On the last day of his human life, Adric Tharen caught the most fantastic sunrise he had ever seen.
It was one of those moments to write home about-not that he was too far from home, that is, but you know the expression. As he rounded the curve at the top of the cliff overlooking the bay, the sun broke the horizon in exactly the right way, showering the ocean with red-gold flames. It was as though some great gold mine had broken open and poured itself out on the world-in short, it took his breath away. So much so, in fact, that he nearly drove into the hillside to his right, only managing to correct at the last second. Halting only a moment, he scratched his head and started to reach for the mobile phone mounted in the dash, tempted to call Naomi and tell her about it. But that would ruin his whole plan, wouldn’t it? The entire reason he had slipped out of the house at six a.m., leaving his wife still sleeping peacefully, and hopefully for another hour or more.
Today was his wife’s twentieth birthday. Naomi had no idea, but Adric had been planning the day for weeks, and now that it was actually here, it was all he could do to contain himself enough to keep from waking her as he left this morning. The sunrise seemed like a good sign; he only wished that she could be here to share it, but if he wanted to keep this a secret, that was out of the question. It was too bad, though; she could use a good sign. What with changing jobs and moving into the new house, the last few months had been stressful for her. If they hadn’t already had a few years of marriage to go on, he feared it would have been more than they could handle.
At the moment, he was going to buy her flowers. He knew, in some distant sense, that to some people that would seem trivial, but it was different here. Other than a few local wildflowers, flowers didn’t grow well on Calbania Island, and it was difficult to import them fresh from other islands-the distances were too great, and the ocean temperatures in the region too harsh to make it cheap. So, a bouquet of roses cost something on the order of one hundred and sixty zen, the crystal shards used for currency. It had taken him three weeks to set the money aside for that splurge, but it would brighten her day to no end. That was worth it, even though it required driving across the island to the other of its two towns, an hour away.
Smiling, he hit the radio, and was pleasantly surprised to hear “their” song just coming on. It was the one they had danced to at their last school dance, and the one they had opened their wedding reception with. As the sun brightened to a brilliant yellow, he began singing along, and stepped a little harder on the gas. Yes, it was going to be a good day, indeed.
Naomi loved the flowers. It was all she had talked about all day, actually; it was the first time she had received roses that way, and before she would leave the house, she just had to let everyone know. By ten-thirty, all of her friends knew, as did her parents, Adric’s parents, and the mailman.
Finally, they were on their way to the spot Adric had picked out, and soon lunch was under way-their first picnic in who knew how long. She was a pushover for things like that, and she was having a blast; and he had to admit, he was too. The weather was perfect, the food was good, the privacy was complete, and the company was wonderful. The smell of the ocean, so often overpowering on an island, was light and clear today…
“Moments like this are few and far between,” Adric caught himself thinking at one point, and was pleasantly surprised to hear Naomi agree-he hadn’t realized he had spoken aloud. “Sorry, ” he apologized as she giggled at his surprised look. That was the last word he was able to get out, then, as he was caught up in her smile. A guy could easily get lost in a smile like that.
He had no way to know, of course, that soon she would be making her last smile for a long time to come.
“Can you believe we paid twenty zen to see that movie?” Adric exclaimed as they emerged into the late-afternoon sun. “They should be paying us to see it!”
Naomi burst out laughing again. “How many times are you going to say that? It wasn’t that bad!” She slipped her arm into his, linking at the elbow. “You just didn’t like it because nobody died in it.”
“Well, the guy should have died when that gun went off!” Adric declared loudly. “But I guess the guy just has to get the girl, or it’s not a real movie, huh?”
She smacked him playfully on the arm. “Yeah, sure. Just like it’s not a movie if it’s not full of blood and guts, right?”
“Now you’re talking!”
When they reached the car, he reached for the door handle to let her in, but she pushed his hand away. “Not yet!” Then, to his surprise, she grabbed him around the neck and pulled him down for a full kiss that lasted at least a minute. “That’s for such a good day,” she said as he tried to catch his breath. “If every birthday was like this, maybe women wouldn’t lie about their ages so much…”
Naomi was dozing in the passenger seat now-the ride home from Silverton always made her sleepy, though it was only an hour. In a world consisting only of islands, there were very few long rides to be had. Adric didn’t mind, though he had made her wait until they reached the spot where he had seen that fantastic sunrise, just so he could pull over and tell her about it. She looked so peaceful, a blond angel asleep beside him, one hand stretched out near the gearshift.
He was immensely glad that the day had gone so well. She looked better than she had in months, more rested, her eyes glowing with life. Adric was not, by nature, a very sentimental person, but somehow she always managed to bring that quality out in him; it was one of the reasons he had fallen in love with her. He reached over to touch her hair…
…And that momentary touch made her twitch in her sleep. Only a little, but her hand, lying so near the gearshift, jolted into it with unexpected force and knocked it out of place. The car shuddered as the engine, now in neutral, raced, and the wheel slipped in Adric’s hands, swerving to the right. The front passenger tire caught the edge of the pavement, then slipped off into the jagged edge of a pothole in the shoulder, and blew out with spectacular volume. As the rear passenger tire tried to follow, the hub of the front wheel caught again, and the angle of it as Adric fought the wheel sent the car into a spin that turned into a roll, straight toward the right-hand embankment.
Two hundred vertical feet later, the car came to a stop on its roof between two trees, three tires still spinning. Inside what was left of the cab, no one moved.
The dashboard clock, one of the few things still working, read 6:23 p.m.