Mona had taken the day to drive out her Aunt Julie’s in Astoria, she was still living in the same home she’d lived in all her life. Mona had many fond memories of playing in the yard and family dinners and just plain love. She’d been feeling really down since her run in with Luke and his lunch date. She thought she might be ready to think about hearing him out but now she figured it was over. She pulled into the driveway of her Aunt’s house, it never seemed this little when she was a child but she remembered sharing a room with Georgie and Pauly as a kid. She smiled as she turned off the engine. Aunt Julie appeared on the porch and Mona jumped out to run into her arms. She loved her Aunt so much and she knew she loved her. They had a bond that even Georgie and Pauly didn’t share with their own mother.
‘Oh I’m so glad to see you, child,’ her Aunt said as she squeezed her tight and kissed her cheek.
‘I’m so glad I could come out.’ Mona leaned back from the embrace to look her Aunt. This woman was still strong and beautiful. She always had a regal appearance to Mona. Now she was little older and stiffer it seemed, but she was still gorgeous with gray hair she kept in a bun and as usual, she was the sharpest dresser ever. Every outfit for Aunt Julie was coordinated at all times, Mona figured that’s where Georgie got it from.
‘Come on in, I made lasagna for lunch.’
‘That sounds delicious,’ but as she said it Mona thought about Mr. Serrano’s lasagna which lead to thoughts of Luke and tears began to fall.
Her Aunt was shocked, ‘what’s wrong Mona? You never cry. You were the strongest little girl I ever saw. Okay, come on in and sit down, I need to know what’s going on.’
Mona trudged inside with tears still streaming down her face. She couldn’t believe that the mention of lasagna had in her in full blown tears.
‘Sit on down Mona. Darling, you have to tell me what’s going on.’
Mona set on her Aunt’s leather couch it was worn but still comfortable. Her Aunt sat down in her wing back chair that she’d had reupholstered a few years ago. Mona was trying to get her breathing together and stop the flow of tears but it was difficult.
‘Does this have something to do with that boy?’
Mona had told her Aunt a little about the romance between her and Luke but she hadn’t spoken about what had happened recently.
‘Yes, Aunt Julie, it is.’
‘Well, I spoke with your cousin and she told me you two had broken up awhile ago. Why are still upset? And why are you this upset?’ her Aunt’s face was a mask of worry.
‘Aunt Julie, it’s such a long story.’
‘Look here child I got all day, so you can tell it.’
Mona settled back into the couch and started to spill the whole sorted tale.
‘I couldn’t believe it Aunt Julie, I just couldn’t. I’d fallen in love with the man who had participated in the murder of my parents. How could I have been such a damn fool?’
‘Now okay Mona, I know you’re upset but no foul language in my house.’
‘I’m sorry but this entire situation has me in complete knots. I’m so hurt and torn up. I don’t know if I ever want to love anyone again.’
Aunt Julie was sitting there watching her niece. She had things she needed to tell Mona. Now looked like the opportunity she had been waiting on.
‘Mona, I need to share something with you about your friend, Mr. Serrano.’
‘What?’ Mona was confused what could her Aunt know about Luke.
‘I know him. I know you’re confused but I do know him. When your parents were killed, we tried our best to shield you from the whole situation. Now, I don’t know if that was a good thing for me and Uncle James Stanley to do, but we did the best we could. We went to the court for the trial, we met with the prosecutor. The whole thing was sad and I was angry, thank the Lord for your Uncle because I wanted kill some folks. Somebody had taken away my sister, my Emily.’
This was the first time she’d ever heard this from her Aunt. She has no idea how this had affected her too. Mona was just a child so her pain was the only important thing to her at the time, but she’d forgotten Aunt Julie had lost her beloved baby sister.
