Home > Open Fire

Open Fire
Author: M.E. Carter


CHAPTER ONE

 

 

Becker

 

 

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fiiiiiree….”

Fucking hell. I hate this song. It might be a holiday season staple, but it makes me irrationally angry. Maybe because I live in Florida and nothing should be roasting on an open fire in the heat and humidity we have here. Not even in December.

My day is already in the crapper. The morning started fine, but then my Uber was late, probably because it’s Christmas Eve. Traffic is heavier than normal, so now we’re racing to the airport in a very old Honda Civic, which I think lost its bumper about two miles back.

Not my problem and I’m glad the driver didn’t stop and check. I never thought I’d hope for a flight delay, but just a few minutes would be nice to guarantee I won’t be late. I hate cutting it this close, especially when traveling during the holidays.

I would have left yesterday but I couldn’t miss the Glaze’s early morning skate session. Coach would have had my balls. Lucky for me, our next game is in Chicago where my pops lives, so I cheered when Coach moved our practice to this morning instead of keeping it in the afternoon. The change gives me about twenty-four hours to visit my dad for Christmas, which is more than professional hockey players usually get.

“Can you step on it?” I ask the driver. His only response is a grunt.

After a few more lights and one heated argument through the window between my driver and another Uber, including some very creative hand gestures, he pulls up to the curb at the terminal.

“Thanks, man,” I say quickly as I jump out of the car and race to the check in kiosk. I only have one suitcase with Christmas presents and my rarely-used oversized winter coat to check, so this shouldn’t take long, right?

Wrong.

Two of the kiosks are down and one has a family of like seventeen people checking in at once, so I wait.

Tapping my foot with impatience, I take the opportunity to add a generous tip to my Uber bill. He wasn’t the friendliest of drivers, but he got me here in one piece on Christmas Eve, which is all I really needed anyway.

Finally, the giant family ahead of me is finished. I tap my foot more as they take their sweet time clearing out of the area, leaving one kiosk available. Clicking my email open, I try to scan the QR code on my flight confirmation.

Nothing happens.

I try again.

Still nothing.

Shaking my head, I breathe deep to cool my frustration but no matter how many times I try or what angle I tilt my phone, it’s not registering.

“Here, let me help you,” a friendly but frazzled looking employee says and snatches my phone out of my hands, like she’s going to put my phone in the magical spot I couldn’t find over the last two minutes.

Eventually, she calls it quits. “Yeah, this one doesn’t scan right. Let’s try this one over here.”

“But wait… I can type in my confirmation code…” I try to stop her, but she’s already walked away, and she still has my phone in her hand.

Pulling my suitcase behind me, I try to navigate my way through all the other travelers to catch up with the “helpful” employee. It takes a few seconds, but I finally get to the kiosk where she’s standing, waiting for me.

“Going to Chicago, Mr….” she squints her eyes at the screen. “… Bell?”

“Yeah. Flight starts boarding in half an hour.”

“Cutting it awful close, huh?”

I don’t remind her that I could have been checked in already if she hadn’t made me switch kiosks. I just grunt a “uh huh”, while we finish up.

Finally, I drop off my suitcase, but keep the carry-on bag with most of my gear in it. I can live without my clothes, but I can’t afford to accidentally have all my most important hockey equipment disappear the day before a game. The big stuff will arrive with the rest of the team tomorrow morning, but no one touches my skates and lucky socks. Call me superstitious, but that’s non-negotiable. Thankfully, TSA doesn’t have a problem with the skates.

The lucky socks? Well that’s why there are wrapped up tight in a Ziplock bag—out of courtesy to the other travelers. I may be superstitious, but I still have working olfactory senses.

Glancing down at my watch, I realize I’m running out of time. I speed up my steps, barely making it onto the tram before the doors close and it pulls away from the main terminal. I forget how easy traveling with the team is versus traveling alone. Not that I’m complaining. I’m glad I get to spend Christmas morning with my father. I get to sleep in and spend the morning watching A Christmas Story while we eat take out. Maybe I’ll even clean up his house a bit.

He’s not a slob. Things just aren’t as clean as they were when my mom was alive. She died when I was thirteen, so I’m used to it by now. But when I left for college, Pops let things go even more. It’ll be nice to help him out for a bit. And I got him a ticket to my game, which he’ll enjoy. He may not be a big talker, and we may not speak on the phone a lot, but he’s my biggest fan.

Once I leave the tram, the line to get through security seems about a thousand people deep and I send up a quick thanks for TSA Pre-Check. The perks of being rich is I can pay for that upgrade which means I just might make it to my flight on time after all.

As I wait for my turn, I glance around absentmindedly. Man, the line on the other side is long. There doesn’t appear to be enough trays for electronics, people are putting on their shoes right at the conveyer belt instead of going to the benches first, and some lady is trying to wrangle a bag full of wrapped packages onto the conveyer belt.

Oh yeah. I haven’t missed regular travel at all.

“Next in line!” an agent calls out, gesturing for me to approach.

Quickly, I hand over my ID and ticket, flashing the same smile that’s on my photo. With just one bag and my phone to account for, thanks to the perks of pre-check, I’m through security and heading toward my destination before the other line seems to move at all.

I make it to my gate with just three minutes to spare before boarding begins.

I don’t bother sitting since I have a first-class ticket and will board first. Instead, I lean against a wall and wait.

Suddenly, I get a text alert. As I pull out my phone, I realize a lot of people in this area got an alert at the same time. My gut knots as a bad feeling washes over me.

Pulling my phone from my pocket, I open the text.

Flight 435 to Chicago has been delayed due to a technical issue with the plane. New take off time is 11:47am.

A two-hour delay? Fuck! Looks like my Uber driver could have slowed down after all.

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

 

Sloan

 

 

“Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock…”

I love the holidays, but I swear this music is driving me crazy. The upbeat pace is boosting my normal travel anxiety. I got here early, anticipating all the holiday travelers, and yet, I’m still running out of time.

It started with multiple kiosks being down at check-in, continued with a tram having to be rebooted or whatever mid-trip, and is ending with the normal clog of people at the end of security who refuse to move out of the way quickly.

Wrangling my wrapped Christmas presents onto the conveyer belt, it finally moves forward. I breathe a sigh of relief because I’m almost through the worst part of the trip, the security checkpoint.

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