Crashed, p.3
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       Crashed, p.3

           K. Bromberg

  “Shh-shh-shh!” It’s Andy’s voice, Andy’s arms that are holding me tight, trying to soothe and control me at the same time. And the only thing I can focus on—can grasp onto as my heart races and body shakes with anger—is that I need a pit stop. I need to find Colton. I need to touch him, to see him, to quiet the turmoil in my soul.

  But I can’t.

  He’s somewhere close, my rebellious rogue unable to let go of the damaged little boy within. The man who has just started healing is now broken, and it kills me that I won’t be able to fix him. That my murmured words of encouragement and patient nature won’t be able to repair the immobile and unresponsive body that was loaded onto that stretcher and rushed to somewhere within these walls—so close yet so very far away from me. That he has to rely on strangers to mend and heal him now. Strangers that have no idea of the invisible scar tissue that still lingers beneath the surface.

  More hands reach out to touch and soothe me, Dorothea’s and Quinlan’s, but they’re not the ones I want. They’re not Colton’s.

  And then a terrifying thought hits me. Every time Colton is near, I can feel that tingle—the buzz that tells me he’s just within reach—but I can’t feel anything. I know he’s physically close, but his spark is nonexistent.

  Be my spark, Ry. I can hear his voice say it, can feel the memory of his breath feather over my skin … but I can’t feel him.

  “I can’t!” I shout. “I can’t be your spark if I can’t feel yours, so don’t you dare burn out on me.” I don’t care that I’m in a room full of people, being turned around and encircled into Dorothea’s arms, because the only one who I want to hear me, can’t. And knowing that causes desperation to consume every part of me not already frozen with fear. I fist my hands into the back of Dorothea’s jacket, clinging to her while I plead with her son. “Don’t you dare die on me, Colton! I need you dammit!” I shout into the now sterile silence of the waiting room. “I need you so much that I’m dying right here, right now without you!” My voice cracks just like my heart, and as much as Dorothea’s arms, Quinlan’s hushed murmurs, and Andy’s quiet resolve helps, I just can’t handle it all.

  I push away and stare at them before I stumble blindly down the hall. I know I’m losing it. I’m so numb, so hollow, that I don’t even have the energy to argue with Beckett and refire the hatred I feel for Tawny. If I’m to blame for Colton being here, then she sure as fuck needs to share some of that blame too.

  I turn the corner to head toward the bathroom and have to push myself to move. I press my hands against the wall for support or else I’ll collapse. I remind myself to breathe, tell myself to put one foot in front of the other, but it’s nearly impossible when the only thought my mind can focus on is that the man I love is fighting for his life, and I can’t do a goddamn thing about it. I’m hopeless and powerless.

  I’m dying inside.

  My guiding hands hit a doorjamb, and I stagger between its frame and into the nearest stall, welcoming the cocooning silence of the empty bathroom. I unbutton my shorts, and when I shimmy them over my hips, my eyes catch sight of the checkered pattern on my panties. My body wants to quit, wants to slide to the floor and sink into oblivion, but I don’t. Instead, my hands grip onto the belt loops of the shorts still hanging off of my hips. I can’t catch my breath fast enough. I start to hyperventilate and get dizzy, so I brace my hands against the wall but nothing helps as the panic attack hits me full force.

  You can bet your ass that’s one checkered flag I’m definitely claiming.

  I welcome the memorized sound of his voice. I let his rumble permeate through me like the glue I need to hold my broken self together. My breath drags in ragged rasps between my lips as I try to hold onto the memory—that incredible grin and the boyish mischief in his eyes—before he kissed me one last time. I bring my fingers to my lips wanting to make a connection with him, fear of the unknown weighing heavy in my heart.

  “Rylee?” The voice jolts me to the here and now and I just want her to go away. I want her to leave me intact with my memory of the warmth of his skin, taste of his kiss, possession in his touch. “Rylee?”

  There’s a knock on the stall door. “Mmm-hmm?” is all I can manage because my breathing is still forced and irregular.

