Rain poured down, splattering so hard against the windshield it was almost impossible for the wipers to do their job. I squinted, ducking down slightly in a futile effort to better see where we were going.
It was half past eight in the morning, but the clouds were so heavy it might as well have been night. Car headlights glittered like stars in the gloom, the road a black ribbon leading to an indistinguishable horizon. If I wasn’t familiar with my surroundings, the rain lashed trees and howling winds would be frightening.
As it was, both Orion and Piper were staring out the windows with drawn faces, their hands white-knuckled around forgotten game devices. Eventually Orion looked up and caught my eye in the rear view mirror. “Are we going to be late to school?”
“I don’t think so. We’re already half way there,” I replied, keeping my voice calm and light through effort alone.
He frowned, then turned his attention back out the window. “It’s supposed to be spring, but the car temperature says thirteen degrees. That’s not spring.”
“Spring can be a funny season,” I answered. The cars in front of me slowed to a crawl, and I made an annoyed sound in the back of my throat. “Road works? In this rain? I don’t think so.”
I was right, although the complete lack of workers didn’t negate the obligatory roadside signs or lowered speed limit, made all the more frustrating by the ever-pounding rain and thick traffic.
We were all but stationary when Piper squealed. “Look!”
Her fingers thumped the window, and Orion leant across the seat at a ridiculous angle to see. My heart caught. “Sit up straight, Orion.”
“But then I can’t see the bird.”
“A bird? In this weather?” I flicked him a glance in the mirror, and he reluctantly straightened.
“Your bird, mummy,” Piper agreed, laughter in her voice. “He’s playing in the rain.”
My bird? As the car finally came to a halt, I slipped it into neutral and leant forward to see up and out the windscreen. High above, a distinctly man-shaped shadow dipped and swooped through the rain. Broad wings spread impressively wide, the clouds framing a silhouette I rarely saw in such spectacular motion. “Dante!”
“Dante? Where? I can’t see him,” Orion complained. I bit my lip. After Piper had revealed she could see the unusual creature who’d shadowed me for most of my life, I’d asked Dante to appear directly in front of Orion. Though both boys had been fascinated with each other, they’d been unable to breach the veil of reality which separated them – something Piper thought hilarious.
“Look there,” I said to Orion, following Dante’s progress with my finger. He’d spun and rolled over towards Orion’s side of the car, and I knew without doubt that the irascible man was performing specifically for our benefit. After all, nobody else could see him.
Orion squinted up at the clouds, his shoulders stiff with tension. “Nothing.”
The traffic started to move again, and we picked up speed relatively quickly, considering the weather. Dante faded from sight behind a low hanging cloud and before long, the kids returned to their games, though I could tell Orion was disappointed.
We arrived in the school car park to a blessed break in the weather, and I hustled the kids out of the car with the desperation of a woman who’d forgotten her umbrella. Due to the rain, the car park was empty and what few parents and students I could see in the distance lurked under the covers outside the classrooms.
As we made our way onto the lawn outside the school, Dante landed in front of us in a magnificent sweep of feathers. He was bare chested, with sodden jeans clinging to his legs and soaked hair plastered to his skin. Joy sparked in his eyes, and he spread the black wings with their blue and violet oils slick sheen in an impressive display that was matched only by the brilliance of his smile.
“I love the rain!” He announced.
Orion stopped walking, his brow furrowed. “What was that?”
“What?” I asked, holding up a hand when Dante would have spoken again. “What was what?”
“I heard… something.”
Shaking his wings dry in a fluid motion, Dante furled them around his shoulders like a cloak and stepped closer. When he was a bare few inches from my nine year old son, he bent until their eyes were on a level. “I love the rain, Orion. Don’t you?”
Orion blinked. “I heard my name!”
“Orion,” Dante repeated, his smile impossibly wide. “Orion, Orion, Orion.”
“… Dante?” Orion reached out blindly, his hands passing through Dante’s shoulders and chest. He snatched his fingers back and then glared up at me. “I felt something tingly.”
“Dante!” Piper laughed, clapping her hands. “He’s all wet.”
“Because it’s raining,” Orion said absently, running a hand through his hair as he did when he was unsettled. After a moment, he flicked a glance at the heavy clouds. “Or at least, it was.”
Just then, the bell for school rang, and I exchanged hasty hugs and kisses with my tiny brood. Piper waved at Dante and Orion, taking the cues from her, also waved awkwardly.
“Have a good day, Piper, Orion,” Dante said, deliberately enunciating their names as clearly as possible.
“I will!” Piper giggled and ran away.
Orion lingered a moment, brow furrowed in intense concentration as his lips moved. He looked in Dante’s general direction. “Have a good day?”
I boggled. Dante laughed. “Yes!”
Grinning, Orion gave me a final, swift hug, turned and ran.
“He heard you,” I murmured, my heart lifting.