A Curve in the Road by Julianne MacLean

From USA Today bestselling author Julianne MacLean comes a suspenseful, emotionally charged novel that explores the secrets and hidden truths within a seemingly perfect marriage.

Abbie MacIntyre is living the dream in the picturesque Nova Scotia town she calls home. She is a successful surgeon, is married to a handsome cardiologist, and has a model teenage son who is only months away from going off to college.

But then one fateful night, everything changes. When a drunk driver hits her car, Abbie is rushed to the hospital. She survives, but the accident forces unimaginable secrets out into the open and plagues Abbie with nightmares so vivid that she starts to question her grip on reality. Her perfect life begins to crack, and those cracks threaten to shatter her world completely.

The search for answers will test her strength in every way—as a wife, a career woman, and a mother—but it may also open the door for Abbie to move forward, beyond anger and heartbreak, to find out what she is truly made of. In learning to heal and trust again, she may just find new hope in the spaces left behind.

Book club discussion questions are included in the book.

AMAZON

READ AN EXCERPT:

Chapter One

Intuition is a funny thing. Sometimes it’s a gut feeling, and you look around and just know something bad is about to happen. Other times, it’s elusive, and later you find yourself looking back on certain events and wondering how in the world you missed all the signals.

Tonight, I’m on my way home after Sunday dinner with my mother. It’s a one-hour drive on a dark two-lane highway.

As I turn the key in the ignition and shift into reverse, my mother comes running out her front door, waving her hands. “Wait! Abbie! Wait!”

I see a look of panic in her eyes and wish she wouldn’t rush down the concrete steps as if the house were up in flames behind her.

Careful, Mom . . .

I shift into park and lower the car window.

My golden retriever, Winston, rises in the back seat and wags his tail. Mom reaches toward us and passes an enormous Tupperware container through the open window. It’s full of chicken leftovers from the dinner she just cooked for me.

“You forgot this,” she says, out of breath.

I take it from her and set it on the passenger seat beside me. Winston sniffs and paws at my shoulder, wanting to know what’s under the blue plastic lid. I give him a pat on his big, silky head.

“Settle down, mister. This isn’t for you.” Then I turn to smile at my mom, who is shivering in the late-November chill .

“Thanks, Mom,” I say. “The guys would never forgive me if I came back empty-handed.”

By guys, I am referring to my husband, Alan, a cardiologist I’ve been married to for twenty years, and my seventeen-year-old son, Zack, who didn’t come with me today because he had a hockey game this evening.

“Are you sure you don’t want to take some of that pie with you?” Mom asks, speaking to me through the open window as she wraps her sweater around herself to keep warm.

I know it’s not a conscious thing, but it’s obvious that she wants me to stay a little longer. She’s never enjoyed being home alone in that big, empty house—especially on cold, dark nights like this. You would think that after more than twenty years of widowhood, she’d be ready to downsize, but I can’t fault her for anything. I love her too much. It’s why I drive over an hour from the city every Sunday afternoon to spend time with her in the house I grew up in.

“No, thanks,” I reply. “Alan’s trying to cut calories again.”

Truthfully, he isn’t, but I don’t have time to wait because I’m hoping to make it back to the city in time for Zack’s game. Then I have an early-morning case in the OR—a gallbladder surgery scheduled for seven o’clock.

Mom gives my hand a squeeze. “Okay, dear. Wish our boy luck on the ice tonight, and say hi to Alan for me. Tell them I missed them today. And please drive safely.”

“I will. Now get back inside, Mom. It’s freezing out here.”

She nods and hurries back up the stairs, while I feel a familiar twinge of guilt over leaving her alone. I can’t help it. I always feel like I should do more for her or call her more often than I do. But I tell myself not to worry. She’s independent, and I know she’ll be fine as soon as she turns on the TV.

Winston turns in circles on the back seat, then finally settles down to sleep for the next hour. I shift into reverse and back out of the driveway.

