Set something on fire

“All I can see is fire. I can almost feel the heat, like it’s glowing off my cheeks. I’ve been there before. Like a place from my childhood, but it’s all on fire now. The flames keep growing in my eyes and it burns. It’s getting hotter and hotter and that’s when I wake up.”

Dani opens her eyes wide and looks right at Keith. Keith sits up straight on Dani’s bed, his jaw slightly ajar. “I’ve had that exact same dream.”

“Really?”

“Yes.” said Keith. “Only I never know where I am. I don’t think it’s a place I’ve ever been.”

“I think mine’s at a grocery store or something.”

“Why?”

“I wish I knew.” Dani lays down on the carpet in the middle of her floor and puts her hands behind her head. Her shirt goes up a little revealing a layer of skin drooping over her jeans. A silence falls between the two friends as they ponder their mutual dream.

Dani has been heavy all her life. Big boned is a term she used to both justify and describe herself, but if she were being honest, it’s not like those Entenmann’s doughnuts eat themselves. Dani finds a comfort in food that compares to nothing else. She places a lot of blame on her genetics and the high price of organic food. This blame never really helps Dani feel better about herself though, or stop her from flipping through the pages of magazines, or secretly picking out the cellulite on her thighs and sucking in her stomach whenever she looks in the mirror.

As for Keith, he’s sitting perfectly still on the bed staring out the window fingering the small rainbow flag on his key chain. It’s been two weeks since his birthday- the day Keith was supposed to receive a letter in the mail from Jordan. Before Jordan had left, Keith tried telling him there were other ways to take part in the recent rights given to them besides joining the army. Keith suggested marriage. He had been kidding of course, half kidding at least. Now Jordan’s in Iraq and Keith is left to deal with being ostracized by his hockey team.

* * *

The flames flicker in Keith’s eyes and grow warm on his cheeks.  He feels invincible and lifts his arms out to his sides. His feet lift from the ground and he tilts his head to the sky, but the sound of a siren throws him to the ground.

Keith sits straight up in bed. He hits the snooze button on his alarm. Beads of sweat run down his neck. That dream again, Keith thinks to himself. Where was I? He flips his pillow over to the cool side and lays in bed for a while longer trying to figure it out.

Jordan’s there in his uniform. He motions for Keith to come to him. Keith begins to walk and then realizes he is in a church walking down the aisle. Both his parents are there. When he reaches Jordan, the Priest from the church Keith used to go to turns to Keith and says, ‘you know what to do.’ Keith nods and leans in to kiss Jordan but then realizes he has his goalie mask on and Jordan is on fire.

Keith wakes up again to the sound of his alarm. He turns it off and, sweating again, throws the covers off himself and sits at the edge of his bed with his head in his hands. Jordan on fire runs through his mind. He takes a deep breath in and lets it all out slowly, then walks to the bathroom and takes a long hot shower.

* * *

Keith goes to Dani’s house after practice that night. With all day to think about his dreams, his thoughts were anxious to be heard.

“Do you think Jordan’s okay?” said Dani who sits cross-legged on her bed in a large nightgown spelling out words from the box of Lucky Charms.

“I don’t really want to think about that.”

“Okay well sometimes dreams don’t mean anything at all. So guess what Lacey Pennbrook said to me today.” Dani throws the letters L-O-S-E-R into her mouth before continuing with her story.

“I wish my red hair didn’t give away the fact that I’m a devil?”

“Ha! No. We were talking about Summer jobs in History and she turns to me and says, ‘You should try getting a job at Abercrombie.’”

“That bitch. Whatever, nobody even likes Abercrombie anyway. I don’t care how attractive those male models are, you can smell that damn store from the other side of the mall. Also, I happen to know that Lacey is a virgin.”

“Yeah, there’s no way that’s true but thanks for trying to make me feel better.” Dani places a marshmallow in her mouth. “Are you okay?”

“That dream is still haunting me.”

