The man refilling the hotdog machine at Burt’s Market gave me a wide, toothless grin. What little teeth he did have were yellowed and covered in tobacco flecks.
I managed a semi-polite smile and went back to examining the rack of snacks. I also tugged my jean mini down to make sure it covered my ass.
“You think that’s Burt?” My boyfriend’s voice was unexpectedly close to my ear making me jump.
I elbowed him. “Jerk.”
He sucked in air and pretended I had actually hurt him. “Watch it slugger. I think you cracked a rib.” His smile turned devilish. “Maybe we should blow this party off and get a hotel room so you could take care of me all weekend.”
I rolled my eyes. “We already told Nathan and Chelsea we’d be there.”
His strong arms came around me and hugged me to his broad chest. “Oh fine.” He kissed my neck and I giggled. “You always get your way Melissa.”
Jimmy and I were on a road trip from Virginia to Georgia to visit our friends for the night. Then tomorrow we were headed out to the beach. We stopped at a shabby gas station on the side of a very long stretch of country highway.
“Get the Little Debbi cakes instead of Honey Buns.” He pointed to the row of sweets I was gazing at, his sandy blonde hair falling in his face. He brushed it back, revealing the extent of his dazzling blue eyes and chiseled face.
“Okay,” I breathed, fascinated by how gorgeous he was.
“Cheetos or Doritos…?”
Jimmy’s voice trailed off as a sharp pain resonated above my right temple. It pulsed so hard my vision turned red then black as if I was going pass out. It felt like someone had struck me with a two-by-four.
“Mel? Mel? What’s wrong?” Jimmy shook my shoulder.
I blinked my eyes clear to see his worried face staring down at me. The pain quickly dissipated. I reached up and touched the spot on my forehead, my brow creasing. “Nothing,” I said relieved it was gone. “I just had a little headache for a second there.”
“You sure?” His soft lips were turned in a frown.
I flashed him a smile. “I’m fine.” I skipped over the Fritos and plucked a bag of Cheetos off the shelf. “Nothing to worry about.”
After we loaded up on snacks and drinks we hit the last leg of our trip to Mason College. I eased back in the front seat of Jimmy’s vintage Camaro and watched the country scenery whirl by. Hay fields turned into wheat and wheat turned into corn stocks. The sky was a brilliant azure and white fluffy clouds floated across.
It was so simple and serene.
Until that sharp pain exploded in my head again. I gritted my teeth and pressed a hand to it as if I could shove it back from where it came. I closed my eyes, thinking the darkness would chase it away. The high keen of screeching tires suddenly pierced my ears. My eyes snapped open and body alert.
“What? What’s wrong?” Jimmy asked, glancing around frantically.
I expected to see the car careening off the road or screeching to the stop. But we were still coasting along, tranquil and smooth as before.
I collapsed back against the leather seat, my heart raging in my chest.
“Babe, are you okay.”
“Yeah,” I breathed, shaking the confusion from my brain. “I must have dozed off for a second. I thought I heard screeching tires.”
Worry was prevalent across his handsome face. I waved my hand dismissively. “Really I’m fine. Just pay attention to the road.”
He nodded, but his hands were tight on the steering wheel.
I twisted the cap off my soda and took a giant chug, hoping the caffeine would keep me awake. At least the headache’s gone, I though pulling down the visor and checking my reflection. My hazel eyes were a little dazed and face pale.
I’m gonna have to freshen up before we get there. I reached down and pulled a brush out my purse, running it through my snarled shoulder-length auburn hair. As I stared in the mirror I could have sworn there was a scar above my right temple—exactly where the pain had been—but when I blinked it was gone.
I rubbed my finger across the smooth skin, finding no imperfections.
That was weird. Maybe the long car ride is getting to me.
Throngs of people mingled at Nathan’s neighbor’s house where the party was stationed. It was a big bash to kick off spring break. Loads of college students and locals turned out, chugging keg beer from red solo cups, playing drinking games, dancing suggestively, sneaking off in corners to make out, and passing around a leafy green substance. Definitely a night full debauchery.
Music pulsed through the downstairs of the obvious bachelor pad complete with tacked up sheets for curtains, several beer pyramids, and a ping pong table instead of a dining room table. It was currently being used for beer pong.
“I’m so glad you guys came,” Chelsea said over the music as we stood in line at the keg for a refill.
Chelsea and Nathan were friends of ours from high school. We all graduated together two years ago. Now that our parents had finally released that freshmen leash and weren’t afraid we’d forget how to live without them we were free.
