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Authors: Candace Calvert

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Critical Care (5 page)

BOOK: Critical Care
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He glanced up from the sleeping child, his impossibly blue eyes
meeting hers. "Hi, Educator," he whispered. "Got us healed yet?"

Claire hated it that her feet carried her forward as if she had no will
of her own, a moth headed for a complete and thorough scorching. Tired or not, she wasn't about to let Logan have the last jab
without putting up a struggle. She stopped at the side of the gurney
opposite him and bit back a sigh. It would be easier if he weren't
standing there with a little boy's fingers holding on to his. And far
less distracting if this medical director didn't look like he'd just
walked off an action-hero movie set.

"I thought you went home," Claire said, noticing a smear of
burn ointment on Logan's muscular forearm as he slid his fingers
from Jamie's.

The child dozed, lashes feathery against his cheeks, his breathing mercifully peaceful and rhythmic. His blond hair was still dark
at the tips, damaged from the fire's intense heat. Claire's chest
tightened as she remembered the story of the fire captain who'd
carried this boy from the burning day care. Firefighters. Heroesmy biggest hero-always.

"I stopped by the CCU. To see that patient, the teacher." Then
Logan answered Claire's next question before she could ask it.
"She's awake. And giving orders." He shook his head. "Told me to
get a haircut."

Claire smiled, equally pleased with the teacher's clinical improvement and her feistiness toward the imposing Dr. Caldwell. Not that
he looked so imposing standing watch at a child's bedside.

"I thought I'd stick around until Jamie is moved to the room
upstairs. He only has his mom, and she was at the day care too.
She's been admitted already." Logan glanced at his watch and
frowned. "But looks like Jamie won't see her until the new shift
finishes report. I want to be sure he's got humidified oxygen at the
bedside and respiratory therapy available in case his asthma flares
up." He leaned over the bed, closer to Claire, and smoothed the
child's sheet.

Claire watched him, more than a little surprised at the act of
tenderness. Could this be the same man who'd so dispassionately
said, "Death is always a factor"?

"Why the delay?" Claire asked. "This boy's stable and comfortable. Shouldn't he have gone to his room long before now?"

Her question was met with an awkward silence. Then Logan
gave a short, brittle laugh. "Yes, Sarah Burke was all set to take him
upstairs before her shift ended. But she-" he paused with a faint
smirk-"was delayed by peer counseling."

Claire bristled but found herself strangely relieved to be back in
familiar territory. Just because he was concerned about an injured
child didn't mean the man had been reformed. "Look," she said,
lowering her voice as a nurse guided a patient to an adjacent
cubicle, "administration threw me in here today. No warning. No
choice. I wanted to be here about as much as you want me here."

Logan said nothing for a moment while he studied her, almost
as if he were seeing her for the first time. Claire wasn't sure, but
there may have been a smile playing at the edges of his mouth.
She brushed a tendril of hair from the side of her neck, suddenly self-conscious as Logan's gaze followed every millimeter of the
movement.

"Good," he said finally, the suggestion of a smile gone. He nodded as if they'd sealed a deal. "Then we're in agreement after all."

"Agreement?"

"That this CISM business is counterproductive."

She stared into his face, wanting nothing more than to nod
furiously and retrace her steps out of this place. Back to the education department, where she had protocols to write and a procedure
demonstration to outline, tasks that would take her closer to her
goal of being hired to a full-time educator position. Not add to
her bouts of insomnia. Logan was actually making it easy for her.
Wasn't he?

He leaned toward her again, his whisper conspiratorial. "So
what would it take?"

"What do you mean?"

"To satisfy administration. Sign us off here." Logan sighed.
"I'm all for doing whatever it takes to make my team the best it
can be, but in my experience, there's nothing worse than dwelling
needlessly on tragedy."

Claire saw a fleeting look, almost like a memory of pain, flicker
in his eyes.

He pressed his palm against the side rail of the gurney. "It's
like this: you go around telling people that they need to explore
their feelings, all that sort of shrink-to-fit nonsense, and then the
team starts falling apart." He jabbed a finger in the air. "The links
weaken."

Weaken? Claire's stomach twisted into a familiar knot as the
thought struck her. That's probably what the Sacramento doctor had labeled her in the weeks after her brother's death, when despair left her numb and immobile and barely able to function.
A weak link.

"I'm not saying that this isn't killer work," Logan continued,
his voice fervent. "I'm just saying there are better ways to deal with
it, that's all."

The knot in her stomach turned to anger, and Claire raised her
chin, refusing to blink as she stared him in the eyes. "Oh?" she
said, daring-maybe even needing-Logan Caldwell, of all people,
to offer something that finally made heartbreak bearable. "And
how do you deal with it, Doctor? Personally, I mean." She walked
around the end of the gurney to stand directly in front of him and
crossed her arms. "Go ahead, enlighten me."

"I . . ." He hesitated, unsure of his answer maybe or shocked
by her nerve.

Claire waited, trying not to think about the hospital's chain of
command. How much influence did Goliath have over the education department? Could he block her promotion? get her fired
completely?

Logan laughed softly and ran a hand over his dark hair. His
face grew serious, and once again his fatigue was very apparent.
When he spoke, his voice sounded far away, almost vulnerable.
"Speeding, maybe? Sure. My motorcycle on a mountain road, fast
as it goes. To any place where nobody needs anything from me and
where time just passes. Instead of being measured as seconds lost
on some unforgiving code room clock. Trees and quiet."

Claire wished she could take the question back. All at once this
felt too personal, too awkward.

