Authors: Kelly Elliott
Sitting at the table, I couldn’t concentrate. “Ward, what the fuck? Are you going to play or stare off into space?”
Looking up, I glanced around the table. Nodding, I said, “Right, sorry. Um…I’ll take two cards.” Pulling out two cards, I put them down on the table and slid them to the center of the table as I picked up the other two cards.
Smiling when I saw the queen of hearts, I shook my head.
Sharp took one look at me and threw his cards in the middle of the table. “Aw, hell no. I know that smile, I’m out.” Soon, everyone was out except for the captain and me.
“You ready to show what you think you’ve got, son?” Captain Ryan said with a smirk on his face.
“Bring it,” I said with a grin.
Captain Ryan laid down his cards and everyone yelled out. Taking a look at them, I said, “Damn, three of a kind and a pair. Cap’s got a full house.”
Cap was pulling the pile of chips toward him when I said, “But…I believe my girl is with me tonight.” Spreading my cards, I laid out a royal flush. “The queen of hearts was all I needed and damn, Cap, you dealt it straight to me.”
Rolling his eyes, Cap got up and pushed his chair back. “Ward, I want to talk to you in my office. Now.”
Everyone laughed as I scooped up my chips and started high-fiving everyone. Sharp walked up to me and shook his head. “Damn, you know you pissed off the cap when he loses at poker and wants to talk to you in his office.”
Laughing, I nodded. “Right?” Placing my winnings in my hat, I took off toward the captain’s office.
Knocking, I pushed the door open. “Cap, you wanted to see me?”
Glancing up, he nodded for me to sit down. Setting the hat full of my winnings in the chair next to me, I sat down and smiled as I waited for him to start speaking.
Leaning back in his chair, he stared at me for a few minutes. “So, how did those counseling sessions go?”
Shrugging my shoulders, I said, “Sir, I never went to them.”
Shaking his head, he pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes at me. “You have a reason why you never went?”
“I didn’t think it was necessary.” As he raised his eyebrow, I threw in, “Sir.”
Clearing his throat, he let out a breath and began talking. “Preston, we’ve all lost people. You lost people before you lost Harmony’s son. You don’t find it strange that you couldn’t save her son’s life, you became involved in her life, and now you’re practically living with her?”
Moving about in my seat, I cleared my throat. “Sir, who told you I was living with her?”
“Your uncle John.”
Rolling my eyes, I let out a frustrated sigh. “Sir, I’m not really sure what this has to do with me not going to those sessions.”
Leaning forward, he said, “I’ve seen it happen, Preston. Firefighter can’t save the life of a loved one, or the victim is burned badly because you couldn’t get them out in time. What happens? The guilt eats you alive and you find yourself pulled toward that person out of guilt.”
Standing up, I pointed down at him. “I do not love Harmony because I feel guilty about her son. Do I wish she had never lost him—hell yes, I do. Do not sit there and tell me how I feel, Cap. My feelings for Harmony are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.”
Sitting back in his chair, Cap nodded. “If she asked you today to walk away from this job, would you?”
Without even having to think, I answered, “Yes.”
Raising his eyebrows, he asked, “Really? Like that, you would walk away?”
“I love her and I’ll do whatever I have to do to make her happy.”
There was a knock on the door and Captain Ryan looked around me. “One second!” he shouted as he looked back at me. “You’re like a son to me, Preston. Your daddy brought you to this station from the time you were little. I watched you grow up with my own eyes. I just want you to be happy.”
Dropping my eyes, I nodded. “She makes me happy, Cap.”
Standing, he reached across his desk and shook my hand. “Good enough for me, Preston. Now get out of here and go win some more.”
Smiling, I grabbed my hat and headed out. Stopping at my bunk, I pulled out my phone and found Harmony’s name.
Hey, baby. How is your day going?
Good! I painted the hallway a silver-blue-gray kind of color.
I can’t wait to see it. I love you, Harmony.
Is everything okay?
Smiling, I ran my finger over her name. I would lay down my life for that woman. There was nothing that I wouldn’t do to make her happy.
I miss holding you in my arms.
Me, too. I couldn’t sleep last night with you gone. Are we still getting a Christmas tree tonight?