Despite the heavy fog, the roads are dry as I make my way out of my beloved hometown. Lunenburg is a picturesque fishing and shipbuilding community and a bourgeoning center for the arts, and it’s   designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site   to preserve its historic architecture. As might be expected  , it has a robust tourism trade in the summer.

As I pass by the brightly lit restaurants along the waterfront, I can’t help but glance wistfully at the sparkling reflection of the moon on the harbor and the undulating shadows cast from a tall ship’s masts   over the dockyard. The image is beautiful and serene, yet I feel a pang of sadness, and I’m not sure why. Something just feels off today. Maybe it’s because Mom has seemed so much older these past few months. She never used to refer to herself as a senior citizen, not even when she turned sixty-five, but lately she’s been making jokes about it, saying things like “Old age ain’t for sissies!” and “If only I could remember what it is I’m forgetting to remember!”

Today, when she couldn’t figure out how to get the messages off her phone, she said, “Look out, nursing home. Here I come.”

While I love that she has a sense of humor about growing old, it reminds me that she won’t be around forever and eventually our Sunday dinners will be a thing of the past.

I find it rather unsettling how time has been flying by so quickly lately. What is it about growing older that makes the clock hands start to spin like a whirligig? I suppose it doesn’t matter, as long as I’m happy with my life.

Am I happy?

Surprisingly, I have to think about that for a few seconds.

Then I wonder . . . am I nuts? Of course I’m happy. Why wouldn’t I be? My life is perfect. I have a job that I love, a beautiful home, a brilliant husband, and a son I’m incredibly proud of. In his final year of high school, Zack is captain of the hockey team and president of the student council, and his grades are top-notch  . Most importantly, he’s a decent human being—sensible and kindhearted.

But Zack will head off to university next year, and then it will just be Alan and me. I can’t imagine what our lives will be like without Zack living at home. There are always activities to work into our busy schedules. There’s noise, music, and laughter when Zack’s friends come over. The house is going to be shockingly quiet.

Boy, oh boy. These solitary drives home from Lunenburg make me think too much. I remind myself that college is a whole year away.

Winston’s heavy sigh in the back seat pulls me out of my reverie. I glance over my shoulder to see him curled up on his woolly blanket with his eyes closed, which makes me feel sleepy because I worked late in the OR again last night.

I turn on the radio to help me stay awake, crack a window to let in the chilly air, and shake my head as if to clear it. I check the dashboard clock. It’s only seven, so I have just enough time to make it home, drop Winston off, and reach the hockey rink before the game starts at eight fifteen.

I flick my blinker on and merge onto the main highway, switching to cruise control and tuning in to a classic rock station.

*  *  *

It all happens in an instant, so fast I don’t have time to think.

An oncoming vehicle crosses the center line, and I’m blinded by headlights. Adrenaline sizzles through my veins. Instinctively, I wrench the steering wheel to the right to swerve around the oncoming car, but it’s too late. It clips my back end with a thunderous crash of steel against steel and sends my SUV spinning like a top, as if I’m on a sheet of ice.

My head snaps to the left. I shut my eyes and hang on for dear life as my car whirls around in dizzying circles. Winston yelps as he’s tossed about in the back seat. Suddenly, we catapult into the air. The vehicle flips over the edge of the highway, and then we bounce like a ball—crashing and smashing—as we tumble down the embankment.

Something strikes me in the side of the head, and I feel multiple slashes cutting the flesh on my cheeks. I realize it’s Winston, who yelps as he’s thrown back toward the rear.

I want to hold on to him, to keep him safe in my arms, but there’s nothing I can do. It’s all happening so fast. All I can do is grip the steering wheel with both hands while the world spins in circles in front of my eyes and glass shatters all around me.

We crash hard against something—the bottom of a ravine?—and then everything goes quiet, except for the pounding of my heart as it hammers against my rib cage.

