Episode 21: "Roommates"
Part One

El Patio Apartments

Jake, propped comfortably between large pillows in the backseat of Kendra's Jaguar X-type, stared out of the window in bewilderment. Blue and red lights from emergency vehicles flashed while the usually quiet parking lot of El Patio Apartments buzzed with tenants, policemen, firemen and bystanders. Jake caught sight of the smoldering alabaster apartment building and a wave of fear suddenly strickened him.

"I wonder where the fire started," Kendra wondered outloud as she parked the car across the street from El Patio. "We'll help you walk, Jake. With all of these people outside, I don't think we'll be able to park any closer." Kendra and Nina helped Jake out of the car. He wore a cast on his left arm while a brace encased the lower section of his torso to keep his ribs snug tight. He felt slightly dizzy and leaned against Kendra, who assisted him in walking toward the apartment building.

"I'll go ahead and see what's going on and if we can get inside the building," Nina said before disappearing into the the crowd of onlookers.

Jake scanned the sea of people until he finally found a familiar face. "Adam! Adam!" He called out. Adam was standing near an ambulance with his arm around Stacia, who's face was swollen red from crying. In the back of the open ambulance, Jake caught a glimpse of a paramedic wrapping gauze around Lana's arm while another examined Bryce's forehead. "What happened? Are you guys all right?"

Recognizing Jake's voice, Lana looked up with a bravely cheerful face, only to see Jake leaning on Kendra's shoulder. Her happy expression diminished nearly to the point of a scowl. "We're fine. I'm fine, thanks to Bryce." She looked gratefully at Bryce beside her. "I was trapped inside Stacia's apartment after the fire started and Bryce braved the fire to rescue me."

Kendra looked skeptically at Bryce as he glanced shyly back at Lana. "Trapped? How did you manage to get trapped in the apartment? Didn't you hear the fire alarm?" Inside, she fumed at the idea that Bryce had put himself in harm's way for someone unworthy of the slightest attention. She was determined to deter any favorable impression Bryce's heroics would make on Lana.

Understanding Kendra's implications that Lana purposely put herself in harm's way, Lana simmered but kept her cool. Calmly, she replied, "Earlier on, I had a headache and the pain medication I took knocked me out. I didn't hear the alarms go off. By the time I awoke, the apartment was already overwhelmed with the fire."

"I saw Adam and Stacia in the parking lot," Bryce went on, turning to Kendra. "They told me that Lana hadn't made it out yet. So I took a fire-proof jacket from one of the fire engines and went inside. The rest is history."

"Why didn't you leave the rescuing up to the fire department? I mean, you could have died in there," Kendra quickly added to cover her antagonizing tone.

"They were going to extinguish the fire before going inside," Bryce reasoned. "If I would have waited for them, Lana wouldn't have made it out." He returned his gaze to Lana, who smiled and squeezed his hand gratefully.

Kendra's icy blue eyes flashed with hot jealousy. What she would have given to have traded places with Lana. Her pale cheeks flushed as she pictured Bryce's muscular arms carrying Lana out of the burning apartment and into safety. The circumstances were too unfair and she couldn't comprehend why events she herself had desired played out for someone else. She stood silently, simmering, with her arms folded and her eyes looking away from Bryce.

Jake was speechless. While he was grateful that Lana was rescued from the horrific fire, he couldn't help but envy the way she looked at Bryce. The beaming adoration reminded him of the night he first met Lana, when he scared away a would-be mugger who had attacked Lana at University of North Florida. That was exactly the way Lana looked at him when he first gazed into her dark blue eyes. In fact, he was so used to receiving all of Lana's attention that he felt a strange sense of withdrawal when he witnessed her bestowing it on someone else. "Well, thank goodness for your courage, Bryce," Jake managed to say finally. Stiffly, he shook Bryce's hand.

"No! Thank you, Bryce, for saving my life," Lana piped up, pulling Jake's hand away from Bryce's so she could take it in hers. "I don't think I can ever thank you enough."

Once is good enough, both Kendra and Jake thought. Sullenly, they stood aside, feeling themselves drift further from Lana and Bryce's worlds as the friendly gap between Lana and Bryce drew closer a little more.

Part Two

El Patio Apartments

The guilty feeling set in the pit of Stacia's stomach was all too familiar to her memory. While she stood in the embrace of Adam's comforting arms outside in the crowded El Patio Apartments parking lot, she held herself solely accountable for her best friend nearly dying. Of course, her mind could not allow her to forget that it wouldn't have been the first time she took someone's life.

And while Stacia felt relieved that Adam was still by her side, her conscience haunted her with the history of her bad decisions and sucked any happiness that her moment in his arms would ever bring. Moreover, the memories of her historic visit to the women's clinic raised the question of how long Adam would stay once he knew that truth about her past. She knew that his strong anti-abortional viewpoint was too powerful for his love to defeat. He could easily understand that leaving the candles lit was unintentional, but her decision to end her own pregnancy was an intention with which Adam would adamantly object.

