Chapter 1. Well, Hello There
For some of us it was a chance at redemption, yet for the rest of us who couldn't be bothered with the fuss and chaos, it was more like 'well, I can only hope that this year isn't as horrible as the last'.
At the beginning of December, I'd been browsing the aisles at the mall when a little boy who looked no less than nine, said to his father, "I'm so happy that we'll be able to have a tree this year, Daddy." The tree that the man held in his hands was three feet tall.
The salesmen on the street corners with their fake brand name clothing were running -quite literally, after pedestrians, left and right trying to sell their overpriced articles.
One short, chubby and quite rude might I add, salesman had grabbed a woman's arm, trying to sell a dress while she seemed to be on an important call. The woman, apparently not one with the shits, raised her heavy looking handbag and gave him a good knock on his bald head which caused him to topple over a flip flop stand.
Delivery trucks also lined every corner and every alley way, dropping off crates of beers, boxes of wine, and trays of meats to all the bars, nightclubs and restaurants. I loved to see it.
The togetherness that the holidays brought about was something I always used to take advantage of especially where I lived.
This was no New York city but Harbor State remained a number one tourist destination.
"I think so. I don't know. It's been almost two years. Seems like less.. I don't think I even know how it feels to not be sad all the time but I'll get there."
She grabbed my hand that wasn't on the steering wheel and gave a small squeeze. "Yeah, two years. He'd want you to have fun. And we'll take care of you, you know that."
I nodded. A lump was beginning to form in my throat. "Yeah. He'd want me to have fun. You're right. I owe him that much. Plus I have the greatest set of friends who've help me through all of this. I think I owe you guys that much."
I stole a glimpse at her and saw her reassuring smile before she squeezed my hand and let go.
"Last lap of being sad," I said to myself only to be rewarded by the universe with my tire popping.
"Oh come on! Really? Now, of all freaking times? This is the devil's work. Fuck you, Satan. Fuck. You! You tried it but today is not the day! You hear me!?" I shouted furiously and hit the steering wheel in a rage, causing the horn to go off loudly. I heard some cursing from my neighboring motorists. I sheepishly yelled my apology to them as I used my indicator to pullover to the side of the road to get this mess sorted out.
"Suray, look out!"
It took me a few seconds to realize what she was yelling about. The vehicles in front of us were parting like the red sea. I was able to break out of my temporary shock and quickly swerved to the side, barely escaping harm's way as my car skidded to a stop between two trees.
We were driving on a one way road and some madman was speeding through the traffic, going the wrong way like it was nobody's business.
I started hyperventilating and my throat felt like it was closing. I refused to ahvethe a panic attack damn it.
My heart couldn't seem to stop its frantic beating and Hana was speaking to me but her words weren't registering. As I stared through the windshield, I was brought back to two years ago when I'd lost my cousin, Carson, at the hands of a drunk driver.
"Deep breaths, girly. In and out. You're safe," Hana soothed and I tried to follow my friend's instructions as she tried to calm me down but images of his bloodied body slumped over in his seat made a collage behind my closed eyes.
"Think happy thoughts and remind yourself that you are safe," I heard my therapist's soothing voice say somewhere at the back of my mind.
Think happy thoughts, think happy thoughts. This will pass. I closed my eyes and thought of the beach, picturing the calming sound of the waves and the wind caressing my face. Deep breath. Think happy thoughts. My family lounging around Nana's living room a few days ago, eating sugar cookies and watching Christmas movies. Deep breath. Think happy thoughts. Uncle John nearly breaking his ass trying to fix a leak in Nana's roof.
I smiled and opened my eyes slowly letting the feeling of dread pass on its own.
"I'm fine. I feel okay," I reassured both her and myself.
I was completely flabbergasted. I just couldn't find it in me to think about what would have happened only a few moments ago had I not acted immediately. I refused to think of it. All that mattered was that we were out of harm's way for now.
"Are you okay, Su-"
"THIS IS A HIGH SPEED POLICE CHASE. REMAIN IN THE SAFETY OF YOUR VEHICLES UNTIL TOLD TO DO OTHERWISE."
The police cars and vans that flew by seemed never ending. We both gasped and after quickly locking all the doors and leaving just enough space to hear the other announcements, I turned to Hana with wide eyes and a racing heartbeat. "What the actual fuck?"
"What the fuck indeed. Are you alright though, babe?" She asked concerned.
"I am. It's..Yeah. What the hell?" I said stupidly.
She chuckled and wiped a stray tear. "You saved us."
I nodded. "Yeah. You okay though?"
She nodded. "With all thanks to you."
"I am pretty great aren't I?" I said, trying to lighten the mood.
