Miracle In The Rain
by Abby Rice
I hadn’t meant to come here again today. But somehow, as the summer days faded into fall, I’d found myself here more and more often.
There was an anniversary of sorts coming up. So maybe that was it.
Whatever. Here I was again this morning, even though it was starting to rain. As if the place called me. As if there was nowhere I’d rather be. Except, of course, I’d rather be anywhere else.
Anywhere, just so long as he was with me one more time.
The grass was wet from the combination of overnight dew and this morning morning’s intermittent rain, soaking into my sandals as I trudged across the perfectly-manicured lawn to the grey granite marker. I hadn’t bothered with a hat or raincoat, much less an umbrella. Because, why?
Duane Hebert Anderson. The rigid letters mocked me with their familarity. Their finality. Almost exactly a year since he’d been gone: September 17th. A date carved in stone, right?
I needed to just accept it, everyone kept saying. Stop coming here. Maybe go out once in a while. Have fun. Live a little.
Except all that felt so wrong. What exactly was “living” supposed to look like, without my best friend, my other half, my husband-to-be?
A gust of wind blew my hair across my face, a warning sign that the clouds soon would fully unleash their full cargo of moisture. Already, a soft staccato of raindrops was hitting my hair and shoulders. Big, fat drops cooling my face, my arms.
Luckily there was no matching dampness in my eyes. I’d long since cried out all the tears I’d ever had. I’d even stopped asking why.
I knew why. The cops had explained it all to me as they stood on my porch – our porch — that horrid night nearly a year ago. To them, it was just a job. To me, it had been the end of life as I knew it.
The shorter cop had shifted awkwardly from foot to foot as he imparted the tragic news. The road slick with rain. Duane heading south: driving home after work. Speeding a little, of course, as usual. Something could have startled him; a deer in the road, a raccoon, who knew? No one had seen a thing. Nothing except the twin black arcs on the pavement and the crumpled remains of his car off the side of the road. When the cops arrived, the engine had still been running. But for Duane, it was already too late.
I bent, my fingers tracing the letters of his name etched solidly in the granite. “I miss you,” I whispered.
Off to my left I caught a discreet cough. My head snapped around. A lone figure stood a dozen feet away, sheltered a bit from the rain beneath a tree.
“You’re Duane’s girl, aren’t you.” It wasn’t a question.
The man pushed himself away from the trunk. Dark hair, dark eyes – from a distance, I could almost have mistaken him for Duane, though a closer glance showed he was likely a few years older. The same slim hips and strong shoulders, though; the same habit of rolling the ends of his sleeves up, leaving wrists and forearms exposed. Raindrops had left dark, blotchy polka dots on the faded denim shirt.
I didn’t recognize him, but his mention of Duane brought a small surge of warmth to my belly. Duane’s girl? Yes, of course. Always was, always would be.
I didn’t say that, of course. I just nodded, keeping my features even.
“Thought so.” He inclined his head to the left as he slowly approached, thumbs hooked in the front pockets of his jeans. “I keep seeing you here. Noticed the name on the stone.”
Really? Was that the world’s strangest pickup line? If he’d been here at the cemetery when I came before, I’d never noticed him.
I glanced down at the wet stone again, darkening in the rain, then back up at the stranger’s face. He stood a polite arms-length way now. Crinkles around his eyes told me he spent time in the sun, and that he laughed a lot. His cheeks were growing wet, but he didn’t seem to notice.
“Duane – did you know him?” I hoped so. Oh, how I hoped he’d have a memory or two to share with me.
“Not exactly.” A hand came up, his right thumb and forefinger slowly stroking the line of his lower jaw, as if he was working out exactly what to say. “But I think I know what Duane would say to you right now.”
I shivered in a way that had nothing to do with the rain.
Those dark eyes settled gently on mine. Calm. Warm. Reassuring.
“Name’s Travis.” He extended his hand to me slowly, the way you would greet a skittish dog. I took a step back, not quite ready to shake.
“Look, I know this seems strange, but something told me I should talk to you.” Hooking a thumb over his shoulder, he pointed toward a headstone near the tree where he’d been standing. “Lost my dad last year. Same month you lost your Duane, it looks like. I know. It sucks.”
My eyes dipped to Duane’s stone again. Solid. Familiar. Grounding. Just like Duane had been.
“I’m sorry to hear about your dad. And yes, it does. It totally sucks.”
His voice was a low rumble. “You gotta hold onto the good. Not the pain.”
A shock of what felt like recognition ran through me.
“What did you just say?”
“That’s what I think he’d try to tell you if he were here right now.” He cocked his head toward the stone. “I never met Duane. But I’m pretty sure that’s what he’d want to say if he could.”
I hissed in a breath. How could he know? That was exactly the sort of expression Duane would have used. Hold onto the good. Accompanied by the same tiny smile just lifting the corners of this man’s lips. I looked closer. Yes. This stranger even sported a similar dimple in his right cheek when he smiled.
Wishful thinking, I chastised myself firmly. There was no way this handsome stranger was actually chaneling Duane for me.
And yet, he had. That expression sounded like Duane, exactly: Hold onto the good. He’d been always smiling, always looking on the bright side. Always doing his best to cheer me up when I was down.
I fixed my attention on the headstone, suddenly uncomfortable about noticing how another man looked. Only because he reminded me so much of Duane. That had to be it.
“What happened with your dad?”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his smile droop a little. “Cancer.”
He allowed a beat to go by. “What happened to your Duane?”
“Car accident.” I’d told the story too many times to want to repeat it. Thankfully he didn’t prod for details. He just nodded.
His hair was getting plastered to his forehead by the rain. Mine probably sported the same drowned-rat look. A cold droplet of water trickled down my neck and made its way beneath my collar. I shivered.
“Like to get a cup of coffee?” That charming smile was back at full wattage again.
And that’s how I found myself with damp hair in a red vinyl booth at Cuppa Joe’s, stirring a spoonful of sugar into a steaming mug and staring across the table at Travis Stapleton’s charming dimple, rain pounding the window beside us.
With the beginnings of a matching smile on my lips.
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