Authors: Silla Webb
I shrug my shoulders, completely uninterested in goin’ further into this psycho – babble bullshit with her.
“However, one piece of the puzzle that makes absolutely no sense to me is how Drew Varney comes into play?” She opens the file and thumbs through notes scribbled across a few pages before her eyes scan back up to mine. “I see here that you and Drew have been friends for some time now. With friendship comes loyalty. The two of you are business partners, you’re his right hand man at American Heritage…how loyal is your friendship?”
I draw in a slow, choppy breath because Drew fuckin’ Varney is yet another sore subject with me. “I know my place with Drew, especially now that he’s left me to rot in this shit hole.”
“Do you care to elaborate, Josh?” She inches towards the edge of her seat, propping her elbow up on her knee and resting her face in her palm as she waits for me to give her the juicy scoop on our bro-mance break-up.
I blow out a loud, frustrated huff of air, “Not much to tell, really. Bust my ass for the man doing unmentionable deeds and he betrays me. End of story.” I ball my fist up angrily, digging my short nails into the palms of my cuffed hands. Damn, the anger is flowing now. She’s plucked that final nerve and it’s taking everything in me to find restraint. “I’m done. Gotta get the fuck outta this room before I suffocate.” I don’t give her room for argument, and I’m sure the bulging vein over my brow gives her a clear indication not to push me any further.
Her eyes grow wide and she sucks in a short breath saying, “I understand, Josh. I’ll call for a CO to return you to your cell.”
This is why I’m so against therapy. I’m living in the fuckin’ seventh circle of hell right now, and although I’m consumed with darkness I can manage my anger by keeping it all bottled up, then unleashing at the rare chance I get yard time. Talking about it will only cause my demons to rise, and it won’t take long for the darkness to take over. Then they’ll all be fucked.
A loud monotone beeping blares from the old speaker on the wall, startlin’ me from sleep. I react immediately, jumping into my turnout gear then sliding down the pole behind Adams to the ground level. The CAD System alerts overhead: ENGINE 17, Ladder 48, Truck 21 Residential Structure Fire, occupied…the voice becomes muffled as I pull my tired body up into the passenger seat of the engine. Wilson, the driver checks that the other two firefighters have seated themselves on the buckets, then shifts the engine into gear urging the truck towards the scene as I begin the en-route planning. Glancing up at the monitor I begin shouting out directions to get to the scene as quickly as possible. Staticky voices scramble across the radio between Dispatch and our Response team, but I’m too busy planning the rescue with my men to acknowledge the conversation. Heavy adrenaline courses warm blood through my veins, loud echoes of the shrilling siren booming in my ear as I crank the mechanical siren system, warning other motorists of our hurried presence on the road. We rush through the stop lights quickly but carefully, trying to avoid any further incidents in the cross sections as we make our way across town.
“Dispatch to Engine 17.”
“Engine 17, LT. Ashton here. Over.”
“Engine 17, clear call, I repeat clear call. Over.”
“Dispatch, under what orders? Over.” This rarely happens unless another house made the call first.
“Battalion Chief Marcum has ordered Engine 17 back to the Fire Department. Another Engine is en-route. Please correspond accordingly. Over.”
“Turn around Wilson.” I instruct the driver. He rolls his eyes as I crank the siren, warning drivers of our impulsive stop in the middle of the intersection. Pulling the radio back to my mouth I look over at the Mobile Data Terminal to recall the address we were called to. Static fills the air as my voice catches in my throat and cold, dead fear crawls through my veins.
“Engine 17 to Dispatch. I need a confirmation on the address of the structure fire please. Over.”
98 Winchester Avenue.
98 Winchester Avenue.
“Battalion Chief to Engine 17! I am ordering you to return to the Fire House IMMEDIATLEY!! Over.”
I slam the radio against the dash, tiny black pieces of plastic shattering in every direction as an exasperated breath rushes through my lungs.
“Wilson, I’m ordering you to proceed with the call. Move, NOW!!” Wilson doesn’t argue. He doesn’t question my motive, or the struggle I’m battling with right now. He simply nods, a look of desperation and worry filling his eyes. I crank the siren urgently, but nobody understands my personal urge to be on the scene.
