This post is a response to July 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.
For reference, here is the song that was picked to use as inspiration for this month’s story1I ran a poll on Twitter in mid-July between four songs that had been stuck in my head recently. This song won after round robin coin flips following a three way tie.
The register of Grant’s cries burned at his own ears, stabbing harder at his ossicles than any noise he’d heard before. It wasn’t as though the sounds were any louder or more percussive than jet engines or fireworks, yet his own wails pained him far more. As tears trickled down his face and onto the steering wheel of his car, their landing slowly changed from a splatting to a splashing as the vinyl exterior covering his airbag was wetted.
It’s one thousand, nine hundred and fifty-nine minutes — more or less — to drive from Woonsocket, Rhode Island to Laramie, Wyoming. During his nearly thirty hour marathon drive, Grant could only feel that it was more than worth his time. The lack of sleep, the copious amounts of caffeine and fast food, the never ending white lights charging towards him on the interstate, the cramped car without air conditioning; all of them would be worth it. On the west side of Laramie, there was a hotel room for two waiting.
Nine years is a long time to wait for something to change. It’s even longer to wait on a person to change. Grant knew that. Yet he was committed to the wait, whether it be for two years or twenty. Candice would get over her fear in time. She had promised him that much.
On a Thursday evening nine years prior, Grant was settling into his seat on a tiny aircraft that would take him from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Chicago. He’d then board a plane bound for Boston, from where he’d get his car out of the Logan Airport parking garage and make the dark drive back home to Rhode Island. Even though it was in his best interest to get some sleep on one of the two flights, too many people on the plane would have their window shades open. As they should, Grant reasoned. It was still early evening, which coupled with a time zone difference meant a plane full of people who didn’t want to sleep.
Grant pulled his hooded sweatshirt off of his torso, rolled it into a ball, and placed it between his head and the wall of the plane. He closed his eyes and began to focus on his own breath, hoping his meditation would cause the sounds of others boarding the plane to fade away. For a few moments, it worked. But then Grant felt a hand forcefully lean against him. He opened his eyes to find a young brunette woman in a University of Wyoming hoodie struggling to hold herself up as she placed her bag in the overhead bin above them.
“You need a hand with that?” Grant asked.
“As long as you don’t plan on moving in the next five second, I should be fine,” she replied.
“Don’t worry,” answered Grant. “In a previous life I was a support column for a building.”
The woman chuckled as she finished stowing her bag and took the seat beside Grant. For the hour long flight from Cedar Rapids to Chicago, Grant spent time getting to know this woman who gravity had assisted him in meeting. Candice was a graduate student and tennis player at the University of Wyoming. She was back in Cedar Rapids to visit her family. Grant was amused to learn that Candice’s cousin was the receptionist at the Cedar Rapids branch of his company, while Candice found it funny that Grant attended the graduated from the same university during the same year as her current roommate (though they didn’t know each other). It was a small world, particularly considering Grant had never been to Iowa before that trip.
When they parted ways in the airport, Grant and Candice exchanged phone numbers and went on their way. They kept in touch via text over the next few months. As Grant’s next trip to the company’s Iowa branch loomed closer, he was overjoyed to learn that Candice would be back in town too.
They met up on a Tuesday night, spending the evening drinking at a bar with narrow chairs and overpriced cocktails. As the night progressed, both Candice and Grant began flirting with each other more aggressively, eventually leading to a night of passionate romance in Grant’s hotel room. The next morning, Grant woke up with a pulsing headache to find Candice gone. The only trace left of her was a hastily scribbled note written on hotel stationary.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Please don’t hate me.”
Grant texted and called Candice, trying to get to the bottom of her early morning disappearance and her note. Days and weeks passed with no word back from Candice. Initially it was upsetting, but after a few weeks, Grant slowly began to feel better. It was a good night they spent together. Everything was consensual. He just go ghosted. It wasn’t the first time it had happened. It likely wouldn’t be the last.
About three months later, Grant woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of his phone buzzing, rattling against the glass of water on his nightstand.
“Hello?” he mumbled groggily.
“I didn’t want to just leave like that, you know.”
“I’m engaged, Grant,” Candice replied, “and I made a mistake.”
Grant sat up in his bed, leaning against the headboard and wall behind him.
“Look,” Grant began, “had I known that you were with someone, I wo…”
Candice cut him off. “No. I made a mistake getting engaged.”
“Then leave him?”
“It’s not that simple.”
“Why not?” asked Grant.
