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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/960023
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Drama · #960023
Characters face various choices and emotions as they get ready for the memorial service
         Friday dawned sunny and cool. In his air-conditioned room, though, David was sweating. Part of it was the waking realization that the group memorial service was this afternoon. Part of it was the realization that he would be flying.

         Ever since his seventh birthday, when his Aunt Michelle had given him a ride in single-engine Cessna, David had wanted to learn to fly. He still had this as one of his life’s goals. But now, flying was also a reminder of his lost family.

         Another part of David’s mind saw it as a cruel joke of fate. Today he would be riding in a helicopter as a voluntary passenger. Physically unable to be a pilot because of his injuries, the whole thing struck him as a case of “so near and yet so far.” He would literally be sitting a few feet from a desire currently (and possibly permanently) out of his reach.

         God, what a morose mood, David said to himself. But it’s aviation-related death that put me here. Hell, it’s a freaking circle. I’m flying today as my way of mourning Christi’s passing, of saying good-bye. But it was Christi’s help after the Pittsburgh crash that put me here, too. If it weren’t for her, I might never have become an EMT. She gave me a way to channel my grief, and helped me find a career where I could help others. And if she hadn’t been willing to break through my shell over seven years ago… if she hadn’t made love to me… I’m not sure where I’d be today. Hell, I’m not even sure I’d be alive today, I was spiraling so far downward.

         She helped keep me alive. And now she’s dead, and I’ll be saying good-bye to her from a passenger seat of a medical helicopter. The kind of helicopter, or at least it’s flight mission, that she was killed in. What a circular world we live in. Why is it that –


         “Hey, hey, bub, better get a move on!” Jim Hollis’s voice boomed from the doorway as he walked in. “We’ve got to get you suited up and… Hell, David, you’ve barely touched your breakfast! What’s going on, buster?”

         “Good morning, Jim. I guess I don’t have much of an appetite. Been doing a lot of thinking this morning.”

         “Uh oh, be careful. Too much thinking can be dangerous.” Jim sat down on the edge of David’s bed, looking him straight in the face. “Tell me what’s on your mind. And I don’t want an anatomy lecture.”

         “Okay,” David half-chuckled despite his mood. “I’ll exclude the skull and dura matter and such. Actually, I’ve been thinking about what I’m doing today, and why.”

         “You’re not having second thoughts, are you?”

         “Not so much second thoughts as circular realizations.”

         Jim crossed his arms in front of his chest, his eyes squinting in confusion. “You wanna run that by me again?” David related how flying in one form or another was linking so many things together in his life. The more he talked about his own intertwinings of flying and death, the more David wondered why his head wasn’t spinning like a helicopter’s rotor blades.

         “Okay, bub. First, you’re thinking too much. Stop trying to analyze life and simply work on accepting what it’s giving you. In other words, let life happen while you live it. Second, you’re right that there are some coincidences. Tell me, how long did you know Christi before you lost your parents?”

         “We had been friends for about a year when the airliner crashed outside Pittsburgh. We met totally by accident in the university commons cafeteria. She was teaching in the EMS program back then, and was grabbing a quick bite to eat before one of her classes. She was looking for a place to eat her lunch, and my table had one of the few open chairs. Anyway, we got to talking, and over the next few weeks our friendship started to form.

         “When the plane crash took my family, I went through some long, dark, and frankly pretty lost days.”

         “Wait,” Jim interrupted. “You don’t mean ‘The Lost Weekend,’ do you?”

         “Luckily, no, I never went on a drunken binge. But emotionally, I closed in on myself. Started blocking out life, hiding in a shell, whatever you want to call it. She wasn’t the only person who helped me out of there. Actually, dragged me out kicking and screaming is a better description. Anyway, she wasn’t the only one to break through to me, but she probably made the biggest effort to ‘get me back among the living,’ as it were. It truly sealed our friendship in a lot of ways.”

         “What all did she do?” Jim asked this not only to learn what she had done, but also to see how far David would go in revealing his and Christi’s mutual past. From the conversation with Emily Hargraves and Sulu Hiroshi at the wake, he knew secondhand that, at some point, David and Christi had been more than friends. Jim was now seeing if David would reveal the details.

