By the time I stepped outside, the leaves were on fire. I was too late.
The day started when my alarm clock woke me up that morning. I got out of bed and went to go wake up my five-year-old daughter. I walked down the hallway and to the doorway of her room.
“Good morning sleepyhead. It’s time to get up for school.”
She sat up. Veronica stretched and yawned. I looked at her, looking at her light brown hair, which was a tangled mess. She started to get up and I went downstairs to make breakfast.
A few minutes later, we were all sitting around the kitchen table. It was me, Veronica, and my wife, Elain. We ate french toast, which was one of the only things I knew how to cook.
“Today is my school field trip. We’re going to the fire station, so I guess I’ll see you there,” Veronica said.
I remembered her telling me about this field trip, but I didn’t know it was so soon. This was one of the perks of being a firefighter. You get to save people’s lives and see kids when they have field trips.
When we finished breakfast, Veronica finished getting ready for school. We then got in the car and I drove to her school. When we arrived, I told her bye.
“Bye Veronica. Have a good day at school, I’ll see you at the fire department.”
“Bye, see you later,” she said.
She got out of the car and walked into the building and I drove away, trying to make sure that I wasn’t late. I drove down the street, looking at the beautiful forest near the fire department. Eventually, I made it.
I walked in. My fellow firefighters were already there.
“Hey everyone,” I said.
“Good morning Stephen,” my friend Frank replied.
“Today my daughter’s class is coming here for a field trip,” I said.
Everyone nodded. The preschool class would be there in about thirty minutes. Until they arrived, we just hung around with nothing to do. We didn’t receive any calls. Finally, they arrived. We heard the bus pull up and I rushed outside to greet my daughter.
“Hey Veronica,” I said to her.
“Hi. Everyone, this firefighter is my dad,” she said, introducing her class to me.
“Hi Veronica’s dad,” her class said in unison.
They were so adorable. Frank took them on a tour of the station. They were mostly interested in the fire truck, which we showed them at the end. We also told them about our job and what kind of stuff we had to do.
After the field trip, the class used the bathroom. While some students were using the bathroom, the rest played outside as they waited. They were playing right at the edge of the forest. I heard Frank go out there.
"Give that back," he said.
I looked through the window and saw that one of them appeared to be holding a box of matches.
By the time I stepped outside, the leaves were on fire. I was too late. My team and I were able to extinguish the fire, but a few kids didn’t make it out. One of them was Veronica.
We rushed those kids to the hospital. I called Elain and told her what happened. She came over too. We stayed there for days and in the end, only one of them survived, and it was not Veronica. That day, something inside me shattered.
We prepared a funeral and a month later, we had it. The funeral occurred on our twelfth anniversary, which made it even sadder. On the day of the funeral, Elain and I were miserable. After it, we went home and just hung around the house. That night, we went to bed. When I woke up in the morning, I saw something terrible. The closet door was thrown open and inside it was Elain. There was a chair on the floor and she was hanging from a belt that was wrapped around her neck.
I rushed to my nightstand. On the nightstand was my phone. I picked it up and dialed 911.
When they showed up, they investigated and figured out that it was a suicide. Why was everyone I love leaving me? I was heartbroken and mad. Elain knew I was struggling after Veronica's death. She should've stayed with me, supported me. We could've made it through the sadness together but instead, she made it worse.
Another month later, I had no money for my wife’s funeral. I tried to save up, but I couldn’t. I was depressed, spending all my money to find something that would make me happy again. Nothing did.
Eventually, Frank pointed it out.
“I’ve been noticing that you haven’t been doing so good lately. I know you’re sad that your family died, but you have to move on. It may take a while, but I know you can do it.”
"Don't tell me to move on! It's your own fault anyway! Why would you bring matches?"
Before he could say anything, I walked away. When I got back to my house, I thought about what he said. It was true. I needed to move on. Still, he didn't have the right to tell me that.
Frank was right. It did take me a while to move on. A year later, I was ready. I was going to start dating again.
