PRESENT DAY… Sarah sits in the ICU waiting room with her feet propped up on the chair next to her and her head resting on her knees. She touches the blue and black butterfly tattoo on her ankle.
So many memories, trapped within her… So many emotions. She just needs to know that Dax is okay. Once she knows that, she will be content to walk away and leave him to his life, knowing that there is more of it for him to live.
Dax’s parents still sit across from her. They all look exhausted. The silence while waiting for news is deafening. And once again, it’s broken by footsteps.
They all look up. This time it’s the doctor. Sarah sits up straight. Dax’s mom and dad stand to greet him.
The doctor motions for them to sit and he takes the seat next to him. That can’t be good. Sarah moves to the edge of her seat and her hands clinch the sides involuntarily.
Dax’s Dad can’t stand the suspense. “How is he, doctor?”
The doctor takes a breath before he answers. “He’s still in critical condition. Dax suffered severe head trauma.”
Dax’s Mom does a poor job of controlling her sobs.
The doctor waits for her to catch her breath and continues. “The good news is, all of his vitals are stable. We’ll know more in a few hours.”
Sarah looks at the doctor for some sign of reassurance and calls from across the room. “What will we know?”
The doctor looks at her and then at the family. “If he’ll wake up.” He turns back to Dax’s Dad. “I’ll keep you posted.” The doctor rises and departs down the hallway.
They all sit in shocked silence. Sarah feels she could be knocked off her chair with a feather. She clinches the sides to keep herself upright.
Dax’s Dad comforts his wife, when another older couple approaches. Dax’s Dad spots them and he rises to greet them.
Dax’s Mom follows shortly after and embraces Beth’s Mom, both women collapse into tears. Dax’s Dad puts a comforting hand on Beth’s Dad’s shoulder. He’s obviously distraught over the death of their daughter.
Between the tears, Beth’s Mom looks at them. “Why did this happen?” She crumples back into tears.
Dax’s Mom consoles her. “We’re so sorry, so very sorry. We all loved her.”
Beth’s Dad looks at them. “How’s Dax?”
Dax’s Dad sits. His legs are feeling the weight of the situation. “He’s still in critical condition, but he hasn’t regained consciousness.”
They all take seats in a row.
Sarah suddenly feels very out of place. She has no right to be here. This is a very private moment and one that she has no right to. She needs to find a way to quietly slip out. But it’s too late. Beth’s Dad notices Sarah looking at them with concerned eyes.
Dax’s Dad follows his gaze. “This is Sarah. She’s a friend of the family. She’s the one that found them.”
Beth’s Parents suddenly look at her more intently… Almost deperate for her to shed some light on the last moments of her daughter’s life. They begin their fervent questions. “You found our Bethie? Was she awake when you found them? Did she say anything? Was she in pain?”
Sarah feels the overwhelming need to flee. She doesn’t have any answers that will ease their pain. And their simple presence makes her all-the-more aware of her own. “I’m sorry. She was gone when I got there. I just called 911.”
Beth’s Dad looks at her with a more scrutinizing eye. “Did you know our Beth and Dax?”
The lump in Sarah’s throat grows. “I never met Beth. I’m sorry for your loss.”
Beth’s Dad’s eyes narrow a bit further. “And Dax? How do you know him? Do you live in the area.”
Dax’s Dad notices Sarah’s discomfort and intervenes. “I know. It’s all a very strange twist of fate. We haven’t seen Sarah in years. We’re just fortunate that it was someone we knew that found them.”
Sarah can see more questions on Beth’s Dad’s face but speaks before another one is broached. “I should leave you all to talk. Can I get anyone anything from the cafeteria?” They all shake their heads. Sarah takes her leave.
She walks briskly away from the waiting room. She breathes heavy trying to fight back the emotions near eruption. The last twenty-four hours have been surreal. She’s suddenly faced with the man she has pined for over a decade and the intense fear that he might not survive. Being there has brought back a flood of memories that bring all of those feelings to the surface, the one’s that she’s so carefully locked away for years.
But now, to top it all off, she’s faced with the reality that he moved on… When she didn’t. He married, maybe even experienced the same intense love with Beth. And her walking, talking, breathing parents are right in the other room. All she wants at this moment, except to know that Dax will live, is to run away.
THE PAST… Sarah and Dax sit on the hood of the van at a roadside overlook in the middle of the Utah basin. Everywhere the eye can see there are red rock plateaus, craggy canyons and sharp platelets that literally jut out of the land like they crash-landed.
There is not another car or person in sight for hundreds of miles. And the wind is the only thing they can hear on this cloudless day.
Sarah breathes it in. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Dax puts his arm around her. “It’s beautiful.”
Sarah leans into him. “It’s perfect.”
Dax kisses her head. “Thank you.”
Sarah smiles. “For what?”
Dax holds her closer. “For taking this adventure with me. The greatest adventure of my life.”
Sarah looks up at him. “You make it sound like it’s finished.”
Dax slides her around to face him. They sit crossed-legged facing each other. “Never. It will never be.”
Sarah smiles and slides a bit closer to him. “Are you worried that we feel this way because of the adventure? And if we stop…”
Dax leans in and kisses her softly so she won’t finish the sentence. Her lips are warm with an open invitation for him. He looks into her eyes and pulls her even closer so that her legs rest on his. He leans his forehead against hers and inhales. “I love you. That will never stop.” He kisses her again.
The beauty that surrounds them is nothing compared to what she feels inside. “I love you too.” She had been waiting to hear and say those words for so long.
They kiss again, the sweet lingering slow kiss that would burn in their memories forever.
