Jo told Meg that her marriage had ended over the phone.
Not in so many words, she just called and asked to come stay with Meg in Wakita for a while, and Meg knew right away what had happened.
"I just need to get away," Jo said.
I just need a place to hide, Meg heard.
"Bill won't be joining me," she said.
This had been coming for a while. Oh, they tried to paste over the cracks, present a nice picture of a happy couple when the two of them visited, but Meg wasn't born yesterday. They were breaking apart at the seams.
"You know I always want you here, honey. I'll make up your room," Meg said.
"Okay, thanks. I'll drive down tomorrow. Thanks. Thanks, Meg."
Meg clutched the receiver to her chest long after the call ended. Her girl was breaking apart.
Meg focused on the steaks sizzling in the pan while behind her Jo and Bill had a brief - and for them, incredibly restrained - argument about who should shower first.
The pair of them had arrived covered head to toe in mud from one of their tornado-chasing adventures. It wasn't the first time, and the way things were looking, Meg thought maybe it wouldn't be the last. Yes, even considering the presence of Bill's fiancee - who seemed lovely, for all that she didn't seem to be sporting a single speck of mud.
"You remember where everything is, don't you Bill?" Meg spoke over her shoulder when it sounded like Jo was winning this round.
"Yeah, sure I do, thanks Meg," Bill said with a resigned note to his voice.
She turned from the stove to see Jo, standing over the sink peeling potatoes, with a small, faintly satisfied smile on her face. Meg handed the spatula over to Beltzer who was loitering nearby and followed Bill out of the kitchen, giving Jo's shoulder a squeeze as she passed by.
"Let me find you a towel," she said, and he stopped at the foot of the stairs.
"No, really, I remember where the closet is. I'll find everything just fine. We've already put you out enough."
"It's no trouble, you're always welcome." She smiled. Bill paused, looking sheepish.
"I... Listen, uh..."
"Everything all right, Bill?" She didn't help him out as he scrubbed at his head, feeling every ounce of the weirdness of the situation.
"Yeah. I guess it's just - well, being back here wasn't really planned, but I'm real glad I got the chance to stop by."
"Well, it's nice to see you, too. Been a while."
"Yeah. Hey, thanks for the Christmas card, you didn't have to."
Meg waved a hand. "You're on my list. You don't get off that easy just because you're divorcing my girl in there."
"Well, I appreciate that. I only wish... well."
"Go on, wash up. You know I hate mud on my floors."
"Billy." She stopped him. "You know I'd hate you, curse the day you were ever born, if I thought it'd do her any good to hate you. But she wouldn't want that."
"No, hell no, not her style." He laughed somewhat bitterly, glancing past Meg's shoulder through the doorway where Meg knew her niece could be seen still at work in the kitchen. The glance turned into staring. He just couldn't seem to help himself.
As if either of them ever could.
"First door on the left," Meg said.
"The linen closet. And bathroom's on the right."
"All right, I'm going." Bill shook his head, muttering as he went on up.
Late on the third morning of Jo's stay, four days after her husband left her, Meg looked up from her latest art project to find Jo emerging from the house. She shuffled bleary-eyed across the yard, a mug of coffee clutched in one hand.
"Sorry I slept so late," Jo said as she drew near.
Meg dismissed the apology with a wave of her lug wrench. "Come over here. What do you think?"
Jo nodded, smiled, sipped. "I love it."
Meg pushed her safety goggles up on her head and considered her niece who was standing there squinting in the sunshine, swimming in the baggy clothes she slept in. Clothes that almost certainly belonged to her missing husband.
Jo straightened a little at the scrutiny, looking down at herself then up again. "What?"
"I'm sorry, it just doesn't suit you, honey."
"What, the sweat pants?"
"No, the sweat pants are great. I'm talking about the air of defeat."
"You say that like there's something to be done. We want different things. He wants... a different kind of life. A different kind of... us. I don't."
"He doesn't want to chase tornadoes any more, huh?"
"Nope. Not with me."
"Well, that's some horse shit."
"You know as well as I do that he'll always be chasing something. Same as you. May as well do it together. Oh, I'm sorry, honey." She reached over as Jo's face crumpled, grabbing her hand. "What do I know, anyway? You're here, that's all I care about. And I know you'll get through this."
Jo just nodded, her fingers gripping tight onto Meg's.
"Hey, you wanna beat on some sheet metal? It's therapeutic."
Jo laughed, sniffled. Lifted up wet eyes to track the progress of a wisp of cloud across the bright blue sky. "Sure, why not."