Panic overtakes me. My eyes fly open. It’s pitch-dark outside, but my headlights are shining two steady beams into the shifting mist, and the dashboard is brightly lit. I blink repeatedly and realize blood has pooled on my eyelashes. I wipe it away with the back of my hand.

Think, Abbie. What do you need to do?

An alarm has been beeping since we came to a halt, as if it’s confused and wants me to fasten my seat belt. Or is there some other urgent problem? Is the engine about to explode? I quickly shut off the ignition. I am enveloped by darkness.

With another rush of anxiety, I fumble for the red button on my seat belt, desperate to escape, but my hands are shaking so violently I can’t release it. I shut my eyes and pause, take a few deep breaths, then try a second time.

Click.

The seat belt comes loose, and I think—for one precious second—that I am free to move, but I’m not. My legs are stuck. I’m trapped.

I fight to break loose, but I’m pinned under the dash. The roof is pressing painfully on the top of my head, and I can’t free myself. I try to open the door, but it’s dented and won’t budge.

My heart pounds faster. I feel light-headed, and I’m certain I’m about to pass out from shock and fear.

I shut my eyes again and fight to remain calm. Breathe. One thousand one, one thousand two . . .

“Help . . . ,” I whisper in a trembling voice.

I realize I don’t hear Winston and turn my head to the side. “Winston? Are you okay?”

No response. I twist uncomfortably, struggling to see into the back seat. There’s no sign of my dog anywhere, and the rear window is completely blown out.

“Winston!” I shout. “Winston!”

I can’t make out anything in the darkness, and I worry that he’s injured or dead, lying somewhere outside the vehicle. I fight wildly to free myself, but it’s hopeless.

I reach frantically to find my purse on the seat beside me to locate my cell phone and call for help, but the seat is empty. Everything’s flown out the windows.

Then I hear sirens in the distance, and I exhale sharply with relief. Thank heavens. Help is on the way.

I let my head fall back on the headrest and try to calm my racing heart.

If only I had my phone to call Alan. It’s all I can think about as I wipe blood from my forehead. Alan, I just want to hear your voice . . . to hear you tell me that everything’s going to be okay . . .

Chapter Two

“Try and stay calm,” a young firefighter says as he removes a glove and takes hold of my hand through the driver’s-side window. It has no glass left in it. “We’re gonna get you out of here. What’s your name?”

“Abbie. Abbie MacIntyre.”

“Hi, Abbie,” he says. “I’m Troy. Everything’s going to be fine now.”

“Have you seen my dog?” I ask. “He was with me in the car, but he must have been thrown out the back window.”

“What kind of dog is he?”

“A golden retriever. His name is Winston.”

“As in Churchill?”

“Yes.”

Troy directs one of the other first responders to use his walkie-talkie to report my missing dog and search the area.

I hear the wail of more sirens and vehicles arriving—fire trucks and cop cars and ambulances. Colored lights flash up on the highway, but they’re swallowed by the fog.

I shake my head, fearing I might be sick. “I don’t feel so good.”

“No wonder. You just took a nasty tumble, but don’t worry. You have a whole team coming to help you.”

Two other firefighters do a 360 around the vehicle, shining flashlights everywhere. I watch the beams sweep across the dark ravine. One of them speaks on a walkie-talkie to someone above us. I can make out his words that the patient appears to be stable.

It takes me a few seconds to realize that he’s talking about me. I’m the patient.

“If I could just get my legs free,” I say with a grunt, fighting to move them, but it’s hopeless, and any movement makes my head hurt.

Troy pats my forearm. “Don’t strain yourself. Just relax and leave it to us to get you out. We have all the right tools. It’ll just take a few minutes to get the equipment down here.”

I nod my head. “Can someone please call my husband? I don’t know where my phone is.”

“Sure thing. What’s his name?”

“Alan.”

Troy whistles and waves to the police officer who is skidding down the steep embankment. “Can you call Abbie’s husband?”

