By Kate, age 19, New Hampshire
Sweet Designs Staff Intern
Sweet Designs Featured Writer
He tucked the queen-sized sheets in between the mattresses, pulling at the corners until the wrinkles melted away. He fluffed the pillows three times, placed them perfectly against the headboard, and swept his hand along the blankets again, ensuring that no wrinkles would reform in his wake.
Four ... five ... six ... seven ... eight ... seven, eight ... He did a double take going down the stairs, hitting steps seven and eight twice for good luck. He rounded the corner and into the kitchen where his wife was finishing the breakfast dishes. He wrapped his arms around her waist, kissed once on her left cheek, once on her right cheek, and once on top of her head. She leaned back into his arms and smiled up at him. He grabbed a wet plate from the sink and began to dry. He circled the towel three times on one side, flipped the plate, and circled three times in the opposite direction on the back.
When the dishes were finished, he grabbed his sandwich from the fridge. He closed the door, pushed against it to ensure it was closed, then, unconvinced, he opened it and closed it again, giving it one last push. He grabbed his jacket off the coat rack by the front door and slid his arms through each sleeve. He zippered half way up, down a quarter of a way, and then the rest of the way up.
"Chris," his wife called. He turned to see his beautiful wife behind him, her red hair in a loose pony tail. He kissed her gently on the lips. "See you tonight," she said to him.
"I love you, Lisa," he said. He turned the doorknob and stepped out into the cold December air, closing the door quickly behind him. He turned the knob twice, making sure the door was secured.
He made his way down the stone slated path, which he laid with his own hands twenty some odd years ago when they moved in. He was careful not to step on any cracks - how did that saying go? Something about breaking your mother's back. The childhood rhyme made him amused and he "hmp'd" to himself - his typical quick, amused way of laughing.
He opened the door to his '69 Pontiac Firebird and banged his feet together before getting in. The car was his older brother's first car and was passed on to him when his brother upgraded. Unfortunately, the upgrade didn't last long. A month after he bought the car - what on earth was it, anyway? - it was totaled. When Chris and his family arrived at the scene, Jake was already zippered tight in a body bag.
Chris told himself the car would never leave his possession and was a way to keep his brother alive. Because of this, he kept the car in mint condition. It had all its original parts (minus the tires which were stolen late one night) and a beautifully kept paint job; not a chip could be found.
Typically, he did not drive the car in winter, but with Lisa's car in the shop due to bad brakes, the two had to share the little Pontiac to run errands.
He started the ignition and it roared to life. He revved it once, twice, and smiled at the sound. He backed carefully out of the driveway and checked the road for a clearing. One ... two ... three ... He stepped on the gas, but a car came around the corner. He stopped, waited for the car to pass, and counted again. One ... two ... three ... four ... five ... six ...
On some days, when the road was busy with school buses and kids carpooling to school, he would be late for work, not because there was traffic, but he always had to wait thirty-three seconds before backing out into the road. There could be a completely deserted road, but he had to wait thirty-three seconds to proceed.
Today, the road was relatively quiet. Being a back road, it didn't get used much, but was sometimes used as a shortcut to get to other main roads. There was no construction nearby and no one had to wait behind school buses, as students were on Christmas break, so this left the road clear.
He backed out into the road with ease, shifted into drive, and made his way up the road. At the end of the road, he came to an intersection. He stopped at the appropriate spot and began counting in his head. One ... two ... three ... four ... five ...
A young woman in a sporty silver car yelled out her window, beeping her horn. Chris checked his rear view mirror - a line had started to form. Thirty ... thirty-one ... thirty-two ... It was clear, so he pushed the car forward.
He arrived to work at a minute past eight. This bothered him greatly. He sat at his desk, breathing deeply and counting to himself, until the stress of it passed. Then he made his way to the cafeteria to grab a coffee. Regular coffee, three quarters of the way up the cup, a quick squirt of half-and-half, and a pack and a quarter of Splenda, just the way he liked it. He stirred three times in one direction, then three times in the opposite direction. He stuck the stirrer in his mouth and his tongue collected the bits of coffee on it. Perfect.
