The Fire Whisperer
"What are you doing?" the young girl's voice innocently asked.
Darrick stopped blowing on the red-hot coals below the fresh log of wood he just placed there. Turning to look to see which of the two young blond girls had approached, he answered, "I'm blowing on the fire so it will be bigger."
"Oh yeah, cause fire feeds on oxygen," Susy stated with pride. "I learned about that in school."
His face pulled up in a smile. "That's right! And if you put a new piece of wood on the fire, blowing on it can help it ignite."
She turned and ran away, giggling to her older sister. Darrick watched her with a mixture of amazement and pride. Normally, Susy wouldn't dare talk to him. Her mom had often attributed this irrational fear to a simple crush Susy had on Darrick, as well as any other older man besides her father.
At that moment, Mat walked into the backyard. Darrick looked into the fire: his face felt hot, and not from the heat of the coals, his stomach churned irritatedly, and his heart began to race. Annoyance, jealousy, and embarrassment flooded his body.
"Mat! You made it!"
"Oh my God! Mat, where have you been all my life?!"
The drunk slurs blurred out Mat's responses. Meanwhile, Darrick made as little a spectacle as possible as he grabbed the trowel Carol, Susy's mom, used as a fire poker. The act of working with an outdoor fire, drink in hand as the world became happier by the second, was entrancing and magical for Darrick. He waited impatiently for the log to properly catch fire so he could have the moment he strove for.
Slowly, the party's shock at Mat's presence subsided. The sudden quiet that followed told Darrick exactly what was going on, even without looking. His face turned a deeper shade of red as his heartbeat crept into his ears. What do they think they're going to accomplish? he asked himself, hoping his thoughts would somehow transmit to their inebriated consciousnesses. It didn't help he was feeling the affects of his alcohol too: Ouzo and Coke. I'm going to need more if I have to deal with this too, he thought as he looked down into his cup, still gently prodding the fire.
The sound of footsteps coming closer reverberated in Darrick's head. The wait felt like an eternity, and he didn't look up for confirmation. The quiet was enough.
A pop echoed out of the fire-pit.
The beautiful eastern-European accent lilted over world and pierced straight to Darrick's chest. "Hello Darrick. Have you been well?"
He felt dumb. Breath would not return to his chest and his legs felt too weak to stand up. Somehow, he managed to hold onto his drink and the trowel. Slowly, like a newly born butterfly drying its wings, Darrick turned his head to look up at Mat in feigned confusion. "Oh! Mat! Hey, how's it going?" Magically, his legs helped him to stand.
"Oh, I am alright. Thanks." His eyes weren't focused, as if he were trying to manifest the proper responses. "And you?"
Darrick's lungs were working again, albeit staggeringly. He allowed himself a moment of quiet while he looked at Mat's perfect face: sharp cheekbones, thin eyebrows, blond-wavy hair down to his chin and tucked behind his ears, skinny nose, dark blue eyes, and a mole right next to his let ear. His thin lips were relaxed in a nervous smile that showed his discomfort more than his posture. "I'm alright... Heh, a little tipsy, but I'm pretty good." Darrick looked away as Mat tried to make eye contact.
"That is good."
Silence. Deafening, stabbing, electrified silence.
Darrick couldn't take it any longer. "How was your trip?" He still didn't make look at him, pretending to watch the three kids running into the darkened back yard away from the fire-pit.
"It was quite enjoyable. My family is doing well. They wish for me to return home soon, but I told them I couldn't leave America yet." Something about Mat's accented tone drew Darrick's gaze to his eyes. His last words stimulated a racing heartbeat again.
The fire popped again. Darrick looked at the withering coals and noticed the underbelly of the new log was charred slightly. It was almost ready to burn wildly with a little coaxing. As he knelt down, he called over his shoulder, "For school still?"
"That is part of it, yes."
Taking a deep breath in, he tried to stabilize his hopes and fears. Blowing a hard breath out, he lifted the log with the trowel and watched a flame take root. It spread quicker than he thought it should, enveloping the log where it spawned and flaring up in a quick burst. Darrick placed the log at a slant so air could still circulate underneath.
