“What do you want to do?” Jules whispered.
Copeland didn’t know what she was talking about. Or, more accurately, which what she was talking about. For a while now, none of Cope’s thoughts had stopped swirling long enough to catch any real traction; having almost everything to do with a fallen dirt clod to his head; a fact that probably should have been mentioned to one of the many EMTs walking around.
“Have you thought about it at all?” she added.
Three possible responses drifted in and out of focus, but confidence in the right one failed him. All he really wanted to do was lean over and fall asleep in her lap. So, after staring into her increasingly disapproving left eye for what felt appropriately long enough, he gave up and turned his attention to the open door Dusty had just disappeared through.
Without looking at her again, he couldn’t tell whether she was disappointed in him or just mad, or which one of those things was actually worse. He also didn’t know where Dusty had gone; if he’d walked away and gone home or if he’d just stepped outside to get some air.
The fire truck’s cabin was cozy, smaller than any of them had assumed it was going to be, and the heat had been turned on for them while they waited. However, none of them had the vaguest idea how to turn it off—not without risking turning on the siren—and it had become far too warm.
Copeland watched a black cat hesitantly slink across the street and disappear into the bushes. He wondered why he never saw cats on the beach. There were certainly cats that lived at the coast. Why didn’t they ever go down and bask on the warm sand? Why didn’t they ever go to the water or fish in the tide pools? Why didn’t they hunt crabs like they hunt field mice?
His eyelids suddenly got very heavy and his thoughts swirled again.
Do all people turn that white when they die? The dead guy was so white. Or maybe he’d just really needed to get in the sun more. Watching the coroner work had been crazy. But super interesting. How many people could say they got to watch something like that from the window of a fire truck? Probably not a lot. Would his father have been as impressed? Did he think that kind of stuff was cool? Would he ever see him again? Was he still alive? Would he want to come back if he knew he was going to be a grandpa? Would it be weird to have hotdogs for breakfast? No ketchup or mustard. Just a plain dog on a bun. Maybe barbecued. They were going to have a baby. There was a microscopic person growing in the stomach of the girl next to him. Did she really like him? Would she ever let him see her all the way naked? Where were those puking sounds coming from? Was that the sound of Dusty puking on the fire truck?
“Dude?” he called.
“What?” Dusty’s low voice grumbled back from outside.
“Are you okay?”
“Leave me alone.”
Copeland was too confused to argue.
“You two are such babies sometimes,” Jules yelled, loudly enough for Dusty to hear over the sound of the idling diesel engine and his spitting and retching. She rolled her eyes to the ceiling and shook her head. She got up, ducked quickly over to the door on the other side of the cabin, and popped it open. “Take a deep breath, Dusty, and think about something else.”
Cool air immediately began to circulate the cabin.
“And you,” she said, slapping Cope gently on the cheek and sitting back down next to him. She put her hand on his thigh and squeezed, making his insides tingle. “No falling asleep.”
The wind caught the open doors and whipped them both wide open.
Cold, fresh air flowed breezily through.
Copeland’s moderately concussed head began to de-fuzz.
Of course Dusty was outside.
When it had happened—when Dusty had reluctantly helped him pull the dead guy out of the water—Copeland could now clearly remember having been shocked that he did it. Absolutely. Dusty refused to ever touch anything dead. Ever. He hated dead things. You couldn’t get him to even check out interesting road kill. His queasiness around still-life had been well documented, going so far as him gagging and hurling at the slightest provocation. Julianna always made fun of him, calling him a wuss and claimed he faked it for the attention. But Copeland had seen him puke and almost faint after stepping on a snail. He knew it was a real condition.
It all flooded back to him.
The fog in his head evaporated along with the heat.
He couldn’t believe he’d ever spaced something like that. Not about his best friend, not for a second, even if he had been hit on the head. For very understandable reasons—reasons not even Julianna had been told the most explicit details of—Dusty would never be able to handle things like this.