Stardust

A novel by Aaron Craiger

First Draft

Chapter 21

I woke up two days later in my bed, and the softness of the mattress felt like heaven. Sensing another person in the bed with me, I rolled over, and saw Samantha. Ah, so that's why I felt like someone was holding me down – her arm was around me, and she was cuddled up to me. I smiled and stirred in bed, awakening her.

"Well," She said with a smile as her eyes opened, "Good morning sleepyhead." I smiled in return.

"Hello yourself," I said. "Where's Cassie?"

"Asleep on the couch, in her human form of course," Samatha replied.

"Ah. Is she asleep too?" I asked, sitting up. Samantha sat up too, and laid her head on my shoulder, giggling. "Oh, wait...you just said that. Yeah, stupid me."

After a bought of laughter, Samantha smiled at me, and took my hand. "Danny found you two on the boardwalk, unconcious, and called me. We brought you two back here. How'd it go? Did you kick Demos' ass?"

"Yeah," I said, chuckling. "We did. With a little...ah, divine intervention."

Samantha cocked her head in curiosity. "Eh?"

"Long story," I said, then kissed the top of her head. "Any trouble here?"

"Nope," Samantha said. "Well, Blizzard chewed through your HDMI cable – don't know quite how she achieved that – but I got you a new one from Wal-Mart. Other than that, things were pretty quiet." Hearing her name, Blizzard leapt up onto the bed and promptly began nuzzling me, demanding attention. Damn cat. I satisfied her demands with a scratch behind the ears, and began petting her, to which she responded with a squeaky meow, and transitioned to my lap.

Samantha giggled, and kissed me softly. "You've had quite the adventure, haven't you, Dean?"

"I suppose so," I said, "And something tells me that it's not quite over yet."

"What do you mean" Samantha asked, looking at me curiously.

"I don't know," I replied. Much to her displeasure, I set Blizzard aside, and stood up. Samantha following, we left my bedroom and went into the living room, where Cassie lay on the couch, curled up, asleep. I walked over to the couch, considering dumping a glass of ice cold water on her, but instead gently shook her.

"Hmm?" Cassie groaned, opening her eyes. "Oh, good morning Dean. Did you sleep well?"

"Yeah," I said. "You feeling better?" I asked. Cassie nodded, smiling.

"Yes, the rest was much needed after the excitement," Cassie said. With a sad nod, I looked over at Samantha.

"Sammy, any word on Brittney?" I asked. A look of grief passed over her beautiful eyes.

"The police are calling it a home invasion, even though they are at a loss to explain everything. Her funeral is this afternoon. I'm assuming you want to go?"

''Yes," I said, nodding.

"Dean," Cassie said softly, "If it's alright with you, I would like to go as well." I nodded softly.

"It's fine with me," I replied. Smantha slipped her hand into mine, and squeezed.

Three hours later, we sat in the chapel of a funeral home. Pretty much every Firefighter, EMT, and cop in Ocean City was there, along with a good chunk of the beach patrol, all of us in our best uniforms. The euolgy was read, songs sung, all the typical funeral stuff. Samantha sat to my right, hand holding mine tightly, and Cassie sat to my left, actually visible this time. Finally, it was my turn. The minister introduced me, and with slight trepidation (I don't like speaking in front of crowds much), I got up and walked to the podium. With a deep breath, I looked up, and began to speak.

"I was partners with Brittney since I joined the department, probably about six years now. I knew her well, and she was like a sister to me, really the only family I had. I trusted her completely, and always treated me like a brother." Pausing, I wiped my eyes. "My favorite memory of her was my first day, when we met. We were both rookies, and more than a little nervous. When we got our first call as a team, I remember her eyes lighting up with excitement, yanking me by the arm and our of my chair, where I fell flat on the floor." A round of chuckles passed. "As the years went by, that initial exuberance faded, but her passion, her love for the job, never did, and it was present on each call we responded to, each patient we treated. Her strength of mind and character is what kept me going through many times when I was ready to give up and lie down, and knowing that she was there for me, both while on duty and off, was a great comfort. I will miss her dearly, but I know that every time I roll out on a call, she'll be right there beside me, in here." I touched my chest, then wiped my eyes again. "Goodbye, my friend, my sister." Barely containing myself, I returned to my seat, where Samantha, sensing my emotions (which she seems to do quite well), wrapped her arms around me tightly. As I leaned my head on her shoulder, I felt Cassie take my hand. Grateful for her comfort, I squeezed it; she squeezed back. The funeral ended, and was followed by a procession to the graveyard. Brittney's coffin was transported in the back of our ambulance that we had shared for years, and I drove, escorted by a good dozen police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances behind us. A Maryland State Trooper led the procession, and more had the intersections closed off. Riding in the cab with me was my new partner, Samuels. The Chief had told me that he was going to be my new partner when I got to the station to pick up the rig.

"Dean, are you alright?" He asked me. I shrugged.

"I guess," I said sadly. "I just...well, Brittney was my only family, really. My dad died years ago, and my mom and I don't really talk, so losing her...yeah..."

"I understand," Samuels said and gave me an encouraging pat on the shoulder. "You know, that first day when you and Brittney took me to the site in your rig, you guys really impressed me with how you worked together and communicated. To be honest, Dean, you remind me a lot of my big brother...that's why I asked the Chief to assign me to you."

With a soft smile, I looked over at Samuels, and a few minutes later, we pulled into the cemetary. The graveyard service was short but sweet, and after it was over, I returned the ambulance to the station, then went back to my apartment with Samanth. As we lay on the couch, cuddling, Cassie floating around in the kitchen (back in her fuzzy ball form, of course), my cell phone rang. Curious as to who would be calling, I flipped it open, and answered.

It was Steve.

"Yeah, Steve, what's up?" I asked.

"Dean, get down to the hospital. Now," he replied.

"What's wrong? What's going on?" I said, scared, thinking it had something to do with my body, which I still hadn't returned to.

"Just get down here, there's no time to explain."

Oh, boy. Sounds like a fun evening ahead of me.