His legs would barely obey him as he stepped into the near-silent room. He swallowed hard and frequently, looking around him intently, waiting for someone or something to indicate to him that he should not be here.
He put his index finger into his collar and pulled slightly, but his tie was well knotted, and nothing gave. He touched his hairline, and his fingers came away wet.
He was a wreck.
The room appeared designed to encourage silence. The carpeting was thick and new, and the walls sported curtain-like hangings despite the absense of windows. He took another step, but any sound his shoe might have made was immediately sucked up and absorbed by the room's plushness.
He felt like he was walking inside a paper towel.
"Can I help you, sir?" came a voice from behind him.
Startled, he turned around. An elegant man in a frustratingly well-tailored suit stood at the room's entrance, his hands clasped in front of him, his eyebrows poised to recieve a response.
"I—um—" He reminded himself to breathe again. "I—"
The newcomer's face softened slightly. "This is a difficult time, I know. Are you a family member?"
Reg shook his head. "No. I—"
The man nodded. "Yes. I see. Well, you're a bit early, I'm afraid. The visitation doesn't begin until two."
"Yes. Right. Well—" Reg looked down at the daisies he held clutched in his hand. "I just wanted to—"
The other man glanced at the flowers and nodded. "Those were her favorites," he said.
Reg looked up at him abruptly. "Really?"
"Yes. Her father mentioned it to me."
Reg swallowed hard again. He hadn't expected that.
"Did you want to leave them?" the man asked.
Reg nodded. "Yes. Yes. That's why I came."
Soft footsteps entered the room. The man in the alarmingly well-tailored suit turned to see who had arrived.
"Mister Watkins," he said softly. "Everything's ready."
The new arrival, a man in his middle fifties with a drooping mustache shot with bolts of grey, nodded gravely and stepped further into the room. He gave Reg a quizzical look.
Reg could feel the blood leaving his face, but he clutched the daisies more tightly and stepped forward.
"Mister Watkins," he said. "My name is Reg Halverson. I was—I was there when—" He blinked, feeling like he might pass out any second. "I was at the intersection." He could feel tears welling up in the corners of his eyes.
Watkins blinked, a confused look rippling across his craggy features.
"It should have been me," Reg blurted. "It would have been me. But a little girl stopped me to ask if I was sad, and I didn't cross when I intended to. And then I heard the tires and—"
Reg blinked. He could barely see Mister Watkins now, because the tears were blurring his vision and running down his cheeks. He hung his head and closed his eyes.
A moment later he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to find Mister Watkins standing closer to him, arm outstretched. He blinked.
"I appreciate your coming," Watkins said.
"Really?" Reg asked, scarcely able to believe what he was hearing.
"I, uh—" Reg held up the daisies. "I wanted to—"
Watkins squeezed his shoulder. "Why don't you put them on the casket?"
Reg reached up with one hand and wiped his cheeks. "The little girl gave them to me," he said.
He turned and walked over to the casket. Sitting atop the cloth that covered it were framed photographs of Mister Watkins' daughter, the young woman from the intersection. Reg hadn't even seen her face.
On the right was what he assumed was a recent photo. She looked to be about twenty-five or twenty-six. She was lovely, smiling, with long blonde hair, fresh-faced, full of hopes and dreams.
The photo in the middle was a graduation picture. She wore a black academic gown trimmed with green and a smile even broader than in the first picture.
When he turned to the picture on the left, his heart just about stopped. It showed a young girl with blonde ponytails, wearing a blue jacket over a white top, pink pants, and black and white sneakers over white socks with alligators on them.
Reg stepped back. "My God," he said, "is that—?"
"Yeah. That's Hayley. She was about nine when that was taken," Watkins said.
Reg stared at the photo for a long moment. Finally, he placed the daisies on the casket in front of the photos and turned back to the girl's father.
He wanted to tell him that his daughter had saved his life, but he didn't think the man would understand. And there was really no good way to explain what had happened.
He blinked the tears away again, and simply said, "Your daughter was a lovely young woman."
Watkins nearly smiled. "Yes, she was."
Reg nodded and moved past him, wiping his eyes again.
"Mister Halverson," Watkins said as Reg reached the door.
Reg turned around to face him again.
"The visitation starts at two," he said. "Will you come back then?"
Reg took a step back into the room. "I'd like that."
"Great. See you at two, then."
Reg nodded. "Two o'clock."
Reg left the room and walked to the funeral home's main entrance. He wiped his eyes again, pushed the door open, and stepped out into the sunlight.
He looked up at the sky and at the buildings and people around him. He breathed the fresh air for a moment, then loosened his tie, straightened his shoulders, and started walking towards a coffee shop he hadn't visited in some time.