Page 31

“Greyson, I know with the anniversary—”

“How’s work?” I asked, cutting into her sentence once more.

She grimaced but sat back, knowing it was time to change the subject.

She pushed me all the time, but she knew her limits. She knew when pushing wasn’t going to lead to a good result, so she pulled back. Claire had always been so good at reading people, and she knew how to read me inside and out, even without me speaking up on my feelings.

“Work is good,” she told me with a small smile. She went on to talk about anything and everything else that wasn’t me. I was thankful for that because I was too tired to think about me, and I was too heartbroken to think about the days that were approaching.


That was how it always went. Their three votes always defeated my one.

The problem with being the only male in your family is that you are often outnumbered when it comes to votes. I wasn’t even sure why my opinion was requested, as it never seemed to matter, but they always asked my thoughts on the topic at hand.

“We had Italian last weekend when we went out,” I argued during our dinner debate. “Plus, we have pasta every Monday. Aren’t you guys tired of pasta?”

“Nope,” Lorelai said, hopping into her car seat. I buckled her in quickly before getting into the driver’s seat.

“Not really.” Karla shrugged.

Why did they never crave steak?

All I really wanted was a big, fat, juicy steak.

“We should go to Palmer’s Italian House!” Karla exclaimed, making me groan even more, because it was over an hour’s drive away, and the rain was hammering down outside. It would take even longer than normal to get there.

I looked over to Nicole and narrowed my eyes. “What do you want?” I asked her.

Please say steak. Please say steak.

She shrugged. “Palmer’s breadsticks do sound amazing. Plus, it is Lorelai’s birthday, so I think she should get to decide.”

“Palmers! Palmers!” she hollered, pounding her hands against her legs.

Welp. There it was.

We started the trek to Palmer’s, which involved a lot of twisty roads and wooded areas.

As I drove, I glanced down at my ringing cell phone to see Rob Turner’s name flashing on the screen. He was an employee of mine, and I knew he was working on things back at EastHouse. Normally, I answered his calls in an instant, but it was Saturday evening, and we had a strict rule in our family: No work on Saturday nights.

Nicole noticed the name on the phone, too, and gave me a look, almost daring me to answer it, and I was quick to ignore the call. The last thing I needed was a pissed-off wife because I took a few minutes to take a phone call for work.

“Will you stop it!” Karla barked at her younger sister, who echoed her words.

“Will you stop it?!”



“No, really, stop it, Lorelai!”

“No, really, stop it, Lorelai,” Lorelai mocked right back. That was her new favorite thing, playing copycat. It drove all of us mad, but she was obsessed.

“Girls, calm down,” I scolded. “We have a long drive to the restaurant, and I don’t want to hear it from you two back there.”

“She keeps unbuckling my seat belt!” Karla exclaimed, her voice filled with irritation.

Nicole snapped around quickly, pointing her finger at our daughter. “Lorelai East, we do not touch the seat belts in cars. Do you understand me?”

“But, Mama—”

“No buts. Keep your hands to yourself,” Nicole said, turning around as Lorelai kept pouting and Karla gloated about getting her way—which, of course, led to Lorelai’s full-blown screaming tantrum.

The way that newly five-year-old could hit those high screeches made me think we might have the next Mariah Carey on our hands.

“Jesus, Lorelai! Stop it right now!” Nicole said, her voice tired, but our sweet little girl just kept throwing her fit. When a girl her age thought a situation was unjust, she made sure to make it known to the whole wide world with her shrieks.

I saw it in my wife’s eyes—her reaching her breaking point. There was only so much she could take before exhaustion took over and her anger built.

Turning around, I hollered, “Lorelai! Can you just cool it?! It’s your birthday and this isn’t good birthday behavior and—"

“Greyson!” Nicole shouted, making me whip back around.

I blinked once, and within that second, everything changed.

It only takes an instant for one’s world to be shifted upside down, mere seconds for a life filled with joy and laughter to be replaced with ultimate despair.

Those doe eyes shone bright in the headlights.

The fear filled both of our stares.

I swerved.

I swore to God, I swerved.

The deer did, too.

I swore to God, it swerved.

I missed it.

It missed me.

A shout was heard.

My skin crawled.

Whose shout was that?

