Later that night, Penny pulled into Wila’s driveway and frowned. Dani was right. They all had the same make, model, and year of minivan. The front of Wila’s house looked like a satellite branch of Neal Astin’s dealership. But then, Dani would never have purchased a minivan if it weren’t for her dad. And Penny had a suspicion Dani hadn’t paid for the minivan either.
Which was a whole nother issue.
Wednesday night was girls’ night at Wila’s. Three of them needed a break from their families, and Wila hated being alone while her son Derek spent the evening at the ex-husband’s house.
Penny opened the driver’s door before she grabbed the bags of munchies she brought, including chocolate of all types. Francine would bitch, which was why Penny bought a bag of the gluten-free, fat-free, and taste-free chips Francine loved.
Or claimed she did. Penny swore a cereal box tasted better than those chips.
She slammed the door shut and jogged up to the front door. Before she could press the latch, the door swung open.
“’Bout time you got here!” Wila gestured for Penny to come inside. “Hurry. We need something to counteract the alcohol.”
“You started without me?” Penny shrugged out of her coat while Wila took possession of the reusable bags.
“No, Dani’s mixing chocolate martinis right now.”
Penny groaned. “Another raise?”
“Another raise,” Wila confirmed.
Penny hung her coat on a peg and followed Wila into the kitchen. Dani stood at the counter, the shaker in her hands and ice clattering as she mixed their drinks. Spotting Wila with the reusable bags, Francine jumped up from the bar stool she had been perched on.
“Did you bring chocolate?” She grabbed a bag from Wila and fished out the bag of dark chocolate raspberry truffles.
Penny exchanged looks with Wila who merely shrugged.
“That time of the month?” Dani asked with an amused expression. She carefully poured the chocolate martinis into the glasses while Francine dumped the rest of the contents onto the kitchen counter.
Francine shook her head. “Ever since yesterday’s storm, I’ve been craving chocolate.”
“It’s those damn smoothies,” Penny said. “Too much depravation isn’t good for the soul or your body chemistry.”
Francine made a face at her and popped another truffle in her mouth.
Wila accepted a martini from Dani. “You sure you’re not pregnant?”
“Bite your tongue,” Francine snapped. “I can barely handle the one I’ve got. She started her first period today.”
“You had supplies for her, didn’t you?” Penny asked.
“Of course.” Francine rolled her eyes before she sipped her drink. “It’s just that we both ended up on the floor of her bathroom crying.”
“Why the hell were you crying?” Wila’s eyebrows formed a sharp “V” between her eyes. “It happens to almost every woman.”
“You don’t have a daughter.” Francine’s eyes glistened. “You don’t understand.”
“You think raising a son is easier?” Dani shook her head. “Dad and Marty are trying to be Mark’s male role models, but some of the information they give him…” She took a healthy swig of her martini. “He’ll either never date, or he’ll turn into a slut puppy.”
“Just because your brother was Mister Popular in high school, it doesn’t mean Mark will serial date like he did,” Penny said.
“How’s Justine feeling?” Wila reached for the bag of cheddar crisps.
“Feeling?” Francine edged away from Penny, but she took the bag of raspberry truffles with her. “Is she sick? What was she exposed to?”
“Chill.” Penny dug out the crackers and spray cheese from her other bag. “The vomiting was probably due to her own period starting yesterday morning.”
“Vomiting?” Dani’s expression turned to one of alarm. “She and Mark—”
“It’s been over twenty-four hours,” Wila said soothingly. “If any of the team picked up norovirus from Justine, all of our kids would be puking right now. Penny’s right. It’s probably related to the poor girl’s period. When I was her age, I bawled from the pain.”
“If you guys are going to talk about gross bodily functions, can we please play Euchre while you do?” Francine whined.
“Fine,” Penny grumbled. “But I want another martini first.”
* * *
The ache Penny thought had gone started pulsing behind her eyes as she stared at her crappy hand. “Pass.”
“Pass,” Wila said.
“Pass.” Dani laid her cards face down on Wila’s pine kitchen table. She rubbed her temples.
“Well, this sucks.” Francine pursed her lips and turned down the ten of diamonds.
“You dealt the cards,” Wila snapped.
“Stop yelling at me,” Francine bit back. “Your call, Penny.”
Dani’s olive complexion shifted to a sickly color.
Penny laid her own cards face down on the table. “Dani, honey, are you okay?”
