First look: The Last Hour
Hello! First, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, or whatever else you may celebrate! Wishing everyone the best in this holiday season.
I thought today would be a good day to post the first teaser from The Last Hour. This is rough draft stuff 🙂 But more will be coming! Here’s the summary for The Last Hour:
Twenty-nine year old Carrie Thompson-Sherman has the life she always wanted: her PhD, a prestigious fellowship, and an amazing husband.
Her charmed life begins to unravel as a jealous colleague puts her fellowship in jeopardy and a hideous secret her husband carried home from Afghanistan comes to light. Hanging on by a single thread, a disastrous accident puts both her husband and her sister’s lives at risk. Heartbroken, Carrie will be faced with the most devastating choice of her life.
A choice that will change everything.
Chapter One: The First Minute
The beginning of the end started with five simple words: Jessica, behind me, shouted at Sarah, “Will you leave me alone?”
A screech of tires to our left, and I saw the truck coming at the driver’s side. Ray shouted a curse and Sarah screamed, and then the force of the impact, louder than any sound.
In the movies, pivotal moments sometimes happen in slow motion; so you can appreciate every detail, wonder at the tragedy or awesomeness of the moment. Real life doesn’t happen like that at all: it happens all at once, your senses laid open bare, every single detail happening at once while your mind takes it all in as if your skin and clothes had been ripped off.
The radio played that infuriatingly catchy Carly Rae Jepson song, which Ray loved; and Ray wore blue jeans and a gray T-shirt sporting the logo of a skull wearing a beret in front of crossed rifles, with the words “US Army Infantry” emblazoned above it. His left wrist bore the watch I bought him, and he’d got a haircut three days before, short on the sides, what he called a “high and tight.” Now his left hand mimicked a phone on the side of his face as he belted out, off key, “Call Me Maybe.” The dashboard clock read 11:15.
Behind him, Sarah sat, decked out in a black t-shirt, black pants and black eyeliner. She was turned away from from Jessica, her jaw set, angry.
Ray had given me a quick kiss on the cheek before we got in the car.
It was an impossibly sunny and bright August day, one hundred and two degrees outside, but in our car the air felt chilled and comfortable. We were driving down Connecticut Avenue, at the intersection with Tilden, on our way to the National Zoo.
I saw it at the last second: a green Jeep SUV with Virginia plates, the grill chromed, gleaming, as it ran through the light and only at the last second began to brake. The Jeep had vanity license plates reading, “GR8 DAD,” and bore the legend, “Go Hokies.”
Terror flooded through me, my gut twisting, my throat tightening up, dread at the back of my throat wiping out all thought. I didn’t have time to say anything, to scream, to respond, before it slammed into the side of our car.
Ray’s head slammed against the glass and impossibly against the front of the Jeep, which seemed to be coming right through the driver’s side windows, and glass flew across the car, pelting me. The force jerked me to the right, hard, and everything went white.
Formless images and thoughts.
Ray, in his uniform, medals gleaming. He smiled across at me as Dylan and Alexandra kissed in the university chapel. Later, he pulled me to the side and whispered words that made me faint with joy.
Jessica and Sarah, in matching dresses, playing hide and seek in the upstairs of our house in San Francisco, giggling little girls, not yet locked in constant battle with each other.
Ray again, his right arm in the air, beads of sweat on his forehead and dark circles under his eyes, as he swore an oath to tell the truth.
His arms around me, warm, comfortable, as I leaned my forehead against his shoulder and he whispered, “We’ll get through this. No matter what.”
My eyes opened, and my eyes locked on the two rings on my ring finger, the diamond and the tiny band decorated with sapphires. My entire body spasmed in pain, and I couldn’t move my head, and blood and glass sprinkled a pattern across my lap and on my hands.
“Don’t move, miss,” a voice said, and I needed to scream, “I can’t move!” but nothing came out.
The fear flooded back through me, dread, and I tried to turn and see Ray and Sarah, but someone held my head in place as someone else strapped something around my neck, and they were easing me out of the car and a sharp pain ran up my back and I was laying on my back, and they wheeled me away from the car.
“Ray… my sister… are they okay?” I tried to scream the words, but they came out a raw, tiny whisper.
“We’re checking on the others right now, Ma’am, stay calm.”
Stay calm. How? I was panting. Where was Ray? And the twins? I felt and heard a thump, and I was staring at the ceiling of the ambulance. Two emergency medical technicians were checking me over, one strapping something around my wrist while the other leaned close and asked, “Do you know where you are, Ma’am?”
