Authors: Candace Calvert
Tags: #General Fiction
Claire stole a glance at Logan. His expression was unreadable,
but his fingers drummed soundlessly on the tabletop, like a man who'd rather be anywhere but here. He looked up, and Claire
refocused on the social worker.
"When a critical incident involving a child occurs, 85 percent
of the personnel affected will develop symptoms of stress within
twenty-four hours," Elaine said, her gaze traveling the room. "Some
of you feel you can deal with this by yourselves. Maybe so."
Sarah Burke nodded over the rim of her Coke can. She was in
scrubs again, and Claire wondered if she ever took a day off.
"However," the woman continued, "we've learned that people
who try to handle everything alone take longer to do it. On the
other hand, people who talk about a bad incident eat better, sleep
Sleep. Claire's stomach tensed.
"... remain healthier, stay employed longer, and have fewer
problems in their home life as well as in other relationships,"
Logan began to doodle on a paper as Chaplain Estes, a balding man with a neatly trimmed beard, took over. "No one has any
special status during this session. We are all just folks struggling
through a rough situation." He smiled gently. "So forget your rank
and be a human being first."
Claire looked over at Logan and heard him sigh. The corners
of his mouth drew downward, and his expression read "touchyfeely ... shrink-to-fit."
He met her eyes before penning something on the paper. And
Chaplain Estes cleared his throat. "The next phase of Critical
Incident Stress Debriefing is about to begin. We'll ask each of you
to tell us who you are, what your job was at the scene, and what
Suddenly the room felt warm, and Claire thought about taking
off her jacket. It was lightweight but she was still perspiring. Was
the heater on? Her breathing quickened and she shifted uneasily
in her chair. Her throat constricted. Then, without warning, she
started remembering the Sacramento trauma room, hearing the
sirens, smelling the smoke, the sickening sweet scent of burned
flesh and ...
Her pulse began to pound in her neck and her mouth went
dry. She grasped the edge of the table, fighting a wave of dizziness.
This was a huge mistake. She shouldn't be part of this team. How
could she get out of here?
The chaplain's voice seemed to echo from a tunnel, and Claire
struggled to hear, filled with a dread she couldn't name. "We also
ask that you recall your first thought during this tragic incident
once you stopped functioning automatically."
First thought. My first ...
Claire closed her eyes, but the horrible image of the hopelessly
burned firefighter remained. Along with the clear memory of her
first anguished thought: Oh no, that's my brother!
The session took more than two hours, and Claire made it to her
final pamphlet-dispensing duty with the help of a hasty bathroom
break. Today was proof she'd been right. She needed to stay away
from the ER and all the memories it stirred up. As soon as things
ended today, she'd be out of there. For good.
Elaine smiled at the ER staff. "Please remember that most reactions to stress are normal. Don't try to hold yourself to impossibly high standards-give yourselves permission to feel lousy for
a while." She nodded. "But remember that your employee benefits
include counseling services if that need arises. And please look through the pamphlet. It has some great tips for dealing with
the first forty-eight hours: exercise, keep busy, write down your
thoughts, listen to music, eat regular meals even if you have to
force yourself. Do the things that feel good to you."
Claire glanced across the table at the sound of Logan's fingers
drumming on his motorcycle helmet. Then, with what looked like
a smug smile, he folded the paper he'd been writing on into crisp
"I want to remind you about the 4-H fair and rodeo this weekend," the chaplain added, standing. "The hospital is manning an
information and nurse recruitment booth. I think Claire's going to
be volunteering there?" He acknowledged Claire's nod and then
continued. "Take your families, why don't you? Pet the sheep, eat
a corn dog, enjoy the music, dance, and laugh. Laughing is good
for our souls."
The room emptied and Claire gathered her things, scooping
up her folders but leaving the CISM pamphlets in neat stacks on
the table. She wasn't going to need them anymore. All that was
left was to-
Oh, boy. Logan was walking toward her. Claire's heart slammed
against her ribs, completely without warning. He stopped in front
of her. His dark brows scrunched, and he exhaled softly. There was
nothing brash about his expression, no hint of any biting sarcasm
to follow. And for some reason Claire felt an unexpected wave of
sadness. This was likely the last time she would see more than a
glimpse of him. She held her breath.
Logan's eyes were soft, almost vulnerable. He took half a step
forward until he was so close that she could smell the scent of
leather mixed with a trace of the familiar cologne. His nearness
seemed to warm the air between them, and when he leaned toward her, Claire's heart rose to her throat. For a dizzying instant she
imagined what it would be like to be held in his arms.
As she turned, Claire heard Logan's low grumble.
Erin strode back through the doorway, grinning and holding
out a bakery box. "Krispy Kremes. Snagged them from a sales rep,"
she said, a little breathless as she arrived to stand beside them. She
lifted the lid and prodded the donut glaze with a fingertip. "I'm
giving myself permission to feel lousy to the tune of a zillion calories. Anyone care to join me?"
Logan shifted his weight beside Claire. The motorcycle leathers
creaked with the movement. He shook his head and gave a short
laugh. The cynical edge reappeared as he spoke, but Claire was sure
she heard an undercurrent of regret. "Actually," he said, glancing
at Claire, "I'm more interested in those ways to feel good."
A flush crept up Claire's neck, and she was grateful to see Erin
still inspecting the donuts.
