The fire burned brighter and brighter, nearly blinding. It was a whirl of yellow, orange, and red. As it got hotter, the flames licked blue.
Blaize watched the flames get higher. They reflected in her eyes, making it appear as if the fire were burning inside her.
Brenna watched Blaize as she stared at the fire. Blaize was standing close to the fire, but she didn’t flinch when a spark landed on her skin, creating angry red splotches.
“Blaize,” Brenna said quietly.
Blaize didn’t turn from the flames.
“We should go,” Brenna said.
Blaize still didn’t turn.
Brenna got up and moved to Blaize’s side. Putting a gentle hand on the other girl’s shoulder, she turned her to face her. “Blaize,” she said again.
Blaize looked back at her, with her sad blue eyes.
Brenna pulled Blaize into her arms, comforting her. She smoothed down Blaize’s short black hair and hugged her.
The fire continued to burn, too close for Brenna’s comfort. Brenna angled them away from the fire, so the sparks wouldn’t sear any more of Blaize’s skin.
Blaize hugged her back silently. She hadn’t said a word since the incident at her house.
“Blaize,” Brenna repeated for a third time. “Talk to me.”
Blaize was silent.
It had been five hours and Brenna was starting to worry. Blaize had never shut her out like this before.
“Blaize, I’m here for you. You know that, don’t you?”
Blaize hugged her tighter but was otherwise unresponsive.
Brenna glanced over at the fire Blaize had set in the bonfire pit in the park. It was nighttime, which only made the colors of the fire more brilliant. Brenna said nothing as she held Blaize, resting her cheek on the top of Blaize’s head.
The fire continued to burn as the two girls stood there, holding each other.
This is so wrong, Brenna thought angrily. She was mad at Blaize’s conservative parents for not accepting what Blaize was strong enough to tell them, at Blaize for not talking to her about it, at herself for thinking Blaize’s parents would accept it because they loved their child. What was wrong with the world, that Blaize wasn’t allowed to be with who she loved?
Blaize pulled back to look at Brenna’s face. She gazed at her for a long time, before stepping back and turning to face the fire again. “What if it all went away?” She asked finally.
It was Brenna’s turn to be silent.
“What if the pain just… vanished?”
“What do you mean?” Brenna asked, not sure if she liked where this was going.
Blaize reached out toward the fire and Brenna held her breath. But Blaize didn’t touch the fire. She just stood there with her hands outstretched. “Why don’t my parents accept who I am, Brenna?”
“I don’t know,” Brenna said sadly. Brenna was fortunate— her parents had taken it quite well, even offering to have Blaize over for dinner so they could get to know her as her girlfriend and not just her best friend.
“This is so unfair!” Blaize yelled and kicked at the ground. Dirt sprayed into the fire.
They were both silent for a long moment. Several heartbeats passed before either one of them moved.
“Run away with me,” Blaize said, not taking her attention from the fire.
“Come on, Bren,” Blaize implored, turning to face her. Her expression was pleading, but her eyes were empty. The fire blazed behind her, contained but made rampant by Blaize’s anger. “My parents don’t want me— fine! I don’t need them.”
“Blaize, they’re your parents. They love you.”
“You heard what my mother said.” Blaize glared mutinously at the ground as if it were the mud beneath their feet that had betrayed her and not her parents. “As long as I’m like this, I’m not welcome there.”
“She didn’t mean it,” Brenna said, hoping she was right.
“Why are you defending them?” Blaize demanding, hurt flashing across her face as she glared.
“I’m not,” Brenna said, wanting to console Blaize and not knowing how. “I’m on your side, okay? All that stuff your father said, about this being a sin and you having the Devil inside you? He was dissing me, too, Blaize. But as long as we have the Devil inside us, we might as well do it right.”
“What do you mean?” Blaize asked.
Brenna moved toward her, placing her hands on either side of Blaize’s face, and kissed her gently.
Blaize kissed her back. When Brenna pulled back, she was smiling. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“I will always be on your side,” Brenna said softly against Blaize’s mouth.
Blaize laughed and kissed her again. The heat generated by the fire warmed them. “It’s like we’re already in Hell,” she joked.
