Falling Into You
Chapter 4: A Proposal; A Tree Falls
August, Two Years Later
If our parents knew that Kyle and I were having regular sex, they didn’t say or do anything about it. We were careful of when and where we did it, of course. Kyle’s mom had started going to a scrapbooking club two or three evenings a week, and his dad was in Washington much of the year, so we spent a lot of time in his room. My mom was home more frequently, as was my dad, but they didn’t seem to care how much time I spent with Kyle at his house. Of course, we claimed to be studying, doing homework, or watching movies most of the time. We did do those things, just not as much as we led my parents to believe.
We’d both turned eighteen the previous week. Our parents had decided, instead of giving us an extravagant party, they’d let us go up to Kyle’s family’s cabin on the lake up north for the weekend. We’d been petitioning for this all summer, and they’d hesitated, telling us they’d think about it. We’d almost given up on the idea when our parents called a meeting with us.
“You guys are eighteen now, and legally adults,” Kyle’s dad said by way of introduction. “You two have been dating for what, two years now? We know what this trip of yours means, and we get it. We were young once too.”
Everyone shifted awkwardly at the implication.
“Yes, well.” Kyle’s dad cleared his throat and continued in his stentorian congressman’s voice. “The point is, we’ve decided to allow you to make this trip together. Now. The hard part. I realize this is tricky and uncomfortable for everyone, but it must be said. You’re young adults now, and capable of making your own decisions. We’ve raised you well, raised you to be smart young people capable of making good decisions. I know we’ve spoken about this before to each of you, as parents, but I believe it must be said to you both together as a couple.”
“Just say it, Dad,” Kyle sighed.
“We’ve spoken of being careful. Of using protection.” Kyle and I exchanged glances but kept silent. “I am a public figure, as is your father, Nell. It is imperative that you take this seriously. I cannot afford scandal at this point in my career. There’s talk of nominating me for the presidential race in two years, and I know I don’t need to remind you how important image is in such a situation.”
“Dad, we’re careful,” Kyle said. “I promise. We’re protected.”
My parents were staring hard at me, so I felt the need to speak up. “I’m on birth control, okay? I have been since we…you know, started. And we use protection. No unplanned pregnancies here, okay?
Can we stop talking about this now, please?”
“God, that would be great,” Kyle muttered.
“How long has this been going on?” my dad asked.
Kyle and I exchanged glances again.
“I don’t know if that’s important or not, sir,” Kyle said.
“Of course it’s important,” Dad said, his voice gruff and threatening, fixing Kyle with his sternest CEO-glare. “She’s my daughter. How long?”
I was glad I wasn’t on the receiving end of that look; it’s scary as hell.
Kyle lifted his chin and squared his shoulders. “I’m sorry, Mr. Hawthorne, but I really feel like that’s between Nell and me.” Kyle stood up, and I stood with him, and of course everyone else followed suit. Kyle addressed my father once more. “I haven’t discussed my relationship with Nell with any of my friends, and with all due respect, sir, I’m not going to discuss it with you. It’s private.”
My father nodded and extended his hand to Kyle, and they shook. “Good answer, son. I don’t like it, because that means it’s probably been going on longer than I care to think about. But, I do respect you for keeping your business private. Protecting my baby’s reputation and all that.”
Kyle nodded. “I love your daughter, sir. I’d never do anything to hurt her, or embarrass her. Or you guys and my parents.”
I threaded my fingers through Kyle’s, proud of him. My dad could be intimidating. I’d gone with Dad to work a few times recently, as I was planning on majoring in business at Syracuse, and I’d seen him use that same hard glare and gruff voice on his employees. Invariably, the unfortunate person on the receiving end had been quaking in their boots and had fairly tripped over themselves to do exactly as my dad asked. Glancing at Mr. Calloway, I could see he was proud of Kyle too for the way he’d handled the situation.
We discussed our plans briefly, and then Kyle and I were dismissed to pack. When we were alone in my room, Kyle slumped back on my bed, scrubbing his face with his hands.
“Holy shit, Nell. Your dad is scary.”
