hi, this is the first totally original story that i have ever finished. Nothing like a deadline to force me to get my butt in gear. I appreciate any comments, even if it is just to say that it sucks. Suspended Indefinitely Victoria Whitehall sat at work, and briefly stared off into space. It was cold, it was dark, and one heck of a storm was brewing. It was strangely appropriate that the weather was so miserable. Especially considering the day that Vic was having. The project that she was working on was quickly spiraling down the tubes, and everything she did to try and salvage what was left of this project only made things worse. Nothing she did helped the situation, it was like trying to revive someone who was already dead. She had plenty of experience trying to revive the dead as well. When she wasn’t busy working as a an engineer, she spent a couple of nights a week and almost every weekend as an Emergency Medical and High Angle Rescue Technician. She was the Assistant Captain of the Pine Mountain Emergency Rescue Service. Somehow that was more fulfilling than her real job, especially lately. At Pine Mountain, she felt like she made a difference, she helped people, and she even saved lives. There was a certain amount of satisfaction in that, but it was just not enough. She wanted recognition for what she did, but she was terrified of ridicule. All she really wanted was something that resembled a thank you, but when she got it she was unable to handle it. She didn’t know how to take a compliment, in fact she was so used to being made fun of that she couldn’t figure out when compliments and thank yous were sincere, and when they were dripping with sarcasm. She spent her life on the defensive, always guessing wrong, and always answering incorrectly. She was constantly protecting herself with either snide remarks or self-deprecating humor. This day was the same as all of the others, or at least it started out that way. Her inbox was overflowing with things that needed to be done. There were the multiple emails from the boss asking why project x wasn’t complete, or reminding her that little Johnny would die if project Y wasn’t completed on time. It was 5:00 pm, and she would have liked to go to the gym to work off some of her frustration, but that would not be possible this evening. No tonight she had to go to a party. A wedding shower in fact for a colleague that she had been rather close to at one time, but no longer was. She really didn’t want to go to the shower but she knew that she had to. As much as she had alienated these friends over the last year or so, as much as she knew that the only reason they still acquainted with her was based upon history, she knew in the pit of her stomach or deep in her long hardened heart, that she had to go. Victoria was already depressed; she had been since the fateful day when her family was killed. A day when she couldn’t be there with them because she couldn’t get the day off from work, she was spared due to a deadline, they were killed by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her friends didn’t seem to notice that her mood had not improved; they barely acknowledged that she was upset. The day was further cemented as a bad day when she received a disturbing phone call. It wasn’t the type of call where a family member was hurt or in danger, she had already experienced that when she lost her family in a terrorist attack. No, this phone call would take away the only other thing that she enjoyed. The call was from John, Captain of the Pine Mountain Emergency Rescue Service. He was also her riding partner, and probably the only person she still considered a true friend, the only person she still loved. He was notifying her that she had been named in a lawsuit as well as the county and the rescue service. They were being sued for neglect, improper care and negligence in their response to an automobile accident. It took a few moments of John reading the complaint before she recalled the particular accident. It was a cold and rainy night when a Nissan Pathfinder drove off a mountain road and flipped a few times before landing in a ravine that was on the verge of flooding. There were three people in the truck, and only a seven year old child survived. John assured her that she would have the full support of the county attorneys and they were already working on the case. He assured her that there was no evidence that she or anyone else riding that night was at fault. He assured her that this would pass, and all would be OK, but there would be depositions, court appearances, and a lot of turmoil before it was resolved. All of this was OK with Victoria, the squad had been sued before, she had appeared in court before, but she had never been named as a defendant before. What didn’t sit well with her were the last words of the conversation, as a precautionary measure, she was suspended from service indefinitely, at least until this was resolved. For the rest of the day, those words kept echoing in her head, "Suspended indefinitely." Everything else was wiped from her mind, it was difficult to focus on any of the tasks at hand, "suspended indefinitely." It echoed in her head as she drove home from work, it echoed when she dropped by the rescue building to get some items from her locker. Suspended indefinitely. It wasn’t until she was backing into her driveway and she saw the plain white box with the green bow that she remembered the shower. She wasn’t late yet, but the party started in 10 minutes and her house was an hour away. Victoria thought about calling and telling them that she could not make it, that something came up, be she knew that any excuse that she came up with would be shot down. If she told them she had to work late, they would remind her that work would be there in the