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John Gage stood in the bay and watched as both the squad and the Engine roared from the bay of Station 51, and out into the streets of Carson. He stood for a long moment looking out at the bright sunshine of the day. The weatherman had said that it was supposed to remain warm and clear for the entire week.
He made up his mind that since he had three days off, he was going to go on up into the mountains and camp, and he was going to leave as soon as he got home. Right now he desired the peace and comfort of being alone in nature more than he desired sleep.
He pushed open the door beside him and walked over to the sink where he splashed some cold water on his face to help wake him up a bit.
Once he had done that, he made his way over and sat down on the bench in front of his locker heaving a tired sigh. After a few seconds he reached down and untied his heavy black work shoes and toed them off.
It was just before noon and the rest of the A shift had all left hours ago, and were probably at this very minute all sound asleep in their nice warm beds. It had been a long hard night for all of them due to a large warehouse fire that had roused them out of their beds at one in the morning. It had been a difficult fire to get under control due to some illegally stored gas tanks, and it had kept them on the scene until well after six.
They had all just returned to the barn and were sitting around the kitchen table drinking coffee. There was no pointing trying to go back to bed since it was going on seven and the next shift would be coming in shortly anyway.
Most of the men just wanted to get home, so they could climb into bed and finally get the much desired sleep they had been denied the previous night.
Unfortunately for Johnny, it was right at that point that the phone rang. Charlie Dwyer had called in saying he was going to be late. It seems his mother-in–law had fallen and broken her leg, a half hour earlier and his wife had gone to the hospital to be with her. Charlie’s sister had agreed to come to his place and pick up their two year old son and take him back to her place for the day. The problem was, she couldn’t get to over to Charlie’s house until after eleven, so he needed someone to stay over at the station and cover his shift until noon.
It had come down to either him or Roy, and since Roy had already done some OT earlier in the week, Johnny felt it was only fair that he be the one to stay behind, which was why he was now the only one in the locker room, changing to go home.
Normally Johnny would have missed the banter that usually took place during shift change between him and his shift mates, but today he was grateful for the solitude. He had a lot on his mind, and he wasn’t in the mood to socialize… especially not with either Chet or Roy.
Finally he summoned the energy to stand up. He opened up the door to his locker and slid out of his navy uniform jacket. He grabbed hold of the hanger that held his brown leather jacket, and exchanged one jacket for the other.
As he was reaching inside the locker to return the hanger to its designated place, he spied the small pile of glass white beads that were sitting on the upper shelf of his locker. He reached in and scooped up the offending beads and held them in the palm of his hand. It was those glass beads that were behind his desire to be alone … they were the reason he was glad for the solitude now
Damn that Chet… why does he always have to act like such an ass. I can’t believe Roy, who is supposed to be my best friend, actually thought that it was funny.
The fact that Roy had laughed almost as hard as Chet, had hurt Johnny more than the actual joke itself. Thanks a lot friend… he brooded bitterly.
He replayed the incident that had happened in the kitchen the day before over in his mind once again. It had been Johnny’s turn to cook lunch and the others had all been informed that it was going to be three dollars each to ‘buy in’.
When it came time for Chet to pay up, the curly headed man, walked over with a self satisfied smirk and put down the handful of glass white beads into Johnny’s open hand.
“What the hell is this Chet?” he asked with a decidedly annoyed tone to his voice.
Chet looked at the others and smirked, “It’s Wampum Gage, …isn’t that what your people accept for currency? It was your ancestors who let the Dutch talk them into selling half of New York State for some cheap, worthless beads wasn’t it? You see, I finally figured it out … that’s why you’re so gullible Gage, I figure gullibility is genetic.”
Chet smiled smugly at Johnny, while the others all laughed at the joke… only Marco had shown any real disgust for Chet’s actions.
In the end Johnny had covered his hurt by telling Chet to go play on the freeway. It had been a lame comeback, but the truth was, the words and the ensuing laughter had stung, and it was the only retort Johnny could think up of on the spot.
Chet had pranked him before, but this was the first time it had been about his race. But then it had only been the previous week that he had let slip that he had been raised on a reservation. Until that point it seemed that Chet had been oblivious to the fact that he was half Native American.
Johnny hadn’t thought much about the fact that he had said he was half Native American, because he never once even considered that any of the men he worked with on the A shift were racist. After all Marco was Mexican and there had never once even been a hint of any bigotry at the station before.
Eventually he had gotten his money out of Chet and the others seemed to go on about their chores, without giving the incident another thought… but Johnny had been giving it a lot of thought …a lot.
He walked over and unceremoniously dumped the hateful beads in the trash bin with snort of disgust. He then returned to his locker and finished getting dressed, and made his way out to the parking lot where he climbed tiredly into the Land Rover he had just purchased the month before.
This was one shift he was glad to see the back of.
At twenty one, Johnny was by far the youngest member of Station 51’s A shift… in fact he was currently the youngest paramedic In the program. The station itself was relatively new… less than a year old in fact.
Before that he had been at Station 10 for the first two and half years of his career. He had graduated from the fire academy as a boot when he was eighteen. At nineteen he had switched from riding the engines to becoming a rescue man. Then, less than a year ago, he had met Roy DeSoto who had convinced him to sign up for a new idea called, the Paramedic Program.
Johnny had always been gun shy about letting people get too close to him, so it was a shock when he and Roy had quickly become partners and shortly thereafter best friends…at least he had thought they were friends. But Roy’s reaction today had left him unsure about the validity of that friendship.
Three days later, Johnny sat in his living room listening to one of his Beatles LP’s while he emptied his backpack from his camping trip.
As usual the solitude of sitting around a campfire while watching the night skies had done a lot to improve his disposition. It had also afforded him a chance to gain some perspective on what had happened at the Station.
In his heart, he had already forgiven Roy and absolved him of any blame in the incident.
On the other hand, as far as Chet was concerned… well Johnny wasn’t about to let him off the hook.
Something about the absolute pleasure Chet seemed to derive out of his actions, had convinced Johnny that there had been more than a little malice behind Chet’s joke, and Johnny wasn’t prepared to let it go by lightly.
He had decided that Roy hadn’t intentionally set out to hurt him. He knew in his heart that Roy DeSoto wasn’t a bigot, and that his laughter hadn’t been out of malice, but out of ignorance.
He knew enough about Roy, to believe that was the truth.
Sure Roy could act a bit superior at times, but not in a bigoted sense… he just wasn’t inherently mean or cruel. Roy was basically a good guy at heart. Being fair haired and blue eyed meant in all probability Roy had never had to face prejudice that was aimed against him, so he didn’t understand how deeply his laughter had hurt him.
In fact he was sure that if Roy knew that he had hurt Johnny he would have felt bad and apologized…hell, he’d probably pack his bags and go on one of his world famous guilt trips.
Still in light of everything that had happened, Johnny had begun to worry that maybe he was letting Roy get too close.
Maybe he needed to pull back and keep the friendship at arms length. He hadn’t actually meant to get so close to Roy in the first place. That’s how he kept all of his friendships. Johnny had learned the hard way that people can be cruel. In fact it had been his experience that sometimes the people who were supposed to love you and take care of you, could actually inflict horrible pain, both physically and emotionally.
He hadn’t realized it before now, but somehow he had begun to let Roy into his life. Somehow over the course of the last year, he had started to really care about Roy and his family. He had allowed Roy, his wife Joanne and his two children to set up shop inside his heart.
Roy’s son Chris, who was almost four, had started to call him Uncle Johnny. And one year old Jenny was already the apple of his eye. Silently he scolded himself for allowing that to happen. Because sooner or later, it would all end…it always did. And then just like always, he would be left all alone once more.
He had made up his mind to keep up his friendship with Roy, but to make sure he stuck to his ground rules…keep it light and friendly, but don’t let him in too far. He’d never let him in past the outer wall of his fortress…he’d never let him know what was in the deepest part of his heart. He’d never let Roy see how he really felt deep down inside his soul.
If he kept his heart protected, it couldn’t be broken anymore. It had always been his experience that investing too much of yourself in a relationship only meant it hurt that much more when it all came crashing down around your feet. It left you open and vulnerable, and that had never turned out well for Johnny.