‘They weren’t sure they could find and convict that monster who did this, but then someone came forward. A witness. We were surprised and so was the prosecuting attorney but everyone was thrilled. Someone would testify to what they’d seen that night and what happened. This person knew who the person was that had set fire to your daddy’s restaurant. I was so thankful because if they hadn’t come forward, we would probably never had known who did that evil thing. You know who that person was?’
Mona just stared at her Aunt blankly.
‘It was your Mr. Serrano, I remember him. I wasn’t sure when you told me his name that this was the same man but it is. My Lord, what a small world we live in. He was brave and, yes I was mad he took part in that, but I knew he was kid and fear made him run. He didn’t help or even stay as those boys set fire to your daddy’s place and he did the right thing, he came forward. You know I think God brings people into our lives for a reason. We may not always know right then but it reveals it itself.’
Tears came to Mona’s eyes again, not tears of pain but tears of joy. He hadn’t actually been there, he hadn’t actually participated, and he’d testified against what she figured were his friends at the time. He’d done the right thing then, but she knew he’d done the wrong thing now by not telling her sooner. She wondered why. He could have easily explained this whole thing, why had he chose to keep it a secret? She’d told him about her parents, why didn’t he just say something.
‘Aunt Julie, thank you for this information. I remember when I was little my mama always telling me ‘remember baby, remember your heart, there’s a reason you have one’. I was never sure why she said that until now, my heart is forgiving. All these years I didn’t even realize I’d been keeping all this unforgiveness, all that hate in until right now. All my pain and anguish at the death of my mama and daddy. It was so unfair, it was so unfair.’
Her Aunt got up and went to sit beside Mona and put her arms around her and just held her as she cried.
‘It’s okay darling, it’s okay. You know God can give you double for your trouble. From what I’ve heard this man loves you, he treats you well. Yes, he wasn’t right for keeping that secret but I think he kept it because he didn’t want to hurt you.’
‘Hurt me? Hurt me? I’m in so much pain now.’
‘Listen Mona, we all do things that at the time we think are a good idea. I think me and your Uncle thought it was a good idea not to speak about your mama and daddy. We thought it would hurt you if we did so we just tried our best to make sure your life went back to normal. But really how is anyone ever going to be the same again when their parents die? Especially since you were so young. It was dumb of us, but we tried.’
Mona took her head off her Aunt’s shoulder and looked at her, ‘no, no Aunt Julie it wasn’t dumb. I knew you and Uncle James Stanley did the best you could in a tragic situation.’
‘Then why don’t you extend Mr. Serrano that same understanding.’
Mona had to sit back for a minute, her Aunt was right. But with all that had occurred between her and Luke she didn’t know if it could ever be the same between them.
‘I don’t know Aunt Julie. How do I overcome this?’
Her Aunt Julie looked at her with love and took her arthritic finger and poked her in the chest and said, ‘remember your heart.’
Through the tears Mona smiled for the first time in a long time. There was hope and she felt free.
‘Okay darling, come on back here and get some of this good lasagna.’
Mona realized then too that for the first time in a long time she was starving. They got up and headed for the kitchen with the smell of delicious lasagna. Mona was relieved, things would be alright.
Luke was coming into his condo with take out, he’d been hold up there since his run in with Mona and had no idea how to mend this tragic situation. He’d been thinking about just showing up at her house with roses and the ring he’d been hiding in his sock drawer for the last 2 months. Yes, he wanted to marry her but just hadn’t mustered up the courage to ask before this debacle occurred and now it seemed it too late. He’d looked high and low for a ring to fit her and finally decided she was more unique than any diamond could express. He’d found a beautiful ruby ring with yellow diamonds surrounding it. It set him back a few thousand bucks but nothing was too good for Mona, nothing except the truth. Now it set his drawer, taunting him every time he saw it with his own stupidity. What the hell was he supposed to do now?
