Kaitlyn was angry as she drove down the Long Island Expressway. She was late and it was her stepmother’s fault, again. The radio blasted Beyoncé’s Single Ladies as she stared ahead; replaying the argument in her mind.
Her foot pressed down a bit harder on the gas pedal, keeping with the fast beat. She glanced at the speedometer. It read 75 mph. She pressed down slightly harder, she couldn’t miss the train. Her friends would kill her; you don’t turn twenty-one every day and today was Jennifer’s birthday bash. They had a train to catch to the city.
Everyone on the road was “flying” as her “Stepmonster” loved to say. Stepmonster was Kaitlyn’s secret name for the woman her father had married seven years before.
Kaitlyn loved “flying” with her windows down, a warm breeze caressing her face, her hair gently blowing in the wind. It calmed her and she was ready for a fun night with her friends, refusing to let Stepmonster and their earlier fight ruin the fun.
She almost overshot her exit in her rush, just making it onto the exit ramp with a quick jolt to the right. She barreled down, unable to slow, merging onto the service road while she changed the station on the radio. Luckily, traffic was light and the merge was effortless.
Kaitlyn heard it before she saw it. The high-pitched screeching of tires. A loud, long horn blast. BANG. BOOM. The sounds of the crashing of metal in the center of the road just ahead.
The car in front of her swerved right before reaching the intersection avoiding becoming part of the accident. It came to a stop on a perfectly manicured lawn, just missing a large mimosa tree. Kaitlyn jammed her brakes, spun twice, finally stopping, her vehicle sideways, across two lanes. Trembling, she managed to pull her SUV behind the car under the mimosa tree and put it in park.
A crowd had formed near the intersection. Drivers were out of their vehicles on all four corners and people ran from the homes that lined the service road. Kaitlyn overhead one woman exclaim, “Not another one, second one this week,” to no one in particular as she walked briskly past her SUV.
Still trembling, she opened her car door, got out and followed the crowd. A burly, bare-chested man was on his cell phone yelling to a 911 operator. Standing on tiptoe, Kaitlyn peeked over the crowd. One car was upside down, its roof crushed, almost one with the pavement. A smaller car, its front end unrecognizable, was climbing a light post. They had both been rushing. The larger car tried to beat the yellow light with a quick left onto the service road. The smaller car rushed straight through, towards the train station.
A woman’s voice screamed desperately, “Does anyone know CPR, please, please, help, he’s not breathing!” Kaitlyn pushed through the crowd, her body moving on its own. “I can help,” she said anxiously, looking down at a young man, half his body still in the car with his crushed chest, his arms and head on the hot pavement where bystanders had dragged him. They couldn’t pull him completely out of the inverted car, halfway was the best they could do. Kaitlyn offered to help without thinking. Her mouth was quicker than her brain and she hoped she wouldn’t regret her actions.
Kaitlyn knelt down, her whole body shaking. She breathed in hot tar and burnt rubber. Slowly, she began the procedure, praying she remembered correctly what she learned the week before. “My God, am I doing this the right way? Am I going to kill this guy? Dear Lord, please help me.”
She kept going, her pace increasing, counting in her head, pumping his chest, then blowing into his mouth, over and over. “Breathe, dammit, breathe. Please, God, don’t let him die on me, please.” She pushed harder and harder on his chest. The woman who had called for help begged her, “Don’t stop, keep going, try harder.”
CPR was exhausting, but Kaitlyn wasn’t giving up. She continued chest compressions. She moved frantically back to his mouth. “Please breathe,” she was desperate. She wasn’t sure; she thought she saw his chest rise slightly. She kept going, completely spent, only stopping when a large hand grasped her shoulder. A police officer arrived and Kaitlyn moved aside. “Thank God, thank God you are here,” she said breathlessly to the officer. She was relieved to have him take over.
The officer placed oxygen on the young man as Kaitlyn watched, terrified, collapsed on the curb. Another officer asked the crowd to step back as he unrolled a large spool of yellow tape.
