When It's Just Not Enough
I followed the smell of bacon and eggs down the hall towards the canteen, yawning and rubbing the sleep from my eyes. I was in desperate need of coffee.
“Morning.” Heidi greeted me with a warm smile as I entered the room.
“Morning.” I replied, attempting a smile, but yawning instead.
I heard her laugh, reopening my watery eyes to see her pouring steaming water into a mug.
“Here, just how you like it.”
She slid the mug across the counter and proceeded to make another mug up right after.
I was about to lift it to my lips, when she hurriedly reached out a hand to stop me.
“Whoa, it’s too hot.” She warned, sternly.
Chuckling slightly, I took hold of her hand and nodded.
“I know, that’s why I was about to blow on it,” I smirked, “But thanks for looking out… Mom.” I added in a teasing manner.
She picked up the tea towel from the side, swinging it at my head and bursting into laughter when I managed to dodge it.
“Less of the ‘Mom’ comment there Mister. I’m not that much older than you.”
“True, but somehow you’re still the mother of the Watch.” I argued back, dropping into a chair at the table, whilst she finished adding more toast to the rack.
“Well, in that case, care to tell me why you’re up so early? Especially after last night.” She asked, fixing her curious gaze in my direction.
I shrugged, taking a sip of the hot coffee and letting the hit of caffeine help wake up my system. It had been a long night, we’d all just about climbed into bed when the alarm went off. There was a small fire out the back of a restaurant, it looked like someone had tossed a lit cigarette into the rubbish. We finished up there pretty quickly, only to get another call out an hour later, which turned out to be a hoax. Supposed car fire out on the high street, but when we got there, there was no car to be seen, let alone a fire. Unfortunately it didn’t stop there, another hoax call half an hour later, was then followed by a shout that ended up taking us up until dawn to put out. By the time that we all got back, and crashed in our beds, I just wasn’t able to sleep.
“Couldn’t sleep. The in and out all night made it hard to switch off.”
She ducked behind the wall, presumably to place the food in the oven to keep it hot for when everyone else woke up, and then joined me at the table, her own mug of steaming coffee, clutched in her hands.
“Sorry love.” She said sweetly, “I’ll still never understand what possesses people to pull those hoax calls.” There was a venomous undertone to the rest of her sentence, one that was rarely ever heard from Heidi.
I leant back in my seat, resting my arm on the table, and my other elbow on the back of my chair. Heidi took a slow sip of her coffee, watching me over the rim of the mug.
“So, how’s Lacey settling in?” She asked.
“Great. She’s a damn good firefighter.” I answered honestly.
Every shout that we’d worked since she’d joined Red Watch, she’d held her own well, and proved to be a great team player, we all thought of her as part of the family already. My only issue with her, had been the fact that each passing day seemed to show me something else to like about her, and it was getting even harder to resist the building feelings that were creeping up on me.
“She’s a lovely girl too.” Heidi said pointedly, her tone suggestive, and the mischievous glint in her eyes hinting at the meaning behind them.
I fixed her with a suspicious look, and she rolled her shoulder, taking another drink but not backing down.
“You can’t pretend that you haven’t noticed Bane. I know you well, and I can read you like a book.” She tilted her head to the side, shaking it a touch in thought, “Besides, your poker face sucks.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at her cocky tone. I thought that I’d managed to keep my internal battle well hidden so far, and now a part of me was worried that she wasn’t the only one to see it.
“I don’t know Heidi.” I sighed.
“Don’t know what?”
I drummed my fingers on the top of the table, as I tried to put my thoughts into words, the soft thud echoing slightly in the otherwise silent room.
“I’ve never had a woman in my life that I’ve felt so drawn to, or had so much in common with. Most of the girls I’ve dated, I’ve been able to keep it casual because we were so different, we wanted different things, had different values and commitments. But Lacey… she’s a whole other girl.”
Heidi nodded. She knew about my dating past, or lack thereof. I’d only really had a few casual flings here and there. Most people would presume I’d be a player, but that was never my game. When she’d heard or seen the girls that I’d been involved with, she was usually one of the first to point out that they were futureless relations. Of course that was the point in those. But now, I was feeling the total opposite, this was something much stronger. In this line of work, the bond we share, entrusting our lives to one another, these kinds of feelings can be heightened incredibly, and it was something that was proving hard for me to ignore.
“If you are feeling this way, maybe it’s not one sided. I know why you stay away from relationships, but don’t you think that you owe it to yourself to give things a try?”