“No.” She started to shake her head and thought better of it. “I had a nasty headache since Dad bought that damn minivan. I felt better last night after some sleep, but it’s coming back with a vengeance.”
“You, too?” Wila cocked her head. “I thought I was stressed out from the extra shifts I been pulling.”
Francine turned to Penny. “Did Justine complain of a headache before she got sick yesterday?”
“No, but I had a similar headache before I got to the field yesterday.” Penny chewed in her bottom lip as she thought. “I chalked it up to the weather front.” She turned back to Dani. “Do you need to lay down?”
“No, but I think I’ll go home while I can still drive.” Dani handed her cards to Wila. “I’m sorry for being a bummer.”
“Wait a minute.” Wila grabbed Dani’s wrist. “You’re hot.”
“You’re sexy, too, but I’m not ready to try girls yet,” Dani said.
“No, I mean I think you have a temperature.” Wila pushed back from the table and stood. “Let me get my touch thermometer.” She charged out of the kitchen. Footsteps thumped up the stairs.
Francine turned to Penny. “See what you did? You unleashed disease on all of us.”
“You’re going to be lucky not to be puking after eating the entire bag of raspberry truffles,” Penny shot back.
Francine frowned and peered into the bag. “I only remember having a couple.” She looked over at the counter. “I’m still hungry.” She rose and snatched the unopened bag of milk chocolate peanut butter truffles.
“Are you feeling okay, Francine?” Penny stared as the other woman tore the bag open, unwrapped a truffle, and popped it in her mouth.
“I’m better than you guys are,” Francine said around the mouthful of candy. “No nausea, no headache, no fever.” She sat on one of the counter stools. “Just hungry and staying away from the rest of you.”
Penny turned to Dani. Her card partner’s eyes rolled back in her head, and she slid bonelessly off her chair.
“Dani!” Penny shouted. She jumped up from the chair, circled the table, and knelt next to her card partner. She pressed her fingers to her friend’s wrist, searching for a pulse. “Dani?”
Footsteps thumped down the stairs, faster and louder than before. Wila raced into her kitchen. “What happened?” She laid the thermometer she’d retrieved on the table and knelt on the other side of Dani.
“She passed out and fell out of her chair.”
“Should I call 9-1-1?” Francine hovered over them.
“Call them.” Wila’s voice was cool. Sure. “She’s not breathing, and I can’t find a pulse.”
Penny’s heart pounded. Too bad she couldn’t give some of those beats to Dani.
Wila went through the basics from the CPR class she’d taught. The one she made the other three women take because she was afraid no one would show up. She tilted Dani’s head back and checked her airway.
“I don’t see anything.” Wila looked up at Penny. “I’ll do compressions. You remember how to do mouth-to-mouth?”
Penny nodded, her own mouth suddenly dry. This was her friend, not Annie the CPR dummy. And she was dimly aware of Francine on her phone, rattling off Wila’s address the 9-1-1 operator as Penny tilted Dani’s head back.
Wila did a series of fast compressions. Penny pinched Dani’s nose shut and breathed into her friend’s mouth. They continued performing CPR. Wila counted her compression and then paused for Penny to blow air into Dani’s lungs. Sirens wailed in the distance.
“I’ll flag them down.” Francine raced out of the kitchen. Penny couldn’t blame her. Their friend was dying.
Penny and Wila finished the twelfth round of CPR when Dani’s eyes popped open.
“What the hell are you two doing to me?” Dani started to sit upright then collapsed back to the floor. “Oh, my god! Why does my chest feel like an elephant sat on it?”
Penny exchanged looks with Wila before asking, “Sweetie, what’s the last thing you remember?”
“You and Francine arguing about the chocolate.” Dani blinked and looked around. “Why am I on the floor?”
“You passed out and hit the hardwood before anyone could catch you,” Penny said while Wila check Dani’s pulse. “You stopped breathing, and we couldn’t detect a heartbeat.”
“She’s in the kitchen,” Francine said. She rushed into the room with two paramedics on her tail.
“Dang!” The younger paramedic blurted before he turned to his older, graying partner. “I told you this was Wila’s house, Dick.”
Penny scrambled out of their way, and Dick knelt beside Dani.
“I can’t believe you called 9-1-1.” Dani groaned.
Dick looked up at Wila. “Dispatch said the patient was unresponsive with no respiration or pulse.”
“Swear to God, guys,” Wila said. “She was not breathing, and we couldn’t find a heartbeat.” She rattled off everything she and Penny done along with the vitals she took when Dani woke.
