They are lost. Their bodies slide over each other. Their hands search every inch of the other. Their breath fills the other’s lungs. Until they are intertwined, entangled and within each other… Until they are one…
A minivan sits in the driveway of Dax’s parents’ house in an upper middle class neighborhood. The trees are green in the height of summer, and the kids across the street run through a sprinkler.
Dax has lived here all of his life, sharing family barbeques in the summer, raking leaves in the fall, hanging lights with his dad at Christmas, and weeding his mother’s garden in the spring. He used to share a bedroom with his younger brother, but moved into the attic on his own since he started college. His younger brother, Max, won’t graduate high school until next year and is away at the beach with his best friend’s family. Dax and he already shared their goodbyes before he left. Never much for sharing emotion between the two of them, they showed their affection through humor. Max was kind enough to leave a sufficient prank before he left, which Dax found today. He’ll be washing the blue paint off of his feet for the next month.
The side door of the minivan is open and the back seats have been pulled out. They are replaced by a make shift bed, suitcases and a cooler. Sarah and Dax load the last few supplies into the van, including her camera bag.
Both sets of PARENTS watch on the brink of tears. Their babies are leaving… Definitely a bit of empty nest syndrome setting in. Sarah’s parents may feel it more keenly since Sarah is their only child. Sarah’s mom is already crying and buries her face in her husband’s work shirt. He’s off to his mechanic job after this. Sarah’s used to him working weekends. He always has. They are close and have been since she was a little girl… Cut from the same cloth. Everyone says she looks exactly like him. While her mother, has always been something of a mystery to her.
Kat and Allison are there for the send-off as well. Kat gives them both a joint hug. “I can’t believe you are really doing this.”
Allison joins in. “I’m so jealous.” They wrap up the hugging and step back for the parents to say goodbye.
Sarah’s Mom has tears in her eyes but has managed to stop the sobs temporarily, when she steps closer to Sarah. “Be safe, and call me to let me know where you are.”
Sarah hugs her and wipes a tear from her mom’s cheek. “Don’t cry, Mom. I promise to call.” They hug.
Her Dad approaches next. He embraces Sarah without a moment’s hesitation. “I love you, Sweet Pea.” He hasn’t called her that since she was in grade school. Sarah has to catch the tears in her throat.
Dax’s Dad steps up to Dax and whispers in his ear. “You know in my day, you’d marry the girl first.” He gives his son a big bear hug.
Dax smiles. “I plan on it Dad. Just have a few items to check off the list first.” They part and his Dad pats him on the back.
Dax’s Mom sobs. She starts to say something but chokes on her words. Dax grabs her into a hug. “I know Mom. I love you too.” He kisses her forehead.
Both sets of parents stand back as Sarah and Dax get into the van. They smile and wave as the van backs out of the driveway. Dax’s Mom calls out to them. “Take care of each other.”
PRESENT DAY… It’s early morning in the ICU waiting room. Sarah still sits on the hard plastic chairs. She’s been there all night. She tried to get a few minutes of sleep, but it just wouldn’t come. The cold cup of coffee in her hand, is untouched.
Footsteps approach again, and her nerves jump. She looks up. But it’s only someone going to the vending machine again. She fixes her gaze back on the cold cup of coffee.
A few moments later… More footsteps. This time there are two muffled voices and female sobs getting closer. Sarah slowly looks up as they sit in the chairs across from her. It’s Dax’s Mom and Dad, now older in their late 60’s, but still the tear-stained faces of when she last saw them. This time, however, the tears are more severe and with good reason.
Sarah doesn’t say anything at first, in part because she is stunned. But the main reason is that she’s not quite sure what to say. How would she explain this? Why is she even here? But while she contemplates her words, Dax’s Mom looks up and immediately recognizes her. “Sarah? What in the world?”
Sarah nods in a half catatonic state, but manages a weak smile. They look puzzled while they try to compute. Is she an apparition? But after a moment, Dax’s Mom quickly gets up and rushes across the room to hug her. “Sarah.”
Dax’s Dad follows and hugs her as well. “Have you been here all night?”
Dax’s Mom has her hands cupped over her mouth. She still can’t believe that Sarah is standing in front of them. “How did you know?”
Sarah shakes her head unable to form the words. For the first time since the shock of last night, the reality of the situation hits and Sarah starts to cry. Dax’s Dad puts a comforting hand on Sarah’s shoulder and guides her to a chair.
Sarah wipes the tears from her face and takes a breath. “I was driving on the road from the opposite direction. There was a fallen tree in the rain. I heard a crash. I got out to see. And it was Dax. I called 911 and …”
Dax’s Mom gasps. “You’re still taking care of each other.”
