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Johnny spent the remainder of his summer working for Drew’s father and managed o earn enough for what he hoped would one day be a down payment on an apartment in LA. He knew he’d need enough in reserve to hold him until he graduated from the academy. If he made it in…He just had too. He couldn’t think beyond that. It’s all he’d ever wanted to do.
He knew his aunt would help him if he needed it but he didn’t want to ask her for anything more than she’d already done, financially or otherwise. He didn’t want to owe her as he did his family in Montana, though she never told him that he did as they had. Still…He wanted to do this on his own. His grandfather would expect it of him and so would his dad.
John shook off those fears. He’d worked hard at his studies and worked with the firemen and absorbed everything they were willing to teach him. All he needed was for them to give him a chance. He’d do whatever it took to get there.
He hadn’t told his aunt his plans yet either for fear that she’d forbid him his choice of academy and demand that he stay here. He’d wait until he was eighteen and then he could go where he chose. He didn’t want to hurt her but he wanted to succeed or fail on his own.
The summer passed quickly and John sprouted another inch and a half, reaching almost six feet. Rosemary teased him that she was going to go broke between feeding him and buying him new clothes every time he grew. John looked worried at that but she’d assured him she was kidding and wasn’t in any danger of running out of money any time soon, though she suspected she’d be replacing them again soon. Rod hadn’t stopped growing before his early twenties, so John may easily top six foot very soon.
John’s tall lean build and good looks would be a source of envy for some of his male classmates but had continued to be a blessing in the female attraction department and a curse for Rosemary who could only hope that John’s VW bus was being used for nothing more than a little hand holding and innocent necking. She’d forbidden him to date anyone over seventeen.
Edward continued to silently watch the boy grow and mature, becoming more and more independent as the weeks passed.
Roy stood up and looked at his wife anxiously as she stepped out of the treatment room. Her eyes were red and he knew from experience that she was trying not to cry. “What’s wrong?” He questioned worriedly.
She shook her head and half ran for the door to the office. Roy quickly followed. He caught up to her by the car…Tears trickled down her pale cheeks as she opened the door and slid inside.
Roy climbed into the driver’s seat and reached over to take her hand. “What’s wrong babe?” He questioned again.
She turned her tear streaked face toward him and sniffled softly. “I’m so sorry honey,” she whispered disconsolately.
“For what?” He asked again.
“Dr. Kemp doesn’t think I can have children,” she wept.
“Did he say why?”
“My uterus and cervix are tilted…”
Roy wasn’t actually sure what that meant exactly but he assumed the doctor knew what he was talking about. He swallowed down a lump of disappointment. They’d both wanted to try for a baby and they’d both been very excited by the prospect but now…Well? Roy put on a brave face for his wife’s sake. “It doesn’t matter Jo,” he assured his distraught wife. “We can always look into adoption okay?”
“That’s not the same,” she whispered, with another tearful sniff.
“Well not quite but there are lots of babies out there that need a home…We can check into it at least right?”
She nodded but she could see the disappointment in his eyes and she knew she was the cause.
Roy could see the pain in Joanne’s face and knew she was agreeing to please him and that she was still unhappy that she couldn’t have a child of her own but they’d figure it out. He knew she’d be a great mom. Jo had a huge heart and would love any unwanted child they brought home.
Roy didn’t hesitate…Within a week they had a case worker. Jenna had warned them that their young age might be a problem for them but she also thought that they were a very stable couple, despite their newlywed status. She’d laughed and told them that she could tell her superiors that they’d actually been together for twelve years.
She promised to do her best to find them a baby but there was a also a waiting list for infants. They’d told Jenna that even a toddler would be okay but as the weeks passed, it seemed as if they would be thwarted here too. There simply weren’t enough babies to go around and the list seemed endless and they despaired of ever being at the top.
Five months later, Roy returned home from a twenty four hour shift to find a table laid out with candles and his favorite dish and a very excited wife. She hugged him as he came into the kitchen and kissed him long and hard before she pulled back and grinned happily.
“What is it Jo? Did Jenna call?” He asked, with a spark of excitement in his own eyes. It faded as she shook her head. “What?” He asked again in confusion.
“It’s even better,” he said as tears of joy welled in her eyes. “Dr. Kemp called…Roy…I’m pregnant,” she informed him.
Roy whooped with joy and relief as he swept his wife off her feet and spun her around, both of them laughing happily and both grateful that sometimes even doctors didn’t get to make the final choice. Roy wasn’t always a very religious man but he silently glanced upward. “Thank you,” he murmured softly.
August finally rolled around and Rosemary was planning another business trip…This time to Paris. Joshua and his bride, along with Tiffany made plans to accompany her. Tiffany and Allison to shop and Joshua to sit in on the business dealings with the winery his parents owned.
John had been invited to come but had declined at the annoyed looks of his cousins. He didn’t mind really. He had no interest in Paris and didn’t want to spend three weeks trapped with them anymore than they wanted to be with him. Rosemary was disappointed but she understood. John preferred to stay to himself and avoid the social gatherings and parties her own children favored. He’d be bored sitting in a hotel room all the time and would resist being forced to be around all those strangers, besides this really was a business trip and while she had plans for his future, the winery belonged to the Hughes family before she’d married into it and would belong to Joshua and Tiffany one day.
John spent his seventeenth birthday fishing in the mountains with the new fishing gear Rose had purchased for him before she left.
Edward had been disappointed that he hadn’t let him make him a cake or anything for his special day. The boy spent far too much time alone as far as he was concerned.
John didn’t appear to mind it too much however, at least that he’d admit. He missed his time with Drew but he’d spent most of his young life ostracized and alone, so this was nothing new and even Drew didn’t know much about him except for the present. John didn’t always enjoy the solitude but it did make it easier for him when he didn’t let anyone get too close. That way he didn’t slip and reveal too much as he had with Drew and it made it easier when they left. Something that seemed inevitable, as far as John was concerned…It didn’t hurt so bad when you simply didn’t care.
John began his senior year. He continued his job with the school newspaper and worked with Drew’s dad on the weekends.
The holidays approached once more but John had learned from his previous experience and made sure to disappear, afraid his grandparents might make an unexpected and uninvited visit as they had the last time. Rosemary sighed in resignation but she understood. She left John to make his own decisions for the most part and tried to be supportive of whatever he wanted to do, though she made it a point to be sure he was invited to join her whenever they did anything or went anywhere and she knew he’d obey if she made it mandatory.
She often watched with a poignant smile as she watched him become more and more independent and decisive, though she knew he still harbored his inner insecurity’s, he’d learned to hide them well from most people who didn’t know him well. She knew she’d lose him in a few short months but she’d make sure he knew he could always come home.
Dr. Blackwood had also been correct. He almost never withdrew anymore. It didn’t matter to her of course, she loved him dearly regardless but she knew it troubled John greatly when it happened. She knew there was something from his past that triggered the episodes the worst and now that she’d stopped trying to get him to talk about them, they’d gone away completely, though he still grew uncomfortable and stepped away from the casual touch of most people, especially men.
That of course didn’t extend to girls…John had eagerly learned that theirs was different, though he still refrained from letting them get too close to him emotionally, Physically was a whole different ballgame.
As the end of the school year approached, John drove to Los Angeles to visit Drew. His eyes widened as he drove into the city with its busy highways and street after street of homes and businesses. He’d never seen such a huge city in his life and he was hard pressed to keep his eyes on the road and not watching the goings on around him.
He finally found Drew and Pam’s apartment and knocked on the door. His friend greeted him warmly. “Hey Johnny….Come on in man…Pam’s been looking forward to this for a week.”
John smiled and went inside. Pam came from the kitchen, drying her hands on a dish towel. She hugged him tightly. “Hi Johnny…Oh it’s so good to see you.”
“Thanks…It’s good to see you too. Something smells wonderful.”
Drew grinned. “You’re lucky you waited a year…She couldn’t boil water when we first got married,” he teased his pretty wife.
“Oh you,” she gasped in mock outrage as she flicked him with the rag she held in her hand.
They all laughed but Pam knew it was the truth. She’d had to eat her own cooking too and had finally asked her mother to come teach her the basics. Drew had become a few pounds heavier and a little less likely to grab a burger on his way home from the police department.
“So…What’s it like being a cop?” John asked his friend with a grin after they settled on the sofa.
“It’s great kid,” Drew teased.
John bristled a bit at the appellation but it didn’t last long…He knew Drew was just joking with him.
“Have you arrested anyone?” John asked.
“Yup…My first arrest was a car thief. Guy even pointed a gun at me and my partner Eddie.”
John’s eyes widened in surprise. “What did you do?”
“I pulled mine and ordered him to drop it. Thankfully he did but I’ll tell you something,” he said losing the grin. “I was scared. I didn’t stop shaking for an hour after,” he admitted. “Eddie assured me that it was a normal reaction…He’s a good teacher.”
John nodded and smiled ruefully at his friend. “Good…Hope he keeps you from getting shot and it’s a good thing you’ll only have to deal with stuff like that once in a while,” John said with a sparkle of mischief in his eyes.
“I hope so.”
“That’s why being a fire fighter is much more dangerous. I’ll have to deal with running into fires every day,” he said straight faced.
Pam grinned as she looked at her husband. Drew stiffened in mock indignation, realizing John was trying to just let the admission that he’d been afraid pass without making Drew feel bad.
“Hey…,” he argued. “Nobody will be shooting at you,” he pointed out.
“Nope, just trying to burn a house down around me or racking up some car I’ll have to crawl into or…”
Drew laughed, interrupting his tirade. “Okay, okay…I get the point. They’re both dangerous,” he conceded. John grinned. “But I’m glad I can make a difference and that because of the cops, most people get what they deserve out there ya know?” He said proudly.
John smiled wanly, thinking of his Uncle. Had he been given what he deserved as his Uncle’s George and Joseph and his Aunts had said. Would Drew think so too if he knew? John worried his lip with his teeth. Drew noticed and frowned at the abrupt change of mood. “So hey man…You wanna go check out the Fire Department Headquarters? That’s where they have the applications for the academy,” he informed him.
John gulped a bit but nodded. It was finally happening…Oh he knew he had four months to go before he turned eighteen but it felt so close now. So close to achieving his dream and the dream his parents had held for him…He just wished they could be here to see it, he mused sadly.
Drew stood up to go and get his keys. John glanced up toward the heavens. “I’m almost there Dad…Mom,” he whispered softly.
Drew returned and gave Pam a quick kiss on the lips. “We’ll be back in a while honey,” he assured her as he headed for the door. John grinned and followed.
He and Drew pulled into the parking lot of the Los Angeles County Fire Department twenty minutes later. Drew glanced at his friend and grinned. Johnny’s eyes were alight with excitement and he’d never seen his face so animated as the young boy’s eyes swept over the building and the array of red cars parked out in front.
“You ready buddy?” Drew asked after a long moment.
John nodded. “I’ve been ready for eleven years,” he breathed out quietly.
They climbed out and went inside. John stopped at the reception desk and waited for the older woman seated behind it to notice him. She finally glanced up, giving the two young men a quick assessing once over. “Can I help you?” She asked rather brusquely.
“Um…Yes ma’am,” John stammered a bit nervously. “I um…I’m here for an application to the academy,” he finally got out.
“How old are you?” She questioned, as her speculative gaze swept over the teenager.
“I’m seventeen…And a half,” he added, hoping it would help make him sound older.
“You can’t go to the academy until you’re eighteen,” she said dismissively, turning back to the work on her desk.
John’s face fell at her words and Drew bristled indignantly. He opened his mouth to argue but another voice interrupted.
“I’m quite sure the young man knows that Janet and that wasn’t what he asked you,” the man behind replied. They all turned to see a gray haired man standing in the office doorway a few feet up the corridor.
“Yes sir, but he’s not old enough,” she insisted.
“What’s your name son,” the man asked the tall, slender, teen, ignoring the woman’s comment.
