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This story is dedicated in loving memory to my dear friend Mary 'Southern Frau' Hardwick who passed away on September 3, 2012. She gifted me with this story, her encouragement and her friendship. She will be sorely missed. Love you Mare-Mare. Rest in Peace my friend.
Parents are the friends life gives us; Friends are parents the heart chooses…Comtesse Diane
August 28, 1969
Twenty two year old fire fighter/rescue man Roy DeSoto ran a brush through his strawberry blonde hair. His blue eyes narrowed a bit and a frown crossed his attractive features as he noted the thinning spot at the top of his head. He flicked a lock over to cover it and grinned ruefully.
His wife Joanne teased him about it but he knew she didn’t care whether he had a head full of it or was bald as a billiard ball as he’d been when he went into the service.
He’d met her thirteen years ago when her family had moved from their farm to Norwalk where he lived and they’d become best friends, though they’d only dated the last two years of high school.
He’d joined the army after graduation and had been sent to Vietnam as a medic. They were married a month after he’d been discharged.
He smiled at the thought of his wife. Her blue eyes shining and her long auburn hair hanging in curls as she’d walked down the aisle to meet him. He remembered the terror eleven months later when she’d given birth to their son Christopher.
The object of his musings suddenly appeared behind him in the mirror…Their infant son sleeping in her arms. “You almost ready honey?” She asked softly.
Joanne came up behind her husband and smiled tolerantly as she watched him flip a lock of hair over his tiny patch of bald scalp. It wasn’t really that noticeable yet but it seriously bothered her handsome husband.
She shifted Chris from her shoulder to her arms…His tiny mouth sucking briefly in his sleep. “You almost ready Honey?” She asked.
“Yeah babe, just finishing up…”
“Good…Mom and dad are meeting us at the restaurant and Eileen will be here any minute.”
“Is the baby sitter here?”
“She’s downstairs. I’m going to put Chris down now, hopefully we’ll be home before he wakes up again but if not she knows what to do. She’s got two of her own.”
Roy sighed as he looked at his wife in the mirror. She was gorgeous as far as he was concerned and he’d much rather be spending the evening in bed with her than being dragged to a restaurant with her family to celebrate the birthday of her adopted brother who hadn’t even lived with them for the last thirteen years.
Roy barely remembered the dark eyed, sable haired child…He only remembered Joanne’s grief as the court had ruled in favor of the kid’s Aunt and Uncle. She’d been devastated as had the rest of her family.
They didn’t understand…They hadn’t wanted the boy when his parents had been killed when he was only an infant…Why now? Why when he had a family that loved and wanted him?
Roy couldn’t answer her questions…He’d only been nine himself but he’d held his best friend in his arms and given her their first kiss…Albeit a bit clumsy. She’d smiled at him through her tears and Roy had known right then…No matter what. Someday he would marry Joanne Lee Hutchins.
Joanne had heard Roy’s sigh and grinned. She knew Roy and her parents didn’t always get along and she knew her husband would much prefer to stay home on his one day off when he could spend the night with his wife and sleep in the next morning but this was something special.
She turned and headed for the nursery to put her son in his crib. She knew Roy didn’t understand why her family did this to themselves every year. The boy was gone and as far as he was concerned they just needed to let him go but they couldn’t.
Had the little one died, perhaps they could have mourned his loss and moved on but that wasn’t the case. He’d been taken from them and there had been nothing they could do to stop it.
Jo laid Chris in the crib and stood gazing down at him as he slept. She closed her eyes and remembered the keening wail of terror from the five year old boy as he’d been ripped from the arms of the only parents he’d ever known.
His screams of Mama…Dad…dy…,” echoing in her head. Tears pooled in her eyes and she forced them open to look down at her son…Her heart ached knowing the only son her mother and father would ever have had been torn just as brutally from their heart as he had from hers and she couldn’t let him go.
Joanne smiled as she forced herself to push those thoughts away and remember the excitement of the day her parents had walked through the door with the baby boy they’d adopted in their arms.
