“Fuck?” Naim finished Jen’s statement for her as her voice trailed off. They stood wide-eyed and slack-jawed, staring at Jen’s husband, who leaned, sullen and glowering, against the ambulance while a young girl snapped photos and pleaded with him to try to smile. Or at least emote. He was wearing a hazmat jumpsuit, unzipped with the top half hanging down his shirtless back, and holding a gas mask, his hair a wild mess as though he’d just taken the mask off.
Hearing Jen’s voice, he looked up at them, cringed, and groaned. “Fuck. You called them, you fucktarded bag of ass?” Keller shouted up toward the ladder truck while the girl clicked away, hoping for some good, angry “passion” shots.
“Naim!” Deck called down from the cherry picker, looking anxious but glad to see him.
“Oh God,” Keller groaned, falling back against the ambulance and dropping the mask.
“Oh God.” Jen stared at her husband.
“Oh God.” Naim looked up to the cherry picker, eyes widening, where Deck was grinning awkwardly, wearing nothing but bunker trousers with one suspender over his unscarred side, and a helmet.
Naim shifted, horrified at his sudden, Pavlovian state of arousal. He reached for Jen’s hand. She squeezed.
“What…what…” Jen stammered, tearing her eyes from her husband long enough to jump, startled by the big black smiley face plastered across Peyton’s bright yellow butt as he climbed off the hose bed.
“Thank God you guys are here,” Deck called out, unlatching the cherry picker.
“No!” Naim panicked, squeezing Jen’s hand tighter and pointing at Deck. “You stay there!” This was bad. He was never coming back to the firehouse again. Ever.
“Fuck.” Fucking cherry picker. “No. Get out of there.” Naim squeezed his eyes shut. “But don’t…don’t come down here!” He turned and buried his face in Jen’s shoulder, groaning. She cuddled him and whimpered quietly.
“Why are they doing this to us?” she asked Naim.
He pulled his face out of her shoulder. “What the fuck is going on?”
“They’re making a fucking calendar. Well, more like a date book.” Freya wandered up to them, fully clothed, a shit-eating grin on her face, and her braids a messy, rumpled disaster. She was covered in green glitter, and there seemed to be some on her teeth.
“Oh, but you’ve got clothes on?” Naim growled.
“What… Why…” Jen glanced at Freya, then back at Keller, who was glowering harder at the camera. The photographer asked him to turn around, and he snarled. She snapped away. “Why are… What happened to your hair?” Jen asked Freya, a little breathless.
“Are you kidding?” Freya still had the shit-eating grin, and Spellacy popped up from where he’d been relaxing on the hose bed; he wore a pair of bright green shorts printed with pints of Guinness, and his turnout coat had green glitter all over it.
“Hey. What are you two doing here?” he asked.
“Oh God.” Jen sounded like she wanted to cry.
“Can I come down now?” Deck yelled from the ladder.
Naim refused to look at him. “No. Not until you…give…put…put something on.”
“He can’t. He’s next,” Freya explained, grinning harder.
“Next?” Naim whimpered again.
“Naim, please? I really gotta talk to you!”
“Get a turnout coat!”
“Hey, what are you two doing here?” Liebgott saw them as he strolled out of the kitchen, munching on a cupcake.
“Liebgott.” Jen managed to glare and whine at the same time. “Why is my husband half-naked, having his picture taken against an ambulance? Why is everyone half-naked?”
Liebgott rubbed his neck and glanced with a guilty expression over to the ladder truck where Deck was yelling at Spellacy to give him his turnout coat. Naim heard bells jingle somewhere.
“It wasn’t my idea. I didn’t even know about it!” Deck got a face full of green glitter as he caught Spellacy’s coat.
“We, uh, we thought it would help raise some money.” Liebgott looked to Naim sheepishly. “To help rebuild the clinic.”
“Wh…” Naim blinked. “Can I sit down? Is anyone else in the kitchen?”
“Peyton, but come on. I’ll boot him out.”
Naim tugged on Jen’s hand as he dragged her away from the sight of her husband. “Jen.”
“Shut up.” She tripped a little. “You’re in this with me.” They heard Freya cackle.
Deck was right behind them, trotting into the kitchen as Naim plunked down into a chair, still refusing to look at him. This was insane, but he really had no business being surprised.
“I swear to God, I had no idea, love. This is not my fault,” Deck exclaimed.
“That’s true, Naim. I’m not sure why he’s so bent out of shape about it, but we didn’t want to tell you until the money came in, so we kept it from Deck until the last possible minute.” Liebgott took a seat at the opposite end of the table while Deck danced nervously next to Naim, and Jen peeked from the door.
“I… What…” Naim squinted at the table, then reached for a cupcake, wondering if he was turning into a stress eater.
About the author:
You can usually find Lily MacGowan reading, knitting herself into the sofa, or writing. Lily has been a carpenter, a circus aerialist, a Sunset Strip club kid and a corporate mogul, but she gave all that up to teach middle school on the east coast and is happier than ever. Lily’s hobbies include food, household renovations and avoiding laundry. She’s a huge fan of comfy jammies and happily ever after.
Where to find the author:
Tumblr – http://ltmacgowan.tumblr.com/
Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25315940-from-the-ashes
Publisher: Loose ID
Cover Artist: Kalen O’Donnell
Rafflecopter Prize: E-copy of ‘From the Ashes’ by Lillian T. MacGowan
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