As Ian was about to board the ambulance to go with his Matt to the hospital the chief grabbed his arm. “That was the stupidest stunt you’ve ever pulled. When I give a recall order you don’t question it, you don’t ignore it and you certainly don’t go running into the fire no matter who the victim is. Do you understand? I give the orders,” the chief shouted.
Ian stared at him in silence. Anger boiling inside him. It was a risk to go against orders but one he would do again. His one regret was forcing his team to either back him up or abandon him. He not only risked his own life but those with him. Would he do it again? Most definitely. “Yes sir,” he mumbled hopping into the ambulance.
“Your on suspension mister four weeks without pay,” the chief growled as the paramedics closed the ambulance doors.
Turning to the paramedic working on his brother he asked “how is he?”
“Third degree burns on his arms and back. Smoke inhalation probably burned his lungs since he’s having difficulty breathing. We may need to intubate.”
Nodding Ian sat back watching their fevered work to help his brother. His thoughts turned to why his brother was inside that abandoned warehouse. Who was the guy they found with him? He looked to be a couple of years older than Ian maybe 21 or 22. The girl Ian recognized as Matty’s girlfriend Kimber. Neither of them was the type to go to underground raves. What had his little brother gotten himself into?
He hopped out of the back of the ambulance when they stopped in front of the ER. Following them in as they wheeled his brother into a room to be examined. Ian hung back to call his dad and deliver the bad news.
Walking into the house Gene was feeling pretty good with life in general. Aimee was expecting another baby he hoped would be a little girl. Jasmine was getting married. Stephanie was about to graduate from Sim University, Matt was about to graduate high school and Ian was getting his life back on track. Things were looking up. Pulling his phone from his pocket he smiled recognizing the number “hello.”
Silence greeted him. Frowning Gene said “Ian what’s wrong?” Aimee looked up from the kitchen where she was preparing a snack.
“Dad….” Ian choked back tears “Matty’s been hurt…”
“Where is he?” Gene barked causing Aimee to jump in alarm.
“We just brought him into the ER. He’s been burned pretty bad. Third degree burns on his back and arms. His lungs were burned from smoke inhalation.”
“We’re on our way,” Gene told him. Turning to Aim he held his arms out to her “Matty’s been hurt.” She ran to him feeling his strong arms wrap around her. “We’ve got to go to the hospital.” He held her close while her body convulsed with sobs. “Honey it’s going to be alright. Matty’s a fighter.”
Gulping back sobs Aimee nodded “I know he is. We’ll see him through this.” Moving away she wiped her eyes. “I’ll call the sitter for Katrina.”
Arriving at the hospital Gene and Aimee had to forge their way through the media camped in front of the hospital doors. Someone shouted as they were recognized. Questions were hurled through the air. How is your son? Was this drug related? Did he start the fire? They shouted questions irregardless of their shocked silence and lack of response.
One eager journalist moved to block Gene’s path into the hospital. Standing in front of the door smiling “your son has been in trouble before, hasn’t he? The kind that left Malcolm Junior holding the bag and serving a prison sentence….”
Snarling Gene felt his hands curling into fists itching to hit the little man in front of him. Aimee sensing it moved to intervene. “I suggest you get your facts straight young man. Matt was not responsible for Malcolm’s actions. He was the victim…”
The man stared daggers at her hoping to elicit a response from Gene. They were consummate veterans at dealing with the press and whatever response he wanted was threatened within Aimee stepped in between him and Gene. Nodding he stepped aside noticing how the rest of his peers were glaring at him. They clearly didn’t like him or his tactics in trying to bait distraught parents.
Upon entering the waiting room they hurried over to Ian who was sitting in a corner alone. “How is he?” Aimee demanded.
“I don’t know,” Ian stammered giving his mom a hug “the doctors won’t tell me anything.”
“I’ll find out,” Gene strode over to the nurses station.
Watching his father Ian sighed in relief. He knew his dad would get someone to tell them what was going on. No matter how often he asked the doctor’s refused to tell him anything as he wasn’t Matty’s guardian or parent. He walked over to his dad as a doctor approached and began to talk to him.
“Your son sustained third degree burns on his upper back and upper arms. Second degree burns on his chest. We’re prepping him for skin graphs now as we’ve gotten his breathing regulated. His lungs were badly burned from smoke inhalation and the heat of the fire. If he survives the surgery we’ll need to watch him closely for infection and pneumonia.” Looking at Gene the doctor sighed “we’re doing everything we can for your son. He’s in critical condition and the next several hours will be crucial.”
“Can we see him?” Aimee asked reaching for Gene’s hand for support.
“We’re prepping him for surgery to start the skin graphs,” he reached over and patted her shoulder “when he’s in recovery I’ll have a nurse come and get you.”
As the doctor turned to walk away they all looked up startled by the shrieks and hysterical screams from a woman collapsing on the floor. Racing over to the older couple Gene grasped the older man by the arm as the doctors moved to help his wife “I…I…don’t know what to do…” the man stammered “Our daughter….she…she….” his words dissolved into heart wrenching sobs. A nurse gently took the mans arm and led him after the doctors who were wheeling his wife away.
