Rain smacks my windshield.
The wipers fight a losing battle. The Elantra’s on its last legs, and there’s so much water I can barely see the nearly one thousand feet of causeway ahead of me. Waves pound either side of this narrow link between the mainland and Ketchum Island, sending foamy water sloshing across two lanes of pavement. Constructed of dirt and boulders built up and reinforced over the years. Foot-high guardrails offer only the hint of protection to drivers. The water on the road isn’t too deep.
I left work early to beat the storm, but I’m barely going to make it back to the island. Even from here, I can see the scattered lights burning in my building. We still have power.
“Hang on a little longer.” I’m talking to myself, but the words help calm my nerves.
The wind whips the car, makes it wobble. The newscaster on the radio provides a grim update: Hurricane Kylie could soon be upgraded to a Category 3 storm. It’s bearing down on the east coast of the state and is expected to make landfall in the next few hours.
“Slow down, Kylie,” I say out loud. “Slow down.”
She was supposed to go up the Gulf side of the state, leave us alone. But Kylie has a mind of her own. She’s already a bit of an outlier—a strong, early November storm, arriving when the season is supposed to be winding down. Now she’s made a sudden right turn, cut across the bottom of Florida and turned north. She’s lashing the Atlantic coast, gathering strength, leaving me almost no time to pack and get out before she makes landfall.
The car slams into a pothole, bounces across the pavement like it’s a trampoline.
My teeth clap together so hard I wonder if I chipped one. But I keep driving, hands gripping the wheel so tight they hurt.
The sky is almost pure black, the color of charcoal. It’s just past sunset, but there’s no light at all. The sun’s gone dark. It’s a scene straight out of a post-apocalyptic movie.
A gust of wind shoves the car suddenly to the left. I lose control. The Elantra careens towards the guardrail. I fight as hard as I can, steering into the wind and righting course just before I go over the side of the causeway and plummet into the water below.
My heart pounds in my ears. The air-conditioning blasts, but I’m sweating like a pig.
I reach the far side of the causeway. The island is a narrow spit of land. Fifty years earlier, a developer planted his flag, cleared the land, forcibly removed the alligators and deer, drained the swamp, and erected three large apartment buildings.
Fifty years ago, this place was a dream. A paradise.
The apartment buildings on Ketchum Island have run their course, spent too many days withering in the relentless Florida sun and fighting the unforgiving winds of hurricane season. It’s gotten so bad that all three buildings are scheduled to be demolished within six months.
The palm trees bend one way and then the other, nearly kissing the roadway. Garbage blows across the slick, sodden grass. I guide the car right, to the place where I’ve been living the past six months, the ridiculously named Sunrise Manor. I pull underneath the building into the parking garage. The rain stops pounding me, and I ease into my designated spot.
Not that it matters. Only ten units remain occupied in this, the last operational building on the island, and there’s plenty of parking, even before Kylie set her sights on us.
I step out of the car. My shoe sinks into two inches of water, soaking my foot to the skin. Water backs up out of the storm drains, flooding the parking garage like an oil gusher.
I splash through the water, rushing for the stairs, while running through my to do list in my head.
I just need enough time to get out.
Get out. Get home. Start over.
My building—Building C—rises ten stories in the air above the parking garage. There are ten units on each level. Each floor is circled by an external walkway. Three sets of stairs, exposed to the elements, rise to the top on both ends and in the middle. The slow-moving elevator reeks of burning oil and breaks down every other day.
I don’t like elevators in the best of circumstances. No way I’m trying my luck in that thing with a hurricane bearing down on us.
My shoes squish on the exposed stairs. At the landing on the second floor, I come to an abrupt stop.
Dallas’ door is slightly ajar. Rain blows against me, soaking my clothes. I hear the waves on the other side of the building crashing against the island like god-sized cymbals.
I knock below the sign that says “Manager.” But there’s no way anyone could hear me over the wind, the waves, the rain.
“Yo, Dallas. You still here?”
His apartment is sparse. Second-hand furniture, nothing on the walls. It’s also neat as a pin. Dallas Bryant knows how to take care of things. He’s the only one keeping Sunset Manor standing. I don’t know how he does it.
He comes out of the bedroom. When he sees me, he stops. Surprise appears on his face. “Well, holy fuck. Why are you still here, Jake?”
He wears cargo pants and a Bears t-shirt. Chicago—his hometown. Still hasn’t lost the accent.
“I need to grab my shit.”
“I figured you’d be long gone. Barreling up the turnpike for Ohio.”
“I know, I know.”
“Have you been listening to the news? Storm’s getting worse. What on earth could be so important that you’d risk your hide for it?”
“Shit.” Dallas studies me. He’s fifty-five, my best friend in Florida. Maybe my best friend in the whole world. Okay, he’s more like a big brother than a friend. Or maybe both. We’ve spent many an evening together in the six months I’ve been in the Sunshine State trying to reassess my life and figure out what comes next.
He reaches up, adjusts his paint-splattered cap. “What things?”
“You know, clothes and shit.”
“I told you I’d look after Hazel. I’ve been doing it since long before you got here.”
“I need my toothbrush too.”
“Are you going to make me say it?”
“I am.” He laughs a little. “Go on.”
“Okay, dumbass. I came back, you know, to say good-bye.”
He laughs even louder. “How bad is it out there? Really.”
“It’s bad. Getting worse.”
“Hanging in. But getting hammered.”
“One beer,” he says, turning to go to the refrigerator. This is what we do. Drink Jai Alai and watch the Marlins play. “Your last beer as an estranged husband before you return to the land of domestic bliss.”
I look outside. The wind slows. A break. Kylie taking a deep breath before she delivers the knockout blow. Well, maybe she won’t be that bad.
Dallas turns around, two bottles in his hands. “Ready?”
“Okay, one last beer before I go.”
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