  “It’s Quin.” Her voice is soft and uneven, and it kills me to hear the break in it. “Ry, please come out …”

  I reach forward and unlock the door, and she pushes it open looking at me oddly, her tear stained face and smudged mascara only emphasizing the devastation looming in her eyes. She purses her lips and starts laughing, in a way that’s borderline hysterical so when it echoes off of the tile walls around us all I hear is despair and fear. She points to my half-shoved down shorts and checkered panties and keeps laughing, the tears staining her cheeks an odd contrast to the sound coming from her mouth.

  I start laughing with her. It’s the only thing I can do. Tears won’t come, fear won’t abate, and hope is wavering as the first laugh falls from my lips. It feels so wrong. Everything is just so wrong and within an instant, Quinlan—the woman who hated me at first sight—reaches out and wraps her arms around me while her laughter turns into sobs. Gut wrenching hiccups of unfettered fear. Her tiny frame shakes as her anguish intensifies.

  “I’m so scared, Rylee.” It’s the only thing she can manage to get out between hitches of breath, but it’s all she needs to say because it’s exactly how I feel. The defeat in her posture, the fortitude of her grief, the strength in her grip reflects the fear that I’m not able to express, so I cling to her with everything I have—needing that connection more than anything.

  I hug her and soothe her as best as I can, trying to lose myself in the role of patient counselor I know so well. It’s so much easier to assuage someone else’s despair than to face my own. She tries to pull away, but I just can’t let go. I don’t have the wherewithal to walk out the doors and wait for the doctor to report news I’m terrified to hear.

  I fasten my shorts and look up to meet my own reflection in the mirror. I can see the haunting memories flickering in my eyes. My mind flashes to a shattered rearview mirror, sun reflecting on its blood-specked, jagged edges as Max gurgles his last breath. And then my mind grasps onto a happier memory with another mirror. One used in the heat of passion to demonstrate why I’m enough for Colton. Why he chooses me.

  “C’mon,” she whispers, breaking my trance as she releases me but moves her hand down to wrap around my waist. “I don’t want to miss an update.”

  Time has stretched. Each minute feels like an hour. And each of the three hours that have passed feel like an eternity. Each swoosh of the doors has us all startling and then sinking back down. Empty Styrofoam cups spill over the wastebasket. Fire suits have been unzipped and tied around waists as the waiting room grows stuffy. Cell phones ring incessantly with people searching for updates. But there’s still no news.

  Beckett sits with Andy. Dorothea has Quinlan on one side of her and Tawny on the other. The waiting room is full of hushed murmurs and the television plays background to my thoughts. I sit by myself and except for the constant texts from Haddie, I welcome the solitude so I don’t have to comfort or be comforted—the schizophrenia in my mind only getting louder with each passing second.

  My stomach churns. I’m hungry but the thought of food makes me nauseous. My head pounds but I welcome the pain, welcome the drum of it to count to as I try to speed up time. Or slow it down—whichever is to the benefit of Colton.

  The electronic beep of the door. The squeak of shoes. I don’t even open my eyes this time.

  “I have an update on Mr. Donavan.” The voice jolts me. Feet shuffle as the guys stand and an understated anxiety hums through the room in anticipation of what is going to be said.

  Fear grips me. I can’t stand. Can’t move. I’m so petrified of the words that are going to pass through his lips that I force a swallow down my throat but remain paralyzed with trepidation

  I squeeze my hands, gripp
ing them into the bare flesh of my thighs, trying to use the pain to bury the memories. Willing the past to not repeat itself—to not trade one wrecked car with a man that I love for another.

  He clears his throat and I suck in a breath—praying, hoping, needing some kind of scrap to hold on to. “Let me just say that scans are still ongoing at this point but from what we can tentatively see, it’s obvious that Mr. Donavan has suffered a sudden deceleration injury with an internal organ disruption from the force in which he hit the catch fence. The injury occurs because the body is forcibly stopped but the organs inside the body remain in motion due to the inertia. From what we can tell …”

  “English, please,” I whisper. My mind tries to comprehend the medical jargon, knowing that if I wasn’t swimming in this fog of uncertainty, I’d be able to process it. He stops at my comment and even though I can’t lift my eyes to meet his, I say it louder this time. “English, please, doctor.” Fear overwhelms me. I cautiously lift my eyes to meet his, the crew turning to look at me while I stare at the doctor. “We’re all very worried here and while you may understand what you’re saying, the terminology is scaring the shit out of us...” my voice fades and he nods kindly, “...our minds are too overwhelmed to process this all right now … it’s been a long wait for us while you’ve been with him … so can you please just tell us in simple terms?”

