I looked in the mirror at my reflection for the third time. Ehhh. I poufed my hair a bit more with my brush and then sprayed my bangs with a bit more hairspray. That was it! I had to look perfect for tonight. It was my big 16th birthday and Hal was taking me out for dinner at a fancy restaurant, Ichaban, a popular sushi joint. I’d been looking forward to this big night for months; I’d even bought a new dress for the special occasion. Our first official date. Hal and I had seen each other a lot since we first met at the youth conference last summer – but it had always been in groups and mostly at church events. My parents had a strict rule about no dating until age 16. Not one on one dates anyway.
I had some time to spare so I grabbed my art book and pencil and picked up where I’d left off on a project I’d started a few weeks earlier – a montage of different women’s faces all blending into one another on the page. I really liked this drawing; in my humble opinion it was my best work so far. I felt inspired with all of the faces. I thumbed through all my previous drawings, starting with the stuff I had done as a child all the way to the newest montage. It was obvious how much I had improved over the years. I couldn’t wait to go to college to study art more intensely and even get into painting and sculpting too.
Mom knocked on my half open bedroom door. “Where’s Hal? Didn’t he say he would pick you up at 6?”
I glanced at my watch and was surprised to see that it was 6:10. I always lost track of time whenever I drew. “I’m sure he’ll be here any second.” I said putting away my artwork.
I went out to the front room. Pacing back and forth in front of the window, looking anxiously outside for approaching cars, I waited. “Where is he?” I mumbled to myself impatiently.
I looked at my watch again. It was 6:20 now. I really hated waiting. I was starting to get mad and I didn’t want to be mad on my birthday. This was supposed to be a good day! Hal was screwing it all up by being late!
Mom came into the room. “Still not here, honey?” she asked.
“No.” I replied with an unhappy sigh.
“I’m sure he’s just running late because he wants to look extra good for you tonight.” mom said, trying to cheer me up. “Maybe he stopped to get you flowers!”
I nodded. I stood at the front window with mom for a few more minutes, holding my breath each time I heard another car approaching.
Finally, I’d had it! “That’s it! I’m calling over to his house.” I stormed off in the direction of the kitchen.
I grabbed the phone from its cradle on the kitchen wall and punched in Hal’s phone number. My grip on the phone tightened as I waited, listening to the ringing on the other line, twirling the phone cord anxiously around my finger, willing someone on the other end to pick up.
Just then mom shouted from the living room. “Liz! He’s here! He just pulled up!”
I slammed the phone back in the cradle and ran to the living room. Sure enough, Hal was meandering up to the front door and he had a huge bouquet of flowers. Tulips, my favorite! All of my anger instantly melted away at the sight of him.
I opened the door before he had a chance to ring the bell and wrapped my arms around him, smashing the bouquet of tulips in the process.
“You’re so sweet!” I whispered in his ear.
“Happy Birthday!” Hal whispered back and then kissed my cheek.
I reached for the flowers. “Thank you.” I inhaled their scent deeply. “They smell so good!”
Then I noticed that Hal was holding something else - a box wrapped in pretty pink paper with a big white bow on the top.
“What’s in the box?” I asked excitedly.
“It’s a surprise!” Hal teased. “You can’t open it until later tonight, after dinner!”
“Ahhh!” I pretended to pout. “Do I really have to wait?”
“Yes!” Hal insisted.
“Hi Hal.” Mom was standing at the door and dad had joined her there too. “Let me put the flowers in a vase with some water for you, sweetie,” mom offered.
I handed the flowers over to mom and Hal handed the box to dad. “Could you hold this here for later, Mr. Johnson?”
“Sure Hal.” Dad took the box.
“Let’s get a photo of you two!” mom said already producing the camera.
“Ahhh, mom!” I complained. I really hated getting my picture taken.
“Indulge your mother,” dad said.
I looked at Hal and rolled my eyes in mom’s direction. But Hal just put his arm around me for the pose and smiled big at the camera. I couldn’t help but smile at him.
Mom took several pictures before she let us leave. “You kids have a nice time!” she told us finally.
Hal grabbed my hand and squeezed it. “Now come on! We’re going to be late for our dinner reservations!”
I grinned. I had completely forgotten about the fact that Hal had been late.
The restaurant was full of people. The lighting was low and romantic, little candles flickered at each table. The maître de led us to our table and then Hal pulled my chair out for me. He sat next to me instead of across from me. As we waited for our waiter to arrive Hal took my hands in his and looked deeply into my eyes.
