Matt was sitting in the hospital room, watching to see when Anna would awaken. She had been asleep for almost twenty four hours since arriving at the hospital in the helicopter. They took her into the emergency room when she first arrived. A complete x-ray and CT-scan had confirmed the broken left leg and right arm. The doctor said that both appeared to have been set properly and were healing. The scans also showed her head abrasions to have been superficial. But like most head injuries, they had apparently bled severely at the time, and bruised deeply later.
Looking at Anna from the side of her facial injuries almost sickened Matt. That side of her face was a deep purple. He got up and walked around to the other side of the bed. From the uninjured side he could see how pretty and delicate she was, even with her hair still a mess. Before, when she was just Jackson’s girlfriend, she was the one competing with him for Jackson’s time and attention. She was such an easy target to poke fun at, since she seemed to have many phobias, like her aversion to flying in airplanes. He had never really looked at her as a woman before, merely as a competitor.
Today, as he quietly watched her lying in the hospital bed, with an IV in her arm, he was starting to comprehend how vulnerable life really was - not just her life, but also his own. He knew that it could just as easily have been him in that bed injured, or one of the casualties like Jackson. In fact, just driving down the street he could get in a car wreck and be killed. His heart could stop beating at any moment. A blood vessel could burst in his head, killing him instantly.
Even with his two years of medical training at Tulane, he was still helpless to do anything more for Anna. The broken limbs had to heal on their own, along with the bruising on her face.
He continued to look at her lying in the bed sleeping. She really was an attractive girl. No wonder Jackson was interested in her. He wondered what it would be like to go on a date with her – maybe to a movie, and put his arm around her. What would it be like to kiss her lips, or even to spend the rest of his life with her.
Where did that thought come from? he wondered. Those thoughts are wrong. She’s Jackson’s girlfriend. Or at least she would have been if it weren’t for me. How can she ever forgive me, let alone fall in love with me.
Anna’s aunt and uncle had been in the room earlier. They left to go get something to eat in the hospital cafeteria, with strict instructions for Matt to call them if she woke up. Matt had met them a couple of times before the accident, and when he had been at Anna’s house with Jackson. But he had gotten to know them much better lately, especially during the ride back to New Orleans the previous week, even though he had been lost in his own thoughts and not much of a conversationalist with them.
The Coast Guard called them during the helicopter ride to the hospital. Not long after Anna left the emergency room and had been assigned to a normal room, her aunt and uncle arrived at the hospital. He figured they must have broken every speed limit between New Orleans and Mobile to make the three-hour trip that fast. That was Saturday, the previous day, although it seemed like years ago. So far Anna had slept the entire twenty four hours since her arrival at the hospital. Matt wondered if maybe the hospital had her sedated.
“How are her vital signs?” Matt asked the nurse who made rounds checking on her blood pressure and other conditions. He did not tell the nurse that he was in medical school. She assumed he was simply a friend or family.
“Her body is healing. Give her time. She’ll wake up when she’s ready,” was the reply from the nurse.
It was difficult to be patient, especially since every time it got quiet in the room his mind started blaming him anew for the loss of Jackson. He turned on the TV and started flipping channels. He stopped at the news channel. There was an update on the train wreck. The station showed his picture on it, and described him as a local hero for finding Anna.
“Some hero,” he told himself, leaning his head against the bed rail as he sat in a chair beside Anna. “I’m so sorry, Anna. I’m so very sorry.”
He heard Anna quietly say “Matt? What are you sorry about?”
“Anna, you’re awake. How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Sleepy at the moment,” she answered. “I’m glad to see you, Matt.”
“Not as glad as I am to see you,” he assured her.
“Where am I?” she asked.
“You’re in a hospital in Mobile, Alabama.”
“How did I get here? Did Andriel bring me again?” Anna wanted to know.
“No, the Coast Guard and I found you. They airlifted you in a helicopter to the hospital here. First you were in the ER, but now this is just a normal hospital room.”
“I need to stay awake for a while. I keep missing too much,” she said partially as a joke and partially serious.
“Anna, it’s my fault. It’s all my fault. That woman told me to go back, but I was too scared. I’m so sorry,” he pleaded.
“What are you talking about, Matt?”
“Jackson. Oh, no. You don’t know about Jackson, do you?”
