Rain pounded against the roof and streamed onto the ground, forming massive puddles that would soon morph into streams. Selah peered out the window but didn’t see the tell-tale sign of her mom’s crimson-and-gold polka dots or her dad’s navy-blue, green, and white zigzag pattern. No umbrellas, no humans.
She bit her lip. At this rate, they were going to be late for the Rain Parade––unless her parents were already on site. But if they were going to do that, they would have told her beforehand.
The sound of footsteps pulled her attention away from the window. Rochelle swung her umbrella, still closed, back and forth. “Viv says I can go to the Rain Parade this time. Can I go? Please?”
Selah blinked. “Viv told you what?”
Rochelle’s golden-brown braids––courtesy of Vivienne––whipped around in a circle as she twirled in place. “She said I could go. She said she’d even buy me a new umbrella at the festival afterward.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Selah held up her hands. Rochelle stopped twirling. “You’re not going anywhere until Mom and Dad get back––if they even say you can go.” Selah steeled herself for the protruding lip and wide eyes. Yep, there they were.
“But I want to go!” Rochelle’s voice came out plaintive, high-pitched, and immensely irritating.
“I know; I know. You will soon.” Selah offered a smile, but it didn’t soften the pleading expression on her sister’s face. “And what’s this about getting you a new umbrella? What’s wrong with your old one?”
“It’s tiny.” Rochelle opened the offending umbrella, revealing a pink backdrop with gold stars. It was a lot tinier than Selah’s, but Selah was also a lot bigger than Rochelle. “It’s a kid’s umbrella. See?”
“Shelley. You are a kid.” Selah squeezed Rochelle’s hand. “Don’t worry; you’ll get a new umbrella when you’re thirteen.”
“But that’s so far away!” Rochelle wailed.
“Just a few years. And it’ll be even more special since you waited for it.”
“But I want it now!”
“Hey, what’s all the yelling about?” Vivienne strode into the living room, twirling her umbrella. Long golden-brown hair cascaded down her back in thick waves. Makeup stained her skin, her eyelids, her eyelashes, her lips. Who was she trying to impress? “Is Selah being mean to you again?”
Selah’s mouth dropped open. “I’m not––”
“What’d she say, Shelley?”
“She said I couldn’t go to the Rain Parade.” Rochelle sniffed, wiping sudden tears from her eyes. Tempests, her eyes were almost as weepy as the skies.
“Don’t listen to her.” Vivienne knelt down to Rochelle’s level, which was quite a height jump with Vivienne’s long legs. “Of course you can go, Shelley. You’re old enough.”
“Hold on.” Selah glared at Vivienne, who conveniently wouldn’t look at her. “You can’t just make decisions like that. We’ll have to wait for Mom and Dad––”
“You can go ahead and wait, but Shelley and I are gonna go right now––isn’t that right?” Vivienne tweaked Rochelle’s nose.
“Hey!” Rochelle giggled. “That hurt!”
“They’ll be home soon,” Selah said.
“Yeah, well, by the time they get home, we’ll have missed it.”
Maybe. But Selah wasn’t going to admit that. “That’s not going to happen. Besides, on the rare chance that it did, we’d still be able to go to the Festival of Waters.”
“So?” Vivienne snorted. “The whole point is the Rain Parade, idiot.”
Selah’s lips tightened. You think just ’cause you’re sixteen, you’re so smart. Well, guess what. I’m older. By only two years, but that didn’t matter.
“You called her a mean word,” Rochelle said.
“It was a term of endearment.” Vivienne poked Rochelle’s nose. “Anyway, Shelley, are you ready?”
Selah grabbed Rochelle’s hand and tugged her away from Vivienne. Rochelle almost tripped over her spindly legs. “No,” Selah said. “You are not taking her. She’s only ten––”
“I was eleven when I went to my first rain parade,” Vivienne said.
“That’s a whole year older.”
