Falling into You, Page 6Jasinda Wilder
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 on its suspension. 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 mere feet away. My stomach churned, 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 to 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 tree 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.
Kyle was 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 fr
om 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. My eyelids slid 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.
Chapter 5: Liquid Heartbreak
Two days later
I swept the last lock of hair back and fixed it into place with the bobby pin. I barely recognized myself in the mirror. I was pale, ghost-white with dark rims under my eyes. My eyes looked back at me from the mirror, pale blue like the sky and just as empty.
“Nell?” My mother’s voice came from behind me, soft, hesitant. Her hand closed around my arm. I didn’t pull away. “It’s time to go, honey. ”
I blinked hard, blinked back the nothing. I felt nothing. I felt no tears. I was empty inside, because empty was better than agony. I nodded and turned on my heel to sweep past my mother, ignoring the bolt of pain when my cast bumped the doorframe. My dad was holding the front door open, eyes watching me carefully, as if I might explode, or crumble.
Either was possible. But it wouldn’t happen, because you had to feel for that. And I didn’t feel. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing was best.
I descended the steps, clicked across the blacktop driveway to my Dad’s boxy Mercedes SUV. I slid into the back seat, drew the buckle across my torso and waited in the silence. I saw my mother stop in the doorway facing my father, watched them exchange worried glances at me. After a moment, my dad locked the front door and they both got into the car. We drove away in silence.
My father’s eyes met mine in the rearview mirror. “Do you want some music on?”
I shook my head, but couldn’t find the voice to speak. He looked away and kept driving. My mother twisted in her seat to look at me, opened her mouth to say something.
“Don’t, Rachel,” Dad said, touching her arm. “Just leave her be. ”
I met my dad’s eyes in the rearview mirror, tried to express my gratitude silently, with dead eyes.
Rain fell. Slow, thick drops through still, warm air. Nothing like the storm that stole Kyle. Gray, heavy clouds, low in the sky like a broken ceiling. Wet cement, glinting grass and puddles on the sidewalks.