The Thunder Beneath Us
The Thunder Beneath Us
To the world, Best Lightburn is a talented writer rising up the masthead at international style magazine James, girlfriend of a gorgeous up-and-coming actor, and friend to New York City’s fabulous. Then there’s the other Best, the one who has chosen to recast herself as an only child rather than confront the truth.
Ten years ago, on Christmas Eve, Best and her two older brothers took a shortcut over a frozen lake. When the ice cracked, all three went in. Only Best came out. People said she was lucky, but that kind of luck is nothing but a burden. Because Best knows what she had to do to survive. And after years of covering up the past, her guilt is detonating through every facet of her seemingly charmed life. It’s all unraveling so fast: her new boss is undermining and deceitful, her boyfriend is recovering from a breakdown, and a recent investigative story has led to a secret affair with the magazine’s wealthy publisher.
Best is quick-witted and headstrong, but how do you find a way to happiness when you’re sure you haven’t earned it—or embrace a future you feel you don’t deserve? Evocative and emotional, The Thunder Beneath Us is a gripping novel about learning to carry loss without breaking, and to heal and forgive—not least of all, ourselves.
Praise for Nicole Blades and THE THUNDER BENEATH US:
“Blades layers her narrative with twists, snap decisions, and deep introspection, building a story that feels realistic and human.”
— Publishers Weekly
“Blades has crafted a fast-paced, immersive story of reinvention, hard-won confidence, and the power of self-acceptance.”
It takes four floors before I realize that there’s a man in the elevator. He’s been standing there since I poured myself in here. My breath gets loud, uneven. I’m reaching for a railing, a wall, anything. That’s when he says it. “Take my hand.” He says it and I’m instantly in a movie—a thriller or horror story—something with blood on the floor.
“Take my hand.” Three words, said simply, with the ease of a man who knows his strength, a man who knows that there’s safety within that one uncomplicated action.
Take my hand. His eyes sparkle. Who in real life, besides babies and Aunt Lucille’s cancerous cat Telly, has eyes that sparkle?
He inches his cupped palm toward me. Of course it looks soft and firm and capable. The one out-of-place thing about it—the small red line, a paper cut at the base of his index finger—is the only thing I can relate to. It’s the one thing assuring me that this man, this whole moment is actual, no figment.
His face finally comes into focus. I’ve seen him many times before: talking quietly to editors and underlings in the hallways of the important floors, leaning in slightly, an attempt to cut his height down a level. In the main lobby, the lofty, lean figure breezing by the chattering cogs—one arm resting limber with the hand tucked casually into his pants pocket and the other swinging forward and back, back, back, as if waiting for a baton. He’s all charm and grace and a thin layer of hubris or aplomb or whatever it is that allows him to walk the long stretch of high-polished marble from the oversized revolving door along the enclosed breezeway and farther still, down to the executive elevator bay without so much as look down at his pristine shoes. I’ve seen him out front by the curb, sliding—never hurried, always collected, always cool—into a taxi. Once, maybe (but ask me tomorrow and I won’t be so sure), I saw him in the cafeteria; the juice line, or maybe it was the sushi kiosk. It never matters when I think back to it. It doesn’t matter now. What matters now is that he’s real and he’s trying to save me.
He’s saying something. I can’t hear. My brain is locking up. I strain, lean in, but nothing is getting through. It feels like I’ve pulled a muscle—everywhere. But honestly, no one has any sympathy for me right now. I should know better. This elevator is famous. I have no business on it. People have been crushed, their insides splayed out in color, because of something said, suggested, decided in this wintry, steel box. It’s no place for the weak and considerate. But here I am, snotty, sweaty, and in pieces, following his advice—his command—and grabbing for his hand.
“In and out,” he says.
Breathing. He’s talking about breathing. I smile—or try to curl my lip—because I can hear again.
“Slowly. In and out,” he says.
My eyes finally adjust to the room, to the moment, and I notice his mouth first. It’s his turn to smile. His lips are full, plump, especially the bottom one. They’re not thin, as one expects on a man his age. But then not much about him fits under that column. He’s excellent; dapper and slim, not even a hint of paunch can be seen through his now-unbuttoned suit jacket. His hair is mostly gray, but thick and groomed. The lines—around his eyes, his mouth, above his brows—etched into his yacht-tanned face look right and intentional. He smiles again, wider now, and I trust him, instantly. The noise in my brain is quieting to stage whispers.