Brenna was happy that Blaize was talking again and trying to make light of the situation, but it still bothered her that Blaize’s parents had been so rude and close-minded. What did it matter that Blaize didn’t like dick? She was still Blaize Abernathy, the daughter that they had raised. She was the same little girl she’d always been, only she chose to love women?
“I’m so sorry,” Brenna whispered.
“For what?” Blaize whispered back.
“Causing this fight.”
Blaize shook her head. “It’s not your fault. If it wasn’t you, it would have been another girl. Eventually, I would have had to tell them. I suppose it’s better that I know what their reaction would be now than one day if I told them I was marrying a woman and they pulled this shit to ruin my perfect day.”
Brenna still felt guilty. She’s the one who encouraged Blaize to tell her parents. She shouldn’t have been so pushy. It was Blaize’s choice whether or not to come out of the closet and when. “I still feel bad.”
Blaize kissed her again. “Don’t.”
“I wish there was something I could do.”
“We could run away,” Blaize said again. “And we wouldn’t have to deal with these people, in this stupid town.”
“We can’t do that, love. Where would we go? How would we buy food?”
“We could get jobs.”
Brenna understood where Blaize was coming from, but knew they couldn’t do that. Brenna understood the desperation inside Blaize.
Blaize turned from Brenna and sat on the grass, watching the fire build.
The flames cast a yellowish glow on Blaize’s face.
Brenna went and sat down next to Blaize, taking her hand. “I’ll always be there for you, Blaize, but you know it’s not realistic to run away from our problems. If it’s not this small, conservative town, it’ll be some other place. Homophobia is everywhere. Wherever we go, we’ll always encounter people who think we’re going to Hell.”
Blaize sighed, knowing I was right. “Can I stay at your place tonight?”
“Of course.” Brenna stood, pulling Blaize up with her. Her parents wouldn’t mind— they liked Blaize. Blaize’s parents didn’t extend the same courtesy— they blamed Brenna for “turning” their daughter.
Brenna’s parents greeted them warmly when they got home. As Blaize took a shower, Brenna explained what had happened earlier that night. Her parents were sympathetic to Blaize and disappointed in her parents.
Settled in for night, Brenna dreamt.
Fire ran rampant, spreading wildly through her town. Brenna stood, unable to move, as she stared at the destruction in horror. Smoke billowed from every house and store, flames reaching hungry fingers out windows and chimneys and sneaking into unsuspecting homes.
Suddenly Brenna heard a scream. She turned and saw Blaize running toward her. Fear was etched all over her face. “Brenna!” she screamed again.
Brenna rushed to her side. “Blaize? What’s wrong.”
“I saw your house on fire. I thought you were inside,” Blaize sobbed.
“No, I’m fine. Where are your parents?”
“They were caught inside when our house went up in flames.”
I felt relief that Blaize hadn’t been in the house when it caught fire. “Mine were out for dinner— I don’t know where they are.”
“They haven’t called?”
Brenna shook her head in mute horror. What if…?
No. She wouldn’t let herself go down that path. Her parents were fine— they had to be.
Blaize pulled her into her arms. “I’m sure they’re fine.”
Brenna’s mind spiraled, pictured two crispy corpses. She sobbed against Blaize’s shoulder.
“I’m here, Brenna, I’m here.” Blaize smoothed down Brenna’s hair, comforting her as Brenna had done in the park.
Brenna felt the immediate danger of the burning town, but couldn’t force herself to move. The heat from her burning house blew against her skin.
This must be how cookie dough feels when we bake it, Brenna thought dimly.
“The fire department is swamped,” Blaize said. “We should go before your house collapses.”
Brenna let Blaize lead her away. She was walking funny, but she didn’t know why. One hip felt higher than the other. She was limping, but Brenna hadn’t suffered any recent injuries.
She could feel the smoke trying to choke her as it floated across the town, following them as they tried to find cleaner air.
If only I’d let you talk me into running away, we’d be long gone by now, Brenna thought, then was immediately filled with shame. Her parents would still be here.
Blaize brushed the hair away from Brenna’s sweaty face. “Breathe, Brenna. Your parents will be alright.”
