I didn't plan for this story to be so sad and bittersweet. I'm sure many of my readers have dealt with the pain of knowing someone whose life has changed because of a drunk driver. Be careful this holiday season.
The cold wind went straight through me. I grabbed the edge of my winter jacket and held it tighter against my body. The wool scarf and mitts only barely held out the cold. I continued walking down the shovelled path toward my destiny. Each step reminded me of what I had achieved. Each step reminded me of all the mistakes I had made. I needed to see him. That was clear. I knew he was home. This wasn't going to be easy but nothing about this had ever been easy. The last five years had been full of ups and downs, like a roller coaster. It had taken me this long to get to this point and Christmas Eve was a good enough day as any to change my ways.
"Whose the girl over there?" Jordan asked as he sipped his white wine. He ran his hand through his thick blond hair and flashed a smile in the hopes that she would notice. I simply laughed.
"Ashley. She's replacing Claudia who is on sick leave. You should go upstairs sometimes as opposed to staying in your classroom all the time." I grinned and pushed gently against him. I loved teasing Jordan about a lot of things and the fact that the intermediate level teachers kept to themselves in an almost clicky fashion meant that we missed out on meeting and socializing with the rest of the teachers, until of course the annual eggnog party.
It had been an idea brought up a few years ago and had become a tradition. That was what was great about this school. Traditions. Our principal emphasized the importance of routine and tradition and embracing this idea in our holiday celebrations helped everyone out.
Jordan stepped away from me to go chat with the new girl. I looked around and smiled. I loved working at this school. It was comforting and enjoyable and most of all I loved teaching. It was something I had wanted to do since I was young and I had followed the proper path of a university degree and then a teaching degree. It was funny now that I was teaching Basic French to the intermediate level students, considering my degree was in English and Geography. I loved my students and loved that I could teach them another language along with learning skills and work habits.
"Why are you letting Jordan flirt with Ashley?"
I glanced over toward the voice and saw Patty. She was the oldest teacher in our group and was never one to shy away from the truth.
"We're not dating. Never have. Thanks for reminding me." I smiled to let her know I was teasing but deep down inside it was the truth. We had never dated. It was a strange situation to have gone to high school, university, and now to work with your best friend. Everyone knew we were friends but only our close friends knew that we considered each other best friends. Patty wasn't the only one wondering why we never got together. She was just the only one to say it aloud.
The rest of the party went by quickly and as the sun set people started to make their way back to their classrooms to go home. I stayed around a bit to clean up. I didn't even realize that I kept glancing over at Jordan and Ashley as they continued to chat on the leather couch. His arm was over the back of the couch, inches from her shoulders. He was laughing and smiling as she told him about her family at Christmas.
The room was filled with the soft murmurs of whispers along with the clanking of glasses and cutlery filling the dishwasher. Once the staff room kitchen was back to normal I announced that I was going home.
Walking down the quiet hallway I had time to reflect on my relationship with Jordan. I had seen him flirt with other girls. I had known him through his two serious relationships. I had even caught him almost having sex that time at the cottage. I couldn't quite place what made me so jealous this time and by the time I entered my portable classroom my mind was fuzzier then before.
I closed the curtains and made sure my lesson plan was set for when we returned. A two-week holiday was what everyone needed and when the bell had rung a few hours ago the children had literally run out of the school. Most of them would go home to loving families. Some would not and we knew as a school team that the mending process would take weeks when those students returned.
I bundled up and grabbed the few presents that had been given to me by my students. It wasn't that I wasn't a popular teacher. The students liked me because I was caring and reasonable and more importantly it was a break in their day from their regular teacher. I always hated the overblown gift giving of Christmas time, which meant that Christmas for me was stressful. Only Jordan knew my feelings of this holiday. I should have realized the importance of that fact.
I didn't realize how snowy it had become and my footprints left a trail from my classroom to my car in the parking lot. I turned on the car and then spent a few minutes pushing snow off the windshield. I loved Toronto for so many reasons but the wintry weather was something I hated.
