Hear a reading from Burn It Down by K. Aten @WORDNRD68 on Book Clips, the mini podcast where authors and narrators give you a taste of a book.
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Ash Hayes was failed by the system at the tender age of sixteen and suffered an addiction. As a result she lives her life weighed down by the guilt of her past. To atone for childhood misdeeds, Ash trained as a paramedic after high school and eventually became a firefighter with the Detroit fire department, along with her childhood best friend Derek. Friend, confidant, brother, he has been her light in an otherwise dark life. When tragedy strikes on the job, injury and forced leave from the department are the least of her concerns. Suffering from even more guilt and depression after the loss of her two closest friends Ash is set adrift in a sea of pain.
When Mia Thomas buys the house next door, Ash finds friendship in the most unlikely of places. It’s Mia’s nature to help and to heal. Many would say she has a knack for finding the broken ones and leading them into the light. But Ash’s secret still lives deep inside her. Before the firefighter can even think of a future, she has to amend her past. Like the phoenix of legend, Ash has to burn her fears to the ground before she can be reborn.
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please note this transcript has not been edited and is automatically generated meaning certain words will be incorrect
you are listening to book clips a mini podcast in which authors and erasers do readings from novels check out the show notes for the synopsis and by links for this book
hi there my name is Kelly Aten and I’ll be reading from burn it down this traumatic romantic fiction is scheduled to be released August 1st by a regal crest enterprises here’s the blurb ash haze was failed by the system at the tender age of 16 and suffered an addiction as a result she lives her life weighed down by the guilt of her past to atone for childhood misdeeds Ashe trained as a paramedic after high school and eventually became a firefighter with the Detroit Fire Department along with her childhood best friend derec friend confidant brother he has been her light in an otherwise dark life when tragedy strikes on-the-job injury and forced leave from the department are the least of her concerns suffering from even more guilt and depression after the loss of her two Colossus friends Ashe is set adrift in a sea of pain when Mia Thomas buys the house next door Ashe finds friendship in the most unlikely of places it’s Mia’s nature to help in to heal many would say she has a knack for finding the broken ones and leading them into the light but Ash’s secret still lives deep inside her before the firefighter can even think of a future she has to amend her past like the Phoenix of legend Ashe has to burn her fears to the ground before she can be reborn for this clip I will be reading from chapter one and chapter two burn it down Part one flame chapter one tell me in your own words why you’re here today I looked at dr. Sara Caplan aka just call me Sara and played the bored and uncooperative firefighter she was expecting you already know why I’m here my hands were clenched into fists in my lap the cast on my left wrist heavy and foreign I didn’t want to come across as belligerent so I relaxed my fingers and moved my hands to my sides the stereotypical leather couch had warmed almost immediately with my body heat after I sat down I was physically comfortable and had to act like it she smiled at me there was a slight gap between her teeth and she looked maybe 10 years older than my own 30 red hair just starting to gray at the temples I know what was written on the report but I’d like it to hear it from you Ashley my response was immediate and distaste crawls across my face as I spoke it’s ash just ash Sarah nodded very well ash I knew the answer well enough the words seemed so simple anak you us even but could I tell her they prompted deeper analysis an introspection and I felt myself sliding to a darker and much older place as quickly as I could I put a halt to my train of thought and slam the door to my past no I could not truly tell her while I was there I can only give her the official reason the most recent reason I had to make a choice when all my options were bad someone was going to live and someone was going to die and I was responsible for the outcome either way you make it sound so impersonal I shrugged it’s my job she glanced down at her notes and looked sympathetic so I looked elsewhere tell me about Derrick Smith who was he to you Derrick my memories collapsed over each other flickering like flames like the frames of old moving pictures Derrick with his laughing brown eyes and crooked smile his muscles flexing as he picked me up in a fireman’s carry and spun me around before dropping me back onto the bunk at the station Derrick holding me in his arms when my first girlfriend broke my heart in college we had been friends since elementary school both of us needed someone who understood our hearts and kept the rest of the kids off our backs Derrick holding my hands and the cafeteria in high school and refusing to let them go let them