The smell of smoke and fire is burned into my nostrils, so strong that I can’t stop the vomit from traveling up from my stomach. As I heave and cough and cry, lurching to the side to expel the bile that burns its way up my raw throat, I hear the shout of an unfamiliar voice right next to me.
“SHE’S BREATHING! Get me seventy-five cc’s of oxygen and ten milligrams of morphine.”
I feel a hand rubbing circles against my upper arm as my body is lifted up and onto what feels like a stretcher. I don’t know what’s happening. I want the pain to go away and I want Collin. Every time my body is jostled, I cry out in pain. The burning sensation on my legs and stomach is so painful that I’m certain my body is on fire.
“It’s okay, sweetie. You’re going to be okay. The medicine will kick in soon, I promise.”
I don’t recognize the voice speaking gently by my ear and I cry even harder, trying to block out the fear and the pain.
“Collin, where’s Collin? I need Collin,” I sob, the sounds of chaos surrounding me until I want to curl up into a ball and cover my ears.
“Shit, she’s asking for McDaniels,” the voice whispers.
I feel something hard and plastic pressed over my mouth and the cold air of fresh oxygen is pushed past my lips and into my lungs. I cough against the intrusion, my throat still burning in pain.
“It’s okay, sweetie, just take it nice and slow. I know it hurts.”
I want to scream at her but I don’t have the energy. She has no idea how much it hurts, no idea how much I want to claw and scratch at my own skin just to ease the burning. I feel a pinch in my upper arm and, seconds later, my thoughts begin to grow hazy and even more confusing.
“Collin, I need Collin,” I slur as the pain in my legs and torso slowly starts to disappear.
I feel myself being lifted again and the sound of doors slamming shut, the noise and shouts of people from moments ago immediately cut off. I drift in and out of consciousness, hearing soft voices and the muffled sound of a siren every so often.
“… no way he survived that fall. Did you see the way the house crumbled? I’m surprised D.J. was able to walk away considering he was still on the ladder when it fell.”
I try to force my mind to pay attention when I hear D.J.’s name but whatever they gave me is too strong. My brain is foggy and I can feel myself slowly going under.
“There’s no way McDaniels is still alive. No one could have survived a drop like that.”
As the darkness pulls me further and further away from reality, the blessed relief I should feel since my skin is no longer on fire is erased by the knowledge that I’ve lost him. My sweet, beautiful man is gone.
Gone before I could tell him I love him.
Gone before I could spend the rest of my life showing him just how much.
With one last sob before I let the oblivion consume me, I realize my life is over. I don’t want to live one second on this earth if Collin isn’t here with me. I don’t care what happens to me, I don’t care if the pain returns and swallows me whole. I don’t care about anything but escaping from this hell and being with the man who saved me.
Chapter 23—Seventeen Seconds
THE DREAM IS so vivid that I do everything I can to fight my way out of it, but nothing works. I don’t want to remember. I don’t want to feel the pain and fear all over again, but I can do nothing to stop it. I see it all as clearly as if I’m living through it one more time.
The first time was bad enough.
The second time just might kill me.
I watched as the match in Jordan’s hand fluttered to the ground, almost in slow motion. If only the fire that spread out between us as soon as the tiny little flame hit the ground moved as slow. I screamed at the top of my lungs, scrambling backwards as fast as I could. My hands and feet tangled together on the carpet and I slammed down onto my back as the fire closed the distance, the gas that coated my legs no match for the beast that latched onto me. I watched in horror as the flames rapidly swallowed my legs like the mouth of a fire-breathing dragon. I screamed in fear and agony as the heat singed my skin and scorched my flesh, the pain so intense I almost wanted to just let it take me.
Jordan stood by the door with a look of horror on his face as I ripped the robe from my body and wrapped it around my legs, smothering the fire as I kicked them across the ground and continued to scream in pain, inching across the carpet that was almost completely engulfed in flames from the gas he’d dumped.
I felt the fire licking against the skin of my side and hips as my back slammed against the corner of the wall. Rolling over onto my hands and knees, I cry and sob in pain as I slither on my belly across the tile in the hallway until I make it to the stairs. I crawl up each step as fast as my burned skin will allow. I’ve never felt pain like this before and it steals the breath from my lungs. I just needed to make it upstairs, up to one of the bedrooms where there was no smoke or fire. My entire body hurt so badly that I wasn’t even sure if my skin was still burning or not. As soon as I got to the top step, a hand grabbed onto my hair and yanked me roughly backwards.
“No! You can’t leave!” Jordan screamed as he tried to drag me back down the stairs. “The fire will erase everything. It will make it all go away. We need to make it go away!”
I couldn’t go back down those stairs. If he got me back down there, I would die. I would never be able to make it out of this hell and I can’t let that happen. I WON’T let it happen. Collin will be here soon. The neighbors must have seen the fire by now and even though Collin’s department isn’t the one that will respond, he’s still on his way here after his shift. Collin will be here. I just needed to hold on for Collin.