Vivienne arched a golden eyebrow. “So what? It’s a year. That’s all. And Rochelle is way more mature than I was at her age.”
“I am,” Rochelle said.
Selah groaned. “That’s not the point of this––”
“We’re just gonna go to the Rain Parade, and then we’ll go to the Festival of Waters,” Vivienne said. “How does that sound? Too dangerous for our dear little sister?”
“It’s a mess out there, Viv. She could get lost, or she could get swept away––”
“I’m strong,” Rochelle said.
“Yes, I know, darling, but you don’t understand how crazy these parades get. People trample each other.”
“So they step on each other’s feet?”
“Kind of.” Selah swallowed. “A little worse than that. I just don’t want you getting hurt, Shelley. That’s all.”
“I’m not gonna get hurt. Viv will be with me.” Rochelle’s eyes had latched onto their other sister like Vivienne was the sun in her universe––which was a horrible choice. Vivienne’s light seemed great at first, but Rochelle would soon find how fickle it could be.
Vivienne unfurled her umbrella, revealing violet interspersed with red. “Well, we’re off. See you later, Selah.” She grabbed Rochelle’s hand and tugged her toward the door. Rochelle quickly opened her umbrella and set it over her shoulder, mimicking Vivienne.
“No, you’re not––” Selah ran toward her siblings as they stepped out the door. “Wait!” she yelled against the roar of the rain. “Viv! Shelley! Wait!”
But it was too late; Vivienne and Rochelle had faded into the blur of the rainfall. “No, no, no!” Selah tore her fingers through her hair, mussing it, but that didn’t matter. It’d be frizzy once she stepped outside anyway.
And she had to go outside as soon as she could. No more waiting for Mom and Dad. She had to find them before Vivienne’s carelessness hurt their little sister.
Selah scribbled down a note, threw on her raincoat, and grabbed her rain boots and umbrella, both of which were green and gold. Then she yanked the door open and stepped into the rain.
Umbrella slung over her shoulder, Selah joined the parade. Rain pounded against the umbrella’s canopy and dripped off the sides, enveloping her in a waterfall, but she could still see the brightly colored lights lining the streets. Her rain boots pounded the puddles and sent more droplets into the air as she peered around for any sight of her siblings, or her parents, for that matter.
But there were so many people that she could barely see––swarming next to her, surging ahead of her, swelling behind her––and with them came noise. Such noise, laughter and conversation and shouting, all swelling into one cacophonous sound. She half-expected the rain to waver with the force of their sound waves.
Squinting, she looked around for a tiny pink umbrella with stars. Most attendees were adults, so a kid shouldn’t be hard to spot, but at the same time, kids were so small that they were hidden amongst the crowd. People hurled rude words as she pushed through the chaotic mass, but that didn’t matter. She needed to find her siblings.
Well, she needed to find Rochelle. Vivienne could take care of herself.
Suddenly claustrophobic, Selah squeezed her way to the outskirts of the crowd. Much better. Now she could actually move––and she could see the umbrellas better. She peered at the mass of umbrellas. Was that––? No. Violet, yes, but that was pink instead of red, and the design was striped rather than polka dotted.
The insistent wind ignored her umbrella and blew rain against her hair, which had effectively frizzed and puffed out to massive proportions. Why had Vivienne even put makeup on? It would just get washed away.
“What are you doing out here all alone, little lady?”
She almost jumped at the voice, close by her ear. This was why she should’ve stayed in the crowd.
“Don’t got anyone to celebrate with?” said the man.
She walked faster. Water splashed with each step. She didn’t need to look over at him, didn’t need to acknowledge him. That would just encourage his advances.
His footsteps matched hers. “I got a party tonight––lots of pretty lights, pretty like you.”
Pretty? Yeah, right. “I’m busy,” she said.
He grabbed her arm. With a yelp, she jerked away, his hands sliding off her slick raincoat. She shoved her way into the middle of the crowd.
“Hey! Hey, wait!” he called after her.
