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Fire in the Night Ch. 09

Panties Aside

Caitlin awoke to the sound of someone shouting. Confused, disoriented, she slowly raised her head, wincing at the painful pounding that erupted in her head at the movement. The pain was immense, and she could hardly breathe for a minute. Finally, the throbbing either eased or she got used to it, and she was able to look around. Her jaw dropped as she saw the mangled metal that had been the passenger side of the RV. The passenger window and windshield had spiderweb cracks across them. She reached up and gingerly touched her forehead. She must have hit the dashboard when something smashed into the RV – she hadn’t even seen it coming.

“Miss! Miss! Can you hear me? Don’t move!” She turned her head to see a paramedic leaning over her.

“Shhh,” she whispered distractedly, the ache in her head bursting into a flash of pain at the loud sound of his voice. She had discovered no blood on her forehead, but a lump that would grow into an ugly bruise.

“I’m here to help you, okay? My name is Paul,” he said in a quieter voice. “Just stay still for a minute and let me ask you some questions,” he instructed.

Her eyes moved to the empty driver’s seat. Filled with terror, she cried out, “Where’s Jack?!” The agony of her head injury was nothing compared to the sickness she felt in her stomach when wondering what had happened to Jack.

“He’s right outside,” Paul reassured her. She felt a sweet rush of relief overwhelm her. ‘Thank god nothing happened to Jack,’ she thought gratefully.

“He called 911 immediately after the crash,” Paul explained. “Now I’ve answered your question, I need you to answer some of mine, okay?” His voice was calm and reassuring.

“Okay,” she said softly.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Caitlin,” she responded, trying to ignore the pounding in her head.

“Do you know where you are?”

“No…” she said slowly, trying to remember which Pennsylvania town they were in.

Paul looked alarmed, and then seemed to remember that she was in an RV and must be traveling. He amended his question. “Do you know what state you’re in?”

“Pennsylvania,” she answered with confidence.

“Do you know what time it is?”

She thought about that. They had been heading to breakfast, but she didn’t remember looking at a clock since she woke up. “Probably around nine a.m.?” she guesssed uncertainly.

He smiled at her. “Nine thirty, but that’s good enough for me. Now, just one more question and we’ll get you out of here. Who is the man outside waiting for you?”

“That’s Jack, my…” her voice trailed off. How was she supposed to finish that sentence? Friend? Boyfriend? Lover? “…friend,” she finished lamely.

“Okay, I think that you’ll be alright, but I still have to get you to the hospital,” Paul explained. “Now, do you feel any pain other than your head?”

“No,” she answered.

“Well, just in case you’re numb or your circulation has been cut off, I’m going to check for broken bones. Is that alright?” Paul asked.

“Yes,” she said, glancing down at her seatbelt.

“I don’t want to move you until I check you, so I’m going to cut your seatbelt away, okay?” He produced a pocketknife and carefully cut it away. He then ran his hands up and down her legs, arms, and torso, studiously assessing her condition. “I don’t feel anything,” he murmured, and then examined her forehead with a light touch.

“How long was I out?” Caitlin asked, wincing.

“Your friend called 911 about ten minutes ago, so not much longer than that,” he answered. “How’s the pain?”

“Bad,” she answered, closing her eyes for a moment and trying to will the throbbing away.

“Okay, I’ll get you some aspirin in the ambulance. Let’s get you out of here. Do you think you’re okay to walk to the ambulance?”

“Yes, I think so,” she replied.

With great care, Paul helped her to her feet. Taking her arm, he guided her toward the door. Her steps were slow and deliberate, as any sudden movement brought another flash of pain inside of her head. Giving a last glance at the passenger side of the front of the RV, she was amazed at the damage done.

“Shit, it must have been flying when it hit us,” she muttered.

The paramedic lowered his eyes. “Yes, miss, it sure was,” he said in a quiet voice. She read something in his expression that she didn’t like, but decided not to pursue it right now.

The door of the RV was bent a bit, but there was enough room for her to step out as another paramedic took her hand to help her. Jack was standing at the corner of the intersection, his heart racing as his eyes searched for Caitlin. A local cop was standing next to him, talking to him, but Jack wasn’t listening to a word she said. When he finally spotted Caitlin, he felt almost weak with ataköy escort the relief that rushed through him. Ignoring the officer speaking to him, he ran over to Caitlin.

