I couldn't take it anymore. I was going to faint. Before I knew it, the ground was roaring up at me, and Jared was racing at me, shouting my name. The pain that had overwhelmed me died and the blackness cradled me as I fell. Finally, softness.
The dreams that followed were anything but peaceful.
Jared was trying to pin me down. I thrashed, but he held me, and as I watched his face morphed and became unbearably monstrous. I cried out in shock and fear and he sneered at me. I tried screaming, but found that I couldn't move my mouth. No, I could move my mouth. It was just that no sound would come.
Next came a doctor. His normally kind looking face was twisted into a horrible sneer which showed his real personality. He didn't become a doctor because he wanted to heal somebody. He became a doctor because he wanted to hurt people. He was turning to his row of surgical equipment. He hadn't given me pain medication. I tried to sit up. To stand up and run from the room, but again, I couldn't move.
Instead, the bed swallowed me, and suddenly I was drowning. My legs wouldn't move. I could thrash my arms as much as I wanted to, but my legs wouldn't move. My head was going under.
Jared's face before me, his arm circling my waist, trying to keep me up. I was going to drown us both. No . . . I pushed away from him, trying to get him to let go. Then he let go, and blackness overwhelmed me again. Such peace.
Light . . . filtering through my consciousness.
Voices, one crying, the other hushing, comforting.
"If only she'd wake up," one said.
I tried to open my eyes. The light hurt too much.
As I moaned, a silhouette stood up suddenly and came to where I was laying. It sat on the side of the bed, and brushed a wisp of hair out of my face.
"Laurel, are you awake?"
I moaned again.
"Close the curtains," came his voice again.
Another silhouette got up and suddenly the room was at a tolerable light level. I opened my eyes again, to see Jared looking anxiously into my face.
"Laurel, oh Laurel!" he cried, eyes suddenly going moist. His hand reached up to my face.
I tried to speak. "Jared?"
He nodded eagerly, and my attention turned to the other people in the room. My mom and my dad stood looking at me from the foot of the bed, and a nurse was standing near the window, where she had been closing the blinds.
"Wha-what happened?" I asked, and then suddenly comprehending where I was tried to sit up. "Why am I in the hospital?!"
I couldn't sit up. There was something hampering my movement.
Oh . . . my head hurts.
I quickly became dizzy and lay back down, Jared looking very concerned.
"What's on my lower body?" I asked, after regaining my composure.
The nurse busied about the room doing different things to me. I had an IV in my arm. I shuddered. I hated needles.
Jared looked sad, "You don't remember what happened?"
I looked at him, and thought before answering. Something flashed past, but it hurt so badly that I quickly pushed it to the back of my mind.
"No, nothing . . . What happened?"
Jared gulped. "You don't remember any of it?"
I looked to my mom and dad. My mom was looking upset again.
"What happened?" I asked them, watching their faces.
"You and Jared were riding bikes together," my father started.
And then it all came back.
Jared, my best friend in the world, and I had been riding bikes. He came over to my house almost daily to hang out or to ride our bikes together. Since we lived downtown, it was no problem to ride our bikes to the movie theatre, or some place that peaked our interest that day.
The day was cool and sunny. We decided it would be a perfect day to ride our bikes to the park. Mom packed us a picnic to take to the park, and Jared, because he had a backpack, stuck the lunch in there. No fancy picnic basket for us.
When we got to the park, we found our favorite place, a sunny spot by the stream that ran through the park. The grass was green, with a tinge of brown and the trees were just starting to turn. It was an idyllic spot.
Jared spread the blanket he'd packed on the grass between the tree stump and the stream where we always had it, and then started to unpack the lunch. We horsed around the stream, playing near, and sometimes in, the water. The sandwiches had ants, the lemonade flies, but we didn't care. Life was good.
Jared raised his glass of lemonade and grinned at me, "To best friends. May we always be best of friends."
