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Sometimes the shelter is more dangerous than the storm…
For best friends and high school seniors Molly, Lenni, and Bianca, the future is bright and right around the corner. With graduation just weeks away, the girls are ready to leave behind the emotional insanity of high school and step together into a saner, less dramatic chapter of life.
But when a courageous stranger named Raley Hale risks his life to save the girls from a deadly tornado, his fearlessness leaves them thunderstruck. As his injuries heal, the mysterious hero manages to claim each of the girls’ hearts while reclaiming his strength.
Can friendship survive the brutal winds of jealousy, heartache, and betrayal? Or will graduation from Redbend High really mean goodbye forever?
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Copyright 2015 Anna Marie Kittrell
“What a rush!” Bianca dropped her head back and pushed off in the swing. “The rain feels amazing.” She laughed as she swung, rain soaking her hair and clothing. Lightning tore through the sky. The crack of thunder that followed seemed to shake the earth.
Molly didn’t know which was scarier—the black clouds overhead, boiling like a witch’s brew, or the echo of Bianca’s laughter as she soared skyward toward the storm. Red hair flying, she winked one black-lined eye at Molly and swung even higher. Molly’s stomach churned along with the rumbling sky.
“I don’t think this is a good idea.” Lenni tucked her blonde hair behind her ear as the wind whipped more strands into her face. “I think I see a funnel.” She pointed to a monstrous cone-shaped cloud just above the train trestle.
“Seriously, Len? We’re in Oklahoma, remember?” Bianca dragged her feet in the red dirt, slowing the swing. “It’s nothing but a thunderstorm. We’re in for a little rain, at most. You might be sweet like sugar, but trust me, you won’t melt.” Bianca rolled her eyes. “Graduation is only eight weeks away. Relax and have some fun on our very last spring break together.”
Molly hiccupped loudly as the swirling cloud Lenni had pointed out dipped below the others. She always got the hiccups when she was scared. “Lenni’s right. We need to take cover.” She shot her gaze around the park, looking for shelter.
“Geez, not you too, Mol? You’ve lived here long enough to know there’s constantly a storm on the horizon this time of year. People are always dragging one another to the cellar, only to learn it was a false alarm. Besides, do you think those guys would still be working on the trestle if a tornado was overhead?”
A big raindrop splashed the end of Molly’s nose as she looked toward the old trestle. Five or six men in bright orange vests moved quickly along the tracks, climbing over the rails and scurrying under the bridge as the rain began to pour.
Lenni widened her eyes at Molly, her gaze desperate. “The armory building beside the water tower is a community shelter. Maybe we can get in.” She clamped her hands together over her wet hair, holding it in place.
Molly glanced toward the water tower that pierced the angry sky a football-field length away. Could they make it in time? Hailstones pinged off the large metal swing set like warning shots. They had to try.
“Bianca, let’s go!” Molly screamed, the shriek of the wind stealing the words from her mouth and the breath from her lungs.
Molly lunged for Bianca’s airborne legs. Bianca’s heavy boots landed in Molly’s chest, knocking her flat on her back in the wet grass.
Bianca jumped from the swing, landing at Molly’s side. “What the heck? Are you crazy?” Her saturated curls whipped in the wind, reminding Molly of Medusa’s snakes. “You’re lucky I’m wearing motorcycle boots instead of stilettos. You’d have been impaled,” Bianca yelled, yanking Molly up by the wrists.
“Look!” Lenni shouted, pointing toward the trestle. A man wearing a hardhat jogged in their direction, scooping his arms through the air, motioning for them to come.
Through the rain, Molly spotted a blur of orange under the bridge—the neon vests of the other workers.
The tornado siren blasted, tearing through the train-like roar of the storm as the girls took off toward the trestle. Bianca caught Molly’s arm as they ran, jerking her close, putting her mouth to Molly’s ear. “One catcall or whistle from any of those guys, and they’ll get a motorcycle boot upside the head!” she shouted.
