The car was flipping. Once. Twice. A third time. It was happening in slow motion, and suddenly, an abrupt halt. Twisted metal and broken glass surrounded Katie’s entire body.
Just ten minutes ago, Tyler was laughing and rolling his eyes affectionately when she buckled her seatbelt and gently nudged him to do the same. “Let’s live a little! This may be the only chance you get to drive my baby,” he said as he waved her off. And now: he was upside down. His eyes were closed, and she couldn’t tell if he was breathing.
Katie reached for him with both hands, and for a moment, paused at the sight of the engagement ring on her left hand--the ring Tyler had just given her before they got in the car. The diamond shone with the sun through the cracked windshield, casting a light across Tyler’s crumpled expression. He looked like he was asleep, having a bad dream.
The proposal had come as a complete surprise. The normally confident Tyler had been shaking so hard when he asked her that he dropped the ring into a bush that looked suspiciously like poison ivy, but he dove headfirst after it, potential hives be damned.
“Will you spend the rest of your life with me?” he had asked her, his cheeks red through a combination of embarrassment and effort. Laughing and crying simultaneously she said, “YES, of COURSE,” and then added: “as long as I die first.” They laughed together as he swung her around the top of that mountain.
This was all her fault.
She definitely hit the gas too hard. She knew when she was doing it. But she was just so excited and felt...free. She wanted to feel that freedom in every inch of her body. She wanted the wind to whip just a little harder, for the lights to get just a little brighter, to shrink the world just a bit more down to just the two of them. And she certainly got her wish.
The sirens were getting louder. Or was it the ringing in her ears? “They’re coming, Tyler,” she whispered to him, as calmly as she could. “Just hold on, ok?”
There was a doctor--Dr. something-that-sounds-like-a-fruit--telling her she was lucky to be alive. She barely had a scratch on her. But when she asked about Tyler, a shadow crossed the doctor’s face. He tried to hide it, but she was always good at reading people.
“The good news is he’s alive,” said the doctor. Katie’s heart leapt out of her chest for the millionth time that day. “Can I see him?” she begged.
“Katie, there’s something you need to know,” the doctor said gently. “Tyler has suffered a massive head injury as a result of the accident. We think there may be severe brain trauma, specifically affecting his memory--”
“Whatever it is,” Katie cut him off, ”we’ll get through it together.” She imperceptibly stroked the new ring on her finger. “We just got engaged,” she whispered. “I want to see him as soon as possible.”
The doctor nodded and escorted Katie out of his office and down the hallway. She felt like she was floating. Tyler was okay! That’s all that mattered.
And then she saw Tyler’s parents through the window. Mrs. June was holding Tyler’s right hand, and Mr. June was sitting in the single chair in the room, staring straight ahead. They had always been cordial to her, although she suspected they never thought she was good enough for their son, who happened to be the only heir to their impressive fortune. Of course Katie never cared about any of that.
Mr. June’s eyes caught hers staring in, and he leapt from his chair in a flash. He was standing next to her in the hallway before she could get a foot inside.
“You.” With one word he mustered all of the hate and fear he had in his body.
“Can I see him, please?” Katie’s voice trembled. She had never been good with confrontation and she was already operating on one frayed nerve.
“No,” Mr. June said firmly. “You may not.” He looked her up and down with disgust. If he noticed her ring, he didn’t reveal it in his expression.
“I just want to be here when he wakes up,” Katie said softly. “I want to help him get back to his old self, as soon as possible.”
Mr. June took a step towards her. “I’m just going to say this once: This is your fault, and I don’t want you near my son. Ever. Again. If I find out you have tried to contact him in any way, I will use all means available to ruin you.”
By now, tears were streaming down Katie’s face.
“Do you understand me?” Mr. June crooked a finger under Katie’s chin and tilted her face towards him. “Say it.” A chill ran through Katie. “I understand.”
“Good.” Mr. June turned and walked back into Tyler’s room, closing the door behind him.
Now, five years later, Katie was putting all of that behind her--she had a great new job, a great new boyfriend, and a great new life. And yet, here she was, lost in thought about that terrible night, when she heard someone calling her name. “Katie. Katie!”
She snapped out of it. Katie looked around her office, realizing she had been reliving the memory of the worst day of her life. It had all come rushing back today, just like it always did on the anniversary of the crash.
“Katie. Babe. Are you ok?” Katie realized her boyfriend, Jack, was standing in front of her desk. “Are you coming?” He held a lunch sack in his hand.
Katie winced. “I’m sorry, I have to skip our lunch date today. This new intern is starting for Henry, and I have to onboard him, it’s a whole THING. I totally spaced--can I make it up to you later?”
Jack tried to look mad, but only ended up looking adorable. He smiled. “Sure thing. But I get to decide how you make it up.”
“Oh yeah?” Katie put on a devilish grin. “Just what do you have in mind?”
“I’ll show you later.” Jack started to leave the office, then turned around to add, “you know it’s PB&J day, and I really think I crushed the PB to J ratio today. Your loss.”
“My heart breaks. Later!” Katie gave him a small wave and a wink as he disappeared out the door.
She took a deep breath. “Snap out of it,” she told herself. She put her hands in front of her face, the left hand now ringless, in an attempt to steady her nerves and forget the night she had lost the first man she loved forever.
But when she lowered her hands--that very same man was standing in front of her desk.
The love of her previous life. Was she still daydreaming?
“Are you Ms. Kim?” he asked. Katie blinked twice. She hadn’t seen him in five years, but she could never forget that boyish grin, that wild, raven hair, and those strong arms that she used to fit inside.
“Hi. I’m Tyler June. The new intern? Nice to meet you.” He extended his hand with a smile. “I’m really looking forward to working here.”