think we’re dating it doesn’t matter and it makes it easier I went along with it because he was my best friend I thought about Derrick’s excitement when I wanted to be an EMT and firefighter after we graduated he enthusiastically followed me into my profession because we had become family siblings then back to the present with Derrick lying on the floor pinned beneath fallen debris ‘he’s in a burning warehouse telling me to go with his mouth as much as he begged me to stay with his eyes derrick and the closed casket with me imagining those brown eyes unseeing and unsmiling I could feel the emotions coming up the building pressure in my head and the persistent watering of my eyes that prompted me to shut it all down there was a technique I learned years ago that involved visualizing a steel wall between me and my pain I reached for that wall with Sarah’s where and pushed it firmly into place I was ice I was empty I didn’t care Derek is dead my right hand started to tremble I shoved it beneath my leg – still the tremors and to prevent me from reaching for the only thing that brought calm there was no way I could do that while she was looking at me the lump in my pocket was a distraction could see the rectangular outline as I sat with my legs stretched out in front of me crossed at the ankles it was a habit maybe even a nervous tic I’m psychologist for cannae know the lighter would have to stay where it was are you okay my head jerked up my own brown eyes meeting her blue ones was I okay of course not I wasn’t sure I’d ever been okay but especially not since the night of the warehouse fire the one she didn’t know about I’m fine I just I don’t want to talk about Derek right now please our eyes held as uncomfortable seconds ticked by I was aware that as far as she knew the only reason I was there was because of Derek’s death to not talk about it was like going to the horse race and not placing a bet what was the point I should have realized that my request to avoid one uncomfortable subject would just deflect her onto another she gave me a small smile I understand we can move on to something else with another glance at the file she began speaking again what about your friend Brandon James he was with you that night I sighed because I didn’t want to talk about Brandon either I didn’t want to talk about anything but the sessions were non-negotiable where my chief Dave Bagley was concerned I saved two men and left another to die I broke my arm at the same time those were hard things to deal with but that wasn’t what earned me trip to the shrink I’m pretty sure it was the bottle of vicodin that I washed down with a fifth of vodka yeah that could be why I had my ass in such a comfy leather seats she waited me out and I let my eyes wander around the room I only had to be there for an hour but there was still no clocks visible for me to check i discreetly pulled my hand out from under my leg and checked the watch I still had more than a half an hour to go when I got fitted for the cast I was forced to wear the watch on the opposite hand I had been a gift from my landlady an adopted grandmother Mary I did the math in my head and was startled to realize that I’d live with her for 30 years my thoughts were interrupted by Sara’s voice again ash I swallowed the lump in my throat Derek Brandon and I were all best friends we were family at work and outside of work all the guys on the truck used to call us the three musketeers a small smile stole across my lips when I remembered back to the time we all sat around in lawn chairs and Derek and Brandon’s backyard arguing about who was which character beer featured prominently in the argument the discussion ended when I suggested that brand and the relative newcomer to the group and Derek’s lover was more like m’lady to winter he picked me up and threw me into the kiddie pool not carrying a bit if my freshly open brew was wasted in the process my shrink wrestled some paper at her desk pulling me out of my past it says here that Brandon suffered two cracked ribs and a concussion during the collapse it also mentioned that he requested a transfer when he returns to active duty I know do you also know why I nodded I definitely knew why would you like to share the anger was slow to rise but it always seemed to simmer just below the surface I met her eyes and felt my lip curl into a snarl and how much of what I say to you gets funneled directly into Bagley’s ears that is private and I think I’ll keep it that way Thanks none of it her words surprised me and for a second I didn’t understand what she was saying she seemed to sense my confusion and elaborated none of what you say here leaves my files that is doctor/patient privilege and will remain confidential the only way I would be required to break that confidence would be if you confess to a crime or became a danger to yourself or someone else I gave her a mirthless laugh well they did try to off myself once already she just shook her head and fixed me with a serious gaze looking further inside that I cared for I don’t think you’ll do that again I think that was a response to a deep emotional trauma and he simply gave up and the weakness of followed you strike me as someone