“Nick? Its okay baby, I’m here.”
“What?” For some reason her voice was the last one he expected to hear.
A soft laugh followed. “Open your eyes.”
Blinking slowly a soft light filled his vision. Immediately he found himself smiling at the sight of the face above him. His loving wife Lauren was hovering above him, a look of worry in her dark, gentle eyes. He reached up and tucked her long brown hair back behind her ear, gazing tenderly into her caring face. But that didn’t make sense, did it? No. He wasn’t home. He was on tour with Jordan. His brow furrowed as he tried to remember. How did he get here? When did he get here? Not that he was complaining. It wasn’t until he met Lauren and fell so quick and so hard that he finally understood the fellas and their need for breaks. Of course they wanted to go home; they had something to go home to. Now he did too. He simply wondered why he couldn’t remember the end of the tour. Or coming home.
Nick shook his head slightly at himself and his many questions. None of that mattered now.
“Of course I’m okay. Like you said Boose, you’re here.” He grinned and sang softly. “You’re all, I need to get bye…eeeeyyyye.”
She smirked at him. “I miss your cheesy one-liners when you’re gone.”
“When I’m gone? But you don’t gotta worry baby, I’m not going anywhere.”
“Better not for a little bit. You deserve a break.” She smirked. “Though you can’t keep hurting yourself like this.”
Lauren kissed him softly and held out a hand to him. Taking it, he let her help him up with a groan. Immediately after he winced as his hand went towards his side. He rubbed it with a frown. It felt like it was throbbing. How badly did he fall? Nick smirked at her. “I must’ve done more damage than I thought.”
An image of Jordan flashed quickly before his eyes. Was that blood?
“I know.” She picked up a stuffed animal off the floor. “I didn’t think something like this would take you down.” Lauren tossed the bear onto the nearby couch. “Leslie must have thrown this when I wasn’t looking.”
Leslie? My sister? But she’s… Nick blinked, staring at her. He still thought about his sister often even though it’d been two and a half years since he lost her. He sometimes wondered what he could’ve done differently. Was his family right? Could he have saved her? Deep down he knew the answers to those questions. In the end however, it never stopped the questions from rearing their ugly head now and then. “Leslie?”
His wife chuckled and turned away and moved to a crib that Nick hadn’t noticed there before. “Yeah, if I’d known I’d have found a way to keep you from getting hurt.”
“I told you, I’m okay.”
He was thrown out into the air as the bus continued to roll. His eyes were wide with panic as he rushed to meet the ground coming towards him rapidly. Behind him the bus finally met its end against a massive tree.
A beautiful baby was lifted up into the air, chubby and healthy, looking no more than a year old. She had a wild tuft of blonde hair held back by a headband with a big pink bow. Her bright blue eyes lit up at the sight of Nick and she reached her arms out for him, crying out. Lauren laughed and walked over. “Good thing, she needs her daddy.”
Nick took the baby into his arms and smiled as she patted at his face. She was wearing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers onesie which made him even happier. He blew raspberries against her neck and she giggled, grabbing his hair. The pictures flashing though his mind were immediately forgotten thanks to the little one within his arms. “Yeah, I’m not going anywhere.”
“Nick, I’m sorry.”
He was alone, alone in a forest without a clue of what to do.
She gazed upon him without a word. Her eyes seemed to do all the talking in that moment.
“What is it?”
“Nick, you need to wake up now.”
He took a step towards her, cautious of Leslie. His eyes went wide when the baby quickly vanished from his arms. “What? What’s going on?!”
She bit her lip as she watched him. “I wish I could stay here with you. I want our dreams, all of them, to be real and for you to be safe and sound. Just make sure you come back somehow. I need you Nick. We all need you. You can’t give up, you promise me that?”
“Of course I promise! But what is this? What’s going on?!” He was so confused and wanted answers as he raced towards her. Nothing else seemed important. Inches before he could reach her, she disappeared.
Lauren reappeared from just behind him as he whirled around in search of her. “You know. You just don’t want to admit to yourself. But Nick, you have to go back. You have to face it. I can’t be your escape for you forever.” She sighed and shook her head. “As much as I would like to be, I can’t. You have to go.”
Dave was impaled through the neck. Jordan was slowly dying if he didn’t find help quickly. Nick touched his forehead and suddenly there was blood when he pulled his hand away. Like before.
The room grew cold and foggy, his wife stood alone in the darkness. A lone light illuminated her frame as she watched him. There were no more smiles. Just a sad, forlorn look that made his heart want to break in two. “Lauren wait!”
“I have to go. But I have faith in you Nick. Every night I’m going to pray for you to stay safe. Just remember to face up to everything that’s happening for me. Fight it if you can. Don’t run away.”
“Lauren?! What are you talking about baby? Boose? No! Wait!” She faded back into the abyss that was closing in on him with every breath. Everything faded back into nothing. Nick ran forward despite being completely lost within the void. “Lauren!”
