The Long Road
by Winter


I know most people who go through a deep trauma end up remembering nothing of it. Well, that's not true for me. I can easily recall every single second I was conscious, even the bits I'd rather not think about. It was a cloudy day, with a nice, cool breeze that took most of the summer heat away. School had been out for just a couple of days, and I was still a little intoxicated with all this freedom. To make some money I had taken a job as a paper boy, which meant I had to get up at five every weekday, but it also meant I had the rest of my time off. Plus some cash to spend. I had just been down to the mall with the usual gang, eating a lunch that consisted of junk food, and we were on our way to my place to hang out. Just the usual; playing some games, having a few sodas, chatting and letting snacks spoil our appetites for dinner. I remember being as happy as I had ever been, completely contented and at peace with life. I was wearing nothing but my cut-offs, my shirt wrapped around my waist to let my chest and back tan. My ash-blond hair was already well on its way to its sun-bleached summer colour, which was an almost white shade of grey. I enjoyed feeling the breeze playing with my bare torso, tickling my nipples into becoming erect and chilling the thin layer of sweat so that I almost shuddered. The others were in similar states of non-dressedness, relishing in the temporary lack of murdering heat. To my left was John, the newest member of our little gang having moved into town just a couple of years ago. At fourteen, he still looked like he was just out of primary school; short and thin, and with a boyish grin always attached to his face. On my right side, as always, was Sean. He was my next-door neighbour and best friend, and had been since we were toddlers. One was rarely seen without the others, and I loved him like I would have loved a twin brother. He was fifteen, just like me, and like me he was tall and a bit heavy-set. He had short strawberry-blond hair, and green eyes hidden behind an ever-present pair of dark shades. He always claimed that his eyes were sensitive to sunlight, but the rest of us claimed it was so nobody would notice him staring at pretty girls. We had lots of fights over that argument, but nothing ever really serious. Dragging a little behind the rest of us was Charlie, who was doing his best to sink the mood of the group. To no use, of course. I mean, who could possibly want to sulk a day like that? Except for Charlie, then. He had broken his dad's binoculars just an hour after swearing on his life he'd be careful, and had got his allowance cut in half for the rest of the month. Now he was slouching along, not really depressed but acting it well. He was dragging his t-shirt on the ground behind him, claiming that he needed to get tanned. We all laughed at this, of course, since his skin was such a deep ebony it almost hurt the eyes to look at. Something I did a lot. Charlie had a great body, slim but muscular in the right places. The kind of body I'd want, if I could ever get rid of the baby fat that occupied my waist. I front of us, or in between us, in fact all over the place, was Cole. He was a boy who never got tanned, even though he would go practically naked from late May to early September. Sun just never worked on him, and we used to voice the theory that he was in secret a vampire. Cole was twelve, but just mature enough to be allowed to hang with us cool, elder boys. He lived next door to Charlie, and the two of them saw each other like brothers. Black and White, we used to call them, and they often called each other `bro', enjoying the way this confused people. Cole was always hyper-active, bouncing about like a rubber ball whenever the rest of us weren't moving fast enough for him. The final member of the gang was on my shoulders, claiming that her feet were tired. Melissa, or Lissie as she was used to being called, was my little sister, and probably the only person in the world I loved more than Sean. She was seven, cute as a button and well aware of how to exploit it. She was a kind of combined sibling, friend and mascot to us all, and she loved being the centre of attention. Like me, she had half-long greyish-blond hair and deep blue eyes, as well as some baby fat around her waist. The six of us were a unit, not really able to function if someone was missing. In a week's time, Charlie would be going to New York with his family, to stay with some relatives, and a couple of days after that, John was going to summer camp. We weren't really looking forward to being apart, but then again, we would have most of the summer together. Came July, the team would be complete again.

