I had my whole life mapped out. Perfect guy. Perfect friends. Everything was exactly the way I wanted it.
That was until that night–the one I can’t remember. It’s all my fault, and now the memories are all I have left of him. Of us.
My guilt drowns me until Sam Shea steps back into my life and helps me to the surface. He slowly opens my heart and crawls deep inside before I even realize what’s happening. I know I don’t deserve him.
While I’m trying to get used to my new life, pieces of that night slowly start to come back to me. Lies and secrets shatter everything I thought I knew.
Maybe I’m not the only one living with regret.
June 3, 2013
I attempt to open my eyes, but I can’t. It’s like that moment when you realize you’re stuck in some nightmare and can’t wake up. My arms and legs won’t budge … the weight of them is too much. No matter how much I try, nothing happens … and all I hear is that sound. The same tone repeats every couple seconds, making me even more anxious to escape the solitary insanity
I wonder where the hell I am, and why that stupid noise won’t stop. I just want it replaced by silence or voices—something normal. Where’s Cory? I’d give anything to hear his voice right now, or even my parents’. And this bed, or whatever I’m on, isn’t very comfortable. My head feels like it was repeatedly slammed against cement. It throbs, and I hate it, but the pain is the only thing that gives me any hope I’m still here, and this isn’t some horrible afterlife state I’m living in
This is frustrating. My life is about control. I always have to be in control. This isn’t working. I keep waking up like this. Unable to move. Unable to see. Unable to remember.
“Rachel. Everything’s fine, baby.” Mom. Has she been here this whole time?
I nod, or at least I think I do. It’s hard to tell in this weird half awake, half asleep state. My mind is functioning, but my body … that’s another story.
“You’ve been sleeping for a while. Be careful, baby.” Why can’t I see her? Why is she telling me to be careful? Nothing makes sense. Where the hell am I? I’d give anything just to ask one question.
Time passes, and the room is quiet again. Where did Mom go? Where’s Cory? Before I fell asleep, or whatever this is, I was studying with him on the couch. I remember that much … at least I think I do. I’m not sure what’s real anymore.
“Cory,” I mouth, but no sound comes out. I hear footsteps. Loud, heavy rubber against hard floors coming closer. My heart beats faster … I feel it all the way up to my ears.
The footsteps stop next to where I lay, and a cool hand wraps around my wrist. I have no idea what’s going on, and if I could, I’d pull my hand away. I’d escape from here and run straight toward normal. Hopefully, normal is a place that still exists.
“Get some rest,” a soothing, unfamiliar female voice says from above. The cool hand unwraps itself from my wrist. I attempt to curl my fingers, to quietly beg for her not to leave me, but just like everything else, it’s impossible. With every passing second, I hear less, feel less. “That’s it, you’ll feel better soon.
When I wake again, my body is still frozen in place, but everything hurts a little less. It might be because I just woke up, or thanks to whatever the lady with the noisy shoes gives me when she comes in.
The annoying beeping sound still plays loudly, but other than that, the room is like church during prayer. Maybe that’s what I need to do in order to get out of this state, to fully wake up. Maybe God hasn’t heard me because I haven’t asked him the way I should. Maybe the only thing I have left is a prayer.
I want to beg God to let me wake up so I can see the world again. I want to tell him how sorry I am for whatever I did to deserve this and promise to never do it again. I’d do anything he asked me to just to get out of here, to see Cory and my mom. I want to hear their voices, see their familiar faces.
There’s nothing I want more than to open my eyes … for this all to end. Until then, I let myself get lost in the last thing I remember before I wound up here. It gives me something to look forward to, a time I want to go back to. A life I want to return to.
“What’s your last test on?” Cory asks, tracing his finger along my bare thigh. After four years, I should know better than to study near him in short shorts, or any shorts really. I guess I keep wearing them because I like the attention he gives me. I like that after all this time he still touches me like he can’t get enough.
“Statistics,” I answer, batting his hand away. I don’t bother looking up; there’s no need because I have every inch of him memorized. He looks all California boy—light brown hair, naturally highlighted with a few streaks of blond—but he was born right here in Iowa. His clear blue eyes mesmerize me even when I’m not looking into them. Today, they show even brighter than usual because of the green shirt he wears … not that I was staring earlier or anything.
His finger returns, inching up higher, so high all I can do is close my eyes. Screw statistics. Not like I’m going to use them later in life anyway. “Take a break for a few minutes,” he whispers, his lips not far from my ear. “You’ve had your nose buried in a book for weeks.”
What he’s proposing sounds so good, but I shouldn’t. Not really.
“I can’t.” My breath hitches when he traces the line of my panties. He’s a master manipulator, but in the best way. He goes up just a little higher, one finger slipping under the thin cotton.
“The test, Cory. I need to pass the test.”
He groans, but his hand continues to work at my delicate skin. “That’s all you seem to care about anymore. Just give me five minutes. Please.”
