Alex stumbled along beside Gus and his older brothers, all of them laughing, just as plastered as he was.
When they reached the curb, Gus held up the keys to his sporty little Audi RS 5. “Who’s drivin’?”
They usually fought over who got to drive. Tonight no one stepped forward. Alex shook his head. No way was he gonna volunteer. He could barely walk. He just hoped Gus was more sober than he was, or they’d be in a ditch before they could make it down the hill into Kingston.
“All right, pile in,” Gus said.
Alex sat in front and Gus’s older brothers crammed into the tiny backseat. None of them considered seatbelts a priority anyway, so it didn’t matter that they were practically sitting on each other’s laps.
“Drive fast,” Hayden said. “’Cause I’m gonna need to puke eventually, and I’d really prefer not to do that in the back seat of yer pretty car.”
“You’ll be payin’ to git it detailed if ya do,” Gus said. “But gest in case, I’ll put the pedal ta tha medal.”
“We all appreciate that, l’ill brother,” Owen said.
They rolled down the windows and let the night air flood them with wind in their hair, whooping and laughing and singing along to Bohemian Rhapsody as if they were starring in their very own Wayne’s World video. When it came time to do the headbanging, they gave it all they had, complete with air guitars.
Complete with flipped cars.
And broken guardrails.
Fallen telephone poles.
Alex stood beside the car, not sure how he’d gotten there. A loud hissing came from somewhere within. Smoke and dust billowed into the air. Broken glass was everywhere. There was chaos, lights, sirens. Hayden was puking loudly somewhere nearby, hanging half his body out the side door from how it sounded. Owen moaned from the backseat, and Aaron kept calling Alex’s name over and over.
“I’m right here, man,” Alex told Aaron. “You can stop yelling.”
He didn’t. It was like Aaron couldn’t hear him. Alex stepped closer and tried to get Aaron’s attention. He was distracted by Gus struggling to disentangle himself from his airbags. When did those explode? Alex didn’t remember that happening. He turned his attention back to Aaron. Was he crying?
“He won’t wake up,” Aaron said. “Git him to wake up.”
“I’m awake,” Alex tried to tell him. “I’m right here.”
“Sir, take a step back,” a paramedic said. When did they arrive? Alex looked around at all the vehicles with swirling, flashing lights. “We’re doing everything we can for your friend. I need a gurney over here. Get his neck stabilized. On my count. Three, two, one. Sir, step back. I need you to move out of the way.”
“Alex, wake up!” Aaron cried. “Wake up, dammit! Wake up!”
Alex was tired of trying to get Aaron to hear him, so he listened to a police officer asking Aaron questions.
“Sir, come this way, please. Can you tell me your name?”
“Prince Aaron Sayid of Madain Saleh,” Aaron choked out through tears. His standard answer whenever asked. As crown prince, he’d always been determined to carry on their name and monarchy even if they never saw their homeland again. Now it just sounded haughty. Alex snickered.
“What?” a police officer questioned.
“Aaron,” he cried. “Just call me Aaron. Where are you taking Alex?”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Alex answered the question intended for the police officer.
“He’s going to the hospital, sir.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Can you tell me Alex’s last name?”
“Stephenson,” Alex told him.
“Stephenson,” Aaron echoed.
“Is he related to the real estate developer, Alexander Stephenson?”
“Hey, you know my dad, cool.”
“Yes, Alex’s his son.”
“And did you claim to be a prince?” the officer asked.
“Yes, our father is Prince Marcos Sayid of Madain Saleh. Alexander Stephenson is our father’s best friend.”
“The other three men in the car are your brothers?”
“Yes.” Aaron’s sobs had lessened to heavy breathing.
“How old are you, son?”
“And can you give me your brother’s names and ages?” the officer asked.
“Gus was driving. This is his car. He’s seventeen. And Hayden, the one who was puking a few minutes ago, he’s eighteen. And Owen, he’s still in the car”—the interrogation was halted by heaving in the backseat— “I guess he’s puking now too. He’s nineteen.”
“How much have you had to drink tonight?”
