Chapter 23: Regrets
Cassie tried calling Jacob’s cell phone twice, both times getting nothing. His phone was dead, and as far as she knew, he might be as well. Something horrible had just happened to him on that bridge.
Refusing to sit around and wait for someone to call with the bad news, she grabbed her handbag and raced out to her car. As she sped west on River Road, she punched the button on her steering wheel to make a phone call.
“Call Margo! Call Margo!” she yelled, not wanting to take her eyes off the dark, dreary two-lane highway to scroll through her contact list appearing on the display screen.
While waiting for the call to complete, she flipped her lights to bright but dimmed them immediately as the headlights of a lone on-coming car blurred ahead as she rounded a narrow curve in the road.
"Dammit!" She wiped her tear-soaked eyes with her hand as the car crept past with its bright lights blinding her. "Get out of my way! I can't see!"
Margo answered on the third ring. “Hey, hon! What’s up?”
“Margo! Something horrible has happened to Jacob!”
“What? What do you mean something horrible? What’s going on, Cassie?”
“I think he’s had an accident on the Sunshine Bridge I heard it all it was horrible!”
“Slow down, hon. Calm down. What was Jacob doing on the bridge, and where are you?”
Cassie tried to take a deep breath to calm herself. Her heart was pounding ninety miles a minute, and she knew she was speaking at the same speed.
“He was on his way back from Baton Rouge, on his way to my house. I was on the phone with him when I heard tires squealing and then crashing, and then his phone went dead. I’m on my way there now.”
“Oh dear Lord. Hold on.”
Cassie could hear Margo’s muffled voice, as well as Mark’s. It seemed like forever before Margo returned.
“Okay, hon, we’re in Donaldsonville, we’re headed out to Mark’s truck now. We’ll meet you at the bridge. Did you try calling Jacob back?”
“Yes. Twice. Nothing.”
“Okay. Stay on the phone with me, Cassie. We’re on our way now.”
Still trying to focus on the highway, her headlights bright once more, Cassie wiped her eyes.
“Margo, I love him.”
“I know you do, sweetheart. I just wasn’t aware that you had figured that out yet.”
“I hadn’t. I wasn’t sure if I truly loved Jacob, or just loved that he loved me, and how wanted and special he always made me feel.”
“So when did you figure it out?”
“The moment his phone went dead. Margo, I’m scared! What if I don’t get a chance to tell him? He needs to hear me say the words. He needs to know that I love him.”
“You’ll get a chance to tell him.”
“But what if I don’t?” she cried.
“Cassie stop that! Don’t be thinking that way—Oh, God!”
“What?! What’s going on?”
“We’re at the bridge. It’s blocked. They police are not letting traffic on it. Emergency vehicles seem to be coming from all directions.”
Cassie grabbed her mouth to stifle her whimpers. “I think I’m going to be sick!”
“What, Mark?” Cassie could hear Margo say in the background, and then she was back on the phone.
“Exactly where are you?”
“I don’t know for sure.”
“Are you past Tara?”
“Okay. Good. Pullover. We’re going to come to get you.”
“No. I need to get there! Jacob needs me.”
“Cassie, listen to me. You are not going to be able to get to Jacob by yourself. Let us get you. You are too upset to be driving anyway.”
“Okay, I see a dirt road on the left. I’m pulling in now.”
“Good. Park, and wait. We’ll be right there. Turn on your flashers so we’ll see you.”
“Okay. Please hurry!”
It seemed like hours before Mark’s truck pulled onto the dirt road, though Cassie knew it had only been a matter of minutes. Mark immediately jumped out and opened the rear door of his full-size pickup truck for her. Once she was inside, he closed her door, and then jumped in the driver’s side, his tires spinning as he whipped out onto the highway, pressing the gas pedal until he was well over the posted speed limit.
“Shit!” he said a few minutes later.
Mark hit his hand hard on the steering wheel, then rubbed his mouth hard. It was at that moment Cassie realized that Mark was as worried as she was. Mark was Jacob’s foreman, but he was also his best friend. She would not be the only one to suffer the loss of someone special if Jacob didn’t survive whatever happened to him on that bridge.
