“Will? Will, wake up!” Jen whispers, waking me from my dreams. I look up into her big, green, pleading eyes and blink away the fog of sleep.
“What is it, Jen?” I ask, sitting up and rubbing my eyes to clear them faster.
“Shh! Not so loud!” she whispers back, impish worry written on her face. I look to the clock on my nightstand. The glowing red numbers seam to shine forebodingly into the dark of my bedroom.
“Jennifer! What is this all about? It’s two o’ clock in the morning!”
“SHH! I know!” she exclaims quietly, the worry turning to terror as her eyes dart to the crack in the door. We sit, hardly daring to breath as we listen for any sign of the parents stirring. When the house remains still, I turn back to her.
“Jen, are you crazy? Why on earth would you wake me up this early? Is something wrong?” I say worriedly beneath my breath.
“It’s Christmas, Will!” she states with child like glee.
“Jennifer, you are 15 years old! We are much too old to be sneaking peaks at the presents!” At my harsh words her eyes drop, her shoulders slump, and every feature of her body clearly radiates disappointment, even under the black shroud of night that surrounds us.
“But… but you promised!” she says, lower lip trembling.
“No I didn’t! I haven’t peaked since we were little kids! And even then I wasn’t good at it. What are you talking about, sis?” I state. I know for a fact that I never told her I would do this. But it’s not like my sister to want to peak… she’s always been such a good girl! So good and sweet, in fact, that it used to get on my nerves when we were little. We never got to do the “fun stuff” the other kids did, because she would tell mom and dad. But pulling pranks on her was never fun either, because even when we did something horribly mean to her she wouldn’t get mad.
“No, not that! You don’t remember?” she pleads exasperatedly.
“What are you talking about?” I beg. Now I know she’s lost it!
“Will! You said that on Christmas morning we would sneak out real early, and you’d take me to our spot to watch the sunrise and sing carols and talk and stuff!” The remembrance comes to me like a slap in the face.
“Oh yeah! I’m sorry, Jen! I completely forgot!” I say quickly, softly smacking my forehead before flinging the blankets aside. She smiles and backs away on tiptoe, and I follow. We sneak nimbly past our parent’s bedroom door and down the stairs, skipping over the squeaky steps. Without a word, we grab some blankets and a flashlight from the hall closet, pad softly to the door, grab our coats, slip our boots on over our pajamas, and whisk out the door. A childish air of excitement and mischief hangs around us, and Jenny’s smile reaches from ear to ear, her teeth gleaming in the dark. I feel my own smile stretch across my cheeks, and it widens until my face hurts.
We sidle past the motion-sensors of the garage light and make a break for my car. I open her door for her so that she can get in with her armload of blankets, and once she’s sitting I carefully shut it without making a sound. I run around to the driver’s side and do the same, but wait a moment before starting the car. We watch our parent’s window silently for any signs of life, but nothing happens. I wince while starting the engine, watch another moment, and leave my headlights off until we’ve left the driveway.
As soon as we’re safe, the car fills with laughter. We laugh until tears run from our eyes, and Jen suddenly hushes. I feel her head rest against my shoulder, and take a hand from the wheel to pat her hair.
“I’m gonna miss you somethin’ awful, Will!” she whispers. I ruffle her hair reassuringly.
“Oh it’s not that bad, Jenny! I’m not leavin’ for a couple months yet! And I’ll still be back on break and for the holidays!” I tell her. I know it’ll be tough for her when I leave for college. The longest time we’ve been apart was a week last summer when she went to youth camp without me. It was her first time there on her own, too. I was too old to go with her.
At the thought of leaving, an old, familiar twinge takes hold of my heart, an odd, melancholy mixture of dream-like excitement for the future and a fear of the unknown.
“And you can call me every night, Jen. It wont be too terribly different!” I say in that hopeful voice that we both know means I’m trying to convince myself as well.
She looks at me distrustfully, but agrees to drop the subject. I watch from the corner of my eye as she reaches for the radio, turning to our favorite station at this time of year.
Within moments, we’re belting out the words of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and laughing at how out of tune and horrible we sound. It shouldn’t be too much longer now. Our destination is an old, run down, abandoned shack we discovered while hiking one day. It sits in a little clearing at the crest of a small hill, and the sagging, half-rotted front porch has a perfect view of the valley and-if you’re there early enough-the sun rising up over the mountains. We go there to hang out all the time, especially in the summer. That’s why I told Jenny a couple months ago, at the end of summer vacation, that I would do this with her for Christmas.
I throw my arm over her shoulders and look at her smiling face for a moment as we sing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” together. The back of the car fishtails a bit, and I lift my foot from the gas pedal, both hands on the wheel. The tires start to skid, and then the car spins. I try to straighten her out, but we were going so fast, and there’s just so much ice… I hear Jenny scream, and we slam into the little ditch on the side of the road. The car flips, and everything goes black.
