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Chapter 1

It’s not superstition. It’s a known fact. Shit happens in threes.

A sterile brightness glared overhead. Controlled chaos buzzed below. The trauma room pulsed with tonal beeps, wailing alarms and hushed, hurried voices. And yet, a calm hung over the half dozen bodies bustling around a stretcher. A forced calm to keep the team from cracking.

All too soon, slow, accepting motions replaced swift determination. One by one, nurses in royal blue, medics in green, and the ER resident in grey stepped back, ready to accept fate and the rule of threes.

Except one.

“No. No. NO! One more. One more round,” Olivia Aberdeen pleaded, pounding away at the toddler’s chest. Mackenzie Collins, County Med Emergency Department’s third code of the night. Everyone knew what the outcome would be when they got the ambulance call, but this one had to turn around. It had to.

Liv pinched back angry tears and fought to keep her voice even. Detached. As professional as an ER nurse could be when facing her third death of the night.

“She’s a baby! C’mon y’all, one more.”

Sweat dotted her forehead. They’d done everything. Lines, drips, meds. And more rounds of CPR than she could count. There were no more ‘Hail Mary’s’ left to pass. She forced her eyes open and searched the room, trying to connect with one person who still held onto hope this would be the life they’d save today.

A medic, pale and conflicted, took over compressions. She backed away, bent at the knees, exhausted, and hungry for air. It felt like the longest two minutes of Liv’s existence, standing over a person, beating life into their heart.

The ER resident elbowed for more room at the head of the stretcher. Grim faced, arms folded, it was up to him to say they’d done enough; to say with finality a mother would never speak to her baby girl again.

He took a sobering breath then blew it through his nose. “Alright, Liv. One more. Push a high dose epinephrine and someone grab me the ultrasound machine. Let’s see if we can get something back to defibrillate. How much longer until the parents arrive?”

People rushed around, falling into roles without direction. The mark of a good trauma team. And even though Liv was new and a transplant southerner in the great blue north, she melted right in.

Liv checked the Braslow’s tape and grabbed the corresponding medication to the baby’s size. She’d thank the Lord later for the invention that made medical math almost fool proof, and use the time to ask God for one of his miracles.

“Epi’s in,” she answered, hoping the little heart would flutter back to life.

A head popped around the curtain. “Family’s here. I had the chaplain escort them to the private waiting room.” A hushed discussion bounced from person to person. Parents and family are encouraged to come back and witness the last efforts. People in the business of saving lives are taught it’s important for closure, but that’s bullshit. Regular people didn’t need to see the torture doctors and nurses put their loved ones through, or the mess. But it was the right thing to do.

Liv pulled in a breath, hoping to find composure mixed in with the tainted oxygen. “I’ll go,” she said, shouldering the responsibility, but the idea of doing this for the third time in less than twelve hours tore a hole in her gut no amount of Mylanta would fix. She caught the eye of the resident. He dropped a dollop of lube onto the sono machine and pressed it against the little one’s chest.

Liv held her breath.

Everyone held their breath.

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