Falling into You Read online
Kyle looked at me, and I noticed beads of sweat on his face, despite the coolness in the car. His hand gripped the steering wheel and smoothed the leather across the top, a gesture he only made when nervous or upset. I waited, knowing he’d speak up when he was ready.
He glanced at me again, took a deep breath, and withdrew his hand from his pocket. My heart pounded in my chest realization dawned on me. Oh god. Oh god. He was about to propose. No, no. I wasn’t ready for that.
He opened his hand, and sure enough, there was a black box, Kay Jewelers written in gold thread across the top. I bit my lip and tried not to hyperventilate.
“Nell, I love you. ” His hand trembled slightly as he opened the box, revealing a half-carat princess cut diamond ring, simple and beautiful. And terrifying. “I don’t want to spend a moment without you. I don’t care about college or football or anything. All I care about is you. We can figure out the future together. ”
He withdrew the ring and held it out to me between thumb and forefinger. Rain blatted on the windshield, and the wind howled like a banshee, gusting so hard the car rocked on its suspension. Why now? I wondered. Why here? In a car, in a rainstorm? Not in the restaurant during dinner? Not out at the firepit where we had so many memories? My heart juddered in my chest, and my eyes stung, sight wavering and blurring. My lip hurt and I tasted the tang of blood. I forced myself to release my lip before I bit straight through it.
“Nell? Will you marry me?” Kyle’s voice broke at the end.
“Ohmigod, Kyle. ” I choked out the words, forced the rest out. “I love you, I do. But…now? I don’t—I don’t know. I can’t…we’re barely eighteen. I love you, and I was going to tell you I’d follow you to Stanford. Dad can get me in last minute…” I shook my head and scrunched my eyes closed against the confused hurt in Kyle’s eyes.
“Wait…” he shook his head, withdrawing the ring slightly. “Are you saying no?”
“It’s too soon, Kyle. It’s not that I don’t love you, it’s just…” Doubts assailed me.
I’d never dated anyone else. It wasn’t that I wanted to, necessarily. But I felt so young, sometimes. I’d never been away from my parents for more than a week. I’d never left home. This was the first time I’d gone somewhere without them. I wanted to experience life. I wanted to grow up a bit. I wasn’t ready to be married.
But I couldn’t get any of this out of my mouth. All I could do was shake my head as tears fell, mimicking the rain. I pushed the car door open and stumbled out, ignoring Kyle’s shouts to wait. I was drenched to the skin in moments, but I didn’t care.
I heard Kyle behind me, chasing me. I wasn’t running from him, but from the situation. I stopped, high heels slipping and digging into the wet gravel.
“I don’t understand, Nell. ” His voice was thick and rough with emotion, but the rain on his face obscured his features so I couldn’t tell if he was crying or not. “I thought…I thought this was the next step, for us. ”
“It is, just not yet. ” I wiped my face and took a step toward him. “I love you. I really do. I love you with all my heart. But I’m not ready to get engaged. We’re not ready for that. We’re just kids, still. We just graduated high school a few months ago. ”
“I know we’re young, but…you’re what I want. All I want. We could live in married housing, and…be together. Experience everything together. ”
“We can still do that. We could get an apartment together. Maybe not right away, but soon. ” I turned away, frustrated with my inability to express why I wasn’t ready. “Kyle…it’s just too soon. Can’t you see that? I don’t want to be apart either. I’ll go to Stanford with you. I’ll be with you wherever you go. I will marry you, just not yet. Give it a few years. Let’s get through college and get careers going. Grow up a bit. ”
Kyle was the one to turn away, this time. He brushed his palm over his wet hair, sending a spray of water flying. “You sound like our parents. You sound like your dad. I asked him first, you know. That’s why they let us come up here. He said he wasn’t sure we were ready and he thought we needed some time to experience a bit more life, but you were legally an adult now and if you said yes, he had no problem with us getting engaged. ”
The rain let up then, but the wind blew harder than ever. The trees around us swayed like stalks of grass. Even over the harsh cry of the wind I could hear the trunks creaking. A streak of lightning lit up the night sky, then another. Thunder crashed overhead, so loud I felt it in my stomach, and then the rain blew over us again, cold and stinging.
“I love you, Kyle. ” I stepped toward him, reaching for him. “Please don’t be mad at me. I just—”
He turned away from me, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I thought—I thought this was what you wanted. ”
“Let’s go inside now, okay? We’ll talk about it inside. It’s not safe out here. ” I reached for him again, but he pulled away.
Lightning struck again, closer this time, so close I felt the hair on my arms stand on end and tasted ozone, felt the crackling of energy all around me. The trees creaked and bent, the wind gusting hard enough to buffet the car and send me stumbling sideways.
I shook my head and stalked past Kyle toward the house. “I’m going inside. You can stay out here and be unreasonable, then. ”
I heard a deafening crack, then, but it wasn’t lightning. It was like a cannon booming, like a firework detonating mere feet away. My stomach churned, fear bolting through me. I froze with my foot on the first step to the porch, looked up, and saw death coming for me.
The tree had snapped. Time slowed as the mammoth pine fell toward me. I heard the roof crunching and giving way, heard siding pop and split, heard bricks disintegrating. I couldn’t move. All I could see was the brown trunk wet and glinting black against the sky, the green needles fluttering in the wind.
Kyle shouted behind me, but his words were lost in the wind, in the haze of terror. I was frozen. I knew I needed to move, but my limbs wouldn’t cooperate. All I could do was watch the tree descend. I couldn’t even scream.
I felt something hard impact me from behind, and I was thrown to the side. I heard the crash of the tree hitting ground. My ears rang, my breath knocked out of me, leaving me gasping. I was on my side, my arm twisted beneath me. Then pain shot through me, agony like lightning in my arm. It was broken, I thought. I flopped to my back, letting a scream loose as the jarring thud sent another shard of pain through me. I looked down at my arm cradled to my chest, saw blood streaming in the rain, red slicking down my flesh. The forearm was bent at an unnatural angle, a white spike protruding from the elbow. I had to roll over again to vomit at the sight of my ruined arm.
Then awareness struck.
I twisted and scrambled to my knees, arm cradled against my stomach. Another scream resounded, loud even over the wind and thunder. The tree was a fallen giant in the clearing. The house was crushed, the right side obliterated by the tree trunk. Kyle’s Camaro was crushed as well, windshield splintered, hood and roof and trunk flattened. The branches were like spikes and splinters piercing the earth, green needles obscuring the ground and the sky and world beyond the tree.
I saw a shoe, without a foot. A black dress shoe. Kyle’s shoe, knocked clean off his foot. That image, the black shoe, leather wet from the rain, a smear of mud on the toe, would be burned into my mind forever.
Kyle was beneath the tree trunk, his legs scrabbling for purchase in the mud and the gravel. I screamed again, not hearing myself. I felt the scream in my throat, scraping my vocal chords raw.
I scrambled across the gravel driveway on my hands and knees, agony lancing through me as I unheedingly used my shattered arm to drag myself toward Kyle. I reached his feet, draped myself over the trunk between foot-thick branches broken into jagged spears.
“Kyle? Kyle?” I heard the words, his name, drop fr