Bang! Bang!! Bang!!!
‘Stupid… Bloody… Cannot believe it…’ Dylan muttered angrily to himself as he worked on the fire appliance, the delicate touch he’d once used with maintaining the important machinery gone as he hammered out his anger.
It had been a week since the major fire at the hospital, a week since he’d received such glowing praise from the chief. A week since Puzzle had floated back into his life, his irritating face appearing when Dylan least expected it, his annoying grin haunting him at nearly every turn.
‘Why… For gnomes’ sake… What the hell…’ Dylan was hardly focusing on the dent he’d been hammering out, his mind totally consumed with his rage. He was an adult now, a grown man! Surely he should’ve grown out of his imaginary friend stage years ago. What the hell was wrong with him!
‘Argh!’ Cursing, Dylan dropped the hammer on the floor; as was inevitable given his state of mind he’d missed his target and hit his hand. Rubbing the already bruising skin, Dylan kicked the side of the fire appliance. ‘Stupid thing!’
‘Dylan!’ Alan’s curious face appeared at the door of the garage, his expression softening as he realised what had happened. ‘Would you come out here for a minute, son?’
Rolling his eyes, Dylan trailed out after the chief. Alan studied him for a minute through his shades, a little worried.
‘What’s on your mind, Dylan?’
‘What’s on my mind? Nothing!’
‘Come off it, son! You’ve been a total mess all week, entirely distracted, unfocused, and now you’ve managed to hammer your hand into the side of the truck. What’s going on?’
A little nervous about where the conversation may be heading, Dylan fidgeted with his braces. ‘Sorry, chief. I just… I…’ How can I tell him?!
‘Was it the hospital? Was it too much for you to handle? I know you did a fine job, Dylan, but that was the first major incident you attended. I realise such things can be a little shocking if you’re not -‘
‘No! No, no, I was fine with that, honestly. I don’t know what’s the matter with me, chief. I’ll try and-‘
Dylan gritted his teeth.’I’ll try and get focused again. I know I can do this, chief.’
Alan nodded. ‘I know you can too, son. But don’t try and push yourself too hard! Neither you nor young William have had any real time off since you started here, have you? Look, here’s what we’ll do. You boys can take the weekend off, you’re due a couple of days rest anyway. You can go away, relax, have some fun, get whatever’s on your mind off it then start afresh on Monday with a clear head. Best thing all round. Do you agree?’
Hanging his head, Dylan nodded reluctantly. He hoped the chief didn’t think he was being weak. ‘Yes sir.’
‘Honestly lad, you’d think I’d just fired you given that reaction!’
* * *
‘I can’t believe you’ve never been here, Robbie!’
‘Of course I haven’t. What kind of little sister wants to go and hang out where her dorky big brother does?’
Dylan gave his sister a look. ‘Did you just call me a dork?’
‘Well I used to think that! Come on Dyl, you’re my big brother! I don’t think it any more, if that’s any consolation.’ Robyn flashed Dylan a cheeky grin as the pair walked into the arcade.
‘I suppose it’ll have to do, for now, but when I thrash any score you get on Syndication it’ll make me feel even better! Oh wow, this place hasn’t changed a bit!’ Stopping in his tracks, Dylan gazed around the familiar haunt. ‘Come on, let’s get on the games!’
‘Right, okay… So this button does…’
‘Yeah, that does that, then if you press that one that happens,’ Dylan demonstrated on his own machine.
‘Right… Okay, I’ve got it!’ Enthusiastically, Robyn pressed the start button and began pressing the buttons feverishly. ‘Oh wow! This is brilliant!’
‘Mmm,’ Dylan half replied a little absent-mindedly as he concentrated on his own game. I’m so out of practice! Still, at least I’ll beat –
‘Oh, cool! Thirty thousand points!’
Ripping his eyes away from his screen, Dylan glanced over at his sister’s. ‘How the hell did you do that! How did you get that?! I’ve never got that!’
Robyn laughed gleefully. ‘Seriously?! Wow! Looks like I’ve finally found the one thing I’m better at than you! Hah, now you’re dead!’
Aghast, Dylan looked back to his game just in time to see his avatar keel over. This was not how this was supposed to have gone!
‘Oh, cheer up Dylan! Look, I’ll buy you some gum.’ Robyn started rooting around in her pockets for some change as Dylan watched in horror.
‘Robbie! Your game!’
‘What? Oh! Ah well. Come on, bro.’ Robyn skipped away from the gaming machines as her own avatar died, entirely unfazed. As he went to follow her, Dylan noted that she’d at least doubled any score he’d ever had.
She didn’t need to know that.
‘Catch, Dyl!’ Robyn tossed a silver coin at her brother before popping her own into the gumball machine. ‘You know, I’ve not had any gum in ages. Mum doesn’t like me chewing it, she says it’ll rot my teeth.’
‘She’s got a point, to be fair! Though I think she’d be more worried about your dress sense than chewing gum at the minute, what the hell is this that you’re wearing? You look like a right rebel!’ Dylan laughed a little sarcastically.
‘Oh, quiet you! This is the height of fashion, I can assure you. Besides, I may as well give up everything and start rebelling after the example you set me!’