I struggled to answer, but fog seemed to cloud my thoughts. I wanted to clasp my hands together across my belly, but I’d been strapped down. My throat was raw, and it felt like my brain was working slowly. I had to concentrate to understand his words. “Washington,” I said. “We were on our way to the zoo. Where’s my husband? My sisters?”
Even as I asked the question I hated the whine in my voice, but I had to know if Ray and the twins were all right, and no one would answer my question.
“One of your sisters is going in another ambulance, and they’re working on getting the others out of the vehicle. We need you to stay calm, ma’am.”
I screeched, “Where are they?”
“They’re going to be fine, ma’am, stay calm, so we can get everyone taken care of.”
I heard the doors shut, and it was darker inside the ambulance. Then we were rolling, and I heard the siren wail. From my position laying flat on my back, with my head and body immobilized, I couldn’t see much. A rack of equipment and monitors. One of the EMTs stared at a monitor, reading off numbers to the other, who took notes. The ambulance hit a pothole, and I felt myself lurch, then we were slowing down, the horn blaring. It was so loud, and my head hurt, and I was queasy.
“Ma’am, I’m going to ask you some questions, it will save time when we get to the hospital.”
“Yes,” I croaked.
“Let’s start with your name?”
“Carrie,” I said. “Carrie… uh… Thompson-Sherman.” I closed my eyes. I must have hit my head harder than I thought. Fear ran through me again. Was Ray okay? Sarah and Jessica? They hadn’t told me anything.
“Okay, Carrie,” the EMT said in a reassuring tone. “As far as we can tell, you’re in pretty good shape. A possible concussion, but no broken bones, no bleeding. We have your neck immobilized to protect against any spinal cord damage, but we’re sure you’ll be all right. I want you to stay relaxed.”
I tried to nod, and scratched out, “Relaxed.” I had to blink back tears. How the hell did they expect me to relax? I still saw the car in my mind, a huge green jeep barreling down on us. Ray’s head slamming against the glass. The glass shattering, flying toward my face.
“Good, Carrie. Now, can you tell me your age?”
I had to think again. “Twenty-eight. No. Twenty-nine.”
“Are you taking any medications? Are there any medical conditions we should be concerned about?”
“No,” I whispered.
“Can you tell us who else was in the vehicle with you?”
I stifled a sob. “Ray. And my sisters. Sarah and Jessica. They were visiting.” My voice trailed off and I said, “They got here two days ago. From San Francisco. Is… are… are they okay?”
“Everyone’s going to be fine, Carrie.”
I tried to swallow. My throat was dry, swollen. We hit another bump, and my throat swelled with vomit. “Oh God,” I mumbled as the bile came up my throat.
The EMTs rushed forward, and tilted me on the gurney, one of them holding a basin up to my mouth as I lost my breakfast. Acid flooded my mouth, and I puked, and puked again, everything I’d eaten and drunk that day coming up in a huge rush, leaving me gagging, tears running down my face.
I wanted to curl up and cry. I wanted to find Ray and my sisters. There was nothing I could do, but lay there, tilted up on my side, smelling my own filth. My eyes rolled up, the noxious smell nearly making me vomit again, as if there was anything left to expel. Finally, I whispered, “I think I’m done.”
They let me down. Slowly I’m sure, gently. But it felt as if someone had hit me in the back with a hammer. I gasped, and one of them said, “Is there anyone we can call? Family?”
I closed my eyes, trying not to groan. My eldest sister Julia would have been my first choice, but she was in Europe somewhere. And my mother had only become more anxiety driven and unstable in the last few years. Neither of them would do. Plus, someone needed to call Ray’s parents.
I answered the question. “Please… call my sister, Alexandra.” I gave him the number, and he wrote it down, and the ambulance swayed and rocked, then another thump as we ran over yet another pothole. I closed my eyes, trying to ignore the nausea. I must have a concussion. I hoped they’d call Alex right away. Please God don’t let Dylan be the one to answer the phone. He would know how to get a hold of Ray’s parents, but he would take some calming down. Dylan and Ray had served in Afghanistan together, and were as close as brothers. Closer.
I was so scared.
They’re working on getting the others out of the vehicle.
What did that mean? How badly were they injured?
I didn’t have any answers, and I felt darkness closing in, and I was so sleepy.
“Ma’am… you need to stay awake. You’ve may have a concussion. Open your eyes.”
I fought to open them, and tried to speak. My throat was so dry I couldn’t do any more than croak. “You’ll call my sister?” I asked. “Please?”
The EMT put his hand on my shoulders, and said, “We will. I promise.”
“Thank you,” I whispered.
It was the longest ride of my life.