“John sir…John Gage,” he clarified hesitantly.
“And you want to be a fire fighter?”
“And when did you decide on this career?” The older man questioned, feeling the young man out a bit and trying to decide if this was serious or a rash decision that he could change his mind about tomorrow.
“When I was six,” John answered honestly, his face turning red in embarrassment at the admission, afraid the man would think it was a childish whim.
The man nodded and smiled. “So this isn’t a spur of the moment decision?”
John frowned and decided the phrase meant a ‘rushed choice’ and finally shook his head. “No sir…It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do and…I…I know I’m not old enough but the classes fill up really fast and I just don’t wanna miss the chance to be in that first class after I turn eighteen,” he said in a rush, hoping to explain before the man cut him off and dismissed him as the woman had.
The older man grinned at the teenager. He was sure the boy hadn’t even breathed during that tirade which only went to prove he had good lungs, he mused. He’d also watched the emotions play over the young man’s face as he spoke to the receptionist and then himself. Excitement, disappointment, worry and desperate pleading had warred for dominance in the dark eyes as he’d explained his eagerness to apply early. He’d had that same look himself twenty years ago.
He finally nodded. “Your parents okay with this?” He asked curiously. John glanced away and his friend grimaced. The man noticed. “Are they against this?” He questioned gently, disappointed that he’d have to tell the boy no if they were.
John hated talking about himself or his past but he knew he’d have to be honest here. “My parents are dead sir,” he said softly, not meeting the man’s kind eyes. “But they knew this was my choice and they…They approved of it and I …I promised them,” he pleaded. “I live with my aunt and she knows…”
Drew stared at John in surprise…He’d never heard Johnny talk this much at one time. He was often lucky to get a sentence.
The man grinned at the second rant the teenager had unleashed on him. He was pleased with the young man’s determination…He’d need it to achieve his goal but he somehow sensed that the teen would succeed. “She’s okay with this then?” He finally asked.
John hesitated once more. The man frowned again until the boy explained. “She’s okay with it…She just doesn’t know that I want to go to the academy here instead of San Gabriel where we live.”
“And why is that?”
John shrugged and scuffed the floor with the toe of his boot. “Everyone knows her there…I...,” he hesitated hoping the man would understand this. “I want to do this on my own sir,” he admitted.
The man nodded appreciatively and while he was curious, he refrained from asking who his aunt was. He didn’t want the boy to think he’d accepted him because of it, just on the off chance that actually did know who John’s aunt was.
He turned to the receptionist. “Give this young man an application Janet,” he instructed.
“Sir?” She questioned in surprise.
“Give it to him,” he said again. She nodded in defeat and fished the application from a file in her drawer. She handed it over to him. John grinned as he took it and Drew had to refrain from hugging his friend, knowing John would pull away from it anyway. “You fill that out John and I’ll check it over after you’re done. If I like what I see, I’ll see to it that your name is on the list for the next class after your eighteenth birthday. When is that by the way?” He asked curiously.
“August twenty eighth sir,” he gasped, his face alight with excitement once again.
The man plucked a clipboard from the wall near Janet’s desk and flipped a couple of pages over to read them. “The next class after that will be September nineteenth…I think there will be room for you son.”
John felt the burn of tears behind his dark eyes…For the first time they were joyful ones. He blinked them away, afraid the man would see it as a weakness as his own family had. “Thank you sir,” he breathed out in grateful surprise.
“That’s after you GRADUATE and if you have decent grades,” he warned the boy.
“I do sir…I promise.”
“Good…have a seat over there and fill that out,” he said indicating the thick sheath of papers that John held.
The young man nodded. “Thank you again um…?” he hesitated questioningly, realizing he’d never gotten the man’s name.
“Conrad,” he answered. “Chief Conrad.
John’s dark eyes widened in shock, “Thank you Chief Conrad,” he replied. “I won’t let you down.”
“You’re welcome son and if I’d thought you would, you wouldn’t be filling those out now,” he said with a smile. He turned to Janet. “Pencil this young man’s name in there please and see to it that I get that application when he’s done.”
She nodded with a ‘whatever you say sir’ shrug as he turned back to John. “Keep those grades up and I’ll want to hear from you with a copy of those final grades in four months.”
“Yes sir,” John agreed happily.
He and Drew went and sat at a small table across the room and John began to write. The application was long and involved and asked some rather difficult questions. John didn’t lie but he didn’t volunteer anything either. He left out his past in Montana, referring only to his life in San Gabriel when it came to personal issues. He answered some of the more circumstantial questions as best he could without proper training, hoping that the answers to the ‘what would you do?’ in this situation or ‘under this condition’ were what they were looking for.
John had been told by both Rigsby and Calhoun that he was a natural and had great instincts, he let those take over for those questions and prayed they were correct. His heart may have been broken but he’d been raised by a mother and father who had taught him respect for others and to honor their lives and feelings, even when they didn’t respect his. Having lost both of them had made him even more determined to save other people’s lives so that no one would ever have to hear those awful words or feel that same pain and loss or suffer the abuse he had after if he could stop it.
It took a while but John finally finished the application and blew out a relieved breath as he looked at Drew. His friend grinned at him understandingly. “I know…I had to do it to and then comes the class work,” he moaned.
John smiled back…Hard work was nothing new to him nor was having to study…He’d wanted this for so long and now it was only four months away. He looked at the papers in his hand and swallowed hard…At least he hoped so.
The two young men went back to the desk and handed the clipboard back to the woman behind the desk. She finally broke a smile as she took it, noticing the excitement in the beautiful dark eyes gazing back at her, but there was something else about the boy…A gentle vulnerability that was reflected in his slightly tilted grin and the those same chocolate brown eyes. “Good luck young man,” she finally said sincerely.
“Thank you ma’am,” he replied quietly, taking a small booklet from her that explained the LA County Fire Department’s training procedures.
He and Drew left the building and without thinking, his friend gave him a slap off the back. John’s first instinct was to step away but he forced himself to stay calm. Drew noticed him tense but he also saw the determination in his younger friend’s eyes not to recoil from the touch. He threw Drew a tentative smile that he’d succeeded. He’d have to learn how to push that fear down deep inside, at least on the lines…It might well be the hardest part of this job but he knew enough to know he’d have no option but to allow a certain amount of contact while he was working with his crew mates and the public. He just had to remind himself that he’d be safe enough at the station he was assigned to and that those he rescued would be strangers and would remain that way. No difficult questions to answer or emotional complications involved…He hoped.
“Congratulations Buddy,” Drew said with a pleased grin, both that John had finally started his journey to fulfill his dream and that for the first time, he hadn’t recoiled from Drew’s simple friendly gesture, despite his discomfort with it.
The pair returned to the apartment for lunch, but John was too excited to eat much. He won grins of amusement from Drew and Pam as he rambled on about the academy, even with his mouth full. Neither of them really minded, they were just happy to hear him talk this much.
“I cah way,” he said, barely understandable around another mouthful of food. “I got in…He’s gonna ma roo for me…” He swallowed before he continued. “This is so cool…The people back home said I’d never…,” he trailed off as he realized what he’d almost revealed. His dark eyes suddenly dropped into his lap and his face flushed crimson. He needed to remember to keep control of his emotions. In his excitement, he’d almost blurted out far more than he’d ever wanted Drew or anyone else to ever know.
“Never what Johnny?” Drew asked with a frown. John shook his head as he chewed his lower lip with his teeth.
“Never mind,” he mumbled. “Doesn’t matter anyway,” he finished with a small quirk.
Drew and Pam exchanged a concerned glance. It was obvious that John was hiding something from his past. Something he didn’t want to talk about and Drew’s newly acquired cop senses that hadn’t been in play back in San Gabriel were suddenly in full swing.
“Honey…Could you make us some coffee?” Drew asked.
Pam saw her husband’s frown and realized that he wanted to talk to Johnny alone. “Sure,” she agreed standing up and heading for the kitchen.
“Johnny?” Drew began quietly. “What happened to you before you came here?” He asked.
John’s dark eyes widened in surprise. Drew had never questioned his past before and John was fine with that and he had no intention of changing the situation anytime in the future.
“Nnnnoth…ing,” he stammered, using his standard response to questions about his past.
Drew heard the hesitant stutter and knew John was getting uptight but he decided to press on. “You called yourself a half breed that night by the river. Did your family call you that too?” He asked softly.
John looked away uncomfortably but didn’t answer, afraid that Drew would press him for answers that he wouldn’t or couldn’t give. No one could understand what had happened to him. They’d be sure it was his fault. They’d despise him…Be disgusted, turn away…No…No he could never tell anyone…Not ever, besides Uncle George would kill him if he found out.
The guilt, shame and humiliation of what George had done to him still simmered just beneath the surface and quickly bubbled up and Johnny shot from his chair. “I have to gggoo now,” he stuttered in obvious dismay.
“Johnny wait…!” Drew said standing quickly and reaching out to grab the younger man’s arm.
John jerked away from the contact. “Dddon’t …Don’t touch me,” he gasped, still caught in his memories.
“Johnny stop…I’m your friend…You can talk to me.”
John shook his head…He could never tell anyone. “No…No you wwwouldn’t un…No…,” he stammered, cutting off his original reply in fear that it would only make Drew ask more questions.
“Okay man,” Drew agreed quickly, seeing the wariness in his younger friend’s dark eyes. “You don’t need to tell me anything okay…It’s none of my business and I won’t ask again okay?” He promised, placating the teen as Pam returned to stand in the doorway and watch her husband try and sooth the obviously distressed younger man.
John nodded gratefully at the reassurance but he didn’t calm down. “I uh…I have to go now,” Johnny said softly. “I uh…I need to talk to my aunt about the academy. I doubt she’ll be real happy about this,” he added lifting the booklet. “Um…Thanks for going with me today and uh…Thanks for lunch,” he added looking nervously at Pam before he turned and headed for the door.
“Drew?” Pam queried worriedly. “What’s wrong?”
Drew shook his head and followed his friend. He didn’t know what Johnny was hiding but he hadn’t meant to upset the kid either. He could always check into it himself now and he didn’t want to lose John’s friendship either. “Johnny…?” The teen stopped but didn’t turn to face him. “I’m sorry,” he insisted.
John nodded. “Yeah…It’s cool,” he said softly as he continued on to hurry down the sidewalk, his face flaming with embarrassment and a sudden sense of loss and loneliness. Drew would never speak to him again after this. John climbed in his bus and drove away. He thumped the steering wheel in frustration. How could he have been so stupid to have slipped up like that?
He’d let his guard down and messed up, but Drew had never questioned his past before, at least not too deeply and John had relaxed around him and forgotten to be careful.
Most people assumed that he hadn’t talked because of his stutter and that had been partially right, but it had also been fear…Fear that he’d say the wrong thing which would bring more questions that he wouldn’t answer or punishment. John had learned to speak only when spoken too and that expressing an uninvited or differing opinion was forbidden…Something his family had called his ‘white arrogance.’ It had never been allowed since his father had died and while Rosemary let him have his freedom most of the time, she still put her foot down and John knew better than to argue, at least most of the time, he mused as he fingered the cheek she’d slapped last January.
John had learned to hide himself behind a façade of indifference and most people just left him alone but he’d have to be more careful about letting his guard down if he was to keep his past a secret, especially within the department. He’d have to work closely with others and he couldn’t afford to have anyone learn the truth about him…It would spread like the fires he wanted to fight and he’d be finished.
John returned home an hour later. The brochure the receptionist had given him was still clutched in his hand. Edward had heard the rather loud muffler of his VW bus and was already at the door when John walked up the steps.
“Good afternoon Master John,” the older man greeted the teenager as he came inside.
“Hi Edward,” he replied still looking a bit depressed over his reaction to Drew’s questions and very worried that his friend would think he was a complete lunatic.
“Is something wrong sir?” Edward questioned at the young man’s ‘down in the dumps’ expression.
