[10:58 p.m.]

“Hey!  Thanks for the ride home!” he yelled against the wind and into the window as he bent over, blocking the rain from the red-striped cloth seats.


As the lightning flashed I could see his eyes smiling down at me.  “Are you sure you’ll be ok?  It’s getting pretty late.  Maybe you should just come back with me?”


“I’ll be fine, I’m a big boy,” he stated proudly as I stuck my tongue out at him.  “Nobody’ll mess with me.  You on the other hand…”  My smack to his shoulder effectively stopped the rest of the comment but did nothing for the smirk on his lips.


“Are you sure?” I tried again.


“Honey,” his deep brown eyes, crinkled at the corners, grinned into mine, “it’s just a two minute walk.  I have to get into the building and up to my apartment.” 


“Ok…ok”, I grumbled with a grin as I shifted into first gear.  He already knew it was a crappy part of town.  No need to remind him.  “Don’t think I won’t haunt you if I die on the way home because somebody wasn’t here to keep me awake!” 


“Pucker up gorgeous, I’m getting soaked out here,” stated my brown-haired, overgrown teddybear of a boyfriend.  He leaned in and gave me a kiss that was warm despite the cold weather.  How I got so lucky as to find him I’ll never know.


As he pulled out of the window I gave him my best smile.  “I love you baby and I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said.  “Please drive safely and go slow.  I don’t want you hydroplaning.” 


“I love you too, Ben, and thanks for worrying about me.  It’s not that far.  I’ll be good.” 


I watched his beautiful bubble butt wrapped up in his favorite pair of 501’s trot away as I slowly counted to fifteen.  “Thirteen…fourteen..." as I approached fourteen-and-a-half I watched as Ben paused and glanced around.  I couldn’t help but squirm to get a better view as I waited impatiently for my “air-born” kiss.  Laughing at his antics, I watched with lovestruck awe as he slowly and meaningfully stared at me and gave me the kiss I wanted.  He laughed as I screeched and grabbed my kiss from the air before he bent low into a beautiful bow.  He flashed one last smile at me and then turned away once more, trotting quickly into the rainy night. 

I had one last glance at his beautiful smile as he grinned over his shoulder at me from fifty feet away.  ‘Damn I love that man!' I couldn’t help but think as I pulled onto the street and towards the intersection of Grover and Jackson.


Listening to the blinker as it sharply announced my left-hand turn at the stoplight, I had to stifle a yawn as I watched the cars go past me. 


I couldn’t help but be a little bit miffed about Ben’s decision to go to his apartment.  ‘Alone,' I thought with a somewhat snippy sigh.  So what if I agreed that we both were far more productive alone than when together.  ‘I sleep better when he’s with me!’  my mind silently argued, and it was true.  I always felt so much safer when Ben was near me, and it was only a few more weeks until I graduated and ‘we would move in together' I thought with a tired smile.


As the light turned green, I pulled out into the intersection without looking.  Thank God the other driver was!  Hearing the horn blaring, I slammed on my brakes.


"You dirty little son of a monkey’s dad-blasted green uncle!" I swore at the fiery red Trans Am as it flew past me.  "Holy Fucking Shit!" I screamed as I thought about taking down their license plate number, but the rain must have blurred the plates because I couldn’t make it out.  "I’m calling Ben as soon as I get home!" I continued my rant as I thought of all the things Ben would be saying right now as I finished my turn onto Grover.


Adrenalin pumping, I had a sudden urge for a non-fat mocha from Starbucks.  ‘Why not?' I thought to myself.  ‘It’s a twenty minute drive home with a ton of homework waiting for me when I get there.  Besides, I almost just died. I could definitely use the caffeine,' I thought with a smile.


"Wow!  There must be a game somewhere or something," I muttered to myself as I took note of the heavy traffic.  Good grief, this was going to take forever and all I wanted was my latte! 


'Bloody Hell!'


I nearly jumped out of my skin as I glanced into the car next to me.  The driver was dressed as a werewolf and his passenger was a vampire


"What on earth is…"


Looking to my right I saw a gaunt man walking a bloodied child wearing a hospital gown. 


‘Oh!’ I couldn’t help but laugh as my epiphanized light bulb nearly blinded me.  ‘It’s October!  I bet there’s an early Halloween party somewhere!  That’s why the traffic’s so heavy!’  


Slapping my forehead I quickly turned my blinker on and took a right.  As I turned under the big green and blue sign that proudly stated “STARBUCKS”, I thought about calling Ben again when I got home.  I was just bursting with the need to talk to him!  I could hear his laughter as I imagined telling him how scared I was when I first looked into that car’s window!  He always watched the news so I was sure he would have heard of some party going on in the city tonight.


'Come on!  Why the hell is there a line at 11:15 p.m.!  Go to bed, people!  I need to call Ben!'


Bouncing in my seat, I debated my promise to Ben about cell phones.  A long time ago, when we first started dating, he made me promise to never talk on my cell phone while driving.  He was horribly afraid I’d become distracted by him 'oh the ego' and get into some big accident.  Laughing to myself, I knew he’d hang up on me 'the twit!' and that I would be better off waiting.

