Wings To Fly

- a contemporary romance -

Beate Boeker

She saw it a split second too late. A blur of green and beige—where had it jumped from?—loomed up at her left without warning, threatening like a monster out of a nightmare. The high screeching of tires shrilled in her ears, on and on and on and on, until it felt as if it came from within her. And then, just as her brain finally reacted to the emergency and her foot hit the brake in an desperate attempt to stop, she felt the impact.

It took her car from the side, lifted it up and tossed it away as if it were a ball in the hands of a child. Cathy was thrown to the side like a used rag.

She cowered down by instinct and gripped the steering wheel as hard as she could. A film in slow motion, she saw the world sliding by. The dusty tarmac of the street, twisting like a snake, a birch tree so close she could make out the white bark and dark-green leaves on the lower branches before it galloped past her, and then, a long brick wall, zooming in until the rest of the world was blotted out by brick and mortar.

The bricks were red.

Faded orange-red, brown-red, dried-blood-red.

This is NOT happening! The thought flashed through her mind, even when she knew she had no chance.

The car stopped half an inch off the wall.

Cathy sat and stared. Orange-red, brown-red, blood-red. A large piece of mortar had fallen off at one corner of the wall.

She looked down. The knuckles of her hands on the steering wheel were white. One fingernail stuck in the plastic surface and broke off when she eased off her hold. She didn’t feel anything. And then the thought that had dominated her for hours came back, useless now, like a hen without head, but still running. I can’t be late.

The door at her side was wrenched open.

“Are you hurt?”

Startled, Cathy looked up, straight into a frowning face. She saw him thrown in sharp relief, with every detail stamped into her brain as if she had never seen a face before. He had brown eyes. With yellow flecks in them. Like a lion. Curious.

“Are you hurt?” he repeated and touched her shoulder.

She opened her mouth to answer his question, but what she really said surprised herself. “I don’t have time.”

He blinked. “Excuse me?”

She swallowed and struggled out of her seat, but her knees shook so hard, she almost lost her balance.

He gripped her by the arm. “You’re not okay.” He searched her face with narrowed eyes.

Cathy took a deep breath. For some reason, it sounded like a sob. She had no time to cry now. She had to get to the interview in time, if it was the last thing she did. Afterwards, she might look back and take stock. Not now.

He bent down to her and forced her to meet his eyes. Though she was standing now, he still towered over her. His sun-bleached hair flopped forward into his face. Beneath his sun-tan, he was pale, and there was a mixture of fury and concern in those lion eyes. “Are you hurt?” he repeated, emphasizing every word.

She shook her head, feeling nothing. It was as if she was standing next to herself, watching herself and commenting on everything, while the real self was numb.

“Are you sure?”

He had a compelling voice. Like whiskey. Yes, if whiskey could speak, it would have such a voice. She’d always loved the golden brown color and peaty smell which took her immediately to wind-swept hills and wide blue skies. She gave a start. He had asked her something. “I’m okay.” Her voice sounded rough.

Step by step, things started to feel more real. Screwing her eyes together against the blinding sun—her sun-glasses must have fallen off—she tried to take in the situation.

The monster was a van. It was parked at the other side of the road. Beige with dark green letters that said “Mick Vandenholt“. The sun glistened on its clean windows which reflected the light. It did not seem to have suffered much damage, if you didn’t count a dent at the front and some scratches in the paint. Well, it was a giant compared to her little yellow Honda Civic.

The heat rising from the street crept up her legs and made her pantyhose stick to her legs.

Cathy stared down the street. Thank God she had turned into a smaller side street, of Mercer, just a minute before the accident, in her effort to get a better orientation by following the silhouette of the Space Needle.

She whirled back to retrace the route of the accident. Her small Honda faced back in the direction where she had come from, having spun around after the impact. It stood halfway on the sidewalk, as if she had parked at a rakish angle.

Cathy swung around and discovered a stop sign that left no room for doubt—she had overlooked it, maybe because it didn’t show well against the facade of the Starbuck’s just behind it, but probably more because she’d been so busy deciphering street names and searching them in her map it was no wonder the accident had happened.

It was a wonder she had survived. But she had no time to be grateful now. She had to go.

Now.

Struggling down the panic that rose within her, she took a step closer to check her car.

He had watched her getting her bearings without comment, but as he followed her look he said, “I’m afraid it won’t take you anywhere anymore. At least not today.”

Something cold gripped Cathy’s heart. Then she saw it too. The van had driven into the side of the Honda, crushing the metal of the fender straight into the tire. The black rubber material wobbled around the rim, good for nothing.

The victim of her hectic driving said something.

Cathy jumped. “Excuse me?” Her voice sounded like a foreign thing.

His lion eyes seemed to assess her. “Should I take you to hospital?” He hesitated. “I believe you’re in shock.”

She shook her head, impatient. “Oh no. I’m all right, really.” At least her knees were almost steady now, and she wasn’t two people anymore.

Realizing she had been less than gracious, she tried a smile. “Thank you. I’m very sorry.”

When he smiled back, a dimple deepened in his left cheek. It transformed his lean face and gave him a charm she found irresistible. “Are you sure you don’t want to go in for a check-up? I could drive you there; it would not be a problem.”

Maybe it was his smile; maybe it was because she was still rattled. She heard herself say. “Can you drive me to the Convention Center?”