2: After the Storm

The sound of drilling and hammering resonating from outside woke me from my slumber. I groaned into my pillow, covering my face with the duvet as if the act alone would make the noise disappear. It didn’t. Annoyed, I climbed out of bed and marched towards the window with the sole purpose of telling whoever was banging nails to keep it down. A quick glance at my bed side clock made my blood boil. It was seven a.m! Who was up at this ungodly hour? It was summer. No person in their right mind would be up willingly.

I jerked the curtains to the side, catching the scowl reflecting back at me on the glass. I wasn’t a morning person in the slightest. It was difficult enough during school to wake up at six a.m. Sometimes, I would even hit the snooze button for half an hour. I was often late to school on those days.

Shivering from the cool morning air penetrating from the glass, I grabbed my purple satin robe, shrugging it on. Upon closer examination, I spotted Mr. Rowan on the front lawn at the side of the house, removing the wooden boards that covered the windows. Finn was nowhere in sight. I would definitely be impressed if he was still sound asleep, dreaming of luscious green hills plagued by deadly infected humans who turned into zombies.

Okay, I needed to stop having late night conversations with my little brother. Max’s overactive imagination was rubbing off on me if my dreams were any sort of indication of his creative little mind. I was certain that what he say yesterday afternoon was subconsciously orchestrated from his mind. I’ve done the same thing on cold, dreary nights. There was something ominous about the isle when the sun set on the horizon. It was a strange feeling to have since I’d lived here for as long as I could remember. Oak Isle was my home, yet, I couldn’t shake that dark feeling when Max and I were left alone. And that happened more often than I had fingers and toes to count.

I tried going back to sleep after deciding that yelling at Mr. Rowan to keep it down was a very bad idea. He’d probably think I was mental and hate me. After five minutes of squirming in bed, I got up and shuffled downstairs. My stomach growled unexpectedly, deciding the direction I’d go without any protest from my mind.

There was a note held in place by a badly made clay monkey magnet I’d made in pottery class on the fridge.

Rose

There is money in the kitchen drawer for lunch and dinner later. Dad and I are going to be late again. Take care of your brother. Keep him out of trouble, hon.

Love,

        Mom

I crumbled the note and threw it in the trash expertly. Grabbing a bowl from the pantry, I poured myself some Frosted Mini-Wheat’s, relishing in the sugary goodness. Max came down an hour later, readily dressed with his hair sticking up in disarray.

He was heading towards the door when I slid in front of him, stopping him in his tracks.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“Across the street to Finn’s house. He promised we’d hack off snakes! Remember?”

“Max, it’s early. He’s probably still sleeping.”

He bounced on the heels of his feet. “Sooooo….we’ll wake him up!” Max yanked on my arm, turning the locks with a stealth I’d never seen from him before. He was also pretty darn strong for a six year old. The door inched open and I leaped forward to close it.

“No, Max. We’ll go over later. At least, let me get dressed. Alright?”

He glowered but then conceded. “Fine. But hurry up. We’re wasting daylight!”

*

Two hours later I emerged from my bedroom. I wanted to delay our visit to Finn as long as I could. It was still early and I cursed the time lords for making time go exceedingly slow as of late. I found Max in the living room aimlessly watching t.v. As soon as he saw me he jumped to his feet, switching off the television.

“Finally!” he exclaimed. “Can we go now? He’s already up! He’s mowing the lawn. It will make it a whole lot easier to kill ‘em snakes!”

I ruffled his hair and we headed out. True to his word, Finn was outside. But instead of mowing the lawn he had switched to trimming the bushes around the property. He wielded a pair of sheers, sweat clinging to the cotton white t-shirt he wore. Stacks of old wooden boards lay abandoned on the side of the street along with three jumbo sized black plastic trash bags.

“Hey, Finn!” Max called. There was a huge grin on his face that I couldn’t help but also smile at his enthusiasm. Finn looked up from his work and waved, setting down the sheers on the grass, and walking over to us.

“Hey Max,” he said, rumpling his already disheveled brown locks. “Morning, Rose.”

“Good morning,” I replied. “Already hard at work I see.”