John glanced at the man…Edward had always been nice to him but what would he think of John if he knew the truth of what a wicked child he’d been…at least that’s what they’d told him…That the punishments and abuse had been because he’d been bad. And what about Uncle George? What would they think of him if they knew what he’d done to him? That John hadn’t stopped him…That he’d let it happen? He suppressed a shudder of fear. No…No he could never tell.
It was a dilemma and John wished for someone in his life that he could talk to…That he could trust with his heart and his secrets. Who could look beyond his past and his heritage and just be his friend but that would probably never happen…Not after what his uncle had done…Shame welled up once more and the idea of Rosemary or Edward or Drew turning their backs on him in disgust…Of Joshua and Tiffany and their mocking laughter was more than John could stand but he just hadn’t been big enough or strong enough back then to stop him…He’d had no one to go to for help but John couldn’t see that, just his failure to do so.
John just couldn’t bring himself to confide the truth to anyone…They couldn’t understand and if he told Edward about what had happened with Drew and his reaction to his questions…Then the man would most likely push for those same answers.
He glanced at Edward and gave him a small crooked quirk of a smile, though his eyes didn’t meet the servants. “Everything’s fine Edward,” he replied.
The older man sighed. He knew John was hiding something…Using that crooked grin of his to disarm the casual observer but Edward had known him too long and wasn’t falling for it. The evasive look in the eyes was a giveaway but he also knew better than to push. John could be more closed mouthed than an unhappy clam.
The pair heard footsteps on the stairs and glanced up as Rosemary came down the stairs t meet them. “Hello sweetie,” she greeted her nephew. “Edward,” she added with a smile.
“Hi Aunt Rose,” Johnny answered with a smile.
His Aunt’s green eyes fell on the booklet in his hand. “What’s that sweetie?” She asked curiously.
John’s face paled a bit but he figured he’d have to tell her sometime and now was as good a time as any to face the music. “It’s a handbook from the fire academy Aunt Rose…That’s where I was today,” he added as she held her hand out to take the small book. John handed it to her and jammed his hands in his pockets, shifting nervously from foot to foot. He worried his lower lip with his teeth as he waited for the explosion.
Rose noted the anxious movements but didn’t understand it. She knew John was trying to get into the academy so why was he so uncomfortable about telling her about it?
Her green eyes scanned the pamphlet curiously. ‘LOS ANGELES COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT ACADEMY’ was emblazoned across the top. She started to read on before it sunk in. “Los Angeles?” She questioned shooting him a hard look. John swallowed nervously but nodded his head. “But why sweetie…? San Gabriel has its own fire department. Why don’t you go to this one so you can stay at home? Why LA?” She asked, looking a bit put out.
John’s teeth tugged at his lower lip for a moment, praying she’d understand and not be hurt by what he was about to say. “Aunt Rose…I want…I have…I mean….I need to do this on my own,” he stuttered uncomfortably.
“Well of course you do John…I had no intention of going with you,” she said archly. Edward chuckled at the rejoinder as John’s face flushed at the remark but he continued on.
“But everyone knows you here and I’d never know for sure that I did it on my own or if they just let me in because of you,” he argued, not mentioning his other fear.
Henderson had said that he’d heard that John was a troublemaker…They might not give him a chance if that rumor had reached headquarters.
Rosemary looked slightly affronted. “Are you still upset about that donation?” She questioned with a raised brow. “I told you that wasn’t a bribe to let you go practice at their station.”
John blew out a frustrated breath. He didn’t want to upset his Aunt but this was just something he had to do on his own. He had to be sure he’d done it because he earned it and not just because they were afraid to cross his aunt. He just had to make her understand.
“I’m not upset Aunt Rose but everyone here knows who I am…Who you are. It wouldn’t be fair to me or anyone else if they let me in just because I’m your nephew.” She started to protest but John held up his hand to stop her. “I know you wouldn’t interfere but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t play favorites or maybe even give me a harder time because of it. Succeed or fail, I HAVE to know I EARNED this…Please Aunt Rosemary,” he pleaded for her understanding.
Edward smiled at the young man’s determination to fly solo when most of the young people who were raised here were quite content to ride the coattails of their parent’s names. Rosemary knew it too.
She smiled poignantly as she reached up to cup his cheek gently. John tensed but didn’t back away. “You are so much like your father,” she said softy. John’s dark eyes rose to meet hers uncertainly. “I am so incredibly proud of you John Roderick,” she added as she reached up to kiss his cheek. John’s face flushed in embarrassment but he smiled in relief. “I’ll miss you terribly but if this is what you have to do, then I’ll support it,” she assured him.
John breathed a sigh of relief that she wasn’t angry with him. “Thank you Aunt Rose,” he said with a grin.
“I love you sweetie,” she said softly.
The smile fell away as his eyes searched her face. He frowned at the words he didn’t even understand but for the first time he believed she meant it, even though his own heart remained empty and closed and he wouldn’t say what he didn’t know how to feel just to please someone…Not even her…Loving others only brought pain…Especially when they left you. “I know you do,” he replied quietly.
Rose patted his cheek, knowing it was the best he was able to give right now. “So tell me what happened,” she said linking her arm through John’s and leading him toward her office.
Roy DeSoto paced a path across the well used waiting room rug. He noted a worn area and idly wondered how many other feet had crossed this carpeted area over the years. He glanced at the clock…Four hours. He’d brought Joanne in at five his morning and it was now nine A.M.. His blue eyes traveled to the delivery room door for the umpteenth time and wondered how much longer it would be.
He was absolutely terrified and the color had yet to return to his face as he remembered the Jo’s pale, sweating face and the cry of pain that had slipped from her lips as they moved her from the labor room to the delivery room. He’d wanted to stay with her but the drill sergeant of a nurse had barred him at the door and now all he could do was wait and worry.
What if something went wrong? He couldn’t stand the idea of living without Joanne. She was the love of his life and they’d both known even as children, that they were meant to be together. What would he do if he lost her? Guilt welled in his heart…He was the one that got her this way in the first place…It didn’t matter if it had been what they both wanted. If something happened to her, it would be his fault.
Women have babies every day, he reminded himself silently but he shook the thought away…None of them were Joanne…What if…He started again as he made another couple of treks across the tired gray rug. He turned about to return to the doorway just before Dr. Kemp entered the room. Roy stopped in mid step and stared at Jo’s doctor. “Well…?” Was all he could ask.
Kemp smiled. “You have a son Roy…”
The younger man grinned but it faded after a moment. “How’s Joanne?”
“She’s fine Roy. She’s tired of course but she did great. She’s in a bit of pain but they’ll give her something for that soon. The baby is a nice healthy weight. Seven pounds, nine ounces and twenty one inches long…He’s gonna be tall like his dad,” the man teased.
“Can I see Jo?” He asked anxiously.
“Sure…You can see them both but only for a few minutes. They both need to rest. The nurses are getting them cleaned up and then you can go in for a bit before they take the baby to the nursery. They’ll get all the information from you for the birth certificate then.”
Roy nodded with an even mixture of joy and relief. He wanted to see Joanne for himself and make sure she was okay. The doctor left and Roy sank into one of the overstuffed chairs for the first time that morning. He was exhausted and all he’d had to do was wait. He couldn’t begin to imagine how Jo must feel.
A few minutes later an older nurse came in. Roy was relieved that it wasn’t the same one that had held him at bay earlier. “Mr. DeSoto…Come with me please,” she invited with a smile.
Roy shot to his feet and followed. Tears filled his blue eyes as he slipped into the dimly lit room. Joanne was sitting up in bed…Her auburn hair was slightly damp with sweat from her ordeal and she looked tired but she was the most beautiful woman in the world as far as he was concerned.
He came forward to lean over and peer at the blue blanket wrapped bundle she held in her arms. “God babe,” he breathed out in awe “He’s beautiful.”
Jo smiled. “We do some pretty good work don’t we?” She teased.
He nodded and swallowed back the lump in his throat. “I love you babe and thank you,” he said leaning over to kiss her gently.
A nurse bustled into the room breaking the tender moment. “Time for this little guy to go to the nursery,” she said with a smile.
Joanne reluctantly handed over the baby to her husband, who took just a moment to gaze down into his son’s face. The blue eyes peered back at him from a small, round, pink face. And he couldn’t hold back the smile or the tears that welled once again. He finally handed him over to the waiting nurse.
She smiled in understanding. It always made her feel good when a father was this happy about his child. “Does this young man have a name?” She questioned curiously. “We’ll need it for the birth certificate.”
Roy and Jo exchanged a glance of silent communication. They’d bounced around several names but hadn’t settled on one yet. “Christopher Roy?” He finally asked. She nodded her agreement. Roy turned back to the nurse. Christopher Roy DeSoto,” he replied.
John Gage stared his reflection in the standing mirror in his room. He didn’t seem any different to his own eyes but today his life was about to take a new turn. He was graduating from high school in another couple of hours.
He’d already spent the previous week with Proms and yearbook photos, Awards ceremonies and letterman sweaters and fittings for his cap and gown but today…Today was graduation and then it was only a few short weeks and he’d be eighteen… A grown man, moving to L.A. to start a new life on his own.
No Joshua and Tiffany to give him grief, no one mocking his heritage and his parents. No one in LA would know who or what he was…No one telling him what to do or how to act, at least not personally. He’d be at the academy and he was sure there would be plenty of orders but Heaven knew, John was used to that.
His Aunt still wasn’t happy about him leaving but she assured him that she only wanted him to be happy. She’d even offered to assist him in finding an apartment and giving him the funds to furnish it. John had resisted at first but she’d told him to consider it his graduation gift and he’d finally relented, mostly because Joshua was graduating from college this year and would soon be returning with his blushing bride Allison and John wanted to be well away from the pair as soon as possible.
A knock on the door interrupted his private musings. “Come in,” he called.
The door opened and his Aunt stepped inside. Her mouth curled in a wide smile as he spotted him. “Oh my, you look so handsome,” she said proudly as she reached out to smooth the lapels of his suit coat and then straighten his tie.
John’s face flushed in embarrassment but he grinned back at her. “Thanks Aunt Rose,” he replied.
She stood looking at him for a long moment. She missed her brother Rick so much and John looked so much like his father. She finally reached up to cup his cheek. “I am so proud of you háaketa,” she said softly.
“Aunt Rose,” he groaned as he gave her an impressive eye roll of exasperation.
She laughed. “You’ll just have to get used to that John Roderick…You’ll always be my little one now.”
John ducked his head, his face coloring once again as she continued. “And I want you to know that if your parents were here today, they’d be so proud of you too.”
John’s dark eyes lift to meet hers, his mind flying back over everything that had happened to him at the hands of his family in Montana and he quickly looked away. He could feel the burn of the tears of shame behind his eyes but he blinked them away. “Would they?” He whispered sadly.
Rose saw the look of misery and reached out to embrace him. John tensed but didn’t back away. “Yes my darling, they would…Whatever you think you’ve done or whatever happened in your past is behind you.” John went rigid at her words, she felt it but didn’t let go as she continued. “What you’ve accomplished in the last four years is all that matters and both your father and Kate would be proud of you just as I am…Don’t you ever forget that John Roderick,” she instructed, holding him tighter.
John didn’t believe that…She didn’t know the truth or she wouldn’t believe it either but he couldn’t tell her that. “Yes ma’am,” he rasped unconvincingly.
Rose sighed and released her hold to allow him to back away. She once again touched his cheek. “I know you don’t believe that sweetie,” she said as if reading his thoughts. “But I know my brother and Kate and I know how much they both adored you.”
“Yes ma’am,” he said again. He knew they had as well before Uncle George had…Well…Just before but would they now? The guilt and shame at what had been done welled up once again and he looked away.
She almost wept at the sad look and knew he wasn’t ready to let go of his past, maybe he would never be. She knew he’d been mistreated and abused and she was almost positive that something far worse had been done, but she also knew he’d retreat and possibly withdraw if she pushed him.
