The Ghost Between Us

Prologue

   

   I froze when I heard the news.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was stunned into silence; truly shocked.  My heart sank as my back hit the wall with a thud, my knees buckled, and I slowly slid down the wall until my knees met my chest with the phone still up to my ear.

   I hung up the phone just twenty minutes before when Anna called to tell me she was on her way home from a girls’ night out.  I smiled during the whole conversation and paced while we talked as I teased her about the rest of the night I had planned for her.

   “Hope you’re not too tired,” I said, as I stood in by the entryway admiring the atmosphere I had created for her.  I needed to see it just as she would when she got home.  The entire living room was dimly lit by ten candles; one representing each year of our marriage.  Shadows of trinkets silently danced across the walls and tables.  There was a candle by the front door, one on each of the two bookcases I built by the fireplace.  There was one on each end of the mantle, one on the coffee table, one on the dining room table, one on the granite countertop in the kitchen and two in the bedroom.  Every opposite candle had a different scent, starting with lavender and ending with peppermint.  I had just finished walking through the house to make sure everything was perfect. 

   In the bedroom, her black, satin chemise was laid out on the bed next to the matching robe; a perfect contrast to her long blonde hair.  There was a hand towel on the night stand with peppermint massage oil next to it.  I left the bedroom and walked down the short hallway to the large opening of the dining room to the left and living room to the right.

   In the living room, the square, dark wood coffee table had a white cloth laid across it like a diamond, with the corners slightly hanging over each side.  There was a tray of sliced bananas, marshmallows, pieces of angel food cake, strawberries and warm chocolate in a small fondue pot.  The two skewers were displayed perfectly in front of the warm pot of chocolate.

   I turned the thermostat down to sixty-seven degrees, knowing that the candles and the gas fireplace would warm the entire downstairs.  The soft music of our favorite playlist made us think of relaxing on, either our own back porch, or the ones we had enjoyed during our trips to the Tennessee mountains so many times.

   “Oh, I’m not too tired,” she replied.

   “Good, because I’m going to keep you up for a very long time.”

   “What do you have planned?” she asked with an anticipating smile.

   “Really?  You truly think I’m going to tell you?” I asked.

   “After fourteen years together, you know I’m going to keep trying.  What’s the occasion?”

   I laughed and said, “Does there have to be an occasion?” which was more of a statement then a question.  “It’s Saturday.  You’re the most beautiful girl in the world and I want to spoil you.  That’s the occasion.”

   “Don’t be an ass all your life, Toby,” she laughed.

   “Oh c’mon, please?  Just for tonight at least?”  I mocked, then asked how her night out with the girls was.

   “Oh, it was fun, as always.  Lots of laughter over an awesome meal.  My face hurts every time we get together from the four of us laughing so hard.”

   “That’s great baby.  I’m glad you had a good time.”

   “It’s started to snow.” She told me.  “It’s blowing around like I’m in a snow globe.  It’s really pretty even though I’m getting sick of it.  It’s March, for Christ’s sake, I’m ready for Spring”

I smiled without replying and she asked, “How are the book ideas coming?  Did you come up with anything?”

   “Nothing.  I jotted some things down, but nothing is jumping out at me.”

   “There’s no rush and you don’t need to force an idea.  Maybe it would be better if you let it come to you instead of chasing after a plot.”

   “I can’t wait for you to come home and see what’s in store for you.” I said.

   “Don’t you change the subject on me!” she demanded with a playful giggle.

   “I just get discouraged sometimes since I’m not getting much of an audience with my first book.     I’m sure that makes my boss happy because I won’t be retiring any time soon.”

   I was silent for a moment and stopped pacing before telling her, “I sure do love you, sweetheart.     I’m really excited for you to come home.”

   “I love you too, baby and you’ve certainly made me excited to get home.”

   “You have no idea,” I smirked.

   I thought about the blowing snow, and changed my tone when I said, “Be careful, honey.  I’ll see you in a little while.”

   “I will.  See you soon baby.  I love you.”

   “I love you too Anna.”

 

   I crouched on the tile floor of the dining room with the phone clutched tightly in my hand and shook my head in disbelief.

   “Sir?  Sir!  Are you still there?” the officer asked.

   “Yes” I whispered.

   “We’ve called to have her airlifted to Community Hospital.  They’re on their way now.”

   “Is—is she alive?”

   “She is right now sir.  They’re doing everything they can.  EMTs will accompany her at all times.”

   “Okay,” was all I could say.

   “I’m so sorry sir.  I’ll personally let her know she’ll see you soon.”

   The phone disconnected before I could end the call.  I looked around the house in the deafening silence, still staring in disbelief with the words repeating in my head from the second call I answered from Anna’s phone.

   “Hey baby, did you miss me that much that you had to call again before you got home?”

   But it wasn’t my wife.  A man’s voice responded.  “Tobias Miller?”

   “Yes, who’s this?”

   “This is officer Sean Carter.  You’re listed on a cell phone as an ICE contact.  What is your relationship with Annaliese Miller?”

   “She’s my wife.”

   “Sir, your wife’s been in an accident.”

