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It happened in the same week: the hyena, the hurricane, and Elise having sex for the first time. It was late summer, too hot even for the beach—I was too hot to move. The only option was to find a pool and sit in it. Except a storm was headed straight for Myrtle Beach.

Over dinner on Thursday, Mom told us about Betsy, a tropical storm for now, which was strengthening in the Atlantic.

“She could really be dangerous,” Mom said. “The wind shear and humidity make it ripe for conflict.” She followed the local weatherman on Facebook and used bits of his language in ways that didn’t totally make sense. We could never prove her wrong, though, so we took her as the family expert on weather.

My sister Elise said, “I’m trying out for first chair next week.” She took a sip of water, leaving a line of crumbs along the rim of the glass. Elise had Down syndrome. Mostly it was like having any other annoying sibling, except she was a messy eater for her age.

“That’s great, honey,” Mom said. “Just don’t be disappointed if Betsy closes everything down. They’re saying she could be a real doozy.”

Through the kitchen window, I watched a blue jay kick a sparrow off the bird feeder, wondering if my parents knew that Elise’s crush, Kevin, also played the trumpet, which could be the reason she’d been practicing more often recently.

Like Mom—who didn’t get dressed in the mornings until she’d checked all her radar apps—Elise had obsessions. Lately she’d been through Harry Potter and the Backstreet Boys, even though, being in their forties, they were ancient history. Dad had gotten her third-row seats when they played in Charleston and was appalled that a middle-aged woman beside him had pulled a pair of thong underwear from her pocket and thrown it toward the stage. When he told us the story afterward, Elise giggled, shaking as she hid her mouth with her hand. She loved raunchy stories and jokes. A poster of a young AJ McLean hung on her wall. She used to blow it a theatrical kiss every time she left her room.

Her love for AJ had faded in light of her new obsession: Kevin. Unlike AJ, Kevin was a real boy, whom she’d met at the Down syndrome community center in Conway. He was twenty, taking classes at the local community college, and had a driver’s license. At night, my parents argued about letting her go on unsupervised dates. Dad didn’t like the idea of them making out or what that could lead to.

“If there’s a storm, there’s a storm,” Dad said now. “Nothing we can do except prepare.” He chewed his salad slowly. He was a deliberate man, who often seemed bewildered by the family he’d helped create.

I tore a piece of bread from the loaf in the center of the table, pointing it in Dad’s direction. “Actually, there is something we can do. If we stopped relying on fossil fuels, we’d have fewer hurricanes.” I was serious, but everyone laughed. My parents owned three local gas stations.

“We gotta eat,” Dad said, taking another bite.

Dad had been out of work for a month when my grandfather died, leaving us the gas stations.

The sick thing was that he used to be a civil engineer with DHEC, working with environmental scientists at the university on a marsh restoration project. He’d given guidance to engineers who built near wetlands. Then Republicans took over Congress, and funding for the project was cut. Dad had been out of work for a month when my grandfather died, leaving us the gas stations. All of a sudden, any talk of carcinogens in fuel or the risks associated with spillage disappeared from family conversations. If Dad struggled with this career change, he kept it to himself.

Annoyed, I said to Elise, “Will you stop playing ‘Happy’ if you make first chair?”

Alex, my younger brother, said, “I mean, change it up a bit for Christ’s sake. I didn’t like the song when it was out, but to keep hearing it now.”

Mom said, “And why wouldn’t you want to hear a song about being happy?”

But Elise was laughing, a sound that reminded me of Snoopy’s laugh, cackling and throaty. Any time Alex said something our mother disapproved of, Elise went into hysterics. We were stair steps: Elise was eighteen, Alex, fifteen, and I was in the middle at seventeen.

Mom grimaced. “Well, anyway, there might be a storm and we’ll need to get the U-Save ready. She’s right over The Bahamas, and if she heads this way, you’re all helping out this weekend.”

The U-Save was off Highway 17 on the beach side of the highway. Our other two gas stations were inland. The U-Save got hit worst in hurricanes. The year before, the roof structure above the gas pumps had been torn off by Florence. We found it crumpled and bent a block away on Ocean Highway, in the yard of someone’s raised beach house. The whole street had looked like a destroyed Lego set, the pieces thrown about by a vicious toddler.

“I’m more worried about the hyena, to tell you the truth,” Dad said. “That’s the immediate threat.”

“Coach was telling us about it,” Alex said. “What the hell?”

Mom dabbed at the corners of her mouth with the cloth napkin from her lap. “The poor thing. It’s finally escaped that horrible zoo and now a hurricane’s about to hit.”