Shivering, she encapsulated herself in the crowd, where she would be slow but safe. Well, unless she got trampled. What if Rochelle got trampled? She was small for her age, skinny too, and people might just walk right over her.
Where are you, Rochelle?
No recognizable umbrellas. Just the pounding of rain and a pounding in her head.
She slammed into someone, big and burly. Her cheeks burning, she quickly apologized, though he never turned around, and looked for a way around him. Wait. Everyone had halted. Right. It was time for the ceremonious words that would end the Rain Parade, and then they would go on to the Festival of Waters.
“People of Rainhaven,” Mayor Dittemore called. She could barely see his orange-and-blue umbrella and couldn’t see his face or figure at all. “Welcome to the monthly Rain Parade! We are here to celebrate the rain. It gives us life. Without rain, we would be nothing.”
No, without Rochelle, Selah would be nothing.
“Close your umbrellas and embrace the rain,” Mayor Dittemore said.
Umbrellas closed, including Selah’s own. Rain slammed against her face, traced the contours of her nose and lips, soaked every inch of her frizzy hair. She gazed around the crowd but couldn’t see her family, especially not without the umbrellas.
“Open your mouths and taste the rain!” cried the mayor.
Her lips parted, and water gushed into her mouth––too fast, too much. Coughing, she expelled the water from her mouth. Her throat burned. People around her glared, as though she were somehow dishonoring the rain.
“You may open your umbrellas,” the mayor continued. “Now, dance in the rain!”
Selah used the opportunity to move through the crowd, searching for her family. Shelley?
After several agonizing minutes of watching others dance and attempting to dance, the festival ended. Mayor Dittemore dismissed them to the Festival of Waters.
And there was still no Rochelle.
Selah clutched her umbrella even tighter and searched the parting sea of umbrellas. Something? Anything? There––Vivienne’s umbrella! Selah raced after the flash of purple and crimson, puddles exploding beneath her feet. “Viv!” she called. “Viv, wait!”
Vivienne disappeared into a house. A house? What about the Festival? And had Rochelle gone inside too? The rain made it difficult to tell. As Selah stomped closer to her destination, stirring puddles, she noted the sound of music and conversation bursting through the windows and doors.
Wait a second. Vivienne had taken Rochelle to one of the post-Parade parties? Selah groaned. Not that she was surprised, but still. I swear, Viv, when I find you . . . Even the Festival of Waters would’ve been better than this.
She jerked open the door and was almost deafened by the noise. Wincing, she pushed her way inside.
Someone grabbed her arm. “Hey. Were you invited?”
A girl, garbed in a raincoat-dress that barely reached her thighs, stared back at Selah. Water dripped from her chocolatey hair and streamed down her makeup-ridden face.
“Uh. Yes.” Selah tried to smile. “I’m with my sister, Vivienne Wright. She’s already here.” Do you happen to know where she is?
“Oh.” The girl let go and turned away.
Exhaling, Selah pushed her way farther into the house. The girl hadn’t been any help, but at least she hadn’t stopped Selah. Rainbow-colored lights lined the walls, and dry umbrellas of all different shades and designs hung from the ceiling, their multicolored canopies facing downward. It would’ve been pretty if not for the maelstrom of people drinking and dancing. None bore umbrellas––just Selah’s luck. She searched for long, wet, golden-brown hair––or, even better, a tiny girl with golden-brown pigtails.
Why would Vivienne even want to be in a place like this? The Festival was so much more appealing, so much less crowded––
Someone bumped into her, and she smashed into a table. “Oh, sorry––” The words caught in her throat when she realized that the couple was too busy kissing to notice. Gagging, Selah backed away from the table, this time watching where she was going without paying too much attention to the writhing couples in the room.
I. Hate. Crowds.
A squeal split the air as the girl in the raincoat-dress jerked open a windowsill. Water rushed into the house. Gasping, Selah jumped away from the rapidly spreading puddle.
“Hurricanes and tempests, would you close that?” called someone.
