Trembling like a Jimi Hendrix guitar string, the needle of the tachometer swung up towards the red line and then fell back down with each steady shift of the gears. The sea blue 1969 Corvette 427 Stingray glided like a jet airplane from curve to curve. On that warm Californian afternoon, Anthony escaped the city limits of suburbia and tamed the smooth asphalt stretches hugging the Black Star Canyon.
His car in its heyday was named the fastest production car in the world, but ten years before, it had been nothing but a pile of rust with little evidence of its once-celebrated glory. For eighteen years it had been forgotten underneath a green tarp in his parentsâ backyard. Anthony graduated from college magna cum laude, and when his father asked what he wanted as a graduation present, there was no hesitation. He towed away the Stingray the very next day.
Today, Anthony was behind the wheel of the beast for the first time in his life, after years of dedication and monkey-greasing with his head buried under the hood into the wee hours of the morning. His decade of hard work culminated in that moment of pure exhilaration.
The trees looming along the road thickened and thickened with every mile, swallowing the grand view of the horizon as the vehicle quickly entered an impenetrable forest that gulped the road. The dayâs progression cradled the Sun into the embrace of the inevitable night. The evening twilight summoned chilly air and slid it down the slopes of the mountain. Anthony turned on the headlights of the Corvette, knowing that he could not yet turn around and go back to the city. Fine mist formed on the windshield as the twin beams pierced through patches of crawling light fog. He noticed shadows scattering in all directions far beyond the rows of tall trees as he flew by in his rocket. As he tried to make out what was happening, the shadows got closer and closer to the road until a group of five white-tailed deer revealed themselves to the passing motorist. Being the city-boy that he was, he appreciated the magnificent scene of nature that appeared before his eyes.
Suddenly, only yards away from his car, two large eyes reflected the light of his headlights. His stomach flinched and he held his breath while slamming the brake pedal as hard as he could. The tires screeched as they painted two narrow smoky-black stretches of burned rubber onto the road. A big bang echoed through the forest. The engine hummed steadily, and the radio still played the soft notes of a song.
He slowly released his eyes from the clinch of his face as if maybe nothing had happened. The Vetteâs door swung open and he cautiously walked around the car, inspecting the front end. He turned around and saw the lifeless body of a large deer lying nearby. Its front legs were badly mangled, resembling strings of pasta covered with chunky marinara sauce. Blood was steadily running out of the animalâs nose, eyes, and mouth. Anthony approached the motionless carcass with fury and screamed wildly, âLook at what youâve done! Where am I going to find a headlight for a Stingray? Itâs a 1969! Do you hear me? Do you see how much body damage you caused, you son ofâŠâ He stopped his breath in mid-sentence when the animal squealed in anguish. Anthony froze, processing the situation. The deerâs bloody eyes quivered and it tried to stand up despite its crushed legs. Fighting against the impossible wore it down within a moment, and it again relaxed its blood-spattered body on the asphalt as if it had accepted death. âOh, no, do not die on me now, I am not responsible for this. I am not responsible. Do not try to make me responsible,â Anthony said as he frantically tried to locate his cell phone in the pocket of his jacket. He held up the phone and pressed 9 twice. A ruckus of sound coming from the right side of the road grabbed his attention. A large herd of deer had been watching the scene unfold unbeknownst to him until they were spooked by the bright screen of the phone and scattered into the forest. All were gone in a flash except for one exceptionally large stag standing tall only a few yards away from Anthony.
âAshley, itâs me.â
âI know who this is,â she replied. He could sense her warm smile through the speaker.
âTony, my dear, how come you call me now, why did you not call me two years, ago? Iâve missed you for a very long time, you know.â
âAsh, I know I should have kept in touch, but right now, I need a favor.â
âWhat is it, Tony, is everything ok? Youâre worrying me.â
âYes, everything is ok, well, almost ok. I crashed my car, but I didnât get hurt.â
âTony, where are you? I can come.â
âNo, Ash, Iâm fine, my car is drivable. I called you because I need you to help me with the deer I struck.â
âTony, call the police, they will handle it with animal control.â
âNo, Ash, they will just shoot it. I need you to save it.â
âTony, you give me too much credit, I was only an assistant at the pet hospital, plus I havenât worked there for over two years, you know.â
âI know, but you can help it, canât you?â
âI guessâŠâ she said hesitantly.
