The longer I knew Vic, the more his positive outlook charmed me. On a slow afternoon in the alarm room, I poked fun at a short fireman who told tall tales about his amazing rescues.
In his typical, generous style, Vic said, “Aww, the sawed off little dude’s just trying to act big.”
“You’re the kind of guy who, when he looks at a dirty dog, sees the small clean patches behind his ears.”
A flush tinged his tanned face pink. “You can look at everything from two sides,” he told me.
“From the up side or the down side.”
A twinge of regret, that I’d been negative moments before, made me wish I were as positive as Vic.
He went on, “I think it’s more fun to look at the upside rather than the upside down.”
I laughed. Maybe that’s why he’s so much fun to be around.
According to the grapevine, Vic didn’t know the meaning of fear when fighting a raging fire. But hotly pursuing women were another story. Knowing he ran from such women, I feigned disinterest. I won’t let him see how much I care. I can’t risk chasing him away.
When he and I were alone in the alarm room, we talked about everything except my crush on him and, I hoped, his growing feelings for me. He told me growing-up-in-the-country stories, him racing his dirt bike through the Pennsylvania hills and feeling “free, like a bird.” I understood. I felt free as well, unfettered and alive, when we hung out together.
We grew comfortable enough to tease each other. Him saying such things as, “So the Chief calls you Liz the English whiz, huh? He must not know there’s no fool like an educated fool.” Me retorting, “You’re so untutored, I’ll bet you think Dom Perignon’s a Mafia boss.”
After Vic’s truck screech wheeled back into the station following some bloody emergency, we talked about it long into the night. Sharing crises brought us closer.
When he told me a hairdresser named Molly had moved in with him, I’d winced, gulped, and blinked hard to keep back tears. But when he started confiding in me about problems he and Molly were having, I gleefully started sharing my relationship problems with him as well.
I’d been at Whaler for a year and a half when, in February, 1985, Vic sat at the back desk of the alarm room. He peeled an orange and handed me sweet juicy slices. Freshly shaved, he smelled like Brute aftershave. Would he notice if I dabbed on some Musk perfume? Probably not.
We talked about Fred, a henpecked fireman whose wife made him brush the cat’s teeth, and laughed about Fred avoiding home chores by volunteering for overtime every chance he got.
“Why doesn’t Fred tell his wife to let the vet do it?” I asked.
Vic shrugged. “He needs to grow a backbone, speak his mind. Pussyfooting around ain’t no good way to live.”
“Sometimes I’m a pussyfooter, too,” just slipped out. I hoped he wouldn’t think of me as a “panty”, as the locals call timid women in Hawai’i.
“Oh?” Vic raised an eyebrow. “How so?”
“If I speak up to Billy, he yells. Then I clam up.”
Vic shook his head. “Never let anyone shut you up or put you down.”
Embarrassed that I allowed such treatment, I stuttered, “You … you’re … right, of course.” I thought about Billy’s violent streak. But how do you stand up to them without getting hurt?
Vic bit into a section of orange. “Take me now.” He pointed at his chest. “I’ve got no problem saying no to Molly.”
Yeah, sure, what’s the risk for a strong man saying no to a little woman?
Vic continued, “I poured a can of oil on top of her car.”
Oh no. Maybe he’s more like Billy than I thought. “You did what? Why?”
“She borrowed a hundred bucks, said she’d pay me back when she got paid. She didn’t.”
“Did she say why?”
“Yep. She said I made more money than she did. I said, ‘So?’ She said, ‘You’ll get over it.'”
“Really?” Wow. She’s got guts.
“Yes.” Vic pounded the console; the microphone jumped. “I said, ‘And will you get over what I’m going to do to your car if you don’t pay me back?’”
“I’ll bet that got her attention.” She doesn’t know Vic. “What did she say?”
“Not a damn thing. She turned red in the face, spun on her heels, and slammed the door on her way out. I was still steaming before I left for work, so I hit the gym, pumped some iron…”
I wonder if they’re still together. “I think she should apologize, not break a promise again.”
He nodded. “Yep, that’s what she ought to do. That’s what you’d do. Am I right, Liz?”
His praise warmed me. Do my cheeks look as red hot as they feel? I smiled. “If I could push past my pride, and admit I’d done wrong.”
“Talk about wrong. She comes bopping into my pad with…” he imitated a woman’s voice and gestures, “…three totally cool outfits from Liberty House.” In his normal tone of voice, he added, “Bought with my Benjamin Franklin!”
“Is pouring oil on a car positive?” I shook my head. “I’m surprised you’d do such a thing.”
Vic looked thoughtful. After a while, he said, “You’re right. That stunt was beneath me. I’ll apologize, clean up her car.” He thought about it some more. “And tell her to pay me back or leave.”
Vic listens to me! Not like Billy. Shaking my head, “Broken promises, broken trust. Silly girl…”
“I like talking to you.”
I flushed, stuttered, “Di…ditto for me, Vic.”
He smiled and strode out the door.
I pressed my hand to my racing heart. Aurora’s words about finding a forever love echoed through my mind. Was it possible dreams really do come true?