In the passenger seat of John’s 2003 red Ford pickup, Katie Sommers sat with her window down and the summer wind wild in her brunette hair. With her nails, she gently scratched the back of John’s neck as he drove, then her hand slid down his arm and her fingers interlocked with his. She squeezed his hand and he squeezed back. For almost seven years, they’d been going at it. Ever since their sophomore year in high school when she sat by him at lunch and pestered him with flirtatious smiles until he surrendered his name.
“The new job going okay?” John asked.
Katie’s face fell. She turned to John; a hint of annoyance in her sapphire eyes.
“Should I take that as a ‘no’?”
Katie shrugged. “It’s just that I’ve already gotten two complaints from other coworkers. And I haven’t even been here two weeks.”
John’s brows furrowed. “Two? What’re they complaining about?”
“They said I haven’t been ‘enthusiastic enough,’” she said, making quotation marks in the air with her fingers.
“Is that true?”
“Nope…. Maybe. I don’t know.”
“Baby, has something been bothering you? You can tell me, you know. As your boyfriend, I think listening is technically one of my legal requirements.”
Katie giggled. “I’ll have to remember that.”
“Is it the job?” John persisted. “Is being a nurse not what you expected?”
“No, no, it’s nothing like that. It’s just…. Are you sure you want to know?”
“Yeah, tell me. What is it?”
“It’s because…” She let out a sigh. “It’s because, when I go to work, I just miss you so much, John.”
John laid into the brakes at a stop sign and stared at Katie with a blank face, unamused. “Do you know how worried you had me just then?”
As the song on the stereo changed, Katie gasped with a smile. “Babe, our song’s on.” She reached over and turned the volume up loud.
The song was ‘You Love Me to Death’ by Hooverphonic. It’d been theirs since back in their senior year of high school, when the song played at prom after Katie had told John she loved him for the first time. She’d always swore she would love him to death. Every time she said it, he’d wonder if that meant she’d love him until one of them died, or if she’d love him to such an extent that it would literally kill him. He never asked, though. Just one of the millions of random thoughts he had in a day. After a moment, it’d always be swept away like the rest.
After a short drive, John brought the truck to a stop in front of Parksouth Hospital and turned down the music on the radio. “Here you are, your majesty.”
Katie shoved her handheld mirror into her purse and gave John a smack on the arm. Playful, but at the same time, serious.
“I’m late,” she said. “Always, always late when I stay at your place, John. Do you know that?”
“Then maybe you should stop joining me in the shower,” he suggested.
She stared at the space above her head like she was reading her own thought bubbles. “I’d rather be late.” Katie started to get out, but then she turned and looked at John like a lost puppy. “I hate leaving you.”
“I hate it too.” He mimicked her frown.
After a fat kiss on the lips, Katie pulled herself from the car. She brushed the wrinkles from her pink hospital scrubs and shut the door.
John rolled down the passenger widow. “I’ll see you tonight?”
She grinned and rolled her eyes. “Duh. But you have to be here by no later than 7:30, okay? My show’s coming on at 8 and I can’t miss it.”
John let his head fall back against the headrest. “Oh not another one of your romantic sitcoms.”
“Yup. Think you can be back here by then?”
“Yeah. I have to go run an errand at 6 but I’ll be done by the time you get off.”
Katie stepped back toward the car, her brows raised with interest. “What kind of errand?”
John was visibly biting down on a smile, but it broke through anyway. “You’ll just have to wait and see tonight.”
“Ooh, a surprise?”
A door to the hospital opened and a slender old man with thinning hair stepped halfway through it. “Katie! Just because you’re in the parking lot doesn’t mean you aren’t late. Let’s go,” he said.
Katie sighed. “Okay, I’ll see you tonight. Be safe. I love you.”
“I love you too.” John began driving off but stopped and kept his eyes on Katie until she passed through those double glass doors and left his sight.
Katie’s work shift passed in the same way it usually did. Anytime work slowed, she found her restless little fingers grabbing at her phone to check the time. And to see if he’d sent her a message. No matter how hard she tried, her thoughts were always steering toward John. She wondered what he may be doing and if he was thinking of her too. But thinking of him only made the day go by slower, so she kept herself busy—a task that was like holding her breath for four more hours.
Finally, at 6:30 p.m., Katie gave in and sent John a text message:
So excited for 2nite. Can’t stop thinking about it! ❤
Promptly, her screen lit up:
Me too. I hope you like it tho 🙂
Katie smiled at her phone.
I’m so lucky to have a man like you. I love you, John.
Katie watched as the three dots appeared that said John was typing his response. Sitting behind a computer, Katie entered a patient’s discharge information, all the while eagerly awaiting a text back from John. After a moment that felt like a few, she glanced back down at her phone. The three dots were still there. She wondered if he was writing one of his lengthy messages where he tells her how much she means to him. Hoped he was. Loved when he did that. But as the final hour of her shift passed, John never replied, and those three dots remained.
