The first-response rescue crews raced down the street passed the Harold residence as John Harold sat on the porch, watching the fires burn not too far down. The fires, a result of the New Madrid earthquake from just a week ago, rolled out thick black smoke into the sky above, flames licking at the murky sky hungrily. If the winds didn't change then Johnny's family wouldn't have to worry about being evacuated.
The 17-year-old teen dug into his icebox that sat next to him and pulled out an old-style long-neck bottle of Coca-Cola as he continued to gaze at the fire. Not awe or anguish, but just an air of blankness surrounded him. Some would probably say it was an air of uncaring, which wasn't true, there was just nothing he could do about it. Johnny had seen the result of his neighbors rushing to help the people down the street, only to come back up the road minutes later with their heads down because the firefighters had sent them back.
John did notice a teenage girl that was roughly his age walking up the sidewalk, heading away from the burning buildings. He didn't know who she was, but he had a feeling he was about to find out when she made the turn up his drive after seeing him on the front porch. John continued to drink his Coke as she walked up.
"Howdy," John said kindly.
"Hi, I live down the street. I just came up to tell you that they're planning to evacuate all the people on the street," she said.
John knew where this girl lived; as a matter of fact he had seen her before. Her voice jogged his memory back to a grocery trip he had taken with his family just before the earthquake hit the lower Midwest. She had been manning a cash register up at the local supermarket, but he couldn't remember what the name-tag she had been wearing read. She lived in one of the houses down the street that was probably about to catch fire.
"Who's 'they'?" John asked.
"FEMA," she replied.
"Ah," John grinned and chuckled audibly. "Slow To Respond and Not A Lot of Satisfying Results."
"What?" the girl asked.
John shook his head. "Nothing; it was just a comedian's joke. I was in New Orleans for Katrina, so I know them well," he explained before digging through the icebox for another soda. He decided to offer one to the girl. "Coke?"
"I've got to get down the rest of the street to warn the rest of the people." She drew away.
"Come on, sit down. Civilian first-response operators have to take a break too." John offered again, his voice slightly firmer than it had been as he held the Coke bottle out for her.
She noticed there was also beer in the makeshift cooler, an ice-filled paintball ammunition container.
"My name is Katie Redding," she introduced herself. "What's with all the booze?"
"John Harold, everyone calls me Johnny though," John introduced himself. "And the booze? That's the after-dark party."
"Won't your parents get mad?" Katie asked.
"Parents are divorced. Dad's in New Orleans and the Mother in Florida with Zackary. Hope an early Force-5 hurricane comes in and says hi to my mother." John chuckled harder.
"You didn't skip town with them?" she asked.
"Mother tried to get me to go. I told her to stick it and shove off, explicitly, of course. Been here my whole life and I'll be damned if something like an earthquake or FEMA is gonna move me," John said grimly. "Wanted Zack to go with dad but the court wouldn't have it, but at least he's not here. Don't need him here if the shit hits the fan again."
John quietly drank his Coca-Cola, working it down the bubbly dregs at the bottom and then he set the bottle up with all of it's empty pals on John's left side, he had gone through the 24-pack in five-hours. John only figured this out when he dug and dug into the makeshift cooler only to find the Coors Light he'd been saving.
"Shit," John whispered to himself.
"I'm making a run by the market if you want to tag along." Katie said, noticing John's predicament.
"After-dark party does mean it has to be dark," John noted to himself. He had plenty of beer in the house, he had forgotten to stock up on Coca-Cola. "Hell, I'm game."
John stood and followed Katie off the front deck, patting his pockets to make sure he had his cell and wallet as he went, pulling his New Orleans Saints cap down on his head slightly. The action made him wonder how his father was; he had bought John the hat the last time they had been together at the Saints-Vikings NFL Championship game. A helluva time that seemed like a helluva long time ago now. John's father may have already been deployed back to Afghanistan by now.
"I've seen you somewhere before," Katie said suddenly.
"The supermarket you worked in just before the quake," John replied.
Katie just nodded in reply as John caught a glimpse of a house catching fire further down the street, it had jumped from a house on his side of the street.
"Y'alls house OK?" John asked, his New Orleans Cajun accent coming out, making it sound like a drawl.
"No. My parents left for a vacation before the quake, I decided to stay here, but the house is gone. I was staying with my friend just up the road, but they've been evacuated by FEMA because of the fire's proximity to their house. I wasn't there at the time and FEMA moved them right out without being able to get me. So, I'm stuck here." Katie explained.
"You can stay at my place," John offered gruffly. "I've got plenty of room, food and all that's just going to waste."
Katie looked up at him for a moment, she slightly surprised at the stranger's kindness. "I wouldn't be able to pay you back for any of it," she said.
John laughed. "I'm not like my mother. The old bitch would charge you a dime for every piece of skin you dropped in the house. You need a place to stay, and it looks like I'll be able to stay in the house, long as the wind keeps the way it is," he said.
"Are you sure it'll be OK?" Katie persisted.
"Yes. It's fine," John assured her.
It had been determined that they would warn all of the other people on the street when they came back up from the supermarket. When the two reached the market they divided to grab whatever they needed. John came out from paying for two 24-packs of Coca-Cola and found a couple of his buddies sitting outside talking.
"What's up, ladies?" John called out.
"Hey, Johnny. Marcus was just tellin' me about his experience and why this particular earthquake happened," Justin Roethlisberger said, talking about their other buddy, Marcus Jacobson.
"Well, I'm good for a story. How's Big Brother Ben, Justin?" John asked.
"Shut up, fucker," Justin replied.
They always messed with Justin about his last name being the same as Ben Roethlisberger from the Steelers and his assault charge back in April.
"OK, so what happened?" John continued.
"Well, I'm sitting around on the couch and my little brother comes up to me. I bullshit you not, I tell him to pull my finger, he does, I fart and the fucking house starts shaking." Marcus explained.
"Sounds too much like a comedian routine I've heard." John chuckled.
"Boo! I said I wasn't bullshitting with you!" Marcus cursed, kicking the dirt. "But, you're right, it sounds about the same. The kid won't come near me now."
All three good buddies started laughing at that. John noticed Katie had come out of the store and was back away from the group, sort of waiting on him.
"Well, Y'all, I'm gonna get back home. I've gotta settle in before FEMA's mall-cop patrol comes around," John said his good-bye. "Adios, ladies!"
John walked back over to join Katie as the two guys watched them.
"I am forced to leave this place and I get nothin' for it. He stays and gets a hot chick." Marcus contemplated it all for a moment. "What the fuck, over?"
Justin just laughed. "Lucky, lucky bastard."