Part 3 of the Elizabeth series. If you haven't read the first two parts, you can access them either through these links or through the stories tab at the top of the page. This is the third narrative perspective. Next week will be from the first perspective again, and the story will continue through one more cycle of each perspective. 6 sections total. Enjoy.
He had fallen asleep in the passenger seat. She thought he looked even more innocent than he did when he was awake. Even though he had just turned seventeen, she still saw him with the same shining halo around his head as she did when he was a small boy. That circle glowed. It sparkled with the purity only the love of a mother can illuminate. As a car shifted lanes behind them, she glanced into the rearview mirror. Her circle wasn’t pure. It swallowed her eye and festered with guilt. A stain on her face, the black and sallow ring was the breaking point. Her breaking point. She could still see him standing over her. Yelling at her. “Get up, Laura. You ain’t hurt.” David, I’m bleeding. He had shaken her foundations, but now over a thousand miles from home, she finally felt that she could start over.
“Where are we?” the boy asked as he woke, squirming under his seatbelt in an attempt to sit upright again.
“Just passing Flagstaff.”
“Arizona.” Since leaving Atlanta, they had spent more time in silence than in conversation. When she thought about it, not much had been said in their house in the past few years, and if it had been said it had been yelled. She found his sleepy questions deeply calming.
“She’s going to be there.” He had repeated the sentence a dozen times since they had left, and tears still filled her eyes when she heard his optimism. She knew there was little chance his sister would be in California, much less near Stanford, but she couldn’t bring herself to cast a shadow on his hope. Despite her daughter’s acceptance to the school, she would never have been able to pay tuition. Besides, she had left nearly a month ago. Even if she had made it to California, would she still be there? Better to show confidence for him, though. For them both. He had shown her how precious hope was and she did her best to learn from him, but sometimes she found it hard to see through the dark circles to the light hovering so far away.
The note was more of an apology than a letter. I love you. I’m sorry. Just below the two lines she had signed the note in loose, delicate script. Elizabeth, the letters so soft they might have blown off the paper with a slight breeze.
David had tossed the note to the ground when he found it on the kitchen counter. They both knew the words were not intended for him. Laura didn’t know if the words upset him or if he could even comprehend their meaning, but she had kept the note and taped it to the top of the windshield before she and Will had left.
The more she looked around, the more Laura realized how different Arizona and Georgia were. They had been driving for two days and the desert air just tasted cleaner. She had even started to welcome the monotony of driving endless hours, to be alone with her boy, the one child she had left.
Until a month ago, the thought of leaving Georgia would have pulled every muscle in her body taut, like the strings of an instrument tuned over-sharp and threatening to snap with the slightest of movements. She may have found it easier to sleep at night on David's mattress of broken bottles, and Will’s back had as many scars as hers, but she refused to let her husband cripple him, too. Reaching up, she touched the word love on the letter scotch-taped to the windshield and pressed her fingers to her lips.
A flash of silver brought her hand forcefully back to the steering wheel. A small Honda was merging into her lane. She spun the wheel hard to the right and locked her other arm in front of Will’s chest. She had overreacted. The car shook violently as the wheels met grass instead of pavement. They were tipping, then for a few seconds, trapped in a cage of crumpling metal and the shrill ringing of shattering glass.
When they stopped moving, a moment of peace enveloped her, a flat-line before the world began beating furiously. Two hands helped her from the car. Her eyes darted back and forth, searching for balance, and then for Will. She could hear him, but she couldn’t find him.
“Call 911,” a man’s voice hovered around her ear. Laura watched the blurred silhouette of a woman scurry away and the ambulance arrived moments later.
Even though she was in pain, she could tell that their hands were gentle as they carried her away. Will was walking with them, and he was alright. The people filed away from the scene, leaving only a pile of mangled metal and a piece of paper, its corners starting to curl slowly in the heat.