         “After a while, she kept pestering me to get out and live. She harped on me about my grades. One night, she had a very serious talk with me…”

         “About what?”

         “About… uhm… about letting myself die with my family. About not taking care of myself. About finding some sort of focus and moving on.”

         “And so you focused on EMS, right?”

         “No. She introduced me to EMS work, yes, and even had me sit in on some of her classes and lab sessions. After a while, I found I had an aptitude for the work, and enjoyed learning about it. But she also badgered me about not going into EMS until I was ready to face the death of others. She wouldn’t let me consider taking the course until I reached that milestone. So I spent several semesters working full time and taking night classes to stay enrolled in school.

         “It was nearly two years later that I took my First Responder course. And it was a good thing. If I had gone into it right after the crash, I would have been doing it for the wrong reasons.”

         “What wrong reasons?”

         “Mom, dad and Chet. I would have been doing it for my lost family, not for me. That time waiting helped me get my own life on track, and ready to do what we do, cowboy. And boy, did Christi ever bust my chops when I finally did take the classes. I’ll always be grateful that she did, because it made me a damn good EMT. It’ll make me a good medic… if I get the chance, if I can stay in.”

         “If you can stay in? Meaning physically?”

         “If I can recover well enough to stay in the field, Jim, I want to go to paramedic school. EMS is where I belong.”

         “And what if you don’t pass the physical exams?”

         “There’s always dispatch. I refuse to accept that there are no possibilities when it comes to the things you truly want to do.” Jim’s face took on a pained expression. “Okay, cowboy why the sour look?”

         “Level with me, David. How do you feel about me stepping off the rig?”

         “Jim… you did what you needed to do. And you left on your own terms, thinking it over and deciding what was right for you. Jim… I’m proud of you, and proud to count you among my friends.” Seeing the tears on his cheek, David embraced Jim. “We’ll always be partners, cowboy, no matter what the world sends our way.”

         “Thanks, bub,” Jim said when he pulled back from the hug. “Now, do you really want to be in that helicopter today?”

         “Not for this reason, cowboy, and certainly not in my current condition. But this is where fate put me. And most of all… I need to be there. Christi worked in the air, Jim; it really is where I need to say good-bye.”

         “Then get your butt outta that bed, boy.” Jim stood up so David would have room to maneuver. “Get a move on, because you don’t have much time, and there’s a lot we have to do to get you ready to fly. But most of all… it’s time for you to get out and live.” That comment stopped David in his tracks, sitting half on his bed, half on the wheelchair.

         “That’s what Christi would have told me,” David replied, looking up at Jim.

         “I’m not surprised. Everything I’ve seen and heard tells me she’s a smart lady. Now get moving.” David slid the rest of the way into the wheelchair. After pulling some items out of a dresser drawer, he rolled himself to the bathroom. 20 minutes later, Melinda walked in to find Jim pacing around the room. Glancing around, she saw the flight suit laid out on the bed.

         “Good morning, Melinda. Here to help him get ready?”

         “I hadn’t actually planned on it.” She walked over to the bed and ran her fingers across the flight suit. “So, he’s really going to do this?”

         “If he ever stops primping himself in the bathroom,” Jim half-bellowed. “He’s worse than my daughters when they were teenagers!”

         “I heard that!” replied a muffled voice from the bathroom.

         “His hearing still works… I wonder if his listening does.”

         “Melinda, you’re not here to talk him out of this, are you?”

         “No, Jim, though part of me thinks I should try. I feel like he’s taking a huge chance. It was a helicopter crash, after all, that killed his friend.”

         “Is it really a crash you’re afraid of, honey?”

         “What else would I be afraid of?”

         “Of his past, Melinda… or maybe yours. Maybe even your respective futures. What you’re truly afraid of, I don’t know, and I’m not sure I need to know.” Jim tilted his head down, looking directly into Melinda’s eyes. “What’s important today… don’t let your fears stop David from doing what he needs to do.”