Hell yeah, we are.
Smiling, I decided to have a little bit of fun with my girl.
Is that whole wearing the Yankees shit bet still on?
Yes! Don’t even think about it, Mr. Ward.
What if I made you another bet, would you be game?
Letting out a chuckle, I got ready to bring out the big guns. Harmony had been having a dream about the two of us last week and I was hell-bent on making it come true.
What if I can make your dream come true?
I waited for what seemed like forever for her to respond.
If you can make that happen, I’ll let you out of your bet.
The alarm went off, stating a minor car accident. Fist pumping, I stood up and sent her another text.
Yes! Got to go. Alarm went off. I love you!
Please be careful and I love you, too!
Smiling, I dropped the hat and took off. Only twelve more hours to go and I’d be home with Harmony wrapped in my arms.
Sharp walked up and hit me on the foot as I glanced up from the book I was reading. “What’s up?” I asked as I gave him a head bob.
“What did the cap want?”
Rolling my eyes, I waved it off. “Nothing. Butting into my personal life.”
Falling down onto his bed, he crossed his legs and rested his head in his hands. “He was asking me if I’d been around you and Harmony. What my thoughts were on your relationship.”
Sitting up, I dropped the book to my side. “What the fuck? Are you kidding me?”
“Nope, don’t get pissed, Ward. He thinks of you as a son. He was worried.”
“What did you tell him?”
Glancing my way, Sharp gave me that damn smile of his. “I told him I’d never seen you look at a girl like you look at Harmony. I also told him I’ve never seen you so happy.”
Smiling, I reached my hand out and Sharp slapped it. “Thanks for having my back, dude.”
Letting out a gruff laugh, he said, “I was only speaking the truth. I’m glad to see you happy, Preston. I know how much you want to settle down and have a family. I sure as shit didn’t see that happening with Sherry.”
Shaking my head, I mumbled, “Yeah.”
Sitting up, Sharp looked at me. “What is it?”
Shrugging my shoulders, I let out a sigh. “I want to start a family with Harmony. I just don’t want to push her. I mean, we’ve only been together officially for a month—before that we were best friends.” Pushing my hand through my hair, I let out a laugh. “Jesus, it’s all I think about. Dream about, really. It’s the same damn dream, over and over. Harmony chasing a little girl around in a house I built out in the country.”
Giving me a weak smile, Sharp said, “That doesn’t sound bad, Ward.”
Smiling like an idiot, I nodded. “No, it doesn’t sound bad at all.”
The alarm rang for a three-alarm fire. Jumping up, we both took off. Hopping into the truck, Sharp leaned over and shouted, “We have choices in life that sometimes we aren’t sure of, Preston. The best way to know which choice to make is to follow your heart.”
Pulling my head back, I stared at Sharp with a stunned expression. “Who the hell are you and what in the fuck did you do with Mitch?”
Throwing his head back, Sharp let out a rumbling laugh as we pulled up to the three-alarm fire. Stepping out of the truck, we both said, “Holy shit.”
Flames engulfed the building. Cap came walking up shouting orders. “Fourth floor there is a family trapped. Let’s move, people. Now!”
After getting on our breathing apparatus, we headed into the building. Smoke surrounded us as we made our way to the stairs. Stopping on the fourth floor, I thought I heard someone screaming. Yelling for Sharp, I pointed down the hall and quickly made my way to the last apartment on the left. Following our safety standards, we checked everything out before opening the door. Sharp and I quickly made our way around the apartment. The smoke was getting thicker from the fire on the floors above us. A woman with three small children was sitting in the corner trying to keep the kids’ mouths covered.
“We need to move fast. Cap said the structure is going,” Sharp shouted to me.
Looking down, I noticed the small little boy up next to his mother. My mind flashed back to Harmony’s accident as I stood there frozen.
Hitting me on the arm, Sharp yelled, “You’ve got to grab them, Preston! We need to get them out of here now!”
The ceiling caved in around us as Sharp grabbed the mom and one of the kids and started out of the building. Picking up the other two kids, I turned to follow when a large piece of the ceiling fell in front of us, trapping us in the room.
