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When I'm Gone; Chapter 2
Chapter 2-July 26, 2001 (Michael)
Look at this puppy, I thought staring into the flags that waved across the sky, lighting up the street around us. The sirens were still loud in my ear, making my head ring. I felt a nudge against my arm and saw my buddy, Andrew, staring at me with his dark green eyes. He mouthed something to me and I shrugged, not understanding. He leaned in and I followed suit.
“It’s you turn,” he shouted above the noise. Even though I had been a firefighter for a few years, those words made my heart stop. My blood drained from my face and I looked back up at the building. I could now hear somebody screaming and crying from inside. I took in a breath and grabbed my helmet from where it sat on the truck. I stuffed it on my head, making a mental note to get my hair cut. The black strands were now hanging in front of my eyes, making it hard to see. I pushed them underneath the helmet and let Andrew put on my oxygen tank.
“Be right back,” I promised him and placed the mouth piece over my lips. I took one last look at Andrew who was smiling at me before turning back to the fire. I jogged inside and I could already feel the heat sinking through my protective overcoat. It was hot in there. Very hot.
“Help me!” A girl screamed. I focused my attention on the room to the left. I could see the wooden door, where a never ending pounding came from. I slowly walked through the debris around me and finally reached the door.
“Stand back,” I warned loudly. I heard some movements and stepped back a few feet. With all of my might, I ran into the door and winced as it fell from the weight of me. That was going to hurt in the morning. I looked around for a minute, taking in everything.
The dresser and desk were burnt to a crisp and I could see the bed started to beckon the flames towards it. Whimpers came from the other side of the bed and I walked towards it.
When I rounded the bed, my heart dropped and my breath left me. A small girl, around the age of 9, was curled in a ball on the floor. Her light blonde hair was singed black and I could see burns on her arm, rising to where her shoulder was exposed from her nightgown. She looked up at me with frightened blue eyes and I felt a tear race down my cheek.
Gently, I picked her up and cradled her in my arms. She pressed her face against my chest and I tightened my grip on her. I carefully found my way back outside and I could hear cheers from the onlookers.
“Angela! Oh, Angela!” a woman shouted from the crowd. She pushed her way through, saw her daughter in my arms, and started to weep. She found her way to me and threw her arms around my neck. I pulled the mouth piece of my face and smiled softly. The woman’s small body shuddered violently as she sobbed.
“It’s okay, mam. She is right here,” I soothed. The woman pulled back and looked up at me with admiration. “We just need to get her to the hospital. She has had severe burns to her arms.”
“Thank you. Thank you so much,” she said and lightly touched her daughter’s cheek, which was smudged with ashes.
“It was my pleasure.” Smiling at her, I led her to where an ambulance sat at the curb. I handed her to the medics, who strapped her on a gurney. Her mother turned to me again and I finally could see the resemblance between the two.
The mother’s light blonde hair hung right above her shoulders and her bright blue eyes shone with affection. She wasn’t very tall, but she was a cute petite. Her smile lit up her face and she had a dimple in the right cheek. All in all, she was pretty cute.
“Thanks again,” she said in a hoarse whisper. She laid her hand on my arm and left it there for a few seconds longer than a friendly touch. Her eyes held secrets that she wanted me to uncover. I pulled my arm away and nodded.
“It was my pleasure, mam,” I repeated and walked away. The ambulance sped off into the night and I was left with a burnt building that needed some serious cleaning. The outside was charred and I’m pretty sure the inside was irreplaceable.
“So what did the mother have to say?” Andrew elbowed me knowingly. I grimaced at him and his expression changed to bewilderment.
“She’s not my type,” I replied bitterly and turned away from him. I felt a strong hand on my shoulder and I sighed.
“Sorry man. I know you have been waiting for a while now,” Andrew said behind me. I spun on my heel, embarrassed about the water threatening to overflow in my eyes.
“When is it going to my turn? You are married with a gorgeous wife and two small girls. And here I am, at 27 years old, with nobody.” I clenched my mouth shut and wiped the tears from my eyes. I took in a ragged breath and pushed away from Andrew. I stormed to the truck and hopped in, waiting to be teased at by the other guys for my tears. None of them uttered a word and my anger began to leave me. Taking in another deep breath, I relaxed my shoulders and looked at Andrew, who was now sitting beside me.
“Michael,” he started. I put my hand up to stop him.
“It’s cool Andrew. I’m sorry I freaked out at you. I’m tired and want to get the heck away from here,” I interrupted and ran a hand through my hair. My hazel eyes swept the inside of the truck, pausing on each guy there. Most of them were already married with kids. Only a few of the rookies were single and care free.
“Why do you care so much Michael?” A rookie asked. I looked over at him, trying to remember his name. I noticed the name on his shirt and laughed silently at myself. His name was Seth.
