PRESENT TENSE
Chapter One

Monday, May 5, 2003
12:30 AM

"I hope you enjoy your time together!" Cal's voice echoed through the streets as Jack and Rose ducked into the shelter provided by two buildings leaning against each other.

They stood there in the dim light provided by a single street lamp, leaning against the walls, waiting. There was no sign of Cal. Finally, Jack turned to Rose, and whispered, "Is he still out there?"

Rose crept toward the sidewalk, looking out. Cal was nowhere to be seen. Turning back to Jack, she told him, "I think he left."

"Good." He leaned against the wall, his hand pressed to his back, gritting his teeth against the growing pain. Rose looked at him in concern.

"Jack, are you all right?"

He pulled his hand away from the gunshot wound in his back. Rose gasped in horror, coming closer.

"Jack! My God. You've been shot."

"I know." He stepped away from the wall, trying to stand, but his legs buckled under him. He was losing too much blood, and he had already exerted too much energy getting Rose out of the way of the bullets. He'd been hit before they were halfway across the street.

Rose caught him before he could fall. Lowering him to the ground, she pressed a handful of her gauze skirt against his back, trying to stop the bleeding.

The walls groaned ominously overhead. The slightest tremor would send them crashing down.

"Rose, you've got to get out of here. Those walls could collapse any second."

"Can you walk?"

He shook his head. If she tried to wait for him, she could be trapped in a cave-in.

"Don't worry about me. Get out of here."

"I'm not leaving you, Jack. Not now."

"You have to."

"No!" Rose was determined. They hadn't come this far to give up now. "Lean on me, Jack. When we're out of here, I'll go for help."

There was no dissuading her. Jack allowed her to help him up. Leaning heavily on her, he managed to stumble in the direction of the open sidewalk.

The ground quivered in an aftershock. Rose tried to move faster, but Jack was slowing her down. He could barely walk, let alone run out of the way of the falling beams.

The heavy beams crumbled over their heads, crashing down around them. The light pole fell, pinning them to the ground. Rose's terrified scream could be heard above the crash of the two buildings collapsing.

They found themselves lying on the ground, just feet from the safety of the sidewalk. The beams had collapsed in a frame-like pattern above Rose's head; she could see the sky above them. Her right ankle was pinned beneath the fallen light pole.

Jack groaned, trying to move. His legs were pinned beneath the streetlight, and he was fairly certain, from the amount of pain when he tried to pull himself free, that his left leg was broken. But that wasn't immediately important.

Rose called his name, unsure of whether he was conscious or not. Jack reached for her hand.

"I'm right here, Rose."

Still gripping his hand, she tried to sit up. Her ankle was trapped, but she could almost pull it free. The pile of debris shifted, threatening to come crashing down on them.

"Just hold on, Rose. It'll be morning soon. They'll have rescue workers out then."

Rose settled back, worried. A moment later, she sat up again, her hand covered with something wet and sticky. Blood.

"Jack?" Her voice was filled with worry. "I don't think we can wait that long. You'll bleed to death if we don't get out of here."

She's probably right, he thought. He could feel the blood trickling across his back and pooling under him. Nevertheless, the possibility of the debris caving in on them was very real. A blow from one of the heavy beams could kill one or both of them.

Rose struggled, trying to pull her ankle free of the light pole. Ignoring the pain that shot through her foot, she pulled it free and struggled to her knees.

Jack tried to pull himself free of the fallen pole, but he was too weak. Rose grabbed his arms and pulled, then stopped when he groaned in pain.

"What is it?" she asked him, letting go.

"My legs...trapped under that pole. I think one is broken." He broke out in a cold sweat, trying to free himself.

With strength she didn't know she had, Rose crawled into the dark, gravel-strewn space and lifted the light pole a fraction of an inch.

"Jack, you've got to help me," she gasped, straining to hold it up. "I can't hold on much longer."

With his last reserve of strength, Jack managed to pull his legs free of the trap. Forcing himself to sit up, he crawled into the space that was open to the sky, then stopped, exhausted.

Rose stood, balancing precariously on her injured ankle. Her head was just above the highest beams.

Trying to avoid putting weight on her ankle, she crouched down and helped Jack to his feet. He leaned against the debris pile for a moment before his injured leg, taxed beyond its limits, snapped. With a cry of pain, he collapsed.

Rose was beside him at once. "Jack, what happened?" she asked, trying to get him to stand up again.

"My leg...is definitely broken," he told her, trying to make light of the situation.

Her hands moving in the darkness, Rose found his injured leg. The bone protruded through the skin, blood soaking through his jeans.

"Definitely," Rose agreed, trying to adopt his light tone, but there was worry in her voice. He was already badly injured; this new injury might be the last straw.

Wrapping her arms around him, she struggled to her feet. Jack leaned against her, balancing on his right foot.

"Jack, you're going to have to help me here," she told him. "Hold onto my shoulders and try to climb if you can. I have to get us out of here."

Clenching his teeth, trying to ignore the pain, Jack wrapped his arms around Rose's shoulders. Gripping a beam, she pulled them up on the pile of rubble, trying not to injure Jack further. He tried to help her, supporting them with his right leg and grasping at a beam to steady them.

Halfway over, there was a loud cracking noise as the pile of debris collapsed. As they slid down to the sidewalk, a chunk of concrete slipped from the pile, grazing Rose's arm and hitting Jack squarely in the back of the head. He slumped to the ground, unconscious.

"Oh, God!" Rose dragged Jack a few feet, away from the unstable pile of debris. Her heart in her throat, she checked his pulse.

At first, she couldn't find it above the panicked beating of her own heart. Then, finally, she felt it. Slow, shallow, but definitely there. He was still alive. She checked his breathing, almost unable to discern it at first. He was alive, but he wouldn't be for long unless she found help immediately.