Ice cold needles pierced my skin as my body slid beneath the surface of the river. I kicked upwards, ignoring that my fingers were already losing feeling, and then I searched for the car. It was a few metres away, moving down stream at a sluggish pace.
My hair, sopping wet with water, stuck to my mouth as I took in a huge breath and ducked beneath the water.
My hand cut through the water like a knife and I front crawled. With the help of the current I reached the car in seconds. The wheels were steaming, still hot from spinning so fast on the highway.
. Once I opened it up the car would sink fast. It didn't help that whoever was in there wasn't making a sound. They seemed to be unconscious.
With one hand planted on the side of the car I pulled on the handle. I tugged harder, the strain making my blood rush through my ears louder than the water.
But then it popped open and water rushed inside. I wedged myself in, reaching over the lap of the driver and fumbling with the seat belt. All the while the water level in the car rose, passing over his feet, then his legs.
Finally the man came free and I pulled him out. The water was so high now that his head was almost under the water. A few more seconds and so would we.
But I was quick.
With a strong grip around his waist I swam with the current further up stream, aiming diagonally for shore. We passed the bridge and kept going, but I didn't try to move against the current. This man was tiny, but he was still at least as heavy as me and I didn't want to tire myself out.
I was surprisingly calm. You had to be in these situations, and all I could think as my feet reached the shore was, Why is this so easy when saying "I'm gay" is nearly impossible?
Let me rephrase that; this wasn't easy. Every muscle in me burnt as I pulled the man out of the water and dragged him out with me. However, I wasn't scared. I knew what to do, what was going to happen. He was completely limp but after a quick check of his pulse I knew he was still alive.
Bracing myself, I squatted, lifting him and slinging his body over my shoulders fire man style. My core felt like it was being torn in two, but with a grunt stood up and took a step up the slope towards the road, vowing that from then on I'd start weight lifting.
My legs shook like crazy, ready to give out at any second, but I pushed on. Behind me the last pockets of air trapped within the smart car bubbled to the surface with a glug.
Finally I got to the plateau on the side of the road and I bent down to place him on the soft grass. The first thing I did was roll him into the recovery position.
Blood stained my front, but it wasn't my own. A gash in the man's head gushed blood down his face, almost preventing me from recognizing him, but even though I'd only seen him once—well, he had a distinct face.
He was more ragged than his picture on Harthorn's website, with bristles on his chin and severe acne scars from years of stage makeup, but I still recognized how his eyes were so far apart, and besides, he was supposed to be on his way to the King estate, so it would make sense for him to be driving down this road.
He probably had a concussion. Biting my lip, I looked across the road at my phone. I'd just leave him for a second.
I ran across the road, checking both sides, and picked up my phone from where the accident had occurred. The metal rungs of the railing were bent out of shape like broken braces.
I went back to Halenchuk, unconscious behind the blinking taillights of my car, and put the phone to my ear.
"Can you describe the situation, miss?" Whoever had answered me was still waiting on the phone.
"Someone swerved off the side of the bridge—Finch bridge—after trying to avoid an animal. His car went into the water."
"Is the man still in the vehicle?"
"I got him out. He's on the side of the road now."
"You got him—are you alright, miss?"
I looked down at myself, checking my body for wounds, but besides a few pulled muscles I seemed healthy. I ached all over, but still, at least I didn't drown.
"I'm fine," I said. My heart felt like it was ripping at the septum and I panted so hard that I could barely speak, but other than that I was fine. "He's bleeding pretty bad and he's unconscious—" I put two fingers on his carotid, just to makes sure what I said next was still true. "—but he's still alive."
"Good. Roll him onto his side—"
"Good, then wait. What's your name?"
"Alright, Daphne. When the ambulance comes go with them. They'll want to check that you aren't hurt before they let you go. Would you like us to contact someone—"
"No," I interjected. I had the feeling the lady on the other line was getting tired of me interrupting her, but a plan was forming in my mind. "That's fine. I'd like to accompany this man to the hospital. I know him."
On the horizon two blots of light came gliding down a hill beyond the bridge, the red lights flashing madly as sirens wailed.
"When a paramedic has reached you I'll let you go."
I sweated nervously, not because he was bleeding out on the sidewalk and possibly close to death, but because of what I was about to dp. If I was lucky he'd wake up soon, in which case I wanted to be by his side to dramatize the effect.
Imagine it, waking up after a near death experience, your valiant saviour waiting by your bed, a kind stranger who risked her life to save you. This was much better than being introduced by Ashanti.
In seconds the ambulance squealed to a stop and paramedics came streaming out. "They're here," I said into my phone.
"Alright. They'll take care of you from here on out."
I hung up after an awkward silence and got up from my kneeling position with wobbly knees. I nearly fell over but a huge paramedic in a yellow safety jacket caught me.
"Whoa there!" he said, chuckling as his comrades rushed past us and lifted Halenchuk onto a stretcher. It seemed like an odd place to laugh, so I guess he was just trying to calm me down. "Can I get your name, Miss. Hero?"
I laughed, righting myself. It was excruciatingly painful, though. "Daphne."