“You know Seth, I really don’t know why I care. I mean, I might find somebody someday but I guess, it just isn’t my time. You rookies don’t have to care about it. Y’all are in your early twenty’s.” I winced when my southern drawl leapt from my lips. “Y’all can have fun without caring about a girlfriend or a wife.”
“Well, that isn’t entirely true,” Seth admitted. “I have a girlfriend at UCON right now. It is a pain to try and get together with her. But, we have made it for three years now. I planning to ask her to marry me this Christmas.”
Seth started to get pushed around by all the guys congratulating him. A few rookies booed playfully and gave him a thumbs down.
“Dang, Seth. You just proved me wrong,” I said, admiring him. He shrugged and even I could see the blush creeping up his neck. That caused him another round of teasing.
“It will all work Michael. Just wait and see.” Seth smiled at me and I grinned back.
Looking out the window, I frowned slightly as we passed the hospital. I thought of the little girl and the burns on her arms. She was going to have lifelong scars that would make her different than the rest of the kids. Without realizing it, a tear slipped down my face.
We rode in silence for a while and when we reached the station, it was already two in the morning. We piled out of the truck and rushed inside, waiting for the next call.
“Who wants breakfast?” I heard someone call out. I sat up groggily and looked at my surroundings. Beds were lined up in rows, sheets made and pillows propped up. I turned to my clock where the bright red numbers gleamed 8:29. Yawning, I stood up and stretched. With my eyes still closed, I reached out for the pole and slid down it, my stomach rumbling.
“I do,” I moaned and opened my eyes. I was standing in the kitchen where the guys were chowing down on some pancakes. I took in a breath and let the sickly sweet smell of syrup rush to me. I sighed in contentment and I heard Andrew laugh.
“Somebody’s hungry,” he commented. I shot a look at him.
“Somebody needs to shut up,” I shot back and grabbed a plate. I stacked three pancakes on it, four pieces of bacon, and a mountain of eggs. After drizzling syrup on my pancakes, I made my way to the table. I eased into my chair and dug into my breakfast. Andrew was right. I was hungry.
“Did you sleep well?” Andrew asked after I was more than halfway finished with my food. I cleared my throat and smiled.
“Actually, I did,” I replied and took another bite of bacon.
“He was dreaming about that hot blonde from last night,” Seth snickered. I glared at him and set my fork down. I took my plate to the sink and washed it off. Then, walking silently, I came up behind Seth. I was pleased as he jumped underneath my touch. Gripping his shoulder, I leaned down to his level.
“How about a little one-on-one in the gym?” I inquired, tightening my grip. Seth swallowed loudly and looked up at me. His usually shining eyes, had turned dark and frightened. “Or are you chicken?”
I mimed a squawking chicken and that’s all it took. Seth slammed down his fork and stood up. His head only came to my nose, but he had a look that could freeze anything.
“Let’s do it,” he agreed and gestured for me to go first. I did and I could hear the other guys whispering excitedly. It was like high school again, where the bully told you to meet him in the parking lot to fight.
We strode into the gym and I led the way to the mats. There were two guys going at it, but when they saw me, they backed away and left us the mats. I smiled wickedly and put on my gloves. Seth did the same and we stood on opposite sides of the mat.
“Boy, you messed with the wrong guy this morning,” somebody from the crowd warned Seth. Seth laughed quickly, but I could see the beads of sweat forming on his brow.
“I can take him,” Seth grumbled.
“Five on Michael,” I heard someone bet. Others chimed in and Andrew took in everybody’s money.
“Ready when you are pipsqueak,” I teased and crouched into a starting position. We circled each other for a minute, daring the other to make the first move. Seth was the one who tried to reach out first, just like I thought he would. He wasn’t that patient.
I dodged his hand and wrapped him in a quick headlock. His arms swung, looking for purchase. I pushed him onto the floor and straddled him. He was already breathing hard and struggled beneath me. Using the little strength he had, he pried an arm free and snapped it at my face. It hit right beneath my jaw and I jumped back, my head pounding. There were murmurs of surprise in the crowd.
“Give up yet?” I breath. Seth shook his head and drops of sweat flicked towards me. I ran for him and was able to bring him down again. I held his legs together with mine and locked his arms together. We were both breathing hard and I had sweat pouring down my brow. He glared up at me and tried to catch his breath.
“Uncle,” he said through clenched teeth. I stood up, cheerful and took a bow. Some of the guys whistled and clapped while others grumbled about Seth’s loss. Turning back to Seth, I offered my hand to him. He took it and I hauled him to his feet. He laughed and playfully punched my arm.
“Who’s the best?” I grabbed him in another headlock and ruffled his hair.
“You are,” he managed and I let him go. Still laughing, we were walking back to the kitchen when the bell started to ring. I looked at Seth and nodded.
“Let’s do this,” we said in unison and ran to get our clothes.