I sat on the bed and tapped the remote. It didn’t take me long to find a news channel covering the fire. News of the missing Alpines was already scrolling across the bottom of the screen in yellow letters.
I called Jojo to let her know I was south covering the fire. Just as I plugged my phone into the charger, it chimed.
Going to get Taylor. Love you.
Be safe. I’ve got plans for you. Love you, too.
The sun was getting low in the sky when the main lobby doors slid open and Trex walked through. He didn’t seem surprised to see me, but he was surprised to see the ring on my finger. “Congratulations,” he said.
“Have you heard anything about the Alpine crew?” I asked.
“The rescue crew was helo’d in. That fire’s a beast.”
I stood behind the sofa, watching the large flat screen next to Darby’s desk. Stavros brought me a glass filled with something clear and fizzy.
“Sprite,” he said. “Just Sprite. Are you hungry?”
Stavros returned to the bar, and I returned my attention to the television. CNN was reporting that the smoke plume could be seen from the space station, and then they interviewed the US Forest Service Chief, Tom Tidwell.
“This is bad,” I said, folding my arms across my middle.
“My people say they have eyes on the rescue crew,” Trex said, checking his phone for the dozenth time.
After another meeting was held in the conference room, officials filed out and converged around the television. My stomach growled, but I didn’t move. Darby had clocked out at three, but she stayed with me, knowing I was worried and alone.
“Turn that up!” someone called from across the room.
Darby scrambled for the remote and pressed the volume several times. A female reporter was standing in front of tall grass and burning trees holding a microphone. My heart ached, knowing Tyler couldn’t be far.
I turned around in my seat, looking to the TAC team. They were talking quickly in hushed voices, and I turned around, watching the television with my fingers over my mouth.
“The last reported communication with the Estes Park crew was at six o’clock this evening, right about the time the two main fires converged. They’ve reportedly deployed their fire shelters.”
My eyes filled with tears, and everything began to move in slow motion. I stood, scanning the faces of the men around me, looking for someone who might know where my boys were.
Darby handed me a tissue, and I wiped my cheeks quickly, refusing to think the worst.
“They’re okay,” one of the firefighters said, patting my arm.
I turned to the television, praying that any second the words scrolling across the bottom of the screen would change.
I turned to see Falyn running into the lobby from the parking lot, looking as panicked as I felt. I ran to her and threw my arms around her shoulders, sniffling.
“I just heard,” she said. “Any news?”
I shook my head, wiping my nose with the tissue Darby had given me. “Nothing. We arrived just after seven. Tyler drove like a maniac. He’s out there with the crews, looking for them.”
She hugged me. “I know they’re okay.”
“Because they have to be,” I said, holding her at arm’s length with a forced smile. “I heard … about the baby. First Maddox grandbaby. Jim’s ecstatic.” Falyn’s face fell, and my heart sank. “Oh God. Oh, no. Did you … are you not pregnant anymore?”
She stared at me, seeming equally confused and horrified.
“You’re right,” I said. “This isn’t the time. Let’s go sit. Trex is getting updates every half hour from his people.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. He just said his people.”
Falyn sat with me on the sofa in front of the television, surrounded by firefighters and hotshots. As the night wore on, the crowd thinned, but Falyn, Darby, and I remained, waiting for any word other than Trex’s updates that really weren’t updates at all. The only thing we knew is that no bodies had been found.
Falyn held my hand and squeezed, her body sinking further into the sofa. Darby brought us coffee and a plate of donuts, but no one touched the food.
Trex came over, sitting in the chair adjacent to the sofa.
“Nothing,” Trex said. “I’m sorry. My guys only give visual confirmation, and they haven’t seen anyone in an hour. The helos are up with spotlights, but the smoke is making it difficult to see.” He glanced at Darby, wishing he had better news. “I’m going to call them in ten minutes. I’ll let you know the second I hear anything.”
I nodded, and then the lobby doors swept open.
Tyler walked in, his skin black with soot. He removed his hard hat, and Falyn stood and I jumped up, sprinting toward him and hitting him at full speed.
“Oh my God,” I cried softly into his ear. “Oh my God, you’re here. You’re back.” I leaned back, seeing the matching clean streaks striping his cheeks. I hugged him again, and he squeezed me tight.
“We didn’t find him. I can’t find him, Ellie,” he choked out.
“We had to drag him out,” Jubal said, wiping his dirty forehead with the back of his wrist. He looked exhausted, clean lines fanning out from around his eyes.
Tyler released me and walked over to Falyn, pulling her into his arms. He whispered in her ear as she shook her head, and then her knees gave way, her wails filling the lobby.
My eyes blinked open, hearing the middle of Tyler and Falyn’s conversation. She was going to work, unable to sit around and wait any longer.
“Are you going back out?” she asked.
“I’m not sure they’ll let me. I might have punched one or two people before they removed me from the area,” Tyler said.
Tyler tensed, and I reached up to touch his shoulder. “He’s going to walk in that door any second. They haven’t found them. That’s a good thing.”
“Come on. Let’s get you a shower.” I stood, pulling Tyler with me. He stumbled to the elevator and then down the hall to our room. I guided him in and to the bathroom, where I unbuttoned his shirt, hooking it on the door, and then pulled off his undershirt, and then the rest of his clothes and boots.
I reached over to twist the knob to the shower, checking the temperature before I let him step in. He closed the curtain, but I could hear him crying.
I leaned my head against the wall, closing my eyes, taking in deep, cleansing breaths to ease the stress and the sudden, deep thirst making my entire body ache. I thought about Stavros and how easy it would be to talk him into a beer for Tyler. Just one. I was tired, and afraid, and worried for Tyler, but I had to be present. I had to stay sober. I stood up, refusing to give in. It was the first craving of many, but I only had to get through one at a time.
Tyler turned off the water and I handed him a towel. He dried off his face and then wrapped the towel around his waist, hugging me against the wall. I placed my hand on the back of his neck, kissing his cheek.
“He’s coming back,” I whispered. “We should get back down there. You’ll want to be there when he walks in the door.”