The cop arrives and peers in at me. “How are you doing in there, ma’am?”

“I’m okay. Just pretty shaken up, and I can’t move my legs.” I don’t know why I’m telling him I’m okay when I’m nothing of the sort. “Can you please call my husband?”

“Absolutely.” He pulls out a cell phone and dials the number as I recite it. I watch as he waits for a reply, then shakes his head. “There’s no answer. Should I leave a message?”

“Yes,” I say without hesitation, frustrated that Alan isn’t answering his phone when I need him most.

The officer reports that I’ve been in an accident and will be taken to the Fishermen’s Memorial Hospital in Lunenburg, only five minutes away.

“I’ll try again in a few minutes,” the cop reassures me.

I thank him, then realize I’m shivering uncontrollably. I focus hard and try to relax my body, but not even my most determined force of will can stop the shaking.

“Just try and stay calm,” Troy says. “You’re in good hands, and we’ll have you out of there before you know it. Here come the firefighters now.”

I nod and try to be patient, wishing this nightmare would hurry up and end.

A team of five firefighters arrives with heavy equipment, which they set down around my vehicle. This includes a noisy generator, a giant steel cutter, and a powerful spreader.

I turn to Troy, who is still at my side. He looks so young—not much older than my son.

“Any sign of my dog yet?” I ask.

Troy turns toward the cluster of flashing lights and emergency vehicles on the road above. “I don’t think so.”

“Can you please find out?” One of the other firefighters is letting the air out of my tires and placing blocks under the wheels to stabilize the vehicle. “I’m worried about him, and I don’t want to leave him behind.”

Still holding my hand, Troy calls out to the cop who stands at the base of the embankment, talking on his phone. “Hey, Bob! Can you check on Abbie’s dog? He’s a golden retriever, and he was thrown from the vehicle. His name is Winston, and he probably hasn’t gone far.”

With every passing second, I grow increasingly worried, because Winston is very attached to me and extremely protective. If he ran off, he must have been terrified or in shock.

The cop trudges up the hill, and I try to be brave while Troy tells me he’s going to cover me with a tarp.

“They’re going to use the Jaws of Life to cut the vehicle apart and lift the dash upward to free your legs,” he explains. “This tarp will shield you from bits of flying glass and metal.”

I agree   because I want more than anything to remain calm, but I’m terrified and he knows it.

“I’ll be right here the whole time,” Troy says as he covers me, then moves out of the team’s way.

The noise of the cutter is deafening. All I hear is the roar of machines, the crunching of metal, the shattering of glass. I’m afraid it’s all going to collapse on top of me, but the feel of Troy’s hand squeezing my shoulder and the sound of his voice in my ear, explaining everything along the way, helps me stay grounded.

“They’re making a series of relief cuts in the frame,” he explains. “I know it’s loud . . .”

My stomach turns over as I recall the horror of the crash and the rapid, tumbling descent.

This was my second brush with death. The first occurred seventeen years ago when I gave birth to Zack and nearly bled out in the delivery room. Since then, I’d always considered myself fortunate to be alive. Now I’m starting to wonder if the grim reaper has a mark out on me.

“Okay . . . ,” Troy says when the cutter shuts off, “you’re doing great, Abbie. Now they’re going to use a spreader to lift the dash, which should ease the pressure on your legs. Just hang in there. We’re almost done.”

I try not to think about the potential damage to my legs. It’s not easy to assume everything will be fine. I’m a surgeon. I know there are certain things that simply can’t be fixed.

Instead, I focus my thoughts on Alan and pray that he’s gotten the message by now, and I think of Zack at the rink . He has no idea that his mother is trapped in a car at the bottom of a ravine.

The spreader begins to slowly lift the dash, and I feel a weight come off my legs. Suddenly, my thighs ache with a bone-deep pain, but at least I can wiggle my toes. A good sign.