The infant had a head full of unruly black hair…His brown eyes the color of dark chocolate and he was beautiful despite the small contusions and abrasions and the bandage still wrapped around his upper arm…The injury caused by the accident that had claimed his parent’s lives.
Four year old Joanne and six year old Eileen had shared a grin and had begged to hold him. Their mom had sat them down and laid the infant in their laps. It had been love at first sight.
She watched Chris and thought of how many times she’d stood like this and watched her baby brother sleep…Her hand gently ruffling the dark hair. “Where are you J.R.?” She whispered softly. “Is someone watching over you…? Loving you…?” She laughed to herself. “You’re eighteen today baby…I guess you’ll be watching out for yourself now.”
She gently stroked the blonde fluff on her sons head as she’d done so many times to that mop of black hair of her brother so long ago. “Happy Birthday J.R.,” she murmured as the tears finally rolled down her cheek.
The door to the Los Angeles County Fire Department headquarters opened and a scruffy looking young man walked into the main lobby. His sable hair sweeping almost to the shoulder… A headband was tied around his head Indian fashion.
The young woman at the reception desk heaved a sigh. He was gorgeous. His brown, bedroom eyes sparkled with excitement as he looked around the room.
John Roderick Gage was eighteen today. He’d just arrived in L.A. from his Aunts home in Santa Barbara. She was helping him move to his first apartment tomorrow but today…Today he was beginning his dream. He was here to sign up to become a Fireman. Something he’d wanted to do since he was five.
He vaguely remembered the stories of another boy…One a bit older than himself. He’d talked about being a fire fighter when he grew up and his exuberance had taken a firm hold in the heart of the younger child.
John wished he could remember his name but his childhood memories were sketchy at best…Almost non- existent. He remembered being afraid…Hurt and hungry. He remembered being told his parents were dead…That the people who had adopted him had sent him back to his family in Montana… That he’d been bad…Hard to handle…Unwanted…They’d changed their mind and had thrown him away like trash…At least that’s what his Aunt and Uncle had told him.
John couldn’t remember them anymore but he knew he’d been punished for calling for them…For crying. His Uncle Joseph had shaken him roughly… “They don’t want you…You’re a half breed…Worthless…”
John frowned and chewed his lip. That never seemed right. There were flashes of happy times…Of love and laughter. He shook his head…Too many bad memories crowded those out. They’d beaten and starved them out of him. The light of excitement faded from his eyes at the memories.
A hand touched his shoulder and John jumped. A uniformed, gray haired, fatherly looking man stood before him. “Can I help you son?”
“Uh…Y…Yes sir,” John stammered nervously, wiping his suddenly sweating palms on his blue jeans before offering his hand to the man. He shook it. “My names John Gage…I uh…I wanna be a fireman sir,” he said quietly.
The older man smiled at him. “How old are you son?”
“Eighteen...Today sir,” he added.”
The man smiled. “Jean,” he said directing his comments to the young woman behind the desk. “Would you get this young man an application to the academy?”
“Yes sir…” She winked at John and went to a set of file cabinets, returning a moment later to hand a sheaf of papers to the gray haired man.
He smiled his thanks at the young woman as he took them and handed them to John. “Here you go son. You can sit over there and fill them out if you’d like…When you’re done you let Jean here know,” he said nodding at the pretty blonde at the desk. “She’ll call me.” John nodded his thanks. “By the way…I’m Chief Sorenson.”
The teenager’s mouth dropped open. “CHIEF,” he mumbled, looking shocked…Oh man, a real fire chief. “Y…Yes sir,” he finally stuttered.
Sorenson grinned and walked away. He normally wouldn’t have handled an application request or a follow up personally but there was something special about this boy. Perhaps it was the spark in his dark eyes…It reminded him of himself forty years ago.
John sat down and carefully filled out the paperwork, taking great care that everything was perfect. He wanted nothing to keep him from becoming a Fire Fighter. He finished the application and walked back to the desk to hand it to Jean. “Um…Here,” he said nervously chewing his lip.
She smiled at him and looked at the name on the top of the page. “Thank you ahh…John,” she said reading it. “Let me get the Chief.”
“Thanks,” he replied with a grin.
