Adam and the Ants: the Beginning
Chapter 12: Aftermath
Copyright© 2015 by LastCallAgain
After the fire, the fire still burns.
The heart grows colder but never ever learns.
The memories smolder and the soul always yearns.
After the fire ... the fire still burns.
— Roger Daltrey, "After the Fire" (used without permission)
Thursday, August 23, 2:44 AM
Next thing I knew, Mom was borrowing a gauze pad and a bottle of water from Paul, and was trying to clean some of the soot from my face while a cameraman set up a tripod. Meanwhile Rehema Ellis, a TV reporter whom I recognized from Eyewitness News on Channel 2, explained how she and her cameraman came to be in Jeannette in the middle of the night.
"We were on our way back to the studio from covering a debate in the State Legislature in Harrisburg," she stated, "when we heard about the fire on the scanner radio we keep in the van. We weren't going to stop, but then there was some chatter about a teenager helping an elderly couple escape, and we couldn't pass it up."
Miss Ellis then went on to describe how the interview would work.
"The intro will be me telling the viewers where we are and what happened, then I'll let you tell your side off the story," she stated. She positioned me to her right, facing me not toward the camera but at an angle. She went on to explain that the angle was called "quarter facing" and that it allowed the interviewer (her) and the interviewee (me) to equally face each other and the camera. I didn't give it much thought at the time, but with me on the right side, the now slightly bloody bandage on my right arm was in full view of the camera. Behind us, a few firefighters were still wandering around the garage and yard.
The interview itself only took a few moments. As promised, Miss Ellis introduced herself to the camera and began:
"I'm Rehema Ellis, reporting from Jeannette," she intoned, "where the heroic actions of this brave young man may have saved the lives of an elderly couple after a fire broke out in their home. The fire appears to have been caused by a faulty appliance in the garage. The home quickly filled with smoke and the residents, one of whom is wheelchair-bound, were trapped in their bedroom. Firefighters tell me this young man's quick thinking may have helped avert disaster. Son, tell our viewers what happened tonight?"
She pointed the microphone at me and smiled.
"I woke up and saw the glow of the fire coming through my window," I started. "I got my mom to call 9-1-1, and then I came over to make sure that Mr. and Mrs. Morrison got out." I shrugged and added, "It's what anyone would do."
I didn't think it would work well if I told the world that I had help getting into the house from a colony of ants!
Miss Ellis took the microphone back and smiled at the camera. "Brave, quick thinking, and modest as well! Reporting from Jeannette, I'm Rehema Ellis, Eyewitness News."
Miss Ellis stood still, looking into the lens until the camera man said, "Aaaand ... clear," then asked him how it looked. He griped a bit about all the flashing lights from the ambulance and firetrucks reflecting off the house windows.
"But you were great, Rehema, and this kid's a natural," he added, stepping forward to offer me a high-five.
He told me the story would be on the noon news later that day, then reminded Miss Ellis that they still needed to get back to the studio. They shook hands with me and Mom, thanked us for the interview and headed back to their van.
By that time, my legs were feeling weak again and I sat back down on the gurney.
"You need to get some rest, son," Paul said. "You've had enough of the oh-two. I think at this point the rest is more important." He handed Mom a clipboard with some papers to sign and admonished her to bring me to the emergency room at Memorial if I had any coughing fits in the next day or so.
I took a moment to look around. The firefighters had finished putting their trucks back together and one by one they were turning off their lights and heading back to the station. With nothing else to watch, the crowd of neighbors was also thinning. Eventually, only Ambulance Number Seven and one City of Jeannette police car remained.
Then, just when I thought all the excitement was over, a car came barreling down the street and screeched to a stop on the other side of the ambulance. I heard car doors slamming, and some incoherent conversation from the front of the ambulance that got clearer as the voices approached.
" ... and if he hadn't gotten them out when he did, the smoke inhalation would have been much worse. He may very well have saved their lives. He's right back here."
At that point, a police officer walked around the back of the ambulance, followed closely by Charlotte's mother and Charlotte herself. They both squealed and ran over to smother me with more hugs.
Mrs. Phelps was murmuring, "Thank you, thank you, thank you," in my ear, while Charlotte just sobbed into my chest. Paul, whose exasperated objections went unheard, finally gave up and shrugged.
"Just let him breathe, okay ladies?" he pleaded.
Mrs. Phelps broke away with one last "Thank you," and a kiss on my cheek, then stepped away to have a hushed conversation with my mother.
I could smell Charlotte's shampoo in her hair, along with a hint of baby powder. For just a few short moments, even after all the craziness of the past half hour or so, everything in the world seemed right. It was a completely different feeling of serenity than when I spent time with my ants, but at the same time, holding Charlotte in my arms just felt ... right. Until I realized that she was crying.
"Hey," I whispered, squeezing her shoulder. "Everyone is okay. No need to cry. It's all okay."
Charlotte looked up from my chest and I had to force myself not to laugh. Her crying into my filthy t-shirt had transferred some of the soot onto her face, and her hair was everywhere. The result was comical– but she was still beautiful.
"It's not okay!" she sobbed. "You have always been a friend to me, and I've been such a bitch to you. I just ... I don't know what I was thinking. I guess I thought that I was growing up and maturing and I hadn't seen you so I didn't consider that you were growing up and maturing too and..." She stopped to take a sobbing breath. "Can you forgive me? I promise I'll talk to the El- I mean, um, the kids at Tito's and get the teasing to stop." A tear ran down her cheek, cleaning a tiny trail through the sooty smudge.
I reached up with my thumb and wiped the tear way, smearing more soot onto her face in the process. "How could I stay mad at a face like this?" I asked. We gazed into each other's eyes– Just like that day last summer–
Then Mrs. Phelps was hustling Charlotte back to the car, saying they had to get to the hospital. I stared after them as they rounded the corner of the ambulance, wondering if Charlotte was just talking from the heat of the moment or if she meant what she said.
"All right, son," Paul nudged my shoulder. "Let's get you out of here before somebody else tries to smother you. I hope you enjoyed your stay at Hotel Ambulance Number Seven."
He shook my hand and helped me to my feet, then went about getting Ambulance Number Seven back in order.
Mom put an arm around my shoulders as we walked across the street. "I'm very proud of you, Adam. What you did was very brave."
I thought about some of the words I had been hearing over the past half hour... 'brave, ' 'courageous, ' and 'hero.' Was I all of those things? Was I any of them?
None of that mattered.
I had helped get Mr. and Mrs. M out of the house, the ants had saved their babies, and Charlotte was back in my life.
That's what mattered!
The excitement of the fire was over. The fire trucks and Ambulance Number Seven were headed back to their respective stations, and the neighborhood spectators had all gone back home. One City of Jeannette police car stayed parked in front of the Morrisons' house to deter anyone from taking advantage of its unoccupied and vulnerable condition.
Trudging up the stairs, all I wanted to do was fall into bed, but Mom insisted that I take a quick shower. I had to grudgingly agree that it was a good idea— I still had soot and blood all over from my foray into the Morrison's house.