There was nothing Rebekah could have done to change the outcome. If she hadn’t argued with her sister, or left the party five minutes later—maybe. However, she left when she did, and by the time she saw the wild boar, it was too late.
The last thing she saw before she lost consciousness was the body of the dead animal through the windscreen of her upturned car.
As she came to, Rebekah let out a low, tortured moan.
Something was wrong; she couldn’t focus and her entire body ached. Too many colours swirled into view, then scampered off into the distance. Her lids, too heavy to keep open, fluttered closed and she let the darkness consume her once again.
The next time she was aware of her surroundings, everything was black. Gone was the kaleidoscope; in its place was something even more chaotic than her year one students.
Jesus, my head.
Slowly, the cobwebs cleared. Rebekah, determined to make sense of her situation, focused her concentration. As she realised her predicament, dread consumed her and she struggled against the restraints.
“Shit! I’m upside down.” Rebekah’s voice came out raspy and slurred.
A moment later, she cried out in agony as pain ripped through her body. She was trapped in the front seat of her car, unable to move, unable to free herself.
She listened for a reply.
“Help. Oh God, someone, please help me.”
And why would there be? It was the middle of the night, and she was miles from anywhere. Her body wracked with sobs as she continued to cry out in into the empty hills.
“Is everyone okay in there?”
Relief spread like wildfire when the deep baritone of a man’s voice cut through her tears. “Help, I’m over here.”
There was a flash of light, and she wriggled against the steering wheel. Between it, and the collapsed seat, her body was caught in a vice-like grip. The rash movement resulted in a painful moan.
“Ma’am, you need to calm down, you’re only causing more damage to yourself.”
“You try calming down.” Rebekah’s breath was laboured. Each exhale and inhale reduced to short pants to stem the agony in her chest. “You’re not trapped in a car that could blow up any minute.”
Her rescuer laughed. “You’ve been watching far too much TV. Trust me, that doesn’t happen in real life.”
From the footfalls on the gravel, he was less than a few feet from the driver’s side of the car. Despite the limited movement, Rebekah snorted in disbelief and attempted to turn her neck to see out the window. The roof had partially crumbled, restricting any possible view.
“I’m a fireman. I’ve seen enough accidents to know a car doesn’t suddenly explode.” His voice was close. If she had to guess, he was now crouched, low to the ground and nearer her head height.
“Are you sure?”
“Very.” He paused. “Look, I need you to wait here for a bit.”
Rebekah froze. “Why? Where are you going?”
He couldn’t be leaving her stranded, could he? The man said he was a fireman. Weren’t there laws against that?
“We’re out of range here. I need to head back towards the main road to phone for an ambulance and unit.”
Rebekah reached around frantically with the one free hand she had. She snapped it back when it came into contact with the broken front windscreen. “No. You can’t leave me.”
“What’s your name?”
“Look, Rebekah, there’s no way I can cut you out of there with a Swiss army knife, a torch, and a mobile phone. I don’t mean to alarm you, but from the way your body is twisted around that steering wheel, you could be bleeding internally. Not to mention, possible broken ribs and legs.”
She willed her feet to move. “Oh, my God! I can’t feel my legs.”
“Hold tight, I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“Wait,” Rebekah cried out as his footsteps headed away. “What’s your name?”
“Luke.” A moment later, he was gone; taking what little light there was, with him. The roar of an engine, and the crunch of tires from the road above, was the last thing she heard before everything plunged into dark silence.
Rebekah lasted all of thirty seconds before panic set in.
What if he was lying, and has no intention of getting help? What if he just left me here to die?
Memories from that evening returned thick and fast, and a sob escaped her lips. She’d said some horrible things to her sister. What if she didn’t make it, and Maggie believed she meant them? She was going to die in the middle of nowhere. Alone. Frightened. Upside down.
Finally, tires coming to an abrupt stop on gravel, was music to her ears. How she hadn’t heard it when he first arrived was beyond her.
“Rebekah, you still with me?”
Rebekah’s eyes prickled at hearing his voice, and she blinked rapidly to not break down. “Thank God you’re back. How long are they going to be?”
From Luke’s hesitation, Rebekah wasn’t going to like the answer.
And she didn’t.
“Forty-five minutes. I have to dangle like a bat, trapped here for the next hour?” She cringed. She hadn’t meant to sound so ungrateful.
“Yep, and not only that, you get to listen to me practice my best man’s speech while we wait. I need to test my jokes out on someone.”
Rebekah rolled her eyes. “Now I really feel like a crash test dummy.”
Luke laughed. The deep sound was oddly calming. “For a woman whose hanging upside down, trapped in a munted car with a dead, hairy pig next to her, you’re funny. Perhaps I should get you to write my speech.”
As if it were the natural thing to do, they fell into conversation. Rebekah was surprised to discover they both lived in Whangarei, and were in the backblocks of the Waipu Hills on a Saturday night for parties. His, a stag; hers, a thirtieth birthday for a family friend.
Even with the ever-increasing pain, it was turning out to be one of the most enjoyable evenings she could remember.
“You might have gone a little overboard, don’t you think?” he said, after she had recounted her earlier argument with her sister.
She had to agree. It had been eating at her ever since. “I know, but, I couldn’t help myself. I’m tired of her trying to set me up.”
He sighed. “At least you had a choice. You knew that was a possibility, and you still went. I don’t.”
“What do you mean?”
“That wedding I’m best man at, one of my psycho ex is a bridesmaid. She’s going to cause problems.”
“Then why don’t you take your girlfriend as a buffer?”
