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The Fireman

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    The whole school knew about me and Ricky Burns. Or at least it felt like the whole school knew about me and Ricky Burns because I tripped nearly every time he came into view and stared at him wide-eyed all through lunch and squealed a little in my seat every time the teacher called his name. In fact, I kept me and Ricky Burns as big of a secret as I could, telling no one, and actually stopped breathing and ran off every time someone mentioned his name. You see, Ricky Burns was my First Crush, and out of all the other fourth-grade boys in Mulhaven Elementary School, he was by far the best.

    At recess every day, all the other boys hollered at the top of their lungs and barreled into the playground, falling over one another and laughing and talking excitedly about worms and being generally very dirty and annoying. Ricky, though, walked calmly over to the bright red firetruck that served as one of two jungle gyms, and hung upside-down for half an hour, his wavy brown hair swinging neatly about his face.

    Ricky Burns had the most perfect hair of any boy in school. He had the most perfect eyes of any boy in school (marble green with a streak of brown), the most perfect voice of any boy in school (“Hey, watch out for the dodge ball,” he warned me once, ever so kindly), and he certainly knew his way around a firetruck better than any other boy in school. But most of all, Ricky’s hair was perfect. It looked soft and cool and well-conditioned, even though my mom told me boys didn’t use conditioning like girls did (“Except those weird, pretty ones,” she muttered, curling her hair from behind the bathroom door), and was much nicer to look at than that of the Kool Kids Five, the most popular boy band ever in the history of anything. His hair was even better than Nick’s, the lead singer’s. It was that good.

    Because his hair was so wonderful, falling into stacks as he stretched upside-down over the bars of the jungle gym, I stood there every day at recess, sighing and watching from the sidewalk until the sun hit my eyes and I grew tired of shading my face, and then I would walk over to the red firetruck and join Ricky as he would turn and lay flat on his stomach over one of the higher bars.

    I did this every single day, even when the longest running game of four square had drew most of the school, and as I did flips over the lower bars of the firetruck (I only knew a couple different ones, and I was scared of heights), I would pretend not to notice him, and he would pretend not to notice me, and then we’d go inside when recess was over.

    This particular red firetruck brought us together, and as far as red firetruck jungle gyms go, it was pretty uneventful. By the sound of it, it should be some super amazing truck outfitted with fake steering wheels and maybe enormous tubes you could crawl through until your hair stood on end and the plastic shocked you, but it was worth it for the cool flame stickers on the side of the blazing red flank of the truck and the awesome noises it would make, like you were really speeding down the road to put out some extremely huge and awesome fire, and “Never fear, beautiful lady and her tree-climbing cat, because we firemen are here to save you.” But whoever made our red firetruck jungle gym obviously never saw one in his life, because what we got didn’t have fire and wasn’t much of a truck. It was definitely red, though, but was an empty frame of a truck, like somebody stripped it of all its metal and loud decals and then tossed it off to us out of charity.

    But I didn’t care that much about the sad excuse for a red firetruck jungle gym, because Ricky Burns sat himself on top of it at recess every day, and that made it better than anything else on the playground.

    So you and the entire school could imagine my surprise when I crossed the playground one day at recess, ready to board the best red firetruck I had ever laid eyes on, and saw instead Ricky Burns holding hands with Amanda Lakes.

    Holding hands. With her.

    On my red firetruck jungle gym.

    Where I sat every day with Ricky.

    Me and him.

    Not him and her.

    I think I stopped breathing, then, too, but I didn’t notice. And it occurred to me that maybe all those times Ricky and I pretended not to notice each other, he didn’t actually notice me.

    Then some dorky kid walked up beside me, pockets crammed full of trading cards and probably worms, and reminded me that I wasn’t breathing.

    “Thanks,” I heard myself say.

    “Yeah.”

    He must have seen me gaping at the two lovebirds on the firetruck, or maybe I was crying, because he kind of backed away and said:

    “You know, Amanda Lakes totally picks her nose. All the time.”

    “Go away, dorky kid,” I said, and this time I knew I was crying. I wiped my eyes and bolted across the pavement, ran inside the school and through the halls and didn’t stop until I found an empty stall in the girl’s bathroom to cry in, and all there was to comfort me was some dorky kid’s voice rolling around in my head and a note scribbled on the door: “Jenna is STUPID, go to H-E-double hockey sticks.”

