It was futile; he knew it was futile. He asked anyway.
“Hi. I’m Gary. Can I buy you a drink?”
He was forty-eight, every year of it, from his graying hair to his drooping paunch.
“Hello. I’m Gary.”
“I’m sorry; I’m waiting for my husband.”
He didn’t know what to do and it showed.
“Hi. Do you come here often?”
“No. Excuse me.”
Twenty-three years of marriage does that to a person.
“Are you here alone?”
He’d been through the mourning, the denial and depression. He’d spent three years comforting and encouraging his daughters, doing his best to help them through their loss. A month ago, his youngest had left home for college.
“Was it raining outside?”
“Can I -”
“Thanks, no, I’m waiting for my friends.”
He was lonely. He was as lonely as a man can get after twenty-three years of bliss.
“What are you drinking? Was that a Margarita?”
“I’m just leaving.”
He felt like a leper.
“Do you live around here?”
He felt dead.
Gary paid his tab and walked out to his car.
He noticed the taillights first. He was on a lonely section of 234; there wasn’t another car in sight, but he saw taillights among the trees. Gary slowed to a stop and got out. A car had crashed well beyond the embankment; its mangled shape lay twisted around a tree. He ran and slid down the slope. The air was thick with the smell of gasoline.
Inside was a girl, maybe twenty, slumped over the wheel. Blood was running down her neck. He called for an ambulance and then worked frantically to free her from the wreck. She faded in and out as he tried to stop the bleeding.
“Stay with me,” he said, as the siren approached.
He helped the medics set her on the gurney and then climbed up into the ambulance.
Her face was a deathly gray.
At the hospital, they asked him all sorts of questions; her name, how old she was, how it happened. He had no idea. They wheeled her into surgery and he sat in the waiting room, a place he’d come to dread just a few years before.
“Can I get you something?”
A nurse was standing next to him.
“Coffee? Orange juice?”
He didn’t know the girl. He didn’t know her from Eve, but he couldn’t leave. He put his head in his hands and, as he’d so often done before, he prayed. It seemed pointless, almost, yet he prayed. It hadn’t helped his wife, yet he prayed.
God’s plans were God’s plans, but they both knew that he could save her.
The nurse sat next to him.
“She would have died if you hadn’t been there.”
Gary shook his head. “She’s so young….”
“Why don’t you go home,” she said. “Get some rest.”
“Will she live?”
“I hope so.”
An hour later, the nurse was there again.
“Here. I brought you a shirt. Yours is a little…messy.”
He glanced down.
He paced the halls, praying silently.
“How is she?”
“I don’t know.”
It was four in the morning when the nurse returned.
“She’s almost out of surgery.”
“Is she all right?
“Did you find her family?”
“No, not yet.”
Dawn was breaking when a different nurse walked up.
“Are you Gary?”
“The girl from the accident, Tracy Andrews, she’s in recovery. Her parents will be here shortly. I’m sure they’ll want to thank you.”
Gary sent up a quiet word of thanks.
“I’m exhausted,” he said.
Gary walked out into the cool morning air wondering how he would get home.
A voice from behind startled him.
“I wanted to thank you.” It was the nurse from the nightshift. “I have a son in college. I…I feel better knowing there are people like you around.”
She smiled a nervous smile, the type of smile he had seen in the bars, the one that said, please, don’t misunderstand my intentions.
“Sure.” Gary shrugged. It was late and he was tired. “I’ll return the shirt after I have it cleaned.”
“Okay. Well….” She hesitated. “Goodnight.”
Gary took a few steps and then heard her call out.
“Do you need a ride?”
He turned back toward her. “Yes…yes, I do. Thank you.”
She smiled. “Come on.” Walking up, she took his arm. “My car’s not far.”
And for the first time in years, Gary began to feel alive.
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