There was no steady build-up at all. The rain blasted out of the sky without warning and within seconds there were puddles in the park. The hefty drops churned the dirt into mud and began pounding out the worms. The clouds had been methodically coalescing themselves since dawn. By noon a dense overcast, gone mad from hours of patiently forming together, broke its restraints like a chained beast unloaded itself with abandon.
Kyle and Gale had been incoherently quarreling with each other by the swing set. Too flustered to even notice the sky changing. Kyle had gotten up from his swing.
“What’re you talking about!” Kyle said looking down at her as she stayed in her swing and held onto the chains.
“You said you wanted to go to the park,” she said, looking down and talking at the swing set sand. “And now you’re like you don’t wanna be here! What’d you wanna do? I just wanna know what you wanna do! You don’t seem to wanna do anything.”
“Why’re you yelling at me! You’re always like ‘I wanna do this’ then change your mind and say ‘I wanna’ do that. It’s just nothing but a bunch of fucking wannas! If I had a dime for every fucking ‘wanna’ that you said, then I’d wanna – dammit! ”
“You’re not making any sense!” she said. “What the—”
And then the rain blasted upon them, some would say to shut them up.
“Oh fuck!” Gale cried. She stumbled out of her swing, tried to make an umbrella out of her hands, and darted to the first gazebo she saw.
“God fucking dammit!” Kyle cursed at the clouds and ran after her.
The gazebo was small, brown, and about the size of a spacious office cubicle, with fence guards and two open exits. Kyle’s car was parked only twenty yards away, but getting further drenched just wasn’t worth it to them at the moment.
Neither was sitting on the wooden benches being freshly sprayed with violating sheets of rain blowing in, so they sat on their butts with their legs crossed facing each other, well beyond arms reach with the dry, empty center of the gazebo’s cobble stone floor in between them.
Gale wore a pink coat with two vertical rows of black buttons going down the front side. She kept her phone safely inside one of the inner pockets.
“When do you think it’ll stop?” she said after minutes of silence.
“How should I know?”
He wore a dark green wool overcoat bought from the local Goodwill.
Gale’s eyes impulsively locked onto Kyle’s front chest pocket.
“Can I at least have a cigarette?” she said. “I’m out.”
“So now you wanna cigarette huh? I suppose you’ll wanna light too?”
“Is that a no?”
Kyle thought about it.
“No. I mean yes –Yes, it is a no, because it’ll just get wasted. The rain’ll put it out before you even get a chance to puff.”
“It’s not coming in that bad,” she said, having to raise her voice to be heard over the rainfall.
She stared closer at the cigarette case’s outline protruding from his pocket.
“How many you got left?”
“I don’t know,” he said with a mechanical shrug of his shoulders.
She squinted her eyes as though that augmented her vision to see through the fabric and cigarette case.
“You’ve got one left don’t you?” she said.
Another robotic shrug.
“Selfish asshole!” she said. “Regardless of whether or not we’re fighting, it’s wrong to not even lend a cold girl a cigarette on a rainy day.”
“That’s sounds like a cheesy line from an old movie, and it’ll just get wasted.”
They heard the tree’s leaves suddenly rustle with greater intensity, and a half second later a thick sheet of rain blew in from the left exit. They both put an arm up to shield their face, but reacted too late and the obnoxiously fat drops splattered on their faces.
After wiping her face Gale noticed a worm crawling out of the grass and into the gazebo.
“Why do they do that?” she said to herself staring at it.
“How ‘bout this,” Kyle said. Gale looked up from the worm to him.
“I’ll give you my last cigarette –”
“So you were lying,” she said. “You knew you only had one left. Selfish–”
“If you let me use your phone.”
Gale compulsively patted her inner coat pocket to reaffirm to herself it was there.
“It’ll get wet,” she said.
“You’ve got a case on it. It’ll be fine. We can get on your weather app and see how long this storm is supposed to last.”
“That’s not really what you want to use it for. You just wanna check the score for your stupid basketball team.”
“Yeah, but we could also check the weather.”
“No. A cell phone is worth more than one cigarette. Besides, the case isn’t waterproof.”
“I bet it’s water resistant.”
“I don’t care. It’s raining too much.”
“It’s not so bad.”