Kaitlyn crawled away drained. A woman in the crowd helped her up. The woman who had screamed for help asked, “Are you ok?” Kaitlyn didn’t answer; she looked around, taking in the entire scene. The red lights whirling atop the police cruiser made her cringe. She glanced at the officer, gently talking to the young man lying motionless, still half inside the car, the oxygen mask covering his mouth and nose. She heard the wail of the ambulances and fire trucks getting closer. It sent chills down her spine. It was all too much. Too many memories flooded back. Her whole body shook, thinking of that horrific night years ago. No child should go through what she went through.
Kaitlyn remembered every detail. She was excited, driving with her Mom to meet her Dad at the restaurant in celebration of her eighth birthday. When they arrived, Dad was already there, dressed in his fancy suit, looking so handsome, sitting at their favorite corner table.
After dinner and birthday sundaes, Kaitlyn begged to ride home with her Dad as they walked through the parking lot. He always let her sit up front, next to him, and she felt very grown up. “Please Mommy, let me ride with Daddy.” Her Mom relented, handing her the backpack Kaitlyn had insisted they retrieve from her car.
Carrie, Kaitlyn’s mom, pulled out of the lot ahead of them, making a right toward town. She was stopping at the local pharmacy for a prescription and would meet them at home.
Kaitlyn and Joe, her Dad, took their time chatting. “Daddy, I went to the museum today, we saw paintings and statues and lots of art stuff. I drew my own picture of the potato farmers that lived in the 1800’s. Do you want to see it, Daddy?” Joe admired the picture Kaitlyn showed him, telling her she did a great job and he was so proud of her. They finally buckled up, after Kaitlyn stuffed everything back into her backpack. “Zip it up,” Joe reminded her exasperated. Joe backed out slowly. He was annoyed waiting for the red light before exiting the lot.
As they drove along Main Street that warm summer night, a light drizzle hit the windshield, not enough for Joe to turn on the wipers. Through the tiny drops, they could see gleaming red lights twirling ahead. There were many circling lights, from several police cars as they reached the corner. One patrol car was parked across the road, and the officer began stopping traffic. They could hear sirens in the distance, getting closer and closer, an ambulance and fire truck making their way to the scene.
Joe came to an abrupt stop, obeying the hand signal of the man in blue in the middle of the street. Joe was face to face with the officer. He watched him expertly giving direction to both the officers and the public. Another patrolman strung bright yellow tape nearly across the hood of their car, continuing around, making a square around the intersection.
The officer finally stood perfectly still; satisfied that traffic was under control. Watching him, Kaitlyn thought he looked like one of the statues she’d seen on her field trip that afternoon, his feet firmly planted, one arm locked forward, his palm up straight facing them.
When Joe and Kaitlyn glanced ahead at the dismal scene, they both recognized the car in the middle of the four corners immediately. The car lay on its side, the driver’s side. In that moment, Joe and Kaitlyn realized that Carrie was gone forever.
Kaitlyn couldn’t watch any more as the fire department used the Jaws of Life to free the young man from his overturned vehicle. She walked back to her SUV solemnly. It was a horrible day. She hated fighting with the Stepmonster. If only her mother were alive, she wouldn’t have to deal with this. Because of Stepmonster, she was stuck, witnessing this horror, trying to save someone’s life, unsure of what she was doing.
The sound of her cell phone startled her as she sat in her vehicle crying. She reached into her purse. “Hello.” Jennifer screamed into the phone, “Where the hell are you, girl? I’ve been calling you, why aren’t you answering? The train is leaving in two minutes.” Kaitlyn was still stunned. “I’m stuck,” she said in a monotone voice. “There’s a bad accident, the whole service road is shut down, there’s no way off. I will meet you guys later; I’ll catch the next train.” She hung up, silently cursing the Stepmonster.
Kaitlyn sat contemplating. What did her Stepmonster know about raising kids? Damn, the woman left her own kid. She had to be the worst mother on the planet, and all she did was try to mommy her, push her to do everything her way.
