Two sisters, an accident, and whether or not there’s magic in the world.
This story originally appeared in my liberal arts capstone project as part of my study on character development. Although the story and its characters stand alone, this piece is the last in a three-part series with subtly obvious connections. You can read part I here and part II at this link!
“A Right Turn After All” is copyrighted by Pillar House Press. No part of this publication may be reproduced by any means without written permission from the publisher.
But do feel free to share the link!
Waves of rain slammed the windshield. Jess squinted through the window at the brick townhouse, barely visible through the shifting curtain of pouring water. She’d forgotten her umbrella. Again. Grabbing her purse and keys, she unlatched the car and bolted for the front door.
Not even stopping to knock, she tried the handle, but with no success. She knew I was coming today, Jess grumbled to herself. She pounded loudly. “Kate?”
The door opened and she rushed inside.
“Hey!” Her sister greeted her with a hug. “Thanks for coming up. I’m glad you could. Do you want any coffee? I was just making some.”
“Yeah, sure,” Jess replied, taking off her shoes and socks. “Does it have caffeine?” she asked, grinning.
“Yes.” Kate laughed.
Jess couldn’t help studying Kate as she followed her into the kitchen. She was a bit of a mess. Clad in sweats and an old t-shirt, she looked like she hadn’t slept in a while. And she was even thinner than the last time Jess had seen her.
“How was the drive?”
“Okay,” Jess said. “Traffic wasn’t bad, but the rain was pretty heavy.”
“I’m sorry. Yuck.”
“No problem.” Jess smiled. “It’s been a while.”
Jess sat at the table while Kate finished spooning coffee grounds into the machine. The spoon trembled as it moved through the air.
Surreptitiously, Jess examined the kitchen. Dirty dishes filled the sink. A pot sat cold on the stove. It still had something in it…Ramen perhaps? Two empty ice cream cartons stuck out of the trash can, and a third had fallen to the floor. Used Kleenexes, crumpled wrappers, crumbs, papers, and mail littered the kitchen table. A set of scrubs rested on a chair; Jess couldn’t tell if they were dirty or not by the way they were folded. Eww, she thought. She still couldn’t figure out how Kate handled being a nurse. Growing up, she couldn’t even kill a spider without getting queasy. Now she dealt with things like bodily fluids and sickly organs and needles. Oh my. Jess shuddered.
Kate set the coffee maker to brew and then rushed about the kitchen attempting to tidy it. “Sorry about the mess,” she said. “I…haven’t cleaned in a while.”
“I noticed,” Jess answered with a smirk before rising to help her sister. By the time the coffee was ready, the room looked worlds better. Kate grabbed two mugs from the cabinet.
“Here, you can have the Superman one,” she said, handing the cup to Jess with a mischievous glint. “I bet you’ve missed your fiancé.”
“He is not my fiancé,” Jess argued. “He was pretty cute when I was five…”
“Yeah, so cute you were going to marry him,” Kate insisted as she poured.
“Was not.” Jess made a face. “Well, you’d better take the bigger one anyway to hold all the milk and sugar and creamer and chocolate syrup and junk you put in yours,” she teased.
But sure enough, Kate loaded her coffee with almost everything Jess mentioned. They moved into the living room. Kate settled herself on the couch while Jess chose the armchair, dangling her legs over its sides and turning to face Kate.
“So, how have you been?”
Kate looked down and smiled. “Not that great.” She ran her finger around the rim of her mug, keeping her eyes away from Jess.
“You can tell me,” Jess encouraged, leaning back and taking a sip of her black beverage.
Kate always felt at ease talking to Jess—she just had to get warmed up. “What’s to tell? You already know everything.”
“Yeah, but you’ve got stuff on your mind. You can let it out. Don’t worry, that’s what I’m here for.”
“I feel like I shouldn’t still be struggling with this. It’s been over a year.”
“It was a big deal. Of course it still hurts. Good grief!”
“Yeah, but don’t I need to just get over it? Shouldn’t I be back to normal by now? I mean, I feel like a wimp.”
“You’re not a wimp. Aaron was a jerk—is a jerk,” Jess corrected herself. “Is that all that’s bothering you?”
“Well…” Kate trailed off.
“Do you think it’s weird? I mean, why he left?”
“Yes, I think it’s bizarre. What guy in his right mind would suddenly break up with a nice girl and run off to Alaska to be an ice fisherman? That’s really weird.”