Jean was a little surprised herself at Sorenson’s request to be called back. Usually she just handed them all to the Academy Chief at the end of the week and he’d go over them to decide whether or not to send the follow up letter of acceptance or denial but she wasn’t about to quibble with her boss. She picked up the phone. “Chief… John Gage is waiting.”
She smiled while John fidgeted nervously from foot to foot. Sorenson came out of his office and approached the teenager. He took the papers from Jean and looked them over carefully. Everything appeared to be in order. He saw no reason to keep the boy out of the academy.
“Jean…When does the next class begin?”
She looked at the Schedule. “September 3rd sir…”
He handed the application back to Jean. “Good…Be sure John’s name is added to that roster.”
John blew out a breath in relief and excitement danced in his eyes and Sorenson knew right then that he’d be keeping tabs on this boy. He somehow knew he’d go far and he wanted to see if his instincts were right.
“Thank you sir,” he said with a lopsided grin.
“You may not be thanking me when you drag yourself to bed every night with every muscle in your body screaming in exhaustion,” the Chief teased.
John’s smile never wavered. “Yes sir,” he replied.
Sorenson shook his hand. “Good luck John and uh...Happy birthday.”
“Thank you sir…It is now.”
“Good…Good,” Sorenson said with a grin. The door opened John watched a woman and a young red headed girl come inside. He frowned slightly at a flash of memory and then pushed it from his mind. Sorenson waved them into his office...He noticed John’s interest and added absently. “My daughter and granddaughter...” John nodded and headed for the door but the Chief’s voice stopped him once more. “Son…?” He called.
John turned back. “Yes sir…?”
“Get a haircut…”
John’s hand flew to the long sable hair and a wistful look entered his eyes but he sighed in resignation. “Yes sir.” Sorenson grinned and went into his office. John glanced back at the blonde behind the desk as a mutinous pout settled on his face. *“The fire department better get ready for long haired fireman,” he mumbled. Jean giggled as John left.
He pulled into a barber shop on his way back to Santa Barbara. He closed his eyes and ran his hands through his long, thick hair…This was gonna hurt. A half hour later he exited the building, running his hand over the newly shorn and very short locks.
Roy, Joanne, her sister Eileen and their parents settled at the table in the small Italian restaurant. They ordered a bottle of wine and began catching up.
“How’s the job going Roy?” Eileen asked, drawing a slight frown from Joanne’s parents…Neither of them particularly fond of Roy’s profession but for two entirely different reasons.
Her mother Arlene felt that if Roy was smart enough to be a fireman than he was also smart enough to be a fully fledged doctor or a lawyer…Something that made a whole lot more money and she was right but it wasn’t what Roy wanted to do. He was a fireman…It was in his blood and it’s all he’d ever wanted to be since he was a child.
Her father Ron was against it because of the risk factor. What if he was crippled or worse…Killed. What would Joanne do if something happened to Roy?
“It’s going very well thanks,” Roy replied firmly, refusing to give an inch on his choice of careers. “In fact I’ve started training for a different position.”
“What’s that?” Ron asked politely.
Jo’s family frowned. “What do they do?” Ron asked.
“They go in to search for potential victims and get them out. We’re trained in basic first aid, mountain and water rescues…rappelling…That sort of thing.”
Ron frowned. “It sounds even more dangerous than being a lineman.”
“Some,” Roy agreed. The older man shook his head in annoyance.
“I don’t understand you Roy,” Arlene said in irritation. “You’re so smart…Why don’t you go back to school and become a real doctor?”
Roy sighed as Eileen hid a grin behind her hand. Joanne jumped in before Roy could get fired up. “Because it’s not what he wants to do Mom…He’s a fireman. It’s what he loves but…,” Joanne held up her hand to stop her mother’s argument before it started. “Tonight isn’t about that mom, it’s about J.R…Can we just leave this subject alone and talk about that?”
Arlene’s face grew sad and wistful. Her husband squeezed her hand. Roy’s irritated frown faded and his heart went out to them at the pain reflected in their faces.