They had screamed at one another for over an hour, back and forth at least six times. The worst fights were always when her Dad was at work. Her Stepmother, Karen, was fuming. She yelled at her, “Kaitlyn, you are unappreciative, you have no direction, no responsibility, one day you will regret it.” Kaitlyn was filled with rage, “What do you know, you can’t force me to stay in college, I don’t want to, I’m bored to tears, I don’t want a stuffy office job, it’s mundane.”
Karen was infuriated. “Who quits college in their third year? Your father paid a fortune in tuition and you are acting like a spoiled brat, complaining about being bored.”
Kaitlyn could take no more. She threw her backpack across the living room in Karen’s direction and stormed off shouting, “Great, now I’m late, I hope you are happy, I’m going to miss the train. That must thrill you.” She refrained from adding, “You bitch.” She’d said it once before and had to face the wrath of her father.
Karen was screaming, “Clean up that mess,” as Kaitlyn slammed the front door and jumped into her SUV, speeding out of the driveway.
As Karen looked around at the books, papers, pens and food wrappers scattered all over the living room after Kaitlyn flung the unzipped backpack, she shook in frustration. She had cleaned the house spotless. She wanted to make a good impression on her son. She hadn’t seen him in twelve years. He was flying in this afternoon. She didn’t need this nonsense now.
Her cell rang from her pocket as she bent to gather the scattered books and clean the mess Kaitlyn left her. “Hello,” she answered. A deep voice greeted her on the other end, a voice that had surprised her last week when she first heard it and again today. “Mom, it’s Bobby.” Saying mom felt strange to him. “I just want to let you know, my flight is delayed. I’ll probably get there about two hours late, by the time I pick up the rental car and get through traffic.”
Karen hung up, cleaned the living room then sat on the couch and cried. Why had he decided to come? After all these years. Why did he reach out to her now? She was a horrible mother, unfit, unworthy.
Karen was on strong medication and she was prohibited from driving. Joe was working on a big project; he couldn’t make it to the airport. Because of her inabilities, Bobby had to rent a car; she was going to offer him cash when he arrived to cover the cost. She was always an inconvenience to everyone.
Karen sobbed harder thinking of the fight earlier with Kaitlyn. Her heart sank; she was convinced she made an even worse stepmother. All she wanted was for Kaitlyn to finish school. But no matter what she said, Kaitlyn objected, it’s been like that since the day they met. She didn’t know how to get through to her.
Two ambulances left the scene, sirens blasting, lights flashing as Kaitlyn sat in deep thought under the shade of the mimosa tree. “Would that young man live? Did she help or do harm?” She couldn’t bear to think about it. She forced her thoughts elsewhere.
She pondered her future. She knew she wanted an exciting career, though she wasn’t sure exactly what that meant. School was tedious and she hated being forced to take classes she had no interest in. She complained no end about the elective her counselor had stuck her in. She had needed an elective and that one was available and fit into her schedule nicely. It was perfect the counselor insisted. Perfect for him, maybe, but not for her.
She wanted to quit college, but she was waiting for the perfect time to tell her Dad. Only Stepmonster had overheard her, or eavesdropped, as she was talking to Jennifer settling their plans for that evening and discussing all of life’s problems and mysteries. She thought about how Karen had once again stuck her nose where it didn’t belong. “Why are you listening to me?” Kaitlyn yelled at her. “I’m not listening to you; I walked past your room. I’m not paying attention to you.” Karen wasn’t completely honest. She had not intentionally listened, but she had heard. Kaitlyn knew it. “Don’t say anything to my Dad; just keep your mouth shut, if you can,” Kaitlyn shot. That’s when the screaming started.
Kaitlyn almost stayed home sick the day they were learning CPR, but, the Stepmonster had seen through her ploy and insisted she go. Kaitlyn went; better to deal with taking a test she forgot to study for and drudging through CPR training in an elective class she didn’t want, than dealing with being nagged and yelled at all day by Stepmonster.
Her mother wouldn’t have forced her to go to school; she wouldn’t have nagged her or screamed at her. She would have never told her she can’t fake her way through life and lectured her about having to do things she didn’t want to do or lectured her about facing life’s challenges. No, her mother would have held her tight, made her soup and toast and put on her favorite TV show, that’s how she remembered her, that’s what she has longed for since that horrid night. Stepmonster did none of that. Kaitlyn hated her.
