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“I got a raise at work. My boss told me he liked my hard work and that I deserved more money.” Hayden pretended to wait for a response from his little sister sitting next to him on the park bench.
She was drowning in Hayden’s blue Kentucky hoodie. He gave it to her a little less than half an hour ago when he noticed she was shivering. Now that it was late October, the winds were chilly.
She was moving her foot back and forth over a small pile of orange and yellow fall leaves on the ground, making them crunch beneath her shoe. Finally, she looked up at him with her big, blue eyes and let out a small smile.
“It’s good to see you smile, Lucy. You shouldn’t be so afraid to be yourself again,” Hayden said.
Nothing. No response. Nothing new.
Hayden was forced to think about everything that happened that night, eight months before. Every night since then, he’d prayed for her to be happy again, and considering nothing was changing, it was hard for him not to want to give up. But for her, he did his best to stay strong and at least seem happy. As her brother, it was the least he could do.
“I know it’s hard, but it will get better. Everyone is doing everything they can to make things better for you, Luce.” Yeah, but it doesn’t help or change things, Hayden thought. He hated himself for thinking it. He had to stay positive, at least around Lucy. “Did you have fun at the carnival with grandma and grandpa?” he asked her, trying to shift his focus.
She shrugged. Even simple motions like shrugging, head nodding, and smiling were hard to get out of Lucy since that terrible night. She hadn’t spoken a word since she realized what happened.
Hayden decided to quit talking for a while. He never wanted to make Lucy think he was smothering her. He just wanted to be there for her. But more than anything, he wanted to see her smile, see her laugh and play like she used to. He missed the days he would pick her up from daycare when their parents had to work late; she’d run up to him and wrap her arms around his legs as tight as she could. Each time, he’d bend down to her level and wrap his arms around her and squeeze her into a big bear hug. He never could get her to stop talking about all the fun things she did and all the cool things she learned. She’d tell him about a new word she learned how to spell or a new song she learned during clean up time.
Now, seeing her really smile was nearly impossible for Hayden.
For nearly eight months, Hayden had been helping his grandpa build a house. They never told Lucy; Hayden wanted it to be a surprise when they were finished. He put all of his heart and soul into building it. His grandpa was a carpenter and directed most of the project, but Hayden knew how to do a lot of the things it took to build the house. He used skills he’d learned from his grandpa and dad while growing up to do what he could. The things that he didn’t know how to do, he picked up quickly or helped with as much as he could. His grandparents had been supplying a good portion of the money, but he didn’t ask for a dime until every penny of his own money was put into the house. About a month after everything happened, he picked up a job at the local lumber shop for extra money. Fortunately, he got discounts on supplies for working there.
After spending a while at the park with Lucy, Hayden drove her back to their grandparents’ house so he could go work on the house. His grandpa was already at the house with an ex-coworker making sure everything was in good condition. Hayden told Lucy he was going to work, but her silence made him think she didn’t care one way or the other.

He pulled his old Chevy truck into the newly asphalted driveway and let a small smile out at the sight of the house. He was proud of their work; it looked just the way they’d planned to make it look.
In just a day, he’d be ready to bring Lucy to the house. He was nervous and excited to see her reaction. In reality, he just hoped for some sort of emotion to come through.
He caught himself staring at the big, red door on the front of the house. It was the same door that was on the old house—the only thing he was able to recover. He fought hard to push the memories out, but at that moment, forgetting everything was seemingly impossible. The images of that night were perfect, pristine, so clear.
?
It was nearly one in the morning and Hayden was just getting home from a friend’s house. He noticed the smoke from a few streets over but thought his neighbors were just having a bonfire or something.
Once he realized it was his house, he pushed the gas pedal as far as he could into the floor board and aimed straight for the driveway. For a few seconds he thought hard about what to do. He could either go in and try to save the rest of his family himself, or he could call for help.
He decided it would take too long for the fire trucks to get there. He had to go in himself. He fumbled with his seatbelt and rushed toward the house, trying to convince himself this was the right thing to do.
He opened the front door of the house and was forced backward by the overwhelming heat and smoke. He struggled to get to his feet and ran as fast as he could up the stairs, yelling for the rest of the family. He could hardly hear as the structure of their house was being destroyed by the fire. The heat from the flames was nearly unbearable, but Hayden didn’t care. He’d made a decision less than a minute earlier that he had to go in the house and get his family out.
“Mom! Dad!” he yelled. He heard a quiet scream come from his sister’s bedroom and made his way in that direction. “Lucy! I’m coming!” He used the bottom of his shirt to protect his hand from the heat of the door knob and let himself inside her room.
There she sat, on the floor beside her bed, her arms hugging her legs. She rocked back and forth, tears streaming down her face, trying to catch her breath.
He ran to her and picked her up and into his arms. He held her close to his chest and grabbed a blanket from her bed to cover her face before making his way out into the blazing fire and thick, black smoke.
“Mommy,” she called. “Daddy! Hayden you have to get mommy and daddy!” That was the moment the family pictures in the hallway began to fall off the walls and hit the hardwood floor. Hayden noticed the distinct sound of the shatter of the glass from the frames.
He ran down the steps as fast as he could and ran out to the end of the driveway before setting her down. “Go to Dave and Sue’s, Lucy! Make sure they called for help. Stay with them until the fire trucks get here.”
“Hayden, please get mommy and daddy!”
He looked at the blazing house before looking back to her. “I’ll get them out, Lucy. I promise.”
?
Why did I have to make that damn promise? Hayden thought as he was brought back into the present time. When he came to, he was still staring at the big red door in the front of the house. The last thing left. No more family pictures, no more of his clothes or his personal belongings, no more of Lucy’s toys or her baby blanket that she’d taken everywhere she went.
By the time Hayden got back into the house to get his parents out, it was too late. The stairs he’d leapt up just moments before to get Lucy out were gone—nothing but hot, burning debris. He tried calling for them several times, but he never did get a response. The firefighters and paramedics later told him they were already gone when he got there. They had breathed in too much of the smoke. Never in a million years would Hayden have thought their dryer would cause his family’s house to burn to ashes.
Now it was just the two of them. Lucy and Hayden spent most nights at their grandparents’ house, but some nights Hayden would work on the new house. He couldn’t stand seeing Lucy so sad. How could he expect differently from a seven year old girl with no parents, none of her favorite toys, none of her clothes?

The next day, after work, Hayden picked Lucy up from their grandparents’ house so he could finally show her the surprise. Their grandparents drove behind them.
The ride in the truck was silent, as usual. This time, Hayden didn’t try to make conversation; he was too focused on the house and how he hoped Lucy would react.
From the street, you could see just how similar the house was to their old one. In fact, the only major difference was the location. Sure, everything was new and restored, but it definitely came close to painting a picture of what “home” used to look like to Hayden and Lucy.
Hayden pulled his truck to a stop but didn’t make a move to get out. Instead, he sat and waited.
For the first time in eight months, Lucy looked to Hayden and spoke. “It’s home,” she said, and then tears began to swell in her eyes. Whether they were tears of joy or tears of sorrow didn’t matter one bit, because she helped herself out of the truck and made a run for the front of the house. Hayden followed after her, anxious to let her see inside. “It’s home Hayden. Just like it used to be.”
“Yes Lucy, it’s home. Exactly like it used to be.” And that’s when it happened, just like it did all the days at the daycare. Lucy ran for Hayden and wrapped her tiny little arms around Hayden’s legs, squeezing him tighter than ever, and Hayden bent down, embracing her in his arms. And for the first time in eight months, he let his own tears fall.



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