"I'm Greg. You're soaked." He looked at the river. "You know that was dangerous, right?"
"I'm a lifeguard. I know what I can handle."
Greg, a tall white man with curly brown hair and a long nose, quirked a hairy eyebrow and grinned. "How about you get in the back and we'll take you to the hospital. We just need to check you for injuries, but from the looks of it you're fine. Is there anyone you'd like me to call?"
I shook my head. "No. What about my car?"
Greg nodded and yelled, "Eh Tommy! Drive the car to the hospital!" and pointed to my Sun Fire. The young man in question ran over and found the keys still in the ignition. Greg leaned down to say, "He's the rookie," before leading me to the back of the ambulance.
It was a brightly lit, organized little room with cabinets for medical supplies and a defibrillator strapped to the wall. I squeezed in on a padded bench on the right and somebody wrapped a thick, blanket sized towel around me. It was then that I realized how cold I was. My teeth chattered and I shivered uncontrollably.
Halenchuk jostled when the vehicle began to move. The oxygen mask over his face fogged over and paramedics began cleaning his wounds and taping his face. His heartbeat kept steady on the EKG.
"He looks stable," Greg said. "But if it wasn't for you he'd be at the bottom of that river."
I nodded grimly.
As we sped down the highway Greg kept up small talk. The other two paramedics, two women, talked on walkie-talkies and checked on Halenchuk while he entertained me. I assumed it had something to do with warding off the shock, but asking about my parents wasn't helping with that.
They were the last thing I wanted to think about right now. Dad was going to flip out once he realized I was late. I'd give it half an hour before he began assaulting my phone with text, an hour before he called. I slipped my hand in my pocket and turned off the ringer, then I smiled at Greg and said, "Enough of me. What about you? Do you have any kids? Hobbies?"
He laughed. "You're taking all of this surprisingly well."
Why wouldn't I? At this point, Halenchuk driving off the side of that bridge was the best thing that could have happened to me; he just didn't know why.
A few stories about Greg's toddlers and a couple of lies later we arrived at Queen Elizabeth Hospital. The back doors of the ambulance burst open and the two other paramedics got Halenchuk out in a hurry. Greg helped me out of the van, which was nice given that my legs felt like boiled spaghetti.
The hospital was just as busy as it always was even though it was a Thursday night. Little kids bundled in blankets like burritos sat huddled against their parents, looking up with curious eyes as paramedics wheeled Halenchuk into the ER. Nurses appeared out of nowhere, dodging around other patients to reach his stretcher. Greg slowed to a stroll as they sped off down the hall, disappearing around a bend.
"Can I go with him? It's urgent I'm with him when he wakes up."
The way I said 'urgent' made Greg walk a bit faster. "Alright, then. How do you know this guy, anyway?"
"He's a friend of a friend, but he's visiting Charlottetown for a business trip and probably doesn't have any way to contact who he's staying with. I can call them with my phone. Besides, don't you think he'd like to thank me?" I came up with it on the spot, but to my surprise I wasn't telling a lie. The Kings would want to know why he didn't make it to their house, why he wasn't picking up his phone.
The paramedic shrugged. "True enough. Let's see where they're taking him."
We found him lying unconscious in an operation room where a doctor bent over his head and gave him stitches. We waited outside, but not long after he was declared stable and repositioned to a ward.
"You'll be fine?" Greg asked. "Are you sure you wouldn't like to be examined?"
I grinned. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure getting examined is not high on my agenda." Then I paused. "Thanks, though, for everything." He'd been with me the whole time. I took the towel off my shoulders and handed it back.
"Keep it. We have lots more where that came from."
I nodded and waved goodbye. He left me at the side of the door and a nurse motioned for me to enter the ward. It was clean and smelt faintly of hand sanitizer, with another bed just behind a curtain.
"How are you feeling?" the nurse asked me. She pulled up a chair beside Halenchuk's cot and I sat down.
"I'm tired, but I'll be fine."
"Are you sure you wouldn't like us to call someone?"
"As sure as I'll ever be," I said. I nodded towards Halenchuk. "How is he? Do you think he'll wake up soon?"
"It was a bit of a shock for him—he hit his head pretty hard—but I don't think he'll be asleep much longer. Say, do you see that red button right there?" I looked to where the nurse pointed. A little remote was connected to the side of the bed with a single, large red button popping out.
"I have other patients to check on, so if you can press that when he wakes up that would be fantastic."
She left, leaving me alone with the silence of the room and the steady rise and fall of Halencuk's chest. I waited there, suddenly aware of the hum of the radiator and the far off beeps of hospital equipment, the drip of a leaky faucet in the bathroom, and the sound of the EKG whirring as it tracked his heartbeat.
My phone buzzed in my pocket from my father calling me, but I didn't answer. It was late now, about eleven o'clock, but I continued to wait with the blanket wrapped around me.
His heart beat stuttered as his eyes opened. They were brown and big like a baby calf. For a moment he looked up at the ceiling and then looked around, blinking slowly. His eyes went from the EKG, to the IV drip, around the room, and finally on me.