He slowly made his way back to his desk, stopping every few seconds to take a sip of his coffee. He set it down at his desk; a permanent dark ring stained the desk from years of coffee sitting in the same spot. It was in perfect reaching distance from his right hand, easy to grab, and it left his left hand free for answering calls and jotting down reminders.
"Morning, Chris," a voice called from somewhere in front of him. He looked up and saw a tall, lean man standing in the doorway.
"Morning, Tom," he replied with a grin. Beside Tom, Chris noticed, was a shorter man, no, a kid. He couldn't have been more than twenty-five years old. Tom stepped into the office and took a seat in one of the chairs in front of the desk.
"Sit down, Luke," Tom said, gesturing to the seat beside him. Luke sat in obedience.
"Luke, this is Chris. He's the head of our department."
Chris offered his hand, which Luke took. His grasp was firm.
"How you doin'?" Chris asked, mostly in greeting.
"Fine, sir." Luke sat back in his chair, pulling it closer to the desk.
"Ah, might not wanna disturb the peace," Tom said. "Chris here is a bit CDO."
"A bit?" Chris raised an eyebrow in sarcasm.
"What's CDO?" Luke asked.
"It's OCD in alphabetical order, the way it should be," Chris joked. The two men shared a laugh, but Luke remained silent, unsure of how to feel in the current situation.
"Relax, kid, we're all buddies here," Chris said, and leaned back in his chair. He began to count the tiles on the ceiling.
"Well, anyway, Luke here is in training, so I was just showing him the ins and outs," Tom said, standing up.
"Ah," Chris said, bringing his attention back to his two visitors. "Welcome, Luke. Don't hesitate to pay me a visit if you have any questions.
"Thank you, sir," Luke said, following Tom out the door.
Chris continued his counting. Four ... five ... six ...
The phone rang. Chris reached for his coffee, took a quick sip, set it down in its proper place, and picked up the phone.
"Gexpro Services, this is Chris Maywell."
"Chris, Chris, oh my God ..." A panicked voice rambled on the other end. "I don't know what happened. Chris, you gotta come now."
"Excuse me? Who is this?"
"Tara, it's Tara, Chris!" She sounded angry now.
"Tara? What's going on?"
"It was supposed to be fixed ..." Tara was practically hysterical.
"Tara, breathe. What's going on?" What on earth was she babbling about?
"The car ... it didn't stop!" The car?
It hit Chris like a ton of bricks. Lisa's car.
"I brought her to the mechanic to pick up the car. I was going to follow her home, drop one of the cars off, and grab lunch. But her car ... we were leaving the parking lot ... it didn't stop." She was sobbing at this point.
"What? Is Lisa okay?" Now Chris was panicky. Without notice, he began rearranging things on his desk, knocking the coffee on the floor.
"Chris, you need to come. They're bringing her to St. Anne's."
Chris hung up the phone. Without thinking twice, he ran out of the office, not even bothering to grab his jacket. Onetwothreefourfivesixseven ... His mind was racing along with his feet. His breath fogged in front of him. He fumbled with his car keys, threw the door open, and jammed the key into the ignition. He navigated through the parking lot onto the main road. One ... two ... three ... four ...
Thirty-nine seconds later he was speeding down the road. Outside, fresh snow began to fall. The Pontiac cruised along, eager to push faster and faster, and the world outside was a white blur. The windshield wipers beat back in forth in a steady rhythm. One, two, one, two ... It seemed to take forever to get to the hospital, but eventually, he pulled into the emergency parking lot, the Pontiac's tires sliding on the ice.
He hurried out of the car and towards the emergency entrance, not even bothering to lock the car. He was greeted by a blast of hot air as he stepped through the automatic doors. He blinked in the light, searching for someone to speak to. Behind a desk on the opposite wall was a small, plump woman. She looked up as he entered and smiled.
"Lisa, Lisa Maywell, is she here?" He glanced around the room quickly, hopeful for the sight of Tara, but she was nowhere to be found. The woman shuffled some papers.
