Copyright @ Meredith Johnston. All rights reserved.

Please enjoy this excerpt from My Irrational Fear of Thunder.

 

My Irrational Fear of Thunder is the story of Jessica Kirkpatrick, a young woman struggling to find direction in her post-college life.  Jessie goes out for dinner and comes home with a puppy whose devotion not only gives Jessie the courage to rescue herself from the foolish choices of her insecurity, but also introduces her to an intriguing motorcycle-riding ER nurse who is interested in more than just her dog.

 

I was supposed to be out with my friends the night I found the dog, out – as I so frequently was in those days – at a rotating choice of bars where the bartenders knew us just well enough to pour tall drinks and the music was loud enough to quiet any doubts.  But when I walked outside after work, the heavy August air felt like childhood freedom.  Instead of meeting my co-workers for our usual dinner of bar food and gossip, I went to my apartment and opened the windows.  The evening breeze carried the scent of rain, but I thought I could walk to the deli down the street before the storm came.  By the time I was heading home with my sandwich, gray clouds churned where the sun had so recently hung and swirling gusts chased me.

As I rushed past the hardware store, something caught my attention near the bank’s side entrance, drawing me to stop.  I saw only her eyes, the flash of a reflection in the recessed doorway, fleeting enough to make me doubt myself.  I almost took another step and kept walking.  But I looked back just as the thin Shepherd mix crept out.

She turned slowly toward me.  Those eyes held me in place as if she was studying me while I studied her twenty feet apart.  Her black nose was set against a snout so pale that it was almost beige.  She was a rainbow of browns from the caramel surrounding her eyes to the deep chocolate that ran down her back and faded into the pale tan tip of her tail.  It took me a moment to realize the faint stripes on her chest were her ribs.

Down the street, the branches of old oak trees crashed together in the wind.  I needed to keep moving.  I needed to fill the echoing silence of the coming night.  I shook my head against thoughts of this lost dog and hurried toward home.

I was nearly to the dry cleaner when the first raindrops hit, heavy splatters like a drumbeat on the striped awning.  I glanced back and saw the dog standing on the edge of the curb.

One paw in the air, head ducked against the rain, she held my gaze until the first flash of lightning chased her into the road.  Thunder rolled over us and she froze in the middle of the street, back sunken, legs tense as if trapped by the sound.

Headlights suddenly glowed behind her and I jumped out into the street, screaming over the screeching tires of a blue minivan.  I was paralyzed, powerless, my arms up, crushing the deli bag in my fist until I saw the dog retreat safely from the now-still headlights.

The minivan’s driver rolled down the passenger window as he pulled forward.  “Put a leash on your dog!”

“It’s not mine!” I shouted back, stomping the wet asphalt.

When I turned around, the dog was sitting under the dry cleaner’s leaking awning, barely panting.  I stepped up onto the sidewalk and she came forward to sniff the knees of my jeans, her deep chocolate eyes locked on mine even as her nose mapped my shins.  I wondered if she could feel my legs shaking.

My reflection in the darkened shop window was transparent against the backdrop of strangers’ clothes.  I touched a wet strand of my now-frizzy hair and remembered the day my senior year in college when I cut off the bleached blonde hair that Roman favored and let it grow back as my natural pale red.  I'd felt light with my new freedom for a few hours, maybe even a day, but the relentless voices of regret and doubt skulked inside me, waiting for a quiet moment, a moment of weakness.

I squatted down beside the dog.  “I’m Jessie,” I said as if an introduction was warranted.  “Who are you?”

She brushed her tail across a puddle.  I saw now that she was still a puppy, past the cuddly clumsy phase but not yet grown into her body.  An indentation high on her neck hid a collar that might have once fit her, but puppies grow quickly, even living on just scraps and kindness.  She pulled back when I reached for the metallic blue ID tag partially obscured by her matted fur.

A flash of lightning lit the street and the dog tensed, sniffing the air.  Thunder shook the window behind us, the sound flattening her onto the concrete.  As the rumble echoed, she jumped up, spun around, and lay down again, her eyes wide, her pointed ears twitching.

“It’ll be done soon,” I told her.  I set my hand on her damp head, smoothing the valley between her ears.

A car drove by, splashing a wave of water onto the sidewalk in front of us.  The rain on the awning had softened to a quiet pulse. 

“I need to go home,” I said as I stood up.  I reached into the bag from the deli and tore a corner off of my sandwich.  “If you come with me,” I said, eyeing the tag trapped in her fur, “maybe we can find out where you belong.”

She stretched her neck forward without actually moving any closer to me and delicately took the piece of crust I offered.  Then she scooted up next to me, so close that the rain on her damp coat soaked into my jeans.

I handed her another bit of bread and she followed me out into a light rain.