‘Eh?’ Dylan wheeled round to face his sister. ‘What d’ya mean?’
‘Hm? Oh! Well you kind of set an unreachable example for me, didn’t you! You got ridiculously high grades in your final exams at school then decided to become a superhero! You should hear Mum when she’s with her friends, she hardly shuts up about you. You know your name was in the paper after that thing at the hospital? I thought she was going to explode with joy and pride!’
‘Seriously?’ Dylan’s face lit up. ‘So she’s not worried any more?’
‘Course she’s still worried you pillock, but you’re doing pretty well in convincing her not to be. Hey, do you think she’ll worry about me when I stroll in saying that I’m going to become a professional arcade game player when I leave school?’
‘Oh, don’t be daft! Robbie, no matter what you do Mum and Dad’ll be proud of you, and I will be too. I’ve hardly set the perfect example! Did I ever tell you about how I got kicked out of here once?’
* * *
‘Mate, we should’ve done this aaaages ago, and not on a Sunday night! I can’t believe how dead it is,’ Will said as he took a deep sip of his drink. The two trainee firemen had decided to make the most of their final night off and had headed out to a bar near the station, the Bridgeport Sports Zone.
Dylan grinned as he knocked back his own beverage. ‘I doubt we’d be allowed! Can you imagine us getting an emergency call from here and having to stumble off to a fire? The alcohol fumes would probably make us go up in flames too!’
‘True, true! Still, we should’ve done this before now. I can’t believe we’ve known each other for so long and not had a night out! Sacrilege in this town, really,’ Will grinned at his friend, who laughed back.
‘You make a fair point! Still, better late than never. Let’s make this a night to remember, hey!’ Dylan downed his drink and determinedly slammed the glass down on the nearest table.
Looking around the fairly empty bar, Will chuckled. ‘Might be a bit difficult here, hey! Not really lively enough for fun and games!’
‘There’s a few more people in the other room, pal,’ the bartender called through. ‘But what do you expect, coming out on a Sunday? School night!’
Laughing, Dylan and Will thanked the barman before heading through the double doors. ‘I’m going to get another drink, d’ya want anything Will?’ Dylan asked as he eyed up the bottles of spirits behind the bar.
‘I’ve just seen what I want, and it’s not a drink! Meet me in a sec Dyl, fit girl at two o’clock!’ Will seemed to vanish from Dylan’s side as he hot footed it over to the shuffleboard table, leaving Dylan gazing at the drinks menu.
‘What’ll it be, then?’
‘Erm… Think I’ll go for a Winning Streak.’
‘Coming up!’ The bartender flashed a friendly smile as he started mixing Dylan’s drink together. ‘Bloody hell, your friend’s a quick worker! He’s practically got her eating out of his hand?’
‘Hm?’ Dylan glanced over his shoulder as he started straining his ears to hear what Will was saying.
‘…So yeah, I’m a firefighter, actually…’
‘You’re a firefighter?! That’s so cool!’
Dylan froze. He recognised that voice.
‘So like, you’re a hero? You save lives?’ Melody gushed, gazing deep into Will’s blue eyes. Dylan knew that look well.
Will preened a little, sweeping his hair back from his face. ‘Well, not that I like to brag…’
‘Hey! Get away from him!’ Before he knew what he was doing, Dylan had grabbed his drink from the startled barman and was marching across the bar to confront his old classmate. The girl who’d humiliated him.
‘Dylan! What are you doing here?!’
‘I’m on a night out with my friend and colleague, who you are going to stop talking to right this second!’
‘Dyl, what’s going on?’
‘Er, Dylan? He came over to talk to me! I can’t help it if I’m irresistable, can I?’
‘Yeah, well, after he hears about what you’re really like I can’t help thinking he’ll run a mile! How is Brad, by the way?’
Melody scoffed. ‘Brad? Long gone! Not that it’s any of your business, Dylan Rivers. Get out of my face! Just because you’re so bitter -‘
‘You just can’t get over the fact that I broke up with you! Let’s face it Dylan, you were in love with me, I broke your heart. It’s understandable, but you’ve got to move on! High school was a long time ago now, sweetheart, it’s time to leave those feelings in the past,’ Melody said, her tone melting from angry to patronising.
‘Dylan, what the hell is going on?! Were you two at school or something?’ Will asked confusedly. Dylan tore his livid eyes from Melody to his friend.
‘William, meet Melody. We dated in high school. Well, I say dated… She used me for a few months before cheating on me and breaking up with me in front of the whole school.’
‘What? You bitch!’ Will’s expression turned to one of disgust. Melody rolled her eyes and adjusted her top.
‘Your loss, mate. Don’t know what you’re thinking, hanging around with a loser like Rivers anyway. Clearly you’re not worth it! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to get back to having a good night out with my friend.’
A sudden swish of black hair caught Dylan’s eye. His heart leaping, he turned around to see…
‘Mels? What’s going on?’ Melody’s friend smiled curiously. ‘Can I help you?’
Dylan realised he was staring as a weight seemed to fall on his shoulders. His vision blurred a little as tears began to well in his eyes.
Not Louise. Of course not.