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I Guess It Never Hurts to Hurt Sometimes
Sometimes I feel a wave
Is this all we get to keep
I kept a smile plastered on my face and waved as Roy drove out of the Department Headquarters parking lot, then let it fall. I’m sure he saw it for what it was...a brave attempt to act normal when nothing about the situation would ever be normal again.
Captain Roy DeSoto.
Captain John Gage.
I know I should be feeling excited, and I am, but I’m also... Well, pretty sad. I shook my head at the strangeness of it all and headed for my Rover. Gone were the days when Roy would shake his head in amused resignation as I rushed into the locker room at Station 51 to get ready only minutes before Roll Call...the times we would kid around with one another in the squad on the way back from a run...the crazy ‘get rich quick’ schemes...spending 24-hours a day on shift together...
I swallowed hard against the sudden lump in my throat. Even though Roy was right, that it wasn’t like we were moving out of town—that we were still friends—we both knew that things would never be the same. I mean, how often would we be able to see each other off-hours now, between his new work schedule and mine?
We both knew changes were coming, though. So it’s not like all this was some kinda surprise. I mean, we’ve known this day might be coming for months...
Months. Man, it’s been more than seven months since...
No captain ever wants to have a man die under his command, but it happens. I can only hope now, if it ever happens to me, I can handle it as well as Cap did when Station 51 finally lost one of their own. But Chet’s death marked the beginning of the end of my time in the paramedics and as Roy’s partner... although neither of us knew it at the time.
With a quick glance in my rearview mirror, I change lanes and directions, heading toward East Los Angeles and the once place I hadn’t been to since that awful day. Circumstances kept me away the first time... I’m not sure what’s kept me away from there since.
As I arrived at the cemetery, I realized I had no idea where to find him. I stopped at the small office and asked the elderly woman at the desk, and she gave me the directions. Less than five minutes later I was parking my car and walking through the well-kept green lawns amidst the rows of stone. The name Kelly popped out at me from a single stone along the aisle, and I turned down the row to see the name repeated over and over again.
Chet would always be on my case about family and how his ancestors had come over from Ireland before the turn of the century, blah, blah, blah. But if this were just the LA contingent, I couldn’t imagine how many of them were buried in Catholic cemeteries on the east coast.
When I finally saw it, I felt the weirdest sensation—like being at the top of a roller coaster as it plunges down that first steep drop and something like déjà vu and the relief you feel after a close call on a run, all rolled up into a single moment in time.
Chester B. Kelly
Sept. 3, 1944 – Feb. 28, 1979
“Hey, Chet...” I said softly, not really sure why I was talking out loud to a hunk of stone. Except that I wasn’t really talking to a hunk of stone now, was I? “Better late than never, huh? You always told me I was a little slow...”
I felt uncomfortable just standing there, so I sat down on the grass, glancing down at my dress uniform jacket and the single strip on my right sleeve.
“Captain, huh. Can you believe it? Roy, too. Man, I didn’t ever think this day would come. Now I know what you’re thinking but no, the Department is not that hard up for captains that they’d just give me a skunk helmet and shove me through the door...”
No, but it didn’t really seem like there was anything else I could do at the time, either...
“It’s just that...after what happened...things began to change for us at the station...” I continued quietly as my mind drifted back in time.
“Oh man, it’s my turn to cook and I haven’t even gotten things started yet,” I said as I rushed into the kitchen and straight to the refrigerator to get the things I’d need to fix supper.
Roy meandered in silently behind me, but it was Chet, who was sitting on the couch with Henry lazing in his lap, who chose to voice his opinion of my culinary skills. “Don’t worry so much, Gage. It won’t take that long to fix hamburgers...”
I pulled my head out of the fridge, my right hand holding the door open, and turned to look at him. I don’t know why I bothered. “How did you know that’s what I’m makin’?”
He rolled his eyes at me. “Because that’s what you always make!”
I don’t believe this guy. “That’s not true...”
But he wasn’t about to let up. Oh no, not good ol’ Chester B. “Oh, yeah? You had KP last, what, a week and a half, two weeks ago? Care to hazard a guess as to what you made for dinner?”
I tried to remember what I’d cooked, but Chet didn’t give me a chance as he answered his own question. “Cheeseburgers!”
I fought down the smile that threated to escape. He was probably right—I’m not much of a cook. But I wasn’t going to give in to him that easily. “So?! How often do you make chili? Or Stoker make spaghetti? Or Cap make his clam chowder?! What’s the big deal?!”
“The big deal is that at least their dishes are tasty. Hamburgers are just plain boring!”
Roy was shaking his head at me in that amused way he has of telling me to quit while I’m ahead. Oh, no! Not this hose jockey! “Boring?! Boring! Hamburgers are practically a national pastime. They’re as American as apple pie and baseball!”
“No, that’s hot dogs,” Marco decided to put his two cents in.*
I frowned at Marco’s interruption even though I knew he was right.
Cap poked his head in through the dayroom doorway at that moment then walked up to the tables where we were all now standing. “Guys, guys—if you don’t knock it off and let Gage get cooking, we’re not even going to get hamburgers for supper.”
