BY TAVA HOAG
“I’m home,” Shea called from the front door. Cole had just gotten dressed after showering.
“Hi, sweetie,” he said as she came around the corner, “I missed you today.”
“I missed you too,” Shea said. Cole looked at her - like really looked at her - and thought to himself, how can I be so in love? She swiftly kissed his cheek and walked into the bedroom.
“What do you want for dinner?” she asked.
“Anything” he said back, “How about salad and garlic chicken?” Cole knew it was her favorite.
“Okay, perfect.” She came out of their room with a wide smile on her perfect face.
“Why are you smiling, love?” he asked walking down the hall towards her and wrapping his arms around her waist.
“No reason babe, I’m just so happy that’s all, let’s go start dinner.” She closed the bedroom door behind her.
Together they began taking the vegetables out and washing them in the sink, bumping each other now and then as an excuse to touch. Shea glanced out the window tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, suddenly she turned to Cole with distress in her deep blue eyes, “I didn’t run today yet! I have to go do a mile before it gets dark Cole.” Shea was obsessed with being fit and never missed a beat in her crazy workout routines no matter what.
“Are you sure you have to go today, you look great, I think you’re perfect,” Cole teased.
She looked at him sharply, “You’re supposed to be motivating me.”
“Okay fine, have a nice run, be safe, I love you.” He kissed her head lightly as she wandered past him to grab her shoes and jacket.
“Bye, be back soon.” She waved and waltzed out the door with the grace of an angel.
Cole finished chopping the salad and prepared the chicken, he thought about who he was before Shea and how he had been heading nowhere fast. She made him want to be different, to become someone that mattered. The clock on the kitchen wall changed to 5:30 and this snapped Cole out of his reverie. Where was Shea? She left 45 minutes ago and she should have been back by now. He dialed her cell number and heard the familiar ringtone going off in their bedroom, “Fuck.” The back of his neck started to get hot and he got a feeling of unease in his stomach. Trying to convince himself not to panic he grabbed his car keys and decided to go look for her. He reached the end of their street and turned left when he saw the lights. An ambulance and police car were on the side of the road, it was dark by now and the red and blue bulbs pulsed like beating hearts making Cole’s eyes blur.
He pulled the car over and got out walking briskly towards the accident sight. He knew what was coming but he was in denial. A police officer approached him, “I’m sorry sir I can’t let you any closer, there was a hit and run and the paramedics are doing all they can right now.” Everything grew quiet or at least Cole felt like it did, he saw her shoe, the lime green one he bought for her birthday last month. It was just visible behind the circle of people around her.
“No, no.” Cole heard himself say, he sounded like a broken record but it was all he could get out. This had to be a dream, Shea would come running up behind him at any moment. She had to. He stumbled closer ignoring the cop as he grabbed at his jacket. The cop must have seen the recognition and desperation in Cole’s face because he let him duck under the police tape. Cole’s insides grew cold, his heart sank into the bottomless pit of his stomach, ice was running through his veins and he felt ready to pass out. It was like a slow motion movie as he reached the back of the ambulance; the medical crew had backed up and was getting ready to place a body in a bag. He kneeled to the pavement and grasped the hand he knew so well, it felt smaller somehow and was cold as usual for Shea but when he squeezed it she didn’t squeeze back and suddenly it was as if a switch went off and Cole started crying. People were looking at him, he sounded like a wounded animal but he couldn’t let go of her. She was sleeping. That’s what he kept telling himself, she appeared so peaceful like all Cole had to do was kiss her lips and she’d wake up. was falling apart again and he needed to get away. Cole calmly let go of Shea’s hand and walked back to his car where he let himself crumble.
