Veronica.

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13. The straighteners.

The journey to my house happens in slow motion. I feel as though I’m watching it from afar. Mason’s knuckles as white as paper wrapped around the steering wheel. My hands shaking, eyes blinking back tears and a heavy heart weighing me down. We don’t speak to one another because we don’t know what to say. Our bodies are there but our mind somewhere else. His probably on the job at hand. Mine, on my children who were wrapped safely in bed when I left them.

I don’t know where they are now and that’s such a dreadful feeling to have.

When Mason’s car pulls down my street, my eye go wild as I locate my house. Once it comes to a stop, we both jump out in unison. The scene in front of us is like something out of a movie. A fire-engine is parked on the road; a large blockade surrounding it. The neighbours who watch from afar are all in their nightclothes. I search the crowd for the three faces I could really do with seeing right about now.

I don’t notice that Mason is calling my name until he pulls me near to him by the bicep.

“Veronica, I’m going to help. Please, stay safe.” He kisses my cheek with an intense force.

And with that, he approaches his colleagues.

I’m alone on the street, eyes wildly watching the scene play out in front of me. My house is alight; the flames in the upstairs windows catching my full attention. They are merciless in their attack. It seems as though the water from the hoses are doing little to help the situation.

A child wouldn’t survive that...

It is a garish scene, one that has me taking a step back. I can’t help but think about my babies and how I can’t see them.

I catch the fluorescents of an ambulance in my peripheral. With the hope my mother instilled in me as a child, I turn to look directly at it. The back doors are open and sitting there with foil blankets wrapped around their shoulders are Avaline and Rowan.

A cry that doesn’t sound like me leaves my mouth and I rush towards them.

“Rowan! Rowan!” Her small doe eyes meet mine, “Baby! Come here, baby!”

When I reach her, I wrap my arms around her small frame tugging her fragile body into my chest. The poor thing smells like an ashtray.

“Mummy, I’m scared.” She sobs against me, her tears warming my skin.

I sink to the ground, my knees hitting the gravel harshly. Rowan in my arms, is a wreck and I have no words for her.

Because I have yet to find her brother.

“Veronica, it was the straighteners. I’m so sorry...” Avaline’s voice reaches my ears.

With one arm extended to her, I shake my head, “You’re out of there. That’s what matters.”

She sinks to my level, her head falling to my shoulder and her arm comforting my daughter.

“Rowan was with me downstairs because she had a nightmare but James was... He was upstairs. The two of us woke up to the sirens. I don’t know who called them.”

We both look towards the house.

The entire second floor is alight.

Ava’s sobs cut through my daze.

I stroke the teenager’s hair, ”Shh, it’s okay. You two need to stay warm. Rowan, let’s sit you back down.”

Once they are both back on the back of the ambulance and I’m certain they are safe, I run to the blockade that has been erected at the end of the pavement.

A firefighter brushes past me and I catch his arm with my hand.

“Excuse me, my son is in there!”

“Veronica?”

Henry’s voice is a welcomed sound.

“James is in there, Henry. He can’t die! He can’t!”

Henry presses a gloved hand to my shoulder, “We have the best firefighters in the city tackling the blaze, Veronica. We will find him.”

I cover my mouth with my palm.

He didn’t say he’d find James alive.

It seems like an eternity passes before something happens. A distant yell of a firefighter cuts through the noise. He points to the front door where a figure appears through the darkness. James’ hand hangs from the arms of the firefighter who carries him out. He isn’t moving and his eyes are closed. His face is smudged and his clothes are singed.

I scream.

“James!”

With terrified steps, I approach them. The firefighter places James on the floor and a hoard of paramedics surround him instantly.

“JAMES! Wake up, baby!”

The firefighter who found him is by my side within a second. He removes his helmet, revealing a pair of hazel eyes.

Mason.

I fall against his chest.

“Mason.” His name is a whisper on my lips.

His arms are secure around me, offering me comfort in the only way he can right now.

“Hes breathing, Veronica. Come on, he needs his mum.” He says and leads me to my boy.

James opens his eyes a few minutes later.

“Hey, baby.” I kiss his ashen cheek.

“Mummy, I saved her.” He chokes out.

“Who, baby?”

“Mabel.”

He slowly begins to retrieve something out of his zipped pocket. I can’t believe my eyes when I see the fluffy body of their hamster.

“You saved her?! You’re such a good boy.”

“I put this hoody on because it has zips, mum. I had to save her.”

A smile breaks through my tears, “I love you so much, baby.”

✖✖✖

I don’t realise I’m shivering until a nurse offers me a blanket. She wraps it around my shoulders. I thank her with a soft nod of my head; my chin coming to rest on Rowan’s shoulder.

Once we arrived at the hospital the doctors looked at Ava and Rowan for any health issues but soon gave them the all clear. James, though was wheeled away to be checked over in private. He was talking in the ambulance but as I was told when we arrived; smoke damage is dangerous to anyone, let alone a boy as young as him.

The three of us have been sitting patiently for over an hour now. Around half an hour ago, I phoned Joel. He’s on his way here. Fortunately, Ava’s parents took the hamster to their house and are using an old cage of Ava’s for her.

“Mummy? Will James be alright?” My daughter asks, her hands balled into tiny fists in her lap.

I know I should tell her that he'll be perfectly fine, but I can't find the words. I simply kiss her head, tugging her closer to my chest.

"Roni, what the fuck happened?"

Joel's voice is sharp against the quiet waiting room. He's in the doorway, golden eyes wide with fear. I place Rowan in Ava's lap and approach him.

"Do not swear, Joel. This isn't the place."

He shakes his head, "Where's James?"

"He's being checked over."

"How could you let a fire start, Roni? What were you doing?"

He's bound to find out eventually.

