Posted on Sun Feb 23rd, 2014 @ 12:58am by Unawakened Jana Rotherbridge
Date: March 22nd, 2010
Time: 6:00 pm
Location: Master bedroom, Darling Estate, Dallas, Texas
Mariah Darling stared at the play button, feeling as if it were mocking her. She was waiting for James to come home. She almost wanted to watch it without him.
But that wouldn’t solve anything but her curiosity. And she didn’t want to end up like that cat.
Carefully, she slid the mouse back up to the tab that her email was in and clicked it, reading the message there one more time:
I found this while going through Wes’ things on his computer. Situation being what it is, I think the kids will be fine. You’ll see what I mean.
Mariah sat in her opulent bedroom, surrounded by all that she and her husband had worked so hard for. The silk duvet beneath her on the bed. The oak dresser and matching desk and bed frame. The marble countertops and porcelain fixtures she could see through the door to their large en-suite bathroom. None of it more important or precious than the pictures on top of the dresser.
The three that were her own children: sweet Cindy, mischievous Eddy and lovely Clarice.
And the three that she’d claimed from her brother: beautiful Jana, handsome Gabriel, and adorable Cole, her new baby.
She found herself staring at the grouping of photos while she laid on her side of the large king-sized bed, laptop in her lap, her still in the silk robe she hadn’t bothered to change out of when she got the news at two that morning.
Jana, then Gabriel, had both called to let them know the roads had been washed out and that they were stranded at the lake. There were plenty of supplies, they said. Nothing to worry about. She hadn’t heard from Cole, but they’d told her that was because he was asleep. Not wanting to wake the poor dear, Mariah had taken their word for it.
Now she wished she’d insisted.
She prayed they weren’t foolish, or stubborn, enough to try to make it back despite the obstacles.
Even if the quiet of the house made her want to scream.
She’d been getting used to quiet, with only one child left at home. She hadn’t been quite ready to be an empty nester, but time never waited for people to be ready. So she’d been coming to terms with it.
Then her brother and his wife died.
She crumpled the duvet in her hands. That had been another phone call that had been unwelcome. She’d never liked the idea of her brother moving to California, nor his decision to marry Celia (the Yankee), but she’d never thought it would get him killed.
The police had said it was a five-car pileup. They’d gotten a lot of details of what had led to her brother Gabriel being out there, in that weather, on that fateful night, from his older son. Jana, fortunate soul, had slept through the whole thing.
She only wished sleep were that kind to her. It was after six in the evening, and she hadn’t slept a blessed wink since early that morning.
In front of her, as she clicked back to the other tab, was the account of the accident, as told by Gabriel. According to the date on it, he’d put the video up three months afterward, and it had over 2 million views. She’d known he was popular, but had no idea so many people wanted to share his pain.
She could hear heavy footsteps finally coming up the stairs. Her love was home.
She waited where she lay as he walked into the bedroom, looking bedraggled. His blond hair was limp, and his blue eyes looked a bit… dim, his broad shoulders in his blue suit coat slumped. He’d insisted on going to work that day, in spite of the kids being stranded, but he looked like it hadn’t done him any good. He was exhausted.
He put his briefcase by the foot of the bed, and undid the buttons to his jacket, laying it across the bed after it was off. Then he sat and took off his shoes, each one making a dull thud on the carpet as he dropped them. She didn’t even make the effort to lecture him about taking care of them. He took off his socks and gave a sigh. He stood and unbuttoned his sleeves as he walked around the bed to his side, rolling them up to his elbows one at a time before he climbed onto the bed, moving into the middle. He motioned to her.
Unplugging the power cord, she clutched the laptop to her chest as she moved over, settling into her husband’s arms. He kissed her temple, and for the first time since she’d gotten Shantel’s e-mail at lunch, she relaxed.
James held her close. “I love you,” he said. “Have I said that lately?”
Mariah smiled. “It’s always nice to hear,” she told him, loosening his tie. “I love you, too.” He let her take it off. “Bad day?”
He pulled at the lapel of her robe gently. “About as bad as yours, I imagine. Did you get anything to eat?”
“Not dinner,” she admitted with a sigh. “I didn’t want to trouble Cook after I gave her lunch off, and I didn’t want to go downstairs, either.” She looked at the laptop.
James looked down at it as well. “Watched it?” he asked.
Mariah shook her head. “I couldn’t bear it,” she said. “I waited for you.”
James nodded. She felt him bury his face in her hair, taking a breath, then he looked at the screen. “Ready,” he said.
Mariah turned to the screen as well. The video was called, ”I’m Not Dead”.
The video opened up on a slightly younger-looking Gabe, looking as bedraggled as his aunt and uncle watching the video, wearing only a tank top. His hair wasn’t brushed, and he looked tired, though there were no bags under his eyes. If he was trying to convince people he wasn’t dead, he wasn’t doing a very good job.
“Hey, guys,” he said, his voice a little rough. “It’s been a month, and you have been amazing in showing your support and concern. I thought I’d at least post something so that you can separate fact from fiction.” He wiped at his nose with his fingers. “You deserve that much. We all do.”
The background looked like his bedroom in their home. There were still boxes everywhere, and a few pictures on the walls, which told Mariah he’d only started unpacking. The set up he had in his room now was far more extensive.
“First of all, as the title might tell you, I’m not dead.” He smiled wanly at the camera. “I don’t know who started that rumor, or maybe I do, but I’m still very much alive. As for the rest of it.” He cleared his throat “I’m getting to that.”
He rubbed his face and straightened up in his seat. Mariah gripped James’ shirt a bit more. It certainly looked like her nephew was girding his loins for a hard task.