“I was told he went home to Heaven during the wreck. But that’s all I was told. I don’t know how or why.”
“Who told you that?” Matt asked. “When could anyone have told you? You’ve been asleep or in a coma the whole time you’ve been here.”
“Samuel told me,” she answered.
“Back to Samuel again. Anna, the Coast Guard went back to where they found you. They searched for Samuel and the cabin. They did find the cabin, but they never found any trace of Samuel. The doctor said that sometimes when a person is badly injured their mind can play tricks on them.”
“Matt, I know what I’m talking about. Samuel took care of me. Maybe they found the wrong cabin.”
“They said they found your footprint beside the bed, but no one else’s.”
“Well, I don’t know what they found, but I’m sure Samuel was there. So was Andriel.”
“Samuel told me that she’s the one who brought me to him after the wreck. She came by to see me a couple of times while I was in the cabin, but there was always so much yelling outside when she was there that we never had much chance to talk.”
“Yelling? Who was yelling? You were out in the middle of the bayou? Who could have been yelling?”
“It seems like Samuel said it was someone named LuSeth, maybe. Samuel tried to point him out to me once, but I’m not sure that I ever saw him. Apparently he’s small but has a loud voice. He was up in the tree outside the cabin window.”
“Anna, listen to what you’re telling me. None of it makes any sense. Don’t you see that?”
Anna looked at him for a minute, then looked the other way. He heard the coldness in her voice as she said, “You don’t have to believe it, but I know who was there, Matt, and what they said. If you choose not to believe me, I can’t help it. But I’m telling the truth. I’m not making it up.”
“It just doesn’t all add up.”
“I can prove Samuel was there – he gave me a necklace with a leaf pendant on it.” She reached up to her neck to touch the necklace, and realized that it was gone. Tears started to form in her eyes. “I must have lost it, or someone must have taken it.”
“You didn’t have a necklace on when we found you in the water. But I found this on the ground after we had you in the boat.” He reached into his pocket, and pulled out the necklace. It had a leaf pendant on it just like she described.
“Is this it?” he asked her.
“Yes, where did you find it?”
“It was on the ground close to where you had been sitting before you fell in the water.”
“Can you put it on me, Matt? I can’t do it myself with my arm in this cast. Where did this cast come from?”
“Anna, the Coast Guard was wondering who put the splints on your arm and leg.”
She looked down at her leg. “I have a cast on my leg too.”
“Yes, the ER did that. Who doctored you in the bayou?”
“Samuel told me he did, although I must have still been unconscious when he did it. When I woke up my broken leg and arm were splinted.”
“Who brought you all the way to the cabin from the wreck – it must have been almost a mile through the bayou? You couldn’t have walked that far with a broken leg.”
“I already told you. Samuel said Andriel brought me from the wreck to the cabin. I just remember waking up in the bed. I don’t remember anything about the wreck or getting to the cabin.”
Matt didn’t answer, so she continued to talk, “I’ve never seen anyone like Andriel, and yet she looked strangely familiar. Her hair was a really bright blonde color, and kind of frilly or full. I don’t know – just really something. She touched me and her hand was incredibly warm. But so was Samuel’s. Maybe my body was cool from the accident and loss of blood.”
Matt shuddered when Anna started describing a blonde woman just like he had seen. Could it really have been the same one?
She stopped talking, seeming to falter over whether to say what she was thinking next.
“Go on. I’m listening. Tell me more,” he prompted. Even if it scares me, he reasoned to himself. Maybe it will be good for her to talk about it, even if I don’t know what to tell her.
Anna was obviously embarrassed, but she did continue talking, “She said more. Don’t laugh, Matt, but she said that she was there for me when my parents died. She said she was the one who led me out of my bedroom when the house was on fire. Matt, do you think that maybe she was an angel?”
Matt laughed his annoying laugh, like he did when he was teasing or taunting Anna. She recognized it at once, and told him, “Never mind. I knew you wouldn’t understand. Nothing is ever serious with you, is it?”
“I’m sorry Anna. But you must admit, your story is getting stranger and stranger the more you tell me.” Matt continued to chuckle to himself, in an attempt to deny the truth in what she was saying.
“Then I won’t tell you anything else, since you obviously don’t believe me.” She again turned her head away from him in contempt. He knew that she was furious with him.
