“I… I think so. I might have been having a bad dream.”
I bit my lower lip. My nightmare was already fading, the imprint of images ghosting across the back of my eyelids. All I could remember was the heat of the fire, someone desperately shouting my name. There was nothing but confusion, bright and angry reds mixing with cautious yellows. I felt like my nose and lungs were plugged up with smoke and ash, my eyes were dry like someone had taken a blow-dryer to them. I remembered being surrounded, trapped, unable to find my way out. Were those memories playing in my head? Or were they something else entirely, like a glimpse into an unknowable future?
“I was calling for help,” I breathed shakily. “And no one came.”
“That sounds awful.” Max squeezed me tight, reminding me that he was here and had no plans of leaving. “I’m right here. I’ve got you.”
I tilted my face up to look him square in the eyes. I drank in the details of his face, from his bushy brows to his stern and solid irises to the gruffness of his five o’ clock shadow. I combed my fingers through his short black hair. “I love you, Max,” I said without an ounce of hesitation.
Max eyes widened slightly in surprise. It was nice to know that I was capable of breaking through that stoic exterior of his. Deep down, I knew he was as gooey as a gummy bear. As soft as a lamb. As sweet and wholesome as apple pie. A smile eventually spread itself across his face before he leaned in and kissed me hard. I savored the taste of his mouth, memorized the slight smoky flavor of his skin.
“I love you, too, Alice.”
I giggled softly with delight and wrapped my arms around Max’s neck, pulling him into a tight hug. I breathed him in, taking comfort in the scent of his aftershave and vanilla shampoo. He felt wonderful in my embrace, like a missing piece of a puzzle. That was when I heard the front door to the apartment squeak open on its old hinges. Jeremy walked in with a shopping bag in his hands. I immediately hopped off of Max’s lap and ran to Jeremy, hopping up with my arms outstretched. Jeremy laughed and caught me with ease, lifting me off of the ground while I wrapped my legs around his hips.
“I love you,” I told him giddily.
“I love you, too,” he chuckled, giving me a quick peck on the lips. I smiled up at him. The thing about puzzles was they always consisted of more than two pieces. Maybe it made sense that I wound up falling for Jeremy, as well. Together, we made up a bigger piece of a whole. “Did… Did you tell Max?” he said, cautiously glancing over to him. “He might get jealous if you don’t.”
“She told me first, actually,” Max said with pride.
Jeremy’s mouth fell open as he attempted to look both horrified and amazed. “You told him first.”
I kissed both of his cheeks apologetically. “You were the last one to walk in,” I reasoned. “What’s in the bag?”
“I bought us a tub of ice cream. Thought you could use a treat, and Max and I both need to cool down.”
I placed my feet back on the floor and raised a curious eyebrow. “Why?”
Jeremy looked at me with a confused expression. “Because you deserve it? And we wanted to spoil you?”
“I mean, why do you both need to cool down?”
Max grunted, “Long day.”
Jeremy sighed, handing me the bag. I peaked inside. It was my favorite: mint chocolate chip. “Someone’s been setting fires all around the city,” he explained quietly. “Kept us busy all day. I’m bushed.”
I swallowed hard at the dry patch in my throat. “Setting fires?”
Max and Jeremy glanced to one another, then to me. I didn’t need a whole lot of time to put things together.
I anxiously shifted my weight from foot to foot. “Do you think it’s… Do you think it’s him?”
Jeremy shook his head slowly. “I don’t know. It’s the police’s problem now. We just put them out.” He reached down and took my hand. “Come on, let’s get you a bowl of ice cream and we can all watch a movie.”
I tugged on his hand. “You’re both being safe, right?”
“Right?” I stressed.
Max got up off of the couch and circled his way over to us. He wrapped his arms around me from behind and hugged me tight. “As safe as we can be,” he promised.
It wasn’t the most confident of answers, but I was just going to have to take what I could get. Being a firefighter, that came with risks. Max and Jeremy knew exactly what they got themselves into, and they’d been working as firemen for a long time. If anybody was going to come away unscathed, it was these two, especially if they had each other’s backs.