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Chapter 1 written by Kate Barber
Chapter 1 ! Even though she had been his ﬁancée, technically, for six years now, James knew that two mornings from now, he would wake up married to another woman. His eyes never moved from her as he ran his ﬁngers across her cheek, down to her lips, and across her collarbone, just were the hospital gown began. Her blonde hair was a bit tangled and matted in unruly clumps around her now pale face, but James still thought she looked as beautiful and as perfect as the day he ﬁrst met her. He watched her chest slowly rise and fall, rise and fall, in rhythmic, even beats. As he drew in a sharp breath, he brought a hand to his own chest, quickly suppressing a sob that was rising from his throat. He lifted her left hand, lifeless in his own, and kissed the diamond ring he had given her, the one that was inscribed “Come what may” on the inside of the band. After allowing one tear, just one, to fall from the corner of his eye, he gently placed her hand back on her chest, and drew her sheet further up her body. ! “Goodbye, Kali,” he whispered as he passed a nurse on his way out the door.
! Kali Sheppard had been asleep for the past eight years. Even though the doctors continually told her parents that the probability of her waking up was quite slim, Margie and David Sheppard refused to take her off life support in the hopes that one day their daughter might come back. They didnʼt care that the hospital bills were slowly, but steadily draining their savings accounts, or that people frequently told them they needed to accept that their daughter was only alive by means of a machine. Every morning, as they shared blueberry bagels with strawberry cream cheese and black coffee, Margie and David Sheppard would hold hands across their kitchen table and pray that God would send Kali back to them. ! For the ﬁrst six years, Margie had spent at least three nights a week sitting on the uncomfortable plastic couch in Kaliʼs hospital room, knitting scarves and socks that Kali would mostly likely never have the chance to wear. After the accident had left her unconscious, the doctors had performed three surgeries in attempt to repair her injuries and increase her chances of survival. She had not opened her eyes once since they pulled her out of the totaled car on Stark Road. ! At ﬁrst, the team of doctors had seemed to hold a slight hope that she would, eventually, pull through. At ﬁrst, it was easy (at least easier than it was now) to sit by Kaliʼs side and believe that she would ﬁght through her unconscious state as sheʼd
fought through everything else in her life. At ﬁrst, James had come to sit with Margie every day. He had sat by Kaliʼs side, he had held her hand, always stroking that ring on her ﬁnger; and a few times, heʼd even crawled in the narrow bed with her and held her all night long, hoping, like Margie, heʼd awaken in the morning to ﬁnd her smiling up at him. ! It wasnʼt until James had come to see her and told her that he was engaged to another woman that Margie had ﬁrst admitted to herself that, like James, she too had more or less given up hope. She remembered how James had looked at her that day, tears streaming down his stubbled face. ! “Iʼm so sorry, Mrs. Sheppard,” he had sobbed as he had embraced Margie.
! “I know, honey,” she had whispered back, choking back tears of her own. “Iʼm sorry too.” ! As much as Margie had wanted to have James for a son-in-law, she knew it was too much to ask of him to continue to hold on. He deserved a life, a family, and a wife, even if that wife wasnʼt her daughter. She hadnʼt gone to the wedding, but Margie imagined James had looked quite handsome in his tuxedo, standing at the front of the First Baptist Church. She only wished she had been sitting in the front pew, watching her Kali walk down the aisle to meet him. That was three years ago. Now, James was married to a lady whose name Margie neither knew nor cared to know, and had a two year old daughter who looked enough like Erin to have been her twin sister. Margieʼs heart still stopped when she thought about how Jamesʼ three-year-old niece had looked, lying in the road, blood all down her front, chest unmoving. ! But despite all that their family had been through, all that Jamesʼ family had been through, the past eight years, Margie still refused unplug Kali, even though emotionally, and spiritually, Margie had to admit sheʼd given up on her daughterʼs life. ! She wondered what Kali would say if she knew that her mother and father were sitting on a beach in Hawaii, drinking daiquiris and rum and Cokes, while she lay lifeless