JOY IN DOWNPOUR

(Author Notes: This writing is dedicated to a friend, she was the inspiration behind this short story. Wherever you are I hope you've continued to keep those rainy day blues away. Thanks for the good times, my friend.)

"Even when the levies fall apart and you're left with a flood keep heart that though life may appear dreary and bleak you can find happiness in a downpour. So, when life gives you a puddle, make a splash." - Rachel

It has been this way for a week now, I thought eyes peering over the railing, another puff of smoke escaping my lips. Rain falling hard on the pavement in the backdrop. The chill from the deafening wind rubbing my skin numb. Here I stood leaning against the pillar of the second floor balcony of my apartment gazing upon the city, watching the rain paint the world depressed. Boy, is this depressing. The weatherman had called for a light drizzle. Next thing we know we are getting drenched in the longest downpour this city has ever seen. Why bother watching that nonsense if they can't even get it right?

Another puff of smoke hovered out to meet the dusk as I completed another drag. At this point though I couldn't tell between my breath and the cigarette with the cold settling in for the season. But I needed this. I needed some tension relief to calm the nerves and drain the stress; even if to brave the weather. Thankfully I had roofing over the balcony to keep me from getting wet. I looked over my shoulder through the window to my left, eyes sifting among the blinds trying to see if she was still asleep. She was. Knocked out cold, burned out from the aggravations of the day. Her face still looked like it was twisted into a scowl.

She has good reason, I thought as the puzzle of how to solve this problem paraded in my head at a million miles per hour. I continue to let her down through my own fault. I can't seem to get myself back into the groove of things. Life was beginning to feel like a beating. Lost my job. Can't replace it after the fiftieth interview; money all but gone. Issues with family, whether it be departures of the soul, departures of love or just plain not caring, had left us loners on both sides. Car problems, Rent problems, food problems, a never ending supply of problems to nag and beg for attention posing to strengthen a rift forming between us.

It started off well enough, thinking back on the past, fiddling with the ring around my finger, but now, we are on our last leg. She insists I amend fences. Grovel back to my mother an apologize for her own doings and take the blame for her actions. But I have too much pride for that. Way too much. In truth it was our best option. Really our only one, we were going nowhere fast at this point and with rent falling behind we were going to need somewhere to stay. But I can't seem to convince myself to take one for the team. If not for me, for her.

I had argued we should go to her cousin for help. Seeing as he was the only close relative on her side of the family in the city. She retorted that he was nothing but trouble and would only make our matters worse. 'He can barely afford the drugs for his- ailments,' she would exclaim always quoting with fingers at 'ailments'. We needed a place to stay though. Regardless of a bit of self prescribed medication. She knew good and well it was better than living in our car or out on the streets.

I didn't even want to consider being out there on those streets. I dare not think anymore on that. So I didn't, shaking loose the miserable fortunes in favor of more positive vibes, though, in the end, none would come. I took one last huff of my cigarette, savoring it as if it were to be my last and gave it to the rainy sky, flicking it over the balcony. Even though I knew none was left I looked inside my carton, a frown creasing realizing that, yes, none had magically appeared yet. It really was my last.

There was no more money to spend either. Wallet was light these days, savings all but gone. Like a lake in a scorching summer we had all but dried up the finances. There seemed to be no turn in sight either. Thoughts still poured through my head, depressing further. " I hate the rain," I murmured needing something to blame. I placed my hands across the railing, propping a bit of my weight upon it.

I watched again as the rain stomped everything below it, mindless yet mindful of what it drenched in its wake. The gathering waves formed and rippled off the gutters above me coming down like a miniature waterfall no more than a foot from my head. In the foreground a low bellow of church bells echoed in the distance, me assuming it was the call for worship in the nearby church. A church I was all to fond of. Prayer was something I hadn't dabbled in for a long time. It's been ages, I pondered thinking back to how many ages that actually was. Must of been when I was young; I went with a friend of mine. My parents were never religious. It was a foreign concept I never learned. But she, her face coming back to me in strides, she went out of her way to teach me.

