It couldn't be.

She stared at the computer screen in disbelief. She hadn't been snooping; she was looking for an e-mail link she had sent to a friend a few months ago. But there it was in black and white.

It was like time was standing still, except for the quickened pace of her heart. Her hand froze over the keyboard, the other poised hesitantly over the mouse as she read the words again and again. She closed her eyes and folded her hands over her stomach. She was so happy, and now that joy was stolen from her.

A low rumble of thunder shook the house.

It shocked her from her thoughts, and she opened her eyes, looking around. The computer screen glowed dimly, and she noticed how dark it had become outside. With trembling hands, she closed the window and shut down the computer. Another peel of thunder grumbled faintly in the distance.

She looked out the window, toward the west where a dark wall of clouds stretched across the sky. She vaguely remembered the weatherman warning about a chance of storms this evening, but that was typical fare during these volatile, early days of spring. She glanced at the muted TV through the door to the living room. The news anchor was discussing an apartment fire from last night.

At the corner of the screen was a small radar map with an intimidating wall of red highlighted. Solemn yellow boxes marked the storms' projected paths.

A storm was coming.

There was a tapping sound against the window as the rain started, thrown against the glass by a gust of wind. The clock by the door read 6:55 PM.

He would be home soon, and she needed her composure before then. She walked back into the kitchen, scooping up the plates from the kitchen table. He was late, and the food had probably cooled. She stuck them in the microwave, listening as the meat crackled and sizzled, staring out the window.

Headlights appeared at the end of the street, and she recognized his black sedan.

She gripped the edge of the counter until her knuckles were white. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach as emotion swelled in her throat. She looked around frantically for anything to distract her. Her eyes fell on the card she had left for him, covered with balloons and smiles, sitting beside his seat at the table. Heart pounding, she rushed across the room and picked it up. She could hear the sound of tires crunching on the driveway.

She stuffed the card in the utensil drawer under the plastic protector.

Just as she closed the drawer, the door opened. He wasn't looking at her as he walked through the door, leaving his umbrella beside the doormat. He tossed his briefcase and coat across a chair before he even looked at her, flashing a quick grin. When he smiled, the years seemed to disappear from his face, and he looked like the carefree, adventurous man she married. The knot of emotion in her throat hardened. But if he thought something was wrong, he didn't show it.

"It looks like we have another stormy night in store," he said.

She nodded with a tight smile.

"Dinner smells great, sweetheart." He gave her a peck on the cheek as he went to wash his hands.

She fled into the other room, struggling to take deep, calming breaths as she grabbed the plates from the microwave. The plates were hot, almost scorching against her skin, but she didn't hurry to the table. She set his plate in front of him and sat down in front of hers.

He started eating enthusiastically. She took a few small bites but could only taste the sweet tang of sorrow. They were quiet for a little while, silent except for the clinking of china and the booms of thunder that continued to grow louder.

"We had that big meeting with Aldridge today," he commented. "It looks like the deal will go through. And I may get that promotion they've been talking about since January."

She nodded sadly, poking at her food.

"Is everything alright?" he asked.

She looked up and saw he was watching her with concern. Fear trickled down her spine as she stared at him. She couldn't do this; all of her words caught in her throat. Her eyes started to well with tears.

A flash of lightning blinded her, followed in quick succession by the cracking din of thunder. She jumped in her seat, looking around frantically. The lights flickered a few times before falling to darkness.

"Damn it," her husband swore. He got up, shuffling into the kitchen. She could hear him shifting through some of the cabinets. She wiped the dark tears from her eyes, blinking frantically. He returned with the lighter and a couple of candles. He set them up at the middle of the table and lit them.

It was a candlelight dinner, but there was nothing romantic about it.

"Did you have a nice day?" he asked.

She almost nodded, almost muttered something to assure him her day was fine. She was tempted to lie, to bury the truth far inside of herself where someday, even she might be able to forget about it. But she didn't.

"Dan, I know about Kara," she said suddenly. Her voice sounded weak, and as soon as the words escaped, her throat closed behind them. He looked confused. He furrowed his brow and looked down at his half-empty plate. He put down his fork.

"You've met her. She works in customer service at the firm," he said, mystified. But he seemed distressed by the subject, impatient to talk about something else.

"No, I saw the e-mail. I know about Dallas."

He looked up at her, shocked. But just as quickly, he looked away, picking at his food, staring at the candle flame.

"What you have to understand about that, Cynthia, is we—" he started. But his meager excuse was all the confirmation she needed.