in a hospital bed. She wondered if Kali would be proud of the woman Margie had become, or how proud she would be if she knew her father had quit smoking. Most of all, she wondered if Kali would like Jamesʼ new wife, if sheʼd be happy for him, if sheʼd be proud of the career he had built for himself without her love and support. ! None of that mattered, though, Margie scolded herself. Even though it was the ﬁrst time she and David had so much as left the county since the accident, Margie couldnʼt help the feeling of guilt that was probing at her heart. How could she be sitting with her feet in an ocean Kali would never see, drinking liquor Kali would never taste, smelling saltwater Kali would never again inhale? ! As Margie watched the sun sink into the distance, casting coloured lights of spectacular reds, oranges, and pink onto the water, she squeezed her eyes shut and
prayed one last time that God would either bring Kali back, or give her the strength to unplug the machine. ! Gayle Matthews was smiling she stroked Kailʼs hair and tried to stop crying. It was the ﬁrst time in eight years Gayle had been able to look into her nieceʼs dark navy eyes and see her reﬂection staring back at her. Kaliʼs hand held onto hers, and though her grasp was weak, she was able to move her arms, her hands, and her ﬁngers. ! The doctors told Gayle Kali might have trouble walking at ﬁrst, since sheʼd been in a bed for so long, but that eventually, she would be ﬁne. She had suffered no permanent damage, at least not that they had seen so far. The only main concern that doctors had for Kali at this point was that she was unaware of how much of her life she had lost. ! ! ! ! ! ! “Do you know your name?” Dr. Nabors had asked her. She had nodded, slowly. “Kali Elizabeth Sheppard,” sheʼd ﬁnally whispered. “Good, thatʼs right. Do you know why youʼre here, Kali?” She shook her head. “Do you remember anything at all?” She shook her head.
! “Kali, Iʼm afraid you were in an accident. Youʼre going to be ﬁne, youʼve just been asleep for a while,” he had told her gently. “Do you know was year it is, honey?” ! ! “2004,” she had replied softly. It was 2012.
! “Ms. Matthews, could I speak to you outside in the hallway just a moment?” Dr. Nabors asked Gayle. ! She nodded, and followed him out of the room.
! “Whatʼs wrong with her?” Gayle questioned him as soon as he had pulled the door shut to Kaliʼs room. ! Dr. Naborsʼ furry eyebrows nearly formed a solid straight line across his forehead, and Gayle couldnʼt help thinking as he looked at the ground in silence for a moment and stroked his attempt at a beard with his thumb and foreﬁnger, that his eyebrow looked like a caterpillar wigging on his face.
! “Not only does she not remember being in an accident, Ms. Matthews,” he ﬁnally spoke, “she doesnʼt realise sheʼs been in a coma for eight years. As far as she knows, she still has a ﬁancée, a career, the same friends... and you said her ﬁancée had married another lady, correct?” ! Gayle swallowed and nodded. “Yeah, yeah, he even has a daughter now, I believe.” ! “I think maybe it would be best if for now we tried to concentrate on Kaliʼs recovery and…delay telling her for a little while.” ! “You—you want me to lie to her?”
! “Ms. Matthews, imagine if you went to sleep for a nap after a long day at work, and when you woke up, you were eight years older and you had no husband, no job, and no real friends. How would you react to that information?” ! “I would have a panic attack, I suppose,” Gayle agreed. “And Kali used to have panic attacks, a lot.” ! “Exactly. And you said she hasnʼt had anyone but you and her parents visit her in how long? Itʼs been a couple years at least, hasnʼt it?” he questioned. ! “Yes, at least.”
! “I think we should keep her here a few days, get here in some therapy, and then you can take her home. You just need to ease her back into things. This is going to be an extremely difﬁcult adjustment for her. Are her parents going to be here soon?” ! Gayle nodded. “Well, as soon as I can get a hold of them. Iʼve been calling all week, and they must not have a signal or something. I canʼt get through.” ! “Well let me know when you reach them,” he told her. “We can go ahead and start trying to work on her therapy. Maybe by the time they get here, sheʼll be able to walk a little bit.” ! Gayle folded her arms across her chest and nodded. “Thanks, Doctor,” she said, forcing a smile. ! He touched her lightly on the arm and smiled back, then excused himself and walked the opposite way down the hallway. ! Gayle sighed and squeezed her eyes tight. “Thank you, God,” she whispered, “for bringing my Kali back. But Lord help me.”