Brenna noticed, dimly, that Blaize wasn’t exhibiting much concern for her own parents, who had been trapped in their burning house.
“They abandoned me— they deserve it,” Blaize said tensely, teeth clenched, and Brenna realized she must have said that out loud.
She was going into shock, Brenna thought.
Brenna heard Blaize’s intake of breath, a sharp hissing sound, before the colorful explicative exploded from Blaize’s mouth.
“Your leg,” Blaize said. “Can’t you feel it?”
“The skin on your left leg is badly burned,” Blaize said.
I must already be in shock, Brenna thought. She looked detachedly at her leg. Sure enough, her pants were destroyed and the skin on her leg was bubbly and red; it looked like melted plastic on a Barbie doll.
Suddenly the world slammed into her and sent her sense reeling. Brenna screamed as she was suddenly aware of the pain in her leg. Tears sprung from her eyes as she choked on the smoke covering the town.
She continued screaming as she stared in horror at her mangled leg.
“Brenna? Honey, wake up.”
She felt someone shaking her.
She jolted awake, sitting up in bed breathing hard.
Her mother was standing over her with a worried expression. “You were screaming in your sleep.”
“Oh. Bad dream.” Brenna shook herself, discreetly checking her leg. Unblemished. She let out a breath of relief.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Oh, okay. Well, goodnight,” her mother said and left her room, even though it was three in the morning.
Once the sun was up, Brenna took a shower and changed into clean clothes. She went to wake up Blaize.
Blaize looked at her groggily, confused, then memory dawned on her face and she groaned. “I was hoping I’d dreamed last night.”
“Sorry.” Brenna patted Blaize’s shoulder. “If it makes you feel better, I had an awful dream last night.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Blaize sat up and gave her a sympathetic smile.
“Mom’s making pancakes and bacon for breakfast. Get changed and come eat.”
Blaize got up and Brenna went downstairs to pour herself some chocolate milk.
Blaize joined them a few minutes later, looking as if she hadn’t slept a wink last night.
“Oh, Blaize, you look terrible,” Brenna’s mom said. Brenna shot her a look. You didn’t say that to people who had gone through a traumatic experience, and being rejected by your family was traumatic.
“Here.” Brenna handed Blaize a glass of milk.
“I’m not thirsty,” Blaize said.
“It’s chocolate,” Brenna said. “It’ll make you feel better.”
“Drink,” Brenna urged and Blaize took a sip of her chocolate milk.
Brenna’s mom put a pancake on Blaize’s plate.
Thankfully, it was Saturday, which meant no school. After breakfast, Brenna led Blaize outside. It was a warm day. Summer was coming.
Blaize smiled at Brenna.”I should have worn sunscreen.”
Brenna took Blaize’s hand. “I thought we’d go for a walk.”
They walked for an hour in silence.
When Blaize finally spoke, their feet had carried them deep into the forest behind Brenna’s house.
“I love you, Brenna,” Blaize said.
Brenna smiled. “I know. And I love you.”
“We should turn back soon. Looks like rain,” Blaize said.
The sky was overcast, and while the trees provided some canopy, the rain would find a way to squeeze through and soak them eventually, so they turned around and headed in the direction they’d come.
When they reached the edge of the forest, Blaize stood in Brenna’s backyard, staring up at the gray sky. The air smelled of rain.
While they stood there, the sky opened up and wept over them.
Brenna watched Blaize. Blaize closed her eyes, her face still turned toward the sky, as the rain drenched her. Brenna ignored the rain, entranced by the way Blaize smiled as the rain washed over them.
Blaize turned her face toward Brenna, still smiling. She reached a hand out toward her. “Come dance with me.”
“There’s no music.”
Blaize shrugged and began humming, twirling between the raindrops.
Brenna felt a swelling in her chest as she watched the woman she loved. She smiled, but it was a painful smile. Blaize was sad and Brenna didn’t know how to fix it.
Pushing that aside, she went and joined Blaize.
They danced together until they were both thoroughly soaked and shivering. Then Blaize leaned in and kissed Brenna. It wasn’t like their kisses in the park. Those had been gentle and tender. This kiss was passionate and desperate, full of fiery ardor. It was frenzied and wild. Brenna deepened the kiss, wrapping her arms around Blaize’s neck while Blaize’s hands moved to Brenna’s hips. Blaize pulled Brenna closer, until they were entwined in the downpour.
