Amund sat alone in the church. The funeral was over. Across the street at the fire house his younger brother Bo and what was left of Xantan County Fire Company’s ladder 14 were celebrating around a makeshift fire ring in the parking lot. It was a tradition. An epitaph in beer and songs. Amund could see the light from their campfire flickering through the stained glass window at the front of the room. He realized then that it was the first time he’d been alone in almost a week. He closed his eyes. Outside someone was playing a guitar. Captain Selvik would be raising a toast. And Haakon’s widow Anne would be putting on a strong face like she had all week.
Amund looked up at the altar. There were fresh sprigs of mistletoe around an old silver cross and a red length of cloth hemmed in gold and stained on top with years of candle wax. Haakon had believed in fate. We’ve all got our time—he’d said when they’d sat in these same pews watching their mother being eulogized more than a decade ago. Amund had been fifteen at the time, Haakon not much older and Bo had still been a baby, curled up asleep in the carrier next to them.
Today Amund had shaken hands with politicians, gotten condolences from people he’d never met, and sad looks from ones he had. It had been a packed house, faces and names that all seemed to run together now. Haakon had saved people. Four people this time including a little girl that was still touch and go down at the ER. He was fearless. And that’s what they’d remember. Not the hours he’d spent strapped to ventilators in the hospital, not Anne crying by his bedside or Bo trying to comfort her—Haakon had smiled when he walked out of the flames that last time. The guys had cheered him and then he’d collapsed.
Amund remembered coming home from the hospital. He remembered drinking his dinner and finally washing the soot off his face. He remembered Anne running her hand over his cheek and kissing his temple to comfort him.
He remembered wondering if Haakon had known he was going to die and maybe that’s why he’d smiled.
Amund sat alone in the church and looked up at the stained glass window. He remembered their mother’s smile and Haakon’s voice—he thought about the little girl Haakon saved—how she still might not make it—and he thought about how selfish it was to wish Haakon hadn’t gone back in for her.
He wished Haakon hadn’t gone back for her.