Thick, grey smoke bellows from the rooftops of the house, vanishing the twinkling stars from plain site. I jump from the cab as Wilson slows the engine to a stop. Charging toward the blaze of flames as quickly as my legs will carry me, a deafening silence falls upon my ears muting all noise that surrounds me. Suddenly the world beneath my feet comes to a slow pause. I try to press forward but a mass of hands grip my arms, pulling me away from the blazing structure. Tormented screams break through the silence and my heart lurches in my throat as I realize there is no saving them. My knees grow weak and I try to fight harder to get inside the house, but the strength of the men holding me back is too great. Windows shatter at once and a heavy boom shakes the earth. My weight defies my legs as I come crashing down to the ground, and my hands instantly form steeples at the tip of my nose. A silent prayer is whispered but as the silence fades into the crackling of wood snapping and breaking under the pressure of the fire, I know it’s too late.
A scolding heat blankets my flesh as a cold, slick sweat prickles my forehead and my body jolts upright, a heavy breath strangling to release from my throat. My heart drums rapidly against my ribcage as tremors roll through my body. My eyes skate around the room wildly and the panic attack begins to draw to an end as I realize my surroundings. Falling back lifelessly against the old, worn out mattress I gaze up at the ceiling as my breathing steadies.
It’s over. Just the same haunting demons that have consumed my sleep for the last two years replaying the one moment in my life that I can never change, but would die trying. The screams from the nightmare are now a distant voice echoing in my head as the jumbled mess of memories from that fateful night come flooding back. These thoughts never leave me, always lurking in the dark recess of my mind, ready to present themselves at the worst possible moment.
I need to clear my head, bury the memories just for one more day. For the last few weeks only one person has been holdin’ my attention, keepin’ my demons at bay when the sufferin’ is just too much to bear.–
. Glancin’ over at the clock I see that it’s way too early for a visit. So I climb out of bed and head to the bathroom for a shower. The steamin’ heat washes away the clammy sweat and eases the tension from my nightmare; but it ain’t enough. I still feel on edge and rattled. After gettin’ dressed I grab my keys and head out the door.
I drive. In no particular direction, I just drive to clear my mind. My thoughts rush back and forth, every detail of the night that my heroism failed the people I loved the most.
I should have saved them.
Guilt rips at me because I could have altered the fate of my family, but I put work first thinkin’ the extra hours and pay was what we needed at the time. Turns out none of that was needed. The job promotion, the pay raise, it was all for nothing. No, I needed to listen to my wife for once. But I was so caught up in my new job position, proving myself as Lieutenant of the fire department that I let things that needed tending to at home go undone and my procrastination cost my wife and son their lives. Ten minutes and a one dollar part could have spared me the anguish that I relive each and every day. A damn faulty outlet caused an electrical fire that spread through the walls of the house, trapping them in a blazin’ fiery inferno. Devastated by the sight before me, I knew the outcome of their fate. I’d fought too many uncontrollable fires in the line of duty to expect them to survive the dance of flames that blazed into the night sky. I stood there on the ash charred sidewalk listenin’ to the agonizing screams, their tormented cries shreddin’ my heart into a million pieces because it was my job to protect them. It was my job to save them, but I couldn’t.
The night stars begin to fade into the mornin’ sun and before I realize it I’m pullin’ up the long driveway and slammin’ the gearshift into park. I climb out of my truck, easing the door closed and make my way up to the porch swing. I sit down slowly, careful not to let the chains rattle or my phone will be ringin’ in three seconds to come check on Savannah when I’m already here.
Restin’ my head back on the swing, I push my feet off the floor, swayin’ the swing at a slow and steady pace. Peace washes over me and I inhale a calming breath as my eyes flutter closed. Does it make sense that I randomly show up on Savannah’s front porch, nap on the swing just so I’m close if she needs me? Probably not. But I find myself waking up on her porch swing more than I wake up in my own bed.
