The night is perfect as they drive down the deserted streets of their hometown. The sky is clear and a midnight blue. To her, it’s similar to the ocean as its depths increase, an impossible combination of tropical blue and the darkest black. To him, it’s the color of her dress, his favorite one. Moonbeams and constellations cast light down onto the trees in the midst of their autumn costume change. The fallen leaves swirl up as they drive past, only to flutter back down.
Inside the blood orange 1970s-era Ford truck, the windows are down. As the air blows into them, the sounds of their music travels. It’s a bit cool on that fall night, but the atmosphere is one of comfort. He’s at the wheel, and she’s in the passenger seat like she always is, his constant co-pilot.
“I’m the Amelia Earhart to your Fred Noonan,” she says when he tells her this. He looks over and raises an eyebrow. “What?”
“You pick the two people who took off and were never heard from again, because they most likely crashed and died to represent us? You don’t think that’s a bad choice?”
She laughs. “I’ll admit that it’s not the best one, but I couldn’t think of another female pilot.” She shrugs and tosses her hair off her shoulder coyly. “My options were limited. But hey, it’s not the worst one either. They’re remembered.”
“People know Amelia Earhart. Not as many know Noonan,” he says, his expression looking a bit more skeptical. “How did you remember his name?”
She makes a wave with her hand like she has an air about herself and raises her chin. “I’m a student of history.”
Now it’s his turn to laugh. She loves how his nose crinkles and the way it resonates so deeply, like the sound is played from a bass guitar string. “Says the girl who can only think of one woman pilot.”
“Fine. I’m a student of certain historical events.”
“That, I’ll go with,” he says.
They never see it coming. They’re so focused on their conversation that as they pass through the light that has just turned from red to green, they don’t see the white Suburban barreling through the intersection until it is smashing into her side.
The headlights blind them, and he tries to pull her towards him, but a grasp on her checkered shirt can’t do much to keep her safe.
The vehicle may as well be a child’s toy for how well it holds up under impact. It somersaults across the pavement. Metal crushes. Glass shatters and slices them, piercing and stinging. All he can hear is the grinding of steel as it bends and contorts to the will of Newton’s Third Law. She thinks the sparks look like shooting stars or a pyrotechnic on the Fourth of July. She knows it’s nothing as beautiful. Just a product of friction.
The car comes to a halt and their bodies jerk. He hangs upside down from the seat, the belt doing its job. She lays across what used to be the roof, which now sits flush against the pavement.
Outside, they hear yells for help. Inside, they hear only breathing. All she can smell is metal.
Blood streams down his face. Every breath he takes feels as though his ribs are between a vice that is constantly tightening. Every part of him is screaming. Crimson dribbles from her mouth. A bone comes through the hole in her jeans, but she doesn’t know it. She feels nothing.
When he looks over at her, he begins panting, breathing as if there’s not enough oxygen in the world to fill his lungs. He mumbles her name, saying, “Addie” over and over. She can hear him but she doesn’t respond. She’s too disoriented to find him. All she can do is watch a burnt orange leaf tumble past her. There’s red on the leaf too, but it’s not from the transition of the seasons.
As he waits for her to speak, for help to come, he can’t help but think she may have been right earlier. Maybe they are Amelia and Fred.