Janette laughed at her husband jumping around trying to get his pants pulled up and shoes back on his feet as she hurried to zip their largest suitcase shut before the rain came down any harder. She dragged the bag toward the back of the car but wasn’t strong enough to lift it. Instead she dragged the smaller suitcase over and hoisted it into the trunk and then the cooler.
“Stop, stop, stop,” Chandler said. “We’ll never fit the large bag in if you put the small one in first.”
He pulled it back down and lifted the larger bag into the trunk, then nested the smaller one on top.
“Get in the car,” he demanded in a gruff voice. “You’re getting soaked.”
“I’m not leaving you out here to do this by yourself,” Janette said, shoving another small duffle bag up and over the suitcases, and then looking around to be sure they’d gotten everything back in. Seeing they’d loaded everything, she hurried around to the passenger-side door and closed herself away from the now pouring rain.
Chandler slammed the hatch of the trunk down and was in the driver’s side door within seconds. When he settled into place, he grabbed a tissue and made an attempt to remove some of the drips. Looking over at her in exasperation, he cracked up laughing. “At least we got the tire changed before the rain arrived.”
“Good to look on the bright side,” Janette said then glanced up at the blackening sky in front of them. She pointed at the clouds. “That, however, is not the bright side.”
“Well, that is where we’re supposed to be heading.” Chandler started the car but didn’t put it into gear.
“We can’t drive that way,” Janette said.
“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” Chandler grumbled.
“Don’t get mad at me. I didn’t cause the storm.” As much as she’d always wanted to see a tornado, the reality of putting them in danger wasn’t worth the potential adrenalin rush. They weren’t driving a tank like The Dominator, and they weren’t professional storm chasers. She was a decent armchair meteorologist though. She held her smartphone in her hand. “Let me pull up my weather app and see if I can figure out what direction to drive to avoid the bulk of the storm.”
“You think you know enough from a weather app to get us out of this?” Chandler scoffed.
“Yes, I do, you jerk. Now be quiet so I can think.” She brought up a digital radar showing precipitation and wind speed velocity along with directional and estimated arrival time data. “Tornadoes usually happen to the back and southernmost parts of the systems and this one is heading in a general north-east trajectory, so if we head north-west, we’ll be heading into the storm briefly, but we’ll come out the other side completely behind the system. Whereas if we head south-west, we’ll be heading right into the most likely location of highest risk of forming a tornado, and I don’t think we can outrun this in order to get far enough south. I say we head north-west.” She pointed ahead into the darkest portion of the storm.
“That’s the worst part of the thunderstorm.” Chandler gaped in the direction she was pointing. “Are you insane?”
“You’ve asked me that several times today,” she said calmly. “There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. Please don’t ask my psychiatrist to order an IQ test.”
Chandler laughed at Janette, but his laugh was maniacal. “I’ll only order that test if you get us killed. There was a side road back about a mile that would take us north, if you seriously think that’s the correct direction to travel.”
“Only if you want to get out of this fast,” she said, looking behind them to check for traffic, as if she had any control of where he would drive.
“And you’re sure you’re not just leading us into the storm so you can look for a tornado?” He completed a three-point turn, the wrong way down the highway, heading for an emergency pull-off in the median about a hundred yards behind them. If there had been any other cars on the highway driven by people stupid enough to be heading toward this storm, Chandler would have hit them.
“I would never put you in danger on purpose.” She was hurt he would even think that but understood why he would make that assumption. Less than a half hour ago, she had suggested they follow The Dominator. Travelling along with trained professionals was different than purposely putting themselves in harm’s way.
Within a few minutes, Chandler turned north onto a side road that looked even more desolate than the main road on which they’d been travelling toward New Mexico. Janette’s stomach clenched wondering if they’d made a bad choice going this way. If they were in the middle of nowhere before, they’d be on the fringe of nowhere after just a few miles. She felt more and more terrified the further north they drove. The rain also came down harder the further north they drove.
“I can’t see through this deluge!” Chandler slowed the car and finally pulled off to the shoulder. “I don’t know if we’re all the way off the road, but I don’t want to slide into the ditch. What the heck, Janette! This was a bad idea!”
“Would you calm down,” she said, keeping her eyes on the tiny radar showing on the screen of her phone. “We’ll be fine. The rain will pass in a few minutes. There’s not any rotation in the sky right here so it’s not like we’re going to be blown away by a tornado.”
No sooner had she said the words then a gust of wind blasted their car from the west, not quite strong enough to move the car physically off the road, but definitely rocking it side to side. “We’re gonna die!” Chandler said.
“We’re not going to die, silly.” Janette reached for her husband’s hand, and he clung to her like a scared little boy. “This is nothing more than a little wind.” The car rocked again.
“A little wind? That’s not a little wind.” His hand gripped harder as he raised his voice.
“Okay, so, strong, gusty winds, but that’s it.” Just then the rain sounded like golf balls hitting the roof. “Hail? Stop hitting my car!” Janette yelled at the hail, as if she had any control over inanimate flying ice dropping from the sky.
“Are you sure there’s no tornado?” Chandler demanded.
“I’m not sure about anything right now!” Janette refreshed the screen on her phone. “No… there is no rotation in the sky above us, nor upwind from us. And this is going to be past us soon. Five minutes, maybe.”
“We have to survive this for five more minutes?” Chandler sounded like he was going to cry.
“You survived making out with me for five minutes yesterday,” Janette pointed out, trying to distract her husband. “If you can survive that, you can survive anything.”
“That was a different kind of torture,” Chandler’s voice softened. She had successfully distracted him.
“Do you want me to sing the thunderstorm song from when our kids were little?” she teased.
“Nope. We’re good. I heard that song too many hundreds of times in the past twenty-four years.”
“Can you believe you’ve put up with me this long?” No longer just trying to distract Chandler, she really was in awe that they’d successfully been married for almost twenty-five years. “What are we going to do for our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary?”
“We could… buy a Mustang convertible,” he suggested with a gleam in his eye.
“We just bought you one for your birthday. Try again.”
“We could take a really long road trip together again and test whether or not we want to stay married for another twenty-five years.”
“I’m never driving across the country again for the rest of my life,” Janette said. “Try again.”
“We have zero in common, Janette. How the heck have we stayed married for twenty-four years?” He met her gaze and they stared at each other for a few minutes.
“Uh… hmm… I’m trying to think of some way to answer that question.” She rubbed her chin in contemplation. With rain and hail pelting their car, wind gusts nearly ripping them off the side of the road, and no way to escape this uncomfortable question, Janette tried to come up with an answer.