Excerpt: Just Before the Dawn (Sicut Ante Lucem)

Excerpt from Nanowrimo novel

By Sophie Stephens

Page 36-37

I go to look for my keys, keeping the phone pressed firmly against my ear. I grip onto my phone as if it were really Rosie I am holding on to.

She finally speaks. “What have you heard so far, about Cooper?”

“Nothing, his parents just said to come. I don’t think they know much either. I’m on my way to the hospital now. I’ll keep you updated, I promise.”

“You better. I won’t hardly sleep tonight anyways. Stay strong, okay? Don’t hurt yourself or Cooper by getting into your own head. And Addie, please drive safe. Only one accident tonight, alright?”

“Of course.”

Now, at 2:15 a.m. on December 16th, one of the surgeons that was operating on Cooper calls over his parents, and with longing eyes I watch them walk over, trying to judge how good or bad the news is based on their reactions. Jackson watches them too, waiting just like I am. Jason dozed off nearly a half hour ago, pushing his glasses half off of his face. He doesn’t normally wear his glasses, especially not on game days; he must have put them on since it was so late, and didn’t bother to change out of them before he got here. Just goes to show how long tonight has been.

All I want is to see him. I was advised that I probably would not. Would not see him, and quite frankly would not want to see him, according to a conversation between two of the first responders I overheard on my way in the doors. He was in bad shape when they pulled him out of the car.

Cooper was driving his car, alone, down the winding road that leads right past all of the streets I–along with Cooper, Rosie, Elliot, Jason, and half of our school–live on. The street is poorly lit, especially in the winter months when the sky gets dark by 5:00 p.m., and since it’s a less traveled road by anyone other than the residents near it, the street is usually left as one of the last roads in the city to be plowed after a fresh snowfall, as tonight had given us for the first time this season. Despite this, almost everyone continues to drive that road from school to home and back again because it shaves about five minutes off of our travel time.

It had not been snowing for long, but since it had gotten so cold, what would have been soft tufts that could have melted in seconds turned into slush that froze almost instantly, causing Cooper to hit a large patch of ice that blended in to the road, where he lost control. They say he was probably speeding. Or texting. Others speculate he was drinking after the basketball team’s victory. Some other students say he was rushing to a party at a friend’s house to begin drinking. Most of the stories that surfaced this morning when everyone heard the news involved Cooper being stupid and reckless, “like teenagers are.” His star-athlete position did not help his case.

I would like to believe that none of it is true. That he was using his head and making smart, safe decisions. I do not want to have to blame him, although people will no matter what the real story is. That’s the thing about high school: news travels fast, and is changed by every person spreading the story.
Maybe he was just driving. Maybe it was inexorable. I just can’t be sure. I know the real Cooper, but I also know the Cooper he is when he is just the star athlete. I cannot be too sure which Cooper he was tonight.

Mr. and Mrs. Salsmith return to their seats. I sit up to go over to them, but Mr. Cooper just shakes his head. It has been a long night, and it seems as if there is still no news worth hearing.



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