Finch had everyone in the lobby with the Healer EMT division in attendance to see to the wounded from the bus crash. Alan watched as the break in his arm snapped back into place and the cuts in his arms sewed shut as if by some invisible magic. The person who was helping him, a cold blonde-haired man in his late thirties, ran his hands across Alan’s arm then held up one to Alan’s face. The cut in Alan’s eyebrow sealed, and the man – with no emotion whatsoever – motioned for Alan to step out of line.
Finch continued to yell out in the lobby, “When you are finished, head straight to your room! Do not stop to talk! It is lights out! We have work tomorrow!”
“Alan,” Athena called out to Alan, as he tried to get through the crowd and into the courtyard.
“Leave me alone,” Alan replied back, seeing Athena also trying to struggle her way to the courtyard.
The crowd seemed to reform as a barrier between Athena and Alan. Athena looked over at Marshall who was handling the flow of people back to the courtyard. She gave him an annoyed look, and he stepped over to her.
“Pardon me. Okay. Hem, sorry about that. Pardon me. And Pardon my reach,” Marshall wiggled between people, then grabbed a few coworkers blocking Athena and lifted them out of the way. “There we go.”
“Thanks, Marshall,” Athena said as she ran past him.
It was dark in Alan’s room. The only visibility was from the fluorescent lighting outside in the hall, peaking in through the window. Alan sat with his back up against the dresser in his room. His right hand was holding the broken watch, gliding his thumb back in forth across the cracked glass.
“Alan!” Athena’s muffled voice rang against Alan’s door. “Alan, open the door.”
Alan didn’t answer.
“Alan, please, I’m sorry,” Athena pleaded, her forehead pressed against the door. It wasn’t locked, but she didn’t want to push any farther than she already had. “Come on, just open the door.”
Marshall walked up behind Athena and motioned for her to go. He knocked on the door, then opened it without waiting for a response. Alan barely acknowledged Marshall’s existence. He was off elsewhere.
“Hey, kid,” Marshall groaned as he sat down next to Alan against the dresser. He wrapped his arms around his knees, and waited in the silence. Several moments passed. “Your arm looks better.”
Alan stared ahead at his twin bed. He had been perfectly fine doing his time, going through the motions, clocking in and out. Maybe it would’ve helped him forget her.
“Kid, you seem out of sorts,” Marshall sighed. “And that has Athena worried, and she’s useless when she’s worried.”
Marshall groaned and got up off of the floor.
“Try to get some sleep, kid. We’ve got work tomorrow.”
Marshall stepped toward the doorway.
“Have you ever seen someone die, Marshall? I mean, really see them. Not like a viewing or funeral… but moments right after they passed. Did you see the woman on the road?”
Marshall shook his head, leaning into the doorway. Alan still didn’t make eye contact. He looked down at the watch.
“I don’t understand it,” Alan murmured.
“What’s there to understand? Drank too much, and did something stupid,” Marshall said, pushing his hands into his jeans’ pockets.
“I can relate,” Alan said under his breath. “Not the drinking, per se, but I know stupid.”
“I think we all can,” Marshall replied.
The call for lights out rang through the halls. Marshall stood tall in the doorway.
“This isn’t about that girl in the road tonight,” Marshall said with a grim expression on his face. “What’s with the watch, Alan?”
Alan blinked slowly, and looked down at his broken watch, thumb still sliding across the imperfect surface.
“It’s lights out,” Alan replied gravely.
Marshall walked over and sat down on the bed opposite Alan, folding his arms and awaiting Alan’s response.
“You think I’m scared of them?”
“You’re scared of something,” Alan replied back, his voice filled with bitterness, and he finally looked up at Marshall.
“That’s fair,” Marshall cleared his throat. “I can’t make you tell me if you don’t want to, but eventually you’re going to realize we’re the only friends you have, kid. That life you had before – the people you knew – they’re gone, and they aren’t coming back.”
Alan clenched his teeth. “I know.”
“I used to think I’d get out one of these days. I’d do my time, and they’d just let me go when they lost use for me. But that’s not how this works. I made a choice to be here, and that is irreversible. There’s no going back to the way things were for me. Same as you.”
Marshall’s honesty was sobering; sobering in a mood that was already careening toward depressing. Alan looked back at his broken watch, the last vestige of his time in the real world.
“I remember the day Elizabeth gave me this watch. She had this way of joking about you and you didn’t even care. She said to me, ‘I got you this watch so you’ll stop being late for our dates.’,” Alan laughed. “I’ve never been the punctual type. Anyway, I was 17, and she was trying to whip me into shape. I took the hint. Hardly ever forgot that watch, and maybe I showed up on time more often. I don’t remember. I don’t think she really cared all that much about that.”
Marshall sat down next to Alan.
