“It’s just not working,” David said, over a bite of bread.
My hands grew cold, and my appetite curled up and died. “What do you mean, it’s just not working?” I stared at him, my mouth gaping idiotically. Everything was working perfectly! Two months in, and I was happier than I had been in a long time. I didn’t want anything to change. I was ready to take our relationship to the next level, not to destroy it!
He shifted uncomfortably in his seat in the middle of the fancy restaurant Canlis, on what had started out as a perfectly lovely Wednesday evening in Seattle in March – drizzle, with a chance of thunder (I loved the rain; it made everything smell fresh and clean, and the scent of wet dirt always made me happy) – running his hands through his perfectly kempt sandy brown hair. David cleared his throat and looked at me, his chiseled jaw tight. “I mean this, us. You’re just… you’re too intense, Rhiannon. I need someone more laid back.”
“More laid back?” I spat, raising my voice. “I watch football, and like sweat pants, and fishing and long walk on the beach, and reading books, and – ”
“Would you lower your voice, Rhi? You’re making a scene,” he said tightly. “And you’re not getting what I’m saying.” He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. We had only been seated for a few moments before he decided to drop this bomb. I should have known something was up! Why else would the man you were falling for invite you out to a romantic dinner on a Wednesday, am I right? That had suspicion all over it. Wednesday night romance obviously equaled break-up city. I’m sure it was a widely-known fact around the world, only I never got the memo. Oh! Plus, the restaurant was only a few short blocks from his house in the Queen Anne Hill neighborhood, but miles away from mine, and that had suspicion written all over it, as well! Only a break-upper would break-up at a restaurant right by their house. Why inconvenience themselves for the break-upping? Breaking-upping? I was rambling nonsensically in my head, I realized, shaking it to clear it.
“Well I’m sorry,” I said flippantly. “Please illuminate me. What, pray tell, do you mean by laid back?” I crossed my arms and leaned back in my chair. This was starting to piss me off. He was dumping me, wasn’t he? And in a public restaurant of all places! Over a fancy dinner! How dare he! This was the rudest of the rude, and I knew rude when I saw rude. He could at least have waited until the waitress had taken our order; I at least deserved a meal out of this!
He sighed, staring at his lap. I think he was afraid to look me in the eyes. “You are always busy doing something, you live your life by some unwritten schedule, you just don’t ever cut back and relax and do nothing, and I just can’t keep up with you anymore, and I’m tired of trying!” He leaned forward in his chair, staring at me emotionlessly; any fear he might have had to look me in the eyes was absent. He was dumping me, and he was showing no emotion while doing it, either. His eyes looked dead. It was barely human. He might as well have been Spock. I was appalled.
“I see,” I said, forcing calm into my words.
“And then there’s your job,” he continued.
“What’s wrong with my job?” I hissed. “I love my job, I’m good at what I do, and I work damn hard at it!” I gripped the edge of the table, my knuckles were white. I co-owned an organic greenhouse with my friend and business partner, Grant Alloway, and I loved it. It was my private oasis, and I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else. Grant’s the one who reminded me to wash the smudge of dirt off my nose before my dinner date tonight, because he’s classy like that.
He shifted in his chair and sighed. “I don’t want to date someone who…” he trailed off. “Look, Rhiannon, it’s just embarrassing to try and explain to my friends that I’m dating a girl who digs in dirt for a living,” he finished with a cold stare.
I swallowed reflexively. My mouth was desert dry. And to think I had gone home after work and gotten all dolled up for this man! I’d scrubbed the dirt out from under my nails, brushed my long, straight brown hair until it shone, put on light makeup that accented my green eyes and pert nose, and traded out my dirt stained jeans for a forest green– my best color, I felt – silk jersey dress with billowy sleeves; it cinched tight around my waist, and made me look deliciously slim, or at least I hoped it did. On any other it girl would be a mini skirt, but on my petite frame it swished demurely just above my kneecaps. I completed the look with a pair of strappy beige peep-toe stilettos.
