She was an arsonist. He was a firefighter. The romance was hot. The breakup was explosive. –sketches1637
The door gave way after three swings of the fire axe, and Philip charged in. Even through his gear, he could feel the stinging heat of the fire on his skin. Somewhere behind him, another firefighter yelled that he didn’t have to go in there; the place was abandoned. All they needed to do was keep the fire from spreading.
Philip knew better. He knew that she would be here. She always was.
He found her in the middle of it all, sitting in the middle of a burning room, flames not touching her. At her side was a fire extinguisher and a bucket of water. She wore clothes that would have looked more at home in a bar or club than in the center of a burning building. In her lithe hands, a metal lighter flicked opened and closed.
She smiled when she saw him. “I figured you’d come,” she said. “Like what I’ve done with the place?”
“Erica,” Philip said. “We need to talk.”
The lighter clicked shut. “Oh,” said the red-haired woman. “I see.”
“I’m sorry, it’s just – I can’t keep doing this,” Philip said, indicating the building burning around them. “Most girlfriends think up ways to meet that don’t involve setting buildings on fire!”
“Oh my god, what’s the big deal? It’s not like anybody lives here!” Erica said, holding out her arms. They were covered with whorled burn scars; Philip had always found them attractive, and wasn’t sure if that made him as weird as she was. “It was getting demolished in a few weeks anyway!”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s going to work out.” He sighed, hand on the gas mask he wore to protect his lungs from the smoke. Erica wore no such protection; the burning made her feel alive. “I think we should see other people.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, turning away from her. “I really did enjoy our time together, but it’s time for me to move on.”
She didn’t cry; that just made him feel worse. “Okay,” she said, rising on ash-stained legs. “Okay. Fine.”
“I’m sorry,” he said as she walked past him. “Do you want me to carry you out of the fire again? For old time’s sake?”
“I’m good,” she said, spinning the lighter he had given her between her fingers. “I’ll just leave through the back. Less awkwardness and fewer arrests for arson.”
“That makes sense,” Philip said. He was actually a bit disappointed he wouldn’t get to carry her out. That was how they had first met; she had just set fire to a derelict apartment building, but the amateur arsonist had forgotten to check her escape route and become trapped in the building. He had faintly heard the screams through the roar of flames, and charged in alone to save her.
It took four weeks, three rescues, and more than a few dates for him to finally draw the connection between her hobby of loitering in abandoned buildings and the fact that those buildings would mysteriously catch fire while she was there. In hindsight, it was fairly obvious.
“You might want to hurry, though,” Erica said, walking between tongues of flames like they didn’t matter to her. “I punched some holes in a gas pipe a few floors up, so the flames should be getting there pretty quick.”
“You never change,” Philip sighed.
She gave him a final smile, and then she was gone.
As Philip exited the building, the top floors exploded. He turned to look, marveling at the bright oranges, reds, and yellows, clashing against the night sky like a quickly expanding flower. He wondered if that was how Erica saw every fire. He shook his head to dispel those thoughts. She wasn’t a part of his life anymore.
“What the hell did you do that for?!” shouted Malcolm, one of Philip’s closest friends on the squad.
“Erica and I broke up,” Philip said.
“Oh,” Malcolm said. Around them, the rest of the fire fighters bustled to keep the flames from spreading. Philip stepped a few feet to the left to avoid a falling chunk of debris. “You okay?”
“I’m fine,” Philip said, grabbing a thick hose from the engine. “I’ll really miss her, though.”
“I’m sorry, man,” Malcolm said, patting Philip on the back. “Plenty of fish in the sea, right? Hopefully not many of them are arsonists.”
“Maybe,” Philip said, turning on the water and dousing the flames, erasing her work with each tongue extinguished. For a moment, he thought he saw a woman’s shape in the flames, watching him, and then she was gone.
“You know she’s probably going to set fire to your apartment, right?”