The next morning at school I waited at the gate, hoping to catch Sarah as she came in. Which I did. I caught sight of her as she walked along to school. Her head was held down, and her new clothes were all blackened with soot. What had happened? She ducked behind a group of people coming in just as I hopped down from the wall and threaded my way toward her. I grabbed her book bag as soon as it came within reach.
“Sarah, what happened?” I asked worriedly when she turned around.
She quickly brought her hands up to her face. “Er...nothing,” she replied, looking away evasively.
“You're practically black with something!” I commented as I ran a finger up her cheek. It came away blackened with soot. “You smell like you just came out of a wood burner...and your eyes are bloodshot and your facial expression is frankly terrifying," I continued.
"It's my work placement, Jake's dad's place," she admitted. I nodded encouragingly, "I got there and there was a fire in the kitchen.”
I saw tears beginning to spill over her eyes and I put my arm around her, trying to give her some measure of comfort. "I tried to save Bill - Jake's dad, but he wouldn't budge and then Jake tried to put the fire out and it all exploded!"She exclaimed, she was beginning to speak faster and faster and I could tell she was about to break down. "I think Jake's dead, and Bill could be too!" she finished.
I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her up against my chest to hide it from the passers-by who were staring.
"Want to get some breakfast?" I asked her, with the fire I realized that she had probably not had any yet.
“But we have school...” she trailed off into my shirt.
I pulled slightly away and tilted her chin slightly upward to face me. I saw her cringe when she saw where the soot from her face had rubbed off on my shirt, but I didn't mind the mark...I had thousands of shirts...one dirty one didn't make much of a difference. Sarah was more important at the moment. "School can wait,” I replied softly, yet forcefully. I took her arm and guided her through the rush of oncoming students headed in the opposite direction.
"Where are we going?" Sarah asked curiously, her voice still teary and threatening to let more tears out.
"To the greatest American breakfast restaurant," I replied, Sarah raised an eyebrow, "I'm English and even I know what it is."
“We have those in England,” I replied with a wink, hoping to lighten the mood a little. “we're going to IHOP.”
“I don't feel like eating...” Sarah trailed off sadly.
“You will when you see this menu,” I replied then, as we cleared the crowd and got to the parking lot, I took her hand and began to swing it back and forth lightly. A smile tugged lightly at the edges of Sarah's mouth, and I could tell that she was starting to feel a little better.
We sat at IHOP and Sarah was absolutely amazed at the menu. “Does all this stuff taste as good as it looks?” she asked incredulously.
“In some cases it tastes even better,” I replied with a grin.
Sarah grinned widely, she looked through the menu and pointed to one of the least expensive things, “I want that.”
I made a disapproving face at her, “You don't just pick the least expensive thing on the menu.”
She pouted, then reached for the menu again to change her order.
“Ah-ah-ah,” I said, holding it out of her reach. “I'll read them to you...I don't trust you.”
Sarah crossed her arms and sat back in her seat. Though she pulled a pouting face, I could see the smile tugging at her down-turned lips as I began to read off the list of food on the menu. Every once in a while she would stop me and have me read the description of a meal that sounded interesting to her. When she had made a choice, I called the waitress over and we placed our order.
As we waited for the order I took one of the wet-wipes that mum always insisted that I always keep in the car 'just in case' and began to wipe off Sarah's face. “Stop it!” Sarah laughed. I grinned and lifted the wipe up again threateningly. Sarah sighed melodramatically. “Oh, all right then, have at me.” I grinned and finished cleaning her face off. By the time I had finished the food arrived and we both dug in with gusto.
All through the meal Sarah kept looking up at me and opening her mouth as if to say something, but then she would lower her head and eat instead. She was trying to gather the courage to tell me something. I thought about just asking her to let it out, but I decided that I would let her tell me in her own time. “Josh,” Sarah said in a hesitant voice just as we were finished.
“Hmm?” I asked through my last mouthful.
“I have to tell you something,” she said. I nodded and she opened her mouth and started to say something, but then shut it again. She sighed, “Thanks for being so nice...” she finished lamely, I knew that wasn't really what she wanted to tell me, but I didn't push it; she would tell me when she was ready. Though I had to admit that I was very curious as to what it was she wanted to tell me. I hoped she would be able to work up the courage soon.
I sighed too, “You are very welcome Sarah.”
After I paid we both piled into the Ferrari and headed to school again. As we were walking from the parking lot to school Sarah began to lag behind. I turned to her and noticed that tears were beginning to well up in her eyes again. I quickly moved over to her and put my hand on her shoulder. “Sarah, what's wrong?” I asked worriedly.
“What if Jake died? What if his dad died? What if I could have saved them! I should have! I-I should have warned him...” she didn't get to finish the sentence before her voice broke.
“Oh Sarah, it's not your fault!” I exclaimed. How could she blame herself! It wasn't like she had set the fire herself! I turned her around so that she was facing me and put my hand under her chin, lifting her face so she was looking into my eyes. “Listen to me Sarah, it was not your fault. The building was on fire. You can't just make it magically go out!”
More tears continued to well up however, so I wrapped my arms around her and waited for the tears to subside. She buried her head into my chest and I put my cheek against her hair. As selfish as it was...I wasn't sure I wanted this to end.