I stare ahead at the red light and wonder how I let this happen. Showing up late to my own wedding, how absurd. An endless line of cars streams by mine as we sit in the left-hand lane. The sound of my blinker’s incessant clicking causes my eyes to twitch as I plead with the gods of the traffic light to turn green.
My vows, I can barely remember what I’d written down. Were they even any good? I resist the urge to pull out the cue cards I have tucked away in my suit jacket as I try to think back on them. Was there too much flowery language? Not enough prose? There’s a fine line being between being romantic and corny. I straddle that line every day of my life.
All of that anxiety began slipping away when I felt her gaze upon me and I feel a sudden burst of inspiration. There is this tingling sensation running along my neck, as if I’d been basking in the warmth of the midday sun. Like a flower seeking out the light I am unable to resist the urge to look upon such a darling face. I am beaconed by her, by the light of my dearest Francene.
With thirsty eyes, I lap up her visage, drinking in her every detail as if I’m dying of thirst. Her face is an oasis in the desert. Like the faithful huddled together at mass ogling the effigies of their gleaming lord, I sit in awe, marveling at her otherworldly splendor. While my mind may deny the existence of God, who other but God could create such beauty?
Francene, my beautiful bride-to-be.
From the moment I first saw her all those years ago, I became a believer. She accepted me into her parish. In the walls of her sacred temple, I touched the divine.
I reach out and take her hand in mine and a smile besieges my face. The gentle throb of her heart rings out from her palm to mine and causes my own to skip a beat. I can’t help but wonder if there could be a level of elation beyond elation? Such an emotion is the only description that could ever hope to do her justice.
Then, the smile retreats from her face and I feel a chill shuffle along my skin.
Those eyes of hers, so wonderous and bright, they widen with such intensity that I fear they may leap from their sockets as her pupils constrict like pinpricks. She releases a veracious scream, shattering my dream-like trance and flinging me face-first into the horrific present.
Seconds turn to hours as my hair stands on end. I turn away from her, from my light. I need to investigate, to uncover the mystery of what rendered my dear Francene so very afraid. That’s when I see the blinding lights of the moving van’s high-beams flash against our windshield as it veers over the median straight into us.
I don’t even get the chance to scream.
“Hey, Luis?” Francene says, her voice barely a whisper.
We are strown out across the bare mattress setting in the middle of an otherwise empty room. Several heavy looking boxes loom outside of the freshly painted doorway, but have yet to actually make it into our bedroom. Frankie’s Stuff is printed across their faces in big block letters. The rest of the house is in a similar state, two stories of undiscovered country.
Overhead, the dusty blades of the cheap ceiling fan rattle against its housing as it casually stirs the otherwise stagnant air throughout the room. The one working lightbulb in the four brass sockets glows a dim orange, flickering with every seventh rotation. I don’t know why I know that, but I do. Seven is a lucky number, it’s validating in a way.
“Yeah?” I reply, turning my head to look at her.
I fail to hold back a smile as I catch sight of her messy black bun. The poof of hair had started making an escape from the top of her head, slumping sideways onto her polka-dot pillow like a scoop of ice cream falling off its cone.
“We did it,” she says, her face beaming, “we bought a house.”
My smile widens as we both begin to chuckle.
“It’s still just so...wow,” I say, “we bought a freaking house, babe.”
“Don’t forget we’ve only got another few weeks before the wedding, too.”
“I know, I can’t believe it. It feels like I just proposed yesterday,” I say with a grin.
“We’re actual adults now,” she says, “I don’t know how to feel about that.”
“What you do mean?” I say.
“I mean, do you feel like an adult? I don’t,” she says.
“I don’t really think about it all that much,” I say.
She rolls over to her side, grunting slightly as she pulls out the little elastic band from her hair, releasing her wavy locks before slipping the band around her wrist.
“How long have we been out of high school?” she says.
“Let me see, that was 2009, so, around eleven years?” I say, my brow raises at the realization, “damn.”