! She painted a smile on her face as she opened the door to Kaliʼs room and sat down beside her niece. “How are you feeling, baby?” she asked her. ! “Iʼm okay,” Kali smiled weakly back at her. “I just feel tired.”
! Gayle nodded, pursing her lips together. How was she supposed to not tell Kali that eight years had gone by? What was she supposed to tell her about the accident? That the passengers in the other car had been strangers? What was Kali going to do when she found out not only was James married, but he had a family, without her? And aside from that, what was James going to do when he found out the love of his life— Gayle was sure he must still love Kali, more than that other lady with the gorgeous dark hair, deep brown tan, and long, fake ﬁngernails—was awake and asking for her ﬁancée? ! ! ! “Aunt Gayle?” “What, sweetheart?” she replied, rubbing the back of her hand. “Is James coming to see me? Does he know Iʼm here?”
! Gayle told herself she would not cry, not yet, not here. She sucked in a deep breath, and said, “Iʼm sure heʼll be here soon, sweetie. I, uh, I tried calling him earlier, but he didnʼt answer so… Iʼm sure weʼll reach him soon, donʼt you worry.” ! Kali nodded, smiled, and closed her eyes. Gayle sighed deeply and did the same. ! It was three oʼclock in the morning when Davidʼs cell phone began to vibrate on the bedside table of the hotel room. Fumbling with the light switch on the lamp, David rubbed his eyes with his knuckles, and reached for the phone. ! “Who the hell is calling this late?” mumbled Margie, as she rolled over to face him, squinting at the sudden light. ! David shook his head, signaling to her that he didnʼt know. He swung his feet over the side of the bed, now fully alert, and he slid his glasses onto his nose. He frowned when he saw the name displayed on the caller-ID belonged to Gayle, Margieʼs younger sister. ! ! “Itʼs your sister,” he grumbled under his breath. “Well, answer it!” Margie urged him.
! “Hello? What is it Gayle? Are you drunk again? Do you have any idea what time —” David stopped midsentence.
“What?” he gasped. “Youʼre serious?” “What is it?” Margie asked, sitting up.
! “A whole week ago? Gayle! Why didnʼt you call us?... Yeah, the cell reception has been awful the whole week and a half weʼve been here.” ! He turned to face his wife, his face mixed with both concern and relief. “Weʼll be there tomorrow morning, weʼre leaving now,” David said into the phone, snapping it shut. ! ! ! ! “David, whatʼs going on? Itʼs the middle of the night, we canʼt leave—” “Itʼs Kali, Marg,” David grinned as tears began to stream down his wrinkled face. “You mean…?” Margie gasped. David nodded as his wife jumped into his arms.
! Kali had been in her own home, in her own bed, for a week and three days. After a week at the hospital of intense therapy, as well as therapy at home, she was ﬁnally able to walk for the most part. The doctors said it was amazing she was able to walk to well so fast after such a long coma. But for Kali, there was no choice. When James got home from his business trip, she wanted to be able to walk up to him. She already felt suffocated by her parents and her aunt. While they were all more than willing to bring her soup, water, whatever she wanted at her ﬁrst call, none of them would explain to her why they all looked older, or when the Shell station on Jackson Street had been built, or when and why her favourite grill on Lincoln Boulevard had closed. Kali hardly recognized parts of her town, she hardly recognized her house when she walked in, and what she couldnʼt understand was how so much had changed in such a short period of time. ! She felt like sheʼd been asleep for a few weeks, she supposed. Even a few months. But the change in the scenery she saw as she looked out the window on the car ride home made her wonder just how much time had passed, and what else had changed that she had not yet been made aware of. Her mama dodged all her questions with downcast eyes and what Kali was certain was a forced grin, and her daddy just kept laughing and telling her not to worry when she asked him where her friends were, where James was, and why he was suddenly walking with a cane. She was still 21 years old, right? Could more than a year really have passed since sheʼd entered hospital care? ! Granted, her legs felt as though theyʼd been numb and out of use for quite some time, but she was able to walk almost immediately. She slowly moved the covers off of
