April 25, 1948
Los Angeles, California
The baby chewed her fist as Aaron Day paced the hospital room with her. His second daughter. She was as perfect as her big sister though she’d already displayed her own temperament. Looks-wise, she possessed the makings of being another beauty like her mother. He wandered to the window, talking low while Cheryl, his wife, tried to rest. This darling cutie was a tad bigger than her sibling, taking longer to enter the world. But she was here.
And needed a name.
He gazed out over the vista of their growing metropolis. So many modern-day pioneers forged their way to this mecca, full of hope and talent to fuel their dreams to succeed.
He and Cheryl had tasted that success and stayed. A modest but comfortable income could be made without getting famous if one developed a dependable reputation and a quality product. Aaron had done that; his work was steady.
Cheryl, though, was forced to put her movie career on the back burner. For the time being. She’d shine on that silver screen again. He had faith in is lovely wife.
“Look out there, baby doll. They say it never rains in California but guess no one told the weatherman.” Pelts pinged off the window’s glass as a muted rumble sounded before the sky cracked a split. “Got a whale of a storm brewing, sweetie. Maybe that’s what we should name you.”
The baby let out a lusty cry and Cheryl rolled toward them. “Is she okay?”
“She’s perfect. Naming her Stormy April.”
“Oh, Aaron, not again? Those girls will never forgive you.”
“They’ll come to love their names. Stormy will take the world by storm, you just wait. She’s going to do big things.”
Cheryl closed her eyes. “Fine, Aaron. Just remember, when she complains about it, I’m sending her to you. I’ll keep my bargain about you naming the girls. But I’m making sure they know this is your idea.”
“No problem. I’ll tell her how she rode in on a bolt of lightning and electrified our lives.” He glanced back at his daughter and held her close. “Yes, my little Stormy April Day. You’ll be a force of nature. I have no doubt.”
May 16, 1970
“Think they’re going to again?” Stormy peeked over the top of her younger sister, Windy’s head. Their other sister, Sunny, had slipped away from Gramma’s wedding reception with her boyfriend, Pat. Anymore it seemed like they were always searching for a spot to start kissing. It was better than watching an old romantic movie on the late show. They could pass for teenagers instead of twenty-something professionals—almost too cute.
Only, if they got caught spying, Sunny would give them what for while Pat’s face changed from pink to crimson. That was almost too funny.
“I’d bet on it. Oh, they moved around the tree. Did they see us?”
“Uh hm.” Someone behind them cleared his throat.
Both girls spun.
“Robert Crawford. Why must you sneak up on me?” Stormy threw out the question in hopes of deflecting any toward her. Besides, he was the last person she wanted to see. Why did Gramma invite him anyway?
“Sorry.” He shoved his hands in his pockets. “Thought we could talk a little. How’ve you been?”
Stormy swiped her bangs off her forehead, grasping a moment to retain her civility. This was Gramma’s special day, and she’d not let her temper ruin it because a certain husband had to show up. Gramma could invite anyone she wanted. But inviting the guy her granddaughter wanted to divorce was kind of a sneaky trick. That old meddler needed to stop hoping and plotting. Gramma had her own marriage to concentrate on now. Stormy’s was beyond fixable at this point. Probably.
“Same as always.” She paused, and then her manners kicked in. “You?”
“Fair. Gearing up for the end-of-the-school-year hustle.” He hardly glanced up to meet her stare. Like the child no one chose to play with. The analogy cracked her heart gaining him some sympathy.
Drat! Not good. No sympathy for the guy. She bit her lip, reminded herself why they’d split, and got tough. “You have your vacation in a few weeks. Then you can do what you want.” And leave me alone.
“Guess you’re right. Could we talk? I’ll get you some punch.” Like ginger ale and sherbet could solve all their problems.
No, she needed to be firm. Things had been too busy with getting their new business, The Weather Girls Wedding Shoppe and Venue, started followed by Gramma’s shindig. She hadn’t had a moment to contact a lawyer. However, it was on her to-do list. The longer she dragged this out, the harder it would be to finalize their divorce.
Just the word brought a cold chill. However, if she couldn’t trust him, she shouldn’t stay married to him. “Rob, I don’t think there’s a lot to say.” And if she did let loose about how he tanked her teaching career, she’d couldn’t predict what she’s say—and in front of her sister. They didn’t need an audience.