Oh well, she thought. Maybe he’s busy. Or driving.
After clocking out of her shift, Katie called John as she hurried out to the parking lot where he’d dropped her off. It was where he always sat, patiently waiting for her to come through those double doors. But he didn’t answer the phone, and as Katie got outside, she didn’t see his red pickup. He was late. He was never late. Or was he just not coming? Was this part of his surprise? She checked the time. Her show would be starting soon. Katie sent a message to John and told him to meet her at her parent’s, then she called her dad and told him to come get her.
Katie was seated on a curb in front of the hospital with her chin in her palm when her dad pulled up.
“Jeez, Dad,” Katie said as she climbed into the passenger seat. “You sure took your time getting here.”
“Well hell, don’t blame me. Traffic on 75 was a bitch. Some crash or construction or something. Had to take the service road and I think I caught every red light on the way here.”
“I know it. Shame when some shitty driver has to ruin it for everyone else.”
Katie nodded along as she stared off. “Yeah…”
She pulled out her phone and checked the screen like she may’ve heard it ring. But there were no new messages, and no missed calls.
“Dad, have you heard from John today?”
“No, I haven’t, Honey. Why?”
Beneath the October’s setting sun, the two headed home.
It was 8:29 when she rushed through the front door of her home. On her way to the living room she shed her coat, shoes, and dropped her purse somewhere by the couch. She turned on the TV.
“Damn,” she said when she saw the show had already started—almost like she was expecting it to wait for her.
Katie folded her legs beneath her as she sat back into the couch. Just as she sat, she heard the crackling rumble of her stomach growling. Unwilling to risk the loss of another scene, Katie’s unblinking eyes remained on the 50-inch screen as she called out to her mother: “Mom! Will you bring your favorite daughter something to eat? Please?”
Katie’s mother, a heavy woman with long blond hair and crows feet at the corners of her eyes, moseyed into the living room looking like she’d just woken up. “You do know you’re my only daughter, right?”
“That’s why I’m your favorite.”
Her mother began making a plate in the kitchen. “You see that accident on the highway?”
“Huh? No but it made Dad take years getting me from work.”
Katie’s mother brought her a hot plate—meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans. As she took the plate, Katie caught the staring eyes of her mother.
“What?” Katie asked.
“Thought you was supposed to be at John’s tonight.”
“Well I was, but he won’t answer his phone.”
“Maybe it died.”
“That still doesn’t explain why he didn’t show up to get me from work. It’s just the strangest thing, coz he never does this. He’ll always find a way to get ahold of me.”
“Well maybe he’s stuck in traffic. You see how congested everything was? Gotta be hell being stuck in all that. Check the news.”
Katie nursed a few bites of meatloaf with long cooling breaths before putting them into her mouth. After a moment, her show went to commercials. She flipped the channel to the news. Something about Donald Trump’s latest tweets were being discussed. Then a breaking news broadcast made Katie jump.
“This is following the breaking news covering the deadly car crash on interstate 75 South in Dallas. One casualty has been confirmed, while three others have been sent to the hospital. We’ll update you on the status of those three individuals here shortly. Right now, we have Wendy Uhler live at the scene.”
A reporter live at the crash appeared on the TV screen, detailing the tragic scene laid out on the highway behind her. But Katie couldn’t hear her. Couldn’t see her. All she could see was the wreckage. Three cars laid scattered across the interstate. You could barely make out the types of vehicles mangled in the mess; however, one stuck out to her. It was a truck, flipped onto its side. A red pickup.
Katie’s legs unfolded as she put her bare feet down onto the cold hardwood floor. Hair on her arms stood straight. Her jaw clenched shut and her eyes widened. She stood and took slow steps toward the TV.
“Honey?” her dad said from the kitchen. “What’s the matter?”
Katie put a hand over her mouth. As she stepped closer, the truth hit her harder, and she soon realized that the truck on its side with the busted glass and crushed hood was John’s.
“Oh my God,” Katie said, her voice brittle.
“What?” her dad repeated.
“That’s John’s truck.”
“A witness here on the scene said he saw the driver of the red pickup on his phone just before the crash took place,” the reporter said. “Sources are also saying that the driver of the red pickup is the individual who was pronounced dead at the tragic scene that has played out here tonight…”
Katie stumbled forward as her knees went weak. Her legs became two crumbling pillars. She caught herself in a step then collapsed to the floor.
If she could’ve seen John’s phone, she would’ve seen that the last words he’d texted to her were, I love you too. But, of course, the message never got sent.
So… there can be a bit of driving involved in my job, and the one thing I see far more often than I should, are drivers with their face in their phones. And, I get it. We all say to ourselves, It’s just one message; I’ll be careful; there’s no one around me; it won’t happen to me. But I’m pretty sure those are the exact same things thought by those who crashed while texting and driving. If you’re texting and driving, please just remember that you’re endangering your life as well as the lives of drivers around you who are just trying to get from point A to point B safely. It can wait.
Thanks for reading 🙂
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