I looked back at him and grinned. "To best friends. To my best friend Jared."
We clinked our glasses, and drained our lemonade, Jared choking on a fly. He made a face.
"Well, that was lovely," he said, imitating an English accent, "I make a toast and get a fly!"
I giggled, and glanced at my watch.
"I think we have to go," I said.
Jared's face fell. "We do, don't we?"
"Yes," I said, "Mom wanted us home by three."
"It's three already?"
"No, but it's almost three."
Jared packed up the blanket and threw the plastic sandwich bags in the nearest garbage. I climbed onto my bike and Jared onto his.
There were several busy intersections we'd have to cross on the way home. Jared always warned me to look where I was going. I had a flyaway habit of assuming that nothing was going to happen and then jumping off the curb, almost into on coming traffic.
"Remember to look both ways!" Jared reminded, as we pulled up to the first stop.
I grinned and obeyed, watching as the cars and trucks flew past.
When we got to the second stop, Jared opened his mouth and I put the words in, "I know! Remember to look both ways!" It was his turn to grin. We both watched as the cars honked at each other and then waited until the intersection cleared, and we crossed safely.
Before we got to the third intersection, Jared's face lit up, and he cried, "Oh! I almost forgot! I have something to give you." He stopped his bike and pulled from his backpack a small, delicate, glass elephant. Its trunk was raised in salute, and it had a funny little green "saddle" on its back.
I squealed, before throwing myself off my own bike, tripped across the pavement in my excitement and nearly bowled Jared over. The elephant was exquisite. He hugged me and grinned into my hair, handing me the figurine.
"Thankyouthankyouthankyou!" I managed, before hugging the tiny elephant to myself.
Don't ask me why, but I've always liked elephants. The way they're huge, and yet so graceful at the same time. "Did you know," I'd informed Jared time and again when he came clomping through the house, "that an elephant makes less noise then a regular teenage boy?" He would always laugh and rumple my hair. I made a point of not telling him this any longer.
After marveling at the tiny animal, I handed it back to Jared and looked up at him pleadingly. "Please be a dear and carry it for me? I haven't got any pockets."
"Of course," Jared replied, and tucked the small elephant back into his backpack.
I climbed back up on my discarded bike and whistled happily. It was a happy day. Jared grinned over at me, and whistled the harmony to the Andy Griffith theme song that I had been whistling.
We crossed the third intersection with relative safety, with me turning to call back to Jared that I was glad he was carrying the elephant and not I. I might drop it. He laughingly told me to keep my eyes on the road.
It was after the third intersection that I got the idea. It was brilliant!
"Race you home!" I cried to Jared and raced off, ignoring his cries that I shouldn't.
The fourth and last intersection loomed up as I sped off, and remembering Jared's warnings, glanced both ways.
I must not have looked carefully, because as I started to race across the street, three things happened simultaneously. Jared screamed my name, terror in his voice, causing me to look back at him. A truck horn blared, causing me to slam on my brakes. And something hit me.
It wasn't a little hit. Compared to being hit with a baseball, this was ten times worse. The pick-up truck had been bearing down on me. I probably wouldn't have gotten hurt had I not looked back and slammed on the brakes. As it was, the truck barreled into me, causing me to flip up, over the windshield, over the top of the truck, and then finally land on the pavement with a spine-shattering crunch, my legs twisted through the bike. At first I was winded, not believing what had happened, and then, suddenly, like the roaring of a tornado, pain hit me, causing me to cry out.
Jared screamed my name again, and I turned to look for him. Cars were screeching to a halt, trying to avoid my crumpled body. Horns were honking, and two people had gotten out of their cars to see what happened. One was on his cell phone and the other was simply standing there.
I saw Jared making his way towards me through the crowd, now surrounding me and the pick-up truck. He called my name again, and as I tried to answer, the pain overwhelmed me again. I cried out, and that's when I fainted.
