Okay, here's the next chapter. For those of you just joining me on my little fiction venture in celebration of national novel writing month, you can find chapter 1 here. Please read and re-read the disclaimers; it will help me sleep better at night!!
Overhauling the building was a chore. A lot of surfaces had to be torn out to make sure the fire had not burned along the insides of the walls. The charred nondescript chunks of house, occasionally intermixed with an identifiable object like a trash can that had melted half way into a now rigid puddle, flowed out of the structure and piled up on the small lawn outside. The house and its contents had the singular, complex smell of a structure fire. This was no campfire. The scent was a reminder of just how many things in the house were varnished, synthetic, painted, or processed.
A group of onlookers stood on the sidewalk across the small street, carefully staying outside the perimeter of activity and strobe lights. A girl with a slight figure and tan hair pulled into a sleek pony tail watched the younger firefighter. She saw him smile widely, shifting his weight from one foot to the other and occasionally nodding as he talked to his heavily-dressed cohorts on the deep porch. Her gaze seemed to draw his attention. He hadn't noticed the group up to this point, his tunnel vision focused solely on the task at hand, even though they had been there from the beginning. Several of them wore sweaters with a bear paw print silkscreened in green on the back; students at the college just down the street. The group was strangely giddy, considering what had just happened. They were talking as if they were out to dinner. The lone anxious face was that of the slender girl. She looked down and hyper-extending her fingers as she explained that it was the first time she had ever called 911. Her ponytail was just long enough to graze her shoulders as she turned her head to talk.
The girl wondered if the firefighter knew that she was the cause of this mess and instinctively shrunk back into the crowd. She envied him for his role in this disaster. She longed to be on the end of the firefighters, solving the problem rather than creating it. She hated that she had caused a crisis that was beyond her power to fix. She felt her dignity and authority funneling away from her, toward him. A strange resentment welled.
The probationary firefighter stood by the heavy open door, punctuated by intricately etched panes of glass at eye level, ready to receive the next object to be tossed into the rubbish pile. A large piece of ceiling landed with a thud at his feet. He picked it up, placed in the apocalyptic heap, and returned to his post. The stream of debris temporarily stopped, giving him a moment to sit on the porch railing and breathe. His back and arms were beginning to feel spent. He knew they would be sore the next day, but for the moment, he didn't care. He took his gloves off and noticed that the heat of the fire had forced a burnt plastic smell, mixed with other indescribable toxic fumes, deep into the pores of his skin. He would notice the smell for days. He grinned to himself — here he was, mopping up after his first ever structure fire, one in which he got to be first-in, and best of all — he was getting paid to do this. Life was good.
Scott knew that the bystanders couldn't help but be drawn in by the spectacle of a responding fire department, complete with three engines, a ladder truck, and the Battalion Chief's SUV. Eventually, two of the engines rolled away. Unfortunately, the show would be costly; their belongings, even the ones that didn't get burnt in the fire, didn't stand much of a chance against the smoke. A dark cloak of soot coated every item the airborne particles touched, but even more permeating was that acrid scent, the same smell he had in his skin. It would weave it's way into everything — soaking into their couches and into the clothes hanging in their closets.
Scott was exhausted and satisfied. He felt strangely invincible; energized by the force of nature he had just faced. It was the culmination of a lot of time and effort to be the one standing in that turnout gear, throwing a burnt mixer and coffee maker onto the lawn. He liked that the group standing on the sidewalk was staring at him in awe. It was empowering. He noticed two attractive girls in the middle of the group right away. He thought they must be sisters. One was shorter and had her hair pulled back. Next to her stood her sibling — stately, thin, brunette. She carried her figure well, standing with confidence and holding her shoulders back. Scott watched her as she gestured wildly while trying to decipher what each item used to be as it was carried out of the house. The tan skin of her long neck and equally long fingers looked beautiful against the backdrop of her dark glossy hair. The lighter-skinned sister was only slightly less attractive. Her straighter, nearly blond hair was similar in color to his own. She was shorter, but no less graceful. Her manners showed her to be the more reserved of the two. She was following the conversation more than leading it, but when she did say something, everyone listened. He thought that she must be the older sibling. She sent him a sharp, penetrating glare and disappeared into the crowd.
He was about to analyze the two sisters further, but unfortunately, one of the guys from his dual station noticed the probie daydreaming on the porch.