âOk then, Iâll be at your house in an hour or soâŠâ
âTony!â she screamed at her first sight of the one hundred pound deer leaning upright on the passenger seat of Anthonyâs car. âShe is dying, nothing can be done.â
âWe can try, Ash, it doesnât hurt to try.â
âListen, Tony, she will never have a fulfilling life. She couldnât stand rehab in her condition, even if we kept her alive. Tony, you just have to accept it.â
âSheâŠ itâs a girlâŠ That makes sense. Her mate was there in the forest watching me the whole time.â
âOk, Tony, I have Brianâs shotgun in the house, weâll take her out back and you got to shoot her. Thatâs whatâs best for her. You trust me, donât cha?â
âI do, Ash. I just donât know, what was the point?â
âTony, things happen for a reason, but we donât always know what the reason is. At least not at first. Right now, we need to put her out of her misery, she is hurting badly.â
He held the shotgun point blank to the skull of the panting animal. His hand was shaking. He slowly bowed down his head and away from her. He could not look at her eyes shifting from side to side as if looking for a comforting lie from him about what was about to happen. The sharp thunderous sounds of the shotgun awakened a flock of white feathered birds from an enormous elm tree, and they soared upwards to the skies like guardian angels returning to the heavens.
Ashley slowly pried the weapon, still pointed at the deer, from his frozen hand. She gently wrapped her arms around him, and rested her head on his shoulder. âItâs over, itâs all over.â They stood in the night motionless and soundless like two peaks of a mountain.
âTony! Go get a knife from the kitchen, go get the largest knife you can find! Hurry!â
âWhat?â Anthony questioned with surprise.
âYou have your purpose, you found your purpose,â she exclaimed with happiness through her tears. âShe is pregnant! I saw her baby move in her belly. We can still save it, if we get the baby fawn out, immediately.â
March 22nd, you have three new messages.
Tony, my man, you are late for work, buddy. I hate you for sleeping in. I should have stayed in bed too. Anyhow, Robert is being a clown as usual, so he asked me to call you.
Dude, where are you? Everyoneâs asking about you. If you still want that promotion, you better get here and woo Sumitomo. Robert says weâre done if you donât get the account. Ok, call me.
Tony, itâs me, Robert. Ahh, I needed you today Maverick. Paul pulled through, thank God. We got Sumitomo in the bag. Now, I need you to get on the next flight to Tokyo, ASAP. Use the American Express to make reservations.
March 23rd, you have two new messages.
Tony, I really miss you. Call me, handsome.
Hey stud, itâs Paul here your best friend. Remember me, hahaha. Can you hear thisâŠ Paaaarte time, we are on the strip, call me, I will meet you up at that hot dog stand by Vine St. There are more girls in the VIP than I can handle. I need you partner. If this is about Jessica, forget her. She is trouble, you know. I saw her again with some other Hollywood producer douche at CafĂ© Paris. Anyhoo, drinks on me stud!
March 29th, you have five new messages.
Tony, itâs Jessica. Call meâŠ
Tony, I miss you baby. Call me, please.
Are you breaking up with me? Well, thatâs real immature. At least call me, we should talk.
Hey friendâŠ itâs Paul. Youâve been gone for over a weekâŠ Robert promoted me, todayâŠ uhhh, Anyhoo…. I have ideas and I need your help. Also, Jessica has been blowing up my phone with voicemails, asking about you. Take careâŠ
I hate you Tony. I truly hate you. I am not your girlfriend anymore. So long, Tony.
April 26th, you have one new message.
Anthony, this Paul. AhemâŠ you have been gone for over a month. I know you are not dead. I saw your car in the parking lot at PetSmart. Robert wants me to let you go. The bigwigs think you jumped ship to another company. Call me today, and you can still come back to the office as if you were hiking the Appalachians or some other bull. HR is mailing your last paycheck on Monday. By the way, when did you get a pet, I thought you hated them. I love you bro.
June 3rd, you have two new messages.
This message is for Anthony Bennet. Your account with Bank of America ending in 3444 is overdrawn. Please call us at 1.800.432.1000 at your earliest convenience. Thank you.