“I’ll get you some punch, you two can sit over there.” Windy pointed to an area of the garden away from the majority of guests. “Or go inside. That’s a better idea anyway. Head on in the mansion and I’ll bring your cups.” She put her hands on their shoulders, pushing them to the front of the house before motioning them up the steps.
“Thanks, Windy, we’ll sit on the porch.” Rob forced a smile and her little sister winked at him.
Right. Thanks, loads. Windy.
Rob stepped aside to allow her to ascend before him.
Stormy stood. “Rob, why? It’s over.”
“Windy’s gone for punch. We should at least wait for her.” He nodded toward the porch.
“Fine.” She mounted the steps and plopped into a chair making sure he had to sit with the table between them. No reaching for her hand, no physical touching that might weaken her resolve. She crossed her arms for emphasis. “What do you want to say?”
“Stormy, I was wrong. I’m sorry. I spoke out of turn and never dreamed they’d take my comment as gospel and not give you a contract. If I could yank the words back, I would. I wish you’d believe me.” He had that puppy-dog look in his eyes, the one that usually made him irresistible.
She sighed. He’d never lied to her before. That she knew of. He had broken trust, though. That meant every time she glanced at him, she saw what she lost. “I guess, I believe you. It’s not that easy to move past the shock, the hurt. I…” Sharing her feelings hadn’t wasn’t part of the agreement, only listening.
“I get that. I do. I miss you more than I can say. If you’ll postpone any divorce action and give me a chance to make it up to you, I will. I promise.”
“I’m not coming back. At least not now.” She blew out a breath. “I won’t go see a lawyer for a few weeks. Okay? We’ve got a lot to do around here anyway. I’m not making any promises, so don’t get your hopes up.” She nailed him with a stare to send the message home.
“Promise. No raised hopes. Just know I’m not giving up. Keep that in mind.”
“If you make a pest of yourself, you won’t like the consequences.”
He lifted his hands. “Not a pest, simply available. Okay?”
“Okay.” She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. “It’s been a tough year. First the Beatles break up and then you and me. I don’t see them getting back together either.” A tear slipped and she swiped it away before he could notice.
Windy returned with two cups of punch. “So, you kids doing all right? No blood spatters or severed heads.”
“Gross, Windy. We’re more civilized than that.” Stormy ran her hand over her face and glanced at Rob. For a moment she thought he seemed grateful that she hadn’t sliced him to ribbons.
That was the strangest part. He’d always been sure and logical, not the risk taker. The grounded half of their duo. He constructed his plan and then executed it. Even if the problem resulted from an excited slip of the tongue, sneaky didn’t fit his style.
Neither did this. Why did he appear so lost?
Her conscience told her that. She’d pulled the rug out from beneath his one-year, five-year, and ten-year plans. They’d made those plans together and she’d bailed.
With good reason.
Windy waved and headed to the reception in the backyard garden. Gramma had been their first customer and planned her wedding in the carriage house. It turned out lovely. Stormy knew Windy took advantage to get some great publicity photos. Now they just needed to bring in more customers.
The Weather Girls Wedding Shoppe and Venue had been the brainchild of her older sister, Sunny, who rescued historic Ferguson House from falling into the hands of a developer who wanted to raze the lovely old mansion.
It took all three girls pooling together to save it and start the venture, but it was more than money. Each worked in her own niche, bringing a unique talent to the table. Sunny was amazing at numbers and business. Windy was the artist and photographer. She had the eye for improvement.
And Stormy? What did she bring besides baggage and pain? Her ability to read people, move them into doing something and imagining it was their own idea. Comes in handy when working in sales. Or with third graders. But she never saw Rob’s betrayal coming. Maybe that’s why it devastated.
Still, she did believe him. Unsure if out of habit or her skill, but she did. That was the sad part. She just wasn’t trained to backpedal. Her mother had betrayed her too. To Stormy, the woman no longer existed.
“Guess I ought to get going.” Rob patted the arms of his chair before pushing himself to his feet. “Thanks for talking, Stormy. And for believing me. I won’t give up. I can’t.” He trudged down the steps, then turned. “Tell Hazel I’m happy for her and Gene and thank her for inviting me. G’ Night.”