“I would, but I don’t have one.”
“What? A single fireman? I thought you guys had groupies lining up. What do they call them…” She trailed off, struggling to remember the article she had read. “Badge bunnies.”
Luke groaned. “Don’t remind me. I can tell you first hand you get sick of it. What’s the point of bedding someone when you can’t have a conversation with them in the morning, or can’t enjoy a rugby game over beer and chips?”
“It’s beer and sausage rolls while you watch rugby. Just thought I’d better set you straight.”
They burst out laughing at the same moment, and fire tore through her chest. Rebekah grimaced, and a hiss came out through her clenched teeth.
“Are you okay?”
“The pain is worse, and I’m dizzy.” She coughed, and a metallic taste washed across her tongue. Rebekah let out a strained whimper. “I’m bleeding.”
The car shook as Luke attempted to dislodge the door. “Hang on, they’ll be here any minute.”
Rebekah’s world began to spin; this was not how it was supposed to end. “I don’t think I’m going to make it.”
“Yes, you bloody well will. Stop talking like that.”
She wasn’t as convinced. “I’m sorry I didn’t hear your best man’s speech. I’m sure it’s great.”
“How about we make a deal? If you die—which you won’t, I’ll tell Maggie you’re sorry.”
The wail of sirens blared in the distance. She closed her eyes, and pushed through the intense pain. “What’s the deal part?”
“You be my date for the wedding, and keep that psycho bitch away from me.”
Rebekah’s eyes flew open. “Why would you want to take a stranger?”
At first, she didn’t think he was going to answer. “I’m not going with a stranger. I’m going with you.”
Rebekah’s breath grew shorter and breathing became harder.
Unable to hold on any longer, Rebekah agreed. She trusted him to keep his promise and allow her to leave this world knowing her sister would understand how truly sorry she was. “Fine, it’s a deal.”
After that, everything became a blur. Firefighters and paramedics swarmed her little upturned Prius. As Rebekah gave herself to the darkness, her only regret was not was not knowing him longer.
When she awoke, surrounded by family, Rebekah half-hoped Luke hovered somewhere in the background. After realising he had returned to his own life, forgetting about the stranger he helped, and the promise they had made, Rebekah focused on getting better. It was the middle of the school term, and her young charges wouldn’t take her absence well.
During the day, she was surrounded by hospital staff, her parents, Maggie, or friends. Each night, as she lay in bed staring at the ceiling, she recalled every word of their conversation. She couldn’t help but wonder what he was doing, or how she would ever be able to thank him for saving her life.
After three days in hospital, she was nearly climbing the walls. She’d been prodded, poked, and tested up the wazoo. Apart from a few cracked ribs, some internal bleeding, and bruises to every part of her front and back, she had come out of the accident relatively unscathed. If the next set of tests showed improvement, she was home free.
Once her blood pressure had been checked, yet again, Carol, the day shift nurse, reached for a wheelchair. “Okay, let’s get you down to x-ray.”
“I can walk,” said Rebekah as she swung her legs off the bed.
Carol patted the back of the chair. “Rule are rules.”
They were halfway down the hallway, when Carol said, “Good Lord, be still my beating heart. If I was only twenty years younger.”
Rebekah glanced to where Carol had fixed her gaze. She had to agree. The man leaning against the nurse’s station, with a bouquet of red roses, would turn anyone’s head, no matter how old they were.
Carol leaned down and said in a low voice, “I normally don’t like that much tattoo on a man’s arm, but against those muscles, what’s not to like?”
Rebekah didn’t comment. She couldn’t help but feel a little jealous of the woman he was here to see.
The x-ray was over before she knew it, and they were headed back in record time. As Rebekah was wheeled back into her room, they stopped short. “Oh, it looks like you have a visitor.” Carol let out a small harrumph. “You might have said something earlier.”
Unsure of what the nurse was referring to, Rebekah looked up to discover the silhouette of a man by the window; the bright sun obscured his features; a large bunch of roses rested in a vase on her bedside table.
The man stepped away from the window, and her eyes widened. It was the adonis they had seen leaning against the nurse’s station.
“I didn’t recognise you the right way up,” he said with a wink.
Goosebumps erupted across her exposed skin. She would know that voice anywhere.
Luke’s lips tugged upward and broadened into a smile. Just a little one at first, but as it grew wide, it slowly revealed a perfect set of teeth. The whites, a perfect contrast to the tan skin that gave away his mixed heritage. Finally, the smile reached his eyes, causing them to crinkle at the corners to expose two unexpected dimples as his cheeks tugged upwards. Rebekah’s breath caught at just how affected she was with a simple smile.
Carole reached down to assist Rebekah. “Let’s get you back into bed Luv, then I’ll give you some privacy.”
“Here, let me,” said Luke.
Before Rebekah knew what had happened, he was around the bed, and she was scooped up into his arms. The speed at which she was tucked against his firm chest forced out an involuntary yelp. Even in her condition, she was acutely aware of his fresh masculine scent, not to mention just how close they were, sending her temperature and heart rate spiralling.
Luke effortlessly carried her to the bed and gently placed her on the mattress. When he let go, he smiled and tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “You okay?”
His warm chocolate eyes crinkled in worry, and he cupped a hand against her cheek.
Rebekah’s heart skipped a beat as she basked in the unexpected tender contact. “Why are you here?” Unable to find her voice, it came out in a whisper.
“I’m here to collect on a promise.”
She leaned into the hand that held her face with such tenderness and smiled. This was a promise she was more than happy to keep.