Dax’s Dad takes a deep breath. “Was he awake when you found him.” Sarah shakes her head. “So, he doesn’t even know you’re here?” Sarah shakes her head again as she chokes back more tears. No point mentioning that brief moment he opened his eyes. At this point, she wasn’t even sure it happened.
Dax’s Mom puts a comforting hand on Sarah’s knee. “And Beth?”
Sarah doesn’t recognize the name, but then realizes that is must be the poor woman on the passenger side. Sarah shakes her head but doesn’t say a word.
The tears begin again for Dax’s Mom. Dax’s Dad feels the need to explain further. “Her parents are flying in from California. They should be here in a few hours. She was a nice girl.”
That explains a few things. Dax must have met her when he was living there. Sarah had stopped trying to find out information on Dax years ago. It was too painful to know that he had moved on and was happy. It was much easier for her to imagine that he was frozen in time somewhere.
Dax’s Mom speaks through sobs. “They were driving home from visiting us.” Sarah swallows the lump in her throat. Dax’s Mom must realize because she pats Sarah’s knee. “I’m so glad that you’re here. Like a piece of him is sitting with us.”
Dax’s Dad turns the focus to more practical matters. “Have you seen the doctors this morning?”
Sarah shakes her head. “No. They won’t tell me much.” Dax’s Mom’s sobs grow. Dax’s Dad gets up to embrace his wife. Sarah can feel herself losing control of the lump in her throat and quickly stands. “Let me get you both something. Coffee? Water? I haven’t eaten. I’ll go to the cafeteria.”
Dax’s Dad looks at her while still comforting his wife. “That’s okay, we’re fine. Why don’t you go? You need to keep your strength up if you’ve been here all night.” He notices her bandaged arm for the first time. “You’re hurt.”
Sarah looks at her arm then waves it off as inconsequential. “It’s nothing. Just a scratch from the broken glass. Are you sure I can’t get you anything?”
He nods. “We’ll be fine.”
Sarah wanders down the cafeteria line with an empty tray. She’s not really focusing on the task at hand. She just needed to get away from the waiting room and Dax’s parents. It was too much.
She’s exhausted but can’t sleep. She’s starving but can’t eat. Her head is about to explode with memories but she can’t turn her brain off. She impulsively grabs an orange juice and walks to the cashier.
THE PAST… The van is parked at a wooded roadside rest stop. Sarah wakes in the back, which has been converted into a plush bed. They were sure to grab every blanket and pillow they could before they left home, and it sure did the trick. The sun peeks through the curtains that they rig on the windows at night for privacy. Sarah stretches just as Dax opens the driver’s side door holding two cartons of O.J. “Vending machine’s finest.”
Sarah smiles and climbs into the passenger seat. He hands her a carton and kisses her on the forehead.
Sarah takes a swig. “Where are we?”
Dax pulls out the map. “Not sure exactly, but somewhere in North Carolina or maybe West Virginia.” He laughs and turns on the ignition. They roll out the driveway of the rest area when Dax pauses. “So which way today?”
Sarah looks both ways down the road, then points right. “That way.”
Sarah fumbles with the radio to get some good road music. Nothing but country is coming in. Dax gently shuts it off and smiles.
Sarah laughs and takes another swig of her juice. After a mile or two, the road seems to be covered with some kind of cloud or swarm in the distance. Sarah squints through the windshield. It’s not like her vision isn’t perfect, but somehow she thinks it might make it clearer.
Dax slows the car as they near. The closer they get, they realize that it’s a cloud of butterflies. He slows even further. They look at each other and then back out the window in amazement.
Butterflies start to ping the windshield. One gets lodged in the windshield wiper. Sarah screams. “Stop. Stop. We’re killing them.” Dax stops the car in the middle of the road. It’s not like anyone else is on it. Sarah gets out.
She gently dislodges the injured butterfly and places it in the grass. It clings to a long blade. Sarah turns to Dax, who is now beside her. A tear runs down her cheek. Dax wipes it with a smirk. “My sensitive butterfly.” Sarah slaps him in the arm with a smile. The butterflies encircle them in a sea of blue and black.
Sarah is captivated. “What is this?”
Dax raises his hands gently in the air as the wings kiss them. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Sarah takes a step closer to Dax and raises her hands next to his. They laugh as the wings tickle their arms.
Later, they would find out that it was a massive butterfly migration that happened every year in this very spot. They vowed to return there someday… But they never did.
They stand among the butterflies for half of the day, until most had move past them. A few take a breather in Sarah’s hair and Dax has to gently untangle them and send them on their way.
It’s a charmed life for the two of them. The only rule to this trip is that they stick to the side roads and bi-ways… and always choose the road less traveled.