“You said she stopped breathing and you had to perform CPR?” the doctor asked Sam.
“Yeah, she swallowed some water, I think,” said Sam, feeling insecure under the doctor’s scrutinizing gaze.
The doctor looked back down at his chart and his brows furrowed.
“Her heart rate is actually up, which is unusual for someone who recently endured cardiac arrest. Are you certain that her heart stopped?” His eyes rose again to drill Sam with intensity. His mouth curled to one side as he awaited the young man’s response.
“I-I think so…” Sam said uncertainly. “It all happened so fast! I know she wasn’t breathing… And she coughed out a bunch of water when she started again. I can’t remember whether I checked her pulse…”
The doctor scowled briefly, eyes looking past Sam for a moment before returning to the clipboard.
“Her adrenaline levels have increased, which is normal, but her hormone levels have increased as well. That is highly unusual after a cardiac event… There has to be more going on here. There just…” He stopped suddenly, glancing around, noticing that he was speaking his thoughts aloud. In front of others.
The doctor spun suddenly and walked away from the group of friends, his white lab coat, swishing around his legs.
“Well that was weird,” said Rob, hand working its way down Megan’s lower back toward her shapely ass. She slapped it away, giving him a “not right now!” glare.
“Yeah. She definitely wasn’t breathing. I mean, who checks each vital carefully when your friend is laying there dying on the fucking ground!” said Mara, laying a hand in the center of Sam’s back and rubbing circles of comfort into him. “You did good, Sam. You did really good.”
Sam turned to her and managed to turn the corners of his mouth into a fleeting smile while he focused the majority of his attention on ensuring his chin didn’t quiver. He just hoped Candace was okay. Baffled doctors weren’t a good sign.
He said a silent prayer for the target of his unrequited affections.
“I just wish I knew what happened to those parachutists,” said Matt, rubbing the outside of his bulging bicep compulsively, his expression troubled. His face was flushed.
“Me too,” said Sam. “I saw them for a minute, but then they just… vanished into the water. It was so weird.”
“Well, you guys are real heroes anyway, saving Cand and all,” said Mara moving to comfort Matt next. “By the time I realized what was going on, you guys were already in the water!”
Rob shifted uncomfortably, and Megan took his hand in hers and squeezed, sensing his guilt over not helping the others. She knew the reason--he couldn’t swim.
Matt swooned momentarily, then sat down.
“You okay?” asked Mara, grabbing his arm to steady him.
“Yeah. Fine. Just a lot to take in, you know?” Matt smiled weakly.
“Yeah,” said Mara. Sam and the others nodded their agreement.
After a couple more hours, the friends were draped over the waiting room chairs in various stages of bored, trepidatious, faux-relaxation.
“It’s Candace!” said Mara, seeing the doctor coming back out, Candace in tow, a worried parent clutching each of her arms.
The friends leapt up, bodies instantly taut with the internal turbulence of anticipated news even as their expressions went slack with relief upon seeing their friend upright and headed away from the emergency room entrance.
Candace’s father walked up to Sam, plucked his hand from his side and gripped it with his own.
“Thanks, son,” he said with grateful eyes and a weary smile. “From what Candace says, I owe you my daughter’s life. I won’t ever forget that.”
Sam, too stunned to speak, simply stood there, shaking the man’s hand weakly. The older man nodded as he released Sam’s hand, then moved to Matt to do the same.
Sam felt Candace’s eyes on him. He returned her gaze, unsure exactly what he found in her eyes. He held her eyes in silence for a long moment as her father walked back to her and joined his wife to walk their daughter out to their car.
Sam let out bated breath as their eye contact finally broke. What had that look meant? It had been intense, sending his stomach writhing. He had never seen anyone look at him like that before. It was… confusing.
Shaking his head, he followed the others, who were now chatting and moving toward the exit to the hospital waiting room.
Sam’s mind continued to work on the puzzle that was Candace’s look as he made his way home.
Sam awoke with a palpitating start the next morning, wiping beads of sweat from the creases in his forehead. Candace’s iridescent eyes lingered in his groggy retinas, an unsettling vestige of turbulent dreams.
