Stranded with The Hero by Hannah Jo Abbott

5

Carson woke with a start. He opened his eyes and stared at the unfamiliar wall in front of him. It only took him a second to remember where he was. The chair in the hospital room was uncomfortable, and as he shook his head and stood, he wondered if he had been asleep for very long.

Nope. Checking his watch, he saw it had only been fifteen minutes. As he glanced over to the hospital bed, he could see that the patient was still sleeping. The doctor had said that it could be an hour or more before she woke up from the anesthesia.

Carson had checked on patients at the hospital before. The emergency room staff was used to it, so it hadn’t seemed unusual for him to ask at the desk. It was definitely unusual for him to go looking for the patient and fall asleep in a chair in her room.

It hadn’t been difficult to find her in the small hospital. When he said he was an EMT checking on a patient that he had transported the day before, the nurse called the fire department and confirmed his name and appearance before she would give him the room number.

He would have to explain that to someone later. But right now, he only knew he needed to be sitting in that room when Nicole woke up. It had pained him when he found out she had surgery earlier that morning and the doctor confirmed that she had no one with her.

She stirred now and made a soft groaning noise.

Worried that she might be in pain, he went to the side of the bed and cautiously approached. He watched as she grimaced and then her eyes fluttered open, but only for a second. She only glanced at him before she turned her head the other way and seemed to go back to sleep. She let out a loud sigh, and he clearly heard her say, “My hero.”

A grin spread across his face as he turned and went back to the chair in the corner.

When she stirred again a half hour later, he went to her side. This time her eyes opened wide, and a startled expression came over her face. She blinked a few times before she focused on him and asked, “Carson?”

She remembered his name? That filled him with a joy he didn’t understand.

“Yes, it’s Carson. I’m sorry. I didn’t want to scare you. I just didn’t want you to be alone when you woke up.”

She stared at him wide-eyed for several beats.

“How do you feel?” he asked.

Nicole glanced down at her foot wrapped in layers of bandages, then she wrung her hands together as if checking for feeling. “I’m okay, I guess.”

“Any pain?” he asked.

She shook her head. “I guess the drugs are still working.” She gave him a funny look. “Did they say how it went?”

“No, they couldn’t share information without your permission.” He glanced towards the door. “But I can let them know you’re awake now and they’ll give you the report.” He turned to go, but Nicole stopped him.

“No, that’s okay, I’m sure they’ll come in soon.”

He watched her face as she dropped her gaze to the bed and studied her fingers. Did she want him to stay? He wanted to ask more about her and find out why she was here alone anyway. But Nicole was right, and there was a quick knock on the door before the doctor entered the room.

“Hi there, glad to see you awake,” the doctor said.

“Thanks,” Nicole replied.

“How’s your pain?”

“Not too bad.”

“That’s good. As the meds continue to wear off, we’ll start you on some oral pain medication. You should take that for a few days. I can tell you about the surgery…” His voice dropped off and he looked at Carson.

“I’ll just step out,” he pointed his thumb over his shoulder.

“No, you can stay. I don’t mind.” Nicole’s voice went up an octave when he mentioned leaving.

The doctor continued. “The surgery went well. We reset your ankle and placed the pin with no problem.”

“So now what?” Nicole asked.

“You’ll be in a cast for several weeks, and you can’t bear weight on that leg for four to six weeks.”

“Weeks?” she whined.

“Yes, I’m afraid so,” the doctor said. “No more skiing for a while.”

“Forget skiing, how am I going to get around anywhere?” Nicole sat up straight and pushed herself backwards with her hands on the bed.

Carson’s EMT training kicked in and he watched her breathing, she was taking it in gasps. Without thinking he put his hand on her arm. “Try not to stress. Where do you live?”

“North Carolina,” she shouted.

His eyes flew open wide, but he kept his voice calm. “Where are you staying?”

“Freedom Ridge Resort. I don’t even have my purse or my phone. No one even knows I’m in the hospital.”

“And you’re not traveling with anyone else?” Carson confirmed.

She shook her head, and the tears started to pool in her eyes.

“Don’t worry.”

“Everyone keeps saying that to me. But I don’t know why! I think there’s plenty for me to worry about right now.”

Carson looked her straight in the eyes and took a few slow breaths, waiting until she matched her breathing with his. “We’ll figure it out. I can help.”

“Really?” Her voice told him she didn’t believe it.

“Sure. I’m happy to help.” He gave a quick nod, trying to stay professional. After all, didn’t he mean that he would help because that’s what he was supposed to do? Help people? He didn’t mean because she was beautiful, and every time she looked at him, her eyes sparkled in a way that called out to him to stay near her. He cleared his throat and turned his attention back to the doctor. “So tell us what we need to do.”

The doctor seemed as surprised as Nicole. “Well, we’ll monitor her vitals for a little while longer, then she’ll be discharged later today. But like I said, absolutely no weight on the ankle for four to six weeks. If you’re headed home, you’ll need to set up a follow up appointment with an orthopedist in your area. You’ll need to start therapy in a few weeks too.” He pressed his lips together. “I’m sorry, it will be a long road to full recovery. But just take it one step at a time.”

