The Long Road: Book Three ~ Aaron's Journey Down The Long Road

Chapter Twelve

Aaron stepped off the plane on November twenty-sixth at ten-thirty at night and looked around. The temperature was about seventy-five degrees and there was a light, floral-scented breeze blowing. God how I wish you were here with me, Clark. Despite the months of therapy and support group meetings, he still missed him, although not as much.

Duty was pretty much the same as it was at Nellis Air Force Base. Again he was assigned to the day shift, but due to his rank had more administrative duties and less hands-on duties, except when it came to actually fighting fires, which, thankfully, were very few. While he was friendly with his coworkers and would occasionally attend the back-yard barbeque or company picnic, he pretty much kept to himself, refusing to form any close friendships. He didn't want to put himself out there to get hurt again, understandably. He did the normal tourist things, visiting the Arizona Memorial, Waikiki Beach, Walmea Bay, Fort DeRussy, the Pacific National Cemetery, Diamond Head, and various other places on Oahu when he came upon a place that caught his attention the most. He parked his car and walked into the building and looked around in wonder.

"Aloha. Welcome to Candle Crafts." Aaron continued to look around. "I take it this is your first time here?"

"Yes it is. I've never seen a place like this before."

"Probably because there isn't one like it. I'm Alani. Let me show you around."

"Thanks. I'm Aaron. Nice to meet you" He noticed the gay pride rainbow triangle pin on her lapel.

"Nice to meet you too" She replied, noticing that he noticed her pin. She guided him to the left. "Over here on the left we have our retail store." She led him into the store. "Here we have a wide variety of candles in all shapes, sizes and scents. We have them grouped together, as you can see, by scent, so that in each section, all of the different types of candles, whether they're tapers, pillars, votives, what-have-you, are all the same scent and are sealed so that they can't absorb the scents of the candles around them, and shoppers won't get overwhelmed by the mingled scents."

"I know what you mean. Whenever I go into a place like Yankee Candle, the scents are so overpowering I get a headache just walking through the door and I can't tell which scent is from which candle. This setup is pretty cool."

"Thanks. Over here we have our supplies section where you can get just about anything and everything you need to make your own candles."

Aaron's face lit up. "Way cool. Where can you go to make candles?"

"Somehow I knew you were going to ask me that question. Come with me please." She led him back out of the store, past the front desk and into the biggest candle making studio he'd ever seen. "Do I need to get a fifty-five gallon drum to catch all the drool that's coming out of your mouth?" She said giggling.

"Wow" he said in a barely audible whisper as his gaze took in the ginormous room.

"You're obviously a candle maker so let me tell you how things work around here. There's a space utilization fee of twenty dollars per hour. We supply all the equipment you need as well as mold cleaner and mold release. On the wall behind us you'll find all the molds. Each table also has wicks in bulk. The only time you need to purchase your own wicks is if you want a special wick. What you do is go into the in-house supplies section of the store and get whatever supplies you need. Each item has a stack of tickets next to them. For each item you take, take a corresponding ticket. When you go to the cashier, she will assign you a table and stamp a ticket with the time you arrive. That ticket; along with all of the tickets from the store go into a box for the table you are assigned to. When you are finished, you go back to the cashier to checkout. She will pull everything from your table box and scan everything into the computer to ring it all up at the same time, so you're only paying once. The best part is, when you buy supplies and use them here, its fifteen percent off everything."

"That's a really neat way of doing it. I have a feeling I'm going to be spending a lot of time here. I noticed the prices of the supplies are really not that bad." His cell phone rang. "Excuse me a minute. This could be important. Suarez" He listened for a moment. "On my way" He hung up. "I'm sorry. I've just been recalled back to Hickham for a major structure fire. I'm a Firefighter. Thanks so much for the tour and the information. I'll be back soon." He left and ran out to his car. As he sped off towards the base he thought Clark would love this place. The Arts and Crafts Center on base doesn't have anything for candle making.

Six months later…..

"SUAREZ" The Chief bellowed from his office. It wasn't an angry bellow, so Aaron knew he wasn't in trouble. Still, he wasted no time in answering the summons.

"Yes Chief?"