Kyle noticed the worm crawling in as well.
“You know, I have to disagree,” he said to it. “I’m not sure if a phone is worth more than a cigarette.”
Gale kept silent and looked back at the worm.
“I mean,” he said. “You want my cigarette more than your phone right now. Doesn’t that mean it’s worth more to you at the moment?”
“At the moment yes,” she said at the worm. “In the long run, no.”
“Well, how ‘bout I give you my cigarette as payment for use of your phone? Think of it service fee.”
Gale’s eyes stared solemnly into Kyle’s, as though he were asking her to participate in a blood oath.
“How long?” she said.
“I don’t’ know. As long as it takes. A lot less than one full smoke.”
The worm continued its crawl, approaching halfway across the floor to come in between them. Kyle noticed Gale staring at it too. It didn’t seem to mind or even notice the two of them as it slithered across the cobble stone floor, with neither the elegance of a snake nor the methodic pace of a snail; nevertheless, it knew itself. And though it was also drenched, the excess moisture combined with its natural oils provided a more lubricated, effortless slithering experience. The worm was, in fact, quite pleased with the rain.
Gale looked up from the worm and stretched her right hand out to Kyle, palm open and face up.
“What?” he said.
“Give me your cigarette. This is a kind of trust exercise isn’t it? Give me your cigarette, and you’ll have to trust me that I’ll hand you my phone afterwards.”
“Why can’t we just do a casual swap?”
“At this point it won’t be so casual.”
Kyle stared at the hand centered in the foreground of his vision with everything else blurred out. It took him a moment to realize she was too far away to reach.
“Let’s scoot up closer,” he said.
Gale leaned forward towards him, but was hesitant to start moving closer. Kyle took the initiative and began scraping his denim covered butt across the damp cobbled stone floor, using mild hip thrusts combined with his arms pushing off the floor behind his back. This encouraged Gale to do the same, and so, for a brief moment, the three of them, girl, boy, and worm, slithered together, each in their own way, inside the gazebo as the rain poured down.
When they approach within an arm’s reach of each other, the worm had crossed the halfway point across the floor. Without hesitation, Kyle lifted up the wool flap from his chest pocket, took out his cigarette pack, pulled out his last one, and handed it to Gale. She took it slowly and paused as she began to put it between her lips.
“And can I have a light too?” she said as she held the cigarette between her thumb and forefinger. “Mine’s empty.”
Being up close, Kyle noticed Gale’s long, dark blonde frazzled from the mist with some particularly wet strands twisted and darkened into brown. The ends of some locks hanging down were bound together with accumulated moisture, each intermittently leaking out a drop on the end until it became heavy enough to fall.
“Yeah,” he said after he watched a drop form then fall.
He pulled out a silver chromed Zippo from his other chest pocket, prompting Gale to hold the cigarette between her lips. It took Kyle a couple of strikes to get it lighted, but when it did Gale leaned in with her neck, and Kyle held the flame underneath to scorch her cigarette end.
They each thought they could steal a glance into the other’s eyes from behind the flame, but were wrong. They raised their eyes off from the flame and to each other’s simultaneously and stayed locked in for a second before their nerves, still too unwilling to accept their natural impulses, suddenly shot through their veins and forced their eyes to dart away. They both happened to look towards the direction of the worm again, still slithering, and continuing to get closer to exiting the gazebo.
Gale heard the Zippo’s loud, firm shut and relaxed her neck back away from Kyle. As she started puffing she reached in her coat’s pocket, took out her phone and handed it to Kyle who acted surprised to see. He took it unenthusiastically from her hand.
Gale effortlessly puffed out a petite smoke ring towards Kyle’s way. The moist and windy air didn’t seem to alter its shape or travel, and when it broke on Kyle’s forehead, wisps of it lingered around his temples as he searched the weather forecast on her phone. He could feel the faint bit of warmth of the smoke near his skin. He wasn’t sure whether it was a passive kiss by Gale, or just a creative, haphazard breath.
He scooted slightly closer to her, moving one ass cheek at a time so that she wouldn’t notice, but Gale had been studying every bit of movement and expression of Kyle’s since giving her the cigarette, and while she did mean that smoke cloud to be a kiss, it was a also a literal smokescreen to hide her probing eyes from him, and so they were both hiding themselves from each other.