I had driven the route home too many times to remember. It was a short drive down the residential street and then onto the highway. They drive was short and then off the highway back onto residential streets toward my home. There were four teachers that all lived within walking distance of each other. I lived on the corner in the small terrace home. Jordan was actually four doors down in a similar home. Martin had a townhouse up the street and Sandra was in the apartments on the other side of the street. It was a good neighbourhood that had been built up in the ten years that I had lived here.
I was paying attention to the road but when the tractor-trailer started to fishtail up ahead in the other lane I had little time to react. The cement medium was not going to hold the huge trailer from going across to my lane and the wet snow had created a slushy mess. If I slammed on my breaks I'd lock the wheels and lose my ability to steer. The right hand lane had two cars and in the split second when I glanced over none of them had reacted to what was going on up ahead.
I gripped the wheel and took my foot off the gas pedal. The tractor-trailer suddenly jackknifed completely and the back end bounced over the medium into my lane.
My life didn't flash before my eyes. I had no time for that. My heart did lurch in my chest and my brain simply stopped working. I have no idea how I did what I did but the next few seconds were not a blur. They didn't exist. Time skipped over this part. My consciousness went from about to hit the sixteen wheeler to my car lodged perfectly between two trees that lined the side of the road.
Later I would find out that the crash was a fiery one that would have cost millions to recreate for a scene from a movie. This wasn't a movie. It was real life and what I had to deal with afterwards was more real then I ever imagined.
An inexperienced driver who had come from a holiday party himself was driving the tractor-trailer. The spiked eggnog had been too much for him and he was driving just a little too fast for the weather. When the truck started to slide, he slammed on his brakes causing the wheels to lock up and the back end to swing.
The back of the trailer skidded across his lane and into my lane. I had swerved and sped up, the passenger side of my car slamming into the front of the truck before spinning and landing on the grassy shoulder. Had I been driving just a little slower I would not have had time to make it around the trailer before it began it's carnage.
The two cars in the right hand lane were hit. The first car spun in donuts before smashing into the light post. The second car sustained most of the damage as it spun into the trailer and collided four times. After the fourth hit the trailer fell onto it's side and began to slide down the road.
The driver of the tractor-trailer was pinned and since he was not wearing his seatbelt sustained serious injuries. He was only twenty-two and was a father of two young children. His blood alcohol level was above the legal limit so instead of reporting him as a caring father who was working two jobs to raise his children; he was labelled a drunk driver. The media can be ruthless, even around the holidays.
The driver of the first car was badly injured but survived. He was in his fifties and although needed surgery to repair his broken hip he was fine. His name was John Anderson and he had been driving up to visit his parents who had moved into the new retirement home down the street.
I was fine. Uninjured in fact. Actually that wasn't true. I couldn't open the driver or passenger doors so had to climb out the sunroof of the car. Afterwards I wondered if the landscapers realized they spaced out the trees to be the exact width of a 2009 Ford Fusion. As I climbed out of the roof I twisted my ankle and broken my left thumb. It wasn't until afterward that I realized I was hurt. It's funny how when adrenaline is rushing through your body you don't realize the pain that you are dealing with.
The second car in the right hand lane didn't do so well. That was the car that held Jordan and Ashley. Jordan's car hadn't started in the parking lot and so Ashley had graciously offered to drive him home. I always wondered what would have happened had his car been working. Ashley wouldn't have been anywhere near the crash and maybe Jordan would have been a few minutes late or early and would have missed it as well.
I rushed to the first car and saw that the driver was awake. My lifeguard training kicked into high gear and after assessing his breathing and pulse I left him to go check on the other car. John was thankful for my help and although he was confused when I made him turn the car off, he knew I was making the right decision. Leaking gas, sparks, or other engine issues would just be a disaster at the moment.