She wished desperately that John would find someone he could trust…Someone he could talk to who would make him understand that he wasn’t responsible for anything that had happened to him in his past. That he’d been a child…A victim of someone bigger and more powerful and most likely terrifying to a young boy, alone in the world.
She despaired of ever seeing him happy and free of the hurt and pain that haunted him. To be able to give love and accept it for himself. She wished she could go back in time and change all of that and she wanted to make someone pay for what they had done to her sweet nephew but she knew John would never tell her or the authorities what had happened.
She felt tears build in her eyes but she swiped them away. “It’s almost time to leave sweetie, are you all ready?” She asked, giving up on trying to convince him that he had nothing to be ashamed of.
John nodded, grateful that she’d let it go. He held out his arm and she smiled as she took his elbow and let him escort her from the room.
Two hours later, John Gage crossed the stage to accept his diploma and a handshake from the Principal. “Congratulations John. You’ve come a long way these last four years. Good luck at the academy son.”
“Thank you sir,” he replied with the first smile the man had ever seen on the boys face.
John returned to his seat to gaze at the small framed certificate he held in his hands. He’d already hand delivered a copy of his final grades to the fire academy and was waiting to hear from them on whether or not he’d been accepted. His dark eyes turned skyward. “I did it mom...Dad… I’ll make it to the academy too,” he promised in a bare whisper.
Forty minutes later the ceremony wound to a halt. “Congratulations to all of you…The San Gabriel Class of 1968…,” Mr. Lange said proudly. The class of seventy five students flipped their tassels from one side to the other. Then as one, they stood and tossed their hats into the air.
John’s eighteenth birthday was spent moving him to his own apartment. Edward and Rosemary both pitched in to help, unpacking his belongings and putting them away as the movers brought them inside.
John had taken the money his aunt had given him for a graduation gift and had bought furniture. Rosemary had shaken her head at the sparse and oddly mismatched purchases but it was John’s choice and if he was happy with it, then she was content.
They mopped and cleaned and unpacked new dishes and folded towels and Rose made sure his refrigerator was stocked with all of John’s favorite thing.
The exhausted pair finally collapsed on the new sofa while John stood in the middle of the room and surveyed the very first place he could call his own. A smile of satisfaction crossed his features.
Rose saw the look and while she was deeply saddened that he’d be gone, she was also happy to see him so pleased with his new place and prayed it would be the beginning of a new life for John. A chance to put his past where it belonged and move on.
They ate sandwiches from his new plates and overstocked refrigerator before Rose kissed his cheek. “I love you sweetheart,” she said, patting his cheek gently.
“I know you do,” he answered with his usual non committal reply.
“Good luck sweetie…I know you’ll do great,” she added, knowing that for all his determination, John was a little bit nervous about starting at the academy in a couple of weeks.
“Thanks Aunt Rose…For everything,” he said, giving her a small smile.
She took his hand and pressed something into it before closing his fingers around it. “Don’t stay away…My home will always be your home háaketa, don’t you forget that… you always have a place there.”
John nodded his head even though he really didn’t believe that. Tiffany and Joshua had made it anything but his home…Just like everywhere else he’d lived since his father had died…He was an outsider looking in and not knowing where he belonged. He had no home except this small apartment…It wasn’t huge or fancy but it was his.
He glanced down at his hand and saw the wad of bills she’d given him. The dark eyes rose to meet hers. “I can’t take this Aunt Rose,” he murmured.
“Oh yes you can and don’t argue with me John Roderick,” she instructed as he opened his mouth to protest. “You’re going to need to pay rent and eat and put gas in that van of yours until you graduate.”
“I can get a night job,” he protested, not wanting to take anything and feel as if he owed something to someone else. He already felt as if he had a huge debt to his family in Montana and his Aunt for taking him in, especially Rosemary. She’d been very good to him for the last four years despite the ups and downs they’d been through.
“I’m sure you could but then you wouldn’t get any rest at all, so you take this…It’s little enough,” she said sternly, wishing he’d let her spoil him a little but John wasn’t like her own two. He wanted to earn his way and she was so proud of him for it.
John had no idea what she’d planned for his future, nor did she plan to tell him and give him a chance to argue…No it was better that she’d already be gone when he found out.
She reached up to kiss his cheek one final time. “I’ll see you later sweetie,” she said as she turned away to talk to her long time servant. “Come along Edward…It’s been a long day and we still have an hour to go to get home,” she instructed, wanting to leave before she started to cry. She was desperately going to miss the boy.
“Yes Ma’am,” Edward replied, holding out his hand to John. The younger man shook it. “Good luck Master John,’ he said huskily. “Do us proud at the academy and I’ll uh…I’ll miss you sir,” he said as his gray eyes grew a bit misty behind the wire rim frames.
John ducked his head looking a little bit embarrassed. “Thanks Edward…For everything,” he added, scruffing the toe of his boot on the carpet. Edward had always been good to him too, even keeping his secrets safe from his aunt a time or two. “I’ll um…I’ll miss you too,” he admitted softly.
“Thank you master John,” He leaned closer to speak softly for John’s ears only. “And thank you for livening things up around that old house for the last four years,” he whispered.
John gave him a look of surprise that turned into a grin of delight. Edward tossed the teen a wink before he turned and offered his arm to Rosemary to escort her down the stairs.
She threw the pair a curious look at what had caused the smirk of satisfaction but neither of them offered an answer. She shrugged, she’d have plenty of time on the ride home to worm it out of Edward.
Roy DeSoto slammed his fist into the door of his locker in a fit of frustration. The engine had just returned from a three alarm fire. The apartment building had had been who had been packed with residents who had been trapped on the third floor.
Roy and his fellow lineman, Barry Shelton, had been held at bay on the second floor landing, unable to beat the flames back enough to leave the lines and get to them…By the time help had arrived it had been too late for those victims. They had succumbed to the smoke. They’d only managed to rescue two of the eight people that had been unable to get to the side of the building where Station 127’s snorkel had been set up and had tried to make it down the stairs only to find themselves cut off.
He’d wanted to go up but his Captain had refused…He was needed on the lines and it would be too dangerous but Roy hadn’t cared….His Captain couldn’t hear the choking screams of the victims and he could.
Roy slumped on the bench and felt the burn of misty tears behind his blue eyes as he thought of those poor people…One of whom had been a blonde toddler about Chris’s age…Lifeless…Dead…Only because no one had been available to get to them…To show them the way to safety.
He’d heard talk of a new idea within the fire department. Smaller vehicles called rescue squads with men specially trained to go in ahead of the linesmen…Trained to help rescue the victims even while the fire still burned. He knew Joanne wouldn’t like it… It was dangerous…Even more so than being a fire fighter but Roy didn’t care. He didn’t want to ever feel the way he was feeling right now again because there was no one trained to rescue.
He’d been told that they’d have to learn some other skills as well, some he didn’t particularly like, such as high rescues but he’d learn anyway. He’d also heard rumors hat this was just a first step to something else as well…Something the department was totally against. He wasn’t sure what that next step was but there was a selectman named Mike Wolski who had been pushing this idea of rescue vehicles hard and while the department might not agree with what came after, they were very interested in the first part.
Roy decided that he was too…Tomorrow morning he’d head down to headquarters and check this out. He just knew something had to be done…This kind of loss of life was unacceptable.
The rising Montana sun cast a soft glow on the heads of a group of children trudging up the dusty reservation road. It was the first day of a new school year and they had a two mile walk to meet the school bus that would carry them into Lame Deer.
The youngest of these children, six year old John Gage skipped along beside the older children taking in everything as he went. No plant was left unexamined, no scrounging squirrel left unwatched.
This would be his first time in a real school and he was looking forward to learning all the things his Dad had promised they could teach him.
In his excitement to see everything along the way, he lagged far behind the other children including his older cousin Thomas. Thomas was the eldest son of his Aunt Lacee and Uncle Joseph White Bear.
“John…, nenáasêstse,” (Come here), He snapped. The younger boy ran to catch up. “Névese vovόtsevévám” (Stay with me) he ordered as Thomas grabbed the smaller child’s hand, giving him a hard jerk to keep John close to him as he walked.
John bit his lip to keep from crying out in pain as he was dragged along behind Thomas. He knew if he did the others would just laugh at him anyway.
“You will not be so anxious tomorrow Néséso háahketa,” (My little Cousin), Thomas said looking down into the pain filled brown eyes gazing back questioningly.
Why would tomorrow be different, John wondered? He said nothing, but then John seldom spoke unless his Dad was home, so Thomas wasn’t surprised at the silent confused look.
The older boy sighed, slowing down a little and letting the smaller child walk beside him. He rested his hand on John’s small shoulder. He knew his little Cousin would be a target at school, more so even than the others.
John was an Ó’xevé’ho’e (Half Breed). Except for his Mom, his family on the Reservation would offer him no sympathy. They would expect him to take whatever was handed to him without complaint.
The people of the town wouldn’t accept him either. The child would be the perfect whipping post for both sides. He’d try and protect him as best he could, but he couldn’t watch him every minute. There was no help for it… John would simply have to tough it out.
Thomas shook his head, he didn’t envy John at all. He glanced down at the little face peering up at him. Long black lashes, the envy of Thomas’s sisters framed huge brown eyes that were alternately expressive or when he was scared, stressed or frustrated went frighteningly blank.
Right now however his eyes were clear and bright as he gazed up at his older cousin with a questioning look through the shaggy, sable brown hair hanging in his eyes. Thomas reached out and brushed the hair from the Childs face, something he’d seen John’s Parents do on a regular basis…It always seemed to soothe the little boy.
His cousin smiled up at him. He was adorable. Thomas never understood himself why his family was so hateful. It wasn’t John’s fault that his Father was white or that his Mother had gone against her family to marry him. Thomas shook his head. No wonder John always looked so confused. If he himself at thirteen couldn’t understand their attitude, how could a six year old?
John stood silently watching his older cousin walk away…his heart pounded fearfully…He’d never been alone anywhere…ever. A gentle hand touched his shoulder and he looked up into a pair of soft blue eyes and the prettiest face he’d ever seen…well next to his Mom of course. The woman was young…maybe even younger than his Mother who was twenty six.
She smiled down in to the frightened brown eyes as she squatted next to him, “What’s your name?” She asked gently.
“J…John, he stammered.
“Oh! I thought you were with the Reservation children.”
He nodded hard, his hair bouncing into his eyes with the motion… “I am,” He said enthusiastically, forgetting to be nervous.
“Oh…So where did you get the last name of Gage?”
“From my Dad…”
She smiled in amusement…half Indian she surmised correctly. “Well Mr. John Gage, how about you and I go inside with the others and get the class started?”
“Kay…,” He agreed as he threw her a charming crooked grin. She took his hand and led him inside.
“Is it okay if I call you Johnny?” The little boy nodded with a grin.
John entered the classroom. His eyes widened in wonder at the many pictures and posters decorating the walls. John had seen movies with his Mom and Dad. Listened to the popular music of the day on the radio as his parents danced in the living room but everything in this room was aimed at someone his age with vivid colors and pictures designed to catch a child’s eye.
The other children watched him curiously. Their walls at home were the same… bright and colorful, covered in rock and roll posters and pictures of popular cartoon characters, so they couldn’t understand this child’s fascination with the room.
For most of these children…this was their first up close encounter with someone from the Reservation. Several giggled drawing his attention away from the room and towards them, his brow furrowed in a frown. He didn’t know what he’d done but he seemed to know the snickering was aimed at him.
“Hey Tonto…?” One boy called out... “Ain’t ya ever seen pictures before?” The others laughed.
John didn’t know who Tonto was but the boy seemed to be talking to him. “My names John, not Tonto,” he said shyly. The others laughed again at John’s naïve response.
The Teacher turned to the others, “That’ll be enough of that.” The tone was stern and brooked no argument. The children grew quite under her no nonsense look.