I love you, Brenna thought desperately as she kissed Blaize.
Blaize’s arms snaked around Brenna’s waist.
Forever and always, Brenna thought.
Blaize continued to kiss her.
Brenna was so full of love she thought she might burst. She sometimes still could not believe this beautiful woman was hers.
Brenna thought of the fire in her dream and the fire in the park, and pulled back. She was breathing hard.
Blaize cupped Brenna’s chin in her hand and smiled. “So beautiful,” she whispered.
“I’ll do it,” Brenna said. “Run away with you.”
Blaize studied her for a moment and then let go of her, sighing. “No, you won’t. You can’t. I can’t ask you to do that. You have parents that love you.”
“I don’t want to lose you.”
“You won’t. As long as you want me, I’m not going anywhere.”
“I’ll always want you.”
“Then I’ll always be here.”
“Come on. Let’s get dry.” Brenna led Blaize back to the house.
Once they had changed, Brenna made them hot cocoa with little marshmallows and went to sit by Blaize at the kitchen table.
Blaize watched Brenna with a thoughtful, sad expression.
“What’s wrong?” Brenna asked, concerned.
“I’m just thinking.”
“Why do you look so sad, then?”
“Because it saddens me that my parents will never approve of you.”
“Oh, baby.” Brenna gave Blaize a side-hug. “If it helps, my parents approve of you.”
“That does help. Thank you.”
“They like you quite a lot, actually. Though to be fair, they liked you long before you were ever my girlfriend.”
“We’ve been friends for quite a long time,” Blaize agreed.
“Come on.” Brenna led Blaize into the den to watch TV. They cuddled, watching Supernatural until nightfall. Finally, Brenna kissed Blaize goodnight.
That night, Brenna had the same dream. Only this time, it was Blaize who had been caught in the burning house and not her parents. Brenna was so filled with panic that she woke up, crying and scream and flailing in her bed. Only this time no one came to check on her.
When Brenna came downstairs in the morning, it was to a somber mood.
Her parents were whispering in the kitchen.
“What’s up? Is something wrong?” Brenna asked.
Both her parents looked at her with a mix of horror and pity.
“Honey, sit down,” her mother said.
Apprehensive, Brenna took a seat at the kitchen table.
“We don’t know how to tell you this,” her father said.
Just spit it out already! Brenna wanted to shout at them. She could tell they were hedging around something very unpleasant to tell her.
“Blaize’s parents will be here shortly,” her father said.
“But Dad!” Brenna complained loudly. “They said they didn’t want to see her. Don’t make her talk to them.”
Her parents exchanged a look.
“What?” Brenna asked, sensing there was more.
“I found her this morning,” her father said.
“Found her?” Brenna looked back and forth between her parents. What were they talking about?
Her mother handed her a mug of hot cocoa, her eyes welling with tears. Her father said, “She killed herself last night, Brenna.”
Brenna didn’t comprehend what her parents were trying to tell her at first. “What?”
“Blaize is dead, Brenna.”
Brenna stared at her parents. “If this is a joke, it is in very poor taste.” Brenna felt her throat constricting. Tears stung her eyes. No. No! They’re lying! Blaize can’t be gone…
“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” her mother said.
“Where is she?” Brenna yelled. “Tell me where she is!”
“We called the paramedics when we found her—” Brenna’s father seemed to be skipping over the word body. “They came and took— it—” He cleared his throat. “Her away.”
No. No! Everything inside Brenna was screaming. “She wouldn’t do this,” she said. “She promised me. She said that as long as I wanted her, she’d stay.” Brenna shook her head, sobbing hysterically. she stared at her parents in horror, remembering Blaize’s words at the park as she stared at the fire.
“This is so unfair,” Brenna sobbed, repeating Blaize’s words from the park.
“I know, honey,” her mother came around the table to give her a big hug just as the doorbell rang and her father went to let the Abernathtys in.
Blaize had been right about one thing— we were definitely already in Hell.