She looked around only with her eyes, keeping her head still, like a painting that watches. She waited for him to stop scooting before speaking.
“What does it say?” she said.
Kyle was on the weather page but his fingers had been aimlessly scrolling up and down. He had to quickly scramble to the hourly forecast.
“It says it’s supposed to be raining for the rest of the afternoon.”
Gale smiled. She knew he had just now read the forecast.
“It looks like its slacking off now though,” she said.
Kyle looked up from the phone and saw she was right. Small portions of the overcast sky were glowing yellow by the sunlight trying to pierce through. The rain had slacked off into a shower as well, and the gusts had died down into a breeze.
“Oh, well, shows what they know,” Kyle said. “Here you go.”
He handed her back her phone.
She took it.
“You didn’t even check your basketball game,” she said, smiling at him.
“Yeah, I forgot. Doesn’t matter. I’m guessing they lost anyway.”
She took the cigarette from her mouth and handed it back.
“What?” he said. “No, I said you could have the whole thing.”
“It’s only fair.”
He took it, slipped it between his lips and sucked the pensive fumes, all the while keeping eye contact with her. He then knew, by instinct, that the smoke ring sent his way was not just a reflex of her lungs. He let out his own, exhaling slowly with his mouth open and using his tongue to sculpt the smoke into a ring. It traveled straight to her lips, but instead of letting it impact or popping it with a kiss as she had done in the past, she sucked in the smoke, reformed it in her mouth, then blew it back, slightly fainter, into a ring again at him. He did the same, sucked it in then blew it back. They playfully recycled the smoke ring back and forth until it dissipated from use.
Kyle sucked in a fresh smoke and they repeated the process. The charm of it began to wear off though, and each puff became an excuse to not find the courage to embrace the inevitable urge that had been rapidly bubbling within both of them.
The rain had ceased. The only sounds of water left were fallen drops dripping from something’s edge. Gale and Kyle could hear the subtle yet acute sound of the other’s lips breaking the seal of saliva upon opening.
Kyle could no longer contain himself. His desire begot a courage to overcome his hesitancy, so he decided his next puff would be his last. He saw Gale’s look of further impatience as she watched the ring travel to her. He was glad though. She sucked in the ring and blew it back. Once it reached the halfway point Kyle thrust his face forward, broke through the ring, and lunged at Gale. Both carried an intensifying flavor of cigarette in their lips, tongue, gums, and spit.
The rain began to come down again. It had mustered its second wind, and re-coated the glowing spots of impending sunlight. The overcast did not recognize Gale and Kyle’s moment. Its timely cessation was merely a coincidence and not some sensitive double-take.
Gale and Kyle momentarily broke from their embrace. They amusingly took notice of the rain’s return. They too were indifferent and then re-embraced, not recognizing it as a cue to stop. The worm was unable to re-burrow deep enough in time, and so was pounded out again. It turned around and wiggled back toward the gazebo.
“Your coat’s getting wet,” Gale said when they paused again.
“No big deal.”
Their foreheads leaned against each other.
“You ready to go?” he said.
They stood up, got each other’s hands, and made their way to the car. The heavy downpour was exhilarating to run though. They got in the front seats, coats and hair soaked. Before Kyle even gave himself a chance to find his car keys, they re-embraced again, and drops rained from them onto the gear shift and into the cup holders.
The cigarette remained abandoned in the center of the gazebo, managing to stay dry and burn from the assistance of the occasional gusts of wind. The worm approached the cigarette and didn’t stop its course or even deviate its direction. It went straight forward as though it wasn’t there and then crawled over it. The worm, of course, noticed the cigarette’s curvature and even felt comforted by the warmth, but it wasn’t seduced and didn’t slow down. It finished moving itself across and didn’t look back. The cigarette didn’t burn for much longer after that. It quickly died out before becoming a stub and was left by itself in the center of the gazebo at the end of the day.
Jeffrey Warndof, 24, is a native Arkansan who attended college at Arkansas Tech University, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and a Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). He currently resides in South Korea as an English teacher. His favorite novel is The Brothers Karamazov, favorite sport team the New England Patriots, favorite music artist Bob Dylan, and favorite pop star Taylor Swift.