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When I'm Gone; Chapter 4

Chapter 4-July 27, 2001 (Michael)


It wasn’t until after we pulled up, that we heard the screaming. It was hoarse and hard to hear over the sirens of the truck. I looked up at the top of the building, where a hand was trying to wave for attention.

“Help! I’m trapped!” She screamed again and her hand disappeared. There were frightened whispers in the crowd around us. I watched them point up at the now empty window and give each other a scared look.

“Save her,” somebody commanded us. “She is trapped up there and you guys are just standing around here.”

There were murmurs of agreement while the other men tried to desperately put out the raging fire.

Within minutes, Andrew had me on the lift, with my helmet fit snuggly around my head and the oxygen tank strapped to my back. It felt like years before I finally reached the window where the girl was. When we reached it, Andrew called my name from below. I looked down at him, trying not to think about the height.

“Go and do your thing,” he told me and gave thumbs up. I grinned and nodded before turning back to the window.

Carefully, I peered inside and a body to my right. I scrambled in, almost coughing because of the smoke.

“God,” I muttered and bent down to see better. When my eyes adjusted to the smoky room, I practically gasped. Lying before me was this beautiful girl who looked to be in her mid-twenty’s.

Her tanned skin stood out on the pale floor and I could see the soot clinging to her, making her look a tad darker than she really was. Her long arms and legs were both lithe and motionless.

Please, no, I thought as I bent lower towards her. I grabbed her wrist, barely noticing the music notes inked into her skin, and checked her pulse. It was there, shallow and slowing. I dug my fingers into my palm, stopping myself from reaching out to tuck a strand of her cinnamon-colored hair behind her ear.

Suddenly, when I was about to run a finger against her cheek, her eyes opened and I was staring into the most beautiful, unsettling pair of grey eyes I had ever seen. They watched me curiously, burying secrets deep beneath the surface. I knew then that I had to save that girl.

Thinking quickly, I placed my mask over her chapped lips and heard her suck in a breath. Relief washed through me and I smiled.

“Don’t give up,” I yelled to her over the sirens. “Stay awake for me.”

She opened her mouth as if to say something but then closed it, realizing she couldn’t. Her eyes closed slowly and red lights flashed before my eyes. Oh no. God, no.

“No! You will not leave!” I shouted mostly to myself and bent down to slide my arms under her lean, but tall body. “Hold on.”

I picked her up, surprised at her light weight, and cradled her against my chest. When I glanced at her face again, her eyes were locked intently on my helmet. I watched confusion turn to nervousness and back again.

Those grey eyes.

It took me another minute to tear my eyes away from hers. When she closed them again, all common sense rushed back to me. I had to get her out of there. Letting out a gruff sigh, I climbed back outside and into the metal box. As we were lowered to the ground, the crowd applauded me and I smiled.

After getting out of the box and back onto solid ground, I heard someone call out from the crowd.

“Claire! Oh, God! Claire!” A tall, lean boy emerged from the group of people, a blonde in tow behind him. He ran to the girl in my arms and tried not to cry. I removed the mask from her mouth, trying to let her breath normally. The boy ran a hand through his dark brown mop of hair and uttered a harsh sound. “Claire.”

The boy looked up at me with panic in his dark green eyes. I handed the girl to one of the paramedics and turned back to the boy.

“Is my sister....is she going....going...,” he broke off, trying to control his tears. For a minute, I wondered how those two could be related at all. Except for the tall and lean body, everything about them was different, even their skin tone. I placed a strong hand on his shoulder and lowered my eyes.

“She is going to be just fine,” I reassured him. He turned back to me and surprisingly, tears weren’t streaking his cheeks. “They are going to take her to the hospital for smoke inhalation. She passed out in the building.”

He nodded as if he understood and stumbled towards the ambulance. The blonde who was with him placed a tentative hand on his arm, but he pushed her away forcefully. Turning on her heel, she ran away from him, her hand wiping tears off her face.

I watched the ambulance drive away, Claire and her brother inside, when I started at a touch against my shoulder.

