The perfect match, p.55
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       The Perfect Match, p.55

         Part #2 of Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins
 
Page 55

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  Idiot.

  Liar.

  Without further thought, he rolled out of bed and pulled on some clothes. Her father would probably strangle him on sight, and more power to him; he’d do the same thing if he had a daughter who was jerked around by some prat foreigner.

  Nevertheless.

  But perhaps a phone call was in order.

  Her voice mail picked up. It was 2:50 a. m. , after all.

  “It’s Tom,” he said. “I miss you. I love you. I’m on my way to see you right now, so if your father has a gun, please talk him down, and tell Ratty not to attack me. I love you, did I mention that?” He paused. “And I’m sorry, Honor. ”

  Then he went downstairs, grabbed his keys and headed for the car.

  He didn’t think much of it when the first pickup truck passed him, the flashing blue light indicating one of Manningsport’s volunteer firefighters.

  But when a second, and then a third, vehicle flew by him, all heading in the same direction he was, up the Hill, cold dread suddenly sat in the passenger seat next to him, certain and unwavering.

  Honor was in trouble.

  He floored it.

  The glow told him what waited ahead. Flashing red lights against an evil orange flicker, a herd of vehicles on the lawn of the grandparents’ house, people milling around, water arcing onto the roof of what appeared to be a massive ball of flame, once the Old House.

  Please, God, the grands made it out.

  An old man with a fire police vest was waving him over, but Tom veered around him, ignoring his shouts. Into the driveway, onto the lawn, behind the other cars and trucks, a police cruiser.

  Only two fire trucks. Shit.

  Levi Cooper was there, yelling into the radio. There was Honor’s grandfather. Faith was on her knees, sobbing.

  Then part of the roof collapsed in a great cloud of smoke and sparks.

  Tom wasn’t aware he was running until someone grabbed him.

  Brogan Cain, dressed in firefighting gear.

  “Where is she?” Tom asked.

  “I’m so sorry,” he said, his eyes wet.

  “Why aren’t you in there?”

  “It’s too dangerous. The fire chief called us back. ”

  “Is Honor inside?”

  Brogan face crumpled in answer. Tom ran, but Brogan grabbed him, pulling him back. “You can’t, Tom! It’s too dangerous. And it’s too late. ”

  Then Brogan’s head jerked back and he fell, and Tom’s hand was vaguely stinging. Shouts followed him across the lawn, and the heat slammed into him as he got close to the house.

  Fire twisted and leaped out of all the front windows, roaring with glee. The back of the house was gone, a pile of burning rubble. Tom could see the refrigerator.

  Jesus.

  His skin drew tight from the heat, and the air in his throat was ground glass, too hot to breathe.

  He grabbed the front door handle and tried it, smelling something odd. The latch clicked down, but the door didn’t budge. He took a step back, kicked the door, once, twice. There was a tremendous crash from above. From the corner of his eye, he saw a firefighter running toward him, to pull him away, no doubt.

  Tom noticed that his clothes were smoking.

  The third kick did it.

  * * *

  DEATH BY SMOKE inhalation or fire. . . very low on Honor’s list of ways to go. Freezing to death had always sounded peaceful. She imagined a coma would be okay, too, so long as the incident that preceded it wasn’t too violent.

  But not this.

  The smoke would kill them soon. . . if the flames didn’t.

  It was hotter now, and Goggy was fading. “Goggy?” she said. “Stay with me, okay? I’m scared. I need you. ” Stay with us, Mommy.

  Goggy squeezed her hand.

  Dad. Faith, Pru, Jack, Abby and Ned. Mrs. J.

  Tom.

  Her heart gave an enormous throb, and she was so glad, then, that she’d been in love, had known what it was like to truly love someone, to have had that small time when it seemed like they’d work out. What a gift it had been, to love Tom, to feel loved in return.

  And then the door exploded inward, and she and Goggy jumped, and he was there. Tom stood there, then reached for them, and his hand was sticky. He pulled them up and out, and the air, it was so cool and sweet, and maybe she had just died, and this was heaven, but if so, where was Mom?

  You made it, honey.

  Then she was crying and choking, and firefighters swarmed around them, people were yelling, and then Pops was there, and he pulled Goggy into his arms; he was sobbing, and Levi, and Faith! Oh, Faithie was crying, too, grabbing on to her, and Levi guided both of them to an ambulance, and there was Jessica Dunn, looking beautiful even in fire gear as she smiled and wiped her eyes.

  Kelly Matthews put an oxygen mask to her face, and Honor inhaled gratefully, choked and inhaled some more, her chest burning. Pops gripped her hand, kissed it. “Thank you,” he said, still crying. “Thank you, my angel. ”

  “You get to go to the hospital,” Kelly said with a smile. “You kick-ass woman, you. ”

  The rest was a blur—a gurney, Gerard, sooty and smiling. Ned, her sweet, beautiful nephew, eyes wet, a grin on his face. The ambulance ride—her first. Lordy, she was tired! Jack was waiting at the E. R. , and so was Jeremy Lyon, bless his heart, who kissed her cheek and held her hand. The doctors, fire chief and Levi alternately lectured her about foolishly running into a burning building and praised her for bravely running into a burning building.

  Goggy was doing fine; also being treated for smoke inhalation. Pops, too, refusing to leave his wife’s side.

  “Where’s Tom?” Honor asked. Her voice didn’t sound like her own.