The road opened up again and a police officer waved traffic through. As Kaitlyn passed the intersection, the last tow truck was leaving with the car that had been overturned. She made the sign of the cross and said a little prayer for the driver as she turned left toward the train station.
The hour train ride alone into Penn Station was tedious. She wasn’t in the mood to party anymore. Kaitlyn kept busy texting her friends and reading Facebook posts on her phone, it kept her from wondering about that poor young man in the accident.
She was happy to read the text saying they changed plans and were awaiting her arrival at a restaurant and club right near Penn. She realized she was starving and she was relieved not to have to hail a cab across town.
Bobby had landed at Kennedy forty minutes late due to the delay. He waited on the long line for his rental car, chatting with a pretty blonde in front of him. He was tired and wasn’t looking forward to the one hour drive to Long Island. He was also nervous. He wished he could delay meeting his Mom now, he was hesitating, but he had to go through with it. He’d come this far.
Karen had pulled herself together and was prepping dinner when her cell jolted her. She knew the voice on the other end, though it had been years since she’d heard it. “Karen, it’s John.” The voice was familiar, yet sounded lifeless. “I just got a call, Bobby’s been in a serious accident, they said he’s at Stony Brook hospital. I’m catching the next flight. I’ll meet you there.” Karen fell to her knees, dropping her phone which slid into the middle of the floor.
After a deep breath, she stood up, her heart palpitating. She searched for car keys, throwing gum, paper, a brush out of the junk drawer Joe kept it all in. She found the set of keys, grabbed her purse and ran out of the house, her cell still lying on the kitchen floor. “All this is my fault,” she thought as she fought her way through traffic, terrified, her hands shaking at the wheel. She shouldn’t be driving, she hadn’t in years, but she had to get to Bobby and without thinking, she jumped in Joe’s weekend car and left.
Karen had believed she was doing the right thing all those years ago. It was better to leave Bobby, let John raise him. What good was she going to do him from a mental hospital? The depression, anxiety and PTSD had overwhelmed her; she had even tried taking her own life. She didn’t blame John or his lawyers for fearing for the safety of Bobby in her care. John was concerned. Look what Andrea Yates had done, drowning all those innocent children. Would he come home to a house of horrors one day? He had to be proactive. He felt for Karen, but he had to protect their son.
Karen feared for Bobby too, so she gave him up, for his own good, she felt useless to him. And now, look what she had caused. Her father was right; he always told her it was all her fault. “You stupid, inconsiderate, brat, can’t you keep quiet? I have to sleep. I work my fingers to the bone on the graveyard shift to feed your scraggly butt. I got fired today, because of you, because you can’t shut up. I was too tired at work, I kept falling asleep because you keep me up, you can’t play quietly.” Her father pounded the metal table, snarling at her, his face red with rage. He grabbed the bottle of vodka from the counter, like he did every day, and stormed out to the shed.
Karen sat, head down, guilt filling her whole body, chastising herself for being such a bad, disgraceful child. When the bottle was empty, Karen knew, he’d be back for her. She’d be made to pay for getting him fired. He will lock her in the closet, in the dark, to think about her horrid ways and why she ruins everyone’s life. Then he’ll make her write an essay on how to be quiet and not get her father fired. Because of her, there would be no money and no food. Karen grabbed two apples, a slip of crackers, a spoon and a half-filled jar of jelly. She ran to her room and hid it all under her stuffed animals on her bed. She laid on of the pile, whimpering and rocking back and forth. She was dozing when she heard the familiar screams.
What was happening in that shed, Karen couldn’t imagine, she only knew it must be bad if her mother was screaming and crying so loudly. No one was around to hear for miles, just her. She prayed for sleep so she wouldn’t have to see her mom when she came back to the house. She knew her mom hated the shed, but her father would demand she serve him food or bring him supplies. She hated seeing her, sometimes with clumps of her hair missing, her eyes swollen shut, once she was bleeding from her nose. Her arms always looked various shades of black, blue, green, different colors blending on her skin. Often her clothing was rumpled and one time Karen saw her shorts ripped and what looked like blood on the back of them.
