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Too Hot to Handle

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Kelley had always considered herself a good driver. Someone who sticks to speed laws for the most part, but also not someone who causes the drivers behind her to want to scream because she’s holding up traffic. Someone who isn't afraid to put her foot down on the open road, but is also never reckless or unsafe. She's never received complaints from passengers or suffered through any particularly bad criticism from back seat drivers tense because she braked too late or turned too sharply.

And she's never crashed.

Until today.

Until that rusty blue pick-up had come out of nowhere and side swiped her. T-boned her from the passenger side only 5 minutes into her journey; ploughed her across the road and into the tree that eventually stopped their movement.

***

At least the airbags went off.

That'd been Kelley's first thought. The second?

The radio hadn't.

As the ringing in her ears stops she realises she can still hear Jeff Kassouf's voice coming out of the car speakers as he chats to Heather O'Reilly on the podcast she had been listening to. She'd only just got round to listening to HAO's episode, having been reminded when the older woman had text her, checking in the other day. As she adjusts and tunes in she realises that the sound may not be coming from all of the speakers, it's a little one sided, no noise coming from where the passenger side of the vehicle is crumpled in.

She tries to take in her surroundings, understand what has happened. Ahead of her is the entirety of the front of her car - crushed, and the tree that stopped her, which has completely ripped through the metal of her beloved vehicle. It’s now bent round the trunk of the...Kelley is going to guess it's an oak, but she can't crane her head up right now to look without causing a ridiculous amount of pain. She ignores the smoke coming from under her hood for now, unable to even process how scary that could turn out to be.

She pushes through, turning her neck as much as her sore muscles will allow so she can look to her right and assess the situation. She can see the front of the truck lodged into the side of her car, the rear completely fucked; she finds herself grateful that they ran into her passenger side and can't help wondering how fast they were driving. The truck is at an angle, enough that she can see their driver's side door is open and she finds herself instinctually calling out even though she can't see anyone, surprised at how hoarse her voice is.

"Hello?... Hello, are you hurt?"

No response. She turns the volume down on Heather, she doesn't want to turn it off; her friend laughing in the background is somehow making this bearable, even if she keeps cutting out. Kelley doesn't know where her phone is but she guesses, wherever it is, it's only survived enough for the Bluetooth link between her car and it to be sporadic at best.

"Hello?" She tilts her head back and swallows. She looks at the smoke. "Fuck!"

She needs to get out of this car. Surely help’s on its way. They're on a main road, not far from suburbia. If Kelley squints she can literally see a house. Someone must've seen something or heard something. The bang as the truck hit her, the screech of brakes? She did brake didn't she? It's instinct; she must have. Someone must've called 911. Surely.

***

Heather's voice calms her. Kelley thinks about calling her later, telling her about how she was listening to her stupid interview whilst she sat, trapped. Unable to release her stupid seatbelt and unable to open her stupid door because its half crushed by a stupid tree. Unable to think about anything but the stupid pain in her stupid neck and her stupid shoulder which is probably stupid dislocated and her stupid arm which is definitely stupid broken.

She’s unable to do anything but watch the smoke stream out from under her hood, more steadily now, and listen out for sirens; which she can only pray, to a God she doesn't really believe in anymore, will come soon.

***

When the firefighters arrive Kelley half expects commotion. To be honest she expected this entire situation to be commotion, but she's been surprised at how calm she's felt throughout. Really, she thought she would have panicked more, she can be quite a panicky person; her friends mock her for it. She guesses it must be the adrenaline that's keeping her so calm. And then she forces herself to stop thinking about the adrenaline, because if she's hurting this much when she's almost definitely got adrenaline pumping through her veins, then how much is she really hurting?

She watches as a group of stereotypically tall, fit, and beautiful firefighters start very calmly, organising removing her hood with bolt cutters and a giant circular saw, fascinated.

"Hi, I'm Emily. What's your name?"

She hadn't realised that her window had smashed before now; maybe that's why she's so cold. Emily is clearing any remaining glass from the frame of her car door with a giant gloved hand as she talks, she has a warm smile and bends slightly into the car as she talks to Kelley.

