The word victim rattled through me. Oren had become a victim. It didn’t even seem possible.
“Oren Tenning,” Noel answered, a split second before I blurted, “My husband.”
Noel glanced at me, but said nothing. The officer got onto his radio and began to relay information as we fed it to him. “Six foot two. White male. Twenty-two years old. He fell in at the waterfall at Rainly. Embankment collapsed. Search and rescue requested immediately.”
Hearing it relayed in that calm, monotone voice rattled me more than anything. It made Oren sound like a statistic, like a generic case number in a long list of other “victims” who’d fallen into a rushing river, as if he wasn’t going to get any special treatment at all, as if no one cared that my entire world had just turned upside down, and the love of my life was in immediate fatal trouble.
When we reached the spot where I’d last seen him, the cop gazed into the water below with a grimace. “The way this current’s moving, he could’ve already been dragged a mile downstream. Damn.” He murmured the last part under his breath, so I don’t think we were meant to hear it, but the word echoed through my head.
As if Oren was already a lost cause.
I flipped out all over again, and Noel had to once again pull me to him and deal with my hysteria.
They found Oren half an hour later. He actually hadn’t gone too far downstream. Maybe about a hundred yards before he became tangled in a piece of driftwood that had gotten lodged between two boulders, which in essence trapped Oren in one spot and somehow miraculously kept his head above water, while the current beat over the rest of his body.
It took them another forty-five minutes to get someone down to him and call up to us that Oren was still alive but unconscious, and then another hour and a half after that to get him out of the water and onto dry land.
I dashed to him, but about half a dozen uniforms blocked my path and held me back, telling me the paramedics needed to tend to him...and that I wouldn’t want to see him like this, anyway.
“Don’t want to see him like what?” I demanded. Just how bad off was he? Was he really alive? Why wouldn’t they even let me see him?
And so...I lost it. Yeah, again.
Noel scooped me up and carried me to Oren’s truck, where he drove me to the hospital. We damn near trailed the ambulance there, but I still didn’t get a peek at Oren once we made it and he was being wheeled inside. Too many freaking medical personnel crowded around him. That didn’t calm my worries at all.
Once we were settled into a waiting room, where I paced and Noel talked quietly on his phone, I had a five-minute lull to panic and worry before a nurse came in with a clipboard and asked me, “Mrs. Tenning?”
That was the first time I’d ever been addressed as such. It made tears sprout in my eyes. “Yes?” I sobbed, wiping at my cheeks with both hands.
She sent me a sympathetic smile and held out the clipboard along with a pen. “Do you think you could fill out this information for your husband?”
“I’ll try.” I took the forms with shaking hands and sank into the nearest chair. At first, the words blurred in front of me. But after a few deep breaths, I forced my brain to calm. Name, address, and birthday were easy to fill out without any hiccups. By the time Noel sat beside me to either help out or just continue being the supportive big brother, I was digging out my wallet to fetch my new insurance card, under my husband’s name, and see if I could find anything with his social security number on it.
Noel caught sight of my new driver’s license and gasped before he jerked it close for a detailed inspection. “Holy shit. This...You’re... I thought you were just...” He shook his head and gaped at me. “You weren’t lying just to get close to him, were you? This is...” He jabbed his finger at my license. “This is really real?”
I had no patience or stomach for a lecture from my brother, so I grabbed my license back and jammed it into my wallet. Then I gave the short bark of an answer. “Yeah, it’s real.”
He continued to stare at me with wide eyes as I carefully entered Oren’s insurance information. When I finished filling out the form to the best of my ability, I drew out a breath and finally turned to Noel. “We got married in Lake Tahoe.”
“Lake Tahoe?” His mouth fell open. “He took you to Lake Tahoe with him?”
“We didn’t want to tell you—no, I didn’t want to tell you because you seemed to be having a hard enough time dealing with the fact I was even seeing him. The wedding wasn’t planned...or even remembered until he found the marriage license in our luggage after we got home.”