After she was released from the hospital, I spent six nights here until she finally asked me to leave because she was feelin’ dependent on me. I really tried to stay away, but there’s something about Savannah and I have a constant draw to her. A strong desire to keep her safe, shield her, protect her.
Sometime later I feel the swing dip low then sway as a burst of giggles sing like music to my ears. I rub my sleepy eyes and look over to see the amusement dancin’ in Savannah’s green eyes.
“Bed broke?” She asks and I grumble, rubbin’ my sore and stiff neck.
“Got bed bugs?” I shoot her a sideways glance.
“No? Dirty sheets then?” She laughs to herself, bumpin’ her shoulder into mine. I peer at her from the corner of my eye and can’t help the grin the tips up on my lips.
“I’ll remember that the next time the wind blows too hard and you’re callin’ my number at three am.”
“I kid, I kid.” She giggles again and I swear that sound could heal every single open wound my heart has.
“How’d ya sleep last night?” I ask, pullin’ her closer to my side and pushin’ the swing into a lazy sway. She sits silently for a minute before answerin’ me, suddenly nervous.
“Eh, some nights are better than others. I get up and check the doors and windows at least four times a night.” She smiles up at me behind broken eyes. “Every bump in the night frightens me. Hell a fly buzzin’ through the house woke me up at five am and I’ve been up since.” I figured as much…small dark rings hug her beautiful eyes even though she does her best to cover them with makeup.
“And the panic attacks?”
“I’m workin’ on ‘em, Luke. It ain’t easy, especially when I feel so weak.” She sighs so heavily I can hear the defeat she feels in that long puff of air. I hate seein’ her hurtin’ like this. If there was anything I could do to take all her pain and carry it myself, I’d do it in a heartbeat. No woman deserves the life Savannah lived through…not a damn one of ‘em.
“Ya okay, Luke? You look tense.” Savannah’s mouse like voice pulls me from thought just as a rash of anger begins to blanket itself around me.
“Yeah, sweetheart, I’m fine. I just worry about you. I know you asked me to let you figure all of this out on your own, and I try to give you your space. But sometimes at night I can feel your fear miles away. So I have to come, you see. I have to be here just in case you open that door lookin’ for me. Because you know that when you need me, I’m gonna be here.”
She smiles a breathtaking smile like I just made a little of what’s wrong in her world right. And I’ll be damned if that smile don’t cause my heart to clap a damn standin’ ovation.
“You’re such a good friend, Luke. Don’t think I’d make it through most days without you.”
I kiss the top of her forehead, smilin’ to myself. “That’s good, sweetheart.” But what I don’t tell her is to me, she’s so much more than just a friend. To me she’s the whole damn world.
Sleep…ah sleep is so overrated. These days I’m lucky if sleep captures me every thirty hours. I’ve cut back on coffee and started melatonin only to cause myself terrible caffeine headaches. I try to settle the kids in at night, allowing myself time for a relaxing bath but within ten minutes creaks and bumps startle me and my nerves get all worked up. The only escape I’ve found that relaxes me is reading.
Since rediscovering my love for reading I’ve realized my taste in genres have changed dramatically. I used to enjoy the Classics as well as sweet happily-ever-after romance novels. But I learned the hard way that the concept of a happily-ever-after is absolute bullshit. There’s no knight in shining armor to protect the Queen. No Prince Charming who searches throughout the kingdom for his Princess based on a shoe she left behind at their happenstance tryst. No, that’s all fairy tale bullshit, twisted to make young girls believe in such happiness when it doesn’t even exist. So I’ve taken a more realistic interest in novels, reading dark romance. You see it’s not that I don’t believe in love, because I do, so very much. I just don’t believe that there is such thing as an ever-lasting happiness. Love is real. Love is raw, love is painful. Love can make you feel like the most beautiful flower under the bright morning sun, then strip you of your delicate petals and leaving you to wilt in the cold dark rain. Love can deplete you of every part of who you are, leaving you to be a weak and terrified stranger. Well, love can kiss my ass.
Okay so back to case in point. You see I have a habit of ramblin’ a bit when I’m nervous, so these days it seems my mouth is never shut. I’m slightly surprised my jaw isn’t sore from my constant chatter.