(My thanks go to CambriaRose for sorting this two chapter story out for me. It sure flows better now she worked her magic on it. I hope you the reader enjoy this first chapter.)
I promised her I would go on, I promised her I would find someone else and live again. I lied.
The fateful day I lied to the one person who was the most important to me, was a Tuesday in March. Both our work schedules came together on a beautiful, sunny day and we went out and enjoyed it. We were less than five miles from home when a drunk crossed the intersection causing our car to be totaled. She knew she was dying. It took me a few minutes to figure it out for myself. I refused to believe it, but you could see it in the paramedic's eyes, when they were brave enough to look at us, while they tried so hard to get my wife and I out of what was once our car.
It took the fire department twenty minutes to cut Traci out of her side of the car. We both talked and cried the entire time. We talked about my future, and not once did we talk about us being together when all of this was over. She made me promise one final time. I could feel my heart break in two as the fire crew finally took what was left of the roof off and away from the car. I looked into her eyes and saw the light start to fade within them. Those last few words she heard of mine on this Earth were a lie. I couldn't go on without her.
Traci was the reason I breathed. She was that one person in my life I shared everything with. It was a perfect life with her; there wasn't a life after Traci. She was everything to me. I couldn't face living without her by my side. This woman who sat bleeding next to me was everything to me. If I could have change places with her at that moment I would have and she knew it.
I was grateful to the hospital; they put me back together, even if it was only temporarily to attend the funeral. I wanted to stand but the cast on my back was simply too much. My brother wheeled me to the edge of the grave and I watched as she descended to her final resting place. It was well attended. She had so many family and friends in attendance it seemed to take forever for them all to say those words that meant so little, but made them feel better saying it.
Just before I returned to the hospital, I made my brother my power of attorney. It kept the ambulance chasers off my back since he was a lawyer himself. I learned later that he used a scorched Earth policy; no one was safe and most thought it wise to settle out of court.
The drunk driver tried hiring a fancy lawyer, but it did him no good when my brother showed the video of the crash taken by the fire crew. The judge made everyone sit through the whole video. Most cried when they listened to Traci, and one guy in the courtroom had to be restrained when the video paned to the drunk driver singing 'Old Lang Syne' only seconds before he was sick in the back of the police car.
My brother's policy also kept the press at bay, even more so when one of my neighbors phoned the police after one of the press was caught, not only in our garden, but trying to take pictures through the patio window.
The paper quickly settled out of court but not before the judge got to hear about it and he told the press, in no uncertain terms, that if he ever heard of such a thing happening again, he would personally see to it that he was the judge on that trial.
It took a further six months of rehab before I could walk again. Something that comes to you so easily as a child has to be relearned as a thirty one year old man. Physically, I was now fit enough to leave the hospital. On occasions I still resorted to the help of a cane. The last thing I wanted was to share my grief in public, so I went out of the hospital with one of the paramedics and they dropped me off on the corner away from the crowd. My brother picked me up and took me straight to an airport hotel where we could finally get things settled, at least on paper. My brother showed me my bank balance and I winced, I cut a chunk out and tried to give it to him.
He refused, so we settled on me paying for his two girl's college education, and a lump sum when they turned a set age. My brother knew me better than most. He knew he was saying goodbye to me, for how long I don't think either of us knew the answer to. I understood it was hurting him so much, even his wife Miranda knew what was going on and insisted she came with him to the hotel. With the paperwork settled, he handed me a plane ticket and a set of keys and told me what I had asked for was in the long term parking lot.
I couldn't stay, every time I looked at Miranda I saw Traci. When the McKenna twins proudly announced their marriage to the Thomson brothers the whole town just smiled and said 'about time.' We even made the local paper, well the third page anyway, but that was enough for our folks to go to the store and buy thirty papers each that day and send them to every known relative. I hugged Miranda one last time, and, for what felt like the hundredth time, told her I was sorry. She couldn't help but burst into tears and run from the hotel room.
