Episode 20: "Hero"
Part One

Palm Terrace Plaza

The woman's scream echoed through the parking lot. The attacker covered her mouth with one hand and hissed for her to be quiet as his other hand dug deep into her purse.

Think fast, Banks. Oliver fumbled through his pockets, hoping he hadn't forgotten his lucky Swiss army knife. Though it sat safely in his pocket, the cell phone in his other pocket sparked a better idea. Oliver dialed 911 as he approached the attacker from his backside. "Yes, ma'am. I'd like to report a robbery in progress. In the parking lot of the Palm Terrace Plaza. The suspect is about six feet tall with light brown hair and is wearing a black shirt and ripped jeans."

The attacker spun around, holding the knife in his hand. He glared menacingly at Oliver, who smugly flipped his phone closed and said "Sorry, dude, but I wouldn't go anywhere if I were you. The cops will be here any-" before he could finish the sentence, the man lunged forward at Oliver. Oliver sidestepped the lunge and the man fell sprawling to the concrete and dropped his knife. The knife landed three feet from his body and as he scrambled to retrieve it, Oliver kicked it out of his reach. Fuming, the man jumped up and tackled Oliver, who rolled him over on to his back and punched him three times in the jaw. The man rolled Oliver to the ground and tried to get to his feet. Oliver was quicker and he kicked the man in the groin. The man yelped and doubled over in pain, clutching his leg. Oliver approached him slowly just as the sound of nearing sirens filled the air. The attacker regained his footing and fled from the parking lot.

Oliver didn't bother chasing after him. Instead, he turned to the woman, who smiled gratefully at him. "Well, that's my good deed for the day." He said humbly, helping the woman to her feet.

Part Two

El Patio Apartments

Stacia set the plate of hot chicken and cheese quesadillas on the table. She placed a plastic cover over them to contain their heat and looked at the rest of the table. While half of the table top held chips, salsa, and cookies, she still waited for Adam to bring the three-foot submarine sandwich, vegetable platter, and other dishes for the party. The sweet smell of vanilla from the candles she lit earlier blanketed the room with an aroma that prevented any evidence that Lana had burned butter earlier.

The phone in the living room broke through the silence. Stacia picked up the receiver. "Hello?"

"Hey, baby. I need some help down here at the car." Adam's deep voiced echoed in the receiver. Relieved to hear him call her affectionately, Stacia agreed to meet him in the parking lot of the apartment building. Stacia thought with excitement, Adam called me baby...that's the first time since meeting his parents that he's called me that... Lana was right... We are going to make it through this obstacle.

Bursting with anticipation to see him, Stacia quickly grabbed her jacket hanging from the recliner and swung it on, not noticing the brightly burning vanilla candle on the nearby end table and knocking it to the floor. The candle landed on a pile of newspapers near balcony's curtained sliding glass doors as Stacia slammed the front door behind her. Melted wax spilled onto the paper, spreading and devouring the newsprint. Flames sprung quickly to the carpet and crawled toward the drapes. They multiplied and crept up the curtains toward the ceiling, spreading and devouring flammables in their paths. Destruction and consumption were one in the same as the fire tore through the living room toward the staircase.

Smoke crowded the high ceiling and choked the smoke detector, whose alarm screeched with warning. Flames joined the smoke as they ate away at the wooden beams stretching across the ceiling. Every inch of the way surrendered to their touch as they swept across the walls toward the top of the staircase and continued to march down the hallway.

Lana lay asleep behind the lone bedroom door. She moaned in her sleep and turned over. Smoke crept through the cracks of the doorway and found their way to her bed. They stung her nose and startled her in her sleep. Lana inhaled and opened her eyes. The burning odor of smoke alerted her and she sat up to look at the bedroom door. Smoke flowed in through the cracks. Lana's heart pounded as she leapt from the bed and scrambled for the door. Her hand stopped inches before the doorknob as she remembered that the metal would most likely scorch her skin.

Lana hurried to Stacia's closet, yanked a sweatshirt from a hanger, and wrapped it around her hand. She used the protection to pry open the door, only to jump back from the roar of the fire. The carpet of the hallway was now swimming in a sea of flames and the influx of smoke rushed into the bedroom, nearly knocking Lana over. The smoke burned her eyes and nearly choked her throat. Lana battled the smoke as she coughed and coughed. She unraveled the sweatshirt and used it to beat the flames, but lost another fight as the flames overwhelmed the sweatshirt and forced her to toss it onto the fiery floor.

Lana poked her head outside the doorway and screamed "STACIA! WHERE ARE YOU? PLEASE HELP ME! IS ANYONE THERE? SOMEONE HELP ME! HELP!" Her shouts were answered only by a crash downstairs and an approving roar from the flames. She pondered her ways to flee. To her left was the way to the staircase and her only means from escaping the apartment. To her right, just five feet away on the opposite side of the hallway, was the bathroom door. The burning carpet defended the entire hallway and rejected any option Lana had.

Realizing that there was no way out, Lana wept hopelessly. She retreated further back into the bedroom, coughing harshly. Tears stung her eyes and streamed down her cheeks as she sank onto the bed, defeated.


Part Three

El Patio Apartments

Bryce drove his dark blue Jeep Cherokee into the El Patio Apartments parking lot. He quickly put on the brakes just as a crowd converged in the street, frantically pointing at the building. Bryce peered out of his windshield and to his horror saw streaks of orange flames engulfing the third floor. He pulled into a parking space and ran out to the closest familiar faces, Adam and Stacia.

