By the time it happened, Avril and I had progressed a long way. We’d been together for six years. It was senior year of college, and it was almost time to graduate. We didn’t even go to the same universities. She went to UC Berkeley, up in Northern California, near where we’d gone to high school. At her recommendation, I had applied to Caltech in high school, and I’d gotten in. She told me to go. I did. I didn’t know anything about higher education, other than what Avril had told me. I hadn’t even thought I was going to go to any university until I’d come to the US. As a kid from a farm village who came from a family of robbers, murderers, rapists, and die-hard alcoholics, I had no hopes of going to any university. I hadn’t even considered it at all. I’d had this dream early on of being a musician, but that went down the drain fairly early. Instead, I was pursuing my other once-secret passion: computing. The whole obsession had started when I was about seven, when those city people had passed through town and started talking to me (of course, they didn’t know who I was or what kind of family I came from). They asked me what I wanted to do with my life and I told them that I didn’t know. Then the man (who I’m assuming was very, very rich) gave me his computer and told me that if I learned how to use it, I’d be able to change the world. Of course, I knew that I had to hide this gift, so I hid it under my bed (we never cleaned the house). That was the computer I’d learned to program on. It was the same one that I secretly had until Avril had bought me a new one at the end of senior year. I was double-majoring in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence. Avril thought I was insane, especially doing that at Caltech. But I didn’t find it too difficult.
Senior year was drawing to a close now. Next fall, Avril would join me at Caltech for grad school. She was majoring in AI as well.
Soon enough, finals were over, and I was in the cap and gown. We threw up the caps, and then I gathered up my things and left school to go home.
It was when I was driving up on Interstate 5 that I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. I pulled over to stare at the number. It had our home area code. It seemed very, very familiar, too. Like someone I knew had that number, but I’d never put it into my contacts. I’m generally wary of calls from numbers I don’t recognize, but something told me this was important.
“Mortas!” The alarm in the voice astounded me. “When are you coming home?”
My heart pounded. It was Avril’s mum. Why in the world was she calling me? Unless…
No. No. It couldn’t be. I hoped that nothing terrible had happened.
“I’m on I-5 right now.”
“Oh, thank God. Come home as fast as you can! Avril’s sick!”
“Sick? With what?”
“We don’t know. It’s some sort of mystery condition. No doctor we’ve seen recognizes it!”
“Has she graduated?”
“Yes, but she started complaining of stomach pains after her graduation. Then she threw up. Then she passed out. Now she’s in the hospital, and it’s not looking good.”
My heart practically exploded. No! It’s not looking good? No. I wasn’t going to let Avril go without at least seeing her one last time. Preferrably, she wouldn’t go at all.
“I’ll be there as soon as possible if you give me the address of the hospital.”
She did, and then we hung up. And as soon as we did hang up, I felt my werewolf strength explode in me. I floored the gas pedal and drove as fast as the car would allow me to, hoping that nobody would catch me speeding. How could they? I was in full survival mode. That meant that the Wayworde instincts were going. My mind was in a criminal state. I could evade the law instinctively if I had to.
As expected, near the middle of the journey, I encountered the cops. Or, rather, the cops found me. And here, my werewolf eyes, normally an inconvenience because of their color (that generally scared people), were an advantage. I turned off my headlights, but I could still see like a hawk. Every light in my car was off, but I still knew exactly where I was going. No need to waste energy trying to serpentine. I continued to floor the gas pedal, pushing the car to the brink of exhaustion. The sirens were going. They could still see me.
I started pulling every trick in the Wayworde inventory. Most of them didn’t pay off. They stayed on my trail easily.
Then I pulled out the most infamous trick in our family book. I threw my hoodie over my head (a must-have, since I’m a computer guy and from a family of felons) and pointed the car in the backwards direction. Then, I threw the car into reverse and floored it. And finally, I turned on the sprayer in the front windscreen (the one that cleans the windscreen). I turned around and started driving through the back window. Well, that wasn’t the whole thing. The Wayworde inventory version worked with an older car, though, and the car that I had wasn’t well-equipped for the stunt. So I did what I could. For the very first time, I felt the urge to make my father proud.
Finally, after nearly a hundred miles of driving in reverse, the sirens were gone. I no longer saw the red and blue lights, or heard the sirens. So I turned the car back around, threw the car into drive, and took off at full speed again, this time without my headlights.
I rolled into the area only about three and a half hours, drastically shorter than the time of six hours that I’ve heard it normally takes. And after that, I slowed down and turned my headlights back on. In the middle of nowhere, I could be (although I didn’t prefer to be) Mortas Wayworde the son of a notorious, should-be-in-jail rural gang leader. But here, at home, I needed to be myself. So I became Mortas Wayworde the genius Brit that lived under a rock his whole life. And Mortas Wayworde the committed boyfriend. These things, I suppose I really was. But the criminal? I’m no criminal, as much as my hardwiring told otherwise.
I pulled into the parking lot and parked in the guest parking. This happened to be the hospital where Avril’s mum worked, so she got special treatment. I’m assuming that’s how Avril had been rushed into the ER so quickly. According to Avril, there was almost always a wait in the ER here.
So I rushed into the ER, locking my car behind me. I assumed she wouldn’t want to see anything but me.
I bolted up to the ER desk.
“I’m a guest. I’m here to see Avril Kleinman.”
The man behind the desk took a few minutes. I was furious. I wanted to see my girl. I wanted to make sure that she was okay.
