"I wanna be a fireman," declared nine-year-old Billy to his father at the dinner table. "Just like you."
"Easy now, son," John answered, holding up a hand. "I'm only a volunteer. Most of the time I'm just a foreman down at the factory."
"That stuff's boring. You get to rescue people, like the superheroes."
John turned his head away. "I'm no superhero. When I'm firefighting, I'm mostly chasing brush fires, false alarms, and forgotten cooking."
Billy's face fell, but his mother Meg said to him, "You're all done your supper. Why don't you go see what's on TV?"
"Yeah, okay." Billy slipped off of his chair and wandered into the livingroom.
She turned to John. "That was a bit harsh. Being able to help people is what got you to volunteer in the first place."
"So what's happened?"
John sighed, got up and put his dishes in the sink. Then he leaned against the counter, still facing away from her. "You remember Italo Sabattini?"
Meg waited for a moment. "Uh-huh."
He lowered his voice so that his son wouldn't hear what he was about to say. "That call last night? It was to a house fire up on the ridge." She nodded as he sat down beside her. "Me and Italo were upstairs looking for a girl they said was still missing. He was ahead of me. The floor gave way beneath him. I had to ..." He covered his face with his hands and took a deep breath. "We found him a couple of hours later."
Putting her hands to her mouth, she whispered, "Oh, John." She pulled him close. "So, you don't feel much like a superhero right now."
He could only shake his head.
"She was ... at a friend's place."
Meg rested her head on his shoulder. "That's really tough."
They sat together for a while as the boisterous sounds of a cartoon trickled in from the livingroom.
When a commercial break interrupted, Meg straightened up. "About being a hero, honey, I think you're being as muddle-headed about it as Billy."
"When you signed up, you knew the job could be dangerous; Italo did too. Only superheroes can go into dangerous situations and expect to come back alive. Being willing to put your life on the line for other people, that's what makes you a hero." She kissed him. "And I love you for it."
He wiped his eyes, and took a deep breath. "Thanks." He gave her a squeeze. "I think I'd better go have a little chat with Billy."
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