Peanut didn’t like thunderstorms. Josh had the evidence of that in the form of scratch marks on his arms and thighs. When holding and being near his cat didn’t soothe her, he let her go and hide under his bed, figuring he’d leave her alone if being among the dust bunnies made her feel safe.
He couldn’t help but worry, though. He had never had a cat of his own. Vaguely, he remembered cats from when he was a kid, but it was always his parents who took care of them. Asking for some advice wouldn’t be a bad idea.
“How are Panda and Moose doing with the storm?” he texted Sarah and Rebecca.
Sarah responded in a few minutes. “Moose is under the sofa in the basement like usual. Panda is snoozing on the counter, oblivious. I’m fine, too, thanks for asking.”
Josh chuckled to himself. “Sorry, glad you’re fine too. Peanut is under my bed. Didn’t know if you had any advice for trying to keep her calm from the storm.”
“Not really,” Sarah said. “We just kind of wait out the storm with Moose. Rebecca usually hangs out in the basement with the television on so he knows he’s not alone, but I hate being in the basement by myself so Moose is on his own.” She added a shrugging and laughing emote.
“Rebecca’s not home?” Josh asked. A streak of lightning cracked outside and Josh dropped his phone from jumping at the sound. He cursed as he inspected it and was thankful that it seemed fine.
“She’s out to dinner with some guy named Arnold,” Sarah reported. “Did you hear that crack of lightning?”
Arnold? Josh raised an eyebrow at the name, having not heard of the guy before. He suppose it didn’t matter. He tried to tell himself it didn’t matter. He hadn’t told Rebecca or Sarah about Ethan, Calvin, and the others before, so why should the girls tell him all about their friends? Sure, Josh knew some names, but he supposed there were always a few that were left in the dark.
“He the boyfriend?” Josh hoped the text sounded casual.
“I think he wants to be,” was Sarah’s response with an animated emote that rolled its eyes. “Rebecca says they’re just friends whenever I tease them, though. Why?”
“Just curious,” Josh said, pretty sure that he sent that text too quickly.
“Look, if you’re interested in Rebecca, you have my blessing,” was Sarah’s response.
“No, I’m not,” Josh texted back. “Rebecca’s awesome, but I’m not interested in her like that.”
“Why not?” was the swift reply.
Josh took a few minutes to formulate his next text. “I’m not quite her type, that’s all. That and we’ve only known each other for a few months.”
“I knew it,” was Sarah’s text, and Josh felt cold. Before he could ask Sarah what she meant, another thunderous boom echoed outside and the power flickered off. His cell phone immediately began ringing.
“I hate the dark,” Sarah proclaimed with a shaky voice as soon as he answered. “You’re not busy, right? You were pretty quick with your texts. Can you stay on the phone with me until Rebecca comes back?”
Josh glanced out the window and stumbled towards his closet. “Of course I can,” he said. “I’m surprised Panda’s not protecting you.”
“I’m not,” Sarah said dryly. “I don’t think he moved. Sometimes I wonder if he’s going deaf, but I know that’s not the case.”
“Can I ask about Smokey?” Josh asked, pulling out his rain jacket and umbrella from the hallway closet. “Was he a lot like Panda?”
“They definitely have some similarities,” Sarah said, and she launched into a story about how both cats like to sleep and talk whenever they’re not snoozing. Apparently Smokey had a bigger appetite than Panda, which was odd for the sisters because they were used to both Moose and Smokey begging at the dinner table while Panda just relaxes and enjoys everyone being together.
Josh did his best to listen, but sometimes it was hard to hear over the rain and wind as he jogged down the street toward the Miller’s house.
“—being younger, Panda can keep up more with Moose, which means they like to play together, which is great, but we have to watch out for when Panda tries to pounce—Oh my god, someone is knocking on the door…!”
“It’s just me,” Josh said on the phone. “Let me in. I’m getting a little wet.”
“A little—What the hell?” Sarah swung open the front door, momentarily blinding him with a flashlight, before letting him in the porch.
“Did Rebecca teach you that trick?” he asked, gesturing to the flashlight as he rubbed his eyes to get rid of the bright spots.
Sarah didn’t answer him. Instead, she disconnected the call on their cells and marched toward the bathroom. In a few seconds, she chucked a towel at Josh’s head.
“Are you crazy?” she asked. “Strutting around out there, getting more than a little wet, with an umbrella sticking straight up in the air, what if you got struck by lightning—”
Lightning streaked down from the sky, punctuated by a clap of thunder. Josh suddenly felt a tug on his arm and glanced down from under the towel to see Sarah clinging to his sleeve.
“It seemed worth it,” he said. “You okay?”
In the glow of her flashlight, Sarah nodded, but her grip tightened when thunder sounded across the sky again. “Let’s go into the living room…”
Josh followed her lead and sat on the towel on the sofa so he wouldn’t ruin the material. Sarah didn’t seem to care one way or the other as she curled up next to him. Something brushed against his leg and Josh swung the flashlight down to see Panda.
“Oh, sure, you wake up when he’s here,” Sarah said, bending down to pick up the black and white cat. Panda purred as he settled on Sarah’s lap and Josh reached over to rub the cat’s ears.
“He probably just wanted to check on you,” Josh said.
“Or see if you had treats,” Sarah responded without hesitation. “…Thank you for coming over, though. You really didn’t have to, but I appreciate it.”
