The pain of Vic blaming me for something I didn’t do hit me hard. I barely made it to the bathroom before my tears fell. After collecting myself, I hurried back to the alarm room.

The relief fireman, my pal Danny, asked, “How come your eyes all bloodshot?”

“I thought Vic…Vic was my friend,” I gulped, “but he said I…I talked too much. But I didn’t…”

Danny shook his head. “Maybe Vic was embarrassed by what the chief said at roll call last week. Did you hear about that?”

“Nope.”

“Both shifts were there, A-shift getting off, B-shift coming on, so more than 40 guys. The chief said, ‘There will be no fraternizing with the alarm room operators.’ He looked straight at Vic, who turned three shades of red and hung his head.”

“Oh, god. Tony must’ve blabbed about the four of us going to the movies. But that’s not fraternizing. Is it?”

After Danny left, I locked the door, screamed, “Mind your own damned business, Chief!” and felt better. But did Vic’s reaction mean he thought of the movies as a first date? I’d thought he was disinterested—but was he being a gentleman? Maybe there was hope after all.

Don’t give up. Don’t crawl into your shell. Find a way to tell Vic what happened.

Saturday, on my morning break, I spied Vic sitting alone, eating tuna and crackers. Mr. Tennyson, a fifty-something, well-read fire captain, sat nearby, working a crossword puzzle. I caught Vic’s eye and said, “There will be no fraternizing with the alarm room operators.”

Tennyson looked up from his newspaper. “What’s fraternizing mean?”

“You sure you don’t know, Mister Crossword puzzle?”

He raised his eyebrows. “Something kind of…provocative?”

“It can mean that.” I managed a smile. “It can also be like a fraternity, where you hang out with friends. Like Vic and me.” I hoped my heart wasn’t pounding loudly enough for Vic to hear.

Both of them smiled.

“Leave it to Liz the English Whiz.” Vic waved me over.

I sat beside him and squared my shoulders. “It wasn’t me who blabbed. So it must’ve been Tony.”

He looked startled and rubbed his chin. “I’m glad it wasn’t you.”

“Why didn’t you just ask me?”

He looked sheepish. “Guess I was being a chauvinist pig, figuring, you know, women like to…talk.”

I swallowed hard.

He sighed. “You’re right. I should have asked.”

Relief flooded over me. He can admit he made a mistake. He respects me and listens to me.

“Liz….assuming made an ass out of me.”

I kept my tears in check and my smile modest.

He stuck his hand out. “I won’t assume again.”

We shook on it, my small cold hand warmed by his large one. I relaxed. I could trust him. All I need to do is quit pussyfooting around and speak up.

“I’ll check with you next time,” he added. “Promise.”

“It’s a deal.” I tried to swallow the lump in my throat.

The look in his eyes said more than any words could have.

***

Have you ever been wrongly accused and then vindicated? I’d love to read your comments.

 

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READ MORE –

Speak, Love, Last – A Non-Fiction Short Story:  
Part 1   Part 2   Part 3   Part 4   Part 5   Part 6   Part 7 (Final)

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