Man, we must have been pretty loud this time around for Cap to have come out of his office to check up on us. “Thanks, Cap,” I answered, feeling vindicated.
Supper was cooked and eaten without another complaint, thanks to Cap, and we managed to get through most of the rest of the evening without a run. Then our luck ran out and we were called out to a structure fire just before 11pm.
We were the first ones on the scene, which was in a warehouse downtown. Luckily it appeared to be deserted.
“Gage, Kelly, pull a two-and-a-half and cover the south side. DeSoto, Lopez you two cover the north,” Captain Stanley instructed us, and we donned our gear and went in just as the other companies began to arrive.
I took the lead on the hose and we worked our way toward the corner of the building. Boxes and barrels were stacked amidst the flames, and we did our best to gain the upper hand over the beast. The scene was hot...very hot. I kept my eyes open for signs of impending danger.
I felt Kelly tap me on the shoulder and we switched positions, moving further into the building. One area to our left seemed to be burning hotter than the rest, so we moved toward it slowly. The hairs on the back of my sweaty neck started to rise. I was getting a bad feeling about this.
“Back off, Chet! Back off!!”
He turned his head toward me, the hose still pouring water out over the fire in front of us. “What?!”
That bad feeling in my gut was getting worse. We had to get out of here...fast! “It’s gonna flash! Clear out! Clear out!”
Roy’s told me more than once that I have some sorta sixth sense, and that he’s learned to trust in it over the years. I guess the rest of the guys have learned to trust in it, too, because Chet immediately shut the hose off and let it drop to the ground. Then he began pushing me toward the exit.
We didn’t make it.
I don’t know what hit me first: the heat... the force of the blast that sent me airborne... the sound of the explosion... or the thought that I was about to die... But a split second was all the time I had to think about it as the world around me suddenly descended into darkness.
I glanced away from the gray stone in front of me, finding it hard to look at at the moment. It had been so long since I’d allowed myself to dwell on the events of that night and of the days that followed, but now the memories were rising up as clearly as if they’d happened only yesterday.
I brushed my right hand lightly over the green grass. “At first, I was so out of it on pain meds that nobody would tell me what had happened. But when they did...”
Vague awareness returned in stages. A brief sound, a faint odor that seemed somewhat familiar, shadows moving across the grayness and indistinct voices that seemed to be coming from very far away...and beneath it all the sensation of pain and that heavily-medicated feeling of being surrounded in cotton that I’d become quite familiar with over the years.
I know that voice. Roy?
I tried to open my eyes, but it was hard...so hard. Why did it suddenly feel like I had lead weights on my limbs...on my eyes?
“Come on, Junior... You’ve been asleep long enough...”
I tried again and finally managed to open my eyes. I was rewarded by the blurry image of someone standing over me. Over me?
“Roy...” At least, that’s what I’d tried to say. I couldn’t really recognize the sound that actually came out of my mouth.
“How are you feeling?”
How was I feeling? I thought about that for a moment but then gave up...I just didn’t have the energy. I tried to blink the world into better focus, but things were still kinda hazy. “Dunno...”
“Well, that’s okay... Just take it easy,” he said soothingly in reply.
I glanced around me and managed to figure out the fact that I was in Rampart. How did I get here? “Wha...happen’d?”
He reached for my hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Don’t worry about that right now... You just concentrate on getting better.”
I started to feel myself drifting off and my eyes slid shut without my knowing it. “Hmmm...”
“Get some rest, partner...”
The next time I woke up I found the muzziness of the drugs had abated a bit. I lay there trying to figure out what was going on. My head hurt and I could feel a dull pain in my chest and side. My arm was braced to my side and my left leg felt like it weighed a hundred pounds. I tried to raise my head to find out why, but pain suddenly flared in my chest and I gasped. Oh, man...
The sound startled Roy awake and brought him to my bedside. I hadn’t even realized he was still here...or was here again... Now that I could see more clearly and my brain wasn’t as cloudy I realized how awful he looked. It was like he’d aged ten years since the last time I saw him. How long had it been since their last shift? Hours? Days?
“Johnny, are you okay?”
I wanted to answer him but my throat felt like sandpaper. “Thir...sty...”
He poured me some water and put the straw to my lips. I sipped the cool liquid gratefully, but the effort left me exhausted. What the heck had happened to me?
“Roy...what happened?” I rasped, but before he had the chance to answer the door opened and Doctor Brackett walked in.
Roy appeared to be relieved at the interruption. “Doc, he’s awake.”
“Well, Johnny,” Brackett said as he pulled my chart and began to glance through it. “It’s good to see you’re finally back with us. How are you feeling?”
I said the first thing that popped into my tired brain. “Confused...”
He smiled gently at me. “That’s quite understandable after a head injury. Let’s take a look and see how you’re doing.”
I was fighting it, but the exhaustion I’d been battling since waking up was beginning to get the upper hand. “Head injury? What else is wrong with me, Doc?”
“Besides a moderate concussion, three broken ribs—one of which perforated a lung. You’ve got a chest tube in, and it’s draining well. You’ve also suffered a serious fracture to your left tibia and fibula, which was surgically repaired, but you’ll be in traction for a couple of weeks before being put in a regular cast. Your left shoulder was dislocated, but we put it back in. We’ll take the wrapping off in a few days, but is shouldn’t give you any problems. We’re keeping an eye on you for blast injuries now. If nothing significant presents itself tomorrow we’ll probably be able to pull the chest tube and move you to a regular room upstairs on Friday. What’s important now is that you stay calm and quiet.”
