In Her Wake Page 2

I blink away the haze in my eyes as I search my surroundings. White walls and light blue curtains. Basic white flannel sheets with thin blue stripes. Machines . . . I’m in a hospital room; that much is obvious. I just don’t remember getting here.

What I do know is that I’m in a f**kload of pain. Did someone kick in my chest? Each draw of breath makes me want to hold the next. A slight turn of my neck sends shock waves of agony through my entire right side. It probably has something to do with this sling that’s holding my arm in place.

“Carter, he’s awake!” my mom calls out as a cool hand embraces mine.

Shoes shuffle against the hospital floor and my dad appears from behind the curtain to stand behind her, his old Stanford Law sweatshirt rumpled and sporting a coffee stain down the front.

The purple bags under their eyes tell me they haven’t slept in a while.

“What happened?” My throat is too dry to handle words. I start coughing, only to wince from the pain in my shoulder. Even wincing hurts.

“Here, Cole. You need some water.” My mom holds a cup to my lips. “Just small sips for now.”

My dad wastes no time, reaching forward to hit the red call button on the bed rail. “The doctors will give you something for the pain.”

Taking a few short breaths, I try again. “What happened?”

They exchange glances, and then my dad’s Adam’s apple bobs with a hard swallow. “You were in a car accident.”

“Right.” Now I remember the paramedic. That’s what she kept telling me. You were in an accident. We’re going to help you. The pieces start falling into place. The party, the drive home . . .

“You’re going to be fine, Cole.” My mom squeezes my fingers. “Some bruises and a few broken bones. But you’re going to be fine. Just a few days in here and then we can take you home.” She repeats in a whisper, “You’re going to be fine.” I don’t know if she’s reassuring me or herself anymore, especially with the tears welling in her eyes.

I grit my teeth against the pain as I tip my head to the left, to see the empty bed. “Where’s Sasha? They should have put us together.” I was eleven the last time I was admitted into a hospital. Sasha and I had decided to race our BMX bikes through a neighbor’s pothole-riddled field. We ended up in a room together, both in casts. We’ve never done anything apart, really.

A nurse in colorful scrubs pushes through the door then to round the bed. “How is our patient?” she asks, her focus on the IV stand next to my bed, checking the myriad of bags, detaching and reattaching drips.

“He’s in a lot of pain,” my mom answers for me as a short, balding man with a stethoscope around his neck marches in. He lifts a chart board off the bottom of the bed. “Hi. I’m Dr. Stoult. And you are Cole Reynolds . . . twenty years old . . . motor collision.” He lifts a sheet to scan the reports, familiarizing himself with me. “How are you feeling, Cole?”

“Like shit.”

Normally my mom would reproach me. Now, she just keeps holding my hand like she’s afraid to let go.

“Stands to reason. The air bags broke three of your ribs and caused heavy bruising on the left side of your torso and your face. Your clavicle is broken—” He meets my gaze to clarify, “That’s your collarbone,” before returning to my charts. “You also suffered a minor concussion. Likely from your head hitting the passenger-side door frame.”

“Is that why my head hurts so much?” With everything else, I hadn’t noticed the dull throb in the back of my skull until now. It kills.

“Likely. You also had a lot of alcohol in your blood, so some of that may be dehydration. We’ll make sure you get plenty of fluids.” Hanging my chart back at the end of the bed, he pulls out a thin flashlight. My mom is forced to let go of my hand and step back behind the drawn curtain.

“Clavicle fractures can take upward of twelve weeks to heal. I would recommend you wear your sling as long as possible.” He puts the stethoscope against my chest.

“Where are the two guys that came in with me?”

“Try to take a deep breath,” the doctor orders.

I do and groan out. He gives the nurse a nod as he adjusts my bandages. She quickly adjusts something on my drip. “There’s not much we can do for you except make you comfortable. We’re going to up your pain medicine and give you a sedative to help you sleep.”

“You can you tell me where my friends are.”

“I’ll see what I can find out for you, okay?” He whips open the curtain and is strolling out of the room before I can offer a “Thanks, Doc.”

My mom rushes back to her chair, clutching my free hand once again, her other hand pushing strands of my hair off my forehead. “How long before the sedative kicks in?” she asks the nurse.

“Very soon.” The nurse offers me a tight-lipped smile before ducking out of the room, just as my body begins to sink into the mattress, the meds working their magic.

“Dad? Can you find out where Sasha is?” I struggle to form the words, my tongue sluggish. “That doctor probably already forgot.”

Silence meets my question.

I fight against the magnetic pull of my lids as I take in two grief-stricken masks. Tears stream down my mom’s cheeks. My dad dips his head, his own eyes glossy.

Without their uttering a single word, I hear their answer.

A sob escapes me, even as I feel myself drifting off into oblivion.

But not before I realize that life as I’ve known it is over.

Chapter 3

The crushing pain in my chest now has little to do with my injuries.

And it’s suffocating me.

The clock hanging on the wall opposite me read 3:05 when I regained consciousness. I’ve watched the second hand do lap after lap for almost twenty minutes now.

Without saying a single word.

My best friends have been dead for almost thirty-six hours.

At some point while I slept, my mom traded her white sweater for a green one and added tear-stained cheeks to the dark bags under her eyes. “Cole. Please say something,” she pleads. She never was one for long bouts of quiet, preferring to “talk it out.” I took after her in that respect, which probably makes my silence all the more disturbing. My dad, on the other hand, seems quite content to sit on the empty hospital bed behind her, his arms folded across his chest, his face drawn. Mute.

“What happened?”

