WAIT FOR ME
For all readers, young and old, who believe in second chances.
There was torture, and then there was rip-your-fingernails-out-by-the-roots-with-pliers pure agony. Right now, Kate Alexander was in the midst of the latter. Or at least it felt like she was.
She ground her teeth and tried to think of something besides the sweat slicking her skin, the ceiling entirely too close to her face, the fact she could barely breathe in this claustrophobic box. Nothing worked. The only thought revolving in her mind was the fact if she didn’t get out of here soon, she was going to go batshit crazy on the tech behind the glass to her left.
“A little longer, Kate.”
Great. Fabulous. Just what she wanted to hear. She knew not to move—that would only prolong her misery—but this little test had already taken way longer than it should. What the hell was he doing in there, throwing a party?
Patience had never been her strong suit. Her doctors had told her that lack of patience was probably the reason she hadn’t stayed dead in the first place—that she’d given up waiting for the light to get stronger and had decided just to turn around and come back because she’d grown impatient. Kate wasn’t convinced of that fact—she didn’t remember any light. She didn’t remember much of anything. But thanks to the trusty staff at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, her “death” had lasted only a mere ninety seconds. Ninety seconds that had changed her life forever.
She had no memory of the car accident that had left her snazzy Mercedes in a lump of twisted metal. No memory of the driver of the other vehicle who’d walked away while she’d lain on a cold slab fighting for her life. No memory of her life before the accident, period. But she’d learned one very important lesson that day: some things in life were worth fighting for.
Her mind drifted to Jake, their anniversary and the special dinner she had planned. Seven years… It didn’t feel like seven years. In many ways, it felt like she barely knew him. The past eighteen months had been a blur of tests and more tests, settling into life in Houston, reacquainting herself with her husband and their friends all over again. A side effect of the accident he’d told her, one they’d get through together. Except…he traveled so much for work, it seemed like she was doing all that reacquainting by herself.
She wanted to sigh but knew not to. Okay, so he was dedicated to his job. He loved his work. She had to admire his passion. So what if their marriage was far from perfect? No one had a perfect marriage. But she’d been given a second chance. She planned to make the most of it.
She quietly rejoiced when the machine buzzed again and the table began retracting from the tunnel. Done. Finally. Twenty minutes of hell. And she hadn’t needed to flip the tech off after all. A smile curled her lips at the thought.
The tech emerged from the screening room and unstrapped Kate’s head and shoulders from the restraints. “Not so bad. How are you feeling?”
Kate sat up and rubbed the long scar on the side of her scalp. “Like a sardine.”
He chuckled. “I hear that a lot. You’ll need to hang around for a bit while we review the images and make sure we got everything we need.”
She nodded, knowing the routine. She’d been through it before, and this wouldn’t be the last.
She dressed then headed out into the waiting area where TVs flickered with a surreal image. Several people gathered around the three screens, staring at what looked like a war scene. Flames and billowing smoke, sirens blaring, lights flashing. Prickly fingers of fear ran over Kate’s skin as she watched the horror unfold on the screen.
The camera zoomed in on plane wreckage. A ticker across the bottom of the screen flashed “Breaking News.”
“The crash happened at roughly ten-forty five, Pacific Time. Flight 524 from San Francisco to Houston crashed just after takeoff. Witnesses say the plane burst into a fireball only yards from the runway. NTSB officials are on scene, and an investigation is already under way. Early reports estimate there are no survivors.”
The air caught in Kate’s lungs. She scrambled for her purse, one strap sliding down her arm as she frantically searched among receipts and fruit snacks for the note Jake had left her. His flight information and where he’d been staying for the conference in San Francisco.
“Kate? Is everything okay?”
She didn’t look up to see who was talking to her. Couldn’t focus. The purse slipped off her shoulder, landed at her feet with a clank. She dropped to her knees, frantically pawing through the contents, looking for his note. It wasn’t the same flight. It couldn’t be. He was probably landing right this minute. He’d laugh when she told him she’d dumped her entire purse on the floor at the clinic.
“Kate? What is it? What do you need?”
