Midnight outside the small Delaware city, on the bridge out of town that serves as an evacuation route for all those frequent blizzards that hit the border states. Ordinarily, you'd see the thoroughly patriotic youth of the area lighting illegal fireworks off on the beach a few miles away in preparation for the July 4th that isn't for two more days.
Tonight, though, they're calling for thunder.
A white station wagon pulls up on the bridge, its lights doused. A blonde-haired 19-year-old in a tight undershirt jumps out of the passenger side, bare toes curled against the asphalt, shorts flapping in the cool, rain-smelling breeze. In one quick motion, he hefts a small kayak tied to the roof of the car, tosses it two-handed over the side of the bridge, and dives shallowly after it into the swampy water below.
Sixteen years ago, a tourist with a fanny pack is arguing with a manager who is considering retirement now more than ever.
"I'm calling the Better Business Bureau on your ass, buddy. They're on my speed dial just for pricks like you."
"Sir, please, we sell rain coats. I think that it's assumed-"
"Yeah, well, you know what happens when you assume? You make an-"
"Yes, yes, I've heard-"
"-ass out of-"
"You don't need to-"
"-you and me!"
There is a brief silence. The manager pointedly wipes a glob of saliva off of his eyelid.
"Twelve thousand dollars."
"While even the most idiotic simpleton in this goddamned state would be able to tell that this fishing boat is clearly part of a display advertising our products, I will sell it to you for twelve thousand dollars if you can get it out of this store without breaking a window."
The tourist looks a little flustered with his victory.
He waddles out to grab his checkbook.
Fourteen Octobers later, a freshman cartography major is pouring over tide maps with her friend, one of those tall, wiry boys that does crew for the University.
"It's like, what, two times a year?" the boy asks. "I don't get this."
She leans over the chart. "If you could get two used cars a year, would you do it?"
"'Get'? Isn't it more like 'steal?'"
She ignores him, turning from the table to pick up a couple newspaper clippings from the floor.
"They lose them here," she points to the map, "during a storm. They end up wrecked here. If we could cut them off..." Her voice trails off as she drags a finger down the map.
June - A high school boy in Oregon is saying goodbye to his first love.
She's an exchange student from Honduras that spent the year in the Midwest. He was in charge of showing her around, and, in between the million times he explained to her how to pronounce "Jell-O" and the giggling fits she had over the idea of microwaving peeps, they fell for each other.
"We'll see each other soon," he reassures her, brushing her tears away with his fingertips. She traces the lines on his arm.
Her voice breaks. "But how?"
"You can come down to the shore with us over the summer," he answers, trying to sound certain. "It'll be fun. My dad has a boat."
Under the bridge, the blonde boy has untied the paddle from the kayak and is fighting the rising currents. The storm is raging now, and the boat should be coming any minute.
"I picked it up over the radio," the voice says over the radio and into his earpiece, "some kid got himself and his girlfriend swept overboard after he stole the family boat and didn't check the weather first."
"Are they okay?" the kayaker asks.
The answer comes back trying to sound casual. "What do I care?" Then: "yeah, they're both fine."
Under the bridge, the boy smiles. He snags a hook on the bridge's ceiling and allows the swift water to stretch his arm for him. He lights up.
"Alright, here we go," the voice says.
The boy tosses his cigarette and mutters something about bad timing as he pulls the rope from inside the kayak and treads water with his paddle.
Then it goes wrong.
The radio crackles back up. "It's too big, get out."
"It's too big. Call it off. Get to the reeds."
The boy is confused, but he doesn't need telling twice. As he turns, though, the boat looms up. The voice was right. It's big, and it's overtaking him.
Outside of the bridge's cover, the rain is pouring like nothing else. He paddles like mad to get out, but he knows the fishing boat is coming too fast. The kayak won't hold up.
The rain is still coming down, but the boat stopped. The girl up on the bridge hooked it with a pair of steel cables and tied it to the car's hitch.
Paddling to the side, the boy jumps out of the kayak and takes it in his left arm. He climbs up the side of the bridge, one-handed, in a way that can only mean he's done it a million times before.
He ties the kayak back on the roof as she swings the axe and severs the taught steel line, the force snapping the frayed end into the air.
They climb in the station wagon.
"We'll get it next time," she says, starting the car.
"Yeah," he answers, "plus, you've always got that cartography degree to fall back on."
Lighting illuminating the fishing boat's progress as it continues to surge now-uninterrupted down the river, the two drive off into the stormy summer horizon, unaware of the long series events that led to one fateful evening under the bridge out of town in a small Delaware city.