“You really should go to the hospital and get checked out, Mrs. Pontifore.”  The paramedic unwrapped the blood pressure cuff from her arm.  The rain had stopped, leaving the hot summer air thick with humidity.

Beth shook her head.  Or tried to.  She still had a cervical collar wrapped around her neck.  She couldn’t go to the emergency room.  They’d find out she wasn’t pregnant, that she’d never been pregnant.  And then they would question who she was.  She didn’t trust doctor-patient confidentiality enough to keep that secret.  “No.  Thank you, but no.  I’d rather see my own doctor.”

The paramedic frowned.  “All right then.  I’ll need you to sign this release, saying you refused transport.”

Beth signed the proffered form.

“You really ought to go to the hospital, Ellie.”

Beth looked up to see the sheriff’s deputy – what was his name? – Toby, that was it – looming over her.

“I’m okay, Toby.  I just want to go home.”

“I’ll take you then, but I have to ask you some questions on the way.”

“Fine.  Whatever.”

She wanted to climb the hill with a harness; if she let them strap her into that basket they might just carry her off to the emergency room regardless of what she said.  But the paramedics insisted on hauling her up in the rigid frame stretcher before they let her go.  It bothered her to hear the men grunting with effort on her behalf, but they weren’t going to let her aggravate a possible spinal injury while she was still in their care.

The paramedic paused before unstrapping her.  “You sure you won’t let us take you to the hospital?”

Beth beat back a little surge of panic.  “I’m sure.”

The man shrugged and set her free.

Toby helped her into his SUV.  Her muscles groaned as she eased into the front seat.  “I’m going to be sore tomorrow, I can tell.”

“Yep.  That seat belt is going to leave one hell of a bruise,”  Toby agreed.  “But it’s a good thing you had it on.  I’m glad you finally started wearing one,” he added more gently.

Apparently Ell’s dislike of restraints was common knowledge.  Beth nearly choked on her anger.  Why couldn’t she have fastened her damn seat belt?  She’d known better.  Their mom hadn’t worn one either, but that hadn’t mattered to Ell.  She’d never liked the feeling of being confined.

Somehow Beth managed to answer, “Well, I have more than just myself to think about now.”

Toby nodded, apparently convinced.  He pulled carefully onto the dirt road.  After a minute he cleared his throat.  “I’m real sorry about Beth, Ellie.”

Beth swallowed hard and shivered.  It felt creepy accepting condolences for her own death.  For a second she wanted to shout, I’m not dead!  I’m alive!  It’s Ellie who’s dead.  Ellie is gone and I’m all alone!

Read more . . .

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