who’s very strong emotionally and physically am I wrong she waited and I waited stringing the words together in my mind finally I sighed at the truth she had pulled for me in so short a time no you’re not wrong I’ve never done anything like that before and I highly doubt I’d do it again that was I trailed off in silence and strolled through the hazy memory of that night Derek was buried I could still see Mary’s out-of-focus face as she begged God not to take me then the disjointed ride to the hospital in the back of an ambulance with people I’d known for years and the embarrassed heartbreak I felt after it wasn’t me Sara sat there with hands clasp on top of her desk she was patient with me I’d give her that now that we’ve established that you’re not a danger to yourself or anyone else that your secrets are safe with me tell me about Brandon it wasn’t my secret to tell but clearly she thought it was necessary and I needed to get through this therapy to move on with my job my internal struggle raged for about 30 seconds before I finally gave in Brandon and Derek were lovers they lived together and had been in a relationship for a little over a year her eyes widened imperceptibly and she glanced back at her file notes I knew what she was looking for and it pissed me off what queers looked just like everyone else doc you can’t judge a book by it’s cover her head jerked up at my outburst the words sounding loud in the room ringing in my ears I’m sorry that’s not what I was looking for at all there’s no mention of either man being gay or in a relationship I was just curious I growled frustrated by her question of course there was no mention of it I was out because let’s face it I’m pretty obvious I waved my hand at myself it was nothing if not the epitome of tough Detroit Dyke I had dark hair that was clipped into an undercut short on the sides and back it was longer on top and I styled it up or slicked it back when I wanted to go out otherwise it fell in a tangled mop that tickled the tops of my ears and fell into my eyes when I forgot to get it cut I was wearing jeans with two cuffs at the bottom and a slim fitting button-down shirt with sleeves rolled up in my forearms only a small percentage of my tattoos were visible below the softly rolled cotton there is no way I’d ever be mistaken for anything other than what I am and I’ve taken a lot of grief for it in this profession but Derrick Derrick was the all-american kid the high school football player and golden boy of the department homophobia is real and alive especially in what they all consider a man’s profession no they were very careful about their interaction at the station and when they were out in functions where they’d be recognized you say that neither man was out at the station did being their friend to help buffer you from some of that homophobia where the rest of your co-workers were concerned I just stared at her could she really be so clueless of course it helped because they accepted me the rest just kind of fell in line but I still have to prove myself every single day that I’m on the job Sarah glanced at the papers again and I was pretty sure she didn’t need them she seemed like the type that would memorize a file before the first session I see you received two commendations before and you’re up for a third you’ve got a handful of medals to your name and earlier this year you broke the previous record for climbing the Detroit Renaissance Center in the charity event 13 minutes 27 seconds 28 seconds I thought about the fundraiser back in March even now looking back it seemed almost surreal that I didn’t just break the previous record set by a woman but I came in 29th out of 345 firefighters I beat both Derick and Brandon that day and everyone in the firehouse came together to congratulate me I also want our money pool for the person who posted the best time I bought pizza for the entire team and donated the rest the guys razz me about donating my winnings but it was all for a good cause and it was my money to do with as I pleased huffing it up 70 floors carrying 70 pounds of gear and record time meant that I earned every single penny I looked at her curiously wondering why that would have made it into my file does it really mention the American Lung Association event in there she shook her head no I just remember reading about it in the paper and recognized your name I didn’t know what to say to that oh oh she started again we seem to have gotten a bit off-track why is Brandon requesting a transfer does it have to do with the fact that Derek died the wall slipped and my eyes filled again faster this time a new way Brandon wanted nothing to do with me because I let his lover die and saved him instead but admitting it out loud was hard because I meant saying the words that were burned into my brain I meant speaking aloud what I had done and not done I’d let my best friend die and saved Brandon instead and Brandon would never forgive me nor could I forgive myself my control was fading and I hated the way I felt I didn’t want to break down in front of this woman the stranger she didn’t know us and she didn’t know me before she could prompt again I heard a faint beeping when I pulled my