  He smiles gently at me but his eyes are grave. “When Colton hit the wall, the car stopped—his body stopped—but his brain kept going, slamming into the skull surrounding it. Fortunately he was wearing a HANS device which helped to protect the connection between his spine and his neck, but the injury he sustained is serious nonetheless.”

  My heart races and my breath labors as a million different possible outcomes flicker through my mind.

  “Will he …?” Andy moves into my view facing the doctor and asks the question he can’t complete. Silence descends upon the room and the nervous shifting of feet stops as we all wait for the answer with baited breath.

  “Mr. Westin, I presume?” the doctor asks as he holds out his hand to a nodding Andy. “I’m Dr. Irons. I’m not going to lie to you … your son’s heart arrested—stopped twice during transport.”

  I feel as if the bottom of my soul has dropped out with those words. Don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me. I plead silently, willing the words to hit him somewhere within the confines of this hospital.

  Andy reaches out and squeezes Dorothea’s hand.

  “We were able to get his heart regulated after a bit which is a good sign as we were afraid that possibly his aorta had torn from the force of the impact. At this point in time we know that he has a subdural hematoma.” The doctor looks up and meets my eyes before continuing. “This means that the blood vessels ruptured and the area between his brain and the skull is filling with blood. The situation is twofold because Colton’s brain is swelling from the trauma of hitting his skull. At the same time, the pooling blood is putting pressure on his brain because there is nowhere for it to escape to relieve said pressure.” Dr. Irons scans the eyes of the crew surrounding him. “At this time he’s more stable than not, so we are prepping him for surgery. It’s imperative that we go in and relieve the pressure on his brain to try and stop the swelling.”

  I watch Dorothea reach over and cling to Andy for support, the obvious unconditional love for her son pulls on my every emotion.

  “How long is the surgery? Is he conscious? Were there any other injuries?” Beckett speaks for the first time, rapidly firing off the questions we are all thinking.

  Dr. Irons swallows and steeples his fingers in front of him while meeting Beckett’s eyes. “As for other injuries, just minor ones in comparison to the head injury. He is not conscious nor has he regained consciousness at this time. He was in the typical comatose state we see with these injuries—mumbling incoherently, struggling against us—in very sporadic bouts. As for everything else, we’ll know more when we get into surgery and see how bad the bleed on the brain is.”

  Beckett exhales the breath he’s been holding, and I can see his shoulders slump with its release, although I’m unsure if it’s in relief or resignation. None of the doctor’s words have made the dread weighing down the pit of my soul lessen any. Quinlan steps forward and grabs Becks’ hand as she glances over at her parents before asking the one thing we all fear. “If the swelling doesn’t stop with the surgery...” her voice wavers, Beckett pressing a brotherly kiss onto the top of her head in encouragement “...what … does that mean? What I’m trying to say is you’re talking brain injury here so what is the prognosis?” Her breath hitches with a swallowed sob. “What are Colton’s chances?”

  The doctor sighs aloud and looks at Quinlan. “At this time, before we go into surgery and see if there is any damage, I’m not comfortable giving one.” The strangled gasp that comes from Andy breaks the silence. Dr. Irons steps forward and places a hand on his shoulder until Andy looks up and meets his eyes. “We are doing absolutely everything we can. We are very practiced in this sort of thing and are giving your son every benefit of that training. Please understand that I’m not giving a percentage because it’s a lost cause, but rather because I need to see more to know what we’re up against. Once I know, then we can establish a game plan and go from there.” Andy nods subtly at him, rubbing a hand over his eyes, and Dr. Irons looks up and scans the faces of everyone in the room. “He is strong and healthy and that’s always a good thing to have on our side. It’s more than obvious Colton is loved by many people … please know I carry that knowledge into the operating room with me.” With that he gives a tight smile then turns and leaves the room.