"How long, Dan?" she interrupted. For the first time, she felt her sense of betrayal morphing into anger. He stared at her dumbly, his mouth open, like he was searching for another excuse to appease her.

"Damn it, Dan! How the hell long?" she shouted. She took a few deep breaths, staring up at the ceiling to regain her composure.

She could hear the rain intensifying outside, splattering against the windows and pounding against the roof. Lightning flashed around the room.

"Three years," he said softly.

She could only stare, watching the candlelight dance on the popcorn ceiling. Flashes of their life together appeared before her eyes, all of the moments she thought were special, nice memories. They'd only been married for five years. He had seemed happy. Was it all a lie? She felt inadequate and unwanted, because her husband felt obligated to hide in another woman's arms, to have an affair. She felt stupid for never noticing. Her face burned with emotion.

Her temper had always been tied to her tears, and the more she thought about it, the more tears welled in her eyes until they overflowed.

He looked embarrassed and regretful.

"I'm sorry, Cynthia," he said.

She pushed her seat back violently, and the table lurched with the force of it.

"If you were sorry, you would have stopped three years ago," she spat, dumping the remaining contents of her plate into the trash can. The wind howled outside where it had grown even darker. She tugged at the hem of her shirt.

"Cynthia—" he began, his tone skeptical.

"Don't you dare," she said, more tears filling her eyes. "You have nothing to say to me right now."

And that's when she heard it—the low whine of the tornado sirens.

Dan stood up, pushing his chair back and sighing.

"Come on," he said, urging her toward the back of the house, to the closet of their master bedroom. It was their designated shelter.

She was disgusted by the idea of being near him, of hiding with him in the dark until the storm passed over.

"No," she said, walking into the living room to grab her coat. "I'm leaving."

He stared at her incredulously until she grabbed her keys from the table. He stepped forward, grabbing her wrist.

"Be sensible. You can't leave now!" he said urgently. She ripped her hand from his grasp, glaring.

"I'm not going to stay here with you," she said. The tears fell.

"Can't you wait? Be patient," he said.

"Don't you dare talk to me about controlling your damn urges," she said, turning back the door.

When she opened it, the wind tore it from her grasp, slamming it against the wall. It was raining sheets outside, so hard that she couldn't see the end of the street. Between the noise of the rain pounding against the ground and the wind howling and ripping through the trees, she could barely hear the sound of Dan behind her, ordering her to close the door.

And so she did, pulling the door closed behind her and stepping into the yard.

She was at the mercy of the storm now—the gusts lashing against her, whipping her hair into her face and mouth, and the rain falling so hard she had to squint to see. Above her, the wrinkled gray clouds twisted and turned, churning like an uneven green-grey sea.

She was surrounded by the storm's fury, and it made her forget her problems. There was a thrill to standing amidst the danger, surrounded by the power of nature's ferocity.

It only cemented her resolve. She stomped to her car, threw open the door, and climbed inside, ignoring the rain that soaked into the seats. She turned the window wipers to their highest setting and whipped out of the driveway. She could only drive twenty miles per hour, because of the force of the rain. Her tears and the rain blurred together.

She drove until the rain stopped, until the night sky shined with stars above her. And then she stopped and cried until she fell asleep, hunched over her steering wheel and her face stained with tears.

The regret didn't come until morning when the sharp pain in her neck and the dull ache in her chest woke her just as the sun peeked over the horizon. It was a clear and still morning, not a cloud in the sky. The streets were still filled with pooling water and fallen debris.

She drove slowly toward her house, inspecting the damage, avoiding the thoughts about what she would say to him now.

Those thoughts disappeared when she turned onto her street. It was almost unrecognizable, covered with the leaves and debris. The house at the corner didn't have a roof and a tree blocked the road, but as she looked for her house, she realized she couldn't see it.

She got out and ran down the street where a police officer in a yellow vest stopped her.

"Ma'am, you can't be here," he said.

"That's my house!" she yelled, staring at the empty lot. "I live there!"

"Ma'am, I need you to come with us," he said sympathetically, his hand placed under her elbow.

"My husband," she said, her voice filled with panic. "Is my husband alright?"

Her heart pounded in her chest. He led her to an ambulance, which sat silently beside the driveway, its back doors open. The medics weren't working, but there was a body inside. Even from a distance, she recognized his face—pale, white, and blank.

The policeman caught her before she fell, but she slid to the ground, trembling. And then she saw it. In the dirt was a card, covered with blue balloons and curly handwriting that read, "Congratulations, Dad." She sobbed, her hands clutched around her stomach, around all that remained of her husband and their former life.


Written for the Review Game's December WCC.