He lay on his bed for a long moment, consumed, as he often was, with Candace in his waking thoughts. His memory drifted down her bikini-clad body, relishing the delicious sight of the sexy, soon-to-be-coed before all of the craziness yesterday. His breathing grew deeper as he felt the thrill of arousal quicken his heart. He lay on the bed, lost in the hazy remnants of his covetous subconscious as it played desirous cinema through his mind.
His lips pressed against hers urgently, the tension of the life-giving moment metamorphosing into a different sort of excitement in his fantasy-shaded memory. He quivered with exhilaration, held taut by the strings of infatuation like a dancing marionette.
He dropped his hand downward to rub himself when the spell that dream-Candace had woven around him was suddenly shattered by a knock on his bedroom door.
“Wake up, sleepyhead!” came his mother’s voice. “Breakfast’s ready!”
Wanting to indulge himself, but no longer in the mood, Sam slid his legs off the bed and stood on wobbly legs.
He nearly slipped on a comic book on this way to the dresser, kicking it away. It skittered to a halt across the room. Arriving at his dresser, he put on some sweats over his underwear and slipped a t-shirt over his bare chest.
When he plopped at the kitchen table, his mom circled him and ruffled his hair.
“I’m so proud of you, Sam,” she announced affectionately. “Saving that girl and all? You’re growing up to be quite a young man. You remind me so much of your father.”
Sam’s heart rose at the former and fell at the latter of his mother’s words. He had never known his father, a firefighter who had died rescuing a family in a final act of heroism. Sam swallowed away the lump in his throat, attempting to forget the well of emotions that his mom’s words had tapped as he picked up his fork to dive into the steaming pancakes before him.
He took a large mouthful, his mouth forming a crooked grin as he chewed airy, maple-soaked goodness.
“Thanks, mom!” he mumbled as he took another bite.
His mother simply watched him eat, proud warmth crinkling upward the corners of both eyes and lips.
Sam slammed the car door shut, making his way past clusters of uniformed people, sand shifting under his feet. As he approached the pond, he saw the divers coming out of the water shaking their heads. The lead diver pulled off his mask.
“Nothing,” he told the surly police officer.
“Damn. That Matt kid said he was certain they had to be in there somewhere. Said he had ‘em in his hands…” The large man responded.
As Sam stepped toward the lapping water, he drew the cop’s annoyed attention.
“What are you doing? he said, pointedly, to Sam. “Get away from there! Did you see the police tape?”
Sam turned to face him.
“Damn it! Murphy! Did you forget to put up the damn tape again? We’re expecting to find bodies for God’s sake!”
Another man, presumably Murphy, piped up.
“You didn’t tell me to…” The senior man cut him off, still staring at Sam.
“Do I have to tell you every little thing to do? Now put up the Goddamn tape!”
“Now, kid, get lost. Police business,” he said to Sam, pointing back toward the parking lot.
Sam hung his head and complied. It was too bad. For some reason, he thought that if he were present for the discovery of the bodies, it might give him some closure on the world-rattling trauma of yesterday’s extraordinary events.
As he reached his car, he watched Matt pull up in the space next to his.
“Hey,” he said as Matt got out of the car.
“‘Sup.” Matt surveyed the scene, grimly watching Murphy struggle to untangle police tape that was caught on some bushes at the edge of the beach. “They find ‘em?”
“No,” Sam said quietly. “They tried divers, I think, but they came up empty. I think I heard someone say they were going to try dragging the pond next.”
Matt said nothing, staring ahead toward the hurried uniforms on the beach.
“You okay?” asked Sam.
Matt remained silent for a long moment, not looking at Sam, eyes still unfocused, gazing directly ahead.
“I feel… strange,” he said. “Ever since yesterday.”
“Me too,” replied Sam. “Seeing all that? Not finding those parachutists? It’s got me feeling pretty weird too.”
“I don’t just mean emotionally. I mean physically too,” said Matt.
Matt seemed to break out of his trance and finally looked toward Sam.
“F-forget I said anything, ‘kay?” he said, eyes darting between Sam and the sand at his feet a couple of times as he spoke. “Thanks, man.”
With that, Matt got back in his car and left.
“Ooooookay?” Sam intoned aloud. That was… odd.
As he walked to his own car to leave, he heard the ding of a text message on his phone. He fished it out of his pocket and looked at the screen.
It was from Candace.