Prologue Part One
“Jack, wake up.”
Jack Woods lifted his head at the sound of his wife’s voice, his lips sputtering with one final snore. The living room was dark, the only light coming from the muted television as the screen
flickered with the last news of the day.
“I did it again, didn’t I?”
Jessica leaned over him, her damp hair cascading around her face. She carried a clean scent of soap and looked snug in a terry-cloth robe.
She held out her hands, helping him to his feet. “Come on, sleepyhead, time for bed.” The gesture was a ritual started years ago when Jack, exhausted from working two jobs, always fell asleep on
the couch after dinner.
“I’m sorry, darling.” Yawning, he took her hands and staggered to his feet. “I guess I’ve been deserting you a lot lately.”
“You haven’t, not really. And I don’t mind letting you rest.”
“You don’t, huh?”
She grinned, her eyes shining in the light from the tv. “Nope. I want you to save some energy for me.”
“Ah, so that’s all I’m good for.” He wiggled his eyebrows.
Jessica laughed. “No, sorry, darling. You still need to heat the stove.”
He ran a hand through his ivory blonde hair. “Damn it. I should’ve done that before hitting the couch. I’ll need to get more wood.”
“The news said there’s a storm coming—rain mixed with snow.” Jessica followed him to the kitchen and helped him into his winter coat, then handed him his hat and scarf. “The temperature’s going to
drop below freezing and the house is already chilly.”
“I can tell.” He tugged the red wool scarf tighter around his neck. “Jackie in bed?”
“Hours ago. She was tired of waiting for Daddy to wake up and tuck her in. I promised you’d kiss her goodnight.”
“I’ll do just that.” He pulled her close, his eyes searching hers. “Right before I give her mother one.”
“Don’t take too long.” Jessica slipped from his arms; a mischievous sparkle in her eyes. “I have something to tell you.”
He stared after her as she disappeared back into the living room, turning off the television on her way to their bedroom. The click of the small lamp on her nightstand filled the room with a soft
glow. She glanced up, smiling when she saw him watching her, and slowly removed her robe.
She was naked underneath.
Jack caught his breath. Jessica was still an exquisite and desirable woman, even at the age of thirty and after giving birth to their first child. She’d made it a point to keep her slender figure.
She said it was just for him. This made him smile. He knew better.
He wondered what she needed to tell him. She’d been to the doctor’s earlier in the week and her statement scared him a little. But that glow in her eyes didn’t belie anything was wrong. He hadn’t
seen that since...his heart skipped a beat...since she became pregnant with their daughter.
Shaking his head, he stepped out into the windy night. He walked to the woodpile, pulling on his gloves as he went. He needed to work fast if he wanted to get the house warm, and it would take time
for enough heat to rise to keep them warm all night.
He struggled with the logs, fighting to pull them from their bed. They always settled during the hot summer months, making it difficult to break them apart.
Finally satisfied with the load in his arms, Jack made it to the back door, opening it without dropping the logs on his feet. Bracing the stack of wood with his chin, he stepped over the threshold
and used his foot to push the back door closed. He turned the lock and headed for the basement.
By the time Jack reached the last step, his arms trembled, and he was out of breath. Cursing silently, he let the logs fall to the floor.
He opened the stove door and peered inside. It was cold and dark. If he didn’t fall asleep, there would still be a few hot embers to relight it.
Crinkling some old newspaper, he held a flickering match to it, waiting for it to take hold. When the newspaper glowed red, he blew easily on it until it caught, then he placed it under the stack
of small logs loaded on the grate, adding larger logs as the fire grew.
Satisfied, he closed the stove door and bounded up the steps to his wife.
In his haste, he forgot to give his little girl a kiss goodnight.
Prologue- Part Two
The twins were fighting again.
“Stop it, the two of you,” Stephen Crawford shouted into the rearview mirror. “Don’t make me pull this car over,”
“But, Dad, it’s Barry,” Brad, his eldest son, said from the back of the car. “He keeps asking me How about a nice Hawaiian punch? like that stupid commercial and then he punches me in the
leg. I had to punch him back.”
Stephen wanted to laugh at Brad’s reference to the new Hawaiian Punch commercial. Instead, he glared at the younger twin. “No one is to do any punching. Now lay down and go to sleep, both of you.
Brenda,” he glanced at his daughter in the mirror. “Get in between them.”
“But, Dad,” Brenda whined. “I can’t sleep with them punching each other, and I’m so tired.”
“Stephen.” His wife kept her voice low so the children wouldn’t hear.
“Stop. It has been a long two weeks cooped up in a car. And Brenda started.”
Gloria pointed to her lap and lowered her voice even more. “She’s a woman now.”
“Oh, brother.” He slapped his forehead with one hand.
“Why don’t we find a motel for the night and finish the rest of the drive tomorrow? We’re not even halfway home yet and we’re all exhausted.” She leaned her head back against the seat and pushed
her hands through her hair. “And I’m all edgy.”
“Let me drive a few more miles, Glory. I don’t want to drive during the day, too much traffic.”