    *     *     *


It was a long time before I forgot about Ricky Burns.
    I spent most of my summer wishing I were Amanda Lakes, and doodling a heart with Ricky’s and my initials in it, and then hating Amanda Lakes, and drawing a terribly offensive caricature of her face on notebook paper and sidewalks with chalk. Amanda Lakes was stupid, and could go find some double hockey sticks and ask me what to do with them.

    By the time I started fifth grade, I still hadn’t forgotten about Ricky Burns. I sulked and sat around and played hopscotch some, but I definitely didn’t play dodge ball, and I definitely didn’t do any standing or watching anywhere near the red firetruck jungle gym. It was now the ugliest thing on the playground, way uglier than the Kool Kids Six’s newest member, and way uglier than worms.

    Every week, my mom would pack me an extra lunch cake or a piece of candy and tell me, with an unusually smug smile, that it was okay that Ricky Burns was mean and that Amanda Lakes was worse, because one day Ricky’s perfect hair would recede and grow thinner and then he’d be bald and somebody would find out Amanda Lakes picked her nose at the dinner table, and then nobody would like her, especially not Ricky. I don’t know if mom was telling the truth, and I certainly didn’t understand how she could know all that, but at least some part of me trusted her, because she sure looked smug about it.

    So after awhile I stopped running away every time I heard Ricky’s name, and the only time I stopped breathing was when I almost flunked math, but that turned out okay, although the extra lunch cakes and candy disappeared for awhile.
Then summer came, and summer went, and middle school made me forget entirely about Ricky Burns.
 
    *    *    *

    Until I met Nick.

    Not the Kool Kids Five (or Six, depending on what year and hair style you’re thinking of) Nick, but a Nick all the same.

    There were a few things I liked about Nick. One, he didn’t like worms, and apparently never had the faintest interest in them. This I found odd, because I was convinced that every boy liked playing with worms and crushing worms and squishing them into gross worm chunks, but I guess middle school changes things. So after I finally accepted this worm business, I found out there were other things I liked about Nick.

    Like the way he would take a sticker out from his Book of Ninety-Nine Stickers and put one at the top of my math test every time I got a low grade. Or the way he would buy extremely flavored chips from the vending machine at lunch and let me crush them all over his nachos or chocolate milk, and then dare him to eat it (he would, and it was horrible for the both of us). There were a lot of things I liked about Nick, and I continued liking things about Nick well into high school.

    One day at lunch I realized I had never actually been to Nick’s house.

    He had birthday parties, and would invite me and I would go, but they would always be at party places or at bowling alleys or roller blading arenas.

    We would do stuff together in the summer, but his parents were away or busy a lot, and he didn’t have any siblings, so he came over to my house most of the time.

    I’d met his parents, of course, and they were nice people, but it also occurred to me that I didn’t have a clue as to what they did with their time. Besides parenting.

    “What do your parents, like, do?” I blurted.

    Nick put down his Coke, and raised his eyebrows to new heights.

    “My parents? Uh, okay. Well, they’re circus freaks. I’m destined for the tight-rope, sweetheart.”

    I elbowed him and rolled my eyes. “I’m serious, Nick! What do they do for a living?”

    He smiled, clearing his throat, and took me seriously. The thing with Nick is that he considered himself a pretty funny guy, and you had to let him get it over with every other minute if you had any intention of having a decent conversation.

    “Well, they help people.”

    “So they’re doctors? That kind of thing?”

    “No.”

    “Physical therapists?”

    “That’s kind of the same thing, and no.”

    I stared at him, unimpressed. “Then what do they do, genius?”

    He looked proud. “Mom’s a cop. Pop’s a fireman.”

    My mouth dropped open. “Get out!” I poked him in the armpit, and he squirmed. “Your mom’s a cop! Your mom?!”

    “Hey,” he said, looking genuinely offended. “Women are cops, too, you know.”

    “Of course I know, you idiot,” I grinned, stealing a handful of his fries and shoving them in my mouth. He smiled at me.

    “Ith juss thah yur maawm isth a caawp an’ yoo mack doh-nuh joowkes all tuh tahm.”

    He burst out laughing, and stuck another fry in my face.
    “Yeah, but my dad’s job is waaaay more exciting. Meet me after school, and I’ll show you why.”

