Authors: Karen Kingsbury
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Domestic fiction, #Fathers and Sons, #Christian, #Religious, #Christian Fiction, #Birthfathers, #Air Pilot's Spouses, #Air pilots, #Illegitimate Children, #Mothers - Death
He was five minutes down the road when it happened.
Stopped at a red light, he watched a burgundy sedan come up behind him in the adjacent lane. The car wasn’t speeding, but it wasn’t slowing down, either. Without stopping, without giving Connor any chance to intervene, the car careened through the red light and straight into the side of a white minivan.
“God . . . no . . .” His prayer came an instant too late.
The crash was horrific, louder than anything Connor could remember. A cloud of glass and metal and car pieces filled the air above the intersection and then settled across the roadway like 28
– Karen Kingsbury –
fallout from a bomb. Connor was out of his car before the minivan came to a stop.
His assessment of the scene was second nature, the kind of thing he’d learned in the military.
Okay, Evans, locate the victims . . . identify the serious injuries . . . figure out the level of help needed.
He raced up to the burgundy sedan and peered inside. Just one person, the driver, and he looked unconscious.
But what about the minivan? Minivans held children, didn’t they?
He tore across the intersection, squinting to see through the tinted windows. The impact was on the driver’s side, so he went around and flung open the sliding passenger’s door. Only then did he see that the woman and teenage boy inside were alive and moving around. Side-door airbags had inflated upon impact and probably saved their lives.
“You okay?” Connor had his cell phone open. He dialed 9-1-1
before the woman could answer.
“I . . . I think so.” The woman rubbed her neck and began to cry.
“Did he run the red?”
“Yes. Never even slowed down.” He held the phone to his ear and waited while it rang. “I’ll check on him.” Other cars were stopping now, people getting out and milling about. As the emergency operator answered, he heard a woman behind him scream. “He’s not breathing! Someone help!”
“Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?”
Connor explained the situation as he jogged toward the burgundy sedan. “One of the victims isn’t breathing. Please hurry.” He snapped the phone shut and worked his way past the few people standing near the driver’s door. Being a pilot didn’t make him a paramedic, but he knew CPR. If the man wasn’t breathing . . .
“He’s dying,” the woman shouted. “His chest isn’t moving!”
“Excuse me!” Connor made a final shove toward the car.
“Please . . .”
– Oceans Apart –
The screaming woman stepped back, and for the first time Connor got a clear view of the old man’s face. As he did, he felt his blood drain from his face. “Dear God . . .” His voice was a whisper, and he froze. “It can’t be . . .”
His father lived on the other side of the country, but for a fraction of a second he was certain the man lying motionless behind the wheel was his dad. The woman behind him yelled something again, and it snapped Connor into motion.
The man wasn’t his father; it wasn’t possible.
Connor grabbed the man’s limp wrist and felt for his pulse.
Nothing. A fine layer of sweat broke out across the top of his forehead. The man’s face was already turning gray, but still the resemblance to Connor’s father was striking. In quick, jerky movements Connor slid his thumb from one spot on the man’s arm to another, and finally to his neck. Still no pulse.
He placed the back of his hand near the man’s mouth and nose, but felt no movement of air. Everything he knew about emergency treatment at an accident scene told him not to move a victim. But this man was either dying or dead. Connor spun around and brushed back the crowd. “We need space.” Then he hoisted the man into his arms and moved toward the sidewalk.
A few yards away an ambulance pulled up and behind it a fire truck. The sirens must’ve been sounding for a while but Connor hadn’t noticed anything but the face of the man in his arms. A face he’d been running from for—
“Step back, please.” A paramedic set down his bag, and Connor did as he was told.
Three steps away, he stood mesmerized by the scene, watching the team of paramedics work on the old man, pounding on his chest, forcing oxygen into his lungs. Ten minutes passed, then fifteen. Finally they gave up.
“Heart attack,” one of them said. “Dead before the impact.” 30
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They pulled a sheet over the man’s body, and everything seemed to slow down. The branches in the trees lining the streets stirred in the early afternoon breeze; one by one the onlookers returned to their cars. The drama was over; the guy was dead.