I didn’t know much about Surfside Zoo, only that we avoided that section of the neighborhood, a mile north of us on the other side of the lake. I associated it with diseased animals and the people who paid to see them: bikers on vacation, Confederate flags flying from the backs of their Harleys; young families from the upstate who left cigarette butts and straws in the sand. I knew Horry County was half Black and half white, but our neck of the woods, like we were, was mostly white. I was afraid to ask my parents why they’d chosen the neighborhood they had rather than someplace closer to downtown Myrtle.

“I thought the zoo only had depressing barnyard animals,” I said.

“It’s probably a half-starving, puny thing,” Mom said.

“Well, I’m not happy about a half-starving hyena prowling the neighborhood. We’ll need to be vigilant.” Dad looked at Alex. “Until then, no morning runs. And Mags, I’m giving you the garage spot.”

Dad was the only one who called me that. Everyone else said Maggie, which was at least better than Margaret. My parents had named me after a dead aunt, though they wouldn’t tell me anything about her. “She was close to your grandmother” was all they’d ever said.

After dinner, Elise, Alex, and I watched old episodes of My So-Called Life on Hulu. It drove me crazy how Claire Danes’s character, Angela, liked Jordan Catalano even though he treated her like shit. Still, I’d copied her hair color and style, dying mine an orangey-red that fell straight to my shoulders. To call it a style was stretching it. I felt I would have flourished as a grungy teenager in the nineties. Mom said my hair hung like a dishrag on my head and that it didn’t look “convincing.”

“I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything,” I’d said.

“I’m just saying it doesn’t look natural,” she said. “If you were wondering.”

During commercials, Elise talked about Kevin. Alex googled hyenas and found a video where one ate a baby elephant alive. “These things are monsters,” he said.

I was worried about the hurricane. “It’s going to be a pain getting the U-Save ready,” I said.

Alex slapped the laptop shut. “Last year we spent two days working on that shithole and we still lost the roof.”

Elise sat cross-legged on the couch, the trumpet across her knees. “It figures a hurricane would show up during band tryouts. And it’s the week Kevin’s supposed to ask me out. You think Betsy will get close?”

School usually shut down once or twice during September and October to allow people to prep or leave town for impending storms. For Florence, we’d been out of school for three weeks. It was a new school year, early September, prime hurricane season.

“We have to wait and see,” I said with authority. “We either get hit, or we don’t.”

 

Two days later, we slipped our swimsuits underneath our shorts and tops and met our parents at the gas station. We carried down sheets of plywood from the attic and attached them to the window frames with drills and screws as thick as my pinky. Every two hours, we drove the golf cart down to the pier, stripped off our clothes and ran into the ocean.

“Jesus, even the ocean is warm,” Alex said, kneeling so that only his head popped out of the water a few feet in from the foamy waves.

Even at ten, the irony of the comment wasn’t lost on me. How, I thought, would I ever be able to see myself at peak beauty?

“Ten years from now it’ll be green sludge.” I floated on my back nearby and scrunched my eyes shut to the sun, trying to sense the briny water seeping through my pores, every opening. Thirteen blocks south there was a swim advisory because of bacteria from stormwater drains that spilled into the ocean. Plus, there was the U-Save eight blocks away, gas stations every couple blocks on 17 leaching contaminants. Even before it was cool, Mom kept us away from non-organic milk and BPA plastics, afraid of what they’d do to our growing organs. But it seemed little use. I figured my eggs would be shot by the time I reached child-bearing years.

Behind me, Elise paddled farther out on her surfboard. I glanced at her, then turned back to Alex. “Did you hear Mom and Dad arguing last night?”

I’d been reading on the couch when they started. I’d pretended to be asleep, which I did often because once, when I was ten, Mom had come into the room thinking I was sleeping and said, “Oh, Cal, there’s no face as beautiful as Maggie’s when she’s asleep.” Even at ten, the irony of the comment wasn’t lost on me. How, I thought, would I ever be able to see myself at peak beauty? How would anyone else?

“They fighting about Elise again?” Alex said.

“Apparently Kevin’s on the prowl. He wants some action.”

“That’s disgusting. I’ll beat his ass.”

“A twenty-year-old guy with Down syndrome. You’ll beat his ass?”

“If he tries to have sex with my sister.”

Alex was a wimp so I didn’t take him seriously. Still, I was a little surprised he felt so strongly. Mom was always talking about making sure Elise had a full “normal” life. Whatever that meant, I assumed it included sex.

“She’s got an extra chromosome so she’s not allowed to have sex? I guess Mom’s the horndog. She thinks it’s okay.”

Elise paddled up to us, then relaxed, lying flat on her belly, cheek against the board. No matter how much Mom encouraged us to exercise or made low-carb dinners, Elise had an ever-present layer of pudge over her arms and thighs, her stomach. “What’s up?” she said.

“Are you going to have sex with Kevin?” I wiggled my eyebrows.

