Be strong, Stacy.


Stacy took a deep breath as she entered the elevator, as she did every Friday night at this time. Tapping her right foot as the floors dinged by, she glanced at her watch. She knew she wouldn’t be late, but she couldn’t help but check nervously every few minutes. Tonight, she most definitely would not be late to meet Sandi.


Because tonight, for the first time in three years, Sandi would be conscious for their weekly meeting. She had finally come out of her coma.


Stacy took another deep breath as she walked calmly and steadily to Sandi’s room. A nurse left, smiling at her.


“It’s wonderful, isn’t it? Your friend is finally awake! Even so, fifteen minutes only.”


“Yes, wonderful.” Stacy murmured as she was let into the room. Sandi’s parents had signed something allowing Stacy to visit, in the hopes a familiar voice would help her somehow.


Sandi was indeed, awake, though machines still beeped and whirred around her. The lighting was dim but Stacy could tell by Sandi’s surprised expression, or perhaps the increased speed of the heart-rate beeping, she was not who she was expecting.


“Stacy?” Her voice was creaky with disuse, but even so Stacy heard her clearly.


She paused in the doorway, wondering how much Sandi knew. Did she know it was 2004? Did she remember what happened?


Stacy moved closer, then summoning her courage, moved the nurse-call button from beside Sandi’s hand and sat on the bed next to her.


Sandi coughed a bit. “You look different, Stacy. Has it really been three years?”


Stacy suppressed the sudden urge to laugh. “Yeah. It’s September fourteenth, two thousand-four.”


Stacy felt Sandi’s hand cover hers in a weak grip. “Stace, what happened?” Her eyes pleaded for understanding.


“You don’t remember?” Stacy asked, she wasn’t all that surprised.


Sandi shook her head ever so slightly. “All I remember is the day after Jodi’s graduation party, there was a sale at Cashman’s. I decided the Fashion Club should disband but we still wanted to go. We met at my house. That’s all I remember. Why didn’t Quinn and Tiffany come today?”


Stacy pulled her hand away and watched the green blip of the heart monitor. “We never made it to the sale.” So many times she’d imagined this moment. Re-living that day so Sandi would know, would understand. “We were in your car, you were driving.” Sandi had insisted on it, the other knowing she just wanted to grab onto the last vestiges of leadership and control she had. “You were in a big rush to get to the sale, we still had early-hour privileges and you wanted to get to the racks before anyone else. Quinn was in the passenger seat, I was behind you and Tiff was behind Quinn.”


Stacy looked over at Sandi briefly and saw her listening with more attention than she had ever paid Stacy in all the time she had known her. She took a deep breath and continued. “Quinn was having trouble with her seat belt, but you started to pull out of the drive anyway.” Stacy paused, this was where her memory started to get fuzzy. She re-counted what she’d read a thousand times since that day. “I remember you had turned to look in the rearview mirror to check your makeup, just as you pulled into the street. A truck, they said he was going about sixty, sideswiped us just as you pulled out.”


Sandi looked horrified. “What happened?”


“His airbags went off, and he was okay. But he hit our side of the car. You ended up in a coma, your head hit the frame of the car instead of the window. Tiff hit her head, too but she only got a concussion. She left the hospital that night.”


“Stace, look at me.” Sandi almost pleaded. Stacy turned to her. “Turn the lights up?”


The lights in the room were still dim, to allow Sandi’s eyes to re-adjust to seeing. Stacy reached over to the wall and turned them up just a bit. “Oh, Stacy.” Tears welled up in Sandi’s eyes.


Scars ran all over the left side of her face. They were much lighter and less noticeable now, thanks to dermabrasion, skin grafting and a very talented plastic surgeon. But they were still there.


Sandi’s hands suddenly flew to her own face. Stacy smiled sadly. “Don’t worry, you were facing the passenger side, you only have a few tiny scars on your neck and jaw.”


“Stacy, I’m so sorry.”


Stacy shrugged. “What’s done is done.” She reached down to rub her thigh. It was aching again, there was probably a storm coming.


Sandi followed her movement. “Ohmygod. Ohmygod, Stacy.” Her breathing came in quick short gasps.


“Sandi calm down, or you’ll bring the nurses running.”


Sandi’s eyes filled again and the tears spilled over. “Stacy…”


“The impact crushed the door into my leg. They couldn’t save it.”


“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” Sandi was crying freely. “What about Quinn? She was on the other side, like Tiffany. She was okay, right? Right?”


Stacy heard the desperation in her voice. Be strong, Stacy. “Quinn was still trying to buckle her seatbelt when he hit us. She hit the windshield…” Stacy swallowed, she didn’t think it would be so hard. “She died instantly. When she hit, she broke her neck.”


Sandi was sobbing by now, tears running down to soak her pillow. “I’m so sorry. Is that why Tiffany didn’t come?”


Stacy sighed, she hadn’t spoken to Tiffany since the accident. She’d spent months in the hospital then rehab and by the time she went back to school, Tiffany had already graduated and gone on to college somewhere. Stacy had finished out high school a the year after the accident. “I haven’t spoken to her since that day.”


“I’m so sorry! I just wanted to do something as a group again, it wasn’t about the sale,” Sandi sobbed. “I didn’t know it would turn out like this. I’m so sorry.”


Stacy picked up the cross-stitch pillow she’d made two years ago when she was still in full-time occupational and physical therapy. It was a picture of ballet shoes, the ribbons trailing around the empty slipper’s pointed toes. ‘Dare to dream’ was lettered across the top in a darker shade of pink. She’d given it to Sandi the day she’d finished it and it had sat in the guest chair since.


“It was all my fault.” Sandi’s voice broke into her thoughts.


“Yes, it was.” Sandi’s sobs stopped abruptly. Whatever she was expecting in response, it wasn’t that.


Stacy turned back to her, still holding the pillow. “You wanted to go to that stupid sale. You wouldn’t wait for Quinn to buckle in, You had to check your makeup instead of looking before you pulled out. It was. All. Your. Fault.”


She pressed the pillow over Sandi’s face as tears streamed down her cheeks. “It was all your fault.” She whispered as the heart monitor beeped faster and faster until it made a long, solid beep.


“NURSE! NURSE!” Stacy sat back in the chair and pressed the call button as alarms went off all around her. “NURSE!!!”