Chapter Four: Into the Storm
I wrapped my arms tightly around Aidan. Why did he have to agree to this? “Don’t let go, baby.” His voice is muffled by his helmet. I squeeze him a little tighter, my thighs gripping his with my feet resting on the perch he built for me.
What would my parents think about this? What would his parents think? He promised his dad he would never race. He swore to respect the roads. He swore to keep me safe.
We would be okay. We would win the race and go to our movie. He would kiss me during the movie and hold my hand. We would laugh, and everything would go back to normal.
If only I’d known. I wish I hadn’t pushed for that movie. Maybe Aidan would still be here if I hadn’t begged.
“Aidan, please, I’m scared.” I hope he can hear me over the revving of the bike. I should’ve known he wouldn’t listen to me. I should’ve known to never get on a bike when the roads are wet.
“Don’t worry, baby, I know what I’m doing.” No, he didn’t. If he knew, he wouldn’t have accepted the race. He wouldn’t have put us in danger. He wouldn’t be dead.
“I don’t want to do this. I want to get off. Aidan, please.” I hope he can hear the fear in my voice, but I don’t think he’ll let me off the bike. He would never leave me on the side of the road by myself.
“I’m not leaving you here. Hold on tight, Celine. I’m not changing my mind.” He adjusts his grip on the handles and lowers his head.
He’s revving the bike, and it trembles beneath us, the noise making my heart race. The guy beside us pulls off without warning. He’s cheating.
Aidan swears and follows right on his tail, leaving my stomach behind at the imaginary line. I hold in a scream, not wanting to distract him. He has to be focused.
It’s so dark that I can hardly see. I only hope Aidan can see better with the headlight in front of him. I close my eyes, wishing this would be over already. The wind is pushing against us, and the slick road is splashing at my exposed ankles. I wish I were at home in bed.
Suddenly, there’s a loud screech as Aidan brakes too late, and we’re thrown from the bike. This time, I can’t hold my scream anymore. Aidan is pulled from my tight grasp, and we fly in different directions.
My body hits the ground first, and pain floods through my entire body. My head follows, hitting the road, and I see black.
I struggle to open my eyes. My head is pounding, my body is aching, but I can’t move my legs. There’s a heavy weight holding them down. It’s hot, and I can’t take it. Opening my eyes, I scream.
“HELP! Aidan! Help!” His beautiful bike is in flames, and it’s pinning me down. I’m going to burn alive.
I’m going to die here. All because he had to race the stupid prick with the better bike.
Why hasn’t Aidan helped me? Oh, God, what’s happened to him?
“Aidan!” I call his name over and over, screaming in agony as the flames lick my jean-clad legs. I’m going to die here on an abandoned road. I didn’t get to tell my mother and father I loved them. I didn’t say goodbye to Ryan. I haven’t graduated yet.
What happened to the other guy? Didn’t he hear us crash? Didn’t he see us? Why did he have to race us?
Where’s my phone? I need to call for help.
I can’t feel my legs. I can’t feel my toes. Oh, God, please let me survive this. Aidan still hasn’t answered me.
Red and blue lights flash in the distance, and I hear sirens. They’re loud and bright. God must’ve heard me.
Someone is coming.
They lift the bike off of me first, but I still can’t move. I don’t want to see how bad my legs look. I don’t want to think about the pain I should be feeling. I have no feeling in my legs, and it’s as if they might as well not be there. They ask me question after question, but I can’t understand what they’re saying.
I wish they would stop talking. My head hurts, and I just want to sleep.
Where is Aidan? Is he okay?
Two men lift me onto a stretcher, and pain flares through my body. It’s as though I’m on fire. And then I see him.
I scream until my throat is raw, and they stick a needle into my arm to sedate me.
Then, in the darkness, there is no pain, no blood, no fire . . . just nothing.
“Celine! Celine! Wake up! Celine, wake up!” I open my eyes to see Ace looking crazed, shaking me from my nightmare. My cheeks are wet from tears, my body damp from sweat. “We have to go, Celine! We have to go!” He’s pulling me out of my bed, throwing my discarded sweatpants at me. That’s when I realize he can see my legs.
“Don’t look at me!” I scream, my voice hoarse from sleep, embarrassed of my burnt and scarred legs. I wasn’t ready for anyone to see them.
