Catching up on my 52 week writing challenge. This story inspired by the prompt “a tragedy that ends in romance.” Enjoy!
WARNING: Profanity ahead! Proceed with caution.
It’s one of those dumb moments we have as kids. Well, not kids, but not adults yet either. Almost though. Old enough to know better, but still young enough to not care.
Donny and I had played a few rounds of beer pong over at the Castillo twins’ house. Just a typical Saturday night out in the middle of nowhere USA. Shooting the shit with friends we’d known since we were in diapers. Downing cans of the cheap shit with chips and salsa. Nothing we hadn’t done before.
At close to two in the morning Donny and I stumbled over to his jeep, giggling like idiots, because we were. Even in the dark I could tell the ground was spinning for me. “Donny, you sure you’re good to drive?” I hiccupped.
“Ah, no worries babe. I’m barely buzzed. Besides, it’s late. Won’t anyone be on the roads. There never is.” He waved a nonchalant hand and beckoned me into the passengers’ seat.
I nodded and jumped in the jeep. He turned the keys in the ignition and leaned in to kiss me. He had the goofiest smile and his breath smelled like beer, but he was my Donny. I grinned and gave him a quick peck on the lips. “C’mon, pendejo. Get me home. I gotta work in the morning.”
He bit his lower lip and leaned in further, his breath on my neck. “You sure you’re ready to go home.”
I pushed him back, laughing. “Yes, Romeo. Time to go home.”
He made a show of sighing and rolling his eyes. I turned the radio up and sang along, off key as always.
The cold night air soothed my feverish, drunk skin. The crunch of dirt road under the jeep’s tires lulled me into dozing off. It was just another stupid, peaceful night, heading home after a bout of nothing special with people we’d seen all the time. Another night taken for granted.
My neck jerked forward and my eyes flew open. I heard Donny yelling, “Fuck fuck fuckfuckfuck…”
My body jostled side to side. I planted my feet, trying desperately to gain control over my body as Donny’s hands struggled back and forth with the steering wheel.
“Donny, what—” The jeep dove over the edge of something and my head banged the dashboard.
I don’t know how long I was out. Maybe only a minute. Maybe longer. Didn’t matter. The feel of cold and wet seeping over my legs woke me. It was dark, but I realized it was water, which meant we’d crashed into a canal.
Groggy at first, but made alert by the rising liquid, I scrambled with my seat belt, struggling to undo it and get out. The clip was stuck and I couldn’t wriggle out of the strap.
I looked over at Donny and found his head leaning against the wheel, blood dripping down his forehead, eyes open and unblinking. Bile rose in my throat but I shut it down.
I reached out a tentative arm, already knowing I’d find no response. “Donny? Donny?” I shook more vigorously then, hoping the motion would shock him back to life. It was useless though.
The water was at my waist now. Everything seemed to spin at warped speed as I shook and kicked and wriggled and screamed. I banged my hands against the dashboard and choked down a sob. Donny was dead and soon I’d be dead too.
Somehow, out there, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, someone heard me and found me. The bright headlights of another car shined into my eyes and I had to raise a hand to block it. “Help!” I managed to squeak out the word.
I couldn’t see who had come into the water for me, but he had strong arms and a Swiss army knife. He cut the stubborn seatbelt and pulled me out so that my legs floated in the water as he dragged me to dry land.
My chest heaved and my whole body convulsed. I barely heard the stranger talking to me, and I mumbled something about my boyfriend. And my name. “Thalia.” My voice came out as a croak. Then I felt my head loll to the side and my eyes closed.
When I woke up next, I was in a hospital bed, hooked up to wires and an IV and beeping machines. My nostrils and throat ached. So did my lower back muscles and legs. Everything hurt. I blinked away the bright light of the sun shining through a window.
My mouth felt like I hadn’t had water in…water. That was the last thing I remembered. Rising water. Then someone pulled me out. And Donny…he was gone. Did they pull him out? Did they revive him somehow? I tried not to cry.
“Hey sleepy head.” My mom’s voice, soft and full of worry. I knew that voice. That was the you’re in so much trouble but I’m so glad you’re alive voice. She was all sweetness now, but I’d have it later once I got home and felt up to it.