As he walked through the door, he saw Brady and Amber cuddled up on his couch laughing watching a movie. He really liked that those two were together and he tried his best not to put them in the middle of his drama. He’d explained to Amber exactly what happened the day they saw him at lunch with Sheila Webster, but he asked her not to tell her Aunt. He didn’t want to seem like a slithery snake running around having these kids do his dirty work. They deserved to enjoy each other. They’d both be heading back to school in the next week. He’d actually miss them both. Brady had been great to have here at the house and Amber was just delightful. He couldn’t have made a better girl for Brady. He hoped his son knew how lucky he was to have a great girl like her. It was something he knew now, he thought regretfully.
Brady looked up to see his dad and tried to shift so he and Amber didn’t look too intimate.
‘Hey dad, what’s up?’
‘Nothing. How about you two?’
‘Nothing much just hanging out watching movies. What you got?’
‘Oh it’s Thai, do either of you want any? There’s plenty.’
‘We’re cool dad, we ordered pizza.’
Luke went into the kitchen and set down his bag and began to pull out containers. It smelled delicious but he wasn’t sure he was hungry.
Suddenly Brady and Amber appeared in the kitchen staring at him.
‘Dad, you okay?’
‘Yes, I’m fine. You guys go back and finish your movie.’
‘Luke, we’re just asking. We both worry about you and Aunt Mo.’
‘I know and you two have been fantastic but don’t concern yourself with what we old folks are doing. You two have college starting up soon, worry about that. Let me worry about what’s happening with me and Mona.’
‘Luke, I don’t know what’s up but I did want to tell you that my Aunt Mo went out to see my grandmother last week. And when she came back she was different.’
Luke furrowed his brow at Amber, ‘different? Different how?’
Amber looked over at Brady who just shook his head encouraging her to continue.
‘She seemed peaceful, not really happy but at ease. I don’t know. I asked her about it and she just kind of…I don’t know hemmed me off.’
‘Has she been like this the whole week, do you know?’
‘Yea, ever since she came back from seeing my grandmother in Astoria. It’s weird but she just seems better. I don’t know what that means for you Luke.’
‘Thanks for telling me that, sweetheart. Right now it doesn’t matter what it means. I’m just happy she’s better. You guys finish watching your movie.’
Amber smiled at Luke as she and Brady left and he returned it. He was thrilled to hear that Mona was okay, but he wondered what happened between her and her Aunt that she’d have this change of heart. He left his dinner and went into the bedroom and closed the door. He opened his sock drawer and extracted the ring box. It was beautiful box, black leather with silver stitching around it. He opened it to peer at the ring he wanted to give to the love of his life as he asked her to marry him. He looked and wondered what the news Amber had just given him meant for their chances or did they still even have a chance.
It was 7:15 p.m. on a rainy Thursday evening. It has been getting colder as Autumn approached. Mona was sitting in the TV room with Vince Torino and Sergeant Chuck Riley at the table laughing and talking. She had a shift till 5 p.m. tomorrow then she’d be off a day then back on for a 14 hour shift. She’d been feeling better more like her old self again but she still hadn’t spoken to Luke. She knew she needed to but there was just something in her that was holding back. The odd part was after the visit with her Aunt Julie and letting her grief regarding the death of her parents flow, she’d forgiven Luke for his deceit. But there was still something that couldn’t let her face him just now. She’d been working on that but at the moment she still needed time alone to figure out where or if they’d be moving forward in life together.
The guys that were there tonight were either washing clothing or eating. Kimura and Powell were sitting on the couch watching something mindless on television, it was relatively quiet. Hopefully tonight would stay quiet, Mona hadn’t been getting as much sleep as she needed lately although but the nightmares about her parents had stopped. She wasn’t looking as haggard as she had but even she knew her glow had not returned. She kept wondering was that due to the fact Luke was still out of her life. She looked from Torino to Sgt. Riley both with happy and laughing at some joke Chuck had just told. They had loves of their own. Torino was dating a nice guy, Chuck’s family was great as ever, he and his wife were getting ready to celebrate their anniversary. That’s what Mona wanted, deep in her heart that’s what she knew she deserved. She decided right then that within the next couple of days she’d get in touch with Luke. She wanted this ache to be gone, she wanted to know what would happen between them. If the love was still there.