Yes, we were all completely happy that day, even Charlie. Our bellies full, our schedules crammed with nothing to do and the perfect company to do it with. Things couldn't possibly get better, but they could get a lot worse. It started with the noise. This is where my memory slows down to a near-complete halt. We were used to revving engines, since a couple of the older guys in our little LA suburb were into cars, and often took us with them on rides around the countryside. But this noise was different, kind of irregular. I was the first one to spot the car as it came around a corner, entering the street where Lissie, Sean and I lived. The street where we were peacefully strolling along. Something was clearly wrong, because the car was swerving across the street. I put Lissie down and shoved her off the sidewalk and into Mrs Walter's garden. The other had seen it, too, and were also keen to get out of its way. From behind the low hedge, we could see the car speed up as it came our way. As if the bastard was aiming for us. We scattered like a flock of sparrows, running like crazy. Like in a nightmare, I could see it hit Sean, flinging him aside like a broken rag doll. Charlie was hit, too, and then it went for Lissie. My mind was wiped clean of everything but cold, white panic. My sister was in danger. Running faster than I ever thought was possible, I was able to tackle her out of the way, but to my horror I ended up underneath the car. I could hear the crunching of breaking bones as the front wheel pushed me into the ground, then I felt my arm get caught on something. I was dragged along across the lawn, through another hedge and then across the street. The asphalt flayed my back, and I was in too much pain to even scream. Then the car hit a lamp post, and everything got quiet. My head bumped against the hard ground, and I was just barely conscious. Still, I could feel the heat coming from the engine as it caught fire, and I knew I had to get away. Luckily my arm wasn't stuck anymore, and I was able to get to my feet. John and Lissie were running towards me, but as they got near they stopped dead in their tracks, looks of horror in their eyes. John picked me up and started running while Lissie was screaming hysterically. I thought she was yelling that she was sorry, but I couldn't make out the words. The car must have exploded, because I remember a blast of heat, and I was falling, hitting my head again. Then everything got black.

I kept drifting in and out of consciousness. Scattered images and memories passed before me that will probably remain with me to the end of my days. Cole was sitting on the ground next to me, holding my head while he cried, his eyes so full of pain I just wanted to hug him to me, comforting him. Lissie, her face pale, looked like she'd been sick, but when I searched for wounds I found that she was okay. Later in the ambulance I remember the ambulance guy sticking needles into me, and I told him that I wasn't a pincushion. His smile didn't reach his eyes. I was lying in a hospital bed, my whole body racked with pain. Every movement hurt, every breath hurt even worse. Dad was there, his face a tortured mask, with a beard that looked a week old. I asked him for something to kill the pain, and his eyes started to tear.

"You're on maximum dosage, baby," he whispered and held me as the pain made me start crying. "The best you can do is go back to sleep."

I tried to hug him, but it felt wrong somehow. Like I wanted to, but just couldn't. Then sleep. Dreams. I was alone in the mall's parking space, and things inside me hurt so badly I wanted to scream. People came and went around me, and they all looked so sad when they gazed at me. I wanted them to hold me, to ease the pain, but as soon as I got near them, they disappeared.

Next time I was fully conscious, I could feel that a lot of time has passed. The pain was still there, but it was manageable. John was sitting in a chair next to the bed, reading a comic book. The sight was so normal, so comforting it made me sigh with content. He heard it and tossed the book aside. I grinned as our gazes met, and he laughed.

"Wow, Geoff, you're awake!" I tried to reply, but there was a tube running down my throat that made it impossible to do more than croak. "Oh man, it's so good to see you!"

"How's it hangin'?" I managed, but he hushed me.

"Straight down, for a change." We grinned at each other. "Don't talk, buddy. Try to stay awake while I go and get Sean."

"He made it? I thought... I mean I saw..."

The memory of Sean being hit by the car returned with full force, and it felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. At once, tears started running down my cheeks, and I reached up to hug John to me. He leaned down and held me as I cried, rocking me back and forth while he whispered in my ear, trying to soothe me.