Hearing the screams of the mother on the other side, all I could think of was Harmony.
“The thought of losing someone else I love…it scares me to death.”
Stepping off the ladder, I smiled at my work. “It’s perfect,” I whispered. I’d been painting since early that morning and I was exhausted. I wanted it finished before we went out to buy a Christmas tree, though.
The gray-blue walls in the hallway brightened up the whole living room.
Maybe I should paint the whole place this color. It’s calming. Soothing. Yeah, that’s what it is. Soothing.
After heading into the kitchen for a drink, I attempted to wash the paint off my hands. “Good Lord, I’ve got more paint on me than I do on the walls.”
Picking up my phone to see if Preston had texted back, I sent him a text.
Thinking about you. Love you.
When he didn’t respond, I let out a worried sigh. He must be on a call. My heart dropped slightly as I pushed away the worried feelings that were bubbling up inside me.
Walking into the living room, I was about to get back to painting when my doorbell rang. Heading over to the door, I looked to see who was there. When I saw Anne and Dan, Trey’s parents, standing at my door, I sucked in a breath of air.
What in the hell are they doing here?
I hadn’t seen them since I sold the house. Dan and Anne had signed the house over to me and told me to keep all of the equity made in the sale of the house. I had been made speechless by the gesture. When Dan told me it was the least he could do, I saw something in his eyes. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
Pushing the intercom, I attempted to speak without having my voice crack. “Hey, Dan and Anne. Come on up.”
Holding my hands up, I tried to get them to stop shaking. Taking in a deep breath and plastering on a fake smile, I opened the door and greeted them.
“Anne, how are you? Dan, it’s so good to see you both.”
Anne kissed me on both cheeks and gave me a sweet smile. “Harmony, darling, I’ve missed you.”
Dan leaned over and kissed my cheek and gave me a wink. “Harmony, I love the place you settled on.”
Smiling, I looked around. The picture on the mantel caught my eye at the same time it caught Anne and Dan’s. Walking up to it, Anne picked it up and smiled as she ran her fingers across the glass.
“This was the last time the three of you were over at the house. Dan snapped this picture and sent it to Trey.”
Nodding, I softly spoke. “Trey gave it to me for Mother’s Day.”
The picture showed TJ on Trey’s shoulders. Trey had his arms wrapped around me as we both looked up at our little boy. My heart hurt as I looked away. Preston was the one who found the picture and put it on the mantel. Watching him place it there, I fell in love with him even more.
“Would you like a cup of coffee or tea?” I asked as I motioned for them both to sit down.
“Coffee would be great,” Anne said as Dan nodded in agreement.
After making the coffee, I placed the cups on a serving tray and carried them out to the living room. Setting it down on the coffee table, I sat across from them both and placed my shaking hands in my lap. “So, why are you here?”
The moment the words came out of my mouth, I regretted them. They sounded coldhearted. “Not that I’m not happy to see you and all. It’s just…well…I…” Rolling my eyes, I shook my head as I let out a slight chuckle. “I’m sorry, I guess I’m nervous is all.”
Anne gave me a tender smile as Dan nodded and then cleared his throat. “Harmony, Anne and I felt it was best to come talk to you, after that day at the office and what you discovered. We weren’t sure how long to wait. You pulled away from us and we both totally understood you had your reasons.”
Moving about in my seat, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to sit or stand up and pace back and forth. Why were they bringing this up six months later? I wanted to forget the day I found out Trey had been unfaithful. It was in the past. Why bring it up now?
“Dan, I should apologize for my…outburst that day. The reason I’ve kept my distance is, well, I guess I don’t really have a reason that really makes a whole lot of sense. I just needed it. To move on.”
Shaking his head, he held up his hand. “Please, there is nothing for you to apologize for, Harmony.”
Anne’s eyes began to form tears and I glanced between the two of them. Feeling a sickness build in my stomach, I dropped my mouth open. “You knew, didn’t you?”
Anne broke down in tears. Standing, I looked at them both. “You knew Trey was cheating on me and you let it happen? We had a child together, for Christ’s sake!”
Dan closed his eyes and motioned for me to sit down. “Harmony, please. Please just let us speak; hear us out, sweetheart, and then you can lay into us all you want. You can’t possibly make us feel any worse than we already do.”
