Chapter 7: From Lovestruck to Heartbroken:

Unlike most other mornings, I actually feel the need to wake up, for I feel like I've rested myself so well, that I would not be able to sleep any longer. Last night was one of those nights where you feel so tired that you fall asleep the moment you lay down, and then it's morning again before you know it. Yet somehow, despite how quickly the night went by, it doesn't make me feel any less well-rested.

I first open my eyes to find Katrina still sound asleep in the adjacent bed, her snoring neither too loud nor too soft, her limbs spread out like those of a starfish, and her hair splayed all over the pillows. No matter her emotional state, her face looks absolutely beautiful, and I aggressively fight the temptation to walk over and kiss her awake, wanting to just stare at her for even longer. Eventually, my neck becomes sore from holding my head up and I lie back down, though I quickly sit back up and glance at the digital clock on the nightstand.

Fifteen minutes are left until 9:00am, the ideal time for me to get up if I want to make it to my job-interview on time. Though I know I won't be able to actually sleep during that time, I feel the need to at least let Katrina sleep in a bit longer. Less than ten of my precious fifteen minutes pass by, yet during that time I still somehow managed to drift off a second time, though not nearly as deeply. My eyes pop open as I feel a smooth, full pair of lips planting kisses on my face, only stopping once I'm fully roused and gracing me with a stunning smile.

"Mornin', Mark," Katrina coos as I sit up. "Sleep well?"

"I should be asking you that," I reply.

"Oh, I slept great! I feel like I could work nonstop for a whole week," Katrina states.

"Good to hear, but we'd better get up," I say. "I've got until 10:00 to get on the road to my interview."

"No problem," Katrina replies, helping me out of bed.

After we spend a bit of time sloppily remaking the beds, I proceed to call down for breakfast. I order an eggs benedict with corned-beef hash replacing the Canadian bacon, and Katrina orders chicken and waffles. The meal comes with imported Blue Mountain coffee from Jamaica, seven types of artificial sweetener, and three flavors of cream, alongside fresh-squeezed orange juice. It all arrives within thirty minutes, and I don't hesitate to hand the young server the meal-coupon we won last night. As I hand him the ticket, I can see him cast a vague glance in Katrina's direction, before he grins at me and gives me an "O" in sign-language, but with his middle, ring, and pinky fingers pointing outwards. I don't need any help whatsoever in understanding what he means.

Upon lifting the chrome domes, we both make the discovery that there are exactly two of every component to our dishes. Thus, we decide to split them evenly, and proceed to eat on the bed, not caring about the fact that we're still in our pajamas, or the fact that the bedding is all white.

Following the meal, we don't hesitate to get cleaned up and put on yesterday's attire. I'm the last one to step out of the bathroom after I'm done with the latter, adjusting my chestnut-colored hair and watching as Katrina does her hair back up to the way it was yesterday in the mirror. Though she manages to do this, her newly-acquired curls make it look considerably different.

We don't hesitate to check out as soon as we reach the bottom floor, and once we get outside, Katrina turns to me.

"Listen, uh, how 'bout I go get the cab while you wait here? If I pick you up right from the lot, my boss'll get suspicious," she explains.

"Boy, he sure sounds like a hard-case," I reply.

"He's a schmuck alright, but there ain't no way in hell I'm lettin' myself lose this job," Katrina replies. "See you in a bit."

I wait patiently until she pulls back up, listening to "Oh What A Night" by Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons as it plays over the slightly muted speakers on the ceiling of the lobby. Part of me desperately wants to replace the lyric "late December back in '63" with "mid September back in 2016". When Katrina finally returns, I get back into the front-seat, where I make the shocking discovery that I left my briefcase in the cab all night. Even though I'm sure nobody's messed with it, I don't hesitate to make sure everything I left Kicksburg with is still there and accounted for. Thankfully, it is.

Even though it's still morning, the traffic is surprisingly hectic, making me glad that I'd chosen to get up as early I had. During the cab-ride, neither of us say much, allowing me to pay attention to the radio, where songs such as "I Just Called To Say I Love You" by Stevie Wonder are being played. At this point, I'm almost entirely convinced that some of the best romantic songs ever made being played whenever it's just us inside the cab is more than a coincidence. Katrina seems to enjoy this particular song, as she turns up the volume slightly when it comes on.

