Friday, August 23, 2019

Winnie #2

It was almost three o’clock in the morning when the smoke alarms went off in the hallways of Cottage Grove Towers. Tenants raced out of the fire doors and fire escapes. Heather and her family evacuated their apartment and met across the street. Roy, her father, took a head count—his wife, Jasmine, Promise, Heather, Holly, and Marcus but there was an extra head with the family. “Nathan?” Heather exclaimed. Heather knew Nathan as he was Savannah’s brother. “What are you doing here?”

“I was…uh…” Nathan stammered.

“He was with me,” Promise said. “We’ve been seeing each other for the last couple of months or so.”

“What?” Roy and Jasmine shouted.

“I know we should’ve told you and we were going to soon. I definitely didn’t want you to find out during a fire evacuation.”

Firefighters were waving that it was all clear and the tenants began returning to their apartments. “We’ll talk about this in the morning,” Roy said. “You’re going to stay here, Nathan. On the couch. We’ll call your parents in the morning.”

“Yes, sir,” Nathan agreed.

“And put some clothes on,” Heather crinkled her nose.

It was the sixth fire to happen in this manner in three weeks. The method was always the same. A bag was placed in the entryway or front hallway and lit on fire. The smoke would set off a smoke detector and the fire department would arrive. The most damage would be a burnt mark on the floor. Nothing was ever in the bag and no evidence ever left behind. There was no security in the buildings so there was no leads on who the would-be arsonist could be.

“And no one’s been hurt?” Winnie asked Heather as they sat down at lunch next to Savannah.

“Not yet but who knows what the next fire will bring,” Heather said.

“Talking about the fire?” Savannah asked.

“Yeah. It was hard getting back to sleep after that. By the way, did you know your brother is sleeping with my sister?” Heather asked.

“I knew he was seeing someone. I didn’t know it was someone I knew,” Savannah smiled. “How did you find out?”

“He snuck over after we all went to bed and had to evacuate with everyone.”

“Hell of a way for people to find out,” Winnie laughed.

A tall black girl with bushy hair tied into a ponytail purposely ran into Savannah. “Watch where you’re going,” she said angrily but soon a smile was on her face. “You excited for tonight?”

“Oh, yeah. I’m just excited to start getting some money and the experience isn’t bad either,” Savannah answered.

“I’ll see you at the diner tonight. I look forward to working with you,” the girl smiled at Savannah and walked off to sit with her friends several tables away.

“Who’s that?” Winnie asked.

“It’s Seonna Toomey,” Savannah began. “We have English and cooking together. We were both hired at Ol Mac’s Diner at waitresses. We start tonight.”

“What was with the smiles and the playful running into your chair?” Heather questioned.

“Seonna’s the one I have the crush on. We’ve been getting closer in class and I think…I hope…that she likes me. I like her.”

“Seonna…” Winnie thought for a moment, picking at her food with a fork. “Seonna. Isn’t she really athletic and kind of mean? I think she tried to stuff someone into a locker last year.”

“She is athletic. She participates in football, basketball, track, volleyball, and soccer over the summer. I’ve watched her practice and play—you should see her legs,” Savannah said as she blushed, getting a lilt in her voice, her eyes glistening in the light.

“Nah, I’m good,” Heather said.

“She’s really nice. I can’t wait to start working with her,” Savannah turned to look at Seonna. Seonna, who was looking at Savannah as well, opened her mouth to show her chewed up food and gave Savannah the finger. “She’s so cute.”

Candace was sitting outside in the grass during lunch, wanting to be away from people for a few minutes while she ate her sandwich. She watched the cars drive by and the other students wander the campus, most coming back from grabbing lunch somewhere else. She liked to people-watch and there was certainly plenty of entertainment when she was out here.

“Want a burrito?” someone behind her asked.

Candace turned around and saw a guy holding out a burrito to her. “No, thanks,” she smiled.

“Are you sure? The place gave me one extra,” the guy offered again.

“David, right?” Candace said, taking the burrito from him. “You’re in my math class.”

“May I sit?” David started to sit down but Candace started standing up.

“I’m thinking about heading inside. Lunch is almost over anyway,” Candace said.

“Oh, okay. Well, I will see you in math class,” David said good-bye. He watched Candace walk away back toward the school. “Enjoy the burrito.”

Ol Mac’s was a dinghy diner a few blocks away from the school. Ol’ Mac was a large black man who had been slinging hash and making the best soul food in this part of Chicago for nearly 50 years. Savannah and Seonna were hired to work Tuesday through Friday 3:30 until 9:00 and Sunday 11:00 to 5:00. The two girls tied aprons around their waists and got to work.

It got hot in the diner, especially when you were working and very little cool air came out of the air conditioner installed above the door. Sweat poured down everyone’s forehead and arms and after only a couple hours, the girls looked beaten and worn out. They were in a back room, hanging up their aprons and grabbing their backpacks after the diner had closed. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked as hard as I did tonight,” Savannah said, hanging up her apron.

“Not outside of a sporting event, for me anyway,” Seonna replied, taking her shirt off. Savannah watched closely as the shirt came off to reveal Seonna’s bare torso except for the sweat-stained sports bra she wore. She noticed the little bit of stubble underneath her arms and the almost six-pack of her stomach. Seonna sniffed her shirt before cramming it in her backpack. Seonna noticed Savannah looking and smiled a crooked smile. “What’s up?”

Savannah broke her gaze. “Nothing. You’re walking home like that?”

“I do a lot,” she replied. “It’s a short walk and it’s a lot more than I really want to be wearing. Boys are so lucky,” she shook her head. “How much did you get in tips tonight?”

“About forty bucks,” Savannah answered.

“I got about seventy. Come on,” Seonna put her arm around Savannah. Savannah shivered and nonchalantly sniffed in the general direction of Seonna’s armpit that was resting right by her neck and shoulder. “I’ll treat you to an ice cream cone at G’s.”

Another apartment building. Another fire. A small fire set in the hallway by the entrance. The building was evacuated and everyone gathered outside. A group of firefighters were going through the building, checking for stragglers and making sure no other fires were set. “I got a body over here,” one shouted.

“Looks like he was evacuating. What happened?” another asked.

“Oxygen. He left without his oxygen tank, I’m assuming,” the firefighter pointed to the tube coming out of the man’s nose. “Get the paramedics up here. If this fire was caused by the same person starting all the others, they just became a murderer.”