The smoke is rancid, thick fumes billowing out of the house’s windows and curling into heavy tendrils clawing their way out into the air. Autumn makes the air crisp and fresh, leaves crunching below sneakers not-quite warm enough for your toes. Despite the extreme heat emanating off of the house, goosebumps run up my arms, hugging me in it’s cold embrace.
I can’t tear my eyes from the window, still sealed shut and revealing nothing more than smoke and burning white blinds. From the old house freshly painted a baby-blue, now blackened by flames wrapping around it, crumbling it from the inside out. The firemen were supposed to be there, they were supposed to roll up in their blindingly red truck with sirens that made me cringe. And Pete was supposed to be there with me, running his hands through my hair and forcing me to look away as the life we worked so hard to create came tumbling down.
What if he didn’t make it out? The thought ripped through me, taking my breath away in a fraction of a second. I would be alone, alone again in a house that wasn’t this one, making cheap pasta on an old stove. No Pete to paint a picture of a life together in a little blue house when life made me feel defeated.
His existence would stain my memory and my future, a constant reminder of what was but ended so tragically. The next three years of my grieving, of family members telling me it was time to piece my life back together, it was what Pete would have wanted for me. To have a good life.
But he also wanted to be in it. Why else would he have walked up to me that day in the university, offering me a coffee with a confident grin? Why would he call me every morning just because he could, listening to my problems and making me feel like everything would be okay? How could I deal with the concept of moving on, when he was the one I wanted to go through thick and thin with?
It was less of a decision and more of acceptance of a fact. I had to go in after him. He would do it for me, but he would have not thought twice about it. My legs moved without my thinking, the front door fell open easily. Inviting me into its depths.
The smoke was thick, and I immediately dropped to the ground and pulled my shirt over my face. A nagging part of my brain reminded me that this could be a fatal mistake, I still had time to leave.
My eyes didn’t even glance toward the door. Instead, I crawled up the wood stairs, conscious of the sweat beading down my back. Of the sting of the smoke in my eyes. But I had to keep going.
“Pete!” I called, coughing when smoke filled my lungs at the effort. It was only when I entered the hallway that I saw the fire. Blue with power, I watched it, momentarily stunned by it’s ferocious beauty. Colours flickered around, my eyes adjusting to the brightness against the hollow night.
The wood cracked under me, sending sparks flying across the room and lighting up the drywall. It was a grave reminder that whatever I was going to do, I had to do it before the house caved in on itself and took me with it.
A shout from across the hall sent me turning, facing the door to the makeshift library we had set up. Between me and the door was a wood flooring littered with flames snarled around it. The heat made my face burn, and I fought to not recoil away from the fire. It was easy, I tried to tell myself, squinting through the smoke. The fire was the only thing standing between me and the thing I love, the person I swore I would do anything to save.
I made it across in three long strides, barreling into the library with no more than a moment's hesitation. Slamming the door behind me, I rolled on the ground to put out the flames that had latched onto my pajama pants, and took a moment to breathe.
Pete was staring at me with wide-eyes, his mouth slightly agape. “What the hell are you doing?!” He asked, and I sighed as I climbed to my feet. “Did you just-”
“Yes, I did. This house is coming down, and we are not going to be in here when it does.” I spoke quickly, ignoring the flash of fear across his face as he slowly registered my words. Running up to the window, there was nothing to soften our fall below the 15 foot drop.
We didn’t have any other option.
“We can’t just jump, Kaylie. We’ll break our legs or ankles or both! Why do you think I’m still in here?!” The typical cautiousness and careful consideration of his words were gone, replaced by adrenaline.
“We have two options,” I said vehemently, looking between the drop and him. “We stay in here and die, or we jump. Remember when I forced you to go skydiving that one time?”
He nodded in response, looking at me like I was crazy. “If we use the same technique to land, we might be fine.”
“Might be.” He noted the hesitation in my voice, his eyebrows creased far together making him appear older than he was.
I brushed a bit of soot off of my pants, pulling my shirt back up to cover my face. “You go first, I’m not leaving until you do.”
“Are you serious? Are we doing this?” In response the house creaked and fell an inch beneath us. It seemed to be enough of an answer for him, combined with another blast of heat from the hallway.
He pulled himself up to the window, dangling his legs for just a moment before pushing himself off. I held in a breath as he fell toward the ground clumsily, but he remembered the technique. Rolling off to the side after the initial contact, his whole body absorbed the blow. He was able to stand and step back from the window, looking up expectantly at me.
As I propped myself up on the sill, it was if the distance between me and the ground multiplied. I took a deep breath, and allowed myself to drop. The air whooshed past me quickly, the pit of my stomach lurching unpleasantly. I was a sucker for thrill seekers, but the kind when your rational mind tells you everything is okay. This time, there was no nagging voice of reason.
Pain ricocheted up my legs and down my back as I transitioned to balance the impact throughout my body. The air rushed out of my lungs, and for a panicked moment I struggled to gasp for breath. When it came, I breathed a sigh of relief. My whole body was tingling with pain, but there was no stab of a broken rib. My legs were shaky, but stable.
And then it hit me with a wave of euphoria. I looked between Pete and the burning house, a smile plastered across my face. Because he was out here, rushing toward me on the grass, pulling me into his warm embrace as I wiped soot off of his face. He was here, he was mine.
And I wasn’t ever going to let him go.