I knelt astride him, leaning down to kiss him. “I know he is. I’ve seen grown-ass men almost piss themselves when my dad does that.” I bit his chin lightly. “I’m proud of you, baby. You did good.”
He cupped my backside and moved me against him. “Do I get a reward?”
I laughed and moved off of him. “When we get up north.”
We packed quickly, putting all of our things in one of Kyle’s extra football gear bags. It felt worldly and adult to be packing together in one bag, my things mixed with his. As we packed Kyle’s things into the bag, I noticed him dig something out of his sock drawer and shove it into the hip pocket of his jeans. It was small, whatever it was, and I couldn’t make out the shape. I met Kyle’s eyes inquisitively, but he just shrugged and grinned at me. I didn’t push it. I’d never known Kyle to lie to me or keep anything from me, so I wasn’t worried.
We got in the car and Kyle drove while I sorted the junk out of my wallet. I pulled out old receipts, ticket stubs from concerts and movies, half a dozen gift Starbucks and Caribou gift cards either used or with a few cents left. I came across the note Kyle had written me over a year and a half ago. I reread it, smiling to myself. It seemed like such a long time ago, now. I remembered the girl I was, then, and how full of trepidation I’d been. In the year and a few months since, Kyle and I learned each other, discovered a wonderland of pleasure in each other. He’d learned to bring me to that shivering edge and push me beyond. I’d learned the joyful comfort in lying in his arms afterward, and the drowsy drug-like high of making love in the sleepy afternoon on a summer sunday in sun, on a picnic blanket high up on our ridge beneath our tree.
Kyle glanced over at me and grinned when he saw what I was looking at. “Aren’t you gonna get rid of that old thing? It’s embarrassingly sappy, if I remember right.”
I clutched the paper to my chest, a look of horror on my face. “I’ll never get rid of it, you callous brute. I love it. It’s cute and wonderful and it makes me smile.”
He just shook his head and smiled at me, then turned up The Avett Brothers. “I and Love and You” played, and we held hands, listening to the song we’d made love to more times than I could count. We looked at each other and then away, sharing mutual memories of the things we’d done to that song.
The cabin was several hours away, and of course I ended up falling asleep, not waking up until Kyle’s lips brushed mine and his voice whispered “we’re here,” in my ear.
Kyle was leaning in my car door, stroking my cheek with the backs of his fingers. I stretched languorously, ending with my arms around Kyle’s neck. “I’m too sleepy to walk. Carry me.”
Kyle’s lips pressed kisses along my neck as I stretched, sending me into a paroxysm of giggles, and then he swept me up into his arms and lifted me effortlessly out of the car and up the three steps onto the cabin porch.
“Keys are in my pocket,” he said.
I dug in his pocket, pulling his keys out and sorting through them until he indicated the correct one. I unlocked the door quickly, still in Kyle’s arms. He wasn’t showing any signs of strain except for tightening in his lips. He carried me over the threshold and in through living room stopped at the stairs to the second floor.
“Hold tight, baby,” he said. “We’re going up.”
I kicked and tried to slip out of his arms. “You’re crazy. You can’t carry me upstairs!”
He let me down, but as soon as my feet hit the stairs he leaned into me, pressing me back into the stairs. I landed on my butt and kept going, pulling him down to my mouth. I lost myself in his kisses, then, and forgot about the step gouging into my back, or the fact that my hair was caught under one shoulder against the next stair. Next thing I knew, I was in his arms again and we were moving up the stairs. I heard the strain in his breathing, but he carried me up into the master bedroom and laid me on the bed. He crawled on with me, pushing my shirt over my head, his palms stuttering on my ribs, palming my breasts. I arched into his touch and fumbled with the button of his jeans.
We christened the hell out of that bed.
As we lay in the afterglow, Kyle’s fingers tracing patterns on the expanse of flesh between my breasts, he turned to meet my gaze, a serious look in his eyes. “Have you decided on college?”
We’d been discussing it on and off for awhile now. We’d both taken the SAT and ACT’s and had sent applications off to a dozen colleges and universities each. We’d talked about where we wanted to go, what we wanted to do. What we hadn’t done is talk about whether we were going to go to the same place. Our conversations on the subject had a kind of unstated assumptions that we’d stay together and choose colleges based on somewhere we’d both go.