Turning to his wife Gene hugged her close “that was Kimber’s parents. She was such a sweet girl,” he mumbled.
The nurse came back asking “are you friends of the Wood’s?” They nodded as she continued “such a shame about their daughter. Such a tragedy for the family.
Moving towards the waiting room Gene asked “was Kimber with Matty in the fire?”
“Yes we pulled them out together,” Ian nodded wiping at his eyes “Matty’s going to be devastated when he finds out…”
“Oh that poor girl,” Aimee murmured holding her stomach tight as she fainted.
Catching her Gene cradled her in his arms “I should have insisted she stay at home. She shouldn’t be under all this stress not in her condition.”
Watching the news later that night Celia watched in horror as Ian came out of the burning building just before the roof came crashing down. Gasping as she thought about how close he had come to being killed. Paramedics rushed to take the kid from his arms as he collapsed to his knees. She hoped all the victims were alright even as they announced that one of the victims, Kimber Woods had died from her injuries. A teenage boy was in critical condition and a 22-year-old male, Kimber Woods older brother August was in stable condition. The police were currently questioning the young man as to the cause of the fire.
Chewing her nails she watched as a mass of journalists rushed towards a couple running towards the hospital entrance. “Oh no” she gasped as she recognized Gene and Aimee as the media feeding frenzy continued. Was the boy fighting for his life Matty? Was that why he hadn’t come this afternoon? He’d never skip class. Had her text upset him so much that he made an exception? What if all this was her fault?
Shutting the TV off she sat in silence listening to her thoughts churn in her mind. Restless she got to her feet and ran from the house. Several minutes later she stood in front of the hospital. Was her family alright?
Sitting down beside the young distraught blond male Beth took his hand. “I came as soon as I could.”
Looking up with reddened eyes he nodded before turning his attention to the cracks in the floor tile, mumbling “thank you.” Focusing on the cracks in the floor as his thought swirled in a chaotic mess. Why had his brother and girlfriend been at the warehouse? Matty and Kimber were both honor students, good kids despite what the media was saying. Wiping tears away he became aware that someone was holding his hand. It was nice but it wasn’t the right someone. “I hope I didn’t get you and Steve into too much trouble with the Chief.”
“Nothing we can’t handle. Don’t worry about it. We saved those kids….”
Shaking his head “Kimber didn’t make it. She died a few hours ago.” Running his hands through is hair that still smelled of smoke “Matty may not make ….”
Pulling him close Beth held him as he cried “you did all you could. You got them out…”
“What were they doing there in the first place?” Ian asked “they shouldn’t have been there. It doesn’t make sense.”
“Tragedy seldom does…”
Snorting Ian sat up pulling away from her “I don’t need or want empty platitudes,” he stated as a cold hard anger slowly burned inside him. “I’m tired of all the senseless tragedies that plague my family. I want answers.”
“Ian I can help you through this if you’d let me.” She tried to pull him close “I can help you relax…”
Pushing her away “Beth we’re friends, co-workers. I’m not looking for anything else.”
“You’re still hung up on her aren’t you?” she spat at him “she left you. She doesn’t love you. How much more proof do you need? She didn’t even come to her own daughter’s birthday party. I was there. I care about you.”
“Beth I … I’m sorry. I’m not ready.” He shook his head. When did his friendship become so complicated? He felt as if he had missed a step or two. Beth moved towards him Ian put out his hands to keep her distance. “Beth now is not the time. My brother is fighting for his life. My parents are devastated. I don’t need this right now.”
“I thought it would help you to know how I felt,” her tone petulant “I thought I was offering you sympathy a shoulder to cry on.”
“I’m sorry it doesn’t feel like that. It feels like you want something more. Something I can’t give you.” He watched her face harden turning cold and angry melting away the concern. She turned and walked swiftly away.
Leaning her head on Gene’s shoulder Aimee closed her eyes hoping that when she opened them again this nightmare would be over. She felt Gene stir beside her opening her eyes “what’s wrong?” she asked anxiously.
“Nothing sweetheart,” Gene smiled down at her “just kink in my neck from sitting so long.”
“Want me to give you a massage?” she asked knowing this was an indicator of how tense and stressed Gene was.
“If you don’t mind,” he said as he turned his attention back at the silent still form of his son. He couldn’t help but feel his worst nightmare was repeating itself. He hate fire. The thought of Ian risking his life as a fireman was giving him nightmares. His dreams kept taking him back to when his sister died and his brothers were in the hospital for burns. He remembered when he had been on fire from the meteors that had crashed into their backyard. The searing pain and the smell as his flesh burned. The panic that had taken over causing him to run. He might have died if it hadn’t been for Robert who had pushed into the pool putting the fire out. Now Matty. How much more was he supposed to take?
