Unexpected Flame

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Chapter 3

The next few weeks passed by in an uneventful blur filled with working at the café and coming home to an empty apartment. I haven't seen Nicholas since the day of the farmer’s market but what did I expect? It was a miracle I saw him twice on the same day. Did I seriously think that I was going to continue running into him? On the bright side though, my bosses at the café have been giving me more responsibilities to handle on top of my job. You’re looking at the new weekend closer. Sure, it’s almost three more hours of work every day of the weekend and most of that time is spent cleaning, but it’s more money in my pocket. Maybe one of these days I’ll be able to move out of my apartment and into a slightly less shitty one!

I crawled into my studio apartment a little after 11 on Friday, letting the wooden door slam shut behind me. I tossed my keys in the general direction of the side table, not bothering to pick them up when I heard them clatter to the floor. Kicking my shoes off, I padded my way over towards my suede sofa where I proceeded to fall face-first into the soft material. My apartment may not be the best, but I spent the extra money on a nice couch. When I come home from work, I wanted to be able to relax on an actual couch. Not something that you’d find in a college dorm.

Somehow, I found the energy to raise a hand up to my disheveled ponytail. My wavy hair fell flat against the side of my face as it too was past the point of giving a shit. Just as I began untucking my work shirt from my pants, my cell phone started going off in my pocket. At first, I groaned at the incessant ringtone as I blindly reached for my phone. Then I remembered what time it was. Who the hell was calling me at 11 o ’clock on a Friday night?

I answered the phone without looking at the caller ID. “Hello?” I answered, groaning as I sat up.

“Marianna? Is that you?” Rosie’s meek voice came across the line. There was something in her tone that caused me to straighten my posture. Rosie never, and I mean NEVER, calls me. The only reason she has my number is in case she makes a specialty jam that she thinks we could use at the café.

“Yes, it’s Marianna. Rosie, what’s wrong? What are you doing still up?”

“Well, you see. I was sleeping when I started smelling smoke. Turns out some teenage punk lit something on fire on my front porch- “

“Oh my god, Rosie are you ok?!”

“I’m fine Mar,” She did her best to calm me down. “I tried calling my son, but he wouldn’t pick up. I already called the fire department. They said they’ll be here soon- “

“Rosie, I’m on my way ok? I’ll be there in 10 minutes.” I launched up from the couch and quickened my pace as I went towards my forgotten keys on the floor. All I could hear was Rosie softly chuckling on the other end as I bent down to pick up my keys.

“There’s no sense in telling you not to come over because you’re just going to disregard what I say and come anyways right?” I found myself chuckling before responding.

“You know me so well. I’ll be there soon Rosie. Don’t give the firefighters any grief before I get there ok?”

“It’s me that should be saying that to you girly.”

I pulled up to Rosie’s small cottage less than 20 minutes after I got off the phone with her. True to what Rosie said, a single firetruck was parked in front of the house. Though I knew nobody was in immediate danger, I couldn’t stop the panic levels in me from rising when I saw the pillars of grey smoke in the air.

As I climbed out of my car, I saw Rosie standing on the sidewalk. Her signature grey cardigan was wrapped across her shoulders, but I could still see her shivering from me. When I got closer towards her, I saw that someone was standing next to her, a man to be more specific. The man stood roughly 6 feet tall. He wore a tight navy t-shirt with the word ‘Volunteer’ written in white block letters.

“Luckily, the fire didn’t cause too much damage Ms. The smoke actually did more damage than the flames.” Hearing the deep, yet reassuring voice as they spoke to Rosie made me stop in my tracks. Holt. How is it that I’ve managed to accidentally cross paths with this man THIS many times? It doesn’t matter, you’re here for Rosie. You don’t even have to deal with him!

I cleared my throat, hoping to interrupt their conversation. “I leave you alone for a few weeks Rosie and I come back to some teenage assholes lighting shit on fire on your porch.” Both Rosie and Nicholas snapped their heads towards my direction. Rosie’s eyes lit up as a smile appeared on her face all while Nicholas’ eyes drifted towards the ground, making it impossible to read the expression on his face.

“I’ve been telling you for years, I live in a neighborhood full of hooligans. Someone didn’t want to listen to me.” Once I reached her, I wrapped my arms around Rosie and brought her in for a gentle hug. My nose wrinkled in disgust at the overwhelming smell of smoke coming off of her

“Nicholas here was just telling me about the damage to my porch. He even offered to come in on his day off to replace the floorboards and repaint them. Isn’t that nice of him?” Holt brought his eyes off the ground at Rosie’s compliment. Our eyes connected like two magnets being pulled towards each other. This is the first time I’ve been able to get a good look at his face since the first time we met.

A thin white scar cut through his dark eyebrow, extending to the corner of his right eyes. Nicholas’ eyes, though dark-colored, were highlighted by the moonlight. The five o’clock shadow that spread across his jaw had turned into a 6 o’clock shadow as dark stubble littered his face. Combined with the soot covering his face from the smoke, Nicholas’ normally tan skin had a gray undertone to it.

It took me a few moments to shake myself from the daze. “That is awfully nice of him.”

“Nothing gives me more joy than helping out a sweet woman like Rosie here.” His accent grew thicker as he winked at Rosie before quickly drawing his attention back towards the house. “Honestly, it’ll be nothing. Take me 30 minutes, 40 tops to fix everything. It gives me something to do on my day off besides staying at home with my cat.” I raised an eyebrow at his mention of a cat. Huh, I would have pegged him as more of a golden retriever type guy.

“Marianna, you should bake this man something for fixing all of this.” Both Holt and I turned our eyes to Rosie at her comment.

“I’m not the one he’s doing the work for though.” No offense to Rosie, but there’s no way in HELL I’ll be baking anything for this man.

“It’s ok, there’s no need for her to do that.” He assured Rosie, gesturing with his hands at the same time. At least we’re on the same page for once.

“Since when does a man turn down free food. Especially a man such as yourself.” This time, Rosie winked at Nicholas, causing a pink tinge to rise in his cheeks. I had to stop myself from laughing at the embarrassed look on his face.

As much as I didn’t want to, I knew I was going to end up baking something for Nicholas. Not so much for him, but for Rosie.

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