Thinking back I believe she may have had a crush on me. She always found an excuse to hang out, whether it be a night out with friends, school, yawn inducing sessions at mass. A smile crept into the corner of my mouth as I recalled how out there she was. So outspoken, so full of life, but beyond the aura of naivety and obvious youth pumped a caring heart full of sunshine. Many a scraped knee from an active fool fixed with a bit of first aid and passion. It sucks we didn't keep in touch over the years.

It was true, we grew apart after being best friends for those middle years and into the beginnings of high school. Life has a way of causing unnoticeable drifts when your not looking for them and that's exactly what happened. She got new friends, new hobbies; I the same. Before we knew it we hadn't seen each other in weeks, months, save for passing glances down the halls. I met my sweetheart when our paths split. Truthfully, I probably wouldn't have met her in the way I did if we had continued to be friends. Me and her have since then toughed it out since those last years of learning.

Do I regret the path that has led me to this point? A question that has popped in my head a few times. No, in the end I don't. I love her. If not I wouldn't have agreed to stand by her. Not only through the good health and riches but through the sickness and low times as well. I took another look back, her face barely visible through the half covered windows. In the glow of the dim light on the nightstand, the angles of her lovely face made my heart grow heavy with pain If only it was just sunshine all the time, sweetheart. I turned around again only to curse the rain in front of me.

A great part of me felt that we would push on but it would be a test of the extremes we could bear. We had plans for future schooling, to go to a pristine college far away, but life doesn't always turn out how you plan it. She was accepted but I wasn't. Of course she insisted on a change of plans, instead we stayed here. This city was home and full of the familiar so we sought life here. Thankfully I had found a job in office work. Boring as hell but paid well. She went on to a local college; I'm sure that grand adventure beyond the state lines still calling in the back of her head.

Here we are though. With my job gone to poor business practices and her grades slipping with the shadows of stress from real world problems, life has left us here buried in this predicament, fighting on together and at each other. The fresh cuts of verbal jousting still wounding from our last engagement of slanderous fist i-cuffs moments ago. Just remember, deep down she doesn't mean it and neither do you.

Thunder clasped the sky in the distance jarring me from my deep thought, gaze drawn to the sudden flash far away. I continued to wish this rain would go away, even prayed in my own way. How did she do it anyway? I questioned, the old friend still lingering in the back of my head. She went through so much hardship back then. The air flashed again in a foreboding fashion as I began remembering her mother. Poor woman losing her husband and son in that car crash. They both went through so much mourning. It was heartbreaking even if I was too young to fully grasp what they were going through.

In their families passing, it left those two alone to fend for themselves far away from any other relative because of her husband's business here. There was no one interested in picking up the business, so she closed it down in hopes of scraping some money out of doing so. Money must have been tight, something, I of course, can relate too. They made due though. Pushed through those miserable nights with just each other to take comfort from. It did make their bond stronger, she was definitely a mama's baby.

It was just how she, my old friend, continued to put on a brave face after all the pain and suffering is astonishing when I think on it. I honestly don't recall a day where she didn't have a smile on her face. If she showed a chink in her armor she did so in private. In fact, through her I felt more at peace than any other moment in my childhood. She was definitely a ray of light- and I hope she still is.

As the rain formed in puddles around the lots and roads below, an old memory of Sunday school began to whirl in my head. This was my fourth or fifth time I had gone with her to church. I recall the class, a usual affair of children games and Catholicism mixing to form a rudimentary take on religious teaching. Granted, it was a bit juvenile for us. By then we were already in our early teens. We, as always, stuck together during theses classes. I didn't feel comfortable with anyone else, knowing barely anyone in the groups we ventured with. But really it wasn't the session at church that sticks out to me, it's the memories afterward.

