After dinner and an improvised concert by Mike, Chester and Sarena, they decide to call it a night. They are gathered on the porch saying goodnight when a strange sound catches Mike’s attention. It came from the apartment next door to his.
There was a flash of light and another, larger one. Chester and I shoved the women roughly back into the apartment just as the place next door blew up! A hug fireball engulfed my place and the apartment next door. The roof of Tim’s place behind was covered in flaming debris. Grabbing my phone, I called 9-1-1, then ran over to Tim’s to see if they were alright.
He and Jaqwan were standing outside, watching their roof catch fire. The trucks got there moments later and the attacked the fire with everything they had. They got Tim’s roof fire out, and tried to contain the blaze from my poor, shattered place so it wouldn’t spread further. My Jeep was a charred mess of twisted metal and glass. As I stood there, watching my life burn, I was glad I’d gotten my guitar out. Most of them, I had left with my mother, but Clarabell was special. She was a gift from my father for my twelfth birthday, just before he died.
I was stunned. I don’t think I said a word to anyone, not even Sarena. She stood by me the whole time, holding my hand, shivering. I think it was her shivering that finally got my attention. I put my arms around her and she buried her face in my chest, weeping. I don’t know what she was crying about, not really. Could have been fear, or sorrow for my loss. I was numb, both from cold and the fact my home was burning to the ground. Just about everything I owned was inside that flaming chaos, including all my birthday presents. Then it struck me, Sarena and I could have been in there and I started shaking too.
Chester saw us a moment before Sarena slipped out of my grasp. He caught her as she fell. He helped her inside and I stumbled in after. Jesse, Ma and Cleo were, wisely, sitting in the living room. Chester helped Sarena to the nearest chair.
“Oh, my God!” She kept saying that over and over like a broken record. “Oh, my God!”
Chester tried to get her attention, but he couldn’t. I tried too, but it was Ma who finally took the matter in hand. She slapped Sarena on the cheek, something her father and I would probably not have resorted to. She didn’t hit her hard, but it stung and it got her attention. Instead of staring into space, she fell on Ma’s shoulder, weeping.
The firefighter in charge came to the door. “Mr. Reuben?”
“Yeah, that’s me.” It took all I had to keep my voice steady. I could barely stand up.
“No one lives in the other apartment, correct?”
“Yeah. I mean, no. You’re correct, no one lives there. Sorry. . . .”
“Quite alright, sir. This isn’t an easy thing to experience.”
“No. No, it’s not.”
“Son, would you like some coffee?” Jesse offered.
“Not right now, thanks,” he replied.
“Just curious, why weren’t you in your place?”
I explained to him about the vandalism with the paintball gun and the brick. Nodding, he took me aside.
“It wasn’t an accident, Mr. Reuben. Someone rigged the gas heater in the other apartment to blow.”
“What? What are you saying? Someone tried to kill us?” I yelled, terrified. “What the hell is going on? We could’ve been next door! Oh, my God!”
I’d like to say that I took it better, but I fell apart. We could have been in my bed, making love, when that went off. We would have been killed, both of us. I would have been dead, and my mother would have been next door watching me burn. Or maybe not. Maybe we all would have been in there, cutting up and having a party when it went.
“Oh! Oh, my God.” I leaned over, gasping.
“Michael,” my mother said sharply. She raised her hand, and I flinched away. “Don’t make me hit you, too.”
“But, Ma, you don’t get it. We could’ve all been there, you, me, Chester, Sarena. . . . Even Jesse and Cleo. We could all be dead!”
“But we’re not,” she added stoically. “By the grace of God, we’re not.”
Moments later, Tim and Jaqwan and their neighbors, David and Cynthia, dropped by to check on us. Jesse greeted them all with hugs and hot coffee.
“Looks like we got us a houseful tonight,” she said. “They can’t stay in their place with no roof.”
“It’s okay, Jesse. We’re staying across the way with my sister,” Cynthia told her. “She lives on the other side of the pool. Her roommate moved out, so we can use the guest room.”
“You boys need a place? Me and Cleo can bunk.”
“We’re going to my girlfriend’s house,” Jaqwan told her. “We wanted to make sure y’all were okay before we left. We’re all like family around here,” he told the firefighter. “We watch out for each other.”
© Dellani Oakes 2014