“When will you be in Cedar Rapids again?”
“Not for six weeks or so. Why?”
“How’s Rhode Island this time of year?”
Ten days later, Candice showed up at Grant’s door, a backpack full of clothes clutched close to her. She spent the weekend mostly in Grant’s arms, talking about how she desperately wanted out of her engagement, but how she didn’t want to hurt anyone. Her parents — who already weren’t doing well financially — would be out thousands of dollars they insisted on putting into her wedding. Her fiancee, AJ, had already been left at the altar once before and she didn’t want to make him hurt again. Grant largely listened, not knowing what to say in response to most of Candice’s concerns. He had begun to care for Candice, but knew it wasn’t right of him to try to convince her to call off her wedding. Emotions got the best of both of them, leading Candice and Grant to sleep together again. While Candice called AJ and continued her lie that she’d need to spend more time with her family in Iowa instead of with him in Wyoming, Grant defiantly told himself that she’d end up coming clean with AJ and ending their relationship.
Eight years and sixteen days ago, Candice and AJ married in a church just off of the campus of the University of Wyoming. In that time, Candice had met up with Grant hundreds of times by Grant’s count. Sometimes she flew to meet him in Rhode Island. Sometimes it was on one of Grant’s business trips to Iowa where Candice would conveniently also be in town to see her family. There was even a time where Candice flew to Las Vegas to meet up with Grant while he was at a conference for a weekend — just because she wanted to feel like they got to take a vacation together.
For Grant’s part, the initial mental struggle and concerns about his part in Candice’s infidelity soon gave way to apathy and acceptance. Grant loved Candice completely and irreversibly. If Candice had to borrow time from her life with AJ to be with him, Grant was willing to accept that. But with each passing visit, Grant wanted nothing more than for Candice to surprise him by saying that her marriage with AJ was finally over. Every time the thought of asking Candice to leave AJ crossed Grant’s mind, he got a little more courage towards asking her. Yet each and every one of those times, Grant chose not to say anything. For eight years and sixteen days since the wedding, and in nine years since Grant had met her, Candice was someone else’s — even if she was a very intricate part of his life.
This drive would change that. It had to. There’s no way that Grant could drive across nearly the entire United States in an effort to convince Candice to leave AJ, only for Candice to reject the plan completely. Candice loved him. She made a point to make sure to tell Grant that every single day, be it via text, via phone, or in person. Grant had told Candice he was going to be in Laramie. He told her where he’d be staying. All he had to do was to tell her that he was coming to take her away from her life with AJ so that they could be together. After all this time, it’d be a great relief to both of them. It had to work that way.
When Grant looked out his hotel room window and saw Candice’s baby blue sedan pull into the hotel parking lot, parking beside his own car, he sprinted out onto the second floor walkway. He met Candice at the foot of the staircase leading from the ground floor up to his hotel room, embracing her tightly. Candice didn’t hug him back though. Her face was tear streaked and somber, her eyes red and puffy.
“What’s wrong?” Grant asked.
“I can’t do this anymore,” Candice replied.
“That’s why I’m here! You don’t have to. We can leave and go back to Rhode Island.”
“I’m not married to Rhode Island. I’m at the point where I can freely transfer wherever. There’s Cedar Rapids if you want to be near your family.”
“There’s San Diego if you want to be somewhere warm.”
“Hell, if you really want to get far away from here, I’m sure we could go to Amsterdam or Auckland.”
“Grant!” Candice screamed. “Stop. Please.”
“I’m just trying to give you options,” Grant retorted.
“I don’t have options!”
Candice reached into her purse and grabbed a plastic baggy from in it. She handed it to Grant, being sure to have the readable side of the pregnancy test inside face up.
“You’re pregnant?” Grant said, stunned.
“Yeah,” sighed Candice.
“Is it ours?”
“It might be. It might not be.”
“We can raise him. Or her. I’m guessing it’s too early to know?”
“No,” replied Candice. “We can’t. I can’t do this anymore.”
“What if the child is mine?” Grant asked.
Candice wiped tears away from her face, though she struggled to keep her face dry as they formed quicker than her hands could move. She leaned in and kissed Grant on the cheek.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry. Please don’t hate me.”
Candice pulled away from Grant and sprinted through the hotel parking lot and into a field that separated the hotel from the highway that ran behind it.
“Candice!” Grant yelled as he started to give chase. “Where are you going?”
