Chapter 7 It had been 4 months since returning from California and, although we weren't officially dating, Becky and I were exclusive. I must admit it was strange that I hadn't asked her officially, yet something told me it had to be done right and that required planning. Carl was glad to have me back and I had to bail him out of a bad spot with his latest romantic interest's brother.
Carl and I had talked with him and Carl manned up and backed off. I was sitting at work, having just returned from running my afternoon jet fuel samples when Becky texted me. From Becky: Where are you? To Becky: Work, where are you? From Becky: Your house with Carl.
To Becky: If he gets frisky let me know. I'll kick his ass. Lol From Becky: He said you couldn't if you tried. To Becky: I did it before and I'll do it again. From Becky: When did you kick his ass? To Becky: A few years back, he kissed the woman of a good friend and was about to get his ass beat, so I beat his ass instead. From Becky: Such a good friend. To Becky: He would have gotten much worse from the other guy.
We should have won an Oscar for that performance. From Becky: Lol. When will you be home? This bed is awfully empty without you. To Becky: I'll be home around 6. I gotta go, I'll call you in a bit. From Becky: Love you, be safe! I couldn't reply.
We had gotten an alarm on the board that a pump had shut down so we raced outside to get it started again.
30 minutes later and with the pump back online, I went to the smoke shack to call Becky. "Hey you" she said answering on the 2nd ring. "Hey babe, how are you?" "Ok I guess, just waiting for my man to come home so I can fuck his brains out." "Well make sure to he cleans the mess up when he is finished with you, I don't want to come home to any evidence." I joked.
We both laughed and continued to chat. After a few minutes I heard the board operator on the radio. "Hey guys, just a heads up, the furnace is bogging so stay away from it for a bit." "What was that?" Becky asked.
"Just a heads up that he is having trouble with the furnace." "Do you need to go?" "No, nothing I can do about it." Another few minutes of chatting and we hung up. I went back to the shelter and was working on some paperwork when the worst possible thing happened.
A large explosion rocked the plant. Alarms and sirens began to blare and, like we were trained to do, we gathered our gear and raced outside. Opening the door was like stepping into hell. 50 yards in front of me was a raging inferno, with flames licking the tallest pipes in the pipe rack 25 feet above the ground and smoke as black as night rising ever higher in the afternoon sky.
I raced from fire monitor to fire monitor, setting them up and turning them on before moving to the next. Fire trucks from the refinery showed up moments later, followed by local firefighters.
We grabbed a hose and started to try and contain the blaze. The heat was so intense that we had to keep a food distance back. Radio chatter had increased to such capacity it was nearly impossible to get a message across. I held down the button to talk. "Is everyone accounted for?" Several people said their names to let us know they were OK, but one was still missing. "Where is Mike?
Anyone have eyes on Mike?" Nobody responded for what seemed like an eternity. I ran around the blaze, trying to see if maybe he was on another side and had lost his radio. I was about to give up when I saw a figure laying by a small set of stairs about 20 feet from the fire. I took off towards the figure but the heat was too intense. "I found Mike, he is by the stairs on the northwest side of the fire.
I need help to get to him!" Within seconds three other operators were standing with me. We needed a plan to get to him fast, even if only to recover a body. I surveyed the area for anything that would help. I saw where a group of contractors had been welding and noticed the red fire blanket they used to keep sparks from igniting anything. I grabbed the fire blanket as several firefighters came over to us. "What do you wanna do? Odds are he is gone and I won't risk my men for a body." One firefighter asked.
I saw a fire hose still on the reel, probably because it wouldn't reach anything to be of use. I looked at the other operators. "I'm going to get him. I won't leave anyone behind. Grab that fire hose." Without question they did as I instructed. I ran to get a piece of fire blanket and a small section of rope.
When I returned I cut a slot in the fire blanket and tied it to my head with the rope. "What on earth are you doing?" Asked the firefighter.
"Protecting my face from the flames. Like I said, I'm going to get him. Soak me with the hose!" They acted immediately, drenching me with that nasty water. Fire water is less processed and is definitely not safe for drinking, but I needed something to keep the fire and heat away for long enough to get Mike.
Soaking wet and looking like a ninja turtles reject, I ran into the searing heat. Even soaked in water the heat was unbearable, the only thing driving me onward was saving any life Mike still had. I reached him and grabbed handfuls of coveralls, dragging him to safety as fast as I could. When we reached a safe distance, paramedics began to treat his injuries. I didn't wait around to hear any news, I just went and sat my wet and smelly ass down away from everyone.
