“My mom says fire is scary. I had bad dreams.”
Jerry smiled and leaned forward on the folding chair toward the kids sitting on the big rug in front of him. Mick sat beside him on another chair, looking like someone had thrown him into a swamp full of alligators. He’d said something about kids making him nervous on the drive over, and he hadn’t been kidding.
Jerry nodded. “Your mom is right. Fire can be real scary. But remember, it’s good too. How else would you get hot dogs and s’mores?”
All the kids laughed and echoed him. “Yeah, s’mores.”
“Now you guys did really good yesterday when you exited your building.”
Jerry smiled at the little girl with cocoa skin. “It means when you marched out the door just like in your fire drill.”
“And because of that, Firefighter Cassidy and I have been authorized, uh, I mean we’ve been told, we can give each one of you an Honorary Firefighters Badge.”
“Can I have two?”
Jerry laughed. “But first, tell me all the stuff you know about how to handle fire.”
The kids stared at him.
For the first time, Mick moved. He leaned forward and said real soft, “Matches.”
One little boy nodded authoritatively. “Ohhh, yeah. Never play with matches.”
“Don’t touch matches.”
Jerry looked at Mick and gave him a wink.
The guy looked down at his hands. Jeez, he’s weird.
He looked back at the kids. “And what else can you tell me about fire?”
The children all looked right at Mick. His ears turned pink, but he got into the game. “Fireworks,” he whispered.
One little black-haired boy rolled back on the carpet. “Fireworks are great!”
Jerry laughed. “Right, but where do they belong?”
Once again, all eyes turned to Mick. He held up his hand beside his mouth. “In the city fireworks display.”
One redheaded boy threw his hand in the air. “Ciddy firewooks!”
Jerry nodded. “Right! Never, ever pick up fireworks or buy them at the store. They can hurt you, and they’re not allowed in Laguna Beach. You know where that is, right?”
“Okay, good. Now Firefighter Cassidy and I will hand out your badges. Remember, fire is good most of the time, but you have to use it right. Never play with it—and do your fire drills regularly. Ready for your badges?
He took the plastic badges from a box and handed some to Mick. As the kids flocked around him, the big guy smiled and looked kind of happy.
A little Hispanic girl grabbed Jerry around the legs. “Thank you, Fireman.”
He knelt down. “Thank you. What’s your name?”
“You enjoy your new badge, okay? Show it to your mommy and daddy.”
“I only have a daddy.”
Jerry’s breath caught. “Well, I’ll bet you love him very much.”
She nodded. “Yes. He makes me sandwiches, and we’re in it together.”
Jeez, should he laugh or cry?
“Do you have a little girl, Fireman?”
He smoothed her inky hair. “No, but I wouldn’t mind having a little girl just like you someday.”
“I hope you find her.”
Heat pressed behind his eyes. “Oh, I hope so too.” No crying, man. He hugged Antonia’s tiny frame. “Thank you for letting us come to your class today.”
Big wide eyes. She nodded. “Thank you for coming.”
He smiled. When he looked up, Mick was staring at him.
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