WHERE THERE’S SMOKE

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Copyright © 2012 Jayne Rylon

Logan skidded to a halt in the driveway of Rose’s house. No, Kyana’s house. The yellow tape blocking off the entrance to Ben’s place was completely unnecessary. Stopping there would have been pointless. Char lingered in the air, making his eyes water and his nose itch. He didn’t pause to swipe at his face before tearing from the truck. He hopped the flower beds and retaining wall with a single leap before sprinting up the hill to the back stairs he’d used many times in his youth.

The bottom one creaked louder than he remembered. Maybe he’d never subjected it to such force in the past. Today he leapt them three at a time. He swiped the key from its usual hiding place in the grill, tucked in the corner of the deck, then burst through the screened-in porch. Without bothering to ring the bell, he let himself inside.

Lights blazed in the kitchen, so he headed that way first.

Logan was a little surprised to find his uncle awake after all the commotion, which had probably included a trip to the hospital in the handful of hours between the fire and the airing of the piece on the news. His heart stuttered in his chest when he caught sight of Ben, slumped over the dining room table. For the first time Logan could remember, the man looked…old. White hair slicked back from a recent shower. Neat rows left by a comb in his thinning locks contrasted with a fuzzy gray robe, which Ben clasped tight around him. It had obviously belonged to Rose. If Logan wasn’t concentrating so hard on not breaking down, he might have snapped a picture.

“Nice outfit.” He tried not to startle his great-uncle. The guy didn’t need that kind of shock on top of everything else.

“Even without my hearing aids, I could tell that was you clomping up the stairs. Maybe because you were shaking the whole damn house, you big lug.” Ben lifted his head and pasted on a wry smile. “How’d you find out?”

“The goddamned news.” He tried not to shout, balling his fists at his sides instead. He didn’t bother with inane questions like, “How are you?” when the answer was clearly devastated-yet-mostly-healthy. Besides, they were both more comfortable with confrontation than sentimental crap. “Were you going to call me? Or am I so worthless you didn’t think I’d come?”

“Logan, please.” Ben shook his head, his eyes shining. “Things have been rough lately, I understand. How many decades did I work two or three jobs to earn my house? When you have a dream, you have to go for it. Things—important things—have to be sacrificed. I wasn’t about to pile any more pressure on you. We’ll handle it.”

“You and Wonder Woman, huh? I can’t believe she ran into a burning building.” His guts roiled again at the thought of what might have happened. The ragdoll flop of her lithe body in the fireman’s arms had him brewing some punches. Aimed at whom, he couldn’t say. Maybe the dude who had been there to rescue her. Logan wished he could have been her hero.

The nightmare vision distracted him from pursuing Ben’s revelation. What had the man sacrificed? Logan would give his great-uncle anything in his power. Another time he would circle around and find out.

“I’m torn on that one. Can’t say I’m pleased she put herself at risk. At the same time… I’m sure I wouldn’t be sitting here right now if it weren’t for that girly.” Ben sighed. “She’s tough. You know she is. But a person can only take so much. She’s been in the shower an awfully long time. I’m starting to think someone needs to make sure she’s okay. I should have insisted the doctors examine her too, damn it. You know how she gets, though. Hardheaded.”

Ben stared at Logan, unblinking.

“I’m on it.” Logan bent down and clapped a hand on Ben’s back, surprised to find his palm met with more bone than muscle. He manned up and said what he was really thinking all along. “I’m so glad you’re all right.”

“Me too, kiddo.” Ben coughed when he laughed. “Guess I gotta go to extremes to rate a visit, huh?”

“Not anymore. I swear. Things’ll be different. Hell, you might not be able to get rid of me now.” Logan never broke promises. For one thing, his landlord was likely to boot him into the skid row gutter a millisecond after the dirt bag found out he’d lost his job. But mostly, being here felt right.

Though his world had turned upside down, something in his soul had settled the moment he’d driven his truck onto Oak Avenue—even if he’d executed the maneuver practically on two wheels.

Ben nodded then shooed Logan with a wave of his hands toward the stairs. “Check on Kyana. I’m going to rest for a while. Is it sleep or a nap if it’s already six o’clock? In either case, I’ll take Rose’s room.”

They both winced at the reminder of their absent friend.

Overflowing with terror, loss and regret, Logan bounded up the stairs to the second floor. He strode to the bathroom that adjoined Kyana’s old room and banged on the door.

No answer.

She’d have to be deafer than Ben to miss his second round of pounding.

Still not a peep confronted his battery against the hardwood.

Something told him he’d have better luck convincing her to open the door if he didn’t start bellowing at her from the other side of the six-paneled maple. If she recognized his voice, he’d certainly be left out in the cold.

Then he imagined her passed out. Unconscious. What if she’d slipped and hit her head?

She had to be exhausted.

Drained.

Scared.

Hurt.

It didn’t take much for him to visualize her crumpled in the tile basin, bleeding from a nasty dent in her thick skull. Screw that.

He pivoted on his heel and marched into Rose’s room. Ben looked at him with a single raised brow when he rummaged through the supplies near the vanity mirror. He held a bobby pin up to the soft morning light, glowing in the window, to judge the wire’s gauge.

“You can’t just barge in there. Give her space if she needs it,” Ben protested, leaning forward from the edge of the bed. His fingers gripped Logan’s arm hard enough to leave marks.

“She’s not answering. What if she’s messed up?” He paused, respecting the opinion of his great-uncle. During the time in between stays, Logan had merely been surviving, not learning and growing like he had been in the glorious summers or the final year he’d spent on Oak Avenue.

“Hell, you’re right.” Ben closed his eyes. “No choice. Be ready for her to fight you though. She’s a wildcat, our girly.”

“I think I can handle one wet, naked woman.” He groaned. It took all the fortitude he possessed to halt that line of fantasy right in its tracks. “Damn. I didn’t mean it like that…”

Ben laughed. “I didn’t raise a dumbass. She’s likely to tear your nuts off as it is. Good luck, son.”