Stacia had buried her face in Adam's shoulder, sobbing as Adam stroked her arms with his hands. "Adam, Stacia, what happened here?" Bryce inquired, still in awe of the fire's outreach.

Stacia turned to look at him, her dark brown eyes swollen with tears. "I don't know, I came downstairs to help Adam with the groceries. I must have forgotten about the candles. It's all my fault!" Stacia choked and more tears gushed from her eyes. Adam tried to comfort her but Stacia shook her head. She looked around frantically. "Where's Lana? Lana!"

Bryce instantly snapped to attention. He pulled Stacia out of Adam's grasp and braced her shoulders so she could only focus on him. "What about Lana? You don't know where she is?" He shook her for an answer.

Stacia sniffled, shook her wildly curly dark hair, and reluctantly looked into his dark green eyes. "She was asleep in my room when I left. I think the medicine I gave her really knocked her out. Bryce, I don't know if she got out in time!" Stacia shrugged out of Bryce's grasp and retreated back to Adam. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I will never ever forgive myself for this."

Behind Bryce, fire engines rolled onto the scene with firefighters leaping off the vehicles and organizing the crowd. Bryce dashed for one of the firefighters near the truck. "Sir, you have to hurry, there's a woman trapped on the third floor. We have to get her out of there!"

The firefighter looked at the burning building and then back to Bryce. "The fire's engulfed the entire third floor. The building has been evacuated anyway. Right now, we can't get inside until the place is hosed down."

"You don't understand, that woman isn't out here, she's IN THERE! By the time you get those hoses connected, it'll be too late. Someone needs to get in there now!" Bryce persisted desperately.

"Sir, I'm going to need for you to step back. We have a job to do."

Bryce glared at the firefighter, who turned his back to Bryce. Bryce looked around at the rest of the truck. Hanging near the passenger side door was a tattered fireproof jacket. Bryce immediately made way for the jacket. After quickly slipping it on, he ran for the front entrance of the building.

"HEY! You can't go in there!" Bryce paid no attention to the authoritative shouts thrown at his back. His determination directed his focus solely on the task of bringing Lana out alive. Before he knew it, Bryce found himself inside a smoldering lobby. He ran for the elevators and pressed the up button. He waited impatiently for a couple of moments before he caught sight of a door to the stairwell. He raced for the door, threw it open, and sprinted up the stairs. When he got to the third floor, he retracted his right hand deep inside the sleeve of the jacket and used the sleeve to pull the door open. Flames greeted him as he entered the hallway. He shielded his eyes with one arm and made his way down the hallway. Encased behind glass in one wall was a fire ax. He looked around for the nearest object, a trash can, which he picked up and used to smash the glass. He pried the ax from the wall and made his way to apartment 319. With the ax's aid, he chopped his way into Stacia's apartment.

Once inside, he saw nothing but walls of flames. "LANA! LANA! WHERE ARE YOU?" He hollered at the top of his lungs. He coughed harshly after inhaling the choking smoke. There was a crash six feet away as a wood beam from the ceiling came crashing down, startling Bryce so that he dropped the ax.

Lana heard Bryce's shouts from downstairs and came to the bedroom door. "BRYCE! IS THAT YOU? I'M TRAPPED IN THE BEDROOM UPSTAIRS! BRYCE! BRYCE!"

Bryce dashed up the stairs, avoiding the flames' outstretched tendrils. Upon breaching the top of the stairs, he found himself staring at sea of fire. Panting and coughing, he pulled off his jacket and beat the flames until he carved a path to the bedroom door.

"Oh, Bryce!" Lana threw her arms around his neck. Breathless and surprised, Bryce protectively pulled her close to him and looked into her beautiful face.

"Are you all right?" He asked with concern, examining her face. She nodded quickly, her dark blue eyes still glazed with fright. He put the jacket around Lana. "Wear this."

"What about you?" Lana protested, reluctantly pulling on the jacket.

"I'll be fine." He took her hand and led her downstairs. He heard a loud crack and looked up to see that the ceiling was about to cave in above them. He quickly turned to Lana. "This will be much faster." Without warning, he lifted her off the floor and raced into the hallway as the ceiling came crashing down behind them. The muscles in his arms burned but were quickly eased by the adrenaline pumping through his veins. Lana, with her arms around Bryce's neck, clung to him tightly as he carried her down the stairwell, through the lobby, and out of the front entrance.

Once in safety, Bryce gently set Lana back on her feet. Lana, rocked by the near death experience and amazed by Bryce's heroic display, could only stare into his intense green eyes with a questioning. Bryce, dripping with sweat, panted and breathed heavily as he returned her gaze. The skin on his arms tinged with a slight sting of materializing blisters as it realized its previously close proximity to the walls of fire. Lana noticed this reddish hue and looked back at Bryce with her eyes wide with alarm. Bryce felt the swell of concern in her eyes and was moved by the strength of their conveyed emotion.

Before Bryce could say a word, Lana wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her cheek against his chest. "Thank you," was all Lana could whisper. Overwhelmed by her gratitude, Bryce could only hold her in his arms. He briefly closed his eyes to allow for his memory to absorb the power of that moment.

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>> Read the lyrics to this episode's theme, "Hero" By Enrique Iglesias
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