Why does my quick wit always get me cross-ways with her? he wondered.
“I’m trying to believe you,” he said, still unsuccessful at keeping the humor out of his voice. He reached out and touched her shoulder for emphasis. “I just don’t think I could even make up a story as fantastic as the one you’re telling me. Also, I don’t think I believe in angels. Maybe if I saw one I might believe.” Even as he said it he knew it wasn’t true. He remembered that the woman who told him to go rescue Jackson had bright blonde hair, and there was a lot of yelling in the background while he was seeing her. He shivered again.
“What’s wrong Matt? What aren’t you telling me?” she asked him, turning back to look at him.
“Nothing. I was just thinking about that night of the train wreck.” The guilt over Jackson again overwhelmed him as he remembered what the woman told him. Was she an angel like Anna supposed, or more likely, just another passenger on the train? If she was an angel then why didn’t she rescue Jackson herself. Maybe she was an angel, and it was her fault that Jackson died. Maybe that angel was the reason Jackson died, and she was trying to pin the blame on him.
“Matt, where are you? Do you want to talk about it?” Anna asked him gently, interrupting his thoughts.
He forced his attention back to the present. Various emotions played through his mind, as he considered her offer to listen. “Do you remember anything about the train wreck?” he asked.
“Not much. There are a lot of blanks between the time Jackson left my seat on the train to go downstairs to talk with you, until I woke up in Samuel’s cabin in pain. Although, I do remember being told to run to the back of the train. Samuel told me the train separated, and I fell out of it into the water. The rest I forget.”
“You’re lucky,” Matt said more to himself than to her. “I wish I could forget.”
She looked at him intently – obviously still a little mad and hurt because he didn’t believe her story, but also apparently interested in hearing what happened during the wreck.
Matt saw her looking at him, expecting more information. He wasn’t sure he could talk about it. As a distraction, he said, “Let me call your aunt and uncle first. They wanted me to let them know the minute you woke up. Then we can talk.”
“My aunt and uncle are here?”
“Yeah, they came over yesterday as soon as they heard that you’d been found.”
“By the way, Matt, where am I?”
“I already told you. You’re in a hospital in Mobile, Alabama. The train crashed just northeast of here. I was so worried about you when I couldn’t find you.”
“I was in good care, Matt, after the wreck. I hope you weren’t too worried.”
“I was searching all over for you, Anna. I looked in the hospitals, the morgues, anywhere I could think of to look. Yesterday I tried to talk the Coast Guard into searching for you again. One of the off-duty guardsmen went with me to find you. You’re all I’ve got left of our friendship with Jackson.”
“Samuel told me you were searching. I didn’t know he meant you were searching for me. Thank you.” She paused for a minute, then asked, “Matt, were there any plane wrecks these past two weeks?”
“Plane wrecks? No, none that I’ve heard about. Why do you want to know about plane wrecks? The train wreck was enough, wasn’t it?”
“So the airplane we were scheduled to be on made it safely to Florida, and the train that we took instead killed my Jackson. It’s my fault, Matt. If I hadn’t been so stupid we would’ve been to Florida and safely back home again by now. Instead, Jackson’s gone, and I’m lying here in the hospital with a broken leg and arm.”
“Anna, it’s not your fault. You couldn’t have known, and you can’t help the way you feel about flying in planes. No, it’s not your fault – it’s mine.”
“Why? What are you blaming yourself for, Matt? You were willing to fly in the airplane. I wasn’t.”
Matt couldn’t answer. It was all he could do to keep the tears from filling his eyes and running down his cheeks.
“Matt, talk to me. What is it?” Anna asked quietly.
Matt answered just as quietly, “You were right, Anna. She was there. Just like you described – she was there. She told me to go find Jackson before it was too late. Like an idiot, I was too scared to go back in the water. Not long afterwards a huge explosion rocked the train, so I felt justified in my hesitation. Eventually I did go back, but it was too late by then.” As he spoke, tears ran down his face and dripped on the floor. “It’s my fault that Jackson’s no longer here, not yours. I won’t be surprised if you never want to speak to me again.”
“Who was there, Matt? Who are you talking about?”
“That woman with the bright blonde hair that you described. She’s the one who told me to rescue Jackson. I was too scared, especially with all the yelling in the background.”