I took a sip of water from the pretty crystal goblet and slowly stood up in my strappy beige peep-toes, placed my palms on the table, and loomed over his face as best as my 5’1” frame would allow. “Now you listen to me, David Walker,” I said calmly, so as not to raise a scene. I wouldn’t give him the pleasure of seeing me truly lose it in public, in this lovely upscale restaurant, although god knows I wanted to slap him senseless. Not that it would do any good, he was already senseless. “Life is short; sue me if I want to live it instead of just let it slip by. And if you want some pretty pristine princess who’s afraid to get her hands dirty to just laze around with, I suggest you check the comatose department at the hospital, I hear there’s some lovely ladies down there. I am not ashamed of what I do, and since you are, I’ve obviously been wasting my time with you.” I grabbed my coat and my purse, clutching them tightly to me to hide the shaking in my hands.
I turned to walk away, but I decided I had more to say. I spun back around to face him. “And another thing,” I said to him, poking him in the chest with my finger, “One day you’ll find yourself the ideal tidy lazy bitch, and you’ll be bored to tears sitting on your fancy leather sofa eating chips and dip with a silver spoon and drinking beer on a lace doily, and you’ll realize you let the perfect woman walk right out the door.” He looked stunned. I turned towards the exit one last time. “Have a nice life,” I muttered, and walked off, my head held high, blinking back tears. I wouldn’t let him see me cry, I wouldn’t.
I drove, I just drove, wiping tears out of my eyes, not caring where I drove. The rain poured down, accompanying my tears. I was hurt, I was mad, I was confused. I just needed to go someplace, go anyplace, get away! I couldn’t believe David had dumped me, and for what? So I liked to stay busy, who wanted a couch potato? David Walker, attorney-at-law, obviously. And to think I could have loved him. Yet another man proving himself to be a dick. I had the worst luck with guys! I angrily wiped tears out of my eyes. My windshield wipers could barely keep up with the rain, and my view through the windshield was distorted and grey, the streetlights doing little to illuminate the dark wet night; it suited my mood. I took the bridge up to the north coast of Lake Union and headed east, driving blindly along Portage Bay. I sped down NE Pacific, tearing past the U Dub Medical Center, and merged right onto Montlake. Crossing the bridge south, I turned my little car onto Lake Washington Boulevard. I tore through the Washington Park Arboretum. On a normal day this was a scenic drive I enjoyed, and I’d drive slow, taking in the lovely Douglas Firs surrounding me, but not tonight. Tonight I recklessly ripped down the road, leaving the park behind, and sped down the coast of Lake Washington.
The lake boiled with the heavy rain, the wind raising frothy caps to crash against the shoreline. It was bleak and ugly, and I felt bleak and ugly. I picked up my cell and dialed my best friend Katherine Hopkins- Kat. If anyone would understand how I felt, it would be Kat. She was partially responsible for my meeting David in the first place. I met David two months ago on a weekend ski trip to Crystal Mountain, just at the edge of Mt. Ranier National Park, one of my favorite places in the state. It was my Christmas present from Kat: just a girl’s weekend away. David and I met in the hot tub our first night at the Alta Crystal Resort, and we had instant chemistry. The girl’s weekend away didn’t really pan out, because I spent nearly every waking moment with David, but Kat didn’t seem to mind, she was just happy to see me happy, and I was happy to have her quit complaining to me about my lack of a love life. Right up to tonight, he was the perfect gentleman, charming and smart, to boot. His good looks didn’t hurt his cause, either. He was a few years older than me – 30 to my 26, and a junior partner at a small firm in downtown Seattle. I didn’t date much, and hadn’t had many relationships worth speaking of since college, but finally after two months of dating David I felt I was ready to commit to something more. Kat’s phone rang and rang and rang. I tore down the wet road with madcap abandon. “Pick up, Kat, please,” I sobbed.
“Hi,” Kat’s tinny recorded voice said. “You’ve reached the voice mail of Katherine Hopkins, wait for the beep!”
“Dammit, Kat, where are you?” I cried. “He dumped me, the asshole dumped me! Call me back, would you?” I hung up and tossed my phone across the car to clatter on the passenger floorboard. Lightning flashed above me, and thunder crashed off into the distance a few seconds later. Not a moment after that, as I pulled around a curve, my cell phone rang, Kat’s personal ringer: an upbeat zydeco tune, the accordion, fiddle and washboard singing out happily, incongruous with my life at that moment. I cursed again, as I reached down to try and grab it. It was too far away. I sat back up, turning towards the road in front of me.
