Emil leaned back in the other chair, barber’s cape rustling over his sagging paunch.
Leon raised his shears from Emil’s thinning pate, “How can I help, Billy?” He didn’t really want to know, but he was a businessman.
“Dahlia’s gone and told me she wants another semester in Germany,” Billy buried his face in his hands. “It’s like she doesn’t want to get married!”
“Sounds like she wants some time,” ventured Leon.
“Sounds like she needs to be told, not asked,” Emil growled.
“You’re right,” Billy jumped up. “Time’s up, Dahlia!”
The front door slammed, bells jingling in alarm. Thunder rumbled; more heavy rains on the way.
“Dahlia’s runnin’ riot!”
“She’s only nineteen,” murmured Leon. He remembered his own sweet Rose, who’d run off to Paris and never returned. It’d opened the door to his darling Daisy. “Think of her as a fine wine, Emil. She’ll be better a bit aged,”
“Or turn to vinegar,” huffed Emil. “Ouch! Dammit, Leon.”
“Sorry. My scissors slipped.”
Hours later, Dahlia stood on the embankment that ran along town’s edge. The swollen creek tore past. She’d been trying to hike her way to a decision along the township trail. Billy was waiting for an answer. Always waiting, but never really hearing. She wondered if he would grow out of that.
Lightning flashed. After a few beats, thunder shook the ground. She peered over the edge for a better perspective. Closing her eyes, she inhaled the coppery scents of red clay and leaf rot.
She knew Billy loved her. She’d loved him in childhood for how far he could hawk a loogie, and for his dramatic flair. He’d been equally impressed with her spitfire pitch, sizzling across home plate striking out batter after batter.
By junior high, neighboring towns wouldn’t play them. Her team wouldn’t play her. She folded, taking up running, instead. She’d been good enough to earn a college Track scholarship and a semester in Germany. Her teammate and best friend, Sophia, had family there.
Dahlia opened her eyes, poking out her tongue to catch cold midnight raindrops. She stepped back from the roiling creek and turned. Flash of lightning, clap of thunder, and a burst of rain drummed the ground. The embankment slid into the torrent behind her.
Dahlia yelped, scrambling to the shelter of her and Billy’s willow. Grasping its trunk with one arm, she turned. The embankment was gone, the creek chomping greedily at loose stones and the last summer blooms.
Was this a sign?
She slid down the thick trunk, slim fingers tracing letters carved so long ago:
Billy + Dahlia
Still true. But she had some growing up to do, too. She had an answer for him, just not the one he wanted.
First things first. She ran back to town; the floodwaters were spreading too fast.
© Liz Husebye Hartmann (2018)
Summary in nine words: Everybody had opinions, but the mudslide called it in.