To: Uncle Alex
Re: I think you should ask Miss Fraser on a date
She's my favorite teacher ever and she definitely likes you, I can tell. Everyone in town knows you're this brave firefighter. So why don't you be the hero of Miss Fraser's life? Maybe you could volunteer together at the Chestnut Grove Youth Center. Uncle Alex, I know you're pretty busy as guardian to my brother and me, but you need a girlfriend. So I came up with a plan. It's my secret, but I know it will be the best thing that ever happened to all of us!
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September 30, 2007
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Excerpt from Little Miss Matchmaker by Dana Corbit
If only everything were as easy to compartmentalize, Alex thought as he stared at the wall of lockers. His own reflective jacket, bunker pants, boots and helmet were back in their proper places under the nameplate A. Donovan. Outside Station Four's gray brick walls, early October had already dressed Chestnut Grove, Virginia, for autumn in its deepest reds and oranges, but Alex couldn't erase the scene he'd just left from his thoughts.
There would be no golden fall colors this year for the young family that had lived in the tiny house Engine Four had paid a visit to that morning. Only black, black and an unattractive gray.
The cruel irony of that loss of color ate at him when he needed to be praising God that there'd been no serious injuries or loss of life. That family had been blessed; he knew that. Even the family cat had made it out unscathed. Alex had pulled the terrified and hissing kitty out from under the bed himself.
Still, Alex imagined that it was hard for this family, already struggling and underinsured, to feel fortunate when they'd lost their furniture, family pictures and even the children's toys. At least they had memories, even if a lifetime of souvenirs had perished.
Some people weren't even fortunate enough to have memories--at least honest reflections that weren't based on a foundation of lies, he thought bitterly. Images of the day he'd discovered his adoption records entered his thoughts uninvited. His parents had carried the secret of his adoption to their graves rather than face him with the truth, and he would never forgive them for it.
Alex tucked the thoughts away the best he could as he trudged away from the lockers, past Engine Four and the utility truck, Squad Four, and into the back of the building. The only thing that mattered to him now was the shower to come. Perhaps the soap and water could wash away the funk in his heart along with the sweat and grime on his skin.
He was halfway up the stairs, halfway to his destination of steaming hot water and fresh-smelling soap, when a familiar voice rang out behind him.
"Hold up, Donovan."
Alex stopped on command, but he couldn't hold back a sigh as he turned to face Fire Chief Bill Nevins. The chief never liked to let too much time pass before analyzing his crew's performances on a run. Just this once,Alex wished Bill would let them recover before he began his analysis. "You had a message in the office." Chief Nevins extended a pink note to Alex while still gripping a stack of his own messages in his other hand.
"Thanks." Alex returned to the landing and reached for the message, already uncomfortable though he didn't look at what it said right away. He didn't often receive messages at the station, and the last one he'd received had been bad enough news to make him dread the next.
"If memory serves, you might want to get on that message right away."
His boss's strange comment made him look down at the slip of paper in his hand. The feminine name at the top didn't ring any bells, but he recognized the location written beneath it: Grove Elementary School.
Chelsea? Was she all right? Had something happened at school? Had someone at the hospital made a mistake and called the school first instead of him? The questions were still pinging through his thoughts as he glanced up at his boss again. Bill wore a knowing smile.
"It hits hard and fast, doesn't it?"
"The need to shelter and protect. That whole father thing."
Father thing? Alex shook his head to push aside the incredulous idea. He was no father, just a temporary guardian to two kids who had nowhere else to go. Not even a great guardian at that.
Still, he couldn't help looking back at the paper he held and backing away from the man who was getting a kick out of his discomfort. Written at the top of the sheet was "Dinah Fraser," whom he now remembered as the "Miss Fraser" that Chelsea spoke about in the evening over frozen-dinner lasagna or carryout roasted chicken. Even if he hadn't met her yet, Chelsea's teacher was one bit of stability in the child's otherwise out-of-control life.
"Don't worry. It's probably nothing," Bill told him, showing the decency that made him a good leader.
"Thanks." Turning,Alex headed down the hall instead of up the stairs as he'd planned. Inside the lounge was a partitioned area where firefighters could make personal calls either on their cell phones or the pay phone.
He dialed the number on the pay phone and waited, his heart pounding despite Bill's assurances.
"Grove Elementary School, how may I assist you?" said a voice so pleasant that the receptionist must have been smiling as she spoke.
"May I speak to Miss Fraser, please?"
"She's in class right now. May I put you through to her voice mail?"