It was in the thick of summer. The park was beautiful with luscious green and an array of different colored flowers. Often we would venture out for picnics, baskets ripe with watermelons, sandwiches, tacky blankets. The church grounds sat not far from the park, somewhat nestled in one of the far corners connecting where the concrete jungle met the greens. It was not far from my block so visiting her or taking the time to come to church was not much of a problem. We had planned on picnicking after service but that met an unfortunate end.

Despite the sunny skies and vast ocean of blue dangling above when we arrived, by the time we left the class to cross the vastness of grass between the small building adjacent to the main church it had started raining a half an hour earlier. No light drizzle either. Full on downpour. I have never been afraid of the rain. like most, I just don't desire to get coated in water, fully dressed, soaked to the bone. As people prepared for the gauntlet, some rallying up their shirts, others using there lesson binders as shields, few just braving it the best they could, everyone darted across the yard screaming and hollering. I didn't follow. Instead I stood at the door, looking up, watching as the heavens drained. Part of me yelling at the rain in my head for ruining such a wonderful sunny day.

"What do you see?" I remember turning to her, that familiar smile staring back at me.

"Rain," I answered, thinking it an obvious answer. She laughed, not responding back. "What's so funny?" She took hold of my arm and brought me out of the door frame. Out closer so that the misty residue of the humidity began to touch skin. We stood, covered by the small aluminum overhead inches from where the rain was forced to a stopping point. "Why are you so afraid?" She asked taking her hand and placing it out to greet it. The water rushed and danced around her fingers, small rivers twisting around her arm as she curved and buckled it to feel it around every crevice. I frowned, "I'm not."

"Then why are we not with everyone else?" I couldn't tell if she really thought I was scared or just poking fun at me. "I figured it might let up if we hang around a bit. Not like we have to be in a hurry anyways. We have to wait on your mom to be done with her class." I shrugged, still watching her. She took her arm away from the water bringing it back into shelter. She looked at me with those deep blue eyes, that smile still hanging on. She took a step in my direction till we were side by side. Her head leaned close to mine, me feeling a little uneasy as to where this was going, her wet arm beginning to pass on the moisture like a germ as it touched my arm. "I'm going to let you in on a little secret," she said, her mouth close to my ear. "What?" I replied a little bit of blush embracing cheek.

"Sometimes," She started, pausing slightly, "you just have to make a wild dash!" Before I knew it she bolted. Body hit the water hard. In seconds she was drenched but she was relentless. With laughs abound she crossed the seemingly far field, a slight skip to her step. Her long hair bouncing with every beat of the step; carefree. But halfway she stopped and just turned around. "Are you coming?"

I must have looked at her like she was crazy. "Okay, okay, I'm coming!" I yelled over the patter of the rain above. With a shallow inhale and a bit of mental preparation I followed suit. First slow, then with lighter and faster footsteps I began to charge across. As I got to where she was I assumed she was going to run ahead and join me on the other side. Too my surprise I felt her hand grab a hold of my arm in passing. This nearly made me fall because of the slick grass and mud added with the pull from her center of gravity. I would have brought her down with me if I didn't brace myself in that sudden moment. "Why are you in a hurry?" I turned to face her, of course she was smiling. "What are you doing?" I asked in return, shaking my arm loose with a slight jerk.

"Like you said," she started, "we have time."

"Time for what?" I asked, glancing over to the other side wishing she would hurry up.

"To enjoy the downpour silly!" And like that she was gone. She began to run away, not going in any particular direction but, regardless, away from both the Church, the Sunday school building, even away from the vehicles parked a little ways off. No, she went her own way, deep into the rain. I didn't follow. Instead I ran towards the church till I found haven underneath the canopy above the side entrance. I attempted to wipe myself down. First hand crossed my brow knocking droplets to the gravel below, only to feel another wave pour down from my damp hair.

All the while I heard it. The laughter. That innocent, heartfelt laughter breaking the noise of the pitter-patter. She twirled and danced, dress flowing too and fro. She looked so blissful and at that point in time I couldn't figure out why she was having so much fun getting soaked. After a minute or two of me just watching her she comes to where I'm standing, still in the rain, watching me watching her.

