A Promise Worth Honoring (Promises Collection)

BOOK: A Promise Worth Honoring (Promises Collection)
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A Promise Worth
Honoring

 

Promises Collection, Book 3

 

 

By

Cyndi Faria

 

A Promise Worth Honoring

 

A Firefighter's Pledge

 

I promise concern for others.

A willingness to help all those in need.

 

I promise courage
—courage to face and conquer my fears.

Courage to share and endure the ordeal of those who need me.

 

I promise strength
—strength of heart to bear whatever

burdens might be placed upon me.

Strength of body to deliver to safety all those placed within my care.

 

I promise the wisdom to lead, the compassion to comfort,

and the love to serve unselfishly whenever I am called.

 

-Author Unknown

 

 

“All our dreams can come true—

if we have the courage to pursue them.”


Walt Disney

 

Chapter One

 

“Parker, heads up...”

Fire Cadet Garrett Parker turned from polishing the antique LaFrance fire truck in time to glimpse a neon disc flying his way. He lunged forward and snapped the spinn
ing disc between his thumb and forefinger as if spirits guided the plate right into his palm. Not that he actually believed spirits watched over him, granting his every wish… if that were the case, he’d already have passed the confined space portion of the Firefighter Exam. As things stood, he’d be practicing for the test as soon as the guys left for their next call.

Though he should have been focused on work, he narrowed his gaze and fired the
disc toward Mitchell, his brother and Chief of Safe Haven Fire Department. “Right back at you.” 

Mitchell intercepted the
spinner midair. “You should play more often.”

Garrett palmed the quarter he carried in his pocket to remind him what was really important in life, and how quickly that life could be snatched away. Playing games wasn’t important, not when his goal was to join four generations of Parker firemen. He returned to polishing the 1947 fire truck, one of the three vintage rigs he’d completely restored.

Mitchell planned on driving the truck in a week’s time at the December homecoming parade, as was tradition for the town’s Fire Chief. Until then—

A car horn beeped and Maggie Pritchard, Garrett’s best friend, neighbor, and the reigning Miss Safe Haven, waved as she drove past the station.

Heat radiated from his chest and his lips parted.

Her blonde hair whipped around her shoulders, teasing his gaze to follow.

Red, her Irish Setter, rode shotgun, even though earlier Garrett had secured the dog’s crate to the truck bed.

“There goes my girl!” Dane Kershaw boasted from deep within the hangar, his voice immediately followed by the rumble of a diesel engine.

Luckily, the sound hid Garrett’s irritated growl. He hated that Maggie was dating a fellow firefighter, and wished he were good enough for a beauty pageant winner who could have anybody, including the town’s Hero of the Year, Dane. But Garrett had accepted long ago that all he’d ever be was Maggie’s friend.

“Why don’t you tell her how you feel?”

Garrett hadn’t heard his brother come to stand beside him until he spoke. “She’s dating Dane,” he replied, staring up at the taller man.

“One date isn’t dating. Besides, you’ll never be happy if you don’t go after what you want. Who you want.”

Garrett faked a grin. Firefighting was in his blood. No one had been surprised, least of all himself, when at his father’s deathbed Garrett promised to make his dad proud by following family tradition and becoming a firefighter. Unfortunately, that promise was inconsistent with Maggie’s coveted goal to leave their California Sierra town rooted adjacent to the Cosumnes River and travel to Europe. That’s just the way things were, and he didn’t need his brother putting silly dreams of more in his head.

He met his brother’s icy-blue gaze. “Who says I’m not happy?”

“All you do is work. You won’t even join the guys for a game.” Mitchell placed a firm hand on Garrett’s shoulder.

He shook free of the parental touch. “So I’m dedicated to my job. Nothing wrong with that.”

“You’re twenty-three and haven’t dated since Emily.”

At the mention of her name, Garrett scrunched his brows. She’d hooked up with someone else in college, and their breakup had been amicable. “I haven’t found the right girl.”

Mitchell slid his foot forward. “I think you have. And I think Emily moved on because she couldn’t compete with Maggie. Can’t say I blame her.”

