Ayano reached towards the volume knob, turning it up to listen to a song on the radio. She looked out the window, humming along to the song. The scenery was the same every mile.
"Do you have to have such terrible taste in music?" Shintarou groaned. He reached forward and turned the radio off, never taking his eyes off the road. The sun glared a him through the windshield. The highway ahead of him was utterly devoid of cars, a rare sight at 6 in the evening.
The highway was surrounded by tall trees, though only the tops of the trees were visible. It was a steep fall on both sides so Shintarou was driving several miles below the speed limit.
The couple was driving to a concert. Ayano had bought the tickets the same day they had come out, two of them, even though Shintarou didn't like the band. He had agreed to drive her, with many complaints and groans, of course. It was her birthday tomorrow, so she had turned the concert into an early birthday present. How could he say no?
The concert hall was an hour away, though most of the road was large highways so the drive was steady and fast.
"Well I like my terrible taste in music." Ayano smiled. She loved when Shintarou teased her. It was the only way he cared for someone. It was the only way she knew he wasn't tired of her. If he hated her, he would be silent and apathetic, the way he is with everyone else.
They drove on in silence for a while, Shintarou gripping the wheel so hard his knuckles were white. One false turn and he would drive right off the cliff. One false twitch of the steering wheel and he would kill them both. Ayano was the only person he had gotten close to; the only person who put up with him. He couldn't lose her. He just couldn't.
The sun slowly inched towards the horizon, painting the sky and road an orange marmalade color. In twenty minutes, they would be at the concert hall. They called one of Ayano's relatives the night before and had plans of staying there tonight. He wouldn't have to drive again until tomorrow.
Soon the two would exit off the highway and make their way into the small town where the concert was being held. Soon they would get away from the narrow highway.
A car passed by them, heading away from the town on the opposite lane. Shintarou couldn't see the driver's face. Ayano wasn't paying attention.
The road was free of cars for the next few minutes. Shintarou was two miles away from turning off the highway. The tops of the trees were growing thinner as the headed towards the town.
A truck appeared on the highway, far away from them. From his viewpoint, Shintarou couldn't see the truck driver dozing off. He saw the truck merging onto his lane, going in the opposite direction. He saw that the truck was going too fast. He saw the car on the opposite lane, blocking his only escape route.
He braked like hell, honking loudly, watching the truck speed towards him. There was no way he could avoid it.
He turned towards Ayano. Her eyes were wide, her beautiful face twisted into a horrified grimace. She clutched the edge of her seat with both her hands, digging her fragile nails into the leather.
Her heart was pounding at light speed. She wanted to cry and scream at the same time but she couldn't do either. She could only watch the truck approaching them faster than she could keep an eye on.
What choice did he have? He couldn't drive on the opposite lane, that would kill them both. He couldn't drive off the cliff and risk hurting or even killing Ayano. He didn't have enough time to turn around and drive in the opposite direction.
He couldn't lose Ayano. She couldn't get hurt. He couldn't let her get hurt, no matter what.
He had only one second to act. With all his might he turned the steering wheel to the right. The car wheels screech and resisted, tearing through the gravel. He kept his foot on the brakes at the same time, forcing the car to stop before reaching the edge of the highway.
He turned towards her, surprised to see she was watching him as well. Tears streamed down her face. "I love you Aya-" His last words were cut off by the cacophony of crunching metal, screeching tires, and shattering glass.
Ayano covered her face with her arms. Everything went dark.
White lights blinded her from behind her closed eyelids. They were bright, way too bright. They gave her a headache.
Something beeped to her right, a short beep that repeated every few seconds. Her headache worsened with each beep.
The sheets below her were rough and uncomfortable. She knew she wasn't home. She wasn't in her room. She wasn't lying in her bed.
She opened her eyes, squinting against the white light above her.
Headlights. The headlights were coming at her. Shintarou was looking at her. She screamed, releasing the screams that couldn't escape.
"SHINTAROU!" she screamed his name over and over again, seeing his terrified expression. He said something to her, but her screams drowned it out.
She couldn't keep her eyes open but she couldn't close them either. Shintarou's face was imprinted on her closed eyelids, his eyes wide, his complexion whiter than the lights.
A hand touched her left shoulder. She turned towards it. "Shintarou?"
The face she sees isn't his, none of the four faces near her belong to him. The voice she hears isn't his. He's not there. Why? Why isn't he with her?
Her father removed his hand, letting it drop to his side. His brown eyes were sad, rimmed with tears. He spoke softly, saying something she couldn't comprehend.
There's no way. Absolutely no way. He must have gone to buy a new keyboard or mouse or something. He must have spilled something on his computer again and left to buy a new one. That's why he's not here. That's the only explanation. There's no other explanation.
"What did you say?" she asked. She must have heard wrong. Yes, she had merely misheard her father. The beeping next to her was loud, so she must have been distracted by it.
"Shintarou died in the crash." he repeated, his voice soft and gentle. "The driver's side took the full impact of the crash. He died instantly." He reached over and took her hand, squeezing it gently. The three children next to him looked down, unable to meet Ayano's eyes.
Shintarou is dead.
Shintarou died in the car crash.
The driver's side took the full impact of the crash.
Shintarou's side took the full impact of the crash.
She knew. She knew Shintarou had protected her. She knew Shintarou had turned the car so his side would be hit. She knew Shintarou had turned the car so she wouldn't get hurt.
Tears streamed down her face. Shintarou was gone. Shintarou had died driving her to a concert. Shintarou had died protecting her. Shintarou had died saving her.
His face was clear. His mouth was moving. His voice finally reached her ears.
"I love you Aya." His last words.
"I love you too, Shintarou."