* * *

The cigarette in Dani’s mouth falls to the ground and disappears. She shrugs and continues to push the shopping cart through the aisles of food. ‘Ma’am I think you dropped this.’ Dani turns around. A shirtless Abercrombie model holds up the cigarette. ‘Thanks. I’ve been looking for that.’ She reaches out for the cigarette but the model pulls it away. ‘Sorry, no shirt no service.’ Dani is naked now and rummaging through piles of shirts in Abercrombie. She grows increasingly frustrating as she looks for a shirt in her size. The frustration turns to pure anger and she knocks the table of shirts over. ‘I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.” All eyes are on her now. She sees the male model from the grocery store smoking a cigarette. ‘Hey, that’s mine!’ He tosses the cigarette in her direction. It lands on a shirt and catches fire. The whole store goes up in flames now and Dani smiles.

Dani wakes up sweating. She lies still for a moment wondering why she feels so at peace after having such an angry dream. Maybe setting Abercrombie on fire is the solution to all her problems. Is that a crazy idea? Too dramatic? She reaches for her phone and texts Keith asking him to eat lunch with her today.

* * *

“…And then I start screaming ‘I hate you. I hate you,’ and then I see that damn model again smoking my cigarette. I ask him to give it back, so he practically chucks it at me and next thing I know the entire store is on fire. But what is really surprising is how happy I was about this. Keith, it made me feel so good.”

“You don’t smoke cigarettes.”

“That’s not the point, Keith.”

“I know. I’m kidding. I totally understand you. In some of the fire dreams I have I feel like a hero.”

“Yes, exactly! It’s like it’s a good thing. I did my part to bring justice to this fucked up society.”

Keith takes a bite of his sandwich and the two friends are silent for a minute before Keith says, “We should do it.”

“Do what?”

“Set Abercrombie on fire, the grocery store, the Catholic church, and then let’s hijack a plane, fly to Iraq, and bring Jordan home before he sets himself on fire. We’ll be heroes. Like you said, people will canonize us for bringing justice to this fucked up society. Enough with the protesting. We need to be drastic if we ever want equality. Let’s take history for example, MLK was a very peaceful man and led protests and gave passionate speeches and guess what, the haters used violence and shot him dead. This could be the Stonewall Riots of our generation. I don’t think any amount of petitioning will give Jordan the right to get a job wherever he wants when he comes home and marry whomever he wants in any state he wants. Dani, if you want justice to be served, if you want to bring back the 1950s Marilyn Monroe plus size beauty, then we need to fight fire…with fire.”

Keith takes a breath and looks at Dani. Dani stares back at him with a perfectly straight face before finally saying, “I’m in.”

The bell rings for class. Keith and Dani jump, not realizing how much time had passed. “Wait, did you just come up with that now?”

“I think it might have been inside of me for a long time.”

* * *

It was all Dani and Keith could think about for the rest of the week. They spent all their free time planning and working out every little detail. They decided to set fire to two different places simultaneously: Abercrombie and Chick-fil-A. Although it is not as timely as Abercrombie, Chick-fil-A was agreed upon when Dani convinced Keith to leave the church alone. Other thoughts on Keith’s mind were put on hold as he became crazed. Whenever a little detail, no matter how inconsequential, popped into his mind which spun tirelessly into the night, he called Dani and they worked it out.

They will go at night. Dani will drive, parking the car somewhere between both places. Chick-fil-A and Abercrombie are located diagonally from each other on opposite sides of the highway. The will each use a gallon container of gas from the supply in Keith’s dad’s boat along with a crowbar each. Using the crowbars, they will begin to break in by any means necessary. Once inside, they will make a trail with the gasoline attempting to cover as much territory as possible. Keith will text Dani the word ‘go’ and then together, they will run back outside, turn their lighters on, and throw them in. However, in the case an alarm goes off, they will scratch the texting part and just douse the place quickly, light it, and run. Finally, they will sprint back to the car and Dani will drive away back to their houses. They could not stay out too late because it was a school night.

* * *

The day finally came about a week and a half after that fateful discussion at lunch. Dani slips out of the house around nine mumbling something about a study group to her parents watching American Idol in the family room. She has on black leggings and a black sweatshirt. The crowbars and gasoline have been in her trunk for a few days now. With her hands slightly trembling and her stomach in a knot tighter than the time she was caught stealing alcohol from her parents, she starts the car and drives to Keith’s.

