The story so far:
They raced up the stairs to the attic. The heat of the fire invoked dust and ashes, swirling around them like a dervish. Andrew went toward the windows, throwing boxes out of his way and kicking others. He yanked at the windows, but they refused to open. He looked out of a window into the eyes of an old woman, dressed in white, glaring at him from behind. He yelled and spun around; hitting his head on the low hanging roof struts. “Aw, sh—“. He doubled over from the pain, holding his head between both palms. His vision swam, making it seem as though he’d opened his eyes under water.
He suddenly realized he hadn’t heard a sound from Leigh. When he looked up, the woman in white was in front of him, reaching out to grab his arm. He opened his mouth and terror climbed down his throat; he could only make a strangled, gurgling sound when he pushed the arm away.
The arm came again, grabbing him tight, pulling him into her. A sweet scent surrounded him, blocking for a moment the angry smoke and dying wood. Leigh.
“My God, Leigh. Are you okay?” The uniform fit her almost perfectly, straining only at the bust line where she’d been unable to button it and her pale pink tee shirt showed through. The uniform was still startlingly white, save for three dark splotches across the front of the starched cotton. “Where did you get— I just saw— “
“It was in the trunk. And I know. I saw her, too.” She helped him to his feet. “She gave me a choice, Andrew.” Her voice was fade-away, distant.
Fire swirled into the opening of the attic. It fanned out to cover the entire entrance and there it flickered, waiting.
“A choice? What choice?”
“I can leave you here or we can die together.” Leigh turned to the door of the attic and the flames parted. Andrew came towards her, placing a sooty hand on her arm. The wall of flames snapped shut with a roar and the fire leapt forwards a foot and crouched, swaying back and forth like a cobra.
Andrew stared at the flames, transfixed. In the glow of the fire, his vision clouded and he saw it all. The steaming coffee, the squeal of tires, the laughter. Go on to work, now. You don’t wanna get fired.
Leigh’s movement snapped him out of the vision. He clutched her, turning her stiff form to face him. The flames reflected golden orange in her eyes. No, not Leigh’s eyes. Leigh’s eyes were trusting and tender, full of wonder at the attraction between them. These eyes were empty and far, far away and he knew she was seeing across the years. She was moving again, being pulled towards the fire. The opening was back, beckoning. Her voice came, pleading in its whisper. “I can… can’t… leave you…” Her fingers clutched at his forearms, leaving streaks as they slid across his sweat-slick skin.
He caught her at the waist, smearing the uniform with dirt and muck. “Andrew?” Leigh’s voice was stronger and he sucked in a breath. They both watched as the grimy handprint remained on the fabric for a moment before fading into nothing. The wrinkles straightened and smoothed, returning the uniform to its stained condition.
“Leigh, can you hear me?” Her eyes were going dim, but she was fighting it this time.
“All I can hear is buzzing. It’s in my head. I can hear her…The uniform…”
The uniform. He grabbed it at the bust, where the buttons strained to contain Leigh, and ripped the fabric down the front. Buttons flew everywhere, skittering across the floor. Leigh gasped and realizing his intent, began to struggle out of the confining garment. She stepped clear and Andrew held it up, being careful to avoid hitting his head again and he walked through the cloying attic.
He yelled, choking on the thick, acrid smoke. “Is this it? Is this where you’ve stored all your hatred? It destroyed you, but it won’t destroy your granddaughter! I won’t let it!”
“Andrew, look out!” At Leigh’s cry, Andrew released the puddle of fabric, dropping it through the hole in the ceiling.
The buzzing turned into a banshee’s wail and the wall of flame surged forward. It split in two, avoiding Leigh. The halves came together into a glowing hand, grabbing the uniform as it fell, turning the fabric into fluttering ash. The wail faded into an anguished sob and all was silent.
Leigh stood barefoot on the deck of her mother’s condo, watching the sailboat masts slice into the smudged rainbows of sunrise. The sliding door shooshed open and Andrew stepped out to join her, pressing a mimosa into her hand. The aroma of melting cinnamon clung to him. “Our last breakfast was interrupted, so I guess this is Take Two.” He saw the newspaper folded on the bistro table, Legendary Local House Burns to Ground. She smiled and they watched the harbor in silence for a moment.
He'd cropped his hair short, to remove the parts the fire singed, and it was already lightening in the sun. Leigh liked the look, but couldn’t resist teasing him as they sipped the cool drinks. “You look like a cop with that haircut.”
“Cop recognition is your strong suit, is it?”
“Umm hmm.” Leigh slipped her arm around his waist, feeling the warmth of him through the shirt. "Helps me to recognize ‘The Man’ when I see him.”
He chuckled. “So, I’m ‘the man’ now?” He was already lowering his head. A gentle wind blew in, making the wind chime above them twinkle merrily.
She tiptoed to meet his descent. “Yeah. Yeah, you are.”