I want to give in. God knows having him inside me would release the tension that finals have left.
Looking at the clock on the DVD player, I realize I only have forty-five minutes before my last final. Cory is my greatest temptation, but he’ll have to wait until class is over. Then I’ll have a whole summer to be with him just like this or any other way he wants me.
“After class. I promise.”
His warm finger brushes against my center. He’s driving me so freaking crazy. “Are you sure? Because your wet panties are telling a different story.”
“As soon as this last test is done, I’m yours. Any way you want me,” I say, hearing the desire in my voice. I’ve never been good at hiding it. Not when it comes to Cory.
“I’m going to hold you to that,” he says, pulling his hand from under my shorts. He looks at me, eyes burning like fire, then kisses me in a way that’s decisive and possessive. Soft. Then firm. Then hard. There’s no doubt in my mind I’m going to finish my test quickly so I can run right back here. From the grin on his face, he knows it, too.
That’s where the memory ends … it’s the last thing I remember. How did I get from there to here?
My eyelids flutter just enough to break open to the light around me. Bright fluorescents shine from large rectangles in the ceiling. It’s too much to handle at once, so I choose darkness again while I attempt to move my fingers. It works this time—a little bit.
My body still aches all over. Like a powerful, unyielding wave crashing into it, the pain leaves no part of me untouched. It’s worse than the time I fell off my bike, colliding hard with the pavement. And the time I fell from the tree in the back yard while trying to free my kite from its branches. It’s worse than anything I’ve ever experienced.
With every second that goes by, the darkness becomes lonelier. My mind is a fucking mess, like a five hundred piece jigsaw puzzle spread across the floor. I wish I could go back in time, to when everything was normal. It’s easy to forget the miracle behind normal because we’re so used to living in it. I will never take it for granted again.
I’m going to get back there. I’m going to see Cory again and spend the rest of the summer swimming in the lake. This has to be temporary. I need everything to be okay.
After a few minutes, I open my eyes to the light again. The stale white and baby blue walls confirm my worst fear. The uncomfortable rock I’ve been lying on is nothing but a hospital bed. The room’s cold and smells of antiseptic; and strange, plastic machines surround me, one making that sound that held my sanity hostage for God knows how long.
Scanning the room even further, I see Mom sitting in an old, mauve-colored waiting chair not far from my bed. Her usual perfectly-in-place blond bob is a mess, and it’s the first time I’ve seen her out of the house without make-up. And sweats. She’s wearing a pair of black sweatpants and a gray sweatshirt.
Her head rests on her arm, her eyes tightly closed. Even sleeping, she looks tired.
“Mom,” I whisper, feeling the painful burn in my throat. It’s like someone took a knife and scratched along its edges, but when she doesn’t move, I know I have to try again no matter how much it hurts. “Mom!”
Her eyelids lift just enough to get a glimpse of me. She straightens quickly, resting one hand on my arm and the other against my cheek. They’re so cold, but it feels good. Yet another sign that I’m still here. That this is something real and not part of a dream.
“How are you feeling?” She looks at me with the saddest eyes.
“Water,” I reply, “Please.”
She nods, running the backs of her fingers along my forehead. “Let me get the nurse.”
While I wait for her, I glance around the room. There are flower arrangements on the windowsill and the small table next to the bed. Most of them are full of my favorite: Gerbera daisies. Usually they lift my mood, bringing cheerfulness to the worst of days, but I’m too locked in a state of confusion to feel the brightness that would normally be radiating within me.
Maybe I should be screaming for answers. The reason for being here, the reason for the excruciating pain that runs down the entire length of my body, but I’m pretty sure—based on everything I see before me—I don’t want to know.
Ignorance isn’t always bliss, though, and somehow, this all needs to make sense.
The door swings open, and a nurse in green hospital scrubs enters followed closely by my mom. “You’re awake,” the nurse says, checking the fluid in my IV. I follow the line down to the top of my bruised hand. “I can’t give you any water until the doctor gets here, but would you like some ice chips?”
I nod slightly, willing to take whatever she’ll give me. This is worse than any sore throat I’ve ever had in my twenty years.
“Okay, I’ll be right back.”
She starts to walk away, but I’m not done with her yet.
“Wait.” My voice is lost, like the morning after cheering at a football game. I’m convinced I swallowed shards of glass at some point. “Can you turn that machine off? The one that keeps beeping.”
A sad smile curves her lips. “I wish I could, but we have to keep them on for at least a few more days,” she says in a soothing tone. That’s not exactly what I wanted to hear, but at least it’s just a few more days.
After the door shuts behind her, I turn back to Mom. There’s so much I need to know, but I don’t know if I’m necessarily ready to hear it. Waking up in a hospital without any memory of how you got there isn’t something that happens every day.
“Why am I here?” Those four little words are almost impossible for me to say, but the answer is so important.
