Lia straightened out her scrubs, giving herself a final look before heading out for her first shift at Medford General Hospital.
Boxes sat around the room, half unpacked.
Her brother, Nathan, had given her his old bedroom from his teens while she looked for a place. The walls were still lined with country rock posters and photos from the years he lived here with their dad after their parents split.
Smoothing a stray wisp of her light-brown hair in the mirror, her eye landed on a strip of four pictures from a photo booth, the color faded with age.
She leaned closer.
In each image, her tawny-headed brother had a different goofy expression, his arm slung around another young man. Nathan’s friend had dark hair and a dazzling smile, but a sadness in his eyes gripped her.
Lia pulled her gaze from the image and puttered through the quiet house, grabbing her keys. Nathan was out to dinner with his fiancée, Dani.
“Ugh, rain,” she moaned, pulling on her jacket’s hood.
As Lia pulled out of the driveway, a cluster of lights blared through the darkness at the end of the country road. She took a left, wanting to avoid an accident scene, and fumbled with her phone for an alternate route.
Medford’s backcountry roads were like a maze. Cursing the rain, she drove up on a stalled vehicle.
Before she could even formulate a thought, a young woman banged on her car window.
“Please, we need help!”
Lia shifted the car into park.
“My baby, he’s not breathing, and the bridge is washed out... I... We... Please, can you help?!” the mother cried.
“Where is he?”
Lia jumped out of her car and flung open the back passenger door.
A little girl, no more than five, sat holding a small, limp baby in her arms. Worry and fear twisted her small face.
Snatching up the child, Lia began chest compressions.
“Call 911!” she barked.
“I... I... I don’t have a phone,” the woman cried.
“In my car, the console, my phone, call 911 now!” Lia instructed.
The rain came down heavier and soaked her as the minutes passed. She continued CPR on the cold concrete, her headlights providing the only light.
As an ER nurse, death was no stranger to Lia, but today was different.
No way she thought. ~This can’t happen tonight!~
Lia fought back tears, continuing compressions and checking for a pulse.
Twenty minutes crept by, then thirty.
The little girl crouched beside Lia, watching. “Does he have a blanket?” Lia asked. The girl nodded, then handed her the small receiving blanket.
“Thank you, sweetie. Now climb back in the car, shut the door, and stay warm, okay?” Lia barely whispered, not wanting her to witness any more trauma.
Lia lifted the baby’s lifeless body and wrapped him in the blanket. She then slowly began walking toward her car.
Headlights nearly blinded her, and she paused as two figures came forward. The baby’s frantic mother turned, phone in hand.
“They’re here, help is here!” the woman cried.
In the darkness, a man about Lia’s age approached with an older man close behind. The younger man seemed strangely familiar. His jaw set as his gaze fixed on Lia holding the bundle.
“Infant male,” Lia relayed, “no breath sounds, unresponsive to chest compressions. I—I just came upon them. I’ve been doing CPR for the past 30 minutes but…”
All her training left her as she handed the limp baby to the young man.
“Damnit,” he muttered. His dark brows drew together in concentration, pulling aside the blanket with two fingers at the baby’s brachial artery on the inside of the upper arm.
Lia went to the mother, who returned her phone.
“I’m so sorry,” Lia said, barely above a whisper.
The woman stood in the pouring rain, her limbs hanging limp at her sides with shock, watching the young man begin another round of CPR.
“Here, this will warm you up,” the older man said, handing her a cup of coffee as they sat in an empty room at Medford General Hospital.
“Thank you,” she scratched out.
“I’m Steven.” He extended his hand, and Lia took it, shaking it politely through her numbness.
“Lia.” She attempted a smile. “Wow. I am supposed to be working here right now. I need to find Cameron…”
She stood; the blanket she had been given falling off.
“Oh, you’re Nate’s sister?” Steven asked, smiling.
“Cameron, can you come to ER exam 4?” Steven said into his walkie-talkie.
Lia sat back down, trying to gather her thoughts. In all her years as a traveling nurse, she had never been this shaken. Trying to compose herself, she put her soaked hair into a ponytail and took a deep breath just as Cameron entered the room.
