I had been driving. That's how this all got started. It wasn't raining, the sun didn't reflect off of another car, and my car was in tip top shape. It was simply an accident. We were on the highway and it was rush hour traffic, bumper to bumper. Typical Los Angeles traffic. The car in front of me stopped, so I stopped. The car behind me must not have seen my braking. They slammed into my back, I lurched forward, and my hood nestled itself completely under the car in front of me. Seeing as we were stuck in gridlock that meant the car in front of me also hit another car. I was wedged between two cars.
My car was a small European import and collapsed under the weight of the minivan pushing into my rear and the SUV crushing into my hood. The engine managed to catch on fire. I was only semi-conscious. I had hit my forehead on the steering wheel airbags that had deployed when I was stuck. But then the force from crashing into the front car knocked my head into the side of the window. I think I broke my nose.
I'm not quite sure what happened. I can recall arms picking me up and someone pulling out of the car. I think they were saying something about my legs, but I couldn't feel anything. There was shouting and cars honking and the warm fall sun beat down causing me to sweat. I groaned out in pain, and then blacked out.
When I came to I was in a hospital. There was a nurse looking over papers which I assumed were the files on my health. She looked up at seeing me awake.
"Oh, Mr. Kirkland. How do you feel?"
My eyes were only slightly parted, but even with my low visibility I could see both of my legs wrapped in a cast up on hanging suspensions. "What… what happened?"
"Both of your legs have had a compound fracture and will need surgery. You should rest," she explained. She came over to peer down at me. "Would you like some ice chips?"
I nodded and she left. I continued to stare at my legs after she had gone. It could've been worse. I'd heard that fractures weren't too serious. My mind, though, just couldn't focus on the fact that I had gotten in such a mess, even if it wasn't my fault. I choked up, thinking back to when the person had pulled me from the car and mentioned my legs. That's why I didn't feel anything. What was there to feel?
The nurse returned just then with the ice chips. She put a small piece in my mouth and proceeded to explain what happened to me. My car had actually caught on fire from the impact on the engine and the hood pressing down on me had been what caused my legs to break. I didn't have a concussion, but a few mild bruises and cuts from the window breaking. My nose wasn't broken, but it did have a nasty purple bruise on it.
"How did I get out of my car?" I asked. "Did someone pull me out?"
"Yes," the nurse replied. "A firefighter did."
I tried to recall if I got a glimpse of the firefighter who had saved me. I wanted to thank him for his heroic efforts. I briefly remembered blue eyes like crystals. His voice sounded young when he mentioned my legs. Other than that, I didn't remember anything.
"Oh!" The nurse turned, startled. "Hello."
In the doorway was a man covered in bulky firefighter gear. The yellow suit stood out against the off-white colored walls around him. There was soot on his nervous face. He played with his hat in his hand. I noticed he had scratches and a few burns on his fingers. His blonde hair was just as dirty as his face and a small cowlick refused to stay flat on his head like the rest. Somehow, it suited him and I wondered if it poked out from under his hat when he wore it.
"Hi. Um, is it okay if I come in?" the man asked.
The nurse smiled and nodded. "Yes. Mr. Kirkland is awake."
The fireman came in, his boots clunking on the tile floor and his gear jingling with every step. He looked comically too big for the small room.
The nurse turned to me. "This is Alfred Jones. He's the man who pulled you from the car."
I nodded and held out a hand. My mind may be a little fuzzy from just waking up, but I did have manners. "Arthur Kirkland. A wonderful pleasure to meet you. I understand you're the reason I'm alive today."
Alfred smiled meekly. He set his hat on the stand by the hospital bed, and then shook my hand. "Yeah, that's me! The hero."
"Ah, modesty. What a strong suit of it you have."
The nurse excused herself just then. Alfred looked around a little anxiously. I wondered what a man like him that charged into burning buildings was so nervous about. I wasn't anyone intimidating. I was a much smaller built man compared to him. I had blonde hair like him, though much brighter. Maybe it was because I was older. Or it could be the horrendous eyebrows; everyone teased me about them despite the fact I pluck them nightly. But then he offered me a bright smile.
"I didn't know you were English. My grandpops will get a hoot out of that."
"Why?" I asked.
"He served during WWII and fought alongside some British soldiers before they were captured. He said that they were the bravest men he had ever met. Always kept a 'stiff upper lip' and they weren't afraid of anything."
"Bravery runs in the family, I see."
Alfred blushed slightly. "I guess, yeah. What about you?"
I raised an eyebrow. "Is it normal for firefighters to be asking their rescued about their personal lives?"
Alfred flushed a little bit more. My lips twitched at the corners as if I wanted to smile. "Well I like to, but usually I rescue little kids. You're one of the first older people I've saved that I wanna talk to. Do you mind?"
I shook my head. "Not really, no."
Alfred smiled more, relieved. He turned around and pulled a chair to my bedside. Then he took a seat. He glanced at my legs. I looked at them too, but made no motion to speak first. If he was going to ask, then he'd have to do it himself.