“Who’s to say there’s even something to give a try?” I smirked at her, trying to cover my budding sensation of vulnerability.
Heidi’s responding look told me that she wasn’t buying it, but she didn’t push it. Instead, she got to her feet, picked up our mugs in one hand, and rested the other on my shoulder, giving it a little squeeze.
“Trust me, and don’t let the past rule your future. Life is short... live it.”
With that, she disappeared back into the kitchen, just as the sound of footsteps echoed in the hall, and Alex and Sam walked in, signalling that everyone was now awake.
Later that morning, and we’d just finished running drills, Alex had insisted that a lack of sleep meant that we should be even sharper than usual today. Deciding to jump into a workout, I was on my way to the gym with Sam and Rosie, when the alarm began ringing through the building again.
“If this is another fucking hoax, I’m gonna kill the little fuckers.” Sam groaned as we threw our towels inside the gym and ran to the pole.
“Fire at Berrytree B and B.” Cain shouted, whilst everyone dove at the appliances, hopping on board.
The sirens kicked in, and the lights flashed off the walls as we began to speed off for the location of the fire.
The scene was chaotic as usual when we arrived. The smoke covered guests were lined up along the path, some of them still making their way down the steps of the burning two-storey building. We all jumped into action, Alex shouting orders as we took steps to gain control of the scene.
“Rebel, Rosie, BA now! Jax and Sam, you too!” Alex yelled.
Will helped us kit up, running the checks on our equipment before we rushed inside.
The roar of the flames was even masking the sounds of the jets of water. The fire was surrounding us at all angles, and I could feel Rosie right on my six as we steered the hose around to try to clear a way through, barely hearing the sound of Alex’s voice crackling through the radio:
“At least four persons are still believed to be inside. Most probably on the second floor.”
“Received Sub.” I replied, looking through the heavy black smoke, attempting to locate the stairway.
“Ten O’Clock!” Rosie shouted behind me, her voice rasping through her mask.
I looked in the direction that she’d mentioned, and could just make out the lines of a staircase, hearing Sam reporting the situation back to Alex as we continued to press forwards, forging a path through the flames, and searching everywhere on the way. We were no more than a few steps away when there was a loud rumble from above.
“Watch out!” Jax yelled from the back.
I looked up just as the ceiling cracked apart, a bunch of stuff falling through, and heading right at me. Before I had a chance to react, I felt myself being flung to the side, a body coming down to land half across me, just as the rubble crashed to the ground where I’d stood. My heart was hammering in my chest as I looked up into Rosie’s face, her eyes wide, the usual grey replaced with blazing orange.
“You good?” She asked.
“I’m good, thanks.”
“Rebel, Rosie, you guys alright?” Jax shouted, him and Sam still showering the surrounding blaze.
“We’re good!” I yelled back, me and Rosie helping each other to our feet.
We pressed on, taking every single step as quickly, yet carefully, as possible. The building had proved to be unsafe by this point, and its structure was weakening rapidly. The flames were becoming more under control, but not by much.
As we reached the landing, we looked in every direction for the reported persons. There was no sign from our place at that moment, and so we carried on forwards, shouting out to get the attention of anyone potentially nearby. We moved through, checking room after room, managing to find one of the guests hiding in a bathroom, where Jax scooped her up and carried her out.
“This is ridiculous, where are they?” Rosie shouted out as we finished searching each room along the hall.
I had asked myself the same question, frustration building inside me, sweat running down my cheek as I scanned the area for anything that I could be missing.
“I don’t know, but we have to keep looking.” I said firmly, just as Jax appeared back behind Sam. “You two keep the jet on those flames. Rosie, you and me will do a sweep of the next hall.”
They all nodded, and we split up. We had to find them now, the flames were still spreading in areas, and the smoke was too thick up here, we didn’t have long, and at least this way, we could cover more ground.
“Hello! Can anyone hear me?” I called out nearing another door.
“Help! Please help me!” A croaky cry came from the next room.
“Rosie, in here.”
She hurried over to me from the room that she was banging on, and together we opened the door and dove inside, slamming the door behind us, a young man in around his twenties or thirties, stood in the middle of a dark and smokey room, holding a handkerchief over his mouth and nose.
“Sub, we need a ladder up to the second floor quickly.” I informed him over the radio.
The man was looking weaker with each second, and it was too risky to take him back through the house at this point.
“Received.” Alex replied.