“And do you really feel any different than when you first got out of that rat-hole?”
“East Beaumont High was not a rathole. It was a swamp, get it right,” I say, attempting to look serious, “and to be honest, no, not really. I still expect to get carded while picking up a bottle of wine.”
Francene laughs, her smile as dazzling as the day we first met.
“Me too, or when we are able to rent a hotel room instead of piling into the back of my sister’s Astro like we used too.”
“Say what you will about that, but I still prefer that to some of those DNDs you booked last year, that was sketchy.”
“It’s Airbnb, you goof.”
“It’s a Hostel sequel waiting to happen. I’ll take crashing in the back of Sandra’s Astro instead of ending up in some budget snuff film any day of the week.”
“Either way, my point still stands.”
“It totally does,” I say with a quiet groan as I roll over onto my back and watch the ceiling fan rattle.
My old man could’ve installed that thing no problem in half the time it took me to cobble that together. Jeez, I really am still a kid sometimes.
“Do you think our parents felt like this?” I say.
“What, like imposters?” she says, snuggling against my chest.
“It would explain a lot of their life choices.”
“Do you think that feeling will ever go away, or are we going to be a couple of 80-year-olds still expecting to get carded?” I say, snickering a little at the idea.
“Absolutely, there’s no other way to be at this point. If I have to wait until then to get it all together, I’m going to be pissed,” she says.
I can feel the warmth of her breath against my chest as she talks. How the hell is this woman’s breath cute too? What was it Sandra called me last week, a simp? I totally am a simp for this woman.
“Are you still going to love me when I’m an old man? Remember, I’ll be all bald and pruney.”
“You forget, I met your grandpa already. You’re going to be a cute old man, hair or no hair,” she says as she reaches up and ruffles my messy mane, “what about me? Are you still going to love me when I’m old and saggy?”
“Are you kidding? I’ll love you until the day I die, Frankie,” I reply.
“You promise?” she says, extending out her pinky finger, our most sacred bond.
“I promise,” I reply as I wrap my pinky around hers.
Everything is wrong. The sound of a constant horn drones on in the background as a dull ringing plagues my ears. My vision trembles with every beat of my heart.
What just happened?
I struggle to catch my breath. My mouth is filled with the taste of copper as I try to hold on. I have to hold on for her. She’s hurt. She needs me.
I force my aching head to turn to the side and I see her, my beloved Francene and I can’t help but weep.
My fallen angel lies still in her seat, slumped against the shattered passenger’s window. Her vacant stare locked eternally ahead at the smoldering heap that was the van that collided with us, its own driver hanging half-ejected through the windshield, its hood covered in viscera. Her lacey white wedding gown is stained a deep, dark red, her face a crimson mask. Her head is cocked too far to the side, the angle is unnatural.
“F-Frankie?” I gasp, reaching out my hand for hers.
She says nothing. All I can hear is the groaning of metal accompanied by the endless bleating of that damn horn. I watch her chest, praying with all my heart to watch it rise with breath.
It does not.
My blood freezes in my veins.
“Don’t leave me, baby,” I cry, grunting as I try to shift in my seat.
My body lights up in pain and I am forced to cease the effort. Everything hurts. Every breath, every shudder feels like it will be the end of me. Existence is agony.
“Francene?” I say aloud between gasps for air.
I don’t understand. That’s her voice, I know it, but—she’s dead.
“What do you mean?” I manage to say before coughing out a mouthful of blood, sending it splattering against the shattered windshield.
Do you love me?
“I do...more than anything,” I say between gritted teeth.
Then let go.
I press against the back of my headrest as I force my arm up, reaching out to take hold of my beloved. More pain follows but I don’t care. I need her. I can’t do this alone.
My hand inches forward, trembling from the titanic effort.
With my last bastion of strength I manage to wrap my pinky around hers.
“I’ll see you soon, my love...I promise. I promise.”
Everything begins growing quiet as I am enveloped by darkness.