Elise lifted her head and shook out her hair, like a supermodel on a beach shoot. She squeaked out an imitation of guitar chords meant to match AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” Dad was always blaring the Back in Black album when we did yard work, which embarrassed the hell out of us.

Elise and I laughed.

“That would be my cue,” Alex said, sinking under water, then swimming away with graceful freestyle strokes I could never master.

“I heard the hyena was seen near Dogwood Lake, crouched in the bushes,” he said. “Isn’t that where you live?”

Back at the gas station, Dad had sold out of all the milk, bottled water, and bread. He gave us the pickup truck to haul the rest of the refrigerated food items from the U-Save to a food kitchen in Socastee, farther inland. Otherwise, the stuff in the coolers would likely spoil. Elise was like a star at the Baskerville Kitchen, talking to everyone, spilling her guts, howling at every joke. Everyone loved her. Alex and I were shyer. We unloaded the back of the truck and avoided eye contact with those less fortunate than us.

Inside, a Black man named Mr. Johnny sorted canned goods into paper bags. He was a lawyer who volunteered each week dressed in a suit, his pocket hankie always complementing his tie. “I heard the hyena was seen near Dogwood Lake, crouched in the bushes,” he said. “Scared the hell out of a couple of tourists. Isn’t that where you live?”

Frightened, Elise took my hand, squeezing too hard. “Maggie?” she said.

Dogwood Lake was at the center of our neighborhood. On July Fourth, we all met down there to shoot off fireworks. The small lake was fed by marsh water and runoff between our house and the ocean. Signs posted all over the place said not to get in after the rain because of bacteria. We looked on in pity when unknowing tourists allowed their children to wade in and splash at the edge, ignoring or failing to read the signs.

I extricated my hand and put it around Elise’s shoulders. Shorter than me by a few inches, she leaned in, the top of her head against my cheek. “Relax,” I said. “It’s probably more afraid of us than we are of it. We’ve got alligators all over the place, and have they ever tried to attack?”

“Big difference between a hyena and an alligator,” Mr. Johnny said, re­tying his apron.

In the truck, we were squished tight, the three of us all in the front row. I’d gotten the middle seat and sat between Alex and Elise, elbowing them unnecessarily every time we made a turn. Heading home, we passed the lake, each straining our eyes. Maybe we were looking for disemboweled bodies on the shore. I didn’t know shit about hyenas: what they ate, where they lived. Only that having the zoo so close to us felt like something dangerous, but contained. It wasn’t the animals themselves that were the problem, but what humans had turned them into. And now the danger had been let out.

“I saw something in the woods,” Elise said. “A dog, but scarier.”

“Don’t be a dope,” Alex said. “You need new glasses.”

“We should burn the zoo down, but let the animals go first,” I said.

“This isn’t a Disney movie,” Alex said. He turned into our driveway and pulled the truck into the garage, a tight squeeze, the family bikes and kayaks shoved against the walls and into corners. Inside, Mom was watching a weather update. We were dead center in the cone of uncertainty. She had three windows open on her laptop, all showing spaghetti models. In each, the squiggly lines ran right through Myrtle Beach. She showed us a meme that said waiting for a hurricane was like being stalked by a turtle.

“The metaphor doesn’t work,” I said. “Turtles don’t cause damage. They don’t kill people.”

“Elise thinks she saw the hyena,” Alex said.

“Mom, I swear, it was in the woods by the lake. It had beady eyes and an underbite,” Elise said.

On the television, the weatherman showed footage of Florence. “So we’re staying?” I said, nervous.

Before the gas stations, we usually headed to Atlanta and waited it out with my uncle during hurricanes. Florence was the first storm we’d stayed for—Dad had to be on hand in case there was fuel leakage or damage to the gas tanks.

“What does Ed always say?” Mom said, talking about the weatherman like he was a member of the family. “Preparation is the key.”

Alex chewed on his bottom lip. “As long as the neighborhood doesn’t end up ten feet under water.”

Mom turned to us, the glare from her computer screen making her cheek a shade lighter. “Don’t be silly. Storm surge would have to be past ten feet. Ed says it’ll be five at most.”

“If there’s a lot of rain, the lake could flood,” he said.

But the decision had already been made. We were staying.

 

That afternoon, we did the same things to the house we’d done to the U-Save: boarded up the windows, cleaned the yard, shoved as much as we could into the garage. Elise was jumpy the whole time, especially after Alex and I hid behind the trash cans and jumped out at her with teeth bared, growling. She was super easy to scare and sometimes we couldn’t resist.

Kevin texted Elise that afternoon officially asking her to go out: dinner at the marsh walk and then to Market Common to see some rom-com. The hurricane wouldn’t arrive until the next afternoon, so there was no reason for our parents to say no. “You go to dinner, to the movies and home,” Dad said. “The tracking app’s on your phone. We’ll know if you went anywhere else.”

