"Do you need help?"
I could hear a voice but there was so much smoke in the house I couldn't tell who was talking. I waved my arm through the air and saw a murky figure. It was a man standing in my living room at midnight. A man I had never seen before.
"I was studying and I heard your smoke alarm, and I looked over at your house and saw the smoke coming out the back door so I thought I'd come over and ... are you okay?"
"No, I guess I'm not okay," I coughed. "Have we met yet? I'm Melanie." I waved more smoke away and shook his hand.
"I'm Adam," he said.
"Well this is a weird way to meet but it's nice to meet you. I left a pot of soup on the stove when I went to bed and I've turned that off now and put the pot out in the backyard, but now I can't get the smoke alarm to turn off. I'm trying to get the battery out but I can't. Do you think you can do this?" I offered him my screwdriver.
He climbed up on the kitchen chair underneath the smoke detector and pried the battery out it. He placed the the battery gently on the kitchen counter, then he picked it back up and pointed at the now defunct smoke alarm.
"You should probably ... put this back in. Soon. Like, as soon as the smoke clears." He placed the battery into my palm and closed my fingers around it.
I coughed and smiled. Clearly I was a woman who needed to have a functioning smoke detector at all times.
"I will," I promised. And I did.
"Well, it was nice meeting you, even under such odd circumstances," my neighbor said.
"It was, thanks so much for your help," I said. "Here, let me give you my cell phone number just in case I can ever help you with anything. I'd love to return the favor to you some time."
Although he was my next door neighbor, I didn't see Adam or hear from him again for the next year. Then he moved out of his duplex, I moved out of mine, and I thought the night I nearly torched my house would be the first and last time I ever heard from him.
But then my phone rang the other day and I finally got to return that favor.
It was the county fire chief.
Adam had applied to be a volunteer fire fighter.
And he listed me as a reference.
I gave him my highest recommendation.