Finally, "Does it hurt?"
"No. I can't feel anything."
"Oh." Alfred looked even more relieved. "I thought I was hurting you when I pulled you out. I had to almost rip your legs off. They were under that dashboard pretty good. And I had to do it in a hurry. We were worried the car would explode."
"I find it quite admirable that you ran to my car while on fire and pulled me out," I said. Then, I blushed lightly. "But why me? What happened to the other drivers?"
Alfred scratched the back of his head. "Well, the lady in the minivan that hit you was okay. She was a little shaken up and has some whiplash, but she wasn't bad. The SUV you hit was hardly damaged, even when it hit the other car. That third car was fine too. You were the worst off."
"Oh." I looked down at my lap. "I'm sorry."
"Whu? Huh? Why are you apologizing?"
"I was the only one that needed saving. I should have gotten out of the car." I felt awful. I had put this nice boy in danger. He was certainly younger than me, so it'd be a shame if he were hurt on my account.
"And gone where?" Alfred asked as he waved a hand over my legs. "Hate to tell ya this, but even if you got outta that mess, you'd be in a helluva lot of pain."
I narrowed my eyes at Alfred, irritated. "Your grammar and manner of speaking is atrocious."
Alfred barked out a laugh. "Ya know, I like you. Yer all right."
"Where are you from?" I asked. "Your accent… It's not from here. You certainly don't have that L.A. accent."
"Boston," Alfred replied. "Moved here just a few years back. Still got the ol' accent. You like?"
"Hardly," I replied. Alfred laughed again. He patted my hand. I felt my cheeks grow hot.
"Well I like yours. You sound so pompous. It's awesome."
"Pompous, huh? I've heard that before," I said. I looked out the window sadly.
Alfred then got up. "Well, I should be goin'. I'm sure you've got friends and family and a girl on their way. Musta been a shock ta hear."
I looked at Alfred, not saying anything in reply. I just nodded to his sudden departure. Not many people stayed to talk, so I wasn't surprised to see him leave. We were running out of things to talk about. I was a little sad. I quite liked his accent and thought him cute. But what right did I have to hog a man like that? He was a firefighter and had to run out into the world and save people. I was to sit here and do nothing.
"Thank you Mr. Jones," I started, holding out my hand again.
Alfred took it. "Alfred. Or Al. But not Mr. Jones. I ain't my dad."
"Fine. Thank you Alfred, for saving me."
He winked as he released my hand. "Anytime."
No one came. I knew this. Who would have come? My boss? My co-workers? I didn't have any of those. Not to say I wasn't employed, but it was more I was a lowly author. The only person who would come would be my editor, but only to ask if my deadline had been met. I would ask her to bring me my laptop so I could finish my work in the hospital until my body was ready for surgery, but she didn't come. The nurse was my only social link, but mainly it was check-ups and I had to sign papers in order to let them do surgery on my legs the following day as well as CT scans. But this meant I couldn't eat or drink until tomorrow.
During my time I busied myself with crossword puzzles that some nurse was kind enough to bring to me. That first night was rough. I couldn't sleep well on just my back. I was used to sleeping on my side. Not only that, but the bed was bloody uncomfortable. I shifted once and felt a sting of sheer pain screech through my entire body. I froze, refusing to scream, and waited until the pain subsided. I didn't sleep the rest of the night.
By morning I had asked the nurse when I was to have my surgery. She said that the doctor was arranging to have it done shortly. She told me that visiting hours were soon, so that I should be excited to see my friends and family visiting. I hated that.
Why can't people understand that sometimes there are people in this world that are alone, that doesn't have friends, that has families that don't want them around? And then these happy people have to go around and remind us that we're alone. It's damn irritating, to say the least. Sometimes people want to be alone.
As I was about to give my smart retort, someone knocked on the door. The nurse moved aside with a smile as Alfred walked into the room. My mouth fell open as I gawked at him.
"Wh-what're you doing here?" I asked. "Surely you have work."
But Alfred wasn't in his firefighter outfit. He was wearing just a sweatshirt with a design of the L.A. fire department and his station number with worn jeans. I couldn't help but admire how he made those jeans look good and tight.
He took a seat next to me again, this time more relaxed. "Nope! I work later tonight. I thought I'd check in and see how you were doing."
"I'm just fine," I lied. It's best to not let him know of my tiring night.
Alfred nodded with a smile. Then he looked around and noticed something that made him frown. "Hey… Where are the flowers an' get-well cards?"
I shrugged. "You kind of don't get any when you don't have any friends."
"Oh." Alfred looked down at his fingers nervously, trying to think of something to say again. It was the usual reaction someone had when I told them of what a loner I was. I didn't even want to mention my family, or lack thereof.
Suddenly, Alfred stood. "Hang on a sec."