“The doctor says that talking about it helps, so here I am. Bear with me, as this is kinda hard. See, I’m not dead, but I came very close. There was an accident…”
He cleared his throat again, “We’d just gone out for dinner. Me, my parents, Jana and Cole. Jana had just finished the last of her college applications, and we were celebrating that the insanity was over.” He smiled. “Regular viewers will remember my sister during my March and April videos. She was not happy. On a lighter note, a couple of letters she’s gotten back so far have been acceptances.”
Not one of them had been for a school in Texas, though Mariah had been encouraging her to consider following Clarice to Texas A&M.
Jana had not been receptive.
“While we were eating, it had started to rain. It’d been a really dry spring, so it was weird. Happened from year to year, though not necessarily this year. We thought it was just going to hit and leave.
“That didn’t happen.” Gabriel took a deep breath, then let it out. “It was a heavy downpour by the time we left. Jana had been driving, but Dad took over because of the weather. Jana wasn’t happy, but Dad was right. She was tired from driving all day and she wound up falling asleep, so it was probably a good thing Dad was driving that night.”
Gabriel wiped at his eyes, sniffing. “Mom was in the front passenger seat, Jana was behind Dad, and I was between her and Cole, who was behind our mom. I was bugging Cole and giving him a hard time about his hair. Dad was trying to see through the rain, so Mom leaned around her seat and told us to stop fooling around or we’d wake Jana. We’ve always been close, so when we realized she was right, we stopped. She turned back around.
“Anyone who saw my, “ he cleared his throat, “April Fool’s video last year knows that Jana does not like to be woken up. For any reason.”
He took a deep breath, then continued. “The lights from the semi blinded me, I didn’t see anything after that. Dad was hitting the brakes as hard as he could. Something made me put a blanket over Jana just as we hit the side of the trailer.”
Gabriel looked overcome, and he tried to fight it, taking deep breaths. Mariah wanted desperately to reach through the screen to comfort him. She even reached out to the screen, but James took her hand and pulled it back, giving it a squeeze. “Shh,” he said. “Wait.”
Finally, Gabriel said, “After that, Cole wouldn’t stop screaming.” He sniffed. “I don’t know why. He still won’t tell me.” He found a tissue and wiped at his nose. “We waited for what seemed like forever. I waited. Cole was freaking and Jana was, it turned out later, unconscious from impact. The blanket made it so that she wasn’t covered in glass like me and Cole. There weren’t any serious cuts, but it hurt.”
The mental picture was almost too much. But Mariah took a deep breath and continued to watch.
Gabriel cleared his throat again. “They had to use the Jaws of Life to pull us out. First me. Then they got Cole out. I’m pretty sure that they doped him up later, because he finally stopped screaming.”
Gabriel took a deep breath, then let it out again. “Then I heard them saying something about three bodies. I wanted to scream at them. I knew Jana was still alive, at least. My parents had been strangely quiet, but… I had hope.”
He looked back up at the camera. “Finally, they announced that one of the ‘bodies’ was still moving, and I looked over to see them pull Jana out, finally. She must have been woken by Cole screaming, because she was yelling, asking where we were, what happened to our parents.”
His next breath sounded like a sob. “By then, I knew. Mom and Dad would never have been that quiet if one of us was screaming the way Cole was. Not if they could hear us.”
Mariah actually let out a sob. “I hadn’t realized Jana had woken up,” she said.
James looked at her “I hadn’t either,” he admitted.
Another sniffle. “I thought that she had woken up later, at the hospital. No wonder she is so protective of Cole."
Another few breaths. “Later, the doctor would tell us that their deaths had been instantaneous. The impact with the tractor trailer had driven the dashboard… into the front seat. You can imagine what happened.”
Mariah winced. Their bodies had been so thoroughly broken by the impact that while there was a memorial for them on the estate grounds, they’d been cremated. It had seemed... kinder.
“You can probably see,” he motioned around himself, “that this doesn’t look like my room. It’s not. At least, not my old room. We’re orphans, now. Jana is old enough to take care of herself, but she can’t look after me and Cole and still go to college. Luckily, family stepped in to help. In the days after the accident, my Aunt Mariah fought hard to get us instead of my mom’s side, who couldn’t take all th” He smiled ironically. “Say what you want about Aunt Mariah, but she’s persistent.”
Mariah gaped for a moment. “What did he meant by that-?”
James motioned for her to stay quiet. “Shh, it’s almost over.”
There was a series of pictures, then.. Of the accident scene, the car. Mariah still shivered when she saw the wreck. How anyone had gotten out of it alive was a miracle that she was grateful for every day.
The last few were of them in the hospital, then being picked up by Mariah and James. “We’re alive, guys. Jana, Cole and I survived the crash. We’ll probably mourn our parents for a while to come, but we’re alive, safe, and with people that care about us.” The image changed back to Gabriel himself, who was smiling. “I guess that’s all I really wanted to say. Thanks for watching.” The video went dark.
James and Mariah were quiet for a long moment. Then James said, “That’s true now, too.”
Mariah looked up at him. “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” said James, turning her head toward his, “that we know that even if they aren’t here, they’re safe, with people that care about them, and they’re alive. Until we hear differently,” he kissed her forehead, “let’s not start shopping for caskets.”
Mariah smiled. “You are so patient with me,” she said.
“Always, Mari,” he said. He set the laptop aside, and she blinked at him.
Her tone quizzical, she said, “What are you doing?”
James smiled wickedly. “Celebrating being alive.” He undid her sash.