“I miss my second closet.” She flipped her long blonde hair to show off her purple shirt. “When I bought this I was already thinking of trading it with something of yours.”
We both giggled, glad to be in each other’s company again.
After she filled her cup it was my turn. As I pressed the tap, shooting golden beer into my cup, a dull throb started in my head.
Damn it. Not now.
I winced against it.
Chelsea poked my arm. “Hey. You okay?”
I nodded and dropped the nozzle. “Just a little headache.” It was nothing compared to the white hot sting I experienced twice before. Her expression mirrored Jimmy’s from earlier. “Really I’m fine,” I assured her. “But don’t tell Jimmy.”
Her blonde brow rose.
I shrugged. “I don’t want him to worry.”
Chelsea nodded. She knew how overprotective he was. “Come on. Let’s go in the garage. I think our boys are in there playing poker.” A wry smile swept across her face. “We better save them before they go broke.”
I laughed and followed her toward the door. An odd, acrid smell swam up my nose like smoke and burning rubber.
I hope a drunken partier wasn’t setting something on fire.
We made it to the garage just in time to stop Jimmy from betting another twenty dollars on a hand he could never win. Nathan wasn’t so lucky. His wallet looked anorexic.
Jimmy sat the next game out while—much to Chelsea’s annoyance—Nathan tried to win his money back.
We all knew it was a long shot.
I sat on Jimmy’s lap while Nathan squirmed at the table, bullets of sweat dripping down his forehead. Breaking glass echoed from inside and I arched my brow. “I think there’s a fight in the house or about to be a fight,” I whispered in Jimmy’s ear.
His brow furrowed. “Really? What makes you think that?”
“You didn’t hear glass breaking?”
He shook his head.
I shrugged it off, knowing most guys had selective hearing. Chelsea probably didn’t hear it because she was intensely watching her boyfriend lose at poker.
The stink of smoke and fire irritated my nose. I rubbed it. “Do you smell that?”
“Smell what? Shame?” Jimmy laughed, shaking me in his lap.
“No. Like smoke or fire?”
He shook his head again. “Someone’s probably burning around the corner.”
A pit deep in my stomach told me that wasn’t it.
More noises resonated from inside, but no one was reacting to them. It sounded like busting glass and metal screeching against metal. The headache above my right temple slowly returned, squeezing my skull.
I gritted my teeth and tried not to flinch in Jimmy’s lap. I didn’t want him to worry.
Burning rubber wafted through the room and heat as if a fire raged in the garage licked at my face. Choking smoke shrank my wind pipe. And the headache—it was like a hot poker had been shoved through my skull into my brain.
Finally I couldn’t take it and jumped from Jimmy’s lap.
His blue eyes widened, worry already washing over them. “Babe. What’s wrong?”
I swallowed hard, attempting to focus through the pain and chaos my body was experiencing. “Nothing,” I said hoping he couldn’t hear the trembling in my voice. “I-I just need to go to the bathroom.”
By now Chelsea had noticed my unease. She began to get up. “I’ll come with.”
I waved my hand in the air dismissively, already walking through the door. “No. I’ll be fine.”
People crowded every room downstairs. There was no sign of any fight or broken glass or fire or any reason I was hearing and smelling the things I was. A line stretched a mile long to the bathroom.
I groaned and grabbed my head, the pain climaxing.
I clumsily climbed the steps and shuffled through the hall upstairs until I found another bathroom. I squinted against the light and locked the door.
What is happening to me? I thought turning on the cold water with a trembling hand. I glanced at my reflection and screamed.
A giant gash was ripped above my right temple, spilling crimson down my face. Glass shards sparkled in my hair and embedded in my cheek.
Panic clawed at my chest as I frantically began washing the blood off with water.
When did this happen? How did this happen?
I washed my cheek with cold water and picked glass out of flesh. The tiny slivers tinkled into the porcelain sink.
Blood continued to drip down my face and into the sink no matter how much I splashed off. I leaned over and snatched a wad of toilet paper to staunch the bleeding, but when I met my reflection again—it was gone.
There was no blood, no gash, and no cut above my right temple. The pain evaporated and the phantom smells and sounds vanished.
It was all just gone. Back to normal.
My breathing was ragged and heart racing. I touched a trembling hand to the spot the gash had been, feeling smooth, unbroken skin.
I’m going crazy, I thought as hot tears pooled in my hazel eyes. That’s the only explanation.
I slept restlessly that night. After my freak-out I went back to the garage and pretended everything was fine. Jimmy didn’t buy it. I told him I was tired from the drive. He took me back to Nathan’s and we went to bed. My nights were full of bloody glass and screams.