The car is silent for most of the ride there. The reality of it had settled in and there was no turning back. Keith visualizes the plan over and over again in his head. Whenever he closes his eyes, he sees the fire. Dani wipes the sweat off her palms every couple of minutes. She also runs through the plan in her head. Other ways of getting their message across had been brought up earlier in the week, but after several discussions both agreed that no, there was no other way. No person would be harmed in the process and they didn’t need to come up with an alibi because they had no intentions of hiding out. As soon as the police begin to look for suspects or realize it is them on any of the security cameras, they will willingly face the consequences and ask for a call to arms for teenagers everywhere to stand up in a drastic way, be heard, and actually make a difference. Dani and Keith, though visibly nervous, already felt like heroes.

Dani parks in a vacant lot. She turns off the car and the two friends sit staring out the window. “I heard from Jordan today.”

“Oh yeah? That’s good.”

“Yeah.”

“Did it say anything important?”

“He detonated a bomb. Saved a bunch of lives. They’re calling him a hero. He said he missed me, though, and that he was sick of the bunkers. He said his squad makes fun of him sometimes but they seem to be pretty accepting in general. So that’s good.” Dani nodded and then said, “You ready?”

Keith takes a sharp inhale. “Yeah.”

He opens the car door. Dani gets to Abercrombie before Keith gets to Chik-Fil-A. She takes a few laps around the store trying to figure out how to break in. She decides her best bet is the front window. It’s risky because it faces the highway but she promises herself to move quickly. After she taps the glass a few times with her crowbar, she winds her arm back and throws the crowbar at the thick glass as hard as she can. It cracks but doesn’t break. She swiftly looks around making sure she caught nobody’s attention. She does this several more times until there’s a break in the glass large enough for her to climb through. She goes slow, careful not to cut herself, but as soon as her feet hit the floor, a siren goes off and red lights spin around, lighting up the whole store. The blood drains from Dani’s face and her heart beats at a tremendous pace. However, she has gone over the plan so many times in her mind that it is mindless now to unscrew the container and pour the gasoline out all over the floor. She quickly jumps back out the window, puts her lighter on lock, and throws it in. The fire rips through the store. The siren sounds louder to Dani now and the sprinklers on the ceiling start to rain down on all the clothes. As she sprints back to her car, she feels a huge weight lift off her chest.

Dani looks across the highway at the Chick-Fil-A. No fire. She starts her car with the shakiest of hands and hops back on the highway. She is breathless, and her whole body buzzes with adrenaline. The red light at the jug handle is painfully long but she eventually gets to the Chick-Fil-A. Dani parks the car a few stores away and runs over, calling Keith on her phone. When he doesn’t answer, Dani runs around the restaurant whispering his name. She finds him beating his crowbar against the metal backdoor, tears streaming down his face. “Keith! Keith, stop it.”

“I lied Dani! I lied to you.”

“About what?”

“He’s gone, Dani. He’s gone and never coming back.” Keith drops the crowbar and falls to the ground with his back against the door. His whole body convulses with the sharp pain of sadness. Dani stands paralyzed above him attempting to asses her reality. “Abercrombie’s on fire.”

Keith looks up at her. “You did it?”

She smiles and throws her hands in the air. “I feel so free!” In a fit of liberation, she takes off her sweatshirt and throws it to the ground, exposing the rolls on her stomach to Keith for the first time. “It’s a fucked up world Keith.” she says to him.  “Why Jordan had to die, we’ll never know but right now, you need to be the hero he never had the chance to be. This is a fight for every gay kid out there. For all the ones being rejected from jobs and their parents. This is for anyone who has ever been called a fag or a dyke. Let’s put a goddamn end to this madness!”

Keith is smiling now, seeing the same fiery passion in his friend as he’s had in him for years. He jumps up suddenly and strips down to his boxers. He screws off his container of gasoline and runs around the building pouring it out. Dani peels off her leggings and meets him at the front of the restaurant. He stops next to her and empties out the rest of the container. He puts his lighter on lock and tosses it at the trail of gas.

Dani and Keith step back and watch the flames take over, the heat of it glowing on their cheeks. Dani turns and looks over at Abercrombie. As they hear the fire trucks come flying down the highway, Keith grabs Dani’s hand and they stand there clothesless and silent watching their dreams come true and their futures go up in flames.

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