         Melinda turned and looked down at the flight suit. “I look at this,” she said as her left hand caressed the stiff, dark blue fabric, “and I see dreams going unfulfilled. I see him getting hopes beyond his reach. Hell, I see me not having enough guts to try for this. I see…”

         “You see possibilities, good and bad, for both of us.” Melinda whirled around to face David, almost losing her balance. “Part of you thinks I’m taking a fool’s chance on danger. Or as my sister would put it, I’m trying to be Don Quixote, tilting at the windmills of my grief.” Despite the somber mood of the conversation, that comment brought a slight smile to her face. “Mel, I can’t expect you to understand why I’m doing this. Hell, part of me is still confused. But we each grieve in our own way. Please… let me handle this my way.”

         “Well… I still think you’re taking an unnecessary chance. And I think you may be setting yourself up for unreal expectations.”

         “Huh?”

         “Don’t get too enamored with medical flying just yet, David.” She walked over and knelt next to his left side. “Make sure you can walk way from these wheels you’re using now. Remember, it’s a long-term process, with a lot of hard work involved. You can’t skip steps.”

         “Mel,” he said, looking down at her face. “Is this your version of a swift kick in the arse?”

         “It’s one of them, yes.”

         “I hope I don’t see many more.” Melinda smiled as she reached up and pinched his left cheek.

         “Then don’t give me a reason to, buster. Now, I need to get going –”

         “Not so fast, honey.” Melinda looked at Jim with a question on her face. “As long as you’re here, you can help me get David into this monkey suit.”

         “Well,” she coyly said as she turned back to David, “are you sure you want me to see you naked?”

         “This is as naked as I’m getting… you prevert.” The last two words earned David a playful slap on the face. He had taken so long in the bathroom not only for a thorough sponge bath, but also to pull on a t-shirt and running shorts. “I’m wearing this under the flight suit. It’ll be a bit warm, but hopefully it’ll prevent chafing. But Jim’s right, I do need to get dressed. Sky Two is picking me up in 30 minutes.”

         “Okay, okay,” Melinda half sighed. “What do you guys need me to do?” After a few minutes of planning and organizing, David was sitting on the edge of the bed while Melinda and Jim fed his legs into the one-piece coverall. In a fit of mischief, Melinda tickled the bottom of David’s left foot.

         “Hey!” she yelped as she fell backwards, avoiding the sudden kick of his left leg. “Just because I tickled your foot doesn’t give you the right… uh, David, did you…”

         “No, I didn’t try to kick you, hon.” David was looking at his leg, his face bright with awe and excitement. Melinda tapped his left leg just below the kneecap, and the lower leg jerked forward again. A tap below the right kneecap had the same result on that leg. “Wow… the reflexes are coming back.” David began to act like he was screaming in fear. “The reflexes are coming! The reflexes are coming!”

         “They certainly are, bub,” Melinda laughed. David looked down to Melinda’s face, and saw his joy mirrored there. “Now, you have to maintain your progress. Just don’t work on it at the moment; we need to finish getting you dressed.”

         “Here’s the deal, you two.” They both looked at Jim. “Somehow, we’ve got to stand this lazy bum off the bed to make him decent… well, at least get him clothed; decency could be a reach.” Melinda laughed aloud as David grimaced. “Melinda, you think you can keep him standing steady while I lift the suit up?”

         “Keep him steady? Yeah, I can do that. Supporting his weight could be another story. If he can’t bear the weight or keep his legs straight, we’ll need to switch places.”

         “Deal”

         “Okay, here’s how we’re going to do this. Jim, you stand over here…” When David was finished giving directions, Jim and Melinda were standing on either side of him. Placing his hands on their near shoulders, David tried to lift himself off the bed. “Whoa…” he grunted, “this isn’t working.” David’s butt plopped on the mattress with a soft thud. “So much for that plan. Do either of you two have any bright ideas?”

         “David,” Melinda scolded, “I know you’re strong enough to do this. I’ve seen you move yourself from bed to wheel chair to therapy table, et cetera, et cetera. Hell, if you can… that’s it!”

         “That’s what?”