“I only spoke to him a few times before they took him away,” he said softly. “Can you tell me about him?”
Joanne threw him a grateful smile as her mother grew thoughtful. “He was only six weeks old when we brought him home,” she began. “His parents had been killed in a car crash. I couldn’t have any more kids after Jo I’m afraid, so we looked into adoption. We’d been waiting forever for a baby boy and we’d almost given up hope after three years. The waiting list was so long…But then they called and asked if we’d take this boy…No one else wanted him.”
“Why?” Roy asked in confusion, wondering if the child had been badly hurt in the accident or something.
Her answer shocked him. “He was half American Indian.” At Roy’s blank look she added. “Roy…Prejudice does still exist.”
He’d never realized that the boy was Indian and his face flushed in a mixture of anger and embarrassment at his own naïveté. “Yeah I guess it does and even more so back then I imagine.”
She nodded and continued. “They located his father’s parents but that bigotry extended to them as well. They didn’t want him either.” Roy shook his head in disgust. “They contacted his Mother's people but they didn't want him for the same reason only in reverse...He was half white, so they placed him in state custody. They just went down the list until they came to us and of course we took him.”
Roy grinned. They may have it in for him for being a fireman but he was glad to know their prejudice didn’t extend to half Indian infants.
Joanne seemed to read his thoughts as she giggled and squeezed his hand. Her mom was oblivious as she was still lost in the past.
Ron took up the story. “He’d been thrown around in the accident and he was pretty banged up and he had a nasty cut under his left arm…Left quite a scar but that didn’t matter…He was still beautiful and perfect in our eyes.”
Jo and Eileen nodded their agreement as her mother brushed a tear from her face.
Roy thought back to the boy as a five year old and nodded. “He was pretty cute,” he commented softly, remembering the huge brown eyes framed by the longest black lashes he’d ever seen on a boy. His black hair worn longer than most boys wore it then but it was adorable and gave him a definite Native American look that hadn’t even occurred to Roy at that time.
He looked at Jo’s parents with a new found respect. They’d let him wear it that way to let the boy display his heritage even through something so simple. Arlene’s eyes had filled with tears at Roy’s comment. “Yes…Yes he was.” Her voice cracked as they continued their reminiscing and Joanne took over the story.
“I used to spend hours just watching him sleep. I was fascinated by him.”
“She was quite the little mother,” Ron added with a smile.
“Just like she is now,” Eileen teased her. “She’d sit and stroke his hair and he’d go right off to sleep.”
Jo grinned at their teasing. “He was so smart and sweet…But I remember almost losing him when he was three,” Jo said softly.
“What happened?” Roy asked.
“Pneumonia…,” she replied.
“Double,” her mother corrected. “He had it again when he was four…He almost died both times.”
Joanne sniffed back tears. “Poor little thing was so sick…And then we did lose him when he was five.”
“I worried when I found out where they were taking him…Montana was so cold,” Arlene said quietly.
“I always wondered about him. Mom had told us he’d always be susceptible to lung problems…We don’t even know if he’s still alive,” she whispered in dismay.
Roy slipped his arm around her and she laid her head against his shoulder. “I’m sure he is honey,” He assured her. The boy sounded very special and he remembered the dark eyes looking at him in rapt attention as he spoke of being a Fire Fighter. The little one had been fascinated and his brown eyes had sparkled with excitement. Roy had laughed and tousled his hair before running off to play with Joanne and Eileen and then one day he was gone and Jo and her family had been desolate. “So what did happen anyway?” He asked, genuinely interested at this point.
“His mother’s family showed up,” Jo whispered. “They said they had just found out about his mother’s death and that they wanted her only child. That he should be raised by his real family with the heritage and name he was entitled to.”
“The court agreed with them. They said they hadn’t been given the chance when the accident first happened…”Arlene said bitterly. “So they gave him back…They wouldn’t even let us write to him…We couldn’t see him. The social worker said it was better for him if we didn’t…So he could move on with his new family.”
“He was so scared,” Eileen said softly. “He was screaming for his mommy and daddy when they took him out.”