Meg was flipping channels on the small, grainy television fixed to the ceiling, taking care to avoid the news. She figured that finding out how many other people besides herself had lost their homes, if not their lives, could wait at least till she was out of her hospital bed.
It was in this kind of cheerful mood that Jo found her. She brought nothing with her of the flowers-and-magazines variety that might be expected of a person visiting their injured relative. What she was sporting instead was a brimming, gleeful energy that seemed to light her up from within.
"How are you? Are they taking good care of you? Do you need anything?" Jo asked in quick succession as she came in and crossed to Meg's side, leaning over to kiss her cheek and take her uninjured hand.
"No, not at all, don't need anything. I'm fine," Meg said, trying to lean further back into her propped pillows to get a good look at Jo. "There's nothing even wrong with me. What's up with you?"
"Me?" Her smile only grew. "Oh, well, it's been a big day. We did it."
"Dorothy. Yes, we - it worked. It worked perfectly. It - she flew. It was. It was amazing."
"Finally. We're actually going to get somewhere, you know?"
"Well, I knew you could do it. I always knew."
Jo's smile was blinding and just so beautiful. Her bright shining girl.
"I didn't do it on my own," she said, and glanced over her shoulder at the open doorway just in time for Bill to stride in, gift store flowers in hand.
"Sorry, I had to finish a phonecall, and well, here, Meg. How are you, sweetheart?"
"I'm good, Billy, don't you worry about me."
He came straight over to buss her cheek, his hand settling on Jo's shoulder as he leaned past her. It didn't move once he straightened, and Jo took the flowers from him when he absently passed them her way.
"Bill's here too," Jo said unnecessarily, fingering a pink daisy before the arrangement was set on the bedside cabinet.
"Tell her about Dorothy yet?" Bill said.
Jo glanced briefly up at him, her smile never shifting. "I told her."
Meg might have suffered a bump on the head, but her wits were in full working order. "Anything else to tell me?" she said.
They exchanged a wide-eyed look. Then they started to speak, one right on top of the other.
"Listen, Dusty's looking after Mose."
"What's your doctor say, have they been in to see you this morning?"
"He's happy to look after your dog for you until you get out of here. 'Totally stoked' were his exact words."
"Did they say when you'll be discharged?"
"And we'll pick him up whenever you want. You just need to focus on looking after yourself right now."
"And don't worry about anything. I'm so sorry about your house, but you know you're coming to stay with me."
Jo blinked and looked up at Bill, her voice going very high. "With us?" She cleared her throat, looked back down at Meg. "Uh, with us."
"Yeah, that's right, with us," Bill said, his eyes never leaving the top of Jo's head.
"Wow. Well." Meg laughed. It was funny sometimes how things worked out. "Good thing you didn't sell the house after all, huh Jo? I seem to be missing one myself."
Bill looked surprised at that. "You were going to sell?"
"Uh, I was thinking about it," Jo said.
"Without even telling me?"
"I would have told you if I was going to but I was only thinking about it and mostly decided not to."
"Mostly. Kind of like how we were mostly going to get divorced, I guess. And you were mostly going to be a weatherman. And marry another woman."
"Hey, if you're going to bring that up and use it against me -"
"Which part, the weatherman thing or the -"
"Christ, you never let anything go." He was smiling as he said it.
Her eyebrows raised, her point satisfactorily made, Jo replied, "No, I guess I don't."
"Well, that can be a good thing at times. I'm glad you didn't sell the house."
"I'm glad you were annoyed enough about the divorce papers that you came all the way out here to get them in person."
Meg, watching all of this with fascination, chose this moment to remind them of her presence. "I'm actually still feeling a little woozy."
"What? Are you -?"
"Oh my god, should we call someone?"
"Where's the call button?"
"Do you need some water?"
"No, no," Meg interrupted their panicked fussing, "I'm only telling you why they're going to keep me here another night. Just a little bump on the head, nothing to worry about. But you two must have a lot to do, so you go on and get to it."
Jo shook her head. "No, I'm staying right here."
"Yeah, the other stuff can wait."
"Can it?" Meg said.
Bill hesitated. "Well, I guess..."
"Yes, it can wait," Jo said. "I mean..."
"Go. Do whatever you need to do. I'm sure you'll be busy with all this. Figuring out that advanced warning system and all."
"If you're sure... Do you want me to speak to your doctor before I go?" Jo said.
"Do you need anything?" Bill added. "Uh, magazines, or...?"
"Go. My soaps are almost on."