her legs, and tiptoed to the window in her bedroom that overlooked the backyard. Her parents were both wearing large sun hats and gardening gloves, her mama fast at work with a small shovel, her daddy handing her ﬂowers to plant in the ground out of the back of his truck. She peered around the corner to ﬁnd Aunt Gayle asleep in the recliner in the living room. She checked the clock. James should be home from work by now. ! She slipped her feet in a pair of ﬂip ﬂops, grateful for the warm weather outside, and walked down to the creek that ran directly behind her house. The sun was shining brightly, casting a large white reﬂection into the ripples of the creek as it caressed the rocks beneath its waters. She took one backward glance over her shoulder, and began to walk down the creek side, occasionally dipping her feet in the shallow edge of the water as she went. ! It took her fourteen minutes of walking to reach the portion of the creek that ﬂowed behind the home of James Montgomery. Her mom had told her he was still out of town, and should be home soon, but she at least wanted to see his parents. They were going to be her parents soon, too, after all. ! Letting out a small giggle of excitement, she moved as quickly as she could through the grass, losing her ﬂip ﬂops in the process, until she reached the fence that bordered the pool in his backyard. She always thought it was silly of his parents to have built a swimming pool when there was a creek that was waist high in the middle of it right behind them. As she neared the house, she spotted a girl she guessed to be around thirty watering the plants on the front porch of the large two-story house. Though she didnʼt recognise her, she approached her anyway, sure she must just be some family friend she had yet to meet, or one of his relatives from down in Georgia. ! “Hi,” she said, smiling brightly.
! “Hello,” the woman replied, smiling back, but clearly unsure as to who this stranger was. ! “Iʼm Kali,” she introduced herself, holding out her right hand. “Iʼm sorry, I donʼt think weʼve met yet.” ! Kali could have sworn she saw the womanʼs mouth fall open just slightly, but if it had, she recovered quickly. ! “Kali,” she repeated, nodding. “Wow, Kali, I didnʼt realise you were… Well, anyway, itʼs nice to meet you.” She took Kaliʼs hand in hers and shook it ﬁrmly, smoothing her dress down nervously. ! Kali waited for the woman to introduce herself in return, but when she didnʼt, she glanced toward the house, and then toward the driveway, where Jamesʼ truck was parked in its usual spot. “Is, uh, is James home?”
! The woman stared back at her, her chestnut hair falling in light curls onto her shoulders and down her back. Kali thought brieﬂy that she had to be one of the most beautiful women sheʼd ever seen. ! “James, yeah, heʼs, uh, heʼs here… Have you talked to him since you, um… left?” ! “Oh, no, my parents said they called him, I hadnʼt heard from him, and I thought he was out of town but… I thought Iʼd come see Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery, at least.” Kali grinned at her. ! “Right,” the woman nodded, her face knit in an expression of confusion. “Right, Iʼll just go get—” ! ! But before either of them could move, the front door swung open, and a young girl with chestnut hair that matched the womanʼs came running out, laughing and nearly tripping over her bright pink sneakers. ! Kaliʼs face brightened at the sight of Erin, Jamesʼ niece. “Hey, honey!” she greeted the girl, but her voice was drowned out by the sound of Erin screaming. ! “Mommy!” she shrieked, as she fell into the womanʼs arms. “Mommy, heʼs going to get me!” she laughed. ! Mommy? But this girl, this wasnʼt Stephanie, this wasnʼt Jamesʼ sister. Now it was Kaliʼs turn to look at the woman with confusion. ! “Oh, come on, you little boogar, where are you going?...”
! Jamesʼ voice trailed off when he saw Kali standing on his front porch. Her eyes were ﬁlled with just as much light as the last day he saw her. She hadnʼt changed one bit. Even after an eight year coma, James thought Kali looked just as stunning in her plain yellow sundress, standing barefoot on his front porch, as she had in her evening gown, in heels instead of barefoot, in the same spot the last time heʼd seen her awake. ! “Kali?” he gasped.
! “James!” she cried, jumping into his arms. “Oh, Iʼm so glad to see you! Why didnʼt you come see me?” ! He held her in his arms, exchanging a glance with both the woman and the child standing behind them, and looked down at the excited Kali whose face was buried in his dress shirt. ! “I didnʼt know you were awake,” he whispered.