She once again took John’s hand and led him to a seat. “Here you are Johnny,” She said as she smiled at the little boy...He smiled uncertainly back at her.
John’s morning progressed from bad to worse. While Miss Ford was greatly impressed by the fact that John could already read not only in his Native language but in English as well. Something his Father had been working with him on whenever he was home and his Mom reinforced it in his absence. The others resented her beaming praise as he counted in both languages as well.
“Well your Mommy and Daddy certainly have worked hard with you,” she said pleased at the obvious intelligence of this child. This boy might just change the preconceived bigotry she’d been bombarded with in this town since she’d arrived in early summer.
John soaked up her words like a sponge…his intelligent dark eyes taking in everything. She beamed at his ability to completely submerge himself in whatever she was discussing, pleasing Miss Ford, but leaving several of the other children fuming in annoyance.
Jimmy Wheeler, the Boy who’d taunted him earlier narrowed his eyes in anger as John once again was the first to catch on to something new. His Father would be furious if he let himself be outdone by an Indian...a puny little runt of one as well. He’d fix the little redskin later.
Miss Ford asked at one point what they’d wanted to be when they grew up. There were several who wanted to be Doctors, Nurses or Teachers, even a couple who wanted to be President.
“I’m gonna be Fireman...a tiller man.” John told them with certainty. The others laughed at him, who’d ever heard of an Indian Fireman?
Miss Ford seemed pleased, “That’s a wonderful thing to want to be. Don’t give up that dream Johnny,” She encouraged.
Lunch time finally rolled around and Miss Ford led her class to the lunchroom and then released them into the care of the other first grade teacher, Mr. Hayden.
John seemed at a loss among the other children. He didn’t know any of the games they were playing and they didn’t seem inclined to take the time to teach him. John’s Dad had taught him baseball and football, but that wasn’t what they were playing so he found a quiet spot and sat down alone to watch.
Suddenly Jimmy Wheeler was standing before him... “Hey Tonto…?” The larger boy taunted.
“It’s John… not Tonto,” The smaller child answered in quiet tones.
“Don’tcha even know who Tonto is?” The bigger boy sneered… “Ya stupid or somethin…?”
“I’m not stupid,” He said softly... I just don’t know who Tonto is.”
“Well your Indian ain’t ya?”
“I’m half Indian… My Dad’s not Indian,” The smaller boy clarified standing up.
“Whatever Tonto,” The other boy said giving John a hard shove. John staggered back in surprise at the unprovoked attack.
“Stop it,” John said angrily. He pushed the other boy back... It was all the excuse Jimmy needed. His fist lashed out to connect with the smaller boy’s cheek. John fell backwards, but climbed to his feet and charged back into the fray. He tackled the bigger boy and they both sprawled in the dust.
The other children began to run in their direction. They were soon gathered to watch the two combatants, their shouts drawing the attention of Mr. Hayden who raced across the playground. He grabbed both boys by the scruff of the neck, pulling them apart.
“What’s going on here?” He demanded angrily.
“He started it Mr. Hayden,” Jimmy lied.
“I…he…hit… I…d…didn’t…” John stammered… terrified of the man who was practically holding him off the ground by his shirt collar.
“You little savages come here off the Reservation and cause problems every year. You have no manners… No discipline…” He snarled in the child’s face, “You’re always causing problems. I don’t know why they don’t just keep you at home… You’ll never amount to anything anyway.”
He set the boy on his feet… “Now hold out your hands.”
John held out shaking hands... Mr. Hayden’s ruler slapped across the little boys palms. His mouth trembled, tears of pain welled in his eyes but didn’t fall…he blinked them away.
Mr. Hayden dropped his ruler. He snatched the terrified child off his feet, shaking him like a rag doll. John’s head rocked from the rough handling he was receiving… His eyes widened in fear.
Mr. Hayden’s face loomed closer and Johnny pulled back fearfully. To the child’s frightened eyes, Hayden looked like a monster about to eat him alive. He cried out in terror.
Eighteen year old John Gage sat bolt upright in his bed. His cry of fear cut off abruptly as he realized it was just a nightmare. He gasped for air as he shakily wiped the sweat from his brow. The dreams only came when he was stressed and John Gage was feeling very stressed.
He’d graduated from high school in June. He’d turned eighteen just three weeks ago and tomorrow John would start training with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
He was never surer of anything in his whole life. He’d wanted to be a Fireman since he was five but he was still nervous. He lay back on the bed and the dream came back to him. He had vague memories of that day and the ones that had followed.
His Grandfather had been angry at the abuse but had offered little sympathy, “You did well John not to cry out…we are men of strength.”
His Mother Kate had argued... “If he was a man I would agree Father, but he’s a baby... This was wrong,” She cried holding out her son’s bruised hands. His Grandfather had merely shrugged.
John ran his hands through his newly shorn, sleep tousled hair. He had the dark locks cut yesterday and sincerely hoped that the fire department would one day change their minds about how short their men had to wear it.
He threw the covers back and slipped from the bed and padded to the shower to get ready for the day. Tomorrow…Tomorrow everything he’d hoped and dreamed about would begin. Tomorrow he would start his training as a fire fighter and it would be the first step to keeping his promise to his parents to save lives.
The next morning, John began training. The next few months were a whirlwind of classroom instruction and firefighting drills.
His instructor was a large man named Lt Roger McPherson. He looked the slender youth over the first day as he and his classmates stood at attention and a broad smile broke across his features.
He gave the teen a poke in the chest, “You’re gonna be my first wash out,” he declared smugly.
A look of fear crossed John’s face but only for a moment before one of pure stubborn determination replaced it. “No sir,” he mumbled.
“WHAT DID YOU SAY BOY?” McPherson bellowed.
John was nervous but he remembered his lessons with Hadderly. John had learned to handle far worse assaults, physical, emotional and verbal than this man could hope to throw at him. He drew a deep breath and got his thoughts under control, refusing to be intimidated…. “I SAID NO SIR,” he barked loudly, imitating what he’d heard from Rigsby and Calhoun’s men those few times when their Captain’s had been annoyed or agitated.
McPherson blinked in surprise that the scrawny kid hadn’t wilted under his verbal abuse as most recruits did. The boy’s eyes were fixed on the top button of his jacket and never wavered.
“How old are you boy?” He snarled.
“EIGHTEEN SIR,” John rapped back.
The older man huffed in annoyance. “I hate kids in my class…,” he sneered into John’s face.
It was all the younger man could do to not draw back in fear but he somehow knew he had to stand his ground here or he’d be finished. He lifted his eyes to stare the man in the face.
“I’M NOT A KID…SIR,” he replied, adding the title as an afterthought.
“Cocky little son of a bitch aren’t you?” He snapped, but there was a tone of respect in his voice.
John had two choices here and he wasn’t sure what the man wanted to hear but he drew a deep breath. “YES SIR,” he barked back.
The man’s lips quivered slightly and John wasn’t sure if it was rage or amusement. “What’s your name boy?”
“Gage sir…John Gage,” John replied in a normal tone of voice.
McPherson gave the kid a head bob and moved down the row…Singling out one or two others to harangue as he went. Most of them quailed at the huge man’s verbal assaults and physical intimidation tactics.
None of the noticed Chief Conrad as he leaned against the side of the building watching.
John stood rooted at attention but a small smile twitched the corners of his lips. This man couldn’t hold a candle to Uncle George.
After their introductions were through, McPherson got them lined up and led them to a large room with tables set up which held uniforms and bunker gear. “This is where you will get your uniforms…Those Uniforms will be pressed and clean at all times. ARE WE CLEAR?” He barked.
A united chorus of “YES SIR,” was snapped back.
“You are the official class number 130 are we clear?”
“YES SIR,” They agreed.
You will receive a turn out and if you make it through this class you will even get your name put on it…Are we clear?”
“YES SIR,” again resonated through the room.
“Your bunker gear is your responsibility. Boots, turnout and Helmet…You will receive a name plate which is to be worn on your right breast and if you manage to graduate…You will receive a badge that designates you as a Los Angeles County Fire Fighter….That is an honor that is to be respected and not taken for granted and you will not dishonor it by your actions either here or out there. ARE WE CLEAR?” He growled, waving toward the area outside the academy entrance.
“YES SIR,” they barked.
John’s head was in a whirl at this point but he didn’t care how tough it got…He intended to be here when this class graduated no matter what he had to endure…He’d already been stripped of his dignity and pride a long time ago…There wasn’t anything left for this man to take. The only place left to go was up…to earn back his pride by making this dream come to fruition.
They finally finished and gathered up the clothing they’d been given at each table and then followed McPherson to another room. “You can change here…You have five minutes,” he snapped as he spun on his heel and left the room.
John swallowed heavily…Unhappy at having to change in the company of all these other men but he knew he had no option, nor would he in the locker room of a fire station. He stilled the nervous trembling of his hands and began to strip.
“What a jerk,” one of the others muttered after they were alone.
“Standard procedure,” another warned. “My dad was a fire fighter…He warned me this would happen…Just like soldiers…They gotta break you down so you learn to follow orders…”
“Great,” the other grunted as he pulled his trousers on.
John shrugged as the others continued their discussion. It didn’t matter to him…He already knew how to do that but he resolved not to let this man win and wash him out of the program.
“Boy he really had it in for you huh Gage,” another pointed out. John squinted at his name badge. Hooper, it read.
John shrugged. A lot of people had had it in for him over the years. One more didn’t matter. “I couldn’t believe you stood up to him,” another named Carmichael commented. “He scared the crap outta me,” he admitted with a flush of embarrassment.
John finished dressing and managed to get his tie knotted properly without his Aunts help. He threw a tentative smile at the others but didn’t reply. He intimidated John too but he’d never let him know it.
Another named Ortega gave John the same once over as McPherson, his face twisted in a sneer of disgust at the admiration in Carmichaels tone over the skinny teenagers attitude. He figured when they got to the physical aspect of their training. This slender young man wouldn’t hold up under the strain.
The others returned to what they were doing when John didn’t answer. Most were worried over what would come next. They didn’t have long to find out. McPherson shoved his way through the door a moment later. Seventeen of the twenty eight were fully ready while the rest still fumbled with ties or tying shoes.
“Next time I tell you five minutes, I expect to be obeyed,” he snapped. “Or you can high tail it out of here,” he added…His brown eyes shooting them a glare. They swept over John and the other sixteen who were standing ready and at attention. He walked past each of them, straightening a tie or staring at a shirt tail not fully tucked in until the unlucky recruit realized their mistake and corrected it. He stopped in front of John. His eyes traveled up and down the slender youth and John had to suppress a shudder as he remembered the way his Uncle had looked at him. He clenched his jaw and forced his eyes to look at the man’s chin and not allow his mind to wander to memories.
McPherson took in the determined set of the teenagers jaw and had to admire the kid’s spunk. He’d seen older, larger men quail under one of his verbal barrages, some of them right here in this room, but not this kid. The dark eyes were steady and unblinking.
He’d have to see if the boy showed the same determination when they got him out on the more physical parts of his training, he mused, looking once again at the slender build.
John blew out a relieved breath as the man spun on his heel without comment to address the others who had finally finished dressing. He repeated the procedure with them until all of them looked presentable.
“If you girls are finished primping, let’s get moving,” he barked.
They lined up and followed the man from the room to yet another large building where they passed by several good sized classrooms before he directed them inside.
“Take a seat…quickly ladies,” he barked.
John scowled at the derogatory remarks but at least they weren’t aimed solely at him for a change. He slid into a seat next to Hooper and forced himself to sit ramrod straight and wait patiently for whatever this man had planned for them next.
John and the others spent the next few hours in the classroom listening to McPherson and several others lecture and instruct them on topics such as safety regulations, what was expected of them over the next months, their itinerary and lesson plans. How they would behave on the academy grounds as well as out in the public eye. “You are a representative of the Los Angeles County Fire Department and you are expected to be at your best when wearing its uniform,” one instructor barked.