Was it Lorelai’s?


Did my wife call out in fear?


It was me, my voice.

Branches snapped as the car veered off the road into the dark woods. I twisted the wheel, slamming my foot against the brakes, but it didn’t work. The car kept moving until it crashed to a stop, straight into a tree.

Head-on collision.

Everything ached. Everything burned.

Smoke billowed from the engine. My head pounded, my vision blurred. I couldn’t think straight as acid rose up my throat. My body was chilled as the warm, salty taste of blood slid across my lips.

“Grey…” Her breathy voice spoke my way.

I turned to my right, and Nicole’s forehead lay on the exploded airbag.

“It’s okay, it’s okay.” I didn’t know why those were the words to leave my lips, but they were all that had come to mind. I tried my best to reach for her, but I was stuck. My seat belt was jammed into place, and I couldn’t move. I needed to get to her, to help her. I yanked, and yanked, hoping for it to budge, but nothing was working. “I got you, just wait,” I promised.

She shook her head. “No. The girls.”

I turned around, and Lorelai was screaming in her car seat, seemingly in more pain than her young body could handle. As I looked to her left, my heart leaped into my throat.

The side window was shattered, marks of red streaked across the broken glass, and Karla was nowhere to be seen.

Where is she? What happened? How can I get to her? How can I save her?


Are you okay?

I need to know you’re okay.

Dammit, let me go!

I yanked the seat belt harder and harder, using all the force I could muster, and it finally released. I reached for Nicole, but she kept shaking her head. “The girls, the girls,” she cried, her voice pained with fear and aches of the unknown.

I slammed my body against the door, again and again. When it finally budged, I tried to hurry out of the car, but my legs gave out on me.

I forced myself to stand and I checked on Lorelai. Even though she was crying, she seemed okay. Then, I went to find her sister. I hurried through the blinding rain in search of my daughter. “Karla!” I called once, twice, a million times. There was no reply, nothing to be heard. The thoughts that raced through my head were unwelcome, and it took everything in me to keep from falling apart.

She’s here. She’s okay. She’s here. She has to be.

I reached into my pocket, pulled out my phone, and dialed 9-1-1.

No signal.

Dead zone.

I felt sick but couldn’t just stand there and keep trying to dial the number. I had to find my daughter.

I kept shouting. I needed her to hear me. She had to be there. People didn’t just disappear.

When I turned to my right, I saw her, a small figure sprawled out in front of two trees. There was blood on the tree in front of her, as if she slammed directly into it. She looked so small and still.

So very still.

The stillness was what scared me the most.

“No…” I whispered, hurrying over and falling down beside her. “Karla, it’s me, it’s Dad. Wake up, honey. Wake up,” I begged as tears streamed from my eyes, intermixing with the rain that mocked us as it fell from the sky. “Karla, wake up. You’re okay, alright? We’re okay. We’re okay. We’re okay.”

“Oh, my God,” a voice called out. I turned around to see headlights shining toward me as someone walked forward. “Are you okay, sir?” the stranger asked.

I narrowed my eyes at the figure as it grew closer. “We need help,” I cried, thankful to see him. “I can’t g-get a signal, c-can’t call for help.”

“Okay, okay.” He nodded once, his fear setting in as his eyes fell on Karla. The way he stared showed me the truth I knew—she wasn’t okay. I couldn’t deal with that idea, though.

“She’s fine. She’s okay,” I promised, even though my promises were much more likely lies.

“You’re bleeding,” the man said quietly, his tone coated in concern.

What? No.

I unbuttoned my jacket and touched my side, crimson staining my fingertips.

My eyes glazed over as I looked down to my white shirt, which was tainted red. Realization set in as my body began to sting with pain. Vomit began to rise from the pit of my stomach as the man moved in closer. “Let me help you.”

“No, I’m okay,” I told him, feeling far from fine. I felt sick, nauseous, faint. “Just go call for help.”



He nodded in agreement and hurried away.

I kept holding my daughter in my arms, lowering my forehead to hers, wanting nothing more than for her to be okay, for her to open her eyes, to look my way and tell me she was going to be okay, but she couldn’t. So, I kept repeating the words over and over again. “You’re okay, you’re okay, you’re okay…”

She couldn’t hear me.