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Emma James’s grandmother had once told her that memories, like dreams, were as fluid as water. Some swirled up unbidden, like the tide rushing in. Others got pulled out like a riptide—tumbling, secretive, and eventually far away.
But some memories, she said, survive everything. Even death.
But let’s face it, Gran was a little crazy. Or in Emma’s mother’s words, a little woo-woo. Gran was a free spirit soul. Her best friends were people who believed in things like soul circles and past lives. All the topics that drove Emma’s pragmatic father nuts when she sat with them around their dinner table, talking her “nonsense.” They wouldn’t argue, but before long, her father would politely—but pointedly—change the subject. Eventually, she stopped talking about things like that with them, but in Emma, she had a captive audience of one. Whether winding yarn around dreamcatchers together, studying cloud formations, or hunting for healing crystal geodes, her grandmother did her best to counteract her parents’ eyebrow raising.
“Your parents are doing the best they can,” her grandmother had whispered in seven-year-old Emma’s ear as she kissed her goodbye the last time she ever saw her. “But all they know is what they know. Nothing more. There is a whole world out there you can’t even see, Emmalyn.”
Emma had adored her and humored her, though when she was grown, she’d ultimately sided with her father on the woo-woo stuff. Even though, true to her word, Emma’s late grandmother would swirl up in her memories at odd times, gently nudging her to look again. Reminding her that, indeed, some memories survived even death. Because during the worst of Emma’s breakups, her many failures, and even her wildest successes, there her grandma would be, rushing up in her memory.
Now as Emma stood in the rain on that dark, grassy bank above the shallow ravine, watching the EMTs work to extract that poor woman from her overturned car at the bottom, she felt her grandmother beside her, whispering in her ear to remember this moment. That it was important.
Maybe, Emma decided, this was one of those moments she’d like the sea to take with its riptides and undertows. She didn’t want to remember the loneliness of this place or imagine what that woman’s family would soon be going through.
Emma wanted to forget the grinding sound of the car’s wheels spinning in the air and the sight of the deep ruts cut in the wet, grassy bank that slashed through the headlights of the ambulance parked nearby, the smell of fuel littering the grassy shoulder of the road.
She wondered who had called 911. Probably one of the other drivers who’d stopped, like her, standing a few feet away.
Was the woman alive?
Oh, she hoped so.
As the EMTs began to pull the woman out, Emma caught glimpses of the woman’s hair, a similar auburn color and shoulder-length like Emma’s own. There was blood. Poor thing.
“Get a collar on her,” she heard one of them say.
“Do we have a pulse?”
“Thready. BP’s seventy over forty,” another replied, half under his breath. “We’re going to lose her if we don’t get her stabilized now.”
A hollow feeling hit the pit of her stomach. That didn’t sound good. Strange that she could hear their voices so plainly, even as she stood watching like an idiot, a good fifty feet away in the shin-deep wet grass on the bank.
She should offer to help. Hold that woman’s hand. Call her family for her. Something. But of course, the EMTs had this handled. Getting in the middle would only put her in the way.
No, she should walk back to her car. Get out of this drizzle. Drive away. Put this awful memory behind her. After all, she couldn’t even tell them what happened. She hadn’t actually seen the accident that had sent that woman over the edge.
No, no. She’d arrived after the fact. Now there was nothing she could do here but be a spectator.
But—she turned to look at the road, at the debris scattered across it, the deep scar of tracks leading over the edge—where was her car?
Parked on the road were only the EMT vehicles, the fire truck, and two other cars—not hers. Their drivers—men, strangers—stood overlooking the bank as well. They were speaking together in hushed tones.
“…guy spooked as soon as I stopped. I didn’t get a good look at him—it was so dark. He was trying to help her, I think. But he took off,” the younger one in the gray hoodie told the other, a man in his sixties with a paunchy belly. “I asked him if he’d called 911, but he said he didn’t have a phone on him. Said he couldn’t wait. Just took off. So, I called. They got here quick.”
“Man,” the other one said. “That’s cold. Good thing you stopped.”
“Yeah, people are weird in a crisis.” The man in the hoodie still had blood on his hands. He bent down to wipe them off in the wet grass. “I did what I could, but…”
“Might have saved that woman’s life. If she makes it. These guys know what they’re doing,” the older one answered. “My brother-in-law was a paramedic. He…”
The man droned on, but Emma stopped listening as she searched the dark road with increasing worry. Her car was…nowhere.
Silly. Of course it was here…somewhere. She was always losing something. Her keys, her purse. Her peace of mind. The car must’ve been parked behind the fire truck, she supposed. Walking in that direction, she moved past the two men who were still deep in conversation about the woman below. They didn’t seem to notice her or make any attempt to include her in their discussion, which was fine with her, really. That seemed gruesome. Instead, she focused on the feel of the rain-slick grass slapping at her ankles as the EMT workers lifted the woman out of her car onto a backboard. Don’t look, she told herself. You don’t want to remember this.