There was a man. Standing in the middle of the road. Right in front of me. I only caught a glimpse of him before I panicked and yanked my wheel violently to the left, slamming on the breaks, because I was going to hit him! “Get out of the road!” I shouted, as panic welled in my throat. I spun my steering wheel helplessly. My car swerved sharply to the left.
Life seemed to stand still at that moment. I remember my car hydroplaning on the wet road. I remember the skid, and the screech of my breaks. I even remember the flip as my car spun sideways, completely out of control. It seemed odd to me that I was sideways in the road, as my car flipped and rolled down the street, and down the bank of the lake, through the trees, landing finally, upside down, in the waves. I remember pain; I remember being tossed around like a rag doll inside the cab, and thinking how a seat belt would have been a great idea, but mostly I remembered the pain as I was thrown out of the side window as the car flipped, and tossed as casually as a rag doll to land in the gravel head first on my back, my left leg folded up underneath me. It felt as if my head had been ripped off, and the agony was excruciating. I heard my car land with a splash; I was close enough to get drenched by the spray it tossed up.
Everything was red, my vision tinged by the blood pouring into my eyes from my head. My left leg was folded up impossibly underneath me, and I knew that it had to be broken. I tried to breathe, but all I felt was a sharp, stabbing agony in my chest, and I couldn’t seem to inhale. I tried to move my arms, wanting to wipe my eyes, but movement sent streaks of pain ripping through my entire body like red-hot dull serrated knife blade. I screamed, and then everything went black.
I dreamed of a man, surrounded by bright light, a light so bright it permeated every atom of him and he glowed with it of his own accord. Was it God? Was it an angel? Was I going to hell? Was this just a trick of my brain caused by misfiring neurons due to head trauma? He was beautiful, with soft blonde hair and bright blue eyes. But he wore a cowboy hat, which seemed odd to me. He held out his hand and smiled gently at me. “Drink,” he said, and I drank the nectar of life from a golden chalice given to me by the hand of God. My throat burned.
I dreamed of a tunnel of light, and I was falling through it, falling into myself. There was a horrible wrenching sound, as if metal was being shredded into pieces. I felt wetness. Was it the lake? Was it blood? I didn’t have time to think, as pain poured over and into me as if my limbs were being torn off, and I screamed with bitter agony.
I dreamed of floating in a great blackness… I tasted the sweet taste of life itself, the smell of earth and loam, and peat so fresh and rich in my nose. I dreamed of flashing red and blue lights, and the cacophony of sirens. Wait, that wasn’t a dream, that was real! I peeled my eyelids open and saw a man kneeling over me, his eyes full of concern. By his uniform I knew he was a paramedic, and the flashing lights were an ambulance.
I tried to sit up. My head was pounding and Lord almighty, was I cold! “Don’t try to move, ma’am,” the paramedic told me, pressing me down. I gasped for breath, and inhaled deeply, the taste of air rich in my mouth. The rain poured down into my face, and I swallowed raindrops gratefully. I turned my head and saw my car, my perfect, beautiful, environmentally friendly little green hybrid, all its windows blown out, lying crumpled like a defeated warrior (ok, more like a defeated peasant) not ten feet away from me. “You were in an accident, ma’am. Can you wiggle your toes and fingers for me?” He was peering into my eyes with a small light.
I wiggled my digits, stunned to realize that I was lying flat on my back, my left leg no longer pinned underneath me. “How… how…” I tried to say, but my voice was nothing but a hoarse whisper.
“Don’t try to talk, ma’am, we’re going to take you to the hospital.” The two paramedics strapped me down to a back board, hooked me up to an IV, and loaded me onto a gurney. The whole thing seemed utterly surreal. Was this really me this was happening to? I thought I was dying, I thought I was broken. I felt myself break, didn’t I?
“My phone!” I called out hoarsely, as they began loading me into the ambulance. “Can you get it out of my car? I need to call my friends.”
He patted my arm in comfort as they shifted me into the vehicle. “It’s right here, ma’am, your bag and phone were in your lap when we got to you.”
In my lap? How did that happen? I could have sworn my phone was on the floorboard and my purse was in the passenger seat, but I was too cold and tired and dizzy to argue. The ride to the hospital was a complete blur, as I dozed in and out of consciousness.
I hated hospitals. I really did. The ambulance had rushed me off to Swedish Medical Center, where a bevy of doctors and nurses attended me, declaring my intact survival a veritable miracle.
