About fifteen minutes past the edge of town, George pulled off onto a narrow, rutted lane, slowing slightly. With the engine noise somewhat quieted, George started to sing “Little Liza Jane,” the song we’d taken Elizabeth’s nickname from. Elizabeth blushed happily and he reached for her hand. I leaned back and tried to enjoy the sunny ride, the sun shining down on us. I took off my cloche so it could warm the top of my head, stretching my arms out over the back of the seat. We bounced along the tree lined road for several minutes. Suddenly, the trees ended and we were in a clearing filled with sunlight. A few yards away, the river glistened, rushing quickly over large rocks.
George parked the car and leaped down, helping Elizabeth with the basket. There were already fishing poles and tackle in the back, and a blanket in the trunk, so I went to retrieve them.
At first, we sat together on the blanket, but then I took my book and went down to the shoreline with one of the fishing poles. George and Elizabeth got so little time together, they didn’t need me encroaching. I tried to make myself scarce, and didn’t even bother taking the jar of bait with me. We all knew it was just an excuse, anyway.
I was almost on the last chapter when the smell of rain made me look up. To the west, thick black clouds were building, and flashes of lightning threw the peaks and valleys into sharp relief.
The rumble of thunder made George and Elizabeth look up. Scrambling to gather the uneaten picnic, we ran to the car just as the first fat drops of rain began to fall.
“Hurry!” I yanked the crank out from under the seat, passing it to George. By the time he got the engine started, he was soaked through.
Rain poured in through the open sides of the car. “I saw a barn a little ways back. Do you think we can get that far?”
“We can try!” Throwing the car into gear, we raced down the dirt track quickly turning to mud. It sucked at the narrow tires, and I thought we would be truly stuck until George maneuvered the wheel just right. The wheels pulled free, and we bounced onto the main road so hard my head nearly brushed the fabric roof overhead.
This road was easier to drive on, but was still only made of gravel. Deep puddles formed in some areas. As the front wheel landed in one, it threw a sheet of icy, muddy water up, drenching my right side. I let out an involuntary cry.
It was impossible to see out the windshield. George had to peer around the side to stay on the road, soaking himself even further.
At last, we found a nearly overgrown turn off. A rickety barn was just visible through the trees.
The car lurched to a stop, rocking in the high wind. I jumped down into ankle deep water, but it hardly mattered. I was already sopping and shivering.
George helped Elizabeth down, throwing the blanket over their heads as they hurried down the path, clutching the basket between them. I was already halfway down the lane.
Up close, the barn was hardly the shelter I’d hoped. Part of the roof was missing, and it leaned precariously to one side. With numbed fingers, I fumbled with the latch and finally succeeded in pulling one of the doors open, ushering the others inside.
We found a reasonably dry corner and huddled together. Elizabeth made room for me under the blanket, and the three of us sat shivering on moldy hay while the storm raged outside. The black sky emptied itself into the open portion of the barn, forming a pool that rose almost until it reached our feet. Lightning flashed so frequently, so brightly, we had to cover our eyes, burrowing down into the sodden fabric of the picnic blanket. When thunder shook the ground beneath us, Elizabeth started. George wrapped his arms around us both protectively.
One of the boards dangling from the roof came free, crashing into the ground. I jumped. George tightened his grip. Wind kicked up straw and debris left behind in the barn. With nowhere to go, it spun crazily, beating against walls that heaved in time to the gusts.