1: Educating Kaylee Ch. 08bySpartan22©
XII -- A Matter of Trust
It was a mental struggle for Luke to push the pedal down harder, but because he was running behind he forced himself to accelerate just a few miles per hour over the speed limit on the three-lane highway.
He didn't really like breaking the speed limit but the last thing he was going to do was show up late for Kaylee's opening night. The mathematical odds told him his gamble to speed three to five miles an hour over the speed limit would be the perfect balance between getting him to the play on time and avoiding a ticket. That was even assuming the State Police were patrolling the freeway.
Luke felt comfortable enough to carefully shift from the slow lane to the middle lane.
He was a little disappointed in himself, coming to terms with the fact that he had severely miscalculated how long it would take him to get ready for the play. He was never late, and the ironic realization that he might very well be late for the most important event of his life greatly frustrated him. Of course, he knew exactly why he was behind; he spent way too much time getting ready for Kaylee's big night.
He shaved, showered, put on Kaylee's favorite cologne and styled his hair exactly the way that she liked it. He even wore the same khakis and button down shirt that she seemed to like the most -- it was the same outfit he wore when he once caught her looking him up and down. Never in his life had he found it so difficult to find the right shirt to go with the right pants.
After that daunting task, Luke had much more of an appreciation for the all of the times he had to wait on Kaylee.
Still, despite everything, he was optimistic he could make it to the play on time. Traffic on I-5 wasn't as bad as it normally was during this time of night. After doing a few quick mental calculations by factoring the speed he was driving in miles per hour and mathematically comparing it to the remaining distance, he figured he'd still get there about three minutes early. And that was even worst-case scenario as he had accounted for hitting each of the remaining lights red.
It was uncharacteristic of Luke, but he couldn't help the cocky feeling creeping up in the back of his mind. And for once, he didn't mind.
Screw GPS, he thought, unable to hide a smirk. All I needed was a little math and patience to figure out my timing.
Luke leaned his chair back slightly, rolled the window down, and rested his left arm.
An older beat-up yellow Toyota pickup in the fast lane started to pass him on the left. The driver wasn't much older than Luke. Normally one to avoid eye contact, Luke looked over with confidence and a smile.
The pickup driver smiled back and yelled, "Nice car," as he sped on by. Luke gave him an up-nod although he was still surprised at how many compliments he'd been getting lately. Well, it was the Challenger getting the compliments, but he didn't mind being the beneficiary.
It's gonna be a great night, Luke thought to himself, turning the radio up as Boston's Foreplay/Longtime pumped out through all six speakers. He tapped his fingers on the side of the car in rhythm with the keyboard and guitars. Reaching across the passengers seat, Luke rolled down the passenger window to let the music escape, carefully holding the steering wheel with his left hand.
Luke heard a loud bang. The yellow Toyota, about fifty feet ahead of Luke, immediately started swerving back and forth, cutting across the lanes as smoke poured from its tires; Luke couldn't tell if he blew a tire or hit debris on the interstate.
Startled, Luke sat upright, grabbing the steering wheel with both hands so hard his knuckles turned white. He jumped on the brakes as hard as he could. The pickup veered off sharply to the right. It was as if everything happened in slow motion. The yellow pickup crossed the lane Luke was in, just clipping the front end of his Challenger. The light contact at a high speed was enough to bump Luke through the right lane and off the shoulder of the Interstate. With his brakes locked and the Challenger moving sideways, he slid across loose gravel and grass. The front end hit part of the sharply rising terrain, causing him to lose complete control of the Challenger; it rolled over and landed on the roof.
He watched as the cell phone in his lap and the red roses on the passenger seat flung out the window. The black Challenger continued sliding until it progressively ground to a halt.
Completely disoriented and hanging upside-down in his seatbelt harness, Luke tried to get his bearings. He wasn't quite sure but it looked like after the two vehicles collided, the pickup spun another ninety degrees so it faced in the opposite direction of travel. That, coupled with its sideways momentum, caused the pickup to barrel roll at least a couple of times.
It took Luke some time to process what had just happened. Trying to focus his eyes, he stared upside-down through the passengers open window at the burning pickup and the black smoke cloud surrounding it.
