Melt With Me by Melissa Brown

Chapter 1

MAREN

It was already a crazy Saturday morning when we heard the crash. That unmistakable screech of rubber against concrete, a loud thump and the gasps that followed as dozens of women outside my shop covered their mouths in disbelief.

“Oh my God, there’s a man on the ground and he’s not getting up!” a woman cried from the tail end of the line, and I knew I had to act.

I turned to the first woman in line. “Go inside and tell them to call 911. Now!”

Adrenaline shot through my stomach as I ran to the cab stopped in the middle of the road.

The driver, flustered and throwing his arms into the air, climbed out of the driver’s seat, yelling defensively, “He came out of nowhere. What the fuck?”

Ignoring the driver, I rounded the front end of the car to find a cracked windshield and a man with silver hair lying unconscious on the street. He was tall with very long legs and was wearing a button-down Oxford shirt and khaki pants. He was slumped over on his side, and my heart sank.

I crouched down to check his pulse and was relieved when I felt that familiar thump from his wrist.

“He’s alive,” I said to the driver, who sighed as he looked up at the sky.

“Thank God,” he muttered under his breath while doing the sign of the cross.

“Sir, can you hear me?” I asked, but there was no response. No moaning or movement, no sign of life other than the pulse I’d felt. Quickly, I rolled him to his back and leaned down to check his airways.

“He’s not breathing,” I said to myself, willing my racing brain to calm down enough to remember how to perform CPR.

“Shit,” the driver muttered. “What the fuck do we do?”

Turning to glare at him, I made sure we made direct eye contact. “You need to calm down. I can’t help him if you’re freaking out.”

Instead of responding, the driver threw his hands into the air again and took several steps away, fading into the forming crowd in the middle of the street. Chaos ensued around me as I did my best to focus on the last CPR workshop I’d attended before opening my store.

ABC. No, Maren it’s CAB now. Damn it, why can’t I think?

My heartbeat throbbed in my ears as I started chest compressions on the seemingly lifeless body beneath my tensed hands. His face was impassive as I pressed again and again into his chest wall.

“C’mon, stay with me,” I whispered as I tilted his forehead back and opened his airway. With one hand pinching his nose, I breathed into his mouth once, twice, three times before turning my head, hoping to feel his breath on my cheek.

Nothing.

The siren’s scream pierced the humid September air as I started another round of chest compressions. A sliver of relief covered my panic-stricken mind as I heard the ambulance get closer to the cab. I knew the longer this man went without oxygen, the higher his chances were of brain damage or not surviving the crash at all.

“C’mon, c’mon,” I said, shifting back to give him mouth to mouth again. After three breaths, I felt a jerking beneath me. A muffled cough came from the man’s throat, and he turned his head slightly. A pained moan left his lips.

“He’s breathing!” I squealed, looking up to see three paramedics approaching.

“Thank you. Step aside, please” the first responder said with a nod. Shaking, I climbed to my feet and stepped back toward the car, heat from the running engine warmed the back of my knees. Pressing a hand to my chest, I watched as the paramedics placed an oxygen mask on the man and asked his name. But he couldn’t answer.

“Miss,” one of them turned to me, his face concerned yet calm. “Do you know his name?”

“No, I was just standing across the street when it happened.”

They searched the man’s pocket and found his wallet and ID. “Burton McTavish, is it?” The man nodded.

“Mr. McTavish, we’re taking you to the hospital now. Miss, would you like to ride with him?”

“Me?”

The paramedic nodded. “You saved his life.”

“Yes, of course. Just…um…give me two sec…um, I mean yes, I’m coming.” I grabbed my phone from my back pocket. Six texts from Lyra, my shop associate and best friend. I called her as I climbed into the back of the ambulance.

“Oh my god, what happened?” she asked, anxiety in her shaky voice. “Someone ran in screaming to call 911.”

“A man was hit by a car.”

“Shit, is he okay?”

“I think so. He’s breathing again, thank God.” I said, looking down at the man lying on the gurney and staring at me in confusion. “Hi,” I whispered down to him. “You’re going to be okay.” More than anything, I wanted to believe my own words. I wanted to believe Burton would be all right. But there was a knot in my stomach that wouldn’t go away.

Burton looked puzzled as he studied me.

Don’t worry, you don’t have amnesia. You have no idea who I am.

“Lyra, I gotta go. I’m riding with him to the hospital. Will you be okay handling the signing on your own? I’m so sorry!”

My store, The Lit Wick, was a book-and-candle shop that hosted local authors for signings each month. On this September day, we’d scored Lyra’s favorite romance author, who’d traveled from Portland. Lyra had been talking about it for months.

“No, it’s fine. Don’t worry. I got this. She’s already settled in, and we’re moving through the line. Just do what you need to do.”

“Thanks,” I said with relief, knowing that if anyone could handle a bookshop filled with excited readers eager to see their favorite author, it was Lyra Castillo, employee of every freaking month. I was so damn lucky to have her. Placing the phone back in my pocket, I leaned down and locked eyes with the man.

“This is the woman who saved your life, Burton,” the paramedic said with a warm smile as she patted his shoulder. “She gave you CPR.”

My cheeks reddened and I shrugged again. “Hi. I’m Maren.”