So, it was true. He didn’t gatecrash. Gramma really did invite him, and it wasn’t a fluke. Stormy wanted to throttle the old woman. She was most likely in the middle of cutting her wedding cake.
Stormy reminded herself that murder’s not good for business. Probably wouldn’t photograph so great in the wedding pictures either.
Those that Windy was supposed to be taking.
Did she get any shots? Or had she played around, doing things as she felt? Someone needed to take that younger sister of hers in hand. She had no time to be flighty. Not with a baby on the way.
Stormy leaned her head back and closed her eyes. They had tons of baggage between the three of them. Beside what they dealt with growing up, they each brought struggles home when they all showed up in February. Sunny had worked through much of hers. That gave Stormy hope. Still, Windy flitted along as if nothing had changed. She was on an adventure with her sisters. Until she gained a clue that being an unwed mother would be the toughest thing she’d encounter, she only kidded herself.
Maybe Stormy was kidding herself, too. Could she and Rob find any other alternative besides divorce?
She was sure he still loved her. And to be honest, she still loved him. Yet pain continued to stab from when her life exploded.
This wasn’t the time to become psychologically aware. She was on the clock too.
Stormy headed for the backyard. Big band era music played from the speakers and a dance floor sported several couples slow dancing to “Sentimental Journey.” Her father manned the turntable keeping the songs flowing.
“Where’s Rob? You didn’t chase him off, did you?” Windy popped up at her elbow, her camera hanging from a strap around her neck.
“No, though I wanted to. Gramma invited him, the old manipulator.” She glanced about for her grandmother just as she received a tap on her shoulder.
Stormy spun. Gramma and Gene stood behind her.
“Where’s Rob? You didn’t run him off, did you? He was my guest.”
Stormy’s face bloomed with heat. “No Gramma, I didn’t run him off though I would have appreciated a heads up that he was coming.”
“So, you could hide and not do your job? Kokomo isn’t that big, Stormy. You’re going to run into him on occasion. Best get used to it.”
“You weren’t trying to do more than help me become comfortable in his presence, were you?” Stormy’s fists went to her hips.
“My wedding, young lady, and I’ll invite whoever I want. I’ve always liked that young man. He’s a go-getter.” Gramma wiggled her fingers at her as Gene danced her away in his arms.
Windy patted her shoulder. “Should we find Sunny and talk? I’ve got plenty of shots for the time being.”
Stormy shook her head. “We’ll do tons of that tonight when we go to bed. I’m fine. For now.”
But she wasn’t. Between feeling like a professional puppy kicker and being blindsided by her grandmother, Stormy was anything but fine. She imagined Rob driving home, her old home, and letting himself into the dark, quiet house. Did he turn on the lights or move by feel to their…his bedroom? What was he thinking? Had he been praying about all this?
Yes, some. In fact, she’d moved on from praying for bad things to happen to him to asking that she’d stop feeling all this hostility at the mention of his name.
Maybe, by accepting he hadn’t done it on purpose, she might be moving in that direction. She wasn’t ready to pray for reconciliation. But it would be nice to quit wavering between pity and resentment.
Rob parked his Cutlass in his driveway as the dread of going in alone took over, making him turn the ignition key. What law stated he must return home right now?
After backing away from their Greentown address, he shifted to drive and headed to the highway. Where did he want to go?
Anywhere but home. It hadn’t been a home since the day he found Stormy gone. No note. Not a clue for the longest time. It took three calls to Hazel’s house to learn she was safe but wouldn’t talk to him.
Fine. If that’s what she wanted… Then she skipped work, called for a substitute, and informed her principal she was done. Refused to return. He still saw Don Tanner’s face when it finally registered Rob was as much uninformed as he.
But something he said—the mention of Stormy coming to his office to sign her contract for the next school year and there not being one—got him thinking. No, they’d never take it as fact based on his hopeful outburst.
Yet they did.
Teaching was Stormy’s passion. Never in a million years could he imagine her not a teacher. Maybe taking a sabbatical to start a family. But not stop.
Still, that’s what it was. Now she’d broken her contract. Good luck securing a new one. She’d been so angry she really had cut off her nose to spite her face—or crashed her career to spite her passion.