After a while, we find ourselves nearing Fisherman's Wharf. The name alone brings back extravagant memories of the day before. It's then that I remember just how short the drive between there and the Chronicle was, and the promise that I made to Katrina yesterday.

"Um, I'm sorry if this sounds a little awkward, but I just got an idea," I say. "Why don't you drop me off at the Wharf? I've still got an hour before I need to be at the Chronicle, and walking the rest of the way should be no problem. I dunno, I just feel the need to walk around and wake up a little more."

"Well, I can't just leave this cab unattended. I'm still on my shift," Katrina replies.

"I know, but this way, you can get more service. I'll meet you at the Wharf once your shift is up," I reply.

"Sounds like a plan," Katrina replies, pulling over once we reach the Wharf.

I pay her my fare and we hug, making sure to do it before I open the door so as to not attract attention. Following one last wave of goodbye, I walk off, intentionally moving slowly in case Katrina were to see me carrying out my plan. Not bearing to keep waiting any longer, I get a little more distance and duck behind a ticket-stand for one of the many boating tours, looking back to see a random woman enter my seat.

Glad that it isn't another man, I wait just a bit longer to make sure they've driven off, and hurry over to the dock I saw yesterday that had trips to Sausalito. I purchase two round-trip tickets for the 6:30pm departure, tucking them behind my pocket-square, alongside both Katrina's number and my copy of our dual caricature portrait.

With my surprise out of the way, I head straight to the building where my future job will take place. Inside, I'm greeted by yesterday's receptionist, who thankfully tells me that Mr. Malone hasn't stood me up a second time. I thank her and head up to his office, sitting in one of the chairs just outside of it, for I'm fifteen minutes early.

Once the time comes to go in, I waste no time and enter the office, briefcase and all, with

not a hint of nervousness to be found inside me. As we formally greet each-other and engage in a handshake that stops shy of shattering every bone in my right hand, I sit down and we commence with the interview. As we have our discussion, I take note of my boss' appearance. He's a large, African-American man who looks almost identical to James Brown. The thought of working at a journalism agency with a black guy as my boss makes me feel like I'm in every Superman movie ever made.

"...So you said that you're based in Kicksburg, Montana, correct?" Mr. Malone asks, jotting down some notes on my responses.

"Yup. And in case you're wondering, we cover news stories from throughout Southern Montana. It just so happens that our headquarters is in Kicksburg," I respond. "I mean, how much news would you find in such a small town, am I right?"

"Ah, okay. That makes more sense," Mr. Malone replies, crossing out one of his bullets.

Eventually, we end the interview with a second handshake - during which I use my left hand so I can preserve my right one for at least a bit longer.

"Alright, sir. Good talk!" Mr. Malone says. "I'll be sure to call you back the minute I reach a conclusion. I can see a lot of potential in you."

"Thanks, Mr. Malone," I reply, ecstatic and anxious at the same time.

Following one final smile and wave of goodbye, I prepare to exit the office, before a random employee bursts into the room in a panic and nearly rams full-speed into me. I whirl back around to watch as he immediately begins speaking to Mr. Malone.

"Mr. Malone! Sir!" he exclaims. "This just in! A car-accident just occurred right by the Golden Gate Bridge!"

"Well what the hell are you waiting for?! Go and get it published!" Mr. Malone replies.

"I would, boss. But I'm already swamped with the newsfeed on that Gay Pride parade that's underway," the man replies. "I know their month was two months ago, but we're in the first state to legalize gay marriage, so I guess that's a good enough excuse."

"Damn!" Mr. Malone retorts, before he notices me still standing in the room. "Hey, Simmons! Consider this your first assignment!"

"Okay," I reply.

"I hate to do this on such short notice, but all our journalists are busy covering other things, and you're the only one who's unoccupied, not to mention your incredible talent! I know you're technically not hired yet, but it's the only way we can get this in the papers," Mr. Malone explains. "Tell ya' what? If you can do this as quickly as possible, the job becomes yours automatically. Of course, I'll give you as much time as you need to move all your things here afterwards."

