When Pietro was a little boy, his grandmother would drive him to school.
Pietro loved rainy mornings. After buckling his seatbelt, his grandmother would shift the car into drive and say to him, “Close your eyes and listen to the rain land on the car, mijo. It sounds like the universe is applauding you.”
He would close his eyes and, to his grandmother’s convenience, spend the ride to school quietly soaking in the praise that the universe was giving him. Pietro loved the rain for loving him.
When Pietro first tried his hand at little league, he hit a home run. His grandmother picked him up from the game, and he’ll never forget how she beamed when he told her all about the big moment over their hot fudge sundaes. When they got back in the car, a few quick taps sounded on the windshield, and soon enough, the day’s projected rain came just late enough for Pietro to have hit his homerun and enjoyed his ice cream in the sun.
There was still a bit of hot fudge on his face when he smiled, closing his eyes. “Applause!” is all he said to his grandmother, who hummed her agreement, taking the long way to drive him home.
It began to be a question in his growing mind every time the sky was overcast. What had he done to deserve the applause, today? Every time he was in a car, surrounded by nature demanding an encore of him, he would think of all of the good things that he had done lately so as to feel secure taking his mental bow. It became a game that carried on to an age that Pietro might have been embarrassed to admit.
When Pietro turned fifteen, he made friends. His family knew that he had made friends, but it was not because he would bring them around their home. He did not dare. They saw it in his behavior, and they saw it in his habits. He had become rude. His father found a pack of cigarettes in his jacket.
The first time that his surly-faced grandmother picked him up from the police station for vandalizing a teacher’s home, the sun was out.
It shone for weeks.
After that incident, Pietro’s parents decided that it was time for him to change schools. Despite his initial fight, Pietro did, after a long year, fortunately outgrow those friends, and he experienced cloudy skies once again. He found himself a new group of friends, he reconnected with his family, and he even met a girl. Her name was Lily. Lily was beautiful. She had fair skin, big blue eyes with dark lashes, and long brown hair. She had a classic look to her. The sort of look that boys were meant to be drawn to.
Pietro, hands shaking, asked her to the prom. He was met with enthusiastic agreement, and later that afternoon, the nylon of his raincoat was met with peltering rain.
Pietro chose to walk home that day.
Lily was not just beautiful, she was brave. At the end of prom night, she pulled him in for a kiss. Pietro kissed back, grateful that the night was masking the color of his cheeks.
“It’s such a beautiful night,” Lily remarked. “You can see every star in the sky.”
Pietro wished that they couldn’t.
Pietro did not see Lily again after that night. He told her that he was too focused on graduation, and that he was too consumed with preparing to start classes at the local community college, and that his parents were putting a lot of pressure on him to finish off his senior year with exceptional grades.
When graduation did eventually come, it came on a rainy day. Pietro thought that he was probably the only member of his class that was not entirely miffed by the weather. As a matter of fact, he couldn’t help but smile as he accepted a public kiss on the cheek from his grandmother and climbed into the back seat of his family’s car, asking his mother to turn down the music on their drive home.
If it had rained over the next few months, Pietro hadn’t noticed. Not when he got a summer job, not when he started college, and not even on his birthday. He might have begun to believe that his habit of noticing rain and eagerly hopping into a car to receive his ovation was a thing of the past—something that he had outgrown, much like baseball and that posse of bad influences.
The first time that Pietro took note of the rain again was the first time that he kissed a boy.
That night, he drove with no destination in mind.
Pietro kissed him again. His name was Rory. Rory made Pietro feel like he was having a hot fudge sundae after a successful little league game. Rory made Pietro’s heart feel like it was on the receiving end of one of grandmother’s warm hugs. For another extended period of time, Pietro stopped seeking validation from the universe when the rain would hit his car. When Rory smiled at him, he knew that his universe loved him.
It was just before the Thanksgiving of his second year of college when Pietro called his parents on the phone and told them that he would be bringing his boyfriend home to dine with them. His voice was calm, his tone casual. From the other end of the line, his father could not hear the way that his son’s hands shook. If he had, maybe he would not have yelled the expletives that he did before he hung up the phone.
It rained for weeks after this, and Pietro noticed it now, but it didn’t matter. There was no getting him out of bed, let alone getting him into a car. Rory tried as hard as he could, but it was no use. He resigned himself to burrowing under the covers with his boyfriend, listening to the hollow sound of the never-ending rain against the windows of their apartment with him. From inside their bedroom, it sounded only like rain.
It was still raining on the day that Pietro’s grandmother showed up at the door of his apartment and wrapped him in a hug. She grabbed him by the hand and walked right into his home, hugging Rory before Pietro even had a chance to introduce either of them.
“I love you,” she told Pietro.
“I love you,” she told Rory.
Pietro walked his grandmother to her car at the end of the night, but he had no need to get inside of it.
He was already home.
Today, Pietro is holding Rory’s hand in front of the rest of his family for the first time as his grandmother’s body is lowered into the ground.
When the rain starts to fall from the sky, it mixes with the tears on the cheeks of the rest of the attendees, and to them, it might as well be—it’s a representation of their sorrow for her death.
Pietro, though, knows why it is raining, and he knows who sent it.
Rory opens the passenger door for Pietro, and he gets into the driver’s seat himself.
Pietro, for the first time in years, closes his eyes, and once again soaks in the applause from the universe. As Rory drives away in the rain, Pietro swears that he can pick out one more pair of hands clapping in the audience.