morning. If she told them that her car wasn’t running well, they would remind her that it was time for a new car, so basically she still had to go. As she drove to the party, she kept looking at her pager and her cell phone; she was surprised that they had not rung. She was just starting to convince herself that nobody would notice if she didn’t show up. She was just starting to hatch a plan where she would hand the box to the security guard and slip him a ten if he would deliver the package. As relief washed over her, the cell phone started to chirp to life. "This is Vic," she answered, knowing who the caller was. "Where the heck are you?" questioned Sandy, another mutual friend. "You know you are an hour late, we wanted to start dinner, but depending on where you are, we can continue to wait. I told everyone that you didn’t do this on purpose, but they are convinced that you are trying to ruin their party. Cathy is waiting for you by the security guard so that you will be able to get in quickly." Vic sat in utter silence as she tried to process Sandy’s tirade, she knew that she had to answer soon though, lest Sandy start another tirade. "I just pulled into the visitor lot. As soon as I find a parking spot I’ll be inside. I am sure that I will see Cathy on my way in." "OK, I’ll let everyone know that you will be here soon, and Vic, we all noticed that you have been a bit more down that usual lately. Try not to bring everyone else down or to spoil this for Tiffany. Cathy wants it to be perfect." Said Sandy as she hung up. As she approached the front door, Vic saw Cathy sitting on a bench by the front door. She was sitting with her hands cradling her face, crying. "Damn it Vic, we can’t count on you for anything, half of the guests wanted to wait for you, the rest, either didn’t care, or are getting annoyed. Tiffany is a mess. We wanted her night to be perfect." She mumbled and cried into her hands without ever looking up. Vic Waited a few moments, hoping that Cathy wouldn’t look up before she put a hand reassuringly on her shoulder. "He Kiddo, you aren’t out here waiting for me, are you?" She asked with the best half grin she could muster. "Oh Vic, I am so glad that you are finally here, we didn’t know what happened to you. We were starting to get worried." Cathy said, somewhat embarrassed, not knowing what Vic might have heard. "You didn’t have to wait for me, you know. It would have been OK. I’m sorry I was late. Lets go inside and have a party, OK." Said Vic as she fell in step behind Cathy. As she sat and ate dinner, All Vic could think about were the words that echoed through her head all day, "Suspended indefinitely." As hard as she tried, she could not get into the party mood. She tried, but decided that it would be better if she just remained in the shadows. When it came time to open the gifts, Victora was flooded with apprehension. The plain white box with the small green bow that she brought held a very nice gift for the happy couple, something that was a part of her, and something that she had put a considerable amount of time, effort, heart and soul into. Most people would love the gift, a hand made afghan, and see where it came from. Since her friends were all far more affluent than she was, Victoria was afraid that they might see it as thirty dollars worth of yarn, and not seen the hours that went into it, making sure that every stitch was lined up perfectly and every color matched and transitioned properly. When Tiffany opened the plain white paper, she wondered out loud who would use such plain paper for a shower gift. She asked loudly where the card was, assuming that there wasn’t one. It was her way of kidding around with Vic. Then Tiffany and Bill, her fiancé lifted the lid off the plain copy paper box and asked why anyone would put a shower gift in a copy paper box. They then lifted the afghan out carefully, hoping that it was just packing material for the crystal tea set that was still open on the registry or the power drill that Bill had hinted at every time he spoke to Victoria. The rest of the guests, especially those that did not know the history of Tiffany and Vic’s friendship stared in horror at the afghan that was a combination of greens and earthy tones. They all decided that their gift was better than Victoria’s, and as such that they were better than Victoria. Nobody knew, or cared to know that everything from the colors used to the stitch selected had a deep-rooted meaning, and was selected with Tiffany and Bill in mind. This party ended up being like all of the others with these friends that Victoria had attended. Everyone was having a good time, drinking heavily, and not really caring about anything other than their own mirth. Not Victoria though, she was standing in the shadows, leaning in the corners, and watching. Not able to have the same type of good time that the others were having. She was the one who went and got more beer or wine when the party ran out, or took care of getting home all of the people who couldn’t drive themselves. She knew the expectations of her invitation to the party and she would play her role exactly as she was supposed to. Tonight was a little different. In fact Vic wasn’t even sure what happened. Someone drank too much and started loudly commenting on everything from the gift Vic brought to the clothes she was wearing to the way she walked. Instead of anyone trying to quiet this down, or defending Vic, the others joined in and before long everyone was laughing, everyone except Vic. Vic was not in the mood for this type of thing, so she very quietly and very discreetly left the party. It was a miserable night, with plummeting temperatures, thunder and lightning, and freezing rain. The roads were barely passable, as Vic got closer to the mountain road that she preferred to