Oxygen masks and monitors. Stainless steel trays. Sterile sheet stretched across a thin mattress covered in plastic. Among the stillness, Bethany Lowe lay quiet, the sun glinting off the diamond solitaire she'd worn for the past twenty-seven years.
The doctor looked at Bethany. “The car that hit hers must've been going at least eighty miles an hour.” He shook his head. “Time of death: six forth-one. Internal trauma.”
Caroline shook her head. “You're wrong, Doctor. Bethany died years ago. She died of a broken heart.”
“The comatose patient?”
“Eric Whyte. Bethany's fiance for twenty-eight years.”
The doctor nodded and snapped off his gloves. He tossed them on the tray and headed out the door, leaving Caroline to pick up the pieces of Bethany's death.
Caroline jumped and turned. She'd forgotten about the college kid, Beryl something. The kid was spending three weeks at the hospital. Some community service thing.
“The day of her wedding...oh you should have seen her. She stood in the church basement posing for the photographer just radiating happiness. I was her maid of honor.”
The kid nodded. Stared at Bethany.
“She wore her grandmother's dress and carried a bouquet of wildflowers.”
“Eric was late. We kept delaying the wedding. Ten minutes. Ten minutes more. We thought Eric had gotten cold feet.” Caroline began picking up tubes and sponges. “All of a sudden, the best man burst into the basement. He told us that Eric had been hurt. That Bethany needed to get to the hospital.”
“What happened to him?”
“Shot. He'd been running late, as usual. Eric was late for everything. He decided to take a shortcut and got caught up in some street fight.” Caroline remembered how Bethany had dropped the bouquet on the floor. “She ran up the basement stairs and out of the church into the limo. She sat by his bedside for days, begging him to wake up,” Caroline told the kid. “Every day, after school, Bethany would come to the hospital to visit Eric.”
“She talked for hours, telling him all about the kids at her school and what was happening in town. When she got tired of talking, she would read to him. Eric loved mysteries.” Carolyn sighed. “Everyone told her to let him go, but she refused.” Carolyn blinked and walked to the window. Birds were scattered across the sky like stars.
“My God. To love someone so long.”
“I loved him longer,” Carolyn whispered.
“I introduced them. Eric and I were supposed to get engaged. Then I introduced him to Bethany.” She heard a commotion from the hallway. “What the hell's going on?”
A nurse burst into the room. “Room 412 just woke up. He's asking for water.”
“Want to go see?” Caroline asked the kid.
Caroline waited for the kid to go before pulling the ring from Carolyn's finger and slipping it into her pocket beside the syringe. She headed down the hallway to room 412 and opened the door.
“You're too late,” the kid said to Eric.
“Nonsense,” Carolyn replied. “I'm here.”