I watched as Alfred left. He must've gotten bored of me again. Considering I was a boring guy, and looking at my pathetic legs, it made sense why he left. I'd leave too, if I could walk. Still I was rather disappointed he had left. For the briefest of moments I had truly thought he was unique and wanted to spend time with me. Seeing him rush out so quickly only made the pit of my stomach fall out.
Within ten minutes, before my despair could come back, a wall of purple and blue flowers in a white vase squeezed in through the doorway. I gasped in surprise. Alfred set them down next to my bed. I stared at them, hesitant to touch such beautifully arranged flowers. Then I looked to Alfred to answers.
"Flowers!" Alfred exclaimed cheerfully. Then he looked at me curiously. "Is your head okay? Don't you know flowers?"
I blushed, embarrassed. "Yes, of course. Don't be stupid."
Alfred laughed. He then held out a card for me. "I got ya this too."
"A card?" I took it with a shake of my head.
The cover was of a cartoon cat bringing an injured cat a dead mouse. I opened it up. In childish writing it said, "Maybe a gift will cheer you up. Get well soon." Then Alfred had scribbled his name down at the bottom complete with what looked like a blob with eyes. I pointed at the blob.
"What is that?"
Alfred smirked proudly, taking his seat. "My friend said that's my alter-ego. It's a mochi."
"Whatever that means…," I mumbled. I closed it and set it beside my flowers. I smiled pleasantly at Alfred. "Thank you for the gifts. They are a lovely color to this room."
"No probs. Say," Alfred scooted his chair forward and leaned in. "Why did you move here? I mean, L.A.'s great an' all, Boston's better, but why change countries? That musta been hard fer ya."
I nodded. "It was at first, but I had been given a job out here. I was an assistant for an editing company."
"Change countries for an assistant job?" Alfred seemed confused by such a thing, but then he shrugged. "Work is work, I guess."
"Well, in order to get anywhere in the writing world you have to know people," I started. I laid my hands flat on the bed, looking at them as I remembered my first few years in America. "I had to know the ins and outs of the industry. I wanted to make it. It was hard, yes, but well worth it."
"So you made it?" Alfred asked, excited.
I nodded. "I had my first novel published last year."
"That's amazing!" Alfred exclaimed. He held a hand up, waiting for me to slap it in a high-five. I did not. He put it down with a frown. "Was it bad?"
"It didn't do amazingly, no." I shrugged. "But that's how it goes. We can't all be J.K. Rowling's you know?"
"Do you know her?" Alfred's question was stupid and could have been taken as racist, but instead I laughed. I don't know why. I just laughed until I had to cover my mouth to not disturb anyone else down the hallway.
"No, Alfred. I do not. How would I know her? She's a millionaire."
"Oh." Alfred deflated. "Sorry. I just thought…"
"No, it's okay," I waved him off, still laughing.
"Do you know any writers?" he asked. I shook my head. "So…no one?"
"No. Why do you want to know so badly?" I looked at him. The flowers caught my eye and I smiled.
Alfred rubbed the back of his head. "I never met anyone famous, ya know? I thought it would be kinda cool."
"You don't think it's cool to meet me?" I was joking, but Alfred seemed to take it seriously. English sarcasm was beyond him, I guess. He grabbed my hand, startling me.
"N-no! I do! You're really cool! Honest!"
We both blushed looking at one another. He had gotten so close. But then he released my hand and sat back in his chair. I busied myself with the bed sheet.
"I have surgery soon," I said. I nodded at my legs. "They gotta help align them and put rods alongside my bone."
Alfred wrinkled his nose in disgust. "Ew. That's gross. Well, um, I should let you rest. I'll come back tomorrow."
I gulped, feeling my throat become dry. Had it been like that for awhile? I continued to stare at Alfred, ignoring the fact I was being highly obvious and awkward at the same time. It was strange. This man whom I had never met before in my life wanted to come back and see me. Me? A nobody.
He left before I could stop him. As soon as he was out of my sight I wanted him back. But I knew I shouldn't. He was a firefighter and deserved days off at home, or with friends, or with a girlfriend. Not stuck here in the hospital looking after some invalid like me.
Eventually I was taken in for surgery. I slept the remainder of the day, much better than I had the night before. When I awoke the following morning I found more flowers by my bed and a new card. The flowers were blue this time. I looked at the petals, smiling to myself until I felt my cheeks hurt. It was a silly notion, giving flowers to someone when they were ill or when you liked them. Really, who thought of that?
I reached for the card finding it as silly as the first one. This time it was a burrito that had come undone and a taco saying they should pull themselves together. Inside was Alfred's handwriting again.
Quickly, I put the card back when I heard Alfred enter the room. He smiled. "You're awake."
"Yes," I replied lamely. "You brought me more flowers."
It was time for us both to be rather dull in our replies. Somehow, this made us both smile at one another. I didn't mind reveling in the fact that I was a dork. It seemed Alfred was too. That sat very nicely in my stomach.