Vaguely, she realized Gina, the nurse, was helping her. Tears blurred her eyes. She shook her head. “A note. Jake’s note. I have to find it. I have to—”
“We’ll find it. Relax. Just breathe. I’m sure everything’s okay.”
She drew a deep breath, let it out. Gina was right. She was overreacting. Jake was fine. Blinking back tears, she scanned the floor and finally spotted Jake’s slanted handwriting on a slip of paper just to the right of her hand. Her fingers shook as she drew it close so she could read the words.
My flight info:
Outgoing: Houston to San Francisco, Flight # 1498
Return: San Francisco to Houston, Flight # 524
The paper slipped out of her fingers. The room spun. Blackness circled in.
The CT scan, the anniversary dinner she’d shopped for earlier, the last eighteen months of her life swirled behind her eyes and mingled with Gina’s voice, muffled now, calling to her from what seemed like a great distance. Only one thing made sense. Only one thought remained.
Her life had just shifted direction all over again. And this time, death had won.
“You really need to eat something.” Mindy, Kate’s next-door neighbor, set the steaming mug of tea on the kitchen table in front of Kate and sat in the chair to her right.
Without looking, Kate knew Mindy’s freckled features were drawn and somber. The woman had adored Jake. Everyone had. None of their friends had known about his mood swings. Or the fact he purposely stayed away from home. Or that he and Kate fought about his work. But they didn’t need to know those things now. No one did.
“Thanks.” With shaky fingers, Kate wrapped her hands around the mug, holding on to the warmth. “I think I might just be ill if I smell one more cup of coffee.”
There’d been a steady stream of friends through the house all afternoon and into the early evening. This was the first quiet moment Kate had found. And now…now she wondered why she’d wanted it.
“The tea should help you relax,” Mindy said, pushing her red hair over her shoulder. “It’s been a long day. How about a little soup?”
Kate shook her head. Food was the last thing on her mind. Her stomach would revolt if she tried to eat. Waving a hand, she blinked back tears that wanted to fall. She wasn’t going to give in again. Not now. She’d save the waterfall for when she was alone. In that big bedroom she was too used to sleeping in all by herself.
“I’m not hungry.” Silence enveloped the room. She knew Mindy disapproved, but she had a thousand other things on her mind besides food. “God, Mindy. I have so much to do.”
Mindy’s hand clamped over hers on the table. “There’s plenty of time for all that.”
“No. If I don’t get it all taken care of, I’ll go nuts.” She leaned back in her chair. “I can’t stay here.”
“You have to give it time. You can’t make rash decisions right now.”
“No. This house was his idea. Living here…” Her eyes slid shut. “He made every major decision in our lives.”
“He was your husband. And you’ve been through so much this last year and a half with the accident. Of course he made all the decisions. It’s logical given your medical history.”
Her medical history. The memory loss. It had been Jake’s excuse for everything. Why he ran their finances, why he arranged it so she was never alone, why he’d chosen which publisher she freelanced for.
She should have insisted he include her in decisions. She should have played a bigger role in planning for a day like this. She didn’t even know where to look for his life insurance policy.
Her stomach rolled, and she swallowed back the bile. Leaning forward to rest her elbows on the table and her head in her hands, she knew she needed to get as far from this house as possible. She’d felt the pull to leave months ago, but she’d fought it because of Jake. Because her life was here. Now…now she didn’t know what to think anymore.
“Jake was the one who loved Houston. Not me.” Her head throbbed. She wasn’t taking pain medication tonight. Not when her mind was already in a fog.
“It’s your home, Kate. You can’t just leave. Jake’s family’s here.”
A pathetic laugh erupted from Kate’s lips. “He and his father haven’t spoken in more than a year. The man barely even acknowledges he has a grandson. That’s not the type of family I want for Reed.” No family was better than that in her mind.
“Just promise me you won’t make any spur-of-the-moment decisions. Please?”
Concerned brown eyes gazed into Kate’s face. Mindy wouldn’t get it. Not really. She wouldn’t understand that this feeling of not belonging had been festering for a long time. That it had been haunting her ever since the accident. And tonight wasn’t the night to get into it with her.