“Those people looked so cold,” Jo added. “Like they didn’t care about him at all...” It was obvious to Roy that Jo had been very close to the boy and resolved to be more understanding about their grief over losing him and their fears that he’d grown up unloved or worse…That he hadn’t grown up at all and they’d never know.
“I couldn’t even watch them leave with him…It tore my heart out,” Arlene whispered.
The waiter returned to refill their glasses, interrupting their remembrances of things past. Roy lifted his glass after he left. “You always called him J.R.,” Roy questioned. “What was his real name?”
“John,” Joanne answered. “Mom and Dad called him Johnny but Eileen and I decided to call him J.R. for John Roderick. It was such a big name for such a little boy.”
“He called Joanne Jolee and me Elly…It was our own special names. J.R. just kind of stuck on him. We outgrew ours and he probably would have too if he’d stayed with us,” Eileen said sadly.
“John Roderick Hutchins…,” Joanne said softly. “I imagine they changed it back to his original name.” Jo shrugged. “But I don’t remember it.”
Her mother shook her head. She didn’t remember it either. “All I remember is that it wasn’t an Indian name since his father was white.”
Roy nodded and lifted the glass a bit higher. “To John Roderick Hutchin’s then…Happy birthday J.R…”
They all lifted their glasses in a toast.
John drove back to Santa Barbara. He was very excited…He was about to begin his dream to be a fire fighter. It was his birthday and he wanted to celebrate. He pulled his old camper into the driveway of his Aunt’s house and hurried inside.
“AUNT ROSE…,” he yelled.
“Up here sweetie,” she called down.
John bounded up the stairs two at a time and ran into her room. She was dressed to go out and he stopped in disappointment. She didn’t look up as he came in but the tone was enough to tell him of her disapproval. “John…How many times have I told you not to scream through the house?”
“Sorry,” he mumbled. She turned and her mouth dropped open in shock. John’s long dark hair had been cut in a short, more adult style. John grinned as he ran his hand over his hair. “How’s it look…?” He asked uncertainly.
“My goodness sweetheart,” she teased as she turned his head from side to side. “I didn’t know you had ears.” John grinned.”Now what was it that you wanted to tell me?” She asked as she patted his cheek affectionately.
“I got in Aunt Rose…I got in the academy…That’s why I got my hair cut.”
“Oh that’s wonderful,” she exclaimed throwing her arms around him excitedly. She sighed in disappointment as he immediately stiffened in her embrace as he always did when she tried to cuddle him even though he no longer pulled away. She bristled in anger at the ones who had hurt him…Who had rejected and frightened him so badly though she still didn’t know for sure what they’d done to him. He wouldn’t tell her.
He’d showed up on her doorstep three years ago when he was fifteen…Half starved and with nothing but the clothes on his back. He’d brazenly informed her that he was her brother’s son and that he had nowhere left to go. She’d taken him in and she’d never regretted it but she wished he’d open up and trust her a little more.
The police had him listed as a chronic run away. She’d had her lawyer contact his guardians in Montana and they’d willingly signed him over to her. It wasn’t until six months later that she’d found out why. Her attorney told her that her brother had taken out an insurance policy on his life and that of his wife. As his guardians, that policy had been paid out to John’s family in Montana. The first payment had been made when they produced the child and the second when he’d turned fifteen. They no longer had a use for him and had thrown him out…Telling him to find his father’s family in California…He’d hitch hiked his way here.
She chuckled briefly at what they didn’t know. The final payout…The biggest one would come on John’s twenty first birthday though it would actually pay into a trust fund that he couldn’t access until he was twenty five…Her brother had been a careful man.
She remembered her anger when she’d found out that her parents had known about Roderick and his wife Kate’s death when the baby was only five weeks old and had not only refused to take the infant but had kept the death of her brother from her. She’d known they’d disowned him when he’d married the penniless Indian woman and he’d left in a fury but she hadn’t known that her beloved brother had left a will that had named her as the child’s guardian and would have joyfully taken the baby herself if she’d been told. She’d barely spoken to them for years now.
