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Harriet and the flood (Pt. I)

There is no day in Bethesda as orange as the one that unlocks the real autumn.


This is the day when the burnt leaves flood the streets of stone fences and old brick buildings and even older churches, and sometimes older people. They all welcome the leaves. By the afternoon, everyone gathers their people and they meet new people and there's harmony in everyone's lack of planning. No one knew this perfect day was coming. How could they plan?


The only one who tried to plan each year was Harriet Roberts, who was ready this year. She knew things about this day. Her journal looked like this:

  • Wait for the rain at night in October, but not before October 15th

  • It can't rain in the day before

  • It can only rain in the night

  • And make sure it doesn't thunder, *no* thunder

Harriet had school friends but she didn't have friends like her school friends had them. She ate lunch with these school friends and played with them at recess and they all talked about deep things, she told me. She never told me that it stopped after the bus, when they all left having plans. They gave up on keeping them from her — they probably thought she didn't care.


I know Harriet didn't mean to meet me that night in the rain. I wonder sometimes if my life would be any less painful without the night and without how perfect her blue-green eyes were and her constellation freckles and how she disarmed you in ways I still shudder about, in a mostly good way.


What I'm trying to say is I wonder if we wouldn't have felt the knife twist on the day that unlocks the real autumn here in Bethesda. I wonder if she wouldn't have had to leave so fast.


But before I can ever bear writing about that, I have to tell you about Harriet. I have to tell you about the night that made me more excited to live than ever.

***

October 17, 2043


It is going to happen tonight, my reader, and I swear on that!


You will find this after I'm gone, and are of course very likely to know me, but if you don't then know that I am Harriet Nina Roberts age 13 and tonight I am predicting the most perfect day in the world.


I wish you could see what I see now. It is night and the storm is cool — it's not violent or scary, but there is green in the sky instead of grey. It is like someone brightened up the clouds to a point where the screen might explode. It is like it is not even 7:47 p.m., but it is, I promise. If I went outside, the rain would not hurt but I would definitely need to change. The water is flowing in perfect little streams that are not violent like the storm was last week. They just flow on and the little leaves flow slowly, take some pauses, and end up caught outside the storm drain. There are some storms I want to run outside and get in the middle of and this is one of those storms.


I think my mother told my father something mean that they didn't want me to hear. She called him respulsive which is interesting and definitely mean. I think —


Well now there's a boy outside. That's the one who lives in the white and brick house...we don't like them, they are so loud. They live across the street and two houses to the right, a few houses from where the road slants up like a roller coaster.


I better do something, he looks violent running around like that. He looks like he is having fun.


I need to go outside now because I have a great reason finally but tomorrow I will write about the storm! It will rain and no thunder will come and because of that, tomorrow we will have the golden day.


- H

***

There were two children now on Juniper Street. The cobblestone was slick but neither of them would slip since they were used to the hazard by now. Used to the warnings from their parents. They hopped with care and met in the middle.


"What are you doing out here?" Harriet said.


"I've been waiting for tomorrow," Jules said.

"What's tomorrow then?"


"Well tomorrow should be the nicest day of the year."


"Hmph," she said, squinting and hating that he knew that. Wondering how he did.


The two had a standoff — Harriet kept an inquisitive stare, and Jules was more mystified than curious. He'd been told tomorrow was the golden day because...this is when it was last year. There was nothing special about the prediction and he was caught between acting like there actually was, and telling her the truth. He wanted badly to tell her the truth, and didn't.


"Well I reasoned it all out, you know. It's not hard to get your hand on the weather reports, you know. It says tomorrow's gonna be grand," Jules said.


"It says tomorrow's gonna be 57 degrees," Harriet said. "If you're talking about the day I am, which is the perfect day where everyone's in the street and you and...all your friends, you're all playing football. The one with all the leaves? And the sun? You can't pretend that day is 57 degrees."


Somehow, he'd already gotten himself into trouble. Reduced himself to another weather watcher, he did.


"I don't believe the weather reports. I'm gonna choose to believe you. And I've seen you before. What's your name?" Jules said.


"I'm Harriet."


"Like Harriet the bull!"


"That's Ferdinand."