I turned to Jared, sitting on the hospital bed beside me, looking anxiously at my face.
"I do, I do remember," I choked out. "What happened after I fainted? Jared?"
Jared turned pale and looked away.
"Jared?" I asked again.
Jared choked and turned back to me, his eyes filled with tears. "Laurel, oh Laurel, it was awful. Seeing you lose consciousness in the middle of the street. And your legs. Oh—," he couldn't continue.
"What happened to my legs?!" I almost screamed.
My mother came forward, to where I could see her well. "By the time Jared got to you, the ambulance was already there, so he called us, and we met you at the hospital."
"But what happened to my legs?!" I did scream this time, tears ripping at my throat.
Jared turned back to me, after mustering his strength and put a strong hand on my forearm. I turned to him, his face blurred by my tears.
"When I finally got to you, your legs were twisted in an unnatural way through the bike frame, which was twisted in on itself. The paramedics had to cut you out of the bike, in order to—to get you on the stretcher."
"Your legs," my father started, "were broken in several places."
"How many?" I cut in. I had to know.
"Four for the right leg, and six for the left."
"What did the doctor say?" I asked him, quickly becoming panicky.
"You're not completely paralyzed," Dad told me.
"But it will take a lot of—of painful therapy before you can walk again." My mom put in.
"But what about running? And riding my bike?"
"It'll be a long time before you can walk again," was all my dad would tell me.
"No . . ." I mumbled, suddenly exhausted. My head that I'd been holding up, to see my dad at the foot of my bed, suddenly felt like a thousand pounds. Exhausted, I let it drop, and looked pleadingly at Jared.
"It's true, Rel," he confirmed, using my special nickname. Tears were sliding down his cheeks, and suddenly I hated him. I hated him, my parents, the nurse again standing quietly by the window, watching the birds on the roof.
"Get. Out." I ground out between my sobs and my teeth. I didn't want them with me any more. How could they? How could they stand there and look so calm? And Jared? How could he sit there, looking so sympathetic? Had he even tried to stop me?
Jared looked at me, and my parents looked aghast.
"Get. Out!" I said again, this time with more force, including the nurse in the command.
Hurt registered in Jared's eyes and he looked at my parents. The nurse was the only one who seemed to understand. Quietly, she ushered the three of them from my room, Jared casting backwards glances as he was hustled out.
I raged and fumed inwardly, and occasionally screamed, as pain would shake my legs. But for the occasional nurse, no one else came to check in on me the rest of the day. I would rage until I cried, and then wiped out, I would cry myself to sleep, only to wake up again, and rage and fume some more.
The nurses cast sympathetic glances at me while they worked around me, but I didn't want it. All I wanted was the assurance that I would do more then just walk again. I kept hoping that a doctor would come in, followed by my parents and Jared, with shining faces, saying that they were wrong. I would walk again.
Every so often I would hear sobs coming from outside my door. That simply made it worse. I'd find myself crying too.
The next few days were torture. My legs and lower body, encased in a cast, would spasm in pain at the oddest times. Much of the time, it was right before I would go to sleep.
As I slept, people would tiptoe in to sit by my bed, or place things on my counters. I knew this because occasionally a chair would be pulled up to my bed that hadn't been there before. Things kept appearing in multitudes on my counters: flowers, elephants, cards, balloons.
At first, they were in reach of me, stranded on my bed. I had picked up the nearest thing, a small, pink, stuffed elephant and inhaled its scent, before suddenly growing angry again, and hurling it across the room with all my strength. I cried myself to sleep again.
The next time I woke up, everything had been moved to just out of arms reach and the small elephant was back in its place.
My mom and dad finally came to the room when I was awake one day, two and a half weeks after I'd thrown them out. My cast had been removed and then replaced by two casts, one on each leg, going all the way up to my hips. I couldn't walk, but I could sit up.
I glared at them, and in response to the unasked question, my dad said quietly but firmly, "We're going to take you home today."
