It wasn't her house that had burned down, it was her cousin's, they'd been having a sleepover. It would be years before I even thought about the other girl, realized she would have needed the flowers more. At the time, I was only looking at Emily.
Even though I didn't like girls. We were ten. She was still the enemy.
By virtue of living on the same block and our moms being in PTA together, Emily stayed at my house that night. I didn't know it till later - I was busy watching the trucks hitch up to the fireplugs. The roof fell in, sending up a gout of flame - it was awesome, I was enchanted, I wanted to cheer. When the firemen finally chased everybody off I went home to find a slightly sooty girl in my kitchen, trying to get through the story without crying. My mother was petting her head. I sulked a little, I had wanted to tell about the fire.
Later, they gave her my bed. I didn't like it but by then I even felt a little sorry for her, though it would be years before I could bring myself to wear the pajamas they'd lent her without asking me.
I slept on the couch in the den, but it would be a long time before I could sleep. All the usual boy thoughts, mostly the thrilling thought of my own house burning down, my excellently-devised escape route, how I would alert and rescue the whole family, it would be smooth and easy but of course we would somehow almost die. It made for good drama.
Everyone was asleep when I slid down the hall, bare feet, feeling dumb sneaking up to my own bedroom.
Her hair was unbraided and strange across my pillow. A square of light fell flat on her from outside, quiet yellow streetlamp light. She was all huddled up like a puppy under my Star Wars sheets.
I slid back silently to the kitchen. I got a cup and stole two passable daisies from the wilting bunch on the windowsill. I left them on my dresser for her.
I decided Emily didn't look so bad when she wasn't all sooty. I decided I would make her tell me the fire story over and over tomorrow until I had it memorized, then maybe I would tell people it had happened to me. I decided maybe we would be friends. I decided I didn't care that she hadn't asked about the bed or the pajamas. I decided I liked the name Emily.