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On the Line

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“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?” Josh frowns when there’s no answer. “Hello?” 


Um, hi. I need -- I need help.” The speaker is clearly a child, the voice high and breathy and scared. Josh immediately switches modes, his tone softening. 


“Then you called the right place. My name is Josh, what’s yours?” 


There’s a pause and then the little voice comes back on. “ C-Christopher. My dad’s a firefighter and he said -- he said to call you if I ever needed help.”


“Okay Christopher, I’m going to make sure you get the help you need. Are you hurt?” 


No, I’m okay. But Buck is sick and he -- he sounds funny.” Christopher sniffles a little and Josh’s stomach sinks. 


“Alright, I’m going to help you and Buck, okay? Do you know your address?” 


No, my dad dropped me off at Buck’s house and I don’t -- I don’t know where it is.” He sniffles again, harder this time. 


“Don’t worry, Christopher, we’ll get there soon. You’re at Buck’s house --” he has to stop himself from swearing when it finally clicks that this isn’t just any Christopher and not just any Buck. Shit. “Can you tell me your dad’s name?”   He grabs a notepad and jots down ASK MADDIE FOR BUCK’S ADDRESS then snaps to get the attention of the first person walking by. He hands the notebook to him and turns his attention back to Christopher just in time to catch the tail end of Christopher’s description of his father working for the 118. 


“Okay Christopher, thank you. We’re going to figure out exactly where you are and get help over there in no time. Can you tell me a little about what happened to Buck?” 


Christopher sniffles again. “ He -- he was coughing ,” he says. “And then he started -- well, there was all this blood coming out of his mouth and then he fell down and wouldn’t talk to me so I called you. It was really scary.” The last part is said in a near whisper and Josh’s stomach drops even further, which he honestly hadn’t realized was even possible at this point. 


“I bet it was, but you’re doing a great job, Christopher. Is Buck awake now? You can try shaking his shoulder or yell at him, it won’t hurt him,” Josh says. 


Okay ,” Christopher says, and Josh hears him call Buck’s name then let out a sob when there’s no answer.  “ He’s making a weird noise and his eyes are sorta open but he won’t talk to me. I’m really scared, Josh.”


“I know Christopher, and I’m so sorry you’re scared, but you’re doing so, so good.”


Maddie walks up to him in the next second, her eyes wide and already brimming with tears, but she has Buck’s address written on a sticky note that she hands to him with a shaking hand. Good girl. He types it in quickly and makes eye contact with Maddie before continuing. 


“Okay Christopher, we’ve got an ambulance coming your way, only three minutes away. And guess what? It’s your dad’s truck.” 


O-okay,” Christopher says. “ That’s not too long.”


“Nope, it’s pretty quick,” Josh says. “Can you do a favor for me, Christopher?” 




“Great. Can you see if there’s any blood in Buck’s mouth? I know it might be scary or gross but it’s really important, okay? Is there anything coming out of his mouth?” Maddie lets out a sob from behind him but he ignores her.


There’s a little bit of blood ,” Christopher says. “ It’s coming out of his mouth and he’s making a weird noise, like when I get a really bad cold and have to take my inhaler.” 


“Okay, thanks Christopher. The blood might be making it hard for Buck to breathe right now. Is he looking toward the ceiling or toward a wall?” 


Um, the ceiling.” 


Shit. There’s no way Christopher can roll Buck onto his side. “Can you tilt his head so that it’s facing the wall? It might seem a little weird, but you’re going to help him breathe better.” 


Okay.” There’s another little pause and then a scrabbling sound before Christopher comes back on. “ Okay, I did it.” 


“Great job, Christopher, you’re doing so well,” Josh says. “The firefighters are going to be there really soon. Can you open the front door for them? It’s okay if you can’t.” 


“I can do it,” Christopher says. “ But I can’t hold the phone and my crutches.” 


“That’s okay, you can put the phone down and pick it up again when you’ve got the door open.” 


Okay.” There’s a soft clattering sound as Christopher ostensibly sets the phone down, and then the distant sounds of his crutches moving across the floor. 


“Josh?” Maddie says, her mouth trembling. Josh leans forward and grabs one of her hands.


“He coughed up blood and collapsed. That’s all I know, Maddie. I’m so sorry.” 


“I need -- I need to go,” she says. “I have to go to him.” 


“I know you do,” he says. “But the 118 is literally pulling up as we speak, so you’ve got a better chance meeting them at the hospital.” 


Maddie nods and swipes at her eyes as a voice -- not Christopher -- pops up on the phone. 


Hello? This is Captain Nash with the 118 .” 


“Hi Captain Nash, this is Josh Russo. Glad to hear you guys.” 


Yeah, looks like we’re going to have to scoop and run. I’ve gotta go, but thanks for helping Christopher.” 


“Of course. Maddie will meet you at the hospital. Are you headed to Dignity Health?” 


That’s the one. Thanks .” 


The phone call ends with a click and Josh takes a deep breath before turning to Maddie. “They’re taking him to the hospital and you’re not driving. Let me call you an Uber.” 


“Okay,” she whispers. “Thank you.” 


“Of course,” Josh says, wrapping her in a hug. “He survived a fire truck falling on him, he can handle this.” 


Maddie lets out a halfhearted chuckle and nods. “Yeah,” she says. “Of course.” 


Josh makes the call and walks Maddie down to the front of the building, gives her another big hug before she climbs in the back, already sniffling again. It’s strangely anticlimactic, more so than the usual call, but at least he’ll find out how Buck is, one way or another. It’s more than he normally gets. More than any of them normally get. 


“You okay?” Sue asks when he walks back in. 


“Yeah,” he says. “Kind of a tough one.” 


“Do you want to take a minute?” 


Josh takes a deep breath and squares his shoulders. “No, I think I’m okay.” 


“Great,” Sue says, clapping him on the shoulder. “Let me know if you change your mind.” 


“I will,” Josh says, then slips his headset on, and takes the next call.