The steady wail of sirens worms straight through her ears, deep into her brain. Something warm and wet trickles down the side of her face. She touches it and her fingers come away red. Blood.
Looking around groggily, it takes her a while to realize she’s still in the car. The windshield is shattered and the frame twisted, safety glass spread out in a glittering wedge. The passenger door hangs open. Taylor is nowhere to be seen.
She turns painfully to her own door. The front of the car is crushed in and the door, crumpled like a paper bag, refuses to open. Tugging weakly at the handle, she feels the first twinges of fear twist in her stomach. What if she can’t get out? What if there’s a fire? The image of herself burning, trapped in this wreck of a car, gives her the energy to struggle towards the passenger door. But it’s no use. The seatbelt’s jammed.
A face appears, distorted by the spider web of cracks in the window. “Help me,” she tries to scream, but all that comes out is a whisper.
The face moves away and she slumps down, defeated.
Then a shower of glass rains down.
The firefighter shouts at her through the window he’s just opened. “Miss! Miss! Are you all right?”
Her voice is still faint, but she nods. Her heartbeat thrums in her ears, fast and light.
“Good.” His voice slows, calm and soothing. “I’m going to get you out, but it’s going to be a little noisy, ok?”
She nods again, feeling pain tear down her spine.
There’s a screech of metal on metal, a wrenching noise, and the door is yanked off its hinges. He cuts her seatbelt and helps her out of the car. On the pavement, shards of broken glass twinkle like fallen stars.
“Careful,” he says. “It’s sharp.”
She nods for a third time and looks behind her. At first, her eyes can barely pick out the forms of cars in the smoking tangled lumps of metal. Then she catches a flash of white.
“Don’t look,” the man says, grabbing her shoulder. “Don’t look.”
But it’s too late. She’s already seen the pale body being lifted out of a window. A child, hanging motionless. A woman stands next to it, sobbing.
A little farther away, a hand with fingernails painted bright pink sticks out from a long black bag. Taylor had painted her fingernails pink.
Darkness begins at the edges of her vision and works its way inward, erasing sight and, for some reason, sound.
* * *
White ceiling. Blue walls.
Her eyes move around the room. There are rails on each side of her bed. A window overlooks a dismal parking lot. A monitor is going crazy somewhere out of her line of sight – she’s going to have a killer headache.
This isn’t her room.
She sees her parents. Her mother’s eyes are red, her father’s hard. Now she’ll have some answers.
“What happened?” she asks. “No one will tell me.”
“You really don’t remember anything?” her mother asks, fresh tears starting in her eyes.
She stops, because memories are beginning to resurface. “I… I was going to a party, right? With Taylor? And then… then I woke up. What happened in between?”
“We’re not sure,” her father says, as her mother gives in to the waterworks and pulls out a tissue. “But you know I always give you things straight. There was an accident.”
“Why? Who caused it?”
She shakes her head. “I couldn’t have. I would remember.”
“Your car rear-ended another at a stop light.” Her father’s voice is as hard as his eyes. She won’t be getting any sugar coating from him. She never has, even when she was a child. Now she wishes he would lie to her, just once. “There was a woman and two children. The woman is fine. Her daughter is in critical condition.”
“And… and the other?”
“The little boy was killed instantly.”
The numbness is back, sending fingers of cold into her heart. “Taylor?” she whispers.
“She’s gone too.”
People ask her how she is. She doesn’t answer, just stares at the blank ceiling. She did this. She killed her best friend, and some little boy she didn’t even know. And she doesn’t remember.
The word for what she’s feeling is shattered. Broken into infinitesimal pieces, and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men will never be enough to put her back together again.
She closes her eyes, and the last memory – the one she’s been simultaneously searching for and hiding from all day – finally comes.
* * *
The road is dark, but their headlights show the way. Taylor swears that the party is going to be awesome, but she’s failed the driving test three times and is going for a fourth. So she’s in the passenger seat, filling her head with empty chatter as she steers the car down the empty road. The green eyes of a stoplight glare from far ahead.
“I bet Caleb is already there,” Taylor sighs, mentioning her crush for the hundredth time as she admires her newly painted hot pink nails. “You have his number. Ask him how it is.”
“Fine,” she says. She glances at the nearing stoplight – still green – and flips open her phone. <R u having a good time?>
She’s about to hit send when Taylor starts screaming. Her head whips up to see the red glow of stoplights, while her foot is still glued to the accelerator.
It’s too late to do anything, even slam on the brakes. Right before they hit, she sees the frightened face of a six year old boy, wide eyes locked on hers.
And then darkness.