A/N: A huge thank you to Midnight Cougar for always improving my words. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Burnin’ For You,” Blue Öyster Cult
(Playlist for this story can be found on my YouTube channel, if you search for “ghostreader24”)
Disclaimer: Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond own the adorable little mouse whose needs inspired this very adult version of their story. Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I’m here having fun.
The days are long and exhausting during the summer months. It seems whenever we return from a call, we barely have a chance to reset before we’re gearing up again. Water rescues dominate our calls as people forget common sense and find themselves in trouble out on the Sol Duc River or around Lake Pleasant. We even get a few calls to help around Lake Crescent when needed. We’re spread thin and relying on our volunteers heavily this time of year.
With the high demand, Jasper has been encouraging everyone who isn’t already SCUBA certified to take an open water diver course, which is the first step to joining our water rescue team. So, in between the regular calls and the home build I’m doing with Emmett for Habitat for Humanity in Port Angeles, we’ve both been working on getting our SCUBA certification from a place in Port Townsend.
We easily complete our book and pool work in about two days, moving on to open water dives to sixty feet. I have the required five under my belt, while Emmett has been with me for three of those. We’re both feeling more comfortable in the water with our equipment and all the unfamiliar sounds.
While most people think it’s a relaxing environment, I’m only beginning to tune out the whoosh of air as I inhale or the bubbling sound when I exhale. It isn’t that different from when we’re using our equipment while out on a fire call, but sound travels faster through water than air, so it can be confusing to pinpoint their origins at times. With a limited vision field due to the mask, it takes a little while to acclimate myself underwater and realize that objects are farther away than they appear. My dive instructor has been encouraging and giving me great feedback whenever we go out.
I’m growing more confident with each dive and plan to continue past the basic open water certification, working toward my certification for advanced open water deep dives. These will allow me to dive to one hundred thirty feet. I’m also hoping to work on more challenging situations like low visibility or strong currents soon, because we’re more likely to experience those in a rescue situation.
Emmett and I have been out diving this morning, but are stopping by the station because Jasper has promised everyone a feast of Texas barbecue for Labor Day, marking the unofficial end of summer. Volunteers, rookies, and careers are here from all departments with their significant others and kids, as our extended family grows a little larger with each gathering.
I always find myself gravitating toward Chief Swan whenever he’s here for one of these meals, hoping I’ll hear some mention of Bella, but today, he’s busy introducing a new deputy in his department, Jacob Black.
“Can I get everyone’s attention?” Cap’s voice carries over the group as the room quiets. “Thanks to everyone for being here today. I’m glad so many could attend. I know my guys won’t miss an opportunity to eat, and we’re happy to feed everyone after a busy summer. Let’s all hope for quieter days with fewer calls.”
All in attendance nod in understanding at the pace we’ve kept over the summer and will be happy with fewer calls in the coming months.
“We’re a family who can always be relied on whenever anyone needs a helping hand or someone to listen. My door is always open, and Chief Swan feels the same way—don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re here for you. Lean on your fellow brothers and sisters whenever necessary, or let us know if you need to talk to someone outside of our departments. We know life can change in an instant and sometimes we need to work through our side of the traumas we face too. Situations change, and what was easy at one time can become a challenge in moving forward.”
I jam my hands inside the pockets of my jeans and stare down at my scuffed shoes. Cap’s words feel directed at me, but I know that’s probably a coincidence. I’ve been keeping my thoughts to myself and staying busy for the past nine months. My plan to avoid any downtime and keep Bella off my mind hasn’t been an easy one, and I’ll be the first to admit I’ve had little success.
My heart flutters at the thought of giving up on the hope that our paths will ever cross again. Maybe I do need to talk with somebody about the feelings I’m harboring for someone who has no idea. I’ve shared a bit with my mother, but I know I’m holding back from her. If she finds out I’m unhappy, she’ll jump on the opportunity and begin a relentless campaign to persuade me into moving back to Chicago. I can’t explain it, but the pull to stay in Forks is strong. Maybe that’s because I’m missing Grandma Cullen and not Bella. I tune back into Cap’s words as he smiles, looking around the room, and I wonder what I’ve missed.
“I’m also excited to announce our family will be expanding, as we have a new addition on the way. It’s our first cross department collaboration of this nature, I believe.” He chuckles and looks over at Chief Swan, who nods his agreement. “Mike and Jessica are happy to share that they are expecting a little one by the end of the year. So, make sure you take a moment to share all your fatherly advice, because Mike’s going to need it.”
The crowd responds with shouts of congratulations and whistles at the announcement. A small smile tugs at my lips, happy for their good news. I wish I had advice to offer, and deep down, a part of me is green with envy over not only Mike and Jessica’s relationship, but also knowing they have a baby on the way.
Emmett slaps me on the shoulder, pulling me from my wistful thoughts. “Let’s go eat. I’m starving.”