wrist out from under my leg the digital sound got louder my session was done for the day instead of answering her question I simply shook my head I’m sorry but I have to go the doctor wanted a protest wanted to stretch time until she could wrap it back around and pull me into its fold I could see it in her eyes instead Sarah was forced to nod her head yes our time is up for the day I will see you Wednesday though right I have you down for three times a week I stood from the couch and fumbled to get the truck keys out of my left pocket with my right hand and transferred them to the left once they were free then with a single glance I headed for the door calling over my shoulder on my way out yes Wednesday thank you I jogged down the stairs at the end of the hall and in less than a minute I was outside the building on the sidewalk I quickly dug the old Zippo out of my pocket and began opening and closing it as I walked to my truck the distinctive calmed my nerves and brought me back from the emotional edge I knew one thing for certain I wasn’t looking forward to Wednesday it was still early only 3:00 in the afternoon and I needed a few things from the grocery store before I could head home I made a quick trip inside and returned with the essentials milk eggs bread lighter fluid and cigarette rolling papers when I pulled into the drive at home my attention was caught and held by the moving truck on the street in front of the house next door and had been on the market for a while one of the city’s specials that were going for cheap the sold sign finally went up two months ago and that’s when the construction traffic started they replaced the roof in the front porch and did who knows what kind of work on the inside of the place I didn’t ask and I didn’t peek my hours at the station are regular but a typical from the average person with me working 24 hours on and 72 off we could switch out or trade days with others on the team but for the most part that’s what I worked or what I used to work before the fire left me with broken bones and a broken heart it also left the team down three people I had just gotten out of the Wrangler with that thought and I paused I looked at the Jeep that I don’t since shortly after graduating high school it took working two jobs the summer before starting college and it was half rust when I brought it home to Mary’s house it would have stayed that way if not for Derrick the pain of loss took me by surprise and left me shaking I leaned against a front fender and slowly slid to the ground resting my back against the large off-road tire Derrick’s pop owned a garage over on eighth mile and Derrick learned everything he knew about cars from the old man his pop hated me though for taking his son away from the family business he probably hates me more now Derek and I rebuilt the Jeep from the ground up well Derrick was the brains I just handed him the tools and bought the parts it was pretty sad that a Detroit girl knew squat about engines the Wrangler was old and I never stopped having problems with it but I always had Derrick I always had Derrick an overwhelming sense of loss washed over me and my eyes started to burn with the unshod tears of earlier I felt the heat of the concrete driveway through my jeans and I knew that I had to get the groceries out of the Jeep and inside but the Wilda care was fast slipping away excuse me my head jerked up as panic cleared out the pain a woman stood in the driveway next door holding an envelope in her hand she was maybe my height or an inch shorter it was hard to tell while I was sitting on the ground with black hair pulled back into a bun light brown skin and a smile that would put toothpaste models to shame I couldn’t help noticing her beauty despite my misery was she the new homeowner the caller were pale yellow sleeveless shirt ruffled in the summer breeze and she wore form-fitting dress pants that accentuated her slim figure are you okay I jerked my head from her shoes and moved my gaze up to hers brown eyes with an exotic tilt and an epic antic fold so maybe not completely african-american I flushed when I realized she was showing such concern and it awkwardly stood using my good hand to pull myself up I dusted off the back of my dark jeans and couldn’t bring myself to meet her eyes I’m fine thank you she cocked her head and I refused to be drawn to the cuteness of the gesture do you always sit in your dry she glanced at the SmartWatch on her slim wrist homeowner nice clothes and expensive watch screamed money 3:43 in the afternoon I still felt raw after the session with Sara and my new neighbors questions seemed a little abrasive to my abuse psyche she wasn’t getting any more for me than anyone else know is there something you need a tendril of guilt crept in when the look on her face fell at my abrupt response she sighed and held up the letter I was just wondering when the mail came around each day I need to know if I could leave this in the box now or if I should drop it off at the post office so it will go out first thing in the morning she hesitated a few seconds then spoke again I’m sorry to have disturbed you I ran a hand through my hair and turned away to walk around and grab