drive when leaving Cathy’s house. She didn’t want to go home, but she couldn’t go to the rescue building either. Suspended indefinitely. So instead she chose to just drive around the mountain roads. She knew that she should have driven the jeep to the party, she knew that it would have been a better choice than the old Mustang especially with the storm brewing, but she just felt like driving the Mustang. She had been driving for about 30 minutes heading to the long route through the mountains when her cell phone started ringing. "This is Vic." She answered "Vic, where are you?" asked Sandy. "I…I, had to go. There is a storm brewing, and I wanted to get on the road before it got too bad." She said as calmly as she could. "Oh, Someone thought they saw you leaving when we were all joking around. They thought maybe you went to get some more beer or something. You could have at least said good bye to everyone." "Sorry about that. Everyone was otherwise engaged in conversation, so I didn’t want to interrupt anyone." "You know, I hope that you didn’t mind the way the conversations were going. We were all just joking around and having a good time. Nobody meant anything by what they said." "I’m glad that you are sure about that. I am not so sure. Does it really matter what box I wrapped my gift in? Does it really matter that I was wearing blue jeans and boots? What did I do to deserve that kind of ridicule? And none of you came to my defense. Not a single person stood up for me, instead you all joined in." Said Vic as she stepped on the gas pedal "Well, none of us thought you would be that upset, we always bust on you. You were an hour late to the party, how can you expect not to take some ribbing?" said Sandy nonchalantly. "Well, look, at least now I know where I stand with all of you. With friends like you guys, I don’t need enemies." She said as her speedometer inched the car up to 70, on the mountain roads. "Hey, we are the only friends you have. We all wanted Tiffany to have a good time, so she was joking around so we let her." Said Sandy as anger started to build in her voice. "Tell Tiffany that if she doesn’t like the blanket, I will pick it up tomorrow. I can get her the damn crystal tea set. I can even get Bill his dammed power drill." Said Vic as she took a curve a little too fast. "Just remember Vic, it was your own fault, and I wont let you make this about you." said Sandy as she got angrier. "Fine. Do me a favor… Oh Crap , " yelled Vic as she saw something dart out in front of her car and slammed on the breaks. The next thing Sandy heard was a loud crash followed by the sickening sounds of glass breaking and metal twisting. She thought she heard a scream as the sounds went on for what seemed like forever, but was probably only a matter of seconds. "Vic, what happened?… Vic, can you hear me? Vic, Are you OK? Vic where are you?" The questions poured out of her like a waterfall, louder as she did not get responses. Sandy turned to the other party guests, "I need a phone, someone give me their cell phone." "Help, I need some help," Vic barely whispered hoping that someone would hear her before unconsciousness overtook her. Sandy barely heard the plea as she grabbed Cathy’s cell phone and quickly dialed 911. ********************************************************** John Stone was not having a good day. He was not happy that he had to suspend his assistant captain of Pine Mountain Rescue. He wasn’t happy that she would not be able to hang at the rescue building with him. He was not happy that he was losing his riding partner, and this would seriously impact their time together. He had wanted to propose to Vic for a long time. He had the engagement ring for almost two years at this point, but every time he was ready to ask the question something would come up that would make the timing all wrong. The first time he was going to ask, was right before he found out that her family was killed. The second time was the night of the accident response that she was being sued over. There were others, but the timing just never seemed to work out. He was going to ask tonight when she stopped by the building after the shower, but then he had to suspend her. He didn’t think she would want to marry him after he took away the only thing she did that seemed to hold any meaning for her. It was all about timing, and his timing was never quite right. The call came it at 11:14 pm. snapping him out of his thoughts of Vic. The only detail was that there was a car accident; there was not a definitive location. It was somewhere on the mountain roads between Chester and Pine Bluff. The police had already searched all of the main roads that were easily passable, but with the storm, they weren’t able to assign anyone to search the mountain roads. It was now up to the rescue squad to search for the needle in the haystack. The locations were familiar, as was the description of a white mustang, but John didn’t really think about it. He started calling in rescue staff that might be able to help. He wanted to mobilize two trucks to try and give the victim a fighting chance at survival. This was the type of call that Vic would have been a huge help on, but he couldn’t call her. Then again, if the weather got real bad, and they couldn’t find the wreck, he would call her, consequences be damned. It didn’t take long to get two full crews together. Three guys in one truck, him and a cadet in the other, and another crew in case there were any other accidents. He let dispatch know what the plan was, and tried to get more information. But all he got was that a woman was on the phone with her friend when she heard a loud crash and she thought she heard a plea for help. It wasn’t much to go on, but it was their job to try like hell to help this person. John took truck number