Braving the Heat(2)

By: Regan Black

Stop, she ordered herself. Dwelling on the negative situation only fouled up her mood. The jerk didn’t have a case at all. If he had, the PFD would have fired her outright weeks ago. Her lawyer assured her most civil cases settled out of court; it was simply a matter of working the case and being patient with the system. Oddly enough, the only place Kenzie successfully exercised patience was while working emergency calls and fires.

Unable to find Grant, she tracked down Jason Prather at the bar. The latest full-time addition to the Escape Club, Jason was the closest thing Grant had to an assistant manager. Tall and wiry, bordering on skinny, he, too, had a few years with the PFD on his résumé. Whenever she looked at him, she thought he could pass as a front man for one of the bands that came through if he’d let his thick black hair grow out.

“If Grant asks, will you remind him I went to clear out my apartment? I should be back in time for opening tonight.”

Jason gave her a long look over the tablet he was using to record inventory. “You need any help? I can send—”

“No, thanks. I’ve got it,” she managed to reply. If she said anything else, she’d probably break down in a puddle of frustration. Grant was doing enough for her already, keeping her busy with this job. She refused to impose on anyone else.

Hurrying out of the club and across the street, she cringed at the sight of her road-weary compact sedan. Though the primer-and-rust color scheme was a fright, it ran, and that was the important thing. And it was paid for. She’d sold her car and paid cash for the rust-bucket sedan so she could redirect her previous car payment to her legal fees for the civil case. When she didn’t have those extra expenses anymore, she could go back to a better car. One with a powerful engine and serious sex appeal, she thought, indulging in a quick fantasy of a classic American muscle car.

As if. Although owning a classic Camaro was on her bucket list, this case meant it would be a long time before she’d be able to make that kind of investment.

After unlocking the driver’s door, she tossed her backpack into the passenger seat and slid behind the wheel. She turned the key in the ignition, expecting the sputter and catch of the small engine, but hearing silence instead.

“No.” She dropped her head to the steering wheel, almost ready to give in to the threat of tears she’d been fighting off all week. Her apartment closing, if only temporarily, the civil suit claiming she was unfit for firefighting, and now a car that wouldn’t start.

Crying over this heap of metal was pointless, but it was one obstacle too many right now. She ruthlessly swiped away the lone tear rolling down her cheek. It wasn’t the potential expense of repairs, though cash was currently tight. No, what upset her more was the idea of asking another friend or family member for more help. Her independence had taken enough of a beating lately. Here she was at thirty years old, feeling less self-sufficient now than when she’d crossed the stage for her high school graduation. Unlike so many of her peers, back then she’d had clear goals and a clear path planned to reach them.

“This is not happening.” She tried the ignition again, got the same result.

With a colorful oath, she removed the key and pulled the hood release. After slamming out of the car, she raised the hood and stared into the filthy engine. Her father, a car aficionado and passionate weekend race car driver, might have wept at the sight. He’d taught her everything he knew about cars and engines, and when she’d bought this one, it had been functional, if ugly. The new battery she’d installed after the purchase was the only clean thing in view. With a critical eye, she assessed the rest of the machinery, looking for an obvious problem.

“It has to get better,” she said aloud, willing herself to believe the words.

Life hadn’t been perfect. She’d experienced her share of sorrows to offset the celebrations and happy milestones of being an independent adult. Overall, she’d been content through both the highs and lows. Until the last fire she’d worked, three months ago, turned into a difficult rescue and ongoing nightmare. Though she tried to ignore it, a small voice inside her head wondered again if that would be the last fire she ever fought.

“All of this will pass.” Just like every other pain, challenge and setback she’d faced. She calmed herself with the assurance that she’d be back at the firehouse, back with her crew on the truck soon. She couldn’t afford to let her mind wander away from anything less than her ideal outcome.

Returning to the driver’s seat, she turned the key again, listening for clues. Was it the alternator or starter? It couldn’t be a broken fuel gauge. She’d just filled up with gas yesterday. “Come on, baby, tell me what’s wrong,” she said to the car. “We’ve got things to do.”