my groceries out of the back it’s fine I’m sorry for being such a dick the mail lady comes around five so you still have time with all the grocery bags loaded onto my one good arm I hip check the back door shut and turned toward her again I pulled up short at the look on her face surprised despite all that had happened she’d been checking me out stranger yet the look on her face clearly said she liked what she saw that was curious and more than a little distracting unlike some of my acquaintances of the past I had no will or energy to be messing with a girl from the other side of the tracks stuff like that burned hot at first but it never lasted nothing ever lasted I’d do better to find someone worse or no one at all she smiled that smile again but nothing was going to penetrate the pain with Derek gone thank you for the information I just moved in next door she held out her hand I’m Mia Thomas I looked down at her hand then back in my own one in a cast and the other loaded with Kroger bags I couldn’t see the blush with her skin tone but assumed it was there oh sorry I’m such an idiot bad Mia no biscuit I don’t know what it was about Mia Thomas but in that very moment I forgot all about my pain about my guilt and about my broken arm the laugh that tumbled from my lips was the first to pass since before Derek died and I said the first inane thing that came to mind you should never keep herself from biscuits especially if they’re homemade buttermilk ones oh I know Mike mileti used to make the best ones it’s actually her house that I bought me a shrug I guess I just thought it should stay in the family the name sparked my memory Oh Loretta Thomas yeah I remember her Mary used to have dinner with her twice a week I haven’t seen her here in the past few years though well she couldn’t live in this house by herself once she broke her hip so my dad had her moved to a home right after I graduated from college and hired an agency to rent out the place I remembered the old woman next door she was a sweetest person you could ever meet always bought Girl Scout cookies from the kids always offered them to me if she was outside on her porch when I came home sometimes I mowed her lawn after I mowed ours it just seemed the neighborly thing to do and lawns weren’t that big how is your grandma sadness replaced a beautiful smile she actually passed away about a month ago Mia shrugged and I suddenly felt uncomfortable I nodded my head at her I’m sorry to hear that she was a wonderful woman I always had a million stories and at least a couple cookies my neighbor graced me with a melancholy look yeah she did she glanced down and then got a guilty look on her face when she noticed my girl free bags oh I didn’t mean to keep you so long you should probably get that milk inside in this heat I followed her gaze to the sweating milk jug and realized she was right yeah I doubt it would kill me but I don’t want lumps in my cereal either I shifted the bag slightly and turned to walk up to the house was a nice meeting you Mia good luck with your renovations hey wait she called out when I was on the first step of the porch and turned to look back over my shoulder duh get a name even from the nearly 20 feet away I could see the humor in her eyes shining in the summer Sun she had definitely been checking me out names ash Hayes catch you later Mia I continued up the steps and inside my house I was confident that she would still live next door tomorrow but the freshness of my groceries had no such guarantee chapter 2 ash I called out to the worried voice as I made my way into the kitchen just me Mary after putting away the groceries I grabbed a beer and took it out on the back porch for my landlady sat in a rocking chair with her ebook I bought it for more than a year ago when she kept complaining that the print in the books was too hard for her to read now the books were cheaper and she could make them whatever tech size she problem solved if only all were so easy marry narrowed her eyes as I sat in another chair and kicked my feet up on the stool her gaze took in the beer then flickered down to my cast he’s supposed to be drinking that chill grams I stopped taking the pills yesterday and besides one beer won’t kill me she snorted that’s well my I glanced at the bottle of bod and laughed what can I say I’m simple and I have simple tastes I don’t need anything fancy you know that the woman who was old enough to be my grandmother and had acted as such since I met her muttered under her breath well you got the first part right for the second time in less than an hour laughter tickled it’s way past my throat you’re feisty today how was your session and just as fast the laughter froze I took another swig of beer and held the sweating bottle against my head to avoid answering the oscillating fan felt good against the condensation left behind Detroit was a hot City in July since I wasn’t going to open up when I didn’t have to I gave her the only answer left it was fine she nodded and took a sip of her iced tea mm-hmm then she changed the subject you seen the new girl move in next door she’s certainly a pretty sight in this old neighborhood the image of Mia Thomas checking out my ass flashed