Traction...? Blast injuries...? “What happened...?” I asked again, my voice a raspy croak.
Roy and Brackett exchanged a look. “You don’t remember?” the doctor asked.
I gave a slight shake of my head, not willing to risk making my pounding headache any worse. Roy brought the cup of water to my lips again and I swallowed some more down gratefully.
“Well, like I said, it’s understandable.” He pulled a syringe from his pocket and prepared to inject it into my IV port. “But for right now, though, I want you to concentrate on getting well. Barring complications you should make a full recovery and be back in the squad again in about eight to ten weeks.” He hit the plunger on the syringe and I felt a rush of medication flush through my arm.
“No buts, Johnny. Just get some rest and I’ll check on you again later.”
Both Roy and I watched as the older man turned and left the room. I could feel whatever it was that he’d given me starting to work already, and I slowly moved my head to look up at Roy. “Explosion...?”
But Roy wasn’t very forthcoming either. “Get some rest, Junior. It’s the best thing for you. I’m on duty tomorrow, but I’ll drop in to see you when I can, alright?”
I wondered why they were both being so evasive, and I wanted to be annoyed, but that would take more energy than I actually had at the moment. The pull of the medication was just too strong, and I never even realized it when the darkness claimed me.
The darkness was all-encompassing, and he stumbled through it, hands outstretched before him. Where was he? Where was everyone?
There was a golden light off in the distance and he changed directions, moving toward it. He could feel the pleasing warmth from quite some distance away, and thought maybe he was in a clearing in the woods and was approaching someone’s campfire. He looked up, but here were no stars in the sky. In fact, there was no sky—he was indoors.
He noticed that the heat had become more oppressive as well as much, much brighter. He found himself in the midst of a fire scene. Boxes, drums and cans were piled haphazardly and he could see that not only was he indoors, but in some sort of warehouse. He was dressed in full turnout gear, but even that didn’t offer much protection against the overwhelming heat. He glanced around quickly, looking for some means of escape, but he was surrounded by fire—there was no way out!
Suddenly he became aware of a presence beside him—another fireman, also in full turnout gear—but he didn’t recognize who it was. “It’s gonna flash! We’ve got to get out of here!!” he shouted to the man, who merely nodded and indicated that I should lead the way out.
A narrow pathway opened through the ring of fire behind them, and he ran for it, sensing that the other fireman was close behind him. But as soon as he cleared the fire he had the sudden sensation that he was alone again. He turned around to see that the fire ring had closed itself up once again, trapping the other man inside it.
“No!” he shouted as the other man dropped to his knees from the overwhelming heat. The flames shot up even higher, blocking the fireman from view. I can’t let him die! He started back toward the flames, but time had run out.
The world exploded into a whirling mass of flame and heat and pain...
“NO!” The scream was torn from my throat as I bolted upright in the bed, gasping for breath. Pain tore through my side as my ribs protested the movement and the chest tube pulled, and I quickly collapsed backward in an effort to relieve it.
A nurse suddenly rushed in. “Mr. Gage, just take it easy. Breathe deeply.” She slipped the oxygen mask on me and I did my best to relax. Man, that was some dream...
She checked my vitals and wrote the information in my chart. “How are you feeling now?” she asked me when she was done.
How was I feeling? The dream had left me anxious and confused. Brackett had said I’d been in some kind of explosion... So had my nightmare really been only a dream, or could some of it really have happened?
I tried to focus inward and assess my condition. My breathing had returned to normal, but my head was pounding again. My ribs and side hurt, but she’d checked the chest tube and found nothing wrong with it, so I guess it was okay. But knowing they were watching me for blast injuries, I told her. “My side aches from pulling the chest tube, but I think everything else is okay...”
She seemed satisfied with my answer. “Okay. Your chest is still clear, but I want you to be sure and let us know if you experience any difficulties breathing, or if anything else starts bothering you, alright?”
“I will,” I answered, anxious for her to leave so that I could think about my dream and what it could mean.
Brackett had said he’d move me to a room on Friday, and since they’d be watching me for at least 48-hours for blast injuries, that meant that whatever had happened to me must have happened on my last shift, which was on Tuesday. I tried to remember the runs we’d had that day, but they were just routine...at least until suppertime. Things started getting a little hazy at that point.
The dream I’d had once again flashed through my mind. That fire had been in a warehouse. Did we get called to a warehouse fire later that night?
If only I could remember.
Drowsiness was beginning to claim me again, and I found myself dozing on and off as the day went on. Day...night...I had no idea what time it really was in this drug-induced haze I seemed to find myself in. ICU had no windows. Nurses and doctors came and went, taking vitals, shifting my position, and feeding me more medication.
Man, I hated this drugged-up feeling.
I didn’t know what time it actually was when Roy finally dropped in for a visit, except that he was in uniform, so he was probably already on duty.