“Great job today, Michael,” Andrew congratulated me. I forced a smile and nodded my thanks.

When I finally turned to face him, I saw a curious look plastered onto his face. He studied me for a minute before the corners of his mouth lifted.

“What?” I asked, blush already climbing up my neck. Embarrassed, I cast my eyes down and looked at the street.

“I think somebody has a little crush,” Andrew sang in my ear. I coughed out a laugh and glanced at him.

“You wish,” I said under my breath.

“Michael, you don’t even know a thing about that woman,” Andrew reminded me. I nodded, thinking about his statement.

“True, but I want to get to know her,” I told him. We were quiet for a few minutes while I remembered Claire’s short hair, her small tattoo, and her stormy grey eyes.

“Do you think she could be the one?” Andrew asked, breaking the silence around us. Distantly, I could hear the hose being wrapped up, and the crowd dispersing.

“Honestly? I don’t know,” I admitted. “I mean, she was beautiful, Andrew. Right when I saw her, my heart dropped and I had trouble breathing. I have never seen anyone this beautiful in my life.”

“Okay,” Andrew pronounced the word slowly and studied me again. He contemplated my answer and nodded. “I can see what you mean.”

“Isn’t that what you felt when you saw Anna?” I wondered, referring to his wife.

“Actually, I hated her with a passion when we met. We always argued about something. But, she was pretty and I guess it’s true when they say opposites attract.”

“Then, all I have to do is go and talk to her, right?” I smiled wide.

“Well, I would be careful, Michael. I mean, you just rescued the girl. She could be in the hospital for a few weeks. Wait a few days, then go in and check on her.” Andrew scratched his head, leaving a black streak in his blonde hair from the soot.

“Thanks man,” I gave him a slap on the back and smiled again.

“Before you go all googly-eyed again, let’s check for a fire escape first, to make sure this building is safe.”

We walked around the building, until we found a small fire escape on the right. I pulled the ladder down and climbed up. Andrew followed behind me and we climbed to the third floor where Claire was.

“Would you look at that,” I murmured and nudged Andrew. The fire escape was next to the bathroom window and was hardly noticeable. I tried the window; it was unlocked. I threw it open, coughing when smoke streamed out.

When the smoke cleared, we climbed inside the window and decided to check her apartment.

Everything looked pretty good; it was just gray and smelled like smoke.

“It looks like all of her stuff is just fine. Nothing was burned,” Andrew said aloud to himself. “Michael?”

I found myself walking towards an open door to the left. I noticed a large ‘C’ painted on the wood and I ran a finger over the perfect calligraphy. Trying to stay quiet, I pushed open the door and smiled. Claire’s room.

It was about medium-sized, not too big and not too small. Her bed was covered in a plain black comforter and had a small, ragged bear propped up against the pillows. I almost laughed when I saw her bookshelf, filled from top to bottom with books. As I ran my finger across some of them, I noticed that they were mostly mysteries and romances.

There was barely any room for anything else. But, on the top shelf, sat dozens of pictures, all in simple black frames.

I picked up one of the pictures, intrigued by the girls in it. One of them was in a short sleeve tee and had long black hair that was in curls around her face. Her dark skin shone in the sunlight that was warming their faces.

The other girl was Claire. I noticed her grey eyes right away. Her smile lit up the picture and her eyes shone with, not happiness, but sadness. I frowned, but continued looking at the picture. Claire’s cinnamon hair was longer and had blue streaks in it. I could see three piercings in her ears and a diamond stud on her nose. She was wearing a tight vintage tee, showing off her curves. I longed to reach in and touch the skin around her hips. In the picture, she looked ten years younger and still beautiful all the same.

“What are you doing?” I spun around, the picture clutched to my chest and saw Andrew watching from the door. I set the picture on the shelf again and turned back to him.

“How long were you standing there?” I countered. He smiled softly and I relaxed.

“Long enough,” he answered and motioned with his hand for me to come. “We need to go.”

I followed him out of the door, catching a glimpse of a can of blue hair dye on her dresser top as we passed by.




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