“What can I get for you tonight?” clamored the mechanical voice, effectively ending my cell phone battle. 


“Hi!  I’ll have a Grande, non-fat Pumpkin Spice latte please.  Oh!  Can I have that with sugar-free syrup please?”  My taste buds began to tingle at the thought, anticipating the smooth, warm concoction that would soon be coating my tongue.


“I’m sorry ma’am, but we don’t carry that syrup as sugar-free.”


“That’s ok.  Can I have that without whipped cream as well?”


“Certainly.  That’ll be $4.11.  Please pull around.”


After paying the pimple faced teenager and gulping my first mouthful of pumpkin, I pulled out onto the highway and headed home.  Thinking of home reminded me again of the work I needed to get done yet before I went to bed.  I was nearly finished with my Bachelors degree in Business Management and as soon as I put the finishing touches to this last project I’d have my minor in Art History.  Ben had been promising me, alright teasing me, for months that as soon as I graduated we’d get married.  Smiling again, I thought of how I teased him, 'no moving in together unless there was a bright shiny object on my finger!'   




Why did all of my thoughts always lead to him?  I stifled another yawn with a giggle as I thought 'All roads lead to Ben!'  It’s just that I’d never imagined I’d find someone so perfect for me. 


Sometimes I thought I’d wake up and find it all a dream.  I used to worry about being alone forever or even worse, I thought with a shudder, 'having to settle'.  Then I met Ben, my very own “tall, dark, and handsome”.  He had all of the qualities that I felt were important; he was incredibly kind and gentle, protective but so very sweet, and always made me laugh.  'Not only was he sexy as hell,’ I thought with a grin, 'but he got bonus points for always opening doors for me!'  That was such a rare quality in men these days. 


I asked him once, fully expecting a flippant answer, 'how many kids he wanted when he grew up', but he looked at me with a serious expression and said “At least two, maybe more.  I don’t want them to be lonely or to grow up spoiled.” 


'So yes!' I thought, 'I will marry him when he asks me!' 


I don’t know how many times now I’ve told myself that.


'That is so odd!' I thought as I noticed how the traffic seemed to just disappear.  I wasn’t that far out of town, maybe only a mile or so, but now there wasn’t a soul to be seen.  I would definitely have to ask Ben if he’d seen anything about a party or concert going on tonight. 


Feeling a little spooked about the lack of cars on the road, I notice a twinge in my lower back.  'Good thing I kept that chiropractor appointment,' I thought as I polished off my latte, rubbing my lower back. 


'Where’s the yard light?' I asked myself.


I lived about fifteen miles outside of town and by now I should be able to the yard light.  If there was a power outage there was no way in hell I was staying out here by myself!  Ben knew I was scared of the dark.  Grinning shakily, I thought how he’d react if I told him 'he’d just have to suck it up and let me stay with him!'


'Ouch!' my mind hollered as a pain stabbed into my back. 


'Gallstones?' I wondered. 


Wasn’t I too young for those? 


Ok, next intersection I would turn around.  If I was going to be sick, I knew I’d rather be with Ben.  He always knew how to make me feel better.  Whether it was soup, massages, or just holding me, somehow he always made the pain go away. 


“Son of a gun!” I moaned out loud as the pain suddenly became more intense. 


“I don’t care about that promise, honey I have to call you,” I said, stretching for my purse and ultimately my phone. 


I knew if I could just reach my phone, he’d come and find me and make this all better.  Tears running down my face I couldn’t reach my purse…



*        *        *



[11:02 p.m.]

“Noooooo!  Oh my God!  Vanessa!” 


Ben?  Why was he screaming?  I didn’t call him, I couldn’t reach him.  So why was he here?  Maybe he followed me?  No, I know he didn’t.  What’s going on? 


"Oh God!  Please make that pain go away!" I moaned into Ben’s warm hand.


Feeling him tap on my cheek, “Vanessa!  Speak to me honey!”


I tried to open my eyes and tell him to stop it. 


“Honey, please wake up!”


I tried to do as he asked, but my eyes were just too tired.  I smiled softly, hearing the sirens in the distance.  I knew my Ben was with me.  He must have stopped shouting as I could no longer hear him, but I knew he’d hold me till my back felt better, he always did.



*        *        *



On the front page of The Herald the following morning it was stated that at precisely 11:02 the night before, a fatal two vehicular accident occurred at the intersection of Grover and Jackson Street.  Driver Vanessa Raymehn was struck on the driver’s side by a vehicle driven by a minor male whose identity is being withheld.  It is believed that Raymehn pulled out in front of oncoming traffic and that alcohol did not play a part in this accident.  Both drivers were reported to have been wearing seatbelts. 


Raymehn was pronounced dead at the scene with cause of death listed as severe head trauma and multiple blunt force injuries.  The driver of the second vehicle was transported to Memorial Hospital where he is listed in fair condition. 


Services for Raymehn are pending.