Didn’t any of these men know how to talk in a normal tone? John mused silently. The door opened behind them and someone entered the room. “ATTEN…TION,” McPherson snapped.
The recruits shot to their feet, some a bit more clumsy than others but John had seen this before as well…He snapped to a rigid stance.
“Good afternoon Chief Conrad,” The instructor greeted, standing at the same stiff posture as the others.
“Good afternoon Lt. McPherson,” he replied casually as he strolled down the aisle way. John’s dark eyes shifted subtly to glance at him a he came abreast. Conrad tapped his knuckles on the desk beside him but otherwise ignored the boy’s presence. John blew out a relieved breath that he hadn’t singled him out but McPherson had seen the gesture, so had several others and they wondered if there had been any significance to it but Conrad continued on with nothing further so they dismissed it.
“What do we owe this visit to sir?” He questioned curiously.
Conrad’s eyes swept over the assembled group, resting briefly on John before moving on. He’d really wanted to be sure the teenager had showed up though he hadn’t really expected that he wouldn’t as excited as he’d been, which was why he’d been outside earlier...He’d seen McPherson single the boy out to persecute and while he knew he had to let the teenager fight his own battle, he just wanted to give John a chance to show the determination he’d displayed in his office five months ago.
“Nothing out of the ordinary lieutenant…Just wanted the opportunity to welcome our new class. Have they been out on the course yet?” He questioned.
“Not yet sir…I had planned for that after lunch.”
Conrad glanced at his watch. “We have time Lieutenant…Why don’t we introduce them to it now,” he suggested.
McPherson’s eyes narrowed suspiciously but he nodded his head. “Of course sir…Men…Fall in,” he commanded.
They all stepped out from behind their desks and lined up. Following behind the instructor as he led the way out side and onto a concrete paved area where several hydrants were lined up…Hose racks, ladders and one engine sat parked.
The recruits glanced at each other curiously. John grinned…This may be new to some but it was old hat to the teen.
Conrad saw the boy’s eyes light up and grinned. He wanted to see the kid in action…To appease his own curiosity over whether his instincts had been right.
McPherson had them gather around the hydrant. Once they were paying attention he donned his gloves and demonstrated the proper way to hook up a storz connector and open the hydrant. The men watched intently.
“Who wants to try first?” McPherson barked. No one volunteered, knowing he’d make a mockery out any failed attempt. John stayed silent, trying not to draw the man’s attention to himself but Conrad took that decision out of his hands.
“How about you recruit,” he questioned, pointing at John. The young man swallowed heavily but didn’t want to decline in front of the chief either.
“Yes sir,” he complied, stepping out from among the others to approach the hydrant. He threw Conrad a small, nervous glance as he took the gloves from McPherson.
The instructor threw the slender teenager a smirk, fully expecting the youth to make a fool out of himself in front of the chief but it took only a minute for the smug look to fall away and the man’s mouth dropped open in disbelief. He wasn’t alone. The other recruits and instructors had the same dumbfounded expression.
They watched as John snapped up the wrench and quickly removed the cover from the hydrant. He lifted the heavy hose with a confidant grip and quickly made the connection, tightening it in place before he used the wrench to give the nut a slight twist to relieve the pressure before opening it all the way.
He set the wrench down and stood up, waiting expectantly for McPherson to make some comment. Conrad had stood with his arms folded over his chest as he’d watched the boy. A slight grin of amusement twitched the corners of his lips at the expressions on the faces of the men watching the exhibition.
He finally broke the stunned silence with a small round of hand clapping. “That was very impressive Gage,” he said, pleased to have his intuition proved right. “But let me show you a small variation that will make you even faster,” he said, moving to the teens side.
“Yes sir,” John said quietly as he watched the older man efficiently disconnect the hose.
“Watch me,” he instructed as he waved the others over a bit closer. They crowded around. Conrad lifted the hose and demonstrated a slightly different hold and twist that made the connection a couple of seconds faster. “Want to give it a try Gage?” He asked afterward.
John nodded. “Yes sir,” he replied eagerly, oblivious to the stares and another group of men who had begun to gather. The last class to have taken this course would graduate tomorrow and now stood watching as the slender teen rapidly disconnected the coupling and replaced the nut.
Conrad checked his watch. “Alright Gage, get ready.” John hefted the wrench and licked his lips nervously. “Set…NOW,” Conrad yelled.
John set to work. The wrench rapidly loosened the large nut enough for his gloved hands to grasp it and spin it off between them. He dropped it at his feet and in an exact imitation of Conrad’s example, lifting the heavy hose and twisted the coupling into place…He rapidly tightened it and gave the nut a final twist to open the water valve before he stood up and lifted his hands as if he’d just hog tied a calf.
“Time…,” Conrad called with a grin. “Twenty three seconds recruit…Not bad…Not bad at all,” he said, slapping John off the back. The boy stepped away from the contact but Conrad didn’t notice as he turned to the next man in line. “You’re next recruit,” he directed, waving Carmichael over.
On the side lines one of the newly graduated boots began to laugh as he looked at his companion. “Woo hoo Kimmerlin…First day at the academy and the kid just beat your time,” he taunted.
The large man scowled at the skinny teen…He’d bet the kid would be washed out when it came to hauling hoses and running up flights of stairs with eighty pounds of gear and hose packs. He shrugged at the teasing but suspected this would be the only thing the runt would beat him at.
McPherson stood watching as Conrad worked with the recruits on the hose drill but his eyes drifted continually back to the tall, slender boy…There was a hint of admiration in his own brown eyes. He’d have to readjust his assessment. Maybe the kid wouldn’t be the first washout after all.
The next day Johnny and the others began their physical training as well…Running and pulling eighty to a hundred pounds of hose in full turnout gear in the hot California sun…dragging them up four and five flights of stairs… battling fires that were deliberately set under the worst circumstances...folding and reloading the hoses back into the truck at the end of the day…Rope and hydrant drills where he easily excelled. Ladder drills where his natural sense of balance gave him an edge. The use of his air mask and safety equipment seemed to be the only problem for the teenager and McPherson despaired of keeping a helmet and gloves on the young man.
John was at the top of his class over the next few months and word was out…McPherson had already had three Captains ‘happen by’ during drills to watch the kid. Brad Kimmerlin had broken several of the time records and he had been the one to beat in most of the drills, but this new kid had beaten it out by seconds in almost every instance, displaying skill, an unexpected amount of physical strength that mocked the slender build and an absolute fearless streak when it came to fire fighting drills. He’d try anything, squeezing into places the others couldn’t go or scaling the highest reaches. He was exhausted at the end of every day but he loved every minute of it.
John paid attention in class as well and the lessons he’d learned from Mr. Pierce came into play. He studied hard and passed those tests as well and soon the other men were coming to him for help and advice. John gave it, though he remained quiet and indifferent. The others respected that and were just grateful for his help.
McPherson learned to respect the quiet young man on his own as well as a team player, despite his standoffish personality. Conrad stayed away after the first day but he’d made his point… Never judge a book by its cover or a recruit by his physical size rather than his heart.
Time passed slowly for John but all too soon his training began to come to an end. He was only two weeks from graduating. Of the original twenty eight men…only seventeen remained and John was feeling rather proud of himself to be one of them.
Jonathan and Lenora Gage sipped a glass of wine as they strolled through the gardens of their host’s home. They’d been visiting Wyvern Morris and his son Chad, along with the rest of the stockholders of W.A. Morris and Son for the last three days.
They’d been friends and silent partners of the oil company since before Roderick, William and Rosemary had been born. It had been no surprise that Roderick had ended up working for the company. That thought brought a moment of regret for Jonathan. Despite his stubborn pride and the anger at Roderick’s defiance, he was still his son and his heart ached that he’d been killed on an unsafe rig that he had partially owned.
Wyvern, Chad and Fred Briggs had never given him a solid answer as to why Rod had been on ‘Nancy’ in the first place. The rig should have been capped and dismantled according to the investigators that had swarmed the structure after. Two of them federal agents who had been hell bent on finding evidence that Rod’s death had been anything but an accident.
They’d pressed them all for hours for any information Roderick may have sent them or told them but they had given up after he’d informed them that he’d disowned his son and hadn’t spoken to him since. He flushed a bit as he remembered the disgusted look they’d given him when he’d explained why.
Regardless of that, the allegations had been rubbish of course…Wyvern would never harm anyone or do anything illegal. Oh he’d made an error in judgment certainly in allowing Nancy to stay in operation and another in sending Roderick to check it out but Jonathan was certain it had been an accident, though in retrospect, he often wondered why Fred Briggs grew extremely uncomfortable in his presence.
They also seemed very interested in Rosemary and the boy…John. They asked after him every time they met. Jonathan hadn’t been able to give them much information on those occasions. He’d barely even seen the teenager but for a moment that one Christmas. He’d been banned from his daughter’s home ever since.
He should make it a point to go back and try to make amends with his daughter at least, now that the boy had moved out. Joshua had told him that things had returned to normal now that his cousin was in the fire fighters academy in Los Angeles. Maybe it was time to try and bring him and his daughter back together.
His wife glanced up at the pensive sigh but he threw her a reassuring smile and they continued to stroll, approaching a tall, thick hedge of Manzanita. He stopped as he heard the object of his musings having a heated discussion…But more than that was the topic of it.
“Well maybe if you hadn’t been so anxious to take Rod out we could have won him over to our side and found out what he knew,” Fred Brigg’s voice carried clearly.
“We couldn’t risk it…He’d already talked to the feds,” Wyvern answered.
“Besides if you hadn’t left the files where he could find them, we wouldn’t be having this discussion for the hundredth time at all,” Chad’s languid sneer pointed out.
“Why are we?” Wyvern questioned indifferently. “If they knew anything or had the evidence, we’d have been arrested already.”
“We’ve had this discussion before,” Chad added, sounding bored.
“Rosemary knows something…I’m sure of it,” Briggs insisted. “The way she avoids us…And the boy…He may know as well.”
“Give it a rest Fred…Jonathan might even have thanked us considering the way he felt about his son,” Chad taunted.
Jonathan’s eyes widened in horror that they’d think he’d rejoiced at the loss of his son.
“Don’t you think if they knew, that they’d have told those nosey agents by now? They may suspect but they can’t prove a thing,” Wyvern said. “So let’s stop bringing it up.”
“Yeah well every time I see Jonathan and Lenora Gage I have to remember that I had a hand in murdering their son,” Brigg’s said quietly.
Lenora’s eyes widened in horror and she gasped. Her mouth opened to cry out but her husband clapped his hand over it and shook his head. If they had no inhibitions about killing Roderick, they’d have none about killing them either and after what they’d just heard…Jonathan just wanted to get away. He gave his wife a nod back toward the way they’d come.
Chad’s head snapped up at the odd sound beyond the tall hedge that bordered their large patio. He waved the others silent and climbed to his feet, moving quietly to the edge of the foliage. He peered around, hoping to catch whatever or whoever might have been there but the lawn beyond was empty.
He moved stealthily along the length of the Manzanita bushes and peeked around. He let out a frustrated sigh at the sight of Jonathan and Lenora Gage walking quickly back toward the front of the house.
He turned and ran back to where his father and Fred Briggs were waiting. They both looked up as he came around the hedge. “What is it?” His father questioned.
“We may have a problem,” Chad said coldly.
Jonathan and Lenora made their way back to the front of the house. “What are we going to do?” Lenora wept. “They murdered our son.”
“I heard…We need to leave Lenora. They said Rose suspected something. I need to talk to my daughter…I want to know what she knows.”
“What about John…They think he knows something too,” she wailed, frightened that they’d hurt Roderick’s son.
