The perfect match, p.54
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       The Perfect Match, p.54

         Part #2 of Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins
Page 54

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  “Ouch. Are you sad because you can’t be Mrs. Johnson’s favorite anymore?”

  “Why wouldn’t I be her favorite anymore?”

  “Um, because Dad is?”

  “Oh, please. Mrs. J. , am I still your favorite?” he called.

  “Of course, Jackie, my darling boy!”

  “See?” he said smugly, going to cut in on Dad.

  Dad stepped in to dance with Honor. “How’s my girl?” he said, putting his cheek next to hers, humming.

  For a second, she remembered what it was like to be little, when her father would come home from the fields and pick her up to dance, how high she’d felt, how small her hand had seemed against his neck. How adored and safe she always felt. “I love you, Daddy. ”

  “I love you, too, Petunia. My beautiful girl. ” He leaned back to look at her, his blue eyes kind. “How are you really?”

  As in Are you sobbing inside?

  “I’m fine,” she said.

  “I loved your toast,” he murmured. “You might take your own advice, of course. Half of a whole and all that. ”

  “I just ordered a husband on eBay,” she said.

  “I saw Tom the other day. I was under the impression he’d moved. ”

  “Not that I know of. ”

  “Any chance you might get back together?”

  She stumbled a little. “Sorry. I don’t know. I don’t think so. ”

  I don’t love you.

  “Whatever happens,” Dad said, almost reading her thoughts, “you’re the heart of this family, Honor. ”

  The words were a gift, and Honor’s eyes filled. She leaned her cheek against her father’s shoulder and hugged him tight.

  * * *

  LATER, WHEN DAD and Mrs. J. had left for a night in the city before they’d go on to Jamaica for their honeymoon, when everyone else had gone home and the yard was tidied and the dishes were all done, Honor went to bed, and while she’d expected to be tormented with thoughts of Tom, she surprised herself by falling fast asleep.

  She woke up abruptly. Glancing at the clock, she saw it was 2:41 a. m. But it seemed more like six, because the sun was rising in an orange glow. Maybe the power had flickered and the clock was wrong.

  But then she heard it. A low roar, and before her brain had processed the sound, she was on her feet and at the window.

  Three hundred yards away, the Old House was on fire.

  Jeans. A heavy sweatshirt, shoes, a blanket. She’d already dialed 9-1-1 before she was conscious of reaching for her phone. “A house fire,” she told the dispatcher as she ran down the stairs. “The Hollands’ on Lake View Road. ”

  Every stride, every footfall, was so clear. The sound of her breath rushing in and out of her lungs as she ran, the wool blanket wadded up under one arm like a football. The cool spring air.

  The fire was a living creature, roaring, cracking, keening. The old saltbox, built in 1781, was a tinderbox, how many times had they said that? Why had Honor allowed her grandparents to stay there? This was bound to happen.

  Pops was in the side yard, twenty feet from the kitchen door, on his knees, coughing, rocking back and forth as he tried to suck in air. Smoke inhalation, but he was alive. “Pops! Where’s Goggy?” she said.

  He pointed, tears streaming down his face, unable to speak.

  She looked. Assessed. You’re the heart of this family.

  She could do it. She was calm, cool and collected, wasn’t she? She got things done.

  “Stay here. The fire department is on its way. I’ll get her, Pops. I promise. ” She tossed him her phone, then ran, ignoring his choked cry for her to stop.

  There were four entrances to the Old House: the kitchen door, most used and now engulfed in flame; the front door, which Pops had nailed shut last winter; the cellar door bulkhead; and the side door into the dining room. She headed for that last one, mentally calculating what she’d do.

  Ladders? No. Jack had them up at his place; she saw them there just two nights ago when they were watching Dermatological Nightmares. Ladders were not an option.

  She turned on the spigot for the hose, check. Remember that intern who stitched up Tom? her brain mused. She said check, too. Oh, look, the tulips are blooming. Despite the thoughts that were tumbling through her head, she felt completely efficient and oddly calm. She doused the blanket with water and wrapped it around herself.

  She looked up to the window and saw movement.

  Her grandmother was still alive. And she was not going to die in a fire.

  Not on Honor’s watch.

  In the distance, she could hear the sirens of the Manningsport Fire Department. Because they were a volunteer department, they’d have to go to the firehouse first to get to the trucks. Sure, some guys would come in their pickups, but they wouldn’t have a hose or ladders. She’d seen it a bunch of times, the guys in their turnout gear, waiting for the engines.

  Levi would be on his way as chief of police. Ned, too. Jessica Dunn, Kelly Matthews. Gerard Chartier, the big guy, would be the optimal person to save Goggy, a paramedic and firefighter with years of experience. But even as these thoughts were coming to her in laserlike clarity, Honor was inside the narrow side door.

  She couldn’t afford to wait.

  She’d never been in a burning building before. Pausing for a microsecond, she looked at it. The fire, beautiful and terrifying, devoured the kitchen walls, thick smoke making the room seem far away. The sound was shocking, the whooshing roar of the fire’s hunger, the cracks and pops.

  Hurry, Honor.

  It was her mother’s voice.

  Through the dining room toward the front hall, where hopefully the fire hadn’t reached the stairs. The taste of smoke was acrid and oily. So much to fuel the fire—Pops’s wine magazines, Goggy’s boxes of patterns, Great-Gran’s sideboard. Into the living room, and her clothes were hot, God, it really was like an oven, just like people always said. The smoke was thick, cutting visibility to almost nothing, and Honor crashed into the side of the couch, coughing, then hit the wall. The photo of Dad and Mom’s wedding. The six-year-old calendar of the Greek Isles, too beautiful to take down, Goggy said.

