And after the storm,
I run and run as the rains come
And I look up, I look up,
on my knees and out of luck,
I look up.
Night has always pushed up day
You must know life to see decay
But I won't rot, I won't rot
Not this mind and not this heart,
I won't rot.
Jack had kept re-reading the storm alert all week. Apparently, it was going to be a bad one, as far as he could tell from the maps and graphs. He sat at his desk in the station, panic-stricken to begin with, that his first Caribbean storm was happening. Jack had told himself it might happen one day, that living on Saint Marie meant tropical weather was to be expected, but never fully believed that this day would come.
Day after day, he re-read the alerts, trying to process it all in his mind and to calm his thudding heartbeat. Every day the police station received another update, which was distributed to the public, charting how close the storm was and giving the most current information. Despite the anxiety of the situation, Florence, JP, and Ruby didn't seem worried at all.
"You're not batting an eyelid," Jack chuckled woodenly.
"The Commissioner will call us if we have to go home," said Florence, putting her hand on his arm as she perched on the edge of his desk. "It's nothing to worry about."
"But it's coming straight for Honoré," replied Jack, refreshing the webpage again. "My Shack is right on the beach. I don't think I'll be safe there."
"You might get the worst of it," agreed Florence with a gentle nod.
"I'm probably better off staying here," said Jack, gesturing to the station.
Florence looked around the station for a moment, as if imagining Jack staying the night at the station in a tropical storm. "I'll stay with you," she told him. "You shouldn't be here by yourself."
Ruby craned her neck and appeared from behind Florence's head. "We all will, Sir," she piped up.
"I'm sorry, what are we doing?" JP asked, looking up from his desk.
"We're having a sleepover!" said Ruby, excitedly.
"Thanks, Ruby," smiled Jack. "I really appreciate it."
"We're having a what-now?" asked JP, jerking his head forward.
"We should all go home and grab some things like food and water, just in case," said Florence.
"And pyjamas! Ooh, I love a sleepover!" cried Ruby, clapping her hands together.
Jack and Florence shared a smile. "JP, call Rosey. She should stay too if she wants," said Jack, over Florence's shoulder.
"If I have to stay, I'd like her here with me," agreed JP, digging out his phone.
"Good," Jack breathed, gripping the arms of his chair. "As long as we're all together, we'll be fine," he told himself.
"Let's go and get some supplies," said Florence, getting up from Jack's desk and grabbing her bag from the back of her chair. "We'll go to yours first, then mine. I think we'll have enough time before the weather turns."
"JP, you hold the fort and wait for Rosey. We won't be long," said Jack, picking up the keys. "Ruby, you should go and get some bits too whilst you still can."
He and Florence hurried down the steps of the station, followed by Ruby who jumped on the bike and rode off into the distance. Jack climbed into the jeep and started the engine, pulling out of the parking space with Florence at his side.
As they drove through Honoré, they saw everyone beginning to close their shops, pack away their stalls and begin to lock their windows and doors. Everyone was well equipped to deal with tropical weather, Jack told himself. They were used to this. If they weren't worried, neither would he.
"Jack," Florence said, gently. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," Jack said, forcing a smile.
"Your knuckles are turning white," said Florence, nodding to his grip on the steering wheel. She was right, and as he looked down at his fingers, he realised the way he was clutching the plastic was making his fingers ache. He relaxed them, taking in a deep breath, and forcing a smile at Florence.
"I'm okay," he told her again.
Florence pressed her mouth together in a thin line. "I worry about you, you know," she said, softly.
Jack glanced over at her, then back at the road. "I know," he replied. "But you don't have to."
"I want to," said Florence, looking deep into his eyes. Jack didn't want to look away but prized his eyes from Florence and looked back at the road.
When they got to the Shack, they hurried out of the jeep, seeing the dark clouds looming over the horizon. Jack ran across the sand and up the steps to the veranda.
"We might not have much time," he said, as he unlocked the back doors.
"We will," Florence insisted, catching him up. "I promise."
"What will I need?" Jack asked Florence, as he darted in, pulling a bag out from underneath his bed.
"Jack, take a breath," Florence said, gripping the sides of his arms as he got flustered. "Follow me, in and out," she said, modelling the breath for him. Jack followed, already feeling his heartbeat slow and the fog clearing from his mind.
"I just can't control it, Florence," Jack said simply, his voice breaking. "The storm is coming whether we like it or not and I can't do anything about it. I can't help people in the middle of a storm –,"
"I know," smiled Florence. "But you can help them when it's all over. And they will need you, Jack." He nodded at her words, thankful for the way she anchored him. "We'll need candles in case the electricity goes out. Tinned food or stuff we don't have to heat up. A change of clothes. Maybe some blankets," Florence said, counting on her fingers. "Oh, I'll fill up some bottles of water."
"Good idea," said Jack, going to his wardrobe to rummage for some clothes. "Would you have a look in the cupboards and see if there's anything half-decent in there?"
"Okay," she replied, beginning to open the cupboard doors.
"When was the last storm Saint Marie had?" asked Jack, as he threw some clothes into the bag.
"A few years ago. Not much damage which was good, but we didn't have electricity for a few days," explained Florence, taking out some tins. "We just got by without it."
"You're very resilient, you Caribbean folk, aren't you?" grinned Jack, walking to the kitchen to collect the tins.
"We are," nodded Florence, beginning to fill up the bottles.
Jack ferried it all into his bag and zipped it up, slinging it over his shoulder. "I hope Harry will be okay," he said to Florence, as he walked out onto the veranda. Florence picked up a pillow from the bed and tucked it under her arm. She followed him out so he could lock up.
"Don't worry. He's survived worse," she said. Jack looked over his shoulder at her as he padlocked the Shack doors.
"Worse?" he questioned, yanking the lock to make sure it was closed.
"He once drank some of Catherine's chicken soup," she explained. "We didn't know if he was going to make it."