“Hey, Johnny,” he greeted me, his voice subdued. He looked...old. I blinked a few times, trying to clear my vision. Nope, it made no difference.
“Roy,” I answered him. I didn’t know how much time he’d have before getting called out on a run, and I wasn’t all that sure how much time I had before the drugs knocked me out again, so I didn’t waste any time. Time, let’s start there. “What time is it, anyway?”
Roy glanced at his wrist watch. “Almost 11 AM. How are you feeling this morning?”
“I’m doin’ okay, but Roy...” I took a deep breath...well, as deep a breath as I could with busted ribs and a tube stuck in my side. Part of me was desperate to hear the answer, but another part of me... I thought of my dream once again and asked, “What happened at the warehouse...?”
Roy’s tired eyes widened. “You remember the warehouse fire?”
“Some of it...,” I answered with a careful nod of my head. It wasn’t exactly a lie. “Was anyone else hurt?”
His gaze slid away from me for a moment. “You’re the only one still in the hospital.”
I sighed in relief, in spite of the pain it caused. That dream had left me with such a feeling of dread...
Wait a minute, in my dream there was somebody else with me. It couldn’t have been Roy, since I already knew he was okay. But why else would I have been paired with someone else... Unless I was on a hose with another fireman? Or was my dream really just that—a dream? Well, there was only one way to find out. “What about the other fireman? How is he?”
The color suddenly drained from Roy’s face and he reached out a hand to grip the back of the chair beside my bed. He didn’t answer me for a long moment, and I felt my own heart rate begin to speed up. Oh, man...there was someone else... Someone else who was no longer in the hospital. But if the explosion had been bad enough to do all this damage to me, why would someone else who was hurt not still be in the hospital, too? Unless... Oh, no...
“Roy,” I whispered, my voice wavering. “Who...?”
His voice was sounded even worse as he gave me his answer.
Reality crashed down on me like a ton of bricks as my memory finally returned. It’s gonna flash! Clear out! Clear out!
My voice broke completely and my eyes filled with tears. I made no effort to try and stop ‘em. Chet and I may have given each other a lot of grief over the years, but we really were good friends...
I could have stopped it... If I’d only said something sooner...
I was starting to find it a bit more difficult to breathe, and Roy noticed it right away. “Johnny, you’ve gotta calm down...” he cautioned as he approached the bed. I didn’t see him hit the call button, but a few moments later I heard what sounded like a woman’s voice coming from somewhere far away say, “Get Doctor Brackett up here, stat.”
I tuned her out.
Hands were touching me. Voices were calling to me. One of them even sounded vaguely like my partner’s.
I tuned them all out.
It could have been five minutes, it could have been five years, but eventually I felt the familiar cold rushing sensation of medication moving up my arm.
And then I knew no more.
Oh you're always in my heart
I pulled a blade of grass from the bright green lawn, working it between my fingers before tossing it away and pulling out another one. “Man, that was one of the worst days of my life...right up there with that deputy telling me that my parents had died in a fire.+ But that was nothing compared to...compared to not being able to go to your funeral...”
The sun was shining through the window of my semi-private hospital room, but I really didn’t see it as I lay in the bed staring out at the world beyond. It was stupid, but I felt like the sun had no right to be shining today... The sky should be full of heavy gray clouds. Then it would match my mood perfectly.
They were burying Chet today... and I couldn’t be there.
I’d talked to Brackett till I was blue in the face—arguing with him, pleading with him, threatening him, finally even outright begging him—to let me go to the funeral. But he stood his ground—I was stuck in traction for at least another week, and if he were to let me go and something happened it could spell the end of my career with the Department. As much as I hated to admit it, deep down I knew he was right.
I was alone in the room and was glad for it—the last thing I needed was some chatty roommate driving me to distraction.
I’d had few visitors besides Roy and the guys from the station since being moved upstairs. It was hard, seeing them together without Chet in the mix, teasing me about lazing around here at Rampart while they handled all the ‘real work,’ or getting myself laid up to get out of latrine duty...
Right now I’d gladly take latrine duty for the rest of my career if it would mean Chet walking through that door to tease me unmercifully about getting stuck with it.
When the door to my room opened my heart rose to my throat... But it was only Dixie, and as it settled once again into place I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. She was dressed in street clothes, so it must have been her day off.
“Hey, Johnny...” she said warmly as she came to my bedside, taking my hand in hers and giving it a gentle squeeze. “How are you doing?”
Dixie was one of the few people in my life that I felt I could really be myself around. Roy and his family and my shift mates were the others. I still carried the compass she’d given me one Christmas a few years back+ in my pocket every day. I felt my eyes tearing up and I squeezed her hand in return. “I should be there...”
“Johnny, it’s not your fault that you can’t be there, and nobody blames you for it. They know you’d be there if you could.”
But I blamed me...for that and for what happened in the first place.
Captain Stanley and Chief McConnikee paid me an official visit after I’d gotten out of ICU three days ago to take my statement, and I finally learned the details of what happened that night. It turned out that the explosion had been caused by cans of paint and paint thinner, not the products produced there—apparently they were in the process of remodeling the offices. We’d been far enough away to avoid being killed by the blast outright, but the explosion had caused a partial building collapse. By the time they’d dug us out, Chet was already gone...