I wasn't expecting this. Home? I didn't want to go home. Not home where my parents would have to take care of me. Not home where my friends could barge in on me. Not home where I'd be certain to see Jared.
As if he'd heard my thoughts, Jared pushed the door open and trundled into the room, carrying a large empty box.
"What are you going to do?" I asked bitterly. "Pack me up in the box and mail me home?"
"No," my father answered. "That's for all your gifts."
"Oh," I was cowed for a moment.
As the nurse opened the door, pushing in a wheelchair, Dad looked at me. "You, we take out in this."
I glowered and tried to hide my face from the world by covering it with my greasy hair. I saw Jared's sympathetic, pained glance and felt even angrier. He had no right to feel sorry for me. He had no idea what I was going through. I didn't want his pity.
The car ride was as silent as a grave yard, ice emanating from me as we drove. I didn't say anything. Didn't want to.
When we got home, Jared carried the box of gifts into the house, and started setting some of them up, half of them in my bedroom, half of them around the couch in the living room. It seemed like I was going to be living with real people again. Joy.
Mom took the moment to wheel me through her bedroom into my parent's bathroom. I saw that the shower had been newly fitted with a seat. This meant I could take a shower. All I'd have to do is wrap my legs in plastic bags, but I could take a shower! I'd been living on sponge baths for the past two weeks. I felt filthy. Much to my chagrin, I felt a smile creep over my face.
My mom saw it, and squealed—squealed!—clapping her hands together. "Isn't it nice?" she crowed.
"Yeah," I said, begrudgingly. I couldn't tell her "no it wasn't" because she'd seen my smile.
Taking a shower was the first thing I did when I got the chance. I came out feeling clean, and a tiny bit happier. Until I saw my parents again.
The next five weeks passed in a monotony of time. A couple of my friends came and tried to cheer me up with candy and card games, but none of it worked. As soon as I found myself enjoying something, I'd remember that none of my friends had had to go through this. How could they possibly know how to cheer me up? They didn't face the prospect of never riding their bikes, or running again.
The future looked bleak as I sat there day after day. Jared would stay with me when ever possible. He'd bring me my homework, and help me understand it. He'd do it with me. When we finished the homework for the day, he'd find a book and sit and read it to me. We'd fight almost every day. I hated the fact that he waited on me hand and foot.
My mom insisted that I spend a couple hours outside everyday, enjoying the cool fall weather. Jared was always there to help me.
One day he put down the novel that he'd been reading to me, and looked at his watch.
"Time to go out." He announced without looking at me.
"But it's cold!" I protested.
"Mom's orders," he shrugged, and left the room to get my knit cap, mittens and a jacket.
When he came back I managed to persuade him to let me put my things on myself. He agreed, and went to get a blanket, telling me not to try and get into the wheelchair myself. He'd come back in a moment to help me.
"I can do it myself!" I called after him.
"Just wait for me!" He called back over his shoulder.
Wait for him, I would not. I managed to reach out and pull the wheelchair to me. Then I levered myself off the couch with my arms, trying to quickly move from the couch to the wheelchair. Everything would have gone perfectly, had the wheelchair not had wheels. The wheelchair moved, and I misfired. I landed on the floor with a resounding thump, hurt in more then just a physical way. My heavy, casted legs cracked against the floor.
I couldn't do anything for myself that really counted and it finally got to me. Lying helpless on the floor, waiting for Jared to come and rescue me, I cried.
Jared heard the commotion and came running, blanket in hand.
"Laurel! What happened?" he asked, even though he could plainly see what had happened. "Didn't I tell you to wait for me?"
Through my hiccupy sobs, I managed to tell him, "I hate being confined! I feel like I'm in a straitjacket! I can't do anything for myself!"
Jared gently picked me up off the floor, and set me in the offending wheelchair. He arranged the blanket around my legs, tucking it in behind me, and then bent over rearranging my hat on my head. Then he quickly kissed me on the tip of my nose, causing me to jump, and took his place behind my chair.