He nodded, one hand clutching his chest. A tear rolled down his swollen cheek, and he closed his eyes. My eyes welled just watching him, and I was flooded with emotion, imagining how terrified he must be.

“I’m going to stay with you until your family comes, Mr. McTavish.” I said, suddenly realizing that his family must have had no idea what happened. I turned to the paramedic. “Should I call someone for him?”

She nodded and leaned down, patting his shoulder once again. “Burton, do you have someone we can call?”

Slowly he nodded and shifted uncomfortably on the gurney, retrieving his phone from his back pocket. Shaking, he placed it into my palm. I pressed my other hand on top of his. “I’m not going to leave your side, okay? It’s all going to be all right.”

I couldn’t disguise the trembling in my voice as I dialed the last number in his recent calls.

Peter.

Peter, pick up. Please pick up.

“What’s up, Dad?” the deep voice said casually into the phone.

Dad. Thank God, it’s his son.

“Um, hi. My name is Maren, and I’m with your dad. He was hit by a car.”

“Oh God.” His voice dropped an octave as fear crept in. “Is he… I mean, is he alive?”

“Yes, and he’s breathing. He’s having trouble talking, though. We’re in the ambulance now and headed to the hospital. Seattle General?” I said, making eye contact with the paramedic. She nodded. “Yes, Seattle General. Can you meet us there?”

“Yes, of course. I’ll be there as soon as I can. I’m not in the city right now, but I’ll be there. What was your name again?”

“Maren.”

“Maren, will you stay with him until I get there?”

“Of course.”

Just as I ended the call, Burton groaned, grabbing his left arm. His knuckles turned white as he clutched.

“Burton, are you having chest pains?” the paramedic asked, crouching down beside him. Burton nodded, his cheeks scarlet. Adrenaline shot through my belly once again as I watched, feeling helpless as he struggled to get comfortable.

“I feel sick,” he muttered beneath his oxygen mask. “Like I’m gonna throw up.”

“Is there time for an EKG?” the paramedic asked her cohort.

“No, we’re here.” he said, reaching into his gear and retrieving a small white pill. He removed the oxygen mask and placed the pill in Burton’s mouth. “Chew this. It’s aspirin. And try to calm down.”

Burton obeyed orders and chewed the pill. His face contorted into a grimace as he dealt with the pain in his chest.

Luckily, we had arrived at the hospital. The ambulance stopped and the other two paramedics opened the back door, pulling Burton and the gurney into the cool air.

“Go to the waiting area,” the paramedic said as she hopped down, offering me a hand. “Someone will find you.”

Stunned, I stood in the hallway of the hospital, watching as they jogged Burton through the ER.

“Code Blue.” the announcement came through the loudspeaker, and I knew it was for Burton. Finding the nearest chair, I sat down and looked at his phone, the cracks like an intricate spiderweb beneath my quivering fingers.

“Dr. Crawford to the ER,” the announcement began again. “Code Blue.”

I hope you’re damn good at your job, Dr. Crawford. You have to save him. You just have to.

My phone buzzed with a text.

Lyra.

-How is he?

-Not sure. I think he had a heart attack in the ambulance, but I don’t know.

-Oh no!

-I may be here a while. I can’t leave him.

-Of course! We’re fine here, don’t worry. Everything is under control.

-Thank you! I’ll check in once I hear something.

For an hour,I sat in the stiff wooden chair, staring at the entrance to the ER. Any time a man entered, I looked up, wondering if he could be Peter McTavish. Instead, I listened as each man spoke to the receptionist.

Broken thumb.

High fever and vomiting.

Abdominal pains.

None of them were looking for their dad.

I did whatever I could to occupy my mind—texting Lyra, who was busy balancing the book signing. Our guest author had drawn quite the crowd, so she didn’t have much time to give me. I hated reading on my phone, but I knew that the murder mystery I was reading would keep me engrossed. So, I settled into my uncomfortable chair and distracted myself as best I could.

“Excuse me.” A nurse approached after about two hours of waiting, holding a mask in her hand. “Did you come in with Burton McTavish?”

I stood and joined her. “Yes, is he okay?”

She gave a cautious nod, holding one hand up. “He’s stable. His angioplasty was a success, and he’s resting in recovery now. He should be settled into his room in about an hour or so. Are you family?”

“No, his son is on the way. He asked me to stay with him until he can get here.”

She nodded again. “I’ll take you to him.”

Eagerly, I walked with her to Burton’s room. When she pulled the curtain back, I saw him resting in the bed. The machines beeped and buzzed as his chest rose and fell.

“Mr. McTavish, you have a visitor.”

“He probably doesn’t remember me,” I said softly, shaking my head. “It all happened so fast.”

“Just sit with him. You can fill him in when he wakes up.”

I pulled a chair toward his bed, sitting down as I placed my hand gently on top of his. It was warm, and he twitched at my touch.

“Hi, Burton,” I said, keeping my voice gentle and low.

He opened his eyes, and his lips gently crept to form a small smile. He reached over with his other hand and covered mine. A tear rolled down my cheek, and I smiled at Burton, his blue eyes bright and grateful. Inhaling deeply, I squeezed his hand just a bit.

“You’re going to be okay,” I said. And for the first time, I actually believed my own words.

Burton was going to be okay.