“All right, a few more miles, then.”
Stephen lifted a hand from the steering wheel and patted Gloria’s knee. “I’ll stop soon. Lay your head back and relax. You kids,” he raised his voice. “settle down and be quiet. You’re getting on
The Wood’s family was sound asleep when the fire started in the basement. The old coal furnace burped once, and the door swung open, the latch eaten away by years of rust. Several sparks escaped,
landing on some discarded newspaper left on the dirt floor.
It was the rumbling that woke ten-year-old Jackie. She sat up in bed, her eyes wide as saucers. She was bathed in sweat, and her hair clung to her face and neck. A dry cough rose in her throat.
She kicked off the covers. Her favorite Mary Poppins nightgown was damp. The well-worn copy of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland that stayed tucked under her arm at bedtime followed the
blanket to the floor, landing with a loud thud.
Coming fully awake, she crawled from her bed. Her eyes roamed the room. It was so hot. Why was it so hot? She didn’t see anything wrong.
It was when the smell of smoke reached her nose and burned her eyes that a sudden realization hit her. She snatched up her blanket and her book and fled the room.
“Mama!” she cried, running down the hall toward the stairway, her bare feet thumping loud on the hardwood floor. “Daddy, wake up!”
In her haste, she lost her footing, plummeting down the rest of the stairs, her breath was knocked out of her. The pain shot up her spine from landing hard at the bottom.
The smoke was thicker.
Ignoring the pain, Jackie struggled to her feet and limped toward her parent’s bedroom. She reached out to grab the doorknob when the house suddenly shook on its foundation.
The ceiling creaked and groaned. A large crack snaked down the wall, growing wider as smaller cracks like spider webs broke off, traveling a different path, each small crack sprouting into another.
She only had a moment to look up before the ceiling came crashing down on her and she lay buried beneath the burning rubble.
It was late, and the highway had no streetlamps, guardrails, or rumble strips. A light fog blanketed the area. The semi-trucks were out in full force and Stephen switched lanes to follow the
fastest one. He loved staying behind trucks on long drives. Once he got in their airstream, he barely had to push the accelerator down. The trucks kept a steady pace, pushing the speed limit. And
Stephen didn’t have to watch for police that might slow him down and write him a ticket.
Like most of the station wagons, the Crawford’s car’s rear seat folded forward, fitting thirteen-year-old Brad, his twin brother and his sixteen-year-old sister comfortably. The last few hours of
the trip they’d spent arguing with each other, each of them professing to need more room than the other.
The driver of the truck Stephen rode behind suddenly veered off the road and onto the berm, spitting gravel onto the windshield of the car. Stephen’s foot lifted from the accelerator and hovered
over the brake. His fingers tightened on the steering wheel.
The trucker gained control of the vehicle, bringing it back between the white lines. Stephen breathed a sigh of relief and pressed his foot back on the gas, his eyes leaving the road long enough to
glance over at his wife.
Gloria’s chestnut hair hung loosely to her shoulders and covered half of her face as her head lolled against the window. Her soft mouth curved into a gentle smile as she slept. The jerking motion
of the car did not wake her. His eyes lingered for a moment. He still loved his wife today as much as he did when they first married, fifteen years ago.
Stephen turned his gaze back to the road for a moment, then he glanced in the rearview mirror. The motion didn’t wake the kids, either. He sighed and turned his eyes back to the road.
The next time the semi swerved, it caught Stephen unaware. The red lights of the truck’s brakes ran off the road and onto the shoulder. The tires spun in the gravel, and dust and stones rained
heavily on the front of the car.
Stephen’s hands gripped the steering wheel. He struggled to clear the truck, slamming on the brake pedal. The brakes locked. The car spun. Stephen’s head struck the window, cracking his skull like
His mother screamed once, then she was silent.
The gas tank caught on fire. Brad started screaming when he realized his body had been set ablaze. His sister covered him with a blanket and told him to roll. He tried, but there wasn’t enough
room. His sister kept screaming at his brother to move over, to give them room, but Barry only stared at her, his eyes dull with shock.
When the rescuers dug Jackie Woods out from under shingles, wooden planks, and other burning debris, she was unresponsive. Her breathing was shallow, her heartbeat slow. They loaded her into an
ambulance bound for the Shriner’s Hospital in Cincinnati.
Covered in blood, she was wheeled into the emergency room. The blood had dried into a sticky paste and her nightgown had to be cut from her body. When the blood was washed away, it was clear her
back was severely burned. An IV with glucose was attached to her to keep her from dehydrating.
Jackie would remain in a comatose state for the next three months.
The paramedics wheeled Brad Crawford into the emergency room of the Shriner’s Hospital. His face was covered in blood, the right side of his body burned black, and several bones protruding from his
leg. His pain-filled screams echoed against the emergency room walls.
“Dad!” he screamed. “Where’s my dad? I want my dad! I want my Mom! Oh, God, where are they?”
A nurse placed an IV into Brad’s arm, hanging the bag of morphine upside down and giving it a slow drip.