"When I came this morning, you were out cold," Alfred said. He took his usual seat. "Then I realized you probably have nothing to do all day. So I brought ya something to read."
I then noticed Alfred had a brown paper bag sitting by his side. He pulled it to his lap. The bag crinkled loudly in the still hospital room. Finally, Alfred produced a stack of thin magazines. No, wait. Those were comic books.
Alfred held them out to me, but when I didn't take them, he dumped them on my lap. "There! Now you have some of the best books around to keep you company!"
I glanced at them. "Which superheroes did you give me?"
"My favorite." Alfred winked. He hesitated, then said, "All of them!"
I rolled my eyes and groaned. "Alfred, I don't know if-"
"Ah, I have to go, actually," Alfred interrupted. He stood up, scraping the chair's legs on the linoleum making me cringe. "Read those and lemme know who your favorite is, okay? I'll bring you more."
"A-Alfred!" I called, managing to stop him before he left the room.
For a moment I almost forgot why I had called. Then, as I saw Alfred standing there, so perfect and healthy, I remembered. He had rushed so carelessly to save me. He had been covered in soot and had burns on his fingers. How easy it could be for him to get hurt. He could wind up in a situation like me; useless and immobile. Just the thought of him lying in a hospital bed unconscious instead of smiling, lighting up the room like the flowers he brought me…
"Be…careful," I said finally. So dry.
Alfred smiled brightly and gave me a thumb up. Then, he was gone.
I wasn't sure why I was suddenly so worried for his health. Looking back on it, it was probably because I had nothing else to do or think about. I was just stuck in that hospital bed, only moving when I had to use the bathroom or to get more X-ray scans. All day long I stared at the flowers Alfred had brought me. I refused to turn on the television. I had already seen the newspaper that showed the entirety of the damage. My car was totaled and it really looked as horrific as it seemed.
The others involved in the accident had been fine, just as Alfred had said, and had even been interviews. I wasn't even mentioned, at least not by name. I was referred to as, "one driver remained in semi-critical condition." I was just a driver, and apparently two broken legs counted for semi-critical condition these days.
I tossed aside the paper in frustration. There was nothing more to do, except read those blasted comic books. Thinking about Alfred, though, only made me feel lonely. Still, it was better than feeling as worthless as I did now. I picked up the top comic and pulled it to me. I pushed the button on the bed to sit me up.
The cover of the book was bright and childish. It was covered in red, white, and blue with the superhero in the middle. I began to laugh, covering my mouth as I did so.
"You have to be kidding me. There's actually a comic about this?" Of course I was talking to no one.
Well maybe I was talking to the flowers.
Alfred didn't come the next day. I was worried and asked the nurses if there had been any fires recently. They claimed to now know of any recent burn victims coming in, but that didn't mean they didn't go to other hospitals. I turned on the television when I knew the news was on, but still there was nothing. Perhaps he had gotten bored. But he said he'd come back.
Oh stop it, I told myself. This has gone too far. What did you think, that someone actually cared about you? That a man like Alfred actually wanted to see you? It was stupid. I was stupid.
I looked up to see the familiar face of Alfred. For a moment I almost smiled, but I decided to frown in annoyance instead. "You're late."
"You heard me. And why are you so quiet?" I asked. I pretended to act cool as I glanced at the chair by my bed in a non-invitational way.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I'm not Alfred."
I looked up in alarm. "Then who are you?"
"I'm Matthew." The man stepped into the room wearing the same firefighter outfit as Alfred had that first day. It looked a little bigger on this Matthew. He also seemed to have his own rebel curl, but different from Alfred's own. They had a similar face, but upon closer inspection I could tell they were different. This man had slightly longer hair and purple-like eyes. "I'm from the same station as him."
My heart caught in my throat. I lurched up in my seat, wincing at the pain in my legs at their sudden movement. "What happened? Is Alfred okay?"
Matthew held up his hands as he moved closer to me. "Yes, he's fine. I just went ahead of him, that's all. He stopped to get you flowers."
Sighing in relief, I lied back against the pillows. "Oh…good. N-not that I was worried about him, per say. Ju-just if there was a fire and if people were hurt."
Matthew smiled at me. I didn't like the way he looked at me; as if he knew something was up. I turned away, but then it hit me. Alfred was buying me flowers again. And this man knew about it. Just how much more did he know? Did he know how often visited me? Did he even know who I was?
Slowly I turned to regard this Matthew fellow. "Are you and Alfred's brothers?"
"No. I know we look a lot alike, but we're just childhood friends," Matthew replied.
Just then, Alfred appeared with a fresh bouquet in a new vase. He placed it beside the other two flowers, and then handed me my new Get Well card. I took it with a slight crinkle of my nose. He was so open in front of this stranger. However, judging from the fact he had just claimed they were friends since a young age, there was a good chance he knew quite a lot.
Alfred promptly took his seat with little attention to his friend. He too was in his entire gear like Matthew. "So! Did you read the comics?"