Grant initially gained ground on Candice, but his lack of physical activity meant that Candice quickly pulled away from him. Candice continued her charge toward the highway, seemingly picking up speed the closer she got. Grant slowed to a fast walk, panting and huffing as he did so. As Candice neared the highway, Grant let out a strained shout.
“Candice!” he yelled. “Come…come back!”
Candice ran onto the highway at a point where an on ramp merged into the interstate, doing so at the same grade as the land beside the road. A car coming down the ramp saw her and swerved onto the shoulder, avoiding her before darting back into its lane. A second truck — a large moving van towing a small hatchback — wasn’t as quick to react. The vehicle struck Candice at full speed, launching her into the air before skidding to a stop on the side of the road. As Candice came crashing to the ground, Grant collapsed in the field, sobbing into the grass beneath him.
The chime of his car signaling that it was low on gas brought Grant’s head up from the steering wheel. It had been hours since he had talked to the police and paramedics about why Candice had run into oncoming traffic on the interstate. Since he wasn’t family, they couldn’t tell her anything more about her condition — merely the hospital she was taken to. Despite wanting to go and to be there for Candice, he couldn’t bring himself to leave the hotel parking lot. In between bouts of crying at the top of his lungs, Grant had dozed off, exhaustion both mentally and physically getting the best of him.
Grant put the car in reverse and drove along side streets from the hotel to the gas station on the other side of the highway. As he parked his car and got out to pump gas, a white pickup truck pulled into the station, parking at the pump across from him. Grant began to fill his gas tank as a tall man in a white cowboy hat exited the truck. The man began to fill his own tank while talking on his cell phone, leaving Grant to hear a one-sided conversation.
“That’s what they told me,” said the man to whomever he was on the phone with. “The cops were saying it was lover’s quarrel gone wrong.”
“I figured it was bound to happen sooner or later. Her running off, that is.”
He paused again.
“Yeah, it’s morbid, but what in the fuck else is there to say?”
The pump clicked on Grant’s car, indicating it was full. He returned the nozzle to its latch, shut the gas tank door, and got in his car. Grant drove to the hospital, hoping that somehow, someway, Candice would still be alive when he got there.
Grant walked up to the front desk at the hospital, only to find it unstaffed. After a few seconds, an elderly nurse in pink scrubs walked around the corner and behind the desk.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Um, yeah,” Grant stammered, “I’m here to see Candice Hopewell-Ravinia.”
“Are you family?”
“Are you on her allowed guest list?”
“I’m not sure?”
“What’s your name, hun?” asked the nurse.
The nurse typed Grant’s name into the computer, slowly reading over the results on the screen.
“Room 2904,” she said. “Though visiting hours end in 35 minutes, so you can’t be up there long.”
“Thank you,” replied Grant.
Grant ran off to the elevator, frantically pushing the button to get the car to come down to him. Though the hospital was nearly empty as midnight neared, Grant stared down the hall towards the building’s full emergency room. A screaming child from the other end of the hall masked the sound of the elevator’s arrival, causing Grant to have to quickly throw his arm in the door opening before it closed and left without him.
Upon arriving on the second floor, Grant followed the meandering hallway to a room where he found Candice in several casts, her left leg in traction hovering above the bed. A young doctor was looking over Candice when Grant entered.
“Hi,” Grant stammered.
“Hi, I’m Doctor Thomas. You must be AJ.”
“Ah, okay,” replied the doctor, “Candice’s mother said you might show up.”
“How’s she doing?”
“I can’t share any specifics with you, but we’re keeping a close eye on her. If her family decides to share more info with you when they arrive, they can.”
“I understand,” said Grant. “Do you care if I stay here with her for a little bit?”
“Not at all. There’s a chair in the corner that you can wheel over if you want.”
Dr. Thomas left the room as Grant brought the chair over to the side of Candice’s bed. Grant carefully placed his hand on her partially exposed fingers, holding them lightly. He began to sob, tears trickling down onto the bed beside his hand.
“I love you,” said Grant. “I’m so sorry this happened. If you never want to see me again, I’d understand.”
Grant felt Candice close her index and middle finger around his hand, clutching them as tightly as her cast allowed. As he tried to move away, Candice close the grip tighter, pinching his fingers against the cast. Grant moved back to his original spot, kissing Candice’s exposed fingers to let her know he was staying. The cast cut into his fingers, blood trickling down onto the sheet below. Yet Grant didn’t move. In this moment, perhaps for the first time, Grant felt like he could see Candice for who she truly was. He wasn’t leaving that moment.