"Will do, sir!" I reply, quickly grabbing the papers and entering the section of the floor with all of the offices.

I manage to find an office along one of the walls, completely unoccupied except for the standard office-equipment. I sit down and begin to read through the gathered evidence. As my eyes scan through all the handwritten work, I learn that a semi-truck accidentally swerved into Cab #987 while turning onto the Golden Gate Bridge, causing much damage to both vehicles.

After reading the first page of notes, I take it off the top of the stack, revealing a slightly blurry photograph of a semi-truck lying on its side with several massive dents in its trailer and cockpit and smoke billowing from its hood, right by a taxi sitting upside-down and in two pieces. It's there that I notice how odd the cab looks: it resembles a 1961 Chrysler 300G that's been painted over in traditional taxi coloration. Growing worried, I continue to read, discovering not only who the victims have been identified as, but also that they've already been picked up by ambulances. Though I gloss over the other names, the last name on the list almost causes me to lose my breakfast: Katrina Vicciotelli.

At this point, I stop reading for a bit in order to let everything soak in. A very large part of me wants to just forget this assignment and run off, even though it would cost me this job. However, I would also feel pretty bad about making myself appear so promising to Mr. Malone and then leaving him with a reason to despise me. Eventually, I decide to complete my work first, believing that the outcome of the car-crash may not have been as serious as it appears in the picture.

I manage to finish using all the proof to write up an article within another twenty minutes, trying to work as efficiently yet professionally as I can. I end the assignment by faxing it to Mr. Malone, who I assume would then forward it to the editors. With a sigh of relief, I report to him to tell him I'm done and he gives me the all-clear. Now with the main objective of my trip out of the way, I proceed to hurry out of the building and into the sun. Hastily, I enter the directions to the UCSF Medical Center into my smartphone and (without calling a cab or waiting for a bus) I make the somewhat moronic decision to run all the way there, not stopping or slowing down until I make it inside the building and not caring at all about how my suit may be getting damaged by the wind or by my own perspiration.

Eventually, I enter the automatic sliding-doors and stop to catch my breath for a bit, before stepping over to the elderly lady at the front desk.

"Excuse me, ma'am. Uh, I'm here to see Katrina," I say. "Katrina Vicciotelli?"

"She's in Room 56. You can go see her if you want, but you can't touch anything," the woman replies in a sour tone of voice.

"Thanks," I manage to breathe out, before hurrying into the hallway.

"And no running either!" she yells after me, prompting me to reduce my speed to a fast-walk.

After what feels like an eternity, I finally find the room. I notice that the door is cracked, and I can hear "After The Love Has Gone" by Earth, Wind & Fire start to play over the considerably muted intercom inside. Upon walking in, I can feel my heart shatter like a champagne glass in the vicinity of a soprano opera singer. There, clad in loose-fitting, cadet-blue hospital robes flecked with blood, Katrina is lying on the bed, completely unconscious, and strapped down with tubes and wires.

There's a machine on the opposite side of the bed with a heart-monitor screen on the front, the red line appearing rather smooth and only spiking at rare intervals. Her glorious hair is still done up, but all the loose locks are splayed out all over the pillow, and her formerly flawless face has been disturbed by a long cut across her left cheek. In spite of these differences, and in spite of the fact that she is most likely an inch or so away from death, she somehow still looks profoundly gorgeous.

"Katrina," I say softly. "Katrina, can you hear me?"

There is no reply.

"Katrina? Kitty?" I continue, tears threatening to spill from my trembling eyes. "Katrina, you can't. Sorry if I never told you this before, but you mean more than the entire universe to me. You know that? Please! I may be the richest man in my hometown, but no amount of money can make my life complete! And quite frankly, being around you made me feel more complete than I've ever felt before! I would never say that if it weren't true!"

Even though I've been told not to touch anything, I gently hold her limp hand in my own, lightly massaging it with my fingers, marveling at how soft it is even while it's being deserted by the life within it. I continue to kneel right next to the bed, a combination of loneliness, anger, disbelief, and pure despair coursing through my veins at once. Why did this happened when it did? Or an even better question would be, why did it happen at all? I am at a complete loss for words, wondering why after everything we've done together, Katrina chose now to leave me. But in fact, she has not chosen to go out this way. It's all due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But then again, I can't even prove that, as I know nothing about the other victims aside from their names.