“Lia! Oh my God!” the charge nurse exclaimed in her classic southern drawl. She pulled Lia in for a hug.
“What a first night, huh?”
“I’m sorry, this isn’t how I wanted to start this job,” Lia said. “You were so kind to me on the phone when I interviewed and—”
“Cody just briefed me. You did so well. There was just nothing else to be done: you both did your best.”
Lia let out a breath.
“The mother and little girl?” she asked quietly.
“They’re okay. Obviously, not okay but doing as expected.” Cameron turned to Steven, who sat quietly observing. “When is the county going to fix that dang bridge?! How many lives before something is done about it?”
“I know, I know.” Steven nodded.
“I don’t expect you to work tonight. Half the shift is over anyway. I’ll adjust the schedule, and you can start on Sunday instead.”
“No, it’s fine. I’m good,” Lia protested.
“Girl, this ain’t New York City. You don’t gotta prove yourself here. It’s fine. Go home and pester Nathan.”
Lia flinched a little at the mention of NYC. She’d left only bad memories there, and things weren’t starting so great here either.
“Okay.” Lia accepted; she was tired already and still shivering cold. “If I wasn’t soaking wet, I’d fight you on this, though.”
“Noted.” Cameron smiled.
“Sorry to interrupt, but where is Cody?” Steven asked, standing and straightening his pants. He had on a farm bureau hat, full dark beard, and mustache and work clothes. Lia hadn’t even noticed until now that he wasn’t in a uniform, and they weren’t in a medical emergency vehicle.
“Lia, I see you’ve met Steven. He’s a volunteer fireman, as is Cody. ‘Fraid Medford ain’t like the city. We run on volunteer work around here. Lotta good people,” Cameron said. “Cody’s finishing up his papers, then y’all are free to go.”
Lia gathered her things, ready to go forget this night. As she headed toward the door, it opened, and the young volunteer firefighter from earlier entered.
When his gaze settled on her, recognition flickered in his blue eyes.
“You must be the nurse who stopped on the road.” He extended his hand to her. “I’m Cody.”
She studied his face. He was handsome, dreamy almost. He had a ruddy tan, dark hair, and a shadow of stubble, perhaps from the long night. His hand was large, skin rough but gentle as it took hers.
“Lia. I’m Lia,” she stuttered, surprised at herself.
“Ah yes, Nate’s sister!” He smiled.
“Wow. I didn’t realize I already had a reputation.”
“Nate and I have been friends for years,” he said, and the memory of his face clicked in Lia’s mind: the photo booth picture.
“Welcome to Medford,” Cody continued. “I’m sorry this was how we met.”
“Yeah, me too. I am going to head out now. I’m sure we’ll have a chance to get to know each other another time,” Lia spoke softly, turning for the door.
“Lia, wait—” His voice pulled her back. “Do you need a ride to your car?”
“Crap. Yes!” She spun on her heels, frustrated. “Sorry for the trouble.”
She followed him to his truck, chewing her bottom lip.
“It’s no trouble,” he replied. “The least I can do is give you a ride, you’re the one who stopped to try and help somebody.” Cody held open the truck door for her, motioning for her to climb in.
“One, I wasn’t given much choice. Two, I’m a nurse, and three, I wasn’t much help,” she said sadly. Lia did not know why she was taking this so hard; losing a patient wasn’t new to her. She blamed her feelings on being new, the rainstorm, and now exhaustion.
“We did all that we could,” he said, as if reassuring himself. His voice went a little husky. “Things aren’t always in our control, and as long as we did absolutely everything we could, then that’s what matters.”
Cody made a few turns down the old country road, stopping at a roadblock positioned before the washed-out bridge. He rolled down his window, explaining to the officer Lia’s car and situation before they let them through.
“Well, here you are.” He smiled at Lia. “Please be careful getting to the house.”
“I will. Thank you, Cody. Have a safe night.” Lia returned his smile and exited the vehicle.
When she slipped into her car, the engine refused to crank.