in my head and I smirk I saw Mary grunted at my bare-bones answers possibly knowing me better than I knew myself after all these years you know she’s Letty’s granddaughter I was sad to hear she passed I dunno Mia seems nice though I’m not sure why she’d want to move into this neighborhood the old woman riled up instantly just like I knew she would this is a beautiful neighborhood you ungrateful child why back in the day we’d have neighborhood barbecues and I mimicked a puppet talking with my hand and interrupted her and then we carved the Ten Commandments into some stone tablets we found in the backyard oh you rather than say anymore she fished an ice cube out of her tea glass and threw it at me her aim was surprisingly accurate where it bounced off my head hey I’m injured here and can’t defend myself chocolate brown eyes and a deeply wrinkled face morphed into something tender with my words baby doll I will always defend you her words tore down the wall I had built and left me feeling bereft I whispered to her as she held my eyes I know then I shut my own and leaned back against the chair the tears had come again and I didn’t want her to see I heard the creaking sound first then the air still does she stepped between me and the fan I was forced to open my eyes again when tender fingers wiped the moisture from my cheeks it’s okay to cry darlin God’s gonna cradle you in his hands and not let go cryin won’t change that I turned my eyes away again you know I don’t hold to all that meri and I don’t like to cry she gave me a kiss on the forehead and went back to her chair no you never have once she was seated she picked up her eBook again and spoke without making eye contact I got us a chicken all done up can you pop it in the oven at 350 for me I was thinking about making some of them fry green tomatoes too picked them from the garden just this morning I nodded though she wasn’t watching me sure I’m going back in in a few minutes you wanted to know anything I can do for dinner later she finally broke away from her words on her screen and gave me a sly smile no it’s fine I may have some of that fancy risotto in the cupboard and a package and mushrooms in the fridge Mary had the most eclectic taste of anyone I’d ever met and I don’t think there was a food that existed she didn’t like and between the two of us we could cook just about anything I just shook my head and gave her another smile you’re a funny old woman and you’re a sombre young one maybe we can help each other hmm I stood and drained the last of my beer then saluted her with the bottle maybe we can just before the screen door shut behind me I heard her call out and it wouldn’t kill you to put on some shorts and show off those white chicken legs of yours and near 90 you’re likely to stroke out she was talking about the temperature but laughter bursts out of my mouth as I stopped in my tracks and looked back at her I ignored her reference to the high heat and came back with a dig about her age shouldn’t that be my line I got another ice cube to the head for my smart mouth I ain’t 90 dinner that evening was amazing but I still couldn’t resist getting up to my room as soon as possible afterward Mary had stopped using the upstairs years before and gave me free run of the place I had a room I used for my exercise equipment and another for my bedroom I also had a full bathroom at my disposal downstairs she had her bedroom and the master bath as well as a kitchen in the living room the washing machine and dryer were in the basement I did her laundry for both of us every week so she didn’t have to go up and down the stairs I’m not sure what I would have done had she not taken me in during my senior year of high school I lived here while I was in school working sometimes two or three jobs just to pay my way at first I did all the odd jobs and fix-it work around the house in exchange for a fairly low rent after high school Mary’s place was paid off back in the 90s but I know she didn’t have a big monthly income after retiring from the hospital 15 years ago once a part of her marriage passed it became too much for Mary to handle but she was more than someone who rented me a room like Derek and Brandon she’d become family she knew more about me than any of my co-workers my absentee father and my own mother who sat rotting in jail but she didn’t know everything no one did I had a recliner in the weight room and a small folding table with an ashtray I set my newly opened bottle of beer on the table where rings had stained the cheap wood over the years then I pulled one of the packages of rolling papers from the grocery bag at my feet and dug the Zippo out of my pocket the metal was warm for my body heat and just the feel of the smooth surface and the palm of my hand comforted me I opened the rolling paper pack and pulled out one of the small rectangles my breathing increased with a distinctive click sound of the lighter cover opening then the as the wheel spun over Flint and through Sparks into a stable blue flame I savored the heat and flickering light for about 30 seconds before holding the paper closer and watching it catch I stared intently while it burned down to my fingertips then dropped into the