“Andriel,” Anna said, comprehending what Matt was telling her. “If she rescued me why didn’t she rescue Jackson too?”
“I don’t know. When I saw her she looked really old and tired, but her voice was strong. I keep asking myself why I hesitated. I can’t come up with a good reason, no matter how many times I go over it in my head.”
“What happened to our train car, Matt?”
“You remember that it was a long day that day. After Jackson left you upstairs, he came downstairs with me, and we got to talking for a while. Eventually we kicked back in the seats and dozed off. The next thing I knew, I felt the train car slam and twist, trying to stop. Then it seemed like we were falling. Everything happened so fast. Stuff was toppling all over the place around our seats. Eventually the car came to rest at a tilt, with water pouring in from the door and windows. The window beside my seat gave way, and sort of swept me upward toward the stairs. The water kept pushing me up the stairs into the upstairs aisle way. When it stopped I sloshed my way through and came out in the bayou. There were lights from the fire, so I swam to the shore. An old man pulled me out of the water. That was when the blonde woman told me to go back for Jackson. Soon afterwards there was a big explosion.”
Her eyes had filled with tears, which ran down her face unstopped. “He burned to death?”
“No. Remember you were sitting on the top floor, and we were on the bottom level. The top floor where your seat was is what burned. The bottom level was under water. Eventually I did go back to look for Jackson. He was trapped under a table. Probably when the train wrecked he hit his head, and it knocked him unconscious. The coroner listed death by drowning, but I don’t believe it. I think he died from the blow to his head.”
“Matt, it’s not your fault. It was an accident – a train wreck. You did all you could. At least you got out alive.”
“Alive to live with the guilt of what I could have done for my friend but didn’t.”
“No, simply alive. Just leave it at that. Oh, tears make my face hurt,” Anna winced.
He took a tissue and patted her face gently. “I keep trying to convince myself that what you’re saying is true, Anna, but all the while I know that it was my fault.”
“Matt, I’ll pray that you can forgive yourself. God can heal your emotional wounds as well as He can heal my physical wounds.”
“Prayer!” Matt scoffed. “If God really cared about us, why would He have allowed Jackson to be killed? As good as Jackson was, he should be the one still alive, not a heathen like me. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
“At first I felt the same way, Matt, until I remembered what Samuel told me. He said that Jackson went Home, meaning Heaven. Now God has Jackson with Him. How is that a bad thing?”
“It’s bad because Jackson is no longer here with us.”
“No, he’s not here with us. But for a Christian, we know we’ll see him again when we get to Heaven.”
“That’s just not the same.”
“Not the same, but better than nothing.”
Matt wasn’t ready to give up his self-pity yet. “You can believe what you want, Anna, but I just don’t buy it – all this talk about angels and Heaven and God. Where were they when Jackson died in the train wreck? Why didn’t they save him? Then that blonde goes and practically accuses me of letting Jackson die because I couldn’t go back and rescue him.”
“She must have been an angel,” Anna confessed.
“I don’t believe it. She was just a busy-body train passenger who wasn’t willing to go rescue anyone herself. I’m tired of hearing about all this ‘angel talk.’ Keep it to yourself from now on.”
Matt knew he had been overly harsh in what he said, and he instantly regretted it. He knew he needed to apologize, especially when he saw the anger flash across her face, and tears start to form in her eyes. But just then her aunt and uncle came into the room. They rushed past him, to question Anna about how she felt, and see how she was doing. The moment for an apology passed, and he was forgotten in the background, as they showered Anna with their love.
They wanted to hear all about her story, and they appeared to believe every word of what she was saying. He kept hearing them proclaim, “Praise God.” It was more than he could take, so he left the room. He wanted to get as far away from the hospital as possible at the moment.
He walked down the hall, took the elevator to the lobby, and walked outside the main entrance. Without paying any attention to where he was going, he wandered aimlessly across the parking lot, and down the street. Eventually he came to an empty bus stop bench, and sat down in desperation. Putting his face into his hands, he could no longer stop the tears from running down his face. How long he sat there, he had no idea. He just knew that when he looked up it was getting dark outside. Still the ache was inside. He wished he had Jackson to talk to about his feelings.
It was not meant to be. Jackson was gone. And he was the one to blame. He knew Anna would never forgive him for letting Jackson die, and now for hurting her by not believing her story.