“Shhh…Shhh…We need to act as if nothing’s happened. Go upstairs and pack your things. We’re leaving. We’ll talk to Rosemary. He said something about federal agents... If John’s in danger then we’ll contact them and ask for protection…I know enough people in high places. They’ll see to it these murderers are put away…Permanently,” he said angrily. “I can’t believe they’d believe that I’d be happy about the death of my son,” he whispered.
“Why wouldn’t they?” Lenora asked softly, looking him in the eyes.
He looked shocked for a long moment, but understood…She was right. He’d been a fool…Allowing pride and arrogance to stand in the way of his relationship with his son and grandson. He’d hurt deeply at the loss but had been too proud to admit he’d been wrong. That he should have accepted his son’s decision for a wife…Cherished his grandson as he had Joshua. But each time he’d seen the boy, he’d been consumed by bitterness and pride…He’d looked so much like Rod. Well he’d lost Roderick, but he still had time to make it up to John. “I’ll make it right this time,” he said quietly.
They quickly entered the house and made their way upstairs to gather their things. Jonathan stopped his wife as they left their room fifteen minutes later. “I know this will be difficult Lenora but we have to make them believe that nothing is wrong. That we’ve just decided to cut our visit short.”
“What if they ask why Jonathan?” She whispered forlornly.
He looked thoughtful for a long moment. “We’ll tell them the truth.” At her confused look he continued. “We’ll tell them we had a change of heart about our grandson…We need to talk to him and try to make amends. I want to get to know my grandson,” he muttered, angry once again at himself for his stubborn pride and all the lost years, both with his son and John.
They made their way down the stairs but stopped at the bottom when Wyvern and Chad Morris came from the back of the house.
“Leaving early Jonathan…Lenora?” Wyvern questioned casually.
Lenora looked away, unable to make eye contact with these monsters that had taken her son from her. “Uh…Yes Vern…Lenora and I have been talking. We um…We think that we need to get to know our grandson John. He’s um…He’s at the fire fighters academy and we’d like a chance to set things right with him…To be there when he graduates,” he said ruefully.
“After all this time Jon…Why the sudden change of heart?” Chad asked knowingly, looking smug.
“I just…I mean Lenora has been working on me for years now,” he admitted, looking uncomfortable. “And I just realized she was right. I lost so much time with Roderick out of pride and…Well John is going into a very dangerous profession and we just don’t want to risk losing him without the chance to get to know him…Make things right…Right Lenora?” He asked, putting his arm around his wife and pulling her trembling body against him.
She managed to pull herself together and looked at the two men responsible for the murder of her son. They saw the horror and accusation in her eyes before she glanced away. “Yes Jonathan…I um…I forgave Rod a long time ago…I’ve always wanted a chance to meet John and finally my husband has agreed,” she murmured, with a slight tremor in her voice. She hoped they’d think it was from joy.
“I see…Well…you have a safe trip home,” Wyvern said genially as he held out his hand.
Jonathan hesitated briefly, loathing the idea of touching this hideous monster that he’d once considered a close friend. He forced himself to shake his hand.
Lenora battled the urge to vomit as Vern leaned down to kiss her cheek in farewell. “We’ll see you at the meeting in Santa Barbara next month,” he said with a sly grin.
“Yes…Yes of course,” she managed to stutter.
The two picked up their suitcases and headed out the door while Wyvern and Chad stood watching. The younger man cast a glance at the man standing near the corner of the house…His personal body guard and chauffer. He nodded before slipping away around the corner.
Father and son looked toward the pavement where the small pool of brake fluid stained the pavement.
“Don’t mention this to Fred…,” Wyvern said calmly. “He gets so easily upset by these things.” Chad nodded his agreement.
Lenora Gage stared at her clenched hands that sat trembling in her lap. “How could they Jonathan?” She asked her husband as he pulled onto the road that ran alongside the steep drop offs that surrounded Morris’s mountain home. “They were our friends…Our partners. Why would they hurt Rod? How could they kill our son and then act as though nothing happened?” She cried as tears welled and trickled down her cheeks.
She swiped them away scrubbing at the spot that Wyvern’s lips had touched. She looked over at her husband. His own eyes were wet with tears. “That was my fault too I guess.”
“What?” She questioned in shock.
“Didn’t you hear them Lee? They said I should have thanked them for what they did. I gave them the impression that I wished my boy…My son was dead.” He choked back a sob. “I was such a fool Lee…To send Rod away…To let my pride stand in the way and then…and then let my grandson be raised on that reservation. That I treated him so badly for something he had no control of.”
“I know Jonathan…,” she commiserated. She’d always known that he’d loved his children and that it had been wounded feelings and pride that Roderick had defied him…Had chosen to follow his heart and not his father’s directives. She laid her hand on her husband’s arm. “But the good thing is that we can make this right…” He nodded and drove on.
Neither of them noticed the car coming up behind them until it suddenly accelerated, almost rear ending their own vehicle before it swung out and passed them at a high rate of speed, disappearing around a bend in the road. Jonathan blew out a breath…For a moment there he’d thought Wyvern had sent someone….The thought was cut off as they rounded the curve.
There was the car, parked across both lanes. Jonathan gasped and Lenora let out a short squeal as her husband’s foot hit the brakes there was a moment when they seemed to catch and then his foot went all the way to the floor.
His face paled in horror and he tried to swerve around the vehicle but the tire dropped onto the shoulder of the highway, ripping the wheel from him…He heard Lenora’s scream of terror as the car became airborne and sailed out over the edge of the cliff.
“OH GOD!” He shouted in the final moments…Then, “I’m sorry John,” as the car struck the bottom.
John was in class for the final exams. After this there was only another week of training drills before the class would graduate and be given their new assignments.
John was nervous but excited as well. He glanced at the clock, he still had a bit of time left to finish this test. He returned his attention to the paper I front of him.
He heard the door when it opened, but he didn’t look up. There was a low voiced murmur of voices and the sound of footsteps. He felt a hand rest on his shoulder and jumped, almost ducking away from the contact before he caught himself and glanced up.
McPherson and Conrad stood there with their hats in hand and a look of sympathy on their faces. “John…Could you step outside for a moment?” McPherson said gently, using John’s given name for the first time.
John frowned. “But what about…,” he began looking back toward the papers on his desk.
“It can wait John,” Conrad said firmly. “I promise, we’ll let you finish later,” he added picking up the papers and waving his hand toward the door.
John gave them both a suspicious glance but slid to his feet. The rest of his classmates were watching curiously but McPherson gave them a curt nod and they returned to the exams.
John followed them out to find Edward and his Aunt waiting in the hallway. His dark eyes widened in surprise. He threw an uncomfortable glance at his instructor and his Chief before looking back to his aunt. He saw the tears in her green eyes and realized something was very wrong.
“Aunt Rosemary…Wh…What is it? Wh…What’s wrong?” He stuttered nervously before he licked his lips and drew a deep breath and got himself back under control.
Conrad threw a glance toward the woman…He now understood John’s concern with who his family was and what might happen if anyone found out. He’d recognized Rosemary Hughes the minute she’d walked into the office to speak to Captain Cohen, who ran the academy…He could hardly believe this shy, young man was her nephew and that she’d allowed him to enter this profession, though he was grateful. John had proved to be as good as he’d believed he would be…At least in class. They’d find out what the boy was made of in another week when he left the confines of the academy and became a probie. In the meantime, he’d keep John’s heritage to himself. As the boy had said…Succeed or fail…He had to do this himself.
“Oh sweetie…,” she said as she reached out to pull John into his arms. John tensed but allowed her to embrace him. “There’s been a terrible accident.”
John pulled back and frowned in concern. “Who…Joshua? Tiffany?” He questioned worriedly.
She shook her head. “No John…It’s your grandparents.”
John shook his head in confusion…His grandparents were dead. It took a moment for him to realize she meant her parents and not Sun Walker and White Owl. He’d never thought of Lenora and Jonathan Gage as his grandparents. “What happened?” He asked softly, understanding that despite his own feelings and her anger at them, she still loved her parents and was very upset.
“They were killed in a car accident on the way home from that Bas…Uh…Wyvern Morris’s home,” she explained, wiping her cheeks with a handkerchief.
John stood in stunned disbelief. It had happened again…He couldn’t believe it…Would Rose figure it out…? Would she hate him…? It wasn’t that he’d been that close but still…Why did this keep happening to him?
“How…I mean what happened?” He questioned.
“The police said…They said the brakes failed…They went off a cliff,” she whispered, barely audible.
“Oh…,” he murmured. He didn’t know what else to say. Was this somehow his fault as his Uncle had told him it was?
“My deepest sympathies Master John,” Edward commiserated, raising McPherson’s eyebrow at the rather proper title and breaking John’s silent misery. He swallowed back the fear that he was somehow responsible while Conrad made a mental note to talk to the man and tell him to keep John’s relationship to this woman to himself if he needed to. John had earned his way here and he wanted it to stay that way.
“I’m sorry Aunt Rose,” he said finally, as he reached out and for the first time, hugged her to him. Rose sucked in her breath in surprise but smiled against his chest. It was the first time he’d ever spontaneously offered any emotional outpouring and she was grateful. She had no idea at the guilt he felt for her loss.
Conrad and McPherson exchanged a glance. John didn’t seem to be very upset by the loss of his grandparents, only for the woman he held in his arms.
She stepped back and touched his cheek. “Thank you sweetie.” She saw the frowns of confusion on the faces of the two fire fighters standing near. “I know you hardly knew them John, but I will expect you to attend the funeral…Your father…Would expect it,” she said softly, subtly explaining his lack of grief or emotion.
The two men understood. The boy hadn’t been that close to his grandparents.
“Yes ma’am,” he replied obediently.
She cleared her throat. “Chief Conrad has told me that you graduate in a week John,” she added.
“Yes ma’am,” he confirmed.
“Yes well,” she blotted her eyes once again sadly. She could hardly expect the boy to respond with grief or sorrow after the way he’d been treated but her heart still ached…I have arrangements to make…I’ll let you know when the funeral is and I’ll be sure the two don’t coincide,” she told him.
John nodded, hearing the coolness in her voice. “I…I um…I really am sorry Aunt Rose,” he said sincerely, more for her loss than his own. He knew she was mad at him and his dark eyes reflected that fear…
Rosemary softened. “I know you are háaketa,” she said, standing on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. “I’ll call you later and I’m sorry I disturbed you all,” she said to Conrad and McPherson.
“Not at all ma’am,” Conrad said gently. “He needed to hear that from you.” He turned to John. “Gage…Do you want to postpone the rest of your test for a few days?”
John threw him a grateful look, but shook his head. “No sir…I’d like to finish.”
He handed him his papers and glanced at his watch… “You still have forty seven minutes.”
John took them and kissed her cheek one final time before he turned and went back into the class, ignoring the curious looks of his classmates.
Rosemary turned to Conrad and McPherson. “I know you’re wondering about that,” she said waving her hand toward the room.
“It’s none of our concern ma’am,” Conrad replied.
“Yes…Yes it is…I just don’t want you to have the wrong impression of John…It’s just that…I didn’t take him to raise until he was fourteen and he just really never had a chance to get to know them very well,” she explained.
McPherson and Conrad nodded. “We got that Impression,” The Irish instructor said ruefully.
“Yes well…I just didn’t want you to get the wrong impression of my nephew.”
“No ma’am,” Conrad agreed.
“Thank you gentlemen,” she said as she and Edward turned and left.
“Does she look familiar to you Chief?” McPherson asked with a frown.
Conrad fought back a smile. “No…I’ve never seen her before in my life,” he said as he turned and walked away.
Four days later John was excused to attend the funeral of his Grandparents. Joshua and Tiffany threw him angry looks as he escorted his Aunt behind the caskets, as if their death was somehow his fault but he couldn’t really blame them…He thought it was as well.
Half of San Gabriel and most of the Elite of Santa Barbara attended the service, including Wyvern Morris, his son Chad and that sniveling worm Fred Brigg’s, much to Rosemary’s disgust.