After signing the required paperwork, Bobby rushed through the lot to find his rental car, carrying his wallet, cell, several papers and the keys. Just as he opened the door, his cell rang. He answered, “Hello.” It was his friend Dave, who had moved to New York City two years prior. “Hey, Buddy. I heard through the grapevine you were in town, let’s hang out.” Bobby responded, “Yeah man, I was going to get in touch, just heading to Long Island to meet my mom, maybe Saturday.” Dave warned him, “Oh, man, you are going to hit a ton of traffic at this time Bro., bumper to bumper.” Bobby was not happy about his one hour drive turning into a two-and-a-half-hour drive.
Karen ran into Stony Brook emergency room and grabbed the first person she saw, shouting about how she had to find her son. It had taken over an hour from John’s call until her arrival at the hospital. Friday rush-hour traffic, her panic and unstable driving all contributed to the delay.
After what seemed like hours, a nurse came out and led her to a dimly lit room. Bobby lay flat on his back, eyes closed. There were tubes coming from his mouth, an IV in each arm, stickers with wires all over his chest. A machine made a low rhythmic hum and little blue and green lights blinked everywhere.
Karen sat next to him in the chair the nurse offered. “How is he?” she asked. “He’s a lucky guy,” the nurse replied. “He made it through surgery amazingly well. I heard a young lady started CPR at the scene. She saved his life.” Karen said a silent thank you to the young person she was so grateful for, her body shaking, her stomach nauseous, the palpitations making it difficult to breathe.
Jennifer and the girls were in full party mode when Kaitlyn arrived. They were twenty-one now; they could drink, legally, not that they hadn’t drank before. After dinner, they went to the club on the opposite side of the restaurant. That’s where Kaitlyn first laid eyes on him.
He was cute, tall, built, light brown hair, big brown eyes and had an amazing smile. He was talking with another guy and they were holding beers. She couldn’t keep her eyes off him. He noticed her too; her long, curly blonde hair struck him as he admired her over his friend’s shoulder. He told his friend he was going to ask her to dance.
“Hi,” he screamed over the music as he approached Kaitlyn. “Hey,” she yelled back. “Why aren’t you dancing?” he asked her. “Just not in the mood tonight,” she responded. “I’m Robert, my friends call me Rob.” She was mesmerized by his beautiful eyes. She smiled and said, “Nice to meet you Robert, I’m Kaitlyn, my friends call me Kaitlyn,” she giggled. He smiled. “Would you possibly be in the mood to dance with me?”
Joe arrived home from work and immediately noticed his car missing. He walked into an empty house. He found Karen’s cell phone in the middle of the kitchen floor surrounded by what appeared to be garbage strew around it, but no note, no message, nothing. He was in a panic, was she having another episode, did she take his car; she shouldn’t be behind the wheel. Carrie flashed through his mind. He shivered. “My God, if she’s driving, she could kill herself or innocent people, what the hell is going on?”
Karen and Joe had met at the mental hospital in North Carolina. She was a patient; he was there to meet with the head of the department on legal matters. He was going to advise his old college pal on a court case.
Karen was sitting in the department head’s office when Joe arrived. Apparently, the office manager mistakenly had him walk in on a meeting, only the department head wasn’t there, just Karen, sitting and waiting quietly. “I’m sorry,” Joe apologized. Their eyes met and Karen said, “It’s ok, it’s just happenstance.”
It was an unlikely meeting and even more unlikely that they formed a relationship. He could have lost his job, it wasn’t ethical, but something about Karen intrigued him. There was more to her than her mental problems, he could see that. Each time he visited with his college buddy at the facility, he stopped to check on Karen.
Joe did pro bono work for a women’s shelter yearly. Something in Karen screamed help me, yet she was also loving, strong and funny. He felt the need to protect her, save her. He played a big part in her release from the hospital. She felt calmer around him. When he offered to find her an apartment on Long Island, she accepted. She couldn’t go back to John and Bobby, she was too afraid of disrupting their lives, of ruining it all. She didn’t want it to be all her fault anymore; she would stay away for their own good. She didn’t deserve them, they deserved better than her.