I am so lost in my thoughts that I am taken by surprise as the machine begins beeping, signifying that her heart has finally given out. Now it's too late. I will never be able to replicate the strong, instant connection I've experienced with her. She will never get to see her mother or even continue to provide for her. And worst of all, I haven't been able to give a proper thank-you for what a wonderful vacation she has made out of this ordinary business-trip.

A huge part of me wants to repeatedly shout "NO" and vigorously shake Katrina's body in a desperate attempt to rouse her, but I use all of my willpower to restrain myself. Following a resounding sigh of sadness, I do all that I am now able to: I remove my copy of our dual caricature portrait from the pocket of my sport-coat, alongside the two round-trip tickets, and place them next to the rose-filled vase on the bedside table. I end my thrown-together tribute with a final kiss on her lifeless hand, all the while fighting the unrelenting urge to burst into hysterics.

"I love you, Katrina. I always will," I say somberly as I prepare to exit. "I will never forget you, or any of the fantastic times we've had together. And don't worry about your mother anymore. I'll help her in your place, so you can rest easy. That's a promise."

After saying my final words, I depart, deep in the depths of my depression. I'm almost certain I can hear a brief crackle of electricity behind me, but I'm far too sad to spare it a thought.

Once outside the hospital, I solemnly look around, noticing that the bridge isn't too far from where I am. In spite of the devastating news I've just been hit with, I decide to walk over to see the remains of the car-wreckage. I arrive on the scene to spot both of the vehicles being lifted up onto some tow-trucks, presumably to either get repaired or scrapped. As the totaled cab is reeled onto the flatbed, I notice a small slip of paper get blown out from one of the shattered windows by a gust of wind. Curious, I chase it down and manage to grab it before it can fly into the busy streets. Reading its contents, I notice a number and an address, along with the name Renata Vicciotelli.

This must be her mother, I think to myself.

Not far away from where I'm standing, I also notice one of those ad-covered street benches, with a particularly large advertisement for an Alzheimer's assistance agency, complete with a phone-number. And for even more convenience, there's also a public mailbox nearby. I don't even need to be told what to do next. Taking out my cell-phone, I dial the number on the bench and request that a live-in assistant move in to Renata's address.

"That would be great, thanks! I don't have any personal connection to her, but she's the mother of my friend, who's simply unable to help out," I explain. "And according to the advertisement, the service is free if the patient is below sixty, am I right?"

"You are correct, sir!" the receptionist replies.

"Great! I'm so glad you could help! No words can describe how happy my friend will be!" I reply.

After the call ends, I don't hesitate to write a $200,000 check to the written address, before slipping it in a stamped envelope that had previously held the form containing my job-offer and putting it in the mailbox. I then use the fountain-pen I always keep on hand to scratch out and rewrite the addresses, finding the envelope to be just sticky enough to reseal.

"Well, Katrina? I-I did it. Your mom's okay now," I say to myself, my eyes closed as sadness casts its pitch-dark shadow over me again.

With Katrina's final wish fulfilled, I am once again reminded why I feel this way to begin with. At this point, I'm far too saddened by my loss to even stand within San Francisco's city limits for any longer, and I wonder if I'll even be able to work at my new job here, at least any time soon. Without taking the time to think real hard on the issue, I signal to the first vacant cab I see, though part of me regrets this the minute he pulls over, as this is the same setting in which my short-lived relationship with Katrina first began.

"To the airport," I say emotionlessly.

"Alrighty," the male driver replies.

The cab-ride to the airport seems to drag endlessly, due to the crazy city traffic, and the back-to-back songs being played on the radio that are equally as sad as I am, most notably "Talking To The Moon" by Bruno Mars. From that point on, I continue my uneventful trip back to Kicksburg, not speaking a word beyond necessary communication. My personality and state of mind dominated by the immense depression from today's tragic events, and my experiences with the most extraordinary girl in the world having been reduced to nothing more than irreplaceable memories of long-lost happiness.

~ ~ ~ End of Part One ~ ~ ~