That's when I realized two things. One was that my phone had been in my pocket the whole time and the other was that new of the explosion had probably reached Becky. I pulled my phone from my pants pocket to find it still working. I had 6 missed texts from Becky. From Becky: What happened!!!!??? Are you OK? Please be OK! You better be OK or I'm going to kick your ass Baby please respond! I love you!
Don't leave me! I had to text her back.
I felt a little bad about not texting her earlier, but then again I was busy. To Becky: I'm OK, I'll be coming home to you tonight baby. I love you. She replied almost instantly.
From Becky: I love you so much. I'm crying so hard, I was worried sick. Now I really felt bad. I didn't have time to respond tho. I got up and went to where Mike was, now on a gurney headed to the ambulance. "How is he?" I asked, fearing the worst. "He's gonna make it.
He's got some burns and some trauma to the chest but he should live. This guy owes you his life!". And with that he climbed in the back and the ambulance left. We spent the remainder of the shift containing the fire so that it could burn itself out. When I got home Becky threw her arms around me and kissed me like she would never kiss me again.
" I was. so worried. about you." She said between kisses. "I thought. I'd never see. you again." I held her head in my hands so she would stop assaulting my face. "I'm fine, I'm here now, everything will be OK. I love you." "I love you too. I love you so much!". Tears were streaming down her face, though if they were tears of sadness or joy I'll never know.
I went and showered, finally getting to wash that smell off me, and returning to Becky sitting on my bed. "I heard the explosion. I was so scared, I thought I lost you. You mean the world to me and I don't know what I'd do without you." She said through tears.
I got dressed and sat down beside her, wrapping my arms around her and pulling her close to me. "I'm not going anywhere. Haven't you figured out by now that it takes more than that to kill me?" I was trying, quite unsuccessfully, to lighten the mood. She smiled a loving smile and let me hold her for a while. Carl knocking on the door reminded me that we weren't alone. "Come in, we're decent." Carl opened the door holding a note.
"The hospital called, Mike is gonna pull through. His family wants you to meet them down there so they can thank you personally. What happened?" "After the explosion, Mike was unaccounted for, so I went looking for him and found him by the stairs on the northwest side of the unit.
I covered my head with some fire blanket and got drenched in fire water before going to get him. I couldn't just leave him there, even if it was only to recover a body." Becky looked at me in shocking disbelief. "You ran into a fire to save him, even though you could have been killed trying to save him?! I'm gonna kick your ass!" Carl was scared enough for both of us. "I'll leave you too alone. The family is waiting for you.". He closed the door behind him and Becky gave me her full attention.
" you're my hero. I'm so proud of you, I wanna fuck you right now." She threw herself at me and we kissed for a long moment. "Becky, the family is waiting for us, we can fuck when we get home, you can even beat on the wall so Carl knows I'm fucking your brains out." She looked so disappointed, but agreed.
We got in my truck and drove to the hospital, which was only about 15 minutes from my house. We walked into the emergency department and saw the family there waiting for us. As we walked up to them, a woman who I guessed was his wife ran up and gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
"Thank you so much for what you did. You saved his life!". She had all the telltale signs of crying. Other family members came up and hugged us or shook hands. The doctor came out and talked to us. " Mike is stable, he just got out of surgery and is being moved to a post-op room now. You should be able to see him in about 30 minutes." "Thanks doc, how bad are his injuries?" I asked.
"He had some broken ribs that took plates and screws to mend. He'll be in pain for a bit, but he should recover nicely." The doctor left and we talked a bit with the family. After a while, a nurse came to get everyone. We followed her to a room deep in the bowels of the emergency room, stopping outside the door. "This is his room, only 2 people in at a time unfortunately.". She said before walking away to tend to other duties. His wife looked at Becky and I. " you two should go in first, you did save him after all." "That's awfully kind of you, but he needs his family right now more than me.
Y'all go ahead and I'll come by tomorrow." "Are you sure? We don't mind waiting." "Yes ma'am, I'm sure. We will come by first thing tomorrow, y'all should be with him now." She gave us hugs and kisses on the cheek before going in to see her husband. As we went to leave, a young boy stepped in front of us.
If I were a betting mam, I'd say it was his son. "Thank you sir, for saving my daddy." He had tears in his eyes and I could tell he was worried sick about his dad. I bent down and gave him a hug. "You're quite welcome young man.
I know be would do the same for me. How old are you?" "7." He said, holding back tears. "What's your name?" "Ben." "Well Ben, I'm Andrew. It's nice to meet you.