Emily also fits the beautiful firefighter stereotype, Kelley absentmindedly notices. Somewhere, far, far in the back of her mind, beyond the pain and swimming thoughts of the crash she's just experienced, she wonders if there's one of those semi-naked Calendar's for charity with a picture of Emily in it. She'd happily purchase a copy, for charity of course.

The first thing Emily does is reach across Kelley and turn the key in the ignition, cutting all power to the engine, despite the fact Kelley is sure she had stalled when she crashed. The woman removes the key and tosses it, casually, to someone over her shoulder. It means the radio stops playing her podcast. Kelley doesn't know why she didn't think to turn the engine off before now, she feels embarrassed about it, but also annoyed that this woman just took away her podcast; the one thing that has been keeping her sane.

Kelley can't really turn her neck anymore, not to look at Emily properly, which is a shame, but she registers as the woman removes her big firefighter gloves, replacing them with a rubber pair, and places two fingers on her neck to take her pulse. "Can you tell me you name, ma'am?"

She stutters out a response as the woman removes her fingers and begins rummaging around in a bag Kelley can't quite see. "Kelley, I-I'm Kelley."

"Hi Kelley, try not to move too much for me okay? We're gonna get you out of here as soon as possible, but first can you tell me where it hurts?"

"My shoulder. My arm, I -I think its broke. And my neck...aches, it's gotten all stiff."

The woman smiles again reassuringly and brings out a c-collar, quickly running her fingers down the back of Kelley's neck and asking her to let her know if she feels any tenderness, before fitting the collar. Kelley has worn one a few times before, after bad hits on the field. She leans forward as much as she can to help, and focuses on the strangers voice, now Heather isn't filling the space in the background. The woman fits it round her neck and speaks soothingly in a way that calms Kelley’s breathing.

"Remember, let’s try not to move. That's it. You're alright. I've got you. Let's get you some painkillers and then we'll take a look at your shoulder and your arm."

Emily begins rummaging round in her bag again and Kelley lets her eyes wander back out through the windscreen at the three men and the woman removing her hood. They're all wearing full firefighting gear, unlike Emily who is just in a navy shirt that makes her pale skin shine even more in the mid-morning sun, station badge emblazoned on the right side of her chest, stethoscope that she’d dug out of her bag and pressed to Kelley’s skin moments earlier slung around her neck.

Kelley wonders vaguely if she should be concerned, about the fact the firefighters are dressed in their full gear, but she doesn't really have the energy to be more scared than she already is. She's watched enough crappy drama television to know that if a car sets on fire there's danger of the gas tank exploding, and currently her engine seems to be hot enough to be smoking whilst she's sat here, trapped, in her half crushed vehicle. She reasons with herself that It’s not like they’re hooked up to oxygen tanks out there. And no one seems that concerned; Emily certainly doesn't.

"I know it's easier said than done Kelley, but try not to worry too much about what's going on out there alright, my friends have it all under control. The pain in your neck, can you tell me if it goes down your back at all?"
"No, just my neck."
"On a scale of 1-10, where 10 is the worst pain you've ever experienced, how bad is it?"
"Like a 5? Maybe a 6? I think my pain-o’metre is skewed, I have pretty crappy ankles – I've had to have a few surgeries." Emily chuckles at that.
"Let's just focus on your neck for a sec okay? Is it a shooting pain or a dull ache?"
"Like more of a dull ache I think, I've got a bit of a headache too."
"Okay that’s to be expected after an accident like this but we’ll check it out. Can you just give my hands a quick squeeze for me?"
"You think I've broken my neck?!" She places her hands into Emily's and squeezes, wiggling her toes in her shoes for her own piece of mind. The firefighter shakes her head, "No, I don't, but I'd be bad at my job if I didn't take precautions and do the checks. You’re not experiencing any tingling in your fingers or your toes, are you?"

***

Emily wipes the back of Kelley’s hand with an alcohol wipe and warns her of the sharp scratch before she inserts a temporary IV, getting Kelley some pain relief. Kelley vaguely wonders why she has a firefighter doing this and not a paramedic but Emily seems to have the right equipment at least. It’s very impressive that she’s managing to do it all through a car window.

“The person that crashed into me..?”
“My colleague Christen is looking after the gentleman who was driving the truck at the moment. That’s what happened, he crashed into you?” Kelley hums and closes her eyes, swallowing and suddenly noticing how dry her throat and mouth are.