“Baby, are you okay?” he asked, struggling to keep his voice calm. He took her into a gentle embrace, giving her a feather-soft kiss.

“Yeah, I think so. My head is killing me,” she said, her voice tight with pain. The flashing lights of the emergency vehicles didn’t help, either.

The paramedics looked apologetic. “I’m sorry, sir, but we need to get her checked out,” Paul said.

Jack nodded, releasing Caitlin from his embrace. “Of course, of course, let’s go.”

As the paramedics took Caitlin’s arms again to help her to the ambulance that was stopped nearby, she saw the truck that had struck them. She gasped in horror. The entire front half of the truck was crushed. There was blood all over the dashboard, and she looked away, feeling sick to her stomach.

“The driver didn’t make it,” she whispered, feeling numb.

“No, he didn’t,” Jack said, his voice quiet.

The paramedics opened the back doors of the ambulance and sat Caitlin on the floor. As they began a more thorough examination, taking her blood pressure and shining a light into her eyes, Caitlin asked Jack what had happened.

“They don’t know why the guy ran the red light,” he explained. “I didn’t even see him coming. I heard the crash and the next thing I knew, you were unconscious, slumped against the dashboard. The seatbelt didn’t lock to hold you upright because I hadn’t pressed on the brakes – there wasn’t time.”

She was confused and turned to look at him. “Don’t move, Caitlin,” Paul warned, still examining her. “And try not to move your head too much – you may have whiplash and not even feel it yet.”

“Okay,” she responded. To Jack, she asked, “Why didn’t the airbags go off?”

“Frontal airbags don’t deploy in side impact crashes,” he responded. “You probably hit the dashboard because you’re so light. I’m heavier, so I wasn’t bounced around as much from the impact.”

Paul held a stethoscope to Caitlin’s chest and commented, “You’re lucky that you were just beginning to accelerate. If you were going the same speed as the truck through the intersection, the motor home easily could have rolled over from the impact.”

Caitlin’s eyes widened with horror, and Jack shot the paramedic a dirty look. Paul turned red. “Sorry, miss,” he muttered.

“Don’t think about that, baby,” Jack said in a reassuring voice, rubbing her shoulder.

Still embarrassed, Paul said, “Okay, let’s get you to the hospital for more thorough testing. At the very least, you have a severe concussion. Losing consciousness is especially dangerous when suffering from a concussion, so we need to make sure that everything is alright. You’ll probably have to stay overnight.” Turning to Jack, he added, “You may want to quickly pack a bag if you want to ride along with us.”

Caitlin grabbed Jack’s arm before he could leave. “Wait, Jack, what time is it?” Her voice was concerned.

Glancing at his watch, he answered, “Almost nine forty-five.”

“Can you call Shanna for me?” she asked. The last thing they needed right now was for Shanna to be unable to get a hold of Caitlin, think that Jack had abducted her, and call the cops on him.

“Sure,” he replied.

“Make sure you tell her that I’m fine, everything is okay, and she doesn’t need to fly out here or anything,” she instructed. She would love to see Shanna, but if Shanna flew out, she would tell their family what had happened.

‘And what if they wanted to fly out, too?’ Caitlin worried. Shanna had no idea what horrors Billy had forced upon Caitlin in her mid- to late teens, and Caitlin had never been able to find the strength to tell her – it would cause Shanna so much pain to know what a sadist her brother was. Caitlin hadn’t seen her stepbrother, Billy, since she left for college, somehow finding one excuse after another, usually her job as a waitress, as to why she couldn’t come home for holidays. Once or twice a year, she would take her mother and Stanley out to dinner. Stanley adored Caitlin, much to her dismay, and often talked her ear off on those nights while Anne eyed up the waiter.

“No problem, baby,” he said, giving her a soft kiss before heading back to the RV. The police had cleared it as safe to return, allowing him to board it before they towed the two vehicles off of the road.