“I guess I’m just having a hard time…processing that. We were engaged.”
“Honestly, I don’t think it is possible to process that kind of stupid.”
“I guess it’s not entirely him either. There have been other things, like my boss getting fired for malpractice. And then Angela eloping with that Russian guy. She was a good friend—I thought. But she didn’t say goodbye or write or anything! It’s these sorts of things that make me feel…weird…about life in general. I feel so…let down, I guess, by growing up. I always thought it would be fun.”
“Hmph,” Jess snorted, then took a large swig. “Fun isn’t quite the word, is it?”
“Not at all! It’s funny, when I was little I would imagine all the adventures I was going to have.”
“Like being a world-famous archaeologist?” Jess asked. “That’s what I was going to be—just like Indiana Jones.”
“Yeah. That was when I was ten or so. And when I got older, like sixteen, I would imagine how I was going to meet ‘the one.’ It was going to be super romantic: I would be grocery shopping, and it would be raining, and he would come and ask me if I needed help, and then he would offer his umbrella and walk me to my car, and then he would ask to meet me for coffee, and I would know. It would be perfect.” They both laughed.
“There was another one,” Kate went on. “I would get in a wreck. There would be a red light runner, and my car would get side slammed and skid through the intersection, broken glass everywhere. He would see it from across the road, and rush over to make sure I was okay. He would pull me out, we would meet, and voila.”
“Wow,” Jess said. “You really planned this stuff out.”
Kate giggled sheepishly. “I spent a little too much time on it, I’m afraid. There was a bank robbery one too, but I won’t bore you with the details.” She put her empty mug on the coffee table and nestled back into the couch. “You know what the problem is?” she asked. “There’s just no magic in the world. You think there is when you’re a kid, and there seems to be—I mean, there’s Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and all. But there really isn’t. The world doesn’t work like that. The world doesn’t work in that a handsome, dashing hero will come and save you from bank robbers or traffic accidents or rainstorms. I was disillusioned. And stupid. I dreamed silly, girlish things.”
“Well, your dreams were kind of silly,” Jess said slyly. “But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any magic. You’ve just had a bunch of…” Jess searched for the right word, “…unfortunate stuff going on. Well, weird stuff. And who needs guys anyway? You know what? You and I are going shopping. We’re going to have fun, and you are going to forget about your problems for a while. Maybe we can see a movie too. You’re off till tomorrow, right?”
“Yeah,” Kate agreed reluctantly. “I don’t really feel like it though.”
“Too bad. But I am not going to be seen with you like that,” Jess said. “You’d better fix yourself up. Then we can go.”
Kate had to smile. Jess won. Kate took both of their mugs to the kitchen.
“What should I wear?”
“Definitely not your disgusting scrubs. It has to be cute. This needs to be a legit girl date.”
“Fine. Give me half an hour.”
Forty-five minutes later, Kate came out in jeans and a sweater. Her hair was up—in a nice way—and she was wearing a necklace.
“Much better.” Jess nodded. “Hey, you even did jewelry!”
At Jess’s insistence, Kate drove. “I forgot my umbrella,” Jess explained. “And there’s no way I’m running out to my car without one!”
There wasn’t much traffic even as they entered the downtown area. Rain descended in sheets, pounding the roof of the car. The girls talked, but their voices were muffled by the racket.
Near the mall, Kate slowed to a stop at a red light. She chewed her fingernail absentmindedly and surveyed the raindrops plinking sharply on the glistening asphalt of the intersection. Buildings loomed obscurely through the misty, wet curtain of rain.
“Oh!” she and Jess shrieked together. A burgundy minivan sped through the red light across from them. Unable to brake in time, a lime green Smart car slammed into its side. It whiplashed back, its body flying 15 feet through the air, its front end splintering apart like black and lime confetti. It slowly bounced to a stop several yards from the point of impact. The minivan shuddered, skidding through the intersection, jerked a few times, and sped away.
“Jess, call 911!” Kate jumped out of her vehicle and bolted toward the Smart car. Reaching it, she shielded her eyes from the rain to get a better look. The driver window was shattered; tiny globules of glass sprinkled the interior and coated the driver’s hair, shirt, and lap. He was slumped in his seat and bleeding from cuts in his face, scalp, and neck.
