Title: The Jungle Within
Author: Charles M.
When Evan and Katie said “I do”, they expected to navigate life together side-by-side. But when a car accident and a tawdry affair disrupt life as they know it, Evan and Katie are forced to venture on alternate paths, alone. In the darkest depths of an unforgiving coma, Evan fights to survive the treacherous jungle of his mind. He embarks on a spiritual journey to understand the meaning of life and the beauty of death…forcing him to face his deepest fear. Meanwhile, Katie ventures through her own guilt. On a strenuous moral journey, she juggles the consequences of infidelity and the strain of caring for her unresponsive husband. But are their paths truly separate? Or are they simply on parallel journeys that are destined to converge?
For More Information
- The Jungle Within is available at Amazon.
- Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
As Evan coasted along Highway 50, the hills rolled alongside him. Fall oak brush set the canvas on a cold, winter afternoon. The old wooden-post fence along the road looked as though a strong breeze might blow it over. The overgrown grass reached the bottom wire of the fence and was a hybrid mix of greens and yellows. Not much else was alive in the patches of open grass among the crowded trees. In an hour there would be dew frozen to the grass, and the cold westerly wind would chill everything to a frozen standstill.
Evan cruised at a steady sixty-five miles per hour as he jammed out to Bob Seger’s “Still the Same.” It was his song in college and no matter how many times he listened to it, he never tired of it. Evan’s thumbs thumped on the steering wheel to the rhythm of the song as his head bobbed back and forth. He sang along in falsetto, which would have warranted many jeers from those unfortunate enough to be within earshot. His clunky car was a bit older than most, but it was his, bought and paid for, and he made good time in it. It cut through the winter air as the sun was starting to set. Long, dark shadows nearly covered the car, but a few streaks of light managed to break through the sky, reflecting the now-red sun.
Forty miles away a doe was bedded down in the deep scrub oak, getting ready to make her rounds in an all-night grazing-fest. She licked her front legs and cleaned her nose with her tongue. She took her time, as though there were no natural predators of which to be concerned. In this neck of the woods, the only thing she had to fear was man. Man and his gun and his automobiles. She rose slowly, stretched her back legs long, and shook her ears rather violently. If only humans could sleep so well and wake so gracefully. As she breathed out and perked up her big ears to locate danger, her hot exhale mixed with the cold air outside, producing a visible sign of her presence. The setting sun was dropping at a brisk pace, causing its rays to lose their power.
Evan had graduated from college and landed an entry-level position at a marketing firm. Within a few years his outgoing personality moved him higher up the food chain. Everything appeared to be great in his life except for one thing…he was unhappy. He didn’t seem to fit into the normal molds that most people did. He dared to be different. He had the feeling, deep inside him, that he was meant for greater things; he was meant to have an impact. Without knowing his purpose, he felt lost. The thing that motivated him the most was his search for that elusive answer. That, and his deepest, darkest fear. Evan blocked out those thoughts and recalled pondering life’s questions about where he belonged and what his destiny was when he met Katie. The woman who would be the love of his life.
Evan could picture that meeting like it was yesterday. He was staring at her from across the coffee shop. Katie had the most beautiful face, with big, round, brown eyes and fair skin. Her dirty-blonde hair had been lightened by the summer sun. She was bubbly, enchanting, and when she smiled at him, he knew. She bravely made the trek between the tables to ask him out. She was bold that day, and he was glad she was. Evan might not have made the moves on his own.
Evan was handsome. He was about six feet tall with marble-like blue eyes and light brown hair. He had a slender, but athletic figure. He looked like the all-American boy. He exuded confidence and always appeared in-command, but on the inside, he was shaking.
Theirs was a typical marriage that began with a nice beach wedding in Florida. Both families got along well enough, and Evan and Katie looked like the happy couple in the picture that comes with the frame. Meadows with white flowers, smiles as wide as the sky, and hands locked together as if welded. Not a blade of grass or hair out of place.
Shortly after graduating and getting married, Katie began her career as a government welfare officer for a program that provided less-fortunate families with housing and food. This may have been the main reason that they didn’t have any kids yet. It nearly broke her heart every time she saw those poor children with runny noses and stains all over their clothes. They looked at her and made her feel guilty for all that she had. She would look them in the eye briefly, and then drop her head, knowing it was a staring contest she could never win. The children’s eyes were hard and unwavering. Those cold little eyes struck something deep within her, and drove Katie to help others because she wanted to help herself. She wanted to fix other people’s problems because she wanted to fix her own.
Like all married couples, they’d changed in many ways those first few years. While Evan had maintained his all-American boy-next-door appearance, he’d begun to notice those early tell-tale signs he wasn’t a college kid anymore. Katie claimed to be ten pounds heavier than she wanted to be, but he could never tell. In a world where every eye judges like they’re God, Katie never seemed to feel like she measured up. Lack of self-confidence was her downfall. Evan never cared about any of her perceived shortcomings. He thought she was beautiful, as did most everyone else. He told her constantly that she was perfect and all that he ever wanted, but it never quite filled her need for attention from others. This was the reason that while Evan drove down the road, happy-go-lucky and high on life, Katie was in the corner of a dimly-lit bar having a drink and flirting with Dylan.
The sun was nearly setting while the deer moved east. Evan was headed due north. A car zoomed past Evan, the first one he’d seen in a while. He’d moved on from reminiscing and was in the middle of a daydream, hoping that one day he and Katie could have children. They were financially stable and the timing was right, but they never seemed to be able to get it done. Still, when he was alone in times like this, he often thought of what it would be like to throw a baseball with his son or take his daughter to ballet class, making it to every game and every recital without fail. Katie worked hard and often long hours, but Evan was the one practicing for the days of family suppers and game night.
While Evan drifted deeper into la-la land, the deer was fifty yards from the road to his left. She quickly lifted her head from grazing; something caught her attention. She sensed danger and her fight-or-flight response kicked in as she trotted off with graceful legs carrying her quickly. She jumped the old wooden fence with ease. A vibrating phone made a distinct rattling sound in Evan’s cupholder. He looked down to see a text from Katie. Dinner with the program directors tonight. Be home around 10. Love you. Just as Evan looked up, the deer was in the middle of the road, not more than twenty-five feet in front of him.
