Chapter Nine

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I called 911 as I raced up the beach, a few steps behind Owen's shadow. The dispatcher promised to send help, though he sounded almost as shocked as I felt. I jogged up the steps after Owen, my face involuntarily tilting upwards to mirror the column of fire. It roared like a wild creature as it tore the left side of the house apart piece by piece, sending burning debris and ashes down onto the front porch.

I stopped beside Owen, the heat of the fire pressed against me. "What if Matthew's in there?"

Owen glanced at me, his mouth tightening. He jogged past the smoldering front porch to the side of the house and pressed his palms to a side door for a moment, waiting. Then, shouldering the door open, Owen disappeared inside. Heavy black clouds billowed out after him. Fear paralyzed me. How on earth had he just done that? Did he not care about his own life?

Trying not to panic, I did the only thing I could think of and called Kaye.

"Where are you?" Kaye demanded. "What's that sound?" 

Stifling a cough, I told her what had happened. "I don't know what to do. Should I go in after him?"

"Do not go inside!" Kaye exclaimed. "Are you insane? The fire department will be there in a minute. I'm going to call Muscles. He's on duty tonight. For God's sake, do not go inside."

She hung up. I clutched my phone and stared at the fire, my chest aching with the effort to breathe between the combination of fear and smoke.

Someone ran up the beach, but instead of Kaye or Andy, it was Rusty, puffing as he took the steps up to the Lodge two at a time. "Fuck, man! What the hell happened?"

I shot him an irritated look that I immediately regretted: Rusty's face was incredibly serious. He held his hat in his hand, pressed against his chest, as if he were in church.

Despite Kaye's advice and my own better judgment, I couldn't stand by while Owen was in danger. I picked my way towards the house through the scrub grass and the simmering heat, wondering if the fire could jump to the dead grass behind me and encircle me. It didn't matter. I had to help Owen and Matthew.

When I reached the side door, I touched my palms against it, just like Owen had. It felt warm, but not hot. I pushed it open the rest of the way. Smoke poured out, searing my eyes and throat. Wiping my streaming eyes, I stepped forward again.

My vision cleared for a moment, and I saw Owen standing before me, holding a limp, sagging figure in his arms. Tell-tale black-rimmed glasses poked above a shirt covering his face.

I jerked backwards out of the way. Owen lurched forward and fell onto his knees on the rocky sand. Matthew tumbled out of Owen's arms onto the ground.

"Are you all right? And Matthew—he's not—?" I dropped to my knees across from Owen, with Matthew in between us. I reached out to touch Owen, but pulled back at the last minute, and wiped at the sweat and soot on my face instead.

"He's alive." Owen braced his hands on his knees, coughing. "Unconscious. Breathed in a lot of smoke."

With a crack, a charred chunk of roof snapped off and collapsed onto the scrub and rocks below. "We have to move him away from here!"

Owen nodded and wedged his hands under Matthew's shoulders and knees. He heaved, but Matthew didn't budge. Owen's ash-smudged face was pale, his breathing rattling and rough.

"Rusty!" I shouted over my shoulder, straining to see Rusty through the smoke billowing out of the door. "Rusty, where are you?"

Grabbing Matthew's shoulder myself, I tried to help Owen lift him, but I couldn't stop shaking, and Matthew was much too heavy. I sat back on my heels, struggling for breath, while the fire continued to tear the roof apart. We had to move him to safety, but the task seemed impossible.

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