Frantic, Joe tried to call Kaitlyn several times but she didn’t hear her cell over the loud music and was too involved with Robert to bother checking her phone. Joe called every friend he could think of then dialed some friends at the local precinct.
Karen sat at Bobby’s side, unable and unwilling to leave. She forgot everything else; she just sat stroking his light brown hair, praying for him to be ok. The door opened and a nurse led John in. Their eyes met and then she turned toward Bobby as tears streamed down her face. “I’m sorry I did this,” were her first words to John. He just nodded somberly, he knew she wasn’t to blame, but he knew all too well, there was no use in trying to convince her otherwise.
John looked at the young man lying in the bed, then back at Karen, shocked. “My God, Karen,” he said. “Oh my God, Karen.” He was on the verge of hyperventilating. “Oh my God.” Karen shook her head in despair. Eyes gazed on the bed, he muttered softly, “That’s not Bobby.” Karen stared at him stunned, she froze, her fingers stuck in the strands of a stranger’s light brown hair.
Karen and John left the young man’s side. They were standing in the Emergency room lobby waiting for hospital officials when Joe came bolting in. He’d heard from his friends in the police department. “How is he?” he asked, hugging Karen. “It’s not him,” she replied. The three of them peered at one another perplexed; they didn’t know what to make of it.
Where was Bobby? No one had heard from him. Who was that young man lying there and why did the police think it was Bobby?
Karen introduced Joe to John and the three of them decided to go back to the house in Setauket to attempt to figure this mess out. They left Joe’s weekend car in the hospital lot, he’d pick it up later or tomorrow with Kaitlyn or a friend.
Karen grabbed her cell the minute she walked in, forgetting she could have called it for messages. She hit the message folder and put it on speaker. “Hey, mom, it’s me. I’ll be a bit later than expected. Don’t hold dinner. See you later,” Bobby’s voice boomed through the room.
Bobby decided to take Dave up on his offer. He was just getting into his rental car when he answered Dave’s call. Dave was right; the traffic was going to be a nightmare. Rather than rent the car, he would meet Dave in the city, have dinner and hang for a bit. After rush hour, Dave had promised to drive him to Long Island. Bobby chose to save the much-needed money and went back into the airport to see if he could get refund. The young sales representative agreed, much to his surprise, probably due to his pitiful brown eyes. How could she say no.
Robert and Kaitlyn sat at the bar with his friend while Jennifer and the rest of the girls danced. “So, you are headed to Long Island,” Kaitlyn said to Robert. “I live there, where are you going?” Smiling, Robert responded, “That’s a damn good question. I don’t remember. I can’t find my wallet. I had the address on a scrap of an envelope in my wallet. I know, I know, I should put that stuff in my phone.” Kaitlyn shook her head, amused. “When I called, I got a voicemail. I didn’t realize I didn’t have my wallet then. I’m waiting for a call back; I’ll ask the address.” He glanced at his phone and saw a message. He hadn’t heard it ring over the music.
Kaitlyn loved his accent. She was enchanted. She followed him out front to the sidewalk where he could play the voicemail and hear it. Robert hit the envelope and held the phone to his ear. “Bobby, it’s Mom, where are you, call me, I need to talk to you now.” Her voice sounded frantic. Oh no, is she really the loony he always heard she was; the gossip through town had made it to his ears.
“Excuse me,” he said to Kaitlyn. “I have to return this call.” She stepped aside, giving him some privacy. “Hi mom?” Karen was practically hysterical, “Where are you, what are you doing?” He was annoyed. They hadn’t even met yet and she was already nagging him and giving him crap. “I’m in the city with a friend, I’ll be there later. Relax, mom. Don’t get crazy.” He immediately regretted using the word crazy. He asked for the address and hung up.
