Part of Apex of Creation
School was out for Christmas break, and at long last, I was on my way home. I was spending the afternoon pounding away highway miles with cruise control set to 80mph, while constantly switching radio stations to find something that wasn't forty years old.
And then I woke up in the hospital with my body aching.
I wasn't sure what was going on. I couldn't think clearly. My leg was in a cast. Did I break it? It didn't feel broken.
I looked around. I was in a hospital room. The lights were dim. On the other side of the room were two men in suits arguing over... something. I couldn't make out the conversation. I was just... so... tired... A nurse came in, and seemed to float right through the arguing suits. I groaned and closed my eyes, and succumbed to the painkillers.
A moment later, hours had passed. The room was brighter, and the sun streamed in through the window. The painkillers must have started to wear off, because now my leg hurt. Fighting with the remnants of the drug-induced haze, I sat up. The two suited men were still there, continuing their argument from earlier. A nurse noticed me, and came over.
"You're awake. You were in quite the accident. Broken ribcage, punctured lung, lots of internal bruising, whiplash. You were lucky."
"You might not remember, but you were in a car accident with a drunk driver. How's the pain? Do you need more morphine?"
"I can't say no to that."
"Your family's outside. Do you feel well enough to see them?"
"I definitely can't say no to that."
A few minutes later, my parents came in, with my brother and sister trailing behind them. I was so glad to see some familiar faces amidst all the other confusion in my life.
My mother flew in and immediately worked herself into a frenzied whirlwind. "We're so glad you're awake, we've been here for nearly two days now, I've hardly stopped praying for you. I've seen all your X-rays, you have a few broken bones but the doctors say you're going to heal right up, there haven't been any complications. You'll probably miss Christmas of course, but we'll just bring Christmas here. The driver who hit you is definitely going to miss Christmas though, he's being charged with everything they can think of. Driving intoxicated, speeding, reckless endanger-"
"Mom, please, please stop. This is a lot to take in. I’ve hardly gotten over the idea that I was in a crash, my leg hurts, and I'm high as a kite right now. Like, so high that I earlier I saw that nurse walk right through those guys over there."
As if on cue, the two men in suits both looked at me.
"What guys, Jimmy?" my mom asked.
There was a moment of awkward silence, and then the man in the darker suit spoke.
The next few days passed in a drug-induced stupor. My recovery progressed smoothly, or at least, that's what the doctors and nurses were telling me.
The hospital had its own Christmas dinner in the cafeteria, but that didn't stop my mom from bringing in half of a turkey. We shared it with some of the other patients - the hospital food wasn't terrible, but it wasn't made with love either.
And then it was time for presents. It wasn't a fancy gift exchange. There was no tree, and the only decorations were some dollar store posters and the grainy music from a CD player in the nurses' station. But it did have my family.
"So, uh, I didn't wrap anything." I said. "Mom had to do it. Thanks for that."
"I needed something to keep me busy," my mom responded, as she plucked a random gift out of a tote bag. She checked the label, then handed it to my sister "To Cynthia from Jimmy."
She opened up her gift - a hedgehog print pillow. "This is adorable - thank you so much!" she squeed
I fumbled through the wrapping on my own gifts, and eventually had a small mountain of new school clothes. “I’d try something on but ah... casts. I’m sure they all fit.”
Not long after, my family went home, and I settled in for the night. I was about to shut off the light when I thought I saw a man in a grey suit outside my window. I did a double take - there was nothing. “Eyes playing tricks on me,” I muttered to myself, and went to bed.
True to their words, the doctors cleared me for discharge two weeks later. The bones had healed up, I had repaired most of my internal organ damage, and my physical therapy had progressed enough to put me on outpatient care. One week remained of winter break, so I packed in as much activity as I could. I visited relatives, caught up with some high school friends, and tried to make the most of the small vacation that I had.
All too soon, it was time to go back to school. My parents were understandably hesitant about the trip, so my dad took a day off work and cashed in some airline miles to drive me out and fly back.
“Now I hope this would go without saying, but please be careful with this car. The insurance company isn’t going to want to pay out a second totaled car.”
I smirked. “Yeah, that would make for a lot of nasty paperwork. What a tragedy that would be.”
He caught on to the joke. “Such an inconvenience.”
”I’ll be careful, Dad. Promise.”
We drove in silence for a few minutes.
“So what classes do you have this semester?”
I tried to remember what I had registered for prior to Christmas break. “Calculus, organic chemistry, o-chem lab, and some gen ed class that I don’t remember.”
“Organic chemistry eh? Taking after your old man?”
“Study hard for that. It’s a tough cookie.”
“So you keep telling me.”
“I’m not kidding. You’re smart, but it’s a very demanding class. A lot of kids drop it and switch to other majors. You want to ace it, you’re going to have to put in some serious study time.”
“I know, Dad.”
“Well, you say you know, but your grades last semester weren’t exactly that great. I know college is a time to get out and have fun, but you also have to keep the future in mind. I want you have fun - hell, I had plenty of fun when I was in school - but I also want you to succeed. You know that.”
As we pulled into the dormitory complex, my dad spoke again. “Now, you know what I’m going to say?”
“Make you proud?”
“Make me proud.”
The general education class I didn’t remember had turned out to be European History, and I quickly regretted not looking up the professor’s reviews before registering. He had an ego large enough to generate a gravitational field, and gave out twice-weekly reading assignments and quizzes.
What was Henri de Tonti’s nickname and how did he earn it?
I had no idea. The history readings had been consistently taking the backseat to organic chemistry in my study schedule. I’d skimmed the material and recognized the name but didn’t remember anything about a nickname. I also had no idea why a five-hundred-year-old nickname was important enough to be worth teaching to engineering students.
This class was going to wreck my GPA, and it wasn’t even the class I’d been warned about.
Henri de Tonti was nicknamed “Iron Hand”, after his hand was blown off by a grenade in Sicily and he replaced it with a metal prosthetic.
I shifted in my chair. I definitely didn’t remember reading that, but it felt right, so I put it down and moved on to the next question.
“Welcome to the war, James.”
I jumped in my seat and turned around. It was one of the men from the hospital, the one in the lighter suit. The one I thought I’d seen the nurse walk through.
The man pointed at the clock, where the second hand was stopped. I looked around, and realized everyone else was looking at their quizzes, and sitting perfectly still.
“Yep, I’m an angel. Name’s Cael. Nice to meet you.”