Josh gave a nonchalant shrug. “It would have just been me sitting alone in the dark at home anyway—”
Sarah’s cell phone rang and she answered it after a quick glance at the caller I.D. “Hi, Bec.” Josh kept his focus on patting Panda and, after a few minutes, Moose when the Chihuahua abruptly appeared in the dark. The storm apparently spooked the dog enough to want to seek comfort in Josh’s lap.
“Hey, buddy,” Josh murmured softly, being sure not to interrupt Sarah. Considering she hadn’t moved from the sofa, she wasn’t too concerned about Josh hearing her conversation.
“I’m okay,” Sarah said into the receiver. “The power went out, but Josh, the chivalrous dork, came over… No, I didn’t ask him to, he showed up and nearly gave me a heart attack… The animals are fine, Panda thinks we’re all sitting down for tea or something, and Moose just wandered up here, probably having heard Josh… No, he’s not growling, he’s actually cuddling with Josh.”
“I’ll probably never get another opportunity like this,” Josh joked. Sarah raised an eyebrow at him but couldn’t directly comment.
“Take your time and drive carefully,” Sarah said to her sister. “I’m sure the roads are flooded and stuff. You’re driving, right? Not Arnold?” Josh glanced curiously at Sarah for the question, but Sarah didn’t look at him. “Good, he’s kind of a wussy driver and you know it… Yep, love you too. See you soon, hopefully!”
Sarah hung up and Josh immediately echoed, “Wussy driver?”
“I can count on more than one hand how many times he has hit our fence because he gets so nervous backing up out of the driveway,” she said. “I mean, Arnold’s an okay guy, he’s not bad at all, but the dude needs to grow some balls.”
Josh couldn’t help but chuckle. “Are you really being fair to him?”
“Probably not,” she admitted. “I’m sure you’ll meet him one day. Oh, hey, Rebecca mentioned that she had recently met a guy named Ethan? He’s your friend?”
Josh shifted in his seat. “Yeah, he’s my friend from where I used to live.”
His toes curled but he was proud of himself for keeping a steady voice when he answered, “No, he’s not. He’s been with one of our other friends, Linda, for about eight months now.”
“Damn.” Sarah snapped her fingers. “Rebecca said he was good looking. Sandy hair, cool cerulean colored eyes, sparkling smile and laugh…”
That was all quite accurate. “Rebecca said all that?”
“Well, she said blond, blue-eyed, and very happy,” Sarah said. “I may have paraphrased.”
Josh chuckled. “Just a bit. Is Rebecca okay?”
“She’s fine,” Sarah said. “She was just checking up on us here. She’s trying to make her way back from the restaurant, which had also lost power and shut down early. Considering that she and Arnold hadn’t gotten all their food yet, the manager waived their bill, so that was cool.”
“That was nice,” Josh agreed. “Did they eat anything at all?”
“Their appetizers, which are really good portions where they went,” Sarah said. “I’d try to make her a little something for when she comes home, but we can’t make much without the power…”
Josh glanced towards the kitchen. “Yeah, that’s a shame… You know, things in the freezer and refrigerator may go bad…”
Sarah slowly looked up at him. “Like ice cream?”
He nodded. “Exactly like ice cream.”
That was how Rebecca found the pair when she returned home. With her cell’s flashlight app, she clearly saw Josh and Sarah eating chocolate and cookie dough ice cream out of their containers at the kitchen table. With her hair and clothes drenched from the storm outside, the older sister laughed, grabbed her own spoon, and scooted in next to Josh, scooping out chocolate ice cream for herself.
Once the cartons were deprived of their contents, the storm was much lighter than before. Distant thunder still boomed once in a while, but it wasn’t enough to send Moose scurrying back under the basement sofa, and Josh figured he should head back home to check on Peanut.
“I doubt she moved,” Josh said. “I couldn’t pry her out from under the bed for the life of me, and I got the scars on my arm to prove it.”
Rebecca drove him the short distance so he wouldn’t have to swim through puddles and she turned to him as she pulled into his driveway.
“It was really sweet of you to hang out with Sarah, you know,” she said. “Thank you.”
“It wasn’t a problem,” Josh said, readying his umbrella for the mad dash to his side door. With a grin, he added, “It was nice to have company for me too, and that dinner was amazing.”
Rebecca smiled gently. “Seriously… I don’t think you know how much that means to us. You’re a good guy, Josh.”
“I certainly hope I hadn’t given you an impression otherwise,” Josh said.
“No, of course not,” Rebecca said. “I hope Peanut’s okay. Have a good night.”
Understanding the end of the conversation, Josh merely said, “G’night,” in return and ran into his house. He watched as Rebecca carefully cruised back down the street until Peanut yowled at him from the top of the stairs.
“Hey, girl,” he greeted, reaching the landing to scoop her up. She stretched and rubbed the top of her head against his chin. “Glad you’re not too mad at me and that the storm didn’t seem to scare you too much…”
With a quick glance in his room, Josh noted that everything seemed to be intact and he released Peanut back onto his bed. “You know, you may not have needed me,” he said to the cat, who was watching his every move with her bright eyes, “but it was nice to be able to be there for Sarah. And Moose, really, that was a change in his demeanor.
“Sarah would have been fine, that I know,” he continued, “but it was nice just the same. I haven’t been really needed by someone like that in over eight months…”