They told me I wasn’t responsible, but I sure as hell felt like it was. Dixie must have seen it in my face because she sat down beside me on the bed and leaned forward to pull me into a hug.
With the exception of when Roy first told me about it four days ago, I’d managed to hold it together. But now...
I wrapped my arms around her as the tears began to flow. It wasn’t long before they turned into sobs. All of it was killing my ribs, but I ignored the pain. It was nothing compared to the pain in my heart right now...
I don’t know how much time passed as I poured out my grief and guilt on Dixie’s shoulder, but by the time the sobs died down I was completely exhausted. She helped ease me back onto the bed then grabbed a tissue from the box on the bedside table, gently wiping the tears away.
“There now,” she murmured softly. “Feeling better?”
I nodded silently. But as she moved to get up from the bed I instinctively reached for her hand, and she settled back down beside me. She didn’t say anything, but waited patiently for me to find my voice again.
“Thanks, Dix...” I whispered tiredly.
“You’re welcome, sweetheart. But now it’s time for you to get some rest. Do you need anything to help you get to sleep?”
I shook my head no. In all truth I felt like I could sleep for a year.
She tucked me in as best as she could with one leg stuck out and in traction. “Rest now, Johnny. I’ll be here when you wake up.”
I wanted to tell her that she didn’t have to do that. I knew she had better things to do than to spend her day off babysitting me. I wanted to...but I couldn’t bring myself to actually say the words.
I closed my eyes and allowed sleep to claim me.
“I tell you, Chet, I don’t think I would have gotten through that day without her. It was easier for her to deal with everything than it was for all the guys at the station--they had their own grief to deal with.”
I plucked a few more blades of grass, but had grown tired of playing with them and tossed them away only a few seconds later. “When I was released from the hospital I went to stay at Roy’s. It was good though, you know? We kinda helped each other through the worst of it...” I snorted in mild amusement as I looked back on those days. “Of course, we did it without really talking about it, but we knew... We always knew...”
I sat on the deck in Roy’s backyard, barely feeling the cool morning breeze through my jacket. Behind me the house was empty—Joanne had taken the kids to school and was running errands after that, and Roy wasn’t back from the station yet.
Not that the silence bothered me much—in fact it was a nice change of pace considering the normal level of noise and activity that went on in an active household with two young kids.
Kids. Man, sometimes I wonder where the time had gone. Chris would be turning fourteen later this year and would be entering high school in the fall. He was only seven the first time Roy brought me home to meet his family. And Jenny was gonna start middle school...my little four-year-old Princess who’d stolen my heart from the first day I’d met her.
I’d known Roy for seven years now... It seemed like we’d known each other forever.
And yet how fast it all could change...
I heard the patio door slide open behind me and the sound of Roy walking down the wooden ramp he’d put together so that the wheelchair I was stuck in could easily get down onto the deck from the house.
“Mornin’ Johnny,” he said as he handed me a cup of coffee and sat down in a chair beside me.
“Hey, Roy...” I sipped at the coffee slowly, grateful to have something to do with my hands now that Roy was here. Jo made great coffee—I just hadn’t been in the mood to have any this morning.
“The guys told me to say ‘hello.’”
The guys... I wonder if I’ll ever hear that and not think that Chet was still included among them. Why couldn’t I have realized something was wrong sooner? “How are they doin’?”
Roy leaned forward, resting his forearms on his thighs and looked down at the deck. “It looks like Pete Anderson from 45s is going to be permanently reassigned to us.”
Permanently reassigned. It sounded so...final.
“Pete’s a good man,” I whispered, knowing Roy needed me to say something. “At least they didn’t send us a boot.”
A small grin appeared on Roy’s face, but I could tell it was forced. “He’s kinda quiet, though...”
‘Nobody excapes the Phantom.’ Quiet, or boring? What I wouldn’t give for Chet to hit me with another water bomb right about now... “Like Mike?”
“Not quite, but close,” Roy answered. “Of course, that could be because he’s new to the station.”
‘I just didn’t want to have to break in a new pigeon...’ I didn’t wanna to have to break in a new Phantom, either...looks like I won’t have to worry about that possibility now, though.
“How about you? Who were you stuck with?”
Roy snorted with semi-mock disgust. “Guess.”
“Not again...” That’s something else to feel guilty for—my partner getting stuck working with The Walking Rulebook each time I was out on sick leave. “Was he working overtime?”
“Yeah,” Roy slugged the rest of his coffee back and set the cup down on the table behind him. I handed him my three-quarter filled mug of cold coffee and he turned and set it down next to his. “At least it’s not every shift this time, like it was when you got hit by that drunk driver.”
I snorted. “Thank God for Bob Belliveau.”
Suddenly Roy seemed to perk up a bit. “Hey, you’ll never guess what he’s up to.”
Not that I cared all that much, but I bit on Roy’s line anyway. “What now?”
“He’s started studying for the captain’s exam. He cracked open the books every moment we had some down time last shift.”
Captain Craig Brice? Heaven help the guys that got stuck working under him. “The exam’s in September. That’s probably enough time for him to do well enough to move up in rank.”