A police officer tapped Connor on the shoulder. “Move along.” Connor nodded, but his eyes were glued to the lifeless form beneath the tarp. Was this how the scene would look when his father died, some not-so-far-off day? Gone without warning, no family around even to identify his body?
He took his time heading back, and skipped Home Depot.
Michele was on a stool working an off-shade of yellow onto the kitchen wall. The cordless phone was tucked between her shoulder and her cheek, and she was saying something about the school car-nival in May.
“That’s why we buy the tickets early, the savings is unbelievable.” Pause. “Yes, I’m telling you, have her call the school office and . . .” Connor stopped listening.
Pungent paint fumes filled the room. He took the seat at the kitchen table closest to Michele’s stool and locked eyes on the back of her head. She hadn’t heard him come in, but at the sound of the chair she spun around and waved her paintbrush at him. She gave him a crooked grin, rolled her eyes, and pointed to the phone.
Normally at this sort of moment, he’d find a way to rescue her, yell that he needed her or that someone was at the door. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He smiled at her with his eyes as he sat back and waited.
“Okay, Sally, right . . . yes . . .” She glanced at him over her shoulder again. “Mm-hm, Connor’s home. Okay, gotta go.” She hung up, balanced the paintbrush on the can, and took a slow step down from the stool. “Connor . . .”
“Hi.” He met her eyes and saw her concern. He dropped his gaze to the floor. If only he could shake the image of the man’s face, but he couldn’t. Not when the resemblance was so striking.
– Oceans Apart –
“What is it, baby?” She came to him, touching his face as she pulled up a chair. “You look awful.”
He lifted his eyes to hers again. “I just watched a guy die.”
Her eyes grew wide and she took hold of his arm.
A slow breath filled Connor’s lungs and the story spilled out. He told her about the burgundy sedan, about the deafening impact.
“The people in the minivan were fine.” He lifted one shoulder and tried to sound unaffected. “But the old guy in the sedan . . . he was dead before they hit. Heart attack.” Michele searched his face, clearly looking for more.
“It wasn’t the accident.” Connor let his head hang, and with his free hand he massaged the muscles at the base of his neck. Not even international flights left him this tense.
“Okay.” Michele slid her hand down his arm and wove her fingers between his. “What is it?”
He looked up once more. “The guy was a ringer for my dad, Michele. He looked just like him.”
She ran her tongue over her lower lip. “He wouldn’t be here, would he?”
“No.” Connor rested his forearms on the table. “It wasn’t him.
But for a minute . . .”
Silence joined them at the table and dominated the conversation. Michele released his hand and stood, studying him, an odd sadness in her gaze. Connor knew what she was going to say before she said it.
“Maybe this is God’s way, a reason to call him and—”
“Don’t!” He regretted the sharp word as soon as it left his mouth. A low moan escaped him, and he felt like an eighty-year-old man as he struggled to his feet. For a long time he faced her, hating himself for the fresh pain in her eyes.
She took the slightest step backwards. “You never even hear me, Connor.” Tears glistened in her lower lashes. “The man’s your father.” 32
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“The man’s a stranger.”
“Because you let him be.”
“No.” His voice rose a notch. “Because he wants to be.” She pressed the palm of her hand against her forehead and grabbed at her hair with her other hand. Her words were a desperate hiss. “I
He hated it, too. He watched her and wanted to say so, wanted to tell her how awful the whole mess made him feel. How he hated the silence and bitterness and empty, wasted years. Hated the way his own father hadn’t cared enough to call any of them, not even the girls. But he could say nothing, really. He knew better than to involve Michele. Her thoughts on the issue were too simple.
she’d told him a hundred times in the past eight years.
Call him and tell him you love him.
But he couldn’t; and after this long, he simply wouldn’t. Even if the image of the dead man in the burgundy sedan stayed with him all month.
Michele wiped her hands on her smock and used her shoulder to dab away a tear. She narrowed her eyes and stared at him, straight to the most dank, dark places of his soul. “Life is short; one of these days it’ll be too late.”
He worked the muscles in his jaw, then let it go. Holding out his hands, he took slow, tentative steps toward her. “Ah, baby, I’m sorry.” They came together in an embrace, and Connor breathed in the fragrance of her shampoo. “It’s not your fault.”