Tony, I just received your email. Of course I will buy the Vette from you. I am your best friend despite itâs the first time you contact me in over three months.
September 18th, you have one new message
Hello, Mr. Bennet, my name is Allen and I am calling on behalf of the Home Owner Association of Green Palm community. We have received several complaints in regards to loud animal noises coming from your apartment. Please call our office to discuss the situation.
October 7th, you have two new messages.
Mr. Bennet, this is Laura from your local Remax office. As per our conversation last week, I have placed your condo up for sale. At 20% below market value, I believe your home will be sold very soon despite the current slow real estate market. In fact, I already have two qualified buyers lined up, and I hope I can schedule a time with you for showings. Mr. Bennet, have a wonderful rest of the day. Cheers.
âŠGood morning, this call is forâŠ misterâŠ âŠoh yes, Mr. Anthony Bennet. My name is Clive Crowley, I am the family lawyer for the Nightingales and I am calling to inform you my employer has decided to hire you as ranch-hand at their Washington estateâŠ so congratulations to you, Mr. Bennet. Mr. Nightingale Junior has assigned me to assure your relocation from Southern California to our ranch in Ellensburg will be effortless and efficient. I suppose I need to speak to you about your pet deer. Miss Helen has taken a great deal of interest in making sure the deerâs needs are provided adequately. Call me as soon as possible. My direct line is 509 555 7576.
Anthony had covered the better part of the road to Ellensburg, coursing through coastal Northern California, Oregon, and on the second day of his 1,000-mile journey he was already deep in the heart of the Evergreen State. The momentous height of the Cascades overpowered the landscape as the road descended into the valley. The trees, the rocks, the roads, the buildings and pretty much everything he saw drastically and vividly contrasted his home town. He had left the concrete jungle that he so dearly loved, not knowing the beauty of unpaved roads and green grass fields extending as far as the eye can see. The U-Haul truck muddled through the gravel road leading to the Nightingalesâ ranch. âBambi, are you thirsty?â he yelled over his shoulder while still trying to keep his eyes on the road. A high-pitched squeal mixed with a weird baby cry sounded from the back of the truck. âOk, sweetheart, I will get you some water before we meet the Nightingales.â
He pulled over and opened the rolling door of the U-Haul. Inside the truck, the female fawn ecstatically rushed towards him and licked his neck while it hopped playfully on its two front hoofs. âBambi, what did I say about ambushing me like this? Calm down now, weâre almost there. I know youâve been stuck here, but I promise, very soon youâll roam around like a real deer, not an apartment deer,â he said with a chuckle.
As Anthony drove through the oversized gates of the ranch, he spotted four people standing on the terrace of a large Victorian style house. Although he had never met them before, he knew it was Mr. and Mrs. Nightingale, their only daughter, Helen, and the lawyer, Clive. Mr. Nightingale was a hunk of a man, over six feet tall with large rough hands, bushy eyebrows, deep blue eyes, blondish hair turning gray, and despite his weathered face his humble look projected a kind of warmth, maybe even innocence, that can only be preserved in the heart of a person who has never lived in a big city. Mrs. Nightingale was slim, gentle, and very attractive for her age. She seemed friendly, talkative and energetic. She may be small, but God gave her the perkiness you get from a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau. Clive was a bit shorter than the average man. His stature suggested fragility, yet he was as proper as one would expect of a highly educated British man. Helen, oh, Helen was something else. She was a gorgeous twenty-something gal. Her beauty was unearthly. One would have no trouble imagining her jumping off the canvas of a classical painting portraying the Greek deity of love, beauty, desire, and pleasure. She walked softly, as if with every step a puffy cloud cushioned her porcelain feet. The light wind gently played with her longish black hair the way ripples on the surface of a lake play with the reflection of the moon. She wore one of those fancy rich-folk horse-riding dressage suits with long black boots, white pants, and a black coat with golden buttons. On her left hand over a black leather glove, she wore a large diamond engagement ring.
âWelcome Anthony, it is a real pleasure to finally meet you. I am sure youâre weary from driving, so Helen will show you where youâll be staying. But before that, let me introduce to you, the family. This is Mr. Nightingale Junior and Mrs. Nightingale,â the lawyer pointed at the couple.