A promotion. I remember when Chet came in 72nd the last time he’d tried taking the engineer’s exam. We all teased him that he’d end up stayin’ a lineman for the rest of his life.
Turns out he did...only not in the way that we’d thought.
Now it was my turn to stare at the deck. It’d been almost a month now since it happened... and it still wasn’t getting any easier to deal with.
I don’t know how, but Roy seemed to know that I was no longer thinking about Brice. In fact, he seemed to know exactly what was going through my mind at the moment, because he said, “Seventy-second wasn’t nearly high enough for my liking either, Junior...”
I looked up and met his tired gaze. I could see his sadness lying right below the surface. He wasn’t handling this any better than I was. Or any of the A-shift crew were. I sighed and nodded.
He nodded in return, both of us acknowledging the words neither of us could speak, but hearing them said just the same.
He reached out and gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze. “I’m going to go upstairs and get some rest. You try and do the same, Partner. Okay?”
I wasn’t ready to go back inside just yet. “I’ll just hang out out here for a little while longer. Don’t worry about me...”
“I’ll always worry about you, Junior—it comes with the territory,” he added, trying to lighten the moment.
I dug deep and gave him a grin. “Now, Roy... Have I ever given you reason to worry?”
That brought a genuine smile in return. “Nope, can’t think of a single one...”
He squeezed my shoulder again before letting go and I waited until he’d snagged the two mugs and headed indoors again before returning to my silent contemplation.
Three weeks after I was released from the hospital Brackett told me my ribs were healed enough that I could get up on crutches. I also decided it was time that I went back to my place. I still couldn’t drive till the cast came off in a couple of weeks, but with all the home-cooked meals Joanne had prepared and the groceries she’d picked up for me, I’d be set for food—for a while, at least.
I said goodbye to her and the kids, and Roy drove me home. I’d bought this house around two years ago... and it had nearly cost me my friendship with Roy, who’d been house hunting and had his sights set on the one I’d bought. After some teasing and kidding around on my part I eventually caved in and sold it to him. But, bit by the house bug, I turned around and found someplace even better—a house with enough land that one day I hoped to be able to afford to get myself a horse. It was a bit further out of town than my old apartment or Roy’s new place, but I’d gotten a good deal on it.
We pulled up the driveway and Roy turned the ignition off. “You sure you won’t change your mind about this? You know Jo and the kids love it when you stay with us. What if you can’t manage here on your own?”
I grinned, knowing my partner’s overprotective streak was rearing its head again. “Roy, I’ll manage just fine. I’ll even prove it to you,” I said as I climbed out of the car and steadied myself on the crutches. This wasn’t the first time I’d had to use them. I smothered a sigh as I thought about the number of times I had needed them. Too many. “Come on inside and I’ll fix us some lunch.”
He grabbed my bag and followed me in. It wasn’t easy—and I needed some help getting the food to the table, but in less than fifteen minutes we were enjoying some of Jo’s home-made cookin’ as well as some fresh brewed coffee...and for me a glass of milk.
“You’re getting better at making coffee, Junior...” Roy commented with friendly sarcasm as he took a sip of the coffee. “You’ll be brewing coffee as good as Mike’s yet.”
“How about Anderson’s?” I asked, and frowned as a disappointed look crossed my partner’s face.
“It’s okay, I guess,” he answered with a shrug, glancing down at his coffee mug.
I knew things were not doin’ so great at the station. Every time Roy had shared his day with me while I’d been stayin’ at his place he seemed to focus on the calls they’d been sent on, or on his partner du-jour. He didn’t talk all that much about life at the station anymore. Maybe it was time to find out why.
“How are Cap and the guys?”
“They’re...” he finally looked up at me again, deciding to come clean. “We’re surviving, I guess. It’s hard though. Casual conversation seems a bit forced, and we’ve kind of been keeping to ourselves more lately. We’re fine on the runs—Pete’s good on a hose. But during our down time... I don’t know, maybe it’s because you’re not there either, and we’ve had a different paramedic covering for you nearly every shift, but...the spark just doesn’t seem to be there anymore, you know what I mean?”
It had been a little over a month since Chet’s death, so I suppose it wasn’t so unusual that things wouldn’t really be feelin' ‘normal’ again—as if they would really ever be ‘normal’ again—so quickly, but the guys pulling away from each other? Station 51’s A-shift was known as one of the closest-knit crews in the department. I found it all hard to imagine...
Except that if Roy were feelin’ it, it must really be happening.
I didn’t know what to say to make him feel any better. Why couldn’t I have realized the danger at that warehouse fire sooner? “I’m sorry...” I said softly.
“No need, Junior. It’s nobody’s fault, it just...” He paused, looking down at his coffee again before continuing, “is what it is.”
We drank the rest of our coffee in silence.
You try and hold on to the moment
You can't look forward to tomorrow
I uncrossed my legs and drew my knees up toward my chest, wrapping my arms around them. “A couple of weeks later I got the cast off and started physical therapy. That took a few more weeks—and my therapist was a guy, so there was nothing really to look forward to, you know? But eventually I was cleared to return to duty.”