It seemed like everything happened in slow-motion. Evan slammed his head into the back of the headrest, his hands in a white-knuckle death-grip on the steering wheel. The deer stood frozen in the middle of the road. Evan’s immediate response was to turn the steering wheel hard to the right. As the car tires led the car to the right, obeying Evan’s command, the driver’s side mirror ever-so-gently brushed against the hair on the ear of the frozen female deer. The car whizzed by her and off into the ditch. She twitched her right ear as if only a fly had landed on it and gave the same look of disapproval that an old lady gives a kid who flies past her on his bike.
Evan was ejected from the car but managed to escape from it rolling on him. He was propped up against a pile of oak brush. His labored breathing resonated in the cold air around him. Blood from a cut on his eyebrow trickled down his face, running into his mouth. The twisting of metal and flinging of dirt was enough to scare the deer off. A squeak from a wobbly hubcap rubbing against a branch kept on and on as if the friction that should slow it down was miles away. The left headlight shined as bright as ever, illuminating the dust settling in the beam like sediments in a vintage wine. That same beam shone right on Evan, his warm breath clearly visible in the cold, dark night. It all happened so perfectly. It was surely meant to be, as if fate wouldn’t have it any other way.
Katie flagged down the waiter for another round of appletinis. She turned off her phone to eliminate any disruption in the evening’s events. She surveyed the room diligently, nodding in satisfaction. The bar was classy. Oak panels stained deep red layered the floor with matching rafters up above. It was the kind of place that lawyers and corporate business-types frequented. Tonight it was bustling with the usual crowd. Waiters played the dodging game, weaving in and out of groups perfectly without ever spilling a drop. As the waiter brought the drinks to the table, Katie shifted her weight and repositioned her legs. Whether or not she was aware of it, she moved ever-so-subtlety closer to Dylan. Katie had never cheated on Evan before, though she had come close a few times. Flirting and sending the wrong message to guys happened all the time with her. It made guys take chances that crossed the line with remarks and gestures most would consider inappropriate for a married woman. Katie desperately craved attention. The attention of any male in the room. Tonight she had Dylan’s.
Dylan was a smooth-talking man. His overall appearance reminded her of Evan, but with lighter hair and green eyes. The greenest of green. The initial conversation was mostly about work and where they saw themselves in their careers a few years down the road. Dylan was self-assured in a way Katie could only hope to be, and he had an air of sensuality about him that easily drew female attention. He knew exactly what he was doing, maintaining a casual demeanor. Dylan was no slouch, though. He knew Katie was married and didn’t care one bit. With the alcohol doing its thing, the talk got a bit more flirtatious, and the blood traveled from inside Katie’s body to the surface of her skin, where her cheeks flushed like the bloom of a spring rose.
“I need to visit the ladies’ room,” Katie said, taking the long way around the booth and crossing over Dylan. This was the closest they had ever been. He could smell her shampoo and for some reason, it turned him on more than any fine perfume could. It reminded him of something clean. Something pure. Something wholesome. All of which he fully intended to use to suit his own sinister designs.
“I’ll be waiting,” Dylan responded with a wicked grin. As Katie wiggled around Dylan’s lap and onto her own two feet, she straightened out her little black dress and checked her hair with her hand. Thank God you remembered to dress a little sassy on casual Friday. She was looking good tonight. Dylan knew it, the waiter knew it, and the group of stockbrokers she strutted by knew it. One even gave Dylan a once-over to see what was so special about him. Tonight, Katie could have any man in the world. She had swagger, she had confidence, and most importantly, she knew it. This powerful combination made Katie dangerous, but it was always short-lived because it always originated from the alcohol.
She pushed the double doors into the women’s restroom and made the ninety-degree right turn. She stood in front of the giant mirror, examining the woman looking back at her. Thoughts raced through her head as she decided if tonight would be the night she would cheat on Evan. He wouldn’t be home until late and long business dinners were not unusual for Katie. She could easily get away with it.
You can do this. You’re a beautiful woman with a gorgeous man who wants to show you some fun. There aren’t any kids to consider, and Evan will never know. You deserve this. She reapplied her shiny fruit-flavored lip balm, did a quick check of the left side, then the right side. You look good. Katie snatched her purse off the granite bathroom sink and made like she owned the place, her high heels clicking on the expensive marble tile as she left the restroom.
Dylan slouched slightly in his seat as he wondered what was taking so long. He saw Katie around the corner from the bathrooms and popped up tall, putting his arm on the back of the booth in an effort to appear smooth again. Dylan’s eyes were observing attentively, waiting to see what her next move was going to be. She sat down opposite him in the round booth and grabbed her appletini, swallowed the last of it in one big gulp, and whispered, “Let’s get out of here.” Dylan knew the small talk was over and his time had arrived, but he still had to reassure himself that this was actually going to happen. He couldn’t believe his luck. Dylan loved women. All shapes and sizes too. He had put more work into Katie than most, but only because she was married and seemed to need a little coaxing.
“Can I get you two another round?” the waiter asked.
“No, we’ll just take the check, thanks,” Dylan replied with a weak, underlying accent.
As Katie contemplated what was about to happen, the alcohol was taking over. Ever-so-slowly turning the shy and timid Katie into a glowing, confident, bona-fide woman. Dylan paid the tab and helped Katie put on his leather jacket. They eagerly stood up together in anticipation of the evening’s inevitable events. Dylan left the booth first and reached his hand out to help Katie down the small step. She graciously grabbed it. Contact.
“Shall we?” Dylan asked.
“Yes,” Katie responded quietly. It was such a simple answer for such a complicated situation. Dylan forcefully made his way through the crowd, nearly dragging Katie behind him. As they approached the exit, Dylan wrapped his arm around Katie. It was frosty out. The homeless man outside of the bar was shivering. Sucks to be out here in the cold. They walked past the man and up to the edge of the sidewalk to the well-timed arrival of a cab. Being the smooth man he was, Dylan opened the door and let Katie in first. He loosened his tie while looking around the street, in the same way a lion surveys for scavengers right before he consumes his prey. All clear.
“Downtown Grand, my good sir,” Dylan said as he ducked his head into the cab and closed the door.
Evan appeared lifeless, like a doll propped up in a chair. His skull was cracked right above his left eye and on the back of his head. Outside, it was twenty degrees and dropping fast. The blades of grass were frozen stiff, and the small breeze made it feel even colder. His body temperature began to cool down as he went into shock. The tires on his smashed-up vehicle had finally stopped spinning. Evan’s untucked Banana Republic shirt was littered with blood and dirt along with a few randomly-placed rips. In a cruel twist of fate, Evan’s phone laid face-up a few feet away from him, Katie’s text message still on the screen for all to see.
