The negotiation had been brief. The EMT had appeared, with his box, at the side door of the van that Dori had been taken to, and asked her a few general how-are-you-doing questions. Once he had made sure she was lucid, he asked if she wanted to go to the hospital, to be checked. Dori had told him, “Not really,” since she mostly felt like going home and lying down and figuring out what to do now that she had two cars that didn’t work. “I don’t really like hospitals,” she told the guy. “All they ever do is look for bigger and bigger things to impale me with.”
“You were in a serious accident,” the EMT said with a tone that suggested he had had this conversation many times before.
“I’ll be okay. I always am.”
“You know,” he replied casually, running a hand through his sparse hair, “sometimes, you can be in an accident like this and break your neck or your back, and not even know about it for several hours. Then, without warning, you turn your head or bend over to get something and bam,” he snapped his fingers loudly, “your spinal column is severed.”
Dori blinked at him, eyes huge. “Um, okay, I’ll go.”
She wondered if Smile would be like this as an EMT. Probably not. His style wasn’t so subtle, he’d just scream, Get in the fucking ambulance! and that would be that.
They put a hugely uncomfortable plastic collar around her neck, and then strapped her to an even more uncomfortable board, which was supposed to immobilize her back, which made no sense since she’d been walking around, but then she thought about suddenly dropping over dead and let them do it. Dori couldn’t remember if she had ever been in an ambulance before. She didn’t think she had. It was a shame she couldn’t see anything but the ceiling, since she couldn’t turn her head. The light was shining right in her eyes, so she closed them. When the back door was closed, it got nice and warm inside the ambulance.
She sighed aloud. “Shit.” Dori thought about how her car had looked like a stepped-on beer can. If she had gotten hit on the driver’s side, she’d probably be dead now. “Shit,” she said again. It had been a nice little car, but she was beginning to see why Aunt Andrea drove the huge SUV thing that she never took off-road.
Funny how she’d dodged two emergency room trips this month already, between the dog attack and the beer bottle thing, and now she was going. Apparently she was destined for a hospital visit this November, and Fate was no longer fucking around.
The ambulance door opened. “Dori?” Smile said tentatively.
What the hell was Smile doing here? “Hey,” she said, as cheerfully as she could manage. “I’m okay. You think you know someone who can fix my car?”
He laughed, but it sounded sick. He was really scared for her. “I think you’re getting another new car. Yours is what they call ‘totalled.'”
“Aw, man, that sucks.”
“Are you seriously all right?”
“Yeah,” she said, wishing she could sit up to look at him, or at least turn her head. “They put me in this thing as a preventative measure or something. I probably look like they’re about to send Life Flight or something. Are there still a lot of spectators?”
“Could you make sure someone grabs my purse out of the car?” Her purse was an ancient Holly Hobbie lunchbox, and it might get left in the car otherwise. She pictured some greasy junkyard guy finding it.
“Sure, no problem. Listen, I’m really, really sorry. We need to talk about this later, I guess, but I wanted to say I was sorry.”
“What, about dinner? Don’t worry about it, dude.”
He took a deep breath. “No, I mean about your car. About the accident. Dori…I was driving the other car.”
She frowned up at the ceiling. There had been a pizza sign on the roof of the other car, hadn’t there? “You hit me?”
“Yeah. Sorry,” he said again. His voice was muffled, like he was looking at his feet.
“You stupid fucker, you ran the light,” Dori said. There was no anger in her voice, just the facts; he was a stupid fucker, and he’d run the light. “Are you okay?”
“Got a bloody nose, that’s all. I’m all right.”
“You should go to the hospital anyway,” she said.
“Nah, I’m just gonna go home.”
“Seriously, I have a lot of shit to think about now. I’m gonna lose my job, and I have no car, and I’m probably gonna lose my license too.”
“You were working? I thought you took Khalid–“
“I took them home and Daniel called me in, so I went in.” She could tell from his voice that he wished he hadn’t gone in to work at all. Maybe he wished that the whole evening had never happened. Dori wished again that she could see him. She wanted to squeeze his shoulder, to rub his head and make him feel better. He banged on the back of the ambulance with his fist. “Look, with everything that’s happened between us…and now this, I don’t know. If we should, you know.”
Dori was surprised that she didn’t really feel upset. Maybe it was because she was in shock or something, or maybe it was because they’d both known it wasn’t working out for the past two months or so and neither of them had had the guts to break it off. “Okay,” she said. “It’s okay.”
“I don’t think it’s your fault,” Smile said. The front door of the ambulance opened, and the vehicle rocked slightly as someone hopped into the driver’s seat.
“Sir?” a voice Dori recognized as that of the other EMT asked, from behind Smile. “We’ve got to go.”
“Okay, okay. Look, Dori, I’m not angry, okay? It’s just…”
“I know,” she said. “I’m not mad either. I’ll call you later.” It was like a great weight being lifted, having it ‘officially’ over with Smile. Dori felt so good she wondered that they hadn’t done it sooner, assuming that Smile felt relieved too. She would call him, too. In fact, she almost looked forward to it, and not just so she could yell at him about smashing up her car. Dude, I knew you didn’t like it but this was going a bit too far, she’d say, assuming he had a sense of humor about it later.
The EMT closed the door and climbed in behind her. His face moved into her vision like the moon eclipsing the sun, and she opened her eyes. “Ready?” he said? She couldn’t make out any of his features because he was backlit. Dori tried to nod but the brace wouldn’t let her. “Was that guy hassling you?”
“No, he’s my boyfriend. Well, ex-boyfriend I guess now. We just broke up. He was driving the other car.”
“Must have been some fight,” the EMT said with a sympathetic smile. “Did he chase you down or something?”
“Oh, no, it was total coincidence. He was working and driving like a fuckhead, and I just happened to be going the other way.”
“Bet he’ll be a better driver from now on. He got a pretty good scare, I think.”
Dori tried to nod again. “You’re prolly right.”
“I guess I’d break it off if my girlfriend smashed my new car, too.”
“Oh, it’s not about that at all–hey, how’d you know my car was new?” The ambulance was moving, but the sirens weren’t on. Dori hadn’t even noticed when they started driving.
“Temp tags,” he said.
“Oh. So I guess now I get to spend a few hours in the emergency room?”
“Yep,” he said cheerfully. “Is there someone I can call for you?”
“Um, yeah, call my aunt. She’s going to wig out, so be prepared. I bet she’ll never let me go and drive around at night again. She gets all paranoid about shit like this.”