The yelling and banging on the door of my apartment wakes me up instantly from where I’ve fallen asleep on the couch in front of the television. It’s the middle of October, and my abandoned pizza on the coffee table looks less than appetizing. I bought it last night in celebration of achieving my advanced open water diver certification yesterday, but I fell asleep before I could eat more than two slices. I’m groggy and having trouble focusing on the clock, which says it’s around two in the morning, until I hear the voice once more and recognize it immediately.
“Edward! Oh, God. Please be home!”
I shake my head, trying to clear it, and walk toward the door. When I open it, I find my neighbor, Bree, from downstairs panicked.
“Oh, thank goodness. Edward—it’s Diego! Please, please, help,” she pleads. “He’s not breathing, and I can’t get him to wake up.”
Bree grabs my wrist, leading me downstairs to their apartment where Diego is sprawled on his back across their small living room floor. I’m wide-awake now.
“Call 9-1-1,” I instruct and crouch next to his body.
He appears unconscious, and I tilt his head and chin to open his airway. Leaning close to his face, I watch his chest closely to see if it’s moving, while I listen for the sound of his breathing and feel air moving against my cheek. It’s slow and shallow.
“Diego! Can you hear me?” I raise my voice and check for a pulse, finding it weak, but at least his heart is still beating.
“Oh, God. Edward, please help him.”
I suspect he’s overdosed on something, and rub my knuckles repeatedly over his sternum to rouse him, but he fails to respond.
“What medications has he been taking?”
“Ones for his back. He’s been struggling at work.”
“Do you have a pill bottle?”
“I… don’t think so.” She hesitates.
“Bree, tell me.” I can feel the anger bubbling up inside of me that he’s done something stupid, but try to remain calm because I know she has answers. “Bree, I can’t help him if you’re not honest with me.”
“He ran out a couple of weeks ago, but bought some from a friend of a friend. It was supposed to be fentanyl. You can’t tell anyone, Edward. He can’t lose his job.”
“Stay with me, Diego. Help will be here soon,” I tell him loudly, hoping he will respond to my voice or hear sirens as they approach. “If he has any left, I need you to find them.”
She fails to move as her eyes shift between Diego’s body and mine.
“Bree.” I repeat my warning. “We can’t help him, if you don’t help us.”
“Okay. I know.”
His skin is gray while his lips and fingernails are a purplish-black.
“I’m going to help him breathe until the paramedics get here, but they need to know what he’s taking. I don’t have any Narcan, but they will.”
She nods her head vigorously. “I’ll check the bathroom and our bedroom.”
I pinch his nose and start with two breaths into his mouth, then switch to one every five seconds until Bree reappears with a small plastic bag.
She holds it up for me to see, but her voice trembles, not wanting trouble for her boyfriend or anyone else. “I-I think these are them.”
I jerk my chin toward the coffee table. “Set them there.”
“What else can I do?”
I finish blowing into Diego’s mouth. “Go wait outside, and when you see the ambulance, wave your arms so they can see you and will know where to go.”
It feels like forever until the paramedics on call are pushing through the front door of the apartment. My own relief is instant when I see two of my friends, Eric Yorkie and Lauren Mallory.
“Edward?” Eric asks, moving to my side.
“Hey. I live upstairs. My neighbor, Bree, came and got me.”
“Lucky for him. What do we have?”
I stand and step out of the way, as they take over.
“Possible opioid overdose. He was unresponsive when I arrived, and his condition hasn’t changed. Shallow breathing. Weak pulse. Skin color ashen. Lips and fingernails are a purplish-black. I’ve been helping him breathe until you arrived. His name is Diego.”
“Edward? Is he going to be okay?”
Bree cries softly beside me, and I wrap my arm around her shoulders.
“I don’t know. Let’s step back and give them room to work.”
Eric crouches next to my neighbor’s body, doing his own assessment and checking his vitals. “Diego. If you can hear us, we’re here to help you. Pupils are pinpoints. How did he get in this position?”
Bree looks up at me, and I nod encouragingly.
“I don’t know.” She shrugs. “I was in bed, heard a noise, and came out here to find him on the floor. He wouldn’t wake up when I tried to shake him. I called 9-1-1, then went upstairs to see if Edward was home.”
“Do we know what medications he’s taking?” Lauren questions, as she opens her jump bag and prepares a nasal applicator with a glass cartridge of naloxone.
“I suspect it’s street fentanyl.” I nod toward the coffee table. “What’s left is over there.”
“Got it.” Lauren’s attention shifts to Bree. “Ma’am, do you know where he got these?”
Bree shakes her head and refuses to offer any additional information, which doesn’t surprise me at all.
“Why don’t you grab your shoes and purse?” I say. “They’re going to take him to the hospital to get checked out and you can ride along.”
She’s torn at leaving Diego, but finally agrees. “Okay.”
When Bree is out of earshot, Lauren looks up at me. “She knows.”
“She does,” I confirm, lowering my voice. “But I doubt you’ll get it out of her—a friend of a friend is all I got.”
Lauren nods, focusing back on Diego, and applies half of the dose up one side of his nose then the other. “I can’t believe somebody is pushing this shit in Forks. Chief Swan is going to be livid.”
