Chapter 1 – Rachel
Josh sucked on his straw so hard, he emptied his cup. His cheeks puckered while he drew in the last few drops. The loud slurp reminded me of the operating room. “Josh, I think you got it all.” I eyed him over our almost-empty lunch tray as I spoke.
He grinned his boyish smile, and my heart tugged a bit in my chest—not that I would tell him his smile was boyish. At the age of sixteen, he was of the distinct impression that he was a man. My heart strings pulled a little tighter as I watched him eat the last of his fries. In a few years, he would be off to college, either near or far. At least I thought he was going to college, he hadn’t mentioned doing anything else.
“Don’t scrunch your face like that, Mom, it makes your wrinkles stand out.” The surprised expression on my face must have entertained him because he belted out a laugh, “Just kidding.”
I shook my head at him, “So why did you want me to come out shopping with you?” His laughter died quickly, and he glanced around the small café. I watched his nervous demeanor for a moment. “I’m not buying you anything expensive, Josh, Christmas is only a few weeks away.”
He shook his head. “It’s not for me.”
I rested my elbows on the table and took a sip from my soda cup. I waited patiently for him to continue, and he searched every part of the room, except for where I was sitting. Well, someone is very nervous, I thought to myself.
“If it’s not for you, who is it for?” I asked. I tried to ease his unease by busying myself as I set my cup down and wiped grains of salt off the edge of the table into my hand and dropped them onto my empty plate.
Josh studied me for a long moment, and I saw the boy behind the young man hiding in his blue eyes. He leaned across the table so he could speak softly. “You have to promise not to give me a hard time.”
Oh boy, this should be good. “Alright,” I said and waited for him.
“Um, see, there is this girl,” he glanced around the room, and I followed his gaze.
When he hesitated, I chimed in, “Wait, what girl?”
He brought his attention back to me, “Her name is Jazlyn.” I nodded for him to continue. I had heard the name before. “I, um, I,” he stuttered for a moment.
“Josh, spit it out, what about the girl?” I watched him sitting in the hot seat, a little pink tint to his cheeks. It was obvious that he liked this Jazlyn, whoever she was.
He blew out a quick breath and rushed to speak before he lost his nerve, “I want to buy her a gift, but I don’t know what to buy her, so I was thinking that you might be able to help me pick something out.” His cheeks brightened.
“I didn’t know you had a girlfriend,” I stated, trying to keep the surprise out of my voice that he was seeing someone.
“I don’t, but I have wanted to ask her out for a while. I thought maybe I could get her something small and ask her out, or ask her out and then give her a small gift over holiday break.”
This was the first time that I could remember that Josh had wanted to buy a female, other than me, a gift, and it reminded me again that he was growing up—too fast.
“What does she like?”
He shrugged, “I don’t know. I don’t know her that well. That’s why I needed your help.”
Okay, what do you buy for a girl that you don’t really know at the age of sixteen that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg? “Is she a girly girl or is she athletic?”
His shoulder rose again. “She plays sports, but she wears nice clothes, so she is kinda both, I guess.”
I looked out the window and scanned the shops that surrounded us in the Main Street Shopping Plaza. My eyes landed on a shop just down the way. Bingo! “Come on, I have the perfect idea.”
We dumped our trash, and Josh opened the door for me, and then held it open for two women and another one with a stroller as they entered. He was such a nice kid. I took a second to look at him as a stranger would. He stood about five feet eight and was lean and muscular from his swimming. His complexion was clear, his eyes bright, and he actually looked you in the eye when you spoke—a rare quality for any young person these days.
“What do you have in mind?” he asked as he caught up to me on the sidewalk.
“Well, if she likes to play sports, she gets sweaty, but girls don’t like to smell bad, so she probably likes lotions and things like that.”
His eyes widened, “You’re not going to make me go into that store are you?”
I laughed at him, “What’s wrong with the Body Scent Shop?”
He rolled his eyes, “Mom, don’t you remember when I was younger and we went in there? I thought that purple liquid kids’ soap was grape juice and drank it?”
I laughed. Oh, I remembered it, and the three hours at the hospital afterwards.
“And the next time I was in there, I knocked down a whole display of bottles and some broke. We couldn’t get that nasty smell out of my sneakers for weeks.”
“That smell was lavender, and yes I remember both of those times. Just don’t drink anything, or touch anything, or look too hard at anything, and you should be fine.” I laughed as he shook his head again.
“You know, you could go in without me, I think I’m bad luck when it comes to that place. Besides, how do you know she would even like something from there?”
I smiled and nodded towards the store, three girls about his age stepped out the door, all of them giggling and carrying small bags of goodies.
“Oh, man, I know them. Can we wait till they’re gone?” he whispered as he turned his head so they wouldn’t see him walking in their direction. He really thought that if he avoided their gazes he wasn’t really there? Teenagers.
“No, you wanted my help, you got it.” I glanced at my watch, “Besides I need to do this and then drop you off at home. I have to get to work in a little while.”
“But, Mom,” he whined.
I turned to him, “Do you like this girl?”
