Everything around me has come to a complete standstill—birds hang in the sky, people have frozen like statues, all has gone utterly silent. Just as my life has ceased to exist, the world around me no longer moves forward.
With his eyes wide, jaw slack, and face pale, Sage takes a deep breath.
My heart shatters like the glass on the asphalt, and I do the only thing I can think to do—I run.
I turn away from the wreckage, from my and Sage's lifeless bodies, from his horrified gaze. I cannot face him, cannot even comprehend what I've just seen.
But at the same time, it's as simple as two plus two: both of us are dead, and Sage is the cause.
I run down the sidewalk, tears streaming down my face and sobs wracking my body. I zigzag through the statuesque people, trying not to bump into them.
This can't be happening; I can't be dead. It can't have been Sage that did this to me...not after everything we've been through.
"Rylan! Please, stop!" Sage yells from behind me, his heavy footsteps racing against the concrete.
I don't stop. I don't even look back. As long as I'm running, I'm still alive.
Warm fingers grip my arm and twirl me around. "Get your hands off me," I hiss through my teeth, unable to stop the tears from spilling over.
Sage releases me, holding his arms up in surrender. "I'm sorry. I'm so fucking sorry." His voice is thick with emotion and his eyes glassy with tears.
"You're sorry?!" I scream. "You're sorry?" A barking laugh escapes my throat. "That's really great, Sage, I'm sure your sorry will bring us both back to life."
He takes a step back and flinches as if I've hit him in the stomach. I find slight gratification in his reaction; I pray the realization hurts.
Sage combs his fingers through his brown hair and tugs at the roots. His eyes dart around while tears fall down his cheeks. "There has to be a way to fix this; I'll find a way to undo it." His hopeful words are without conviction; he is just as lost as I am. There are no redos...no stopping what is...no undoing death.
"Haven't you learned anything from these last few days? There's no changing the past. It's done, Sage," I say flatly. "No apology is going to change it. We're dead, and it's your fault." He opens his mouth but I hold up my hand to stop him. "Sage, you...you killed me...both of us. You had your phone in your hand...you were texting, weren't you?" I feel like I'm going to vomit, but now that I know I'm dead, I don't know how that could possibly happen.
"I—I didn't...I just looked down for a second."
This is the horror story my parents always warned me about—don't look at your phone, don't change the radio station, don't eat while you're driving. I listened to them. I followed the simple rules and someone else's carelessness took my life.
I shake my head and run my fingers through my hair. "A second is all it took to destroy not only our lives but the lives of everyone who cared about us. Who were you texting? I hope it was worth it," I snap, not bothering to lose any of the sarcasm from my tone.
He squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head.
"Tell me, who was it?"
"A record executive; he wanted to sign the band I manage."
I humorlessly chuckle. "And he wouldn't have wanted to sign them if you would have waited until you weren't driving?"
Sage sinks to the ground and covers his face with his palms. He takes several deep breaths to calm the shuddering of his shoulders before looking up at me. "All I can do is say I'm sorry and spend the rest of my existence no matter how long or short atoning for what I did. I can't undo my stupid mistake, but I will work for your forgiveness, Rylan."
I sink down across from him, keeping my distance. I say nothing for a long time; I just keep my eyes on the ground between us, focusing on steadying my breathing.
When I do speak, my voice is a breathless whisper. "Sage, I—I'm so torn right now. On one hand, I am so, so angry at you for what you did. My blood is boiling, my heart is breaking, but..." I take a deep breath. "But even this doesn't change the things we've been through together the past few days. I don't know what to say or what to do right now. I feel like I'm being ripped in two."
"I'm not asking for anything, but for you to give me an opportunity to earn your forgiveness." He falls silent, and I glance up at him and find him staring at me. "Even if you never forgive me, I won't stop trying."
I pull my knees to my chest and rest my chin against my legs. "But that's the thing, Sage...even after seeing this...knowing you're the reason for my death...there are things I want to give you...things I have already given you that even now I would never take back. You've brought such joy and meaning to my life, but you've also brought death and destruction. And what I'm asking myself now is...which weighs more?"
His voice is raspy as he says, "I know what I want you to pick, but that's not my call to make." His hand trembles as he places it on my shoulder, but it has a welcomed calming effect on me.
I inch closer to him and chew my lip. I think back to Kyle on the bridge, and the story I told him about my brother. If Sai were here, would I forgive him for taking his own life? For leaving me and my parents in such a purposeful way?
I don't even have to think about the answer; it's yes. I would forgive him in a heartbeat if he were standing here in front of me, no questions asked.
Sage made a mistake...a grave one, but a mistake nonetheless.
I shift to my knees, ignoring the little pieces of gravel digging into them and put my palm on his cheek. "Sage, I can't pretend that I'm just going to forget it, that it's all just magically going to be okay." I brush a rogue tear from his cheek. "I..."
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[ONC SHORTLIST - ONC AMBASSADOR PICK 2020] When Rylan Walker wakes up almost 25 years in the past, the only explanation she has is that it's a vivid dream. But when her eyes open the next morning and she's transported back into the American Civil W...