Crossing the Line
Excerpt of Chapter 1
EMS STATION 1
APRIL 12, 2013. 7:50 AM
EMS Station 1 was the largest station in the Barrington County system. Nestled under the Sacred Heart Hospital parking garage, it boasted a duty room with lightly stained recliners and a break room with a working microwave. The business office windows displayed the hospital’s new cancer wing, and the lockers in the locker room closed most of the time.
Megan leaned against the locker room wall. “Where’s Emily?”
“Doctor put her on bed rest,” Richard said, pinning the month’s schedule to the bulletin board.
Megan straightened. “Is she okay? She’s not due until June!”
“Seems to be,” he said. “Her blood pressure spiked. If she comes back, they’ll put her on light duty behind a desk. She won’t be on the ambulances again until after she delivers the baby.”
Megan folded her arms warily, and Richard avoided her eyes. Emily’s absence begged the question. “Who’s subbing for her?”
Richard opened his locker. “There’s no sub.” He shrugged on his jacket. “We’ve made a five-month personnel change to cover her maternity leave.”
Megan caught the locker door as he tried to close it. “Who’s my partner?”
“That soldier guy with one leg?” she sputtered. “Are you kidding me?”
Richard held up his hand. “Don’t start, Megan.” He slammed his locker and walked into the hallway.
She grabbed her jacket and strode after him. “Why do I always get the newbie?”
“He has combat experience, and he’s been here three months,” Richard said. “He’s not a newbie.”
Megan rolled her eyes. “But he was a mercy hire. The last thing I need is for something to go down on scene and I get left holding the bag because some poster boy for disabled vets can’t handle his end of the stretcher!”
Richard turned the corner and stopped short.
Megan swung around. Her eyes locked with a tall man, stern and silent. His broad shoulders filled his red Barrington EMS polo shirt, and his chest tapered to a trim waist. He braced his hands on his hips. A muscle twitched in his jaw.
“Nathan,” Richard said with a simpering smile. “We were just talking about you.”
Nathan glared. “I heard.”
Embarrassment crept into Megan's cheeks.
“Yes. I—Well,” Richard stammered. “This is your partner, Megan Henderson.”
Nathan offered his hand, and Megan shook it. His grip was firm. His brown eyes betrayed no emotion.
She looked away. “Nice to meet you,” she muttered.
Nathan brushed past and continued down the hallway. Megan turned to stare at his back and sighed as the awkwardness abated.
Richard sucked a tooth. “You two should have fun today.”
She scowled. “Seriously, you can’t find me anyone else?”
“Where are we posted?” she said, shoving her hands into her pockets.
“Station 6, like usual. Stay safe.”
Megan nodded and walked away. “That’d be easier if you had my back,” she grumbled, slamming her palm onto the door and entering the ambulance bay.
Nathan slung his backpack into the ambulance.
“We need to check supplies,” Megan said, resigned to her fate.
A thrill-a-minute chore with Wonder Boy.
Megan raised an eyebrow. “You did?”
“I’m not an idiot. We only need a backboard.” He walked toward the supply room.
Hoping to underscore her authority, Megan climbed into the driver’s seat. She cranked the engine and charted the mileage. The singer on the radio crooned about his honky-tonk lady until Megan slapped the knob.
A flash in the side view mirror caught her attention, and she stared at Nathan’s muscular arms as he carried the backboard to the truck. She leaned on the door for a better look.
At least he’s hot. He looks like a swimmer.
Squinting her eyes, she detected a slight limp, a small favoring of his left side.
Megan climbed out of the cab and felt a twinge of remorse for her comments. “I’m sorry I said what I did.”
“No, you’re not.” He shoved the backboard into the side compartment.
Megan’s anger flared. “You’re right. I’m just sorry you heard.”
“That’s the truth.” He slammed the cargo door and folded his arms. “I know what people say about me. I saw you staring in the mirror, and I don’t give a damn what you or anyone else thinks. I can out run, out climb, and out work anyone in this service, including you.”
“I have to be able to depend on you,” Megan said. “I have to know that when I need you, you aren’t going to trip over your own—” She cut her words short but saw the challenge on his face. “Trip over your own feet.”
“Foot. I only have one.” Nathan pulled up his left pant leg and revealed the metal pylon that extended from his boot to the socket that fit just below his knee. “Take a good, long look, Megan. Let’s get this over with. It’s hard to hear about how I’m such a big liability from a…” he stepped back and considered her, his eyes roving down her figure, “30-year-old, five foot three, 130-pound female.”