    *    *    *

    I did meet with him after school, and we walked instead of taking the bus, and I didn’t stop laughing at him and his donut jokes and his not thinking his mom being an awesome woman cop was the more awesome profession until I couldn’t breathe, and then when I could breathe, I laughed again until we finally reached the firehouse.

    He led me inside, and we waved to his dad, who waved back and smiled, and then he introduced me to all “the guys.” They were nice, just like his dad.

    “Okay,” Nick said boldly, shielding my eyes with his hands.

    “What are you doing?” I tried to swat him away.

    “Stop, just stand still.” He sighed, and I stopped moving, but tried my best to look glum about it. He gathered breath, and the bold voice was back. “Okay. You’re about to see what makes firefighting awesome. Are you ready for this, Emily Waters?”

    I rolled my eyes underneath his hands.

    “Are you rea—”

    “Yes, yes, I’m ready.”

    “Okay. Keep them closed.”

    Slowly, he loosened his hands from my eyes, and led me across the room and to the right, and then we stood still for awhile, and I could feel his breath breeze warm across my forehead.

    “Okay,” he said again, and let go.

    I looked at him, and then I saw it.

    A long, steel firepole, right in the middle of the room, running down from the ceiling.

    I snickered. He was bothered by this.

    “A firepole?” I snorted. “This is what you wanted to show me?”

    “What? Come on!” His flailed his arms this way and that. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Are you impressed by nothing, woman? This is where the magic happens! Every time there’s a fire, they slide down this pole and BAM—they’re ready to go put out some fires!” He groaned. “Come on.”

    He clasped my hand and we took off running. We ran up the steps to the top floor, and stopped short of the hole that the upper part of the pole plunged through like a straw. I gripped his arm and stepped back, nervously, from the opening at our feet.

    “What?”

    I didn’t like heights.

    “I don’t like heights,” I said, my mouth dry.

    “Oh, it’s okay. Look, it’s easy.” He smiled and stepped forward, placing one arm tightly but probably not securely around the pole. “Here, hold on to me.”

    I stared at him and didn’t budge. I must have looked very grumpy, because he laughed politely and urged me closer.

    “Come on. Here.” He screwed up his face, puffing out his chest. “Need a lift, little lady?”

    I managed a laugh, and looked down at my feet. After a few seconds I glanced up and he was still standing there, in the same dumb pose, like some chump. I grinned and closed my eyes and rushed toward him.
    And as a let a small but very high-pitched scream, feeling the air soar past us as we plummeted downward, I thought of Ricky Burns, and how he must go through gallons and gallons of conditioner and gel and hair dye to keep his hair looking perfect and anything from thin.

    Now, Nick’s hair. That was some good hair.

Comments (4)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Hello! I'm Stephanie, and the above story is my first submission to the site. I'd appreciate any feedback from the regulars here.

Happy holidays!

gingercat
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You have an amazing memory of children at play. The construction of your story was spot on. I enjoyed some of the passages like "the cool flame stickers on the blazing red flank of the truck" was well thoughtout and full of imagination. I thought...

You have an amazing memory of children at play. The construction of your story was spot on. I enjoyed some of the passages like "the cool flame stickers on the blazing red flank of the truck" was well thoughtout and full of imagination. I thought your story was wonderful and I want to welcome you aboard our firetruck. Hope to hear plenty more of your stories.

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Vangoman
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I thought your story was a nice, lighthearted piece that was well crafted. The dialogue was natural too. It would be interesting to see how you tackle more thorny subjects. Hopefully we get that chance.

Joshua Hennen
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Thanks, both of you!

van fleet: I used some of my own childhood memories to give a more genuine feel to the story. For example, my first crush was named Ricky (not Ricky Burns, though), and we did have a red firetruck jungle gym on my elementary...

Thanks, both of you!

van fleet: I used some of my own childhood memories to give a more genuine feel to the story. For example, my first crush was named Ricky (not Ricky Burns, though), and we did have a red firetruck jungle gym on my elementary school playground. All events and character personalities are fiction, of course, but I threw in some pieces of my own experiences (fawning over boy bands, owning a book of ninety-nine stickers, etc.) as building blocks.

Joshua: I've definitely taking a liking to the website you have here, and I'll definitely be sticking around and submitting whenever I have something new to share.

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gingercat
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