Narrowing my eyes at them both, I wanted to tell them to get out. The only thing holding me back was my strange curiosity about the whole thing. How could they know their son was cheating on his wife and allow it to happen right under their noses?
Inhaling a deep breath and pushing it out quickly, Dan spoke again. “Yes. We knew of the affair but found out a few months after it had started. Margie had come to work for the company about six months before the…accident. Trey saw her one day in the cafeteria and made arrangements to have her transferred to work as his assistant.”
My heart physically hurt. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear any more. Turning my head, I stared out the window as I pulled out my charm and held it for a few seconds before putting it back into my pocket.
“One evening, I was staying late and saw Trey’s office light on. I walked in on them…um…together.” My eyes snapped back to Dan. “Margie immediately left and I laid into Trey. I was disappointed, to say the least.”
“Imagine my feelings,” I said barely above a whisper. Anne wiped a tear away as she sat there next to Dan.
“I cannot imagine, Harmony.” Turning to Anne, he took her hand in his.
“A few days after that, Trey told his mother and me that he was going to ask you for a divorce.”
Letting out a gasp, my mouth dropped open and tears filled my eyes. “No,” I whispered as Anne cried again.
“Anne and I told him he needed to take a step back and think long and hard about it. You both had a child and he had a responsibility to you both.”
Closing my eyes, I felt the tears streaming down my face.
Trey was going to leave us. How could he? How could he leave his own child?
“How long before the accident did he say he was leaving me and his son?”
“Harmony,” Anne whispered.
Attempting to contain my anger, I shouted, “You brought this all up! How far before the accident?”
Dan looked away as he said, “Three months.”
My eyes snapped open as I looked back at Dan as he continued to talk. “The morning of the accident, Trey called me. He was crying and I could barely understand what he was saying. Once he calmed down, he told me he was going to have Margie transferred to another department that was located at our other office in South Boston. He also said he was going to tell you everything about Margie and the affair and beg you to forgive him. Something had happened that morning. I…I can’t remember exactly what it was. He said you looked at him and it reminded him of the love you shared.”
“W-what?” My mind was spinning. Was that what Trey was going to tell me in the car right before the accident? That he was having an affair but wanted to work things out? Shaking my head to clear my thoughts, I wiped my tears away.
“Why are you telling me all of this, Dan? Why now, when I’ve finally put this behind me? Why?”
Looking away, Dan swallowed hard. “I needed you to know that Trey really did love you, Harmony. It’s just that you both married so young, and we all know the only reason you got married was because of the baby.”
Feeling anger rush through my veins, I stood up. “Yes, Dan. We all know. The only difference between your son and me is that I remained faithful to the vow we took. I stayed true because I did love him. It might not have been the path we would have taken otherwise—” Wiping the tears away and taking in a deep breath, I looked at them both. “I. Stayed. Faithful. Had I met someone and developed feelings for them, I would have told Trey. I wouldn’t have fucked around behind his back.”
Anne stood and looked at me. “Harmony, please. He is still our son and our hearts ache for him.”
My mouth gaped open as I stood there stunned. “And you think for the last six months my heart hasn’t ached? You think I haven’t woken up almost every single night reliving the worst moment of my life? Seeing my child smile at me the moment before he died? Hearing my own husband telling me how his job was more important than I was right before his life ended? Don’t stand there and tell me your heartaches. The only reason you came here today was to set your guilty conscience free.”
Walking over to the door, I opened it and stood there. “Thank you for stopping by and getting your guilt off your chest.”
“No, Harmony, it wasn’t anything like that, we—”
“Please, I’m asking you nicely to leave.” Closing my eyes to keep the tears from falling, I whispered, “Please just leave.”
Opening my eyes, I stared at them. Anne and Dan looked at each other and slowly walked toward the door. Anne stopped in front of me and gave me a weak smile. “Harmony, we didn’t mean to upset you. We thought you deserved the truth.”
Pinching my eyebrows together, I shook my head. “I’m pretty sure I could have lived out the rest of my life not knowing that Trey was going to divorce me, Anne.”