Brian Donagan was headed out of town and decided that the best route would be Highway 50. He was on his way to pick up his kids from his ex-wife. They swapped custody of them every other week per the agreement in the divorce. He never took this road but, as chance would have it, he decided to this night. Brian spotted a light pointed away from the road a few hundred yards up. It looked like somebody possibly poaching a deer. He slowed down to get a better view, and as soon he got close enough, he froze in realization of what it was. Brian grabbed his phone and immediately called 9-1-1, giving his location to the operator. Brian exited his vehicle only to recognize how cold it was outside. Like a scolded child, he ran back to grab his jacket.
“Anybody there?!” Brian shouted. He saw Evan right away, but hit his knees to check under the car for any other injured people. “Hello?!” Brian shouted. Nothing. He ran over to Evan, who was showcased by the perfectly-placed headlight. Brian noticed the swelling on Evan’s face. Evan looked like a boxer on the wrong end of a tough bout. Despite what he saw, Brian was somewhat calm. Moving rapidly, he took his coat off and gently placed it over Evan. He hesitantly checked for a pulse. “Oh God, please be okay…. Hello, sir? Fuck! Please be okay, man. Please be okay.” Brian felt a pulse. It was shallow, but it was there. He noticed the faint tufts of steam coming out of Evan’s nose, which made him feel stupid for looking for a pulse in the first place. “You’re going to be okay, man. The ambulance is on its way,” Brian whispered. The somewhat-calm from earlier had quickly come and gone.
Brian looked down for clues as to who this man was and Evan’s left hand caught his attention. He noticed Evan was wearing a wedding band on his left ring finger. It was gold with a big dent where it was struck hard by something, most likely in the accident. It was still on Evan’s finger, but noticeably damaged, along with Evan’s arm. Brian could see the bone sticking out of the blue and white striped shirt. He placed his hand on his own head and almost cried. “Oh shit. Please let this man live, Lord. Please.” Brian also noticed the cell phone on the ground with a cracked screen. He picked it up and stuffed the phone into the front right pocket of Evan’s shirt. By this time nearly thirty minutes had passed, and Brian was becoming more and more of a wreck. Trying to waste some time with something productive, he phoned his ex-wife to let her know what had happened and that he would be there as soon as he could. He knelt down next to Evan and wondered who this man was. Where was he going? What caused him to roll his car like this? All of these questions raced through Brian’s thoughts as he realized just how fragile life really was. He had never seen a dead person, and he certainly didn’t want to tonight. He continually looked for the breath escaping Evan’s mouth. Brian was scared and completely helpless. Finally hearing the faint sound of the ambulance in the distance growing louder, Brian’s head dropped in relief. He was in charge and felt responsible for whatever happened here until someone capable of providing treatment arrived. That may have been far from the truth, but he wouldn’t be convinced otherwise.
The ambulance was traveling in excess of eighty-five miles per hour, but every second Brian waited felt like an eternity. The big vehicle finally made it, pulling to a screeching stop, and Brian let out a sigh of relief. His hot breath turned to steam in the air and left his face cold.
“That’ll be thirty-seven fifty,” the cab driver said. Dylan extended his arm to pay the man with a fifty-dollar bill and told him to keep the change. He was on fire tonight and waiting for change was not on the docket. Katie was wrapped tightly in Dylan’s leather jacket as they walked into the entrance of the Downtown Grand. It was a tall, elegant building that rose above the street with windows taking in all the views that downtown had to offer. It had all the trimmings of an affair waiting to happen. They walked to the entrance and the bellhop swung the big door open with ease.
“Welcome to the Downtown Grand,” he said as he bowed with the grace of a Broadway star. They hardly noticed him as they blew right by, approaching the front desk smiling and playing.
“Stop,” Katie said with a devious smile as Dylan grabbed her ass. He took his hands off Katie and laid them on the desk. The name tag on the young clerk’s lapel read Natasha.
“Good evening. Welcome to the Downtown Grand. How may I help you?”
“Well…Natasha, we are weary travelers in need of shelter tonight,” Dylan said sarcastically.
“I think I can help you with that, how many nights?”
“Just one please,” Dylan said.
The keyboard clicks echoed in the large hotel entrance. As Natasha processed the request, Dylan’s eyes were locked onto his target. He grabbed Katie’s hand and kissed it. He just-so-happened to kiss her wedding ring. He never noticed, but Katie did, making her sick inside. She could have thrown up right there in the lobby but managed to hold it back. Her inner monologue gave her the confidence to shake it off without showing how she truly felt.
“Would you like smoking or non-smoking?” Natasha asked.
“Non-smoking please,” Dylan replied.
The keyboard noise continued on as Katie took in all the details of the spacious hotel lobby. This building. This is where it’s going to happen. Marble pillars in the entryway with a red carpet that led right up to the registration area. Can you think of somewhere better?
“I’ll need a driver’s license and a credit card to secure the room, which will be charged at checkout.”
Without a word, Dylan handed over his driver’s license and Platinum American Express card. As Natasha typed in Dylan’s information and ran the credit card, she stared at the screen, ignoring the public display that was happening between Dylan and Katie.
“There you go,” Natasha looked up and said with a smile. “Room 911. Elevators are right around that corner there. Can I help you with anything else?”
“As a matter of fact, you can,” Katie chimed in. “Send a bottle of your most expensive red to the room and put it on the bill,” Katie said with a smile.
“Sure thing, Mrs. Starks, and enjoy your stay,” Natasha said.
“I’m sure we will,” Dylan said.
Just like that, Katie Glover…AKA Mrs. Starks, was sacrificing five years of marriage for a smooth-talking man with a square jaw and broad shoulders. She knew the consequences, but she had already made up her mind. It would be almost too embarrassing to back out at this point. She eyed him as they left the elevator while walking arm-in-arm to the room. The key card slid in, and as Dylan removed it from the lock, the door made a clicking sound in conjunction with the little green light. Green for go. She blew out a deep breath in fear and anticipation.
Dylan, being the gentleman he was, held the door open as Katie walked in. He followed in behind her. Slowly turning around, he gently pushed the door closed. As the view into the hallway narrowed, the fantastic smile he was wearing widened.