glass ashtray I lit another while the lighter was still warm the fire was pure and beautiful the fire was my greatest shame three beers and almost an entire pack of papers later I finally went to bed nightmares from the past chased me into the next day when we left off on Monday you mentioned that you knew why your friend Brandon requested a transfer from your station Tuesday went by in a blur Mary kept me busy all day fixing the knob on the back door the gate to the backyard and a piece of trim that had come off in the living room I also did laundry then made a trip to the store for another six-pack of beer and to pick up a prescription for Mary but Wednesday had arrived and I did nothing since waking this morning dreading my appointment with Sarah I sighed do we have to talk about Brandon what relevance does this have to my mental health Sarah gave me an infuriating know-it-all smile one that all the TV shrinks seem to have and cocked her head why don’t you tell me clearly Derek and Brandon are two people that have impacted your life greatly from the outside looking in I see that you didn’t just lose one friend in that warehouse fire you seem to have lost to most people come together to grieve over a loved one but you and Brandon did the opposite why did he request a transfer her questions were giving me a headache and I’d been on the couch less than five minutes I thought about the reason I was there and cursed my captain under my breath Bagley can suck my dick did you say something no it was nothing Sarah seemed to let it go but continued on with her questioning you were going to tell me about Brandon I wasn’t I paused and she continued to stare at me which truants i from my lips but you’re not gonna let this go are you Sarah merely smiled again as a response finally giving in I leaned forward on the couch and rested my elbows on my knees where I could look away from those knowing eyes Brandon requested a transfer because he can’t forgive me forgive you for what ash didn’t you save his life tears pricked my eyes yes but I let Derek die she sat back in her own chair I could hear the creak of it after a minute of silence she pried it again and do you think he should do you blame him for his lack of forgiveness I shook my head and had to swallow the lump in my throat to speak how can I and I can’t even forgive myself I looked up maybe hoping to see condemnation in her eyes at my next words I let my best friend die there was nothing on her face to suggest my guilt to justify the guilt in a stranger’s eyes she glanced down at the page in my ever-present file the report says the fire had gone out of control you were in the process of bringing a civilian out and made it to the door with the unconscious man when the distress call came over the radio you heard Derek request aid and left the civilian outside with the paramedics then ran back into the building despite the risk she didn’t understand what it was like and I shook my head to deny the risk I had to go what did you see inside Ashe I squeezed my eyes shut in order to get the words out they weren’t very far inside the west entrance but Derek was pinned below a beam where part of the roof had collapsed brandon was unconscious nearby and his breather mask had been knocked off i tried lifting the beam but it wouldn’t budge and I could see Derek was in pain probably from broken ribs where it pinned him across the chest he the pain overwhelmed me again and a shudder ran through my body as I dug the heels of my hands into my eyes to hold back the tears he told me to get Brandon out and come back for him with help but we both knew that the fire was too far gone and that no one would be coming back in memory of that night blazed back into my mind with the flames of my pain the heat was intense when I ran into the place that I had last seen them my first thought was that both men were dead when I saw their bodies on the floor the ceiling above us was on fire as were the walls around the only way out was the way I had come in and it was rapidly closing off relief course through me when I saw Derek staring at me through his own SCBA mass but it rapidly turned to dismay when I realized I couldn’t move the beam that had him pinned I’ll never forget the moment his gaze looked past where I crouched at his side and landed on Brandon take him please I dug heavy gloved fingers into his shoulders and screamed through the mask and smoke no I’ll get you out his words were fading with the pain but he managed a few more ash please his kids I love them I love him precious seconds went by before I finally nodded my head and he closed his eyes as he struggled to breathe Brandon had two kids from his previous marriage and after a year Derick loved those kids as much as he loved Brandon I knew I couldn’t let them lose their father his voice cuts through the roar of fire and burned me love you Ashley an ominous cracking sound above warned me of imminent disaster and I spun in place to grab Brandon from where he lay prone on the floor I had to do a power squat to get him up and over my shoulders then made my way as fast as possible toward the exit just before we got out the ceiling gave way above us and one of the beams