Everyone’s quiet around the dinner table tonight.
It’s been a nonstop shift with the shittiest results on record—seven calls, five deaths, two of those children.
None of us has eaten for going on seven hours, and we’re all ravenous. Once we get the pizzas laid out on the table, all fourteen of us—seven regular firefighters and seven volunteers—dive for a piece, creating a tangle of limbs.
I score pepperoni and olive, meat lovers, and barbecue chicken, but before I dig in, I push my chair back and address the table at large. “Anyone touches my plate, you will die.”
I get a lot of shit flung back at me like “Ownership is nine-tenths of the law” and “You snooze you lose” and “That’s like leaving mice to watch the cheese.”
I walk down the hall and call up the stairs, “Evan, pizza’s here. Better grab some. It’s disappearing fast.”
I get no response. He’s probably asleep.
Back at the table, I pick up my first slice with anticipation flooding my mouth.
A knock comes at our front door, and I look around the table. In a firehouse, no one who is meant to be here would knock. It generally means we’re about to be presented with something hilarious, stupid, or awful. Given this day’s track record, I’m betting on the latter.
“A baby.” Tucker Medina, a fellow firefighter and one of my best friends, is bent over a piece of deep-dish pepperoni. “The way this day has been going, that has to be a fucking baby on our doorstep.”
“It’s spring,” Bobby Stokes says, a paramedic firefighter who’s been with the team for about a year. “It’s probably baby somethings.”
Everyone stops eating and reaches for their wallets. Tucker grabs a pen and lists the bets on a napkin as guesses and money fly at him.
“Pizza delivery guy wanting a bigger tip.”
“Sorority wanting a tour.”
“Girl Scouts selling cookies.”
“It’s Girl Scout cookie season?”
“It’s April,” someone says with a you-dumbshit tone. “Of course, it’s Girl Scout cookie season.”
By the time I push my chair back, everyone is laughing, and a sense of relief fills the house.
When I open the front door, a brush of chilled spring air hits me. I’m not surprised to find no one standing there. I’m also not surprised to find a cardboard box on the welcome mat. I step outside and look around, but there’s nobody hovering in the night’s shadows.
I drop to a crouch in front of the box. There’s no movement and no sound—that can’t be good.
I carefully slide open the flaps, which have been crisscrossed to keep the top closed, and cringe a little when I open it, braced for the worst possible thing this could be.
There are two kittens inside, huddled in a corner. They’re alive—one of the better moments in my day—and their frightened bright blue eyes stare back at me.
“Hey there, guys.” I exhale, and my muscles relax. “You two sure are little.” I lift the box, careful not to jostle them. “Prepare yourself to watch grown men turn into marshmallows.”
I return to the table with the box and announce, “Kittens.”
Half the men at the table stand to look in the box, the other half argue with Tucker over their bet, claiming their choice of puppies is the closest guess to kittens and they should win.
“Damn, they’re tiny,” one of the volunteers says.
“Maybe three or four weeks,” another guesses.
“At least they brought them here and didn’t throw them in the river,” Bobby says.
“My kids would love them, but my wife would kill me,” a volunteer says.
Tucker finally settles the bets and starts on his pizza again.
Logan Roberts, another firefighter and another friend for decades, stands to look in the box. “They’re black and white. We should keep them.”
“Knew that was coming,” I say to Tucker sitting across from me at the table.
“He always was bringing home strays,” Tucker agrees.
Tucker, Logan, Evan, and I grew up right around the corner from each other in Portland. They had regular, run-down houses, while I lived in a trailer park a corner away. Our parents used to call us the four musketeers, and we could always be found playing ball in the streets, climbing trees on neighboring property, or racing our bikes down the steepest hill we could find. We went to the same schools, made our way to the fire academy at different times during our youth, and ended up congregating at Station 21, here in Hood River, an hour from Portland.
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