by Kyle Richardson
Sparrow June falls in love with Reason Cartwell at exactly 3:43 in the afternoon—under a cherry blossom tree, to be precise. It’s not a sweeping, romantic kind of love as much as it is tender, hesitant, and ever so awkward. He’s got his hands on her hips, she’s got a cigarette in her mouth, and the smoke is twirling around them like some sort of hot, sticky magic.
But then Reason coughs, and Sparrow’s closed-eyed kiss misses the mark, landing on his stubbly chin instead of his puckered lips—and something inside her pinches and twists, just below her sternum.
Then Sparrow’s tilting, not from the failed kiss, or from the embarrassment, but because whatever just pinched inside her has also made her dizzy and weak, and oh, this isn’t how she thought it would happen. Not like this. Not . . . like th—
And when Sparrow wakes, she’s lying on a hospital bed. All around her, machines beep and jostle. Tubes dangle from her arms. A doctor, or possibly a male nurse, looks up from his clipboard and smiles. “You were lucky,” he says, patting her hand. “If you hadn’t come in when you did—”
But Sparrow’s already up and moving, her hospital gown thrown aside, her elbows swinging through the air-conditioned air. The tubes disconnect and sputter. The machines wail and whine. And Sparrow pushes past the doctor/nurse to stumble through the doorway marked Emergency Stairwell, because isn’t this an emergency? To land in the hospital, alone and wounded and hooked to machines, right after meeting the love of your life?
Isn’t this as emergent as it gets?
Behind her the nurse/doctor’s voice wafts through the air, yelling things like, “Hey!” and “Somebody!” and “Wait!”, but Sparrow keeps her bare feet pattering down the concrete steps, even though her heart’s thrumming against her ears. Even though the world’s started to dance.
And when she finally reaches the bottom of the stairwell, with her vision cloudy and the sweat beading down her neck, Sparrow June kicks open the exit door like she’s kicking down a goddamn wall. And the roar of the city gushes in like thunderous applause and—
The man with the dark glasses keeps pacing the room. “She’s wasting our time,” he says. He kicks something—a trash can, maybe, or a picture frame; Sparrow can’t really see from this angle too well—and he says, “We’ve got minutes, maybe less, and here she is kissing that fool in a park. There she is, caught in a hospital!”
But Trevor’s got Sparrow’s hand, and he’s shining a flashlight into her eyes, and he’s saying to the man, “She can do this. She’s the best chance we got.” Then he clicks the flashlight off and looks down at Sparrow through the spots and the haze. “June?” he says. “You have to get those launch codes. The world is, literally, at stake here. Can you do it?”
And Sparrow just narrows her eyes and says, “Well quit fucking wasting time, then. Send me back.”
And when she’s back in Reason Cartwell’s head, this time it’s raining. This time she’s got a sundress on, and everything’s black and white, and Reason’s telling her about the time he started snoring in a movie theater, and how, when he woke up, his face was wet and the people around him kept snickering. But Sparrow’s not listening. Not really. No, she’s looking at the clocktower, at the minute hand sliding up.
3:43 in the afternoon, all over again.
And she wants to say, “Tell me the launch codes.” She wants to say, “I’ll kill you if I have to!” But Reason is all smiles and innocence, like he doesn’t have a clue. Like all he sees, all he’s ever seen, is her. And Sparrow keeps forgetting . . . something. Something she’s supposed to . . . do.