He had finally settled it all in his mind…. a casual friendship with Roy was all well and good. But that’s as far as he would allow it to go.
It was the ringing of the telephone that interrupted his musings. He set his pack down on the floor and walked over to the kitchen counter and picked up the receiver. “Hello?” he said. “Yes, this is John Roderick Gage, how can I help you?” he asked.
Johnny’s face paled and his hands shook as he listened to the voice on the other end of the receiver… after several moments he grabbed a note pad and a pen from the counter and began to write down some information the caller was giving him. When he finished writing he set the pen and pad down and began to run his free hand nervously through his hair. After a few more minutes on the phone he quietly said, “yes, yes, I understand… I’ll make all the arrangements as soon as possible….no, no there really isn’t anybody else… okay…. Yeah, I will…thank you for calling me.” Johnny hung up the phone and sat down on the stool beside his counter, reeling in shock.
He sat there for over twenty minutes. Finally he let out a shaky sigh and slowly picked up the phone receiver and dialed the number of the departmental headquarters.
The next morning Roy stood at his locker getting into his uniform. He had had a busy three days off at home. As usual the first day had been filled with working his way through Joanne’s honey do list. After that he had been free to spend the time with his family.
He had tried to call Johnny several times over the last few days and invite him over. His young partner had found a permanent place in his family, and it had become a habit to make sure that he come over to supper, at least once when they had more than one day off. Besides, he had thought Johnny had been unusually quiet and down last shift. Roy was kind of hoping to get Johnny to open up and talk about what was bothering him.
He had taken to John Gage from the first time he had met him. He had been amazed by how comfortable he was around him. As the months passed, Roy had begun to think of him as more than just his best friend…he had started to think of him as a younger brother … the brother he had always wanted but never had. The trouble was, Johnny tended to keep all his cards close to his chest. In some ways Johnny was easy to get to know… but it wasn’t long before he realized that a lot of it was all superficial stuff…it had only been in the last few months that Johnny had begun to open up to him more in a deeper and more personal way. In fact it was just last week Johnny had told Roy that he had been raised on an Indian reservation.
Roy closed his locker and looked at his watch. You’d better get here soon Junior or you’re going to be late and Captain Hammer is going to give you latrine duty for a month.
Roy made his way into the kitchen where Mike, Marco and Chet where sitting around the table discussing their days off. Roy had just helped himself to a cup of coffee when Captain Hammer came into the room.
“There you are DeSoto, I’ve been looking for you,” he said.
“What is it Cap?” Roy asked.
“Headquarters called me early this morning, it seems Gage will be on compassionate leave for the next three weeks, so you’ll be working with subs until he returns…you’ll be teaming up with Bellingham today.”
Roy set his cup down and walked over to Cap. “Compassionate leave? What happened, what’s wrong?”
By this time the rest of the crew had come over and gathered around Captain Hammer.
“I don’t know DeSoto. HQ keeps that kind of thing confidential unless they have permission to elucidate. All I know is that John phoned headquarters last night and requested an emergency leave of absence for three weeks on compassionate grounds, and it was granted.
I guess you’ll have to ask him yourself when he returns…but if he doesn’t want to talk about it, I expect everyone to respect his right to privacy, is that clear?”
“Yes, Sir.” The men all quietly answered.
At that point Bellingham walked into the kitchen from the parking lot. He was already dressed in his uniform and was carrying his duffle bag over his shoulder.
Captain Hammer looked up. “Ah, Bellingham, you’re here. Go stow your stuff in an empty locker and meet the rest of us in the bay… as for the rest of you men, it’s time for roll call. Let’s get going, I have several drills I want to get through before lunch.”
Captain Hammer turned and walked out of the room leaving the rest of the A shift standing in stunned silence. Slowly one by one they all walked out to the bay and got in line for roll call. Unlike other days though, today you could have heard a pin drop as the men lined up… everyone was at a total loss for words. They were all wondering what had happened to Gage.
Even more puzzling was the fact that Roy was obviously just as much in the dark as the rest of them. Johnny and Roy were usually as thick as thieves…the fact that he hadn’t told Roy was really worrisome…and of all the men there, no one was more shocked or worried than Roy himself.
Roy had wondered what had happened in Johnny’s life that had caused him to ask for compassionate leave. The problem was, Johnny’s personal life was one of the things Johnny kept mum about.
The only thing Roy knew was that he had an aunt close by. And the only reason he knew that was because she had called Johnny at the station a couple of times. Even at that Johnny never spoke openly about her. Hell…Roy didn’t even know what her first name was. He couldn’t wait for there to be a quiet moment. He needed to call Johnny at home and find out what was going on. He hoped the day would go by quickly. It was all he could do to refrain himself from jumping into the squad and driving over to Johnny’s apartment right this second.
Johnny was just sitting in his Land Rover in the parking lot of the Wicklen Funeral Home in Sacramento, starring out of the windshield. He had been sitting there for over half an hour, trying to summon up the courage to go inside.
He could still here the voice of the police Sergeant that had called him the evening before.
“… I’m very sorry to have to inform you sir, but Marian Vaughn was found deceased in her apartment this morning shortly after eleven am. It appears she suffered a stroke and died before anyone found her. You are listed as her next of kin sir. I understand that you are her nephew?………”
Johnny had been stunned. He had just talked to her about an hour before he had left on his camping trip, and she had been fine. In fact she had never been sick a day in her life as far as he knew.
She was only sixty three years old. She didn’t smoke, or drink… she never even drank coffee.
According to the officer, she had gone over to her neighbour Clara’s for tea around eight that morning, and had returned home by nine. It had been Clara who had found her dead two hours later.
Johnny had met Marian at a time in his life when he had no one else in the world… and nowhere else to go. She had taken him in and became his legal guardian. She had loved him as if he were her own son. She had been married and had a son of her own who would have been John’s age exactly had he lived. Unfortunately her son Philip and her husband James had been killed in car accident when Philip was ten.
The fact that Johnny and Philip were the same age, and that Johnny had lost his own parents in a car accident when he was ten… the exact age Philip had been when he was killed, was not lost on Marian. She always told everyone that it was a sign… that God was somehow, in some small way, giving her back a son to love.
Whether Johnny believed that or not, didn’t matter. They needed each other and in a lot of ways, they had saved each other’s lives. Johnny had been just sixteen at the time. Marian had provided the stability Johnny had needed. For the first time in six years, Johnny had a good home, a warm bed and regular meals. But even more important, he had been enrolled in a proper school.
He had amazed everyone with how quickly he had managed to catch up to the other kids his age, especially considering his sporadic education since his parents had been killed. With in four months he had not only caught up, but he had surpassed his classmates.
Despite the love and care Marian lavished upon him, Johnny had always been wary of trusting or getting too close to anyone. In fact Johnny’s social group was very small indeed. It consisted of, Marian, (whom he quickly began calling Aunt Marian,) his track coach, and his friend Drew Burke who worked on the high school newspaper with him. Apart from the three of them, Johnny kept to himself.
And now she was gone… Why was it that every time he grew to love someone, they were taken away from him? It seemed like the universe loved to toy with him…dangling the chance to belong to a family before him, like a carrot on a string, before a starving rabbit…. and then as soon as he got close…the carrot was snatched away.
Johnny lowered his head onto the steering wheel of his Rover and wept bitterly… why, why, why?
Roy sat in the kitchen of station 51 nursing his third cup of coffee while the rest of the crew slept. It was just before six am and he had already been up for over an hour. Well, truth be told, he had been up most of the night, but it wasn’t until quarter to five that he finally gave in and just got up to make himself some coffee and wait.
It had been one of those shifts that had been unusually quiet for the squad. They had only had four minor calls throughout the day, and they hadn’t had any through the night. The engine had been called out twice during the day. Once for a small dumpster fire and the other was for a storage shed that had caught fire. It had also been called out once around midnight for fire in a junkyard. None of those calls had required the squad to go with them, which meant Roy had had plenty of time to worry about his young partner.
So here he was now, watching the clock slowly tick by…watching and waiting. Each minute seemed to stretch into an hour. Roy had tried several times throughout the day to call Johnny, but either he wasn’t at home, or he wasn’t answering his phone.
