“Should I put on a movie?” asked Max, working on his third beer. Even though it was still fresh from the oven, he’d already managed to scarf down half of his food. That man had an appetite like no other. I was fairly certain he was the reason our monthly grocery bill was so damn high.
“How?” I asked.
“I still have Ben’s Netflix information saved.”
I chuckled. “You sly devil.”
Alice nodded chipperly. “A movie sounds nice.”
“Do you have a preference?” Max asked her, which struck me as a little odd. He normally had command of the remote and didn’t care much for the input I had to offer. He must have really liked Alice to be asking for her suggestions.
“Anything’s fine,” she answered. “I’m really not that picky.”
“No scary movies,” I rushed. “They give me nightmares.”
“Scary movie it is, then,” chided Max.
“I hate you.”
The little giggle that bubbled past Alice’s lips made watching The Babadook the slightest bit more bearable. But only slightly. I sat there, nervously chewing on pizza crust as I watched that little demon of a child torment his mother again and again. I wasn’t a scaredy-cat. My chosen profession was proof of that. I just didn’t like elements of the supernatural, things that were difficult or impossible to control. When it came to fighting fires, I at least knew what to do. It was muscle memory at this point, carrying heavy hoses and climbing tall ladders. I could probably fight fires in my sleep.
But the boogey man? I had no training for that.
I somehow made it through the movie without screaming like a little girl and embarrassing myself in front Max and Alice. Max kind of looked bored by the time the credits started scrolling. To be honest, he always looked a little bored, but I attributed that to his resting bitch face. It was only when I moved to stretch and yawn that I noticed Alice was out like a light, leaning gently against my shoulder as she snoozed. I froze, afraid that any sudden movements would wake her up. It was obvious that she needed the rest, and it would have been a shame to disturb her. I looked over the top of Alice’s head at Max, but he just shrugged at me.
I mouthed at him, Help me.
Max shifted off the couch and stood up, running a hand through his short hair as he sighed, surveying the situation. Without another word, he scooped down and lifted Alice off of me, easily cradling her in his massive arms. I hopped up onto my feet, unsure why I felt such an urge to follow and make sure she was okay. Max carried her silently to her bedroom and placed her down on the mattress, covering her over with blankets for warmth.
Her hair pooled about her head on the pillow, reminding very much of liquid lava. Alice’s lashes were beautifully long, and her little snores were too cute for words. I had to admit she looked incredibly sexy in my clothes in a relaxed, I’m-super-comfortable-here-and-it-shows kind of way. I remained by the door and leaned against the frame, mind spinning on her behalf. If my home burned down along with everything in it, I wouldn’t know what to do. It troubled me that Alice had no friends or family to go to. Such a sweetheart deserved more than relying on the kindness of strangers.
Max closed the door behind him and said, “Night.”
“Good night,” I replied.
Neither of us moved. We stood there for a couple of seconds, gauging one another’s body language in the dark hall. I’d never seen Max so… It was hard to put into words. I could tell that he liked Alice. He’d barely been able to keep his eyes off her back at the diner, and he was the first to stand up and come to her defense when the biker’s placed an unwanted hand on her. I wasn’t going to lie, I liked Alice, too. But I knew better than to do anything. She was a guest here, someone in an incredibly vulnerable situation. I wasn’t going to overstep my boundaries by asking her out or anything like that. It would have been grossly inappropriate.
I cleared my throat. “Yes, well, off to bed.”
“Mhmm,” was all Max managed.
I woke up with a start, heart railing in my chest. I didn’t recognize my surroundings, couldn’t remember how I got here. And then it hit me hard and all at once.
It had all happened so fast. I got home from work and was eager to draw myself a bath. Nothing was better than soaking my sore feet in hot, soapy water. I was just about to get undressed when I smelled smoke. At first, I thought one of my neighbors burnt their dinner. It wasn’t the first time, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. But when I saw the flames hissing in the kitchen, licking and clawing at everything it could touch, I panicked.