My Darling Bride: Chapter 1

GRAHAM

A February wind blows across the field. Narrowing my eyes, I embrace the cold like it’s armor.

There’s palpable tension in the air as we line up. Even the stadium is silent. With five seconds left on the clock, we need a touchdown to win. Jasper, our quarterback, barks out instructions, and we tighten up, poised, hands in the turf, eyes focused on the defense.

I shift my weight, ready to run.

Football is in my veins, the rhythm and cadence of the players, the smell of sweat, the feel of grass beneath my feet, the sky above me.

This is where I belong. On the field. Winning games.

So when the ball is snapped and Jasper tosses it to me, my hands make the perfect catch.

Tucking it under my arm, I run for the goal line. The thrill of the chase is on, the greatest high there is, and my body vibrates with excitement.

Their defense plows toward me, and I pass through them like a ghost.

Almost there.

One. More. Yard.

The crowd jumps up, cheers deafening as they chant, Graham, Graham, Graham!

I never see the tackle coming. The defensive lineman appears in a blind spot, and the hit sends me flying back, but I steady myself, digging my feet into the turf. Crying out in frustration, the defender yanks my face mask down.

Pain radiates to my head as I collide with the ground.

Air whooshes from my lungs.

Too many players are on top of me. I can’t breathe.

Fear paralyzes me as darkness overtakes my vision.

My hands twitch to move, to grab my chest, my head.

The world around me slowly disappears as the fans’ cries fade to white noise.

Something. Is. Wrong.

I feel my heart slowing, not all at once, but with long ponderous beats—then it doesn’t beat at all.


What is this?

Am I dead?

The question echoes in my head, a whisper that comes from everywhere and nowhere all at once.

No way.

I’m in the prime of my health. I woke up this morning with the world at my fingertips.

Terror digs its claws in.

God, someone, hello? Are you out there?

I haven’t been perfect, but please, I need more time, I need to help my brother, I need to . . .

Just as that thought is formed, colors flash in my head, smearing together like oil on a canvas, bleeding into one another. I did acid once in college and tripped. I sat back on the fraternity couch as the world unfolded in unbelievable pictures. It feels like that.

I see a kaleidoscope of vibrant images slipping and sliding together, filling me with powerful emotions.

I see my brother as a kid, chasing me, right on my heels as we look for adventures.

I see my father, walking away from us, his suitcase bumping over the ground.

I see my mother playing the piano.

Divina appears, the woman who shattered my heart.

I see my teammates.

It’s a mess of pictures, blending and meshing together into incomplete memories.

They fade as new visions appear.

An endless highway in the desert.

I smell sunshine and vanilla.

I taste sparkling wine.

A woman’s face appears, slipping in and out of my vision.

She smiles and beckons to me.

Who is she?

A waterfall of pale-blonde hair.

Emerald eyes.

Fragile yet strong.

Is she an angel?

I want to know because . . .

I adore her.

All I feel is perfect tranquility.

Peace.

Happiness.

Amazement ripples over me.

It’s as if I’m on the cusp of great knowledge.

On the meaning of life.

On the meaning of my life.

She disappears like sand in my fingertips, and I cry out, yearning to cling to the memory, to figure out the significance.

All that’s left is the blackest black and endless cold.

Death creeps in like a shadow.

I get it now.

You don’t just see your life flashing before you when you die; you see the life you could have had.

Unbearable grief washes over me.

I’ll never know who she is.


Electricity fires over my body as my heart pushes out a beat. Then another. And another.

My eyes squint open to paramedics. The wind hits me and I gasp, dragging in air.

I’m alive.

Was it all a dream?

Medics push Jasper out of the way, but he juts back between them with his elbows, then kneels on the ground next to me, his face ashen.

He’s taken his helmet off and rakes a hand down his face. His wild hair hangs around his shoulders. “Jesus Christ, man, you nearly got your head pulled off. We thought you were fucking dead!”

I was.

I was.

I swallow, wincing at the pain in my head. At least I can feel my arms and legs. I’m not paralyzed. Football isn’t an easy sport. It’s brutal, and if rules aren’t followed, then shit goes wrong. Shit has gone wrong.

He gives me a grimace, which is weird because when we lose, he’s our cheerleader.

“W-we lost?” I twitch, anxious to get off the gurney.

He pushes me back down. “You scored, G. We’re champions. I’m not even worried about football. Hey, stop moving. They’re taking you to an ambulance.”

The medics finally get him to move as I rethink the lost look on his face. He was thinking this was it for me. I’ll never play again.

Black and gold confetti, the Pythons’ colors, rains down from the sky as I remember catching the pass, the run, the hit, but the rest is hazy.

I saw something.

Someone.

A hissing sound comes from me as pain ripples in my head; then everything goes black.

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