         “Hang on, David. Jim, give me your right arm.” As Melinda positioned Jim’s arm, David suddenly understood what she was getting at.

         “And here I thought you liked me. You know I positively loathe the parallel bars, Melinda. It’s difficult, it’s frustrating, I’ve all but fallen on my face…”

         “And you’ve made terrific progress there, mister. Last week, you pulled yourself up to full height using only the bars for leverage. Nobody gave you extra support.” Melinda put David’s hand on her arm. “Now’s the time to do it again.”

         “Cowboy, are you going to let her do this to me?”

         “Let her? Hell, boy,” Jim replied as he bent down to look David in the face. “I’m gladly helping her! So get moving!” Grumbling under his breath, David resigned himself to the fact that his friends weren’t giving in.

         “Okay, here goes… one… two… THREE!” With a hard pull, David jerked himself off the bed. Bent at the waist, he grunted and groaned several times as he straightened his legs. By pushing on his friends’ arms, David slowly brought himself to his full five feet, 11 inches. “Oh, wow… oh, my God…”

         “What?”

         “Mel… I was beginning to forget I was this tall. Take my word, it’s quite a view from up here. Granted,” he said as he looked down to the five foot, two inch lady on his left, “you’ll have to take my word for it… shorty.”

         “Now look here, bub. I am NOT short.”

         “Oh?”

         “Yeah. You’re the one with the problem. You’ve been afflicted with ‘tallness’… a potentially unhealthy condition.”

         “Now, how can height be unhealthy?”

         “It could be for you, bub,” she said with a sweet smile and saccharine voice. “If you keep up the height-related comments, I’ll be forced to knock you down to size.”

         “Damn… you fight dirty.”

         “Only when necessary.”

         “Hey, you two,” Jim huffed. “The helo will be here in 15 minutes. You can flirt later.” With a glance at the wall clock, David moved his right arm to Jim’s shoulder.

         “Mel, I need you to stand in front of me now.” As she moved, David wobbled on his legs but remained upright. Gently grabbing her shoulders, David looked at Jim. “Make this quick, cowboy. I’m not sure how long I can keep this up.” Jim quietly chuckled as he dropped down and started lifting the flight suit up around David.

         “David?” He looked down to the soft, almost plaintive voice. Melinda’s smile had been replaced with a look of concern. “Please don’t hate me for asking again. Are you sure this is what you need to do?”

         “Yes, honey…. I’m sure.”

         “Okay… but that pilot better be careful.”

         “I know he will, Mel. This flight has extra-special meaning for him, too.”

         “Melinda,” Jim said from behind David, “I need a little help here. Somehow, we have to get his arms into this monkey suit. If you’ve got any… oh… yeah, we can make that work.” Melinda’s “solution” was to step next to David and wrap her arms around him. While slipping his arms into the coverall’s sleeves, David leaned down and kissed Melinda on the top of her head.

         “Thank you, hon.” Melinda craned her neck to look David in the face. “Thanks for the support, both physically and emotionally.”

         “David, I can’t say I understand why you’re doing this. But I realize it’s important to you –”

         “Melinda,” Jim interrupted, “unless you want to be trapped inside this flight suit with him, you need to pull your arms out.” Melinda removed her left arm first, promptly wrapping it around David’s torso outside the coverall. “Okay, girl, pull the other arm out now. We don’t have time,” Jim said with a hint of mischief, “for you to be groping him.”

         “You keeping him steady, Jim?”

         “I’ve got him.”

         “Okay.” As she pulled her right arm out, Melinda tickled the left side of David’s rib cage. As he began to sway, Melinda and Jim kept him upright. “Thought so.”

         “You just couldn’t resist, could you, Mel?” She looked up and saw a slight smile come to David’s face. “Hell, I bet you didn’t even try.” David zipped up the front of the flight suit. With help from Jim, he leaned back on his bed, then moved himself into his wheelchair. “Well, Melinda? Was the urge to tickle me too good to pass up?”