Elise clapped wildly. She texted back yes, then sent a Snapchat of her blowing a kiss, the one she used to give AJ McLean.

Before she left, we all sat in the den while she tried on outfits for Mom and me. The only one we agreed on was a black tank and a jean skirt with fringe hanging off. “You want to look pleasing,” Mom said. “But you don’t want to go too far. I’d wear sandals. Keep it casual.” Of course Elise had wanted to borrow Mom’s leopard-print kitten heels from the back of her closet.

I helped her put on makeup at the kitchen table once she was dressed. “What if he tries to kiss you?” I said, brushing her eyelashes with mascara.

I was louder than I’d intended to be, and Dad looked up from his book, something awful about how to run a successful convenience store. I felt bad for him. I wondered what he’d be doing if Grandpa hadn’t died. “Listen, there’s nothing wrong with a kiss.” He paused, looking toward Mom.

Mom nodded. “If this is a boy you really like.” Both my parents attended a group on Wednesday nights that discussed parenting teens with Down syndrome. The group was all about talking openly about sex, which Mom was always trying to do with us. It made me squirmy as hell. Alex never told us anything, and I didn’t have anything to tell, so Mom was more interested in Elise’s romantic life than she should have been.

Elise put her hands on her hips and did a little stomp with one foot—a habit she’d had since I could remember. “You didn’t talk to Maggie like this when she went out with James.”

Alex laughed. It was true. James was the one boyfriend I’d had. We were together freshman and sophomore year, but I’d spent most of our time together dreading our dates. I’d only gone out with him because he’d asked me. And he was sort of cute, though nothing like Jared Leto in My So-Called Life. Then again, I was no Claire Danes.

Half an hour later, Kevin arrived on our doorstep with a single rose in a clear plastic tube, a lopsided grin on his pale face.

“It’s fake,” Alex whispered. “It’s a fucking fake rose. We sell it at the U-Save.”

“It’s the thought,” Mom hissed back.

Kevin played the gentleman for Elise: opening the car door and waiting until she was settled before starting the engine. Mom stood by the front door looking through the long pane of glass beside it. Alex and I kneeled on the couch and looked out a small section of window that wasn’t covered with plywood. Dad walked up to Mom and peered over her shoulder. Once Elise and Kevin were out of sight, the house went restless. We were rarely at home without Elise.

As Kevin’s car pulled away, I saw the hyena. It stood beside a tree across the street, looking like a dog that had been taken apart and put back together wrong. A light dirty brown speckled with black. “What do you see behind the magnolia in Betty’s yard?” I said.

“Holy shit,” Alex said. “How long has it been there? Was it watching us?”

“It could have gotten Elise, but it didn’t.” As we’d guessed, the animal was thin. Its rib bones accentuated the strange slope of its back. I felt guilty for thinking it looked mean. It’s just that Elise had been right. Its eyes were beady, the underbite of its snout exposing a row of grotesque teeth across the bottom—so sharp you could easily imagine them gnawing through an arm.

I whispered through the screen door. “Dad, it wants to be free. Don’t you think that’s kind of sweet? Doesn’t it deserve to be free?”

Dad was hyped up about Elise being gone and had already left to find solace in the garage, organizing the mess we’d made making room for the cars. When we told him about the hyena, he hunted around and pulled out the BB gun we’d gotten for Christmas as kids. We used to go down to the beach and set up cans to shoot on the coldest winter days when no one was out there. Then Alex had accidentally shot me in the butt, and we hadn’t used it since. The result was a tiny circular scar, a red bump that looked like a zit, which had never gone away.

“What are you doing?” Mom said. “Let’s call the authorities. We don’t need to hurt it.” But it was too late. Dad seemed frantic, though I suspected it was really Elise’s date that was worrying him. He went out to the front porch and took aim.

I whispered through the screen door. “Dad, it wants to be free. Don’t you think that’s kind of sweet? Doesn’t it deserve to be free?”

He pulled the trigger and a BB hit the tree. The hyena took off toward the lake. I could see it wild on some green field, chasing prey. Dad headed back to the garage, the barrel of the gun resting on his shoulder. We heard him roughly moving things around in there. I began laughing in uncontrollable fits, which happened any time others were stressed around me.

“Do you need to go to your room?” Mom kept saying. “Running a business isn’t a piece of cake, you know.”

I got a text from Elise an hour later. we kissed, she wrote, followed by three smiley emojis with hearts for eyes.

“At least someone’s getting action,” I said, showing Alex.

He covered his face with the Stephen King paperback he’d been reading all day.

“She’s confident,” I said. “Open. We’re—”

“You, not we.” He pointed at me. “You’re embarrassed of life.”

“I was going to say repressed.”