I rolled my eyes. "Unfortunately yes I did."
Matthew pulled up a chair to sit beside Alfred. He raised his eyebrows at my reply. "Wow. I can't believe you would."
"I had to pass the time. I might as well find a way to amuse myself, if only later I could tell Alfred that American writing is rubbish."
"Says the guy who moved to America to become a writer," Alfred quipped. I stared at him challengingly.
Alfred laughed loudly as he slapped his knee. Then he leaned forward, excited. "C'mon. Tell me! Who was your favorite?"
I hesitated. Should I be honest with him? I didn't want to let him hold something over my head as silly as me liking one of his blasted comic books. But really, just the thought of telling him and seeing that smile widen on my account was a thrilling thought. Also, it would give us something to talk about. He might not leave.
"The top comic…," I mumbled.
Alfred looked at the stack. He pulled the top comic into my hands, and then snorted. "Captain America? REALLY!"
"Honestly, you Yanks are ridiculous to make a superhero about… Honestly!" My face was red and I tried to seem as if I didn't like the comic as much as I had, but it wasn't for any reason other than the hero looked like Alfred. All big smiles, big heart, and big muscles. Big muscles. Of course I would never tell Alfred that.
"But you're the one that liked it!" Alfred laughed.
"W-why did you give me an issue in the middle of the storyline? I was lost for awhile there," I said.
"Alfred has the very first issue. His grandfather had it and gave it to him," Matthew explained. "But no one has ever seen it. Even I haven't."
"Huh," I thought. I looked between the two. "Are you sure you two aren't related?"
"Yup!" Alfred replied cheerfully. He looped an arm around Matthew's neck, pulling him close, and grinning at me. "We had our mothers show us the birth certificates and baby pictures to make sure we weren't switched at birth or something, ya know? Besides, Matt's from Canada."
I narrowed my eyes. "Yes… you do have a different accent."
Matthew shrugged Alfred off of him. "I don't have the Bawstohn ahcent."
I laughed at Matthew's rendition of Alfred's accent. He laughed along too, ignoring Alfred's protests of "that's not what I sound like". Alfred tried to pout, but he only seemed to have puffy cheeks like a child. I reached over and poked his cheek, still laughing, until he cracked a smile.
Suddenly, he started coughing and nudged Matthew in the ribs. Matthew yelped in surprise. He looked at Alfred, confused. Alfred continued to cough as he looked at him. He gave a wink, and then realization came over Matthew's eyes.
"Oh!" Matthew stood up. "I will go and get you a drink, Al. Um, yes. I'll be right back!"
He rushed to the door. He was out of sight for just a moment before sticking his head back in. "Oh gee! There doesn't seem to be a vending machine nearby. I guess I have to go really far down. It'll take awhile, so take your time to talk about anything, eh? Anything at all."
Alfred coughed harshly as he turned to Matthew. Matthew left quickly after that. Then, Alfred looked back at me.
I stared at him, unimpressed. "You two are horrible actors."
"What do you mean?" Alfred avoided my eyes, opting to stare at his lap, and then the flowers. "My throat is dry, ya know?"
"What is it you want to talk with me about?" I asked.
I was struck by a sudden fear. Had Alfred realized that I was actually boring and pathetic? Was he leaving? I tried to remain calm, but my inner panic was rising the longer Alfred took to spit out what he was thinking.
"I was…um…" Alfred clenched his eyes closed. He started speaking faster. "Do you think, after you get out that is, we could go on a date?"
I gasped, my eyes widening. Well, that was unexpected. Play it cool, old boy. "Y-you mean like hang-out? Like friends?"
"No…," Alfred replied. He glanced up at me, but hastily looked away again. He was blushing. I had made a firefighter actually blush. "I mean, like a real date."
"How do you know I'm gay?" I asked. How empty, I thought. But it was a valid question. He was being rather bold. We had known each other for three days, and only spoke for a limited amount of time. There was no way he could know.
"Well, you told me you published a book, so I went online to find it," Alfred started.
"You did not!" I blurted out. I was a horrid shade of red.
"Yeah," Alfred continued. He rubbed the back of his head, forgetting there was a helmet there. It tipped backwards and almost fell off of his head. He ripped it off and put it in his lap. "Anyways, I found it, and then there was a biography. Sure enough, I saw it right there. You used to date a French guy?"
"Shut up," I said curtly. "Don't remind me of him."
Alfred held up his hands. "Hey, no prob. I've had my share of foreigner boys too. There was this one Russian and this one Japanese guy. Mmm."
"Please." I held up a hand, looking away with a disgusted face. When Alfred laughed I turned back to him. "So your station is okay with you being…?"
"Hm? Gay? Yeah. I mean, they knew back when I was a volunteer. They didn't mind. None of them are my type anyways. I think that's why they don't worry when we're suitin' up if I'm lookin' or not. I have and…" He gave a shrug to emphasize his feelings.