I square my shoulders, "I was out. Ava was looking after them... We think it was a pair of straighteners that were left on. No one is at fault."

"That child you put in charge of our children is at fucking fault. And you are!" He seethes, attempting to step forward.

I push him back with my palm, pulling him with some effort, into the hallway.

"Don't you dare call her a child. She's better than looking after your children than you are. It was an accident."

"Now is not the time to make jabs at me for parenting. Where the fuck were you?"

"Stop swearing! I was out." I let out a frustrated breath.

"With the firefighter." Joel comes to the conclusion on his own.

With a confused frown, I ask, "What makes you think that?"

"Because he's down the hallway with that fucking pink, rabbit."

I turn in the direction of my ex's glare.

Sure enough, Mason is pacing back and forth, the rabbit he bought Rowan for her recent birthday in his hand. He's changed out of his uniform, but by the looks of it hasn't had the chance to clean himself up. His hair is a mess; skin smudged with ash.

"Roni, you need to figure out who's more important to you. The twins or that twat."

With that final statement, Joel enters the waiting room without so much as looking at me. I hold back a rude, sarcastic comment with the promise that I will punch him in the face if he says anything else later on.

I walk towards Mason, gratitude spilling through my veins.

"You're here," I say as I reach him.

He blinks once, twice. Concern spreads across his handsome features. I've never seen him look like this before... He looks as scared as I feel. Without so much as a word, he pulls me towards him, securing me with large arms. My forehead falls against his chest; the blanket the nurse gave me dropping to the floor. I don't need it with Mason holding me; he's got enough warmth for the both of us.

I hadn't realised, with all that's happened, with all the commotion, that I needed to feel him near me again. All I can smell on him is smoke, it consumes me.

"You saved him. I don't know how to thank you," I mutter into his black jumper.

A soft hum leaves his throat, "That's my job, baby."

"I know, but-"

Mason pulls us apart far enough to be able to meet my eye. His Adam's apple bobs as he swallows hard.

"I need to know that you're okay."

The sincerity in his voice is what breaks the damn. I let out the tiniest of sobs as my eyes fill with tears. Mason's palms cup my cheeks, his thumbs rubbing away whatever falls. He doesn't try to stop me from falling apart; he simply makes sure to hold onto me.

We stay like that for a long while; his soothing words and touches easing the weight on my heart.

We pull apart when we're interrupted by the melodic voice of Chloe Nightingale.

"Veronica?"

I turn to face her, knowing too well that I look like a train wreck compared to her. My face is in no doubt red and puffy; my eyes giving it all away.

"You poor thing, come here!"

She surprises me by drawing me into a hug.

"How are the twins?" She asks as she pulls back. Her eyes fall to Mason and she smiles kindly.

"Rowan is just down the hall. James is being looked over. It's been over an hour though. I think I'll ask somebody."

"I'm going to wait here, Veronica." Mason says, his hand catching mine.

"Are you sure? You might be here all night?"

He nods, leans forward and presses another soft kiss to my temple. My heart melts a little from his kindness.

Then Chloe and I head away to join the others. What follows is a doctor leading the four of us to James. He's sat upright in bed, a colouring book placed across his knees. Thankfully, he's perfectly fine. They gave him plenty of fresh air and have cleaned up the cuts on his face. He's also been cleaned of any ash and grease.

I hug him for as long as physically possible before his dad wants to do so. He and Chloe greet him too.

"I'm Dr Morales. Your son has been very lucky. I'm not quite sure how he managed it, but he barely inhaled any smoke from the fire. His lungs are clean. In fact, he can go home with you tonight."

I freeze.

Home.

Do we have a home to go to?

That's when Joel steps forward, "The twins will stay with us, won't they babe?"

Chloe nods her head, "Of course!"

"I-"

I'm interrupted by my ex, "Roni, they were exposed to fire and don't have a home to go back to with you. They will stay at ours until we speak to child services."

My jaw drops.

Ava's hand wraps around mine. A silent way of letting me know she's with me.

I could argue with him, like always, but we're in a hospital room because of a pair of straighteners I used before a date. This isn't Joel's fault. He's right that they need a place to sleep for the night. I hate it, but he is being sensible...

"Okay, just for the night." I say.

The next words are barely a whisper on Joel's tongue, "We'll see."

✖✖✖

Once I've seen the twins are safely in the backseat of Chloe's car, I kiss them both goodbye. And although I want nothing more than to have them with me all night, I can't because Joel has a valid point.

Where would they sleep if I took them?

Ava has already been picked up by her parents, so I wave them away on my own. The twins wave back until the car is out of sight.

And there goes my whole world.

Then, I head back inside the hospital to find Mason. Half of me doesn't expect to find him where I left him, but when I do, I scold myself. Of course, a guy like Mason will wait. He'd wait forever if I asked him to.

"Where did you find James?" I ask, approaching him.

"He was in the bathtub. It was the only room that wasn't engulfed in smoke, you know? You have a very smart kid." He says, wrapping his arms around me to greet me. "Where are they? Is he alright?"

"They've gone home with their father for the night." I mumble.

Mason sighs, "And you're not okay with that."

"No." I shake my head.

"Veronica, it'll be okay."

"How can you be sure? He has a pretty good case to use against me now in court. He'll win those children." My voice breaks in emotion.

"He can't win them. It doesn't work like that. Those twins are yours and the judge will see that you care for them like nobody else could."

I take a deep breathe and lift my face up to meet his.

"Mason?"

"Yes?"

"Thank you."

I stretch forward, wrapping my arms around his neck. He hugs me back, arms around my waist, chin resting on my head.

"You're the love of their lives. Don't forget that," he comments softly.

With a strangled cry, I squeeze him tighter.

"Veronica?"

"Mhm?"

"Please stay with me tonight."

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