! “What?” She pulled away from him so she could look at his face. “No, Mama said sheʼd been calling you, that you must be out of town, or…” ! He shook his head as he ran a hand through his wave of dark hair. It occurred to Kali he seemed more startled to see her than excited. But that couldnʼt be the case. He was just surprised, that was all. He hadnʼt known. Mama had lied about calling him. Why would she lie about that? ! “So I guess youʼve met Amber?” he asked, gesturing toward the dark headed woman. ! “We were getting there when you walked out,” Kali explained, trying to hide her disappointment at his reaction to seeing her. ! ! ! “Oh, Iʼm sorry,” the woman apologised, “Iʼm Amber, Jamesʼ w—” “Cousin,” James cut her off. “Cousin. Sheʼs my cousin.” “I thought Iʼd met all your cousins,” Kali muttered.
! Amberʼs hands ﬂew to her hips, and she glared at James through eyes deep brown as her hair. “James—” she began. ! “Iʼm going to walk Kali down to the river,” he told Amber. “Iʼll, uh, Iʼll be back shortly.” He turned to Kali. “Go on down there, Iʼll meet you in just a second.” His back turned to Amber, facing Kali, he mouthed to her “Iʼm so sorry.” ! Kali nodded and walked off the porch, down the steps, and toward the river, her yellow dress blowing in the summer breeze. ! “What the hell, James?” Amber hissed. “How could you not tell me she was awake? How could you not tell her Iʼm your wife? Sheʼs still wearing the damn engagement ring!” ! Jamesʼ eyes werenʼt really on Amber, they were staring off somewhere behind her as he whispered, “I donʼt think she knows, Amber.” ! ! “Knows what?” He sighed, and sat down on the porch steps, his face in his hands.
! “Whatʼs wrong, Daddy?” The little girl Kali had mistaken for Erin sat down beside James and squeezed his big arm with her little ones. ! He looked down at her and squeezed her back. “I think my friend Miss Kali is a little confused, sweetheart.”
! James looked back up at his wife. “Iʼm so sorry. Itʼs just the way she was… I didnʼt know she was awake, Amber, I promise. But I donʼt think anyone has told her. She wouldnʼt have come here. She wouldnʼt still be wearing the ring if she knew.” ! Amber placed a hand on her husbandʼs shoulder. “Well I guess you better go tell her, then.” ! He nodded, and walked slowly toward the creek where Kali was seated in the grass, her feet in the creek water. ! ! ! “Hey,” he said as he sat down beside her. “Hi,” she grinned. “God, Iʼm so glad to see you,” she gushed. “Me too,” he returned, awkwardly. “Listen, Kali…”
! “Iʼm just so happy to see you, James,” she cut him off, taking his right hand, the one without the ring, in her own. ! He looked straight in her eyes, and realised that although they had both aged eight years, she hadnʼt changed at all. She was still his Kali, the one heʼd met in high school, the one heʼd dated all through college, the one heʼd proposed to standing on the side of this same creek nine years ago, one year before the accident. He realised she had absolutely no idea how much time had passed, what had changed. He cursed her parents silently, or whoever it was that was responsible for leaving her in this state of ignorance, of delusion. And then, he realised he wanted nothing more than to walk with her back down the creek, all the way to her house, make love to her in her bed just like that time when her parents had been away for the weekend, and toss his wedding band into the muddy creek. But he couldnʼt do that. He had Cadance, and Amber, and… ! “James? Arenʼt you glad to see me?” Kali asked, an expression of hurt on her face. ! He took her in his arms, against his better judgment. He squeezed her tight, and allowed one tear to fall down his stubbled face. “Of course I am, Kali.” He bit his tongue before he let slip, “I still love you, Kali.” ! You have to tell her, he reasoned with himself. She has a right to know.
! “Kali,” he began, pulling her away from him. He still held her hand tightly in his. The unringed one, of course. “Kali, sweetie, do you know what year it is?” ! She nodded. “Of course. Itʼs 2004.”
Oh, shit, he thought. She still thinks itʼs the same year as… as the accident.