He gave me a lazy smile, rubbing the back of his neck. “Yeah. Dad’s determined to have this placed fixed up in a month. In the meantime, there ain’t no rest for the wicked.”

My brows rose in surprise at his reference to a Cage The Elephant song. They were undiscovered gems. It was a rare commodity to find someone that knew who they were much less know their music. Testing him I said, “And money don’t grow on trees.”  

He smiled, the green hue of his eyes dancing in the morning sun. Max shifted his weight from one foot to the other impatiently, jeering our attention towards him. Finn crouched down, leaning his forearms on his knees.

“What do you have in your pack?”

The impatience disappeared from his face, replaced with unmistaken zest. “I thought we could go on an adventure and hack off snakes! Have you found any yet?”

Finn shook his head and Max’s face fell in disappointment. “But I’ll tell you what,” Finn said. “How about the three of go get ice cream after I finish my work here? My treat.”

Max nodded vigorously. “That’d be awesome!” He turned to me, his eyes pleading. “Can we go, Rose? Pleaseeeeee?”

“How could I ever turn down free ice cream?”

“Yes!” Max exclaimed. “Oh! Can we help, Finn? It’ll be fun.”

“If it’s okay with your sister it’s okay with me.”

I smiled. “Just show us what you want us to do.”

*

About an hour or so later we finished trimming the hedges around the front lawn. Max and I didn’t do such a bad job given that it was our first time using sheers. It was a miracle that we didn’t have to call 911. It was more than I could say for all the times I’d let Max anywhere near sharp objects.

Finn showed us how to handle the sheers at first and then gave us specific instructions on how to trim the foliage. After that was all done we helped Finn clean up the lawn, taking clumps of leaves and branches and stuffing them into trash bags.

It was amazing what a person could accomplish with two sets of extra hands.

We walked into town after Finn went upstairs to change out of his “work clothes” as he called them. He traded his brown hiking boots to black and white converse and appeared in a freshly clean cotton baby blue v-neck and khaki cargo shorts.

“So what do you do for fun around here?” he asked. I looked up, shading my eyes from the sun with my hand. Finn didn’t have that problem since he had on a pair of Ray Bans. Lucky duck. I should have gone back home to at least grabbed my shades.

“Rose doesn’t do anything,” Max offered, turning around and walking backwards. “She’s in her room a lot. She doesn’t even go on my adventures with me!”

“That’s not true.” I protested. “I go on plenty of your adventures.” Turning to Finn I added, “There’s hiking and fishing if you’re an outdoor person. You can explore the isle and its many quirks. Oh!” I pointed to a far building across the square as we stepped into town. “That’s the local theater. Every Friday night they hold a black and white movie fest. There’s also a bowling alley a few buildings down and the Oak Isle Park is a half hour away, residing near the ferry station. I’m sure you saw it on your way in?”

He nodded. “Hmm…what else…” I tapped my forefinger to my lips, trying to think of anything else I might have missed. “Oh! And lastly, we have an amazing coffee shop, if you like coffee.”

“I love coffee.”

I smiled. “Good. I don’t think I could ever be friends with someone who hates coffee.”

“I hate coffee,” Max piped diligently. “It’s gross.”

Finn chuckled. “’Cause you’re a kid. When you get older you’ll change your mind.”

“Doubt it,” he muttered.

Finn swiftly walked in front of me and pulled on the door to Auntie Mae’s Ice Cream, letting Max and I enter first. “Thanks,” I mumbled, taken aback by his matters. Boys didn’t usually hold the door for me. They generally just let the door slam in my face when I approached.

The shop hosted a few patrons that I recognized, but didn’t associate myself with. Among them were Marcie Graymoore and her best friend/minion Katy Niall. Their attention quickly flickered from me to Finn, who was asking Max what kind of flavor he wanted. Marcie leaned in to Katy and whispered something that was completely unintelligible to read, but I knew it involved me and possibly Finn by the way her eyes flashed with vast interest.

Shuffling forward I took my place beside Finn as Max bounced excitedly on the balls of his feet. His face was pressed against the glass, watching with keen interest as Craig scooped up ice cream for the costumers in front of us.

