I Don't Really Like Parties All That Much Anyway

Epilogue

A couple months after I got back into the swing of things at work, it happened. I knew it would, some time, and I honestly didn't know how I'd handle it.

It was the middle of the afternoon, on a bright, clear day. Marco was cleanin' the dorms, Stoker and Chet were hangin' hoses, Roy was on KP, and I was stuck with latrines – not that I could blame Cap for stickin' me with that after what I said. Sometimes those things just pop out.

Somebody must've been thinkin' how quiet it was, 'cause there went the tones, and then the familiar voice of the County dispatcher.

"Station 51, Battalion 14, Truck 86: Gas leak. 1375 Underwood, cross street Barton. 1-3-7-5- Underwood. Time out: 1546."

Stoker slapped my back on his way to the driver's seat of the engine. Chet gave me a thumbs-up from the back of the truck. Getting into the squad, I was on autopilot – good thing I was riding shotgun as usual. I could see Roy watching me out of the corner of his eye as we drove to the address.

"You okay?"

My heart was pounding, and my hands were shaking. But only a little bit. "I'll be fine." I think.

We were the first on scene – a three-story house that had been converted to apartments. Cap started shouting out orders. "Marco, shut off the mains. Kelly, lay a two-and-a-half to the main entrance, and then ventilate. John, Roy, see if anyone is still inside." As Truck 86 pulled in, he continued with instructions on the HT.

I was grateful that Cap didn't treat me like I was fragile. Relieved that he didn't try to protect me.

I could smell the gas – or I thought I could. Didn't really matter which. I packed away the fear, stowed the panic, and locked up the baggage.

Roy and I grabbed our SCBAs and started to mask up. He pointed to himself and said "top down," and to me and said "bottom up" – our partner-ese for "I'll start at the top and work my way down, and you start at the bottom and work your way up." I was already masked, so I nodded and gave him a "thumbs up."

On the way in, I wondered – was Roy going top down to protect me? Maybe. I was okay with that.

We met on the second floor – nobody was in the building. Good time of day to have a gas leak. Roy gestured "all done" to me, and we headed down the staircase.

It was as we turned on the landing to go down the last flight that it happened. I stopped cold on the top step, feeling the banister through my thick leather glove. I was holding on tightly, waiting for it. Waiting for the flash, then the bang, the crash, the pain –

No.

Not today.

I felt Roy's hand on my shoulder. I took a deep breath, and went down that last flight of steps, nearly colliding with Chet, who was setting up a ventilation fan in the doorway. Once I was out the door, I broke the seal on my SCBA face mask, and sucked in a lungful of smelly, gassy air.

I'd never smelled anything so wonderful in my life.

The End.

A/N: The companion piece to this story is called "Grab and Go." It doesn't matter what order you read the stories in.