Inside the RV, Jack grabbed Caitlin’s coat, her pack, and a small duffle bag for himself. Throwing a change of clothes into the bag, he then tucked his gun into the back of his jeans and put his jacket on. His badge was still in the pocket from the night before, and he thought avcılar escort about how he had flashed it to Caitlin in the rain when he’d picked her up. ‘I admired her strength and intelligence right from the beginning,’ he thought fondly, remembering the detailed instructions she had given him before agreeing to take a ride from him. ‘Please let her be okay; let her recover quickly from this concussion.’ He had known her for less than twenty-four hours, but he loved her, and he already could not imagine his life without her.

Taking both bags out to the ambulance, he asked Caitlin to find her cell phone in her pack. She smiled to herself at this, wondering how many men would respect her privacy like that. It was such a small thing, but a good indication of the kind of man Jack was. The cell phone was in her front pouch, and she took it out and handed it to Jack.

“Come on, miss, let’s get you on this gurney,” Paul requested.

“I can just sit, I’m fine,” she protested.

He smiled, “Sorry, house rules.”

Jack took the cell phone a few feet away from the ambulance and opened it. Hitting the ‘Send,’ button, Shanna’s name was listed as the most recently dialed number. He pressed ‘Send’ again to call the number. After several rings, Shanna answered.

“Hi Shanna, this is Jack Thompson. Shanna’s okay, but we had a small accident,” he explained.

“What?!” Shanna shrieked. “Where is she?! How can she be okay if she can’t talk? What happened?”

Jack listened to the rapid fire of her questions patiently, and then responded in a slow and reassuring voice. “We were hit by a truck and Shanna bumped her head on the dashboard. She’s fine, but they want to take her to the hospital, just as a safety precaution. She’s really fine, though.”

Shanna was quiet for a moment. “Which hospital?” she asked in a calmer voice.

He hesitated. “I don’t know yet, but Shanna, really, you don’t need to fly out here, Caitlin’s completely fine.”

Her voice was deadly serious. “Jack, if you are any kind of decent guy, you will understand that she is my sister, and I need to be with her. I don’t give a shit if you say she’s perfectly fine, I want to see her for myself.”

He had to admire Shanna’s loyalty, despite Caitlin’s wishes. Calling Paul over, he asked him which hospital they would be taking Caitlin to.

“Well, we have some smaller hospitals around here, but Scranton is only a half hour away, and Mercy is a much bigger, nicer hospital,” Paul answered. “Since her condition isn’t serious, I would recommend that, depending on what her insurance covers.”

Jack wanted the best for her no matter what the cost – he would take care of it. After all, he had been driving. Speaking into the cell phone, Jack said, “Mercy Hospital in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Shanna…will you be coming alone?”

“Yeah, sure, I’ll be there as quickly as I can. Jack, just let me hear her voice, please?” she asked.

He took the phone over to the ambulance, jumped in, and held it up to Caitlin’s ear as she lay on the gurney.

“I’m okay,” Caitlin said immediately.

“If I had a tumor, I would name it…?” Shanna asked.

Caitlin laughed. “Marla,” she answered. Shanna wasn’t insane; it was their code phrase to signal that everything was okay. It was one of their favorite quotes from one of their favorite movies, Fight Club. They were supposed to use it if either of them suspected the other was in a dangerous situation.

Shanna’s voice was firm. “I’ll be there tonight.”

“No, Shanna, don’t worry about it, seriously, I’m fine,” Caitlin argued.

“I’ll be there tonight,” Shanna repeated.

Caitlin sighed. She should have known that there was no arguing with Shanna on a matter like this. “Just don’t tell Anne; I don’t want anyone to worry about me, because honestly, I’m fine.”

The frown was evident in Shanna’s voice. “I know you don’t get along with your mother, Cait, but she deserves to know that you’re in the hospital.”

Caitlin bit her lip. “Well, just make sure that she doesn’t come out here. I don’t want her to go to any trouble over nothing.”

“Alright,” Shanna agreed reluctantly.

“Love you, bye,” Caitlin said, as Paul gave her the signal that they needed to go.

“Love you, too, hon. Take care and get better. Bye,” Shanna replied.

Caitlin closed the cell phone and Jack took it from her, sliding it into the front pouch of her pack. He took a seat next to her on the bench inside the ambulance, taking her hand and kissing it with tenderness. Paul and the other paramedic climbed in next to Jack, closed the ambulance doors, and signaled to the driver that they were ready to go.