It had gotten to the point where he had almost called up Joanne to get her to drive over to his place and see if the Rover was parked out front. The only thing that stopped him, was the fact that Joanne was at home with two preschool age kids, and it would have been inconvenient for her to pack them up in the car and drive all the way over to Johnny’s place.
But Roy did have a plan of action in mind. About two months earlier, Johnny had accidentally locked himself out of his apartment, and because the landlord was away for the weekend, he had had to call a locksmith to come and let him inside. It was after that experience that Johnny had gone out and made a spare key, and stored it inside his locker at work, so that if it ever happened again, he at least had a spare key he could get access to.
Roy had gone inside Johnny’s locker and taken that key about an hour ago. He wasn’t exactly sure how Johnny would react to Roy going inside his locker without his knowledge and helping himself to the key to his apartment…let alone how he would feel when he found out Roy had let himself inside his apartment. But Roy figured he would deal with that when the time come…besides he had convinced himself that he was only doing it because he was concerned for Johnny’s well being.
By the time B shift had shown up to relieve him, the morning traffic was in full swing. He had taken the most direct route to Johnny’s from the station. Unfortunately, he had run right into a minor traffic accident, and although no one had been seriously injured, it had held up traffic for over an hour.
By the time he finally made it over to Johnny’s place it was after nine in the morning. There had been no sign of Johnny’s Land Rover in the parking lot when he arrived and no one had answered when he knocked on the door.
Roy was momentarily overcome with a feeling of trepidation as he inserted the key into the lock of Johnny’s front door. He had only ever been over at Johnny’s once before, and he hadn’t gone past the front hall way inside the door.
He had been there to pick Johnny up for work one rainy morning, when his camper finally just died and it was too wet for him to ride his motorcycle.
It was usually Johnny who came over to Roy’s place for breakfast after work, or for dinner. or to help Roy with his honey do list. It’s just the way it had always seemed to work out. As he was standing there debating as to whether or not he should actually go inside, a delivery man from one of the local flower shop’s walked up beside him.
“I have a delivery here for John Gage…are you Mr. Gage sir?” he asked Roy. “Uh… no, but this is his place. I’m his best friend, I was just here to check on things for him” ...well that was kinda true. Roy thought.
“Well if he’s not here, would you mind signing for these for him?” The deliveryman held out a pen and a clipboard with a signature form attached to it. Roy reached over and signed the form and took the flowers from the man. After handing him a tip, he watched as the delivery man disappeared down the hall.
Curiosity got the better of Roy and he opened the card that was attached to the floral arrangement, and read the note.
In deepest Sympathy…Our thoughts are with you during this time, as you deal with your loss.
Signed Chief William Hautes, Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Damn it Junior… somebody in your family died? Why the hell didn’t you call me? He lamented.
With that piece of the puzzle now firmly in place in Roy’s mind, he was more determined than ever to get to the bottom of this.
He pushed aside any reservations he had about the validity for his reason to be entering Johnny’s home without his permission. Besides, he reasoned. He was obligated to at least take the flowers inside… he couldn’t just leave them out here in the hallway, or somebody might steal them.
He finished inserting the key, opened up the door, and stepped inside.
Slowly he entered inside his friends’ apartment, and began to look around. The apartment itself was fairly dark inside, but surprisingly neat and clean. Somehow he had always pictured Johnny’s apartment as being messy with clothes and empty pizza boxes strewn all over the place. But that wasn’t the case.
The kitchen was small with a breakfast bar and a small, two person kitchen table. The living area held a sofa, and a recliner, as well as a coffee table and two end tables. There was also a colour TV and a stereo system. Beyond that there was another small hall which Roy was sure held the bedroom and the bathroom. Roy called out Johnny’s name, even though he knew he wouldn’t get any answer.
He set the flowers down on the coffee table and began to look around to see if he could find any clues as to where his friend may be.
After looking over both the kitchen and living area with no success in finding any clues to where Johnny had gone, he made his way down the hall until he came to the bedroom. Inside he found a double bed with a dresser and a night table. Spread over the bed was a beautiful Native American blanket and hanging in the bedroom window was some kind of native art. It was a round hoop and it looked like a spider’s web had been woven inside of the hoop, with feathers on it. Roy had never seen anything like it, but he thought it looked beautiful.
Suddenly he spied what he had been hoping to find on the bedroom night table.
He walked over and picked the item up and held it in his hands…Bingo this is what I was looking for... Okay Junior, now it’s time for me to finally get some answers.
Now that he was armed with the answer he was looking for, Roy quickly exited the apartment and headed for his home. He had some phone calls to make.
Johnny closed the photo album he had been looking through for the last hour, and put it in the box beside him. He was sitting cross-legged in the middle of Aunt Marian’s living room floor, and there were three large cardboard boxes sitting beside him. The first two had been sealed shut. The third one was still open, but it was almost full.
Johnny slowly pushed himself up off the floor and stretched out his back muscles. He walked through the small apartment one last time, making sure there were no more personal items that he wanted, left behind.
After he had gone to the funeral home to make all the arrangements regarding what time to have the visitation and choosing the time for the funeral, he had come over to Aunt Marian’s apartment complex. He didn’t go into his Aunt’s apartment, instead he walked across the hall and knocked on Clara’s door… after a brief hug and a few shared tears, he and Clara went over to Marian’s together.
Clara and Marian had been childhood friends. They had been born in Sacramento and had lived on the same street as children. They had gone through school together, they met their husbands together, and had even been each other’s maid of honor on their respective wedding days. They had remained neighbours and best friends all their lives.
When Philip and James had been killed, Marian had a hard time getting over it. Everywhere she looked she saw something that reminded her of her husband and son. Finally she decided she needed a change of scenery and had sold her home and moved to Los Angeles, and took a job working in a local youth mission.
It was in Los Angeles, that Johnny and she had crossed paths, and she had become his legal guardian.
Johnny had been living on his own for almost a year, and was a boot at Station 10, when Clara’s husband Frank died.
It was shortly after that, that Marian moved back to Sacramento to be with her friend. Clara had phoned telling Marian that the apartment across the hall from her was soon going to be vacant, and Marian had snatched it up.
Clara and Johnny sat and talked until almost two in the morning, and it was then that Johnny found out that Marian had suffered a stroke a few months back and had been told then by her doctor that there was a very good chance she would have another stroke with in a year, and that it could possibly be fatal.
Aunt Marian had sworn Clara to secrecy, telling her that she didn’t want to worry “her John”…but in her usual efficient way, she had set about to set her affairs in order so that if and when that happened, there would be very little for Johnny to do.
She had picked out and paid for her casket, chosen the funeral home and the minister. She had even picked out the music she wanted to be played and had given Clara the clothes she wanted to be buried in. She had made sure she had prepaid for everything right down to the opening of the grave and the filling in of the death date on the headstone that already held the names of her husband and son.
She had also gone to her lawyer and drew up a simple Will that stipulated that when she passed, Johnny was to be allowed to go through the apartment and take whatever possessions of hers he wanted back to Los Angeles. Whatever was left was to be taken to the local auction house and sold off…with the money going to the youth mission in Los Angeles where she had been working when she met Johnny.
And so now Johnny was walking through her apartment one last time making sure he had taken all the items he wanted. It had mostly consisted of photo albums, books and a few cherished mementos of their years together. He had also taken the three homemade quilts she had made.
Especially the one that had covered Johnny the very first night she had brought him to live in his new home. He remembered how she had led him to his new bedroom to sleep in his “very own bed”… Johnny hadn’t had his “very own bed” in a long, long time. It was a night he would never forget for as long as he lived.
He walked into her bedroom to retrieve the three photos that sat on her bedside table. One was her wedding photo, with her and James along with Frank and Clara. The other was of her, James and a young five year old Philip, taken on Philip’s first day of school. The third picture was of her and Johnny taken at John’s high school graduation.
Scanning around the room, Johnny’s eyes fell upon the large cross-stitched sampler Aunt Marian had made and brought out to show Johnny on their first Thanksgiving together. It had hung up over the fireplace of their home in Los Angeles, and it now hung over her bed here in Sacramento.
