I wanted to share a bit of the new project I'm working on. It doesn't have a title yet, and it hasn't been edited. I hope you enjoy reading it!
Tess would never forget that knock on the door. She had been watching the news about the warehouse fire and calling Michael’s cell phone over and over again. She had pleaded with God that the firefighter who died in the building was not her Michael. Her heart thudded to the floor when she heard that knock. She muted the television, then got up slowly and walked over to the door, all the while praying that it was UPS or Ivan the postal worker, or a Jehovah’s Witness who was there to tell her the good news about her eternal salvation.
But it wasn’t. When she looked through the peephole she saw Jonathan Kraemer, Michael’s fire captain, and two other somber-looking men. She knew then that it had been Michael. He was dead.
She swallowed, wiped her face on her sleeve, and opened the door.
“Mrs. Bello, Tess,” Jonathan said, “May we come in?”
She nodded and stepped back so the men could come into the house.
Jonathan led them into the living room. He had been to the house for dinner several times. He was a great fire captain and Michael had admired him immensely.
Tess followed them and stood still when they turned to face her.
“Tess, I have some very bad news,” Jonathan said. “Michael died responding to the Kenton warehouse fire this morning. I’m so sorry.”
Tess stood staring at Jonathan without moving. She blinked slowly several times as she tries to process what he is telling her. Michael is gone. He was the firefighter who had been caught in the warehouse this morning. She had feared it was him when she saw several of his close friends shouting and attempting to find a route into the building as it burned to the ground. She blinked more quickly to push back tears. She wouldn’t cry in front of Jonathan. She had no idea the identities of the two men who were with him.
“Jonathan, who… who are these people?” she asked finally.
“Tess, why don’t you sit?” he asked.
“No. No, I’m fine,” she said.
Jonathan nodded and gestured to the man to his left. “Tess, this is Pete Gallagher. He’s our chaplain, and this is Anthony Jordan. He’s our family liaison officer.” He stopped talking and looked around. “Where is Kavan?”
“He’s, uh, he’s at a friend’s house,” Tess said. She sat down on the couch and stared at the muted television, which was still tuned in to the news station. They had switched from footage of the fire to that day’s lottery numbers.
“Would you like Mr. Jordan to drive you to pick him up?” Jonathan asked.
“No,” Tess said. “What time is it?” She looked at the clock on the wall and counted the dots that stood in for numerals. She was always terrible at reading analog clocks. This clock had been Michael’s before they were married, and she had hung it for him in their new, shared condo the week before their wedding. “Eleven thirty. My friend Beth is bringing Kavan home around one.”
“Can we help you notify your family? Is there anyone we can call?” Jonathan asked.
“Um, sure,” Tess said. “Michael’s mother. We never got along.” She unlocked her phone and handed it to him.
Jonathan handed the phone to the man on his right and sat beside her. The man (a Mr. Jordan, was it?) nodded and stepped into the foyer with the phone in hand.
“Mrs. Bello,” Tess said quietly, but she doubted he had heard her.
“Tess, I’m so sorry,” Jonathan said. “Michael was an amazing fire fighter and a great friend. I don’t know what else to say.” He patted her shoulder. She could see that he had tears in his eyes.
She lost control then. She cried and allowed the deep, body-shaking sobs to emanate from the core of her. She didn’t care who these other men were or that they saw her like that. Michael was never coming home. He was never coming home. She no longer had a husband. Kavan no longer had a daddy. They were alone; just the two of them. She stared at the carpet and noticed that Jonathan still smelled a bit like smoke. She used to love that smell because it reminded her of Michael. Now she hated it. She stood up and moved away from the couch.
“I know this is a terrible time, but if you have any questions, Pete would be happy to answer them,” Jonathan said.
“About the afterlife? No,” she said. She tried not to sneer. “Michael didn’t believe in an afterlife. I don’t either.”
“Alright,” Jonathan said. “That’s fine.” He paused and looked at her. “Mr. Jordan is here to answer any questions you have about funeral arrangements or filing for benefits. If you’d like, he can stay with you until Kavan gets home and help you call the rest of your family and friends.”
“No,” she said. “Please leave.” She didn’t bother to keep the edge from her voice.
Jonathan stood up. “If that’s what you want, we’ll go.” He nodded to her, and then leaned down and placed two business cards on the table. “If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call.” He stepped toward her, but she stepped back, so he stopped.
“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Bello,” he said. He turned and led the other two men out of the room.
Tess watched them go out through the front door, then she picked up the business cards, ripped them up, and went to throw them away in the kitchen recycling bin.She plopped into a dining chair, folded her arms on the table, laid her head down, and cried.