I shrugged, not liking the topic. “I was thinking Syracuse. Maybe Boston College. Somewhere on the east coast, I think. I want to major in business.”
He didn’t answer for a few moments, which I took to mean he didn’t like my answer. “I got accepted to Stanford. They offered me a huge scholarship.”
That much was obvious. His grades were good, but not scholarship good. He’d been scouted by several different universities over the last few months. He expected more as our senior year wound down, though.
“Stanford is in California.” My voice was unattractively flat.
“And Syracuse is in New York.” His hand stilled on my skin. “I did get an offer from U-Mass.”
I nodded. “I guess the question is, are we making these decisions together? I mean…what if you decide Stanford is the best place for you, and I really want to go Syracuse?”
“I don’t know,” Kyle said, not quite sighing. “That’s what I’ve been wondering. The offer Stanford has on the table is really enticing. U-Mass is pretty good, but Stanford is…Stanford.” He shrugged, as if to say there simply wasn’t any comparison.
Long minutes passed. I wasn’t sure what to say, how to get us past this. Eventually I sat up. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore. I’m hungry.”
Kyle sighed, as if the relief of leaving the discussion aside was a weight off his shoulders. We fired up the grill and had a lovely domestic moment grilling burgers and corn on the cob together. There was an unopened case of Budweiser cans in the pantry leftover from a party held here over the summer, and we drank beer together. Neither of us were hard partiers. We would go to our friend’s get togethers and we’d have a drink or two, but we weren’t the type to get obliterated. I’d only been drunk once, and that had been with Kyle over this past summer. We’d convinced Becca’s cousin Maria to buy us a fifth of Jack, and we’d taken it to the dock while our parents attended some political soiree.
Being drunk had been fun up until the shots started catching up to me. I ended up puking and passing out on the dock. Kyle carried me to bed and watched me until he was sure I wasn’t going to choke on my own vomit. After that, I decided getting hammered wasn’t my thing. I had friends who seemed to live for the weekend parties, for getting drunk and hooking up.
I had Kyle, and that was enough.
After dinner, we built a fire in the firepit out by the lake and went skinny dipping once the sun went down, laughing and chasing each other around the inlet. There was an island about a quarter mile out into the bay, a tiny bump of land with some scrub pines and bushes. Kyle and I had been swimming out to that island together since we were kids. This time, we swam out and made love on the sand, laid naked in the warm late summer air watching the stars twinkle and shimmer, talking about nothing and everything.
Talking about everything, but avoiding the heavy topic of the future and colleges. It was heavy on my heart, because something told me we wouldn’t come to an easy or pleasant decision. Kyle was set on Stanford. I could see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice. I really wanted to be on the east coast, close to the financial center of New York City. My plan was to major in business finance and get a killer internship in New York, then get a job with Dad’s company, but legitimately, working my way up with no strings pulled, no favoritism showed.
Dad really wanted to just bring me into the boardroom as soon as I had my degree, but I was determined to do it on my own. Kyle was having a similar problem with his parents. His dad wanted Kyle to follow in his footsteps and intern in Washington, pull some strings to get him a lush political gig. Kyle wanted to stay in the athletic world. Play college ball, try to go pro, and barring that, get into coaching. It was a sore spot, but Kyle was like me, and determined to do things his own way.
I knew I wasn’t willing to ask Kyle to compromise on his school of choice for me. I could get the degree I wanted at a lot of different colleges, and I knew between Mr. Calloway and my dad, I could get strings pulled to get me into any college I wanted.
I loved Kyle enough to shift my plan. Kyle was locked into accepting the best offers. He had a wealth of them choose from, so I wasn’t worried about that as much.
I sat by the fire wrapped in a towel, watching Kyle idly strum a guitar, staring into middle distance, knowing I had to decide. Did I follow Kyle for love? Or did I follow my plan for the future?
Little did I know, that choice would soon be stripped away from me.
* * *
Saturday was a lazy day spent on the pontoon boat, drinking beer and eating sandwiches, making love and listening to music on my iPod. We avoided heavy conversation and just enjoyed each other, enjoyed the rippling blue of the lake, the pale expanse of the clear sky, and the lack of expectations on each other.