“Well, I’m supposed to be heading to Setauket,” he said walking up to Kaitlyn. “Really?” He looked into her bright eyes, “Yes, really.” Kaitlyn was hesitant. “That’s where I live,” He shook his head, “Sure you do.” Kaitlyn smiled, “honestly, that’s where I live.” Kaitlyn looked at him intently. “So where in Setauket are you headed?” He read her the address he’d punched into his phone as his mom gave it to him. Kaitlyn stared at him, silent.
“What, what’s wrong?” Robert asked. She didn’t say a word. “Kaitlyn, what’s going on?” Kaitlyn whispered, “Are you Bobby?” He looked at her. “I was called Bobby when I was little, now most people call me Robert or Rob.” Her eyes were wide. “Well, Rob, I live at the address you just gave me, it’s my Dad’s house, which means it’s also your Mom’s house.” They walked back into the club in silence, both too overwhelmed to speak.
Bobby thought back as he waited in line for the men’s room in the club. This couldn’t be possible. The girl he met was nothing like the spoiled, nasty brat his mom had described. He thought about Dave’s call. He’d been juggling everything as he entered the car while answering his cell. His wallet must have slipped from his hands and he never realized it. He thought back to his conversations with his mother; she sounded so tender and pleasant, yet tonight, she sounded out of control and panicked. What was happening?
Joe called his friends at the police station. He explained that the victim was not his wife’s son, which they had already been informed of by the hospital. He asked them why they thought it was Bobby. The officer explained, “A wallet was found lodged between the driver’s seat and the center console, the license belonged to Bobby. We contacted his father from the address on his license.”
Rob and Kaitlyn sat at the bar enjoying a drink. They introduced Jennifer and Dave to one another and the two joined them with their own drinks. Dave was treating Rob for dinner and drinks since Rob had lost his wallet. Rob promised to pay him back, though Dave had refused.
The group devised a plan. Dave would buy Rob a train ticket, he’d take the train from Penn to Ronkonkoma with Kaitlyn and her friends and Kaitlyn would give him a ride to, well, their parents’ house.
As they rode the train from Penn, Kaitlyn told Rob all about the accident earlier, about performing CPR and how scared she was doing it. She mentioned the incident caused the delay in meeting her friends. They sat together and chatted the whole hour. He confided that he had been scared to contact his mother, he was afraid she wouldn’t want to meet him, she would be loony like everyone said, she wouldn’t recognize him… he went on and on. He said his best friend’s mom had finally convinced him to reach out.
Kaitlyn comforted him. “Your mom’s not loony. She cares for you very much. She’s a smart lady and a great cook.” It was the first time Kaitlyn had ever said anything nice about her stepmother. It frightened her. Was she betraying her mother?
She remembered when she was twelve, coming home early from soccer practice. She’d seen Karen sitting on the bed, looking at a small picture, her eyes red and puffy. Kaitlyn had snuck into the room when Karen went to the bathroom to clean up. She saw a small picture lying on the bedspread of a little blonde boy. “It must be Bobby,” she thought, enraged. She was tired of hearing about Bobby all the time, over and over, Bobby this and Bobby that. Why wasn’t her Dad as sick of it as she was?
Kaitlyn wanted to rip the picture into little pieces. How dare Karen cry over him now. She left him, by choice. Her mother would have never left her, she was taken from her. Now Kaitlyn wondered, maybe Karen had no choice, just like her mom had no choice.
They reached Ronkonkoma and parted ways with Jennifer and the girls. Kaitlyn was glad to have Rob with her walking through the dark parking lot. “Nice SUV,” Rob said as they entered her vehicle. Kaitlyn decided to take the back roads to her house; she thought it would be prettier scenery for Rob she explained, even if it was dark outside. She secretly wanted to take a longer ride; she wanted to keep talking with him.
As they approached the site where the accident had occurred, they got stuck at a red light. Kaitlyn pointed out the spot and explained in detail how the car had flipped and the driver had been pulled halfway out of the open window. She told how she had given him CPR right there in the street and how terrified she was. She said she’s been praying for him all night and wondering if he was going to be ok.
The light changed and as they drove through the intersection, Rob watched a young guy bent over picking up debris some ways down from the scene of the accident hours ago.