He rolled his eyes. One of these days, he was going to roll them, and they were going to roll right out of the sockets. “Yes,” he replied.
“And do you want my help?” I asked.
“Yes,” he mumbled and took a step toward the shop door. “Let’s go.” He pulled the door open, and I winked at him as I stepped past him into the store.
The holiday scents of peppermint and pine filled the air and encircled my head. I loved the peppermint, but I could do without the heavy scent of the tree. My nose tickled, and I wiggled it to hold back a sneeze.
“So what should I get her?” he asked softly as he examined the closest shelf.
“Not any of that, that’s for people my age. Come on, let’s go over there.” I pointed to shelves on the opposite side of the room.
“You sure I can’t wait outside? I feel like I’m going to slip and fall and knock something down.”
I laughed at him over my shoulder and walked away. I knew he would follow me. We came to a display that had the latest body washes and lotions—fun scents that young people would enjoy. He picked up a bottle and flipped the cap open as he put his nose to the hole to smell it. He wrinkled his nose.
“Not that one,” he muttered and put it back on the shelf.
A sweet female voice caught his attention, and his eyes widened to saucers as she spoke, “Hi, Josh.” He spun around so fast, his earlier fear of knocking something over filled me. Thankfully, he made it around without a disaster.
“Hi, Jazzy, what are you doing here?” His cheeks reddened perceptibly, and he shot a quick glance at me. I wasn’t sure if he wanted my help or for me to disappear.
“I’m shopping for a gift for my mom. What are you doing here?” Oh, the shy little smile she tossed his way told me that she returned his interest. I had to fight to suppress the grin that threatened.
I took a second to check her out for myself. She was about two inches shorter than Josh with a heart-shaped face and wide, bright blue eyes. Her cheekbones were strong and I wondered if she took after her mother or father in her features. She was definitely pretty with her long wavy hair pulled in a ponytail holder at the back of her neck. I was impressed at his selection in girls.
“I, uh, I,” he began and I realized that if he was going to have any chance here, he would need my help.
“Hi, I’m Josh’s mom.” I stepped close to Josh but didn’t touch him. I knew teenaged boys hated moms being clingy.
Jazlyn took a little shuffle back and smiled at me carefully, “Hi, I’m Jazzy.”
“It’s nice to meet you Jazzy. Look,” I peered at Josh quickly, “maybe you could help Josh. He was thinking of buying a friend a small gift, but he’s not sure what she might like.”
A dash of disappointment rushed over her features, but she got control of them fast. “Sure, I can do that.”
Josh gave me a wide-eyed look. “I’ll just be over looking for that other thing I needed to get.” I pointed to a display a few feet away as Josh nodded and then grinned.
“So, what does your friend like?” Jazzy asked him as I sauntered away.
“I’m not sure, why don’t you show me what you like. She probably likes the same thing,” he replied as I browsed over the table in front of me.
A deep masculine voice reached my ear over my right shoulder and caused a shiver to go down my spine. “I’m not sure I like the idea of your son buying my daughter a present.”
I spun around to view the man who had just spoken so intimately in my ear and had to look up. Holy cow! This guy could be the twin to the actor who played the leader of the wolf pack on that hot vampire cable series; only this guy had short hair.
For a moment, I wasn’t sure if he was being serious or joking with me, but a sexy smile slid over his lusciously-full mouth, and I realized he was very much not upset.
I cocked my head to the side, “And what makes you think it is for your daughter?”
He grinned, “Because I can see the teenaged lust in his eyes.” I laughed at his comment and glanced at Josh and Jazzy. They were standing close, and she was holding bottles up for him to smell. The pure look of pleasure he wore on his features had nothing to do with what he smelled.
“I’m Grant.” He held his hand out for me to shake and I placed my palm into his. His hands were huge and swallowed up my petite mitts.
“I’m Rachel.” His hand spread warmth all the way up my arm. I had not realized how cold I was until I felt his heated skin.
He released my hand after a moment longer than necessary, and cleared his throat, “So that’s Josh?”
“Oh, I see she has mentioned him.” I absently picked up a bottle from in front of me and sniffed it. Yuck! It was pine. I blew air out of my nose to clean out my passages and found Grant chuckling at me.
“Not a fan of pine?” I took in his features as he spoke and realized I had never seen a man quite this gorgeous before. His beard ran along his strong jaw, not a heavy beard, but one that looked soft and just full enough to want to touch. His wavy hair was tussled over his forehead, from either the wind or his own hand running aimlessly through it. My fingers twitched to reach out. “No, not at all, I’m a sweet and fruity girl.” I glanced back to the kids again and saw them talking softly, their heads bent towards each other. “Ah, to be young and in love again.”
“Does age really matter?” he queried.
“Well, isn’t it when you are young that those first moments are the most special? You know, that first look when your heart beats out of your chest?” Like mine was doing right that second.
He stepped closer, “What about those first words?”
“Or that first touch. You know those little electrical impulses that flow through your skin?” I said softly, remembering the warmth his handshake had sent up my arm.