âWelcome, young man,â Mr. Nightingale greeted him and extended his hand for a handshake. âYou have made quite an impression on Helen during your phone interview. She had the final say since you will be looking after her babies.â
Mrs. Nightingale grabbed her husbandâs powerful left arm with both hands, leaned on him, and said with dreamy eyes, âDo you love horses, Anthony?â
âI think Iâll be a good fit, although Iâve never even ridden one.â
âThatâs why Iâve saddled up two of my horses. Come, come, Iâll show you the property.â Helen pulled Anthony by the hand with childlike excitement. Anthony looked at Mr. Nightingale for approval.
âGo on kids, weâll meet you at seven for dinner in the main dining room. Iâll have Jorge take your deer to the barn.â
âHoney, please be sure you come back on time, Kody will be joining us tonight,â Mrs. Nightingale yelled at the two as they were walking away.
âYes, mummy, I know, he is my fiancĂ©. We talk all the time.â
Helen and Anthony rode to the middle of a ripe wheat field. She explained that her parents owned land beyond the forest on the northern side where the mountainous terrain is prominent. The flat valley land was divided into three equal sections: pasture for livestock, orchards, and grain fields. The main house is about one mile from the barn, where also the Nightingales built a cabin specifically for the horsesâ caretaker. Ever since Helen can remember, she has been solely responsible for her very first horse named Achilles. As she began to compete at shows and fairs, the Nightingales added another four horses over the years. âI have two more semesters at university before I graduate, but with the wedding next fall, I find myself spending less and less time with them. Thatâs why we hired you. Donât worry; Iâll still be around to show you the ropes. I know you lack experience, but I know you have the heart for it too.â
âThank you, Miss Nightingale,â Anthony replied.
âWhat should I call you? What do your friends call you?â
âAnthony is fine.â
âWell, Anthony, you may call me Helen, no more of that âMissâ stuff.â
As it turned out, Anthony was a natural when it came to tending to the horses. He woke up early every morning and stayed late. Helen would spend an hour or two supposedly helping him, but more often than not the two just talked about anything and everything. On the weekend, he would go to town. He would pick up fresh produce from the farmers market, or get his haircut done at the townâs only barber shop. He would even catch a movie on Sunday afternoon. Although he was never a church-going man back in California, he attended services every Sunday morning, probably because Helen suggested he should go and check it out. Although work at the ranch never ends, on weekdays he would enjoy an hour or two fly fishing at the Yakima River, a skill he picked up from Helen. He learned several other skills from the other workers on the farm such as cattle driving, grafting, and the finer details of the local almanac. Even though the highest level of woodwork he had ever done in California was putting together an Ikea desk with an Allen wrench, today, all alone, from the ground up, he raised and painted a large circular fence around the barn where Bambi could play and graze out in the open.
A week before Christmas, after a three-day heavy snowfall, Anthony noticed Bambi completely absorbed in something in the distance. âWhat is it, Bambi? Are the wolves scaring you again?â Anthony tried to locate the subject of Bambiâs curiosity by shading his eyes with his palm and scanning the vast white field.
âWhat are you looking for, Anthony.â Helen had come to the barn unexpectedly.
âI donât know, thereâs something out there thatâs making Bambi tense.â
âDonât you see it, silly?â She giggled, pressed her body next to his, and pointed towards the edge of the forest. âYou see him now? Sheâs found a friend.â
There on a small hill stood a massive seven-point buck. A little while later, three deer joined the perched animal. Bambi raced from one end of the fence to the other as if trying to find a way out. âAnthony, you know they are her family. Sheâs almost nine months old, soon she wonât be a fawn anymore. One day youâll have to let her go,â Helen told Anthony in a soft somber voice.
âDo I really have to? Who says I have to? Donât you have things to do like picking out flowers for your wedding? I have things to do, you know. Iâll talk to you later.â He tore himself away from her embrace and quickly disappeared inside the barn.
The four deer returned to the same hill nightly. After numerous exhausting attempts to escape the fence, Bambi would lay in the snow gazing at the place where her kind waited for her. On Christmas Day, Anthony left the small gate of the white fence open. Later in the day as the twilight deepened, Bambi and Anthony patiently stood at the opening of the fence facing the small snow-covered hill. The buck appeared with two does following him closely. Bambi looked back at Anthony only once before she raced with full speed, soon disappearing into the forest.