"Hey Liam! Check it out — Scott's got a crush!"
Liam, a tall firefighter who had been on the department for several years, dropped the small blackened table he was carrying into the rubbish pile. Brian, the heavy-set engineer, was his partner in crime. They had worked together since Liam was himself a probie and they were a force to be reckoned with when together. Liam jumped at a chance to rib the new guy.
"Well why don't you go introduce yourself, Morton? It's rude to stare, you know."
He spoke it loudly; the entire group of college students shifted their stance to see what the probie would do. Scott closed his eyes, sighed deeply, and cursed under his breath. Liam and Brian were not going to let this go. He had broken a cardinal rule — a probationary firefighter should always, always look busy, even when he's not. Especially when he's in public. And, there were girls involved.
This was going to end badly.
Scott stood up, grabbed his tan gloves, and walked toward the two steps leading off of the front porch. His figure had been whipped into shape, thanks to the recent fire academy. He was grateful for the rigorous tune-up since everyone's eyes were on him. However, as soon as he cleared the stairs, it dawned on him that he was being more self-conscious than he needed to be; his bulky black turnouts obscured any features, good or bad. He took slow, measured strides in an attempt to give himself time to think of something to say. The lights glinted off of the white and yellow reflective strips circling his torso, wrists, and ankles. His mind was blank, save for the thought that he must look like a massive, glorified bumble bee. The narrow street of separation did not give him enough time.
"Well hi." replied the brunette. He was transfixed by her smile and open countenance. His brain scrambled. "Words. Must say words." he thought. "Don't look stupid."
"My name is Scott, and I'm here to answer any questions you might have." He looked down, smiled awkwardly, and fumbled with his gloves in an attempt to avoid eye contact. He could hear Brian and Liam snickering behind him.
"Actually, I do have a question." This time, it was the shorter sister who spoke. She stepped out from among the crowd. "My name is Sydney, by the way."
"Hi," she replied. "Anyway. I'm curious — I used a fire extinguisher, but it just made the fire worse. A lot worse. Why was that?"
Scott's overexerted mind had been rendered incapable of forming coherent sentences. All he could think about were the attractive girls looking at him, and the tag on his tan gloves. Captain Enright, who had approached to witness the fun, stepped in for him.
"It depends on what sort of fire you had, and what kind of fire extinguisher you used. Was it a grease fire?"
"Yeah — we were browning some beef, but got too distracted, obviously." Sydney replied.
"Well, if I had to guess, I'd say that your extinguisher wasn't meant to be used on a grease fire. It could have been a water extinguisher, in which case it would cause a grease fire to explode."
Sydney nodded. "That sounds about right." She lowered her eyes and nodded in guilty acknowledgment.
"What you need is an extinguisher that's rated for use in the kitchen."
"What do you mean by rated?" asked Sydney's sister. "I always thought that an extinguisher was an extinguisher."
Captain Enright paused for a moment.
"Tell you what. How about you and your friends stop by the station tomorrow and we'll go over the different kinds of extinguishers and what you should do the next time you have a kitchen fire."
"Wow, thanks, that would be really helpful!" exclaimed the dark-haired girl.
"No problem. I don't want to have to come to the college for another fire if at all possible, so spread the word to all of your friends." After giving the girls directions, Captain Enright tapped Scott on the shoulder and led him back toward the engine. Scott could feel the eyes on his back, especially those of the two sisters — the statuesque model, and her slightly hostile sister.
"If you're so bored with this job that you sit around daydreaming, maybe you're in the wrong career. I hear the police department is hiring."
"Sorry, Sir. I love this job."
"I know you do. Now go do it. Back to work."
Scott quickly slipped his gloves back on and trotted toward the building to finish mopping up. He tried to change gears and get back into work mode. In his peripheral vision he saw the room-mates huddle together for a picture. They all said "cheese" in unison and a flash cut through the darkness. He thought about how much less thrilled they were bound to be when the initial excitement of the night dissipated. Eventually, they would have to go back to reality, he thought, and that picture of them grinning in front of the pile of rubble that was once their belongings would seem sad and awkward. He felt another flash and knew that the next picture was of him.
"Hey Morton! What's your girlfriend's name?" called Brian.
Scott stood still for a moment. Only then did he realized that the brunette had never mentioned her name. "...I have no idea!"