         “Jim,” she said, “let’s get these clodhopper boots on him.” David’s friends knelt down and slid the boots on his feet. As she laced his left boot tight, Melinda looked David straight in the eye. “Bub, do you really think,” she cooed as a smile spread across her face, “that I’d pass up the chance to do something like that?”

         “God help you on our next picnic, Mel.” Just then, a hospital security guard entered the room.

         “Mister Longfellow?”

         “I’m David Longfellow.”

         “I’m Amos Derringer.” The tall black man shook David’s hand. His demeanor said he could be either a teddy bear or a grizzly, depending on the situation. The teddy bear said, “SkyKnight Two will be landing in a few minutes. They’ve asked me to escort you to the helipad now so they can keep the visit short.”

         “Can my friends go up there, too?”

         “This little lady? I’d escort her anywhere. As for your other friend here… I don’t know. After all, he’s a troublemaker of the highest degree.”

         “Me? Why you…” Jim walked over to the guard… then ran his hand roughly through the graying afro. “Damn good to see you, Amos,” Jim laughed. “I see that Bonnie Lee still feeds you well.” Amos laughed as he gave Jim playful jab in the ribs.

         “Look here, Jim. You’re not exactly a ‘Weight Watchers’ success story yourself. Annabelle’s cooking skills obviously haven’t deteriorated. But seriously, folks, we do need to get to the helipad.” All the way there, Amos and Jim traded quips and barbs. Melinda walked beside David, neither of them uttering a word.

         “Well, well,” Amos boomed as they stepped off the elevator, “what do you know? We’re just in time.” Looking through the wall of triple-pane plexiglass, the group saw SkyKnight 2 making its final approach. They watched as the aircraft’s nose pitched up in a braking maneuver, then leveled out and gingerly settled onto the steel-and-concrete deck.

         “Wow… what a sight.” Hearing the awe in his voice, Melinda looked down to see David’s face covered with childlike delight. Putting her hands on his shoulders, Melinda gave him a light hug.

         Amos Derringer waited for the aircraft’s rotors to come to a complete stop before unlocking the outside doors. David and company walked up the slight ramp to the helipad as the crew disembarked. Jim “Sulu” Hiroshi and André Thibideaux waited at the aircraft. Emily Hargraves walked over to David’s entourage.

         “Hey, David,” she said as she leaned down to kiss his cheek. “Are you sure you’re ready? Because once you’re on board and strapped in, there’s no turning back.”

         “Emily…. I’d give almost anything I have not to have to make this flight. Especially,” he said as he gestured at his legs, “not in my current condition. But this IS where I need to say good-bye to Christi.” He turned his head partly to face Melinda. “It’s what I need to do.”

         “In that case, Sulu’s going to give you a quick safety briefing, then we’ll be on our way.” She stepped aside to let David roll himself to the aircraft, with Jim Hollis and Amos Derringer in his wake. Melinda stayed behind.

         “How are you handling all of this?” Melinda asked Emily. “Doesn’t it scare you to keep flying? Aren’t you afraid that it could be your helicopter that crashes?”

         “Yes and no. There’s always something in the back of your mind, a realization that today your aircraft could go down. It’s how you deal with the fear that really matters.”

         “Huh?”

         “My apologies in advance… Melinda, isn’t it?”

         “Uh, yeah, Melinda Bradley.”

         “Thanks, Melinda. I’m Emily Hargraves. I’m apologizing in advance because I know what I’m about to say is going to sound trite. It all boils down to a simple choice.”

         “What choice is that?”

         “Do you rule your fears, and let them protect you? Or do you let your fears dominate your life? That’s the big but simple choice you have to make, whether you get out and live, or stay home and hide.”

         “I see…” Melinda’s expression clouded over in personal confusion. “Thanks.”

         “You okay?”

         “Uh, yeah… just a little lost in thought, I guess. Hey, it looks like they’re getting ready to load him in the chopper.” Melinda walked off before Emily could ask what was so perplexing. For her, it really was a simple choice.

         “Okay, how do we do this?”

         “If you can get me up on the seat, Sulu, I can slide and rotate myself in the rest of the way.”