I took the shuttle bus to the airport alone and checked in. The flight itself was uneventful and for that I was extremely grateful. It was dark when I left the airport so I checked into one of the airport hotels and decided to start in the morning. Room service got a call and the music stations kept me company. It's amazing what gets left in hotel rooms. Someone had left a country magazine in one of the drawers of the little cabinet by the bed. Odd night reading that was for sure, in it was an article on a young couple buying and renovating a few log cabins up at the lake some two hundred miles from the airport. I figured that would be a good place to start.
The next morning I got my truck out of the long term parking and headed to the lake.
******* The McDonalds were a nice couple; they had both been laid off and decided to buy the cabins and start their own business. I could tell that it was taking its toll on them and the fact that Jenna McDonald was three months pregnant didn't help them either. I asked for a six month stay and paid it all in advance, I had no intention of staying that long but the look on their faces showed they could sure use the money. Cabin seven was the most recent to be modernized and the smell of varnish came to you as you opened the door just to remind you.
The television got pushed into the closet alongside my fishing rods and tackle box. I made myself at home and even got to the store before it closed and stocked up on food and any other items that caught my eye.
The next morning cabin Seven yielded yet one more surprise, it had its own jetty that jutted out onto the lake by some fifty feet, all recently renovated and showing a new coat of varnish. For the next two weeks, I fell into a habit, breakfast, grabbed my fishing equipment and sat out on the end of the jetty. I never caught any fish. I don't even know if there were any in the lake, but I went out anyways.
As I sat and watched the scenery in front of me I let my mind mend itself, or at least try to mend itself. It was the mental side of me that I was worried about. The image of Traci in those last moments of her life, knowing that I lied to her as she took those words with her became all consuming. Thankful that my hat and sunglasses hid my tears, soon I became a creature of habit. As soon as I woke and had a coffee I would walk to the end of the jetty, set my rod up, and sit.
The images of the crash were still fresh in my mind, but slowly the events on the lake kept my thoughts occupied enough that those images became less painful, at least during the day. The lake seemed to be used a great deal; I would always see a small boat off in the distance moving along the shoreline. Jenna Macdonald would occasionally drop by to see if I had caught anything, I never did and I didn't have the heart to tell her why.
******* I heard it before I saw it. The mist kept it a secret for as long as it could before the little boat burst forth. A little girl slumped forward, although her arm was resting in the controls, it was obvious as the boat passed me and slid onto the bank alongside the jetty that the girl was unconscious. I ran along the jetty and jumped onto the boat just as the boat came to a stop, the girl hadn't moved, even when I switched the engine off.
There seemed little point in being gentle when I felt for a pulse in her neck. It was so weak I almost missed it. She was cold and clammy as well. Not a good sign at all. Even when I picked her up and carried her back to the cabin her eyes never opened. I spotted the bracelet as I placed her on the couch, thankfully, it yielded all the information I needed. Getting sugared water into her was difficult but pinching her nose proved effective enough. Once her lips started to change to a more normal color I picked up the phone and called the McDonald's.
"Jenna, I have a little girl here, age I would say seven, red shoulder length hair and freckles. She has a Diabetes bracelet on and the name on it is Kimberly, does any of this mean anything to you?"
"Yes that's Karen's little girl. What is she doing at your cabin? She lives clear across the lake!"
"Can you call her mother and tell her that her daughter has had a hypoglycemic attack out on the lake, I've stabilized her but she's going to need her insulin before she can be moved."
What followed was a very frantic Jenna having a mild panic attack over the phone before telling me she would call Karen straight away. Jenna turned up ten minutes before another car came speeding up the dirt road, screeching to a stop sideways on to the cabin. Some red haired woman burst into the cabin quickly looked around and dashed over to the child laying on the couch, unzipping an insulin case as she did. My part in this drama was over as far as I was concerned. Kimberly would be fine once her mother gave her insulin, so I walked back to the lakes edge and secured the boat to the jetty, sat down and went back to my fishing.
