Clarity 4: After the Storm
Chapter One

    Dr. Liam Larson
     
    “You're going to be fine,” I tell the limp
girl in the passenger seat as I drive carefully through the
mountain roads. The black pavement is slick and deadly under the
wheels of my BMW, and I clench my jaw as I slow down for the sharp
turns. It wouldn't be very heroic if I crashed my car in the middle
of rescuing my girlfriend from her accident, now would it? My
eyebrows are narrowed in concentration as I drive with
near-surgical precision, but I know I need to keep talking and
being cheerful to distract her from the pain.
    “From now on, things are going to be
different, Winter. We need to stop talking about all the phenomenal
things we could do, and actually do them. I’m tired of
waiting. This has been a really big wake-up call. Let’s promise
that once we get through this, we’re going to stop being such
workaholics. I want to live.” I try to speak with enthusiasm
while focusing on the treacherous roads. It's easy to see why she
crashed. Even a skilled driver with perfect vision, in perfectly
bright daylight conditions, could make a fatal mistake in
conditions like this.
    Putting a woman behind the wheel is like
giving a toddler a machine gun.
    I grimace at the memory of one of my
father’s favorite phrases. He managed to intimidate my poor mother
so much that she never gathered the courage to learn how to drive.
I never wanted to treat Helen that way. Driving is a risk, but it’s
also freedom. It’s power and independence.
    Helen is so quiet that I’m worried she’s in
an excruciating amount of pain. I know that I put her through a lot
of emotional suffering in the past few hours, and all of this is my
fault. She was never meant to hear the things she heard. I was
supposed to be the one person she could trust. And on top of that,
for her to be forced to see the things that she has seen? I wish I
could take it all away somehow.
    “I can’t wait to check out this cabin of
yours, Winter,” I tell her gently. “I bet it’s spectacular. You’ll
need some time to recover from your injuries, and I’ll take care of
you to the best of my ability. But before long, I’m sure you’ll be
feeling strong enough to go on walks with me in the forest. What do
you say? That sounds great, doesn’t it?”
    I hear our puppy yipping softly, and I know
that she’s afraid. A quick glance reveals that Snowball is sitting
in Helen’s lap and shaking like a leaf. I wish I knew what to do or
say to comfort my two girls, but it’s impossible to find the words
in a situation like this.
    “Snowball will enjoy going on walks with
us,” I say softly. “You’d love that, wouldn’t you girl? Getting to
explore the fresh air of the mountains instead of my cramped
apartment in New York City?”
    Snowball responds with a tiny, timid bark.
She sounds nothing like the vibrant, energetic puppy that I once
fell in love with. Seeing Helen get hurt has really affected her. I
can tell, because it’s also bothering me. I feel the need to keep
talking to coax my girlfriend out of her emotional fortress. If
only I could make her smile, or feel hopeful about anything at
all...
    “We could go on that vacation that we've
been talking about,” I say in a falsely upbeat voice. “What do you
think, Winter? You can choose the destination. I think you were
talking about France or Italy? I've always wanted to travel, and I
would love to have you by my side. We should put those shiny new
eyes of yours to good use and actually go take a look at everything
the world has to offer. I know that you’re excited enough about
being able to see the brochures, but there’s something really
magical about actually being there. Something really sexy too.
Maybe we can try to make out on at least a dozen historic
landmarks?”
    She doesn't laugh or react in any way to my
stupid joke, and I am beginning to wish I had the boyish charm of
my best friend Owen. I truly believe that Owen could wake the dead
with his jokes and

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