When Kevin dropped Elise off that night, we were all waiting in the den. Mom sat next to me on the couch, listening with headphones to the weatherman’s Facebook Live event about Betsy. I read Middlemarch, while Alex and Dad played gin on a foldable card table.

Dad went to the front door to make sure Elise made it from the car to the house without being attacked by the hyena, who was still out there roaming, we assumed. We heard the car door slam, then Elise’s footsteps up the stairs, Dad’s low voice. “Well, was it fun?”

Elise had her arms around Dad’s waist as they walked into the den. She squished her face into his chest, then put the back of her hand up to her forehead, doing a fake swoon. She was always copying stuff she saw on soap operas. Mom had said the shows were nothing but cheap thrills when Elise and I had begged to watch Days of Our Lives as kids. I’d lost interest, but Elise found ways to watch them all.

“I’m in love,” she said, plopping onto the couch next to Mom.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Dad said.

“Don’t listen to him,” Mom said, tucking a chunk of Elise’s fine dark hair behind her ear. Alex and I looked on, jealous. We’d never been in love. And Mom was different with Elise. She was fiercely protective, but permissive too. She seemed determined to give Elise what she thought the world might not, even if it meant giving away parts of herself that should have been reserved for Alex and me. It was something we mostly accepted. “It’s late. We all need to get to bed. We’re up early doing the last of the prep for Betsy. She’ll be here before we know it.”

“Maybe she’ll turn,” Alex said.

“Not likely,” Mom said. “The models all agree.”

Elise and I went to her bedroom and lay on the floor, staring up at her ceiling of glow-in-the-dark stars. “So you made out,” I said, thinking of my first kiss. The guy’s large tongue had been a shock, and I’d pulled back, slamming my head against the car window.

“I could feel his thing through his pants,” she said, turning her head so that it was inches from mine. “I wanted to jump his bones right there. And I could have. It was just him and me—alone in the parking lot. We could have done anything.”

I tried to imagine myself wanting someone like she wanted Kevin. There had been one moment at school—during a lockdown drill. I was trapped in the bathroom with twenty other students, squished in the corner against this theater nerd. I didn’t even know his name, but he had dark heavy eyebrows that gave him a brooding quality. The whole time we were sitting in the bathroom, waiting for the all clear to head back to class, his breath came out in waves against my upper arm. I calibrated the rhythm of my breathing to his. He readjusted once, his hand slipping under my thigh. That hand beneath my thigh had inspired my one sexual fantasy. But my desire felt distant and vague, like I didn’t really know what it was I wanted.

“Was it like that with James?” she said. “Were you dying to get him naked?”

“I’m not built like you,” I said. “I was terrified. Scared I’d do something wrong. That’s probably why he broke up with me. I was a prude.”

She gave me a wet kiss on the cheek. “My prude sister,” she said.

I kissed her back. “My slut sister.”

 

The next morning, Betsy was closer. Near Florida, she was supposed to stay just offshore until hitting the South Carolina coast twenty miles below us in Georgetown. At 6 am, I woke to Elise’s mouth, hot in my ear. “Wake up. I have a surprise.” She took my hand and pulled me into a sitting position.

“Oh Jesus,” I said, but I followed.

She shushed me. In her bedroom, she took me to the closet. Inside, I saw Kevin sitting among boxes of her childhood toys: manhandled Barbies with jagged haircuts and missing limbs, Polly Pocket play sets, a bracelet loom.

He waved. “Hey, Maggie!”

A Backstreet Boys reunion poster hung on the wall behind Kevin. His red cheeks, squinty eyes, and the pimple between his brows seemed in extreme contrast to the airbrushed complexions of the band members, even if they were now middle-aged.

“What in holy fuck?” I said.

“He came over last night,” Elise said. “I snuck him in. We did the deed.” She and Kevin smiled at each other.

“You are in so much trouble,” I said. “You realize a hurricane will be here in a few hours.”

“I need you to distract Mom and Dad,” she said.

“Get him out now,” I said. “They’re still asleep.”

“He’s parked at the lake. He just needs to get to the lake.” She started to giggle.

We woke Alex, who seemed too shocked by events to be annoyed by them. “You did what?” he said, his eyes wide, voice still groggy.

It was decided that he and I would take Kevin to his car. If Mom and Dad woke to find us gone, we could say we’d been on a run. Kevin’s parents were bound to go apeshit if they found him missing. We had to get him home before that happened.

The air was still and otherworldly, like it always was before a hurricane.

Kevin, Alex, and I carried small flashlights. I imagined the bobbing of our lights looked like festive spirits traveling the neighborhood streets. I held Kevin’s hand, pulling him down the road in a crouched run. “Kevin, you need to move,” I hissed when he went too slow. Alex jogged ahead, turning back and giving Kevin an eat-shit look every ten seconds or so. It was cool, a rarity in September. Toward the lake, the sky lightened to the east. My flashlight flickered. Something beside us shook the leaves. An animal presence. I stopped.

