True To Yourself

by Carole Mortenson

PART 2— Emergency!

Go to Part 1

CHAPTER FOUR – Emotions Out of Control

Jordan MacKenzie climbed into the fire engine and sat down with an unblinking thud on the seat behind the cab on the driver's side. They were preparing to make an emergency run at 1 o'clock in the afternoon. She buckled up her seatbelt automatically. Her mind was in shambles as she thought of what had transpired the night before. She had come to work this morning at 8 o'clock, way too soon to adjust to her new situation. Her emotional level right now could be compared to an unexpected and disastrous shipwreck. Everything was tossed around in her head as if an angry sea had overwhelmed her and rendered her directionless. She still couldn't get her bearings. This emergency run of the CSFD during a fierce snowstorm wasn't helping, either. The fire station had already responded to several other calls since she'd been at work—after the snow started coming down in earnest—and physical exhaustion only added to her mental disarray.

Because the snowstorm had intensified so greatly, the Colorado Springs Police and Fire Departments were finally given the order at noon to stay inside where they were and to respond only to emergencies on a case-by-case basis. It was too dangerous to answer every distress call, as so many were not real emergencies—simply people under stress. In all of her twelve years with the fire department, Jordan had never been in a situation where they were ordered to stay put. She had tried to lie down for a few minutes at the fire station to ease her headache, when the call came.

The dispatcher said an elderly woman had collapsed in the Food Court at the Citadel Mall from an apparent heart attack. Fire Station #8 was a mile south of the mall, and they were called to this specific emergency because a closer firehouse—which ordinarily would have answered the call—was blocked in by abandoned vehicles and couldn't get out onto the road with their equipment.

Drivers had unexpectedly been caught in the storm, and there were multiple accidents on the heavily travelled thoroughfares surrounding the mall. The utter chaos was causing no end of problems for the few police vehicles that managed to reach the scene of the accidents. There were not enough emergency vehicles to go around. Who would have expected a storm like this to come upon them so suddenly, almost without warning? They'd been in a near-drought condition for over ten years!

The elderly woman collapsing was not an unusual occurrence. Many older people fear the unknown and become very stressful in intense situations—such as this snowstorm—especially when they are away from their homes. Not being able to physically or mentally cope feeds into this mindset. Other age groups also succumb to irrational fear in times of stress, oftentimes in the same way. Jordan had made many such emergency runs over the years.

Oh, God, make it go away, she thought, closing her eyes to the pain in her head. I don't even want to think about it anymore. Ellie and I had such a good thing going. Where did I go wrong?

"Shit, we're slipping all over the place!" the fire engine driver yelled, sliding sideways into a curb as he tried to dodge a stranded vehicle. "Hold on!"

It should have been an easy run for the big fire engine, but it was making slow progress because of the storm. The wind was blowing fiercely, and visibility was extremely limited. The fire engine dodged and swerved around vehicles—those that still had motorists in them and those that had been abandoned—in a very precarious manner, trying to get to its destination as quickly as possible.

"Why don't those fools pull off to the side of the road?" the driver said angrily, not realizing that in half the vehicles there was no one behind the wheel. The fire engine's air horn and siren were going full blast, warning motorists to get out of the way.

"Brad, if you don't take it easy, we're not going to get there at all!" The officer in the front seat, a young Lieutenant, was also yelling at the top of his lungs.

The driver yelled back, "I know, but a life is at stake here! It's our responsibility to get there as soon as we can!"

A life at stake? My world has just come crumbling down around me, and they're talking about a life at stake? Jordan thought incredulously. She didn't know where Ellie was right now, and she really didn't care. Her body was numb. She couldn't think rationally.

But she still had the presence of mind to draw herself back into the situation at hand. Live in the present moment, she thought. Lay aside last night. Focus. This was her job, her vocation, what she had been trained to do and had been doing for fifteen years as a rescuer—first as an ambulance driver in Indiana. Then when she moved to Colorado and found a niche in the Colorado Springs Fire Department, she was a firefighter and recently had been promoted to paramedic. At 35 years of age, she had settled into what she hoped was her life's work.

She desperately needed rescuing herself right now, but she had to pull herself together and take care of this emergency. She would think about Ellie later.