“Liz,” he started, “You look amazing tonight!”
"Thanks." I couldn't help but blush at his compliment.
"I think I’m the luckiest guy in the world." Hal squeezed my hands.
“I’m the lucky one!” I told him.
“I love you!” he blurted out.
My eyes widened at his sudden announcement. And then I smiled. He’d hinted at saying he loved me before but this was the first time he was actually saying the words out loud to me! “I love you too!” I whispered. I had imagined telling him so a thousand times.
“Oh good!” Hal said, relaxing a bit. “I was afraid you might not say it back!”
I laughed and then kissed him. “That’s silly!” You know I’m crazy about you!”
“I know. I’ve just never told anyone I loved them before.” Hal admitted, “Besides my mom and dad that is!”
I laughed again. “Well I’m glad I’m your first!”
“And there’s my grandma and grandpa too.” He continued listing family members who he’d told he loved.
I playfully punched him in the arm.
“Let’s order! I’m starving!” I picked up my menu. It was hard to concentrate on the words though. I couldn’t believe we had just finally said that we loved each other! Tonight was turning out to be a dream come true.
Dinner consisted of my favorites: spicy tuny and salmon rolls and for dessert chocolate cake with ice cream and hot fudge sauce. The restaurant staff put a candle in it and sang Happy Birthday to me as I sat red faced and embarrassed. At the end of the meal, I was absolutely stuffed and as happy as could be.
“That could very well have been the best meal of my life!” I told Hal as we exited the restaurant. It was dark outside now.
“Good!” Hal laughed. “That was my goal!” He opened the car door for me.
“Such a gentleman!” I teased him as I slid into the seat.
Hal grinned as he shut the door. In a second he was sliding into his seat.
“Ok, Birthday Girl!” he said as he started the car, “It’s time to go home and open your surprise!”
“I can’t wait!” I waited a beat and then asked, “What is it?”
“It’s a surprise, silly!” Hal chided me.
“I know!” I grinned over at him, “I just have to keep trying!”
Hal ginned back at me. “I’m not that easily broken!” he laughed. He started up the car and pulled out of the restaurant parking lot.
Hal turned the radio on and started to sing along to the music, trying to get me to join in with him. I just laughed and rolled my eyes.
“I have an idea! Let’s go park up at the summit.” Hal suggested seemingly out of the blue.
“Ok…” I was surprised. The summit was where guys and girls went to make out. Hal and I had certainly kissed before, but we’d never had a make out session! The butterflies in my stomach went crazy at the thought.
Hal made a turn at the next light and started heading in the direction of the summit instead of my house. He went back to singing along to the new song playing on the radio. I looked at him and smiled. I really was the lucky one!
Suddenly, Hal was illuminated by the headlights of another car. The car seemed to be coming at us fast, way too fast. It wasn’t slowing down! My stomach clenched as the realization hit me – we were about to be in a car crash. I tried to reach out and warn Hal but there was no time. The impact of the other car jerked my body viciously away from Hal. A strange sound escaped from my throat. In horror, I couldn’t seem to catch a breath. I watched helplessly as our car spun around and around in the middle of the intersection. Was this really happening?
As our car finally came to a stop, I tried moving, but couldn’t. I struggled to at least look in Hal’s direction, but I couldn’t even seem to move my head. My eyes widened with fear and confusion as a frightening thought came to my mind - I'm paralyzed! “Hal!” I tried to call out, but the sound that came out was more of a croak than a word. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Hal!”
Nothing. No answer from Hal.
I tried harder to turn my head. Painfully, little by little, I was able to turn enough to see Hal from out of the corner of my eye. He was slumped over the steering wheel. His side of the car looked very odd, crumpled and dented in. I couldn't see his eyes but blood was running down Hal's head to the steering wheel.
Starting to really panic, I looked outside for help, but saw nothing other than the car that had just hit us. It was also in the middle of the intersection, its headlights a spotlight on us, blinding me, turning the night into day. I couldn’t see into the car, I couldn’t see the other driver. Was he hurt too? Pinned in his car like we were?
I tried again to move my head, my hands, anything. But everything felt so heavy. I just couldn’t make my body work like normal. And then, I started feeling a dull ache in my left leg. The ache grew quickly into a sharp pain. I whimpered and tears came to my eyes. My breathing started to become ragged and uneven. I was hyperventilating, just like when I had gotten thrown in the lake last summer. The shock of what had just happened was too much. Mercifully, like in a dream, everything started to fade away. The pain, the fear, the bright lights all faded away. The night turned black again, the way it should be.