“What are you talking about?” He looks so confused, but I’m shoving my legs into the pants before he can look again.
“Why did you wake me?” Ace pulls open my cupboard, finds a backpack, and then throws clothes into it. He rushes through our bathroom to his room and throws some of his things into the bag.
“Ace, what the hell are you doing?” I rub my eyes, trying to make sense of why he’s acting like a maniac. My head hurts, and I just want to go back to sleep.
I want to see Aidan again. This house brings back so many memories of him and me. So many happy memories that were all replaced by dark ones surrounding that horrid night.
Ace brings me back to the present by running into the room and standing in front of me, his blue eyes wide in panic. “It’s flooding, Celine. The sandbags didn’t work. The water is coming in downstairs, and we have to get out of here. “
It’s too early for this. I can’t comprehend what he’s saying. Can’t we just go back to bed? I had too many drinks last night, and I just need to sleep.
Water. Inside the house. Is he crazy?
“Celine, wake the fuck up. The water is rushing in downstairs, and we need to get out of here now!” Ace stands in front of me, one hand on my shoulder, the other handing me the backpack, then he pulls me out of the room.
I can hear the slosh of running water now. Oh, no.
He’s running down the stairs, skipping steps, and I can’t keep up with him. Water has started to climb up the wooden stairs, and all the furniture is getting wet. The cards we left out last night on the coffee table are floating all over the place. Everything is going to be ruined. Mom and Dad are going to be so mad at me that I didn’t keep the house safe.
Ace doesn’t stop when his bare feet hit water on the stairs. He keeps going, running through the water to grab a few water bottles and my phone from the kitchen counter. He looks at me for a moment as I stand on the last dry step, looking at my ruined living room and kitchen.
He runs up the few stairs to where I’m standing, hands me my phone, and runs back down the stairs without a word. He’s rushing around the house like those people on Black Friday who run and fight for the flat screens, water splashing up with every step he takes.
He doesn’t seem to notice that his pants are getting soaked. He’s too focused on gathering essentials.
“No. We can’t leave. We’re safe here.” He doesn’t answer me. “Listen to me!” He must hear the panic in my voice because he stops and looks at me. His eyes are encased in fear.
“I am listening, princess. Now, you need to listen to me. We have to get out of here and get to dry land. We have to go by foot, so put your damn shoes on and march your ass out the door.”
“We can take the Jeep.” He shakes his head.
“Your car and my bike won’t be any good in water, and you have a flat. We don’t know how bad it’s going to get out there. Fuck, I don’t know where we’re going to go.”
He’s standing in the kitchen, water is rushing up his legs, and he keeps running his hands through his thick, black hair. He’s losing it, and he’s supposed to be the sane one.
I put the heavy backpack on and step into the cold water as goosebumps trail up my arms and neck. I run through the water, soaking my sweatpants, and rush to his side. I take his hand and pull him to the garage where we left our shoes. He nudges me toward the door and runs through the house again.
It’s pouring outside, and the wind is blowing furiously, so I stand close to the door, under the little archway, trying to stay dry. Ace runs out the door, his hands loaded with bars and water bottles. I take the backpack off, and he dumps everything inside, then swings it onto his broad shoulders. Tightening the two straps, he looks at me, determination flickering in his blue depths.
Ace closes the front door and holds out his hand to me. I take it, deciding now is not the time to remember what he said about me last night. I would never admit the relief that coursed through me in that moment.
As we step outside into the pouring rain, the wind blows my hair into my eyes and I pull my hand from Ace’s to move my hair. I quickly tie it into a ponytail with the black elastic on my wrist.
We’re going to be okay. I’m going to survive. I will see my parents again. This isn’t a repeat of the accident. Ace will protect me. He isn’t Aidan, and he won’t put me in danger.
Ace steps out into the chaos, leaving our safe haven behind.
“There should be a shelter nearby. We’ll be safe there. They’ll be better prepared than us.” He turns to squint at me through the heavy rain and holds out his hand again.
“Don’t be scared, Celine. I’ll keep you safe.”
He eases my fears with those words, and I see there’s truth in his eyes, so I take his outstretched hand and he pulls me into the cold rain. A chill goes up my spine as the rain hits my skin, making me instantly cold to the bone.
With courage I don’t know I have, I walk straight into the hurricane, Ace’s hand clutched tightly in mine.