The fire engine was forced to slow down even further within a block of the mall. Vehicles had been stranded en masse in that area and then abandoned in the middle of the road as their occupants walked away from them trying to seek safer shelter from the storm. Some had relentlessly pounded on the mall's entrance doors and begged the Security guards to let them in—which they finally did. Although the guards were under strict orders to not let anybody in the mall except emergency personnel, they couldn't very well leave those people out in the blizzard to freeze to death. They weren't that heartless.

The four-wheel-drive fire engine painfully crawled along the access road, its heavy weight and chained tires helping it to dig into the deep now. It finally pulled up into the parking lot by the McDonald's entrance.

"Damn this storm!" the driver said. "Now I hope an ambulance can get here. This snow must be three feet deep, at least. Just my luck, pulling shift today—"

As they were getting their rescue equipment out of the fire engine, each person carrying their share, Jordan couldn't help letting her mind wander back to the unreal event of last night. Why hadn't she seen it coming?

* * * * * *

"Ellie, I have to go out this evening for a while," Jordan said, standing in front of the closed bathroom door. "Katie needs help moving some boxes out of her garage into the house. Then I'm going to stop and get groceries. I probably won't be home till around 10 o'clock. Okay? I won't be any later than that because I have to get up early for work."

Ellie had immediately retired to the bathroom when she got home from work. Jordan patiently waited for her response, one foot ready to head toward the back door.

Ellie's friend Madge was sitting on the couch watching the six o'clock news on TV. All she ever did, it seemed, after she moved in two months ago, was watch TV. Jordan was beginning to think it had been a mistake to let Ellie's friend move in with them. She hadn't yet found a job. And she didn't do anything to help out around the house. She wouldn't even wash the dishes. The guest bedroom where she slept was a total mess. Madge seemed to be off in her own little world somewhere. Jordan , with her own strong work ethic, couldn't understand people like Madge. She let her stay only because she was a friend of Ellie's.

"Okay, sweetie. I'll wait up for you," Ellie finally replied.

Jordan had worked all afternoon in the yard, raking up another mass of leaves that had fallen from two of her large maple trees—one in the back yard and one alongside the house. She'd also cleaned out the gutters around the roof. She needed to gather up the leaves that had fallen from a third maple in the front yard on another day and would finally be finished with that chore. She hoped this would be the last of it. She was amazed that leaves were still falling off the trees in December. They used to be all gone by late October. She had looked up earlier at the darkening sky and thought there might be a rare snowfall in the forecast. She told herself she'd watch the ten o'clock weather report on TV before she went to bed. The weather dictated a lot as to how her day at the firehouse would evolve.

Although she had worked up a sweat working in the yard, she didn't bother changing clothes, as she would probably get sweatier and dirtier while moving boxes. She threw on her jean jacket as she went out the back door, noting the unusual chill in the air.

Driving over to Katie's, Jordan was in a good mood. After two years of being together with Ellie, it was time to make a commitment. She was ready. And she was solid in her mind that Ellie was ready, too. She would make the suggestion this Sunday. Then she would have the house put in Ellie's name, too, and they would be a real couple. She wondered what jewelry store they should go to and buy matching rings. She grabbed a hamburger at a fast food place on the way to Katie's and ate with a smile on her face—totally happy.

Katie wasn't answering her doorbell, and then Jordan saw a note taped to the screen door which read: "Sorry. Had to leave. Mom is real sick and didn't want to be alone tonight. Call you tomorrow."

"I wish she had called me before I came all the way over here," Jordan muttered to herself, getting back into her vehicle.

She stopped at King Soopers on the way back home—anticipating the possible snow—and stocked up on enough groceries to last for a few days. Tomorrow she couldn't go shopping because she was working twenty-four hours. Ellie was also working, and wouldn't drive in the snow any more than she needed to—in the event it snowed. Ellie's friend Madge didn't drive at all.

It was 8 o'clock when she pulled into her driveway. She decided to park in the double-car garage next to Ellie's car and come in the back door. Normally she parked alongside the house and came in the front door when she had to leave early in the morning. But just in case it snowed she didn't want to have to brush the white stuff off her SUV before she left. She retrieved the snow shovel from the garage and set it by the back door just in case. She didn't expect more than a dusting of snow, however. She noted how shiny the new shovel was, never having been used yet.