         “In that case,” the pilot replied while reaching inside the aircraft, “you’ll need to put this on first.” Sulu plopped a white flight helmet into David’s lap. When David picked it up for a closer look, several pieces of Styrofoam packing material fell out.

         “Just out of the box, eh?”

         “Nothing but the best for you,” André replied, thickening his Creole accent for emphasis. “And there’s a few other things we need to give you before we load you up.” Reaching inside the patient compartment door on the left side of the aircraft, he pulled out two items. “One, you wear this when we’re at the airport getting things organized.” He placed a SkyKnight baseball cap on David’s head. “Also good for ball games, gardening, and anywhere else you might wear a cap. Then there’s this.” Without further comment, André bent down and pinned a set of wings on the cover flap of David’s left breast pocket. “Those are Memorial Wings, David. We wear them whenever a crew goes down.” As David looked down at the wings, Sulu pulled something else out of his pocket.

         “You can’t be a proper crew dog, David, if folks don’t know who you are.” With that, Sulu placed a velcro-backed leather name badge in its place, above the right breast pocket of the flight suit. “All of these are yours to keep, David, including the name badge. Plus, I have this sneaking suspicion this won’t be your last flight with us; you’ll have reason to use that name badge again.” David looked down to the badge. Below the imprinted SkyKnight wings, it read:

David Longfellow

EMT, Knightsbridge EMS

Honorary Crew Dog, SkyKnight Air Ambulance


         “Sulu… all of you,” David whispered. “Thank you… I honestly don’t know what to say.” David ran his right hand across the name badge, then covered and grasped the memorial wings as he lowered his head for a quick prayer. “Okay,” he asked as he looked up, “just where am I sitting?”

         “Up here by me,” Sulu replied, patting the copilot’s seat. “On the very odd chance we get called for a patient flight, David, we’ve got to have you out of the way. So you get to ride up here… with the good view of the world.”

         “I take it”, he replied as he eyed the step normally used to climb into the helicopter, “someone is going to boost me up there? If not, we’re in trouble. I’m not exactly in condition to climb ladders right now.”

         “Don’t worry,” André laughed. “If nothing else, we’ll just throw you up there.”

         “Now hold on! I know I’m not the most handsome guy in the world. BUT… I am most certainly NOT a sack of potatoes!”

         “In that case,” Sulu said amidst the laughter of the gathered crowd, “How are we going to do this… Spud?”

         “Okay, Sulu.” David shook his head in rueful laughter as the others giggled and guffawed. “I’ll admit, I left the door wide open for that comment. Now, I need you and André to stand on either side of me…” David spent several minutes outlining his plan. “Everyone ready? Then let’s do it.” Using André and Sulu’s hands for leverage, David pulled himself out of the wheelchair. For the second time that morning, and the second time since the accident, David was standing upright on his own two feet, his legs carrying most of the weight.

         “Wow… this feels good. Hurts a little, but damn, it feels good to be tall. Now, I need… where’d Emily go?” Everyone looked around, but the paramedic had disappeared from view. “Okay, once I’m in position, someone is going to have to help me stay steady while these two guys get ready to boost me up to the seat. Anyone?”

         “I will.” Melinda walked up and once again hugged him. As David was pivoted so his backside was to the copilot’s door of the aircraft, André and Sulu each moved back half a step. Though everyone who saw it understood the importance of the event, no one wanted to say a word. Without realizing it, David was actually moving himself around. Melinda was the only one helping him. As the two of them kept pivoting, Jim Hollis got a good look at Melinda’s face. Neither her smile nor her tears of joy surprised Jim. Once David was in position, Sulu and André bent down on either side of him.

         “Whoa!” David was surprised as the two men lifted him up onto the copilot’s seat without a word of warning. “That was quite a trip in itself. But next time,” he said as he started rotating his legs inside the aircraft, “could you guys bother to say something before giving me the catapult shot?”

         “Wouldn’t you know.” Sulu tried to sound grumpy, despite his smile. “We’re giving him a ride in the aircraft, all those nifty freebies, we even help him get on board. And what do we get for our troubles? Complaints. Geez, you just can’t please some people.”