He didn't know why it was occurring to him only now that the person in the pickup could have been severely injured or maybe even dead, but that thought alone was enough to snap him back to reality. Bracing himself with one hand on the roof of the car below him, he unbuckled the seatbelt. His body came crashing down, almost landing face first.
He shook the sting of the fall off and carefully crawled through the open window on the driver's side, trying to avoid the shattered glass strewn about everywhere.
As he stood up and ran towards the pickup, pure adrenaline pumping through his veins, he realized he couldn't see very well out of his right eye. Luke placed his hand on his forehead, expecting to wipe sweat out of his eye, but the consistency of the liquid was thicker than sweat. He pulled his hand away and, taking a quick look at it, was surprised to find it was almost completely covered in blood.
He kept moving, alternating between blinking his right eye and wiping his forehead with his shirt. At least three, maybe four other cars had pulled over to the side of road, but Luke was the first to get to the pickup. Between the thick smoke, the blood in his eye, and the brightness from engine fire contrasting with the dark dusky night, it was extremely difficult to see.
The pickup had come to a halt on its side. The driver lay crumpled against his door, and he wasn't moving. "Hey, buddy! Are you alright," Luke exclaimed, afraid that he was either dead or unconscious.
Flames were spreading quickly and the truck reeked of fuel. Luke quickly jumped up on the side of the truck, sliding into the cab through the broken passenger's window.
Blood was all over the man's white T-shirt. Luke didn't exactly breath a sigh of relief when he heard sirens in the background, but as uncomfortable as he was in the burning vehicle he was thankful the sound was getting closer. Gradually the blaring noise overpowered the sounds of the raging fire; he knew help would be here any moment, but there wasn't any time to waste.
As he tried to unbuckle the man's seatbelt, the metal buckle burned his hand, causing him to yell out in pain. Luke winced but didn't hesitate to go for it a second time; this time, he managed to endure through the pain, taking off the seatbelt and getting the man free.
Luke thought he heard a quiet groan of pain. It was encouraging; at least that meant he was alive.
Sliding his arms underneath the man's armpits, he tried to carefully pull him up. Although he didn't have official first aid training, he knew one of the first things to do was to make sure he didn't have any neck injuries. However, the importance of time overrode that; at any moment, the entire truck could explode with both him and the driver inside. They both had to get out of the flaming coffin as fast as they could.
He was harder to lift than he thought, and Luke struggled to get him up. For a moment, he flashed back to his weight training with Kaylee and shuddered to think what would have happened if he had never picked up a weight.
Still, the limp body was heavy, and it would take time to get him out of the vehicle. Time he didn't have.
Grunting, he tried to lift the driver outside the passenger window. Right when he thought he couldn't push any harder, two men -- passersby's, Luke guessed -- had arrived to grab the driver. "We got him," one of them yelled to Luke as they hauled him the rest of the way out. Luke breathed a sigh of relief.
The flames dramatically increased, reaching heights well above Luke. He could feel the intensity of the heat. It was hot when he first entered the truck, but by now the heat was so intense Luke didn't think he could survive another ten seconds.
He hoisted himself out and jumped off the pickup, running behind the two men, both of them carrying the injured driver and also running for their lives.
Luke finally stopped running, believing to be far enough away from the burning truck. Just as Luke saw the first fire engine pull up, he heard -- and felt -- a loud explosion behind him, knocking him down to the ground.
Out of both fear and instinct, he crawled another twenty feet even though the explosion had subsided. His heart was racing faster than ever. He turned around, eyes wide and in disbelief at the massive ball of fire that had enveloped the crippled vehicle.
Looking up towards the fire engine, he watched as a team of firemen grabbed and unwound the hose almost before the truck had come to a full stop. The powerful force of water brought the hose to life like a snake, so incredibly strong that three of the firemen had to hold and direct it towards the flaming wreckage.
Another two firemen ran towards Luke. Both of them, like all of the others, were wearing their full gear and self-contained breathing apparatuses over their face. Before he knew it, the two men picked him up and hauled him back towards the fire truck, keeping him out of further danger.
After the firemen gave Luke a quick once-over, carefully checking his neck, spine, and other body parts for extensive injury, one of them removed his smoke mask.
"You know this means I'm dropping you off of my insurance policy, don't you," Ryan told Luke with a joyful smile, although Luke observed a slight shake to his usually calm father.