"Laurel, you're stubborn. That's what I like about you. But sometimes, you simply have to let me help you." He told me, pushing me out of the room.
After five weeks, my casts finally came off, and I started physical therapy. I had physical therapy during school hours, so I did my homework when Jared brought it home. He learned my exercises and helped me with those too. I still couldn't walk by myself, but with help I could walk to the kitchen from the living room. I still had to be carried to my bedroom.
My legs grew stronger and it looked as if I would be able to take off the braces that I'd been wearing by Christmas. As my mobility increased, so did my living area. Instead of just the living room and my bedroom, I camped out at the kitchen table, watching the flurried activities. Sometimes I got to knead dough, or mix something while my mother prepared something else.
Though everything seemed to be progressing alright, I was in a turmoil of emotions. I would be so happy upon completing an exercise or finding that I could walk a few steps further, and then my legs would give out and I'd remember what my father had said. It'll be a long time before you can walk again. Despair would overwhelm me and I'd find myself huddled, angry, in a corner, not talking to anyone. I wouldn't ever run again. Or bike to the park with Jared.
Jared cornered me two and a half weeks before Christmas and asked me what I was going to get him for Christmas.
"What?" I asked, startled. Christmas presents? I hadn't thought of them. "I don't know," I confessed. "I can't get anything. I mean, I have the money, but I can't go out and about."
Leave it to Jared. He got me, my braces, and my wheelchair into the car after school one wintry afternoon and bustled me off to the mall. There we bought presents for the entire family, and some of our friends. Then, wanting to do something on my own, I told him to wander and let me be.
He cast me a wordless look, then shrugged and turned towards the food court, carrying all the shopping bags. I wheeled myself into a nice little store, and looked around. Some of the things in here would be nice, but not nearly as nice for him as I wanted. He loved both his bike and his skate board with equal ferocity, and since this was a shop for both I wheeled myself over to the counter and caught the attention of the man behind the counter.
With his help, I was able to pick out the perfect gift for Jared. It was a skateboard shaped license plate for his bike. The man engraved Jared's name into the top of the board and handed it to me, grinning.
"That's quite something. Your boyfriend will certainly like it."
"Oh, he's not my boyfriend," I hurried to assure the man. "Just my best friend."
"Well, that's a pity," the man frowned. "If he's the one you're buying this for, then he should be your boyfriend and not your best friend."
I shrugged, tucked my purchase into my large bag of a purse, and headed out to find Jared.
He'd commandeered a table at the far end of the food court and had ordered my favorite from the sub place. We ate and after we finished, he bundled me back into the car and drove me home.
Christmas break arrived for Jared, and I saw more of him. He literally lived at our house, helping my mom care for me, playing chess with my dad. The only time he went home was at night.
"How 'bout I take you to the park today?" he asked me one day.
Startled I raised my head. "The park? No. Not at all."
"Why?" he asked, confused at my refusal. We'd gone out before, and not just to do Christmas shopping. We'd gone to the movies. We'd run errands for Mom.
"I don't want to see the park," I said, bitterness edging my voice.
"But why?" he asked again.
"You don't get it Jared!" I lashed out. "I don't ever want to see the park because my last happy memory was there! It was the last time I ever got to ride a bike. It was the last time I'll ever have a picnic, knowing that I could get up and run if I wanted to! It was the last time. The last happy day of my life." I was suddenly close to tears. But I didn't want to cry. I'd cried enough in the past three months. Instead I let the anger burn.
Then Jared did something that I'd never see him do during the past three months. He got angrier than he had the entire time I'd known him. Sure, we'd had our fights, especially during the past several months, but this was different. I'd hit a nerve.