“You need to relax,” she said, her fingers stroking the damp hair from his forehead. “Let the medicine work. It will help with the pain.”
His shouts became whispers as the morphine worked its way through his system.
The interns cut off what the fire left of Brad’s clothes and tossed them into a biohazard bin. He was coated with a cool, sticky gel where the fire burned him. They placed Brad in a morphine
induced state and lay him on a gurney until a room was prepared for him.
When one intern looked at the burns on his side, he turned away with a hand over his mouth and ran from the room..
A girl was wheeled into the cubicle beside him, and nurses start to cut the nightgown off her. They washed the blood from her body, then bandaged her entire torso.
With great effort, Brad raised his head to gaze at her through a fog before the curtain was closed. What he remembered most about her was her hair. Then he closed his eyes and fell asleep.
When the morphine drip ran dry, a nurse came to change it. Brad thought her an angel. She touched his arm, and he felt a pinch, then the pain faded away. She wiped the tears from his face and the
snot from his nose. With gentle fingers, she stroked his hair before disappearing. He tried to thank her, but his words failed him. His eyes moved to the other cubicle. The curtain was open again.
The girl still slept. Brad closed his eyes.
Each time the nurse came to change the morphine IV, Brad woke up, his leg throbbing and skin stinging. He glanced at the small room next to him. As long as the girl still lay there, he could go
back to sleep. It brought him comfort.
Many nights, he cried in his sleep, missing his family. When he asked about them, he was told his brother and sister had been transferred to another hospital since their injuries were not
life-threatening and they didn’t suffer any burns. His mother and father were on a separate floor, he was told they would let him know more when they found out.
One morning he woke to find the sticky gel gone, a clean bandage covering his side. The cast was no longer suspended from the ceiling and his leg rested beside him on the bed. His surgery was
successful, but the scar that ran down his leg was long, red—ugly.
He turned his head. He noticed the girl was gone. The room was unfamiliar. He cried out in fear. He needed to know what happened to her. But when the sound of squeaky shoes echoed in the hall and a
nurse rushed into the room, he couldn’t speak. He only rolled his head back and forth on the pillow, the tears streaming from his eyes. The nurse used a tissue from the box on his nightstand and
wiped his eyes and nose.
Two months after being admitted to the hospital, the doctors removed Brad’s cast. His bones were healing. The burns were scabbing over. But the emotional scars would remain forever.
One day, after he’d grown tired of being in bed, he asked for a wheelchair. A nurse brought it into his room and helped him into it. The young Candy Striper wheeled him up and down the hall. He
searched each room as they passed by. But she wheeled him too fast, and he asked her to slow down.
When he spotted the sleeping girl, at his request, she wheeled him into her room. Thankfully, she was still asleep. He didn’t know what he would say if she were awake.
Over the next several weeks, when he had free time from skin grafts, Xray’s, and therapy, Brad spent his remaining days by the girl’s side. He talked to her as if she could hear him. He told her
his hopes and dreams. And his fear of the future.
What he once thought was a white blanket covering her shoulders had not been a blanket at all. It was her hair. She had the whitest hair Brad had ever seen. He would never forget her. If he ever
saw her again, he would know her by her beautiful hair.
The day he was released, he went to her room. Slowly, he raised himself from the wheelchair and leaned closer. He studied her face, wanting to memorize each tiny detail, not wanting to forget the
soft, pale skin, the curve of her lips, the small, upturned nose that sprouted several freckles. He leaned closer and breathed deeply. She smelled good, like soap and shampoo.
“Hello, can you hear me? I have to leave now, and I won’t be able to come back. I just wanted to talk to you. I hope someday I can find you again.”
Not knowing why he did what he did next, he brushed his lips against hers. He’d never kissed a girl before, except for his mother. But the memories of his mother reading fairy tales to him and his
brother, Barry, when they were very young stuck with him. Was he hoping for a miracle? Did he still believe in the fairy tales? He wasn’t sure, but he had to find out.
His heart pounded against his ribs as he waited. He held his breath. Then blew it out when there was no response.
Did he expect a miracle? No, he answered himself. He did not. Miracles were tales for little kids, and Brad believed he would never be a little kid again.
Turning slowly from the bed, Brad eased back into the wheelchair, turned it toward the doors, but then stopped. He glanced back one last time.
“Goodbye,” he said. He grasped the wheels of the chair and rolled out of the room.
A nurse waited for him in the corridor. “Everything okay?” she asked, rolling him toward the exit.
Brad shrugged, not trusting himself to speak. No, everything was not okay. Everything was all wrong. He still didn’t know where his father and mother were.
His thoughts returned to the girl with the beautiful white hair. He tried to keep thoughts of her uppermost in his mind. It helped him to not feel so lonely. He silently vowed to never let them
Tears spilled onto his shirt as the nurse backed the wheelchair into the waiting elevator. He cast one last glance down the hall as the elevator doors slowly closed.
And Jackie Woods opened her eyes.
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