"Aaron, the Navy over at Barber's Point Naval Air Station is going to have a squadron of F-16's there for a month on a joint training exercise. Their fire department is not trained or equipped to deal with hydrazine or APU fires. Since you've been around F-16's at Nellis, I need you to put together a comprehensive training course for their personnel. How long do you think you'll need to put it together, and how long do you think the course will take?"

"When do I have to have the course ready?"

"As soon as possible, but within the next two to three weeks."

"Two to three weeks." He repeated then was silent for a couple of minutes as he turned things over in his mind. "It will take longer than that to get copies of the training materials ordered from the mainland. Could we get the Commander to sign off on a request for local reproduction because of the short turn-around time?

"I'm sure we could. You give me what you want copied and how many copies you want and I'll take them to the Commander."

"Okay, then, I should be able to put something together in about a week, depending upon how often I get pulled way for other things." He stated truthfully, sensing this was an important matter.

"Fine; as of now you are relived of all other duties and responsibilities other than actual firefighting. This is your number one priority. I'll make sure everyone knows it."

"Thanks Chief. There're just a couple of things I would like to ask, though."

"What's that?" Despite the Chief's gruff, no-nonsense demeanor, he genuinely cared about the personnel serving under him and did his best to make sure that everyone knew they could come to him at any time with questions or problems.

"I can put together a training course no problem, but what about hands-on? I mean, an instructor can talk until they're blue in the face, but as you know it won't really sink in without practical experience."

"I'm way ahead of you on that one. I've spoken with the Squadron Commander over at Kunson Air Base in Korea, where the F-16s are coming in from, and they're sending over hazmat suits, hydrazine containment and cleanup gear, everything you'll need so it won't take away from our equipment. They won't need it there because all of their planes will be here."

"Awesome."

"You said there was something else?"

"Yes. Once I get everything set up. I'd like to run through it a couple of times with some of the guys, preferably the newbies, to make sure I've covered all the bases, and that they can understand everything I've covered. First I want to go over everything with a couple of the regular guys who have been here for a while so they can tell me if I've missed anything, then go over everything with the newbies so I can make sure they understand everything."

"Sounds like a plan to me. I want you to get started right away and as soon as you have something I want to look it over first."

"Sure thing, Chief" He left and started pulling everything he could find on fighting hydrazine fires and on the F-16's auxiliary power unit. Four days later he knocked on the Chief's office door. "Got a couple of minutes, Chief?"

"Sure, come on in and have a seat. What've you got for me?" The next half hour they went over the training course that Aaron had prepared. "I'm impressed. I'll have Mike, Sam and Jesse meet you in the training room tomorrow morning and have you pitch it to them. If you have to make any additions, and from what I've seen, I don't think you missed anything, can you have it ready to present to the new personnel by next Wednesday morning?"

"I don't see why not. I need enough copies of these to go around." He handed the Chief several training guides.

"I've already spoken to the Commander and he's waiting on the request form, which I need you to fill out now and get them over to the orderly room for his signature. Request sixty copies of each. I want to make this part of our regular training curriculum as well. Once he signs off on the forms, take them immediately to Reprographics over in building two-seventy-four. They already know you're coming with a high priority request as I've put in a call to PACAF Command who have called them and made it top priority. You did a great job on this Aaron." [PACAF – acronym for Pacific Air Force]

"Thanks Chief. I'll head over to the orderly room now and get the paperwork filled out for repro. I'll also see about how to order extra copies as I don't know how many will be left over after the Naval training classes." I hope he'll give me enough time to go over the curriculum and the materials with whoever is going to be going over to Barber's Point to train them.

"Okay. Once you've completed all that, take the rest of the day off. You've earned it."

"Yes Chief. Thanks! Have a great one." Aaron left; did what he had to do and within a couple of hours he was back in his room in the NCO barracks trying to figure out what to do. After showering and changing into swim trunks and a button down short-sleeved shirt, he decided to go make some more candles at Candle Crafts, where he was a regular customer. While working on a particularly tricky color mix he was approached by an older woman he had seen many times there. He had assumed, correctly, that she was the owner.

"Excuse me, but you're Aaron, right?"

"Yes ma'am." He said politely, continuing to carefully mix the colors to get the exact shade he wanted.