"Listen to me, Laurel." He ground out, bringing his face close to mine. "I may not know what you're going through, and I may not ever know, but I've tried. I've tried to help you. I've been here for you every single day, except those two weeks in the hospital when you kicked us out of your room. Don't you dare think that I haven't had my own trials. I had to be there from the very beginning. I had to watch you have that accident. You don't think that my heart didn't stop? Well, it did." He sat back, angry and fighting tears. "If you weren't a girl, I'd slap you to see if it knocked some sense into you. As it is, these past three months have been hard on all of us. Your parents have spent more money on you these past months then they have your entire lifetime. I've brought you your schoolwork. We've all catered to your every wish, even some of your non-wishes so that you could walk again. What do we get for it? Nothing. Only anger. I didn't ever want to have to say this, but Laurel, you've been the most ungrateful person I've known through out these past several months; thinking only of yourself. I've done all I can. If you want me to come back, you call me."
I opened my mouth to protest, stung by his words, but he simply stood up, jaw rigid, and left. I didn't see him again for a long time, and to my strange surprise, I felt like a piece of me when with him.
With a week and a half left before Christmas, I spent my time secluded in my room. More then half of me was willing to admit that Jared was right. I'd been extremely selfish. God had been good enough to give me my life. I could have died that day, but I didn't. I could even walk. No, I couldn't run, and probably never would, but I could walk. At least I wasn't fully paralyzed.
The other half of me rebelled. How could he say those things to me? Didn't he know what I'd gone through?
Then a little voice would whisper that he was right. He had been there. He'd seen what had happened. He'd stayed with me. He'd helped me with everything from homework to leg exercises. And my parents. He was right about them too. I wondered just how much the medical bills cost. How much the seat in my parent's shower had cost to install.
Soon, instead of moping about how I wouldn't ever be able to run, I began to notice small things Mom did for me. She'd make my favorite dessert, even though she didn't like it. She'd help me do my hair. She'd call a friend and ask them to come over to cheer me up.
After a week and a half of Jared's words tumbling about in my head, I couldn't argue any longer. He was right. I had been extremely selfish.
Christmas Eve, right before the service at church, I asked my parents to forgive me. None of us was quite dry eyed the rest of the night, and I'm sure the pastor kept wondering if his small talk was enough to make a person cry.
Jared was at the service and he paid no more attention to me, then if I was a fly on the wall. It hurt, but I deserved it in a way. I got my mom to go over and ask Jared's mom if they would come to Christmas brunch. I saw her nod in agreement.
That night, I alternately stood and sat with my mom in the kitchen and helped her create scrumptious goodies for tomorrow's brunch, remembering that Jared's favorite breakfast food was apple crumble. I wrapped my presents and asked my father if he could place them under the tree. All except for one. That I asked him to put in a special place.
The next morning, I dressed and hobbled downstairs by myself for the first time. Oh the glory of being able to do something by myself, without having to lean on someone for support.
Jared and his mom arrived for the brunch around ten, carrying food and gifts between them. Jared cast glances at me, over his plates of food, but I kept my face impassive. In reality, I wanted to jump into his arms, shoving the food away and hug him as hard as I could. It was the first time he'd been in our house since our fight.
We each gathered a plate of food and then brought it to the tree. We ate while exchanging presents. So many of the gifts were precious, simply because they were from my family, but all I could wait for was the last gift.
When there were no more gifts under the tree, I turned to Jared.
"Jared? Would you do me a favor?"
He looked at me and nodded for me to continue.
"Would you drive me somewhere? I—I can't drive, as you know . . ." I trailed off, hoping he'd say yes.
Jared hesitated, his eyes telling me he wanted to say yes, but he never got the chance to say yes, because his mother, knowing what I was going to do, said, "Why don't you, dear? Goodness knows that you two have barely seen each other the past week and a half."
He nodded, and held out a hand to help pull me up.
