Shyan woke to the sound of the truck’s wipers spreading rain across the windshield. She sat up in the passenger seat, wiped her eyes on the sleeve of a sweatshirt that was too big for her, then blinked. Darkness filled the cab. She glanced across toward the other seat, where her father sat watching the wet highway that raced by in the headlights, hands on the steering wheel, still driving. The storm had been beating a track across the sky ahead of them most of the night, and they were trapped beneath it.
Shyan blinked again, trying to wake up. “What time is it?”
“A little after two.” He turned to her and grinned. “Happy birthday.”
She looked away. It didn’t feel like a birthday.
Her father sighed, facing the road once more. “We’ll make it to Grandma’s place in time for the funeral. How are you doing?”
She shrugged. “Fine.” It was all she had said in the week since the accident, and she didn’t mean to say any more. She faced the window, chin on her arm, staring out at the black wind that rushed by. It whipped along the dented doorframe, gusting and slapping at the pane, and Shyan was sure it was laughing at her. High, screaming laughter. Ha ha, it’s your birthday; have a nice time at that funeral.
Her father spoke up. “I know it’s strange, doing this today of all days, but it’s what your grandparents wanted. It’s not worth arguing with them.”
She hesitated. “It’s so different, sitting up here, because, you know, Mom always used to ride in the front seat.”
Her father nodded. “Things are—going to be different now.”
“She was going to get me a cat for my birthday,” Shyan went on. “I wasn’t supposed to know, but Mrs. Peters told Kristi and Kristi told me one day after school.” It felt like something that had happened a long time ago, like a dream that she was slowly forgetting. How much of it would she remember in two weeks? In a month? A year? How much would still be there when she was grown up and by herself?
She was going to cry again, and didn’t want to, so she turned to the window and shoved her face into her sleeve. She couldn’t help it. She was just a little girl who wanted her Mommy.
Her father said nothing, and they rode in silence for a while, him watching the highway, her looking out and listening to the wind laugh.
It wasn’t long before Shyan felt the truck beginning to slow. She looked up, across the cab. Her father was staring ahead, brow furrowed, squinting into the rain as though watching something. She turned and peered out the windshield, straining to see what he was looking at. “Why are we stopping?”
“Something in the lane ahead,” he replied. He pulled the truck over to the shoulder and unbuckled his seatbelt.
Shyan looked again. Through the gloom, she made out the dark shape of a box sitting not far away. It looked like an old suitcase, an item that had perhaps fallen from the luggage rack of some other traveler, someone long gone. “Can’t we just go around it?”
Her father shook his head, pushing his door open. Cold air pelted raindrops into the cab. “I don’t want to leave it there. Someone else might hit it.” He stepped out and trudged up the road, head down against the wind, his shadow stretching before him in the glare of the headlights. Shyan unbuckled and slid across the seats to the driver’s door. She hopped out, tugged the hood of her sweatshirt over her head, and ran after him.
The thing in the road was not a suitcase; rather, she found, it was an animal kennel. Her father crouched, and she knelt beside him, looking into the cage, no longer feeling the bitter storm. Curiosity was all she felt now.
A small, miserable mewl escaped from the darkness within. Shyan gaped. “A kitten!”
Her father got the latch undone. She pulled the door open and reached inside. The cat was drenched and trembling, not much larger than her hand. Cradling it close, she stood and moved toward the truck, whispering, “You’re okay now; don’t be scared. You’re okay.”
“Happy birthday.” Her father smiled and put his arm around her. They walked back through the glow of the headlights as wind tore across the asphalt behind them.
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