He pulled into the T-Way parking lot and found a space. If home wasn’t his destination, he’d better figure out something to do besides wasting gas cruising. He was too old to be cruising. After loosening his tie, he considered his options. Walk the mall until closing (which happened in about an hour except for the theaters), grab a root beer float at the Dog n Suds, or an ice cream at the Frozen Custard.
Yeah, just what Stormy dreamed of—a fat, overweight, tubby…he’d go on, but he’d depressed himself enough.
A walk through the mall until they closed wasn’t too pathetic, right? Plus, he’d get exercise to boot. Better than the alternatives. If he wore himself out, maybe he’d get some sleep. Now with a plan, he restarted his car and pulled out onto 31, heading for the Markland Mall.
Saturday night and the movie theaters were the biggest draw. When he noticed that Ballad of Cable Hogue had hometown boy Strother Martin in it, he almost bought a ticket. But with Sam Peckinpah directing, he realized he’d be in for a violent shoot’m up. Rob wasn’t into that, not with sleep a priority. Another time, Mr. Martin.
Of course, there were other movies. Liza Minnelli’s Tell Me That You Love Me Junie Moon felt too artsy. A Man Called Horse with Richard Harris, too painful. He had enough of tween-aged student problems to choose PufNStuf and Let It Be only reminded him the Beatles broke up. Guess he was lucky Love Story was no longer playing—that’d be enough to put him over that proverbial edge.
So much for a movie distraction. Walking the mall won.
Montgomery Ward was having a White Sale. Plenty of sheets and towels and pillows at bargain prices. Not that he needed any, but whatever kept him from his own dreary thoughts. He wandered into the store. There was always the hardware department.
“Rob, what are you doing here?”
He glanced up to spot Glenda Whitehall, another teacher from Stormy’s school. “Oh, hi, Glenda. Just wasting time. You?”
“First opportunity to check the sale. Hey, how’s Stormy doing? Haven’t seen her in a while.”
A weight settled in his gut. They’d told no one about their separation. Actually, he had no clue what story Stormy was sharing. He merely dodged the questions the best he could. But Glenda was a coworker and given how the rumor mill churned, she probably had an idea. “She’s helping her sisters. They’ve started a new business.”
“She left her classroom to do that? I thought she loved teaching.” The Chatty Cathy probed too close. He suddenly envisioned her holding tweezers over him while he was trapped on the Operation game board waiting for the life-ending buzzer.
“It was a timing thing.” He hoped that was vague enough and moved her off the subject. “Well, I better be going. I’ll see you later, Glenda.”
“Sure, Rob. But hey, you’re okay, aren’t you?”
What did he say? That he was among the walking wounded? “I’m fine. We’re fine.” That was an out and out lie. The alternative was emotionally bleeding all over Ward’s patterned flooring. He waved and hustled toward the land of power tools in hopes that would discourage Glenda from following.
Once upon a time, he enjoyed working with his hands to build things. There was a coffee table in their living room and matching nightstands in their bedroom that he’d made for Stormy. But since his promotion, there’d been no chance. At first, he’d wondered if that’d been the problem—his days and evenings filled with meetings and paperwork. It kept him and Stormy from seeing each other like they used to. Maybe she’d been lonely. Another reason to start a family, so she’d not be sitting there alone waiting dinner on him.
Apparently, that wasn’t the case.
He found advertisements for a new saw that pictured a finished cabinet. That looked intriguing. Should he? Get back to woodworking? It’d be something to keep his mind occupied. He could make it for Stormy. Just to prove he remembered.
After whipping out his wallet, he pulled his credit card free and handed it to the clerk. The high school kid industriously working this Saturday night smiled so that his braces gleamed and rang up the purchase. Probably got paid on commission and it was his first sale all evening. He punched in the numbers on his department phone and awaited the approval code. His gaze flicked up at Rob and the smile disappeared. “I’m sorry, sir. Your card’s been declined.”
“That can’t be…” Right. Stormy took half the checking account and he had to decide what bills to pay. His Wards card was on the lower end of the priority list. He shook his head. “I’ll go take care of it. Thanks anyway.”
Rob hustled from the department before the kid offered to hold the table-saw until he found cash.
Like he needed a new saw.
Could this evening get any worse?
“Glad to see you again, Rob.” Glenda.
He paused and knew it was a mistake.
“How about a cup of coffee at the Burger King? Bet you’ve got time to kill and maybe we could talk.” Her smile bordered on eager.