Johnny lovingly took it down from the wall and held it in his hands. Fresh tears slid down his face as he read the words his beloved Aunt had stitched with such love care.
It’s not flesh and blood,
but what is in our hearts that makes us a family.
The family of your heart is God’s gift to you-
Just as you are God’s gift to them.
Johnny carried the pictures and the sampler, back out to the living room. He carefully set them inside the open box on the floor, and then closed the flaps and sealed it shut with some packing tape.
One by one he carried them out to his Rover and slid them in the back. Then he went back up to the apartment for one final look around before he locked the door and took the key down and turned it in to the landlord.
He went back over to Clara’s and made sure she had a ride to the funeral home for the visitation that evening, before he returned to his motel room to get something to eat and get ready himself.
Johnny was sitting on the couch in the private family lounge of the funeral home, starring down into his cup of coffee, silently praying that the evening visitation hours would just hurry up and be over with.
He hated being here. He hated the whole atmosphere. He hated the quiet hushed voices and the somber music that was softly being piped through the speakers of the funeral home. He hated the overpowering smell of the flowers as each different arrangement’s scent fought for supremacy … and why did they always have to keep these places so damn cold? It was positively glacial in every room. To top it all off, he hated this stupid shirt whose collar and tie felt like they were chocking him.
He had spent the first hour standing by the open casket with Clara, as they received the visitors. The long line wound its way from the vestibule to the casket, where Johnny stood beside Clara, like a stone statue, accepting the hugs and handshakes of those who had known Marian long before he had.
He stood with his head down as he listened to snippets of the usual cliché’s people said at these affairs…she was such a wonderful person… she did so much good…she lived a wonderful life…she has gone to her reward…she’s at peace…she’s back with James and Philip now….
He accepted and thanked them for their condolences, with good grace. Even though he wanted to scream out every time someone looked in the casket and said…”Doesn’t she look so natural lying there? It’s almost as if she were just sleeping.”
Were they kidding? Johnny wanted to scream out…NO SHE DOESN’T LOOK NATURAL AND SHE DOESN’T LOOK LIKE SHE’S SLEEPING…. If she looked natural she would be sitting on a chair with a cup of tea and some pound cake, and she Clara would be laughing while they told Johnny all the latest, juicy gossip that was circulating around the apartment complex…now that would be natural.
The body that lay on display beside him, wearing Aunt Marians favourite light blue dress with its hands crossed on its breast, wasn’t Aunt Marian… Aunt Marian wasn’t here anymore…she had gone. This body was what was left of her…it was her empty shell, and nothing more… there was no animation in this corpse. This body was dead.
Finally Clara had sent him off to the lounge to get a cup of coffee and allow him to take a breather.
He was sitting there lost in thought when he suddenly felt someone sit down on either side of him on the couch, and put a comforting arm around his shoulder.
The cup of coffee he was holding slid out of his hands and onto the floor, when he suddenly heard Roy’s voice say quietly, “Just when exactly, were you going to phone and tell me about all of this Junior?”
Johnny froze for a full minute and then slowly he looked up to find Roy on one side of him and Joanne on the other. He instantly began to hyperventilate, which sent Roy into instant paramedic mode.
Roy ran over to the small kitchen area and began opening drawers until he found a paper bag that was full of sugar packets. He dumped the packets out onto the counter and rushed over to Johnny’s side and held the bag over his face, while he gently coached him into slowing down his breathing.
After several minutes had passed, Johnny slowly took the bag away from his face and looked into the concerned blue eyes of his best friend. He struggled to find his voice, “How did you find me? … Who told you?” he asked, his voice shaking and barely audible.
Roy reached over and put his hands on Johnny’s shoulders, as he quietly said, with just a hint of sadness in his voice… “Not the person who should have told me Junior.”
As soon as Johnny heard Roy’s statement, he lost the last of his fragile hold that he had on his raw emotions … emotions that had been threatening to overwhelm him all evening long, and he could no longer stop the tears from flowing down his face.
Roy took his hands that were still on Johnny’s shoulders, and pulled him into a hug. Needing the chance to finally lean on someone else, Johnny leaned in and wept openly against Roy’s shoulder.
Roy just stood there letting Johnny lean into his shoulder, doing his best to lend the young man support while the grief and sorrow poured from his heart. He had never seen Johnny like this before, and he wasn’t sure what to expect next.
Johnny had always been a hard one to figure out. There were times when he seemed as carefree as a child, wild and free spirited, full of boundless energy. He had an enthusiasm for life that seemed to have no bounds. He could seem naive and even immature at times, not to mention that he could worry a subject to death with his hyperactive imagination and drive Roy to distraction when he got off on one of his wild tangents.
But Roy also knew that in a large sense, that was just a persona Johnny had adopted, in order to deflect others away from finding out who he really was. Roy had caught those rare moments during certain rescues, where Johnny’s eyes took on a haunted and sad look. It was then that those eyes betrayed the fact that inside of Johnny, there was also the heart of a very old soul.
Even though they had been a team for nearly a year now, Roy sensed that there was a lot Johnny was holding back from him about who he really was, and where he had come from.
It was a skillful conjuring trick, … a slight of hand that had been honed to perfection through years of practice. But Roy knew there were other layers to Johnny as well… layers he managed to catch little glimpses of from time to time.
In fact Roy’s first impression of Johnny had been one of a serious, intelligent and passionate young fire brand. He was dedicated, eager, and quick to learn. He had earned the top mark in his paramedic class, beating out all the others quite handily.
When he had walked into Roy’s office to inquire about the paramedic program that morning a year earlier, he had asked all the right questions. He exuded an aura of someone who clearly was not prepared to settle for anything less than the absolute truth, and that he wasn’t afraid to tell anyone that they were full of shit, if he thought they were feeding him some party line.
That fact alone was evident, when he stood up to Dr. Brackett. Roy knew very few others who had the balls to challenge Kelly Brackett on anything, (except for perhaps Dixie McCall), but Johnny did, and he made it clear to everyone including Dr. Brackett, that he wasn’t going to back down… and that he wasn’t someone to be toyed with.
But Roy had instantly connected to this young man who could be such an enigma, which was something in and of itself, because Roy himself had never been one who had been given over to close friendships. He usually preferred to keep to himself. His work, and his family had been his whole world, until this young man had come breezing into his life.
They were as different as night and day, and yet the minute Roy had met him; he knew that he and Johnny, … this kid who was six years his junior; were kindred spirits, and that he wanted him to be a part of his life.
So the fact that Johnny was standing here weeping into his shoulder, showing the first really deep and honest emotion openly in front of both him and Joanne, was both unnerving and gratifying at the same time.
Roy was still standing there searching his mind to find the right thing to say to his young friend, when Clara stepped into the room.
“Excuse me,” she said quietly, “but the visitation hours are over and the funeral director would like a word with John, before he leaves.”
Johnny pulled self consciously away from Roy and quickly wiped his eyes. He looked down at the floor in embarrassment, and went out of his way to avoid looking at Roy, instead he purposely turned and focused all of his attention on Clara.
“Thanks Clara… could you please tell him that I’ll be out in a few minutes, I just want to go into the men’s room and wash my face. “ And he quickly side stepped around Roy and Joanne and slipped out of the lounge.
Clara looked over at Roy and Joanne. “This has been very hard on poor John. He and Marian were very close. Marian meant as much to Johnny, as Johnny meant to Marian. You know they may not have been related by blood, but they were related in all the ways that really mattered.“
Roy and Joanne looked at each other in surprise… the fact that Johnny and his Aunt Marian weren’t actually related by blood was news to them… but then it was only yesterday that they’d finally discovered what his Aunts name even was.
Clara walked over to the couple and extended her hand…”I’m Clara Forsythe, Marian’s best friend and confidant. I‘m guessing that you’re Roy and Joanne DeSoto. I’ve heard John talk about you quite a bit, whenever he was up visiting his Aunt. He really seems to have taken a shine to you. It pleased Marian to know that he had found a good friend that he could talk to.”
Clara looked over at the couple and smiled and continued talking without giving either DeSoto a chance to answer.