"Lisa. Lisa Maywell. Is she okay? She should be here."
"What is your relationship with Miss Maywell?" the woman asked.
"Misses," Chris corrected. "I'm her husband."
"Ah, Mr. Maywell. Lisa is in surgery at the moment. Why don't you have a seat and make yourself comfortable? We will let you know when we know more about your wife's condition."
"Condition?" Chris repeated. He began counting the freckles on her face.
"Please, Mr. Maywell, have a seat."
Chris searched for an empty seat, found a couch, and sat at the end. He stared blankly at the television in front of him. On the screen, grey clouds with animated snowflakes labeled each day of the current week.
"... a white Christmas ..." the man on the screen said, his mouth spread in a wide grin.
He must have dozed off, because before he knew it, the woman behind the desk was tapping his shoulder. "Mr. Maywell?"
Chris jumped, blinked, turned to see who had woken him, then stood suddenly. His head spun for a moment as he regained his balance. That's when he noticed the young male doctor beside the desk woman.
"Mr. Maywell," the doctor began. "I'm Doctor Cooper. Your wife suffered critical injuries in the accident. She has major head injuries and some brain damage. We believe she may be paralyzed from the waist down, as well."
This news came at him all at once. It seemed to jumble in his brain and he concentrated on sorting the pieces to form coherent sentences.
"Can I see her?" he asked after a moment.
"Of course. She drifts in and out of consciousness at the moment. We aren't sure how severe her brain damages are - she may or may not have any memory of what happened, or even you, so be prepared. When she recovers from surgery, we will be able to get a more accurate analysis after some tests."
Chris followed the doctor through the hospital hallways which were busy with patients, doctors, and stretchers coming in and out of doors. Finally, they came to the recovery room in which Lisa lay. A heart monitor beeped slowly beside her.
He cautiously approached the bedside. One ... two ... three ... four ... five ... The bed wasn't at all far from the doorway. In fact, the room seemed a bit cramped. Or maybe it was his imagination. Everything suddenly seemed cramped. Even his breathing felt short and shallow, like he had to force each breath.
He sat in the chair beside her bed and watched her carefully. Her breathing seemed to mock his. Her chest barely rose at all. He held her hand in his, kissed her fingers, counting each one.
"Lisa," he whispered to her. Her chest continued to rise and fall slowly, but she made no other movement. Chris rested his head next to hers on the pillow and rubbed his cheek against hers. His vision blurred quickly. He sighed, counted in his head, and closed his eyes.
* * * * *
"Chris," Lisa whispered. Her voice was hoarse and weak. Chris lifted his head to his wife. Her eyes were half open and she forced a smile. He sat up and groaned; his back was aching from the awkward position he fell asleep in. He took her hands in his and squeezed them tightly.
"I love you, Lisa," he whispered to her. He kissed her forehead.
"I love you, too." Chris bent down and brushed his lips against hers.
Suddenly, the heart monitor sped up. Lisa's eyes rolled to the back of her head and her body lurched upward, twitching erratically. Chris jumped up and staggered backwards.
"Lisa?" He stood dumbfounded, unable to move, counting the beeps of the heart monitor as doctors and nurses rushed in. He counted and stared as they brought out the defibrillator, counted and stared as they attempted to jumpstart her heat, counted and stared as her body suddenly grew limp and motionless. And suddenly, there was nothing left to count. So, he just stared. The doctor called time of death, 1:37 p.m.
"Mr. Maywell?" The doctor had approached him. It was the same young doctor who had brought him into the room an hour earlier. "Mr. Maywell ... I'm sorry." When Chris didn't answer, the doctor directed the nurses out of the room. He followed close behind, closing the door behind him.
Chris approached the bedside and sat in the chair. He whispered his wife's name over and over to himself. He took her hands in his and kissed each finger, counting them. One ... two ... three ...
A shimmer of light caught his eyes. Outside, the snow had stopped and the sun shimmered on the blanketed scenery. Across the way, he noticed a tall building - perhaps another part of the hospital? He began counting the windows on the building, his hand caressing his wife's hair. One ... two ... three ...