With me helping, we bundled up, me in my braces, Jared grabbing the car keys from his mom. The clouds were low and threatening, and the air smelled of wood smoke, but I didn't care. I was going out with Jared. I barely stopped myself from clapping my mittens in excitement and trying to gallop down the front stairs to the waiting car.
As it was, Jared ended up carrying me down the stairs, because my braces wouldn't let me maneuver steps.
"I hope you aren't taking us some place where there are steps," he grumbled, half way down the steps.
"I'm not, don't worry," I told him, trying to hide the gleefulness in my voice.
Jared set me in the car, tucking a blanket around my legs, and then hurried over to his side of the car. Soon we were on the road, with me giving directions. It wasn't long before he knew exactly where we were going. Jared turned to stare at me as soon as he had stopped at a light. I looked out the window, pretending not to notice.
"Rel?" he asked, uncertainly.
"Just drive," I told him, face still turned away. He must have mistaken the tremble of excitement in my voice for one of sadness, because he sighed and pulled forward as the light changed, placing a gentle hand on my shoulder.
When we arrived, he looked at me. I struggled with the handle on the door and finally managed to get it open. I swung my legs out and managed to stand, dropping the blanket on the ground outside the car.
Jared sighed again, muttering to himself, and opened his door. He came over to where I was standing, clutching at the car's frame. He picked the blanket up and shoved it in the car before shutting the door and putting his hands on my shoulders.
"You don't have to do this, you know," he told me, gently.
My heart nearly burst at this. Here he was still being gentle and kind, even when I had yet to apologize.
He must have seen something in my eyes, because he looked hard at me, and then said quietly, "Rel, what is it?"
"Nothing," I said forcefully and hobbled away, lest I hug him hard.
He followed me as I worked my way along the path that we'd biked on little more then three months before.
When I finally reached the stream, I dropped down upon a boulder, exhausted. I hadn't walked that far in a long time without help. Jared came over and knelt before me, looking questioningly into my eyes.
"Jared," I interrupted. "Before you say anything please, let me—I mean—I'm—I mean—" I was stuttering awfully. Pull yourself together Laurel, I ordered myself. "What I'm trying to say is, I'm sorry. I've been a pig. I didn't realize all the work you'd done for me, until you told me." I reached out to cup his cheek in my hand. "Jared, you're so dear to me. This last week has been so empty without you. Be my friend again?"
Jared's eyes lit up first, then the rest of his face followed. His wonderful, adorable lips turned up in a slow grin, and he reached up to hold my hand to his face. He kissed the inside of my palm, and then turned to me with a cheeky grin.
"You didn't get me a Christmas present."
I grinned back at him. "That's right behind you."
He turned to look behind him at the stump. There was a crack in the stump and in that crack something shiny was stuck. Jared grinned like a little child and, without letting go of my hand, reached in the crack and pulled out a small silver-wrapped gift.
"And I have something for you," he told me before tearing into the small gift. He pulled a small little creature out of his jacket pocket.
It was the little elephant he had given me the day of the accident.
"Oh, Jared!" I cried, giving him a large hug. "Thank you. Now open your present." I commanded.
He grinned and opened it to find the license plate.
"It's for your bike," I told him, my voice cracking.
"Laurel," he turned to me. "Thank you. Are you crying?" he asked suddenly, in quite a different tone.
"No," I said, puzzled. Sure, my voice had cracked, but I wasn't about to cry.
"You've got a drop of water on your cheek."
"Yes," he said, glancing at the sky.
"I wonder what—" I began, before being silenced by Jared's whoop.
"It's snowing!" he shouted, and swooped down on me, picking me up off the boulder and spinning me around. I shrieked and giggled, burying my cold face in his shoulder.
Before I knew what was happening, Jared had settled me on my feet again, and had kissed the snow droplet off my cheek. He pulled back to looked at me, as I grinned up at him, before pulling me close again and covering my cold lips with his. My last coherent thought was, It won't be easy, but by jove, with God's help, and Jared's, I'll make it.