Anthony stared at the stoplight, but he didn't see it. Another night stretched ahead of him. Another night alone. The wet, waning daylight seemed to feel his melancholy.
He found himself going over the events that ended in his loneliness for the millionth time. Why had he just let her walk out of the door that cold December morning? Why had he not told her how he felt? That he was proud of her for earning the promotion? That he would happily follow her to Philadelphia so she could take the job? That he would follow her anywhere? Would she ever forgive him for a moment of stupidity? What was she doing now? Was she missing him as much as he missed her? All thoughts he had had before, but he was no closer to the answers than he had been in the aftermath of the last day of his happiness...
The blaring horns and screeching brakes gave only a moment's notice of the oncoming Ford F-150 as it skidded through the intersection and plowed into Anthony's reliable, old Honda. Her face was the last thing he saw before he passed out.
"I'm so sorry. I meant to come back. I wanted to come back..." Her voice was so close. He could smell her strawberry-scented shampoo, feel the soft pressure of her head resting beside him on the hospital bed. Anthony could see her sitting beside him, her soft, red hair pulled up into her usual pony tail, her naturally pouty lips trembling with the tears she was trying not to shed, and her aqua blue eyes as bright as the sea and glistening with tears.
He wanted to reach out and comfort her. To tell her that he was okay; they were okay.
But he couldn't. He couldn't break through the blackness that pinned him to his hospital bed like an impossible weight.
Then the darkness took over completely again.
But he dreamed. And woke. The sounds of the hospital seeping into his brain. The beeping of machines, the scuffing sounds of shoes on impossibly shined floors, the haunted whispers of voices, all registered clearly in his mind. He reached out for the sound and feel of her.
He felt her there. Every day. Sometimes she spoke to him. She would talk about the times they had spent together. The time they had gotten stuck in the snow when they tried to push on through the night to get back to Harrisburg from her parents' house in Philadelphia and they spent the night in their car, thankful for the silly matching footed pajamas that her mom had given them for Christmas. She talked about their first glorious holiday spent in the south of France.
Every time he felt her, he tried to go to her, but he couldn't reach her.
Three weeks after the accident, Anthony woke to another wet, waning evening. After a moment of confusion, Anthony sat bolt upright and called her name.
His room door began to open. His heart started doing backflips and he couldn't breathe. He was suddenly reminded of the first night they made love.
But when the door opened, a short, grey-haired nurse with her glasses perched on her nose and a caring smile on her face came through the door.
"Mr. Greene, you're awake. We've been very worried about you. Your parents should be here shortly. They have been visiting every day at this time, and Nurse Wagner is calling them to let them know that you are awake. How do you feel?"
"And Emily? Where is she?" Anthony couldn't suppress the urgency in his voice.
"Emily?" the nurse, clearly concerned, peered down her nose at him.
"Yes, Emily. My gir-, ex-girlfriend." Embarrassed by the stumble, he suddenly couldn't meet the kind nurse's eyes. "The beautiful redhead. I know she visited me. I heard her. I felt her."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Greene, but your parents have been your only steady visitors while you've been here," the nurse said, a frown creasing her brow.
The next month of recovery was hell. The physical therapy was painful. The depression worse than it was before the accident. And the dreams, the dreams were nightly. Emily was so close he could touch her. They would talk all night. Then he would wake to his empty bed.
Then one night, during a particularly vivid nocturnal visit from Emily, Anthony was awakened abruptly by the shrill sound of his phone's ringtone.
Cursing the interruption, he gruffly answered the phone, "Yes?"
"Anthony?" It was Emily's mother. The distraught sound of her one-word question made Anthony sit bolt upright in his bed.
"Marilynn? What's wrong?"
"It's Emily. She was in an accident two months ago on the Turnpike. Her injuries were pretty severe. She is healing, but she hasn't regained consciousness since the accident."
"Is she in Philadelphia with you?"
"Yes. Will you come? She keeps saying your name." Her voice dropping to a whisper as she relayed the last bit of information.
"I'll be there. I'm leaving right now." And he did. He had started packing the minute he realized that Emily needed him.
The three hours to Philadelphia were the longest three hours of his life. The whole time all he could think about was how she was laying in a hospital bed the whole time he was recovering from his accident.
The sight of Emily's small, battered body lying near-lifeless in the cold hospital bed nearly brought him to his knees. Marilynn's outstretched arms were the welcome bolster that he needed. Looking down at her face, he could see the toll that the previous months had taken on her. Emily's father had died of a heart attack only six months prior. So Marilynn was bearing the pain all on her own.
After a warm hug, Anthony and Marilynn sat down and Anthony recounted his accident and the dreams of Emily.
"We think she was headed to see you when the accident happened," was all she said in response to his story.