7 | Family
Fade in/Fade out, Nothing more
After spending two evenings with Lizbeth, the second at his house—he was tempted to something—Sawyer felt in a better mood than he had been during the last couple of weeks.
They didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, just ordered some pizza and drank a few non-alcoholic beers; he did—he had to go to work later that night. But her company was a lot more than he could have asked for.
Most of his neighbors were old people or families that had their own lives and struggles, so it felt nice having her around, talking about their day, and teasing each other. It could be awkward at times, the sexual tension between was palpable, but she didn’t seem interested—her mind was somewhere else—and the last thing he needed was to make things uncomfortable, so he behaved; he wasn’t the hormonal twenty-something brat he used to be.
Laughing whole-heartedly at her own stupid joke—what is six inches long, two inches wide, and drives a woman wild? A one hundred-dollar bill—because she had drunk a bit too much for a Tuesday, Sawyer left her at her apartment before leaving for the station.
If there was something that hadn’t changed at all was that she still was a light drinker. A couple of beers in and she was rambling about whatever popped up on her head, from work to baby koalas to the moon having moonquakes to how ironic it was that cotton candy was invented by a dentist. She had grown up, become a top psychologist in her field, but his friend, the woman he had once loved, the one that made his heart flutter when they were younger, was still there.
With a smile painted on his face, feeling lighthearted, he jumped into his car, making the engine roar when he turned the key. However, what he didn’t know was that the bubble of joy he was floating in was about to get burst.
It was almost two in the morning when his unit was called in. They were ready in a couple of minutes and it didn’t take them more than six to get to the place, but it was too late. It already looked like a fireball. The crackling sound and the heat coming from it were overwhelming. Gas explosions were scary, the damages countless.
The saddest thing was that it could have been worse. Regardless of the accident occurring as the result of a gas leak, improperly maintained equipment, or chemicals not being properly controlled, explosions caused by negligence could destroy entire communities. It was always tragic, no matter where you looked at it, but at least in that case it had been just one building.
Lots of people were gathered outside, most of them wearing pajamas, their faces distorted with a mix of fear, shock, and pain, a few kids crying their hearts out in their parents’ arms. Those moments were always devastating for the families, all their belongings, their memories, their whole lives vanishing right in front of their eyes.
Several ambulances, the police, and the fire department were there, everyone doing their best to take care of those who had been injured. Two men and a woman had died, and another four had been badly wounded, physically talking. Most of them had probably inhaled the smoke, which by itself was already very dangerous, especially since they didn’t know the exact composition of it.
Sawyer was assisting a man with the oxygen mask, eyes scanning the rest of his body. He had burns in one of his arms, second degree. “Can you hold it?” he asked him. The man nodded. “Okay, great. I’ll be right back.”
“The first floor!” A woman wearing a blue robe got hysterical. “She’s not here!” She shouted.
“Breathe,” Ryan, the fire chief, said as he took his helmet off. “You need to breathe, ma’am. I know it’s hard but I need you to calm down and tell me what’s going on.” He put a reassuring palm over her shoulder.
“M-Ms. Scott… S-she lives on the first floor.” Her eyes continuously shifted between Ryan, the rest of the firefighters behind him, and the building. Her words not making any sense. “She—I don’t see her.”
The fire was just half-extinguished, but Sawyer didn’t care. He put on his helmet and oxygen mask and ran upstairs. The voice of his colleagues calling his name and telling him to stay back turned into background noise.
He knew that what he was doing was risky, that he would get an earful from Ryan later, he had been doing that for years, but that night his brain was not functioning as it used to, as it should. All the red alerts were turned off, and there was no way he was leaving someone to be consumed by that flaming hell.
The room where he found her was full of smoke and fire entwined in a scary dance, burning the curtains and everything in their way down to ashes. The woman, who was probably in her late eighties, was face-up on the floor. She had no visible evidence of burns or any other traumas, it seemed as if she was sleeping—but he knew she was not.
Clenching his jaw he crouched down and picked her up, getting out of the building with her two minutes later as the disaster whirled behind him.