Spring came around fast that year. The orchards bloomed in bright pink, purple, red, and white. Bunnies frequently raced each other through the field, and migrating birds began pouring into the valley. The Yakima River was flowing faster as the mountain snow melted, creating white rapids at spots where great boulders were anchored on the bottom of the river bed. Mother Nature was coming to life.
On Sunday, after church, Helen asked Anthony if he could help her with a painting for her art class. He did not object. She showed up around three in the afternoon with several canvases, pencils, paints, and brushes. âSo, Helen, whatâs the subject of the painting and how can I help you?â
She looked at him with a straight face, and with a very diplomatic voice she said, âYou are the subjectâŠ and you canâŠ you can help me by undressing yourself.â
He looked back at her in disbelief, âWhat are you talking about? Come again?â
Then with the sweetest heartwarming puppydog eyes, she begged him, âPlease Anthony, pleeeeease. My professor wants us to paint a nude figure, Kody will never agree to it. Please, I have no one else, I mean no one else but you. Anthony, you are my only hope. Pleeeeease, pretty please!â
With a large yellow pencil she drew his figure on a piece of canvas as he posed for her completely nude on the bank of the river, hidden from curious eyes by thick brush. Once she was satisfied with what she had sketched, he put his clothes on and the two returned to his cabin. He made tea and started the fireplace. She continued working on her canvas using oil paints for several hours as Anthony silently sat by the crackling fire carving a piece of wood he had found by the river. Around midnight, Anthony yawned and scanned the room for Helen, but she was no longer painting. She had fallen asleep on his bed. She was peacefully beautiful like a dream.
âHelen, itâs time for you to leave,â he whispered to her. Her eyes slowly opened like blooming roses kissed by the morning sunshine and she said, âI donât want to go, tonight. I will stay with you this one time.â
Kody and Helen were high school sweethearts on and off for the most part. He came from an affluent family just like the Nightingales. Some people in town would say that the two families were rivals dating back several generations, but that all ended when Kodyâs grandfather passed away about thirty years ago. Kody never worked a day in his life and instead his dad made him Chairman of the Board of Directors in his logging company, for which Kody was paid handsomely. Kodyâs favorite activities were hunting with his four best high school friends, playing cards with his four best high school friends, raiding the bars in town along with his four best friends, and last but not least, throwing lavish drunken parties at the large lakeside cabin his dad built for him in a forested area.
Helen had never been invited to those parties and probably for the better. One night after such a party, he drove his pickup with a dozen rowdy partiers riding in the bed of the truck to the Nightingalesâ house, and proposed to Helen with the pungent smell of alcohol on his breath and no ring in his pocket. He did come through with the ring two weeks later. The rumor in town was that the ring set him back $15,000. Certainly, it was the most expensive engagement ring anyone had ever bought in Ellensburg, maybe even in the whole of Kittitas County. Kody was Kody, even after he proposed to Helen. The people in town who knew them both, always wondered why poor Helen never suspected him of wrongdoing. When he would have to lie to her, he simply told her he went hunting again, and his inseparable four friends would stand behind the alibi. Often Kody would set up a date night with Helen and then fail to show up. Helen may have felt hurt by it, but she convinced herself that it was not her loverâs fault. One night, Mrs. Nightingale saw little Helen eating alone by candlelight the meal she made for Kody. She felt sorry for her, but Helen told her that she canceled the date because she was not feeling too well that day.
Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months and the months simply flew by like autumn leaves in the wind. The September sun offered less and less warmth with every passing day. Kodyâs parents purchased a large five-bedroom house in suburban Seattle. It was Kodyâs dream to live in the big city. He thought he was better than the people in town who were happy just to be surviving off the fruits of the land. Now that the wedding was only three weeks away, he packed Helenâs belongings little by little and transported them to their new home. One evening as he was rummaging through the attic, he found Helenâs painting of Anthony. He was furious. He had noticed in the last few weeks that Anthony and Helen had become very fond of each other, spending more and more time together.
âGuys, we talked about this before we left. We have to give him a scare, and this is the only way,â Kody whispered in the darkness to the other four men.
