John had wanted to be a firefighter for as long as he could remember. His father, a police officer, had always told him he wouldn’t make much money. His mother insisted the job was too dangerous, and that no woman would attach herself to a man who would more than likely make her a young widow. Both his parents had argued against it for so long that he felt compelled to take on the risky job if for no other reason than to prove them wrong. Drinking coffee alone in his small kitchen, facing a stack of unpaid bills, he wondered if he should reconsider his career.
He didn’t believe that women could have been so turned off by his occupation, but couldn’t figure out what else could possibly be amiss. He’d been blessed with his mother’s looks. With olive skin, dark eyes and hair, and a trim 6’1” frame, he’d turned more than a few female heads, especially in the last four years. Keeping in shape for the fire department had earned him an impressive six pack.
These days, though, dates were few and far between, and John wouldn’t have it any other way. Not that he wanted to be single, but he couldn’t keep putting himself out there only to be rejected as soon as they found out what he did for a living. He finally just gave up on trying to meet someone.
Today, on John’s twenty fourth birthday, a thick manila envelope arrived in the mail. He rushed back inside his modest home, bursting in through the front door. He’d already received the usual vacation package from his parents, for which he was always immensely grateful since he couldn’t afford such things, so whatever this envelope held would be a complete surprise. With no return address, he didn’t even know who it was from.
John stood at his kitchen table and opened the envelope to reveal several pages of financial documents from his mortgage company. Three words superimposed above the rest across the top of the first page in red capital letters stood out, “Notice of Foreclosure.”
He dropped the papers onto the table, but missed and the stack, all stapled together, slid off onto the floor. He sat at his press board kitchen table and wept.
The mortgage company had given John seven days to vacate the premises. Though his home was sparsely furnished, the small basement was packed with four years worth of items he’d been collecting from various grateful citizens he’d helped. Half of the items were still in boxes, unopened. He’d arranged to rent a moving truck in four days, and had nothing to do in the meantime. With plenty of time on his hands, and in serious need of a mood boost, John spent the night of his birthday opening all the gifts he had received over the years.
Late that night, in the very last box he opened, John found a police radio and a pack of batteries. A silver plate at the bottom of the radio was inscribed with his name and one sentence.
“John Wise. So you can be the first on the scene.”
He looked at the packing label on the box and noticed it was dated four years ago, when he’d first moved in. His father’s name was also on the label. It must have been a gift from him when John had gotten a permanent job with the Fire Department. He made a mental note to call his father and thank him once again.
John placed the batteries into the radio and turned it on. Every station he scanned through eked out a thin veil of white noise except one. At the highest frequency, John heard the weak voice of a woman. He could barely understand her with the roaring waves that crashed around her voice, but he did manage to make out the words after listening for a few moments.
Over and over again, she’d repeated her address. 121 Oak Street, across from Frosty’s. Each time, she added a plea for help.
“My house is on fire. I’m stuck in the attic. Someone please help me.”
The back of Frosty’s rested at the rear of his property. They were almost neighbors. John sprinted up the stairs and out of his house into an oppressive August night.
He’d phoned the fire chief on his way to her house, and had just enough time to give him the address when he skidded to a halt on the woman’s front lawn. The whole left side of her house was ablaze. He wondered how he hadn’t heard the roaring flames, felt the intense heat emanating from the conflagration, even from so far away.
Firelight flickered across a shiny ladder lying on the grass at the right side of the house. John saw a small, round window above the second floor, and hoped the woman he was here to rescue was small enough to fit through.
By the time he reached the top of the ladder, though the blaze was on the other side of the house and he was still outside, he was coughing and struggling to breathe the thick, smoky air. With the side of his fist, John punched the wooden slats of the decorative window, breaking them up enough to pull them off and toss them onto the ground three stories below. He couldn’t see through the smoke that was permeating the room, so he banged on the window and prayed.
A petite, pale face appeared, her crystal blue eyes stunning John momentarily. In her hands, he saw a small, black walkie talkie.
“Unlock the window,” he said, when he found his voice. “Hurry.” He could see the flames ascending the stairs into the spacious attic.
She didn’t waste any time glancing over her shoulder at the approaching fire. She dropped the radio, opened the window and placed her delicate hands on John’s shoulders. John had stepped down a few rungs to allow her some space to maneuver, but when she was halfway out the window, she gasped.
“Oh!” She looked at her hips still on the wrong side of the attic window, then back at John. “My pants are stuck.”
“Take them off,” he said. With her generous cleavage inches away from his face, he forced himself to meet her eyes. One lovely, dark eyebrow lifted higher than the other.
Contrary to what any sane person would do in such a situation, she giggled. Her warm smile reached all the way up into her eyes, opened windows there for John to see the beauty within. When she spoke, her voice, though rough with smoke, was rich like chocolate.
“You’d better buy me a drink after this, Mister.”
Standing atop a ladder, a roaring blaze quickly approaching, but with this lovely little creature in his arms, John had never been happier.
After a few awkward minutes of struggling down the ladder with the pants-less beauty, John had finally made it to the lawn with her just as the fire department showed up.
She watched her house burning, all the mirth now gone from her eyes. Just when John thought he must have imagined the heat between the two of them, she reached out to take his hand.
Just as he’d stopped looking for a woman who wasn’t afraid of his profession, she found him. Six months later, on their wedding day, John wore his uniform, minus the helmet. Saylor insisted it was the sexiest outfit he owned.