   I listened intently as Officer Carter continued, “The ambulance just arrived and they’re doing everything they can for her.”

   “What do you mean, they’re doing everything they can for her?  What happened?”

   “She’s been in an accident, sir.  Best we can tell, a truck entered the curve at 82nd and Sargent Rd., crossed the center line and lost control.  She was struck directly, and her car was pushed off the road and turned upside down.  Sir?  Sir! Are you still there?”

   I stood up slowly, put my phone on the counter and heard a low-flying helicopter overhead, so I looked at the ceiling, following the sound from one end to the other.  My mind began to process the news the best it could.  What did he mean, “She’s alive right now.”?  I moved quickly through the house, turned off the music, blew out each jar candle and turned off the gas fireplace.  I changed out of my black, silk boxers into appropriate clothing, and grabbed my keys and phone off the kitchen granite.

   After I sped out of the garage in the two-year-old Sorento and drove away from the house, my imagination raced with possibilities; each one worse than the previous.

She’s been knocked unconscious and will be fine when I get to the hospital.  But they wouldn’t call for her to be air lifted if she’s been knocked unconscious.  So, what the hell do they know?  They’ve made a mistake.  Maybe she wasn’t wearing her seatbelt and her head went through the windshield.  Was she just lying there on the hood?  She couldn’t have been; they said the car was upside down.  Was she crushed?  Maybe she’s got cuts all over her.  Maybe she’s bleeding out somewhere. Oh shit.  What if I don’t make it to the hospital on time?  I’m going to get there and pace in the waiting room for twenty minutes just for some doctor to come in, take his hair net off, lower his head and ask me to take a seat just to tell me he did all he could do, but she didn’t make it.

   I shook off the thoughts and returned my focus to the road.  I descended the hill towards Fall Creek Road.  The light was green, so I went straight through and climbed the curvy hill on the other side.  Thick woods lined each side of the road and there was no one else driving in either direction.  I heard the roar of helicopter rotors and my heart sank once again.  With a heavy sigh, I fought back anxious tears.  I watched the flashing lights of the helicopter lift into the night air.  The lights got smaller and the sound faded as it sped into the distance and I realized exactly where I was.  I was on 82nd Street approaching the bend and the traffic light at Sargent Road.  I let off the gas and slowly eased my brakes when I saw flashes of red, yellow and blue off the trees ahead.  The lights were blinding as I neared the bend.  I squinted and focused on the lines of the road.  There was an officer directing me to stay to the right.  My heart raced, and I tried to focus entirely on the directions of the officer and the lines on the road amid the flashing lights.  I turned just my eyes to the left without realizing what I had done.  Oh, how I loathed the sight.  Through a flood of tears, and the blinding flashes of red, blue and yellow off the falling snow, I saw the underside of my wife’s car.  Thick black tire marks led to the pickup truck that was traveling in the opposite direction; the front end completely ripped off.

   Firefighters were moving around the scene, taking pictures, jotting notes, crouching on the ground to look inside the inverted car and briefly talking to each other.  There was a large, blue tarp draped over the driver’s side of the truck.  Next to the tarp, two men crouched upon the ground briefly and simultaneously lifted each end of a gurney with a long black bag on top of it, extending the legs until they locked.  I gasped, because I knew exactly what was in that black bag.  That’s when something else caught my attention.  A detail that I will never forget as long as I’m alive.

   Inside the bed of the truck, I saw a man.  He wore a thick dark winter coat and wasn’t at all bothered by the bitter cold.  He had a ball cap on his head.  His hands were covering his face completely and his shoulders shook from sobbing.  As I passed, he pulled his face from his hands, slowly turned his eyes to me and without a sound, said, “I’m so sorry.”

   No one was tending to him or even cared that he was sitting in the middle of the scene of the accident.  They all moved about as though he didn’t exist at all.  I braked harder to stop the SUV.

“Keep it moving” I heard one of the officers yell.  As I approached him, I lowered my window so that I could ask about the man in the back of the truck.  Just as I opened my mouth to speak, I glanced back at the bed of the truck.  It was empty.

   “Sir, please keep moving,” the officer repeated.  I stared up at him as competing emotions now racing through me.

   “Please sir,” he said one more time.

   I turned by attention back to the road, rounded the bend and sped forward when the road straightened.  For the first time in years, I turned to a stranger to ask for help.

   “Please God, give her a chance.  Please, don’t take her from me.”

   I turned into the complex of Community Hospitals and sped along the winding access roads until I reached the parking lot closest to the emergency entrance.  I threw the truck into Park, unfastened my seatbelt and opened the door in, what seemed like, a single swift motion.  I ran up to the entrance and impatiently waited for the two sets of automatic doors to open, then ran inside to the front desk.

   “I’m here to see my wife, Annaliese Miller,” I announced to the two ladies behind the desk.

   “Tobias Miller?” I heard a deep voice respond from behind me.

   I turned to see the police officer who called out my name and approached him.  He was a bald, stalky man, standing more than six feet tall.  I walked over to him anxiously wiping away stray tears from my cheeks.  He reached his hand out and I saw his nametag before he could introduce himself.

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