2 years had passed and the hole that Shea left was still heavy on Cole’s heart. She had died instantly after getting clipped, her head, as the report said smashed against the asphalt cracking her skull. They never found the person who hit her and the idea of them being out living a life of happiness nearly killed him. Cole didn’t know how he survived Shea’s death, telling her parents, arranging the funeral, taking the engagement ring back. He had planned to propose to her on their 7 year anniversary. Cole had known Shea was his one and only and spending forever together seemed like the best decision. But now after the incident so many things were lost and left unsaid. How could he move on without answers? He was heartbroken, he traveled through his life as if he were dead too and then that all changed when he met Emma.
Cole called her and asked if she could come over, it was late but Emma agreed because she missed him. He had been weird these last couple of days and she had been worried they were breaking up. She drove to his house on roads that she knew so well and he met her at the door. “Hey,” he said. “I needed to talk to you. I hope that’s okay.”
“Yeah, of course that’s fine,” Emma said beads of sweat trickled down her spine. Why am I freaking out so much? She thought. They sat down on the couch in his living room and he grasped her cold stiff hand.
“I’m just going to come right out and say it. Emma, you have made me a different person since the day I met you and I am very thankful for that.
“Don’t thank me…” she started to say but he held his hand up.
“Please let me finish. Emma, I never told you about Shea, my last girlfriend. She was beautiful, this blonde haired blued eyed girl who took my breath away. We dated 7 years and I was going to ask her to be my wife but,” he paused collecting his thoughts and Emma’s mind raced. She knew she could have filled in his silence. “She was killed two and a half years ago in a hit and run accident, I never got to say good-bye and the police never found out who hit her.” Emma looked at Cole, and her breathing began to grow shallow, this man had lost everything and here she was trying to put the pieces back together.
“I’m so sorry Cole, I had no idea.”
“It’s okay, how could you have known I never told you? Anyway, I was lost without her and when I met you everything changed, it got better. So I guess what I am trying to say Emma is that I love you.” He looked at her and smiled, “I really love you.” She gazed back at him a look of anguish in her eyes. Her thoughts were jumbled and she couldn’t stop thinking about Cole, his previous girlfriend Shea and the tragic love story she had walked into. Emma had to leave. Now, before she lost it. She couldn’t handle this. Cole shouldn’t be in love with her. She stood up. Cole looked confused and hurt.
“I have to go.” Emma said distantly.
“Oh, okay did I make you upset?” Cole looked so genuinely concerned and defeated that Emma had to close her eyes to keep the tears at bay.
“No, I just have to go and think about some stuff. I’ll call you tomorrow.” She fled to the door, wrenched it open and ran to her car before he could protest.
Emma was good at getting away, she needed to be alone. Cole had told her he was in love with her. Emma’s head was buzzing with the realization of it. She continued to drive down the narrow roads way too fast with the music blaring in the background, something upbeat but she wasn’t paying attention her thoughts were on him. He had loved Shea so fiercely and Emma was afraid of that, scared shitless of how much he could love her.
The road is coming up fast and Emma slows down as she takes a sharp corner, she’s crying now thinking of Cole’s dead girlfriend’s face. She was so beautiful. Emma’s stomach ached with the loss of this girl she never even knew; it was heartbreaking. She finally stops the car and opens her purse rummaging through the mess inside to find her wallet.
In it is the worn and wrinkled picture of a girl, a girl with dark blue eyes, blonde hair and the biggest smile Emma had ever seen. A smile that was contagious, Emma couldn’t help grinning back at her through the tears. She read the bottom, even though she had the name memorized. Shea Willcox it said, October 10, 1993- November 4, 2014. “I’m so sorry” she thought. “It was an accident.” Flashes appear in Emma’s head of Shea running with her lime green sneakers and thick blond hair in a ponytail. The thud as her silver Toyota Camry collided with Shea’s body. The sickening crunch that Shea’s leg made as the back tire drove over it trying to get back on a straight path. And finally, all the blood that stained that blonde head as she lay like a rag doll lifeless on the side of the road. She shook her head to clear her thoughts and carefully slipped the newspaper clipping back into the wallet, put the car in drive and kept going. Like that fateful day 2 years ago, she didn’t look back once.