"Baby, hey, now. Lana's all right now, she made it out safely. It's time to put this all behind us." He spoke soothingly, caressing her arms with his hands. "Besides, we have some matters to discuss."

Stacia looked up alarmingly. She wondered if Adam was finally going to end the relationship, in the aftermath of the burning fire that fittingly symbolized the destruction of their love. She tried to keep herself calm, willing to accept the harsh fate she felt she deserved, the furthest distance from Adam's kind, gentle heart. "I'm ready, Adam. I know you must be so disappointed about what you've learned about me during the past couple of weeks. I understand that we don't agree on a lot of important issues. But I just want you to know that all that matters to me is your happiness."

"Baby, I understand completely, and I feel the same about you." He pulled Stacia closer to him and looked deep into her eyes. "I love you so much and I can't imagine life without you. It really scared me when I realized it could have been you trapped in the fire up there."

Stacia beamed happily. "Really? You thought about that?"

Adam nodded. "I'm so thankful that you were here with me. And I don't want to think about losing you again, which is why now more than ever we should discuss taking our relationship to the next level."

Stacia nearly fainted. Oh my gosh, could he mean? Is he going to propose to me? What am I going to say? Beads of sweat on her forehead appeared as she braced for the brunt of his question.

Adam took a deep breath. With the most serious expression Stacia had ever seen on his face, Adam took her hands in his and asked "Stacia, will you move in with me?"

The pressure of an imminent proposal melted away with Stacia's relief. This question was much easier to answer than any other question he had ever asked her. Her face glowed with the radiance of her excitement as she threw her arms around Adam's neck. "Yes!" She exclaimed happily. "Yes, I'll move in with you!"

Adam completed Stacia's embrace and sealed their deal with a passionate kiss.

Part Three

In Field Fly Sports Pub

"I'd like to propose a toast," Lana stood from her barstool and raised her glass of rum and coke in the air. While the local authorities inspected the EL Patio Apartment Building before allowing tenants to return to their apartments, Jake suggested that the party go on as planned at the In Field Fly Sports Pub. When Oliver joined them and shared the story of his own heroic adventure at Palm Terrace Plaza, the group decided to celebrate the bravery of their three heroes.

"To the heroic efforts of our friends Jake, Oliver, and Bryce." She paused to glance down beside her at Bryce, who met her eyes with palpable content. Across the table, Jake followed Lana's gaze and frowned disapprovingly. "Through times of utmost peril, by way of the swiftest thinking, from both strangers and friends, the most sincere of thanks for being there." Her toast was met with enthusiastic concurrence as the circle of friends Kendra, Nina, Mae, Jake, Adam, Stacia, Simon, Oliver, and Bryce heartily replied in unison "Cheers!" and banged their glasses together.

Lana bent down to embrace Bryce, who accepted the hug most graciously. Kendra glared at the display and downed the rest of cosmopolitan.

"Whoa! Slow down on the alcohol, Kendra," Simon cautioned her as he sat on the barstool next to her. "Too many of those and tomorrow you might not remember how close Lana and Bryce are starting to get to each other." He smirked and drank from his beer bottle.

"You're such an asshole, Simon," Kendra shot back at him. "Why don't you join all the other good-for-nothings over at Mae's table?"

"Including my very own cousin, Bryce, whom I very know you have the most undeniably hopeless crush on? Don't tell me that you've already lost interest."

"I never said anything about giving up on Bryce," Kendra defended herself. "Besides, shouldn't you be elsewhere? Like in a bathroom stall with Mae?"

Simon tried play innocent. "I don't know what the hell you're talking about. And don't try to change the subject!" He face flushed furiously red.

Now it was Kendra's turn to smirk. "You don't fool me, Simon. I've heard you two flirting dirtily with each other. Every time I walk by the two of you, I smell nothing but the stale stench of raunchy and cheap sex. Boy, you embody that desperate times call for desperate measures."

"Say all you want, but I'm the one enjoying all the pleasure here. Especially the pleasure of seeing you sulk and pout whenever Bryce refuses your every advance on him." Simon's blue eyes glowed with a menacing satisfaction. "You know, there was a time when all I wanted was you. But then I realized how much I didn't want a shallow, spoiled, and selfish brat. So now I enjoy watching you suffer from Bryce's every denial of your attention. Tell me, Kendra, how does it feel to want something that you can't have?"

I've always taken what I've wanted, Simon. Don't you worry, I still have one more ace up my sleeve. Kendra masked her thoughts from Simon and answered him with the sourest of glares. Simon only smiled back gleefully. "Now you know how I feel." With that last quip, he stood from the barstool, picked up his beer bottle, and returned to Mae's table. He sat down and noticed despondent expressions on the faces around him. "What? Am I drinking the wrong brand of beer?"


Mae turned to him, her eyes filled with tears. "The In Field Fly is closing down, indefinitely."

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