A trail of blood, visible in the bright glare of a dangling headlight, blazed a red path to his sprawled body. One of his hands lay open on the grass, while the other was curled into a fist, and it held something. Something important. He couldn’t remember what it was, he only knew it had been in his pocket. It was for her.
“Stay with me, aright?” the truck driver told him as he paced at the edge of the road. The distraught man peered into the distance before he spun around and shot him an apprehensive glance. “Just . . . don’t do somethin’ you’ll be regrettin’ now, aright?”
It took an excruciating effort for Benjamin Newcastle to make sense of his words. With his body propped awkwardly against his wrecked car, the burning gash at his throat continued dripping blood across his chest, his hips, his thighs, oozing over the soil like the earth itself was stealing his life essence. Stealing his soul.
His companion’s face looked ghostly pale in the darkness as he kept an eye out for help. The collision had sent both vehicles careening down a slope at the side of the road. Now one man was standing; the other was on the ground. Struggling. Struggling to breathe, to remain conscious.
Above Ben’s pounding head, the moon shone through the fog. The silence of the night felt endless as they waited to hear sirens, crickets—hell, anything.
“Promised . . . be back,” Ben rasped, exhaling with difficulty. His breath misted the air. The need to be with her was something deep-rooted in him, and he felt the anxiety of being late, of making her wait, or worry.
The old man offered him a weak smile, clearly avoiding to look beneath Ben’s chin, to where his body was battered. Even if Ben had attempted to glance downward, he wouldn’t make out much through the cake of blood. But he felt it. Felt cold, felt numb parts, pained parts, and something he’d spent years trying to cure in others: his heart faltering.
“Help’s comin’. The ambulance should be here soon,” the man said, tapping impatient, trembling fingers on his cell phone.
“Her—birthday,” Ben strained out.
“Ahh . . .”
Ben squeezed his eyes shut, trying to summon an image of her face. A perky nose, small but plump lips. Smooth rounded cheekbones. All set in a face that was calm and warm as sunshine. But now . . . now he couldn’t remember the exact shade of her eyes. “She—waiting. For . . .”
“She’s waitin’ for ya, I get that. But no more wastin’ your breath, man. Help’s comin’.”
His head fell back when his neck couldn’t sustain him and he bumped against some metal part of his BMW.
The other man flipped his cell phone open, his movements rushed and awkward-sounding. Ben ached everywhere—he just ached to go home. All day, through patients, the surgeries, he’d ached to go home.
“Yeah . . . been in an accident . . . no, damn, I’m not gonna run, there’s a dying man here . . .”
A wry smile appeared on Ben’s lips, then vanished when he couldn’t dredge enough energy to keep it. He cracked open one eye. “Not gonna die—relaaaaax.”
The man slapped the phone shut, agitated as he glanced at his turned-over carrier truck. “Yeah, buddy, I know. Just hang on till someone gets here. So what’s that you’re holding?”
The breeze felt hot against his chilled skin. He glanced down at his fisted hand, the metal warm inside his grip. “Can’t remember,” he murmured.
The man dropped to his knees. “Well, let’s see now, want me to pry it off you? Ahh, a necklace.”
“Locket,” he corrected.
“This for her?”
His teeth began to chatter. “F-for Emma.”
“My . . . mine.”
“Then you’re gonna want to personally give this to her, right? What’s your name? Whoa there, stay with me. What’s your name, buddy?”
Ben’s throat felt drier than asphalt—it closed when he attempted to answer. Couldn’t say, Benjamin Newcastle. Couldn’t say, Ben.
He knew the signs of cardiac arrest. Ironic that with such an extensive knowledge of the subject, he was as helpless as a newborn now. Even if he’d had an aspirin on hand as prevention, it would only thin his blood and ensure he bled to death.
Assailed with an unexpected rage, he stiffened his muscles and tried to buck upward, talk, do something. Would’ve been good if he were holding his wounds. Trying to stop the bleeding. Calm down, calm down, take action. Yet he couldn’t command his hands. No longer felt his legs. His jaw felt stiff and cramped. Emma!
The squeal of an ambulance echoed in the distance, barely filtering past his thoughts of a warm bath, warm soup, and her. God, her. “C-c-ccall . . . !” he strained out through his teeth. “Ccccc-cc-call!”
The old man cursed out loud, mumbled to himself, “This son of a bitch’s dead,” and then Ben felt the cold metal locket being pressed back into his palm, heard the man’s racing footsteps across the grass, leading into the tangle of trees in the empty hillside.
“C-c-c-c-ccc-all Em-m-mmm-ma . . .”
His breath became a wheeze. The chatter of his teeth hissed and clicked like a rattlesnake. And still, the sirens approached. Weeo, weeo, weeo. He thought of . . .
And how they’d awakened him this morning. He’d seized those lips, had kissed them slowly, deeply.
Good morning, those pink, soft, sweet lips had murmured against his, and they’d smiled, those lips, and nibbled, those lips, and kissed. I have a mind to strap you to my bed and never let you leave me . . .
He listened to his pulse fade, heard his last struggling breaths spell out a mournful goodbye, and he wondered if she’d known. If he’d known. If they’d both sensed it. That this would happen.
That he might come to lie here on this ground and wonder if he’d ever get to feel those lips again. That he might sit here and pray to see her big brown eyes again.
He couldn’t have known.
Because if he had, he would have made that kiss, their last kiss, last longer.