“Johnny isn’t one to let people get too close him…but then, I guess when you think of what he’s been through, you can hardly blame him for not trusting others easily…. can you?”
Clara walked over and looked out the window and began to talk again, although this time, it was almost as if she was just thinking out loud to herself now rather than speaking to Roy and Joanne.
“The day they pulled Johnny out of that burning building when he was sixteen and it was discovered he was an orphan living on the streets, was a blessing in disguise for both of them.”
“Marian always said that it was divine intervention that she and Johnny were brought together. She lost her son Philip when he was only ten, and John was only ten when he was orphaned. Then Marian discovered that John and Philip were both born in August of the same year… she always believed that Johnny coming into her world, was God’s way of making it up to her and John.”
“You know, I never did know the story about what happened to Johnny’s birth family, but I got the distinct impression it was a very sad and horrific story. I’m not even too sure Marian knew everything about it. I gathered that Johnny never really talked about it…but he and Marian certainly did need each other, and they really did grow to love each other deeply. It’s a hard blow for the poor boy to lose her.”
Clara turned around and looked over at Roy and Joanne…”my goodness, look at me talking your ear off, when I should be letting you leave… It’s been really nice meeting you both.” She said, extending her hand once more. She turned and scurried out of the room before Roy and Joanne had even had a chance to say either hello or goodbye to the woman.
Roy looked at Joanne in stunned silence.
“Damn, …” he said as he blew out deep breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding in.
In the last five minutes he had been given a mountain full of information about his young partner, and none of it had been happy news… no wonder Johnny was so closed off.
The maddening part was that Roy felt like he had just been given a road map of John Gage’s life…only half of the map was missing. Clara had alluded to the fact that something terrible and tragic had happened that had caused John to be orphaned when he was a child of ten, but she had also been clear that Johnny and Marian hadn’t met until he was sixteen, and that he had been living alone on the streets. What had happened to his family? …And what about those missing six years?
Joanne stood next to Roy crying softly…”Oh dear God, Roy…did you hear what she said? It just breaks my heart to think about what Johnny’s been through in his life.” Roy reached over and pulled Joanne into a hug, and rested his chin on the top of her head. “Damn it Joanne… why didn’t he tell me?” he said quietly.
Johnny stood in the men’s room of the funeral home starring at his reflection in the mirror.
“Oh shit”, he thought to himself. What had he just done?
Hadn’t he just promised himself two days ago, that he was going to keep his friendship with Roy casual? And here he had just gone and cried on his shoulder like a small child. “Shit, shit, shit.” He said out loud as he slammed his fist down on the top of the vanity.
What was he going to do now? He was at loose ends and he didn’t know where to turn. There were too many things happening all at one here…to many emotions bombarding his senses. It was hard enough dealing with Aunt Marian’s death…now he was going to have to deal with Roy as well… He had to work with Roy, and he knew that questions were going to be asked. But they just weren’t questions he was sure he wanted to answer.
He ran his hands nervously through his hair… damn it all anyway, why did you have to die Aunt Marian…why does everybody I love have to die and leave me all alone?”
Suddenly Johnny had an overwhelming urge to just run out the door of the funeral home and hightail it up into the mountains, and never come back…he’d live as a hermit and hide himself away… that way he could never be hurt again.
But in the end he knew that wasn’t the answer. For one thing he loved his job, and he had worked too damn hard and overcome too many damn obstacles in his twenty one years to just throw it all away.
If only he could trust Roy completely. There was such a huge part of him that wanted too, and sometimes he was sure he could trust the man… but then there would come those moments, like when he had laughed at Chet’s stupid, racist remarks and pranks. It was instances like that that would suddenly make Johnny wonder if he really should trust the man.
He knew he had convinced himself, that Roy had laughed because he just didn’t understand how hurtful the words had been, and that it wasn’t out of derision or malice for Johnny. But he just needed to be sure that he wasn’t rationalizing Roy’s reaction to Chet’s jokes away because of wishful thinking on his part.
How could he tell Roy what he had been through in his life…how could he be sure he was safe in putting his trust in the man…could he let this man and his family into his life?
Still didn’t he put his whole life in Roy’s hands every shift? Was it merely Roy’s sense of duty that he looked out for Johnny, or did he really care about him?
Sometimes it seemed like he really wanted Johnny around. After all he had invited him over to his place time and time again and even encouraged little Christopher to call him Uncle Johnny. And he was here now wasn’t he?
Johnny had no idea how Roy had found out where he was and why, but the man and his wife had clearly gone out of their way to not only find out where he was, but to actually come all the way up to Sacramento to be with him…Since his mom and dad had been killed, no one but Aunt Marian had ever cared about him enough to go to so much trouble to make sure he was alright.
Maybe…just maybe he needed to rethink his plan about not letting Roy get too close, maybe he needed to change his ground rules… maybe just maybe he could actually trust this man and his family after all. He’d never actually done that before… but then again, he’d never met anyone like Roy before either.
He knew that once Aunt Marian’s funeral was over and he had a chance to be alone to think, that he needed to decide once and for all, one way or another. He knew he really didn’t want to go through life all alone… he learned long ago that, ONE really was the loneliest number.
Perhaps the time had come for him to just take a leap of faith and trust the man… and if he got hurt…well then he got hurt. It wasn’t like he hadn’t been down that road before… but somewhere deep down inside his soul; he didn’t think that would happen this time.
Johnny realized as he was standing there looking at himself in the mirror, that the idea that he could trust Roy, and actually allow him in, wasn’t particularly an unpleasant one. And that at least gave him some hope. He squared his shoulders, dried off his face, took a deep cleansing breath and walked out of the bathroom.
Back out in the vestibule Joanne and Roy were waiting for Johnny to finish talking to the funeral director. Clara’s words were still echoing in his ears. The more he went over in his mind what he had just found out, the more unsettled he became.
The picture in his mind of how Johnny looked when he first walked into that visitors lounge tugged at his heart. He could still see him sitting there, his head bowed as he struggled with his emotions. Hell, he looked all of sixteen just sitting there lost and all alone. And then Johnny’s reaction to Roy and Joanne; first his hyperventilating, and then when he had collapsed into tears when Roy gave him a hug, had only served to amp up Roy’s concern.
It was at that moment that Roy became aware of an inexplicable, and yet overwhelming paternal need to protect his young partner.
He thought about Clara’s words once more, and suddenly realized he was actually angry.
The thought of the implications of those unspoken words…that someone had hurt Johnny when he was a child, and had hurt him so deeply that he had decided that living on the streets was a better alternative, made Roy’s protective nature even stronger. He also became aware, that the more he thought about it, the more he wanted to find whomever it was that had hurt Johnny so badly as a child, and beat the shit out of them.
He turned and looked at the door that Johnny would be coming through with a fresh determination…
Okay Junior…this is a whole new ball game now. We are going to do some serious talking when all this is over, and I don’t care how long it takes, or hard you try to shut me out…I’m going to get through to you, and you will learn to trust us.
“What are you thinking Roy?” Joanne quietly asked, as she came up behind him and put her arms around his waist.
Roy sighed, “I’m thinking that one way or another Jo, we have to get through to Johnny, and make sure he knows and understands how much he means to us, and that he can trust us completely. We have to convince him to accept that we’re his family now, and we’ll never do anything to shatter his trust…ever.”
It was at that moment the door between the funeral director’s office and the vestibule opened and Johnny stepped through.
Roy and Joanne looked over at Johnny and were dismayed to see how pale and tired he looked. His pallor was almost gray and he had dark circles under his eyes. His shoulders were slumped as if he were carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Johnny looked up and gave them a tired smile…”You’re still here?”
Roy and Joanne stood up and walked over and stood next to him.
“Of course we’re still here. You didn’t think we were going to let you go through this all alone did you?” Roy answered matter of factly.
Johnny shifted self-consciously and said nothing…there was a long moment of silence that lay heavy in the air. In fact the air was so thick you could have cut it with a knife.
Finally Roy broke the uncomfortable silence.
“So you drove up?”