A nurse was kind enough to dial Kat for me to let her know where I was and what had happened. “She’s on her way,” she assured me, patting my hand.
My head pounded with the mother of all headaches, and I was dizzy, but otherwise I felt whole. My beautiful silk dress was in tatters, and I had lost one shoe. I was given a drab hospital gown. I hated emergency rooms. They were positively morbid, but at a frenetic pace; I prefer my morbidity at a more funereal pace, when grief and pain were easily manageable.
The police came to question me about the accident while the ER was processing me. I asked the young officer about the man.
He looked at me in confusion. “What man?”
“The man I hit, of course! Or did I stop in time?” I sat up wearily, rubbing my temples, massaging my aching head.
He knew nothing about a pedestrian, but took note of it, trying to get a description out of me, but I couldn’t remember anything about him, other than he was a man, of that I was certain.
Finally, I was admitted to a room, “for overnight observation,” the doctor said. He seemed like a nice enough guy, for a doctor.
I lay in the bed impatiently, but obediently. Hospital beds are terribly uncomfortable and confining, and the smells of hospitals are not conducive to healing whatsoever. I should know, I visited my grandmother in her hospital-themed nursing home nearly every week, and she wasn’t getting any better. I was certain there was a link between the two.
After I’d been tossing and turning in that contraption the hospital dared to call a bed for a good twenty minutes Kat and Grant both came rushing into my room. “Oh thank god,” I sighed with relief. “Get me out of here! I can’t stand this place!” I looked at her pleadingly, reaching out my hand.
“Are you all right?” Kat asked. Her face was filled with concern as she sat on the edge of my bed and took my hand. Her short red hair was disheveled, and her eyes were puffy from crying.
I nodded. “I would be a lot better if I hadn’t taken my eyes off the road like an idiot to find my phone when you called me.” I shook my head ruefully.
She let out a nervous laugh. “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to talk and drive at the same time?” She bent over and hugged me fiercely. “Don’t freak me out like that ever again!” she half-laughed, half-cried.
Grant stood back, giving me the space he knew I liked, but he looked as concerned as Kat. Tall, handsome in a rugged, bearded way, with a thick thatch of unruly dark brown hair and bright blue eyes, he was such a loner I considered myself lucky sometimes that he even gave me the time of day. He was an urbanized mountain man, more comfortable in jeans and a flannel shirt than in a suit and tie. Right then, his blue eyes were filled with concern. “When Kat called me, I nearly lost it,” he said, shaking his head. “You’re not allowed to try and die on me, you hear?” he finished, gruffly.
I laughed tiredly. “Yeah, then who would you have to gripe about Pierre to?” I struggled to sit up, stiff and sore, but whole. Pierre was his cat. He was hardly what I would call a cuddly pussy cat. He was more like an attack cat with supreme jungle tendencies. He was a giant orange tabby that Grant had rescued, who was practically feral. Grant lived alone in a small house with his jungle kitty and a jungle’s worth of tropical plants. Tropical plants were his favorite; when he was younger he swore he was going to save the rain forest. Me, I preferred my herb garden. Grant claimed that Pierre had a tender cuddly side, but I had never seen it. I figured he just didn’t like anyone but Grant, and having been the recipient of cat scratch wounds in the past from trying, and failing miserably, to woo the beast to my side, my opinion was well founded. Guard dogs didn’t come any better than his cat.
He rolled his eyes and looked at Kat, relieved. “I think she’s going to be ok.” Kat nodded in tentative agreement.
“Oh sure,” I said, waiving my hand dismissively. “Rhiannon gets dumped, wrecks her car, but everything’s going to be all right because she’s not dead.” I smiled tightly.
Kat squeezed my hand comfortingly. “I’m so sorry, Rhi. What a jerk!”
I shrugged. “Wait, David dumped you?” Grant exclaimed. “Should I send Pierre over to pay him a little visit?”
I laughed out loud at that thought, imagining Pierre clawing his eyes out. Or chewing up his leather sofa. “No,” I gasped, catching my breath in between peals of laughter. “I couldn’t afford the lawsuit for damages.” I grinned. Kat and Grant both laughed.
Grant gave me a dark, mischievous look. “Or better yet, why don’t you set him up with whats-her-face…”
I groaned and rolled my eyes. The fact that I had set him up with one of my friends once was something he would never let me live down. He was a complicated man, and I had learned my lesson.
