Chelsea pushed off against the wall, the weight of her task threatening to make her stumble. She never felt sorry for the dead men walking, ones who had done something to deserve facing death. Instead, she pitied the person who had to walk the widow away after seeing her husband die.
Being the friend of the widow made it even worse.
Taking a deep breath, she put her arm around Sarah's shoulders. Her sobs shook them both as they walked as one into a modest living room.
They settled on the couch and she gave Sarah a minute to compose herself. She needed the time also. She wiped her arm across her face.
Houses without outlet covers and with knickknacks in plain sight always amazed Chelsea. She wouldn't be able to keep Max safe in an environment like that. A whiff of lavender crossed her nostrils and she looked around for its source. Sarah's voice brought her gaze back.
“He came down for a midnight snack. He didn't come back," she said wringing a tattered tissue in her hands. “He'd said he had indigestion earlier. I didn't think anything of it."
Chelsea put a hand on her arm. “You couldn't have known, honey."
Her friend seemed to look right through her. “He was my husband. I should have sensed something."
“Sarah you can't beat yourself up about this. I'm really sorry, but I need to ask you a few questions. Or would it be easier if someone else talked to you?"
Sarah shook her head and wiped her eyes again. “No, I'd rather you stay, Chelsea."
“Did Joe have a history of heart disease?"
The woman wrung her hands then took a deep breath almost composing herself. “No, he'd just been to the doctor."
The statement left Chelsea cold. A forty-year-old man dying of a heart attack seemed strange. She'd seen it before, but that person had been on medication for high cholesterol. “Was he taking any medications?"
Here we go, thought Chelsea.
“Just a nasal spray for his allergies." She moved as if to stand, but plopped back down on the couch as a new wave of tears washed over her face.
Chelsea swallowed back her own. “I'll get it."
Sarah waved her hand toward the kitchen.
Chelsea passed a wall with Joe and Sarah's wedding picture on it. Their smiles spoke of the promise of a long life together. A promise that had just ended in their front hall.
Photos of children surrounded it, possibly nieces and nephews since they didn't have any children of their own. She bit her lip, not wanting to cry again. Yet.
Max's face loomed and she still couldn't believe how blessed she was to have him in her life. Even if she'd lost her sister in the process.
She returned with the nasal spray to a still shaken Sarah. “Is this it?"
“Uh, huh." Sniff. “He took it for allergies."
Chelsea recognized the drug, but it didn't help to answer any of her questions.
Half an hour later, Chelsea swallowed around a lump as she cleaned up the mess she and the medics had made. A white blanket covered Joe. Sarah's sister had come over to comfort the grieving widow.
Shredded and empty, while her hands shook, she went about her task. The man had been too young to die. “What do you think happened?"
She turned to Josie, the female medic, who shrugged. “He could have had a heart defect that he didn't know about."
She tossed discarded wrappers into the plastic bag Chelsea offered. The woman seemed to be moving in slow motion, her gloved hand picking up then dropping bits of white paper and plastic. Her white uniform shirt contrasted with her mocha skin. Chelsea had never noticed this before.
She shook her head and blinked hard and every movement went back to normal speed. “I don't understand why his oxygen level was so low. It was as if it wasn't getting into his system."
“Seems odd, but I've seen it before. We won't know unless they perform an autopsy."
Something didn't seem right to her, but she couldn't wrap her brain around the answer. The medics gathered their kits and left. They expected the medical examiner out of Newark any minute. He'd decide to sign off or take the body into custody if he thought the death suspicious.
Chelsea held her suspicions.
Brad had put all the squad's kits back on the rig. Chelsea stood over Joe as a hollowness settled into her soul. Was life ever short?
The man didn't even have children yet.
Sighing she turned to look for Brad.
Instead she saw Jake talking to the other medic. He had always been far more sensitive than her about people. He complained that she could help people, but she couldn't get close to them.
“I heard her scream from my house next door."
Chelsea's eyes flicked that way. She'd known he had moved there, but she didn't know who had told her that.
“We don't save them all," Bill said.
He squeezed Jake's shoulder and walked toward the medic truck.
Strung out from the call, Chelsea couldn't face Jake. Too much history. Too much emotion. Too much time passed.
But she couldn't stay in the house forever.
He turned to look at her when the screened door slammed shut behind her. His brown eyes, even in the dim porch light, looked glazed over making her heart go out to him.
“Are you okay?" she asked, suppressing the urge to touch him.
He ran a hand through his hair. It left him with a cowlick she longed to smooth.
“I will be. Is it always like that?"
She nodded. “CPR calls are never fun. Especially if the person doesn't make it."
His scent wafted at her conjuring memories of the refuge she sought with him on some bad nights riding with the squad in their younger days. When the people she couldn't save, walked through her nightmares. No one else had listened.