"And Matthew knows too?"
"Of course. I came out to him. Somehow he knew before I told him. He was there when I told my family."
"Your family knows?"
Alfred nodded. "Yup. They were cool with it. That's the thing with us Jones. We stick together."
I smiled briefly before looking down at my own lap. He was so lucky. So many accepted him. Whereas I had to leave my own country from the sheer rejection of my own family at my coming out. They had hated Francis upon first meeting him. Later they found out he was sleeping with me (awkward incident), and decided they no longer had four sons, just three. England is known for being more accepting, but it doesn't apply to every family. I guess the same could be said for Americans, seeing as I heard the stereotype was that Americans were heavily against homosexuality. Well, score one for my host country.
"So? Will you go out with me?" Alfred asked again.
I sighed. "I don't know, Alfred. You're a great guy, but… You don't know me."
"Well, that's what dating is about. You get to know the person you're with." Alfred placed a hand on mine. It was warm and calloused, but gentle. "Please, give me a chance."
I stared at him. His blue eyes shone even from behind his glasses. He looked so…
Alfred smiled again, and I thought my heart would burst. He left soon afterwards, all a jumbled mess of emotions and nerves, like a teenager with puppy love. After he was gone, I looked at his new flowers. They seemed the brightest ones he had given me.
I stayed at the hospital for a week. Everyday Alfred visited me. He came with flowers and cards, but no more visitors. I'm not sure why Matthew came unless he had come on account of Alfred asking him to be there to calm the jitters he had. It was rather cute.
He wasn't here today, though.
The doctor came round in the early afternoon with a wheelchair, proclaiming I was free to leave the hospital now. I sneered at the chair. I'd have to sit in that same chair for weeks. Alfred wasn't coming. There was no point in staying. I left the comic books on the nightstand for him and told the nurses to give them to him if he came back. I didn't tell him where I lived. He would never see me again.
It was for the best.
"Here you are," the driver said. The hospital had someone drive me home and then help me back up to my second story apartment.
Nothing had changed, obviously. There was a few days worth of newspapers resting by the door. I had still left those dirty dishes on the counter by the sink. The papers that I had been looking over were still by my laptop sitting on the desk in the far corner. My studio seemed so familiar when I left, but now it looked lonely. It looked like the exact reflection of me.
I thanked the driver and wheeled myself inside. Almost instantly I hit my left cast on the kitchen chair. I did not scream. Let the record show that I just cringed and groaned, holding my leg as if to suck out all the pain with my hands. I grit my teeth as I waited for it all to subside.
A knock at the door startled me, and I ended up hitting my leg again. My entire body shuddered as I clutched my leg. Oh please stop hurting, please stop hurting.
"C-coming," I grumbled through gritted teeth. Slowly, and much more carefully, I wheeled myself to the door.
I wrenched it open. On the other side I found Alfred standing there holding, what else, flowers and a card.
"What are you doing here?" I asked. In retrospect my tone was rather venomous for my actual feeling which was that of surprise, not anger. I was probably frustrated that I was having a very awkward time holding that door open and rocking my chair back to open it more fully. It was all around a pitiful sight. There should be a wheelchair class so us uninformed wheelchair specialists aren't made to look like a right fool.
"Uh…how about a hello?" Alfred asked, frowning.
"Yes, yes. Hello. Are you a stalker?"
Finally I yanked the door open enough and motioned for Alfred to enter. I'd hate for any of my neighbors to see a fully dressed firefighter out on my front step. He came in, placing the vase and card on my kitchen table.
I turned my chair around after managing to close the door. "How did you find me? I'm fairly certain I didn't tell you where I live."
"Well, we had to take down your license plate number at the accident. I could've found you that way. Or there was the fact that when we checked up on you at the hospital, we had to know your number in case of an emergency or if you needed something. But really, I just asked a nurse."
My jaw dropped. "Is there a patient confidentiality or something?"
"Probably, but who's going to be suspicious of a firefighter? Especially one as good lookin' as me?"
I rolled my eyes. Alfred took a look around my flat. He probably had a much nicer place than I. Then again, I was an unaccomplished writer. A few days ago my editor had finally made her appearance. She said I had been given an extension on my deadline given my accident. She then handed me a very formal Get Well card, much unlike Alfred's always childish and cartoonish cards. I didn't keep that card.
"I'm sorry I came late," Alfred said, turning back to me. "I wish I could've seen you off."
I shrugged. "Why are you in your work clothes?"
"Oh, well we sometimes go driving around just in case. Rounds, ya know? I'm out with the boys and I asked them to pull over so's I could see ya."
I blushed, biting my lip. "You didn't have to do that."
"Yeah well I did." Alfred was silent a moment. "Gee, it's almost as if you don't want to see me."
I wanted to tell him how right, but wrong he was. But how? He wouldn't understand. He didn't know me. If he did, he wouldn't be here right now and practically begging for my attention. It made me squirm uncomfortably in my seat. He was staring at me, waiting for an answer that would never come.
