STANDING IN THE middle of the street, I stare at a two-story Gulf waterfront home in front of me. I know this house, I know it well. It’s where Beau spends his days, and most of his nights. I can’t say I blame him, though. Even from the outside, this house always smells like fresh-baked cookies and laundry.
Beau recently gave me a pair of binoculars and, at the age of seven, I have become the best kid spy ever. Drew is always swimming or studying, and I’ve never really had any friends, so Beau became my mission. Daily, I watch him and report his activities to my headquarters, Aunt Ella’s backyard shed. He and Leila play on the beach and hide in the sea oats to watch the stars. When they are at Leila’s house, I watch them through the windows. He doesn’t know I’m there but, by doing this, I feel like we are playing together and I’m not quite so alone.
Tilting my head to the side, I focus on those same windows, just hoping that through my tears I will see something–anything–on the inside.
The night is silent, except for the water crashing onto the shore. The world is asleep and completely oblivious to what is happening before me.
There’s a halo of smoke surrounding the house. Against the dark night sky, it looks gray, almost white.
The house is on fire . . . and Beau is inside it.
Broken glass crunches as the heavy trod of my father’s boots make their way toward me. “Matt, what are you doing out here?” he hisses, while grabbing me by the arm. I barely feel it.
Thinking about his question, I want to be anywhere but here. My eyes are locked on the horror in front of me, and only one word, one name keeps repeating itself over and over in my mind . . . Beau.
Never looking at him, the arm he’s not squeezing slowly lifts, and I point to the house. His head swivels back and forth between me and the house.
“Beau,” I whisper. Another tear falls and rolls down my cheek.
“What! He’s in the house?” His fingers tighten even more on my arm, and I welcome the pain.
I nod my head.
He pulls out his phone and calls 911. As he’s pacing around me, I hear him talking urgently to someone, but I can’t decipher what he is saying.
An orange glow appears in the window, and my whole body starts shaking.
I don’t understand what is taking so long!
Where is he? He should be out by now!
The glow gets brighter, and it’s no longer just shining out the window. It’s peeking through all of the boards of the house, looking for a way to escape.
The smoke suddenly gets thicker, and flames burst through the French doors of the upstairs bedroom, causing me to take a step backward. Heat wraps around me, and the flames are so bright I have to shield my eyes. They remind of what it’s like to try to look at the sun.
Firemen arrive right as Beau emerges through the front door. He’s carrying Leila in front of him. He saved her. Relief washes over me, and I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding in.
I take a step toward them, just as an explosion inside the house pushes them over the threshold. Beau loses his balance and falls right on top of Leila. At the same time, a large piece of the porch ceiling breaks off and lands on top of them.
Beau’s screams echo through the night, and total chaos breaks out all at once.
Firemen rush onto the porch, throwing the wood off to the side. Two of them drape a blanket over Beau and another pulls Leila out from underneath him.
A hose is pulled out, and I can see two of the firemen spraying Beau. The fire that was just on his back is immediately put out.
I remember my mother once saying that to stop a burn you have to cool the skin.
The hose shuts off and is thrown down. The paramedics move frantically around him. Two of them begin to cut away his clothes, making him naked. A third shoves something down his throat. And a fourth pulls an IV and hooks it up to his arm.
Please don’t let him die.
Silent sobs are now pounding through my chest.
More rescue vehicles arrive, with their lights flashing. People are racing around in every direction, and I realize not one person has seen me or said anything to me.
A siren shrieks, and I jerk at the piercing noise as an ambulance speeds off down the street. They must have Leila.
“Matt, run,” my dad snarls at me through gritted teeth. Has he been standing next to me this entire time?
I blink up at him. I still can’t move, and that’s when he shoves me. Stumbling backward, I catch my balance and look back at the scene before me once more.
Beau is being lifted and placed on a gurney as they continue to hover over him. The hoses are back out and, from multiple directions, the house is being sprayed.
“Matt, I said to run!” He shoves me again, and that’s when it clicks; I really do have to get out of here.
Turning, and never looking back, I head for the beach.
Putting one foot in front of the other, I start running. Over the dunes and into the sand, I push as hard as I can. With tears streaming down my cheeks, visions of the fire play out before me. Gasping for air, the smell of smoke fills my senses. I didn’t notice it before, but now it is so strong I almost gag. Wiping my nose with the back of my hand, I desperately try to find some fresh air. But no, there it is again, that smell. It’s on my skin. It’s like it isn’t just following me, but now permanently a part of me. Charging into the water, I dive under, into the silence. My hands run over my arms, my face, and through my hair. I’m frantic, and I have to get rid of the smell.
Washing up onto the shore, I curl up into a ball on the wet sand. My heart is broken for Beau and I’m so afraid; so very afraid. He’s the one and only person who has ever shown me love, and the thought of losing him paralyzes me with fear. My sobs are still silent. I’ve been taught not to make a sound. But they hurt so much. Without a voice, I mouth his name over and over again. I just want Beau. I need Beau. He’s the only one who can make this all better, and make everything about this dreadful night disappear.
But he isn’t here, and he can’t be.
With my eyes pinched shut, the smell of smoke in my nose, and the feel of a nonexistent heat against my skin, I know. I know it with a certainty that has robbed me of my voice and permeated itself into my pores that, no matter what, everything about this night will be . . . unforgettable.