She sat up in the back seat for a better view out the front windshield. She could see the multiple flashing lights on the ordinarily dark bridge ahead. Several vehicles had stopped ahead of them.
“Be careful, Mark,” Margo said as he began driving on the narrow, slanted right shoulder, passing the stalled traffic. He stopped when he reached the intersection of River Road and Highway 70 leading up to the bridge, pulling way over off the road.
“This is as close as we’re gonna get,” he said as he shut the engine off. “Come on, let’s get out and walk."
When they reached the bridge, a local Donaldsonville police officer standing in the middle of the road with his vehicle parked in the middle of it stopped them.
“Hold on there, where do you think you’re going?” he asked.
Mark spoke. “We think our friend is involved in whatever is going on up there on the bridge. What can you tell us?”
“From what I understand some crazy drunk driving on the wrong side of the road met up with an oncoming pickup. The pickup hit the side of the bridge and flipped over trying to avoid a head-on collision. Rolled twice I think, but not sure about that. The driver’s trapped inside. Fire Department is trying to get him out now.”
“That’s Jacob!” Cassie cried. “Is he alive?”
“Yes, ma’am. I believe he is. So’s the woman. Walking around up there, carrying on, drunk as hell, they said. You say this guy’s a friend of yours?”
“Yes, a close friend. Can we walk up there?” Mark asked.
The officer turned to look toward the bridge, inhaled a deep breath, then slowly let it out.
“I shouldn’t let you, but if it were my friend, I’d want to be up there with him too. Go on. But stay out of the way!”
“We will. Thank you, sir.”
“Good luck to your friend!” the officer called out as the three began running up the long, steep incline. “Damn drunk drivers.”
Once they reached the top of the incline, where the massive steel truss of the bridge began, they could see the multiple emergency vehicles including a large firetruck, highway patrol vehicles as well as City of Baton Rouge, ambulance, and several tow trucks. And finally, they neared close enough to see Jacob’s light blue pickup upside down in the middle of the four-lane highway. Firefighters surrounded the truck, including at least two who were cutting into the metal of the driver’s side door with Jaws of Life cutters.
“Jacob!” Cassie cried out, both hands covering her mouth.
Mark pulled her close, letting her bury her head in his chest.
“He’ll be okay.”
She felt Margo’s hand on her back. She continued to keep her head buried, unable to watch.
“They’re pulling him out now, "Mark said. Come on."
Cassie and Margo followed as he inched his way closer without getting in the way until Jacob was finally in view. They watched as paramedics secured his neck with a brace before placing him on a raised stretcher.
“Take it easy, sir,” they could hear one of the EMTs say as Jacob began moving his arms, reaching for the brace.
A second one began questioning him as they strapped him down. “Can you hear me okay? What’s your name, sir?—Okay, Jacob, any pain anywhere? Can you move your legs?—Good. Any difficulty in breathing?—No? That good, sir. We’re going to get you to the hospital where you can get checked out. Try to lie still. Donaldsonville Memorial okay?— Good.”
Though unable to hear Jacob, Cassie assumed he was replying to the questions and found relief in that.
As the three EMTs rolled the stretcher past her on their way to the ambulance, she called out.
“Cassie, is that you?”
She could barely hear his voice. She quickly caught up and walked alongside the stretcher.
“Yes, Jacob, I’m here. I'm with Mark and Margo. We’re all here with you.”
“Good,” Jacob whispered, his eyes open, looking up toward the dark sky, restricted by the full neck brace from turning to see her.
When they reached the open doors of the emergency vehicle, Cassie told the EMTs, “I want to ride to the hospital with him.”
“Sorry, ma’am, but you’ll have to meet us there,” one of them said as they lowered Jacob’s stretcher, then picked it up and placed him inside.
“We’ll meet you at the hospital, Jacob! I love you!” she said, just as the ambulance doors closed the doors from inside.
“I love you,” she whispered as the ambulance disappeared down the steep highway, siren wailing, lights flashing. “I love you.”