"I'm sorry," I said finally. "I just…"
"You said you'd give me a chance," Alfred whispered. "Do you not like me?"
I snapped my head up, scoffing that he even thought such a thing. He looked so sincere, though. It was almost laughable to think that a man such as Alfred Jones, a firefighter and all around good guy like him, was actually insecure about some nobody such as me.
But maybe, just maybe, he was just as lonely as I was.
"When will you take me out on our date?" I asked calmly, avoiding his question. If I told him I liked him I feared I might ramble. Nothing like sounding even more like a moron.
Alfred brightened. "I'll pick you up at the end of the week, okay?"
I hope Alfred didn't buy my book. I really do. Because it showed how much of a helpless romantic sap I really am. If he picked it up he'd know that my idea of a perfect date included walking barefoot on the beach or a stroll through the park at dusk, holding hands and not talking. Walking and strolls were out of the question given my current physical state, and Alfred being silent would be an amazing accomplishment if he ever mastered it. Or tried it.
That left holding hands. I had felt Alfred's hands on mine, just once. That didn't count.
The week dragged on and all I saw of Alfred was the rare time he would pop in for a visit just to say hello. We exchanged mobile numbers and he gave me flowers like always. I had brought the flowers with me from the hospital, arranging them around my makeshift living/bedroom. Most of the time I adjusted to my wheelchair and living with it.
Relieving myself and bathing proved to be near impossible without banging my legs on something. I had remembered to buy the special casts I wear when taking a bath, but it was uncomfortable and only made my legs itchy when I put my regular casts back on. And seeing as my bathroom was barely large enough to fit just me in it, let alone my wheelchair, well, it was always interesting how I managed.
Cooking proved to be the worst of it, though. Many times I set the fire alarm off at the failed attempts of cooking. Sometimes that wasn't as bad seeing as Alfred's crew would arrive. Alfred would heroically bang on the door, calling my name, and I would answer holding a smoking frying pan. The first time he had actually scared me. He had all but thrown himself against the door as he screamed my name. When I answered I saw a massive axe resting over his shoulder. He claimed he only used it if he deemed it necessary. After that I rushed to the door as fast as I could, lest Alfred knock down my damn door in overzealous zeal.
The end of the week arrived, and with it came my date with Alfred. I dressed nice, but considering I had no idea where we were going, I kept it only semi-formal. Just a nice button up shirt and a slick comb through my hair. It didn't do much good. I still looked like a handicapped buffoon, but at least I was a well dressed one. My hair managed to mess itself back up with the assistance of my hand running through it.
When Alfred arrived he looked glorious. I had grown used to seeing that burly firefighter attire, so to see him in nothing but a T-shirt and jeans was a treat. I felt over dressed, though. He didn't mind. He even called me, "really cute", to which I told him not to lie and looked away, smiling to myself.
Alfred drove only a little ways away before stopping in front of the fire station. His fire station. My wheelchair folded easily, fitting into the back of Alfred's pick-up. He unfolded it and then lifted me in his arms to sit back in it, just as he had when I got in the truck. Our faces had been crimson both times.
"What are we doing here?" I asked, getting comfortable.
"I wanted you to meet my guys!" Alfred exclaimed.
Suddenly, no amount of wiggling in my chair could get me to feel comfortable. I was going from a pleasant evening out with just Alfred, to meeting an entire slew of firemen. Me, the social hermit. This did not bode well.
Alfred wheeled me into the station, past the polished red trucks, and into the lavish interior. It was made out of brick, appropriate, and had lockers lining one end of the wall. Names were written on the outside. Opposite the wall were plush leather couches and the largest television screen I'd ever seen. Currently, the firemen were in half of their uniforms, playing a video game. They had gathered around the couches, some standing, some sitting, and all cheering their friends on. I spotted only Matthew, and he was standing off to the side.
"Guys!" Alfred called. His voice boomed over the other voices.
The game was paused almost instantly. Suddenly, all the heads of the some ten men all turned to look at me. I gulped, squeezing the handles of my chair.
"Guys, this is Arthur Kirkland. Arthur, this is my company."
I think I said hello. I honestly cannot remember. I know I lifted a hand. Matthew came over to shake my hand and greet me. Then, the captain approached me.
He was a Hispanic man that looked far too young to be in the position of a captain. He had warm green eyes and an even warmer smile. He took my hand and shook it.
"It's a pleasure to finally meet the Arthur Kirkland," he said. I noticed he had a distinct Spanish accent. "All our Al talks about is you. It's good we have a face to go with the name now. I am Captain Antonio Fernández Carriedo."
I relaxed slightly. It was kind of sweet for the captain to reveal that Alfred had talked of me so much, but it also made me that much more on nerves. Alfred laughed to cover his nerves, but I just smiled pleasantly and said, "The pleasure is all mine, captain Carriedo."