The teen was walking home along the service road when he saw something lying on the side of the road, near the sewer. It was black and blended in with the sewer, but the small, shiny metal on the front of the object was glowing in the light from the street lamp. He bent to pick it up. It was a wallet, a wallet with a lot of money in it. Five Hundred dollars to be exact. “Holy crap,” he thought. He’d heard about the accident, the flipped car. “This must have flown out of the car when it flipped,” he surmised. “I can’t believe it flew this far down the road.” He went to step back onto the curb and his foot crunched something. A cell phone, black, was lying on top of the grate on the curb attached to the sewer.
The teen took out his cell and dialed 911. The dispatcher said a patrol car would meet him at his house.
Before continuing his journey home, the teen glanced around once more. A Starbucks cup lay not far from the sewer, some small pieces of glass were still in the street near the curb and it looked like tiny pieces of the bumper also lay surrounding the cup.
The police weren’t sanitation workers, the teen knew. They would pick up the dangerous parts, and anything blocking roadways, but they were busy and they never worried about the little stuff or looked too closely along the curb. Having lived on the service road his whole life, he was used to hearing and witnessing accidents and expected the debris that was always left behind.
As they drove towards home, Kaitlyn and Rob talked about where he lived, what they were studying and what their dreams were. Kaitlyn said, “I know what I want to do now. I’ve been thinking about it all night. I want to become an EMT. I want to help save lives. It’s exciting, I won’t be in some stuffy office, I won’t have to wear a fancy suit and heels every day and each day will be different.” She could handle it, she knew it now. “I know I need more training, but with practice, I can do it,” She was determined to put the memories of her mother and her fear behind her to do the job. Rob admired her goals as much as he did her beautiful, blonde curls and gorgeous blue eyes that were lit up with excitement and determination.
Karen, Joe and John sat in the living room sipping coffee and nibbling on cookies, finally calmed down, when the front door opened. “It’s Kaitlyn,” Joe said. The three of them looked up, speechless, as Kaitlyn and Bobby walked in together, smiling, hand in hand. Bobby looked across the room, “Dad? What the hell are you doing here?”
Kaitlyn looked at Karen. She was grateful. If Karen hadn’t argued with her that afternoon, she wouldn’t have been late for her train. She would have arrived at the station the same time as her friends had and she would have completely missed the accident. No one else there knew CPR. Performing CPR that day gave her total insight on what she now knew she wanted to do. Who would have helped that poor young man? The girls would have eaten dinner earlier in the city at their original pick, rather than the restaurant and club near Penn her friends chose as they awaited her arrival.
If Bobby’s plane hadn’t been delayed, he would have been well on his way to Long Island when Dave called. They would have never met for dinner near Penn, where Bobby took the train from JFK.
Karen stared at them. She finally spoke. “How… why, what are you two doing together?”
Bobby glanced around the room, then said, “Happenstance.”
Happenstance was always John’s explanation to Bobby when Bobby was very young. He’d ask why mommy never came home anymore. John would simply say, happenstance, Karen’s favorite word.
How do you explain mental illness to a child? John hoped the one word allowed the child to believe his mother was somewhere in a happy place. Through the years, when Bobby would ask John about unusual or surprising occurrences, he’d simply respond, “Happenstance.”
Karen stood and approached her son, staring deeply into his brown eyes. She reached up and gently put her arms around his neck. She held him tight, hugged him for a long time, then reached out to Kaitlyn and pulled her in.
It was the first time Kaitlyn and Karen hugged or had any physical contact. Tears wet Kaitlyn’s face as she stood there, arms tight around Karen and Bobby. She thought of her mom and realized, Carrie would be okay with it. She would want Kaitlyn to be hugged, it wouldn’t anger her that another woman was hugging her daughter, it would make her happy. Kaitlyn felt relief from her head to her toes. She wasn’t betraying her mother; she would always love her even if she also loved others.
Happenstance brought them all together that night. It made everything much clearer now.
Kaitlyn turned from Bobby and Karen towards her Dad. “Dad, I did CPR today, I remembered how. I want to become an EMT. I know I can do it, Dad. There was this awful accident this afternoon…”
By Doreen Campisi
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