struck my left arm I held on through the pain and pushed through the doorway and out onto the asphalt beyond we were swarmed by firefighters that pulled us back just as the roof gave out and the entire place exploded Derek even with a broken arm it took four of my fellow firefighters to keep me from running toward the engulfed building I fought weakly after that even when my gear was removed and I was forced into the ambulance everything went dark with the prick of a paramedics needle ash Ashley I jerked my head up at the sound of Sara’s voice and realized with shame the tears were coursing down my cheeks I hastily wiped my face with the arm of my sleeve I’m sorry she stood in grab the tissue box from her shelf and walked it over to me it’s alright take all the time you need after blowing my nose I took a few extra seconds to lean over and deposit the used tissue in the nearby trash then without looking at her I tried to explain Derek he was always the hero you know if he saw someone with car trouble he would always stop even if it were 2 in the morning or in the worst neighborhood he’d do what he could to help he skipped classes to sit with me when I went through the emancipation process and again when my mom was put in jail he was my best friend my family how old were you when you went through the emancipation the proceedings were started when I was 16 the court approved me when I was 17 pale eyebrows rose and surprised when I hazarded a look at my shrink that’s young I know you finished high school did you live with Derek and his family know his pop never really liked me he wanted Brandon to go into the family business and work at the garage but from the moment I said I wanted to be a firefighter Derek did too I think his family blamed me for that probably more so now ash I met Sarah’s eyes and they held nothing but compassion you know that you can’t take responsibility for someone else’s actions Derek made his own choices in life from the way you speak of him saving people was just his calling even if you hadn’t put the initial career idea in his head he may have gone into something similar I think the first step for you to move beyond this tragedy of that night is to accept the Derek’s death wasn’t your fault you physically couldn’t save him and you were not responsible for his being there in the first place I ran a hand through my dissembled dark hair sending it further into disarray the sessions were just as hard on my tuff dike image as they were on my psyche that’s easier said than done the guilt it eats at me and I took a deep breath and admitted a little more and you’re right it hurts that I lost not one friend in that fire but two she made a few notes on her pad of the yellow line paper and I wondered why she didn’t just use a laptop have you reached out to Brandon since the fire they kept me overnight for observation but I didn’t suffer from smoke inhalation like Brandon did I stopped by the next morning on my way out but as kids were in the room visiting and I didn’t want to intrude but he met my eyes while I was in the doorway and when he turned away he couldn’t even look at me what about the funeral did you speak to him then I gave her an incredulous look and what was I supposed to say hey the funeral was packed with friends family and her fellow firefighters was I supposed to walk up to him and say oh hey sorry I let your boyfriend and my best friend die I was bad enough that every time I looked at him he turned away that was when I knew I’d lost them both Sara cocked her head to study me and I waited knowing what she would ask next is that why you tried to take your own life that night my bottom lip began to quiver and I covered it with fingers of my right hand grief and anger and guilt filled me and I remembered waking up the next day to see Mary sobbing at my bedside my one-word answer was a whisper yes I drove home later in my Jeep and flashed back to the words she left me with as my session ended have you considered the possibility the brandon feels just as much guilt for Derek’s death as you I looked at her with confusion no why would he feel guilty he did nothing wrong Sara sat back in her chair and gave me another one of those shrink looks what if he feels guilty over the fact that you saved him instead of Derek what if he can’t look you in the eye because he’s afraid that you’ll hate him for the choice you made everyone reacts differently to emotional trauma shook my head in denial but that makes no sense doesn’t it he knew how much Derek meant to you right I nodded then it stands to reason he would know what Derek’s loss would do and feel survivor’s guilt because of it I’m going to give you some papers before you go as something to review before our next session they are about dealing with grief and about survivor’s guilt I think it would help you to read both I nodded my head dumbly because it wasn’t like I had anything else to do with my life until our next meeting my name is Kelly Aten reading from burn it down you have been listening to book clips check out the show notes for the synopsis and by links for this book if you are interested in showcasing your novel then check out the show notes for more information [Music]