Jordan carried in the three sacks of groceries and set them on the kitchen table as she looked around. It was unusually quiet. Even the TV, which would normally be blasting away at this hour of the evening—Madge's annoying habit of watching sitcoms on Friday nights—was silent. Where was everybody?

"Honey, I'm home," she said in a voice she thought was loud enough to be heard. No answer. That's strange, she thought. Ellie's car is home, so she couldn't have gone somewhere. "Honey, are you here?" Still no answer.

Jordan hung her jacket up on a hook by the back door and put the groceries away. Then she began to systematically search through the house to see where her 'honey' could be. Maybe she went next door for something. But that's not like Ellie, she decided.

The bedroom at the front of the house, which Jordan and Ellie shared, was the last place she looked. She opened the door a crack and glanced inside. Hearing a slight noise, she opened the door wider. The living room lamp shed a dim light on Ellie and Madge—together on the bed! Naked! Wrapped in each other's arms! They were oblivious to Jordan 's presence.

Oh my God, Jordan gasped silently. I didn't even see it coming!

She stood there transfixed and watched as Ellie pulled Madge over halfway on top of her, her body sinuous against her. Madge's lips moved down Ellie to her breasts. Ellie quivered as Madge found a nipple and savored it. Then she took the other nipple in her mouth, her tongue slowly and sweetly stroking and then gently sucking. Ellie gripped the edge of the bed. Madge brought her hand down to Ellie's thighs and touched the wet silkiness between her legs, Ellie's body tensing as a finger began its own slow strokes. Then without gentleness, Madge brought her head up to Ellie's mouth. Her kiss was aggressive with passion, her tongue swift thrusts.

Jordan closed her eyes in disbelief. She opened them again just as Madge moaned from deep in her throat. Blood pounded in Jordan 's ears, and her eyes were glued to the erotic scene before her.

She saw Madge move down then, between Ellie's soft open thighs. She spread Ellie's quivering thighs fully open into a spread-eagle position. Then her head came between Ellie's thighs, her hands under Ellie's hips, slowly rotating. Ellie moaned as her tender body began to shake under Madge's slow delicious strokes of her tongue. Her hands were in Madge's hair as her own head flung from side to side, her breathing like sobs.

"Madge—can't...hang on...much...longer—" she gasped.

Ellie's body suddenly stilled. She clutched the sheet as her shoulders rose and her back bent between her shoulder blades. A sound began and was choked off. Ellie's face was a picture of pure ecstasy. Her body arched, her clutched hands lifted the sheet from the bed. She convulsed as if struck by an electrical charge, and shudder after shudder went through her in an exquisite orgasm.

"Ellie...sweetheart—" Madge said, as she wiped her face on the sheet. Ellie reached for her, groping blindly.

Jordan closed the door quietly, her head reeling, her mind trying to shut out what she had just witnessed. Oh God, what am I going to do? I've got to get out of here.

She hurriedly walked back to the kitchen, pulled her jacket off the hook at the back door, went out to the garage and climbed into her SUV. She sat there in the driver's seat, shaking visibly.

Where can I go? she thought desperately. She grasped her stomach and doubled over with pain. She was blinded by anguish and despair.

After a few minutes spent sobbing, with searing tears coursing down her cheeks, she somehow arose out of her chaotic mind and clearly came to a decision. No! I'm not the one who should go. This is my house!

Numbness began to set in as Jordan wiped her eyes and determinedly walked back into the house. With a husky, but thundering voice from the kitchen, she yelled, "Honey, I'm home!"

Then she strode into the living room and sat down on the couch, staring at the embers glowing in the fireplace. Waiting—

A hasty scrambling noise came from the bedroom, and a few moments later, Ellie emerged, wearing the blue chenille bathrobe Jordan had given her for her thirtieth birthday last month. Jordan had thought it matched her beautiful blue eyes and was the perfect gift. She supposed Madge had rushed into the adjoining guest bedroom, going through the bathroom shared by both bedrooms.

"Hi, sweetie," Ellie said, smiling. "I didn't expect you home before ten. I had a really bad headache, so thought I'd lie down for a while, hoping it would go away. But it's still there," she added sadly.