The air was still and otherworldly, like it always was before a hurricane—like the ocean had already consumed us, and we were floating underwater in its aftermath.

“It’s a ghost,” Kevin said.

A twig snapped, and I about pissed my pants. I squeezed Kevin’s hand as tight as I could. He put a finger to his lips. To his right, a shadow slunk into the woods.

“It’s just a squirrel,” Alex said.

We started up again.

When we got to Kevin’s car, I basically shoved him in.

“Thanks for getting me out of there,” he said toward Alex, like it was a kind of joke between them. I had the sense he was looking for approval.

My brother just glared.

“Go straight home,” I said. “And if you get caught, don’t say a word about Elise. Are you a gentleman?” Maybe I’d been reading too much George Eliot.

“Yeah,” he said.

“Gentlemen don’t rat out their girlfriends,” I said and slapped at the back window for effect.

Alex and I charged back to the house, down the street and around the corner. Our house, with its boarded-up windows, looked abandoned, its red brick made ugly by the plywood.

My chest ached as we arrived in our backyard. Alex closed the gate behind us. I tried catching my breath before opening the door into the kitchen. We got there in time for Mom to walk in with tousled hair and her bathrobe hanging open. Underneath she had on pajama pants and one of Dad’s T-shirts. “And where have you two been?” she said. “You’re dripping with sweat.”

I felt like that one time I’d smoked a joint behind the library, then had to call her to come pick me up. Every word felt practiced and overenunciated. “We’re going to be inside for ages. We wanted some fresh air.” I steered the conversation to the hurricane, knowing that would distract her. “How bad do you think it’s going to be?”

“They say a three. We’ve never stayed for a three, but like Dad says, we did the prep work. There isn’t much of a choice.”

We were in an evacuation zone, so technically it was illegal for us to stay.

“Jesus, why haven’t we gotten rid of those gas stations yet?” I said. “Like, we could be risking our lives by staying because of the U-Save? Does that sound right to you?”

“We’re going to be fine,” Mom said.

“We’ve done our due diligence,” Alex said in Dad’s voice.

Mom dipped her head conspiratorially and a wedge of her blonde bangs flopped in front of her eyes. “Did Elise say anything about her date?”

Alex coughed, and I almost spilled the coffee I was pouring. I feigned zipping my lips and throwing away the key. We found Elise in Alex’s room, lying on the futon in the corner, her arms crossed behind her head.

“Spill the beans,” I said.

Alex fell onto his bed. “I’m never going in your room again. Jesus, you weren’t afraid of getting caught?”

Elise turned to face Alex. “Everyone was in bed. Us, Kevin, his parents. He snuck out, and I let him in here. Simple.”

“So last night I was in here reading the fucking Gunslinger, while you were having sex one room over,” Alex said.

“Was it good?” I said. No girl I knew had actually enjoyed their first time.

“We were just kissing. I don’t think either of us knew it was happening until we were in it,” she said. “And then it was over, and we just sort of lay there and talked.”

That’s when the home phone rang, and almost simultaneously, Elise’s cell lit up with a text. She picked it up from the floor and held it to her chest after reading it. Her face went blank and afraid, like when Mr. Johnny had told us about the hyena. We all waited. We heard our mother’s voice. She seemed interested in her phone conversation. There was stomping down the hall: the heels of mom’s bare feet, which shook the house when she was angry. “Elise!” came the yell outside the door. “Maggie! Alex! Get your asses out here!”

 

Somehow Alex and I were in as much trouble as Elise. Mom and Dad questioned us separately, not asking outright the one thing I thought they really wanted to know, which was how far Elise and Kevin had gone. We said we didn’t know anything, but they didn’t believe us. “God knows there’s enough to worry about,” Mom said. “And now this. Well, let’s hope we all make it through this hurricane so you can be grounded for a long, long time.”

Elise had always been afraid of the dark, but when it came to people, she wasn’t afraid of anything.

Dad was too angry to say anything. He paced the house, doing small tasks related to the storm, checking the generator set up in the kitchen, occasionally peering through the one section of window that wasn’t boarded up to watch the trees sway. He checked the neighborhood Facebook groups for news of any damage done to property. We all walked around tense as hell. Even Elise was moody. She slammed her bedroom door and played “Happy” on the trumpet over and over again.

Alex refused to make eye contact with me. “You got this shit in her head,” he said.

This wasn’t true, and he knew it. Elise had always been afraid of the dark, of animals she deemed scary, ghost stories, but when it came to people, she wasn’t afraid of anything.

 

The storm arrived a couple hours later. We listened to the house rattle, and debris struck the roof. For twelve hours, it was as if a large train or plane was very near hitting the house. Just underneath the sound of the engine whistled an eerie moan of wind.

