“You probably checked them a minute ago."
He followed her into the double bay of the renovated gas station. The orange and green ambulances waited like guards at Buckingham Palace.
“The crews weren't done at that point." She used her sleeve to wipe off a smudge on the bumper of the duty ambulance.
After circling that vehicle she looked out the translucent window in the garage door. Right at a big Chief's car.
“Yes, I parked in front of the bay."
She swirled to face him and crossed her arms. “If I did that at the firehouse, you'd have me towed."
“Probably. At least I don't treat the firefighters like children."
She clenched her jaw. “I'm not doing that. Just keeping them in line."
She waved away the idea and brushed past him to inspect the other rig. “If I let up they'll slack."
“Oh a smudge on the bumper. We might as well let Blue Light come in here."
The mention of the paid ambulance service stopped her in her steps. Her heart tripped in her chest and a bead of sweat went down her back. She clenched and unclenched her fists as she pivoted. “Don't even joke about them. Don't even think of them in my presence."
A smile erupted under his bushy moustache. She had to stop leaving herself open for these things.
The threat of a paid ambulance service in Biggin Hill loomed all too real to her. A rage that had become her closest friend coursed through her.
She had promised her father on his deathbed that she would keep this place alive. She pictured the emotion as a red box and put it up on the shelf to be dealt with another day.
“You're too damn serious, Chels," Brad said, his tone softening. He rubbed her shoulders for a moment taking the edge off of her anger.
“Blue Light is no laughing matter. Those guys are barely EMT's. They swoop and scoop and it would be the ruin of Biggin Hill if we let them in."
He raised his hands in supplication. “I don't want to fight. But I talked to Tim Hagerty this morning and he's pretty keen on the idea."
“Hagerty's an idiot."
“He's pretty sure it's a good idea."
Her gaze snapped to him. “You backing him on this?"
“I didn't say that."
He didn't have to. Anything to see her fail.
“Hagerty needs the rest of the Commissioners to do anything and I think they're smart. The taxpayers won't re-elect them if taxes get raised." She glanced down at her untied boot.
“Would they go up that much?"
She slapped one finger against the digits of her other hand, ticking off items. “Salaries, health insurance. Do you know how much those cost? Right now we don't get a dime except an ambulance every ten years and that money usually comes from grants. The voters nixed a referendum for a new school because it would raise taxes. You think they'd fork over more money for an ambulance service they all think they'll never need?"
A sigh escaped her lips. He didn't understand.
She knelt down to tie her boots. The lights went out leaving her unable to see her hands on the laces.
“You're a business. You can't do a payment plan."
Chelsea caught her friend outside the utility company building.
A newlywed, Sarah O'Malley stepped out each noon to meet her husband for lunch. She stood drumming her fingers on the top of her Mini, a disheveled bun sagged of the back of her head. She only had two years on Chelsea, but since she'd married, that time seemed longer.
Sarah carried herself as if she'd found something she'd been searching for.
“Sarah, come on. We aren't really. There must be something we can do." Chelsea searched for a solution.
Sarah sighed. “I'm not sure why you are designated as a business. Obviously I don't have the account in front of me." She ran a hand over her hair, dislodging some more stray locks.
“We aren't a residence, either, I realize. Is there something in between?"
Sarah glanced at her watch then continued tapping a manicured fingernail on the top of her car. “Yes, but it isn't easy. There are forms to fill out."
The heat threatened to wilt Chelsea. She longed to be home in her pool, but she needed to make more stops.
The air surrounded her like a million wet fingers. The exhaust from the cars on Main Street had nowhere to go. It hung around for all to smell, instead of dissipating. Chelsea's nose wrinkled. “Forms for me to fill out?"
Sarah shook her head. “No, an account rep."
“Who are the people you manage?" Chelsea asked.
She put her hands on the other woman's arms. Was she not getting it? Chelsea cleared her throat of the desperation she knew clogged it.
Or was her friend's head already in bed with her husband. What would that feel like? To have someone so enchant you that you forgot everyone else.
The idea stopped Chelsea. She'd been there. And wouldn't go back again. “Sarah, we cannot operate without lights. We need to be able to charge the ambulance batteries."
Her body half in the car, Sarah said, “I promise, I'll fill out the forms as soon as I get back."
Chelsea smiled at her as relief swept through her. “Thanks, Sarah, I knew you'd help."
With one problem solved, Chelsea stepped lightly. The bookstore sat two doors down from the electric company office. Her son Max asked for a book as his reward for a great report card. The calendar said “July" and she hadn't bought it yet.
No Mother of the Year Awards for her.
The red-striped awning announced the name Time to Read, one of the last independents. Young baristas served coffee and lattes, but nothing she couldn't pronounce. She steered clear of the caffeinated beverages. Instead she snagged a bottle of water, greeting the young girl behind the goody-filled, glass counter before paying for her purchase.
“Hello, Katelyn. I didn't realize you worked here."
“Just started. Just to make money before college."