Jessica Naturally by Shelley Gee, Illustrated by Jess Cee
The day after the hurricane, Jessica woke sure she’d heard something. She listened for a minute, but, except for the wind, she couldn’t hear anything. In fact, everything was silent.
She went to the window, but she couldn’t see out. It looked like it had been plastered with leaves and water during all the rain. Mom had sent her to bed around midnight, saying that the worst was over, but Jessica knew it had been pretty bad. All night, she’d heard wind and sirens and even boat engines. And it all felt like it was taking place right outside her window. But every time she got up to check, she could hear her mother and father talking in low tones downstairs. And that made her feel better.
She snuck downstairs, a little disturbed by the silence. The air conditioner wasn’t running, so everything felt a little stuffier than usual. Of course, there’d be no school today, and the thought made her happy until she remembered all the sirens from last night. Some people had definitely been in trouble.
And then she heard it again. A light scratch, scratch at the front door.
Mom and Dad must still be asleep. And Jeb usually slept half the day. Jessica didn’t want to wake them. But what if someone outside needed help? It should be fine to open the door and find out. Besides, Jessica wanted to find out what the world looked like after a hurricane.
She didn’t expect the front door to push inward as soon as she turned the knob. But it did and she sat down hard at the foot of the stairs. She stared dumbfounded at the branch of the maple tree that pushed its way in. Wet leaves flopped onto the floor and a pool of water spread across the old, warped hardwood floors. Jessica scrambled to her feet to keep from getting wetter.
“Is it still raining?” Jeb came downstairs, his eyes only half open. He stopped halfway down, eyes widening at the sight of half a maple tree inside the house. Then he hurried the rest of the way and pulled Jessica away from the tree, looked outside, then shoved the branch back out and closed the door firmly, glaring at his little sister. “You know you’re lucky there were no power lines in that?”
“I didn’t know there was a tree out there!” Jessica stamped her foot irritably. A little water splashed on her pajamas.
Her brother’s eyebrows shot up, then he sort of grinned. “Yeah, I guess that was sort of a surprise, huh?” He glanced at the door, then down at the wet floor. “Go grab a towel and let’s get this mess up. But try to be quiet. Mom and Dad were up pretty much all night.”
Jessica could see he was worried and she wondered just how bad the hurricane had been. She hurried upstairs, grabbing her phone off her nightstand, then going to her bathroom for a towel. When she got back downstairs, she saw Jeb looking at his phone. Jessica threw the towel over the puddle and looked up at him as she dried the floor. “Was it really bad?”
He put his phone away. “Nothing for you to worry about, squirt.” He shrugged. “Not much reception right now, anyway, and I doubt we’ll have power for at least a few days.”
Jessica nodded, biting her lip. She thought of her friend Ashley who lived in one of the historic houses on the water. Her house had a huge front porch where the girls liked to sit on hot summer days because the ceiling fans could be cranked up high enough to blow away the mosquitoes. Ashley’s family had evacuated to Raleigh. They might not even know how bad the damage to their house was. Was it flooded or had the porch been swept away? Katie’s family had stayed, and they only lived a few blocks away from Jessica. Mariah’s family had also stayed. Jessica thought of the huge oak tree next to Mariah’s house. Was it still standing or had it blown over onto their house, cracking through the roof and letting in the rain and wind and—
“Hey!” Jeb put a hand on her shoulder and she looked up at him. He smiled and pulled her into a one-armed hug. “It’s going to be okay, right? The storm’s over and we’re still here.”
“True.” Dad came down the stairs. “But some people might need help. And since we are still here, what do you say we get ready to offer it?” He reached for the doorknob and Jeb stopped him just in time.
“You don’t want to open that.” He squeezed Jessica’s shoulders one more time, then beckoned his dad over to the window.
Dad opened it and leaned out to look. He laughed. “Well, that missed us by a hair, didn’t it?”
Mom came down the stairs and peered over his shoulder. “Oh my gosh. I can’t believe that happened after we decided the worst was probably over.”
Dad grinned and put an arm around her. “Maybe next hurricane we won’t sleep upstairs, huh?”
“Who slept?” She shivered. “But you’re right. We got lucky. Let’s see if we can’t help some others who weren’t as fortunate.”
“But first, breakfast. And then we get the generator going so all our food doesn’t spoil.” Dad clapped his hands briskly. “On the menu today we have cereal and…cereal.”
Jessica smiled in spite of her worries about her friends. They all had friends in town and friends who evacuated and friends who might have lost their homes in the storm. But she had her family right there with her and the idea of helping made her feel much better about things in general. She took a deep breath and followed her family to the kitchen, happier than she ever had been at the prospect of spending an hour or two with them at the table.