It was worst when we were north of the eye. The power went off, and Dad fired up the generator, which we mainly used to keep the fridge cold. When our tallest pine fell, there was a slow crack, followed by a whoosh, then the heavy crunch of it landing on the street. Out back, a live oak toppled, more quietly than the pine. We played gin and Monopoly, and every once in a while, Mom said sadly, “Oh, Elise.”

Technically, there was no proof Elise had done anything except stow Kevin away in her closet for the night, but he must have blabbed to his parents, who must have blabbed to Mom. I could have punched the little shit.

Then Alex asked Mom what I was wondering too. “Why are you mad?” he said.

“Elise sneaks a boy into the house overnight and you don’t know why I’m mad?”

Alex shrugged. “You’re always saying you want her to be normal.”

After I put my last house on Baltic Avenue and Alex bought up all the utilities, the hyena showed up on television. The segment began with footage of the animal prowling the beach in the rain as Betsy’s winds picked up late Saturday morning. The sand, blown about by wind, created a sort of fog, which made the hyena look like an apparition. The animal paced up and down the beach, toward the pier, then north toward the state park. “Why isn’t it taking cover?” I said. “What happened to its instincts?”

It felt like any minute the storm could have lifted our house and dumped us into the ocean, but Elise wasn’t scared until she saw the hyena. She ran down the hallway and got under the covers in Mom and Dad’s bed. With nothing else to do, Dad got up and checked the locks on the doors. “Don’t worry!” he yelled down the hall. “We’re safe.”

Alex whispered beside me, “What about Kevin? Are we safe from him?”

Dad heard. “You two think this is funny?”

Later, Mom said, “There’s flash flooding by the food kitchen. They’re looking at sixteen inches of rain. The river’s going to crest.”

The nearby neighborhoods in Socastee that had been stripped of vegetation to make way for manufactured homes had flooded the year before during Florence. And they’d just keep flooding, I supposed, because nothing would change.

The weatherman Mom loved made puns about the hyena—Betsy is no laughing matter and this hyena seems to know it—and showed video of it standing at the edge of the pier. The ocean raged below and the hyena stood firm, staring out at the darkening horizon and into the churning waves, like one of those gargoyles atop Notre-Dame. When news spread that our pier had broken in half and crumbled into the Atlantic, we all assumed the hyena had been taken with it.

 

I slept that night in fits, waking every hour or so to hear the wind grow fainter as the storm moved north and west. In the morning, sparrows cheeped by my window. Mom and Dad were already outside. I joined them. The sun’s rays hit me at an angle that warmed my skin and gave it a golden sheen. There was a feeble breeze, what felt like soft tendrils left over from the storm. Alex came out, then Elise. It could have been the first day on earth. We could have been the first people. We walked around the yard in a daze. We surveyed the destruction, picking up fallen sticks and branches, investigating strange items blown into our yard: a broken whiskey bottle, a baseball cap, a deformed umbrella. Pine fronds were all over the place, stuck to the side of the house, hanging from the gutters. At the base of the fallen pine, there was a deep crater in the earth where its roots had been torn from the waterlogged soil. The live oak was the opposite, its wide shallow roots stretching the length of some its widest branches, which, sideways now, reached toward the sky.

Dad took us down to the U-Save off 17 to check for damage. It wasn’t far, so he and Mom sat in the front of the truck; Elise, Alex, and I, in the bed. Trees were down everywhere and homes had been stripped of their siding. Dad yelled back at us, “That’s why we bought brick!”

At the station, the roof was still on. One of the lampposts was shattered, and random trash littered the parking lot. The power was out like we’d expected. Most of the gas nozzles lay on the ground. There was the strong smell of gasoline. Dad called one of the DHEC inspectors he used to work with and described the situation. The man said it was likely just a small leak—bad for the environment, of course, but not an immediate danger. A company called Envirokleer was coming to test whether contaminants had leeched into the soil or the nearby creek.

Dad hung up and placed the nozzles back on their pumps, then unlocked the front door and went in with a flashlight to inspect. A few minutes later, he came out again. “Got a couple inches of water on the floor of the beer cooler. Otherwise, it looks okay.”

Elise saw the hyena first. She pointed and let out a cry. Its body lay washed up against the side of the building, by the outdoor restrooms, like just another piece of debris. Up close, it had a face that Elise would have said was so ugly it was cute, if she’d been able to look at the thing. Its parted lips revealed a strip of pink gums and those grotesque teeth. Its fur was still wet.

“The poor thing,” Mom said. “To finally get loose and then to die.”

“It died free,” Dad said, as if he hadn’t been trying to shoot it two days before. “You kids get a shovel and a blanket. We’ll take it home. Bury it behind the house.”

“I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Mom said. “Can’t the biohazard guys handle it?”