Jordan rose from the couch and walked over to Ellie standing in the doorway of the bedroom. She angrily glared at her, her lips firmly set in a straight line. The perfect picture of innocence, she thought. I wonder how long this has been going on. All those times I've been at work—

"What's the matter, baby," Ellie said, putting her hands on Jordan 's shoulders, still smiling.

"I just now saw you with Madge in our bedroom," Jordan said, unwaveringly. "IN OUR BED!" she shouted.

Ellie's smile vanished and her eyes opened wide as she grasped the import of Jordan 's words. She slowly and carefully brought her hands back down to her sides as Jordan continued in a calm voice, "I think the best thing for you both to do is gather up your things and leave my house immediately. Is that understood? I don't care where you go. I don't want you to come back. Just GET OUT!" She was shouting again at the end.

Then lowering her voice once more, Jordan slowly and calmly said, "When I get back in two hours, you and Madge had better be...out...of...MY...HOUSE!" She was shouting again.

* * * * * *

Jordan discouragingly brought her thoughts back to the present as she made her way to the mall entrance carrying oxygen equipment and her share of the medical gear contained in one of the heavy suitcases stored in the fire truck. The wind was strong on the north side of the building, but the snow had not piled up as high against the door here as she knew it was on the south side. She noted the Christmas decorations with dismay as she entered the mall. There would be no Merry Christmas for her this year.

Then her sense of duty arose, and she hoped the elderly woman inside was still alive. She knew that she certainly wasn't—


CHAPTER FIVE – Waiting It Out

"Come on," Andy said, grabbing Jess by the arm and pulling her along back to the Food Court . "Isn't this just ridiculous?" She was so upset that she stepped up her pace and quickly left behind the crowd of people who had gathered around Hooters .

"Slow down, Andy Lee! Why are you in such a hurry? We're not going anywhere, anyway." Jess was already breathless.

Andy refused to be placated. As they rounded the corner of the lower level to go up the few steps to the Food Court , the loudspeakers throughout the mall broke in with an announcement. Andy stopped abruptly. Jess had been propelled along so quickly, that when Andy stopped, she ran into her, and they both had to catch each other before they fell.

Attention, all employees in the mall. By emergency proclamation, the State of Colorado and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has called a lockdown for the city of Colorado Springs and all points north because of an intense blizzard. This includes the Citadel Mall. Those who work in the mall other than the Food Court are requested to gather up your personal belongs, close up your businesses, and proceed immediately to the Food Court, where further instructions will be given when they become available. Those who work in the Food Court please stay in your places of employment. This is not a drill. Please do not attempt to leave the mall through the service exits.

The loudspeakers repeated some of the message, to make sure everyone made no mistake in understanding what they were supposed to do.

"Well, isn't this just ducky? Come on, let's go over here," Andy said, pulling Jess by the arm again, leading her over to a wooden table and two chairs by the see-through, glass-enclosed elevator.

"This is where I usually sit when I come here," she said, with a hand on one of the chairs. She knew Jess never came to the mall to walk because of her job as a nanny for one family and babysitting additional kids from time to time. "I like to be by myself in my own thoughts early in the morning. I can't do that at home with Ken always picking on me and asking me stupid questions before he goes to work. Here no one bothers me, and I can sit and have my coffee in peace and sometimes read a book and collect my thoughts before—”

Her voice trailed off. She realized that she had been rambling—like Jessica often did—as a way of trying to ease the building tension. Jess was neither very attentive nor talkative right now, anyway. She was sniffling into her Kleenex continually.

They settled into their chairs, and Andy immediately stood up again. "Why don't you wait here, Jess," she said, "and I'll get us some more coffee. I know we've had a lot already, but maybe it'll be free this time. Unless you want to go with me? We can leave our coats here on our chairs and nobody will bother them. Do you want to go?"

Jess shook her head, clearly upset, sniffling and on the verge of bursting into big crocodile tears.

"Don't cry, sweetie," Andy said compassionately, bending over and putting her arm around her and giving her a hug. "It'll be all right. I'll be right back."

Andy made her way toward the steps to McDonald's on the first level. She walked past Santa's castle. No Santa. No little kids lined up to have their pictures taken with Santa. Santa didn't ordinarily come to work till early afternoon, anyway. But not today. It gave her an eerie feeling.

