A/N: I wrote this story for the Fandom For Texas Wildfire Relief fundraiser compilation out of respect and admiration for the real-life heroes fighting against the spread of the Texas wildfires, in particular, Mr. teamswitzerlandmom (Missy's husband). And because we all need a Heroward.
With gratitude to Beta Babes Alterite and Trip (FFFan1664), for their thorough yet loving suggestions; and the creative and generous Ysar, for the lovely banner, which is found on my FaceBook page.
"I'm telling you, Alice, if I have to disappoint another child tomorrow, it's just gonna shatter what's left of my heart."
"Bella, I hear you. I really do. That's how I know you need to get away."
I knew there was something more behind her casual offer to take me to lunch today. Alice always has an agenda. "Alice, I have people counting on me here. I can't just—"
"Bella," she curls her tiny hand over mine on the table between us. "You CAN just. You have to. You're not doing anyone any good like this. I hate to be blunt, but you're starting to remind me of the helium balloon left over from my birthday party last week. Every morning, it's another six inches closer to the floor of my bedroom, and frankly, there's not much further it can sink."
"Gee, thanks, Alice! Now I'm a shriveled up piece of latex? And since when do you hate to be blunt?"
Her lips curl into a smile. "True, but think about it, Bella. You haven't had a second date in eleven months and thirteen days. Yes, I'm counting. If I don't tell it like it is, who's going to pull you out of your doldrums? Come with me Thursday night. I know you've got Good Friday off; it's a three-day weekend. There's an extra space on the bus. Your parents already said they'd pay for the trip. You have no excuses left."
"How about the obvious: I don't ski?"
She bats away my insignificant objection. "So you'll go to ski school in the morning and I'll ski with you in the afternoon. You'll be a pro after the three days. Trust me!"
Oh sure. Trust the natural athlete- the gymnast with the perfect balance and coordination who, by the way, was genetically engineered to feel no fear.
"Come on, Bella. Find your faith in mankind on the mountaintop. Who knows, maybe you'll meet yourself a hot ski instructor! Worst-case scenario, you hook up with one of the guys in the ski club. It's a fun group and everyone's single and in our age range."
The dreaded thirtysomethings. "I don't even own a pair of ski pants," I grumble, showing weakness that I know she'll exploit.
"Let's go!" she says brightly, grabbing my out of my chair. "The Alpine Haus is open till 9 tonight!"
Dropping my briefcase at the back door, I shuffle to the beige leather couch and flop into my usual spot. It's not as if there's anyone here to challenge me for it, I muse darkly. Loosening the knot of my tie with one hand, I robotically grab the remote with the other and bring the screen to life. Fantastic, just in time for the News at 10, and always such cheery stories.
A fiery blaze fills the screen and the anchor introduces Chief Bogart of the Texas Forest Service.
"Chief, can you tell us how the battle is going?"
"Our firefighters are fatigued. And our concern right now is getting replacements in here, so that our men can stay safe and rested, and we can attack this fire head-on."
The scene switches to a rugged firefighter carrying two small children from a burning house.
I'm filled with a familiar restlessness that seems to be growing inside me lately. Maybe it's early onset of midlife crisis, or maybe it's reality crashing down on me. Wasn't I supposed to be a hero by now? Isn't that why I went to law school in the first place? To change the world, defend the defenseless, leave my mark?
How's that working for you, Edward?
Ugh, I click off the TV and push myself up out of the butt-shaped impression I've worn in the seat. I'm hungry. Damn, did I forget to eat dinner again?
Putting one foot in front of the other, I propel myself to the freezer and dig out one of my vast selection of frozen pizzas. Impatient, I opt for the 'not recommended' microwave instructions and set my dinner moving on the glass carousel. Round and round. Just like my life.
Jesus, could you be any more morose?
Right on cue, my cell hums to life with AC/DC's Thunderstruck and my little brother's goofy face fills my iPhone screen.
"Have you booked your room yet? It's Easter weekend. We're already at 95% occupancy."
I sigh heavily. "Emmett, you know I said 'I'd try.' I've got a shitload of work piled on my desk."
"Sounds like a great reason to come out here, get some fresh air into the lungs and stretch those long legs of yours.
"I really wish I could. I have this IPO happening on Wednesday and briefs to slog through for a trial—"
"Wow, Edward. Do you even hear yourself?"
"Yes, Emmett. It's called being an adult."
My pizza beeps, and I slide the hot bubbling mess onto a waiting plate. Using my ear to hold the phone to my shoulder, I free up my hands and slice the pizza into quarters. Emmett's rant continues as I pull the first bite eagerly to my mouth.
"Is that another microwave pizza dinner, man? Come on, Edward. How much longer can you go on like this?"
I lower the slice and drop it onto my plate. It's too hot to eat anyway.
"Rosie's got some cute friends coming out this weekend. Who knows? Maybe you'll find yourself a little ski bunny."
"I don't have time for a girl right now," I sigh.
"I don't even know what that means," he answers dismissively. "Look, the lift tickets are on me. Just get your pale ass out here so I can try to unearth my big brother from all that paperwork and adulthood you've piled on top of him!"
I lift the semi-cooled pizza slice to my mouth again. The crust is soggy and the cheese is already congealing into little greasy islands atop the tomato sauce. My life is utterly unappetizing.