âKody, all Iâm saying is, isnât this a little too much? We could just give him a beating and Iâm sure heâll catch our drift.â
âShut up, Michael. Youâre such a chicken,â Kody whispered again with a mean hiss in his voice. The five were lying face down on a hill near the forest, looking out over the Nightingalesâ property. Kody was holding a sniper rifle equipped with an infrared scope. âItâs not like weâre going to kill him, although he deserves it for clouding my Helenâs head with his city ways.â
âBut Kody, it could kill him.â
âJarred, you too? I thought we had agreed on everything before we left the cabin. What is wrong with you guys? Are you with me on this or are you cowards?â
âWith you Kody,â the four men exclaimed in unison.
The men proceeded walking through the field to Anthonyâs cabin, veiled by the moonless night. Brad emptied a whole five-gallon gas can onto the outer walls of the cabin. Kody submerged some kind of contraption in a puddle of fuel next to the house.
âOk boys, we have roughly five minutes to get back to the lookout and enjoy the show.â
âHoney, honey, do you hear this? Honey, wake uuuup,â Mrs. Nightingale whispered while nudging her husband in bed next to her.
âWhat, what, what is it my love?â he said while trying to regain his faculties lost in a deep sleep.
âBaby, I hear something outside. Go check please,â she begged him.
âJosephine, itâs the wind, just as it was the wind last time and the time before that too. But, I will check for you my love.â Mr. Nightingale, like a bear just waking up from hibernation, walked to the window.
âWell, this is different. she pleaded.
âHoney, donât worry, itâs just a deer kicking our front door. Probably looking for food, I guess,â he said, unsure of himself. Just as he was about to turn around he noticed something in the distance. âBaby, something is happening to the barn.â
Kody and his four friends were watching the cabin engulfed in flames. âRyan, tell me what you see through the scope,â Kody asked the man who held the rifle.
âNothing yet, Kody, he hasnât come out. Wait, wait, I see something.â
âWhat is it?â
âItâs a deer sprinting towards the barn about half a mile away.â
âYes! Yes! Itâs probably his stupid pet deer. Thatâs gonna teach him a lesson. Give me the rifle. Kody grabbed the rifle, set his sights, released the safety and waited for the perfect moment. Wait, wait, wait, and bang! Kody shot the animal only yards from the cabin. He had outdone himself. It was his best one-shot kill ever. The deer fell instantly and skidded across the dusty path, leaving a trail of thick red blood. Soon after, the five men disappeared into the forest.
Mr. Nightingale arrived at the cabin only to find it completely overtaken by the raging fire. He pulled out a blanket from the back seat of his truck and ran to the barn where he soaked it in water. He wrapped himself with it and launched at the door of the cabin. Only seconds later, he walked out with Anthony who was dazed and overwhelmed by the smoke. Neither man was hurt seriously. Soon Helen and Mrs. Nightingale arrived. Helen sprinted to Anthony who was still coughing and trying to regain his strength.
âOh, my love, what happened to you?â Helen asked Anthony with tears in her eyes.
âI donât know, but I intend to find out.â Then out of the corner of his eye he noticed the pile of bloody fur. âBambiâŠ oh no. Oh noâŠ Oh God, no. Who did that to you?â Anthony cried out to the heavens as he fell on his knees before the motionless deer.â
Helen approached him, âI think I know who did that, but promise me you wonât do anything rash. I think Kody knows about us. I canât find the painting. I think he knowsâŠ knows everything.â
Anthony looked at her and paused. âHe wonât stop at anything. I know what I have to do.â He raised himself and walked over to Mr. Nightingale. âSir, may I borrow your truck, please.â
âOf course.â He nodded and handed over the keys.
âDaddy, nooo, daddy, nooo!â Helen screamed in anguish. âMy love please, stay, he is a bad person, please do not go.â
Anthony got in the truck, released the brake and the truck began moving slowly as he maneuvered around the three. Helen ran to the driver side window with two hands hanging onto the door and walking along with the slowly moving vehicle. âBaby, I love you, I love you. Iâm calling the wedding off. Daddy do you hear me? The wedding is off.â
Anthony did not acknowledge her and stayed silent and focused. Tears were pouring like two rivers as she pleaded with him, âAnthony, baby, I have something very important to tell you, please do not leave us.â Anthony sped up and Helen could not hold on any longer so she fell on the dirt road and cried.