She laughed. "I'll give you that just this time. That was pretty awesome. Fast and Furious, who?"
I laughed at that. It was sincere laughter surprisingly. Not that I'd ever have to put up a front when dealing with Hana but I didn't want to lie to myself. I did suffer with PTSD and survivor's guilt after the accident but I was getting better. I wasn't in that dark place that I used to be. My therapist was a wonderful woman and she'd helped a great deal with my grieving and healing process. She truly was an angel without wings.
Slowly but surely, I got used to being behind the wheel again, without fear.
The incident that just happened, in a messed up sort of way, was like a test to see if I really was getting better. I knew that I was. We were both a little shaken up but who wouldn't be after witnessing such a thing?
After what seemed like several hours, a huge police van and several other police cars passed, most likely having caught the criminal. The final announcement came, instructing injured persons and anyone whose vehicle got damaged to stay on site. The rest of us were free to go.
"Look," I pointed, staring out her window, "people are starting to get out of their vehicles."
"We need to replace the tire. I'm happy they caught whoever the hell that psycho is. What is going on is this world!? It's new year's eve for crying out loud."
"Tell me about it. On the day that I decide I'm going to go out and have fun though? The devil really must be working overtime. Not today, bitch. The Lord is my shepherd. Amen."
"Amen," she agreed with a vigorous nod of her head. "Also, there's a gorgeous young man standing outside your door."
My eyes widened as I stared at her incredulously, not turning to face the stranger just yet.
She poked her head around me. "Well hello there, you sexy beast," she purred.
"Ew, Hana," I couldn't help but laugh loudly despite feeling embarrassed. Hana's 'sexy' face always made me laugh. She was beautiful with big, light brown eyes, waist length fiery red hair and the deepest dimples. Of course she was sexy. It came naturally to her so when she made an extra effort to be sexy, she always looked so funny. Our friends would tease her about it all the time.
"Fuck off," she rolled her eyes.
"That's your own fault," I retorted. "Why wouldn't you tell me there was someone outside? You know I speak with wild hand gestures," I groaned.
She shrugged. Dickhead. "It was funny."
"It was funny," I mocked and rolled my eyes, taking off my seatbelt and unlocking the door.
The first thing I noticed was that the guy smelt absolutely divine. He smelt expensive. And he was tall. My two weaknesses. How the hell did Hana even notice that he was a 'sexy beast'? His face was shielded by the baseball cap and RayBan's that he wore.
"Hi there," he said in a deep accented voice. "I was driving behind you when your tire popped. Do you ladies need some assistance?"
"Oh, no we're fine, thank you. I'm going to change the tire right now. It shouldn't take too long," I responded politely.
"Ah fuck," I groaned, "Please excuse me. I have some desserts in the back that I'm praying aren't ruined," I explained and rushed past the confused young man to go to the trunk of the car.
"Thank you safety shelf," I sighed, letting out a breath of relief when I made sure that everything was still intact. "We're good, Hana!" This would have been the worst possible thing to happen. There was no way I'd have time to drive back home and prepare another batch of desserts.
I walked back around the car to where the guy stood waiting with his hands shoved in his pockets. "Are you alright...?"
"Aden, and I'm good, thank you. The fucker nearly destroyed my mirror but that's not important," he paused, "Off topic but you're quite beautiful I must say," he stated and took off his shades. His eyes were shielded by his hat, but they looked greenish-brown from where I stood.
I heard Hana's giggle behind me.
"Um, thank you?" I blushed and shifted nervously.
He chuckled and took a slow step back. "You two seem like you've got it covered over here and I've got somewhere to be myself so I'll leave you to it, I suppose."
"Right." It was me who broke out of the trance this time. "We do. Thank you again," I smiled.
He returned it, showing his perfect white teeth and brought his ringing cellphone out of his pocket. Such a beautiful smile, I thought to myself.
"It's no problem," he waved me off. "Happy new year. You ladies drive safe."
"Thanks!" Hana chirped. "Happy new year to you too."
"Her name is Suray by the way! I'm Hana," she yelled at him when he opened his car door.
"Got it!" He yelled back. "Bye, Suray and Hana."
"WOW!" Hana shrieked breathless beside me when we got back into the car. "He's fucking hot. Sheesh! And look at his car. You didn't even get his number. So lame," she added, her body damn near halfway through the window.
I turned to see what she meant, being a little less obvious of course, after clicking my seatbelt in place. And right she was. A beautiful Land Rover - Range Rover was easing back onto the highway. He blew his horn at me and I did the same, giving a small wave as he passed.
"You are something else, Hana Lake. He's probably got a girlfriend. His looks familiar. I've seen him before, I just can't remember where right now," I tell her.