“Hey, you can’t blame me if Lisa was too high maintenance. I’ve never dated her, how was I to know?” I grumbled.
Grant rolled his eyes, and snorted. “Princess Lisa couldn’t find her way out of a paper bag without a GPS. It wasn’t the high maintenance, it was the lack of intelligence. Plus she doesn’t like cats, and she kicked a dog.”
I shrugged. “So my friends are dog kickers. At least they’re tree huggers,” I shot back.
“One friend!” Kat retorted. “I would never kick a dog,” she said solemnly, her hand over her heart.
“Ah, I see our miracle is feeling a little better,” said a voice from the door. My doctor stepped inside; or rather, one of the doctors I remembered from the emergency room. I couldn’t remember his name. He was a typical doctor, 40ish, wearing glasses and a lab coat, with a receding hairline and a bad comb-over. He held a clipboard which must have had my chart on it. “Dr. Mason,” he said, introducing himself and shaking hands with both Kat and Grant.
“Doctor, is she going to be all right?” asked Kat nervously, as if she doubted her own eyes and my affirming statements that I was.
He consulted my chart, as if it could tell him more than his own eyes could. “Well, outside of a bad bump to her head, she seems to be perfectly fine.”
“Oh thank god,” Kat breathed, slumping in relief, as the tension fled from her limbs. I think she must have been fueled by tension alone since the hospital called her.
“Her car, however, is probably a lost cause.” He scrutinized me with doctor’s eyes. “You, young woman, are incredibly lucky. Escaping uninjured from an accident like that is a one in a million chance. From what I hear, you should probably not have survived. Don’t take your luck for granted.” With that he nodded at me, as if to dismiss me. He turned towards my friends. “You can pick her up in the morning at nine, but visiting hours are officially over, so you’ll have to leave for the night.” On that note he left, giving us privacy to say our goodbyes.
Kat stood up with a sigh. She bent over and hugged me. “I’m so glad nothing happened to you. I’ll see you tomorrow, ok?”
“Can’t you just bust me out of here?” I complained. “I don’t want to be here.” I shifted uncomfortably in the horrid bed.
Grant shook his head. “Listen to the doc, hon. This is what he gets paid the big bucks for.” He patted my arm.
“My big bucks, you mean,” I grumbled. “Grant, remind me to talk to you about a group health plan.”
He laughed. “Tomorrow over breakfast,” he promised. “My treat. I’ll pick you up at nine. Want me to bring you a change of clothes?”
“Yes please, but take Kat with you, I don’t trust you to pick out something that matches.” I stuck my tongue out at him. Kat and Grant both had keys to my house. I trusted both of them with my life.
“Hey, I have great taste!” he said defensively.
Kat snorted. “Yeah, for plaid! Don’t worry, Rhi, I’ll hook you up. I’m working tomorrow, but I’ll call you when I get off, ok?”
The two of them left, leaving me to suffer alone in the depressive vibe of the hospital. I sighed, but rolled over to try and get some sleep. Sleep was fitful, at best, filled with interruptions as nurses checked my temperature, took my blood, gave me meds, and made sure I didn’t need any help to go to the bathroom (as if!). I was too hot, so I tossed my blankets off. I was too cold, so I pulled them back up. I finally managed to drift off to sweet oblivion after what seemed like hours of interruption and discomfort.
I dreamed I was running through a thick forest. The trees were ancient, with trunks thick and tall and gnarled with age, their branches lush and full with heavy evergreen needles. Moss fell elegantly from the branches, draping the forest floor with an uncultivated formality. The forest floor was spongy underneath my bare feet. The smells of fresh earth and pine wafted on the air. Dense underbrush surrounded me in all directions. I saw a man through the trees, far off in the distance, the man from the accident, blonde hair, blue eyed, wearing a cowboy hat. He looked at me, smiled, held out his hand, then turned and walked away. I called out to him to wait! I ran towards him, tearing my way through the underbrush. No matter how much ground I covered, he was always far away, not much more than a profile at the edge of my vision. He didn’t wait. I finally dropped to my knees, exhausted from running, my breath hot in my chest. Crushed pine needles dug into my kneecaps.
I woke up drenched in sweat. The room smelled like wet loam.