I shook my head and sighed. “It just wasn’t the same without you there, Chet. Pete was an okay guy, and a good lineman, but he...” I tried to find the right words to describe the man. “The guy was as dull as a dishrag! There were no water bombs goin’ off or friendly arguing to spice things up goin’ on. He wasn’t even that good a cook. He was just...there.
“The rest of the guys all tried to act normal, but for a while there we were all just keeping each other at a distance—except for me and Roy. I guess it was a natural reaction—if you keep your crewmates at a distance you won’t be hurt if something should happen to them. But... we really shoulda been doin’ just the opposite—closing ranks and supporting each other. It was a hard readjustment for me to make when I got back...”
I shook my head for the umpteenth time, thinking about our last run, as Roy backed the squad into the bay. The call had been for a child who had gotten himself caught upside down and wrapped around the agitator inside his family’s washing machine. He’d said that he’d been playing hide-and-seek with a friend and, knowing his mother would be doing the laundry soon, thought it would be fun to go for a quick spin inside. Like she wouldn’t have notice he was in there when she went to load the machine?
“It’s amazing what kids can get themselves into,” I murmured as I got out of the squad and met Roy on his side.
“I’m just glad he didn’t manage to get the machine going on his own,” Roy answered.
I followed him into the dayroom, my stomach letting me know that it was starting to run low, and I made a beeline for the refrigerator. Both Marco and Mike were at the table, sharing sections of the newspaper, and Pete was at the counter preparing supper.
I walked over to him and tried to figure out what he was making based on the ingredients he had spread out on the counter. It could have been anything. “What’re you fixin’ for supper, Pete?”
Anderson wasn’t as tall as me, maybe 5’ 10”, and he had mousy brown hair that was starting to thin on top. He was in the middle of chopping up some salad, but he set the knife down to answer. “Just some beef stew, potatoes, veggies and salad, Johnny.”
“Ah,” I said. Great conversationalist, this guy. I went to the table to join Mike and Marco. “Either of you guys have the sports section?”
“Here, Johnny,” Mike said as he pushed the paper across the table.
I grabbed the paper and glanced at the front page, but I really wasn’t interested in reading it. It was too quiet in here. “Did either of you catch the game on TV last night?”
“Nah,” Marco answered.
Mike just shook his head no.
Okay, that approach didn’t work. I tried again. “Hey, you guys wouldn’t believe the run we just had...” I launched into a slightly over-exaggerated description of the rescue we’d just returned from. Both Mike and Marco glanced up from the newspaper and appeared to be listening, but when I finished I didn’t get the reaction I was hoping for.
Marco smiled weakly. “Kids—you never know what they’re going to get themselves into these days.”
Mike nodded sagely.
Then they both went back to reading the paper.
Pete just kept cutting vegetables.
I sighed heavily. Great. So much for that.
I glanced over to Roy, but he was seated on the couch reading a book. Henry was asleep at the other end.
I suddenly felt like I needed some air. “Well, just call me when supper’s ready...” I said quietly, getting up from the table and leaving the room.
I was standing out back behind the station nursing a cup of coffee when Roy found me. It was early June and the late-spring weather was still a little cool, but I didn’t feel like staying inside. I’d been back on the job for a few weeks now, and I finally understood exactly what my partner had meant when he’d told me how different things were at the station now.
I’d been comin’ out here more and more often in the past three weeks, and he never bothered to ask me why.
“Henry...” I murmured.
“Henry,” I repeated, a little louder this time. “It hurts to look at Henry.”
Out of the corner of my eye I could see his eyebrows shoot up. It was stupid, I know. But every time I looked at Henry it reminded me of Chet. Sure, he’d become the station’s mascot, but Chet had taken that lump of an excuse for a dog under his wing. Considering the animal rarely even moved off the couch, and used whoever happened to be sitting on it as a sleeping pillow, the two of them had really bonded.
Now the dog hardly bothered with anyone anymore...
I snorted softly. “Remember the time he tried to get Henry to sleep in the dog house?”
Roy nodded in understanding...of everything. “Yeah... But Henry outsmarted him in the end.”
We were both silent for a few moments. Roy had been living with this for two months. Now that it was my turn I wasn’t sure how in the world he’d done it.
“What are we gonna do, Roy...?” I whispered, dropping my head forward in defeat.
“Well...” he began, and I could hear the uncertainty in his voice. “Joanne and I have been doing some talking. You know, Chris will be entering high school this year, and he’s gonna be participating in a lot of extra-curricular activities... And we took him to the dentist last week only to find out he’s gonna need braces... And, well...Jo and I have some money saved up for college for them both, but...”
I raised my head again when I realized where he was going with this. He was a man with a wife and two kids, and although he’d managed on a paramedic’s salary for the last six years, life was beginning to catch up with him.
I couldn’t say I blamed him in the least. I didn’t have any kids and even I knew that braces were expensive. His family deserved to have so more, and if that meant it was time for him to move on then, as much as I’d hate it, I’d never stand in his way. I did my best not to the last time he’d considered taking a promotion to engineer, and was glad when he’d changed his mind. But this time I had a feelin’ there’d be no going back.
The only question left was, what was I gonna do about the future?
Did I really wanna start workin’ with another partner this late in the game? I thought about what it would be like at the station with both Roy and Chet gone. We’d been a family for so long, but...with things as they were now, did I really even want to stay? And, with Roy gone, was there anything really left to hold me here?