“I love you Nick. Always.”
Nick awoke with a sharp gasp that radiated pain throughout his body at the too quick movements. The taste of his wife’s name still lingered upon his lips as his head shot backwards and the back of it rammed into the trunk of the tree he’d propped himself up against the night before. He rubbed the sore spot with a frown but it quickly faded when he realized he saw no blood on his hands this time. He stretched rather carefully though it was somewhat fruitless and gazed upwards. Grey clouds obscured most of the sky above though he could see enough of the sun to tell it was likely around midday. Groaning softly he forced himself to get up rather than sit the way he wanted to. He slipped off his jacket gently before rotating his still aching shoulder.
“Not dislocated” he said mainly so he could hear the sound of his own voice. The solitude was quickly bugging him. He was second only to AJ in his lack of ability to stay alone for a significant amount of time. “Maybe only pulled a muscle if I’m lucky.”
He next pulled up his shirt to examine his chest again. Once what were light bruises became a spider web of deep blacks, blues, and purples overnight. He ran his fingers over the discolored skin lightly and promptly learned there had been some swelling as well. He had no way to find out just how seriously injured he was or if they were worsening. Though the fact he wasn’t coughing up blood yet seemed to be a good enough sign so far.
“Okay. Gotta find somebody.”
Maybe if he said it out loud it might help. It felt more like a goal then. The wind had died down though visibility was still questionable thanks to the fog that continued to settle in. Nick grabbed his jacket and put it on before grabbing his water bottle. He started walking in the direction he’d been last night. If he was careful maybe he wouldn’t veer too far off the northern course he’d been making for himself. He took a small swig from his water bottle before tucking it in the pocket of his jacket. Who knew when he’d find a river or something? Plus he remembered something about having to boil that sort of water and he had nothing to boil it in. Suddenly he wished for rain if he ever hit that point of desperation.
How long can someone survive without water? Three days right? So far he was okay then.
His stomach rumbled demandingly and he was immediately reminded of the fact he hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning. Nick sighed and kept walking. Maybe he’d find some acorns or something. Kevin showed him which berries were safe to eat and what ones weren’t. But he couldn’t remember. They all looked the same when this was being explained to him. Let alone now when he was forced to pull back that seemingly useless knowledge. Today seemed just as ominous as the day before. He thought about trying to mark the trees or something. That way if he got lost he could go back the way he came or at the very least prevent himself from wandering in circles.
He reached in his pockets. “Fuck!” In his hands was his wallet and one of his guitar pick. He didn’t even carry a pocket knife. “Fucking idiot. Can’t cut without a knife or even a fucking key.” And why would he need a key? He was on tour which meant no house or car for a couple of months.
I wonder if Jordan’s still alive.
It was a valid question even if it was one he didn’t wish to address. Every step forward was motivated by the fact that his friend was trapped in a bus in desperate need of help. Jordan would die if he failed. It wasn’t even a question. If he kept letting himself think about how he was likely lying dead in that bus, he’d crack. He had to shake those thoughts away. Thoughts of Jordan’s eyes staring unblinkingly at the side of the bus, his flesh pale and cold. Bugs coming upon the bus and feasting on two human buffets while the sole survivor wandered the forest. It was already true for Dave. There were plenty of animals out here. Nick heard the howls last night and it’s what kept his sleep from coming close to even the idea of sound and peaceful. Animals might’ve climbed in the same way he did. Now they were chowing down. They might be even eating Jordan alive. He pictured maggots crawling in and out of his eyes and mouth. There was no way to know for sure how things were at the crash site.
No! I can’t think like this.
“God, I know you might not have been the biggest fan of mine…” Nick said just before stumbling over a few rocks. The ground was still wet and somewhat sticky from the previous day’s downpour. How long had he been walking while his thoughts traveled down that morbid road? Time was elusive and slipped away from his grasp now. “But please, please let me make it out of here alive. Guide me to save Jordan.”
In that moment, just the act of praying got him thinking of Brian. Would Brian pray for me? Is he praying for me right now? Once upon a time he never would’ve had to ask. “And God if you don’t want to listen to me, if Brian’s praying…maybe listen to him.”
Nick stumbled again and almost fell face forward into the grass. “Dammit! Geeze, I get it. I’ve sinned to much or some shit. If I ever get out of this I’ll ask Bri and…” He trailed off in that moment.
Almost falling had caused him to see something he definitely would’ve missed otherwise due to not watching just where he was walking. It wasn’t that he was distracted. It was that his focus was more on finding anything edible. Still, what he saw suddenly seemed better than the discovery of food. Because of the muddy ground between the patches of grass, he could see all sorts of footprints. Many belonging to foxes and birds most likely. His eyes were settled on one set in particular. He couldn’t see where they led, true. It was one patch of mud so it was hard to tell if they continued. But for now just the simple hope it gave was enough.
One pair of footprints was human.