“But you won’t call, right?”
“We’ve been through this.” His voice fell flat. He shouldn’t have told her about the accident; no matter what the dead man looked like, there would be no phone call to the West Coast. “Let it go, okay?” Discouragement filled her eyes, but she held his gaze. “Okay.” He could hear that it wasn’t, but he wouldn’t push the issue. It was one thing to have no relationship with his father, but Michele . . . ?
She was everything to him. He drew back and glanced at his watch.
– Oceans Apart –
“Errands?” The question, though it rang with sadness, was her way of saying she wouldn’t dwell on the topic. They’d learned at least that much in the past eight years.
“Yep.” He grabbed his truck keys from the kitchen table.
She stepped back onto the stool and faced him. “Don’t be long.”
“I won’t.” Connor grabbed a glass of water, downed it, and made his way across the kitchen. “I still need the mower.” For an instant she only looked at him, her eyes deep and thoughtful. As she turned away she said, “You need a father, too.” Her words were so soft, Connor almost didn’t hear them. A hundred replies flashed in his mind, but he chose the safest one. “I love you, Michele.”
With that he was out the door.
Not until he got in his truck did he realize he’d been shaking.
He started the ignition. What a way to kill a Saturday. Even buying a riding mower wouldn’t make him happy in light of the skele-tons that had come to life that day.
As he was pulling out of the driveway he turned on the radio.
Country music. That’s what he needed. Garth Brooks or Kenny Chesney or Tim McGraw. Something to wash away the grimy residue of his past, to remind him his yesterdays counted for nothing. All that mattered was today. Today and tomorrow and every minute of the future he and Michele and the girls had ahead of them. It was still a brilliant spring day. Maybe an hour or two on a riding mower would right his world, after all. A song ended and the deejay came on.
“Investigation continues into yesterday’s plane crash in the Pacific. Today the FAA released a—”
Connor turned up the volume. What had the man said? A plane had crashed into the ocean?
“—report that the fuselage was found broken apart in relatively shallow ocean waters. A team of divers is looking for the cockpit’s 34
– Karen Kingsbury –
black box to determine whether pilot error was to blame. Western Island Air Flight No. 45 from Honolulu to Tokyo crashed minutes after takeoff. Witnesses said the aircraft lost speed and then nosedived into the Pacific. One hundred eighty-eight passengers and crew were aboard the flight. Search and rescue officials fear there are no survivors.”
He jerked the wheel and pulled off to the side of the road. What was
this day? First the guy in the burgundy sedan, and now this? A plane crash? Nearly two hundred people lost somewhere in the Pacific?
He’d never worked Western Island Airlines, so he wouldn’t have known any of the crew. Even so . . . he pictured a 747 plummeting to the ground, nose first, and he shuddered. Pilot error. It had to be pilot error. Birds that big didn’t fall from the sky.
His heart raced and he gritted his teeth.
Get a grip, Evans. These
A constant stream of scenarios raced through his mind. A missed switch or an incorrect setting. Yes, it had to be pilot error. He gripped the steering wheel and studied his knuckles, his hands. How horrible would it be for those same hands to be at the controls of a nose-diving aircraft? How awful not to be able to pull out of it?
Almost at the same time the statistics began shouting the truth through the hallways of his subconscious.
Come on, Evans, thirty thousand Americans fly every day . . .
Connor relaxed his grip on the steering wheel. Of course they did. Hundreds of flights took off each hour across the world without incident, day after day, week after week, month after month, and most of the time, year after year. Flying wasn’t only safer than driving, it was safer than riding a bike. Safer than swimming or football or rock climbing. A person was more likely to choke to death on airline food than to die in a plane crash.
– Oceans Apart –
“Have mercy on them, God.” As he whispered the words, his heartbeat settled into a normal rhythm. Tomorrow at the airport he would find the list of missing crew members, just in case he recognized any names, guys he’d known at West Point, maybe. But even then, he couldn’t dwell on the crash.
It was one aircraft, one mistake.
At least it wasn’t his airline. After so many years of flying, he knew many of the pilots and flight attendants. A loss like yesterday’s crash within his own airline would definitely cost him a few friends.