Chapter 1: Fire
My whole world was caving in around me as I stood frozen in my living room, watching the fires burn across the San Bernardino mountains. All of California was on fire again like the year before. Or so it seemed according to the news, which is 90% fabricated, and 10% exaggeration. Making things worse than they really are, for their convenience or to cover things up. I had been grateful for Liam calling me at every opportune moment with the forefront. He and his crew had been out battling the Silver-wood lake fire for two days and today of all days I watch in horror as a camera captures his entire crew vanish behind a wall of flames, consumed by smoke.
It’s been two years since he lost his brother in a fire and I lost my daughter in a car accident. Liam had pulled me from the ashes and helped me heal. Made me stronger. He had picked up my pieces and became the glue that holds me together. With out Liam I would fall apart, and shatter into a million pieces. Too many that it would be impossible for anyone to ever put them back together.
Time stood still and yet at the same time, it dragged on forever. Till the soft glow of my phone light blurred through my tears. I knew it couldn’t be Liam. They still had not emerged from the fire. I answered blindly to a frantic voice.
My best friend screamed out in agony and suddenly I was pulled into another reality. Another world of a different fear.
Liv: Oh my god it hurts. Willow the baby.
Willow: Where are you?
Willow: Did you call for an ambulance.
The line went quiet.
I screamed into the phone. Still.. there was only silence. I rushed out of my house and across the neighbors lawns till I came to the forth house down from mine and Liam’s house to his friend Noah and Liv’s. Noah was a fellow crew member who had just joined Liam’s unit and crew last January. His wife Liv who had become my best friend was 8 months pregnant with their first. In my selfishness I failed to think of her alone watching the news with the same fear as I. The stress must have caused her to go into premature labor.
I pounded on the locked front door. Nothing. I was already on the phone with 911 dispatch giving them only assumed information. While I tried frantically to get into the house. Then I remember the spare key above the porch light.
Willow: Liv! No, no, no no.
My heart was pounding so loud it was like having drums beating against your head. She was lying on the living room floor with her phone next to her. I rushed over checking for a pulse.
Willow: Oh thank god
She was alive but unconscious. I relayed everything I could to the dispatcher. While I slid her head onto my lap and held her till paramedics got there. Everyone we knew were two hours away fighting for their own lives. I needed to be strong now for Liv. Once we arrived at the hospital they immediately took her in to the O.R for an emergency C section. I had no idea what the current fire situation was, if Liam and Noah and the rest of the crew would make it out un harmed. I held my phone in my hand wanting to call and let them know what was happening with Liv but I couldn’t. Not yet. I needed to know first that she and the baby would be ok before I make that call.
It felt like hours had passed with out a word from anyone. Not a doctor or nurse or Liam. Tears threatened to push past the brave front I was putting on, and release like a flood of a broken damn. A pair of shoes covered in hospital booties stood in front of me. I peeled my face from my hands looking up to see Dr. Susan Lee’s sweet face staring down at me. She was Livs OBGYN and had been mine years ago. She had remembered me when I came in with Liv for check ups that Noah was unable to come to.
Dr.Lee: They’re both fine.
She smiled. A slight weight was lifted from my shoulders and with it came a sliver of hope that our husbands would pull through too. After Dr. Lee updated me on Liv and their baby boy, I immediately called Noah and left a voice mail letting him know about Liv. I shot a quick text to Liam before being escorted into the recovery room where Liv was breast feeding her tiny little bundle of joy. Tears streamed down her face as she smiled at me.
Liv: Thank you
She whispered. I placed a hand over her arm that was cradling the baby and placed my forehead on her head. It took everything I had to keep it all together. The loss of my child was still so fresh. The idea of losing Liam was a current heavy possibility, but that also meant Liv could lose her husband as well. I needed to be strong for them. I was actually grateful for them right now. I know if I weren’t here with them right now, I would still be drowning in my own pool of tears on the floor of my living room. I took lots of pictures with both our phones, sending them via text to our husbands as if everything was normal.
Holding baby Ash in my arms while the doctor examined Liv gave me a little more strength. A year ago I couldn’t even look at a baby with out falling apart. Looking down at his sweet little dark blue eyes and a head full of thick brown hair like his dads had me overjoyed.
Once Liv and the baby where resting I slipped out of the room to go grab a cup of coffee. As I made my way down the long empty hall to the cafeteria, my heart began to palpate. Goosebumps covered my arms. It felt as though someone was watching me. When I peaked over my shoulder there was no one there. I took a deep breath blaming it on sheer exhaustion. With coffee in hand I turned with out paying attention and bumped into a man wearing scrubs.
Willow: Oh god I’m so sorry.
