About halfway through his second sandwich, Chance happened to glance up. “Uh oh…”
“What’s the matter?” Nat asked, following his eyes. “Oh.”
The sky, which only a short while ago had been clear, was covered with grim, gray clouds that seemed almost eager to begin pouring down angry rain. “Think we should make a run for it?” the photographer asked. If there was one thing he knew about from living in Seattle, it was unpredictable weather, especially when it came to rain.
She nodded, already starting to repack the food into the basket.
At that moment, a cloudburst broke right over their heads. Nat let out a little shriek and scrambled to finish loading the cookies into the basket before they got drenched. The photographer, who had been picking up the blanket, tossed one end of it over her and pulled the other end over his head. When the coroner had taken cover (minimal though it was) under the quilt, as well, they began to look around for a more permanent shelter.
Chance spotted the gazebo they had seen earlier, way at the edge of the clearing. He waved in its direction. “We could ride it out there,” he called to his companion over the sound of the rain.
Moving closer so that the blanket would provide more coverage for both of them, Nat nodded. “We’ll have to make a run for it.”
“Sounds good to me,” he murmured, looking around them at the downpour.
They began to run towards the gazebo, laughing a little to each other at how silly they must look, bundling at full speed across the wet grass under a now thoroughly soaked quilt. Two thirds of the way there, Nat’s feet slipped. There was a moment of panic, but Chance, reacting quickly, caught her elbow and kept her from tumbling to the ground and covering herself with mud and grass stains. He continued to hold on to her until they had reached the steps of the gazebo. Once there, the coroner slipped out from under the blanket and seated herself, shivering, on one of the benches inside.
“Thanks,” she managed to stammer through chattering teeth.
Chance just nodded, shrugging out of his trench coat and offering it to her.
“Oh, no, you don’t have to–” Nat started to protest.
“I insist. You’re soaked–you need to keep warm.”
“But what about you?”
“I’m fairly dry.” He grinned, holding the coat out to her again. “This thing makes a great raincoat.” The coroner smiled weakly.
“I mean it. Take it!”
With a resigned sigh, Nat accepted the worn brown coat and wrapped it around herself. “It’s warmer than it looks,” she commented, surprised.
Chance just nodded. “Trust me, it’s a real blessing, living in Seattle.”
His companion was quiet, staring thoughtfully out at the rain and the people running for their cars in the parking lot.
“You want to try to make it to your car?” he asked, studying her warily.
She shook her head. “No, let’s just wait it out here. It shouldn’t last too long…” Once again, her voice faded out wistfully.
They sat there together in silence for a few moments, watching the green trees swaying with the impact of the raindrops on their leaves. Little puddles and mud holes gradually began to form along paths, where the passage of many feet had worn low places in them.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Chance finally asked.
Nat sighed. “I was just thinking that it would have to rain on the first day in almost five years I actually get to do something in the daytime. Something fun, no less.” Her voice was bitter, and he guessed that it probably wasn’t just the rain.
The coroner let out a short laugh. “I’m insane,” she stated bluntly. “I am honestly insane! I’ve wasted half of the time I’ve lived in Toronto on Nick, almost never dating or spending time with anyone else because he gets so damned jealous, and what does he do? Every time he gets a little hungry for something his cow blood can’t provide, he goes and…sleeps with Janette!”
For this entire speech, Nat’s voice had been gradually rising in volume and pitch, becoming more and more frustrated and angry. She shuddered a little at the thought of what she’d almost said Nick had done to Janette.
“Why did I do it?” she asked incredulously. “How could I be so stupid as to think he actually cared about me, maybe even loved me?” Just as it had the day before in the parking garage, Natalie’s pain boiled over into a flood of hot tears almost as furious as the weeping of the sky outside their meager shelter.
Chance put his arm around her and held her while she shook with sobs, her tears soaking his shirt that the rain had spared. For what seemed like hours, they sat like that: grief and betrayal flowing out of Nat, met by waves of silent comfort from the photographer, who did nothing but hold her and quietly stroke her hair.
Finally, when her tears had mostly subsided into damp gasps, he spoke. “You’re not stupid, Nat.”
“Oh, really?” she retorted, pulling and turning away from him. Bitterness surged up in her voice again. “Then how do you explain–”
“Natalie, listen to me,” Chance interrupted, taking her chin in his hand and drawing her back to face him. “You…”
Whatever he had been meaning to say died on his lips the instant their eyes met.
“Chance…” Nat began, her voice trailing off into a whisper.
Without either of them knowing how or why it happened, they kissed. There was something so natural about the way their lips came together, as if this had been the goal of their whole afternoon together, instead of just an accident.
When they pulled back a few moments later, there was an uneasy silence between them. Both were puzzled by the rush of emotions the kiss had evoked and couldn’t help but wonder if it had been the circumstances of the moment or a genuine attraction that had prompted it.
“It’s stopped raining,” Nat observed lamely, glancing behind Chance to the rapidly clearing sky. “I guess we should go.” He nodded, standing and gathering the still-damp quilt into his arms. “Do you want me to drop you off back at your hotel?” she asked, her voice hesitant.
Reading between the lines, the photographer shook his head. “No. I think I’m going to take a walk, if that’s okay.”
“Fine.” She was both relieved and disappointed. “Well then, I guess I’ll be seeing you…whenever.” She took the quilt from him, heaped it on top of the basket, turned and headed in the direction of her car.
Chance watched her go, an uneasiness churning around in his stomach. Then, as she set the basket down on the passenger seat of the car and turned to walk around to the driver’s side, he made a decision.
Startled by the sound of his voice, she turned, and in what seemed like only seconds, he was beside her. Taking her into his arms, he bent down and kissed her again.
When their lips parted, Nat looked up at him with a calm smile, all uncertainty banished. “You sure you don’t want a ride?”
“Yeah, I think I’ll go exploring for a while.”
“All right. Just be careful–especially if you’re still out after dark.”
“I will. Promise.”
Chance squeezed her hand and stepped away from the car, watching thoughtfully as she pulled out of the parking lot and drove away. Then he turned and began walking along the sidewalk that rimmed the park. A light breeze swept momentarily around him and he shivered. Now what did I do with my coat? he wondered, turning back to glance in the direction of the gazebo. The memory struck him like a club and he whirled again in the direction Nat had gone.
A bemused smile spread over his face and he began to chuckle softly. I guess my luck didn’t decide to take a day off after all–I’d say this means we’ll definitely be seeing each other again…