"You can't just make up your own constellation!"
"Why not?" Talia asked, hands on her hips, her form barely visible to Kale in the gathering darkness of the backyard. "I'm going to lay out here in the grass until I find one of my very own!"
Kale laughed at that and shivered at the thought of the damp grass against his bare arms. He went back inside to grab a blanket. When he returned Talia was already on her back in the grass gazing intently up at the summer sky. "Get up, you wingnut! At least lay on the blanket," he chided, lightheartedly.
They settled in side by side, fingers interlaced. "It'll be ours - yours and mine," she said, glancing sideways at Kale, her boyfriend for the last year. They'd met in one of the huge, echoey study halls at Brookton University, while Talia was practically sweating with worry over her next chemistry exam. She wanted to be a nurse so badly, but chemistry was kicking her butt. Kale had been sharing her table, two seats down, and he could hear her long, heavy sighs of frustration and the nervous tapping of her pencil. He had ventured to ask if he could help her and had joked that he only wanted to help so she would stop tapping the pencil. The rest, as they say, is history. "Look! There it is!" she burst out, shooting her arm up to point into the endless sea of nightlights.
"What is it?" Kale asked.
"It's a kite!"
Kale squinted, stared, and then, sure enough, the long slender diamond appeared to him too. "I see it. Yeah, you're right. It does look like a kite."
"It's ours then," Talia said, and sealed it with a kiss.
"It's ours," Kale agreed, getting to his feet. "I'm going home, but I'll see you tomorrow!"
"Okay, I'm going to stay here for a while," Talia replied.
"I love you!" Kale called back to her as he disappeared around the corner of the house.
"Love you too!"
Kale biked the same route to the university nearly every single day, and that day was no different. Daily workouts were hard to fit in between hitting the books and holding down a part-time job at Costco, but at least he could get in that bit of exercise. On the days that their schedules matched, Kale would often catch up to Talia on her way there, and they would make a game of who would arrive first. As Kale rounded the corner at King and Dublin he slowed his pace as the flashing lights of an ambulance and a police car drew his focus.
A group of bystanders blocked his path, and he pulled his bike up onto the sidewalk to go around. He didn't really want to look, but then he glimpsed a floral pattern, a purple sweater, a bright yellow helmet - no! He was suddenly cemented in place, his bike clattering to the ground. He whipped off his helmet and let it drop too, staring at the scene which could not possibly be his reality at that moment.
He pushed his way through the bystanders. "Talia! Talia! That's my girlfriend! Talia!" She did not respond, and an officer moved in beside him.
"They're doing what they can for her right now," the officer assured him. "They're doing their very best." There was so much blood. Her eyes were closed, and she lay still, so still.
Why isn't she moving? Move, Talia! "What happened?!" Kale cried, tears streaking his face.
"It looks like the driver ran a red light as she was coming through the intersection. We'll have to investigate to confirm that though," she replied.
Kale glanced over to the other side of the street where a middle-aged woman was sitting on the curb alone, sobbing, her phone to her ear. She was probably on that stupid phone when she hit Talia! The police would take care of that. He gave the officer as much contact information as he could for Talia's family. He watched as the paramedics secured her head and legs, buckled her in, and covered her with a blanket. They were moving quickly. She was loaded into the back of the ambulance, the doors shutting with a thud, and the siren wailed as they sped away.
Kale stood glued to the spot, a fog of confusion descending on him. What do I do? I need to get to the hospital! Where are they taking her?
As if reading Kale's thoughts, the kind officer said, "They're taking her to Armstrong Memorial. Do you need a ride?"
"My bike. What do I do with it?"
"Just lock it to that lamppost and come back for it when you can."
"Right, thanks. He couldn't think straight." Kale locked up the ten-speed and went to get in the back of the cruiser.
"You can ride up front, unless you have something you want to confess," the officer joked lightly. Kale slid into the front seat, shocked into silence. Only part of his brain was registering anything the woman said about what good hands Talia was in, that she was breathing, and that it was good she was wearing her helmet. They arrived at the hospital where Kale thanked the officer and leapt from the car to dash through the doors of the emergency department. He slid to a stop in front of the receptionist.
"Talia? Talia Bentin? She had a bike accident and they brought her here!"
"Are you family?" The woman was seated behind a plexi-glass partition, and she was all business. She peered over her glasses at him, waiting for an answer.
"No, but she's my girlfriend."
"Sorry, I can't give you any information. You'll have to wait for the family to come out."
He paced the floor in the waiting room for two hours straight. He texted Talia's mom but got no response. Finally, Mrs. Bentin and Talia's brother, Troy, came through the waiting room doors, both of them with red-rimmed eyes and exhaustion showing.
"Kale!" Mrs. Bentin cried. "I'm so sorry you've been waiting all this time!" She gave him a tight hug.
"It doesn't matter. How is she?" He almost dreaded the reply.
