But none of that matters. ’Cause I’m pretty sure we’re both about to die.
I’ve seen The Wizard of Oz. Twister. Sharknado 1 and 2.
Any minute now a house or a cow is going to fly by and do us in.
“Please, Stanton, I love you!”
I don’t realize I’m crying until I see the drops on his perfect face. His head rests on my thighs, my back is curved, leaning over him, sheltering us both beneath my wildly blowing hair. I kiss his forehead, his nose, and finally linger at his warm lips.
Then I feel Stanton’s fingers flex against my waist, clutching the material of my shirt. And I lean back just enough to look at his eyes as they finally open.
His pupils are wide, confused and searching. But within seconds they contract in understanding, realizing where we are.
In one fluid motion he rolls me underneath him, his weight pressing down on top of me, protecting me from the cutting wind and debris that churns around us.
I grip his shoulders, my voice still clogged with tears. And fear.
“You’re all right? Thank God you’re all right! I thought—”
Stanton smooths my hair with his hand and murmurs soft, calming words against my ear. “Shhh . . . I’ve got you, Sofia. I’m right here. We’re okay now. I’m right here.”
Though I know we’re still in danger, I feel warm from the inside. Safe. I’m perfectly content, because he’s in my arms and I am in his.
“You’re lucky you woke up—you would’ve been on my eternal shit list if you hadn’t.”
His chest vibrates as he chuckles and lifts up to gaze down at me. His eyes caress my face, and his tender smile makes my chest squeeze tight. “Couldn’t have that.”
He sighs, then tucks my head under his chin.
“I think this clinches it,” I tell him, snuggling even closer. “I’m not cut out for prairie living.”
He chuckles again. My fingers stroke up and down his back. We cling to each other, holding on tight, making it through the storm. Together.
• • •
As we drive back down to the Monroes’, I look around. The damage isn’t as bad as I’d imagined. Some downed trees, a lot of broken fences, but no real destruction to the house or the barn. In the back, the leftover signs from the party—overturned tables, bent chairs—are scattered around the yard. A tablecloth flaps in a tree, caught by its branches. Stanton drives around to the front of the house, just as Mr. Monroe, Jenny’s father, is hustling into his own truck, his wife in the passenger seat beside him. Then he pulls out, tires screeching, driving like a bat out of hell. I catch his face as they pass—drawn, tight, terrified. Then Jenny hurries into her own truck, JD beside her, Presley and her redheaded sister in the back—and she’s driving off too.
“What’s wrong?” I wonder aloud. “Did someone get hurt?”
Stanton parks and jumps out of the truck quickly. I’m right beside him as he jogs over to his mother, her face every bit as dazed and worried as the rest of his family’s.
“Is everyone all right, Momma?”
She puts her hand on his arm. “It’s Nana.”
When I was young, the preacher would give sermons about hell. He made it sound like the inside of an erupting volcano with its burning lakes, molten lava, and painful depths. But I don’t think hell is fire and brimstone.
I think hell is a hospital waiting room.
Interminably slow, every second ticking by like a clock with dying batteries. Frustration, fear—even boredom—so potent your head throbs.
“Is Nana gonna die, Daddy?”
Presley sits beside me on the bench, leaning against me, my arm around her. Sofia’s on the other side, holding my hand. Jenny’s been chasing down information, but even working here, the only answer she’s able to get is “waiting on tests.” JD gets her coffee, tells her to try and sit down. Jenny’s parents and mine are scattered through the waiting room, along with a handful of neighbors who had family injured in the storm.
“I don’t know, baby girl.” I stroke her hair. “Nana’s a strong woman. You should think good thoughts, say a prayer.”
Just then Dr. Brown comes out and June, Wayne, Jenny, JD, and Ruby converge. “It was a heart attack,” he says, looking at Jenny’s mother. “A big one. But she’s stable. She’ll be here a few days. We have to run several more tests, but there doesn’t appear to be any lasting damage.”
There’s a collective sigh, heavy with relief. June asks, “Can we see her?”