“Mami, what happened?” I started coughing immediately after speaking. It must’ve been a few days since I’d talked.
“You were in an accident, mija.”
“Donny,” I whispered.
She looked down and squeezed my hand. “I’m sorry, baby.” I saw tears fall from her eyes. My mother shedding tears over Donny. Never thought I’d see the day.
I couldn’t stop it now. I let it all out. I cried until I couldn’t breathe and began dry heaving. My mother had to call a nurse to help calm me down.
It went by in a haze. Explaining how they found us. How Donny had died on impact. How I got pulled out and passed out from exhaustion and trauma. How I’d slept for three days in an induced coma. How lucky I was to come out with barely a scratch. How I’d need to do some mild therapy for a couple of months for slipped discs, but other than that, I was fine. How it was okay if I wanted to join the grief group therapy sessions they offered.
I only had one question though. “Who saved me?”
“Oh, it was a local boy. Uriah,” the nurse answered.
I snorted. I didn’t know how I could find anything funny in that moment. The nurse smiled though. “Yes, his mother didn’t do him any favors with that name.”
“But how—” I couldn’t finish the question because another round of coughs started but the nurse supplied the answer anyway.
“He happened to be driving down that way after a late shift working here. He’s doing his clinicals with Dr. Vega.”
I shook my head. Unbelievably lucky.
Knowing that my savior worked in this very hospital I resided in, I spent the next week asking for him at every turn. I wanted to properly thank him. As luck would have it, no one ever quite knew where to find him when I was awake or walking out and about.
I’d just about given up on the notion when on my last day, as I pulled on my sweater and prepared to leave my hospital bed behind for the last time, a light knock on the open door startled me. Before me stood a tall, broad young man with a shy smile. “Uh…hi. I heard you’ve been looking for me.”
I sat there, mouth agape. The moment had finally arrived to show my guardian angel my utmost gratitude, and I had nothing to say.
“You are, Thalia, right?” He looked around and over his shoulder as if expecting someone to steer him away any moment.
I finally unfroze. “Yeah, yes. That’s me. I’m Thalia.” I stammered and then laughed. “I’m sorry, I just wasn’t expecting to see you. Uriah, right?”
“Yeah, that’s me.” He shrugged his shoulders as if to say, It’s just me.
I managed to get up from the bed, a little wobbly at first, but able to take a step forward. “I just. I wanted to say—actually, I’m not sure what I want to say. How do I say thank you for saving my life?”
“Well, I guess you just kinda did.” He chuckled.
“It doesn’t seem like enough.” My voice was barely audible.
He shrugged again. “It’s okay. I mean, it was just dumb luck. I happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
I shook my head. “Yeah, but I mean. I’m alive because of you. No one would have—could have found me, but you did.” We stared at each other in silence for a minute. “I’m sorry, it’s still hard to wrap my head around it all. I’ve been looking for you for a week just to say thank you and now I’m just sounding like an idiot.”
We both laughed. I took another step forward and reached out a hand. “How about a proper introduction. Hi, I’m Thalia.”
He took my hand and shook it. “I’m Uriah. It’s a pleasure.”
“Listen, hospital food sucks, so if you’ve got time, can I at least buy you lunch.” I felt my cheeks go warm, but I didn’t care if it seemed forward. I just wanted to know this guy that had saved me.
He looked down with his hands in his pockets now. “I’m actually off all day. I just came by to find you before you left. So yeah, I could go for lunch.”
I grinned a mile wide. “Good, because I’m starving for some real food and I’ve been dying for some ropa vieja.”
He tilted his head. “Ro—what?”
I let roar a big laugh. “Ropa vieja. It means old clothes in Spanish.”
He raised an eyebrow. “That’s an odd thing to crave.”
I shook my head. “That’s the literal translation. It’s really just shredded beef. Delicious. C’mon, I’ll buy you your first plate.”
He smiled and held out an arm. “Lead the way.”
I bought Uriah his first taste of good Cuban food that day. I hadn’t forgotten Donny. I never could. Donny was gone though, and in time, it would be okay for me to move on. This lunch with the guy that saved my life, it was a start at going forward and learning from my mistakes.