  The fire roared, and Honor couldn’t help feeling awed.

  Like so many colonials, the Old House had a door to every room, so that drafts could be contained. Honor groped for the door that led to the stairs, found it. The knob was already warm.

  Close the door behind you.

  Good advice. She obeyed, going up the stairs, her breath short, throat burning from smoke, eyes streaming. Steam rose from the blanket as she ran charged up, and why did Goggy have to live upstairs, huh? But no need to panic, hadn’t Kate Winslet saved an old lady, too? If she could do it, so could Honor. Then again, that woman had weighed maybe a hundred pounds. Goggy was sturdier stock. But this was her grandmother. She was not going to burn to death. Nuh-uh.

  Honor went through the door at the top of the stairs, pulling it closed behind her. Her throat was tight and dry and hot. “Goggy!” she called. The croak in her voice was not reassuring.

  The upstairs bedrooms were connected by doors, rather than a hallway. Honor went into the first room, the lilac room where she used to sleep with Faith on those rare occasions when Mom and Dad went out of town. Goggy’s bedroom was in the back, over the dining room where Honor had come in, across from the back stairs that led to the kitchen.

  The kitchen, which was already engulfed. And if Honor had seen the fire in the kitchen from the dining room, that meant the door hadn’t been closed. And the dining room was where their exit was.

  Not good.

  She felt the door that connected the two rooms. It was warm, but maybe not hot. “Goggy!” She choked and coughed, unable to get anything but smoke in her lungs. Tried the doorknob.

  It was locked.

  It occurred to her for the firs
t time that she could die here. In fact, there was an excellent possibility of it. Her father would never get over it. She’d never see Faith as a mother; she wouldn’t see Abby graduate or Ned get married. Jack would be devastated and Pru would never be the same.

  She crouched down. The air was a bit better here.

  You have about a minute.

  “Goggy! I’m here!”

  Oh, please, God. Please, Mom.

  Then the door opened, and there was her grandmother, coughing, her hair wild.

  “Come on,” Honor said. She threw the blanket over Goggy’s head and shoulders. Goggy’s face was wet with tears, and she was choking without stop. “We’re getting out,” Honor wheezed. “We’re not dying this way. ” Grabbing Goggy’s hand, she pulled her back through the lilac room.

  There was a crash somewhere very near. The kitchen ceiling was collapsing. Almost like a movie playing in her head, Honor could picture it. The seconds had slowed to hours, and her mind was strangely clear.

  She opened the door to the front staircase. “Hold on to me,” she told her grandmother.

  Close the door, honey.

  Honor did. The front staircase was clearer than the lilac room, and breathing was slightly easier. Goggy was still coughing, hard. Down the front stairs they went, Goggy’s hands on Honor’s shoulders as the fire taunted them with its high-pitched, crackling laugh.

  If the front door hadn’t been nailed shut, they’d be out right now, running across the lawn, sucking in the sweet, clean spring air.

  But it was. She tried it just in case, banged on it, yanked it, kicked it, but it opened inward, and Pops had done a good job of making sure it wouldn’t blow open again. Another kick. Another. The door didn’t budge.

  Her phone was with Pops.

  “Help us!” she yelled, doubting that anyone could hear her over the roar of the fire.

  “Okay, we have to make a run for it,” she said to Goggy. Maybe the fire department would be there to help them. Please. Maybe she could break a window if they couldn’t get to the dining room door, though the twelve-over-twelve panes would make that hard. “Keep the blanket over your head and hold my hand. ”

  “Go without me,” Goggy said, coughing. “Go, honey. ”

  Honor looked into her eyes. “No. We can make it. We’re Holland women. Okay? I’m not leaving you. Now are you ready?”

  Goggy gripped her hand. “Yes. ”

  Honor opened the door.

  A wall of smoke and flame greeted her, and she yanked it shut again, shoving Goggy back onto the stairs.

  That’s when the roof fell in.




  TOM COULD NOT sleep.

  His entire body hummed with adrenaline.

  Charlie would be all right. Charlie was going to be just fine, in fact. Tom had brought him back to the Kelloggs’ house after dinner. “I’ll see you soon,” he said.

  “Yeah,” Charlie said. “That’d be good. ” He hesitated, then leaned over and hugged Tom. “Thanks,” he whispered, then ran into the house.

  Tom sat there another minute and had to wipe his eyes. Maybe Charlie could come live with him. Or maybe there were some good things about him living with Melissa’s parents. Maybe seeing Tom a few times a week would be enough.

  He’d wait and see. For now, he’d be content.

  Charlie would be fine. That wasn’t why Tom was awake.

  Honor was the reason for that.

  The fire siren went off three blocks over. Lonely sound, that.

  And yes, he was lonely. Oh, he had friends enough here in this little town, Colleen and Connor, Droog. He had the kids in the boxing club, Dr. Didier, who now used him regularly to spot her, and even Levi Cooper, who’d bought him a beer the other night, despite the fact that Levi was Honor’s brother-in-law.

  But he missed her. Her gentle voice, her way of thinking before speaking, the feel of her mouth, her hands, her hair.

  God, he had it bad.

  It had been twenty-two days since he broke her heart. Eight since he’d seen her at O’Rourke’s. Roughly one hundred and eighty-six hours since he’d seen her, five hundred and twenty-eight since he’d kissed her in that soul-wrenching encounter in the cask room, since he told her he didn’t love her.
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