The residents of Imber, a small town nestled in the mountains, enjoyed Halloween. They decorated their homes with twinkling lights every Christmas, and they stayed awake until midnight every New Year’s Eve. They children even spent Valentine’s Day shyly handing each other fresh roses plucked from the Imber Gardens.
But nothing compared to First Rain.
The preparations began in late winter. Lucy sat at the window seat, watching the snowmen in the yard melt into pitiful puddles while the twins colored posters beside her. The kitchen table was littered with every shade of paper and marker.
“You don’t have to make them,” said a voice by the kitchen door. Lucy turned from the half-melted snowmen to catch her mother nodding at the art supplies.
Lavender, who was nine years younger than Lucy and four minutes older than Lane, paused her coloring, her face falling. “But we need her help!”
Lucy smiled at her mother and picked up a purple marker. “I don’t mind.”
“Good.” Lavender returned to her coloring.
Their mother sat down at the table next to Lane and pulled a piece of poster paper and some markers toward her. Lucy watched her brother and sister. Lavender had curly hair and big brown eyes, just like her. Lane was the spitting image of their father.
A hand closed around Lucy’s throat. She gave her head a shake and focused on the poster in front of her. She had written the word “FIRST” in blocked letters, and the first two letters were colored in already.
“That’s boring,” said Lavender, giving Lucy’s poster a dirty look.
Lucy rolled her eyes. “It’s minimalistic.”
Lucy turned to her brother. He sorted through his markers, head down.
“Yours looks great, Lane,” said Lucy softly.
Lane didn’t acknowledge her. She swallowed hard.
“Honey?” said their mother, laying her hand on Lane’s forearm. “Did you hear Lucy?”
“Don’t push him,” mumbled Lucy.
Their mother shook her head. “Lane?”
“This is stupid,” he snapped, dropping the marker in his hands.
“I don’t want to go. And you can’t make me.”
“If Dad isn’t going then I’m not, either.” With that, he jumped out of his chair and ran out of the room.
Lavender sighed. “I’ll go check on him.”
Lucy’s mother groaned as the kitchen door shut behind Lavender. She put her head in her hands and asked, “Has he called?”
“Just once,” said Lucy quietly. “Last month, to check in. He forgot their birthday though.”
The twins turned eleven last week.
Her mother lowered her hands. Lucy tried not to focus on the dark circles under her mother’s eyes.
“How are you, honey?”
“I’m fine,” said Lucy. “Seriously. It’s not like I saw him much anyway.”
She gritted her teeth. She only ever came home for school breaks since starting college three years ago. Her father had worked during every single one.
“I’m sorry. About everything.”
“You don’t have to be sorry, Mom. He’s the one that left.” Lucy reached out and gripped her mother’s hands.
Lavender reentered into the kitchen. “He won’t talk to me. Like usual.”
Lucy sighed and shared a look with her mother. “My turn.”
Lane said nothing when she knocked on the door.
“Come on, Lane. It’s me.”
A second later, the lock clicked. Lucy allowed herself a small smile before pushing open the door to Lane throwing himself on the bed.
“I hate that Mom’s forcing us to go,” he grumbled into his pillow. “Why do you even want to? It’s for kids.”
Lucy leaned against the door frame and crossed her arms. “It’s for everyone. And I’m going because I want to.”
“No, you don’t. Don’t lie. I know you’d rather be spending spring break on the beach or whatever everyone else is doing.”
Lucy sighed and sat on the end of his bed. “Not really. I’d rather be with you guys.”
“Because you want to make sure we’re not going to jump off the roof or something?”
“Because I missed you.”
Lane sat up on the bed, crossing his arms and raising his eyebrows at her. “You missed us?”
Lucy grinned. “You’re not that bad, you know.”
He was quiet before a moment. “Do you think Dad misses us?”
Lucy shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Lane stared at his feet.
“It’s the first Rain Festival without Dad,” said Lucy carefully, “so we need to go. We need to prove him wrong, prove that he didn’t break us. Do you understand?” She willed her brother to look at her.
He did. “It better rain.”
“It will. I promise.”
It was only later, when Lucy was lying in her bed, that she thought of her father making promises he couldn’t keep. She rolled over onto her side and cried.
They taped their posters to lamp posts and store windows for all residents to see over the next week. It wasn’t long until every surface was plastered with art from all the children. The excitement was palpable, even more so when the weatherman predicted what was to come on Saturday.
“Showers all day, folks!”
“Well, that’s lucky,” said Lucy, shooting a glance at Lane, who looked down and said nothing.
The First Rain Festival was held that Saturday morning in the Imber Gardens. Worn cobblestone paths snaked through plants of all shapes and sizes. In the very middle of the gardens was a small field where children threw frisbees in the summers. During First Rain, families crowded into the field, their faces turned toward the sky.
Lucy, her mother and her siblings found a spot on the field.
“Not a lot of clouds,” said Lavender, sending a worried peek toward the sky.
“The weatherman said it’d be ok,” Lucy assured her. But she shared a look with her mother anyway.
A half hour passed with nothing happening.
“This is stupid,” grumbled Lane.
“It’s coming,” said Lucy, struggling to keep her voice even. She had promised.
After another fifteen minutes, a few families started to head back to their homes.
“Let’s go back.” Lane grabbed Lavender’s arm and started to walk back to their house.
“No!” Lucy reached out; as she did so, a small raindrop landed in the crook of her elbow.
She started at the drop in wonder. Lane and Lavender had turned around at her exclamation. They too gazed at the raindrop as it trickled off Lucy’s arm and splattered into the grass below.
“I promised you,” said Lucy, trembling, “that it would rain.”
The sky filled with small droplets. It only took ten more minutes for the clouds, hidden by the mountains, to fully roll in and blanket all of Imber. The rain turned torrential, and Lucy laughed as it soaked her to her core.
“First Rain! First Rain!” Lane and Lavender joined in the shouting from the residents of Imber. Lucy watched Lavender twirl in the rain, laughing. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen her sister laugh.
Lucy caught Lane’s smile, the raindrops splashing on his bright cheeks, and felt tears threaten to fall. He met her eyes and reached out a hand. She took it and he pulled her in close. Their mother wrapped her arms around all of them, and for a moment, they all felt dry and warm despite the rain falling around them.
“We’ll be ok. We’ll be ok,” murmured Lucy.
“I know,” said Lane.
They washed themselves of the man that left them as they embraced in the rain.