         “Yeah,” chimed in André. “There’s always at least one critic in every crowd.” Both men gave him a hearty slap on the leg (during which David grimaced), then backed away as Emily walked around the front of the aircraft.

         “David, I need you to hold on to these.” She handed him a large bouquet of roses. “You’ll understand why in a little bit.” While she was doing this, Sulu had gone around and climbed into the pilot’s seat. He plugged in the radio cords coming from David’s helmet, put on his own flight helmet, then started flipping switches.

         “Okay, people, we need to get going. Everyone else who’s going, climb aboard so we can start engines.”

         “Wait a second!” Melinda climbed up the boarding step by David’s door. “You just be careful now. Remember… we’ve got a wedding to go to in a few weeks.” She kissed him lightly on the cheek, then stepped down and away from the aircraft. As Emily closed and latched the copilot’s door for David, Amos Derringer escorted Jim Hollis and Melinda off the helipad and inside the building.

         “Good job, honey, you did the right thing.”

         “Jim,” Melinda replied, “how can something feel both good and bad at the same time? Like it’s both right and wrong?”

         “I’ve never been able to figure that one out, honey. I just know that Life happens that way. I also know this – you’ve become a special person in David’s life.”

         “Part of me is fighting that Jim. I still don’t feel I’m up to it yet… but that specialness is starting to become mutual. Dammit…” Exasperation crept into her voice. “I’m not READY for someone new and special in my life. And I have no idea when or if I ever will be.”

         “Honey, things in life happen… hell, life itself happens whether we’re ready for it to happen or not. For you, this is one of those things.” Melinda looked into Jim’s eyes as he spoke. “My advice… roll with it, see where it goes. And be willing to take the right chance when it comes along.” Jim was shouting now. Despite the closed doors, the roar of the helicopter’s engines at full power was making normal conversation difficult. As he and Melinda turned to look, SkyKnight 2 lifted off. They watched the aircraft pivot to it’s right, then nose over and fly away from the hospital, disappearing over the trees on the far side of Caligari Street.

         Riding the elevator down to the ER, Jim asked, “Are you going to the memorial service, honey?”

         “Yes. A group of us from the ER staff are meeting in the lounge in about an hour. You?”

         “Yup. In fact, I need to get over to The Castle right quick.”

         “ ‘The Castle’?”

         “I’m sorry, hon. That’s the headquarters for Knightsbridge Ambulance. Between its appearance and the name of the service, a dispatcher one night referred to it as ‘The Castle’. The name’s stuck ever since.”

         “I thought you left the ambulance service?”

         “I did, Melinda. But I’ve still got a lot of friends there.” Jim leaned down to speak in her ear. “Actually,” he said in a conspiratorial voice, “I pulled in a few favors. I’m going to the service with the Knights, and in uniform.”

         “Jim, is that the right –”

         “Even though I’m no longer with the service, Melinda, it’s the right thing for me. Think of it this way… why are you going with a group from the ER?” The elevator doors opened before she could answer. “Amos,” he said as they all stepped out, “it’s good to see you again. Thanks for your help.”

         “Anytime, Jim. I’ll make sure that wheelchair is ready and waiting when they come back. And you, little lady… you be safe now. You better not let this turkey lead you astray.”

         “Amos… you big ol’ teddy bear.” She put a hand to his cheek. “Thanks again. I’ll see ya around.” As Amos walked back to the security office, Jim and Melinda started toward the ER staff lounge.

         “Melinda, you never answered my question. Why are you going with a group of folks from here?”

         “Well…” They walked into the lounge, where Jim helped himself to a cup of coffee. “Because they’re my coworkers… my friends.” She leaned against the counter and looked directly into Jim’s eyes. “They’re people I know I can count on, especially Stephanie Berglund. I know we’ll be there for each other.” She walked to the fridge, pulled out a Dr. Pepper, then turned back to face Jim. “It’s that way for you and David isn’t it? And why it’s so important for him to fly today?” Jim didn’t say a word. He put his coffee cup on the counter, walked over and hugged Melinda as she began to understand David’s motives… and David’s needs.
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