"I don't get you." I retorted, giving a smirk. "Likewise," she replied jokingly.

"So why," I began to ask with sincerity in mind, "why jump around in the rain?"

She paused in thought, maybe to try to figure it out herself. Her response, "My dad used to tell me things. I guess you can call them life lessons. He once told me, when the levies break and life seems to be one big flood, don't panic. Instead embrace the currents, accept the tides and above all else just make a splash." There was a moments pauses as we looked at each other in serious fashion. Part of me didn't know how to respond. I didn't want to say anything to upset her. To say anything about her dad or brother. So I didn't. I kept silent.

"He was right though," She said breaking the silence, "Besides, I love to make a splash." Suddenly I'm coated in water as she jumps with a crash into a puddle forming nearby. I look in bewilderment, her giggling at my reaction. "You are so going to pay for that!" I screamed, and whether I knew it or not I took her advice. Like that I was out in the rain myself chasing her across the yard

That day we did miss service. That day I also saw her mom at her angriest. Suffice to say she was not happy about us skipping service- nor the mess we had become from all the mud and rain. But we never lost our grins. We longed to make another splash.

Back then I didn't fully take account of the hardships she faced. It was only two months before this that her father and brother had passed away. The thought of this and her potentially having to move away from all her friends here must have been a big burden. But she danced. Danced in the rain, taking that sunny day gone sour into something she could find joy in. She found joy in a downpour.

As I looked across the fading light on the horizon, the roar of thunder piercing through more often, I couldn't help but play that memory in my head a few more times. Make a splash...

I let out a soft breath, turning around to face that door. That door that would lead me back to that world I had tried to escape. You know what must be done. And so I went. I opened that door and stepped inside, her eyes opening to greet mine.

"Honey," I began, she groggily sitting up in the bed, "I'm sorry."

"No," she said, words low and crackly, "Don't be. You don't need to apologize." We both knew we had crossed the line earlier. Words were said though, damage done, but amends were only steps away. "I shouldn't have called you a deadbeat- among other things. I know you're trying."

She scooted a bit to let me take a seat next to her. I placed my hand on her thigh, she leaning her head against my shoulder. "Not hard enough I fear," the words mellow. We laid in stillness for a few minutes, just enjoying the company of one another in quiet unison. I knew though in both of our heads there was tempest of thoughts raging against us. I broke the silence.

"I'm going to talk too her." She tilted her head upward. I could see the look of confusion of who I was referring to. "My mother, I'm going to smooth things over with her and see if she can help us out." It pained me to say it but I needed to put the past behind and focus on the future and present. She had the resources to help us and the only thing holding us from it was because of me holding on to a grudge. "What made you change your mind?" She asked quizzically. "Just watching the rain."

I'm sure she didn't really grasp what I meant. All the same I felt her hand wrap into mine. I felt the warmth against my still cold hands; I leaned forward and kissed her on the top of her head. "I promise you, we will get back on our feet and become stronger because of this."

"I believe you."

"Good. I love you, sweetheart."

"I love you too, babe."

As the little bit of sunlight left began to fade replacing it with the shadow of night, the gloom of shallow darkness crept throughout the room. Only the dim light from the lamp keeping pitch blackness at bay. The sound of rain became more intense as it increased in volume. The booms of electricity arched and flashed outside the window in such close proximity that it shook the floor. But it was fine.

In this moment I had found joy. A warm embrace. Something to make such a dark day become a lovely serenade. No longer would I curse the sky on days like these. No, I would take some advice from an old friend. Even when the levies fall apart and you're left with a flood keep heart that though life may appear dreary and bleak you can find happiness in a downpour. So, when life gives you a puddle, make a splash.

We fell asleep in each others arms, the world seemingly falling apart around us. But I knew we would see sunshine soon. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon. However long it would take. Till then we would strive to find happiness even in these darkest of days. Finding joy in a downpour.