Beautiful Sacrifice
Page 24

 Jamie McGuire

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Taylor heaved, exhausted after using his entire upper body for so long.
“Is Don going to be okay?” Chuck asked.
Taylor pressed his lips together, hesitant to tell the truth. “I don’t know. We never got a pulse. I think he was gone before he hit the floor.”
I covered my mouth and turned to Chuck, letting his large arms surround me. I felt other hands on me, but I wasn’t sure whose. My knees buckled, and my entire body went limp, but Chuck supported my weight without effort.
“Chuck,” Phaedra said, desperation in her voice.
“Go on upstairs, honey,” Chuck said into my ear.
“I’ll take care of your tables,” Phaedra said.
I shook my head and wiped my nose with the back of my wrist, but I was unable to answer.
Taylor tossed his truck keys to Dalton. “You guys go ahead. I’ll take mine to go, Phaedra.”
“I’ll bring it up to you when it’s ready,” she said.
Taylor peeled me from Chuck’s arms and escorted me to the back and up the stairs. Just as he realized neither of us had keys, Phaedra appeared with a plate in one hand and a to-go cup along with my keys in the other.
“You’re amazing,” Taylor said as Phaedra unlocked the door.
She pushed it open, and Taylor guided me inside, sitting with me on the couch. Phaedra set his plate and cup on the coffee table and then left my keys.
“You want a blanket, kiddo?” she asked, leaning over and touching my knee.
The sirens blared as the ambulance tore off for the nearest hospital, taking away my friend.
“I should have gone with him,” I said, looking up in horror. “Someone should be with him. He’s all alone. He doesn’t know those paramedics. Someone he knows should be with him.”
Phaedra reached out for me. “Chuck is calling Michelle. She’s going to meet them at the hospital. Let me get you a blanket.”
I shook my head, but she went to the closet anyway. She fetched a threadbare baby-blue blanket, bordered in equally worn satin. She shook it until it unfolded, and then she covered me up to my neck.
“I’m going to bring you some tea. You need anything, Taylor?”
Taylor shook his head, wrapping his arms around me. “I got her.”
Phaedra patted his shoulder. “I know.”
She left us alone in the silence-filled loft that hovered over the death below. My head and chest felt heavy, my mouth dry.
“You knew he wasn’t coming back,” I said. “But you kept going. Even though he didn’t make it … you’re good at your job.”
He looked down on me, his eyes turning soft. “It wasn’t about the job, Falyn.”
“Thank you,” I whispered, trying to find anywhere else to look but his eyes.
“He came in a lot, didn’t he?” Taylor asked.
“Yes,” I said, my voice sounding far away.
The feeling inside of me was strange. I was so accustomed to feeling numb that feeling anything at all was unsettling. Nestled in Taylor’s arms, feeling a myriad of emotions was more than I could stand.
“I need to …” I began, shrugging from his embrace.
“Breathe?” Taylor asked. He touched my wrist, and then he leaned over to look into my eyes. Once he was convinced I wasn’t going into shock, he relaxed back against the sofa. “I’m really pretty comfortable. No expectations.”
I nodded, and he reached his arm around me, pulling me gently against his side. I fit perfectly under his wing, his chest warm against my cheek. He rested his jaw on my hair, content.
Comfortable in the silence, comfortable with each other, we just breathed, existing from one moment to the next. The rain tapped against the window, making oceans of the streets and drenching the islands of cars passing by.
Taylor pressed his lips to my temple. My chest heaved, and I buried my chest into Taylor’s damp T-shirt. He held me close, letting me cry.
His arms were safe and strong, and even though there was no space between us, I needed him to be closer. I gripped his T-shirt in my fist and pulled him tighter against me. He obliged without hesitation. I cried quietly until I was exhausted, and then I took a deep breath. I waited for the embarrassment to set in, but it never came.
A soft knock on the door announced Phaedra and the mug of tea she had brought back for me. She also had Taylor’s cheesecake. “The boys took theirs to-go, too. They said to call whenever you’re ready.”
Taylor nodded, not relinquishing his grip on me.
Phaedra put the dishes on the table. “Falyn, drink your tea. It’ll help.” She nodded her head and crossed her arms over her middle. “It always helps me.”
I leaned forward and then returned to the security of Taylor’s arms, taking a sip. “Thank you. I’ll be back down in a little bit.”
“Don’t you dare. We’re slow. I’ve got it taken care of. Just take the rest of the day off. I’ll see you for dinner.”
“We’ll be down,” Taylor said.
Phaedra offered him a small smile of appreciation, the wrinkles around her mouth deepening. “All right then.”
She closed the door, and once again, Taylor and I were alone, wrapped in each other’s arms under the blue blanket.
“I wasn’t prepared for how good this feels,” Taylor said. “Every muscle in my body is relaxed.”
“Like you’ve never sat and held a girl before.”
He was quiet, so I looked up at him.
“You’re full of it,” I said.
“I don’t really …” He trailed off, shrugging. “It’s not my thing. But this is kind of awesome.”
“What is your thing?” I asked.
He shrugged again. “One-night stands, angry women, and fighting fires.”
“If you weren’t sitting here with your arms around me right now, I’d say that makes you kind of an asshole.”
He considered that. “I’m okay with that.”
“Why am I not surprised?”
He chuckled. “This surprises me. You surprise me.”
I smiled, feeling another tear slipping over my lips. I reached up and wiped it away.
“Here,” he said, offering his T-shirt.
He touched the cotton to my lips as I looked up at him.
“Why did you stay away?” I asked.
“Because of this. You make me feel weird.”
“Weird?” I asked.
“I don’t know how else to describe it. Any other girl, I could bag and not think twice about it. Not you. It’s kind of like that feeling you got as a kid, right before you did something you knew would get you an ass-whipping.”
“I have a hard time believing you’re that intimidated.”
“Me, too.” He paused. “Falyn?” He took a deep breath, as if saying my name was painful, and he rubbed his eyes. “Fuck, I thought I wanted to know, but now, I don’t think I do.”
“Ask me,” I said, readying myself to dodge the truth.
“Just tell me one thing.” He paused, unsure if he wanted the answer. “Does your connection with Eakins have to do with my brother?”
I sighed, relieved. “No. I just looked up the fire today.”
“So, you know about Travis.”
“No. I didn’t have time to get a good look, and you don’t have to tell me.”
Taylor rested his chin on my hair, his muscles relaxing again.