“What are you guys getting?” I asked, scanning the assortment of flavors through the glass.

“Bubble gum and Cookie Dough,” Max said.

I scrunched my nose in disgust. That wasn’t going to taste good at all. He was such an odd little guy.

“I’m getting Mint and going to try the Cookie Dough. You?”

“Pistachio for me.”

Finn gave me a blank stare. “Really?”

“It’s my favorite.” I smiled. He shook his head as if he couldn’t understand why anyone in the world would like Pistachio flavored ice cream.

Craig took our orders and we settled into a booth off the side of the shop. Max eagerly ate his ice cream peacefully, concentrating and savoring every bite. Poor kid. Mom barely let him have sweets. It was like his childhood was being taken away from him by being deprived of sugary goodness.

 It didn’t take long for Marcie and Katy to saunter over. I was a little surprised that it had taken them a whole ten minutes to approach us. Usually they would have pounced and extended their claws on their new prey in the first two minutes they set their eyes on the poor, unfortunate guy.

“Hey, Rose,” Marcie said, a little too sweetly. “Who’s your friend?”

Finn removed his Ray Bans and set them on the table, extending out his hand to Marcie in greeting. “I’m Finn. Just moved in,” he said.

“I’m Marcie,” she said. “And this is Katy.” They exchanged handshakes and Finn took a bite of his ice cream. I could have high fived him then for his completely unaffected composure. Most guys’ interest quickly piqued when Marcie was within range. Her long honey blond hair and sultry brown eyes were seen as quite a catch among my male peers. She had the opposite effect on the girl population, making us want to gag whenever she was in the vicinity.

Marcie grinned and twirled her hair around her forefinger in a flirtatious manner as she stepped closer to our table, practically leaning over the table top and bursting Finn’s bubble. His brows slightly furrowed, but other than that he remained calm and collected, his hazel eyes assessing Marcie like she was some unknown specimen he was trying to comprehend.

“Should you ever need anyone to show you around I’d be more than happy to offer my services.”

I inwardly groaned. What kind of line was that? I’d be more than happy to offer my services. Who said that other than exotic play mates who were found on the internet?

“Thanks but no thanks,” he said. “I’ve already got a pretty solid tour guide.”

Marcie’s face fell, her eyes dangerously glinting behind the fake bravado. I bit the inside of my cheek, smothering the wide grin that threatened to form on my lips. I shifted my gaze from Marcie’s scowl to Finn warm crooked smile. His eyes danced with a secret that I desperately wanted to be a part of as he took another bit of his ice cream.

“Well, okay then,” she huffed, trying to be calm but unable to succeed. The anger at being turned down was practically steaming out of her ears. “I’ll see you around.” She turned sharply on her heels and sauntered towards the exit with Katy trailing behind like a lost puppy.

“Wow,” I breathed out when the door closed behind their retreating figures.

“What?” He raised his brow in mild amusement.

I bit my lip and shook my head, smiling. “Nothing.”

His hazel eyes lingered on mine for a little bit longer than I could handle. I looked away, feeling my body grow hot under his penetrating gaze. I focused all my concentration on Max, who was happily gobbling down his ice cream. He had withdrawn and gone into his own bubble when Marcie and Katy came around, completely missing all the action. I’d have to fill him in later. This was worthy of retelling rather than just writing it down in my journal.

Somewhere in the comfortable silence we’d all drifted in, my gaze fixed back on Finn. I noticed that there were shadows rimmed around his eyes from lack of sleep. The storm must have kept him up for most of the night if he was unaccustomed to the heavy onslaught of rain and branches scratching against the house.

“How was the first night?” I asked, breaking the silence in our only little corner of the world.

“Hm?” he said, his eyes hazed over, lost in his own thoughts. He blinked, slowly coming back down to earth. “Oh. Is it that noticeable?”

A faint smile sprang on my lips. “Nah. But you look tired.”

“Just a little,” he sighed. “I couldn’t sleep with the storm going on so I stayed up late rummaging through the box you found yesterday.”

My brows rose and I leaned forward, resting my elbows on the table top. “And? What did you find?”

 “Maybe it’s better if I showed you.”

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