“Yeah,” Johnny said quietly. “They called about Aunt Marian right after I got back from my camping trip. I’d gone up to the mountains for a couple days right after my last shift. I was just about to go out to pick up my uniforms at the dry cleaners before my shift the next day, when I got the call. Anyway, I called HQ and told them I needed some time off, and then I packed a bag and I drove straight up here. What about you guys…you drive up?”
“No,” answered Roy. “We flew up this afternoon. As soon as my shift was over, and I found out where you were and what happened, I called Joanne. She got her sister to take the kids for us. Then I got Dwyer to cover my next shift for me. He was looking for some OT to make up for the time he lost last week. We packed some stuff in our suitcases, and went right to the airport. Luckily we were able to get a couple of seats on standby for the next flight up... So are you staying at your Aunt’s place?”
Johnny shook his head, “Naw, I didn’t have the heart for it. It would have been too hard. I just got a cheap motel close by. Do you guys have a ride? I mean did you get a rental or something?”
“Nope, we just checked in at our hotel and changed, and then we grabbed a cab and came straight here to the funeral home.”
“Oh,” said Johnny. “Well, don’t worry about it, I’ll give you a ride to wherever you need to go.”
Roy purposely avoided any talk about what had happened earlier in the lounge. The last thing he wanted to do was to make Johnny feel any more uncomfortable than he was already obviously feeling.
Johnny for his part made no effort to ask Roy how he came to find out where he was and that his Aunt had died.
“Well,” said Johnny finally. “I guess we should be going. It’s been kind of a long day for me, and I’m more than ready to leave this place for the night.”
The three of them made their way out to Johnny’s Rover. Once again there was an awkward silence. Joanne slipped into the back seat, while Roy sat beside Johnny in the front. Once they were all seated in the vehicle Roy spoke up.
“Look, I’m not going to push you for an explanation right now Johnny, because that wouldn’t be fair… not when you’re so upset. But later on Junior, we’re going to have a long talk… all three of us.”
Johnny just dropped his head and heaved a heavy sigh in resignation, but said nothing…once again there was a long pause of uncomfortable silence.
After a long moment, Johnny started the Rover and asked, “So, where am I taking you guys?”
“Well, the first thing we’re going to do Johnny,” Roy declared, “Is we’re going to go to your motel and get your things, and then you’re going to get a room at our hotel. I’m going to order us in some room service, and you’re going to eat something. After that you’re going to lie down and get some decent sleep.
Johnny shifted nervously in his seat. “Look Roy….” He started.
Roy stopped him before he could finish his sentence… “Sorry Junior, but we’re not going to argue about this. I doubt you’ve eaten much of anything since this whole thing happened have you?” Roy went on without waiting for Johnny to answer. “ You’re way too pale, you’re emotionally exhausted and judging by those dark circles under your eyes, I’m guessing you haven’t slept very much at all have you? How much sleep did you get last night?”
Johnny sighed once again. He was just way too tired to fight Roy on this, so he turned the Rover towards the street where his motel was located.
“How much sleep did you get John?” Roy asked again.
"None," Johnny admitted. "I spent part of it over at Clara's going over some details, and she and I ended up talking until almost two in the morning. After that, I went over and started going through some of Aunt Marian's stuff. I got some boxes and packed up all of the more personal items that I wanted to keep. I was pretty well at it until about ten this morning.
"I just brought the boxes back to my motel room, and took a shower. I tried to watch a bit of TV to take my mind of of things, but it didn't work... so I just got ready and went to the funeral home."
Roy reached over and gently squeezed Johnny’s shoulder. “Well, we’re here now Junior, an we’re going to make sure you start taking care of yourself so you don’t make yourself sick…now let’s go get your gear, so we can get you settled in to our hotel for the night.”
It was about an hour and a half later, and Johnny was sitting in Roy and Joanne’s hotel room eating their meal. To be more accurate, Roy and Joanne were eating… Johnny was just moving the food around his plate with his fork, while he talked.
“So anyway, It wasn’t until I got here that I found out she had already pre-arranged everything, so the only thing I really had to do was show up and decide on whether or not to have any visitation and did I want the funeral at eleven in the morning or two in the afternoon? You know it’s weird, but I don’t even really know the other pallbearers…most of them were James and Franks friends. I mean I have met most of the mourners that were her closest friends, because they would visit us from time to time, but most of them were women her age…there weren’t that many men.”
Johnny set down his fork and pushed his plate away, ignoring the frown on Roy and Joanne’s faces.
Finally he looked over and asked the question that had been plaguing him since he first saw Roy and Joanne in the visitors’ lounge of the funeral home.
“So how exactly did you find out about all of this? And how did you know where to find me? I didn’t even tell HQ where the funeral was going to be held.”
Now it was Roy’s turn to be uncomfortable. “Well, when Cap told us you took an emergency leave of absence I got worried so I went to your place to see if you were okay. I used your spare key from your locker and I let myself into your place…I found the notepad on your bedside table… the one that you wrote down the name and telephone number of the funeral home on. I just phoned the number and got all the information and … Bob’s your Uncle…here we are.”
Roy stood up and put his hand in the front pocket of his pants and withdrew the spare key to Johnny’s apartment, and held it out. “Here’s your key back. I hope you’re not too mad at me for breaking into your place, but I was really worried about you.”
Johnny took the key and held it in his hand for a moment. “Naw, I’m not mad…it’s kinda nice having you here” Johnny turned the key over in his hand and studied it intently. Roy could tell he was mulling something over in his mind. After a minute or so had passed, he smiled and held the key back out to Roy. “ Here…” he said as he handed the key back to Roy. “You just hang on to it…that way if you decide you want to get into my apartment again at any time in the future, you don’t have to commit a felony to do it.” He joked half-heartedly.
Roy took the key back and grinned… “Thanks Junior. I know Jo would rather not have to spend her weekends visiting me in the joint.” Roy took out his own key chain and carefully added Johnny’s key to the rest of the keys that were already on it. He smiled at Johnny and quietly added, “I’m glad you feel that way about us being here, because, there’s nowhere else we’d rather be… and besides, you shouldn’t be alone right now…not when you’re so upset.”
Johnny’s face turned crimson in embarrassment…”Ummm look Roy, I’m sorry about before. I don’t know what came over me…” he looked down at his feet and shifted uncomfortably, wishing that right at that moment the floor would open up and swallow him.
Roy shook his head in confusion. “I don’t get it Junior, what are you apologizing for?”
Johnny actually did start to squirm then… “Awww hell Roy, you know why…I’m sorry about freaking out and all the water works earlier…I didn’t mean for that to happen. I really don’t know what came over me…and… well….anyway, I’m just sorry about it.”
Roy knew that this could be a defining moment in getting Johnny to start trusting him and Joanne, and he wanted to make sure he didn’t blow it.
He wanted to make sure Johnny understood that Roy was in this friendship for the long haul and that Johnny could tell him anything, and be totally honest with him about anything….and that included his emotions.
Roy took Johnny by the arm and led him over to the bed and pushed him down onto the duvet.
“Now look here Junior, I’m only going to tell you this once, so I want you to listen up good. First of all, don’t ever apologize for being human … not to me. There’s nothing wrong with crying over that fact that you just lost someone you loved. It’s not good to hold those emotions in… it’s good to let them out. It’s healing. It’ s what makes us living, feeling beings. It makes us fully functioning members of the human race.”
“We’re all only human Johnny. We’re not robots and were not superman. Why do you think the good Lord gave us tear ducts? It’s not a sin for a man to cry. In fact did you know the shortest verse in the Bible is only two words long…and do you know what those two words are Junior?… ‘Jesus wept’ Coincidentally the reason he wept had to do with the death of Lazarus. I figure if it’s perfectly acceptable for the Son of God to cry, then it’s okay for us too.
“I cried at my grandfather’s funeral last year. I was close to him and I loved him, and I cried because he had died and I was sad and upset about it. And I’ll tell you something else, I cried when I saw Joanne coming down the aisle in her wedding dress on our wedding day, and I cried the first time I held each of my children in my arms. So does that make me any less of a man to you?”
Johnny looked up at Roy, his eyes wide in panic…”Hell, Roy no, that’s not what I meant…I’d never think that of you man…you gotta believe me.”