Something changed in that instant that he put the trowel down, and Darrick knew the feeling well. He looked up at Mat to see his face frozen as he watched Darrick working at the fire. Swinging his gaze out across the party, everyone stood; laughing, drinking, or walking to the liquor table for more 'refreshments'. Everyone frozen in a moment of life. All sound had ceased, except for the fire popping and sizzling as air and water flickered in and out of existence in its heat.
"You are quite brave to summon me here and now. And you're not even sure if any of these others are like yourself."
Darrick looked back into the flame to see a salamander standing in the flames, starring straight into Darrick's eyes. "I figured I'd be alright."
"But you are not."
Darrick didn't answer.
"You knew this would happen tonight, didn't you. That's why the summoning was started well before this moment."
"I was afraid I wouldn't be able to handle Mat being here." Darrick looked down at his hand with the Ouzo and Coke in it. "I wanted your help... guidance."
The salamander was silent for a moment. "On what do you wish me to advise?"
Sighing heavily, Darrick began tentatively, "He knows. I hate that he knows, yet I can't ask him of his own feelings. Well... I can, but I don't know if I should."
The laugh sizzled in the air and the fire intensified. "My advise will not assist more than simple words in this case. I cannot stay long, so this is what I'll say:
"Gentle breezes tell only what the air can say. The rains which drop in sorrow benefit only the ground. Earth slowly beckons in rumbling churns under our feet. The passion of the heart flares when it is right. Yet the spirit of life, in its purest form, speaks to us all and tell us the path to follow. You have the path now, here, with your elements surrounding your soul.
"Now go... Time is passing and I must retreat to its whims."
A louder pop reverberated off the house. "That was amazing!" Mat said.
"Huh?" Darrick looked up at him, honestly bewildered.
"The fire. You made it... explode? That's not right... You made it get big quickly!"
"Oh, yeah." He laughed softly with honest amusement. "It's a gift, I suppose."
Mat knelt down beside him and looked into the flames. "My family would call you a muž který šeptá do ohně."
Looking over at Mat, Darrick melted inside. "Err... what?"
"Oh, sorry... I mean to say... a fire whisperer, I think is how you would say it."
Darrick smiled openly. The thought that Mat might actually know a little something more about Darrick brought warmth to his chest. They both relaxed a little next to the fire. Darrick rocked back on his heals and Mat sat down and crossed his legs. Heat and light poured out of the pit.
A daring fortitude overcame Darrick. "So, what are the other reasons why you don't want to leave America yet?"
Mat looked up into the clear sky. The stars had appeared a while before, but Darrick hadn't noticed them until that moment. Sparkling in the dark blue, he felt them shining upon them with audacious clarity. A breeze flowed through the treetops, whispering as the leaves brushed against each other. Darrick heard them and felt comfort in its poetry.
Hesitating, Mat said, "You..."
The world shifted as tears welled in Darrick's eyes. His heart pounded with renewed force. He couldn't breathe and his smile was tremulous. As his first tear fell, Darrick moved to wipe it away before anyone could notice.
"Did I upset you? What's wrong?" Mat leaned forward aggressively, a hand uncertainly stretched out towards Darrick's leg.
Darrick shook his head without speaking. His smile became stronger and he looked into Mat's eyes. They were wide and intense, his irises open with inquisitive awe. "Noth-nothing's wrong." Again he shook his head and looked beyond Mat to see Carol exuding a smile of satisfaction. She nodded once and walked inside after the others. The childrens' laughter in the yard intensified for a moment as they played hide and seek.
Mat continued with great care. "I realized while I was home that I have great feelings for you." He stopped and waited to see what Darrick would do. He merely looked down at his hand for a second and back into Mat's eyes. "I couldn't admit it before I left, and I'm sorry about it. Forgive me?"
Darrick, whose smile had yet to leave his face while tears began streaming down his cheeks, nodded with enthusiasm. "Of course! I... I just... I was so confused."
"It is my fault. I never knew this before... No one told me it would be like this. I was afraid." Mat's voice was trembling as he spoke. His eyes had dropped in a disconcerting manner which pulled at Darrick's heart again.
"Let me finish. I must say this now." He inhaled deeply and brought his eyes level with Darrick's. His face was set with determination and a smile which sent tingles through Darrick's body. And then he said it, with the most passion and adoration ever heard. "Darrick. I love you."
The world melted away.