  Upon his departure, no one moves. We are all still in shock.

  All still letting the severity of his words slither into the holes poked through our resolve. People slowly start moving and shifting as thoughts meld and emotions attempt to settle.

  But I’m unable to.

  He’s alive. Not dead like Max. Alive.

  The dull ache of relief I feel is nothing compared to the sharp stab of the unknown. And it’s not enough to assuage the fear seated deep in the depths of my soul. I start to feel the leeching claws of claustrophobia burn over my skin. I blow out a long breath trying to abate the sweat beading on my upper lip and sliding down the line of my spine. My breath slips from my lungs without replenishing my body.

  Images flicker again. Max to Colton. Colton to Max. Blood tricking slowly from his ear. At the corners of his mouth. Flecking in specks across the shattered car. My name strangling on his lips. His pleas scarring my mind. Etching them like a brand marked to haunt me forever.

  The sprinkling of unease turns into a downpour of panic. I need fresh air. I need a break from the oppression that is smothering this goddamn waiting room. I need color and vibrancy—something full of vigor and life like Colton—something other than the monochromatic colors and overwhelming memories.

  I push myself up and all but run out of the waiting room ignoring Beckett’s call after me. I stagger blindly toward the exit because this time the whoosh of the doors calls to me, offers a respite from the hysteria siphoning my hope.

  You make me feel, Rylee …

  I stumble through the doors, the memory feathering through my soul but hitting me like a sucker punch to the abdomen. I gasp loudly, pain radiating through my every synapse. I draw in a ragged breath, needing something, anything to help recoup the faith I need to face the reality that Colton might not make it through the surgery. The night. The morning.

  I shake my head to rid the poison eating my thoughts when I turn the corner of the building and am thrown into a maelstrom. I swear there are over a hundred cameras that flash all at once. The roar of questions thunders so loudly that I’m blasted by a tidal wave of noise. I’m surrounded immediately, my back pressed against the wall as microphones and cameras are shoved in my face documenting my slowly depleting grip on reality.

  “Is it true they’re issuing Colton his last rites?”

/>   Words trap in my throat.

  “What is the status between you and Mr. Donavan?”

  Anger intensifies but I’m overwhelmed by the deluge.

  “Is it true that Colton’s on his death bed and his parents are at his side?”

  My lips open and close, my fists clench, eyes burn, soul tears, and my faith in humanity crumbles. I know I look like a deer in the headlights, but I’m trapped. I know that if I thought I felt the claws of claustrophobia inside, I feel the cinch of my windpipe as the hands of the media squeeze the air from me. My breath comes in short sharp bouts. The blue sky spins above as my mind warps it into a lazy eddy, blackness starts to seep through as my conscious fades.

  Just as I am about to sink into the welcoming oblivion, strong arms wrap around me and prevent my crash to the ground. My weight slams into Sammy’s like a freight train, and memories spear through my mind of the last time I fell into the arms of a man. Bittersweet images flicker of lost auction paddles and jammed closet doors. Vibrant green eyes and an arrogant, self-assured grin.

  Rogue. Rebel. Reckless.

  Sammy’s voice breaks through my clouded mind as he chastises the press. “Back off!” he grunts as he supports my dead weight, arm around my waist. “We’ll give an update when we have one.” Flashes reignite the sky.

  Again, the whoosh of doors, but this time I don’t cringe. The beast on the inside is much more palpable then the one outside. My breath begins to even some and my heart decelerates. I am pushed down into a chair, and when I look up Sammy’s eyes meet mine, searching for something.

  “What in the hell do you think you were doing? They could’ve eaten you alive,” he swears. It is such a flagrant show of emotion from the otherwise stoic bodyguard that I realize my mistake in going outside. I’m still finding my footing in Colton’s very public world; and then I feel horrible because while I’ve been in the waiting room surrounded by everyone, I realize Sammy’s been out here by himself making sure that we’re left alone and undisturbed.

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