“Hello? Sir, can you hear me?” Kate touched his neck for a pulse.
Slowly he sat back and gazed woozily around.
“Are you okay?” Kate asked him. “Can you hear me?”
“Yeah,” he answered groggily, blinking. “This is not my car, okay? I promise,” he slurred. “You’re really pretty.”
“Thank you,” she said. “My name is Kate, and I’m a nurse. You’ve been in a traffic accident, but you’re going to be okay. I’m staying with you until help comes, all right? Can you tell me your name?”
“Uh…” He had to think. Puzzled, he peered at Kate. “Steven. And this is not my car, by the way. You’re really pretty.” Rain mixed with the blood on his forehead and began to dribble down his face and into his eyes.
“Thank you, Steven,” Kate answered, unwrapping her scarf. Carefully, she dabbed his forehead and cheek. “Do you know what today’s date is?”
“That’s right,” Kate encouraged, “and can you tell me what year it is?”
“Oh yeah.” Steven looked down and fiddled with a button on his denim shirt. “It’s 2017. Hey, would you marry me? You’re really nice. I promise this isn’t my car. I have a much better one. It’s a truck and it’s actually really cool.”
“Excellent, Steven, thank you. You know, you might want to think that over later. How’s your breathing?”
Steven took a huge gulp. “Just fine,” he said, grinning at her.
“Okay, just take it easy. Breathe nice and slow for me. Does your head hurt at all?”
“Oh yeah,” Steven said, still grinning. “I think there’s a big ol’ baseball on it.” He tapped his head with his finger. “But that’s okay, ’cause I get to talk to you.” He frowned for a second. “Hey, am I loopy?”
“You’re doing great, Steven. Just stay with me. The ambulance is on its way.” Sirens sounded foggily from several blocks off.
“’Cause I’m normally not,” Steven said earnestly. “Am I going to the hospital?”
“Yes,” Kate said. Gently she widened his right eye with her fingers, then checked his left. “This is good, Steven, your pupils are looking fine. How are your extremities? Do you feel any numbness in your arms or legs?”
“Gee, thanks,” Steven said smiling. “They match my shirt,” he remarked, referring to his eyes. “No, wait. I guess they don’t because my eyes are brown. My mom says they’re like molasses crinkles. You have nice eyes too. They don’t look like cookies though.”
Kate swallowed a laugh.
Just then the paramedics arrived. “Hey.”
“Hi John,” Kate replied, turning. John worked on the paramedic team at the same hospital as she did. Kate filled him in on Steven’s condition.
“We’ll get him taken care of,” John assured her. “You take off now. You’re not on duty.” He smiled at her and she thanked him as she moved away from the shattered vehicle. Kate stayed awhile to speak with the police who arrived on the scene. When they were finished asking her questions, she headed back to her car.
Jess was in the driver’s seat when she reached it. She slid in on the passenger’s side and Jess maneuvered away from the accident. She looked sideways at her sister. Kate was soaked from head to toe. Water dripped off of her hair and down her face and neck. Her clothes looked like they weighed ten pounds and the scarf in her hands had blood stains on it.
“I know what we need to shop for now,” Jess said. “That is, if you’re still up for our date.”
“Sure, why not?” Kate said, wringing out her ponytail with a grin. “I need some clothes.”
“Hello?” Good grief, was that really his voice? It sounded like a goose with laryngitis. Steven cleared his throat. “Hi. Um, my name is Steven. Uh, Steven James,” he added quickly. “I was at the hospital—I was released yesterday afternoon—I was the guy that was in the accident…Yes, that would be me…Well, I was wondering if you could tell me, uh, who the nurse was who helped me at the wreck…I don’t know if she works there. I mean, I don’t remember. She was the first person there…Yes, I can wait…” Steven breathed quickly. His face was hot and he could feel his heartbeat in his cheeks. But he had gotten through the worst part. He shifted the phone to his other ear.
“Yes?” He sat up a little straighter. And adjusted his collar. And patted his hair down.
“Look at him,” Mrs. James whispered to her husband from the kitchen. “He just patted his hair.” She was beside herself with glee. “It must be a girl.”
“So what if he pats his hair?” Mr. James leaned through the doorway to survey his son on the couch. “Like he’s a dog or something?”
“Honey, he never even remembers he has hair. The only time he thinks about it is when I tell him to actually brush it on Sundays!”