“Avril Kleinman. Okay. They’re about to transfer her to Intensive Care.”
“She’s in real trouble, sir. And who are you?”
I was shaking. “Mortas Wayworde.”
The guy raised his glasses.
“Wayworde? Someone with your last name is here already.”
My eyes widened. No. It couldn’t be. The only person who that could’ve been was…
“What’s the other person’s name?”
“Let’s see…Solomon Thurston Wayworde.”
My eyes probably bugged. I tried to stay away from the thoughts.
“What room is she in?”
“Yes, Mr. Wayworde.”
So I darted into the hallway, looking for the room E12.
And then I saw it.
The scene was disastrous. Avril, on the gurney, about to be transported by a few hospital workers. Her mum and dad, standing beside her, holding each other in total, paralyzing fear. Her brother, crying. Even Rip was there, watching with what looked like a lump in his throat.
And my father, staring solemnly at my girlfriend.
I burst into the room.
“What’s going on? How’s she doing?”
Avril’s mum burst into tears as soon as she saw me. She collapsed into my arms.
“You’re here so fast.”
“I drove like a madman to get here in less than four hours. Cops almost got me.”
“Your dad’s here.”
I looked at Father.
“Why are you here?”
“Your girlfriend’s mum called you, and then she called me straightaway. She told me to come…” He paused, and then, to my amazement, let out a deep sob. “She told me…to come…’for the sake of [my] son.’”
He began to cry. “My son! My son!” Perhaps he had never realized.
“Out of the way, sir,” one of the employees barked.
I skirted out of the way of the gurney, and I let my eyes rest on her.
She was clearly in pain, even in sleep. She had a grimace on her face, and she looked like she was screaming deep on the inside, where nobody could hear her. Like the way she had been when we’d had sex for the first time, just instead of the pleasure we felt then, there was only pain in this scream that only I heard now.
I was shaking as we followed the gurney to the ICU. Thoughts were swirling through my head. Above all the thought that this might be the end dominated. What if this was it? What if I was never going to see my girlfriend alive again? Above everything, my eyes were now on the heart rate monitor, hoping and praying, against every possibility, against every fleeting hope and dream, that the line would never go flat. I knew everyone was watching the line pulse and bounce up and down. But I couldn’t shake the feeling. It was like I could feel the soul starting to separate from Avril’s body and float into the ether. But I tried to stay steady, like I didn’t feel anything. Hide it. Hide it. Hide it away from everyone, before I collapsed. My blinks were extra long as I tried not to let the tears fall.
And then we were in the elevator. Ping. Ping. Ping.
We hurried to the door of the ICU. Locked. As usual. No problem at all. The staff would get it working.
“Shoot! Hogell, I forgot my badge!”
My heart nearly stopped itself. My girlfriend was about to die. And this guy had the audacity to forget his badge? The world was against me, and I felt it then. I gripped the inside of myself and the worries pulsated through me. Nobody really cares about you. It was all I knew now. Except me. All I cared about was Avril, my dying girl—no, woman—we were grown up now. My world was gone, except for this moment, this five-foot radius around me. The world was compressed into this small space, this hellish reality that I might’ve rejected to instead go to Hell. So this was coming home.
And then Avril’s mum held up her badge, her hand shaking.
“I’ve got mine.”
The employees (nurses, I’m assuming) backed off.
Avril’s mum—Dr. Hsieh—took control. This was her domain now, nobody else’s. Her two biggest loves, as she told me later—her children and her work—had come together into a ruthless, merciless marriage bound to take one if she didn’t utilize the other.
She put her badge to the scanner. Beep.
The doors opened, and nurses instantly broke down. As soon as they saw Dr. Hsieh, and her daughter, on the gurney, they cried. “Dr. Hsieh! Dr. Hsieh!”
They abandoned all other responsibilities. The doctor was more important. They didn’t want to see a depressed doctor every day. They tell me she’s very assertive around the hospital, thus giving her a nickname—the “Honey Badger.” They didn’t want a depressed Honey Badger. She would never live it down from herself if her daughter was a victim of the Grim Reaper before she herself became one.
So they rushed Avril into a room and transferred her to a real hospital bed, instead of the gurney.
The line was still pulsating. I breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn’t over yet, but at least we’d gotten here.
After a while, the nurses told us to leave. In the most lawful thing I’ve ever seen Father do, he left the room. Rip left, too, sobbing. Avril’s dad and brother left, too. Avril’s mum said she’d be back—she was going to scrub in so she’d be authorized to be here. But instead of Father being the criminal, I was the one who refused to leave. Mortas Wayworde the criminal was back. I wasn’t going to do anything that might make me leave her side. No matter how many times they’d try to force me out, it was all for nothing. I would stay here even if it meant my own death. Even if it meant losing it all for her. No, I wasn’t going to leave the side of the person who had been my solace for so long—she had done so much for me, even asking her parents to pay for Caltech for me. It was a miracle that they did. But we couldn’t afford it. And passing it up meant the destruction of all that I’d done for my last two years of high school. I’d be the man I didn’t want to become—my father, reborn again. I wasn’t going to not pay her back. Once I was the hero—and I would be the hero—I’d give her every dollar back. And I’d make sure she’d make it through so I could give her the money back. Besides, I needed her—she was my everything. God knows how I longed for her in my dorm at Caltech. I finally told my roommate how much I missed her. He told me to get over her. I refused. Life or death, I refused to depart from her side.
So I sat there, refusing to leave, waiting for an angel—my angel—to return from what was certainly the dead.