"You have a great technique. I've been told by the staff that you've been extremely helpful to them with the other customers, especially the new ones. According to Cheryl, you spent over an hour of your time helping a customer make some gel candles who has never done it before and was having some problems."

Aaron swallowed nervously. He remembered that day. There were only two employees on and the place was unexpectedly busy. The retail store was very crowded as it was close to Mother's day and a lot of men were there buying candles for their wives or mothers or both. He had just gotten a bottle of water out of the vending machine when the customer in question approached the cashier about getting some help with the candle which wasn't coming out right. He told the harried cashier that if it was all right with the customer, he'd take a look at it and see what the problem was. Cheryl, the cashier, introduced them and told the customer that Aaron was pretty much an expert at making all types of candles and if anyone could figure out what was wrong, he could, even better than she. That being said, he spent the next hour showing the customer what she did wrong and showed her a few tricks that would make the job quicker and easier, and yield better results. Cheryl didn't charge him the standard usage fee of twenty dollars per hour. I hope I didn't violate any policies or get Cheryl in any trouble. She didn't charge me the usage fee.

"Yes, ma'am I did. I'm sorry if that was in violation of any policy or if anyone got in trouble. It's just that it was an extremely busy day and it was just Cheryl and Linda on and Linda was swamped in the store."

She put her hand on Aaron's arm. "Relax, dear. Nobody's in trouble and I deeply appreciate what you did, as do the girls." Aaron looked at her blankly. "Oh, I'm sorry, I should introduce myself. I'm Grace. Grace Turner. I'm the owner of Candle Crafts and I'm very happy to meet you, Aaron."

"It's my pleasure, Grace. This is a wonderful place you have here."

"It must be. From what I'm told, you practically live here."

Aaron grinned. "I make a lot of candles to send to the mainland for various fundraisers."

"That's very kind of you, but that's not the reason why I wanted to talk with you. I've talked with several of the regular customers and the staff and they all tell me the same thing. You go out of your way to help others, even if it means spending extra time here, and you know more about candle making than just about everyone. I have a little proposition for you. I would like to hire you to teach some basic candle making classes. I would only be able to pay you minimum wage, and wouldn't be able to guarantee you a lot of hours, but I can offer you this as compensation. As you know, the usage fee is twenty dollars an hour, which also includes a fifteen-percent discount on any supplies purchased in the store. As an employee you would not be paying space utilization fee and would be purchasing supplies at cost. In addition, anything else in the store would be at a twenty-five percent discount."

He thought about that for almost thirty seconds. "I'd be happy to teach some classes, no compensation needed. You need to know though, that I'm in the Air Force over at Hickham and I don't always have weekends free."

"The compensation part is non-negotiable." Grace responded matter-of-factly. "Let me tell you what I have in mind and you tell me what you think. What I want to do is once or twice a month hold beginning candle making classes during the day, starting out with the basics which everyone would have to attend, then at various points throughout the day offer the basics on how to make pillars, gels, that sort of thing. Once or twice every three months I'd want to offer some advanced courses such as color mixing, stuff like that. Finally, one night a week, and that night could vary from week to week, just have you here to answer customer questions and help them out when and as needed."

"That sounds like fun. Sure, I'll do it." He said happily as he put the finishing touches on the last candle.

"That candle is absolutely beautiful. Do you think you could make another one just like it?"

Aaron looked in the mixing cup. "I have enough of the color dye mixture and fragrance. I'll just need to go get some more wax, another jar and wicks. It's a triple-wick candle." He glanced at his watch and did a mental calculation to see if he had enough time left remaining to do the candle."

"Triple-wick? Wow. Not many people make those. What did you use, bees wax, soy wax, palm wax or paraffin? And don't worry about the time. Your clock stopped the minute I walked up to you and your employee discounts are effective immediately."

"This one is for somebody special." I just wish I knew who that was. I only know I had to make it for someone. "Soy wax and you don't need to do that."