"Ah. Um. Can I tell you something?"


"I doubt that you can Jules."


"I don't think I'm ever gonna be as smart as you are, and you're just gonna have to deal with that. Or else you won't believe what I've got to say about my prediction," Jules said.


It's true, he wasn't ever going to be as sharp. Harriet was on her heels after slipping up, revealing she knew his name. Thank whomever, it went right over his head.


"Let's hear what you've got then," she said.


When he began to talk, she observed everything but his words. Scrappy look, disheveled clothes that managed to match up with his shock of blondish hair. His parents probably got him to realize the incentive of dressing well fairly young. It's not something a kid would listen to his parents about, at least not Jules. He would resist. The parents must have somehow tricked him into figuring out what most people figure out when they're like sixteen. She really reasoned this — she was brilliant.


"I don't know where I saw it, but I have a feeling a storm like this that's not too bad but like just tough enough to be annoying...I think this one could make tomorrow the golden day. I do. I don't know why, but I do."


Harriet couldn't tell if she liked him or if she felt comfortable being so much smarter than he was. But she knew she felt good around him and knew she wanted to see more of him.


"Jules, I think we should investigate this. I know we're right, but we have to find a reason," she said.


"How do you know my name?"

***

I remember looking at her and wanting to beam, maybe jump around a few times. I had this barreled chest and intense pride, and I knew what every frontman in every action movie felt like when they saw their girlfriend in the rain and it humbled them, reminded them how stupid they were. Harriet reminded me how stupid I was, at least before she led me to the great things I could do on my own.


"I've seen you around," she said, and smiled for the first time since we met in the road. "We live close to each other. My mom's always talking about 'Rich, you need to go play outside more like Jules does' and I was like 'who's Jules' a few times until it stuck in my head and I won't forget you."


"Ah, yeah. Basketball! I bet you'd like it," I said, believing her story.


"I don't know if I'm a basketball kind of girl. I haven't met anyone cool who plays basketball yet. You know the same people in the science club are the ones who board. We can be cool, at least my friends can be."


We walked down the street and a bit of a future with her flashed around in my brain for a while, as it does when you just know that if you gave it a real shot, it would end well. Enough of the romantic future would come true to make it the most beautiful thing you'd ever be a part of. And if it didn't end well, it would be perfectly alive right up until it wasn't.


"I don't know how walking is gonna help us with this storm," Harriet said.


I wish we had more time, I wish it all the time. But the first of three awful things happened next.


CRACK! went the sky, and Harriet's eyes dilated and I felt the impulse to do some big masculine are-you-okay thing and I was crazy enough to try, but not before she turned those eyes toward me and I swear those were Medusa's eyes.


"There isn't supposed to be thunder," she said.


Before I could reassure her she was the smartest person I'd met and would ever meet, another CRACK! but from my mother's voice, by the front door of my house.


"GET INSIDE, NOW!!!!" my mother said.


A third CRACK! went with the Foust's mailbox about seven houses down. And we saw the end of the sloped street, and then the wave of water that was about as tall as us 13-year-olds.

***

This was a wave that was truly menacing to the two of them, somewhere like five feet tall. The wave wasn't quite their height, it just looked that way. But it was moving quickly and all they could do was picture themselves in a movie.


"RUN, JUDE," his mother yelled from the porch.


Jules pushed Harriet's back and she pictured herself like a tornado, moving like a blur and impossible for any water to push over. She set her eyes on the porch while she sprinted and made it with


Jude pushed Harriet's back and she was off, picturing herself like a tornado in a blur and impossible for any water to push over. She hardly spent time on the ground moving that fast. She glanced to her right and saw the wave picking up — flowing, not quite tearing, through the lawns. She made it. Then she looked back and saw that he didn't.


There was Jules, spreading his legs out to get traction before the wave. He dug in for almost two seconds and then slipped.


"JUDE, grab onto the light pole!!" His mother threw her hat and ripped her shoes off. "I'm coming, I'm com—"


She saw another head pop up and it was Harriet's, right there with Jules. They were giggling, if you can believe it. Holding on tight to the light pole and each other while the water moved past them. It was like a whirlpool dialed back to half speed. This was a treat.