She watches the time while Eric holds a bag-valve mask over Diego’s nose and mouth to assist with his breathing.
“Maybe it’s an isolated event,” I suggest. “Is the Chief on duty?”
Eric glances my way. “Yeah. Your neighbors are lucky he isn’t here. He’s out on another call.”
Lauren turns back to her bag. “I’m sure he’ll catch up with them at the hospital later and have plenty of questions.”
When five minutes pass and Diego fails to wake, Lauren prepares a second dose. After its application, less than three minutes later, Diego starts to respond.
“This is good. I want to make sure he didn’t injure his head, neck, or spine when he fell into this position.” Lauren looks up at me. “Edward, can you bring in the backboard? It’s right outside the front door.”
Eric holds Diego’s head in place and raises his voice. “Diego? Can you hear me?”
I hear his words slur in response as I bring the backboard inside the apartment.
“I’m Eric and this is my partner Lauren. We’re here to help you. We need to fit you with a neck brace and slide you onto our board. We’ll be taking a ride to the hospital, so they can check you out.”
“Let’s stabilize his neck.” Lauren fits the collar around Diego’s neck and crosses his arms over his chest, while I position the board next to Diego.
“Edward, can you give us a hand?” she asks. “We need to roll him onto the board.”
I move into place next to Lauren and assist in a maneuver I’ve done many times, rolling Diego onto his side, while Eric maintains control of his head and neck. She does a quick exam along his backside, moves the backboard into place, and together we return him to his back. After slight adjustments to his position on the board, I watch as she locks his body in place with straps across his chest, hips, and legs. Lauren continues stabilizing his head with an additional strap holding it in place.
Once we have him secured on the board, his eyes crack open, and I can see the moment he recognizes me hovering above him. “Ed—”
“Shhh, shhh. Hey, man. I’m here. Take it easy. Let the paramedics help you. Bree is here. She’s going to ride with you.”
After a couple of slow blinks, his eyes close, and I turn my attention to Bree, standing next to the couch.
“If you need a ride home from the hospital, call me at the station. I’ll be there later.”
She nods and wraps her arms around my waist, hugging me tightly. “Thank you, Edward.”
Diego isn’t out of the woods yet. The Narcan only lasts thirty to ninety minutes depending on what and how much he took. So, there’s a chance he could still suffer from the overdose and need additional assistance in breathing or go into cardiac arrest after arriving at the hospital.
Lauren closes up her jump bag and leads the way outside, while Eric and I carry Diego from the apartment. Bree follows, locking their door. We load him onto the waiting stretcher and into the back of the ambulance. Lauren climbs inside, attaching monitors to keep an eye on all of his vitals and a ventilator mask to help him to breathe a little easier.
I assist Bree as she climbs inside the back with Lauren then give her a smile.
“Be sure to hang on. This guy drives like a maniac,” I tease, nodding toward Eric and getting a small smile and a giggle from her.
“Thanks for your help,” Eric tells me as he closes the back doors.
“No problem.” I run a hand through my hair and release a deep sigh of relief that I’ve done all I can for Diego. I hope it’s enough. Looking around, I’m glad we haven’t drawn a crowd or any curious bystanders this early in the morning. “I doubt I’ll be able to sleep after this.”
“Are you going in later?” Eric asks as he climbs into the driver’s seat.
“Yeah, tonight. But maybe I’ll go to the station and work out or something, if I can’t get back to sleep. Have a good night.”
“You too, Edward.”
I walk back upstairs to my apartment and lock the door, going straight for the bedroom. The clock on my nightstand says it’s just after three. I strip off my T-shirt and jeans, letting them drop on the floor next to the bed, then climb under the covers in only my underwear. The cool sheets gradually heat as I twist and turn, unable to calm my thoughts. I stare at the ceiling, focusing on a water stain near the window for too long, wondering how Diego is doing.
My blinks slow and my thoughts drift to Bella until the slamming of my next-door neighbor’s entry door has me wide-awake once more. I can hear Jane’s muffled voice mixed with laughter. Ten minutes later, the repeated bumping against our shared wall is more than I can take.
I let out a growl of frustration and throw off the covers, deciding to take a shower for some peace. The hot water helps ease my tense muscles, and when I finish, I wrap a towel around my waist, collapsing on my bed. Quiet has returned next door, but the hours continue to pass with no sleep, until I give up and text Emmett, who’s been working all night, ready to try another approach.
I can’t sleep.
I heard from Eric, you’ve had a busy morning.
Yeah. Not good.
It’s quiet here. I finish my shift at six.
Want to meet for pancakes at the diner?
Maybe a carb overload will help me sleep.
I’ll meet you there.
If you give a postal worker a love note, she’ll wonder about the identity of the author when it’s delivered by an unintended mail carrier.
After a visit from a sexy firefighter, the mystery surrounding the note will add to her curiosity, but it won’t be solved any time soon, when she has no choice and accepts another job far from home.
Her secret admirer will hold onto hope for their paths to cross again…