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Burning

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Ash and smoke rose and fell from the newly shingled roof; fiery orange flames dancing around what used to be Jameson Street's finest house.

Mila Epansofi shuddered in the thin, papery blanket barely covering half of her body, freezing in only a pair of pajamas and slippers wet from melted snow. She raised her eyes to the burning house and envied the warmly clothed firefighters running to and from her home, failing to hose down the crumbling roof. Their house wasn't burning down. Hers was.

She watched her savings fall in flames and ashes; every penny she had owned save the money still in her bank account had been spent on furniture, the best cooking utensils and the finest television money could buy, dozens of museum-worthy valuables and her personal treasures, a touch-screen computer, which was filled with every file she had ever written and ever needed, her mother's old diary, which she had not paid for but had inherited after her death, and the golden necklace her faithful ex-husband had given to her as an anniversary present before she had cheated. Everything, burning and dying before her eyes.

Mrs. Dawson, Mila's neighbor who had come out of her house solely to watch Mila's beautiful home whither away, handed the girl a cup of hot chocolate.

'To soothe the soul,' she said.

Mila accepted the drink but did not look once over at Mrs. Dawson, who had never seen Mila in anything but designer clothes and her face colored in makeup.

Mila was ashamed for the first time in her life.

She once had everything: a bank account stacked in millions, a mother and father, a husband and a perfect baby girl, who she herself had birthed and nursed and watched her husband snatch away from her in the divorce.

She had been cheated of money, her parents had long since died, and her husband and daughter had moved to Chicago after the divorce.

Every one of her friends had only befriended her in hopes of expensive birthday presents and luxurious limousine rides to the nicest of clubs, because she was, simply put, loaded.

The house, destroying itself by a matter of fire, and Mila, sipping her hot chocolate, mind slipping, began falling apart simultaneously.

Mila sighed.

Mrs. Dawson, remaining by her side, offered Mila her fur coat, which was Mrs. Dawson's way of telling her that she for once had more than Mila and would gloat because she could. Mila recognized this, but took the coat because her tiny blanket and silk pajamas would only give her the gift of hypothermia.

Mrs. Dawson fiddled with her cream-colored pearl necklace and smiled inwardly at Mila's perfect house and perfect life breaking into tiny, fragile pieces.

The two women stood at the bottom of Mila's driveway, the fire truck taking up the length of the paved hill of the driveway. Mila waited for Mrs. Dawson to say something, anything, to prove her arrogance wrong and show she could be a compassionate, reasonable human being rather than just the new richest woman on the street.

'Well,' Mrs. Dawson said, 'where do you suppose you'll live now?'

Mila bowed her head and laughed to herself.

'Your mansion is being eaten by fire. How can you laugh?' Mrs. Dawson tinged jealousy for a second, believing that perhaps this wasn't Mila's only home, perhaps she had a castle somewhere off in France or England and ten million more dollars in some hidden account.

'You're assuming they can't save the house. There are still three floors left that haven't even been touched by flame. The house is useless nonetheless. I thought you might be offering to let me stay in your home for the time being,' Mila said.

Mrs. Dawson cleared her throat and said nothing, which, to Mila, said everything.

'I have cousins,' Mila declared, knowing her cousins were either in jail or in another county. She couldn't remember which.

'Oh?' Mrs. Dawson chuckled at her obvious attempt at lying.

'And my sister will probably offer to take me in for a while. She lives in LA.'

Even as Mila's house burned to nothingness, she still felt the need look like the most fortunate person on Jameson Street.


A shaven face hovered over Mila the next morning, and once she rid her eyes of sleep, she realized: it was him.

She must have been hallucinating.

'Robert?'

She tried to raise herself from the sterile, blue bed with sheets perfectly creased and a large blanket tucked into her sides, but she could not move.

'What' where' why am I here? My house' everything' Mrs. Dawson' my silk pajamas''

Crisp hospital-scented air flooded Mila's nostrils, and she wanted so badly to fall back asleep and wake up in her silk sheeted, fluffy covered bed.

'Mrs. Dawson is fine. Your mansion is completely gone, and your silk pajamas have been washed and folded. They're on that chair,' he pointed, 'and will be fine. You ran up your driveway when the firemen brought out your mother's diary and slipped on the ice. You skidded down the driveway, and, according to Mrs. Dawson, fell into the street. Apparently, a car hit you just seconds after you had rolled in the street. You've been paralyzed neck-down.'





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