She didn’t want to create a scene at her parent’s funeral, so she kept silent…But this would be the last time she’d ever see these horrible people. She was selling her part of the partnership and wouldn’t have anything to do with them again ever… unless…Well…That would most likely not happen. Whatever proof there might have been, had been long ago destroyed by Morris and the rest of the evidence…Well…It appeared to be lost as well.
After the service, the group returned to the Gage house. It was the first time John had ever been inside his ancestral home. It was huge…Bigger even than Rosemary’s and the furnishings were obviously expensive.
John noticed the hungry look in his Cousin’s eyes as they looked over what they were sure would be their property very soon. John shook his head in disgust…He wanted nothing from these people but still…They could at least let the bodies get cold before they laid claim to their ‘beloved grandparents’ home and possessions, he mused sourly.
He turned back to the gathering of his grandparents and his Aunt’s friends and wondered how soon he could make his excuses and leave. He spotted the same three men that had been at Rosemary’s birthday party a couple of years ago. They were standing with a drink in hand and for some reason there didn’t appear to be any sense of grief…In fact they almost looked…Smug. John was well acquainted with that look…He’d seen it on the faces of those who’d taunted him and caused him trouble so many times in his life.
One of them glanced in his direction and spoke to the other two. They headed in his direction. John shifted uncomfortably, remembering his aunt’s reaction to them speaking to him back then.
“Hello John,” the oldest of the three said holding out his hand.
“Uh hi,” John replied, shaking it briefly.
“We just wanted to offer our condolences for your loss,” he said.
“Oh…Uh…Thanks,” he said politely.
“Um John…We’ve been waiting for a chance to talk to you for some time now.”
“About what?” He asked curiously.
“Well…Your father actually,” Wyvern replied as he reached out to put his arm over John’s shoulders. John didn’t like to be touched under the best of circumstances but this man made his skin crawl and he immediately stepped away.
“What about him?”
The man’s eyes narrowed but he said nothing about the evasive maneuver. “Ahem…Yes well…I just wanted to ask you about some papers that he might have…”
“There you are John,” his Aunt’s voice interrupted…She sounded angry. John turned his head to look down at her as she took his arm. “Wyvern...Chad…I really don’t believe this is the time to bring up old business…Especially about his father. Come along John,” she said as she gave his arm a tug. John frowned in confusion…Why didn’t she want him to talk to these men? He didn’t understand but now wasn’t the time to pepper her with questions. He let her lead him away.
The three men cast each other a frustrated glance. She had to at least suspect something, why else would she be so determined to keep them from talking to John?
“Do you think we need to do something about her?” Chad asked as he sipped his drink.
Fred looked at him in horror…. “What do you mean?”
“No Chad…I think if she knew anything she’d have already done something…As long as it’s only suspicion…,” Wyvern shrugged.
Fred’s eyes narrowed suspiciously… His worst fears rising to the surface and he knew…Dear God…How could they…They’d been friends...Good friends… How could they all have come to this?
“What did you do?” He breathed out in horror.
Chad smiled. “Nothing anyone will be able to prove…Just like Rod.”
This was just getting worse and worse all the time. Fred’s heart thudded fearfully…He of all people knew too much.
Rose turned to John as soon as they were out of earshot. “I told you before John, I don’t want you talking to them,” she said sternly.
John looked at her in surprise. “Aunt Rosemary…I’m not a child anymore…,” he began, but she cut him off.
“I don’t care,” she interrupted before she caught herself. She ran a shaky hand through her hair for a moment until she got herself under control. “I’m sorry John…I now you’re an adult now and I can’t tell you what to do, but I’m asking you…Please…For me…If you never trust me again about anything else, I’m asking you to trust me about this. Please sweetie…Just stay away from them.”
Rose was reasonably sure John knew nothing about his father’s death or what these men were looking for but she couldn’t take the chance of him saying or doing anything to give them a reason to fear him…She wouldn’t let any harm come to her nephew, no matter what else happened, even to her.
John frowned and threw a glance back toward the three men that now seemed to be in a heated discussion. They suddenly stopped and the older man’s eyes locked with his. John shuddered at the cold, almost evil look in the eyes that stared back. They reminded him of Uncle George.
He turned back to his aunt curiously. “Why Aunt Rose…?” He began, but her fingers lifted to touch his mouth and silence the questions that she couldn’t answer…Wouldn’t answer and put him at risk. What he didn’t know, wouldn’t hurt him or worse...Get him killed.
“Please John…Please don’t ask…I can’t tell you...Maybe someday but not now okay? Just believe me when I tell you these are not people you need to be around.”
John glanced back at them…They’d finally finished their argument, though the one named Fred looked positively sick at this point. His father had worked for these men…What did she know that she wasn’t telling him? Why wouldn’t she want him to talk to them? He turned back to his aunt and saw the fear and distress in her eyes. John didn’t want to upset her…Especially not today. “Alright Aunt Rose,” he agreed, dropping the subject at least for now.
The relief in Rosemary’s eyes was evident. “Thank you háaketa,” she replied as she took his arm.
Much to the annoyance of her own children and the Morris’, she stayed at John’s side the rest of the afternoon.
After everyone else had left, Rosemary took John by the arm once more. “Come with me sweetie,” she said as she led his toward the corner where Joshua, Allison and Tiffany were standing.
Rosemary had also seen the calculating looks in the eyes of her children and decided to nip their greed in the bud. She nodded to her parent’s attorney, Avery Hollingsworth. He set his glass aside and headed for the study where he’d been instructed to set up.
She knew Joshua was expecting to inherit this home as their only ‘acknowledged’ grandson, leaving the Hughes mansion to Tiffany one day. She smiled as she thought of their reaction when they found out the truth…Not to mention someday down the road when she was gone.
“Joshua, Tiffany, Allison…Would you join us in the study please,” she requested.
They all followed her inside. “Have a seat,” Avery invited.
John frowned in confusion while the other three young people grinned in anticipation.
“Why is HE here mother,” Joshua asked with a sneer. “It’s not as if Grandfather would have left him anything.” John bit his lip and flushed in embarrassment but he was wondering the same thing himself.
“Because he’s a part of this family Joshua, That’s why,” she answered, patting John’s hand. Joshua sat back in a huff.
“Shall we get started then?” Hollingsworth asked, shooting a dark look at the selfish young man.
“Yes please Avery,” Rose said.
“Good…We’ll make this very short…In essence…Your father Jonathan Gage left everything to his wife Lenora Rose Roderick Gage…,” he said, earning a frown from Joshua and Tiffany. What exactly did that mean for them? Avery continued. “In the event that she either preceded him in death or expired with him, the balance of the estate would then transfer to Rosemary Lenora Gage Hughes.”
Joshua looked shocked. He’d just assumed that with all the harsh feelings between his mother and her parents that they would have changed their will to leave everything to him and Tiffany.
“Now there are a few lesser bequests of course…Joshua and Tiffany will receive ten percent of your grandfather’s shares and stocks, however, your mother will still manage those company’s until she chooses to hand them over to you,” he informed them. “Rosemary…You of course retain the eighty percent balance.” She nodded.
“There are a few small awards for several long time servants, which you already were informed about Rose.”
She nodded again, but looked at her children with a grin. Both were looking decidedly unhappy. “What happens to this house?” Joshua asked angrily.
“Oh relax Joshua…I’m not selling the house. It is my home too you know and on that note…I have made the decision to move out of the house in San Gabriel.” She knew Joshua and Tiffany would have made her life hell if she allowed the property to stand vacant and there was no way they were getting this house…It belonged in the end to only remaining Gage, but she also knew John wasn’t ready to accept that yet. “I’ll be moving here to this home right after John graduates.”
They shot a glance at John and then let a smug look spread over their face. As they expected, there had been nothing left to their half breed cousin.
“What happens to the house in San Gabriel?” Tiffany asked worriedly. Surely her mother wouldn’t sell their fathers home?
“I leave that to you and your brother to sort out…The Hughes mansion is rightfully yours.”
Joshua and Tiffany exchanged a happy glance but then Joshua frowned…What exactly did she mean by that? Jonathan and Lenora were their grandparents…Didn’t this house ‘rightfully’ belong to them as well. He cast a suspicious glance toward his mother but he knew he’d never get an answer from her…At least not today…Surely she wouldn’t leave it to….No….He shook his head. She’d never do that…Her parents would roll over in their graves.
Rosemary shook hands with Avery and swept her hand toward the door. They all left the room. Edward was waiting with a tray of coffee. Joshua threw him a sneering glance. He wondered when Edward would realize that he now worked for him and that smug attitude he’d acquired when John had come along would end. Now was as good of a time then any.
“You can take that to the Rose room Edward,” he demanded.
“Please?” Rosemary added.
“He’s a servant mother…and he works for me now,” Joshua sneered.
Edward smiled and threw a wink at Rosemary. “Oh I’m sorry sir…I haven’t had a chance to tell you…I will be leaving your employ on the twenty first…Miss Rosemary has given me large severance package and I will be retiring now that Master Geoffrey and Master John are gone.”
Joshua looked livid…What was he supposed to do? He’d have to start looking for a new gentleman’s gentleman.
“By the way…Ellen, Laura and Carrie are coming with me,” Rose added as she walked past her son and into the sitting room.
John and Edward exchanged a grin as he followed.
A few days later, after the long, exhausting months of training Rosemary and Edward along with Drew and Pam were on hand to watch him graduate. They spent the morning watching them march and preview a few of their newly acquired skills before the swearing in ceremony. Rosemary beamed proudly as she watched her nephew lead the class through them. John had graduated at the top as she knew he would. He’d had something to prove...Not to anyone else…But to himself.
She’d applauded wildly when his name had been called after the ceremony and Chief Conrad had pinned a badge on his shirt. And then later when he’d been handed his Turnout Coat with his name on the back. She’d have sworn John had tears in his eyes as he’d looked skyward.
“Mom…Dad…I did it,” he whispered.
Afterwards they swung by his new station. His first assignment... station 8.
“Nervous?” Drew asked. John glanced at his friend, grateful that Drew hadn’t held the embarrassing afternoon ten months ago against him. They’d stayed in contact and he’d had John over several times for dinner and bowling and had carefully avoided asking hm any personal questions. He didn’t have too…He’d used his resources to check his young friends past…John didn’t need to relive them.
“More than nervous, I think I’m scared,” He laughed.
“Johnny you’re gonna be fine. You’re a good Fireman and you graduated near the top of your class… You’ll be great.”
“Thanks,” John chewed is lip...something he did when he was very nervous or frustrated. He finally grinned at his friend. “But hey pal…I was at the top,” he reminded him.
Roy DeSoto patted the gleaming red paint on one of the first Los Angeles County Rescue squads.
He’d approached Chief Keith Klinger who was set to retire in another six months and asked about the rumors. The Chief had smiled and led Roy out back to where a dozen large, red utility trucks sat baking in the California sun.
“This is just a beginning DeSoto,” he told the blonde haired fireman. “We have two dozen more on order and this is just a first step toward something even bigger that we’ve been working on but that’s a year or so down the road…We’ve got to get these beauty’s on the road first and with rained rescue men in them.”
Roy nodded as his blue eyes roamed over the vehicles. “What do I have to do to be one them sir?” He’d asked.
Six weeks later and he was at Station 41 with his new partner in the squad…Will Poston. The crew consisted of, Linemen Ed Marlowe and Jay Cameron, Engineer Jarrod O’Reilly and his new Captain, David Sommerfield. All of them nice guys and good at their job and that’s all Roy cared about. They were a team and a good one but none of them would ever be a really close friend but then Roy didn’t need that. He wasn’t one to get close to too many people anyway.
Neither man had any idea what fate would have in store for them.
To be concluded in part 14
Posted to Site 2/15/14
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The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made. I merely like to toy with them and return them to their proper owner in good working order. The characters of Emergency belong to Universal and Mark VII but this story itself however, is the property of the author.
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