Roy knew he had Johnny right where he wanted him now.
“Well then you’re gonna have to help me here Junior, because I don’t understand why you were apologizing to me for crying….Do you think that everyone else in the world is allowed to be human, and allowed to express their sorrow but you? John…you just lost your family…again.”
Johnny looked up in shock when Roy put the emphasis on the word, again. Shit, what did he know? How did he find out?
Roy seen the look of panic in Johnny’s eyes, and he had a pretty good idea why. He figured it was time to just go ahead and take the plunge…after all he couldn’t expect Johnny to open up to him, if he wasn’t prepared to open up to Johnny. He took a deep breath and jumped in with both feet.
“Actually John, I felt honored to think that you finally trusted me enough to share with me how you are feeling, and that you felt comfortable enough with our friendship, to let me be there to offer some comfort back… It was nice to think that you were willing to be honest with me about something more personal, than what you had for dinner last night.”
“Johnny, you’re more than just a friend to me… you do know that right? You’re like a brother to me,… I think of you as my kid brother, and I was kind of hoping you felt the same way about me.”
“And it’s not just me Junior, It’s Jo, and the kids… you’ve become part of our family. Why do you think we were so happy when Chris started calling you Uncle Johnny… It’s because we think of you as part of our family now. I know it must feel like you’re all alone now, Johnny. But you don’t have to be … not anymore. You have a family right here waiting for you, if you’ll only let us … if you’ll just accept us and let us in.”
“You’re as much of a real Uncle to Christopher, as Marian was to you.”
When Roy said that, Johnny knew for certain that Clara must have told them something about his past. How else would they have known that he and Aunt Marian had adopted each other, and weren’t actually related by blood.
Roy’s voice brought his attention back to the conversation.
“You like being Christopher’s Uncle, don’t you?”
Johnny nodded his head yes, but didn’t speak.
“You know Junior, I’ve never actually been one to have a lot of friends myself, but when I first met you, well, I just felt something… It felt like I’d found someone besides Joanne that I could really bond with and talk to, and hang around with, for the first time in my life…and I don’t think that kind of thing happens everyday… at least not to me anyway. And I really don’t want to lose the first really good friend I’ve ever had… my best friend… my brother.”
Roy took his hand and put it under Johnny’s chin and forced him to look Roy in the eyes.
“And I promise you this, little brother, we’re in this forever, not just for a couple of years, not just until we move up in the department…but for life… I hope you know you can trust me… trust us. We’d never do anything to break your trust or do anything to hurt you.”
Johnny could have pointed out that Roy had already had hurt him when he laughed at Chet’s hurtful prank. But after listening to what Roy had just told him, Johnny knew for sure that Roy, hadn’t meant to hurt him, and that he just didn’t realize how hurtful Chet’s actions had been.
Not to mention, Johnny was not without his own faults and shortcomings either, and if Roy was willing to overlook his little foibles, no questions asked, and he was willing to take a chance on trusting him; then maybe it was time for Johnny to return the favour in kind. After all what did the good book say? Something about “let he who is without sin, cast the first stone?”
Besides, he really did love being included in the DeSoto family’s activities, and if he was totally honest with himself, he had grown attached to them… and maybe he’d even grown to love them too.
Johnny looked up and smiled at the two DeSoto’s who were looking down at him. When he looked in their eyes he saw only honesty and a genuine concern for him… he saw their love. “I’d like that a lot Roy, I mean if you’re really sure… and to be honest with you, I’ve kinda grown attached to you guys too…”
Roy and Joanne reached forward and pulled Johnny into a tight group hug, as Roy said,… “welcome home little brother…welcome home.”
Johnny pulled away, and looked into their faces. “I know you talked to Clara, and I know she told you some stuff. And I guess you’re kind of hoping that I’ll tell you all about myself. But to be honest with you guys…I’m not sure I can… I’m just not ready for that.”
He stood up and began to pace back and forth nervously around the hotel room.
“This is kinda hard for me, ya know. I mean there’s just so much about me that I’ve never told you…I’ve never told anyone. I mean Aunt Marian knew some stuff, but there was a lot of stuff that I never even told her. Not that I did anything bad, like steal, or kill anyone or do drugs or stuff like that… but a lot of bad shit happened when I was a kid, and I’ve just never talked about it …not even with Aunt Marian. It’s just really painful and I don’t like to revisit that time in my life….period. It just hurts too much. In fact I’ve spent most of my life trying to forget it.”
“I guess that’s not what you were hoping to hear, but it’s the best that I can do.”
Roy walked over and stopped Johnny from pacing.
“Look, it’s okay Johnny. I understand, and we certainly don’t want to rush you, or put pressure on you to do something that you’re just not ready to do. Besides I think you’ve got enough on your plate to handle right now as it is. Tomorrow is going to be a big day…so how about if we just call it a night, and you go and get some sleep…and if you need anything…anything at all, even if it’s just someone to sit and listen…or if you just want to sit and not say anything…you come and get us okay?”
Johnny stood up and made his way over to the door and opened it.
“Okay…and listen guys, thanks again.”
“It’s what families do Junior, … no thanks are necessary…but you’re welcome.” Roy said and he pulled Johnny in for another hug, before he headed down the hall and into his own room for the night.
Johnny slowly made his way across the neatly manicured lawn of the cemetery as he held onto the handle at the front of Aunt Marian’s casket. He deftly maneuvered his way around the grave opening and in unison he and the other five men centered the casket over the chrome frame that was around the open grave. Carefully they set the coffin down on the straps that were strung between the frame to support the weight of the casket, and then they quietly stepped back.
Roy and Joanne stood on one side of Johnny, while Clara stood on the other.
Johnny didn’t remember much about the funeral or what was said at the graveside. He had gone through the motions of listening to the sermon, singing the hymns and reciting the 23rd Psalm…but his mind was lost in the memories of all the shared conversations, and cups of hot chocolate Aunt Marian had served. He remembered how she would sit up all night with him, reading Victor Hugo or Thomas Hardy, or Oscar Wilde to him, while he worked on his project for shop class, or how she would quiz him when he was studying for a history or math test.
There were the times when he was ill with pneumonia, and she had made him homemade soup and tea…and again she would sit and read to him as he convalesced. She had treated him like a son, and he had loved her like a mother.
He was so caught up in his thoughts that he didn’t realize the graveside service was over and the winch was lowering the casket into the ground. It wasn’t until Roy gently grabbed his elbow and led him over to the mound of earth that his mind snapped back to the present.
He bent over and grabbed a handful of earth and tossed it gently into the grave.
One by one, the mourners followed suit. After giving their condolences to Johnny one last time, they slowly made their way back to their cars…but Johnny just stood there starring into the open grave.
He slowly turned to Roy, Joanne and Clara, who had all remained at Marian’s grave with him.
“Ah… do you mind if I have a moment alone, to say good-bye?” he asked in a small voice.
Roy could see that he was keeping control of his tears… but just barely.
“Sure Junior…we’ll just wait over there.” Roy said and he softly he patted his shoulder.
Clara and Joanne slowly walked back to their respective cars, in order to give Johnny some privacy. Roy stood back several feet. He wanted to give Johnny his private moment, but still be close enough should he be needed.
He saw Johnny slowly sink down onto his knees at the edge of the grave and begin to say something to the casket that now lay in the bottom of the grave…finally Roy saw Johnny lower his head as his shoulders began to shake uncontrollably. He heard a small sob escape from Johnny’s mouth.
Finally after several minutes had gone by, Roy walked over and knelt down and put his arms around Johnny’s shoulders and gently stood him upright. “Come on little brother… it’s time to go now.”
Johnny let himself be led away from the grave, as he wiped the tears from his face. In a quiet voice that was so laced with pain and sorrow, that it almost broke Roy’s heart Johnny said…
“I wanna go home now Roy… I don’t want to go to the reception…I just want to go back to Los Angeles… right now.”
Roy put his arm further around Johnny shoulders and pulled him into a sideways hug…“Okay Junior, if that’s what you need to do…then that’s what we’ll do.”