The girl just laughed.
Selah marched over and yanked it closed. Ridiculous post-Parade parties. What would her parents say if they knew she was here?
“Hey!” The girl was frowning at her. Her makeup must’ve been ridiculously waterproof because it hadn’t smudged a bit. “Stop actin’ like you own the place, would ya? And where’s your sis?”
Selah tried not to gag from the alcohol-laced breath. “I’m trying to find her. Would you happen to know where––?”
“Just watch out.” The girl’s yellow rain boots thudded against the floor as she marched along the side of the room.
Viv, where are you? And––more importantly––why in tempests would you bring Rochelle in here?
“You lookin’ for someone?”
She tried to ignore the voice, but her eyes flicked there anyway––a guy with an angular face to match his angular body, his pale red hair plastered to his freckled skin, sitting on one of the couches. Her eyes widened as her mind sorted through vague memories including him and Vivienne walking together at school. “Do you happen to know Vivienne Wright?” she blurted out.
Now his mud-brown eyes widened. He cocked his head. “Yeah? Why?”
Selah moved closer to him so she could hear. “She’s my sister. Have you seen her? I need to find her. Right now.” She placed her hands on her hips for emphasis.
He held out his own hands as if to calm her. “Whoa, slow down, girl. Yeah, I saw her.” He stood, his lanky body unfolding so that he loomed over her. She tried not to gape. She’d forgotten how tall and bony he was. “C’mon.” He started along the wall toward the stairway.
Her stomach lurched. “Wait. I’m not going with you.” Especially if that destination happened to be a strange bedroom.
“Relax, kid. It’s easier to show you,” he said.
She narrowed her eyes. He didn’t seem like a bad guy, but he was at one of these parties. “I’m not a kid. I’m older than Viv.”
“Oh. You look younger.”
Yeah, well, she didn’t wear enough makeup to coat an entire family. The music slammed against her ears, reminding her of what kind of place this was––where Rochelle could be right now. Her nails bit her palms as her gaze slid up to the guy. “You’re not drunk, are you?” she said.
He gave her a funny look, like she’d asked if he were a cloud. “It’s funny to watch drunk people when you’re sober.”
Huh. Well, he did seem sober, she supposed. Not that she’d been around enough drunk people to know. “Fine. Show me where she is.”
He broke out into a half smile, then loped along his path. Selah’s rain boots pattered against the ground as she tried to keep up with him. If she’d made a terrible mistake . . . well, it was for Rochelle. That had to count for something.
“What’s your name, anyway?” he called back to her.
Can’t you just slow down? “Selah.”
“Cool name. I’m Brad.”
Please, Long Legs, slow down! Selah raced up the stairs, pushing past a couple too busy smooching to realize.
“Why are you looking for her?” Brad said.
“None of your business.” Selah slammed into his lanky frame, almost knocking him over. “Hey––!” Then she noticed why he’d stopped.
Vivienne leaned against a wall, holding a glass in her long-fingered hand. A guy who looked like he could lift a boulder was smiling down at her as they conversed in low tones. At least they were talking instead of kissing.
But the area around Vivienne was otherwise vacant. No wiry ten-year-old bounced at her heels.
Fury flamed inside Selah as she stomped up to Vivienne, hardly caring that she wasn’t tall enough to be intimidating. “Where’s Shelley?”
Vivienne paused mid-word to look down at Selah. Her lips pursed in an “o.” “Selah?”
“Yeah, it’s me.” If not for the concern of Viv’s alcohol spilling on her raincoat, Selah would’ve shaken her sister. The guy glared down at her. Yeah, well, she didn’t care that she’d interrupted their conversation. “Where’s Shelley? She’s supposed to be with you––you know, after you dragged her away without telling Mom and Dad.”
Vivienne took a sip from her drink, complete with tiny umbrella. “Off with her friends, I’d imagine.”
“Her friends––?” Selah’s teeth grinded together. “You lost her?”