THE PRESENT DAY… Sarah kneels in front of a small alter inside the hospital chapel. Her head is in her hands. Her tears can flow more freely here. She talks aloud softly. “If you’re listening, let him wake up. I know it seems selfish… since I want him to open his eyes and live, more than anything. But he deserves a full and happy life, even if I’m not in it. I’ll even walk away, if you need me to prove it. But please don’t end it here. Please.”
Sarah’s head drops further, until the tears stop. When she finally turns to exit, she finds Dax’s Dad standing near the door.
He’s grateful that Dax had someone in his life that would hold on to him so tightly for so long. “I didn’t want to interrupt.”
Sarah is a bit embarrassed. “How much did you hear?” She wipes the tears from her cheeks.
Dax’s Dad smiles. “I heard nothing.”
Sarah smiles thankfully, even though she doesn’t believe him. He places a hand on her shoulder as they turn to leave. “We always loved you Sarah.” He leans in to whisper in her ear. “And so did Dax.”
Sarah inhales a shaky breath, as they step into the hallway. They take the long walk back to the waiting room. In some ways, Sarah is relieved that someone knows how she feels. At least she wouldn’t have to bare this burden alone. And his Dad is as understanding as they come.
The walk couldn’t be long enough, as far as Sarah was concerned. Her stomach is in knots knowing that she’d have to look into the faces of reality. But ultimately, the greatest torture is the waiting… Waiting for good news. Hoping to avoid bad.
They reach the waiting room to find Dax’s Mom all smiles. “The doctor came back. He’s been moved out of ICU. He still hasn’t woken up, but they are hopeful.” Dax’s Dad embraces her.
Sarah can feel her shoulders relax with some small measure of relief. Thank God. Now all he has to do is wake up. And she knows he will. He has to.
Dax’s Mom looks at everyone. “The doctor said we can see him in an hour. One at a time. It’s been about an hour.”
A tear of relief trickles down Dax’s Dad’s cheek, as he looks at his wife. “You go first, love. I’ll go as soon as you return.” She nods and hurries off.
Beth’s Dad gives Dax’s Dad a joyous pat on the shoulder. “That’s great news. Great news.” A sadness veils his face as he realizes that he would never again be given such hopeful news about his own daughter.
Beth’s Mom looks at Sarah. “You’ve been here all night. You look exhausted. Why don’t you go get some rest. We can take it from here.”
Sarah looks anxiously at Dax’s Dad, who understands. “No. We’d like her to stay… If that’s okay with you, Sarah?” Sarah nods in relief. Beth’s Mom and Dad are too drained to think more about it.
One by one they each leave to pay a visit to Dax’s room. Each time, Sarah is left with her own anxiousness. When the last of the parents returns, Dax’s Dad turns to Sarah. “You’re next.”
Sarah’s eyes well up, but she sucks back the tears. She responds in barely a whisper. “Are you sure?” Dax’s Dad nods.
Sarah makes her way to the elevator, each step full of nerves. She knows he’s not awake and he’ll never know she’s there, but she still can’t stop the nerves. And if she’s being honest, she’s partly afraid of what she’ll do when she sees his face again. Not as she did in the shock of the accident, but in a room alone with her emotions and his face. She rides the elevator to the third floor and has half a mind to go back down when the doors open. But she swallows her nerves and steps toward his room.
Sarah enters. It’s full of life monitoring machines and IV racks… but most of all, it’s full of DAX, unconscious on a bed at the center. Tubes feed into both arms.
She steps slowly closer as the tears roll down her cheeks. She stands next to his bed and studies his face for a moment before she sits in the chair next to it. “Oh Dax.” She touches his arm. “I didn’t think I’d see you again.” She can’t control the tears. They just come. “Please don’t leave yet. Not like this.”
His breath is steady and the beeps of the machines match its rhythm. She brushes her hand across his cheek. She knows it’s ridiculous to hope, but maybe if she kissed him… She stands over him and leans down to gently brush his lips with hers. Then she whispers in his ear. “I’ve always loved you.” She waits for a few seconds, but there is no response… just his steady breathing.
It was worth a shot. She moves to walk away, when suddenly his arm extends and grabs her wrist. The machines go crazy. She looks at him, but his eyes are still closed. Then he speaks. “Sarah.”
Sarah bends closer to him. “Dax? Dax?” But he’s still unconscious.
Sarah screams for the nurse, who rushes in. By then, his arm has dropped back at his side revealing a blue and black butterfly tattoo on his wrist. Sarah steps back to give the nurse room to work.
The nurse resets the machines so the alarms cease. “What happened?”
Sarah breathes heavy. “He grabbed my wrist and spoke.”
The nurse shines the pen light in his eyes. “What did he say?”
Sarah swallows hard. “My name.”
The nurse checks his pulse. “Did he open his eyes?” Sarah shakes her head.
The nurse looks at the monitor’s print out. “He must have been dreaming, but that’s a great sign.” The nurse takes a look at Sarah who looks a bit pale. “Are you okay? Maybe you should sit down.”
Sarah shakes her head. “I’ll be fine.”
Sarah returns to the waiting room, still looking a bit pale. Dax’s Mom notices her first. “What happened?”
Sarah takes a seat. “He grabbed my arm and spoke.”
Dax’s Mom looks ecstatic. “He woke up?”
Sarah shakes her head. “The nurse said he was dreaming.”
Dax’s Dad looks hopeful. “What did he say?”
Sarah looks him in the eyes. “My name.”
Dax’s Mom sits next to her. “And you’re sure he didn’t wake up.”
Beth’s Mom both hopeful and nervous. Hopeful that Dax might be well, but nervous about what Sarah’s presence implies. “Well then he must have woken up. He must have seen you in the room. Why else would he say your name?”
Sarah nods without another word.