one. The other crew took truck number three, with a quick pep talk they were on their way with each crew taking a separate path. ********************************************************** Vic felt nauseous. She wasn’t sure that she was in pain, but she was pretty sure that she couldn’t move. She listened for help, she listened for noise, she heard nothing but the sound of rain as it beat down on the wreckage that used to be her prized Mustang. For a brief moment she cursed herself for driving too fast, she cursed herself for arguing on her cell phone while driving, she cursed herself for not just taking her friends' abuse again. She also cursed the deer that ran out in front of her. She hoped that the dead deer was still on the road that might be the only marking that leads Pine Mountain Rescue to her. Then she had to try and think about what to do. Her vision was blurry, but she wasn’t sure if that was the rain, or if she hit her head. She had no idea what time it was or how long she had been in the ravine. All she knew was that she had to find a way out. On a night like this Not only would rescue be busy, but she wasn’t even sure that they knew she was out here. She tried to scream on the off chance that Sandy was still on the phone, but all she heard was a strained gurgling that was indicative of a punctured lung. She tried to look around for the phone. If only she could get to it, she could dial for help, but when she tried to move, pain shot through every fiber of her being, and it wasn’t long before she was mercifully unconscious again. ********************************************************** The rescue trucks canvassed the roads between Chester and Pine Bluff; they drove at a mind numbingly slow speed looking for anything that might be indicative of a car going off the road. They used their high-powered searchlights to try and penetrate the deep woods on both sides of each road. As time progressed, the weather worsened, and time was running out for the automobile accident victim. At that moment, when John was close to Vic's house, he decided to call her to see if she could help. He speed dialed her on his cell phone, hoping that she would answer. On the first call, it seemed to ring forever before voicemail finally picked up. "Hey Vic, this is John, I know that I am the last person you thought you would hear from tonight, but we have a pretty serious situation and I think you are the best person to help us with it. Call me if you can help, we will worry about the suspension later." "The shower," he thought to himself, "I forgot that she was at the shower. They should be done by now," he looked at his watch, it was after midnight, and they had been looking for this person for over an hour. "Rescue One, this is Rescue Three. We think we found something." Crackled across the radio. "We are on CR 572, nearest cross road is 202. We see a vehicle that drove off the road. We are gonna need some help." "I’ll be there in 15." Responded John, as relief washed over him. "Vic is gonna be upset when she hears the message," he thought. When he arrived, John discovered that this was a Jeep that had driven off the road, not a white mustang. A white Mustang, John could not shake the feeling of dread that kept inching into his mind. A white Mustang…. He quickly called Vic’s cell phone again with a little more desperation as he clutched the engagement ring that he always kept in his pocket when he thought he might see Vic. The phone immediately went to voicemail. "Hey Vic, this is John again, I know that you were smart enough to drive the jeep tonight," he said, hoping that she was in fact smart enough. "We are still looking for someone, someone in a white mustang, your expertise would be really helpful tonight. Please call me ASAP." He said as he snapped his phone closed. Knowing that Vic should be home by now, it was well after 1 am. "Dispatch, This is Rescue one, is there any word on the white Mustang?" asked John "Rescue One, this is dispatch, No, we haven’t heard anything, but the temperature is dropping, and we don’t know how much longer we will be able to get a chopper in the air if you find her. We will keep you posted if we hear anything." John absently found himself driving directly to Vic’s house. He tried her home phone but there was no answer. He was pretty sure that he still had a key to her house. He used to feed her fish whenever work sent her away on business, until the fish all died and were not replaced. She never asked for the key back though, so he hung onto it. When he got to the house, it was dark, the jeep was in the driveway, so he rang the doorbell a few times before he keyed in. Nobody was home, neither was the white Mustang. Quickly he drove to Cathy’s house, it was late, but he didn’t care if he woke her up. All he cared about was that Vic was OK. His cadet carefully searched the roads as he drove to Chester. They saw nothing, the rain was coming down at near downpour levels, but they searched with a new fervor. As much as he hoped that he was wrong, John knew that it was Vic he was searching for. When he got to Cathy’s house, he was not surprised to see that she was still wide-awake, and there were a few people milling about. "Hi, I’m John Stone, captain of Pine Mountain Rescue Services, I am glad to finally meet you, but I need to know if Victoria Whitehall is still here?" He said without a moment of pause, and without giving Cathy a chance to get a word in edgewise. "Oh My god," said Cathy, as her moment of jubilation at thinking they found Vic turned to despair as she listened to John. "I thought you were here to tell us you found her." John held on to the doorframe to steady himself. "Were you the person who called 911?" "No, Sandy called. They were arguing on cell phones when she heard the crash. We have been