“She made some friends. I didn’t want to keep her from them.”
“Viv!” Selah caged a scream, instead shouting, “I can’t believe you! You are the most irresponsible, reckless person I know.”
“Shh! You’re in a public place, Selah.”
“Would you shut up?” Selah tore her shaking hands through her frizzy hair. “Where did you see her last? Where did you leave her?”
“I don’t know. Somewhere at the Parade.”
“That’s helpful.” Selah glanced at Vivienne again. Something about her seemed off––her speech slightly slower, her eyes not as cutting. Was she––? Of course. “So while Shelley’s out there in the rain, you’re getting drunk and doing who-knows-what with Mr. Buff.”
The guy peeled himself away from the wall and glared down at her. She swallowed hard but tried to stand firm. Right. Mr. Buff was also intoxicated, and he could probably tear her limbs off. She brandished her closed umbrella just in case Mr. Buff tried to strike.
Then someone stepped to her side. She almost smacked the intruder with her umbrella before recognizing the ridiculously tall frame. Right. Brad was still here. Was he––was he protecting her?
“Torrents, Selah, you’re so lame.” Vivienne rolled her eyes. “You gotta trust Shelley. She knows what she’s––”
“She’s ten years old.”
“C’mon, she probably went home.”
“She doesn’t know how to get home, Viv.”
“Shelley’s a big girl.”
“She’s just a kid!” Selah’s voice echoed through the house. She was probably disturbing the partiers, but she didn’t care. “I don’t want you around Rochelle ever again. You hear me?”
Vivienne blinked slowly, as if the words were hard to process. “She’s my sister.”
“I don’t care.” With one final steely glare, Selah stomped on her heel and turned back toward the stairs. Fine. I’ll find Rochelle myself. But she’d lost a lot of time in this stupid post-Parade party.
Stupid drunk Viv. Stupid Parade. Stupid Selah, not being able to stop Viv.
Brad’s voice came from far above. She tried to blink away the tears. Now was not the time to cry. Now was the time to find Rochelle before it was too late.
“You’ve got some pipes, girl. I could hear you clear over the music.”
She continued toward the stairs, but a hand grabbed her arm. Screaming, she tried to rip away. So this was how––
“Selah. It’s me.” Brad steadied her. His dark bug eyes gleamed in the multicolored light. “So someone’s lost?”
Her breath hiccupped in her throat. What would it matter if she told him? “My sister.”
His lips quirked in a smile. “Your sister’s right there.”
She rolled her eyes and tried not to burst into tears. “My other sister. Rochelle. She’s––she’s ten years old. I told Viv not to take her, but she didn’t listen––She told Shelley she could go––and then she left her––I hate her. I don’t know if I’m allowed to, but I do.”
Wow. She’d spilled that on a stranger. Nice job, Selah. She tried to pull free, but his grip was surprisingly strong. “Hey––”
He hadn’t moved. They probably blended in with all the other couples except for her crying. Great. Now she looked like she belonged at a post-Parade party. Just what she wanted.
“Can I help?”
Her eyes flashed wide. “What?”
“Look, I don’t want a kid lost in the rains any more than you do. I know you don’t know me, but I know Viv.”
Yeah, like that was comforting. “According to you, I’m a kid.”
He palmed the back of his neck. “Yeah. That was dumb.”
Seriously. He was probably two years younger than her. She tried to gloat in her eighteen years but couldn’t find much to gloat in.
“So, what’s it gonna be?” he said.
Either way, she had to get out there right now. What if Shelley––? No. She couldn’t think like that. She forced her lungs to calm and glanced up at Brad. He hadn’t dragged her yet, which meant he was actually waiting for her to make the decision. Well . . . he had tried to defend her against Mr. Buff. That counted for something, right?
He was already barreling down the stairs.
“Slow down,” she muttered, hurrying after him. This was going to be an interesting trip.
“Rainhaven” isn’t over yet. Keep reading in this post!