Panic didn’t come easily to Jason. He prided himself on having rational, dispassionate responses to any happenstance.
But the deluge soaked him to the bone before he could loosen the Velcro strap on his umbrella. A minute before, he’d mumbled a complaint about the humidity. Now he waded through an ankle deep surge, dodging floating logs. Lacking dry shelter provoked extreme anxiety in him. He didn’t want the current to carry him off.
‘The news forecast a chance of rain… I’ll take that bet,’ he thought. Seeking any place to dry off, his vision landed on a coffee house he’d once frequented, Higher Grounds. ‘Why do coffee houses always use puns in their names?’ Having thought it touted the coffee’s strength, not their altitude, nor respite from a flood, he appreciated the irony.
Its dry warmth called to him. Jason sloshed through the now calf-deep river to his old haunt.
He pushed the door open to the greeting shouted by Jacques, the manager. “Jason, my friend, what does it take to get you back in here?”
Jason stamped his feet and wished he could shake off the rain like dogs do. They grinned at each other. “Great to see you, Jacques. I’ll dry off with a coffee and…?” He pointed to the chocolate muffin in the display case. “…and heat it up, please.”
“The usual, coming right up, Mr. Jason. Make yourself at home.” Jason glanced at the deserted café and took the table by the window, he and Julia had always shared.
The coffee warmed him but he shivered as thunder growled. Jason shook his head as memories streamed. He couldn’t believe a year had gone since they sat together. A year since she walked out that door. A year alone.
Julia saw him through the window and paused. He sat where she last saw him. ‘What, a year ago? Why today? Why here?’ She bought time by pouring what looked like gallons of water from her cute plastic boots. The damp chilled her. She steeled herself for the inevitable. ‘It’s fate…’
She stepped into the café. Jason gaped. Their eyes met. Recovering, he waved her over, stood to greet her, and pulled out a chair. He helped with her fringed jacket.
“Cappuccino? Or latte?”
“Yes!” They looked at each other and giggled. “Hurry!”
Jason strode to the counter. Jacques presented the steaming cup as he arrived. No need for conversation.
Jason faked a French accent and served Julia as if he were her personal waiter. “Mademoiselle…”
She pulled strings of wet hair behind her ears. “Thanks, Jase. I can’t believe I let you see me looking like a drowned cat.”
“The most beautiful drowned cat, ever, if I may say so.”
“Skip the flattery.”
They sipped their coffees and pondered how to address the obvious, their year of absence. The false steps. The break up. The opportunity now before them.
Jason spoke, “Forget your umbrella?”
“You always say, being a desert, it never rains. Why carry one?”
“I’m pleased you remember. You look cold. Want to borrow my jacket?”
She let him drape it over her shoulders. “Thanks. It helps.”
“I know it’s out of character, but I actually brought my umbrella, today. Not that it helped. It started so fast, I still got drenched.”
She smiled, “So, did you run? Or walk?”
Jason laughed. She had brought up their old debate on whether one gets wetter from running or walking in the rain. He contended you encounter more drops when running. Walking allowed one to evade most of what fell due to the slower pace. He ignored duration as a factor.
“I’ll admit, I was tempted to run. But the flood slowed me down. I expected an ark to float by.”
She relaxed. Being warm in his company made a difference. “I never thought to run. I was so wet, it wouldn’t have mattered. So I danced.” He listened, entranced. “I imagined myself skipping and dancing along the sea bottom. There was so much water, I could almost see schools of fish swimming by.”
“But there was air. You could breathe.”
“Of course, gills, silly. Can’t survive underwater without them… unless you’re a mermaid.” Jason shook his head in disbelief. “And the starfish flashed, like splashes. They’d fade and get replaced by more. Everywhere.”
“You mean, they were splashes. Not ‘like splashes.’”
She paused but sidestepped his correction. Not wanting to break the spell of her reverie, she nodded and continued. “The rain’s music became waves of applause. So I bowed. Finally, the damp became cold and I saw Higher Grounds, so I came here.”
“And found me.”
She looked at him as if for the first time and smiled.
“That explains why your jacket didn’t help.”
“The fringe… The Indians invented fringe to draw excess water off and not soak the leather.”
“A storm like this had to come from a volcano or something.”
“Yeah. Rain forms when water vapor condenses on dust particles. People noticed it rained after battles. They figured all the smoke and stuff in the air caused the rain.”
Julia nodded. “How did our song go?” She sang, “It’s raining. It’s pouring. The old man…” Jason joined in harmony, “He bumped his head and went to bed and couldn’t get up in the morning…” They laughed.
Jason said, “Our song… Don’t know why I found it so hilarious. It’s actually sad.”
Jacques refreshed their coffees. “Can I get you anything else?” Jason shook his head.
Julia said, “The déjà vu, du jour?”
Jacques looked at Jason, who shrugged.
Julia leaned in. “Imagine, each drop is just one… of millions and millions of drops…”
“Yeah, what if they were grains of sand and we were in an hour glass… That’s how I felt out there… Like I was going to sink…”
Julia gave him a look. Something had changed. “The time… What time is it?” He glanced at the wall clock and told her. “It’s late. I completely lost track… I have to go…”
In a single twirl, she sloughed off Jason’s jacket and covered her shoulders with her own. Jason got caught in the shower of droplets sailing off her fringe. She moved toward the door.
“Julia! Wait…” He followed.
“I’m late. I’m sorry. But I have to…”
“But…” She stood in the doorway. “Can I call?”
“Sure… Oh, my number’s changed… Ask information…” She moved away.
The echo of her leaving rang in Jason’s ears. “Take my umbrella.” He held it out.
Julia smiled and shook her head. “No, thanks. I’ll be fine. I like the rain.” She curtsied lightly and stepped into the storm. The door closed by itself.
Jason watched Julia enter the water filled street. She stomped her feet like a kid, making big splashes. In no hurry at all.
He gave Jacques a twenty. “I’ll be back. See you soon.”
Jacques nodded. “Go get her, kid.”
He stepped into the rain, but Julia had gone. He called out, “Julia!” The sound of rushing water filled the air. She had moved on.