Even to this day I'm not sure why I didn't check on the tractor-trailer driver. It had slid at least one hundred metres and was resting on its side. There was no way the driver wasn't injured but part of me, the devil inside so to speak, was telling me it was a better idea to help the innocent bystanders then the person who caused the crash.
I rushed over to the red Honda Civic and gasped. Ashley was slumped over unconscious in the driver's seat and Jordan was besides her holding his head. His blonde hair was covered in blood but he was alive.
"Katie! Help us! Please!" Jordan begged, as he tried to undo his seatbelt. I rushed around to the other side and desperately tried to open the door. It wouldn't budge.
"It's stuck Jordan. Can you climb out the window?" I asked. The impact had shattered all four windows but the damage to the body of the car meant that none of the doors would open.
"I can try," he said quietly. I glanced up and saw people all around. The road was well travelled and I knew that people had come to find out what had happened. I helped Jordan out of the car and onto the side of the road. He was twice my size, both in weight and height, but I was able to support him as he stumbled to the ground.
I crouched down in front of him and began to assess him. His head was gushing blood but he had no signs of a concussion.
"What are you doing Katie?" he asked.
"I used to be a lifeguard remember? I've been training in first aid for over twenty years. Your bleeding but it's all superficial. The glass from the window probably caused it. You also probably have a broken arm and/or wrist." I was sounding so clinical but that's the great thing about lifeguard training, the routine gets in your head and you just run on automatic.
"Katie stop. Please go help Ashley."
I nodded and got up. The sounds of the fire trucks filled the air and I didn't have a chance to get Ashley. The firefighter pushed me aside, yelling something about a leaking gas tank and how the tractor was filled with flammable liquid. My eyes went wide and I remembered that I hadn't turned off Ashley's car.
If time skipped over the few seconds when the crash occurred then time stood still as the car blew up. It was an immerse sound and the fireball shot up into the sky. I didn't fall back from the explosion but right away the heat radiated from my front. I stepped back and dragged Jordan further away from the car.
I don't really remember what happened next. I'm sure the paramedics assessed both of us and we were taken to the nearest hospital. The police officer in charge interviewed both of us as we sat in the emergency room waiting to be seen. We stayed together and no one told us to remain apart. We took a taxi home together and thankfully the road was still closed so we took the back way into our street. Seeing the crash scene would have been too much.
The taxi pulled up between our houses and we stood on the sideway in the snowy December evening.
"I can't sleep alone. Can I come over?" I asked quietly. Jordan knew the look that I was giving him. It was the same look that I had given him only three times before in my lifetime. The first time was when my first boyfriend had broken my heart and I couldn't stop crying. The second time was when my father had passed away. The third time was when tragedy hit the school. That was a story for another day.
"I'll leave the door open."
Jordan walked into his home and I walked into mine. I grabbed my phone charger, clean clothes, and my toothbrush. I locked up my place and then walked down the path to Jordan's place. I entered and heard the shower running upstairs. After removing my coat and shoes I walked up the stairs and undressed.
I stepped into the shower and felt Jordan's comforting arms around me. We washed each other and then got into clean clothes. It was like in that moment we were a couple. Tragedy had brought us together and we were so stunned at the events of the night we didn't even question what we were doing. We would both spend the next five years asking questions and debating in our heads how horrible we were to do what we did. Jordan got over it quickly but I didn't.
As we cuddled in bed he finally spoke.
"I want to wake up tomorrow morning and have it be the last day before the holidays. It feels like a million years has passed when it's only been six hours. I don't even want to think about what happened." I watched as he glanced past me to the clock that said eleven.
"I know. I went into automatic back there and as long as I don't think about it..." I trailed off. I was thinking about it. I was thinking about Ashley and then I began to cry. Jordan couldn't hold back any longer and we sobbed until we both fell asleep from sheer physical and emotional exhaustion.