“Athena was asking me about a funny story early tonight, and it just reminded me of this one time… Elizabeth’s dog – the little guy was handful – and he liked to jump at the door of her old metal shed. She kept him in there on cold nights. Well he would just scratch up the door when I came over… all the time. So one night when I pulled up to her house, I heard Ralph – the dog’s name was Ralph if you could believe it – and he was running toward the shed door. So I just reached out,” Alan held his hand out to pantomime his story, “and the door flies open just in time for Ralph to come rolling out into the yard. Dog rolled for probably a good few seconds – felt like minutes – and we laughed our heads off.”
Marshall and Alan laughed at the story. Alan laughed so hard there were genuine tears in his eyes. He cleared his throat and continued.
“Course, Ralph was fine. He was a resilient booger, tongue wagging and jumping at my car after that. Elizabeth rolled her eyes at me, and put Ralph back up and we went out for the night. I guess Athena reminded me that little memories could still be happy memories if you let them.”
“How’d your watch break?” Marshall asked, his head tipping in its direction. Alan looked at his broken watch face, his smile evaporating.
“Some memories are never happy memories,” Alan murmured and wiped the tears of joy from his eyes.
“How’d the watch break, Alan?”
“Why’d you volunteer for this job?” Alan sneered back at Marshall.
“Touché,” Marshall sighed. Alan could see Marshall was struggling with his thoughts. “I’ll tell you one thing – one thing – if you tell me about the watch.”
Alan groaned and handed the watch to Marshall. Marshall looked at the face, the cracked glass. The hands were forever stuck at one point in time.
2:37. The box showed AM.
“It was late. We were driving home from a party. Raining cats and dogs. Low visibility.”
Alan smiled at Elizabeth, a fleeting glance away from the road as their car made its way through the torrential downpour. They were supposed to leave the party hours ago, but it was two in the morning, and they were out in the middle of it. Elizabeth smiled uneasily, a tense feeling rattling throughout her body.
“I know, I know. We should’ve left earlier.”
“I didn’t say anything,” Elizabeth said, a feint veneer of humor laid over her uneasiness.
“Yeah, but you were thinking it,” Alan joked, his eyes staring intensely through the windshield.
The wipers were trying their hardest, but there was too much rain. The road was covered in a layer of water, and any little change of the steering wheel created in a volatile movement one way or the other across the road.
Alan tried to fix the defroster on his dashboard. He hadn’t noticed the lights growing larger up ahead. Elizabeth sucked in a panicked breath, and Alan looked up. The car was spinning out of control, hydroplaning toward them, and there was no time to respond. Alan threw his hands on the dashboard as a snap reaction. Their car wrenched to the left. The other vehicle smashed into the passenger side of their car, and Alan’s head smacked into the steering wheel. Everything went black.
The world was blurry when Alan came to. Alan lifted his head, a nauseous feeling slowly fermenting in his gut. He was on a red stretcher, elevated over the deluge. Flashlights kept dancing over his field of view, as emergency workers passed over him as they worked. Alan couldn’t move his head, so he looked as far to his right as he could. He could see Elizabeth in her own stretcher, as one of the emergency workers zipped her up into a black bag.
Alan couldn’t tell if it was the rain in his face or not, but he could feel warm tears trailing down his face as he looked back up into the blinding flashlights.
“Get him to the hospital, the crew will handle the rest of the cleanup. Other driver is paralyzed. Code the woman: DOA.”
Alan took the watch back and held it to his ear. “Hasn’t worked ever since.”
“You know it’s not your fault she died, right?”
“Oh, I know… ‘it was an accident’, ‘you didn’t mean to’…,” Alan trailed off, his face disgusted. “It happened, and if I had just let that stupid idiot hit me, Elizabeth would be alive and I wouldn’t be lifting metal beams in this chain gang for the rest of my life.”
“Maybe, but you weren’t the one who caused the accident. You just had to react. That’s all we can do: react.”
“Is that why you ended up in here? You reacted?”
“I was worried about my family,” Marshall replied in defense, “It was the best I could do in the situation. If I gave myself up they had no reason to look for them. You do crazy things for your family.”
“That’s funny: my folks sold me out,” Alan said with a wry smile. “I guess I wasn’t lucky enough to have a Marshall in the family.”
The room was silent for a few moments. Marshall wasn’t sure how much more he wanted to share with Alan.
“My siblings are special like us. When the government started rounding us up, we went into hiding, but it didn’t last long. We slipped up, and the Board tracked us down to a remote location. If I didn’t turn myself in, they would’ve found my family. It’s worth it just knowing they’re safe now.”
“I was an only child. I guess if I had siblings, I would understand.”
“You understand, kid. It’s why you wanted to take Elizabeth’s place. It’s love. Maybe not the same kind of love, but still love.”