Evan was still unconscious as Brian stood back in bewilderment. He had watched medical shows on TV, but in real life, the paramedics were speaking gibberish. He took in the moment and caught a few words here and there while they loaded Evan onto the stretcher. “Internal bleeding,” “subdural hematoma,” and “intracranial pressure” were among the fancy words that were being voiced. A paramedic stepped out of the ambulance and began getting the stretcher board ready. The female paramedic holding up an IV bag walked by Brian and glanced over at him. “You did well, sir.”
“Thanks,” Brian mumbled. He wanted to be proud of his efforts, but he knew he did nothing special. It was all happening too fast for him. The paramedics seemed to move effortlessly and didn’t seem to care about Evan. Brian assured himself that they did care, but that they had a job to do. Plus, they do it every day and had probably seen much worse, so it had to be routine.
By this time, a state police officer had shown up. The officer walked up slowly and started talking to the EMTs. The EMT that had thanked Brian earlier was pointing to him. The officer looked over, shook his head, and headed his way. For some reason Brian felt like he might be in trouble.
“I’m Officer Collins of the State Police Department. I need to get a quick statement from you, sir,” the officer said.
“Of course,” Brian replied.
Brian told the officer that he drove by and saw Evan’s car on its back and called 9-1-1. There wasn’t much else to tell. As Brian was talking to the officer, his gaze diverted to watch the team load Evan into the ambulance. The driver of the ambulance helped to get the stretcher in and then closed the door behind them. She jogged briskly around the ambulance, got in, and hit the sirens. They wasted no time in speeding off with their cargo.
Two EMTs and Evan together in the ambulance was definitely a crowd. The female EMT, Julie, was on the phone with the hospital nurse, reporting all of the information they had on Evan and their estimated time of arrival, about twenty minutes.
Evan did not look well. He had dark, black circles around both of his eyes, and his face was swollen to the point of being unrecognizable. His neck was stabilized in a brace, while his body rocked back and forth from the vibrations of the ambulance flying down the two lane road. Although his body moved from the external forces, his mind lay perfectly still.
The siren wailed on as the ambulance made its way into the city. They were headed to St. Mary’s Hospital downtown. Julie hung up the phone while her partner was taking vitals and recording them on a chart. They made a left turn onto Washington Boulevard to enter the ambulance access of the emergency room. As Julie and the other paramedic unloaded Evan, Father Elders ran out through the ER doors and into the cold air to meet the team. While they all rushed into the hospital, Father Elders jogged beside the stretcher and grabbed Evan’s hand and squeezed it. He had been around long enough to know that despite a person being unconscious, they can still feel love. After all, Father Elders wasn’t in the body business…he was in the soul business.
Katie walked meticulously around the room as if an inspection would ensure this place was good enough to cheat on her husband. She walked up to the window and started to close the big, heavy curtains. Maybe it was a subconscious effort to hide her intentions from the rest of the world. Dylan walked up behind her, put his hand on the small of her back, and began slowly rubbing her through her little black dress. Shivers went up her spine. While the caressing felt good, she couldn’t help but notice how the city below looked like a high-definition version of Pac-Man—the little cars with their lights moving around the maze. In all that was about to happen, Katie found space to wonder who they were and where they were all headed.
“Everything okay?” Dylan asked. Katie hesitated. This fantasy of other men was about to get real. Way beyond masturbating in bubble baths where she indulged her wildest fantasies with various men.
“Perfect,” she whispered, not moving her eyes from the window. “They look like ants down there, following some ordained path.”
Dylan grunted a half snicker. “Maybe they are ants. Have you ever seen how ants will take an injured or dead ant back to the nest and eat him?”
“Gross!” Katie laughed.
“It’s true. We are no different than them. All just animals.” As they enjoyed an awkward laugh, there was a knock on the door.
“Room Service!” the voice shouted.
Dylan reluctantly took his hand off Katie’s back so he could answer the door. It had taken him months to get his hand permission to be there and annoyed him slightly that he had to answer the door. He was greeted by a young man with the bottle of Ten Thousand Roses Merlot, two glasses, and a wine opener. Dylan set them on the counter next to the door and reached into his wallet, handing the young man a crisp five-dollar bill for his services. Dylan closed the door while grabbing all of the party favors at the same time. He wasn’t going to give Katie the chance to change her mind. As she stared outside, deep in thought, Dylan poured two full glasses of wine. He handed one to Katie and resumed his place next to her with the other glass in his hand. Katie looked beautiful holding the deep purple wine in the crystal glass, with the city lights glowing in the background.
“To the night, and whatever she may bring,” said Dylan as he held his glass up.
“To the night,” Katie echoed.
She raised her glass and tapped it delicately into his. A high-pitched clink resonated through the room with both of them taking bigger-than-usual swigs. They stood silently, enjoying the beautiful view of downtown once more, when from the left side of the window, an ambulance came into view. They watched its bright flashing lights weaving in and out of traffic as it made its way to St. Mary’s, finally coming to a stop. Dylan and Katie could see the paramedics racing feverishly around on the ground below.
“Look at the poor sap in that ambulance down there. Probably some old lady who fell down and broke her hip.”
Katie punched him in the arm jokingly. “You are so mean!” The ice was broken.
“Well, whoever it is probably didn’t expect to be headed to St. Mary’s tonight.” Dylan turned Katie’s face toward him and gave her a seductive grin. “But let’s not let it spoil our evening.”
Katie finished her wine quickly so it would do its work and numb her up. She sat the glass on the table, closed the curtain, and turned to Dylan. He grabbed her forcefully, just the way she liked it. Pulling her in for the kill. Their lips met and butterflies exploded throughout Katie’s body. Bliss. Dylan quickly undid the buttons on his dress shirt, starting from the top, then proceeded to remove the spaghetti straps holding up Katie’s little black dress. Once that was done, the dress slid off without effort. Just like that, beautiful Katie was standing there in her black lace bra with matching panties. She unbuttoned Dylan’s jeans and like a slow Texas two-step, he led her over to the bed, his tongue never leaving her mouth. Dylan was aggressive, but that was okay; that was his style, and she wanted it like that.
So many thoughts bounced around in her brain. So many thoughts, but none were of Evan or what he might be doing. For all she knew, he was pulling in a big pot at the poker game and taking a shot of whiskey to celebrate.