After handing her dead, frail body to the paramedics, Sawyer walked to the fire truck. He took off the helmet and mask and groaned out of frustration, throwing his stuff inside. As he sat pressing his temples with the mound of his hands, cursing between gritted teeth, Ryan approached him.
“Cox,” he called.
He was the chief of the unit, yeah, but they were also close friends. Although, even if they weren’t, he would have answered the same way. He was angry and didn’t need anyone telling him he had been reckless and dumb.
“They said she died from a head trauma, that the mucus on her mouth or nose is not even dark-colored.”
“It’s that supposed to make me feel better?” Sawyer scoffed.
“Dude, we still have work to do, so get your head outta your ass. You couldn’t have done anything. She was dead before the fire started.”
“Give me a second, okay?” He huffed.
“Fine.” Ryan clicked his tongue and walked away.
They knew each other pretty well, it had been years working together, trusting each other with their lives. None of that conversation was personal, they knew, but he needed a moment to let his furious heart come down from its high before refocusing into his unemotional-self. That was the only way to get the job done without crumbling down together with the walls of the building in front of them.
After fighting that hell on earth for another couple of hours, making sure everyone affected had received the needed attention, they went back to the station. He took a quick shower and went straight back home without talking to anybody.
The ride was silent and calm. The empty streets when they went out with the truck, were now packed with cars. That was the harsh reality, even after a tragedy the world kept spinning around. He knew first hand.
As he entered his apartment a cool breeze surrounded him. His memories were tainted with thousands of horrid images from the scenes they had worked on over the years, that event was something new to him. But some days were harder than others.
Letting out a sigh, he went to the kitchen and boiled some water. Hot tea would probably help him relax. He needed a clear mind for the next day, or that same day, whatever. Sometimes it was hard to know what day he was in. But he needed to be in a better mood when he went to visit his family.
Sawyer was taking his dirty clothes out of his bag, putting them inside the washing machine, when the kettle started whistling. After pouring the water in the mug he had already prepared with the cinnamon-scented tea, he plopped onto his couch and slowly drank the hot beverage. His mind drifted away to a black lagoon of nothingness as silence wrapped around him.
It was past nine in the morning when he undressed and got into bed, not wanting to think about anything else. He had never cared about being alone or not, but at that moment the solitude made him feel wretched. He would have given anything to have someone to talk to, someone to hug, someone who could help to put that sorrow away.
Letting out a heavy sigh, Sawyer rubbed his face and checked the time on his stainless steel wristwatch. He had barely slept three hours but didn’t feel like staying in bed any longer.
Walking like a zombie towards the kitchen, he brewed some coffee while reading the news on his phone. He wasn’t in a hurry, so he took his time to prepare. He enjoyed and savored his black coffee, letting the sunlight warm his face as he sat on the terrace. It was a bit chilly, but since it wasn’t a windy day the temperature was just perfect.
When he finished his breakfast, he started packing a small suitcase, and soon after he was going back home. He visited them every week, but he didn’t like leaving his stuff there—his mother would clean and iron it, and he didn’t want to add more workload to her list.
The trip wasn’t long but the tranquility inside the vehicle as some classic rock played softly in the background helped him to relax, absorbing the last ounce of stress after the rough night he’d had.
As he parked in the driveway beside the light grey wooden building with a black gable roof and an always peaceful porch, he smiled. His mother was in the front garden, watering the plants, Noah chewing on a stick, forgetting about it the moment she felt his presence.
“Ciao, mamma!” Sawyer greeted as he left his bag on the floor, getting ready for what was coming next. “Hey, girl!” He chuckled when the mix of Pitbull and whatever else launched herself at him, tongue hanging on the side of her mouth, tail going all helicopter. “Hi, hi… Yes, I missed you too,” he said, laughing at the whole-body wiggle and the constant whining.
“Come stai, tesoro?” His mother said as she approached him, a huge grin on her face.
“I’m fine. What about you?” He hugged her.
“Sto benissimo. Cosa fai qui a quest’ora?” she asked as she checked the time on her phone, petting Noah with her free hand.
“I woke up early and decided to come to have lunch with you.” He smiled.
“Wonderful!” she said almost singing, her thick Italian accent shining proud. “Come on in, Hon.”