calling periodically to see if there is anything that we could do. We offered to go out and help look, but the operator said that the roads were bad, and the only thing we could do to help was to sit tight and let them know if she called in. Tiffany and Sandy think this is all their fault." Cried Cathy as she looked for John to provide her some comfort. "We can’t find her, he said softly as he tried to maintain his composure. We have been looking for hours. The ravines are starting to overflow and things are freezing over. So she was upset when she left? Did she say which way she was going?" "Yes, they were arguing. No, she didn’t say which way she was going. Is there anything we can do to help?" She pleaded. "No" said John as he rushed back to the truck, dragging the cadet with him. "She was upset," he said to the cadet who was staring at him wide eyed. "That means she took the scenic tour. That means she was driving too fast. That means there are only about 6 places she could be." ********************************************************** Vic awoke as the ravine started to flood. She knew that she was now in even more trouble than before. She wasn’t sure if she couldn’t feel her hands because she was under very cold water, or if it was for other reasons. The pain was immense, it was everywhere and nowhere at the same time. She knew that she had to try and stay awake, and try to keep her head above the very cold water. She was starting to wonder why though. She didn’t have any family, she apparently didn’t have any friends, and it seemed like she had been there for a very long time, and nobody was coming or looking for her. "John." His face flashed in her mind’s eye. He was all she had left. But he took away the one thing that she still got fulfillment out of. "Suspended Indefinitely" If only she could find a way to free herself from the wreckage. If only she could find a way to stay warm. If only… She struggled to keep her mind straight. She struggled to stay awake, and to continue breathing, but the pain was too much to bear. She knew that if she lost consciousness again, she might never wake up… but she couldn’t move to keep her head above water, and she couldn’t see, and the pain… ********************************************************* They finally found the Mustang completely under water at the 4th sharp curve on CR 819. The car was completely submerged. Had they not found it then, they might not have found it until the spring thaw. John ran to the edge of the ravine, he needed to get to the woman he loved; he needed to get her out alive. He needed to save her. When he saw the wreckage, his heart sank; the only way that she was still alive would be if she was wearing her seatbelt, and if she managed to get free. The cadet quickly radioed Rescue three, and told them to come ASAP. The captain was going to need more help that he could give him. Quickly they tied some ropes to lower John into the ravine, and a rescue basket to scoop Vic out with. He worked his way around the wreckage until he saw her twisted, contorted body, blue from the cold, and completely underwater. John worked fast to free Vic, he didn’t want to cause her any more bodily harm, but he needed to get her out of the water, and get her breathing again. He needed to bring her back to life so he could propose. Her body was so cold; he hoped that hypothermia would work in their favor. She didn’t have a pulse. Her heart was not beating as opposed to the rush of his own heartbeat. It was not going to be easy to get her out of the wreckage. The only hope that he had was if he could get her breathing, and her heart going, then getting her out would be easier. "Vic, come on, I need you to breath." he yelled as he moved her head to open her airway. "Come on Vic," he said as he carefully felt her chest to see if he could give her some modified form of CPR to get her heart going. When he felt the obviously broken ribs, his heart sank even further. He didn’t know how long she had been this way. He didn’t know what his chances were. All he knew was that he had to try. He had been working on her for ten minutes, although it seemed like an eternity before he heard the weak and sickened cough and gasp. "Help me, I cant feel anything," she weakly gurgled. "Its OK, Vic, I’m gonna get you out of here." He said as he tried to gently free her and get her into the rescue basket. The voice was familiar, but she couldn’t place it. "Just stay with me Vic, this is going to hurt like hell, but I need you to stay with me, I need any help that you can give me." He said as he worked. "I can’t feel anything. I… I…" She said as her eyes began to waver closed. "Stay with me damn it Vic, stay with me. I need you to… to… I need you to Marry me." He said as he finally freed her, and got her into the basket. He knew that she might not have heard him, but it didn’t matter, she was going to make it, and they were going to be together as soon as she was ready. He signaled the cadet to pull her up as he tried to pull himself up out of the ravine. The cadet had just succeeded in getting Vic up the side of the ravine when he heard the scream. It was John. John lost his footing, and fell about seven feet into the wreckage. He was impaled on the corner of the door that he had forced open to get Vic out. Rescue Three showed up minutes later, but for John it was too late. He was killed almost instantly. When Vic awoke in the hospital several days later, her smile at the memory of John asking her to Marry him was quickly wiped away by the look on Sandy’s face. She didn’t know how, but Vic knew that John was dead. She knew that John died saving her. She also knew that fate was cruel, and she would never be happy again. John died saving her, but what did she have to live for now, now that everything was gone.