Paul explained to Caitlin, “Because your condition beylikdüzü escort is not critical and your hospital choice is voluntary, we can forego the lights and sirens.”

She closed her eyes gratefully. “Thank god for small favors,” she muttered.

During the twenty minute drive, Jack remained silent, letting Caitlin rest. He held her hand the entire time, stroking it gently. He was trying to suppress his guilt for not protecting her enough. Although this feeling was irrational – there was literally nothing he could have done to foresee the accident – it was a natural reaction to the injury of a loved one. He knew this well because he had counseled countless family members of victims at crime or accident scenes. He even knew what he, as a police officer, would say to himself.

‘You did the right thing by calling 911 immediately,’ Jack recited mentally. ‘You had no way of knowing that truck was coming. You couldn’t have predicted that someone would run that red light. You didn’t have enough time to step on the brakes; no one could have reacted that quickly. Be thankful that you were both wearing seatbelts.’

The list of reassurances went on and on. When he would say these to family members or loved ones as a police officer, he was always sympathetic and sincere. It was only now that he realized that, no matter how much sincerity there was in his voice, the words meant nothing to the loved ones of victims. There was no easing their pain – they felt responsible. He felt responsible for Caitlin, and that’s all there was to it. The guilt was there, but he could endure it without letting Caitlin see it. ‘Knowing how sweet Caitlin is,’ he thought, ‘she would only feel guilty that I feel guilty, and that is a vicious circle.’

These thoughts were racing through Jack’s head, and the time actually flew by on the way to the hospital. As the paramedics escorted Caitlin inside, Jack was right there with her every step of the way. When she was finally given a hospital room, the doctors explained that they would need to take her in a wheelchair to administer a variety of tests, and that Jack would be better off going to get something to eat. He turned to Caitlin with a reassuring smile on his face, even though he hated the thought of leaving her alone.

“Okay, baby, you’ll be just fine, it’s just some standard tests that they have to run,” he explained.

Caitlin bit her lip. She didn’t like the thought of not being with Jack during these tests. She was alone in a strange hospital, in a strange state, with strange doctors taking care of her. And now she had to leave Jack?

Jack knelt in front of her, cupping her face with his gentle hands as his blue eyes studied her green ones intently. “I promise you, I will be back. I am here for you. Okay?” His voice was deep and solemn.

Caitlin nodded, suddenly feeling very young, very vulnerable, and not very strong at all. Jack gave her a tender, sweet kiss that she clung to as long as she could, before the doctors wheeled her away to get an MRI of her head administered. As soon as Jack was out of sight, she felt a tear slip down her cheek.

She had lived through a personal hell for so many years that she thought she had suffered emotional paralysis. But somehow, by meeting this man and sharing the most intimate parts of herself with him, both emotionally and physically…somehow it had changed her. It had opened her up, showed her a whole new side of herself. She was suddenly scared that, without Jack, she would close back up again, shutting herself off emotionally from every person in the world except for her sister, Shanna.

Shanna was the first person that Caitlin had ever felt like she needed since her father left. Feeling this way about Jack now was new, frightening. She withdrew mentally while the doctors performed their various tests, during many of which she had to remain absolutely still. She spent this time thinking about Jack, about all of the feelings he had stirred up inside of her. She thought about how much Shanna would adore Jack when she met him, and how much Jack would like Shanna.

Most of all, she thought about the satisfaction and happiness in Jack’s voice, when he’d said, “Have you figured out that I love you yet?” A warm, happy glow began to grow in her chest when she thought about him saying those words to her. ‘Could I love him? Could I really, after less than a day?’ she wondered.

Finally, the doctors were done with her. Hours had passed at this point, and they said that Caitlin would have to wait until the morning for full results. A nurse wheeled her back to her room, and helped her settle into bed. Before Caitlin even had time to wonder where Jack was, a high, feminine voice shrieked her name.

“Caitlin!” Shanna cried, running into her hospital room and gently hugging her. “I’m so glad you’re okay!”

Caitlin held Shanna tightly, closing her eyes with relief and happiness. She didn’t see her mother, Anne, and her stepfather, Stanley, waiting at her doorway. She also didn’t see her stepbrother, Billy, waiting behind them.

To be continued…

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