For those of you left wondering, “What happened with the paramedic?” after last Tuesday’s teaser, this is simply … a further tease. What can I say? It takes more than a few chapters for this particular incident to unfold.
Olivia was the kind of girl who never managed to break the ice, even at parties where she knew everyone. The paramedic, on the other hand, leaned out of the ambulance window every day for weeks and said, “Morning.” Or sometimes, “Hey there.”
Startled out of her pre-dawn reverie each time, Olivia nodded, half-smiled, and kept walking. She walked every morning for an hour, looping around the river park trail before the sun made it up over the tree line. The ambulance parked at the edge of the river, its driver leaning back in the seat, arm propped on the window. He had been parking there as long as Olivia’s resolution to lose weight had been in effect and for all she knew, before that. She supposed he was on his break.
Olivia had finally accepted the exchange of greetings as an unavoidable annoyance. Then one morning, as she stepped off the curb to cross the street and start her walk, he opened the ambulance door, got out of the cab and walked toward her. Standing in the middle of the sidewalk, he seemed to be waiting for her to cross the street and reach him. Or perhaps he hadn’t noticed that he was standing directly in her path. Except that he was looking at her.
“Good morning,” he said.
Olivia dropped her gaze, giving her half-smile and trying to step to the side, between the trash can and him. He side-stepped to match her and then there was no place to go. She flushed. She hated games like that, where someone was made to feel stupid and embarrassed. Resigned, she muttered, “Morning.”
“Nice and hot, huh?” he said.
“Global warming. That’s what they say.” She hesitated, her foot seeking the curb, trying to gauge if there was enough room to squeeze past without touching him.
“Yeah, you right.”
Olivia wondered if maybe he were a little “off.” Touched, as her grandmother said. He had the hint of an accent, something exotic to Tampa. When he said hot it sounded like hawt. New Jersey, maybe? Belatedly she felt nervous. There it was, still practically dark, and she was alone.
“You new to Tampa? Dis neighborhood?” he asked. He rocked back on his heels like he was enjoying himself. Daring a quick glance at him, she guessed at a nice tan and hazel eyes, maybe? Hard to tell in the pre-dawn. Sort of swarthy–Italian? His hair was cropped short, military style, too short to really have a color. Dark blond or brown, she guessed. Embroidered on the right side of his uniform shirt was his name: James.
“Neither. I’ve lived here my whole life.” Just the sort of personal information you shouldn’t offer to crazy strangers.
“Really? I only been seeing you for a few months. Not before that.” He should have been embarrassed or uneasy–she was trying to make it difficult for him–but he didn’t look it.
Olivia stepped up on the sidewalk and, bracing herself for it, pushed past him, her shoulder brushing against his.
“Excuse me, James, I need to go for my walk.” That at least startled him. He looked down at his chest and laughed.
Behind her, he said, “James is my last name. I’m a paramedic, not a quick-lube guy.”