! “Kali… the night we came back from the theatre. The night you were all dressed up in the red gown, the white heels, with that silk shawl thingie… How long ago was that? Do you know?” ! She looked back at him, clearly unsure of why he was asking her this. “I donʼt know. I mean, Mama and Daddy wonʼt really talk to me about what happened yet. It wasnʼt that long ago, though… was it?” ! He took a deep breath, still holding her hand. “Kali, honey… that night, when you left here… you were in an accident.” ! ! “That same night? That was the night I had the accident?” “You know about the accident?”
! She shook her head. “Only that I was in a car accident. What happened, James? Please, tell me. Mama and Daddy keep saying they want me to get back in routine before they tell me all the details, like I canʼt handle it or something. What happened?” ! Deep breath again. “Kali, the night after the theatre… you wrecked leaving my house. You collided with another car a couple miles down the road, down Stark Road, and you spun out of the road and you hit that big tree in front of the Quillen house.” ! “I hit…another car?”
! “They donʼt know who hit who. They just know… your car hit with another car. The other car hit a telephone pole, and…” ! “Were they… okay, James? The people in the other car?”
! James couldnʼt take it anymore. He let the tears fall down his cheeks, and didnʼt bother wiping them. He felt Kaliʼs arms around him as his entire body shook with sobs. ! “James, the other car? What happened to them?” Kali demanded, struggling not to cry herself. ! “They died,” James whispered.
! Kali let go of him, her hands ﬂew to her face. “Oh…oh God. They… they died? And I…didnʼt?” ! He nodded, still trying to stop himself from crying. He pressed his knuckles to his lips and drew in another deep breath.
! “James?” she asked cautiously, her eyes ﬁxed on something off in the distance, as though she remembered something. ! ! “Yeah?” “Who was in the other car? Who were they?”
! James pulled himself together, the sobbing stopped, but tears still falling, as he answered, “It was my mama and daddy. And Erin.” His voice quivered when he said her name. “And Erin,” he repeated. ! “No,” Kali gasped, the tears that had just left Jamesʼ eyes entering hers. “No! No, James, I just saw Erin, she was up on the porch, she was… she was right… right there.” ! James shook his head, his eyes searching hers, hoping sheʼd somehow put the pieces together so he didnʼt have to spell it out for her. “No, Kali, that wasnʼt Erin. Her name is Cadance, and sheʼs… Kali, sheʼs my daughter. She just turned two.” ! “What?”
! “Kali, the woman, on the porch? Sheʼs not my cousin. Sheʼs Cadanceʼs mother, and sheʼs…sheʼs my wife, Kali.” ! The expression on Kaliʼs face was a blended mixture of horror, confusion, denial, and hurt. “But…” she stroked the ring on her own left ﬁnger, as James had so many times while sheʼd been asleep. “But I was going to be your wife,” she whispered. ! James gulped and went for it. “Kali, you were in a coma for eight years. Itʼs 2012. I waited for you, I did, but I didnʼt think you were ever going to wake up. Iʼm so sorry.” ! ! “Eight years?” she gasped. “Eight years?” He just nodded.
! “Youʼre telling me Iʼve been in a coma for eight years from an accident where your mother, father, and niece died? Oh my God. Oh my God.” ! James knew that she was prone to panic attacks, and quickly put his arms around her. It was how he always calmed her down when she was upset. Before. Before the accident. When she was his. ! “James, please,” she sobbed in his embrace, “please, just tell me. Did I cause the accident? Did I kill them?”
! “It doesnʼt matter who caused it. Itʼs done. Itʼs over. The police said both cars were so totaled when they got there… they didnʼt even know… Kali, it doesnʼt matter. No one holds you responsible for their deaths.” ! She broke free of his hold, forgetting the shoes sheʼd kicked off in his yard earlier, and pushed him away. “I do,” she cried, and without looking back, she walked as fast as her unsure legs would carry her, down the creek side, leaving James standing, crying, alone. ! Almost back to her house, wiping tears still falling from her eyes, she walked calmly into the creek, to the middle, where it was deep, and allowed herself to go all the way under. The water calmed her, in a way nothing else could. Her hair falling around her shoulders, dripping, she stood up in the water and stared at the ring on her ﬁnger. She watched it sparkle in the sunlight, glitter dancing off the diamond embedded in the white gold. She slipped it off her ﬁnger and watched it sink to the bottom of the creek and rest on its muddy ﬂoor.
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