I downloaded a dating app and immediately found a match. On the night of the date, I put on a suit and cologne. I wanted to look as nice as possible. We were going to a really fancy restaurant. I arrived before my date, who’s name was Kala. I waited for about five minutes for her to show up. Finally, she did.
I saw her walk in and recognized her from her picture. I waved at her, gesturing for her to come my way.
“Hi, are you Stephen?” she asked as she approached me.
“Yes. You’re Kala right?”
She sat down at the table and picked up a menu. I picked up one too. After reading over the menu, I decided to order the steak and shrimp pasta. Kala picked fettuccine alfredo.
“I have to go to the bathroom. Can you order for me while I’m gone?”
“Sure,” I said.
She got up and headed in the direction of the restrooms. The waitress came to our table.
“Hello, are you ready to order yet?”
“Yes, I’m ready. For drinks, I would like two sweet teas. For the meals, I’ll get the steak and shrimp pasta and fettuccine alfredo.”
The waitress looked confused, probably wondering why I was ordering for two people when I was the only one there. She wrote that down and went to the kitchen.
Kala came back.
“Sorry about that,” she said.
“That’s alright,” I said. “I ordered our food.”
We talked while we waited for our order and got to know each other. We had a lot in common and were almost perfect together. When the food came, I was feeling really good.
The waitress began to come our way, holding our meals.
“What did you order?” Kala asked me.
“Let’s see if you can guess. Close your eyes,” I said.
The waitress set the food down. I picked up my fork.
“Open your mouth,” I said to Kala.
She did. I put a mouthful of pasta in her mouth. She swallowed it. As soon as she did, her face turned red.
“Was that seafood?” she asked.
“I’m allergic to seafood!”
She began to break out with hives. I didn’t know what to do. I took out my phone and called an ambulance. They were on their way.
It took them a little while to come, and while we waited, I was freaking out. So was everyone else in the restaurant. Everyone kept rushing up to her to see if she was okay. Kala wasn’t doing so well. She was hyperventilating and had bumps all over her face. Eventually, the ambulance arrived.
They took her to the Emergency Room and I came with her. I waited in the lobby to see how she was doing. Kala had to stay the night there. The night was long and stressful. I stayed in the hospital the whole time, not wanting to leave her. I got tired, but I was determined not to sleep. This was my fault. I wouldn't let someone else get hurt because of my mistake. This made me think of Frank's mistake. I considered forgiving him. It was an accident after all. I still needed to think some more about it.
In the morning, Kala was okay and free to leave. When I saw her, I was relieved. She walked up to me.
“Why weren’t you paying attention? I told you I was allergic to seafood on the dating app!” she yelled.
I should’ve felt guilty, but for some reason I was mad.
“You don’t have the right to yell at me! You aren’t my wife and you’ll never replace her!”
I stormed out of the hospital. Kala followed close behind me. I ran down the street and she ran after me, surprisingly fast. Kala caught up with me. Now I felt guilty. I expected her to be mad at me and probably not want to go out with me again. Instead, she said something that surprised me.
“I’m so sorry to hear about your wife? What was she like?”
“She was beautiful, nice, creative,” I said.
“When was the funeral?” she asked.
“It never happened,” I said, looking at the ground.
“Sorry for bringing it up,” she said.
I was happy that she didn’t dump me. We went out for about two more months. Then one day, she told me she had a surprise. She blindfolded me and drove me someplace. After a while, we arrived. She took off the blindfold.
We were in a church with dozens of people. Frank and all my other firefighter friends were there too.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
I looked around and saw that everyone was holding a flower. In the front, was a huge picture of Elain. I knew what it was. Kala set up a funeral for Elain. During the whole funeral, I cried. I wasn’t sure if I was crying because I was sad about Elain, or because I was happy about what Kala did.
After the funeral, I thanked everyone many, many times, especially Kala. We stepped out of the church, into the sun. Apparently, it had rained during the funeral. There was a huge rainbow in front of us. I could see every color. It was perfect. Kala was perfect. My life might not be so perfect, but it’s as perfect as it gets.