But when morning came and the sun shone warmly across my face I felt revitalized. Yesterday was just a weird and crazy experience probably brought on by stress from school. That’s all. It was spring break and today was a new day.
Jimmy and I were back in his Camaro on the way to the beach. Chelsea and Nathan were meeting us after they finished packing. They were supposed to ride with us, but they’re never ready on time.
I laughed remembering how Nathan almost missed graduation because he overslept.
“What are you smiling about?” Jimmy playfully nudged me.
I shrugged. “Nothing, just thinking about how much fun this week’s gonna be.”
Jimmy’s blue eyes sparkled. “Oh yeah? What kind of fun did you have in mind?” He waggled his blonde eyebrows, earning him a stern look from me. His smile only grew. “Does this fun happen to include skinny dipping at night in the ocean… alone?
A giggle tumbled out my mouth. “Be a good boy and you might find out.”
His brows disappeared into his sandy blonde hair, intrigued. “Yes ma’am.” His free hand suddenly squeezed mine. “I’m glad you’re feeling better.”
Jimmy kissed the back of my hand and flashed one of those dazzling smiles that melted my heart into a puddle.
I really love him, I thought staring into his blue eyes. I want to marry him.
His expression mirrored mine—a silent promise that one day we would spend the rest of our lives together—and then it all disappeared.
Horror melted across his face as his hand slipped from mine and he gripped the steering wheel. Screeching tires pierced my ears.
At first I thought it was all in my head, but Jimmy was slamming on the breaks and swerving to miss a car spinning out of control. Glass shattered and metal scrapped metal…
Pain exploded in my head, concentrating above my right temple and with my eyes closed the acrid scent of burnt rubber, smoke, and fire snaked up my nose.
A weak moan escaped my mouth as I finally pried my eyes open. The window was busted out and tiny shards of glass were in my hair, face and lap. In the cracked side mirror I could see a deep gash above my left temple, spilling crimson down my face.
Ice descended down my back and my nerves trembled. I was having visions of the car accident yesterday.
This explains everything—the sound of glass shattering, the pain in my head, the screeching tires, the smoke, and fire.
It was exactly the same.
A warm hand suddenly gripped my cold one. “Mel? Mel? You okay?” Jimmy’s shaky voice slammed me back to reality.
Panic seized my chest as I turned toward him. “Jimmy?”
His blue eyes were dazed, but there was no blood—not that I could see. Relief washed over me.
“That looks bad.” He leaned over, grimacing, and tenderly touched my head.
I winced. “It’s fine. Nothing life threatening.”
He nodded. “Let’s get out of here.”
I pulled on the handle, but my door wouldn’t budge. “It’s stuck.”
Jimmy leaned over to take a look the moment I heard a second set of screeching tires—only this time louder.
My eyes slowly rose and saw the massive eighteen-wheeler skidding toward us, smoke spewing out as the breaks bore down.
A quiet calm settled over me.
There was no time.
This was it.
This was the end.
Blackness engulfed everything.
The man refilling the hotdog machine gave me a wide, toothless grin. What little teeth he did have were yellowed and covered in tobacco flecks.
I blinked, confused. Where was I?
Florescent lights buzzed above and the tinkling of the bell over the door signaled another customer entering the country convenient store.
“You think that’s Burt?” Jimmy’s voice spun me around and I clutched his bicep.
“What’s going on?”
He sucked in air. “Watch it slugger.” His smile turned devilish. “Maybe we should blow this party off and get a hotel room all week.”
“Party? What? We already went to the party.”
Jimmy’s expression turned skeptical. “What are you talking about? You feeling okay?” He pressed his hand to my forehead to check for a fever.
Oh God. My forehead—above my left temple.
In horrifying techno color it all came rushing back—ending with the car accident that killed us.
Dizziness engulfed me and I leaned against the rack of junk food. This can’t be happening.
We were dead. Dead.
“Mel? Maybe you should eat something.” He reached over and plucked something off the shelf, crinkling plastic loudly. “Have a little Debbie Cake.”
“Don’t you remember the accident?” I asked, my voice thick with emotion.
Concern deepened the lines in his forehead. “Melissa, what accident?”
Horror gripped my insides. I hadn’t been having a premonition—they were memories.
How many times have we lived these last two days, dying in the end each time? How many times had we forgotten?
Jimmy rubbed my shoulder. “Let’s just get back on the road, okay Mel?”
I nodded, staring unseeing at the dirty wood floor.
“Cheetos or Fritos?”
“Cheetos,” I said numbly, following him to the register that we could have been at five or five hundred times before.