"Have you got any water I can have? There's a bottle in my kit bag, but that's in the trunk and I guess we can't get to that right now?"

Emily laughs a little at Kelley's joke and asks her to open her eyes, as she leans her entire upper body into the car. Kelley opens her eyes to find Emily's face very close to hers and a soft smile being directed her way. "Kit bag – someone's sporty, huh?" Emily teases lightly, but carries on before Kelley has a chance to respond, "I'm just going to shine a light in your eyes quick and then I'll get you some water and I'm going to ask my friends to help me take your car door off so I can look at your arm properly, 'k?" Kelley isn't sure why Emily didn't say all of that before she got ridiculously close to her face but she just blinks and breaths out and "okay," letting the woman shine a small torch in her eyes, flicking it over her field of vision, and looking forward as instructed.

Kelley barely registers the team working on her hood, spraying her car with foam as Emily does this, blinking slowly and asking, "So how come you got stuck looking after me and not chopping up and extinguishing parts of my car today? I would've thought that was better suited to your job description." When Emily chuckles, Kelley's tummy swoops in the way it does round pretty girls. As the firefighter pulls back, Kelley gets her first proper look at the woman, who is leaning in through her car window and realises that Emily is pretty, really fucking pretty, and not just in the stereotypical firefighter way, more in the Kelley could be actually genuinely attracted to her kind of way. She also realises that they are both staring at each other a little, taking in one another’s features. Kelley mind drifts back to the idea of a Calendar and what month Emily would be.

Before her question is answered someone from outside the car yells out something making Emily jerk back quickly with a "I'll be right back. I'll grab you some water."

December. Kelley starts picturing Emily as December.

All Santa hats and red suspenders, over a sports bra, holding up her big firefighter pants, maybe holding a cute puppy who's also wearing a hat, or opening a present by a tree.

Kelley pictures the abs that she hopes Emily has and smiles as she once again shuts her eyes to deal with the pain.

***

The procedure of removing Kelley's passenger door was loud. It's something Kelley will never forget. The feeling of sitting there helplessly watching, still trapped, sipping her water slowly (Emily had warned her to not drink too much too quickly when she’d given it to her after feeling her stomach, for what Kelley isn’t sure). Kelley had weakly asked Siri to play the podcast, thankful when it actually worked, and continued listening to HAO talk about Arsenal and the Courage, the sound quality on her phone, wherever it was, poor but bearable. Kelley won't believe it later when she looks and sees that the podcast is only 48 minutes long.

When the familiar firefighter pops up next to Kelley once they've taken her door away and out of sight, Kelley breathes a sigh of relief far too big for someone she only met 15 minutes ago.

"What do you say we get that arm of yours into a splint and then work on getting you out of here? The ambulance should be here any second." Kelley could cry at the thought of getting out of this car. She loves her car, but right now all she wants is out.

"Please. Yes, get me out." Emily just smiles at her in understanding as she first carefully cuts Kelley's seatbelt away from her body and then places a foil blanket around her.

"What are you listening to?" Emily nods towards Kelley's phone, in the drinks holder underneath the cars radio and control panel. Kelley kicks herself for not realising it's been there, in reach, the whole time and looks at Emily. She replies as she watches the blonde woman adjust a few of the straps on the orange splint she's got in her hand. "Just a podcast my friend did a while back. I've been meaning to listen for ages, but y'know life gets busy and you forget to do things like check in with your friends' careers." The splint looks massive to Kelley, but then again, she's not got much of a medical understanding beyond what she's picked up from various trainers and physios.

Emily hums in understanding as she leans back against the frame of Kelley's car, facing her. "But you're listening now, that's got to count for something, right?"
"I guess. I mean she'll definitely find it hilarious when I tell her I listened to a podcast she did whilst I was trapped in my car." Emily smiles and leans forward a bit.
"I'm just going to lift your arm up and slide this under there, if we rest it on your leg then we can inflate it so it holds your arm steady on the journey into hospital." Kelley nods watching and hissing through her teeth as Emily lifts her arm, gently manoeuvring it into the splint. The podcast has finished now, so she keeps talking to distract herself. "I know I kind of asked you this earlier, but seriously, how come you got stuck looking after me today?" Emily doesn't stop working as she replies. "I didn't get stuck. We're all trained first responders - we do it on rotation. And don't worry, we stay behind after you go off in the ambulance and secure your car – I might even get to use some of the big power-tools." She winks at Kelley as she finishes which causes all kinds of emotions not suitable for a car wreckage.