Mr. James chuckled. “Well if it is a girl, he ain’t ever gonna live it down.”
“Oh, good grief,” Mrs. James said, playfully punching her husband in the gut. “Let him be. I’ve never seen him so nervous, I don’t think!”
“Yes ma’am, I’m still here,” Steven said quickly. “Katherine? Katherine Thompson?…So I could come in then, and thank her?…Wonderful. Thank you very much…Goodbye.” As he rose, Steven dropped the phone and it clattered loudly on the hardwood floor. He jumped and glanced up to see both of his parents standing in the doorway watching him.
Mr. James crossed his arms and leaned against the doorjamb grinning. “Sooooo. Who was that on the phone?”
“And?” asked Mrs. James eagerly. “What did they say?”
“Yeah,” Mr. James said. “You look like a stricken stag in the headlights. What’s up?”
“Well, I…I wanted to know…who the woman was that—who helped me…at the wreck.”
“Did you find out?” Mrs. James looked like an overripe water balloon ready to burst.
“Yes,” Steven said, swallowing. “I think I’m going to go over and say thanks.”
“Yes!” Mrs. James whispered. “Oh, but Steven, you should dress up. Don’t wear your construction gear.”
“Mom…” His voice cracked and he cleared his throat. “I wouldn’t wear that.”
“Oh, I don’t know hon, he might want Miss Katherine to know he works for the illustrious James & Sons Construction Company.” Mr. James winked at Steven.
“Sean, shut it!” Mrs. James elbowed him. But she was smiling.
Steven’s hands shook as he buttoned his shirt. For crying out loud, get ahold of yourself! It was just a girl. Just a nice girl he was going to chivalrously thank for helping him in his hour of need. That was all. He ran a wet comb through his hair. And knew he had just lied to himself.
Finished with room 307, Kate walked toward the nurses’ station. Wendy said someone wanted to see her. It couldn’t be her mother—she would have called if she needed something. It wasn’t Jess—she had class on Monday afternoons. Kate couldn’t think of anyone else who would have to come to the hospital to see her about something. Curiosity mixed with apprehension made her walk cautiously.
A man stood at the counter with his back to her. He was tall, perhaps six feet. His hair was short and dark with a slight wave to it. He wore a blue button-down shirt and dress pants. All this she took in before she reached him and he turned around.
“Y-yes,” Kate answered, taken aback. How did he know her?
“Hi,” the young man said smiling. He put out his hand. “I’m Steven.”
Suddenly she remembered. “Oh, hi Steven! I’m Kate.” She shook his hand. “You look great—how are you feeling?”
“I’m feeling good, thanks,” Steven answered. His face looked pretty banged up. Kate could see sharp, black stitches crisscrossing the bigger cuts on his face, and the scars themselves were a bold, dark maroon color. Over time, she knew they would fade, but for now, his face spoke of a pretty good story. “Hey, I—I wanted to come down and thank you…for helping me at the wreck. I’m really glad you were there checking that I was okay. And…I’m sorry for anything weird I said.”
“Of course!” Kate smiled. “I’m glad I could help out.”
“And that really wasn’t my car.”
Kate laughed. “You mentioned that. Whose is it?”
“My sister’s friend’s. My dad had to use mine, so I borrowed it for the night. So at least that part I wasn’t crazy.” He grinned at her. He shifted his weight several times. “Uh…” Steven looked down, and then at Kate again. What was he doing?! “Hey, uh, would you…would you want to…uh…” He cleared his throat and willed himself not to vomit. “Miss Kate, would you like to meet me for coffee sometime?” His cheeks stung and he knew he looked like a tomato. His stomach hopped around and tried to run away. What had he done?
Kate didn’t say anything. Had she just heard what she thought she heard?
“That would be lovely,” she answered, a glow starting to spread unpermitted over her entire face.
“Great!” Steven said, barely keeping his voice at a normal-ish level and trying not to sound overly enthusiastic.
“Uh…” Kate tucked her hair behind her ear, “I’m off at 6:00…I mean, if you were thinking today…I mean, it doesn’t have to be now, if, you know…”
“Yeah!” Steven said quickly. “6:00 sounds perfect. Great.”
Kate couldn’t stop smiling the rest of her shift—or the day, for that matter. Neither could Steven.
Later that night, Kate texted her sister.
Hey, forget what I said about magic. It definitely still exists.
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