“And the butterflies that fill your stomach,” he volleyed back as he stared me down with big soulful blue eyes.
“The same ones that take flight and steal your heart,” I whispered.
“But nothing compares to the anticipation of the first kiss.” He glanced at my lips and I realized that I was breathless as I flicked my tongue over my dry lips to wet them. My God! What was this man doing to me, and why was I allowing him to affect me in such a way?
I realized the moment I heard Josh yell that Grant and I had been lost in our own little world, and that the sounds of the shoppers and holiday music had all faded away. It was the sound of utter panic in my son’s voice that broke through the romantic moment and planted my feet back on the hard wooden planks of the store floor.
“Mom!” Josh shouted, and I spun toward him expecting to see a display all over the floor, but the look of sheer horror on his face directed at the front window caught my attention and I turned. “I think someone just got run over by a car,” he yelled and took off toward the door. I dropped the bottle I had in my hand on the nearest table and rushed to follow him.
The moment the door opened, I heard a woman yelling. I took off running between two cars parked outside the shop. I heard heavy footsteps behind me but didn’t turn to look.
A woman stood in the parking lot screaming and crying, and as I made my way around an SUV to a large blue construction van, I saw the unmoving feet of a woman lying on the ground under the chassis of the van. I dropped my purse to the ground and went to my knees beside the unconscious woman’s feet.
I peered under the vehicle, nothing appeared to be caught in the mechanics of the van. “Josh, grab her other leg,” I instructed, “we need to pull her out slowly.”
Josh wrapped his hands around her ankle while I took her other one, “On three, pull slowly until I tell you to stop. One, two, three.” We moved her in slow motion, I didn’t want to jerk her and cause more damage than she had already sustained. When she was out from under the van, I dropped back to my knees and did a visual assessment on her.
Blood ran from a large laceration on her forehead. Dirt consistent with a tire mark went over her abdomen and lower chest. A bubble of blood popped at the edge of her mouth and dribbled down the side over her pale skin—not good.
A man stood behind Josh, his hands on his head, “I didn’t see her. I swear I didn’t see her,” he kept repeating.
“Someone call nine-one-one,” I shouted and went about checking the woman for a pulse. She had one, but it was slow and off beat.
“Mom, is she alive?” I heard Josh ask me at the same time that I heard Grant’s husky voice.
“Oh my God, Ilana!” he shouted and dropped down across from me.
“Don’t touch her, Grant,” I said right before I heard a girl scream. I could only guess it was coming from Jazlyn.
“Mom! Mom! Dad, that’s Mom!” she began to sob as she screamed.
“Grant, take care of your daughter,” I commanded. “Josh, get down here and stabilize her head and neck.” I shifted her neck up in a slow movement and twisted her chin to face front and up. As soon as Josh was on his knees above her head, he placed his hands on either side of her face at her jawline and held it still. “Keep holding it like that, Josh. If she wakes up, you need to make sure she doesn’t move it.”
His face was pale, and he nodded in a jerky motion. I had put him through a first aid course a year ago, so he knew what he was doing, although this was the first time he used what he’d learned in real life.
In the distance, I heard sirens. The man who had struck her was still mumbling that he had not seen her, and a crowd created a circle around us. I focused on the woman in front of me.
My God, I had just been flirting with this woman’s husband while she was getting run over by a car. I am going to hell.
A police car pulled up and an officer rushed to us, telling people to move back. “What happened?” he asked as he kneeled next to Ilana on the opposite side of me.
“All I know is she was run over by this van,” I jerked my head over my shoulder, “and that guy in the bright yellow shirt and jeans is the driver.”
He glanced at the two things I pointed out. “Do you know what you’re doing?” he asked me as he watched me check her pupils the best I could without a flashlight.
“I’m an ER doctor, give me your flashlight.” He yanked it out of his belt and handed it to me. “This woman is married to that man over there.” I said with another chin point as I grabbed the flashlight from him.
“Aw, shit,” I heard him mumble as he stood up.
I lost track of what was happening around me as I attempted to listen to her breathing and assess her the best that I could without medical equipment. She was in bad shape, and she needed to get to the hospital.
The ambulance arrived, and I passed along all the information that I’d been able to come up with to the arriving paramedic. I helped them put her on the board and gurney before I helped to get her into the back of the ambulance.
“Josh, go grab my purse. My keys are in the front pocket, go straight home.” He looked shaken. “Are you alright to drive?”
He nodded, “Yeah, just kind of freaked a little. I can’t believe that is Jazzy’s mom.”
I wanted to take the time to talk to him, but I had to get into the back and help them. “I know. Go get the car and go home, I’ll call you in a little while.”
I jumped into the back of the ambulance and began to pull the doors closed. Grant stood in the same spot, his arms wrapped around his now silent daughter as he stared at me. The pain on his face felt like a scalpel cutting into un-numbed skin. I looked away and slammed the door.
“Let’s go. She doesn’t have much longer to live,” I stated as I sat down across from the paramedic and began to better assess Ilana now that I had medical equipment to use.