"This is probably going to hurt, but only for a second and then you'll get used to it." The splint starts to inflate and as the pressure on her arm increases it does hurt, but Emily's right she gets used to it. "I mean honestly? This part, the making sure people are okay, part. I love this part of the job, helping people, talking to them. It might be my favourite part. Fires burn, they're hot! And power-tools – super heavy! There's got to be some parts of your job you like more than others, right?"

Kelley hums in agreement but Emily just waits for her to expand on her answer as she organises her medical bag, looking for something to secure Kelley's shoulder. "I love that I get to make people smile, that I get to do what I love as a job and not just a hobby; that, for me, they're one-in-the-same." Emily beams at that response, as though Kelley had only confirmed something she'd already suspected. She crouches down and zips up her bag, standing and swinging it over her shoulder. "The ambulance guys are here, I'm going to go and throw this in the truck, and ask them about what they want to do about your shoulder and we'll see about getting you onto a gurney." She nods at Kelley before disappearing out of view.

***

Once she's on the gurney she listens as Emily does a handover to the paramedic, saying how she thinks Kelley got pretty lucky with no sign of internal injuries and only slight tenderness and stiffness of the neck. She states that Kelley probably has concussion but it looks as though it’s only minor, and that she suspects her neck to be whiplash but would still recommend scans. She rounds off her assessment by stating Kelley’s two main injuries are her shoulder and arm, both of which she didn’t feel comfortable setting without access to X-Rays first.

It’s hot. The way the charming, personable Emily who’s been helping Kelley all morning switches into professional and efficient mode. Kelley listens and understands despite the fact she’s not the one being spoken to, and she knows that’s by design. The paramedic seems to think she will need surgery, Emily agrees and says to Kelley that it’s nothing to worry about, which she trusts. Luckily it’s coming towards the end of the season and Kelley wasn't heading towards the playoffs anyway. She's just grateful it is not an Olympic or World Cup year.

She's rolled into the back of the Ambulance which is a bumpy and rough experience, one that makes her glad that she hasn't broken her back, because she's sure she'd be screaming out in pain. The doors are left open while the paramedics go to sign some paperwork, and she's grateful when Emily pops her head in.

"Hey, just wanted to say safe journey. I hope everything goes well for you and you have a speedy recovery."
"Thank you, so much, for everything."
"Yeah, of course – just doing my job."
"Well, you're very good at it." Emily blushes and turns to leave.
“Thanks, I guess.” She taps her knuckles against the side of the van, like she’s contemplating saying something, opening her mouth a couple of times, unsure of what to say before deciding on: “you too -I mean, you’re good at your job too.” The blush deepens. “I’m a fan, or my roommate, Lindsey, is. She and I go to your games sometimes. I hope that you aren’t out too long with your shoulder.” Fan interaction doesn’t normally make Kelley bashful and embarrassed like this, maybe it’s because she’s been so vulnerable in front of the woman, completely unaware the entire time. Or maybe it’s because she’s been left completely charmed by the whole experience, and in a weird way she doesn’t want it to end - at least not the part involving the cute firefighter. The wrapping her car round a tree, and the pain she’s in right now - those things she could do without.

Emily spins, stepping down to leave the ambulance. "Hey Emily," The blond woman turns, eyebrows raised in question. Kelley wants to ask for her number, she wants to ask if its appropriate to ask the hot firefighter that just saved you from a car wreckage out on a date. The hot firefighter who, it turns out, knew who she was this whole time and stayed professional. The hot firefighter who is kind of a fan? Instead she has a moment of existentialism, sees herself on this gurney looking pathetic and asks "do you know what I do about my car?"
"Umm, contact your insurance company would be my advice!" She thinks Emily looks a bit disappointed but she might be imagining things so Kelley just chuckles and nods.
"Right, yeah probably a good idea."
"I'll see you, Kelley."
"Yeah...thanks again." Emily smiles and waves before hopping out of the Ambulance and out of sight and earshot.

***