I knew I was drifting in and out of a dream. A nightmare more like it. Everything was fuzzy. Bright lights, screeching metal, pain, and blood. And then a man. He was laughing. He seemed to be crazy. He scared me. I had the overwhelming feeling that I needed to get away. Far away. As fast as I could. But I couldn’t move. Soon the blackness took over again.
What seemed like days later, I heard a soothing voice, calling me from the blackness. “Lizzzz…”
I wanted to answer to the voice, but my throat didn’t seem to be working. I groaned. Oh! So much pain!
“She’s coming to!” the voice said.
I tried to open my eyes but they felt welded shut. It took all of my effort to just crack them open a tiny bit.
The first thing I saw was a man in a white coat peering down at me. Next to him, a woman in a nurse’s uniform was busying checking me over. And then I noticed mom and dad, standing off to the side, eyes dark, lips pinched .
“Wha…” I tried to speak, to ask what was going on, but it came out as a croak. The nurse immediately poured a glass of water for me and put it to my lips.
“Drink this.” The nurse instructed.
I did as I was told. The water felt cool and soothing going down my dry throat. It was hard to swallow and I coughed, sputtering a couple of times.
“What’s happening?” I managed to get out after clearing my throat a few times. My throat hurt and my voice sounded raw and gruff.
“You were in an accident, sweetie,” mom said. “But you’re going to be just fine,” she added quickly, trying her best to smile. “You have a few bumps and bruises...”
I tried to move, to sit up and take stock of myself but fresh pain shot through my body. I groaned and collapsed.
“She needs more pain killer!” mom insisted, looking frantically back and forth at both the doctor and the nurse.
The doctor nodded to the nurse and the nurse complied. I watched in a daze as she increased the dosage of the drip that I realized was attached to my arm. The pain dulled and I relaxed back into my pillow.
And then I thought of Hal. I had been with Hal. Driving. To the summit. “Where’s Hal?” I asked.
No one in the room replied. Instead they all exchanged nervous glances with each other. I felt alarm creeping in. Why were they looking at each other like that? Why wouldn’t they say anything?
“What?” I asked anxiously.
More silence and nervous looks.
“Just tell me!” I demanded, starting to get upset.
Mom sat herself down on the right side of my bed and took my hand gently in hers. She pursed her lips together, looked back at her father and then at me again. “I’m so sorry honey.” she started saying, and then she paused again. She pinched her eyes shut and grimaced and then opened her eyes, looking intently at me now. “Hal didn’t make it, sweetie. The other car hit his side of the car and with so much speed and force - he died instantly.”
“He didn’t suffer at all” the doctor said, as if that made it all ok.
I glared at the doctor. They had gotten it wrong somehow. I had just spent the best night of my life with Hal. How could he be gone if I was still here?
I looked at dad for help, but dad just nodded with tears welling up in his eyes. Dad never cried! He sat himself down in the chair next to my bed and stroked my hair, like he had done when I had been just a little girl. “I’m sorry Liz!” he whispered.
My anger and confusion built. And then I thought of the driver in the other car. This was all his fault! “WHO was in the other car?” I demanded.
No one said anything again; they all continued to nervously glance at one another, unsure of how to proceed with me.
I started remembering bits and pieces of the accident, the lights and the blood, and hearing the cars colliding and the glass breaking. I balled my fists up tightly and clenched my teeth. The fury I was feeling was overwhelming. I looked for something to let my anger out on. I grabbed the half empty glass of water on the bedside table and threw it across the room. It crashed against the wall, the glass breaking into a million little pieces. Just the way my heart felt. I screamed and screamed and screamed. At no one and at everyone.
The doctor pulled out a needle then and stuck me with it.
“What the fuck?” I cried out.
“Liz!” My mother chastised me. “Watch your language!”
I wanted to tell her to fuck off but I felt overwhelmingly sleepy all of the sudden and I just couldn’t muster the energy to bother.
“Honey, you need to sleep.” The nurse told me, giving me an empathetic smile.
I wanted to tell her to fuck off too. But everything was fading fast.
Mom stroked my hair. “It will all be ok.” she said with a tear running down her cheek. “You’ll see. Just give it some time.”