He’s squeezing and stroking my hand with his thumb at once. I try to focus in on his paper cut.
“I’m here. I’m here with you,” he says. He nods; small, even nods, as if confirming all of this with me. “This elevator isn’t going anywhere. It’s the ground floor. We’re here. Just keep going, in and out, that’s your job. When you catch your breath, get a rhythm, I’m going to open these doors and we’re going to walk out of here like everything is okay, because it is.” He pushes his suit jacket open further. I can make enough time-place connections to know that it’s freezing outside and the man’s just wearing a suit. There’s a cuff link peeking out from the trim jacket. It looks like a face. A profile. It looks like one of my coins. I feel the flutter return to my temples, my chin is back on quivering. I’m trying to catch the rhythm he mentioned, but it’s not working. My ears tingle and too quickly those pins and pricks spread to my jaw, my neck, my chest. Now black clouds are circling, getting bigger, crowding the light. My knees, they’re wobbling. Did I accidently lock them? Shit. This is it. I’m going down, and all I can hope is that he’s still holding my hand.
“Hey, hey.” He’s got me propped up on him. His knees are bent and he’s close to my face now. “You’re good. You’re doing fine. Back to breathing, okay? Watch me, watch my chest. It’s rise and let go. Rise, let go.”
The nods, they’re helping.
I take a deep one and let it go. My breath is hot and tumbles out of my smeared, chapped lips. I do it again and another, slower still, in and out. I get more nods, a soft squeeze to my hand, and finally I’m standing on my own, I’ve caught a rhythm.
“You don’t have a coat,” he says as the elevator doors open.
“Do you want to go back up to seventeen and grab it?”
“How did you know I’m on seventeen?”
“James magazine, I know,” he says.
“Of course you know. You’re Nik Steig.”
“And you’re Best Lightburn. I know that too.”
“Yeah. I am. Making this whole elevator meltdown that much more fantastic. This is…mortifying.”
“Come on. Leave that in there.” He tilts his head toward the closing elevator door. “We’re out here now.”
Nik Steig does up his jacket buttons as we walk to the main entrance. He pulls out a scarf from a black hat, or some other magical place next to a rabbit, and ties it in that cool, European loop. “So, what now? Heading home?”
Say yes. “No.”
He nods. “Do you want go somewhere else?”
Say no. “Yes.”
“Well, since you’re missing a coat, do you want me to get you a cab? Or my driver, he’s circling, we can take where you’re going.”
Decline. “Yes, thanks. Your driver.”
“Good. But we’ll need a bit more to go on than yes and no. Hank’s going to need actual directions, I’m afraid.”
“Actually, I just need to go home. Brooklyn.”
“Let’s go,” he says without a pause, and gestures to the revolving doors. “Wait.” He slips off his jacket and scarf. “I know you’re Canadian and all, but I can’t let you go out like that.”
“How do you know…wait, I can’t take your jacket.”
“Sure you can.” He opens it up for me. I should refuse again. I should. “Come on. Hank’s probably crawling up to the curb now. Take it. It’s nothing. I’ve got a meeting. I don’t need it.”
I turn, he helps the jacket over my shoulders and hands me his scarf.
This is not happening. This is not a soap opera. I must have fallen down the elevator shaft, because this is Nikolai Steig and this is not happening.
“Shall we?” he says and tilts his head toward the door.
Just go with him. Say yes. “I’m sorry, Mr. Steig—”
“Nik. I’m sorry, but I just need a minute here alone to just pull my shit together. You have a meeting. You should go ahead. I’ll get home all right.” I raise my phone to his eye line like an idiot. As if the thin thing holds the salve for all that just went down.
“It’s not a problem”—my cell phone’s ringing cuts him off—“Listen. Take your call. I’ll be in the car with Hank. No rush.”
Before I can refuse again, he walks off, and I just watch him glide away. He knows I’m staring at him too.
I press yes on the phone, blindly. “Best here.”
“Ms. Lightburn? It’s Clark Bauer from Tell Me More. Pleasedonthangup. Please. I’m reaching out because... well, we want to run a proper profile on you. It’s nothing bad. We’re talking regular story about you, no rumors. It just that…well, I had a few questions for you…about your brothers.”