I crossed to the window, and managed to force it open, hanging outside to shout for the ladder. They bustled about below, and soon enough Cain appeared at the window on the ladder, and assisted the man in taking a place there with him, before they descended. Closing the window again, we left the room, and continued our search.
Once every room had been thoroughly turned over, we regrouped on the stairs, filling Jax and Sam in on the fact that they were still missing.
“Sub, can you ask the owner of anywhere else that these guests could have gotten into? Over.” I spoke into the radio.
There was silence on the radio for a few seconds, before it crackled once again and Alex replied:
“Owner says there’s a back staircase, it’s fairly hidden, used by staff. It’s located at the end of the hall behind a curtain, beside room twenty-three, over.”
“Received.” I replied, feeling a sickening feeling in my stomach with rising panic.
Rosie and I took off back in the direction that we’d just looked in. The visibility was increasingly poor, and when we finally located room twenty-three, the curtain in question, was right at the corner of the wall, invisible at first glance. I tore it back, peering down into the dark, smoke filled space, breathing a momentary sigh of relief when I saw that it was empty, knowing that they’d have been entirely exposed down there. But the relief passed instantly with the realisation that they still hadn’t been found. We went back to the top of the stairs, intending to head back downstairs for another search. Just as we were taking a step off the landing, I gasped, catching sight of a hanging thread.
“The loft!” I shouted, diving backwards, and reaching up for it.
“You really think they’d be up there?” Sam replied, coming forward to help.
The hatch opened, and Sam moved to help Jax keep the jet of water on the flames below, whilst Rosie and me ascended into the loft.
It was pitch black in there, the only lights through the impenetrable plume of smoke were our torches that were fixed to our chests. As I found my footing on the floor, I turned to look around the room, hearing Rosie step up next to me, just as my beam fell on a set of feet. I felt my heart stop, my stomach doing a backflip as the light moved higher, falling on the still form of a young woman, and right next to her, wrapped in her arms was a little girl, no older than six or seven. We both rushed forwards, dropping to our knees beside them, hurriedly pulling off our gloves to check for a pulse.
The whole Watch was silent. The rest of the sounds in the pub had faded into the background, no one was paying much attention. Each of us sat in our seat, nursing a bottle or a glass, avoiding eye contact. Gradually as the night wore on, everyone trickled out slowly, still barely having spoken a word the entire time they’d been in the pub.
“I best be off, Em’s wondering where I am.” Dodger muttered, picking up his phone and tapping a few keys. “
I nodded in acknowledgement, feeling him clap a hand on my shoulder, before sweeping low to kiss Rosie on the cheek.
“It’s not your fault you know, neither of you.” He said softly, “I’ll see you both tomorrow.”
With that, he left the pub, leaving just me and Rosie, sitting on opposite sides of the table, draining a bottle of beer each and staring into space.
“Have you ever lost a kid on a shout?” She whispered after a while.
I managed to force myself to look up at her, my heart hurting as I saw the pain and heartache in her eyes. The warmth that was usually in them, was lost, replaced by sadness. I nodded.
“A couple of times.” I replied sadly, fighting away the memories of those times too.
“I can’t stop picturing their faces.” She said through gritted teeth.
Her tone was angry, but I knew that the anger was directed at the situation, the sadness that they were gone. In this job, these things happened. They were never easy, they were some of the hardest things we ever had to deal with. She let out an angry sigh, raking her fingers through her hair, and burying her face in her hands.
“I need some air.” She said abruptly, jumping to her feet and rushing outside.
I put my bottle on the table and followed after her, joining her outside on the path, where she was pacing up and down.
“We did our job, and we did our best.” I said to her, the words were true, I knew that, but still they felt hollow. Our best fell short today.
“And how does that help? How do we handle it, when our best is just.. Just-”
“Just not enough?” I finished for her, reaching out to stop her pacing, holding onto her upper arms and seeing a tear flow from her lashes and roll down her cheek.
“We do what we’re doing now. We let it out, we take a moment,” My eyes locked with hers as I spoke, “And then tomorrow, we get up, and we go to work, and we try to have a better day than this one.” I finished.
Her lips parted as though she wanted to speak, her chest was rising and falling fast, for a moment leading me to believe she was about to either scream or cry. But instead, she caught me by total surprise, as she leant forwards, and instantly pressed her lips to mine, her hand winding around the back of my neck as her tongue brushed my lip, and my arms snaked around her in response, pulling her closer and opening my lips to caress her tongue with my own.