“I heard we could get up to three inches!”
“I know! I had Rick go pick up the kids from school, since they closed at eleven. I don’t know why they didn’t just call things off this morning and save everybody the trouble of a midday pickup.”
Brooke Redding listened to the exchange in the middle of the aisle of McSweeney’s Market and tried not to roll her eyes as she waited for the two women to recognize someone was trying to get by. Neither of them looked her way, apparently not realizing other people had things to do in the face of the oncoming winter storm.
“Well you know the superintendent caught all that flack for using up those snow days last year when the predictions came to nothing. They had to add days to the school calendar to make up all those standardized tests.”
All around them, patrons hustled at an uncharacteristic speed, trying to beat their neighbors to the last of the toilet paper, bread, and milk in the store. Shelves were decimated, and lines snaked back from the checkouts like Black Friday at a Walmart. Everybody else was too busy stocking up on supplies to talk, as if Wishful were about to face the zombie apocalypse instead of a prospective few inches of snow.
Southerners were not known for calm in the face of anything resembling true winter weather. They simply didn’t get snow in Mississippi. Snow days were a rarity and more often got used for ice storms. The first time Brooke had ever used the sled her grandparents bought on her seventh birthday was when she’d been sixteen. She and some friends had taken it down the big hill behind the fire station, when the road had been coated in a sheet of ice and the trees had clinked together like blown glass sculptures. Turned out sledding wasn’t near as much fun on ice as it had been in the snow on her grandparents’ farm in West Virginia. She’d ended up with a broken wrist for her troubles.
As she didn’t want a repeat performance when the roads froze later today, Brooke cleared her throat and tried for a polite smile. “Ladies, could I get by you, please?”
“Oh! Sorry.” The one with the kids shot her a look of apology before beginning to push her buggy again…at the pace of an arthritic tortoise. “—Chloe started third grade this year, and I just can’t believe how much homework they’re sending home! And how are we expected to be able to teach our kids the stuff they clearly aren’t getting to during the school day when they’ve gone and changed to some off-the-wall, non-standard form of math? What the heck is wrong with normal long-division, I’d like to know?”
Brooke’s patience snapped. “Ma’am, this is neither the time or place to discuss theories of pedagogy. There is a winter storm bearing down on this town, and approximately ninety-nine point nine percent of the population has no idea how to drive under such conditions. Some of us would like to get home and off the roads before people start sliding.”
As Chloe’s mother stared in open-mouthed shock, her companion finally moved her buggy back and aside enough that Brooke could get by.
“Thank you.” Brooke slid through, reaching across Chloe’s mom’s buggy for the packet of chili seasoning she needed before heading for the nearest checkout.
She wanted home and fuzzy slippers and the world’s biggest vat of three meat chili. But she wasn’t about to get it. As soon as she got out of here, she’d be headed straight for the shelter to see how Shelli Goff, her part-time assistant, was getting on with the evacuation. It wasn’t the impending snow that had Brooke worried. It was the coinciding dip in temperatures. Forecasts were predicting lows in the upper teens for the next couple of days. Absolutely unheard of for Mississippi. The open-air kennels that made up the majority of the Wishful Animal Rescue were fine three hundred sixty days a year. But every once in a while, they had freakishly cold weather and no amount of tarps and heaters could keep the animals warm enough. That meant finding temporary foster homes for all of them until temperatures rose. If luck held, some of those temporary fosters would turn permanent placements when the hosts fell in love with their charges.
As she waited for the line to move forward, Brooke sent a text to Shelli. How goes the search for fosters?
Two more people had been checked out before the answer came back.
Shelli: Not great. Nobody wants to get out in the mess.
Brooke: It’s already started?
Shelli: Haven’t you looked outside?
Brooke: I’m still stuck in line at McSweeney’s.
Craning her head, she tried to see past the crowd to the front windows overlooking the parking lot. Even from here, she could see the spitting sleet.
It took another fifteen minutes to get through the line. As soon as she stepped outside, she flinched at the bite of ice hitting her skin. Of course they’d start with sleet instead of snow. God forbid they get the fun stuff that merited an excuse to play, then come in and eat good, hearty stews and cuddle—or other things—with a naked companion. Not that she had a companion for such activities. She’d been on a man diet for longer than she cared to admit. Didn’t matter. She had way more important things to worry about than her total lack of love life. She needed a miracle to save all her animals.
Hunching into her coat, she trudged through the parking lot and headed across the street. Knowing McSweeney’s would be a madhouse, she’d parked a couple blocks away in the nearly deserted downtown. The sleet got heavier as she walked, mixing with the first signs of actual snow. It stung her cheeks, clinging to her knit hat. Her hands ached with cold, and she wished she’d remembered to shove her gloves into her coat pocket this morning. Brooke was wet and half frozen by the time her little compact car came into view. Ice was already beginning to accumulate on the town green. She hustled across it, as fast as she dared, skirting by the fountain that was the town’s namesake. And then she paused and went back a few paces.
This was Wishful. The town where hope sprang eternal. It was in all the brochures and on all the banners marching down Main Street. Brooke didn’t know if she believed all the hype that wishes made in the fountain—fed from nearby Hope Springs—would come true. But she figured she could use all the help she could get to keep her animals safe and in good health.
Shifting all the bags to one hand, she grabbed one of the coins she’d received as change at the market and fisted it in her freezing hand.
Please send me a miracle to save all the animals at the rescue.
It dropped with a musical plink into the basin.
Then, as if she’d angered the gods, the sleet seemed to double.
Shrugging off the idea of divine intervention, Brooke headed to her car and prepared herself for a long night of hard work.