“It’s about time,” muttered Cassandra.
“I was only in there ten minutes.”
“Still,” she rasped, “it’s ten minutes too long.” Whatever that meant.
“Hey, do you smell something burning?” I asked before she vanished into the lounge.
“Only Satan’s hands uniting with the grilled cheese over there.”
I looked to the grill where a charred sandwich was beginning to crumble and removed it before it collapsed into an ashy mass. I still smelled the burning odor, but assumed that it was just the lingering remains of sandwich. I was proven wrong when Cassandra ran out of the lounge crying, “Fire! Fire!”
After a brief pause to consider if she was lying or not, the customers jumped up, screaming and pushing one another to try to get out the door first. My reaction time was a little slower, but after seeing the flames licking out of the employee lounge, I bolted.
Or attempted to, at least.
My apron had snagged on one of the cabinets, causing the neck strap to act like a noose and cut off my air supply. My throat constricted as I desperately tried to inhale any amount of oxygen. But I was like a fish out of water, lips gulping in air that they could not consume. Water squeezed out of my eyes, the smoke reaching an intolerable level. I had a few more moments before I passed out, which would only lead to death. So I summoned my last amount of energy and leaned my body forward to put pressure on the strap. It snapped the same moment a fireman entered the building. He scooped me up, slung me over a shoulder, and was shuttling me out the building when I saw a small figure huddled under a table.
“Stop!” I screamed, though it was more of wheeze. “Stop! Please, stop, there’s a boy still in there!” I pounded the fireman’s back and kicked at his chest, but he didn’t seem to care. “Please! Leave me and get the boy! Get the boy!” But we were already out of the building, and I was being rushed over to a medic. The moment I was put down, I bolted towards the building.
I didn’t make it far. Another fireman grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “Stay where you are.”
“No! There’s a boy in there still!”
“I’m sorry. There’s nothing you or I can do now. The building will collapse at any moment.”
“No! No, it’s your job to save lives! Please, save this boy’s life! Please!” I screamed so loud I doubt my words were even heard by the sissy. If the fire department wasn’t going to do their job, I was the only chance Dewey had at survival. So I thrust a knee upwards and kicked the fireman in the balls. I ran before I could see his reaction. I was about to enter the burning building, which was most likely committing suicide, when a man with eyes squinted to the point of slits intercepted me, blocking my path to the restaurant. I tried to shove him away, but he grabbed my wrists.
“No!” I wailed. “There’s a boy in there! Let me go!”
The man dodged into the building without a second thought. The foundation of the Sandwich Chef was beginning to crumble, and it had a few seconds before it collapsed. I paced outside, biting my fingernails, trying to decide whether I should go in after the man.
Don’t be a coward. Be a hero. Make your parents proud. Don’t sacrifice another’s life for your own well-being.
I made a run for it, crashing through the doorway and over to the man, who was huddled next to Dewey.
“Why aren’t you doing anything? Get him!” I started to reach for Dewey when I noticed his leg. A beam from the ceiling had sliced into it, nailing Dewey to the floor. I gulped and looked at the man. Or was he a teen? “What do we do?” I needed him for guidance. My head was dizzy and my eyes burned, but I refused to give up. All I needed was a little support to keep me going.
“Keep him calm while I try to remove this,” he shouted through the chaos.
I nodded and crawled closer to Dewey. I coughed into the crook of my elbow before running my hand along his forehead to push his hair back. “Dewey? It’s Holly. Can you hear me? Tap my hand once if you can.” His middle finger tapped mine ever so softly. “I need you to be strong. This man here is going to help you. Can you squeeze my hand?” He gripped it and the teen started to heave the beam up. “Okay, you’re doing good, buddy, really good. I’m so proud-” I was cut off by an explosion as the roof on the other end of the restaurant caved in. “Sir, please hurry,” I said, trying to stay as calm as possible. I couldn’t freak out. If Dewey saw that I was scared, he would panic. “Hurry…” I continued to stroke Dewey’s forehead. At least I thought it was his forehead. My vision was doubling, the world spinning around me. All I could see was fire. All I could feel was heat. I was consumed by the element, but I had to stay focused. For Dewey.
Another beam crashed to the floor, sending burning embers flying. I involuntarily moaned.
“Almost there, almost there,” the guy said. Dewey squirmed as the beam ripped out of his leg, and the man swept him up the moment he was free. They ran out of the building, me coughing and wheezing behind them. I had almost made it to the exit when another ceiling beam crashed down, nipping my ankle. I sprawled on the floor, feeling as if a million searing hot needles stabbed my body.
I was a goner. The firemen weren’t coming; they probably had been ordered not to enter. The person who helped Dewey had most likely forgotten about me. I screamed at the top of my lungs, hoping to be heard over the collapsing building and wailing sirens. I waited for someone, anyone to hear me, and exhausted my hope in the process. But then through the cloudy smoke and my watery eyes I saw a face leaning over mine. I felt myself beginning to slip, my eyelids closing, my stamina emptying, my life draining. I was dying. And there was nothing this man or woman could do to save me. Until I saw the eyes. An icy blue penetrated through the smoke, and the eyes seemed to somewhat sooth my hysteria. They were so familiar that they comforted me in what seemed like a doomed atmosphere.
“Run,” I said, so calm, so serene. “Run. Save yourself while you still can.”
The person shook their head. “I’m not leaving you, Holls. I never have, never will.” They swung me up before I had time to wonder how they knew my name. Instead, I wrapped my arms around their neck for better balance. I wasn’t letting go.
Once we burst outside and were swamped with fresh air, I was ripped apart from the person who had saved me. “No!” I screamed. “Take me back to that person! Please!” Right now, that person was the only one I trusted. They had sacrificed themselves when the wimpy fireman hadn’t had the guts to. I thought back to the blue eyes, how soothing they were. But had I really seen them? The smoke had been messing with my head to begin with, so I could have been hallucinating. Some part of me believed that I had been imagining things, while the other truly thought that it had been Brady who saved me, and maybe even saved Dewey. But there was one thought that outweighed the others, even the thought of the Brady and his blue eyes.
The thought was of Bonnie Thorne.