Back home, we were both chased by the image of our parents. My dad was considering running for the mayorship of our town. Kyle especially had to be careful of what he did. With his father angling for a presidential nomination, every facet of the Calloway family was examined on a regular basis by the media. Kyle and I had to be careful not to be caught in any compromising positions, not to do or say anything to cast doubt on Mr. Calloway.
Here, up north, no such expectations existed. It was just us.
Sunday was stormy, so we spent the day inside watching movies. We went for an early dinner to the only nice restaurant within an hour’s drive, a fairly swank Italian place where the Calloways were well known. Kyle was greeted by name and given a table immediately, despite the crowd of waiting vacationers.
It was another nice but slightly awkward dinner, with the coming conversation weighing on us both. I knew I had to send my official acceptance to Syracuse soon, or have my dad start pulling strings to get me into Stanford with Kyle. Time was running out. We’d put this off for too long, to the chagrin of both of our parents, and now the time had come. It was August, and the universities were starting their academic year in September.
I opened my mouth to bring it up several times, but Kyle always seemed to head me off, as if he knew what I was about to say. We drove home in a tense silence. Kyle had his hand in the pocket of his Dockers while he drove, and he kept glancing at me, a deep, inscrutable expression on his face. We pulled up the cabin and sat for a moment, watching fat drops of rain splatter on the windshield, listening to the wind howling outside. The huge pine trees surrounding the cabin were bending and swaying in the winds, which we approaching gale force, it seemed to me. I watched with my heart hammering as one tree in particular seemed to bending almost double in the gusts, and I found myself tensing for the moment when it would snap and fall. With the direction the wind was blowing, if it did break, it would hit the house and the car we sat in.
Kyle looked at me, and I noticed beads of sweat on his face, despite the coolness in the car. His hand gripped the steering wheel and smoothed the leather across the top, a gesture he only made when nervous or upset. I waited, knowing he’d speak up when he was ready.
He glanced at me again, took a deep breath, and withdrew his hand from his pocket. My heart pounded in my chest realization dawned on me. Oh god. Oh god. He was about to propose. No, no. I wasn’t ready for that.
He opened his hand, and sure enough, there was a black box, Kay Jewelers written in gold thread across the top. I bit my lip and tried not to hyperventilate.
“Nell, I love you.” His hand trembled slightly as he opened the box, revealing a half-carat princess cut diamond ring, simple and beautiful. And terrifying. “I don’t want to spend a moment without you. I don’t care about college or football or anything. All I care about is you. We can figure out the future together.”
He withdrew the ring and held it out to me between thumb and forefinger. Rain blatted on the windshield, and the wind howled like a banshee, gusting so hard the car rocked at times. Why now? I wondered. Why here? In a car, in a rainstorm? Not in the restaurant during dinner? Not out at the firepit where we had so many memories? My heart juddered in my chest, and my eyes stung, sight wavering and blurring. My lip hurt and I tasted the tang of blood. I forced myself to release my lip before I bit straight through it.
“Nell? Will you marry me?” Kyle’s voice broke at the end.
“Ohmigod, Kyle.” I choked out the words, forced the rest out. “I love you, I do. But…now? I don’t—I don’t know. I can’t…we’re barely eighteen. I love you, and I was going to tell you I’d follow you to Stanford. Dad can get me in last minute…” I shook my head and scrunched my eyes closed against the confused hurt in Kyle’s eyes.
“Wait…” he shook his head, withdrawing the ring slightly. “Are you saying no?”
“It’s too soon, Kyle. It’s not that I don’t love you, it’s just…” Doubts assailed me.
I’d never dated anyone else. It wasn’t that I wanted to, necessarily. But I felt so young, sometimes. I’d never been away from my parents for more than a week. I’d never left home. This was the first time I’d gone somewhere without them. I wanted to experience life. I wanted to grow up a bit. I wasn’t ready to be married.
But I couldn’t get any of this out of my mouth. All I could do was shake my head as tears fell, mimicking the rain. I pushed the car door open and stumbled out, ignoring Kyle’s shouts to wait. I was drenched to the skin in moments, but I didn’t care.
