“Until we’ve both said we’ve done this… exactly this… I doubt either of us are ready.”
Tina pointed to a pallet of boxes that were painfully familiar to an ER nurse. “What are those?”
Monica’s back teeth ground together. “Body bags.”
Tina’s face went pale. “Oh.”
The medical staff was shuffled off to another part of the runway. They’d landed in Kingston. They would be helicoptered into the Ocho Rios area and spread out from there in various means of transportation that would manage to traverse the damage.
Monica had never been on a helicopter. In truth, heights and she had an understanding… on second thought, they didn’t. She managed airplanes because there was a strange safety inside the metal tube with wings. Out in the open… on a ledge? No. She didn’t even have a desire to see the Grand Canyon. That massive ditch did nothing for her hormones.
“This is Reynard Kiffen. Second in charge of the off-island relief effort.” Their team leader, Dr. Donald Klein, introduced the Jamaican native.
Reynard offered a smile, his white teeth in direct contrast to his dark skin. The smile was brief. “Thank you. My country, my people, thank you.” He spoke slowly and enunciated his words clearly through his obvious accent. “We have a temporary hospital set up in Saint Mary’s province. You will set up there. Accommodations are the best we can manage under the extreme circumstances.”
“We aren’t expecting five-star hotels, Reynard,” Dr. Klein told him.
The smile on Reynard’s face fell. “Some of the resorts are operational. Not many. They are taking in those they can. Moving tourists out as quickly as possible.”
Monica hadn’t thought about the tourists, those visiting for the ultimate vacation only to find themselves in a war zone.
“Everyone in the north is affected. No one I’ve met is free of the death.”
Dr. Klein patted Reynard’s back when the man’s eyes lost focus, the effect on him obvious.
Dr. Klein carried on with their instructions. “The choppers in use hold only four people at a time. That includes the pilot. Only the essentials are going with you onboard, the rest of our supplies will arrive after us by ground.”
The mere mention of the helicopter made Monica’s skin crawl. The sooner she got this part of the trip out of the way, the better.
As the group disassembled, Monica made her way to Donald’s side. “Excuse me, Dr. Klein.” Monica pushed into his personal space with a half smile.
“Donald, please. It’s Monica, right?”
“That’s right.” She’d met Dr. Klein briefly in Florida but didn’t have a chance to talk to him. Something told her that the next week would change all that.
“You’re ER with Walt?”
Monica nodded. “I am.”
“He talks highly of you. This is your first time on something like this.”
Monica was impressed. She wasn’t the only newbie on deck, but it seemed Donald had used the flight time to study his team.
“I think it’s the first time for most of us on ‘something like this.’ ”
Donald’s smile sobered slightly. “It’s something new every time. An earthquake alone can be devastating.”
“I grew up in Southern California. Most earthquakes aren’t bothersome enough to get out of bed in the night.” And they always tended to strike before the sun rose.
Donald nodded and reached to his feet to grab his backpack when the sound of a helicopter filled her ears.
Ignoring her heightened pulse, she reached past her fears and blurted out her needs.
“Listen, Donald. I’m not ashamed to admit that heights aren’t a friend to me. Can I volunteer to go first? I’d just as soon get this part over with.”
He lifted an eyebrow and scratched his bald head. He appeared as if he wanted to say something, but decided against it. “No problem.”
“Thanks.” Monica shuffled her pack from one shoulder to the other and drew in a deep breath.
Donald looked over Monica’s head and shouted. “Walt?”
Walt turned around.
“You, Monica, and Tina are up first. Everyone else group in threes. I hope everyone managed some rest on the flight over. I will be making rounds when I can to force you to rest. If the opportunity presents itself, do it! We’re here to help, not make stupid mistakes because we’re tired. If you have questions, ask. Weaknesses, tell me.” He glanced Monica’s way. “We’re a team. Remember that!”
The chopper flew in behind them, cutting off the conversation. Monica turned toward the wind and gripped the strap to her backpack.
The sun had crested the horizon and the thick heat of the Caribbean started to make itself known. She stared at the “bird” as the skids planted down on the pavement. Unlike when she’d wait for a chopper on the helipad at the hospital, this time the anxiety coursing through her veins was personal.
A hand on her shoulder brought her attention to Tina, who noticed her hesitation when they boarded the plane in Florida. Instead of giving her shit about her phobias, Tina spouted off a few facts about flying being safer than driving in LA and then proceeded to tell her about the many flings she carried on in college. Soon the sexual antics of a horny twentysomething diverted Monica’s attention. “It’s just a smaller plane,” she said close to Monica’s ear.
A plane. Right. Without wings and without a jet engine. If this chopper was just a smaller plane then a smart car was a chip off a semitruck.
Her fingers tingled, reminding her to force slow, deep breaths into her lungs.
“C’mon, help me gather a couple of duffel bags. Don’t look at it until you have to.”
Monica turned away from the chopper as the giant propeller slowed to a stop. Those around her mobilized, moving in a common direction to shift their bags into some sort of order as the sound of another chopper met Monica’s ears. Not able to help herself, she glanced toward the tarmac. Another chopper, about the same size as the last, hovered over the first until the tail lined up and the skids moved in a slow descent to the ground. Out of the first, someone jumped to the ground.
Monica narrowed her eyes and noticed the man spilling from the pilot’s seat and running a hand through his hair. He rounded the tail of the aircraft and shoved his palm into Reynard’s in greeting.
That’s my ride.
Monica glanced at the sky coming to life above her and reminded herself that those who needed her help were subject to an earthquake and a tsunami. None of which happened in the sky.
Still, her fingers tingled.
A hand clasped onto her shoulder. “Ready?”
Monica’s fingernails dug into her palms. Her head swiveled toward Donald. A slight lift to his lips was the only emotion on his face.
“Ready,” she said with more conviction than she felt.
Lord knew she understood how to fake it. From orgasms to happiness, so faking confidence was easy.
She shoved her backpack up on her shoulder and straightened her spine. Donald moved in front of her to speak to the pilot. Monica hesitated until Tina nudged her shoulder.
Tina snorted and turned toward Walt.
Monica forced her feet toward the chopper as if she was born to ride in the tin box with a single propeller on top and a tiny one in the back. How the hell did the thing actually fly? It didn’t have wings.
Donald’s back was to her as he spoke to someone. He twisted when she approached, revealing a man. His dark hair was too long, his jaw held more stubble than would be considered sexy. He wore a button-up silk shirt and khaki cargo shorts. And no shoes.
Monica took in his bare feet and forced her gaze back to the man’s face. Strong jaw with a firm set. No smile. His eyes were covered with dark glasses but they didn’t detract from the pure masculinity of the man. He had to stand at least six feet tall, with broad shoulders and a narrow waist…
She was checking out the man and not realizing someone spoke her name.
“This is your pilot. He thinks you should ride in front. Let Tina and Walt take the back.”
Her eyes skidded from Donald’s face to that of the barefoot stranger. “He’s the pilot?”
“One of the best on the island.”
The pilot dipped his head as if he were sizing her up. Then abruptly turned toward the helicopter.
“He’s barefoot,” she whispered. As if a lack of shoes meant he couldn’t fly the helicopter. If I take off my shoes, I’m still a nurse.
Donald didn’t hear her words. The pilot was already jumping into his seat and making the propeller above her head move.
She ducked and allowed Donald to push her toward the door. Behind her, Tina and Walt were climbing into the backseat.