"Or pizza," Logan added, a surprisingly boyish grin crinkling
the corners of his eyes. "Pepperoni pizza and country music. That'll
put things in perspective pretty fast."

They both turned as a woman's voice wailed in the distance.

"Where's that coming from?" Claire tensed as the painful and
wrenching sound repeated.

"The storage room," Logan answered.

The nurse at the next bedside began jogging in that direction.
The temporary morgue. Hadn't Claire seen a light in there
when she passed by a few minutes ago? Yes, and it had been quiet.
"But didn't they take that little girl away?" she asked, filling with
dread as she remembered the face of the anguished grandmother.

"No," Logan answered. He turned and broke into a trot, calling
back over his shoulder, "We got the okay to remove the tubes, but
we're still waiting for the medical examiner's deputy to arrive for
transport."

Memories and images from another temporary morgue in Sacramento intruded into Claire's consciousness, and she struggled to
keep them at bay. Then, against an urge to run the other way, she
followed Logan toward yet another haunting wail.

When they arrived at the doorway, she saw the nurse slip an
arm around a tiny, dark-haired woman's shoulders. Claire took in
the scene in the dimly lit room, her eyes widening as she recognized the woman. Inez Vega, the registration clerk. Sitting in
a chair beside an empty gurney, a plastic body bag crumpled at
her feet and holding ... Claire's breath stuck in her chest. Inez
held Amy Hester, the child's face still and pale, like an earthbound
angel. She'd wrapped the toddler in the lavender blanket and was
gently rocking her. A rosary dangled from Inez's fingers and her lips
moved silently. She stared up at the ER nurse over Amy's tousled
curls, then over at Claire and Logan.

"This baby's abuela-her grandmother-wanted her to have
this blanket," Inez said, tears streaming down her face. "Purple's her . . . favorite color. I didn't mean to break any rules, but it
seemed wrong not to wrap it around her. I keep thinking about my
own grandbabies and. . ." Her words faded into a mournful sob as
the nurse lifted the child gently from her arms, laid her back on
the gurney, and returned to Inez's side.

More than anything, Claire wanted to let the staff nurse handle
things now, be done with her unexpected and unwelcome responsibility to these people, but ... She turned to Logan and grasped
his arm, a rush of tears blurring her vision. "This is your team. I
know how you feel about counseling, and I know you want me to
just sign off and satisfy administration. But I can't. These people
are hurting, and they need help."

She let go of his arm and took a deep breath, looking once
again at Inez. How many times had this woman quietly ached,
after how many shifts? As a peer counselor, Claire couldn't offer
the kind of help Inez needed, but she knew how to make it happen.
"I'm calling the social worker to request a full debriefing for your
department. Whether you like it or not."

Running was always a balm for what ailed her. And it was working; Logan Caldwell was fading away. Claire closed the cabin door
against the night air and slithered out of the soaking, oversize
T-shirt, deliciously dizzy for a moment. A rivulet of sweat trickled
between her shoulder blades as she raised her arms to weave her fingers through the long strands of damp hair, lifting them away from
her salty skin. Her head floated, disembodied, and her lips tingled as
goose bumps rose and drew a shiver. Runner's high. Endorphins.

She leaned against the wooden door in her racerback tank
and running tights, closing her eyes and welcoming the familiar release. Her heartbeat whispered in her ears like the ocean trapped
in a seashell. Endorphins were a blessing. Better than music, gooey
chocolate, California sand under bare toes, or even the comfort of
a warm and snuggly-

Oh, good grief. Claire opened her eyes, then wadded the T-shirt
into a ball and hurled it across the cabin's living room like she
was battling an intruder. Why on earth did the thought of being
hugged-held, after such a long time-suddenly summon the
unlikely image of Logan Caldwell?

She bit back a laugh as the wadded shirt bounced off the wall
and onto the scruffy black cat sleeping on the suede couch. He
yowled and jerked upright, his only ear flattening out sideways, tail
twitching, glaring at her. As usual. Great, a skirmish with Goliath
and Demon Cat all in one day. Claire could run to New Jersey and
back and not brew enough endorphins to cover that.

"Sorry, Smokey. I'll fix it. Don't bite me-I feed you." Claire
crossed the room in two strides, her Nikes scrunching on the plank
floor. Unexpected tears threatened as she knelt to gingerly lift her
brother's engine company T-shirt off his cat. The truth was, neither
fit her. Not the shirt, not the cat. No matter how much she wanted
them to.

She glanced around the living area of the rustic, four-room
A-frame: cedar paneling, woodstove, Mexican blanket rug, and a
vase of yellow silk daffodils, her one pathetic attempt to add a
feminine touch to what would always be a man's house. Maybe
her parents were smarter than she'd been. It didn't take a shrink to
guess that accepting a transfer to Arizona had less to do with old
friends in Phoenix and a lot more to do with the pain of their only
son's death. Or to guess it was that very same thing that moved
Claire into her brother's house.

Her gaze traveled to the rough-hewn oak mantel on a wall of
river rock behind the freestanding woodstove, topped by a collection of photos she hadn't had the heart to pack away. The firehouse photo with Kevin mugging for the camera in a Superman
T-shirt and red suspenders. Claire and Kevin with their parents at
Lake Tahoe for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Claire's eyes
moved to the next photo-framed in hammered tin and draped
with her brother's cross-a grainy black-and-white snapshot of
Kevin with his fiancee, Gayle, on the church mission trip to Mexico. Her brother had one arm around Gayle and the other around
the shoulders of a dark-eyed orphan. The last frame held Kevin's
favorite Scripture carefully stitched onto vintage family linen by
his beloved Gayle:

BOOK: Critical Care
6.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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