That notion couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Father Elders continued to hold Evan’s hand until they reached the emergency room. Once inside, he stepped aside to let the doctors do their jobs. A nurse began cutting Evan’s clothes off, placing them into a clear, plastic collection bag. Father Elders rummaged through Evan’s pockets and collected his wallet, cell phone and watch, then headed back to the nurse’s station.
“Here’s his insurance card. Please try to find a next of kin and phone number,” the priest directed.
“Right away, Father,” she responded.
Father Elders walked around the nurse’s desk and grabbed a small, plastic bin. He placed the phone along with Evan’s wallet and watch in the bin. He stuck a piece of white tape on and labeled it with a Sharpie, “Evan Glover,” and put it in one of the lockers in the storage shelf behind the nurse’s station. Meanwhile, the nurse typed away on the computer and grabbed a pen and a piece of scrap paper from the cluttered desk. She had found Evan in the insurance system with information on his next of kin. Writing the details down on a piece of paper, she handed it to Father Elders who took it and made the trip back to the emergency room to check on Evan’s status.
The ER was filled with chaos. People talking over each other and beeps filled the room. Evan was surrounded by moving bodies who were prepping him for emergency surgery. Father Elders left the room, making his way down the hall and across the lower floor to his tiny corner office. The old wooden door was labeled St. Mary’s Chaplain. It was painted a dark shade of green that might have been there since the first days of the hospital. He opened the door, turned on the light, and sat down at his desk. He let out a sigh, hesitating for a minute. This was by far the worst part of his job. In fact, his whole career consisted of things like this, but it never got easier for him.
Father Tyrell Elders grew up in an inner-city black neighborhood. He and his friend, Eli, were playing hopscotch one hot summer day on the sidewalk. Two local rival gangs had clashed two weeks’ prior, meaning the Black Rangers were out for revenge. That morning they rounded the street corner in their low-riding older model Chevy Malibu, causing kids and adults alike to flee. Everyone knew what was coming. Tyrell grabbed Eli by the hand and started running as gunfire rang out. A few seconds later Tyrell was suddenly yanked back. He turned around to tell Eli to hurry up. That’s when he saw Eli had caught a stray bullet in the neck. Tyrell fell to his knees, staying with Eli as the blood left his body, pouring out onto the sidewalk into a massive puddle that continued to grow for a full minute. Even at eight years old, no one had to tell Tyrell that Eli was dead. The memory of watching his best friend bleed out was one he would never forget. The haunting vision of that day was what ultimately prompted him to join the ministry. He mostly kept to himself after that, save for attending Our Lady of Sorrow Catholic Church every Sunday with his grandmother. He found comfort in the Lord, and it was the only way the eight-year-old Tyrell could make sense of what he had witnessed.
Father Elders slumped back in his chair and dialed Katie’s number, putting the phone to his ear. He immediately heard the voicemail message, “You’ve reached Katie. Please leave me a message and I will return your call as soon as possible. Have a great day.”
“My name is Father Tyrell Elders,” he began. “I’m a priest at St. Mary’s Hospital. I’m afraid Evan Glover was in a car accident and is currently in our care. Please come to the hospital as soon as you can.” He placed the phone back in its cradle wondering how many times he had to make that phone call. Father Elders bowed his head and started praying aloud.
“Dear Heavenly Father, I pray to you tonight for your child, Evan. Father, we cannot expect to know Your will, but please look upon Evan and his family with eyes of mercy. All-powerful and ever-living God, we trust You with our souls. We are prepared to face any trial on Earth that You deem us capable of enduring, taking solace in knowing that everlasting life with You awaits. In Your name we pray, Amen.”
Father Elders stood up and headed back to the nurse’s station to see if any additional information on Evan had emerged. He stared intently at the trauma team that was rolling Evan down the hallway toward the operating room. It was crucial that they relieve some of the pressure caused by swelling on Evan’s brain and address any other life-threatening issues immediately.
“A message has been left for his emergency contact. I’ll keep trying to get a hold of her,” Father Elders calmly told the nurse.
Katie was letting out dulcet moans, while Dylan grunted and quickened his pace, nearing orgasm. They had been at it for several minutes, shifting positions often until they found the one that gave them both the most pleasure. With Dylan now on top, Katie grabbed Dylan’s hips and pulled them closer in toward her as they both reached climax. The dance was over. Dylan slid off of Katie in intense relaxation, sweat dripping down both of their bodies. A deep exhale from Katie indicated her complete satisfaction. Boxes were checked off both of their lists. Dylan had bagged another hot woman. The fact that she was married was meaningless. And Katie had finally been fully satisfied by another man.
The guilt immediately took hold and swept over her in a frenzy. Katie nearly panicked with the comprehension of what she had just done. She wrestled with the internal chaos as she glanced over at Dylan. Dylan reached over to cuddle with her, but she wasn’t having it. Pushing him aside, she rose from the bed with a purpose.
“This is never happening again,” Katie said. She put a little extra emphasis on the word “never”.
“So you say…. I’m a charming man,” Dylan responded with a smirk.
“So you say,” Katie said playing along half-heartedly. She was ready to leave. This deceit was already taking its toll on her. She looked at the clock on the nightstand that read 11:30.
“Shit. I have to get home, Dylan. Evan is probably worried sick about me,” Katie said.
“I understand. You going to clean up?”
“No, I’ll just shower when I get home.”
“I’m going to stay here and watch some HBO. It’s already paid for, so, why not?” Dylan replied.
Katie held the sheet tight to her chest as she walked into the bathroom with her clothes in hand. Even though she just slept with Dylan, getting dressed in front of him just seemed wrong. She felt as dirty as the streaked and spotted up mirror in the bathroom. A normally flawless reflecting object littered with specks of imperfection. She closed the bathroom door and sat on the toilet to pee. She looked over to her right to see her face in the filthy mirror. Her hair was a mess and her cheeks were flush. What the fuck did you do? She rose up off of the toilet, flushed it, and began putting herself back together.
“What a crazy night, huh?” Katie asked as she left the bathroom.
“Yeah. Sometimes things just happen, you know?” Dylan said.
“Yeah. It was fun, but now it’s over. Good night, Dylan.” Katie put her hands on Dylan’s chest and leaned in one last time for a kiss. Dylan tried to pull her back in for another round, but she quickly dodged his efforts and walked toward the door.
“Goodnight, beautiful. Mwah!” Dylan smiled flirtatiously while making kissing sounds.
