Collision Course IX

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Beside Tanner, there were a couple other serious injuries.  There was one other with burns, and one with a deep gash on her hand, but mostly it was a lot of coughing from the smoke and some very dry mouths.  Ella refused to leave Tanner’s side, but told Carol where the cups could be found.  Everyone shared in some water, draining most of the two gallons Tanner had brought down.  Ella didn’t mind, she knew he had more and would get it later.

For now, she asked Carol to set aside a glass for when he woke up, then looked around.

“Where is Bo?”  She wanted to ask when they would know if the plan had worked and the fire was out.  The silence was almost as bad as the alarm, now.

“I think he and a few others went up to let people know what’s going on,” Carol said.

Ella noticed there were only two left, now.  The rest had returned to their own apartments, Ella supposed; or perhaps to stay with others they knew.   Most of the first and second floor residents had evacuated to higher floors early on except for those who had stayed to help fight the fire.  These two looked a little lost now.

Ella figured they couldn’t just stand there awkwardly forever.  “You live downstairs?”

The man in his mid-thirties nodded, giving a mirthless laugh.  “Yeah, I moved in just last month.  Great timing.”

“Three months ago, here,” said the woman beside him.  “Apartment 103.  I only knew the old lady who… whose apartment caught fire.  Mrs. Moshenberg.”  She picked at a burnt area on her shirt.  “She was nice.”

It wasn’t until then Ella realized that the apartment hadn’t been empty when the fire happened.  Maybe it had been caused by a lit candle from the power outage?  She squeezed Tanner’s hand.  “So I guess you don’t really know anyone else yet, huh?”

She shook her head, as did he.

“Well, I’m Ella-”

“Carol,” she offered.

“And this is Tanner,” Ella said, holding his hand up briefly.

He introduced himself as Amir, and she gave her name as Mila.  Ella invited them to stay, and they both thanked her, grateful for the hospitality.  Ella jokingly apologized she couldn’t offer them a shower, but she’d get more water later, and they were all welcome to have a bite to eat if they were hungry.

Ella decided that if Tanner was going to be out for any length of time, he might be more comfortable on the bed rather than the floor, so Amir helped to move him into her bedroom.  In doing so, they found poor Sam who was burrowed under the covers, frightened near to death.  Ella let him stay in his burrow, but scooted him just enough so Tanner could fit beside him.

Figuring he would be okay for a moment on his own, she helped her three guests get settled in the living room, lighting the candles again, though they all looked at one another in understanding that these could not be allowed to be unattended for even a moment.  Ella dug out a pack of cards and some chips and left them to a game of poker before she went back to keep an eye on Tanner.

She closed the door, but did not latch it, and sat on the edge of the bed, wondering how bad his injury really was and when he would take up.  Dean gave a pathetic mewl and crept out from under the bed to rub against her.  She pulled him into her arms and nuzzled his head, fighting the tears that were beginning to sting her eyes.

Maybe she couldn’t offer her other guests a bath, but she left to retrieve the bit of tap water from earlier and a cloth.  Then she set to washing away the white powder that covered him head to toe, revealing Tanner’s beautiful black skin beneath.  She avoided his bandages and the burn, but was able to clean much of it away from his eyes and mouth, then wiped down his hands.

When she had cleaned what she could, she looked to her phone to see how much time had passed, but there was no signal and the time was not registering.  It could have been noon or midnight and either seemed just as likely to be true.  She couldn’t even begin to guess at how much time had really passed, only that she was very tired, so she kicked off her shoes and laid on the bed beside him.  Dean snuggled himself between them and Sam curled up against her legs.  A few minutes later, Ella was fast asleep.

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