Howdy all, here is Part 6 of Trapped. Enjoy!
Arlie turned toward him and looked at the single window, afternoon sun now obscured by clouds and rain. Hank moved closer, and suddenly his presence was a huge comfort. After all, what if Junior had left her dead out there, life spilling away on the floor?
“Arlie? You said that your grandmother raised you after your parents died. Then you moved away ten years ago for college. How did your parents die?”
She dared look up at him, at the concern and certainty. Did he know? Had he guessed why her fear wouldn’t leave, even after she’d heard his self-assured words about the fire calming down?
She sat on the only metal folding chair in the storage room. It creaked. She folded her hands in her lap. “Twenty years ago my parents and I lived in Sulfur Springs. Thirty miles from here.”
She saw recognition dawn in his eyes. “I thought you said you’d lived in Chimney Rock all your life until you moved ten years ago?”
“No, I implied it. Said I was from this area, not Chimney Rock.”
“Maybe because I didn’t want to remember. I figured if I lied it was like forgetting, you know? I was in Sulfur Springs that June when the forest caught fire.”
“Shit.” His voice was so low it was more a whisper than a word. “That was a big one. Fifteen thousand acres.”
He stared at her for long moments, as if he wanted to ask her to elaborate and give her experience of that day, yet was afraid to ask. He’d saved her life today—the least she could do was explain.
“My parents…they’d left me at home to go into Chimney Rock because my grandmother had fallen at her trailer and they were afraid her hip was broken. An ambulance had taken her to the hospital. I begged them to let me stay home because I thought I was old enough to take care of myself. They agreed, but said they’d call when they found out how grandma was and make sure all was okay.”
“How old were you?”
“Twelve. I was mature for my age, too. Anyway, that was back before social media and big time Internet. My parents had Internet access but they didn’t let me use it much. I had my head in a book all day. I didn’t know about the fire but something just felt…wrong. Something told me to look outside. I ran to the west window and there it was. This big ass plume of inky black and gray. I’d never thought of fire the way I did that day. It had this reddish glow at bottom that I could barely see through a clearing in the trees. It was a…monster like in my nightmares.”
She stopped, her throat so tight she could barely force out another word. She rubbed her arms as air conditioned, forced air over her head. She shivered with long-buried fears she rarely allowed to see the light of day.
Hank shoved a hand through his short hair, his eyes filled with comprehension. “Oh, my God.”
“Yeah. I froze to the spot at first, completely unsure what to do. Less than a minute later my parents’ friends and next door neighbors a half-mile down the road came roaring up the driveway and saw me standing outside. If I hadn’t been outside looking at the fire they would have thought no one was home…our SUV was gone. Anyway, they’d evacuated, the sheriff deputies were right behind them trying to get everyone out. They threw me in the car, and I was so happy to get away. I was…”
She stopped, staring into space and recalling the stark and primitive fear.” I was so afraid, Hank. Up until that moment I’d always seen fire as something to be respected. This was different. This was the most horrifying thing I’d ever seen. The fear was uncontrollable.”
He nodded, and he stepped a little closer. “You were just a child. I’m glad your neighbors were there for you.”
What could she say? “We drove to Chimney Rock. My neighbors took me to the hospital where I thought we’d find my parents and my grandmother. When we found grandma in her hospital room, she told me my parents had left to go back to Sulfur Springs. They’d heard about the fire, tried calling me and…I’d left my cell phone in the house.”
He reached out for her as she stood up again. He caught her forearm and drew her near.
“Your parents went back for you when you didn’t answer the phone,” he said.
She hated that she’d revealed even this much to a virtual stranger, but at the same time she trusted him. “I’m sorry. You don’t need to hear about my hang-ups.”
He took her hand between both of his, his eyes filled with understanding. “That’s not a hang up. It’s a trauma. A terrible one. Your parents didn’t make it back, did they?”
She swallowed around the agonizing memory. “They got to the house but the fire moved too quickly. They were found in the house later that after the fire went through.” She swallowed hard and forced the words out. “They were at the front door, as if they’d discovered I wasn’t there and tried to leave…”
Her imagination went where it shouldn’t, to visualize what her parents had gone through.
He still held her hand, his eyes now sad. “I’m sorry. A horrible tragedy.”
She nodded, but couldn’t get a word past her throat.
“You realize it wasn’t your fault, right?” he asked.
“Yes. At first I didn’t.”
“There’s nothing you could have done.”
“Have you…” How did she ask this question? “Have you ever been afraid of fire?”
He smiled and released her hand. “Hell yeah. Everyone should be respectful and afraid of fire. Even firefighters. If you don’t have a healthy understanding of what fire can do, you can make huge mistakes that can cost your life. But even if you know what you’re doing, Mother Nature still does what she wants, when she wants. We can curb her, but there are times when she wins.”
She took a huge breath. “Of course.”
“I know this is personal, but did you get counseling after your parents died?” he asked.
She smiled as some of the fear she’d been feeling for days eased. “Yes. I found someone who had a good handle on PTSD, even way back in the day. She was a great counselor.” She switched midstream, wanting to know something important. “What on earth made you want to be a firefighter?”
“Helping people. And there’s a rush to it, I’ll admit it. I love being outdoors with nature, even with a bitch like fire.”
She smiled, seeing the cockiness in his stance that she found attractive. A stirring built inside her. Yeah, she was trapped in here with him for who knew how long, but an attraction burgeoned inside her moment by moment.
Part 7 comes up on Wednesday!