Sawyer followed his mother inside the house and went upstairs, to his old bedroom, Noah stuck to him as if they hadn’t seen each other in years—not like it bothered him. Dogs were such kind souls, eternal kids. No matter what they had been through or how much the human being had made them suffer, all they had for you was the purest shape of unconditional love. And who in their right mind wouldn’t want that?
He petted her a bit more, talking to her as if she was a baby while rubbing her forehead vigorously with both hands, wrinkles appearing in the middle—she lived for that. Her ears were weird, they always made him smile with a bit of sadness even though they made her look kind of cute. She was so lively, so happy, so honest… She was his favorite four-paws-girl in the world.
Taking his phone and wallet out of the pockets of his jeans, he looked around the space, smiling as the walls were still covered in random posters—sports, music, science, and whatever he liked when he was younger. That place hadn’t changed one bit after so many years.
When he walked down again, his mother was in the kitchen, already cutting some tomatoes and onions into very small pieces—she was for sure making some sauce. “What are you doing?” he asked her, raising an eyebrow.
“Since you’re here I’m making something decent for lunch,” she noted.
“You don’t need to. It’s late.”
“Don’t worry, I had a snack a couple of hours ago, so let me do my thing!”
“Okay, okay. Not gonna fight you.”
She was the sweetest woman but also had a temper and he wouldn’t dare to contradict her. Besides, it would be stupid of him to reject a typical homemade meal when she was an amazing cook.
“Have you talked with Olivia lately?” she asked while adding some olive oil into the skillet pan.
“Yeah, this weekend,” he said as he leaned on the counter.
“You think she’s fine?”
“Seemed okay to me, why?”
“She’s been avoiding me for a few days… And Tom says she’s fine, but I don’t know...” She twisted her mouth as she opened the fridge to get some mushrooms.
Sawyer chuckled. “Mom… You’re so kind and I love you, but you’ve been all over her this whole year. And you know how she’s always been…”
“I know, I know, but after everything that happened…”
“Seriously, Mom… She still has work to do and shit to overcome, like all of us, but she’s doing a lot better. You know she always tells me everything and even if she didn’t I’d know.”
“Fine.” She frowned.
Sawyer hugged her from behind and kissed the top of her head. “She’s a strong one, just like you. She’ll get out of this.”
Olivia, his older sister, was the one driving the night Beth and Matt died. Everyone had a hard time accepting they were gone, it crushed two families in the worst way, Sawyer almost lost it. Beth was his twin sister, his best friend, they had done almost everything together since they were kids, fighting over the stupidest things, hanging out with the same posse during high school, and even breaking the same arm once they went skiing, until she went to New York for college—where she met Matt, the love of her life.
But Olivia… She fell into a deep depression that cost her her job and almost her family. For months all she did was take pills to sleep and wander around her house like a ghost, neglecting her kids, her husband, and everyone around as guilt slowly ate her alive. The accident wasn’t her fault, a drunk driver crossed the line and went straight towards them, but she was the only one surviving, blaming herself for it, wishing she was the one dying. She stopped talking, eating, and everything she did was cry, repeating over and over that she was the older sister and she was supposed to protect her, not kill her.
And, of course, his parents worried. They had almost lost their two daughters that same night. But Sawyer meant his words. She was still going to therapy, but a year after losing her job, she had finally found a part-time one. That way, she could be with her children more and feel useful at the same time—she had always been like that, such a hard-worker and proud person. Tom, her husband, said her change had been huge after that, which soon showed as she started smiling again.
“So, how’s the week been for you?” his mother asked, changing the conversation.
“Fine.” He shrugged as he petted Noah, who sat on the floor between his legs.
“Are you sure? You look tired,” she mentioned as she glanced in his direction.
“Yeah. It’s just that after the wedding I hadn’t had much sleep,” he confessed, not wanting to get into many details.
“Is anything worrying you?” The concern was so obvious in her voice, but she didn’t stop what she was doing.
“Nah…” He tried to shrug it off. There was no way he was talking with his mother about what happened that night during his shift.
“You know I gave birth to you, right?” She looked at him over her shoulder. “I can read you like an open book, so tell me what’s worrying you so much.”