Ryan hugged his son tightly, careful of Luke's injuries. Oddly enough, of all the things for Luke to think about, he couldn't help but realize it was a lot harder for him to get his arms around his dad because of the thick fireman suit and the oxygen tank on his back.
Luke heard him whisper, "Thank you, Jesus," over and over until finally releasing him and pulling out the medical kit.
"You might need a few stitches, buddy," his dad said, washing the blood off of his forehead and eyebrow so he could see the wound more clearly. "But for now, let's take care of your hand. Looks like you burned it a little."
"Dad," Luke asked.
"That other guy," he nodded towards the driver of the pickup who was being loaded into an ambulance that must have just arrived on scene.
"Is he gonna make it?"
Ryan shrugged, "Honestly, I don't know. I didn't get a good look. But after what you did, I know you at least gave him a fighting chance."
Luke beamed at his fathers compliment.
Ryan continued, "All we can do is pray for him and let God and the doctors do the rest. I hope he pulls out. But for right now at least, I'm just glad you're ok."
Luke saw his dad look at him strangely again. He narrowed his eyes, deep in thought, until it finally occurred to him what was most likely bothering his dad.
"Dad? You're thinking about my older brother Adam right now, aren't you?"
At first Ryan looked surprised, but his look progressively turned into a contemplative, playful smile. He said, "No, I was thinking about how much of a pain it's going to be to fix Charlene back up. You better let that cute little girlfriend of yours drive you around for a while, even if it is a Beamer. At least it's not a Mustang like your mom's car."
"Be serious, dad," Luke told him with a straight face.
Ryan finished bandaging up Luke's hand.
"There... I think your hand is good. We'll run you to the hospital just to make sure, and have the doctors sew your eyebrow up," Ryan told him, taking care of his son's medical needs first, but also trying to process old, painful memories that had resurfaced. He wasn't sure what to say about Adam who, along with his first wife, died in a car accident nearly two decades ago.
He sighed, "Ok, to answer your question: Both yes and no. I was thinking of Adam, but I was thinking of how much I didn't want to lose you too, buddy. What happened to Adam... it's probably the worst feeling in the world, and I don't ever want to experience it again. It still bothers me to this day, even with all the time that's passed. No parent should outlive a child of his. So, yeah, I had some old fears resurface. People tend to forget how amazing life can be, but they also forget how fragile and precious it is." Putting a hand on Luke's shoulder, Ryan told him, "But like I said, I'm just glad you're safe and alive right now. I think we both have something we can thank the Lord for tonight."
Luke smiled. Ryan shook his head, helping Luke stand to his feet as they waited for a second ambulance to arrive. "So straight forward and to the point, aren't you," his dad told him. He didn't think he would ever get used to Luke's direct matter-of-fact line of questioning. "You always did wear your heart on your sleeve, buddy."
Ryan patted him on the back, watching the water relentlessly attacking the dying flames at full force, the battle almost over. "That's one of the things I love about you."
Ryan looked thoughtful for a moment and told him, "By the way, when you talk to your mother, this is one of those times you... don't exactly need to wear your heart on your sleeve, or call a spade a spade. I recommend you sugarcoat this to avoid giving her a heart attack. I.e., I mean don't tell her about the lovely explosion that almost engulfed you, or you'll be riding the bus for the rest of your life."
With a quiet snicker, Luke asked him, "You want me to lie?"
"Two words, Luke. 'No'."
"What's the other word, dad?"
Luke thought for a moment. "You're probably right."
"Or Kaylee. For your sake, don't tell Kaylee."
"Good idea, dad."
It was around two in the morning when Luke and his dad finished filling out the last of the paperwork and finally made it home from the hospital. Jessica and Faith were already up waiting for him; Ryan asked his friend and fellow firefighter Jeff to deliver the news in person, but with two conditions: One, downplay the accident, and two, wait as long as possible before telling them. He didn't want his wife driving frantically to the hospital; the last thing he needed was two near-fatal car crashes in one night.
As he approached the house, the door swung open and his mother ran out to him, almost bowling him over as she grabbed him with her arms. She squeezed him tightly and began to sob.