Her mouth opened to speak but she quickly shut it and started for the stairs. Dan stopped in front of me but didn’t utter a word before he turned and walked away.
Closing the door, I counted to thirty and then slid down to the floor and cried.
I wasn’t sure how long I was on the floor crying before I jumped up and grabbed my purse.
Preston. I need to see Preston.
Racing out to Comm Avenue, I flagged down a cab. Jumping in, I said, “Firehouse 37 on Huntington.”
Two minutes later we were stuck in traffic. “What’s going on? Is it a wreck?” I asked.
Shaking his head, the cab driver said, “Fire. Big fire in an apartment building. There are, like, four fire trucks there.”
My heart stopped. Preston would be there. “How far down is it? I see the smoke.”
No. Oh, dear God, please keep him safe
Reaching into my wallet, I pulled out a twenty and handed it to him. “I’ll get out here and walk. Thank you.”
As I made my way, I could see Engine 37 and Ladder 26. Firefighters were running everywhere.
“It’s going to go! Get those firefighters out of there now!”
Frantically looking around, I saw Captain Ryan. It was his voice shouting out the command.
Pushing my way through the crowd, I tried to get closer. “Excuse me, my boyfriend is in there. Please, excuse me!” I shouted as I made my way to the barricade. My face turned ashen as I saw firefighters rushing from the building. Some were carrying people as they ran out. My heart raced, nearly exploding as I felt a pain in my chest.
“Preston,” I whispered. “Please, don’t be in there.”
Captain Ryan walked up and I heard his call. “Sharp, Ward. You need to vacate now!”
I sucked in a breath when I heard Preston’s voice. “We’ve located the family, sir. One adult woman, three small children. Fourth floor east.”
“Ward, I’m ordering you out, now. The whole building is about to go.”
“Sharp, do you copy?”
Nothing. Placing my hands on my stomach, I felt like I was going to be sick. “Copy, sir, I’ve got the woman and one small child. The roof collapsed between me and Ward.”
No. Preston, no!
At that moment, Captain Ryan turned and saw me. Walking over to a police officer, he said something and quickly walked away. Looking back toward the door, I saw Sharp coming out helping a woman and holding a small child. The police officer walked over and motioned for me to go with him.
“Ma’am, it’s best if you wait in my car.”
I grabbed his arm. “What? I’m not waiting in your car. My boyfriend is in that building. I want to know what is happening!” I yelled out.
His eyes turned compassionate. He was about to say something when there was a loud explosion on the top floor of the building. Grabbing me, he pushed me down and covered me up. All I heard were screams coming from everywhere.
“It’s going. Get these people back!” someone yelled. Standing, the officer helped me up. “Are you okay, miss?”
Tears streamed down my face as I looked back to the building. The whole fourth floor was in flames. Wrapping his arm around me, he led me away as I yelled, “No! Please, no. Preston! Please don’t do this to me again!” I screamed out.
Just before he brought me over to an ambulance, I saw someone coming out of the building. He was carrying two small children. I instantly knew it was Preston.
Dragging the police officer to a halt, I screamed out, “Preston!”
Looking at me, his eyes caught mine. “It’s him! Thank you, God, thank you!”
Turning to the police officer, I threw myself at him as he patted my back. “See, I told you everything would be okay.”
Pulling back, I glared at him before turning back to where Preston was. He was carrying one of the kids to an ambulance as he coughed. An EMS worker took the child from Preston and told him to get oxygen. Walking toward me, Preston smiled and I broke down in tears and ran to him. Slamming my body into his, I held him as tightly as I could.
“Preston. You’re okay! You’re okay!” It was the only thing I knew to say and I kept saying it over and over.
Finally, someone pulled Preston away and led him to an ambulance, where he was put on oxygen for a few minutes and checked out by EMS.
Standing by the police car, my eyes moved between the fire and Preston. I knew the moment the EMS tech said he was okay, he would go back to fighting the fire. Glancing back at the building, I was shocked it was still standing. The fire was starting to get contained, but I had no idea how long it would take to get it to a hundred percent containment.
My arm felt a rush of energy run through it as Preston touched me. Turning, I fought to hold back my tears. “Preston.”