantly less than those to be found downtown.


3989/50,000 words

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