But a warning means a tornado has actually touched down. And if you’re in its path, that’s a horse of a fucked-up color.
At once, everybody moves—bringing in the lawn furniture, locking down windows. Not every farm has a storm cellar, but this one does. Jenny’s father grabs the first-aid pack from under the sink and we all gather in the kitchen, to head out the back door. But when I look around, my heart lodges in my throat, blocking the air.
I walk back through the living room, searching. I open the front door to check the yard—and have to brace my legs against a wave of wind that feels like God himself is trying to knock me on my ass.
“She went for a walk,” Ruby volunteers, her face pale and tight.
“When?” I yell.
“Awhile ago—before the fight. She walked out the back door and just kept on goin’.”
Pure, cold panic rises up my legs—like I’m sinking into quicksand. And a thousand horrific scenes go through my head. Sofia getting knocked down by flying debris, bleeding and calling my name. Sofia trapped under a fallen tree, her eyes lifeless. Sofia running, almost making it to the house . . . before she’s swept up in the monstrous gray mass. Gone, like she was never here at all.
Her name bubbles up in my chest and I clench my teeth to keep from shouting it.
I have to find her.
In the kitchen, I tell them, “Y’all go on—I’m gonna go get Sofia.”
“Daddy!” Presley throws her arms around my waist and I can feel her shaking. “Daddy, please come with us. Don’t go!”
Her terror, her need for me slices through my chest like a machete, cutting me in two. I kneel, looking into her eyes, touching her little face. And I put everything I have into my words to comfort her. “I’ll come back. I swear, Presley, I’ll come back.”
Her lip trembles.
I caress her hair and try to give her my smile. “We can’t leave Miss Sofia out there, baby girl. I’m goin’ to get her and then we’ll come straight back to you.” I look behind Presley to Jenny, who’s holding JD’s hand. And I know what I have to do.
I scoop Presley up into my arms, kissing her cheek. “You’re gonna be with your momma and JD. They’re gonna keep you safe.”
She hugs me one last time—and then I hand her over.
I never saw myself giving my daughter into the care of another man. Never imagined a scenario where that would ever be okay. But there’s no jealousy, no urge to lay him out and snatch her back. I’m just . . . grateful that it’s not all on Jenny alone.
She murmurs to our daughter and nods at me, gratitude in her eyes. Like an omen, there’s a crash outside, snapping us out of the moment. My mother rushes everyone to the door. As JD goes to follow, I grab his shoulder, talking more with my eyes so as not to frighten the precious bundle he holds in his arms.
“Make sure you lock that door behind you. You understand what I’m sayin’?”
Don’t wait for me, is what I’m telling him. Lock the damn door and keep it locked, even if I’m still on the outside—nothing touches them.
He nods, his face solemn. “Yeah, I get you, Stanton.”
I turn and cross into the living room.
“Hey, wait!” he calls. I glance back and JD tosses me a set of keys. “Your brother put shit tires on your truck—it’ll get caught in the mud. Take mine.”
I look at the keys in my hand, then back up at him. He nods. I nod. And that’s all there is to it.
Sofia was right when she said men are simple creatures. With this easy exchange, I’ve agreed not to stand in his and Jenny’s way, and he’s agreed to never give me a reason to kill him. Over and out.
I rush out the door and sprint to the truck. The stark reality that I have no idea where she is consumes me—pushes on my brain, threatening to crack it. I know the Monroe property as well as my own. If she went out the back door, there’s a good chance she’d be headed toward the cornfield.
Unless she turned around.
“Goddamn it!” I yell, hitting the steering wheel, trying to drive quickly enough to cover more ground, but still scan the fields for a sign of where she could be. The truck vibrates with the force of wind, and pea-size hail pelts the windshield. I think of her out in this weather, alone—unprotected. Is she cold? Is she scared? Every muscle in my body seizes up at the thought.
“Come on, baby,” I utter through clenched teeth. “Where are you?”
They say when you die, your life flashes before your eyes. I don’t know if that’s true. But I know for certain there’s a point when your fear for someone you care about . . . someone you love . . . becomes so intense, so paralyzing, that everything else fades away. And you’re consumed with thoughts of them: the way they laugh, their scent, the sound of their voice. Every moment I’ve shared with Sofia flickers through my mind, like a silent film. Sofia beside me in a courtroom, beneath me in bed, the days we teased and talked, the nights we moaned and sighed. And every image makes me crave more. More time. More memories. All the moments we haven’t shared yet, all the experiences we haven’t had, all the words I never said. I need them. I need her.