“No, they can’t, which means it’s one more thing we’ll have to pay for. You know the red tape on this stuff. Better we handle it on our own.”

I hopped down from the truck. “How did it get here? This far in. It was on the pier eight blocks away.”

“Dad tried to kill it,” Alex said.

“A BB gun wasn’t going to kill anything,” Dad said. “I was just giving it a warning.”

She brought her fingertip to the hyena’s teeth and touched a pointy sharp one in the front.

But I thought it was giving us a warning. I remembered when I was a kid, I used to be afraid of going to the car after dark. I felt certain there was something out there in the night, waiting to abduct me. Once, Dad had asked me to get his reading glasses from the console, and I had sprinted as fast as I could from the front door to the car and back, scared I’d be snatched and taken to some dungeon. And now this hyena—innocent and dangerous—seemed the harbinger of something else, another kind of danger, or a multitude of them.

Elise had been hanging back, but now she bent down and ran her hand along the animal’s spine, its wet fur sticking out in spiky clumps. She brought her fingertip to the hyena’s teeth and touched a pointy sharp one in the front. “Dad’s right. We have to bury it.”

“Don’t touch it,” Mom said. “God only knows what diseases it could have.”

Alex got a shovel and a thick industrial blanket from the shed behind the gas station. Dad maneuvered the hyena onto the blanket and we each took a corner of fabric, while Mom stood to the side watching us. We lifted the hyena into the back of the truck and Dad started the engine.

He drove slow, as if we were in a funeral procession. The wind blew our hair in our eyes as we looked out at the destruction. All around, parts of homes lay scattered where they didn’t belong: a shutter in a driveway, chunks of shingles on the hood of a car, an awning twisted by wind so that it hung upside down.

At our house, the damage seemed minimal in comparison. Elise, Alex, and I took turns digging a grave in the backyard, near where our family dog, Dude, and a couple hamsters were buried. The shovel went in so easy after all the rain, as if the earth was ready to burst open, show us what it was hiding inside itself. Our yard was sandy, but once we got an inch or two down, we saw a dark layer of rich, lush soil, made darker by its dampness. Farther in, we hit another layer of sand before hitting clay, which felt slick and malleable in our palms, like we could shape it into anything.

On her breaks from digging, Elise sat cross-legged in the grass texting Kevin. Inside the house, Mom and Dad were at the kitchen table, talking. We could tell it was serious because Dad kept rubbing his forehead and Mom looked tired.

“I thought Mom didn’t care if you had sex,” Alex said.

Elise took a selfie of herself pursing her lips, then took a photo of Alex and me in front of the grave. “I’m the special one. When Mom posts a picture of me on Facebook, everyone comments ‘how precious’ or ‘what an angel,’ like I’m supposed to be so pure.” She shot me a look. “No one’s ever called you an angel.”

Kevin called, and Elise went into the side yard to talk privately. Alex and I continued digging. I figured they were rehashing their sexy night, but Elise came back crying. Kevin’s parents had said she was a bad influence. He’d broken up with her.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said.

Alex jumped into the hole. It was past his knees. The layers of soil reminded me of Dad’s old marsh restoration project, when he used to grow a greenhouse full of spartina during winters. We’d helped him to transplant it by the boat landing and the bare oyster beds in spring. Heavy foot traffic had left the earth exposed, lifeless. We’d taken something dead and made it alive again. Except now we were just taking the dead hyena and hiding it because we’d found it too late.

Alex dropped his shovel and turned to Elise. “Let me get this straight. This asshole sneaks into our house in the middle of the night—into your goddamned bed—and you’re the bad influence?” He’d moved from skeptical bystander into full protector mode.

Elise lay down on the ground near the hyena, her arms and legs spread, her eyes puffy and red. Then she began to giggle, that loud-ass cackle of hers alerting our parents indoors that something was happening. They stood by the open back door, staring out at us as Elise sat up and turned toward the hyena. “Come here, you sexy thing,” she said, taking the edges of the blanket in both hands and pulling the carcass toward her.

Her body seemed alive with something I didn’t have yet, perhaps never would. Elise was so comfortable in her skin, in the body’s currents—its ability to both give and receive love, to have a desire and fill it. I thought about the brooding theater kid at school. Next time I had the chance, maybe I’d walk up to him at his locker, stand close and see what happened. I’d listen to my body tell me what it craved.

We watched as she dragged the blanket to the grave. She knelt, and with two hands pushed the body of the hyena inside. It fell in, cradled by the layers of soil, like a gouache painting in browns and reds. She bent forward, her hands lingering on its matted fur and that delicate place at the base of the ears. With one last caress at its neck, she picked up the shovel and began to fill in the hole. She transferred the soil bit by bit, not rough and mechanical as I had, but gently, each scoop of earth lifted and released with the tender movements of a woman in love.