Chapter 17: The Wreck
Blink. The bright lights swirl under the eyelids even as they close again.
I was sitting in another school, an hour from home, getting ready to for another awards ceremony. There was no chance of me ending up on the stage this time but James, who was sitting next to me, looked anxious for the first time since I'd met him. This wasn't like any other speech and debate tournament though, this was a regional tournament which could lead to the state tournament and eventually the national tournament - if he placed. I smiled at him and gave his hand a squeeze as my cell phone buzzed in my pocket. I pulled it out and saw Veronica's name on the caller ID but slid it back into my pocket as one of the hosts walked on to stage. Several minutes later my phone buzzed again - Veronica. It was unusual but not unheard of for her to call me several times in some sort of imagined panic about what to wear to school so I ignored it again. She knew I was out of town and couldn't be much help to her anyway. As the awards were being presented, the phone buzzed again - this time it was a text message from Veronica. "Call me now!" Three little words that suddenly made me very anxious. This wasn't an imagined panic on her part. "Be right back." I whispered to James and slid past him and quietly out of the auditorium, punching in Veronica's number as I walked.
"Todd has been in a wreck!" Veronica all but shouted as a way of answering her phone.
"What!?" I said loudly, slipping into an empty classroom. "What happened?"
"I don't know exactly, but there was fire and he's on his way to the hospital. When will you be home?" Veronica explained quickly. "No that way!" she added, clearly not to me.
"Um..." I said trying to process it, the ceremony would take at least another hour plus the drive and waiting on the rest of the team and everything else. "It could be a few hours." I said finally.
"Well you should get home, we're at the hospital now, I gotta go." she said and clicked her phone off.
I stared at the phone confused and felt warm tears form in my eyes. "Ginny?" I jumped as James appeared behind me. I hadn't even heard him come in the classroom. I turned to face him and he took in my tears and wiped them away with his thumb. "What's wrong?"
"A friend of mine...Todd, remember him?" I asked knowing he would. "He was in a car wreck tonight. Veronica doesn't know anything really." My brain was trying to figure out how to get back home as fast as possible. "I need to get home, I need to see him...." I said mostly to myself as I prepared to dial Information and get a cab.
James put his hand over mine to stop my dialing. "I'll take you home Ginny." he said simply.
"But the awards' ceremony, you could win..." I protested.
"And it can be accepted by one of my teammates or a coach. There will be other award ceremonies. Come on, call your dad to make sure he doesn't have a problem and I'll go tell my coach I'm leaving." James said. He kissed me quickly on the cheek and left before I could protest anymore so I did what he said and called my dad.
My dad said he was on his way to the hospital with Mrs. Anderson now and it was fine. "Just be careful kiddo." he added, I suspected he was thinking of Todd as he said it. In the background I could hear Todd's mom crying.
"I will" I said as James returned carrying my bag and his. "I'll be home soon Dad." I said and ended the call while following James out to the parking lot.
I was quiet during the return trip, thinking about Todd and worried for him. I wondered if he'd been drinking or not. I wondered if he was okay. I wondered a lot of things as I stared out the window into the night. James didn't try to interrupt my thoughts. Occasionally he would put a hand on my hand and just hold it tenderly but he never said anything, clearing sensing that I wasn't ready to talk. Before I realized we were close, James was parking the car and came around to open the door for me.
I ran into the hospital and saw Timothy and Veronica standing awkwardly together while Mrs. Anderson, my dad and a couple of medical staff were talking near the desk. Veronica saw me and pointed to the room where Todd was - I knew they'd stop me if I tried to go in so I just walked over to look in the windowed ICU room.
At first, he seemed mostly unscathed but as I watched him I noticed small things like the bruise forming on his head, and the tip of the cut I could see on his neck. I wondered if most of the damage was under the covers and found myself staring at the shape of the lump under the blanket. Was his arm at an odd angle? What about his leg? Did he break something? I realized I wouldn't be able to figure it out and slowly backed away from the window. My dad saw me and nodded but stayed by Mrs. Anderson's side. I could see her trembling as the doctor spoke and wondered what he was telling her.
James was sitting in the small waiting area and Timothy and Veronica were sharing a bench together, Timothy had a comforting arm around Veronica. I wanted to smile at the moment but I couldn't so I simply sat down next to James. He immediately put an arm around me and pulled me close to him.
"Thank you." I said softly.
"Anything for you." he said quietly.
