It was a day like any other, which is usually how these stories begin. I was out running errands in town, and as I was leaving the dry cleaners with an armload of my husband's shirts, this young woman, obviously in distress, approached me.
She looked to be about 22, my height, with long straight brown hair, and hazel eyes that seemed to glow in her red rimmed eyes. It was apparent she had been crying, tear stains shadowing her cheeks, as she walked up to me.
"Excuse me?" She asked timidly, in a sweet and soft voice, "Would it be alright if I used your cell phone? I need to make a call, and there aren't any payphones on this street."
I shifted the load of dry cleaning to my left arm, and fished around in my purse with the right, locating my phone and pulling it out, "Sure. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, I'm just having a bad day," she said reaching for the phone I reached out to hand her, "It'll get better."
She took the phone and turned her back to me to dial. Wanting to give her some privacy, I walked the few feet to where my car was and loaded the dry cleaning into the car.
When I shut the door, she walked up to me with the phone, tears rimming her eyes again, I reached out for the phone, and she placed it gently in my hands.
"I'm so sorry," she said softly. "I'm so very sorry," and took off running down the sidewalk.
"Hey!" I shouted after her, "Hey!" I took off down the sidewalk after her, but she was fast, and I couldn't catch up. After a minute, I was wondering what I was chasing her for anyway. I had my phone, she hadn't done anything to me except say she was sorry. I guess I just wanted to make sure she wasn't hurt or in danger. There wasn't anyone else on the sidewalk with me, so I turned around to head back to my car when I saw a police squad coming down the street.
I waved him over to the curb and he rolled his window down, "Is everything okay, ma'am?"
"Yes, I mean, no, well, I don't know..." I stammered, "There was this woman, about 22, my height, thin, long straight brown hair, wearing khaki shorts and a yellow t-shirt who I let use my phone because she had been obviously upset by something, and when she was done with her call, she told me she was 'sorry' and ran down the street. She didn't take my phone or anything, or hurt me, but I just want to be sure she's safe. She looked awful, like it was the worst day of her life."The officer nodded, put the squad in park, and killed the engine. He then got out of the car and met me on the sidewalk.
"Did you check the number she called on your phone?"
Duh. Of course. Why didn't I think of that?"No, that's an obvious next step," I scrolled through the outgoing calls on my phone. Nothing. No new calls since I had made one about an hour earlier. She hadn't called anyone. This was getting weirder, and weirder by the minute.
"No outgoing calls were made," I told the officer, holding up my phone.
"Maybe she deleted it," he replied.
Maybe. It didn't matter. I just wanted to make sure she was okay. The officer collected my information to follow up with me later if he ever found the woman, and I started to walk back to my car again.As I opened the car door to get in, the officer pulled up behind my car and yelled out the window.
"Anna? You need to get in my car. I'll give you an escort to the hospital."
"What?" I shouted back. The hospital? Why did I need an escort to the hospital?
"I'll tell you on the way, but the State Police have been trying to call you all morning," he answered.
No they haven't, I thought, and reached into my purse to check my phone. There was a missed call from 'Unavailable' and I looked at the received calls, four 'Unavailable' calls had come in since I left the dry cleaner.
Now it was making sense...that woman had answered one of the calls. A pit formed in my stomach and my heart raced as I started to put it all together: the State Police, hospital, her reaction, now I'm being offered a police escort to the hospital. Something was very, very wrong.
I ran over to the passenger side of the squad car and got in. The office flipped on the sirens and lights and we accelerated rapidly as the buildings whirred by out the window."There was an accident this morning that involved your husband. He was taken to St. George Hospital," the officer said.
My heart was racing so fast, his words made me go numb as an extra surge of adrenaline pumped through my body, "Is he okay?" I asked.
"I'll get you there as soon as I can," he answered. A non-answer. My gut told me that this was probably a, 'no' but it didn't stop me from praying as hard as I could that Ken was fine. This is just procedure, I convinced myself, they can't tell you anything until you get there.
We arrived at the hospital within ten minutes, and I don't know how my legs carried me into the ER. I ran up to the information desk, gave them my name, and was told to sit in one of those plastic waiting chairs. I sat there, heart and mind racing, while the television played the noon newscast. It was just background noise at this point. All I could hear was the silent screams playing in my head begging God to make everything okay. At least I was in the regular waiting room and not the special one reserved for bad news.
A picture flashed on the screen. A young woman with long dark hair and hazel eyes. It looked like a driver's license photo.
It was the woman.
"One fatality was confirmed as 22 year old Morganstown resident Hayleigh Greene, no other victims have been identified."She was dead? In the last twenty minutes? What the hell was happening?
"Mrs. Butler, the doctor will be out to speak with you shortly," the lady at the information desk said.
I'm pretty sure I answered her, but I can't remember. I'll I knew is that I needed air before I passed out. I walked out of the waiting room, down a corridor and out an automatic door into the side parking lot. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone sitting on the curb.
It was her. Hayleigh. Now I'm legitimately insane because I'm seeing dead people. She looked up at me, her eyes still red, and cheeks still tear stained.
"I'm so sorry," she said quietly.
"What the hell is going on!" I blurted out, "I was just inside and your picture was on the news and you are supposedly dead, but here you are sitting on a curb at the hospital. I let you use my phone, but you didn't call anyone, and ran away, my husband is hurt or maybe even dead, and I don't know what the hell is going on! What are you sorry for!"
"It was my fault, the accident," she said in the same gentle, quiet tone, she had always used, "I was arguing on the phone with my boyfriend, I wasn't paying attention, and I ran the light. Everything went dark, then it went white, and I ended up walking down a sidewalk in downtown Eaglebrook, and saw you. I couldn't make a call because...because..." she began to cry.
"Because you're dead," I finished for her sitting on the curb so I wouldn't faint, and began crying myself.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered between sobs.
Then I saw him.
Looking as handsome as he did on the day of our wedding, wearing the slacks and shirt he had left for work in this morning, there was Ken walking towards us in the parking lot. He was smiling, and there wasn't a scratch on him.
I knew then he was gone, too. I buried my head in my knees and tears flowed endlessly."Mrs. Butler?" a woman's voice came from behind.
I didn't pick my head up from my knees, "He's dead. I already know.”
She kept standing behind me as I wept into my knees letting me know that she was the doctor, he had come into the Emergency Room in critical condition from a terrible car accident, and they did everything they could to save him.
I looked up for a second, and I could see Ken right in front of me at this point he flashed that crooked grin that made me fall in love with him twenty years ago, and mouthed the words, "I love you. I'm okay."
My heart immediately shattered into a million pieces and I resumed my bent over weeping. The doctor leaned over to put an arm around me and helped me to my feet. "I'm so sorry," she whispered, "Let's get you inside."