I realized that the answer to all three questions was no.
But did I really want do this? Was I ready for it?
The smile on my face was bittersweet because I knew that, once I spoke, it would mean the end of our partnership, at least on the job. Our friendship would necessarily change as well—we’d be working at different stations, and most likely on different shifts...
Oh, well. Roy always did say I was impulsive, so here goes nothin’...
Gratitude filled his eyes, and I knew this was the right decision...for both of us. But he shook his head.
The captain’s exam was in just over three months. Would that be enough time? Well, there was only one way to find out.
“Captain Roy DeSoto...” I allowed my smile to grow wider.
Roy finally began to smile in return.
I bumped his shoulder with mine. “So how does Captain John Gage sound to ya?”
His smile turned into a full-fledged grin. “I think it sounds just fine...”
Oh you're always in my heart
“Well, we picked Captain Stanley’s brain and studied for the test every free moment we had—even on our days off. It gave us both something to focus on... And it made things a little easier to deal with, you know? As time went on, things started feelin’ a little more ‘normal’ at the station again... even though Anderson’s personality didn’t improve much. Marco and Mike became more supportive, and more talkative, and Cap was filled with an almost fatherly pride in us, I think. But I could see that what happened to you had changed him... You were the first man he’d ever lost under his command...
“You know, for the longest time I blamed myself for what had happened... Nobody else did, but that didn’t seem to matter much. But as I got serious about going for this promotion, I came to realize that I might find myself in Cap’s shoes one day. It’s something that every captain dreads... But if every captain let that fear stand in their way, we wouldn’t have many of ‘em in the Department, would we...?
“The one thing I never really got over, though, was not being able to go to your funeral...to say goodbye. Maybe if I had things might have been different... I don’t think any easier, but just...different. Then, afterward, I just wanted to move forward and not look back...”
I hadn’t really been sure why I’d decided to come here today until that moment. But today had been a day of new beginnings and quiet endings... Maybe it was finally time to bring closure to the one thing in my career as a paramedic that still felt unfinished.
“But I don’t think I can really do that until I let go of it all. Not just my partnership with Roy or my time at 51s, but what happened to you, too.” I felt myself beginning to tear up again, but this time I didn’t try to hide it behind glib male posturing. “I’m sorry I didn’t realize what was happening at that warehouse sooner, Chet...and that it took you away from us way too soon.”
Now don’t go getting all mushy on me, Gage... I could hear Chet’s voice in my mind plain as day, as if he’d been standing right next to me. And I think maybe he was.
“And I’m sorry I didn’t get here sooner, but...you know what? I’m really glad I finally did.”
And I was.
I climbed to my feet, brushing off the stray strands of grass that still clung to my trousers. “I miss you, Pal... Wish me luck, okay? Maybe even say a prayer for me every once in a while... I’ll see you around...”
I started to walk away, but something suddenly occurred to me. This time I couldn’t stop a grin from breaking out on my face. “Hey, Chet! Maybe there’ll be a Phantom at my new station, too, huh? But this time I think I’ll be safe enough from his antics...”
And with a lighthearted laugh I walked away.
As I approached the Rover again I glanced at my watch and realized I’d been here for quite a while—it was past time for lunch. Today really may have been a day for quiet endings and new beginnings but, like the saying goes, just because you close a door doesn’t mean you can’t open a window.
I smiled as I climbed into my car and cranked her up. I think I’ll give Roy a call when I get home and invite him and the family out for dinner tonight, on me.
Shifting the Rover into gear, I found myself whistling a melody of my own making as I drove away from the past, finally looking forward to the future.
Oh you're always in my heart
Just as long as I'm alive
Oh I guess it never hurts to hurt sometimes
I Guess It Never Hurts to Hurt Sometimes
Recorded by the Oak Ridge Boys
*The “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet” commercial hit the airwaves in 1975.
+ From my story “Realizations.”
+ From my story “While You Were Sleeping...”
Author’s Note: I’ve written in many fandoms over the years and, back in 2011 when I found myself getting increasingly re-addicted to E! fandom, I decided I wanted to start writing for this one, too. The only problem was I couldn’t think of a story to write. So I thought, why not try a songfic? Okay, fine, but which song? Well, around that time, I’d read somewhere that some fans believed that Chet had been killed, based on the exchange between Johnny and Roy in the Season 7 movie “Greatest Rescues of Emergency!” And I’d also read the incredibly moving story “Requiem,” by Dee_ayy, on the same topic. Couple all this with my love of Country music from the 1980s, and The Oak Ridge Boys song “I guess it never hurts to hurt sometimes” came quickly to mind. But I couldn’t bring myself to write it: first because I hated the idea of losing Chet; second because, not having the Season 7 DVDs, I really didn’t know what was said that would make people believe that he’d been killed; and third because I knew I couldn’t possibly reach the quality of Dee_ayy’s story. So I put the idea away and, after a time, found other E! stories to write. But recently the idea burst back into my consciousness and said, “Sit down and start writing.” The above story is the result. I can only hope it does the characters, the show and the song justice.
Posted to Site 8/28/12
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