I heard Kyle behind me, chasing me. I wasn’t running from him, but from the situation. I stopped, high heels slipping and digging into the wet gravel.
“I don’t understand, Nell.” His voice was thick and rough with emotion, but the rain on his face obscured his features so I couldn’t tell if he was crying or not. “I thought…I thought this was the next step, for us.”
“It is, just not yet.” I wiped my face and took a step toward him. “I love you. I really do. I love you with all my heart. But I’m not ready to get engaged. We’re not ready for that. We’re just kids, still. We just graduated high school a few months ago.”
“I know we’re young, but…you’re what I want. All I want. We could live in married housing, and…be together. Experience everything together.”
“We can still do that. We could get an apartment together. Maybe not right away, but soon.” I turned away, frustrated with my inability to express why I wasn’t ready. “Kyle…it’s just too soon. Can’t you see that? I don’t want to be apart either. I’ll go to Stanford with you. I’ll be with you wherever you go. I will marry you, just not yet. Give it a few years. Let’s get through college and get careers going. Grow up a bit.”
Kyle was the one to turn away, this time. He brushed his palm over his wet hair, sending a spray of water flying. “You sound like our parents. You sound like your dad. I asked him first, you know. That’s why they let us come up here. He said he wasn’t sure we were ready and he thought we needed some time to experience a bit more life, but you were legally an adult now and if you said yes, he had no problem with us getting engaged.”
The rain let up then, but the wind blew harder than ever. The trees around us swayed like stalks of grass. Even over the harsh cry of the wind I could hear the trunks creaking. A streak of lightning lit up the night sky, then another. Thunder crashed overhead, so loud I felt it in my stomach, and then the rain blew over us again, cold and stinging.
“I love you, Kyle.” I stepped toward him, reaching for him. “Please don’t be mad at me. I just—”
He turned away from me, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I thought—I thought this was what you wanted.”
“Let’s go inside now, okay? We’ll talk about it inside. It’s not safe out here.” I reached for him again, but he pulled away.
Lightning struck again, closer this time, so close I felt the hair on my arms stand on end and tasted ozone, felt the crackling of energy all around me. The trees creaked and bent, the wind gusting hard enough to buffet the car and send me stumbling sideways.
I shook my head and stalked past Kyle toward the house. “I’m going inside. You can stay out here and be unreasonable, then.”
I heard a deafening crack, then, but it wasn’t lightning. It was like a cannon booming, like a firework detonating. My stomach churned in my stomach, fear bolting through me. I froze with my foot on the first step to the porch, looked up, and saw death coming for me.
The tree had snapped. Time slowed as the mammoth pine fell toward me. I heard the roof crunching and giving way, heard siding pop and split, heard bricks disintegrating. I couldn’t move. All I could see was the brown trunk wet and glinting black against the sky, the green needles fluttering in the wind.
Kyle shouted behind me, but his words were lost in the wind, in the haze of terror. I was frozen. I knew I needed to move, but my limbs wouldn’t cooperate. All I could do was watch the tree descend. I couldn’t even scream.
I felt something hard impact me from behind, and I was thrown to the side. I heard the crash of the tree hitting ground. My ears rang, my breath knocked out of me, leaving me gasping. I was on my side, my arm twisted beneath me. Then pain shot through me, agony like lightning in my arm. It was broken, I thought. I flopped to my back, letting a scream loose as the jarring thud sent another shard of pain through me. I looked down at my arm, cradled on my chest, saw blood streaming in the rain, red slicking down my flesh. The forearm was bent at an unnatural angle, a white spike protruding from the elbow. I had to roll over again to vomit at the sight of my ruined arm.
Then awareness struck.
I twisted and scrambled to my knees, arm cradled against my stomach. Another scream resounded, loud even over the wind and thunder. The tree was a fallen giant in the clearing. The house was crushed, the right side obliterated by the trunk. Kyle’s Camaro was crushed as well, windshield splintered, hood and roof and trunk flattened. The branches were like spikes and splinters piercing the earth, green needles obscuring the ground and the sky and world beyond the tree.