“Are you kidding me right now?!” Lia said out loud to herself.
Cody’s truck was still idling on the other side of the street. She was on the verge of tears at this point, and just as one little tear slipped out, she heard tapping on the glass.
He stood—his brows creased with concern.
Lia tried to hide the tears, but seeing his beautiful face cracked something deep in her chest. As she began to sob, Cody opened her door, kneeling next to her. Though the rain had slacked, it was still a cold drizzle.
“I’m fine…,” she choked. “This has been the worst night.”
“I’m sorry. Come with me, and I’ll drop you at home. We’ll make sure your car gets taken care of later,” Cody said softly, helping Lia out of the passenger door. She nodded, feeling so defeated.
“Where are you staying?” he asked in his soft southern voice.
“Do you know where Nathan lives? I’m staying with him for now,” Lia squeaked out.
“Yeah, of course, I do. I didn’t realize you were already in town. The other day he mentioned you were coming soon.”
“I’ve only been here three days. I haven’t really seen him much due to his work schedule. Do you work with him?” Lia asked, trying to pull herself together.
Get a grip, woman! she thought.
“I do, unfortunately.” He laughed.
“So, you’re a cop and a volunteer fireman?” Lia asked, surprised.
“Wow. Just a regular superhero, eh?”
“Something like that.” Cody winked at her.
Little butterflies flitted in her stomach. Before she could respond, she realized they were in the driveway. All the lights were on, and Nathan’s truck was parked.
“Speak of the devil. Suppose I’ll walk you in and say hello.”
Cody put the truck in park, stepping out. Before Lia could open her door, Cody was doing it for her, reaching his hand out to help her down.
Electricity jolted through her when her hand touched his. She looked up, trying to read his expression. Cody just returned her smile. If he felt anything, his face didn’t show it.
“Thank you,” she was able to get out, barely.
Inside, Nathan stood in the kitchen polishing off a post-patrol nightcap.
“So, in one evening, you tried to save an infant, met my best friend, got extra days off work, and had your car break down?” he asked, shocked and surprised. The brass buttons on his officer’s uniform gleamed in the fluorescent light.
Lia stood at the counter, rubbing her temples.
“Something like that, yeah,” she groaned.
“Always the overachiever,” he snorted, putting his beer bottle in the recycling.
“I need to change. I’m still soaked.” Lia went to her room, slipped out of her soaked scrubs, and checked the clock. It was nearly 3 a.m.
She could just barely hear Cody giving the details of the little infant to Nathan. She closed her eyes, sighing as she shook her hair out and dressed in an oversized T-shirt and shorts before returning to the living room.
“I’m sorry, Sis. I wasn’t trying to make light of everything,” Nathan apologized as he sat on the couch.
Lia had always thought Nathan looked like her. He had the same light-brown hair and brown eyes, their nose and lips the same. Their mother had always referred to them as her Irish twins when they were younger.
“I know. It’s fine.” She flopped on the couch next to him, trying not to stare at Cody, who was relaxed in the recliner.
“I was hoping to see a beat down for you, man,” Cody laughed.
“It’s only been three days. Give it time. She will get me, I’m sure. She and Dani will be ganging up on me in no time. I’ll have to keep you around to help me out,” Nathan joked in return. Lia was oddly excited at the thought of Cody being around.
“Who says I’ll help you?” Cody winked at Lia, and those butterflies came fluttering back.
“Where is Dani?” Lia asked.
“She went back to her place after dinner since I had work, and she assumed you’d be working too,” Nathan replied, standing. “I’m gonna go change. Cody, you crashing here?”
“Well, since I have no one waiting at home, I may as well,” he blurted out, glancing quickly at Lia.
For some reason, her heart flipped over.
“It’ll be easier to help Lia get her car later too,” he added.
He kicked off his boots and reclined in the chair further.
“I’m sorry your first night has been so rough, Lia. I know you’ll settle in fine, though.”
“Thanks. It can only get better, right?” She laughed nervously, tucking her hair behind her ear.
“Mhmm,” Cody hummed, his eyes softening.
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