Garrett fixated on Mitchell’s gaze until he turned away. Last thing he needed was his bachelor older brother giving him woman advice. “I’m not talking to you about Maggie—”

“Then talk to
her
—tell her how you feel. She’s only here a few more weeks before she heads back to college—an Emily waiting to happen. I’m telling you from experience, don’t put work before pleasure and let
the one
slip away.”

The alarm sounded, the separated blasts signaling a grass fire.

Muscles tightened in Garrett’s shoulders and his stomach squeezed, more from the thought of Maggie slipping away than concern over the field fire.

Each man had a job. One truck pulled onto the side street, trailing the bulldozer to be used to cut a swath in the earth and corral the flames. Another man drove a water truck. The men in blue hustled into a choreographed display of precision that someday the youngest Parker would join.

But for now, Garrett’s job was limited to manning Station 81.

“You’re in charge, Garrett!” Mitchell drove out of the hangar and gave a slight wave, his gaze locked on Garrett’s.

Like always, his brother’s support spread a soothing warmth through his chest, like a hearty bowl of minestrone soup from Lucy’s Café. The other firefighters treated him as a brother as well, as if him joining their ranks was a given.

He stood taller and then prepared to practice for his test. Behind the station house, in the bone yard, ivy hid most of the cyclone fencing and a single oak shaded the space. To the left, the dozer and other equipment would return. Garrett headed right—to the culvert that held his future inside. The confined space had been capped and stood upright on a concrete slab. A
n aluminum door had been added and swung wide on hinges in need of a good dousing of lube, a task he’d add to his To-Do list.

To pass the test, he needed to stay inside for a mandated forty-five minutes. He set his watch timer for five minutes, climbed inside, and shut the door.

And waited. Waited for chilly corrugated walls he couldn’t see to close in. Waited for tunnel vision to blur the miniscule light that peeked though a rusty pit in the aluminum surface. Waited for the acrid scent to dry his throat. Waited for his chest to defy the fact oxygen filled the space around him.

Fear didn’t come. At least, not before the watch alarm sounded.

With a sigh of relief, he opened the door and his smile turned into a nervous laugh. He hadn’t broken a sweat. Next, he should be able to do ten minutes, then fifteen, and so on until he could do the full forty-five minutes while napping.

He chuckled. That’s what he planned. If the job was important enough, he should be strong enough to conquer what needed to be done, like he’d conquered his Bachelor of Science Degree in Fire Service Management.

Again, he faced the aluminum demon. No one knew about his claustrophobia. Only him and the birds. Not even Maggie, who’d rescued him from that abandoned refrigerator when they were ten.

Inside, this time he set his watch for ten minutes. He pressed his head against the
grooved cylinder and focused on his breathing, the low hum that filled his lungs with cool air, then the long exhale that whooshed from his throat.

Outside, blackbirds chirped, chirped, chirped in the oak canopy, their bantering indistinguishable from one another, like children at a carnival. He needed to be more bird-like, more carefree, just as his brother had said, but there’d be plenty of time for fun after he passed his test.

On the side street behind him, a single car pulled to the curb and the engine cut out. Typical Monday morning in downtown Safe Haven…

The watch beeped again and he hit end.

A smile claimed his face all the way to his eyes. He grabbed the inside handle—

Locked.

His breath caught and he jiggled the handle, but the door didn’t budge. He slammed a shoulder into the door. Once. Twice. Until the muscles bruised. Sweat tickled his face. He thrashed in the compartment and rocked the tinny confines.

Darkness closed in on him. Lungs locked in a gasp.

Couldn’t breathe…

Heart racing…

Blackness spinning…

Stop!

He commanded the panic attack to halt. If he could convince his mind to stay present and fight instead of flee, he could form a plan to break out.

To calm the fuck down.

Inhaling slow and deep, he counted to ten before exhaling. Then he repeated the breathing sequence and searched his pocket for his lucky quarter—the one he’d had with him when he’d become trapped inside the refrigerator. By rubbing the quarter, he’d worried his thumb over and over the head and tails. But, he didn’t want his refrigerator memory to trap him into a panic. He was alive. The guys would return soon.