The four of us sat there in silence for several minutes while the doctors continued to talk to Mrs. Anderson. I wanted to badly to know what was wrong with Todd but no one came to update us. Eventually my dad came over and took a seat, followed closely by Mrs. Anderson. "You guys can go in and see him now, but only one at a time." she said, her voice breaking with each word. The others turned to look at me, clearly expecting me to go first.
James and I stood in unison. "Thank you for bringing me home James..." I said. I knew his phone had buzzed a few times and he was ignoring it, I suspected his parents were waiting on him. "You should probably get home." I said with a weak smile.
James nodded but didn't move, reluctant to leave. "I should." he finally said.
I gave him a tight hug. "Thank you, I really appreciate it." I said holding on to him.
"Anytime m'lady." he whispered. "I'll call you." he said, kissing my cheek once more. He waved to the others and was gone before I'd made it to the door of Todd's room. I slid the door open quietly and was thrilled to see Todd's eyes open, though dazed looking.
As I was about the slide the door shut, I heard a couple of the nurses talking at the desk. I lingered a second longer in closing the door as the words "drunk" and "driving" reached my ears. I closed my eyes briefly, collecting myself and finished closing the door and turned back to face Todd.
"Good to see you awake." I said. "How do you feel?"
Todd struggled to sit up some as I got closer to his bed. "Been better" he croaked. His voice was rough.
"What happened Todd?" I asked, hoping the nurses had been talking about another patient or something completely unrelated to Todd.
"What do you think?" Todd asked still fussing with the bed and trying to get comfortable.
"I don't know what to think. I don't like what I think might have happened." I said adjusting the blankets around him. "We're you drinking?" I asked finally.
Todd stopped messing with the blankets and bed and wouldn't meet my eyes.
"We're you drinking Todd?" I asked again. Todd didn't reply and I knew. "You were. You were driving drunk...did you hurt anyone else?"
"No!" Todd shouted. "I ran into a tree!" he said and started messing with the blankets again. His right leg was exposed for a moment and I could see that at least the foot was wrapped for a burn. I gasped and stumbled back.
"Oh Todd...." I said softly, shaking my head. Todd followed my gaze and quickly covered his foot with the blanket.
"Just go Ginny." Todd said leaning back and looking away from me.
I hesitated for some time, trying to find the words - any words really but I couldn't. I stepped forward and took his hand in mine and squeezed it gently. "Please get better soon." I whispered and then retreated out into the waiting area. Veronica and Timothy looked at me expectantly but I just waved them to his room so they could see for themselves. I didn't know what to say or maybe I didn't want to say anything.
Eventually we all went home. I sat quietly in my dad's car as we drove home feeling lost and confused about Todd. I felt my dad's eyes on me several times, but like James he didn't try to interrupt my solitude. He didn't ask me about Todd or the tournament as we walked into the house together and he didn't try to stop me as I retreated to my room.
Several days later, Todd was finally released from the hospital. He had burns on the lower part of his legs but chances were they would heal for the most part. His bruises were turning a sickly golden color and the deeper cuts had been stitched up and treated. Everyone said he was lucky to be walking away at all. I'd watched from a couple lots away as his burnt, still new car was towed away from park where he'd crashed. The tree now bore scorch marks and the grass and bushes where the fire had been were blackened and dead or dying.
I'd heard from Veronica that Todd had been grounded once his parents learned about the drinking. I wasn't sure Mrs. Anderson would let me see him but I took a chance and rang the doorbell - something I couldn't remember doing in years. Todd and I practically lived at each others houses as children - we joked that we had two families and two houses each. "Ginny!" Mrs. Anderson said, surprised to see me waiting on the doorstep. Clearly she was remembering the same things I was. "He's grounded - but you can go up an see him." she said giving me a weak smile.
"Thanks." I said quietly. I walked past her and took the steps two at a time until I reached the door to Todd's room. I stopped in my tracks and wondered if I could go in. I knocked once and without waiting for a reply, I pushed the door open.
"What are you doing here?" Todd asked.
"Making sure you're still alive." I said with a faint smile. I sat on his bed near him and saw a small bit of the darkness in him disappear.
"I'm pretty sure my grounding includes being grounded from death." Todd said with a chuckle, then he grunted and held his chest - he was still sore from the wreck.
I smiled. "I hope so." I said. "My world wouldn't be the same without my best friend."
"Are we still friends?" Todd asked seriously.
"Yes, always." I said. "You killed my egg baby - we recovered from that, we can survive anything." I said grinning.
Todd laughed again and then groaned. "Don't make me laugh, it hurts."
"I'm here Todd - if you need me. I'm here." I said seriously, reaching out for his hand as I spoke. "Please need me, talk to me..."