The heat and bright light burned through her eyelids as she lay still, unable to speak. In the distance, she could hear sounds that seemed familiar, but couldn't be placed with certainty.
A sharp tap against a piece of glass slowly increased in frequency and the warmth on her eyes faded into darkness.
If only she could open her eyes.
"Can you hear me?"
All she could remember were those fateful four words before the crash.
A few feet away, there was a steady flow of activity as people dressed in uniforms and white overcoats walked hastily through the corridors carrying clipboards and shiny instruments under halos of white light. Just beyond the door, a hum of voices, soft and authoritative, undulated with the rhythm of blips and moving air.
"Asha, can you hear me?" The nurse repeated the question.
The room was cloaked in gray now as the light drizzle burgeoned into rain.
"Come with me." Brendan cupped her left hand between both of his, imploring her to join him on the east coast. With school now behind them, they could write a new chapter together. He reminded her of their hopes and dreams. How good they were together.
How clever Brendan was. Bringing her to the shore, the sunlight sparkling on the water as the sailboats ambled along, carefree, toward a promising horizon. Even the birds were chirping as if on cue. Asha knew all his tricks. She also knew that's why she wanted to be with him.
She took a deep breath, let out a sigh, looked deep into his eyes and lightly shook her head from side to side. No words were necessary.
"Asha, no! You're throwing your life away."
"Stop saying that mom."
"Baby, open the door."
Asha frantically packed whatever she could fit in her gym bag. She knew that the longer she stayed in the house, the worse it would get. She'd been on the phone with Brendan most of the night dreaming, making arrangements and debating whether or not this was the right thing to do. Now it was time to act. If she could get to her car she'd be home free. Brendan would be waiting at their designated spot.
"Eric, speak to your daughter." Asha's mother pleaded from the top of the stairs, gripping the banister tight. It was the only thing she could firmly maintain in her grasp now.
Asha's father had had enough of his daughter's delusions. He'd made his position known long ago. If she stepped out the front door to be with "that boy," then she better not look back. He slammed the patio door and stepped out into the backyard to tend to his sapling.
Asha quickly surveyed her room to see if she'd forgotten anything. Her head was spinning. She tossed her phone into her bag and ran out of her bedroom, leaving her mother behind to dry her own tears.
Asha's room was quiet and serene. Night had fallen and the rain had stopped. She laid there asleep, under the watchful eyes of a ticking clock above her doorway and the drip, drip, drip of her I-V. Her parents were told that a full recovery was expected, but the doctors would know more in the morning. As it turned out, they would know much sooner than that. The steady pulse of Asha's heart monitor abruptly jumped to an unpredictable rate. Her vitals were dropping. Fast.
"Code Blue, Emergency Department, Treatment Room A, Code Blue, Emergency Department, Treatment Room A..." Asha's nurse called for help as no pulse was detected and the monitor flat lined. A crash team sprung into action.
"Mom, please. I can't talk right now." The road ahead was a blur as Asha tried to fight back the tears. She knew her mother had good intentions, but at this moment, she really regretted picking up the phone.
"Sweetheart, listen to me. You're only...and...hardly...the..."
"What? Mom, you're breaking up. We can talk later."
Asha's mother had no intention of hanging up. "Baby...don't understand. What if...work...what...do?" This was her mother's only lifeline. She couldn't bear to think of when she would ever be able to speak to her daughter again if she were to lose this connection.
Asha looked out the window and switched the phone to her left hand, wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her right hand. Her mother's voice continued in between pops and beeps. Asha moved the phone to her lap. Upon taking a closer look, she noticed that the battery was dying.
For a moment, the phone went silent. A burst of white light filled her car's interior from front to back as if a light switch had been turned on from the inside. Asha looked up to her right and heard a horn blast racing toward her. Seconds later, a voice from the phone said "Honey, can you hear me?"
The air was crisp and Asha could hear the crunch of the fallen leaves under her feet as she ran toward the chain link fence where Brendan loved to watch the enormous barges crawling down the East River under the immense weight of their cargo.
Was Brendan there now? Did he know where she was? Will he wait for her? Or will he fulfill their dreams with someone else?
She could see him in her mind's eye and tried desperately to get his attention, but try as she might, she couldn't form the words "Brendan, wait up!"
Smoke surged from all eighteen screaming tires as the trailer lunged forward, clipping the rear of Asha's car with all its momentum. Asha's car spiraled down the road and flipped into an embankment which mercifully stopped it from sliding into a thicket of trees.
Moments later, all went quiet. Like raindrops, fluid trickled down the side of Asha's car. Tranquil and heavy.
Asha lay still, unable to speak. In the distance, she could hear sounds that seemed familiar, but couldn't be placed with certainty. It was the cry of sirens sounding faintly in the distance.
A sharp tap against a piece of glass, slowly increased in frequency, and the warmth on her heavy eyelids slowly faded into darkness.
If only she could open her eyes.
"Miss, can you hear me?"
All she could remember were those fateful four words before the crash. •