‘Mona, you okay?’ Torino asked.
‘Yea, Vince I’m fine. I’m just a little tired, maybe I need to turn in…’
The sound of the fire alarm cut off Mona’s reply. Time to go. She and the rest of the guys jumped up and headed for the poles, they made quick work of everything. Getting on their gear in a few quick minutes and onto the trucks. There was shouting of instructions as dispatch started giving details on the incident, a house fire, she disliked those. They could easily get out of control and spark fires in nearby homes, these houses were packed on top of each other in this neighborhood. It was a constant source of annoyance for the firefighters at the firehouse.
Mona set in the front cab of the truck, listening and taking notes as dispatch spoke. Kimura was sitting across from her, relaying information regarding the incident site. There were so many things going on all Mona could do is concentrate and pray. It never got any easier when they went out on a call, her adrenaline was always rushing, she was scared but that served her well. Frightened was good, it meant she avoided making stupid decisions at the incident site.
They pulled up and it was worse than they imagined, the fire was raging out of control. It was two story home and it looked like the fire’s origin was on the first floor. That would make it easier to try and get under control but there were so many things to watch. She was out in a flash, helping Kimura get the hoses unfurled and hooked up to the hydrant. She and Kimura worked well together he knew his role and she knew hers which made things easy. There was a couple with three kids standing near the street sobbing, the woman kept putting her head in the man’s shoulder.
She heard Chuck shout, ‘there’s one missing. There’s a kid missing,’ over to Torino and Powell.
She knew that meant, there was a person who may not have gotten out.
‘Powell. Anderson. Start searching. Torino get over here and get on the hose.’
Torino came running and Mona took off in one direction as Powell took off in the other around the perimeter searching for the other kid. She was 14 years old and named Phoebe Weiss. Mona had searched for missing people before at incident sites, she was sure that’s why Chuck sent her. She had a knack for knowing where people maybe hiding and that’s what she was praying for that this child was just hiding because there was no way anyone was going into the fire, not tonight. She heard Powell’s voice calling out to the side of her.
‘Hey, is anybody here? Phoebe?’
Then suddenly in her peripheral vision she saw him go toward the house. There was complete commotion everywhere. The last thing she needed was Powell doing something stupid.
‘Powell, what the hell are you doing?’
‘I’m going in. I hear her so I’m going in.’
‘Powell! Have you cleared that?’ she shouted running towards him. Sometimes the hissing of fire could sound like a human being, they all knew that. Why was this jackass going into that house? Even if it was the child’s voice it was too risky, especially alone. She saw him enter the burning house and thought, you idiot, this was going turn into a disaster. As she looked in she could see him, he was turning in circles as if he was disoriented, which wasn’t hard to do when inhaling smoke even with the mask on. Suddenly she saw him stagger and fall, it all happened so fast. Mona couldn’t wait, she had to get in there. She couldn’t leave a fellow firefighter to die even if she hated his guts. She was on her radio in a flash reporting to Sgt. Riley.
‘Powell is down. I’m going in after him.’
Mona didn’t wait for a reply she just charged ahead. It was foolish thing to do she knew but she no choice.
She heard a crackle and then Sgt. Riley say, ‘Anderson get the hell out of there! I’m ordering you to abort that rescue.’
Mona couldn’t hear much more as the fire crackled and sizzled around her. Items in the home were bursting from the flames and heat, the whole place was combustible. Then suddenly she heard it, the ceiling caving in and then she saw as it fell on top of Powell’s limp body which was now buried under a pile of burned wood and sheetrock. She turned to see Torino standing at the side door and suddenly Mona felt a hot swoosh as something landed on her hard. She went down as everything began to go black and the last thing she heard was, ‘Mona! Mona!’ as Torino screamed her name.