The next few days went by fast. There were news reporters outside our house at all hours of the day. The funeral was held in the large church because every single student and parent at our school attended. Once that was over we had a few days of normal and then going back to school opened up the wound again. We had been trained on how to deal with grieving students but this was different. The students had to learn how to deal with grieving teachers.
I stood in front of the small house and knocked on the door. He knew I was coming over but I was still nervous. It had been five years and those five years had been a whirlwind of activity. This was something that I needed to do, not for my husband, not for my children, but for myself.
"Hi Katie. You didn't have to come over," Danny said.
"Yes I did,' I responded.
I stepped in and looked around. The place was decorated nicely for Christmas and there were presents under the tree. There were three stockings hanging on the wall and along the far table were picture frames filled with photos of his children. I had seen the pictures in the newspaper but it was nice to see them in colour and to see more of them.
"They are gorgeous Danny," I said.
"Thanks. They're with their mom until Boxing Day. I get them until New Years. They don't mind getting two Christmases."
"I can imagine. How old are they now?" I asked, my face soft and kind.
"Nine and six."
I sat down on the couch facing him. He had not aged well in the five years since the crash. I don't think Jordan nor I had either. I felt bad for him in so many ways but I needed to do this.
"I have forgiven you for your mistake. I'm sorry I spoke so badly about you during the trial. I should have said something else. I should have told them you were young and reckless. I know many people said three years wasn't enough time but it was too long. I should have said something."
I began to cry. I was babbling and talking so fast that I didn't give him a chance to respond. I continued through my tears.
"I hated you for so many years because I couldn't help Ashley. She was flirting with Jordan and I wanted Jordan so badly. The crash brought us together. I hated that it took a tragic accident for him to realize that he always loved me. It wasn't you I hated. It was me."
"Katie, stop." Danny stood up and held my hand.
"Let me finish," I said sternly. "I could have helped you first. Then both of them would have died. I could have helped her first. Then no one would have died. I could have done so much but instead I choose to help Jordan."
"No you helped that older guy in the other car. You're not selfish Katie and no one thinks that."
"Yes they do."
"I needed that time in prison to realize I was wasting my life. It worked out in the end. I'm allowed to see my children. You can't revisit the past over and over again Katie. It won't help."
I bit my lip. Here was a young man, almost ten years younger then me but so much wiser. He was right. I nodded.
"I guess I'm here to tell you I've forgiven myself and you."
Jordan had put the twins to bed while I was out shopping. They always went to bed effortlessly for him. It annoyed me but at the same made me happy. He was a wonderful father and amazing husband. The house smelled like peanut butter cookies. He must have made them with the kids before bed. As I walked through the house I saw the mess in the kitchen. I'd clean it up tomorrow. I walked up the stairs and quietly entered the twin's room. Both were sound asleep in their cribs. They both had Jordan's thick blonde curls but their faces were cute and chubby like I used to have. I tucked them both in and then kissed them softly on their foreheads.
I entered our bedroom and saw Jordan lying back in bed wearing flannel pyjama pants. Most days I would have commented on how sexy he was and it would have probably ended with us having a marathon evening of wild sex. Tonight was different.
"How was shopping?" Jordan asked.
"It was fine. I did something. Something you told me to do years ago."
Jordan sat up and put down his novel. He was always reading some new research on adolescent brain development. I had teased him constantly that it was only recommended reading for his principal qualification course.
"I went to see Danny. I told him I forgave him. I wasn't going to say it until I meant it. He then told me that I had always forgiven him but that it had taken a while for me to forgive myself. He was right."
I looked straight at Jordan and he finally understood what my problem was. It was never about Ashley. It was never about how we got married less then six months after the crash. It was never about the comments and whispers about our relationship. It was about how until this moment I never felt like I deserved to be loved the way Jordan loved me.
Jordan opened his arms and let me slide into his lap. I fit perfectly, settling against his body as my head rested on his chest. I felt his heart beat and the warmth of his body radiated against mine. His cock stirred a bit and we both knew that tonight was going to be romantic lovemaking.