"Yes I do. I'm going to ask you to recreate that absolutely stunning candle as your signature candle which we're going to use to advertise you. I'll be right back." She returned shortly with the required supplies and Aaron got to work recreating the candle. "I also need to tell you, and this is something that will be strictly enforced, you will be here to teach classes and assist customers here in the studio. You will not be covering the front desk nor will you be covering the retail store. The only cleaning you will be required to do will be your own work area and if you so desire, whatever customer you happen to be assisting at the time. I pay others to cover those areas. I have a storage room in the back that has a little room behind it that can be locked. We're not using it for anything other than storage of stuff that we can easily find other places for. That will be your classroom and private office and storage. I'll have some work tables, fire extinguishers, burners, double boilers and stools put in there. If you would please, before you leave, go into the store and pick out whatever equipment you want for the basic courses, enough for ten people, and tell Sol to put them in the computer as store supplies and have them put in my office. Then if you would please, sometime tomorrow, email me a list of supplies you want available so I can add them to my order that goes out the day after tomorrow. Here's my email address." She handed him a card. "I'll also want to take a picture of you with the candle out in the lobby for advertising purposes, so when you finish making the other one; have whoever's at the desk call me. Welcome to Candle Crafts, Aaron. This is going to be fun. I'm so excited."

"Thank you, Grace. I'm looking forward to it. Here, why don't you take the original candle? I don't want to hold you up."

"Why thank you, Aaron. Don't forget what I said to do. Oh, and I'll have your employment paperwork ready for you to sign before you leave. Consider today your first official day of work. You're on the clock as of now."

"Yes, Boss!" He said with a grin.

"And don't you forget it!" She said laughing.

Damn. Who would have thought that someone, who didn't know a taper from a pillar or a tea lite from a votive would end up teaching candle making in a place like this? Life can sure take some interesting turns." He pondered as he cleaned up his work space while the special candle cooled in the jar. Yes, life does make some interesting turns, but none as interesting as the turn that waited for him once he started teaching his candle making classes.

Two weeks later Aaron once again knocked on the doorframe of the Chief's office. "It's ready, Chief. Mike found one minor detail I forgot which I took care of, and the new guys understood everything completely. Now the only thing left to do is for me to go over everything with whoever is going to be teaching it over at Barber's Point."

"And that would be you."

"Me?" A surprised Aaron asked.

"Yes you. You've worked very hard to pull this together in a very short time and you've done an outstanding job on it. It would be completely unfair to just take it and give it to someone else. Besides, who knows the material better than you?"

"Uh, thanks Chief. When do I start?"

"Thursday, nine am" Aaron inwardly snickered. The Chief hated using the military time format as much as he did.

"Yes Chief. I'll just go and get everything packed up and ready to go. Do you know how big the classes are?"

"I suggested that they keep them to a maximum of fifteen."

"Great. I'll make sure to be there around eight so I can see where I'll be doing the classes and I'll see if I can go the day before to make sure all of the equipment is there.

"Excellent idea, but if I'm not mistaken, you're not on duty that day."

"No I'm not."

"So you will take Tuesday off and Wednesday will be a duty day for you; which you will use to take everything over there and get everything set up and make sure you have everything you need. This way if you forget anything on Wednesday you can take it with you on Thursday. Make sure you have a contingency plan in place just in case the hazmat suits or any of the equipment isn't there or there isn't enough to go around."

"I've already thought of that possibility and I have several work-arounds."

"Good man. Now back to work with you.

"Yes Chief."

Thursday afternoon after lunch a relieved Aaron walked into the fire department training room at Barber's Point Naval Air Station to get ready for the second training session. The first session went much better than he had anticipated. What he had not anticipated was the high level of cooperation between the Air Force and the Navy. An F-16 had to be grounded due to a malfunctioning flight control computer which had to be shipped from Korea, so the officer in charge of the Air Force contingent had the F-16 towed and parked near the fire station so that the Firefighters could get an up close look at it and actually see where the auxiliary power unit and hydrazine tank were located, which make the training course that much better. Aaron had his back turned to the classroom writing something on the whiteboard as the next batch of Firefighters to be trained entered the classroom. He turned around and his eyes scanned the room as he began to introduce himself.

"Good afternoon everyone, I'm Firefighter Staff Sergeant Aaron Suarez." He stopped abruptly as his eyes locked on the eyes of the one person he never expected to ever see again, his ex-best friend Jerry.

Comments appreciated at Jim Dunaway