It was another hour before Karen and I assume Kimberly left. Although the hesitant footsteps on the jetty told me that Jenna still had something to say so I got up and met her half way. The anger in her eyes and the confused look on her face let me know long before she spoke that she had to say something or burst.
"Forgive me for saying this but you're a cold fish aren't you."
My walking slowly past her showed that I was only going to continue this conversation back at the cabin. Jenna made it to the porch and sat down. I came back out with two iced teas and sat across from her, my back resting against one of the porch's support posts.
"There was nothing else for me to do Jenna. I knew she was stable and once I saw her mother run into the cabin with Kimberly's insulin case in hand, my being there would simply be another person in the cabin nothing else. I would guess judging by the puncture marks on Kimberly's body that she has been Diabetic for at least two years so her mother knew exactly what to do."
Jenna went to get up and leave, the anger within her not placated in the slightest, so I held up my hand and she sat back down.
"I left her in no danger Jenna. I was still within earshot if things had gone wrong but I knew nothing would so I left you both to it. Kimberly needed to see familiar faces when she woke, not a strangers, it would have confused her even more than needed."
I doubt very much that I had persuaded her otherwise, she just shrugged her shoulders as she left the porch, told me that her husband would be by later to take the boat back across the lake, and left.
The lake mist had thinned even more now that the sun was burning it away, but I had lost the energy to sit at the end of the jetty watching a fishing rod. I packed it all away and headed into town for more supplies. The boat was gone by the time I got back and for the next couple of days my own routine returned to normal.
******* The sound of a car coming to a halt outside my cabin broke me from my thoughts. I watched it for a few moments, the woman inside seemed reluctant to leave the car. Pulling my rod clear of the water and walking towards her seemed to have the desired effect as both doors opened Kimberly and her mother got out.
It was Kimberly that reached me first and she held out her hand and said. "Thank you for your help and for looking after me until my Mom came. I was kinda lost and when I couldn't see the bank anymore because of the mist, I got confused."
Kimberly looked back towards her mother who was already giving her a stern look. "It also didn't help that I missed breakfast."
I shook her hand and told her she was welcome, it was Karen who seemed to want to keep her distance that was until Kimberly grabbed her arm and pulled her mom alongside her. I was having a hard time reading her and the sunglasses she had on didn't help. Eventually she asked Kimberly to go for a walk along the jetty, she wanted to speak to me alone. That was the time I probably wished I had somewhere else to go. We both watched Kimberly pout and give the usual "but Mom" before she walked onto the jetty to check out the scenery from this side of the lake.
"I'll be honest with you Mister I didn't volunteer to be here. My daughter hit me with one of my own rules and I couldn't back away from it."
Since I knew I was in for 'one of those talks' I turned and slowly walked along the lakes edge, Karen followed alongside, keeping an eye on Kimberly whilst we walked.
"This rule you mentioned, is that the one about don't talk to strange men?"
Her answer was just as swift. "No, always thank the people that do you a good turn. Although if it was left to me I would have made an exception in your case, my daughter could have died and all you did was return to your fishing."
For the next minute or so we still walked but the silence started to become a wedge between us. I couldn't be angry with her. She had her opinion and expressed it.
"Kimberly was going to be fine, she was stable when I made my call to Jenna and once you turned up with her insulin I became redundant."
The anger in her voice told me she wasn't appeased by my words or even the conviction I put into them.
"She could have died Mister, the nearest hospital is twenty miles to the south and the nearest doctor is eighteen miles to the east and you left her on the couch of your cabin and went fishing."
I promised myself I would leave the world to its own devices; I promised myself that the world and its problems had nothing to do with me anymore I still had my own grief to deal with but Karen wanted something from me I was simply not going to give her.
"As a matter of fact she was never more than fifty yards from a doctor in all the time she was here, and you have never been more than three feet from a doctor in all the time you have tried to make me feel guilty for my actions."