Cold. Cold is all I can feel as I open my eyes. A scene of complete horror and chaos greets me, with bits of metal scattered over the snow. My legs are trapped under the crushed and twisted metal of my side of the hood. The steering wheel is imbedded in my stomach, and for a moment I wonder why it doesn’t hurt. I’m probably just in shock. Yeah, definitely in shock.
Oh God. My eyes open wider, and I look frantically for Jen. Where is she?
“Jen!” I moan, the word coming as hardly a whisper from my dry, cracked lips. The windshield is strewn about in a million shards of glass, and blood drips from her side of the car. At last, my eyes find her body lying maybe 10 feet from the car, stretched out across the snow. Her normally straight, blond hair is a dirty brownish-red clump, and deep, sinister crimson jumps at me from the snow around her. The sun has barely started to rise, the sky still a deep shade of blue. Snowflakes drift slowly down around us, and the cold is unbearable. Jen’s skin is an almost blue-ish pale, except for where bloody gashes darken it. One elbow is cocked at an odd angle, and I wince. For a moment my heart stops. My blood turns cold, and the breath catches in my throat. No. She can’t be dead, can she? No, I think her ribcage moved. She’s alive, if only just.
I try to wiggle from my trap, but it’s no use. This wicked hunk of metal doesn’t intend on releasing me from its grasp anytime soon. Panic takes hold of me again. I’ve got to get to her! She’ll freeze to death out there, if she doesn’t bleed out first! Tears cloud my vision, but I brush them away. What can I do? I’ve got to get help, but how? I search the car for anything that might help, and find my cell phone against the door… on the other side of the car. I wriggle my body in that direction, reaching, reaching, praying that somehow my arm will reach it. Pain bursts from my sides and back, but I push on through it. I have got to get that phone!
After what feels like ours, by some miracle my fingers close around it. I pull it back painfully, and with bloodied fingers dial 911. My breathing comes fast and hard from fighting the pain and I quake with cold and fear, but I somehow manage to tell them where we are. I stare at Jen’s body, silently willing it to move, to shiver, to just do something to tell me she’s still alive. Occasionally, I think I see her chest rise and take a breath, but my own body is shaking so that it’s impossible to tell for sure. I turn so cold that I begin to drift off, my eyelids drooping against my will. I fight to stay awake, listening for the sirens of the ambulance, but I just don’t have the energy to fight back. As I slip slowly into unconsciousness, I silently beg, tears falling slowly down my face. “Oh God, don’t let her die. Please, please don’t let her die…”
My eyelids flutter drowsily, and I slowly wake from my sleep.
“Wake up, sleepy head! It’s New Years Eve!” comes Jen’s soft, hoarse voice. I smile, struggling into a sitting position. I lay in a hospital bed surrounded by my parents, a TV showing footage of some parade, “get well soon” cards littered around on every surface of the room, and Jenny’s smiling face above me, a bandage above one eye. I shake my head, trying to rid myself of the images of that morning. Every night, my nightmares take me back, forcing me to relive that awful crash. We were lucky… we both made it out alive.
Jen hops gingerly up onto the bed beside me, curling up into my shoulder. I wrap an arm around her carefully, and her warm smile makes me want to cry. Somehow, she got out of it better than I did… And I can only thank God above for that. She has one arm in a sling and various bandages wrapped about her, covering stitches that attempt to close the gashes left behind by the broken windshield.
She had a mild concussion, and still has a bad cough from the cold as I do, but she’s well on her way to recovery. The doc said that, in a couple months, we wont even know the difference.
I didn’t get off so easily… But I’m glad to carry the brunt of this blow. It was my stupid idea to go out that morning, and the crash was entirely my fault. I should have paid more attention to the road. I couldn’t stand it if she had been injured worse!
The hood crushed both of my legs, and the impact of the steering wheel broke my back, just above the waist. I’m paralyzed from there down, and they said I’ll probably never walk again. But the nurses tell me that, with all of the damage done to my legs, it’s doubtful I would have either way, and I’m lucky to lack feeling down there. My wrist was crushed when they tried to cut me loose of the crumpled car, after the door and a hunk of metal collapsed in on me, and they had to perform some major reconstructive surgery. We won’t know for a while yet if I’ll ever regain full use of it. But, as I take a breath and look around, allowing my eyes to rest longest on every blessed detail of my beautiful, living, breathing little sister… I can’t help but feel like the luckiest man that ever lived on this earth. We easily could have both lost our lives to that accident, and yet here we are.
I squeeze her tight, looking down into those two brilliant, green, jewel-like eyes, filled with love, and youth, and life, and breath it all in.
“I love you, Will.” She whispers.
“Not nearly as much as I love you.” I whisper back, kissing her forehead gently.
“Will… does it… Does it hurt?” she asks hesitantly, with a tremble in her voice.
I hesitate a moment before answering, and use my arm to readjust my position.
“No Jen. It doesn’t hurt. As long as I have your beautiful eyes to look at, and my perfect little sister to protect and live for… No. Nothing could hurt me, as long as I have you here.” I say softly, resting my head on hers.
I may not look like royalty, but in my heart I know… No king was ever as happy, or as wealthy as I am right now.