New top story from Time: ‘When the Rain Stops:’ a New Short Story by Bryan Washington

We heard about the storm a week before the rains. Manny figured they wouldn’t be a problem. Jae disagreed. The news called it a minor inconvenience—a flash flood at most—but we’d learned not to lean too deep into forecasts.

In the morning, Houston felt sticky. Our heels slapped across the floorboards. We plodded around the house, yawning and stretching and tugging at our boxers. Manny went straight for the vegetable garden, but Jae took his time with breakfast, stirring a pan of eggs, slipping everything inside pieces of toast. Between mouthfuls of sandwich, he swore we’d end up packing everything growing out back anyway—there wasn’t really a point to tending them now.

Our state’s seen 11 straight years of record-breaking hurricanes. Houston’s caught like eight of them. And even though the government calls it cyclical, locals know better. Rains start earlier. Winds only ever increase. If you’re in the Loop, then you’ll likely end up halfway underwater. And if you’ve got cash, then you’re probably safe, but if you actually had money, then you’d already probably left.

Still, though. We prepared. Boarded the cauliflower shed and packed the cucumbers that we could. Manny drove into town for water, because Jae hated the highway, and I stooped beside him boxing and boarding the beans and the broccoli and the kohlrabi.

A few hours later, we hunched over the season’s spread. I asked Jae if he thought this would be a big one or the Big One or just another one, and Jae shrugged before he asked me if it honestly even mattered.

But we’ll manage, he said, rubbing a turnip, and this is when Manny pulled into the driveway, blasting his music, yelling about the traffic on 59-North.

I met Jae and Manny accidentally. Years back. I’d gone out for a drink in Montrose, before another storm, cruising for sex before everything shut down, and after I ended up following them home the rain started falling and it just didn’t stop for like nine days.

The couple put me up for the night. One night became two. A week later, I thought they’d kick me out, or that things might turn jealous and cold—but they didn’t. And they weren’t. Manny and Jae made space at their dinner table. Tossed me cushions on their sofa. I’d lean barefoot over their sink, waddling naked from their bathroom to their bedroom and back—until, one day, eventually, they felt as much of a part of my life as anything else.

They’d been farming in Alief for nearly a decade. Manny’s family owned a tortilleria in the Heights. Jae had fled a tech gig up in Austin. In bed with the two of them, we fit together like matchsticks, and Manny snored, loudly, so I buried my ears in Jae’s chest.

When the rain stops, I said, I’ll go home, and the two of them laughed.

Good luck with that, said Manny.

Really, said Jae.

The forecast worsened the next few days. At first, we sat just out of the storm’s way. Then its trajectory found us. The storm widened until it became a tropical threat, and then a hurricane, and then a deadly one—the morning before it reached land, Houston stood square in the center.

So Manny joined Jae and me in the yard, grumbling under his breath. And some neighbors dropped by too, congregating before the first clouds fell: Fernando leaned against the fence, asking what we thought about the rains. When Julie passed by, dropping off a jar of broth, she and Jae gossiped in Korean while Manny and I fondled tomatoes. Mabel brought us a casserole plate—which she traded for a set of jumper cables—and Leticia offered us extra batteries, which we accepted, gratefully. Eventually, Mai’s son called out from the sidewalk, asking if we had extra water, and Jae mumbled about that under his breath, but Manny always made sure to spot their family an extra case.

This was another thing that had changed: back when I was a kid, everyone in the city weathered the storms on their own. You made it through or you didn’t. Rebuilt with what you could. But with storms only getting worse, working together became a necessity—it was how you made it to the next storm—and we didn’t have to ask our neighbors for help. It was just something that we did.

That night, the wind picked up. Our house began to shiver, and the sidewalk started to patter. But it wasn’t long before Mai’s son rang the doorbell, again, holding Tupperware full of warm chè chuối, as a thank you. Before the kid could sprint back home, Jae asked if he wanted to share it—and the four of us stood in our doorway, spooning bites from the plastic tin and grinning under the drizzle.

Rain arrived gradually, blanketing the block. Then it simply didn’t move, cascading across the city. We heard the wind and we saw the water and it didn’t rise or fall—it simply never stopped. No one knew when it would.

In bed, the three of us huddled together, whispering. At some point, our snores and the rain became indistinguishable. We’d eaten stewed pinto beans that evening, tucked inside of the hallway, half-listening to the radio and flexing our toes against the rug. We all knew that living in the bayou was a contract: if you wanted to enjoy the city, then you had to deal with its woes. Manny said we’d find a way through the worst of the storms to come, and Jae called it inevitable that we’d have to leave one day.

But I knew that either way, the problem wasn’t if but when. There would be no in between. Eventually, there wouldn’t even be a question at all.

And then the water stopped falling.

A few hours later, I tiptoed across the patio. Saw the usual debris: mangled branches and overturned plants and stray piles of trash strewn across the road. The air was almost unbreathable. You couldn’t help but inhale bales of humidity. Walking down the block, I waved at Mabel, and I saw Julie staring at her porch, taking stock of the damage. Mai and her son walked the block too, and I waved their way, and they waved back. I wandered through the neighborhood, and patches of folks popped up from street to street—we all wore the same face, a blend of awe and disbelief.

When I made it back home, Jae and Manny were outside rummaging. The shed leaned from the brunt of the wind, but despite everything, it stood upright. Jae reached through the door, searching for vegetables to salvage, and Manny told him to relax because we’d been lucky considering. But Jae kept digging, until, eventually, he pulled a plant from the rubble.

It looked a little ugly. But still—it was a miracle. A bright, shining thing. And despite myself, I cheered. And Manny did too. Jae held the tomato up, beaming for the sun, urging it to grow.

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