Thankfully the lid was secure and only a few drops had splashed out over my hand and not him. His hands had shot out grabbing me by the elbows to keep me from falling and dumping the entire cup of boiling water all over me. My eyes focused first on the name tag. Dr. Benson.
Dr. Benson: Are you alright?
My eyes lifted from the tag to his comforting white smile to his deep blue eyes. He had a major five o’clock shadow and messy light brown hair looking like he’d been up for days.
Willow: Sorry did any of it get on you.
Dr.Benson: No but it looked like you took a little on the hand are you alright.
Willow: Yeah, thanks.
Realizing his hands where still around my elbows I took a step back. Suddenly his eyes widened and his lips parted like he was about to say something, but then he closed them and turned his head slightly. Like he was trying to place me.
Dr.Benson: You’re Willow Grayson?
I reared my head back and up with shock.
Willow: I’m sorry do I know you?
Dr. Benson: No, but I know who you are?
He laughed running a hand through his hair resting it on the back of his neck looking down.
Dr. Benson: My late wife followed you on one of those reading apps and has copies of your first two novels. She was a big fan. But I have seen you before, not just on the back of your books but?
He looked off for a second and then back at me.
Dr. Benson: A grievance meeting I think.
I looked him over carefully but I didn’t recognize him from any meeting. But then again, a lot of times people are wearing hats and glasses trying to keep low profiles as if they’re in AA or NA. I offered him a faint smile.
Willow: I’m sorry for your loss.
I was feeling very awkward at the way he kept looking down at me. He was a good 6 foot but a few inches shy of Liam, and he was tone but not nearly as ripped as Liam. I start thinking about my husband who I don’t know is alive or dead. I took a deep shaky breath.
Willow: Sorry again for bumping into you.
I walked quickly out of the cafeteria. Just as the elevator doors were about to close allowing me a few seconds alone, a hand shoots through the crack and the doors re open. Dr. Benson slips in with a mixed look of concern and pride.
Dr.Benson: I’m sorry, I know this isn’t my place and I might just be a surgeon but you look like you could use a shoulder to cry on.
I raise a brow at him and contemplate weather to snap at him or laugh. He holds his hands up in surrender.
Dr. Benson: I don’t mean to seem like a stalker or anything it’s just, I remembered my wife saying you were married to a fireman and with the fires right now I just assumed something happened, and that’s why you’re here?
Willow: My husband is fine.
I snapped a little and instantly felt guilty. I still had a hard time trusting people but, he was a surgeon who’s lost his wife and I’m acting like a stuck up bitch.
Willow: I didn’t mean to snap at you. I am a little on edge. My best friend just had an emergency c section, both our husbands disappeared in the silver wood lake fire this morning and we haven’t heard from either of them.
Dr.Benson: Is she and the baby ok.
Willow: Yes, thank you for asking.
I take a closer look at him but I still don’t recognize him.
Willow: I don’t remember you from
any of the meetings? How did she?
Dr. Bensons eyes looked to the ground.
Dr. Benson: Cancer, 5 months ago.
My sympathy is immediately replaced by question. If his wife passed 5 months ago then she couldn’t have had a copy of my second novel. Goddess of the moon was just released last month, making it a perfect October read for fans of the supernatural. Was he using his wife as a cover?
The second the elevator doors dinged open I looked down the hall and my heart leaped into my throat. Liam still in his smokey tan overalls covered in sut was standing outside Liv’s room. As if feeling my presence he turned facing me. I darted out of the elevator tossing the coffee in the nearest trash can and ran. Liam met me half way taking me up into his arms in such a tight hug, I almost couldn’t breath. I planted my hands on his shoulders as he slid me down half way against his chest claiming my lips. I couldn’t stop the tears.
Willow: Are you alright? Are you hurt. Is Noah?
Liam: We’re all fine baby.
I unhook me legs from around his waist as he lowers me to my feet. I run my hands through his hair and stare into his golden brown eyes. His thumbs wipe away my tears as his warm loving smile puts my heart back in rhythm. I slide my hands down around his neck, claiming his lips. Suddenly the cry of what sounded like a small raptor from Liv’s room brings us back to why we’re here. We walk hand in hand back to the room where Noah is handing baby Ash to Liv so she can feed him. He kisses them both on the forehead before turning to me. With such appreciation in his eyes he takes two steps and engulfs me with his broad arms. Liam’s hand tightens around mine with possessiveness, so I can only get one arm under Noah’s to embrace his hug.
Noah: Thank you Willow. Thank you for saving them.
He sniffled as he releases me wiping at his eyes. Liam finally loosens his grip on my hand.
Willow: I didn’t do anything.
I pat his arm and look past him at Liv, who’s nodding her head and trying to hold back her tears.