Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: The Crunch of Bones
The night was cold and still. Billows of snow veiled the desolate landscape, creating a false sense of beauty and safety.
I tipped the brown-paper-bag-covered bottle to my lips and allowed Jim Beam to flow over my tongue, no longer feeling the frigid metal of the water tower at my back seeping through the thin leather jacket. Hell, I no longer felt much of anything, and that's exactly how I wanted it.
“Dude, she's just a skirt. You're on the football team and headed for Harvard on a scholarship.” Nelson nudged my shoulder with his.
I shook my head. “Yeah, man, you don't get it.”
“Quit hogging.” He snatched the bottle out of my hand and took a healthy swig. “What don't I get? That Katie flips up her little cheer skirt for anybody on the team? Dump her ass. You could have any girl at school. Try being me.”
Nelson wasn't on the football team or getting under many skirts. He'd been my best friend since preschool. People had become used to Nelson because I'd deck anyone who had the balls to disrespect him in any way. Despite the forced acceptance, he was quiet and shy, never taking advantage of my connections.
Katie Bellamy was my girlfriend and future wife. Both of our parents were into mergers and acquisitions, the relationship between us a foregone conclusion as far as the mighty Bellamys and Garfields were concerned. I'd join the family business. Katie would be the perfect wife, heading committees for various causes and charity balls. Country clubs. Villas in Europe. Deals over golf. My eyes glazed over when I thought of my future laid out to my father's specs. Katie never seemed to mind; she'd already slogged back a vat of their Kool-Aid.
“I'd love to be you.”
“Right. Nerd with two left feet who can't even talk to girls.”
I snatched the bottle and drank deeply, then wiped my lips with the back of my hand. “No. Free agent who can do or be whatever he wants. You'll decide on your own career, meet that perfect woman, have a few kids, and buy the perfect house.”
Nelson let out a high-pitched laugh, more than a little buzzed himself. “Shut the hell up! You sound jealous—of me.”
I lurched to my feet, doing a drunken shuffle along the icy metal walkway, and leaned against the railing, looking out over the field of white. I was insanely jealous of Nelson.
“Kendall?” Nelson's voice came closer as he joined me at the railing.
I turned my body away from him, not wanting him to see the tears shining in my eyes. The Jim Beam slipped from my numb fingers and hit the walkway with a crack, the rest of the liquor soaking into the paper bag and tinting the ice amber.
“It's all right, dude—there wasn't much left anyway.”
Anger welled up inside me, a rage simmering below the surface for months that had nothing to do with spilling the last of our bourbon. “Damn it all to hell!” I kicked the paper bag of broken glass off the water tower, watching it fall to the snow below with a very unsatisfactory plop. If the night hadn't been so silent, the faint sound never would have carried up at all.
Nelson gripped my arm. “Hey.”
“Screw off, man!” I wrenched my arm from his grasp and stalked away.
He followed. “What the hell is your problem?”
I turned to face him and miscalculated my speed. The icy metal glided under my boots, and my arms pinwheeled. I tried to regain balance by putting my hands on his shoulders. Nelson's feet went out from under him, and he landed hard on his ass, leaving me with nothing but air.
I bounced off the side of the tank and hit the rail hard. It gave way with a mighty rending, and then I was free-falling. My body tumbled in mid-air, rushing toward the fluffy white snow.
When I hit the ground, my bones crunched, much like the bottle of Jim Beam had. I heard it with resounding clarity. I felt nothing.
“KENDALL!” Nelson screamed my name over and over again as I slipped away.
With all our racket cutting through the silence, it didn't take long for help to arrive—at least that's what I've been told.
Nelson broke his leg trying to climb down the side of the tower to reach me.
I was in a coma for nearly three months. When I came out of it, there were months of grueling physical therapy. My football career was over, but the doctors advised that I was lucky to be able to walk.
They say your life flashes before your eyes when you're about to die. I didn't even have time to think, “Oh shit!” before I hit the ground, but every time my father started talking about the future, I'd flash back to the tower and hear my bones crunch.
Nelson finally made it all stop. “Forget what anyone else wants. Live for you, Kendall.”
“Dad will disown me.”
“Would that be so bad?”
For years, I had nightmares about that crunching sound—until I met Anna. She didn't care about my family name, what my portfolio looked like, or if I belonged to a country club. She was real and honest and faithful, mother to my children, my true home.
My life was saved by the crunch of bones.
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Sarah Aisling hails from the East Coast of the US and loves living by the ocean with her incredibly indulgent husband and precocious daughter. She’s currently editing her upcoming novel, The Weight of Roses. When Sarah isn’t being enslaved by her characters, she can be found with her nose in a book, obsessing over nail polish or anything leopard, biking, hiking, camping, and spending time with friends and family. Twitter: @SarahAisling Facebook