Chapter 9: Thunderstorm


Myra was already mostly awake when the cabin door cracked open and gray morning light poured in through the gap. She squinted against the brightness, seeing little except a slice of a tall body’s silhouette. It was hardly any visual information, but based on the sizes of the only nine people within miles of her, she knew it was Alex.
She’d awoken a while ago, but she’d been postponing getting out of bed. She told herself she deserved to sleep in, plus Cassie was snuggled up next to her, so close that if she moved, it would be impossible not to disturb the sleeping girl. But staying in bed also meant that she wasn’t going for a run this morning, wasn’t exposing or exerting herself, was indefinitely tucked away in a dark, warm cocoon of her own making.
She expected Alex to go away, but instead he slipped inside the cabin and shut the door behind him. He groped through the darkness with outstretched hands, ghosting his hands along the walls to find the foot of Myra’s bed, then feeling around its corner to move closer to her head.
“Myra?” he whispered, his voice insistent and his pitch rising on the second syllable with the inflection of a probing question.
At first she didn’t respond, just stared up at him, knowing he couldn’t see anything so soon after leaving the outdoor sunlight for the cabin’s dim interior.
“Myra, are you awake?” he asked. He patted his hands up the top of the bed, tapping over her shins and up her legs. Before he got any further, she said in a sharp whisper, “Yes, I’m awake.”
“Oh, good,” he said, withdrawing his hands. “I was worried. You’ve usually been up for hours by now. Are you feeling okay?”
“I’m fine,” she said. “Are the boys awake?”
“No,” he said. “No, they’re all still asleep.”
Sounding more accusatory than she had hoped to be, she said, “So why are you here?”
She watched the outline of his body fidget. “I thought you’d go on another run this morning.” He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “I thought we’d go.”
She shook her head, the movement instinctive, though she wasn’t sure if he could see it or not. “No, I’m not running this morning. You go ahead. You know the trail now.”
But he didn’t move. “Come on,” he said. “It’s already cloudy and it’s going to rain later. We’ll be trapped inside. Come run while you still can.”
She thought of the gray light that had spilled into the cabin, considering which circumstances truly trapped her.
“No thanks,” she declared. “I feel like sleeping in today.”
“But you’re already awake,” he pointed out. “You’ll regret not running.”
She grimaced. “I won’t regret anything,” she said. “Run or don’t run, I don’t care. Just get out before you wake the girls.”
“Fine,” he said, defensive and hurt. “Enjoy your lazy morning.”
But when he finally left, closing the door behind him and sealing the cabin against the gray day, she didn’t feel lazy. Her heart pounded and her face burned, but the goosebumps rose as they had last night, dotting her forearms in SOS messages sent by her body in its own skin dialect of Morse code.

Myra stayed in bed for another half hour before carefully extracting herself from her sleeping bag, leaving Cassie sleeping peacefully.
She was nervous about running into Alex, but he wasn’t anywhere outside between the cabins and the mess hall. Myra walked over, breathing in the heavy, humid pre-storm air. The sky was blanketed with clouds, and the light was oddly muted. She felt like a figure in a dramatic landscape painting.
Thankfully she was the only figure, and when she peeked into the mess hall, it was deserted as well. She was surprised no one was awake yet, but that meant they’d be getting up any minute. She pulled down a few boxes of cereal from a cupboard and found an unopened tub of vanilla yogurt in the fridge. While she was slicing bananas into medallions, the first few kids wandered in looking for breakfast. She had Luke and Aldo help her set the table. When Cassie and Zoey came in, she recruited them to spoon yogurt into a few large bowls.
Luckily the rest of the kids were up soon, or else Myra wouldn’t have been able to make the earliest risers wait for a group breakfast. They passed around boxes of Cheerios and Chex, gallons of milk, and the fruit and yogurt.
When Caitlin asked, Myra reiterated that they were not, in fact, going horseback riding today. This news disappointed Caitlin as much as it had yesterday, but it also prompted her to tell a story about her last birthday party, which involved a large group of girls all going horseback riding together, with Caitlin on a white horse with a black star on its nose.