"Well, be a party pooper, then." Erin leveled a look at Logan and
chuckled. "Of course, now we know you're more of a strawberrymilkshake-in-the-park kind of guy."
What's this? A stab of jealousy surprised Claire. Logan and Erin?
Didn't she already have a boyfriend?
She shook off the thought as Erin tugged at her sleeve. "But
Claire has to at least split one with me. Because this is the closest
we get to cake, and it's your last day, isn't it?"
Last day. Claire felt the strange sadness again. It made no sense
and was even more confusing as she looked at Logan. He'd asked the
same question. "Yes," she answered with as casual a shrug as she could
muster. "I'm finished. Unless anyone wants another pamphlet?"
"No way." Logan glanced at the dry-erase board just beyond, where the social worker had written a last suggestion for the ER
staff in bold letters: The most successful way to deal with traumatic
stress is to face it. Feel it and heal it. He frowned, and his voice
emerged sharp and surprisingly bitter. "No more of any of this. I've
already had way more than I can stomach." His eyes seemed dark,
his gaze far away.
Claire's mouth opened, but no words came. Only the sickening
feeling that she'd been right all along about this insensitive man.
He didn't care about his staff or anybody but himself.
"Logan, what's wrong with you?" Erin's eyes widened. "Claire's
worked hard to try and help us, and your attitude is-"
Claire stopped her before she could continue. "It doesn't matter. I know how Dr. Caldwell feels about this process. It was obvious
from the start." She couldn't resist a jab. "And now look, I've gone
and ruined his day off." Back at you, McSnarly. She was glaring and
she didn't care; after all, she wasn't going to have to deal with him
Logan glowered at Claire. "That's right. You did. And I could
handle that, if your people hadn't just tried their best to convince
half my team to call in sick next week. Who's going to replace
them?" He pointed at her. "You?"
Erin tried to step between them, but she wasn't fast enough.
Claire pressed forward until Logan's pointing finger brushed
her collarbone. She jutted her chin and glared at him, trembling
with anger. "Oh? You mean you can't fix them all with country
music and pizza?"
From the hospital patio, Claire heard the distant rev of a motorcycle engine. Like the warning growl of a Sierra mountain lion before it sprang away. Her breath escaped in a sigh of relief. Good,
he's going. The donut was working too; if she could have eaten it
while running a 10K, it would have been perfect. Endorphins and
donut glaze could melt Logan Caldwell away faster than a bucket
of water on the Wicked Witch of the West.
But maybe it had been good to see his true colors. He was
insensitive, self-involved, and heartless. There was nothing attractive about a man who couldn't dredge up some empathy for his
coworkers. Claire had been a target of a physician's callous disregard
in those awful, vulnerable days after Kevin's death. How could she
forget that? She looked across the small stone table at Erin.
"Better now?" Erin asked. Late afternoon sun slanted through
the courtyard oaks, turning her hair to burnished copper. She
handed Claire a napkin.
"I'm so embarrassed about the way I acted in there." Claire
wiped the napkin across her lips. "I'm afraid that guy makes me
Erin laughed. "No big deal. Unfortunately Logan has that effect
on some people." She tucked a tendril of hair behind an ear. "He
jokes about the Reno nurses forming a lynch mob before he left
there a few years ago, says he was written up more than once."
Claire gaped. "Logan was fired?"
"No. He said he needed a change. I'm guessing it had something to do with his wife."
Claire nearly dropped her elbow into the box of donuts. She
blamed a rush of dizziness on sugar overload. "He's ... married?"
"Was married," Erin explained. "I'd never ask details, but he's
mentioned that it ended around three years ago."
"Oh." Claire felt a wave of sympathy and then an irritating
sense of relief.
Erin's brows drew together for a moment. "The debriefing covered that subject too. The effect our work has on relationships. I
don't doubt that."
"So do you think the debriefing helped at all? Or was Logan
right? Did I really make things worse?"
"Hey, wait a minute." Erin reached across the table and placed
her hand over Claire's. "Don't even go there." Her expression was
warm and sincere, and Claire knew that this nurse could be a real
friend. She hadn't realized until just this moment how much she
missed the girlfriends she'd pushed away over the past two years.
"You absolutely helped us," Erin reassured. "You saw the way
the staff opened up and how supportive they were of each other's
feelings." She laughed. "We can't all be Super Nurse like Sarah.
Even if Logan's right and half the staff call in sick, it wouldn't matter. Sarah could do it all by herself. The day that girl misses a shift,
we'd better start building an ark!"
"And Inez?" Claire asked, watching as Erin began to gather her
things from the tabletop. The whole debriefing process-even her
own ghastly reaction-would be worth it if it had done something
to help that tenderhearted grandmother. "I know she's starting
counseling. But do you think today's session helped?"
"Oh yes." Erin stood and grinned at Claire. "But I'm not sure
how much of it was the debriefing and how much was the result
of well-timed milkshake therapy."
"Yep. It seems that our medical director wrote a little prescription of his own last night." Erin's grin widened. "Imagine Inez Vega
in a motorcycle helmet. I'm serious. Cross my heart. She said that
after she'd talked with her priest and the counselor, Logan loaded
her on the back of his bike, bought two strawberry milkshakes, and then drove down to Gold Bug Park. The woman can hardly
close her wallet over that stack of grandkid pictures. Logan looked
at every one."