As soon as there’s an opportunity, I reach down to run my hands over my knees and calves. My jeans are ripped, and there are a few surface abrasions, but I’m able to unbend my legs at the knee joints.

Another good sign.

Troy removes the tarp, but I barely have time to look down and get a visual on my legs before a brace is fastened around my neck and I’m being lifted out of the vehicle and onto a backboard, laid on a gurney. All of this is carried out by two paramedics, one male and one female, who must have scrambled down the slope with their equipment while the firefighters were cutting my vehicle apart.

“I’m a doctor,” I tell them. “What are your names?”

“I’m Carrie, and this is Bubba.”

I can’t move my neck, but I can shift my gaze to Bubba, who looks like a bouncer with a brush cut. The name suits him.

Carrie, on the other hand, is a pretty, petite blonde who appears extremely focused and capable as she wraps a blood pressure cuff around my arm. I give her a few seconds to read the dial and release the air in the cuff.

“What’s my BP?” I ask.

“It’s excellent. One twenty-six over eighty-five.”

“That’s a bit high for me, but given the situation, I’ll take it.”

Others gather around to transport me up the hill.

“How’s your pain?” she asks.

“Manageable. My legs are sore, and these abrasions on my face are stinging a bit, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.”

I’m aware of Troy still at my side, helping the paramedics carry me up the steep slope, which is no easy task because the rocks and debris are unsteady.

As luck would have it, it begins to rain. Soon enough, I’m feeling ice pellets on my cheeks, and I’m forced to close my eyes.

A moment later, we are cresting the top of the embankment and are back up on the road. The gurney wheels touch down.

Again, I ask, “Has anyone reached my husband yet?”

“I’m not sure. We’ll check on that,” Carrie says.

“And has anyone seen my dog?”

Carrie is busy pushing my gurney toward the ambulance. She slips and slides on the ice. “You had a dog with you?”

“Yes.”

Troy helps me out. “He’s a golden retriever. His name is Winston.” Troy leans over me. “Don’t worry, Abbie. We’re looking for him. I promise we’ll find him.”

“I really need to know that he’s okay.”

Troy nods and leaves my side to see if there’s been an update.

I wish I could sit up and look around, but I’m strapped tightly to the gurney, and the neck brace is restricting. There’s even a strap across my forehead, and two red foam blocks press against my ears, so I can’t turn left or right. All I can see is the cloudy night sky over the paramedics’ heads, and the glistening freezing rain   coming down in curtains as Carrie and Bubba prepare to slide me into the back of the ambulance.

I hear a lot of commotion from the rescue vehicles on the road, and the cops are directing traffic.

I say to Carrie, “Was anyone else hurt? Please tell me no one was killed.”

“The other driver is on his way to the hospital right now,” she answers. “Still alive.”

“That’s good news, at least.”

Bubba grips the front leg-release levers, and they slide me in.

“But I don’t understand how this even happened,” I say. “He just crossed the center line for no reason. It wasn’t even raining then.”

“Yeah, well . . . ,” Bubba replies. “It may not have been raining at the time, but the other guy smells like he’s been swimming in a sea of booze all day.”

“What?” I feel an explosion of rage in my belly. The other driver was drinking? My hands clench into fists, but I don’t have time for anger, because they’re about to close the ambulance doors.

“Wait. Please . . . I don’t want to leave without my dog. Winston!” I shout, hoping he’ll hear me and come running.

My heart rate accelerates.

Carrie speaks reassuringly while she secures the gurney inside the vehicle. “Don’t worry, Abbie. Troy’s a dog lover. He’ll do everything he can to find Winston. But we really have to get you to the hospital.”

Bubba closes the ambulance doors, and I feel a lump form in my throat. I want to cry because I can’t bear for Winston to think for one second that I’ve abandoned him.

And what about Alan? Does he even know about my accident yet? I ask Carrie to try calling him again, but there’s still no answer. I ask her to call Zack, but he must be on the ice by now. He doesn’t answer either.