Luke initially froze, but hugged her back. His wide eyes drifted towards his dad, as if to ask, "Can you please get her off me?"
Ryan smiled at the touching scene, simply shrugging at Luke's request knowing he couldn't do a thing about it anyway. He mouthed, "She's your mother."
Faith ran up and joined the group hug, trying her hardest to hold back her tears through incessant sniffing.
Jessica turned to Ryan and frantically snapped, "Why didn't you tell me my baby almost died?!"
Ryan sighed; he was caught. Looking inside the house, he saw a bear of a man looking sheepishly back at him with a guilty look on his face. His buddy Jeff quickly looked away, purposefully avoiding eye contact with Ryan.
Ryan realized Jeff did a poor job softening what had happened. He shook his head and vowed he'd get Jeff back for that.
"Um, mom," Luke told her, "You're smashing me."
Jessica relaxed her grip. "Sorry honey," she told Luke.
Ryan, treading carefully, said, "It wasn't as bad as you think... well, ok. It was kind of bad, but it really could have been much worse. He came through unscathed..."
Jessica gave him quite possibly the dirtiest look he had seen in as long as he could remember. She barked, "Unscathed? Really?" Jessica grabbed Luke's chin and told Ryan, "Look at his stitches and tell me he came through unscathed!"
"Honey, the point is he's ok. He saved the other driver; you should be proud of him."
Jessica, ignoring her husband, told Luke, "I know it's two in the morning, but you should call Kaylee."
Glaring at Ryan but talking to Luke, Jessica spat, "She would want to know. After all, you shouldn't keep secrets from girls, Luke."
It was obvious where that comment was directed. "I was going to tell you, I just didn't want you to freak out, honey, so I had planned on waiting a while," Ryan pleaded, trying to dig himself out of the hole. Directing his own glare towards Jeff, he added, "I didn't realize you would be told immediately. I wanted to break it to you slowly..."
Jeff cringed, mouthing a "sorry" to Ryan.
Jessica sighed, "It's not Jeff's fault." She wrapped her arms around Ryan's neck, catching him off guard. Up until that point he was braced, but prepared, for further rage from Jessica. What he wasn't prepared for was his bride leaning in and giving him a passionate kiss on the lips.
"I'm still mad at you," she said, raising an eyebrow and giving him a serious but understanding look, running her fingernails lightly against the back of his scalp, "but I also wanted to say thank you for bringing my boy home. Jeff also told me about that part, too."
She wrapped her arms around him tighter and whispered in his ear, "Thank you, tiger."
Every muscle in his body finally relaxed as Ryan gradually began to realize there was a good chance he just might not have to sleep on the couch after all.
Luke and Faith turned their heads away, standing in awkward silence and praying their parents would either break physical contact or take it elsewhere, out of sight and out of mind.
"Don't worry, I already called Kaylee," Faith told Luke after their parents went inside the house. "She's on her way over. She sounded pissy when I called her, probably because it was two in the morning. I explained to her you were in an accident but that you were ok. She really wanted to come over and see you."
"Thank you, Faith," he told her. "It will be nice to see her. I'm not tired anyway; I think I still have enough adrenaline running through me to keep me awake for a few more hours."
Faith giggled. "I bet. I don't think any of us are ready to sleep." She gave Luke one more hug and smiled, "I'm glad you're ok, Luke."
He returned her smile with one of his own. "Thanks. Me too."
Both of their ears perked up as they heard a vehicle screaming down the road, getting louder until it finally came into view, screeching to a halt at the base of the Patton's driveway.
It was Kaylee's Beamer, of course. Luke thought she was lucky no one was killed on her way to the house. Scrunching his nose, he asked Faith, "What exactly did you tell her?"
Wide-eyed and grimacing, Faith tried to explain, "I thought I softened the blow for her; maybe I didn't do a good enough job. I'm sorry, I had no idea she'd be this frantic."
As the car pulled up, Faith slipped inside the house to give them a little private time, unable to hide the guilty look on her face. She whispered one last "sorry" to Luke as she closed the door behind her.
Luke smiled at his sister and walked towards Kaylee's car.
It took her a while to get her seatbelt off and step out of the car as a result of her hysteria. With tears in her eyes, she ran barefoot to Luke as fast as she can, knocking him backwards and into the grass.