Megan glowered. “120.”
Their radios screeched a loud tone.
“You’re not 120 pounds,” he chuckled.
His laugh crushed her last nerve. “I’m 28!” she said. “And you’re being—”
The dispatcher’s voice spoke from the radio. “Med 3, be en route to Harrison and Monroe, Harrison and Monroe, signal 4.”
Megan tipped her head to her mic. “10-4.”
Nathan smirked. “What were you saying?”
“Get in. I’m driving.”
With Megan at the wheel, they drove code 3—lights and sirens—through town. Traffic moved to the side to allow them to reach the signal 4, a car wreck. To avoid talking, she pretended the drive required all of her focus. To her relief, he accommodated her silence.
At least he’s not a pest.
Fire trucks and police cars clogged the intersection ahead. Megan scanned the area and pulled to the side of the road.
“The driver of the ambulance,” she said, carefully avoiding the derogatory term ‘ambulance driver,’ “assists the person who rides in the passenger seat, so I’ll assist you. I’ll be watching your technique and therapeutic rapport. Follow protocol, and show me what you’ve got.”
He smiled as he put on his gloves, further rankling her.
Megan slid the stretcher from the back of the ambulance and set the backboard on top as Nathan pulled the jump kit over his shoulder and walked toward the smashed cars. She wheeled to the scene.
“Martin!” she called to a firefighter. “There’s only one patient?”
A man in bunker gear and a red helmet grinned and strutted over to her. His black eyes sparkled mischievously. “Hey, Doll! Yeah, just one. Head hit the windshield. It’s not bad, just bloody. Where’s Emily?”
Megan scowled. “She’s on bed rest now.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“Yeah, I was, too,” she said, missing her friend and long-time partner more than ever. “Now I’m stuck with Nathan Thompson.”
“Is that so bad?” Martin said. “He’s been around a while. Seems competent.”
“Don’t remind me. I want to be angry.”
He winked. “You’re beautiful when you’re angry.”
“Still married, Martin,” she said, smiling in spite of herself. “I’m still married.”
He wiggled his black mustache. “You just let me know when that changes, Doll, and I’ll be first in line. Is that a new ponytail holder you’re wearing?”
“Go away, Martin,” she laughed.
Megan rolled the stretcher to the mangled car where Nathan knelt next to the driver’s side. The woman’s head and torso were covered in congealing blood and little glass squares from the side window. A glass spiderweb rippled across the windshield where her head had impacted. A firefighter, who had curled himself into the backseat, held the woman’s neck still.
Nathan wrapped a collar around the woman’s neck. “We’re going to move you to a backboard now.”
Megan watched him work, searching for mistakes and admitting he had made none. He was thorough and attentive. His motions were firm but gentle. She felt her resolve melting. He seemed to be the well-trained paramedic everyone said he was.
Megan moved to help, and they inched the woman onto the board and slid her into place, securing the straps. The board wobbled, and the woman flung her arm out, smearing blood and glass crumbles onto Megan’s shirt.
First call, and I already need a clean shirt.
Nathan strapped the board to the stretcher as Megan stepped away to brush glass from her stomach and chest.
“Here, let me help you,” Martin said eagerly.
She jumped away. “Touch me, and I’ll slap you with battery charges so fast your lawyer will have to fly a Concorde to keep you out of jail.”
His black eyes twinkled. “I love it when you talk dirty to me, Doll.”
With a smile, Megan shook her head and followed Nathan to the ambulance. She slammed the doors after him and climbed into the cab, waiting for his signal and then easing into traffic.
So, he’s not an idiot.
Megan released a bit of her hostility, reassuring herself that she did not have to like him, only work with him. But she tucked away a generous portion of her reservations. The shift was still young.
At the hospital, Nathan reported to the receiving nurse and washed his hands.
“Go ahead and restock the truck,” Megan directed. “I need to clean up.”
“Sure. Should I call 10-8 and let dispatch know we’re ready?”
“Yeah, I won’t be long.”
Megan walked through the sliding doors of the Sacred Heart Emergency Room, jumped down off the ambulance dock, and walked down the hill to Station 1. Grabbing an extra shirt from her locker, she went into the bathroom, careful to lock the door and test the knob twice. She pulled the soiled shirt over her head and stood before the mirror in her bra.
Turning slowly from side to side, she stared at the purple, green, and yellow bruises on her chest.
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