I saw a shoe, without a foot. A black dress shoe. Kyle’s shoe, knocked clean off his foot. That image, the black shoe, leather wet from the rain, a smear of mud on the toe, would be burned into my mind forever.
There, beneath the tree trunk, his legs, scrabbling for purchase in the mud and the gravel. I screamed again, not hearing myself. I felt the scream in my throat, scraping my vocal chords raw.
I scrambled across the gravel driveway on my hands and knees, agony lancing through me as I unheedingly used my shattered arm to drag myself toward Kyle. I reached his feet, draped myself over the trunk between foot-thick branches broken into jagged spears.
“Kyle? Kyle?” I heard the words, his name, drop from my lips, desperate pleas.
I saw his chest move, saw his head twist, looking for me. He was on his stomach, face down. Mud caked his cheek. Blood dripped from his forehead, smeared around his nose and mouth. I pulled myself over the tree with my one arm, struggling against the bite of the bark on my bare knees, feeling sap stick to my calves and thighs. My dress caught on a branch and ripped, baring my flesh to the angry sky. I fell free, landed on my shoulder, felt something snap further in my arm. Pain stole my breath, left me trembling and unable to even scream. My eyes fluttered open, met Kyle’s brown gaze. He blinked slowly, then squeezed his eyes shut as a pink stream of blood and rain dripped into his eye. His breath was labored, whistling strangely. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth.
I twisted my torso, trying to get my weight off my broken arm. Then I saw it. The tree hadn’t just fallen on him. A branch had spiked through him. Another scream ripped through me, this time fading into silence as my voice gave out.
I reached out and brushed the rain from his face, the blood from his cheek and chin. “Kyle?” This was a whisper, ragged and barely audible.
“Nell…I love you.”
“You’re gonna be okay, Kyle. I love you.” I forced myself to my feet, put my shoulder to the tree and pushed, pulled. “I’m gonna get you out. Get you to a hospital. You’ll be fine….We’re gonna go to Stanford together.”
The tree shifted, and Kyle groaned in pain. “Stop, Nell. Stop.”
“No…no. I have to…have to get you out.” I pushed again, slid in the mud and my face bashed into the bark of the tree.
I slumped to the ground next to Kyle. I felt his hand snake through the mud and latch onto mine.
“You can’t, Nell. Just…hold my hand. I love you.” His eyes searched my face, as if memorizing my features.
“I love you Kyle. You’re gonna be fine. We’ll get married…please…” The words tripped out, broken by sobs.
I forced myself to my feet. Ran stumbling to the car, red paint and black racing stripe battered and shattered, reached in through the broken window for my purse. A shard of glass cut a long line of crimson across my arm, but I didn’t feel it. I clutched the purse awkwardly against my chest with my hurt arm, dug my phone out from my purse, frantically slid my finger across the screen to unlock it, nearly dropped it as I punched the green and white phone icon. My purse fell forgotten to the mud.
“Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?” A calm female voice pierced my shock.
“A tree fell…my boyfriend is trapped under it. I think he’s hurt bad. I think a branch…please…please come and help him.” I didn’t recognize my voice, the abject terror and incoherent tone.
“What is your address, miss?”
I spun in place. “I don’t…I don’t know.” I did know the address, but I couldn’t summon it. “Nine three four…” I choked on a sob, fell to the ground next to Kyle, gravel biting into my knees and backside.
“What is your address, miss?” The operator repeated herself calmly.
“Nine…three….four…one…Rayburn…road,” Kyle whispered.
I repeated the address to the operator. “Someone will be there as soon as possible, miss. Do you want me to stay on the phone with you?”
I couldn’t answer. I dropped the phone, heard her voice repeat the question. I stared absently as rain pebbled and beaded and smeared the screen, the red “end call” bar, the white icons for ‘mute’, ‘keypad’ and everything else turning gray as the operator hung up, or the call disconnected. I reached for the phone again, as if it could help Kyle. I grabbed it, but with the wrong hand. My fingers wouldn’t work, and red liquid mixed with rain on the darkened screen, trailing down my forearm and trickling from my fingers.