  “He’s here,” Faith said, still hiccuping with sobs. “He came in someone’s truck. ” Then she held up her phone. “It’s Dad. I called him five minutes ago, and they’re on their way home. Say hi. He doesn’t believe you’re okay. ”

  “I’m okay, Daddy,” Honor said, and her father burst into tears.

  “My brave, brave girl,” he wept.

  All Honor really wanted was a nap.

  And Tom.

  But the doctors wouldn’t leave her alone, and she had to have tests and oxygen and then she was asleep.

  When she woke up, it was much quieter. She was in a regular hospital room, not the E. R. , wearing a johnny coat. Light spilled in from the hall.

  And Tom was there, sitting in a chair by her bedside. “Hallo,” he said, and her eyes filled with tears.

  “Thank you for saving my life,” she whispered. “Again. ”

  “Thank you for taking twenty years off mine,” he said. “Again. I’ll be dead in a month if this keeps up. ” He reached down and picked something up. Spike. “Say hallo, Ratty. ”

  Spike wriggled onto the bed, whimpering in joy, and climbed up Honor’s chest to lick her face. Her tears, specifically. She gave a watery smile, then frowned. “What happened to your hands?” she asked Tom. They were both bandaged.

  “I burned them on the door handle. ”

  She winced. “Sorry. ”

  “Oh, for Christ’s sake. It was worth it. Now move over. ” He lowered the side rail of her bed and climbed in with her, the mattress creaking under his weight. “And put this back on, and don’t take it off again. ”

  He slid her engagement ring onto her finger.

  “Tom,” she began.

  “Shush,” he said, and much to her astonishment, his eyes filled with tears. “You’re marrying me. That’s the end of it. ”

  The words made her heart ache in a bittersweet swell. “That’s very sweet,” she whispered. “And I’m sure I scared the life out of you, but you don’t have to—”

  “Check your phone messages. I was way ahead of your dramatics. ”

  “What do you me
an?”

  He smoothed her hair back with one bandaged hand. “It means I didn’t need to almost lose you to realize that I love you, Honor. ”

  Ratty—er, Spike—licked some more tears, as they seemed to be flowing out of her, then turned to bite Tom’s hand.

  He smiled, that goofy, crooked, sweet smile that made her heart stutter with love, and she found that she was smiling back. “Say yes, miss. ”

  “What was the question again?”

  His smile grew. “Will you marry me? For no reason this time, other than the fact that I can’t live without you and will probably die of misery if you don’t. ”

  “In that case, I guess I have no choice. ”

  He leaned in and kissed her. “I’ll take that as a yes. ”

 

 

  EPILOGUE

  Eighteen months later

  THE AUDITORIUM WAS extremely crowded, loud and didn’t smell so great. Then again, it didn’t smell so bad, either. Honor was pretty used to it by now.

  “Do you need anything, darling? All set? Hungry?”

  “I’m fine, Tom. Sit down. You’re making me nervous. ”

  “Yeah. Good idea. ” He didn’t sit down. He did bend down and give her a kiss, however, then resumed pacing.

  “I’m afraid to sit down,” Goggy said, sitting down, anyway. “The germs in here! Do they clean it every day, do you think?”

  “I don’t know, Goggy. ”

  “They should’ve held this at the activity center at Rushing Creek,” the old lady said. “Much cleaner. ” Not that the activity center was big enough, but yes, Goggy and Pops had moved into the “asylum,” a month after the Old House fire, and they loved it there. Pops flirted with “those trashy sixtysomethings,” according to Goggy, and still showed up to check the vines every day. Goggy took up swimming in the Olympic-size pool and had yet to drown, and no one got food poisoning, though Goggy came up to the New House at least twice a week to cook and fight with Mrs. Johnson (who was still called just that, despite her marital status).

  Today, the entire Holland clan had come out for the big event, front row seats, of course. Even Abby had come home from NYU, looking incredibly glamorous with her new bangs and leather jacket. Ned was flirting with Sarah Cooper, Levi’s little sister, much to Levi’s chagrin. Faith and Levi held hands and smooched occasionally, their toddler son asleep in the stroller. Even the Kelloggs had come, too, and while Janice still stared at Tom like she wanted to smear him with butter, well, it was nice for Charlie.

  “Drink this,” Mrs. Johnson said, handing her a thermos and patting Spike’s head. “You need to stay hydrated. It’s cucumber water. Very healthful and delicious. ”

  “How’s my grandchild?” Dad asked, rubbing Honor’s tummy. “Hello in there! Grandpa can’t wait to meet you!”

  Yep, she was pregnant. Four and a half months, and already totally in love with the little thumper inside of her, and dying to find out if it was a boy or a girl. But they wanted to wait to find out. Old-school.

  Six months after the wedding, Charlie had asked Tom if he could come live with them at the New House. The Kelloggs put up a little resistance at first (what would their friends think?), but it was only a token. Everyone, including Charlie, knew that Janice and Walter really didn’t want the responsibility of raising him the rest of the way.

  Tom did. So did Honor.

  Mitchell DeLuca was more problematic, hanging up when Tom had called him, putting a heavy guilt trip on Charlie via text. Tom’s plan had been to drive to Philly and beat the snot out of him, but Honor invited Mitchell to the New House for dinner instead. Made Goggy’s ham and salt potatoes and Mrs. Johnson’s pineapple upside-down cake, and wrung a promise out of Tom that he’d stay cool and let her handle things. She told Mitchell simply that, while no one could ever take his place in Charlie’s life, she and Tom both loved Charlie, could give him stability and an extended family, and that Mitchell was welcome to visit or have Charlie visit any time he liked. Then she stared him down, waiting until he said yes.
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