Rob shook his head. Perhaps too vehemently. He wasn’t into confiding, and he certainly wouldn’t pick Glenda as his confidant. Besides, whether Stormy was in Greentown or Kokomo, he was still a married man. “Thanks anyway. I’m heading home. Don’t want to be late.” Let her wonder what he meant by that.
“Sure, okay. But if you change your mind, call me. Bet it gets lonely.”
How did she know? Did Stormy tell anyone? Was it a lucky guess? Denials would appear as too much protesting.
“Bye, Glenda.” He made a beeline for his exit.
An hour later he was in his garage. He’d changed into his grubbies and discovered plans for a different cabinet he’d wanted to make, yet never carved the time. With his tools and wood all laid out, he started. The effort soothed his mind. He let go of the pain of being without Sunny while WLS played over his radio. Bill Bailey kept the music coming, mostly the top forty hits—“ABC” by the Jackson Five and “Everything is Beautiful” by Ray Stevens. But “American Woman/ No Sugar Tonight” by the Guess Who stung. He should’ve switched the dumb thing off. Instead, he wallowed. “Turn Back the Hands of Time” stabbed a little harder, but he kept working, trying to ignore the words. Then the DJ cued a blast from the past. Out of the blue.
The opening strains to “Stormy” sounded, and Rob’s vision glazed with moisture.
He ran his forearm over his eyes and blinked to clear them before lining up his cut. The board rested against the brace and he lower the blade.
The shock hit him before the pain. Blood spattered and he held up his hand to see he’d nipped the tips of his left index and middle fingers.
Rob searched for a clean cloth to stanch the flow while holding his left hand with his right. Nothing.
He fumbled with the doorknob, finally getting to the kitchen where he grabbed the first towel he found before swiping his keys from the hook and stumbling to the car.
Driving would be a challenge, but he knew he’d better get some stitches. Howard County Community Hospital would be closest. He just hoped he could hold it together until he arrived. If Stormy were here, she’d be taking care of him. But if she were here, he wouldn’t have gotten careless when her song played.
After he parked in the lot, he wasn’t sure he’d make it to the entrance. The shock had eased. Now his hand throbbed, and the sight of his blood oozing through the towel made him wobble.
At the emergency front desk, the night nurse met him coming in and helped him to a wheelchair. He started to protest but getting off his feet wasn’t a bad idea. She rolled him straight back and called for the doctor.
When they unwrapped his hand, Rob noticed their faces relax. They must have imagined worse, which made him feel better.
“So, Mr. Crawford, what happened?”
“I was working with my saw. Didn’t move my fingers out of the way. Should’ve had my guard in place but got distracted. Stupid, I know.” No need to divulge just how stupid.
“Agreed. When was your last tetanus shot?”
Rob hadn’t a clue. He shrugged.
“We’ll add that to the list. You’ll need stitches.” This doctor was all business. Which was fine. Rob wasn’t in the mood for chitchat. He was too busy berating himself as it was.
Doctor Mendelssohn left his nurse to wash the wound before he returned to sew the fingers. “You’ll probably lose your nails on those digits, but they’ll grow back.”
“Is there anyone we can call for you?” The nurse had her sympathetic expression down to a T.
Rob shook his head. “No, thanks.”
“Then we’ll need you rest here until we’re sure you won’t faint on the way to your car. I’ll grab you some juice and crackers.” Miss Nurse strode from the room.
“You’ll want to go straight home. Keep your hand elevated. It’ll help. The shot will wear off before morning. Here’s a prescription for pain medication. You’re going to need it. I’ll get you enough pills to get you through until you can send someone to get it filled.” Dr. Mendelssohn put in the last stitch as the nurse reappeared with her snack tray. They traded places and she wrapped up his injury until his hand appeared mummified.
The doctor scribbled out the prescription and handed it to Rob before heading out. He turned at the door. “Be careful driving.”
Rob saluted with his good hand, and the doctor left for the next patient.
“Make sure you drink all the juice. I’ll take your insurance card now and get your bill written up. Be right back.” She flashed her big-teeth smile and bounced from the room.
Rob lay against the exam bed pillow. Great. Another expense he hadn’t planned on, and not enough cash in his wallet to cover. How would he take care of this?