Please . . . I need my family.

At last, I ask Carrie to call my mother, and she gets through. She holds the phone to my ear so that I can speak to Mom and reassure her that I’m okay.

Mom begins to cry, but I tell her not to worry.

She pulls herself together and says she’ll meet me at the hospital. Carrie ends the call, and we speed toward Lunenburg, sirens blaring.

It’s hard not to think about the drunk driver and how badly I want to shake him and shout at him for being so stupid and irresponsible, but my anger won’t change anything. At least not now. He was injured in this accident too.

And what about Winston? It’s killing me to imagine where he might be. What if he’s lost and alone in the woods? Traumatized by what happened? Fearful of the noisy rescue vehicles? He’s terrified of fireworks. He always darts into a corner and shakes.

Please, Troy . . . please find him.

 

 

 

Chapter Three

“I have half a mind to march over there and tie a knot in his oxygen tube,” my mother says under her breath as she sits by my side in the ER.

My x-ray shows no broken bones, but I have a gash on my head, which explains my headache and why they want to keep me for overnight observation. Otherwise, I’m remarkably unscathed, with just minor cuts and bruises. My neck brace has been removed, but I have to wait for further treatments because it’s a small rural hospital with limited resources, and the drunk driver in the trauma room is the priority at the moment.

“Mom . . . ,” I say with a hint of scolding in my tone, but of course I know she would never actually do such a thing. Besides, I can’t blame her for being angry. If something like this happened to Zack, I’d probably want to murder the drunk driver too. Metaphorically speaking.

Another part of me wants to go to the trauma room and lend a hand, because I’m a qualified medical professional and I understand how stressful this must be for the team, with so few doctors and nurses on duty.

If it had been up to me, I would have rushed the guy to a larger trauma center in Halifax, but it wasn’t my judgment call. Maybe the paramedics were worried about making the longer trip in the freezing rain.

“Has the pain medication kicked in yet?” my mother asks. I nod and try to relax on the pillow.

They’ve given me a shot of Toradol, a nondrowsy anti-inflammatory, and while part of me wishes it were something stronger, I know it’s important to keep me coherent to monitor my head injury. They’ve already asked me all the usual questions: Do I know what day it is? Do I know where I am? Do I know who this woman sitting beside me is?

The blood on my face came from a deeper laceration on the top of my head, most likely caused by Winston’s claws as he was thrown around inside the vehicle.

Thinking of him again, I turn to Mom. “Would you mind asking Carrie to come in? I want to find out if they’ve found Winston yet. And could you try Alan again?”

Mom digs her cell phone out of her purse and dials Alan’s number.

“Still no answer,” she says as she rises from her chair to look for Carrie.

I glance at the clock. It’s just after nine. Zack is still on the ice, and since I’m more or less   okay, I see no reason to pull him out in the middle of the game. It’s an important one. But maybe that’s crazy. I don’t know. I can’t think straight.

While I’m waiting for news from Carrie, I take the opportunity to call the hospital where I work and let them know I won’t be able to perform the surgery I have scheduled in the morning. The head nurse tells me not to worry. They’ll reschedule things and get one of the other surgeons to cover for me for a few days. She tells me to take care of myself. “That’s the most important thing,” she says.

I end the call and try to be patient while I wait for the ER doc to return and stitch me up.

Carrie walks into the private examination area behind the blue curtain. “Everything okay?” she asks.

I lift my head off the pillow. “Yes, but we still haven’t been able to reach my husband. I don’t know where he is and why he’s not answering. I wish we could get ahold of him.” I shut my eyes and shake my head. “I’m sorry . . . I know there’s nothing you can do about that. Is there any word about my dog?”

Her compassionate eyes meet mine, and I already know the answer before she tells me.

“I called Troy five minutes ago. He’s off duty now, and he called a few friends to help him search the woods. They’ve also put out an informal APB on Winston. The cops are keeping an eye out.”