"It's okay, Geoff, he's gonna be fine. He got a little roughed up, but he's gonna be fine. Charlie's gonna be fine, too, Cole's with him now. We're all fine." There was a kind of hesitation in his voice that I found disturbing, but I was afraid to ask what was the matter. Sean was okay, and that was what mattered right then. "Everything's gonna be fine, buddy."

Once I had stopped crying, he got up to leave, but I grabbed him with my left hand. My right one must've been strapped to my chest, because it wouldn't budge, no matter how hard I tried. John saw what I was thinking, and this time it was his eyes that watered up. I begged him not to leave me alone, so he called for a nurse to go and get Cole. To my surprise, they seemed to know each other well. I never knew John had friends who worked in the hospital. A minute later Cole burst through the door, pulling Sean with him in a wheelchair. My eyes widened with shock, but Sean just gave me a saddened smile. Cole rolled him over so he could give me a hug.

"Glad to see you're awake, buddy." His voice sounded hoarse. "I've been so worried."

"Sean, the chair...?"

"Oh, never mind that, I'm fine" He had tears in his eyes, but he did smile. "My hip's fractured, but I'll be up and running before you know it."

"What about Charlie?" I asked as Cole climbed up on my bed, snuggling up to me with his arms around my neck. "Ack, Cole, you're choking me!"

"He's fine, but he broke his leg, so he can't get out of bed yet." To my surprise, the little guy kissed me right on the lips, then took me into another bear hug. "Geoff, I'm so glad to see you again, I've been so worried. So damn worried."

"We've all been," Sean said, stroking my hand as it lay on Cole's back. "We've all been."

In the meantime John had gone to call my parents, and while we waited for them the nurse came by again to check on me, taking my temperature and removing the tube in my throat. We fell into an awkward silence, and I knew they were holding out on me. What the hell was wrong!? I wiggled my toes, feeling all ten of them move beneath the bed cover, so I wasn't paralysed. The pain was still there, but almost forgotten when I got to see my friends again. Cole fell asleep, still hugging me, and when my folks finally arrived it was cute enough to make them smile. Dad shot John a cautious glance, and I felt a brief shot of panic surge through me. Something was wrong. Where was Lissie? I had seen her after the accident, so I knew she was alive, but why wasn't she there?

"M-maybe we'd better leave," John said, his voice flat. He grabbed the handle of Sean's wheelchair. "I'll get you back to your room."

"No!" I half sat up, waking Cole up at the same time. "Please, please stay. Whatever it is, I... I want you all to be here."

"All right." Dad nodded, and sat down on the bed. Mom sat next to him and took my hand. Her eyes were filled with tears. "Son, I don't know how much you remember."

"Pretty much everything up until I passed out, then very little." I pulled my hand back from mom and patted Cole's back. He was still hugging me, but I could feel his tears forming a wet patch on my shoulder. "Where's Lissie?"

"Sean's dad is looking after her," mom said. "She'll be by later, she just... couldn't come right now."

"Don't worry about her," Sean said, sensing my concern. "She wasn't hurt."

"So what's the deal?" I tried a smile, but I knew it came out crooked. "I know I've still got my two legs."

"Don't joke..." came Cole's muffled voice from somewhere down my collarbone. "It's not funny. Not funny at all."

"Geoff, the doctor's already told you, but you were heavily sedated at the time..." Dad's voice trailed away. "Maybe you don't remember."

"I don't remember being told anything. What the hell's the matter!"

"Oh Geoff!" He grabbed both me and Cole into a hug. I could hear both mom and John sob in the background, but what struck me most was the look I saw in Sean's eyes. He looked so sad, so utterly destroyed that I started to fear I was dying. When dad finally broke the hug he was crying, too. "Geoff, you lost your right arm. The doctors did all they could, but there just wasn't any way to save it."

This is the first chapter of what looks like it'll be a long story. Sorry `bout the cliffhanger, I just couldn't resist... If you're a reader of Midnight Musings, then don't worry. Although the story is on ice at the moment, I will finish it. But right now, this is my main work. If you've read this far, why not take a minute to tell me what you think? The address is