Leave it to Bianca, looking to set a bunch of railroad workers straight as the world blew to pieces around her.
“In here!” the guy in the hardhat yelled as they neared the trestle. Bianca glared as he shoved her under the bridge beside the huddled railroad crew. Quickly, he turned and grasped Lenni’s shoulder, ramming her into Bianca.
“The ground’s soft here. Watch your step!” he shouted in Molly’s ear as he pushed against her back.
She nodded then yelped as a chunk of blowing debris banged hard against her skull. Stars burst behind her eyes as loose rocks shifted beneath her feet. Hardhat Guy wrapped a strong arm around her shoulders, steadying her as he hauled her under the trestle.
“Hold on!” He pressed her fingers to the rusted steel frame of the bridge, squeezing her knuckles beneath his strong hands.
Molly gripped the rail, the rough metal biting into her palm. Rain trickled down the side of her face and into her mouth, tasting like blood.
Suddenly, Hardhat Guy lost his footing as the embankment began to crumble. He lunged for the railing, wrapping his hand around a steel beam as his hardhat jarred from his head and tumbled down the embankment. Molly turned, peeking over her shoulder to see the hat careening into the shallow creek twenty feet below.
The trestle shook as the wind roared even louder. Molly prayed as she held on to the vibrating metal, convinced Satan himself must be driving his long black train over the bridge.
Mingled with the ferocious sound of the wind and clatter of hail, she thought she heard whimpering. She opened her eyes and glanced over. Next to her, Lenni held tight to the same beam Molly clutched. In the near-dark, Molly could see her eyes were squeezed shut, her mouth moving silently in prayer. Shaken up, but not crying.
Molly looked to the other side. With only half his body wedged under the shelter, their rescuer struggled to keep his grip on the steel framing. The wind ripped at his dark hair and yanked at his orange vest. His tensed muscles looked like the exposed roots of a sturdy oak tree. At his feet, a small dog whined, its eyes wide with terror. Miraculously, the animal hadn’t been blown away by the wind.
Molly scrunched her body against Lenni’s. Her stomach cartwheeled as her feet slipped, sending more stones rolling down the steep ridge. No use. There wasn’t enough space on the disintegrating ledge for all of them.
The dog pawed at the guy’s jeans, begging to be held, reminding Molly of her ownChihuahua, Boo. Her heart hurt for the scared baby. She pulled her hand from the beam and bent down to scoop up the little dog.
The rescuer beat her to it, using one hand to lift the dog by the nape of the neck and bring it to his chest. His hand trembled wildly on the rail as the wind tried to wrestle him from beneath the bridge. He needed to hold on with both hands.
“Give him here!” Molly yelled, grabbing for the dog.
The gusting wind distorted the guy’s face, turning his brown eyes to slits. Grimacing like a bodybuilder deadlifting three-hundred pounds, he pushed the dog into Molly’s hand.
And then the rescuer was gone. Sucked from beneath the trestle like a stale, floorboard French fry through a hose-vac.
Molly shrieked. This couldn’t be happening. She tucked the little dog under her chin and bore hard against the metal framework. The wind yanked at her hair and clothing with stout, invisible fingers. Eyes blurred with tears and dirt, she turned her head toward Lenni but was unable to see her friend. The shaking trestle made it impossible to focus.
The guy who’d rescued them was dead, and Molly was next—they all were. Graduation was weeks away, but she’d never walk across the stage. She and her friends were dying right here in Redbend Park, under this bridge. “‘Weeping may endure for a night, but joycomes in the morning.’” She whispered the verse from Psalms, praying it would be quick—and painless.
Suddenly, the wind and rain eased. The weakening hail sounded like pebbles thrown by little boys. The dog licked her chin. She squeezed him to her chest, the smell of wet dog clinging to her nose as the tornado siren blared.
“That’s the all clear!” Bianca’s voice echoed from somewhere beneath the trestle.
Three short blasts. Bianca was right, it was the all clear signal.