As soon as he got Johnny into the car, Roy went back to Clara’s vehicle and explained the situation to her… Clara stepped back out of her car, and came up to the side window of Roy’s rental car, where Johnny sat in the front passenger side with his head down… the odd errant tear still leaking out. Leaning in she gave him a tender kiss on the cheek, wished him well and told him to keep in touch.
Once Clara had returned to her car, Roy got back into the car he had rented for that morning’s service and headed back to the hotel.
As soon as they got back to the hotel, Joanne set about packing their bags, while Roy went down and checked the three of them out.
When she had taken care of her and Roy’s things she went up to Johnny’s room. She softly knocked on the door and then entered.
She found Johnny standing before his open suitcase. He was starring mutely at a shirt he held in his hand, looking lost and sad.
She walked over and drew him into a hug, and then took the shirt from his hands.
“Here, sweetheart, why don’t you just sit down for a minute and let me finish this for you.”
Johnny held onto the hug for a long moment and then nodded and he gave her a weak smile.
They had decided that Joanne would drive the rental back to the agency, while Johnny and Roy followed behind so Joanne could just get into the Rover directly from the car rental office.
Joanne had just pulled away when Johnny went to get into the drivers side of his Rover. He hadn’t said two words since he had left the cemetery, and Roy and Joanne hadn’t pushed him to talk.
Roy’s hand snaked out and took the keys from Johnny’s hands.
“I don’t think so Junior. I don’t think you’re in any shape to drive…for one thing you’re too upset and distracted, and for another, I know you really didn’t get much sleep last night again did you?”
Johnny was actually grateful that Roy had taken the keys… he really didn’t feel like driving and he just wanted to be alone with his thoughts for a while. Without a word he just gave Roy a grateful smile and nodded.
Roy knew that Johnny was still to upset for any conversation, when instead of climbing into the front passenger side of the Rover, he slipped into the back seat with the luggage and the boxes from his Aunt’s apartment.
The trip back to Los Angeles was done in relative silence. The only conversation was between Roy and Joanne, while Johnny sat and starred out the side window of his Land Rover, lost in his memories, while the scenery slid past him unnoticed.
Just before they entered the Los Angeles city limits, Roy looked back and noticed that Johnny had finally drifted off to sleep.
“He’s asleep.” He whispered over to Joanne.
Joanne glanced in the rear view mirror and sighed.
“Well, I guess there’s just something about seeing the casket in the ground that really makes it hit home and seem final, and then all the grief and exhaustion just catches up to a person. I hope you’re not intending to take him back to his place… I don’t think it’s a good idea. You know he won’t eat, and he won’t get the rest he needs. I don’t think he should be alone for the first few days… he needs his family close by.” She said.
Roy squeezed her hand and leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.
“I love you more and more everyday. I hope you know that Mrs. DeSoto. I’m a helluva lucky man. I was hoping you’d feel that way, because I was just about to suggest that to you, myself.”
Silently Roy drove on through the streets of Los Angeles towards his home, while an exhausted and totally spent Johnny, slept in the back of his Rover.
In the end, Johnny ended up staying at the DeSoto home for over a week, where he found himself surrounded by the love and support of his new family. They listened when he needed to talk, and they were silent when he needed to be alone with his thoughts…but most importantly, they were there to help him through his tears, as he grieved and slowly came to terms with his Aunt Marian’s death. As the week passed by, Johnny once and for all, lost any sense of doubt about whether or not he could trust these people…he knew it in his heart, and he felt it in his soul…these people were now his family… and it was a good feeling.
Johnny stood in front of the kitchen cupboards, having once more fallen victim to one of the Phantom’s water bombs. He stood there silently as the water dripped off the ends of his hair and ran down the back of his neck, while Chet giggled.
“Man Gage, you’ll never learn, will you?” Chet gloated in a tone that was clearly meant to taunt his pigeon.
Johnny composed himself and slowly turned around, and faced Chet. The rest of the A shift and what remained of the departing C shift, stood waiting for the explosion of anger… but it never came.
Instead Johnny walked over and grabbed the dishtowel and began to wipe off the rest of the water that was still dripping down his face. He then walked over to Chet and starred him right in the eyes as he spoke.
“Well, I did learn one thing Chet,” he said
“Oh really? And what was that Gage?” Chet asked
Johnny tossed the towel back onto the counter and put his hands on Chet’s shoulders.
“ If God ever comes to me in a dream and tells me I have to slay someone with the jawbone of an ass, at least I know where I can find one … although, I wonder how you’ll manage to chew your meat with no bottom teeth.”
Chet looked affronted and put his hand to his chest.
“Well, that’s what I get for being such a nice guy, and planning this little surprise for you to welcome you back… you know I guess my problem is, that I’m just too damn nice!” Chet said in mock seriousness.
“Oh, you’ve got a problem Chet,” said Johnny. “But that’s not it.”
“Oh, really, so just what do you think my problem is, Mr. Hotshot paramedic? Chet said, as he continued to try and bait Johnny into a full-fledged Gage rant.
Johnny looked over at the others who were just standing back wondering how long it was going to be before he lost his composure…Johnny just smirked and winked over at Roy.
“Well, Chet, I believe the clinical term for the diagnosis is called. Cranial-Rectal Inversion … unfortunately for you Chester, it appears to be a terminal condition.”
Johnny then turned on his heels and left to go get a dry uniform shirt, while Roy and the two C shift paramedics began to laugh.
Chet turned in confusion and looked at Roy. “And just what the hell does that mean?”
Roy walked over and patted Chet on the cheek and giggled…”I believe what Johnny said in layman’s terms Chet, … is that you’ve got your head up your ass.”
Suddenly the entire kitchen burst into snickers and giggles, while Chet stood red faced.
“Captain Hammer came over, with the grin still plastered on his face. He picked up the towel Johnny had discarded off the counter and handed it to Chet.
“I believe you have a mess to clean up Kelly.” And he walked back into his office still sniggering to himself as he went.
Roy was happy to see that as days progressed, Johnny gradually returned to his normal happy go lucky self.
He was also pleased to notice that he had started to come over to the DeSoto home more often, and had seemed to accept that he was now part of their family.
He still hadn’t talked about his past, but Roy wasn’t going to push the matter… hopefully as time went by, Johnny would come to the point where he would feel comfortable enough to finally share his whole life with his new family. Until then, Roy was more than happy to take what Johnny could give them for now.
It had been about two weeks since Johnny had returned to work after his leave of absence, and it just so happened that it was finally Chet’s turn to cook lunch.
Roy walked into the kitchen just in time to hear Chet announce to everyone that they all owed him two seventy five to buy in…
One by one, the men each came up with the money and handed it over to Chet. The only one left who hadn’t paid, was Johnny.
“Cough it up or starve Gage,” Chet said as he held his hand out.
Johnny just nodded and put his hand into the pocket of his navy uniform jacket and slowly withdrew his hand.
He reached over to Chet, and deposited a large handful of glass beads into the open palm of his outstretched hand, and with a look of complete seriousness he said…
“Make sure you bring me back my change Kelly…”
Johnny then strode out of the kitchen with a satisfied smile on his face as the sounds of the rest of the men bursting out into gales of uncontrollable laughter filled his ears.
He was still smiling as he opened his locker, and slid his jacket onto its hanger. As he was closing the door to the locker, Roy appeared at his side with a huge grin on his face.
“Now that little brother… was a thing of beauty.” He said proudly.
Johnny looked over and grinned back… “Why thank you, big brother, I thought so too.”
Roy threw his arms around Johnny’s shoulders, and the two of them walked towards the door of the locker room.
“You know I heard through the grapevine that Captain Hammer is leaving and that were going to be getting a new Captain next month…someone by the name of Stanley…” said Roy
“Really? Wow. I wonder what he’ll be like?” Johnny replied.
The two voices faded out, as the brothers made their way out of the locker room and out into the bay of Station 51….
Disclaimer for, One is the Loneliest Number, by Mypiot
Emergency and its characters are the property of Mark VII Productions Inc. and Universal Studios. All rights reserved.
No infringements of any copyrights are intended or should be inferred.
This is a fictional story written for entertainment purposes only. No financial gain is being realized from it.
The story itself and all original characters are the property of the author.
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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.
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