"GET OUT OF THE WATER, THERE'S THUNDER," his mother screamed.


"Oh God she's right, we need to move Jules, we need to move now — let's swim to the other porch."


Of course, the water wouldn't allow them to swim sideways. They had hubris from their easy time managing the light pole. So they flowed down three houses to the tune of shrieking parents — now Harriet's joined the action.


Once they were mostly down the street, they saw the drop-off to their right — there was the creek, the drain, where all the water was going.


"Harriet, we need to grab that light pole there," Jules said.


Harriet wasn't doing much thinking right now. She wondered how it all went so wrong — her predictions, they all went wrong. She couldn't be wrong about tomorrow, not without losing the steam that made her the way she was. There was some drive to her that she didn't understand, but she knew it well enough to know that she couldn't live without it.


The two of them latched onto the light pole, which wasn't terribly hard. The water was around their thighs now — moving quickly, but not bad enough to sweep them away from the pole.


"I don't think we could survive falling all that way, down that creek Harriet," Jules said.


"I think you're right about that," she said.


"Then I can tell you that if there's anybody...no, that's not good to think about."


"What is it?" she asked.


Jules was really scared, and got grateful and honest so easily when he was scared.


"If there's anybody I'd want to die with it would be you I think," he said.


Harriet wasn't sure.


"I think you're just saying that," she said.


The flow of the water started to lessen, and suddenly the flood was only up to their socks. Their t-shirts clung tight to their bodies and they loosened it out.


"I didn't think any of this would happen, but that's what I meant to say earlier. You asked me how I knew tomorrow was gonna be the golden day, and I knew because I saw you looking around," Jules said.


Harriet stare, her eyelids closed into a bit of a stare.


"I just mean that you were walking around, watching the sky, waiting for when it started to rain earlier today. I saw you from my kitchen. I knew you would have to be right," Jules said.


Harriet stare some more.


"I just—"


"Jules you know it's okay to be quiet, right? My mom always says that if we want to understand each other, we should try getting quieter and being okay with it," Harriet said.


"I know, I'm sorry," he said. He looked sad and she felt bad.


"I'm guess I'm just wondering why you want to die with me?"


He looked at her and felt a rush of courage to say something.


"I just think I can see us being really happy tomorrow and you're gonna be right about the leaves and everything. And I could be happy anywhere because I laughed with you and it flooded, and I thought I was gonna die at the same time. I don't know...I was..."


"Scared?" she asked.


"Yes but it felt okay," he said. "I think I get what you mean, Jules," she said. She liked to say his name.


***

I don't remember what happened by the creek, but I remember crying so secretly — and it was about ten minutes before I should've really started crying.


We had the sort of talk you have with your girlfriend, the one where you make the bet. My dad's journals called it this:


There was a moment when we finally reconnected, and it felt like enough time had passed for us to see each other with the same bright eyes that we did before the fall. I saw her and remembered how purely, perfectly safe I felt wandering with her. I would've killed to have it back, maybe.


But all I know is that we both knew this and both had the age about us to bury our fears — we took the risk, the leap you make when you bare your feelings and hope they match with those of the person you'd kill for. And we had it at the same time. We fought over who got to have the leap. We still had enough love to want the risk.


It was a crack in the universe, that's what it was. The stars let us find each other twice. Right now, I have nothing I want more than to make the stars right about us.


I only bring this little passage back because I knew later that Harriet felt something for me, but she didn't show it when I bared it all for her. She shouldn't have, of course. She had no reason to feel like I was worth her time and really never did. Maybe she created one.


But as I wiped the tears I concealed from Harriet, the water was only to our shoes. It was time to move.


"Jules?" she asked.


"Yep."


"You were very honest with me when you told me that stuff about you dying."


"I think so, yeah."


"So I'm gonna be honest with you. And I don't wanna be but I think I can be because you started it."


I looked at her and could only imagine the perfect universe where she said what I said. It's a universe where we go back to my old house grateful that the flood gave us our crack in the universe.


"I didn't think I would like you, but I think we should do this flood thing more often," she said.


That was close enough for me. I would've done anything to pour that moment in amber, with our hearts and our hopes, and none of what would wash it all away.


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