He shook his head with a smile painted on his lips. “I know… It was a rough night at work, that’s all,” he simply said.
“I’m so sorry to hear that, Hon.” She turned her apologetic gaze to him. “Want to talk about it?”
“Not really, but thanks, Mom.” He sweetly smiled at her.
“Okay…” She went back to cooking, letting the silence settle between them. “Oh, by the way, is that apartment beside yours still available? Penelope’s daughter’s looking for a new place,” she commented.
“Actually… Lizbeth just moved in,” he said with a sigh.
“Lizbeth? As in Liam’s sister?” She tried to control it but the mischievousness in her voice was obvious.
Let’s keep it casual.
“How’s she doing? You saw her at the wedding too, right?”
“She’s doing great, working as a professor in Virginia State Uni, and for this federal case they talk so much about the news.”
“The serial murder case?” She turned around.
“My poor girl… The things she must have seen.”
“Yeah, but she’s a tough one.”
“Is she still as pretty as she used to be?”
“What? I’m just asking.”
“I know you as well as you know me.”
Since he broke up with Madison she had tried to get him to know some of her friends’ single daughters. She insisted on helping him to find a new love. A helpless romantic you could say. She wanted her son to have a beautiful story to tell his grandchildren, just like her and his father. She also mentioned something about not wanting him to end up alone, that it would be a waste—that always made him laugh.
“Sure you do.” She giggled. “I’m just saying... You haven’t dated anyone for a long time, I don’t want to know about your affairs, but she seemed nice, smart, and pretty…”
“And she still is, but I’m not talking about this with you.” He chuckled. He had never talked with his mother about his romantic life and he wasn’t starting now.
“Always so shy…” She giggled, making him roll his eyes again.
After eating the delicious entrecote, they were having a coffee while their conversation bounced from work to family to some renovations she was doing in the house. Seriously, that woman had an inner contractor longing to get out badly. She had already done the demolition of one of the bathrooms herself and was now in the middle of installing the tiles for the shower.
Time ran out without them realizing and when Sawyer checked the clock hanging on the wall it was almost four in the afternoon. He didn’t use to be there at that time, so after helping his mother to wash the dishes and clean the kitchen, he grabbed his car keys.
“Be right back, Mom! Be good, Noah!” he said as he walked out of the house.
After a fifteen minutes ride, he parked in front of the colorful building, turned off the engine, and got out of the vehicle. As he walked towards the white entrance adorned with blue frames, he realized a few women were staring at him with hungry eyes. He sighed and crossed his arms over his chest as he leaned on a wall.
He knew he was hot—he was June in the station’s calendar, and everyone knows that the summer months go to the hottest men—but he hated being eaten through people’s eyes as if he was a piece of meat. It made him feel uncomfortable as fuck.
Taking out his phone to isolate himself from the world around him, he scrolled down through his Tumblr, the only social-distracting-shit he had.
“Daddy, daddy!” Sophia exclaimed, bringing him back to the real world.
He crouched down to be at their level and hugged her when she jumped over him. “How are you, Princess? And what about you, Buddy?” he asked Adam as he approached them.
“I’m fine!” She giggled. Her smile couldn’t be bigger and sweeter.
“I’m good, too.” The boy said as he gave him a sided hug. “Why are you here so early?”
“I missed you, guys.”
“Really?” he asked, a bit skeptical.
“Of course, buddy.” Sawyer smiled at him, ruffling his hair.
“Me too!” He admitted as his cheeks turned slightly pink as he giggled.
“Let’s go home,” Sawyer said as he grabbed his backpack.
He never expected his life would give such a huge turn. Becoming a father wasn’t in his short-term plans, it had put his world upside down, but he didn’t mind—it was a promise. Besides, he loved those kids with every cell in his body.
Not only had they helped him to get out of the darkest place in his mind, forcing him to stand strong and keep his word, but they also were so much fun, warming his heart in the most beautiful way with their laughs and loving gestures. Sophia and Adam were his saving grace, two bright rays of sun in the middle of a storm. He couldn’t and didn’t want to imagine a future without them anymore.