“Did she hit her head?” Dick asked as he flashed a light at Dani’s eyes.
“I wasn’t in the room when it happened.” Wila looked at Penny.
She shrugged. “I don’t think so. Her head was on her arm by the time I got around the table. We laid her straight to perform CPR.”
“Can I please get off the floor?” Dani whined. “It’s cold down here.”
“Sorry, chica,” the younger paramedic said. “I’ll get you a blanket.” He jogged out of the kitchen.
The shit-ass grin Wila wore said she was about to stir the pot. “Hey, Dick, is Ramon seeing anyone right now?”
“Shut up,” Dani hissed. Penny chewed on her tongue to keep from laughing.
Dick smirked. “Nah. Last one got pissed because he didn’t want to go to med school.” He looked at Dani while he pumped the blood pressure cuff. “You aren’t a gold digger, are you?”
She blushed a deep rose. “I’m a single mother. Most men don’t want children in their lives.”
“Who doesn’t want children?” Ramon asked as he jogged back into the kitchen with a navy blue blanket that matched his and Dick’s uniforms. He spread the fabric over Dani’s form.
She clamped her mouth shut.
“My friend thinks because she’s a widow with a preteen boy she’s off the market,” Penny said.
Ramon looked up at Wila with a sour expression. “You couldn’t have introduced me to your friend before today?”
“Yeah, Wila.” Francine piled on the verbal abuse. “Why’d you wait until Dani practically died on your floor?”
“The CPR obviously worked.” Dick ripped apart the Velcro holding the cuff to Dani’s arm, but your blood pressure is awfully high.” He looked at his partner. “What are the pulsox readings?”
Ramon shook his head as he examined the device he clipped to Dani’s right index finger. “Pulse is ninety, and blood oxygen is waffling around ninety.”
“Ms. Elante, it’s best we take you to the hospital,” Dick said gently.
“Is at Marty’s spending the night with his cousins,” Penny gently reminded Dani. “I’ll call him and let him know what’s going on here.” Penny motioned for Ramon to bring in the gurney. Luckily, he picked up on her hint, and he headed back out to the living room where they’d left the gurney.
“I’ll follow the ambulance to the hospital,” Wila said.
“And I’m picking up Mark tomorrow anyway,” Francine added. “He and Brittany are supposed to work on their project for the science fair, and he can stay for dinner.”
Penny tried not to wince at that news. It explained part of Justine’s attitude over the last two weeks. She had a major crush on Mark. Penny didn’t want to bring it up to Dani. The woman would positively freak. Her son was her connection to Heath whom she still loved desperately and passionately five years after his death.
Ramon rolled the gurney next to Dani.
“But—” she protested.
“You are getting checked out,” Penny said in her best mom voice. “We’ve got the rest.”
Once the paramedics loaded Dani onto the gurney and Wila followed them out of the house, Penny and Francine started cleaning up the remnants of their aborted girls’ night.
“I know the rest of you don’t think I’m that smart,” Francine said softly. “But even I know a person doesn’t bounce back from their heart stopping like that.
Penny paused in loading the dishwasher, unsure which of Francine’s statements bothered her more. She set the plate in the bottom rack and eyed Francine.
“First of all, none of us think you’re not smart. No one earns a master’s degree if they don’t have something going for them.” Penny sighed while dried her hands. “And you’re totally right about Dani. Something happened tonight, and…” She pursed her lips. All of them, including herself, mentioned headaches, but there seemed to be more going on.
“It’s not just Dani passing out,” she murmured. “You were practically inhaling chocolate.”
“So?” Francine shrugged as she placed the unopened bag of her special chips into one of Penny’s reusable grocery carriers. “You guys constantly get on my case about my eating.”
“And you have never backed down once.” Penny folded her arms across her chest. “Then there’s Wila trying to pick fights with everyone.”
Francine propped herself on a barstool. “You noticed that, too? There’s also the fact that you’d be freaking over Justine getting sick and you didn’t.”
Penny leaned against the counter. Francine was right. After Justine’s stint with leukemia when she was a toddler, both she and Gene were practically paranoid over their daughter’s health.
“What about the headaches we’ve all been experiencing?” she finally said.
“Something in Dani’s new minivan could be causing hers.” Francine frowned. “I’ll ask Neal if they changed one of the prep cleaners. But for the rest of us?” She shook her head. “I don’t know.”
Penny shivered. She didn’t know what was going on either, but she couldn’t escape the feeling that none of it was good.