I turned to Kyle. His eyes were glassy, distant. I took his hand in mine. Fell forward into the mud to lay face to face with him.
“Don’t leave me.” I barely heard my own voice.
“I…I don’t want to,” he whispered. “I love you. I love you.” Those were the only words he seemed to know, now. He repeated them over and over, and I said them back, as if those three words could hold him here on earth, hold him to life.
I heard distant sirens.
Kyle dragged in a ragged breath, squeezed my hand, but it was weak, a distant touch. His eyes fluttered, searched for me.
“I’m right here, Kyle. Help is coming. Don’t go. Don’t let go.” I sobbed as his eyes skittered past me as if he didn’t see me.
I pressed my lips to his, tasting blood. His lips were cold. But he was in the rain, so he’d be cold, right? That’s all it was. He was just cold. I kissed him again.
“Kyle? Kiss me back. I need you. Wake up.” I kissed him a third time, but his lips were cold and still against mine. “Wake up. Wake up. Please. We have to get married. I love you.”
I felt hands lift me, pull me away. Heard voices saying something to me, but the words were lost. Someone was screaming. Me? Kyle was still, too still. Only cold, only frozen. Not gone. Not gone. No. No. His hand was curled as if holding mine, but I was far away, gliding away, carried by the wind. Blown away by the wind.
I felt nothing. No pain, even when my arm was jostled as I was laid onto a stretcher. I saw Kyle, far away, farther now, heard more voices asking me questions, handling my arm carefully. Pain was like the thunder, distant now. Like the rain, cold and forgotten.
I love you. I wasn’t sure if the words were spoken aloud.
I felt a hand trying to pry my fist open. I was clutching something in my uninjured hand. A round, middle-aged face hovered in front of me, speaking silent words, mouth moving. I saw my eyelids slide closed, blanketing me in darkness, then light returned as I opened them again. I drew a breath, let it out. Then again. I wondered idly why I had to breathe anymore. Kyle was gone. So why breathe?
Something cold and hard and clear was placed over my mouth and nose, and I was breathing again anyway.
I looked at my closed fist. What was I holding? I didn’t know.
I forced the fingers to fall open, revealing a silver band with a sparkling diamond. I tried to put in on my left hand, where the ring should go. I would tell Kyle when they let me out of the hospital. I love you, yes, I’ll marry you. But first I have to wear the ring. A thick hand, black hair on the knuckles, took the ring from me and slid it onto my third finger of the right hand, the wrong hand. Something red stained the silver, and I wiped my hand on my lap, on the wet dress. There, the redness was gone.
A kind face, pale blue eyes set deep in a fleshy face. Mouth moving, but no sounds. He held something out to me. A phone. My phone? I pressed the circular button with the square symbol. There was Kyle, so handsome, his face pressed to mine as we kissed. My phone.
I looked from the phone to the man. Confused. The man seemed to want something from me. He pointed at the phone and said something.
My ears popped, and sound returned.
“Miss? Is there anyone you can call?” His voice was deep and throaty.
I stared at him. Call? Who did I have to call? Why?
“Can you hear me?”
“Y-yes. I hear you.” My voice was faint, distant, slow.
“What’s your name, sweetheart?”
My name? I stared at him again. He had a pimple on his forehead, red and angry and needing to be popped.
“Nell. My name is Nell Hawthorne.”
“Can you call your parents, Nell?”
Oh. He wanted me to call my parents. “Why?”
His face twisted, and his eyes shut slowly and then opened, as if summoning courage. “There was an accident. Remember? You’re hurt.”
I looked down at my arm, which was throbbing distantly. Then to the man again. “Accident?” My mind span and whirled, hazy and fogged. “Where’s Kyle? I need to tell him I love him. I need to tell him I’ll marry him.”
Then it all came back. The tree falling. Me, unable to move. Kyle, his eyes turning vacant as I watched.
I heard a scream and a sob. The phone fell from my hands, and I heard a voice speaking far away.
Darkness swept over me.
My last thought was that Kyle was dead. Kyle was dead. He saved me, and now he’s dead. Sobs echoed, echoed, wrenched from a ruined heart.Posted by