Karen stopped and held onto my arm making me stop. I could see all of Kimberly in her mother; her hair was a slightly darker red and given the shade of her eyebrows and paleness of her skin she would have been a natural red head. It's also why I understood her volatile nature.
"You're a doctor?" Were the only words that managed to escape her lips.
She had a shocked look on her face and the redness of her embarrassment was now in competition with the color of her hair. The nod of my head was all she got as we headed back to the cabin. I may have not been licensed to practice in this state, but I'm sure in an emergency the medical association would stretch a point.
This time I got a hug from Kimberly before she left, I even got a small thank you from her mom as well, that alone made my day.
******* It took another week before things started to change. I went out to the end of the jetty, set my rod up and after an hour of glorious sunshine warming both the lake and me, I fell asleep. The sounds of women's voices pulled me from my sleep. When I was awake enough to open my eyes, Kimberly was sitting in her little boat twenty feet from the jetty a rod hanging over the edge of the boat and Karen was sitting on a chair next to me a rod beside her. Neither of them said a word. The weirdness of the situation didn't pass me by at all and to be honest I simply didn't know what to say or do about it.
It was another twenty minutes before Jenna pulled up in her car, went to the trunk and pulled out an ice box and a picnic basket. Kimberly pulled her rod in and rowed her boat onto the shore to help Jenna.
"I was wrong about you and that's the first time that's happened since I voted the wrong man into the President's office. I can't do anything about that, but I can apologize for treating you so badly last week. Kimberly is everything to me and although she now understands she took advantage of the freedom I give her by staying out on the lake and going further than we both agreed upon, I can't wrap her in cotton wool. It would destroy her spirit."
To me she had done what any mother would have done, and that's shown true love and concern for her child. I couldn't take her to task on anything. It wasn't my place and I truly did understand. But Karen seemed to feel that she owed me. Perhaps that's what today was all about, all three of them saying thank you.
"Can you make lasagna?"
Her eyebrows almost came together in total confusion at my question and she nodded her head not sure how to add to that answer.
"Well, I will send you my bill for my treatment of Kimberly some time."
With that I pulled my rod out of the water and went to join Jenna and the picnic she and Kimberly had created on the porch table, Karen had caught up with me by the time I had reached the end of the jetty and we were still together the whole picnic. I knew now why the impromptu picnic, all three of them simply wanted to say sorry and with as little fuss as possible. I agreed and the company for the next couple of hours was simply great.
From time to time Karen came back to fish; Kimberly was off for the rest of the summer holiday's to her grandparents. It was on these visits her story slowly came out. Her husband was killed in Iraq when Kimberly was five years old. Jenna McDonald was an old school friend and when the idea of the cabins was first thought about, Karen had bought one of the cabins outright so the MacDonald's could use that as capital to get the cabin refurbishments kick started. It wasn't until much later that I realized, the conversation was all one way.
Karen told me her life yet not once had she asked about mine. Now, I don't profess to be an expert on women. Heck, what man can claim that and not be called a liar soon after? But it just seemed odd that I didn't get one question asked, not even if I was married. Jenna would still drop by with her husband, and drinks would often be served on the porch until the light started to fade. All three of them were genuinely nice folks and I liked them, it was still Karen I had a few nagging doubts about.
Un-answered question that I was too afraid to ask in case it opened a conversation I would rather keep closed. It would soon be time for me to move on. I would miss these folks, but my greatest fear was that I would become attached, I couldn't do that. Mentally, I was still too fragile.
******* I had been dreading this day, hating its approach like an unstoppable train. Traci's birthday was here. I wasn't ready. Neither my will power, nor my state of mind was strong enough. I had fought it with everything I had, but it just wasn't enough. Flashes of our past, images of our time together culminating from that evening. The screech of tires seconds before our car was hurtled across the junction. The windshield shattered as the roof folded in sending sharp shards of glass over both of us, metal pinning us both to what was left of our seats, and of course the blood, so much blood.