Here, I have something for you." I pulled out my set of dog tags from my shirt. Normally, dog tags have important and sensitive information on them, namely ones social security number. The sets that I wore around had that information omitted.
I took off the chain they were on and hung it around his neck. "These are my dog tags. They have kept me safe through many tough times, including today. They have served me well, now they will protect you." He stared at them for a second, not saying anything. Then he reached forward and hugged me tight, getting my shirt wet with his tears. "Thank you." His words were muffled by my shirt and a tear of my own gently rolled down my cheek.
He let me go and I stood up. His mother came over and hugged me again. "Thank you so much. If there is anything we can do for you, just let us know." "He would have done the same for me ma'am. Take good care of them, and tell Mike I'll be by tomorrow." Becky and I walked from the hospital hand in hand. When we got outside, she kissed me passionately. "That was a nice thing you did back there. Just when I thought I couldn't love you more, you surprise me yet again." I looked deep into her eyes, seeing the love in her soul, as well as the desire to rip my clothes off and take me right there.
I smiled back at her. "Becky, I love you so much. I've loved you from our first date, and I don't know where I'd be without you. Be mine. Please by mine." She kissed me like we would never share another kiss again. When she finally broke away from me, she smiled that mischievous smile.
"Are you in 5th grade? That was so cheesy." We laughed for a minute, caught in the moment. "Is that a yes?" I couldn't help but ask.
She slapped my arm and nodded her affirmation. "Yes Andrew, I'll be your girlfriend, officially." We came home to Carl in the kitchen. He calls what he makes food, but I've eaten MRE's that tasted better.
Becky had been over enough to know about Carl's cooking and hurried over to him. "What do you think you're doing?! Get out of my kitchen!" She said heading toward Carl and grabbing a wooden spoon. "Your kitchen? Last time I checked you don't live here." He said avoiding her playful swats.
I couldn't help but join in. "That garbage you call food is almost inedible. If I didn't have an iron gut." "Ha ha, very funny, I've been watching food network and I think I can cook some of that stuff." Carl was now out of the kitchen, doing his best to avoid a woman with a wooden spoon.
That's a dangerous combination at best. "Sure Carl, you can cook breakfast tomorrow, how bout that?" I had to help the poor guy. I loved him like the brother I never had and couldn't just dash his hopes like that. "OK, breakfast it is.
How's Mike?". The mood dropped a bit throughout the room. Mike was going to be fine, but I couldn't help getting angry when I thought of how those who were supposed to help him had given up so easily. "He had some injuries to the chest, but doc says he will be OK.
The family is visiting him now and we are going over in the morning." My expression must have indicated a bit of anger as well as some disappointment. Carl walked over and put his hand on my shoulder. "I heard what you did. He owes you his life. You're a good man for that." I hung my head at the thought of the days events, still unable to get rid of my anger at the firefighters. "He would have done the same for me. The firefighters just gave up on him, it was. unreal." "Don't worry too much about it, you'll give yourself an ulcer." He slapped my back and walked towards the couch.
"Besides, they aren't the heroes anymore, you are." Great, now I'm in the spotlight. I prefer to stay under the radar as much as possible.
oh well. Becky made parmesan chicken for dinner. She was a way better cook than either of us. We ate dinner and talked for a while, telling old stories and remembering old times. Carl volunteered to do the dishes and received no objections from anyone, much to his disappointment. Becky and I sat on the couch watching TV for a bit before Carl came and sat down with us.
"I'm cold, I'm gonna get a blanket, anyone want anything while I'm up?" Becky said as she headed to the hallway. "No, we're OK, thanks though!" Carl called after her. She returned a few minutes later with a blanket and 2 small boxes, one was purple and the other red. I recognized them instantly and a small groan escaped my throat.
"Don't give me that, you said you would tell me later and it later, so I'd like to hear how you got these." She presented me with the boxes and sat back down between me and Carl, covering her legs with the blanket. "What are those?" Carl asked motioning for the boxes. "This is the Purple Heart, and this is the Bronze Star with combat 'V' device." I handed him the respective boxes as I named them off. He took them and opened them, revealing the contents of each. "Now I'm curious, how did you get these?
If you don't mind sharing." Once again, my comfort zone was nowhere to be found. I didn't like being thought of as a hero for the Bronze Star and I hated telling the story of my other injury.
I sighed and went to the kitchen, feeling their eyes boring a hole into my back. I went to the liquor cabinet and grabbed the mason jar I kept hidden in the back, then went back to the couch. Becky's eyes lit up, knowing that I would tell the story, but Carl was a bit more reserved.