Jo frowned. "You don't watch soap operas."
"Today I do."
"I just think -"
"Let's go." Bill grabbed her hand and pulled her up from the bed.
"Bill!" Jo hissed as she was tugged toward the door. She wasn't exactly dragging her feet, Meg noted.
"Thanks Meg, we love you! We'll call later."
"And we'll be back in the morning," Jo added.
Meg waved them off and they were out the door.
"Oh my god, was it so important we have sex again right now we had to just leave her like that?"
"Hell yes, right now. Meg understood."
"That's what I'm afraid of."
Their voices drifted away down the hall.
Meg turned her attention back to the TV, but after only a few seconds lifted the remote to switch it off. What she'd just seen was enough entertainment to last her a good long while.
Yes, her house was gone, her workshop, all of it. That was the way of life, sometimes. And she would mourn for everything she'd lost. But Meg had lived long enough by now to know there was almost always a way to rebuild what was broken. In fact, sometimes the new version turned out better than the old.
For now, though, she was a little tired, and closed her eyes to get some sleep.
Meg woke up to a slow roll of thunder rumbling in the distance.
The living room was dark, but the VCR clock told her it was late. She'd fallen asleep in her chair. Jo and her new boyfriend had stayed up with her after dinner, talking, but they must have tip-toed out at some point, not wanting to wake her. Now the two of them were probably off somewhere doing what young couples usually have so little chance to do while visiting with family. And good luck to them, Meg thought with a small laugh.
She reached for her glass of whiskey, planning to finish off the last little bit before she made her way to bed. A slow pattering of rain outside was just starting up as the room was briefly lit up with lightning, followed inevitably by more rumbles. Mose, stretched out on the rug, lifted his head, ears pricked forward. A storm on the way. If it was tornado season Jo and her friend wouldn't be hanging around here with Aunt Meg tonight, they'd be out on the road with their cameras and instruments.
A regular old rain storm couldn't hold quite the same attraction.
Or maybe it could; the next sound from outside was footsteps on the back porch. Then Jo's voice.
"You didn't pack your wet weather gear?"
"It's only a little rain."
"You should be better prepared."
"Oh, I'm prepared, baby. I'm ready for anything. Try me."
Jo laughed. "Just don't track mud through my aunt's house."
"I would never."
"I'm just saying."
"What? I wasn't raised in a barn."
"I have seen you."
"Where? Where have you seen me walking -"
"You're just not that apt to notice little things like that, that's all."
"Not that apt... Jesus. I'll wipe my feet. Don't want your aunt thinking I'm an ass, even if you apparently do. What? What's that smile?"
"Nothing. You're just being so polite. With her, I mean."
"Do you have to sound so surprised? I'm polite."
"Well, you can be. You can be charming."
"I am charming. Charmed you, didn't I?"
"I mean, you can be charming, that's what I'm saying. You don't have to be scared though."
"Now why would I be scared?"
"That my family won't like you, you're perfectly likable, don't worry."
"I'm not - why would I worry?"
"Look, as long as I like you, Meg will be fine with you. So really, maybe you should be polite to me."
"Oh, right, very funny. I like your Aunt a lot, you know, she seems great.
"She really is."
"It's getting kinda late, do you want to go in?"
"No. The show's just getting started."
"That's what I figured."
"I've counted 30 strikes in two minutes from this porch. And I know how we can get an even better view. Come on."
Meg didn't stir from her chair as the back door opened and the pair made their way inside and up the stairs. She certainly wasn't surprised when, over the steady rain, there was the sound of Jo's bedroom window opening, followed by feet clambering across the porch roof.
No, Meg wasn't surprised at all. She had definitely got the feeling this one was special, but now she knew it.
They sure made a cute couple, the way they teased and argued and flirted. She'd hardly ever seen Jo smile so much. And she had met a couple of Jo's boyfriends before; there had been other good-looking storm chasers and meteorology geeks before Jo had shown up in Wakita with Bill Harding in tow. But none of those boys had been invited up onto the roof where Jo had been sitting and watching the sky since she was a child.
This one was special, all right, if Jo wanted him to see what she saw when she looked up.
The storm came on, rolling over the countryside with all the usual hoopla. There'd be a few big branches down tomorrow, a power line or two. The kids stayed out on the roof through it all, and didn't come back in till long after Meg had already gone to bed.
Once the storm was past, all that excitement and fury dying down to nothing, any further noise coming from the direction of Jo's bedroom after that - well, Meg was sure it was only the wind.