Anthony drove up to Kodyâs cabin. Someone was inside. A soft light glimmered through the windows of the cabin and he could hear menâs voices. The five men quickly overpowered him and threw him out onto the paved driveway of the house. They kicked him violently for several minutes until he finally just lay motionless but still conscious.
âWhy did you have to shoot her?â Anthony asked as blood and saliva was coming out of his mouth with every word he said.
Kodyâs eyes were filled with rage and he spit on the beaten man. âYou took advantage of my kindness, and you stole my fiancĂ©e.â
âI did not steal her from you, she was never yours.â Anthony twitched from the physical pain overcoming his body.
âYou son of a gun.â Kody raised a large oval river rock and tossed it onto Anthonyâs chest, crushing his bones.
âKody,â Michael said, âwe got to go!â All five piled into Kodyâs pickup and disappeared in a thick cloud of dust.
For the last thirty minutes, Helen galloped on the back of her fastest horse, a black Arabian horse named Aladdin. She arrived at the cabin where she found Anthony bleeding out on the cold concrete. âMy love, donât you dare leave me.â She held her loverâs head up to her heart.
âHelen, Iâll be fine, God is waiting for me. I can almost see him.â
Helen burst out crying, âMy love, my daddy will be here any moment. Weâll take you to the hospital, you are not going to die, just hang on. Hold my hand. Jesus loves you, but I love you more. Donât leave us forsaken.â
As he took his last dying breath, he placed his palm on her rosy cheek and spoke his last words, âMy dearest Helen, God has a plan for us. I never understood mine until the end, but you, you can leave a mark on this world. I know you will. I loveâŠâ
Six months laterâŠ
RingâŠ ringâŠringâŠ âHello, this is the Nightingale residence, how may I help you? MhmmâŠ MhmmâŠ Yes, surely, I will let them know right away.â The housekeeper dropped the phone and hurried to the open window. Out in the garden, Mrs. Nightingale was tending to her flowers that she loved so much when from the second floor window, the distressed maid screamed, âMrs. Nightingale, Ms. Helen is in the hospital. She was taken there by an ambulance!â
The drive to Seattle usually took Mr. Nightingale two hours, but on that day in March, he drove faster than an angel can fly. The two entered the hospitalâs lobby where an orchestrated chaos dominated the senses. People on stretchers were zoomed from one double door to another. EMT personnel periodically would rush inside with yet another victim. White coats with cold and detached loud voices yelled names: Paul Woods, Mr. Woods, there you areâŠ Sherri Melton, anyone here with last name MeltonâŠMeltonâŠChang Tiao, Mr. Tiao, last call for Mr. Tiao. Phones rang nonstop. Babies cried. Old folk moaned. It was a beehive buzzing with sirens, pens nervously clicking, medical instruments beeping, and chatter, so much chatter. Mr. and Mrs. Nightingale walked frantically through the long corridors of the hospital asking everyone and anyone wearing a name tag if they knew of Helen.
âYes, Helen is my patient, my team and I worked for three hours with no success. I brought in an expert from the fourth floor. She is in very good hands now, but I cannot promise you anything,â said the doctor who looked not a day older than eighteen. âWhat I can tell you, she is a very strong girl. I believe she will pull through.â
Mr. and Mrs. Nightingale sat together on a small bench inside the ICU waiting area. In an effort to lighten the mood, he said âJosephine, I knew hospitals had a shortage of doctors, but when did they start hiring college freshmen?â She did not respond, but just buried her head in her husbandâs coat and wept.
At that moment the same young doctor walked towards them. âWe have stopped the bleeding and we expect her to fully recover within a week. She is awake now and she has asked for you. You may come see them, BUT you need to keep the visit brief. They both need a lot of rest.â
Inside the room, Helen lay on the hospital bed singing softly to her sleeping newborn son, cradled in her arms.
You are my sunshine
My only sunshine
You make me happy
When skies are grey
You’ll never know dear
How much I love you
Please don’t take
âMamma, do you want to hold him?â
Mrs. Nightingale very gently picked up her first grandson, brought him close to her heart and kissed his little head. âHeâs beautiful, my dear. Whatâs his name?â
âMarc-Anthony Bennet Nightingale,â she said, and smiled in the same way that rays of sunlight smile onto the world through downy white clouds.