About ten people were waiting in line at McDonald's . People were lined up at the other food places, too. But in her estimation, McDonald's served the best coffee and were fast ! It took less than five minutes to be served this time. And it was free.

Andy walked back downstairs and plopped a cup of coffee in front of Jess. "Drink this," she said. "It'll make you feel better."

Jessica had gone from bad to worse. She was now fretful and very anxious, tossing her gloves back and forth from one hand to the other and continuing to sniffle. Every now and then she would blow her nose or wipe her eyes with a Kleenex.

Andy sat down and started to sip her coffee. Then she pulled off the lid with an angry jerk. "Stupid little hole!" she muttered to herself. "How can anyone get a decent swallow of coffee from a little bitty hole in a lid?" She wished she'd brought along a ceramic mug like many mall-walkers did.

She looked at Jess again. God, why is she so blubbery? There's nothing we can do about it, and there's no sense in crying! That's not going to help. But she knew Jess was in dire distress. This situation was so much out of the realm of her ordinary, uneventful, and normal life, that she didn't know how to handle it.

"I'll tell you what," Andy said. "I'll go find a phone and call Ken again and tell him what's happened, and I'll ask him to call Bob, too. Okay?"

Jess put her hand on Andy's arm and looked at her with her stringy hair hanging down over her sorrowful eyes. "Would you do that, Andy Lee?"

"Sure. Be right back. Stay here so we won't lose our seats." She saw that more people were steadily coming into the Food Court now and realized that a jacket on a chair would be no deterrent to anyone who was determined to sit down somewhere. Unlike it had been earlier.

Andy found a pay phone by the USA bank with only two people waiting in line. There had been a long line of people at the pay phones by the restrooms. It seemed hardly anyone had cell phones in this crowd. She had turned down many opportunities to purchase a cell phone, deciding it was not a necessity. Now she kicked herself for being so quick to judge. She could have used one right now.

Ken answered almost immediately.

"There's been a change of plans," Andy told him. "I won't be coming home anytime soon. Jess and I aren't going anywhere ."

"Why not?" he asked.

"They have us locked in—won't let anyone out. Emergency order by the State of Colorado, the Highway Patrol, Police Department, FEMA, and whoever else there is who can order us around! It's as if we were under some kind of terrorist attack or something. There's a terrible blizzard outside and they won't let us go out in it."

There was dead silence on the other end.

"Ken? Are you there? Can you hear me?"

"Yeah," he said, finally. She could almost hear the wheels turning in his head. "Is that legal?"

"Evidently," she said. "No one is questioning it. Has it snowed much more since I called a little bit ago?"

"Over six inches more," Ken replied. "Is almost two feet of snow on the level enough for you?" He started laughing hysterically. "But then, this wasn't supposed to happen, was it? I told you you shouldn't go. But no, you just had to leave!" His voice had risen quite a few notches.

"Ken, stop shouting. It wasn't supposed to be like this. I'm so sorry."

Oh, my God, she thought. Just a little while ago, Ken said there was about a foot of snow. And it's snowed over 6 inches since then? What in the world is going on?

Ken settled down then and said, "Well, I'm glad you're safe in the mall. Because I couldn't come and get you even if I tried. They're saying it's a very dangerous storm." Another little laugh. "There's no way I could even shovel out the driveway and get out on the road. It keeps coming down with no letup in sight. You can't even see across the street because there's a whiteout! And the few city snow plows we have finally gave up. They couldn't keep up with it."

"What do you think we should do, Ken?" She knew what was happening—if she could only put her finger on it. A memory tugged at her again, and she struggled to retrieve that elusive answer. But she thought Ken should give her some input, too.

"There's nothing we can do," Ken said, "except to wait it out. You're out of the cold and snow, and there are places to eat there, so you won't be uncomfortable. So we just stay put. As long as the power stays on, I'll be okay. This storm can't last much longer, can it?"

"Have you been watching the Weather Channel ?"

"No. Just the local news channel. Wait a minute, I'll switch it over."

There was a short pause, and Ken came back on the line. "It looks like this is not going to let up anytime soon. The weather people haven't seen anything like it. The snow keeps coming down, like those 'train' echoes they say occur in severe thunderstorms where one front after another travels along the same line, and inches and inches of rain are dumped in the same place hour after hour. Only with us, it's snow. We're getting inches and inches of snow without letup, but in some places north of here, they're measuring snow in feet and feet .