Then the tears started flowing, blurring my already fuzzy vision. “No!” I whimpered. And then I was out like a light.
I woke sometime the next day, groggy and confused, not immediately remembering where I was or what had happened. But unfortunately it all came rushing back. And then came the tears. Lots and lots of tears.
I could barely manage to talk to anyone who came into the room. I barely ate anything. I retreated deeper and deeper inside my shell. I had encountered death only once before. When I was nine years old, I’d barely had my first and only puppy for a month when one day, as we played in the front yard, Scruffy took off chasing after a car driving down the street. I would never forget the way the poor puppy yelped and limped around afterwards. I had run inside yelling for my father who had quickly come outside, picked Scruffy up, placed him in a blanket in the car and then rushed the puppy off to the vet. I had just assumed that the vet would mend Scruffy’s broken bones. But then my father had come home without Scruffy and explained that Scruffy had been injured too severely and had died. I'd been absolutely heartbroken.
This was much, much worse.
I felt raw and broken and empty. I felt hopeless and lost. Nothing made sense anymore. I kept seeing images of Hal, laughing or smiling. I kept replaying how we met, all of our conversations, and our last time together. I just couldn’t believe he was gone! I kept thinking that he would walk into my hospital room at any minute and reassure me that it had all been a bad dream. But he didn’t come.
Somehow, I knew that this was all my fault. I turned to wondering how I could have kept this tragedy from happening. If he hadn’t taken me out for my birthday, he would still be here. If I had said no to going up to the summit, he would still be here.
The tears refused to stop no matter how hard I tried. I would just start to feel like I was getting myself under control and then the littlest thing would set me off again. With no warning I would just burst into tears. The nurse would come into my room whistling and I would fall apart. I pretty much cried all day every day for the 3 days that I was in the hospital.
When I finally got released from the hospital, I got home only to feel fresh new pain when I saw the surprise birthday gift from Hal, the box sat there on the kitchen counter, completely forgotten. It took a couple of days before I finally got up the nerve to open it. Inside the box sat a little homemade chocolate frosted birthday cake. It was a sad looking little cake, kind of sloppily made, but it said “Happy Birthday Liz! Love Hal” on the top. I knew that Hal had made it for me and it was priceless. I could never eat it.
The following days passed in a blur for me. The day of Hal’s funeral I decided that I wasn’t going to cry anymore. I’d cried enough tears for a lifetime in the past few days and I was sick of it. I was going to be a rock from now on. So I stood there at the grave site like a robot with my parents and watched as Hal’s casket was lowered into the ground.
I was still on heavy duty pain medication and using crutches to get around and I’d barely even been able to make it to the funeral. I had more than a few bumps and bruises from the crash. I’d gotten a concussion and my left leg was broken in two spots. I had to wear a giant cast. Oh, I’d had plenty of bumps and bruises all over my body too. Everyone told me how lucky I was. But all I could think about was how unlucky Hal had been. It just wasn’t right.
Hals parent’s stood on the other side of the grave. They never really looked at me. Maybe they blamed me too. I could certainly understand that.
After the funeral was over, Laura sat with me in her car.
“Do you know how he first told me that he loved me?” I asked Laura, smiling at the memory.
Laura had heard the story before but she shook her head. “How?”
“Well, he told me at the restaurant that night,” I paused to take a breath and hold the tears back, “but that wasn’t really the first time. The first time was in a letter. You know how we used to write letters to each other all the time because we lived so far away?” Laura nodded. “Well, in this one letter, he signed off “Love, Hal” and then below that he wrote “P.S. You better!”
Laura laughed. “That’s so cute!”
“I know…” I grinned, thinking back. I reminisced in silence, my smile slowly fading.
“Hal was one of a kind.” I admitted. “I’ll never find anyone else like him ever again.”
“Don’t say that!” Laura tried to encourage me. “You’ll meet someone someday who will be completely different than Hal but special in his own way!” She patted my leg reassuringly. “You’ll fall in love again. I know you will.”
“I don’t know, Laura…” I trailed off. I couldn’t imagine it. “I feel like I’ve been cursed in love.”
I'm a romantic at heart with an overactive creative mind and an artistic soul. I've always been an avid reader - I read as much as I can as often as I can! Writing has been a life long dream that I haven't allowed myself to pursue until just recently. In April I finally published my first novel - Naupaka Blooming, a Hawaiian Reincarnation Romance. And now I'm working on the first book in a new fantasy thriller series called Summer's Shadow.