"She's unconscious right now. She lost some blood because her right leg is badly fractured. She is covered with bruises and scrapes. She took a nasty hit to the head...oh, Kale." She took a shaky breath before continuing. "The doctor said if she wasn't wearing that helmet things would be much worse right now. She is going in for some x-rays, and likely right into surgery for her leg after that. I think I need to sit down." She took a seat and rested her forehead in her hands, while Kale stood helplessly nearby.
"Can I get you anything?" Kale asked, needing to do something.
"No, really. You go home, and I'll let you know when I hear the results from the x-rays."
Kale didn't go home, and he missed a full week of classes while he waited with Talia's family - praying for her to wake up with no brain damage. The x-rays showed another small fracture in her left arm and swelling on her brain. They kept her purposely sedated for the first week, but after that first week she decided to stay cocooned in the deepest of sleeps, leaving them all wondering when she would emerge. After a week went by Kale reluctantly went back to school so he wouldn't fail his classes, but he went back to the hospital every day and did his homework in the waiting room down the hall from her room.
He sat by Talia's bed one day, about three weeks after the accident, reading a novel, eyelids drooping. The midday sun was streaming through the open blinds making him sleepy. He stretched his feet out and leaned way back, resting the open book on his chest. He was so used to all of the hospital sounds by then that he didn't even hear all of the hisses, beeps, and alarm bells up and down the hall. Just as he was dipping over the edge into blissful sleep he heard it. "Kale." A feather-soft whisper. He jerked upright, the book falling to the floor. Talia's eyes were closed - her pale, soft cheeks motionless. I was dreaming. He gave his head a shake, but then slowly, those flashing, emerald eyes opened and were gazing up into his. Beautiful, but confused and worried. "Kale?" She knows who I am!
"Talia! You're awake!" He smiled down at her, smoothing her dark curls away from her face. Puzzled, she tried to lift her left arm, but the cast was bulky, and she let it drop back down on the bed.
"What happened? Where am I?" she asked, her voice raspy from neglect.
Kale pulled the call bell while he started explaining about the bike accident. A nurse hurried in. "Hello, Talia," she said with a soft smile. "I'm so glad to see that my patient is awake!"
"May I have a drink?" Talia croaked out.
"Of course, honey. Just a sec." She returned quickly with a small glass of ice water. "Now, just take it easy, okay? Small sips."
Talia's mother and Troy ran into the room, bursting with joy and excitement. The nurse turned and raised her hand to them. "Shh...she might be a little overwhelmed."
"Sweetie!" Mrs. Bentin sat down by the bed, grasping Talia's hand.
"Mom, I'm so confused."
"I know, I know. We'll explain everything eventually, but try to take it easy."
The following week was consumed with x-rays, scans, and physical therapy for Talia's damaged leg. At times she felt so discouraged by the slow process, and she vented her frustration to Kale near the end of that week. "I just want out of here! I want to go to school and see my friends. I'm so behind, and there's no way I'm going to graduate with my class." A tear slipped down her cheek and broke Kale's heart.
"You can't worry about that, babe. You're here, and that's all that matters. I'm so glad you can continue with school!" Talia couldn't remember anything about the day of the accident, but everything else seemed to be coming back clearly.
"I know you're right. I'm just lucky to be here at all. It's just so frustrating. I'm so glad you're here, Kale!"
"Speaking of which, I need to get out of here," he said. "I have a surprise for you, but I need to do a little work on it first." He winked and threw her a mischievous smile.
This peaked her curiosity. "Oh really? Do tell!"
"Not a chance!" She was sitting in her wheelchair, and he bent down to kiss her cheek before making a hasty exit.
The next day Talia's nurse came in and announced, "Hello, sunshine! We're going for a little walk. Well, I'll do the walking for now!"
"Where are we going?"
"For me to know and you to find out! I received a secret message to bring you to the lounge facing the front lawn of the hospital. Here we go!" The nurse pushed her up as close to the window as possible. "Do you see anything?" Talia looked down, and she could see Kale there on the lawn arranging something on the ground. He stood up, raised his arms, and ran full-tilt across the lawn, and a kite lifted on the breeze, dipping, swirling, and finally soaring high and strong right across from the third floor window for Talia to see! She gasped and smiled widely, eyes welling with tears.
"A kite!" she exclaimed, remembering her claim to the constellation. It was painted inky black and dotted with what looked like a thousand tiny stars. Silver streamers fluttered out behind it reminding Talia of a comet streaking across the night sky. She pulled out her phone and texted him, "You remembered!! I love you!"
He waved up at her, and she couldn't really see his face, but she knew he was grinning. A couple more weeks passed until Talia was released to go home. The very first night Kale came over and helped her out to the backyard. He spread a blanket for them and helped her lay down. They gazed heavenward, searching the sky for their kite. When they found it Kale turned on his side to face his girl. "It's ours - yours and mine. Just like the future. It's ours."