Katie shut the hotel room door behind her and began walking down the long, lonely hallway. Purse hanging over her shoulder, keeping a brisk pace to the elevator. She pushed the button and stared up at the lit floor indicator. 2…3…4…. Sighing at its slow progress. 5…6…7…8…. It finally reached her floor with a ding. The doors opened and Katie stepped into the empty elevator, pushing the first floor button. They slid shut, making a quiet hiss in the process. Katie immediately started to cry aloud in the elevator. She let out a few deep sobs, stopping occasionally to wipe her eyes, trying to regain her composure. The elevator came to a stop on the ground floor and the door opened, revealing another young couple waiting to board. They were smiling and laughing until they realized the woman inside the elevator was intensely distraught. Katie rushed past them, exited the hotel, and hailed a cab to the bar where she had left her car. Anger for what she had done took her over with a rage.
“Right here is fine,” she said to the cab driver. He pulled over next to a parking garage and put the car in park. Katie was so focused on what had happened that she forgot about her phone. She reached into her purse to retrieve some money when it finally dawned on her that it had been off this whole time. Evan is probably freaking out about where you are. Turn the phone on! Instead, she could say it was dead and use that as an excuse for not calling back. “Keep the change,” Katie said.
“Have a nice night, lady,” the cab driver replied.
Katie found her car keys, tucked her belongings under her arm, and walked into the parking structure. She made her way to her parking space, pushing the unlock button on the key fob. It gave her a closer look at her key ring that had a big letter “K” encrusted with fake pink diamonds. Evan had bought it for her on a business trip. It was the first time they had been apart since getting married and Evan had wanted her to know that he was always thinking about her. It felt twistedly ironic that it now made her think of him.
Katie opened the car door, tossing her purse into the front seat and turned the key in one continuous motion. The engine turned over despite the cold, and Katie shivered while she waited impatiently for the car to warm up. She rubbed her arms vigorously to help warm up, but it wasn’t working very well. Katie grabbed the steering wheel with both hands, reaching her right fingers toward the shifter when she broke down again. What had she just done? This stupid fantasy had gone too far. Was she going to tell Evan? Would she be able to live with what she did? She sobbed out loud while glancing in the mirror, grabbing a tissue to wipe the black mascara that was running down her cheeks.
Once she regained composure, Katie began the drive home with her poker face in full effect. Would he know by the look on her face? Evan was a smart guy and that gave her cause for worry. Katie made the twenty-five-minute drive to their house, making the time now half past midnight. She would have to explain to Evan how dinner turned into drinks, and that it was beneficial for her career to socialize at any opportunity and blah blah blah. Katie pulled into the driveway, quickly noticing that no lights were on in the house. That’s weird. He didn’t leave any lights on for me. Katie pressed the button on her garage door opener and the headlights illuminated an empty garage. Slightly worried, she pulled into the garage, jumped out of the car, and hurried inside.
Katie fumbled for the kitchen light switch in the dark house. It quickly became apparent that Evan had not been home yet. Suddenly remembering her phone, she frantically dug through her purse until she found it. She paced the kitchen floor while the phone went through its startup routine. Once complete, Katie saw a message from an unknown number. With the message playing in her ear, her face went from a soft, pink glow to pale like a ghost. Was she pale from the contents of the message or the events of the night. Perhaps it was both.
Holding the phone in her right hand, Katie pressed her left hand on her forehead and leaned on the fridge, slowly sliding to the floor. The mascara streaks that were once removed returned with a vengeance. She dropped the phone on the floor and talked to herself out loud. “What the fuck? What the fuck did I do?” Katie sobbed. She reclaimed her phone, grabbed her purse, and hastily made for the hospital that stood not even two blocks away from where she had sex with another man.
Katie drove past the Downtown Grand when a wave of guilt washed over her again, creating the need to suddenly vomit. Slamming on the brakes, she turned the car onto the side of the road and opened the car door, leaning her head out, quickly depositing roughly sixty-two dollars’ worth of fine wine into the gutter. After she wiped her mouth and shut the car door, her gaze shot upward to see a room on the ninth floor of the posh hotel lit up. Was it worth it? Dylan was probably up there bragging to himself about his new conquest. Maybe he was already planning his next one. Either way, she sped off in anguish.
Katie’s car pulled into the closest parking space she could find near the main building of the hospital. She ran as fast as she could in high heels to the emergency room. When Katie arrived at the entrance, there was a slight pause before the sensor opened the door. During that brief moment, Katie saw her reflection in the glass. She looked as atrocious as she did in the mirror of the hotel bathroom. The monster stared right back as the door whooshed open. She straightened her attire and resolved to put the whole thing behind her. She had to, at least for now. Now more than ever, Katie had to focus on Evan, the man she loved. She didn’t love Dylan, she loved Evan. What happened with Dylan was just an act of lust, not love. We are animals, just like Dylan said, right?
“Evan Glover! Is he okay?! What happened?!” Katie was frantic, slamming her purse into the counter as she ran up to it. It wasn’t an unusual scene for the ER, but the ER clerk was thankful that it a relatively quiet Friday night.
“Try to relax, ma’am. Are you his wife?” the ER clerk inquired. Katie nodded. “Let me see where he is.”
The clerk typed away as Katie squeezed her purse tightly into her chest, dreading hearing the worst. “He’s in surgery right now. That’s all the information I have at this time. A doctor will be out to update the family when surgery is complete. We have a nice, comfortable waiting area right around the corner.” Katie didn’t care about how nice the waiting room was and the look permeated outward. The clerk paused and looked into her eyes sympathetically. “I’m very sorry, Mrs. Glover. The doctors at St. Mary’s are the best. I’m sure they will do everything in their power to help your husband.”
Katie barely heard the encouraging words. Considering all of the night’s commotion, she had forgotten to call Evan’s parents. They lived about eight hours away in a small, rural town. Still crying, she wandered over to the couches to call them. The room was painted in sorrow. Magazines strewn about, old rickety chairs with holes in the seats, and a soda machine whose lights were flickering. Katie finally settled into a chair. It was difficult to see her contact list through the tears in her eyes, but Katie finally found the name and hit Send.
“Katie? Is everything alright?” Laura asked groggily.
“Laura. Listen, Evan has been in a car accident. I don’t really know what’s going on. He’s in surgery right now…that’s all I know.”