“Uh… a lot?” Aaron said.
That was an understatement, Alex thought.
“Yeah, that sounds about accurate.”
“Is Alex gonna be okay?”
“I’m okay,” Alex said.
“I’m sure the paramedics are doing all they can. What is your father’s phone number?” the officer asked.
Aaron gave the man his father’s phone number.
“And do you know Alex’s father’s phone number?”
Alex rattled off his dad’s phone number but the officer didn’t even bother writing it down.
“No.” Aaron said.
None of this was making complete sense to Alex.
“Okay, we’ve got ambulances on the way for each of you so sit tight.”
“I don’t need an ambulance,” Aaron said.
“I don’t need one either,” Alex told him.
The officer shone his flashlight into Aaron’s eyes, and he cringed away.
“Hmm, you’re probably right. But your brothers do,” the man said.
Alex was relieved the man didn’t say he needed an ambulance. He was standing, which is more than he could say for Gus, Owen and Hayden.
Aaron left Alex’s side and went to sit by Gus and they held each other’s hands.
“Is Alex gonna be okay?” Gus looked up at his brother, his expression that of a desperate man.
“I dunno, buddy.” Aaron squeezed Gus’s hand. “I hope so.”
“Dude, I’m right here. I’m fine. You don’t need to worry about me.”
Suddenly Alex wasn’t fine. He was screaming in pain, flat on his back in a moving vehicle with lights and sirens. An ambulance? He told the officer he didn’t need an ambulance. He did now. His body hurt everywhere and all he wanted was for them to make the pain go away.
It did. As quickly as the pain had arrived, it was gone and Alex was standing in an emergency room where he heard scary phrases like, “multiple injuries, “life support,” “critical condition,” “stable,” “blood alcohol level of point-one-two,” “the youngest one was driving.”
The youngest one? Gus? Alex looked around for Gus and found him lying on a hospital bed in one of the curtained partitions, talking to his mom.
“Are you hurt, baby?”
“My head hurts,” Gus told her. Then he asked the same question everyone kept asking. “Is Alex gonna be okay.”
“I’m fine, dude, the pain’s gone now.”
Gus’s mom looked away and straightened the blanket. “I’m sure they’re doing all they can for him.”
What did she mean by that?
“Where are my brothers?” Gus asked.
“They’re down there.” Alex pointed to the other side of the emergency room.
“Aaron is having a talk with your father, and Hayden and Owen are in beds near the end of the room over there, basically sleeping off what will soon become a nasty hangover.” Her tone grew more and more irritated.
“I’m sorry, momma,” Gus said. Was he crying? What a dork.
“I want you to concentrate on getting yourself healed,” she said. Her expression shifted, and her lip quivered. “And I’d suggest you pray—hard—that Alex lives… because you will be tried as an adult.”
“Lives?” Alex asked. “I feel totally fine.”
And just like that he wasn’t totally fine. The pain was back and Alex wailed in agony. He was on a bed again but this one wasn’t moving and there weren’t lights and sirens anymore. Well, there were lights, but not spinning ones. Blinding lights. Why didn’t someone turn down the lights?
As quickly as he’d thought the words, the lights didn’t blind him anymore. Alex was thankful to the nurse in the white uniform who beckoned to him.
Come this way. Did she say something or was Alex imagining her words? You’ll understand everything. And he did. Everything around him made perfect sense.
There were people surrounding him and they were all smiling, welcoming him.
Wow, they were all so beautiful, and so familiar, and so peaceful. There was unconditional love flowing all around him and he had the desire to share that love, and all that he owned, with everyone he knew. As if nothing he had on earth was truly his.
The peaceful, beautiful people took him on a tour of the hospital and through the streets of the community, up one street and down another. Alex felt love for everyone he saw but also those he couldn’t see, everyone in each of the homes they passed. It was as if he had no enemies, and all of them had everything in common. As if there were no physical riches, only intrinsic riches. Like the love that they all shared was what made them rich.
And then a new pain arrived. A different kind of pain than he’d experienced a few minutes prior. A dark pain. A dark, horrific pain.