"You don't have to tell us, we understand.". He said receiving a slap from Becky "Get comfortable, these are rough stories." They settled in and we passed the moonshine around once before I started speaking. "This is the Bronze Star with combat 'V' device. It is awarded to those who have distinguished themselves by heroic achievement while engaged in conflict with an opposing enemy force." I held up the medal for them to see.
"We were supporting an infantry unit, serving as convoy escort a few miles outside of Baghdad when we came under attack by enemy forces. They had superior numbers and a better firing position, but we had to hold them there while the grunts evacuated several casualties from an earlier fight." We passed the shine around again as I continued.
"Normally they would hit us hard and fast, then take off, but they stuck it out this time. Soon we were running out of ammo and we had several casualties of our own.". Another drag on the bottle of shine and a long breath later, I looked up to see Carl and Becky hangin on to every word.
"A Marine was hit about 10 feet from the truck I was behind, so I ran out to get him to cover. When I got him behind the truck, I used what little was left of my med kit and patched his wound. There were shouts for ammo and Corpsmen, so I ran to the supply truck and grabbed as much ammo as I could carry." Reality slipped away and I was right back there on that afternoon. I could hear the cries of the wounded and the calls for ammo and support. A tear rolled down my face, which Becky wiped away.
"I distributed the ammo as best I could given the circumstances, and then replaced a fallen Marine on a humvee turret. Not the ideal place to be, but the support of a .50 cal was needed. About an hour later, the enemy attack shifted to their right flank as the grunts hit them hard. Another hour later and we were headed back to base." "I was put in for the Bronze Star for my efforts to keep us in the fight. I never wanted it, mostly because it is a reminder of that hell." Becky had wiped away several tears of her own and Carl looked awestruck.
We finished the bottle and set it on the coffee table. "Holy shit dude. Why did you never tell me of this?" Carl said, still trying to grasp what he had heard. I never spoke to him of combat or life overseas, giving vague answers whenever possible. "I hate what happened over there, not because of what we did, but because of the effect it has had on me ever since. It's difficult to talk about." I said as he sank back into the couch. "Do you still wanna hear the story of my Purple Heart?" I asked.
I had opened up this much, might as well keep going. "Yes, actually I do. Let's get another round though." Carl said standing on shaking legs to get another bottle. He walked down the hallway and went into his room, emerging a moment later with a blue cardboard box.
" this is the good stuff, you've earned it." He said as he pulled out the bottle of Johnny Walker blue. We had a few sips and I prepared myself for the coming tale. This was going to be painful. "We were performing route security in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. It was a quiet and clear day with temps probably in the low hundreds. We stopped at a village in preparation for talks between our officers and the village elders later in the day.
We went door to door, sweeping each building and clearing the town when a small group of insurgents opened fire on us from the east." "We took cover where we could find it and returned fire when we had targets. I took several Marines to press our attack and hopefully drive them off, when I felt a burning sensation in my right calf. I bit the ground hard and rolled to see where the shot had come from." My leg started to hurt, a common occurrence when telling this story.
Becky took my hand and kissed it lightly. "I saw my attacker standing no more than 50 yards from me. It was a boy, no more than 14 years old. Be had an AK-47 in his hands and a smile on his face. What happened next, I regret every day of my life.
I shot him twice in the chest." Tears were rolling down my face and my leg was burning as bed as the day I got shot. These two were lucky I loved them, because this was hard. "I was taken by a Corpsman back to a humvee and evacuated. The bullet had barely missed my artery and I was back with my men in 7 weeks, very much against docs wishes. I was given the Purple Heart for being wounded by the enemy in a time of war." Stunned silence was the only sound for a good minute while they soaked up what I had said.
By now I was tired and uncomfortable but I hoped it didn't show. "I almost lost you. twice." He said in disbelief. I could tell my stories had a profound effect of him, probably more than Becky. "You don't know the half of it." I said holding back the floodgates behind my eyes. "I don't need to know more. If you ever want to tell me more, I'm here to listen, but not tonight. I'm gonna go lay down.". He got up and walked to his room. Becky pulled me in close and held me for what seemed like an eternity.
I cried, I cried like a bitch in her arms. I couldn't hold it back anymore. When I took my weight off of her, she stood up and grabbed my hand, leading me to the bedroom.
"Come on, lets go lay down." She said. "Sleep will be difficult tonight." I said sullenly "Who said anything about sleep? I wanna hold you close and never let you go." "I love you Becky." "I love you Andrew."