She could hear Laura shuffling around in the bed trying to wake up Jim. “Jim, wake up! Evan was in a car accident. He’s in the hospital. Get up! Katie, what happened?!” Laura asked.
“I don’t know. I was out at dinner, I got home and there was a call from the hospital saying that Evan was in an accident. I just got here, so I don’t really know anything yet.”
“Oh my God. Oh my God,” Laura sobbed and hyperventilated. Katie could hear the shifting of the phone. Jim had taken it from her to finish the conversation as Laura became more frantic.
“Katie, this is Jim. What is going on?”
“I don’t know! I’m at the hospital now. I Just know that he was in a car accident. He is in surgery right now.”
“Okay. Okay. Everything is going to be all right. Just stay there with him. We are going to pack some stuff and get on the road. We will be there in the morning. We love you.”
“I love you guys. Please hurry! And drive safe!” Katie said as she hung up the phone and went silent. She was at a loss for words with nothing to say to anyone. She buried her head deep into her lap. So many thoughts and emotions were running through her mind. Katie wanted to blame the affair for what happened to Evan but couldn’t quite commit to the connection. She wondered how long poor Evan suffered and how it all happened. Would things have gone differently if Katie hadn’t turned off her phone? What was the last thing she said to him? It was a lie.
Katie stared down at the cold, cheap tile between her knees when she suddenly became aware of the wet spot in her underwear…the remnants of a man she didn’t love. She cried harder. Katie thought of the last time she was with Evan. It was just the night before that they had made love in the shower.
Katie had gotten home early and had dinner waiting for Evan. He had stopped at the grocery store to pick up chives so Katie could complete her recipe. He’d decided to get her roses, for no reason at all. There was nothing special about that day, but both Evan and Katie had been in a good mood. They enjoyed a few glasses of wine together before getting ready for bed when Evan jumped in the shower. He leaned his head back into the stream of water, closing his eyes, when he was unexpectedly surprised by Katie slipping in, wrapping her arms around him. The shower was in full steam mode by that point as the two began to kiss. Katie was and had always been the aggressor, the shower was no different. It wasn’t long before the kissing led to more. She raised her left leg and pulled Evan closer and into herself.
Katie snapped back to reality only to realize where she was. It dawned on her that she’d had sex with two men in two days, but prior to yesterday, she had only had sex with two men in her entire life. She moved over a few spaces to lay down on the uncomfortable hospital couch, crying herself to sleep. That hot shower was millions of miles from where she was now…maybe even farther.
It was four in the morning when a doctor finally walked in to find Katie balled up on the couch, asleep. He gently tapped her on the shoulder. “Mrs. Glover?” the man asked.
“Yes,” she responded sleepily. Katie looked up with big, kitten eyes waiting to hear the fate of her husband.
“Mrs. Glover, I’m Dr. Setter. I’m the chief neurosurgeon here at St Mary’s. Your husband sustained significant injuries in the car accident. In order to relieve the pressure caused by the swelling on his brain, we removed a piece of his skull above the right eye and a piece from the parietal bone,” he gestured toward the back of his head. “Evan also sustained a compound fracture to his right arm, four fractured ribs, a collapsed lung, and damage to his left kidney. He also broke his number-four lumbar. At this point, we don’t have reason to believe he is paralyzed, but it’s too soon to be sure. He will most likely require additional surgeries as the swelling subsides. Right now Evan is recovering in the ICU, but he is in a coma, ma’am. He is going to have to fight to come out of this one. I’m very sorry.” Katie couldn’t decide if this was good news or bad news. He was alive at least.
“Oh my God. Can I see him?” Katie cried as she jumped up from the couch.
“You can, as soon as he is stabilized. It won’t be long, I promise, Mrs. Glover.”
Dr. Setter disappeared from where he had emerged. The silence in the waiting room became just as apparent as when she had first arrived. Katie decided that taking a quick trip home to shower and clean up would be best for everyone, especially her. She wiped her eyes and dug through her purse to find her keys. Katie knew she looked terrible and that fixing herself up to feel fresh might just be enough to handle the stress that was sure to continue. She received a call from Jim as she was heading out the door.
“Hi, Katie. We are a few hours out still, but we are making good time. The roads are pretty clear. Are there any updates on Evan?” Katie relayed all the information she had just received from Dr. Setter.
“Okay. Well, we will be there soon. Take care of our son. We love you,” Jim said. I think I already helped your son out by sleeping with another man.
It was a quarter till six in the morning. Freshly showered and dressed in some jeans with a plain sweatshirt, Katie returned to the hospital, speeding most of the way there and back. As she walked through the double doors, that familiar smell of hospitals hit her. Disinfectant and cleanliness. It’s next to godliness, right? She felt the need to throw up again, but managed to refrain this time.
Katie approached the help desk near the hospital’s entrance and greeted the clerk. “Hi, again. What room is Evan Glover in?”
“Good morning. Let me get that info for you, just one second.” Katie nervously picked at her fingernails while the clerk looked up the information. “He’s in room three-zero-eight, sweetie. Right that way to the elevators.”
The hospital seemed to have woken up since being there last. There were people buzzing around, all headed somewhere. Katie’s heels clicked in cadence as she made her way to the elevator. She couldn’t shake the thought of how trips to the elevator could forever alter the course of her fate. There was a man already waiting at the bank of elevators when she got there. All of the lights for the up-arrow were lit. One set of doors opened with a “ding,” and inside was a man in a wheelchair with a young girl standing behind him. With a little effort, the girl got the wheelchair moving, clearing the elevator. Katie was nervous as she stepped on. She had no idea what to expect when she saw him. She was thinking this might be the last time she saw Evan alive. He might already be dead, for all she knew.
“What floor?” the man asked with a pleasant smile.
“Three, please,” Katie replied. They both stared intently at the LCD floor indicators until the doors opened on Katie’s floor. She exited the elevator and walked into the ICU section of the hospital. It was booming with hurried people carrying charts, phones ringing, and pages over the intercom system. Katie was looking for Evan’s room. It wasn’t that easy because some of them seemed to be in some order and others were not. She made the turn past the nurse’s station when a young woman in scrubs asked if she was lost.
“I’m looking for room three-o-eight,” Katie said.
“Mr. Glover?” the lady confirmed.
“Yes. Can I see my husband now?” Katie asked.
“Yes, but you are the only one allowed to be in there. His room is just around the corner on the left.”