Carson wanted to point out his terrible choice of words. But he didn’t. Instead, he went into medical professional mode asking about medications and paperwork. It was a few more minutes before the doctor shook hands with them both and wished Nicole all the best.

Carson watched him walk from the room, then tried to gather his thoughts as he turned to the woman he barely knew. The one who had just become his responsibility.

* * *

Nicole bither lip and self-consciously ran a hand through the ends of her dark blonde hair. She had pulled it back into a ponytail before she went skiing, but that had been over twenty-four hours ago. She gave a nervous laugh as Carson turned back to face her. Who was this guy anyway? And why would he offer to help a complete stranger? But she felt like she could trust him. After all, he was a first responder, it was their duty to help people. Surely that was why he had come to check on her--his sense of duty.

“So…” Carson said, but stopped.

“Yeah. Um, thank you for offering to help. I would like to say you really don’t have to do that, but honestly I have no idea what else I would do. I don’t have any money with me or anything. I’m already going to have to call the hospital with my insurance information. I don’t think a cab would want me to pay them later.”

Carson smiled. “No, probably not. But really, I’m happy to help.”

“You don’t have anywhere to be? You don’t have to work on the ambulance today?”

“No, I’m off today. I’m pretty glad too. It was a busy shift. I work at the fire station, and we had multiple calls to small fires, mostly people using their fireplaces for the first time this year.”

Nicole’s eyes grew as round as saucers. “Oh, wow. That sounds exciting.”

Carson dropped his gaze to the edge of the bed as he nodded. “It is. No two days are the same. I don’t fight the fires, but I’m on the scene in case of any injuries. But to answer your question, I don’t work today. We work two days on and four days off. I was on the second day of my shift when I responded to the call for your accident.”

Nicole scrunched her face and looked at the clock. “So when did you get off?”

“At eight.”

“This morning?” Nicole eyebrows went up with the tone in her voice.

“Yep.”

“You got off work this morning at 8a.m., and came here to the hospital?”

Carson nodded slowly. “I was just concerned about you. You said you were alone, and I was just worried.”

Nicole let her eyes wander over him. His uniform was clean and neat, despite the fact that he’d probably had it on for over a day. His blue eyes were clear and honest, and contrasted his light brown hair. Was that a reddish tint to it? Or just the afternoon sunlight catching it?

“Well, that’s very nice of you.” She nodded to the chair in the corner. “I’m sure you’re tired though. Why don’t you take a seat? Sounds like we’ve got a while longer to wait.”

Carson went to the chair, but he pulled it close to her bed and sat down.

Nicole’s mind reeled with what to say to this stranger who had saved her on the mountain and was already rescuing her again. “I guess we could get to know each other.”

“Sure.” Carson leaned back in the chair making himself comfortable. “Well, I already told you I’m an EMT, and obviously I live here in Freedom. That’s about all there is to know.”

Nicole squinted her eyes. “I’m sure there’s more than that.”

He shrugged. “Tell me about you. What do you do in North Carolina?”

“I’m a personal and administrative assistant to a company CEO.”

“Wow, that sounds…”

She waited and then finished for him. “Boring?”

“Nah, I wasn’t going to say that.”

She laughed. “It’s all right. I guess it does sound boring compared to responding to emergency calls all day.”

Carson dropped his head again. Was that a blush creeping up his neck? Yes, it was! How adorable. A man who can rush to the scene of an accident and blush at praise.

“Did you always want to be an EMT?” Nicole suddenly wanted to know more.

“Actually, no. I started out studying business in college. I thought I might work for a big company, maybe start my own business someday. You know, take over the world. That kind of thing.”

Nicole grimaced slightly as a pain washed over her leg. To distract herself, she kept talking. “What changed?”

“My parents were in a bad car accident. I wasn’t far away, and I had been on the phone with my mom when they were hit. A truck crossed the median and hit them head on.”

Nicole gasped. “Oh no, that’s awful.”

He nodded. “It was. And we truly could have lost them that day. But we didn’t. I heard the crash over the phone and then the line went dead. I was terrified of what I would find, but I drove straight there to find them. The firetruck and emergency workers were already onsite. The EMT that worked on my parents literally saved their lives.”

“Wow.” Nicole’s voice was barely a whisper.

“I went to see him after they got out of the hospital to thank him. I went to the fire station and, just talking to him, seeing what they do, it changed all my plans. I knew I wanted to be an EMT and help people who couldn’t help themselves.” He shrugged. “That’s been my plan ever since.”

“Did you ever think that making that choice would land you in a hospital sitting next to a girl you don’t know, waiting to take her back to her hotel because she can’t walk?” Nicole raised her eyebrows and held out a hopeful smile.

He laughed then and the deep volume of it made Nicole’s heart beat double time. “Nope, I never did.”

Nicole laughed too. “Well, that makes two of us.”