“Get some rest. We can talk when you’re feeling better,” she answers, her voice like a soft lullaby. The back of her fingers slide across my cheek, smoothing a few strands of hair off my face. It’s comforting, but it doesn’t take away my curiosity. There’s no way I’m going back to sleep without some answers.
“No. Tell me now.”
She closes her eyes and slowly shakes her head before looking back down at me, defeated. “There was an accident.” The last word leaves me with a sinking feeling, and the fact that she’s having trouble looking me in the eye says a lot.
“What kind of accident?”
She swallows visibly, moving her eyes to mine. She hesitates, reaching her fingers up to touch my cheek yet again. Mom is never like this—showing me this much affection—and it’s scaring the hell out of me.
“Car.” Her voice is so low, it’s almost as if she didn’t intend for me to hear her.
“What? What happened?” Tears well in my eyes. There’s something she’s not telling me; it’s written on her face in large print.
“You were driving and went down an embankment. You hit a tree head on.” She stops, tears now spilling over. Her fingers brush my hair, carefully tucking it behind my ear. “We’re lucky to have you back, baby.”
Closing my eyes tightly, I try to remember. How could I not remember crashing into a tree? How is it possible to go through something like that and not remember a single thing? Then it hits me like a thousand bricks … Cory. Rarely do I do anything without Cory. Sometimes I go out with the girls, or hang out at home when he has plans, but it’s rare for us to be apart. For almost five years, he’s been my heartbeat … the one thing that keeps me going.
“Mom, where’s Cory?” My voice cracks as the sinking feeling takes over. If he knew I was here, he’d be by my side. I know he wouldn’t leave me alone. He’s not perfect, but he loves me.
“Rachel, maybe you should get some rest. Your body’s been through a lot.” Her tone could wilt a flower. So much is being said without actually saying the words.
I shake my head, trying my best to push down the feelings inside, but it hurts so freaking much. It’s like someone took my skull and repeatedly banged it against the wall. Between that and not knowing why the hell I’m here, I’d almost prefer to go back to sleep again. Lying here, anticipating the worst, isn’t helping. Why won’t she just tell me where Cory is? I need her to tell me the truth, even if it sends me into a world of all-consuming misery. “Where’s Cory?” I pause, trying hard to catch my breath. “Tell me … please.”
She falls forward onto the bed, resting her elbows against the edge and gripping my hand between hers. Her warm lips touch my knuckles before she looks up at me again. The pain shows like a dark cloud in her eyes as she opens her mouth then closes it. “He didn’t make it,” she cries, touching her lips to my skin again. “I’m so, so sorry, baby girl.”
Everything stops. My heart included.
“What?” I choke, not even sure if the word actually came out.
Mom closes her eyes tightly, slowly shaking her head. “Cory didn’t survive the crash … I’m sorry.”
The one part of my future I felt sure of is gone. With the words ‘He didn’t make it,’ the movie of my life has been put on pause … and I don’t see any reason to finish it.
Not without him.
Lost, I stare up at the white ceiling tiles trying to breathe air into my weighted chest. My body shakes, and my throat isn’t the cause of my pain anymore. The excruciating ache in my heart overrides everything else. It’s like someone took a pitchfork and pierced through it, over and over again, until it was filled with open wounds. Then, because that wasn’t enough, salt was poured right over top. Unyielding, it’s the worst pain I’ve ever felt. The worst pain I think anyone could ever feel.
My hands and jaw tingle, and the room spins. Nothing feels right with the world anymore.
This can’t be happening.
Why him and not me?
I want to remember something—anything—about what happened, but I can’t. Things like this aren’t supposed to happen to people like me. It’s as if I’m stuck watching one of those movies where something so horrible happens that you say to yourself there’s no way that would happen in real life. This is my life, and it’s so fucking real right now that I wish I could just un-live it.
Warm tears slide down my face, but I don’t bother to wipe them away. My mind is spinning so quickly, but nothing really matters anymore.
How did I end up here? The only thing I recall is studying for my college statistics exam with him on the couch. I don’t remember going to class, much less getting into a car. This would be easier to believe if it made even an ounce of sense.
“I don’t get it,” I cry, “I was on my way to class.”
She shakes her head, sympathetic eyes narrowing in on me. “No, you got home from school that afternoon. The police mentioned that you were on your way home from a party when it happened.”
There’s so much I’m missing. So much I don’t remember. Closing my eyes, I try, but there’s nothing.
“How long?” I whisper, swallowing hard
“How long what?”
“Have I been here?”
The darkness was a much better place. Sometimes it’s better not to know … I want to fall back into naivety, but it’s too late. What’s done can’t be undone.
Lisa De Jong is a wife, mother and full-time number cruncher who lives in the Midwest. Her writing journey involved insane amounts of coffee and many nights of very little sleep but she wouldn’t change a thing. She also enjoys reading, football and music. She is the author of When It Rains, After the Rain, Plastic Hearts and Glass Hearts.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, @LisaDeJongBooks