Mom clears her throat repeatedly. “They were thrown from the truck.” A pause. “I don’t understand why they weren’t wearing their seat belts. We taught you better than that! I just don’t—” She cuts herself off as my dad’s hand reaches out to graze her shoulder. She purses her lips for a moment as if to compose herself, before continuing. “From what we’ve heard so far, they died instantly. At least that’s . . . that’s something.” She covers her mouth just as a sob tears out.

A stabbing knot forms in the base of my throat.

“Madison?”

My mom’s head bobs. “She came by earlier and will be back later tonight. They’re at the apartment, packing up Sasha’s things and making arrangements.”

“How is she?”

“She’s being strong. Cyril said they’ll hold off on the funeral until Saturday. Dr. Stoult thinks you’ll be released by then,” my dad explains, adding, “Derek’s going to be buried on Wednesday.”

Sasha and Derek’s funerals.

This can’t be happening.

“The official police report will be filed shortly but from what they gather, alcohol may have been a fac—”

“No!” I cut him off, clenching my teeth against the pain as I shake my head. “I was drunk. That’s why Sasha drove in the first place.” Sasha wouldn’t drink and drive. He’s a good guy.

Was a good guy.

“So Sasha was driving. They weren’t a hundred percent certain if it was Derek or Sasha.” My dad’s mouth twists. “Regardless, the autopsy reports will confirm how much alcohol was in his blood.”

I close my eyes, thinking back to last Friday. Sasha was fine to drive . . . wasn’t he? He said he was fine, that he had been chugging water. But now that I look back at it, there probably was a beer in his hand most of the night. He could have been nursing it.

Then again, I’ve never known Sasha to nurse a beer.

Fuck. What was I thinking?

After another long, uncomfortable silence, I finally dare ask, “So, what did we hit, a tree?”

My mom’s face pales and I have my answer.

I didn’t think I could feel anything through this numbness.

“They’re saying that you guys collided with an Audi in the oncoming lane.” My dad’s eyes are fixed on the floor by my bed, the look in them telling me he’s miles away in thought. “There were no skid marks on the road.”

Jesus. We plowed into a car with that beast of a truck? “What happened to the other driver?”

Fresh tears spill out from my mom’s eyes and that unyielding heaviness against my lungs only grows.

“The police aren’t saying too much just yet. All I know is that there were five passengers in the car. Two adults and three teenagers,” my dad explains slowly. “They took a sixteen-year-old girl over to Sparrow. She needed a level-one trauma center.”

My stomach drops. “Did she make it?”

“Haven’t heard.”

“And the others?”

Dark blue eyes—the ones I inherited—lift to meet mine for a moment. So many emotions swirl within them—grief, pity, fear. He shakes his head once.

Five people . . . one survivor . . . That means . . .

Six people now dead.

All because I didn’t hold up my end of the deal.

I close my eyes against the rush of emotion.

■ ■ ■

Something silky tickles my fingertips. I don’t need to look to recognize the feel of Madison’s hair.

 A night sky stretches out beyond the vertical blinds. It’s nine thirty, according to the wall clock. My parents are gone—hopefully to get some sleep. Madison has taken over for my mom in the chair next to my bed. She’s asleep, her head propped in the crook of one arm that rests next to my hip, facing me, her long, poker-straight black hair fanned across my hand. Her face splotchy from crying.

I simply lie there and study her pretty features as she sleeps.

Growing up, I never thought I’d fall in love with Madison. She was always just Sasha’s baby sister, hovering in the shadows and blushing whenever she caught our attention. But then that stick-figured, shy kid went away to camp the summer before her freshman year and came back with curves and an impish sparkle in her eye.

No one at our high school recognized her at first, but the guys sure as hell noticed her. I was one of them. But, metamorphosis or not, she was still Sasha’s sister.

The night that Sasha caught me kissing her in my backyard was the only time he ever took a swing at me with the intention to do some damage. I got the cold shoulder from him for a week after that and I was sure our friendship was over.

He came around eventually, though. After an hour-long speech about how he’d punch me if he ever heard me talking about rounding the bases with her and he’d outright kill me if I hurt her.

I wish he were here to make good on that promise.

Parched, I reach for the cup of water sitting on my bedside table. Except for a few quick, assisted walks around my room, I haven’t moved from this bed in two days and I’m beginning to get restless. The nurses have reduced the painkiller dosage and, though my body still hurts, the physical ache isn’t nearly as crippling.

When I turn back, Madison’s awake, her whiskey-colored eyes on me. I suck in a breath, earning a sharp stab in my chest. I never really noticed just how similar her eyes are to Sasha’s.

In fact, they’re almost identical.

“Were you guys drunk?” Drops spill down her cheeks. “Did Sasha drive home drunk?”

All I can hear is, “Did you let Sasha drive home drunk?”

And the simple answer is yes . . . I did.

■ ■ ■

The wood boards creak under my feet as I walk down the front hall of our apartment. Sasha and I moved in here almost two years ago, at the beginning of our sophomore year. Rent’s a bit high, but the pub downstairs and the rooftop deck off the kitchen were huge selling features.

I stall in front of Sasha’s bedroom, my gaze roaming the vacant space. Everything is gone. Even the thumbtacks that held his posters up. “You guys have been busy.” My voice echoes through the space, only amplifying the hollowness in my chest.

“My parents wanted to haul it all back now. You know, get it over with.” Madison tucks a strand of her long hair behind her ear. She hesitates for two seconds before closing the distance between us with faltering steps. At five-foot-one and barely tipping the scale at a hundred pounds, she’s tiny next to me. “I’ve packed most of your clothes up for you. Your mom said to leave the rest over the summer, so it’s here for you when you come back in the fall.”

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