When she got to the other side of the fire truck, her car was nowhere to be seen.
Emma rubbed her damp, aching temples. This evening was turning into a nightmare. She’d misplaced her car, and now she was going to be late for her meeting with—she frowned, the name momentarily eluding her—with…right…with Dan Gainer, the real-estate investor she and her niece, Aubrey, had been wooing for months about the Bayside penthouse property. A meeting she was last-minute taking for Aubrey who had a surprise dinner with Jacob’s parents, who were in town.
Emma reached for her phone. Oh no. Her phone was in her purse. Apparently, she’d left that, along with her brain, inside her missing car.
Starting to feel panicky, she spun back toward the two men watching the EMTs carry the woman up the hill. “Excuse me,” she called to them. “Excuse me. Can you help me? I seem to have misplaced my—”
“Yeah, this road has always been bad,” the older guy was saying to Sweatshirt Hoodie Guy. “My wife has appealed to the city for some streetlights out on this road, but nothin’. Claimed it was too rural. Wasn’t it just last month that motorcyclist ate it on this curve? Such a shame.”
“I’m sorry,” Emma began again, “I don’t mean to interrupt, but—”
“Tell me about it,” said the younger one. “I like motorcycles as much as the next guy, but you won’t catch me out here at night on one.”
Emma pressed her lips together and walked up practically between them. “Excuse me. I-I seem to have misplaced my car.”
“Even a car won’t protect you out here,” said the one with the paunchy belly. He nodded toward the EMTs carrying the woman up the hill. “Oh, look. Here they come. I suppose we should give ’em our names. In case she makes it. Jeez Louise. Looks bad.”
“I don’t think you should count her out just yet, do you?” Emma said, feeling a little indignant at being ignored. At least she hoped the woman would be—
“What kind of car is that anyway?” Paunch asked. “A Lexus SUV?”
Emma blinked. She turned her attention back to the battered, upside-down car. Her car was a Lexus SUV.
“Hard to tell,” Hoodie mused. “It’s so messed up, but yeah. Might be.”
Cold seeped into her. Glancing down at her feet, she noticed one of her shoes was missing. She curled her bare toes into the muddy grass.
Okay, stop it now. This is just getting weird.
Something more than simple curiosity drew her haltingly toward the woman on the backboard the EMTs had struggled up the hill with and were now carrying across the road. Emma still couldn’t get a good look at her, circled as she was by emergency workers. Except for the glimpse of her right hand, the glint of silver on her fourth finger.
A simple silver band exactly like Emma’s own ring.
She froze. Her thoughts tilted. Wait. No.
That can’t be right. But—
“Looks like her name is…uh…Emma. Emma James,” said the EMT holding a wallet. Her wallet. From her purse as the others moved toward the ambulance.
Emma sucked in a breath. No. She squeezed her eyes shut. No, no, no. This can’t be happening!
“Emma, can you hear me?” the female EMT asked, leaning over that other Emma. The one that wasn’t her.
“I can hear you! I’m Emma. I can hear you. I’m right here!” she practically shouted.
“Her pulse is—”
“Charge the defib.”
A strange whining sound cranked inside her head. Wait! This is all wrong. Am I—? I-Is she—?
No. I don’t have time for this. My life is too full, too busy! We’re leaving first thing in the morning for Turks and Caicos. The whole team. This is ridiculous—
“Stay with us, Emma,” implored another as they loaded the other Emma onto the ambulance.
Wake up, Emma. Wake up! This is all a bad dream. Just wake up!
Water dripped off her nose as she jerked a look to her right, to the men still standing on the bank shaking their heads as they spoke to the police officer about the accident. And to the left where two firemen tidied the ropes they’d used in the rescue.
Alone as she’d ever been, there in the dark, she spun around to suddenly find another man—one she hadn’t seen before—watching her. Seeing her with something close to astonishment. He looked vaguely familiar, like some figure out of a film she’d once seen, but the memory blinked away as soon as he met her eyes. He took a tentative step in her direction, looking nothing like the others, who were all business and urgency, but quite separate from all that. She couldn’t make out why. Except for the fact that his odd clothing… Black leather pants, knee-high boots, and loose linen shirt—did not fit here. Just as she didn’t fit.
He shook his head, confused, taking one more step in her direction, his voice a hoarse, familiar if disbelieving whisper. “Violet?”
Emma blinked as something like lightning scored through her—a memory, a flash of something searingly hot and far away.
Then, everything went black.
End of Excerpt