“Thank you,” Katie said with a polite smile. She rubbed her eyes and wiped her nose with a tissue as she neared Evan’s room. She was a mess, and she didn’t know how she was supposed to feel. Everything that had happened in the last twenty-four hours had her brain on an emotional rollercoaster. She prepared herself for what she was about to see. Picturing her darling Evan looking like she last saw him, hair slicked back from the water in the shower, the crooked smile on his face that melted into intense ecstasy as they made love. She knew it wouldn’t be like that, but she had no clue what she was about to see. She took a deep breath and exhaled as she turned the doorknob, creeping into the room.
The room was dim and there was a steady beeping from the machine measuring Evan’s pulse. The entire top of his head was wrapped in bandages with his face completely covered in black and blue, indicating that he had danced with the devil. Tubes coming out of his nose, mouth, and side of his chest completed the picture. She wasn’t even sure it was him. Katie couldn’t even cry. She put her hand over her mouth and tried to let the necessary sobs escape, but only silence came.
Staring at Evan, the reality of it all finally hit Katie, and the tears once again streamed down her face. She walked slowly over to Evan’s side, putting her hand on his. What do you say to someone in this condition?
“Evan, Baby. I’m so sorry,” Katie sobbed. She stroked his hand. There was barely any room to feel his skin with the IV and tubes running everywhere. She looked at his hand, immediately noticing the missing ring and the tan line where it used to be. It resonated strong in Katie’s heart. The symbol of their eternal love was broken. “Baby, I’m here for you. You are going to be okay. I promise.” The only words she could think of.
Katie remained at Evan’s side for twenty minutes when someone opened the door. She turned her head to see who it was as a team of doctors entered the room. They were all carrying charts, and none of them had pleasant looks on their face. One of them stepped forward and approached Katie with his arm extended outward.
“Mrs. Glover, I’m Dr. Oakum. Evan will be under my team’s care. We need to evaluate him to determine our path forward. I have to ask you to leave the room momentarily, and I will speak with you afterward.”
“Okay. I’ll go wait outside,” Katie responded as she stood to leave. She walked out of the room and headed over to the breakroom for a cup of coffee. She looked at her watch. It was getting close to seven in the morning. Katie called her boss and let him know the situation. Mike assured her that she had the full support of the office and to take as much time as she needed. Katie knew that the news would soon spread to all of their circles and that she’d be overwhelmed with the attention. She thrived on attention, just not that kind of attention.
Katie sipped her coffee, staring out of the third-floor window of St. Mary’s Hospital. Her mind once again went back to the night before. What was she thinking? This all seemed liked her fault. She thought of what Dylan had said about being ants and how it could have some truth to it. Katie cared about Evan, his parents cared about him, and the doctors, in some fashion, cared about him, but there were billions of people on the Earth that would never know Evan Glover and his contribution to life. He was just another ant on the trail. The nest would move and grow with or without him, just as the outside world would continue on without him. She suddenly felt sorry for him, not because of the state he was in, but because of that fact. The world would move on without him. She leaned her head against the hospital window while the raindrops outside collected and flowed down the pane without resistance. Just like the tears that were streaming down her face.
After what seemed like an eternity, Dr. Oakum and his team finally started trickling out of the room. He stepped out from the pack, approaching Katie with a serious look on his face. This can’t be good.
“Mrs. Glover. Evan is stable right now, but we need to take him upstairs to run some more tests. We are going to check his neural activity and run an MRI to see the full extent of the damage. Again, he is stable right now, but he isn’t breathing on his own. I want to be honest with you, ma’am. This could go either way. He may be in a coma, but I encourage you to talk to him. People believe that it helps, and if he can hear you, he’s going to need all the support you can give him. I’ll come back and update you when we have more information.”
“Thank you, doctor,” Katie replied.
Shortly thereafter, a nurse accompanied by one of the doctors, wheeled Evan and all of his equipment out of the room and down the hall. Again, Katie wondered if that would be the last time she would see him. She watched a pile of sheets wrapped in bandages disappear down the hall and out of sight. Except, that pile of sheets wrapped in bandages happened to be her whole life.
Hours passed while Katie took a few phone calls from friends asking if she needed anything. She was in a fog. She couldn’t be sure at this point if all of this was real or a dream, but she knew one thing. She had made a terrible mistake the night before, and she couldn’t let it go. The guilt will go away. Don’t worry. She tried to convince herself on the inside. It didn’t work.
Jim and Laura sprinted down the hall when they saw Katie. They looked just as terrible as she did. Jim had on an old baseball hat with some worn out jeans. Laura was wearing jeans and a sweater with a vest. Her once-brown but now graying hair went down to the tops of her shoulders. She had flyaways sticking out all over. Jim and Laura were an active, healthy couple, but today, they looked every bit their age. They all embraced in a small group and shed some more tears. Katie explained all she knew to them. Now it was a waiting game.
Evan’s room was filled with machine noise. Pumps moving air, monitors reading heart rates, and blood pressure machines hissing. He lay static in his room while outside, Dr. Oakum was updating the family. The damage to the back of Evan’s head would likely affect his ability to see, but fortunately, the spinal fracture they discovered didn’t appear to have severed any nerves. Evan’s neural activity showed that it was not that of a normal, healthy person. He was not responding to external stimuli and only time would tell what the outcome would be. Jim, Laura, and Katie took in the news with the helpless feeling that usually accompanies this type of thing.
“You can go in now,” Dr. Oakum concluded as Father Elders approached the family.
“Hi. I’m Father Elders. I’m very sorry you have to endure this trying time.” He extended his hand to Laura, Katie, and then Jim. His black suit was cleanly pressed, matching his dark skin.
“I’m Jim, and this is my wife, Laura. We are Evan’s parents,” Jim said.
“I’m Katie, I’m Evan’s wife.”
“I wish I was meeting you all under different circumstances, but may I ask you a question? Is Evan a man of faith?” Father asked.
“Yes, we are all devout Catholic,” Jim replied.
This was true except for Katie. Evan’s parents were displeased that Evan and Katie did not have a Catholic wedding, but never publicly made a fuss about it.
“That’s great. Please talk to Evan. I believe he can hear you, but if not, his soul can hear you and he needs our help. Our God is a good God. Believe in Him, and He shall give Evan everything he needs,” Father said.
“Thank you, Father,” Jim replied.
While all of that was taking place outside in the hall, inside Evan lay perfectly still…except for his eyes.