Shit.
No way could they know about his PTSD, or they’d never trust him on a call. He wouldn’t pass the confinement test, not after this. Wouldn’t follow in his father’s footsteps. But he would damn his family name with failure.

His father’s words rushed
to him. “Everyone gets scared, but firefighters move beyond their fear.” Those were the words used to calm him after he’d been trapped inside the refrigerator for nine hours and came home blubbering.

No way would he sink back into fear and be caught with tears on his face. He pressed his back against the wall, focused on the rusty hinge, and kicked.

The hinge sprang loose and the door popped open.

Cool air rushed over his flushed skin.

Dizzy, he swayed and palmed his knees to keep from heaving, then prayed his eyes were playing tricks on him.

Pink heels… on the gravel. Two feet away. His gut clenched.

Maggie’s favorites.

 

# # # #

 

Maggie arrived at the station to ask Garrett to be her partner for next Saturday’s homecoming dance competition. But when she found him staggering outside on the uneven gravel like a drunken goat, she immediately touched his arm and back to let him know he wasn’t alone. “You’ll be okay, just breathe.”

His face alternated between Christmas red and Easter lily.

She knew about the confinement test all fire cadets had to pass, and she also remembered the refrigerator scare from when they were kids. He probably hated confined spaces. They’d just never talked about his fear. 

She figured he had his pride and she had no right to butt into his business. Still, she’d tried to understand why he’d deliberately shut himself inside a rusty iron maiden, but couldn’t.

He obviously hated the tight space, yet was willing to make himself miserable for a job.

Just like her father had been willing to risk his life and leave his family for a job. Never mind the thrill seekers had plenty of other career choices, being a hero was all they cared about. The skills they displayed made them who they were, and she loved them just as much as she hated their carelessness with their emotional and physical safety.

She ran her palm in light circles across his back. “Hey, Gar… deep breaths… I’m right here….”

“I’m fine,” he coughed through dry heaves. “Really.” He stood, but his tan complexion remained pale.

On her way to the station, she’d heard pounding on the metal door. He’d been panicked, scared out of his wits. She’d seen her brothers cover up their fear with pride, and suspected Garrett was using the same technique. “You want to tell me what happened?”

“No,” he snapped, then immediately shut his mouth, his tight lips turning down. “I mean, no harm done. I was working on the door’s latch.” He fanned the cockeyed door.

She squinted at the hinge, sheared off at the bolts. He really thought she’d buy that? He’d restored old fire engines since she could remember. No way would he enter a trunk with a rusty lock. Had he partaken in some sort of hazing? “Did someone force you inside and lock the door?” She played along, wondering if her action was wise. Perhaps the time had come to confront him with her suspicions.

Ignoring her question, he dusted off his khakis and headed back toward the hangar. His hurried steps flicked up grey dust and pebbles, his wide back shielding his pride.

Ankles wobbling with each spiked step, she followed him. “I think you were practicing for your test. Am I right?”

Three antique engines lined the far wall. He ran his hand along the closest truck’s bumper, stacked with dry towels. He focused on folding the towels into perfect squares. “I said I’m fine.”

She placed a gentle palm over his cool hand and held his sapphire stare. “I’m only worried about you. You could have suffocated in there. What were you thinking?”

From across the main street where she’d parked, Red barked. The anxious rescue dog had probably seen her rush after Garrett. She’d parked in the same spot she always claimed, under the pomegranate tree heavy with fruit with the windows partially rolled down just so Red had her within sight. But he would have to learn sometimes business took precedence over playtime and that being inside the cab of her truck was safe.

Garrett glanced in the direction of the sound, and walked to the back of the hangar. “Maybe the guys are back…”

She caught up with him and again her gaze darted to the upright culvert. “Are you afraid of small spaces? Is that why you were practicing inside that… contraption?” When he didn’t answer, she added, “Garrett, claustrophobia is a serious condition for a firefighter. If you’re afraid—”

“I’m not afraid of anything.” He spun to face her, his complexion still ashen. The skin around his eyes pinched into a narrowed gaze. “Like I said, I was fixing the latch. Can we drop it?” He flashed a grin she had no intention of returning at the moment.

BOOK: A Promise Worth Honoring (Promises Collection)
10.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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