Caitlin’s story led Zoey to respond with her own idealized story of her recent birthday party at an ice skating rink. As she was describing how to perform a forward swizzle, Alex burst into the mess hall, his hair tousled and his face shiny with sweat.
“Good morning, campers!” he exclaimed, jogging over to the breakfast table and plopping onto a vacant chair between Caitlin and Joey. He reached over the table for the Cheerios, and Caitlin crinkled her nose. “You stink,” she said.
He grinned at her. “I’m wearing nature’s cologne,” he said. He turned his head toward his armpit and inhaled deeply, as if he were burying his nose in a bouquet of roses. “Ahhh, exquisite,” he sighed in theatrical contentment.
Caitlin giggled. “You’re silly,” she said.
Shaking cereal into his bowl, he said, “The silly bird gets the worm.” His twisted idiom elicited more laughter from around the table. He poured milk over his cereal and immediately began eating with gusto.
Myra spooned the banana slices from her yogurt and ate the tangy yogurt-covered fruit. She worked to keep her attention immersed in her breakfast. Let the kids talk with Alex, indulge his good mood, as long as he left her to eat in peace. And miraculously, he did. He played around with the kids, drank the dregs of his cereal, and pretended not to understand when they pointed to his milk mustache.
The kids finished eating and moved on to playing outside, leaving Myra and Alex to their usual cleanup routine.
“I was thinking about how to keep the kids entertained today,” Alex said, rinsing bowls under the faucet.
Myra silently opened the fridge and put away the half-empty plastic gallons of milk. She knew he would continue even if she didn’t express any curiosity, so she didn’t bother to appear interested.
“I found watercolors in the art supplies,” he said. “They’re in pretty decent condition. We have plenty of paper. And we might be able to scrounge up some water,” he joked.
She closed the cardboard tabs on the tops of cereal boxes and returned them to the cupboard.
“You mentioned yesterday that I should lead an art project,” he reminded her.
“Hm,” she grunted, counteracting his energetic smugness with surly apathy. But she thought to herself that watercolors had high potential for fun. If Alex was right about the rain, it would make for a long, long day cooped up inside. Anything creative and stimulating would be a welcome relief from the confinement-induced delirium that had a habit of cropping up after too many consecutive hours indoors.
The cleanup complete, Myra and Alex went outside to join the kids. They were kicking around the volleyball in a makeshift soccer game, using the volleyball net for one goal and the bench of the picnic table for the other goal.
Alex immediately jumped in to play. Myra kept to the sidelines, scrutinizing the thick cloud cover overhead that had darkened from dusty gray to a foreboding charcoal.
The kids were enjoying the soccer game. Aldo scored a well-aimed goal under the picnic bench, and Cassie ran in wide curves to avoid the defensive players before giving the volleyball a sharp kick, sending it tumbling over the sand and under the net-goal. She cheered when it rolled over to the far side of the court.
Alex got ahold of the ball and took advantage of the moment by demonstrating a header, bouncing the ball off his skull with a horrible hollow thump. The kids were impressed and awed, but Myra winced. Alex could do what he wanted with his head, but the last thing she needed was a kid getting concussed trying to imitate an impulsive, exhibitionist blockhead of a counselor.
The first raindrops began to fall, plump and wet. Myra felt one plop onto her cheek. She let the kids keep playing, but when lightning cracked across the sky a few minutes later, she herded everyone back inside.
They stood in front of the window, watching the storm’s dramatic development. The sky had a bizarre green tint and sheets of rain were cascading down, already flooding the grass and restricting visibility to nearly nothing. Yet even though the world was reduced to a wet green-gray blur, the transfiguration from normality to this primitive potency was fascinating. The kids pressed their faces to the glass, watching the storm’s transformative force, blinking in surprise when lightning scissored white slashes through the sky, and flinching soon after when thunder boomed.
Hoping to distract the kids, and herself, from the fact that they’d be spending the entire day in the mess hall, Myra tore herself from the storm’s hypnotic devastation and fetched a deck of cards. They had several decks, and after a moment’s deliberation, she picked up an additional second deck. She called, “Who wants to play I Doubt It?”
A few faces turned her way and then back to the window. Stepping up her efforts, she said, “Winner gets double dessert!”
They all raced over to her.