The entire company came and greeted me after that. Alfred stayed by my side. Everyone was nice, to say the least, and commented on my accent. They asked where I was from, what I did, how I liked America. They made jokes and playfully pushed Alfred. They all seemed genuinely interested in me.
Over time I felt myself relax enough to smile and make a few snide jokes of my own. The company had welcomed me with open arms.
I wheeled around the station, looking at everything. Alfred had gotten distracted by a game, but I didn't mind. Seeing a real life fire station was thrilling. I had never seen one when back in England, but I never had much interest. An American station wasn't terribly different from what I remembered.
I found Alfred's locker and hesitated before it. I moved on until I stopped before a wall of photographs. They were not of the men, but rather, ordinary people. They ranged from children to men and women and elderly and cats and dogs. It ran the entire length of the wall and was starting to invade the one next to it that led to the doorway into the garage. I looked on, wondering just who they were.
"Awesome, isn't it?"
I turned to see Alfred had wandered over. He was looking at the wall as well. There was a sense of pride in his eyes that I must have missed before. Or maybe he had never found anything to be prideful about until now.
"These people. Did you save them?" I asked.
"Not all of them," Alfred replied. "It's every person that this station has protected and saved, and not just from fires. Just in general, ya know?"
"How many have you saved?" I asked.
Alfred inhaled deeply. "Well… There's that woman, that kid, that kid, that kid… Oh that guy an' that woman. That old guy and his wife there, plus their dog. There's that kid and his mom."
I listened as Alfred pointed to well over a dozen. Each smiling face looked back at me, all alive and well, thanks to this man. This incredible man.
While I sat here, and have always been sitting here. I never did much of anything in my life. Even when I got into the accident I was merely on my way back from the post office. I had decided to take the highway purely because the traffic on the street looked no better. The post I sent off was just bills. Nothing important.
Like me. Unlike Alfred.
Alfred who rushed into buildings, chopped down doors, and rushed to burning cars. Selflessly pulling the wounded out and carrying them to safety. While I could hardly walk or write a decent story enough to get the bloody rent out on time.
"But, right there," Alfred finished, pointing at an empty spot at the bottom. "That's gonna be my favorite person I saved."
"Who?" I asked.
"You!" Alfred laughed. "I'll have to get yer picture later."
"Alfred?" I asked. My voice was shaky. Keep it together, old bean. Don't cry. There are firemen present. "What do you think of me?"
"What do you mean?"
I gulped, willing my voice to remain strong. "You are…incredible. And I'm…I'm nothing much. Why do you like me?"
"Do I need a reason?" Alfred bent down to my eye level.
A smile unlike one I'd seen him wear before appeared. It looked so lovely. I honestly cannot describe it. I can guarantee that it wasn't one he made often and not to many people, if any at all. He reached out and touched my face. Those calloused hands that had gripped hoses and ladders and bodies now touched mine so gently. I couldn't help but lean into him.
"I'd like a reason…," I sighed.
"Because I think you're the strongest guy I know," he replied.
"I am not. You have saved so many lives. And these men. They all…"
Alfred shook his head. He put his other hand on my other cheek, holding my face in place as he looked at me. His gaze held me firm. "There's a difference between bravery and strength. If both my legs had broken, I'd be a shattered mess. But you, you're still going. You still have that ol' English stiff upper lip like my granpops said you guys had."
Feeling the stress ease off of my shoulders, I shuddered a laugh. "I just can't see how much I'm worth, I guess…"
Alfred kissed my cheek and my face blossomed into heat. "Then let me show you."
I studied him for a moment, curious as to what more he could do. "If you are asking me out on another date, I have to say you are doing it poorly."
I placed my hands on his still on my cheeks. I smiled in return, maybe not matching his volume of sincerity, but it was one I hadn't given in a long time. "When you take me out again, I suggest we do it somewhere more romantic."
Alfred winked before nodding. "You got it."
I'll never forget when we kissed. I was never one to kiss on the first date, but he was such a lush. I couldn't very well leave him without one. He had done so much, even driving me home and taking me to my door and helping me inside. I kissed his cheek and as I pulled away, I caught the look in his eyes.
Whatever it was, a glimmer from some reflection or just a pure desire to kiss me, it drove me to him and him to me. Our lips met and it was long and needed. He cradled my head and I gripped his shirt. I didn't want this moment to end.
I didn't want him to leave.
I just didn't know exactly why yet. I didn't know what exactly Alfred Jones would mean to me in the coming months.
Hoshiko2's cents: Hello and welcome to my new mini-series. I say mini because I mean it. This series will be only four chapters long. Super short compared to the fact I almost always do a twenty-chapter fic.
Credit for the injury and medical information all goes to my pal, wisteria. She was a great deal of help and I thank her for all the messages that were sent back and forth.
This series will only update once a week, every Sunday (if I can manage), so it'll be my August story. Haha. I hope you enjoy!