Andy tried to steer Ken into some productive talk, sensing his fear. "Can you get out of the house at all?" she said. "Do you think you might be able to get on the roof and shovel off the snow that's piling up? It could crush in the roof if it gets too high."

They hadn't needed to shovel snow off the roof for fourteen years; not since that freak blizzard came through the first winter they were here and piled snow into ten-foot drifts in places around the city. Shoveling snow off the roof just came with the territory, she remembered. Even though they'd been outside the day after the storm and made a snowman with their young sons, they wouldn't have shoveled it off at all if the city hadn't prompted them. It was only after diligent research that she discovered just how crushingly dangerous heavy snowfall could be. So she didn't want to take a chance now—especially since Ken said there was so much more snow than earlier.

"I'll try to get outside if the snow lets up. I can't promise, though. It's coming down so hard!"

His voice rose noticeably again. "We weren't expecting much snow. At least, that's what they said last night. And what you said. You're the one who knows everything! How come you missed it this time?"

Andy couldn't help but feel the sting of that barb she knew was aimed directly at her. But she knew where it was coming from, too. Ken had to place the blame somewhere if things went wrong! It was what anthropologists called primary process . It is illogical, and is found mostly in little children. But now and then one sees an adult who functions largely in primary process, like engaging in displacement behaviors such as kicking the dog when they're frustrated by something else. That was Ken to core.

No wonder my head hurts. I shouldn't have to put up with this bullshit all the time! Well, I have broad shoulders, she thought. But I sure am getting tired of being the scapegoat for every little thing that goes wrong. And I certainly can't control the weather!

She said, "All we can do is hope it ends soon and I'm able to come home. It's kind of funny when you think about it. Jess came a couple hours ago to exchange a bad DVD at SunCoast Video. She said she wanted to have a good movie to watch in case we had a lot of snow and she and Bob had to stay home. Now here she is stuck in the mall because of the snow. Isn't that a riot?"

When no reply was forthcoming in response to her attempt at levity, Andy continued, "Anyway, would you call Bob again so he won't be worried about Jess?"

"Yeah," Ken said. "I'll call him as soon as we hang up. The way the snow is piling up, though, I don't expect the phone lines to stay up for very long, either.”

"You're probably right. So let's hope the phone lines don't go down."

If she'd gotten a couple of cell phones, they wouldn't have to worry about the phone lines going dead. But she wasn't about to tell him that now, as it would just give him something else to get on her case about. He never wanted cell phones anymore than she did, but would blame her for the lack of them.

With a heavy sigh, Andy hung the phone up and walked back to rejoin Jess at their table, almost leaking tears herself—which was highly unusual for her. The tension was starting to get to her, too. She sipped at her coffee, thankful it had cooled down a bit. She passed on Ken's information, which Jess received with a nod of her head. She had finally stopped crying.

"So it looks like it might be a while before we can leave, Andy Lee?" Jess asked tremulously.

"Looks like it," Andy answered. "I sure don't know why it's snowing this hard or why it's going along the same track instead of moving off to the east like it normally would." She felt she had to talk about the storm, to try and release something in her mind that was struggling to be free.

"Maybe it's just stuck ," she continued, "like that low pressure system back in 1993 that was over the upper plains states. Remember that? It dumped so much rain that the rivers overflowed their banks and flooded all along the Mississippi River ."

Jess shook her head. "Whatever."

Andy looked at her. "I can't believe you don't remember that—"

“Andy Lee, I'm not like you!” Jess shot back. “I don't pay attention to the weather like you do!”

“I'm sorry, Jess,” Andy said. “I didn't mean to upset you further—”

“I'm sorry, too,” Jess said. “I just don't know what to think any more. What's going to happen?”

“I don't know, Jess,” Andy said. Her mind began to wander as she sat there and watched people filter into the Food Court to sit at the tables, conversing among themselves. She was finally about to calm down and stop being angry at the world, when it was really only Ken she was upset with. Now if only her headache would go away.

"Help! Somebody call 911! Call 911! Somebody help!"

Andy was jerked out of her thoughts by the urgent shout echoing through the mall. What in the world, she thought. What now? What else could go wrong?

To be continued...

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