“Gene what is it?” Aimee asked looking down at his pale tense face. “Are you alright?”
“No,” he managed through clenched teeth.
“Tell me,” Aimee requested as her fingers kneaded his tense muscles.
Staring at his son Gene relived his worst nightmare. His biggest fear. When he was through Aimee pulled him close holding him in her arms while he cried upon her shoulder. After all these years she hadn’t known yet it all made sense. His compulsive behavior towards changing the batteries in the alarms. His dislike of using the fireplace she enjoyed so much. How he could never relax in front of it with her. “Honey it’s ok,” she soothed “we’ll face this together.”
Celia walked into the waiting room in time to see the pink haired girl try to pull Ian close. She recognized the look Ian was giving the girl. The look that said he defenses were up and he needed space. The girl didn’t seem to notice until Ian pushed her away saying something that caused the pink haired girl to leave. Celia wondered what happened and debated whether she should insert herself into the situation. Taking a hesitant step forward, taking a deep breath Celia need to know how Matty was doing.
Ian had his back towards her staring out the window. Reaching out she touched his shoulder “Ian”. He jumped at the sound of her voice. Whirling around he felt like he was dreaming as he stared into the face he had longed to see for almost a year. “Celia” he mumbled as she caught him as his knees buckled under him.
Following him to the floor she held him tight feeling his heart beat fast “Ian I’m so sorry.”
Finding his voice he asked “why are you here?”
“Maybe I shouldn’t be,” she sighed “but I saw it on the news and I had to know…”
Sitting up Ian scooted away from her. As much as he longed to feel her arms around him he didn’t trust her. “Matty’s in ICU then he’ll be sent to the burn unit if he….” his voice faded away. Taking a deep breath he continued “if he lives. He might not make it.” Tears welled up and poured from his violet eyes “mom and dad are with him.” Wiping his eyes Ian struggled to his feet “I should be going. The babysitter probably needs to be getting home.”
“Ian please …. I” she hung her head not sure what or how to say what she was feeling.
“Celia now isn’t the time I don’t want to fight…” Ian sighed walking away.
“Neither do I,” she said running up and taking his hand. “I want to be here for you if you’d let me.”
He stared deeply into her eyes. Saw the love they once had. Dared he hope she might still feel something for him? He didn’t know what to do. What to think. He felt like a shipped tossed about in a storm. Too much was being thrown at him. “We need to talk,” he said freeing his hand from hers “I appreciate your offer but I can’t take anymore upheaval right now. I don’t want you showing up in my life when you think I’m vulnerable. I don’t want to let you back into my life just to watch you leave later on when something else comes along. I loved you Celia. Still do. I just don’t know if you love me.” He walked away shoving his hands in his pockets.
She watched him go furious that he had rejected her. She had wanted him to take her back no questions asked. The Ian she had known would have. Had she really hurt him that bad? She hadn’t realized the depth of his feelings. His sense of betrayal. She couldn’t just waltz back into his life. Did she really want back in? Was she willing to put forth the effort to prove she deserved a second chance? She didn’t know the answers and that was the scariest thing of all.
Walking to his car Ian forced himself to put one foot in front of the other. He wanted to run back, take Celia in his arms and tell her what exactly what she wanted hear. Take her back into this life. He couldn’t do that. It wasn’t that easy. He had to think about Katrina. It was bad enough her mother left her once what if she left again? Could he take a chance like that? The older Katrina got the more attached she’d become to the people in her life. He didn’t want to her hurt like that. Celia hadn’t even tried to stay in contact with her daughter.
Stopping by car he turned and looked back towards the hospital half hoping Celia had followed him. Sighing he tried to disguise his disappointment. Was it a mistake to want her prove that he was what she wanted? He couldn’t handle her leaving him again. It was bad enough the first time around. A second time would be devastating. Turning to get into the car a sound to his left caused him to turn smiling.
“What kind of idiot are you?” Beth snarled at him “you can’t seriously be taking that woman back. She left you once she’ll do it again.”
“Beth I….” Ian tried to talk but she steamrolled over his attempts. Eyes flashing with anger, hands waving she continued “I’d be good for you Ian if you’d just open your eyes and see it.”
“Beth I’m sorry,” Ian said turning his back on her “I can’t do this right now. I’m telling you the same as I told Celia. I don’t think you love me. For whatever reason you like the idea of me.”
“That’s not true,” she yelled as he got into the car.
“If I’m wrong it’s up to you to prove it,” Ian shrugged “you’ve never been to my house except for Katrina’s birthday and even then you said I was too young for you. What am I supposed to think? I like you as a friend, my co-worker that I thought had my back. But love? No I don’t think so.”
She stood there silent while Ian put the car in drive and drove from the parking lot. Ian watched her in his rear view mirror shaking his head. Was there a full moon turning everyone into love crazed idiots? If so was he the only one immune to it? He just wanted to go home, hold his baby girl. Feel her arms around him and hear her sweet voice calling him daddy.