“My word. Your dog is a fugitive,” Mom says to me as if scandalized, hoping to cheer me up with a joke.

I appreciate the attempt, but nothing will cheer me more than news that they’ve found him alive and well. Or that Alan has finally received all the messages we’ve left and is on his way.

“Thanks, Carrie,” I say. “Let me know if you hear anything.”

“I will.”

She turns to go, and I wonder how the other driver is doing. Despite the fact that he brought this on himself and almost killed me in the process, I can’t help but feel sorry for him and his family. I wonder how old he is. Is he a teenager with his whole life ahead of him, like Zack, with parents who love him and are beside themselves with worry? Or is he a parent? Does he have children who need him?

 

Ten minutes later, Carrie sweeps the blue privacy curtain aside and appears with a cardboard Bankers Box. “Good news. They found your purse and a bunch of stuff from your car.” She carries the box closer to the bed. “Lieutenant Smith said it was like a debris field on the road and down the slope of the ravine. They tried to collect as much as they could, but it was dark. If anything is missing, you might find it tomorrow in the daylight.”

I blush with embarrassment because I have no idea what’s inside this box. The previous night, Zack borrowed my car to go to a basketball game with some friends. This morning, there were empty water bottles, his stinky sneakers, and a few McDonald’s bags with wrappers on the floor of the back seat. I anticipate that’s what I’ll find inside.

Carrie sets the box on the edge of the bed so that I can rummage through it.

Right away, I find my brown leather purse with my wallet, still miraculously containing all my credit cards and personal identification.

“Thank goodness.” I pull my purse out of the box. “It would have been a major pain to have to replace all of this.”

Immediately, I feel a stab of regret for caring about such trivial inconveniences when I could have died in that accident tonight. I should be grateful.

A little less greedily, I hunt for my cell phone in the usual zippered pocket where I keep it in my purse, but it’s not there. Then I remember that I set it on the passenger seat before pulling out of my mother’s driveway, so I may have to search the accident site in the morning. Who knows where it might have ended up.

I continue to rummage through the box and find Winston’s leash but only one of Zack’s sneakers. At least it’s part of an old, worn-out pair, so he probably won’t care.

Again, what am I thinking? He’ll be overjoyed just to hear I’m alive. He won’t care about sneakers, old or otherwise. And I don’t care about the mess he left in my car. Not today.

In the bottom left corner of the box, I find my cell phone.

Okay, I can be happy about this. It’s my connection to Alan and Zack. I check my text messages, but there are none.

Facebook Messenger. Nothing there either.

Wrestling with my frustration, I pick up the blue plastic lid that belonged to the Tupperware container. There’s no sign of the chicken and vegetables.

In that moment, my mother pulls out her own cell phone and begins to make a call. “I’m trying Alan again,” she says.

“Thank you.”

I continue rifling through the box and find my phone charger, a bunch of junk from the back seat, and the green canvas case from the glove box that contains my vehicle permit and other insurance documents. I’m definitely going to need those.

Suddenly I hear music. It’s the familiar, dramatic theme from Star Wars, and I feel an instinctive thrill of joy and relief because I recognize it as Alan’s ringtone.

He must be here at last!

Then I realize that the music is coming from inside the cardboard box on my lap. With a pounding heart, I dig through the rest of the contents, searching for the phone that’s playing his song. I find it at the bottom, under some tattered papers. I pick it up and stare at it in confusion. Did he leave his phone in my car? Is that why he hasn’t been answering?

But no, he didn’t. We spoke earlier in the day, and he hasn’t been in my car since. Everything in this box was picked up from the accident site. They found things on the road.

As I hold it aloft, a wave of panic washes over me, because if Alan’s phone didn’t come from my car, it must have come from the other one involved in the accident.

I turn to look at my mother. She’s distracted, sitting in the chair beside me, waiting for my husband to answer his phone—the very phone that is ringing in my hand. Here and now.