The lawyer told her that the baby had been adopted and that his mother’s family had regained custody when he was five but apparently not because they wanted the boy…They’d wanted the money. She’d never told John that he’d been nothing more than a meal ticket to those people. It no longer mattered… He was loved now and she had no need for the money. She’d held his father’s letters for years now, waiting for the right time to give them to Johnny.
She pushed the thoughts away and centered her attention on her nephew’s handsome features. The dark brown eyes that never quite met hers, looked away now in dejection. “You’re going out?” He asked sounding disappointed.
“Yes sweetie…I have a meeting but I’ll make it up to you tomorrow after we move you into your new apartment,” she promised as she kissed his cheek. “Oh and Drew called. He and Pam will be here early to help you move.”
“Okay,” he replied looking a little hurt. He turned away before she could see the wounded look. “Guess I’ll just get some dinner and go pack the rest of my things and go to bed. Busy day tomorrow…”
She nodded absently and picked up her purse. “I’ll see you in the morning sweetheart. “
He nodded as he watched her leave. It was just another day he mused thoughtfully as he headed for his room. He’d been alone most of his life even with his family around…What was one more? He’d been an outcast…Half white, half Indian and wanted by neither until his Aunt had taken him in…He just wished she wasn’t so busy all the time.
He turned the TV on and began to pack his things. His mind flowed back to his meeting with the Chief this morning and his excitement grew once more. Soon…Soon…
He remembered the little red headed girl and a frown crossed his features as he tried to remember another girl from his past but the memory wouldn’t come. It seldom did when he was awake, only occasional flashes. They mostly came in his nightmares that awakened him screaming in terror only to fade away again before he could grab hold. He pushed the thought away and finished packing.
He took a shower and climbed into bed. He thought once again of the red headed girl as his eyes closed.
“Happy birthday dear J.R…Happy birthday to you...” The song ended and he grinned in excitement. He was five today. A cake sat before him with five brightly glowing candles.
“Blow them out baby,” someone whispered from behind him as slender arms encircled his waist. John grinned…His mouth turning up in a crooked quirk as he turned his head to look back at his nine year old sister. Her red hair hanging over his shoulders as she cuddled him to her…
“Help me Jolee,” he lisped around his missing front tooth.
“Okay J.R.,” she leaned around the boy sitting comfortably in her lap and they blew out the candles together. He grinned happily as his mother began to cut the cake.
John let out a soft moan as suddenly everything changed…He was still sitting in his sisters lap. His other sister Elly was sitting next to them and his mom and dad were on the other side.
Then things changed again and they were in a large room and a man in a black dress was sitting behind a big desk. On the other side of the room sat several people John didn’t know but they looked mean. They didn’t smile at him like his parents and sisters did, though his mom had told him they were his family too. John didn’t like the way they looked at him at all. They scared him.
His mother reached out to take him from Jolee…Sitting him in her lap and hugging him tightly as the man behind the desk began to speak. He didn’t understand what was happening or the words except for his name as the man intoned…
“That the adoption of the minor child John Roderick Hutchins is hereby dissolved and he shall be restored to the custody of his natural family, Joseph and Lacee White Bear.”
Behind him his mother began to weep…
A voice echoed in his head…'They no longer want you…'
He looked at his mother again…Now she was smiling…
John tossed restlessly as the terrifying dream continued…
John turned his head to look up at her in confusion. His father was hugging them…
'They threw you away…the voice reminded him…'
no wait…His father was hugging his mother not him…but his sisters were crying hysterically and even though he didn’t understand it he knew something was very wrong.
Tears welled in his dark eyes and the small face crumbled. “Mama…?”
A man in a uniform came toward them. His father stood pleading…? he dream shifted once more.
No…No he was just talking to the man softly.
The man gave him a sad smile of understanding but gently brushed him out of the way as he reached down and his father turned away.
The man’s mouth moved but he couldn’t seem to hear him.
His mother turned away to protect him…
John moaned softly in his sleep as the scene shifted in his head once more .
No wait…She was turning back…She handed him to the man…
Why? Why? What was she doing?
His two sisters were now screaming and trying to hold onto him. Their mother turned and wrapped her arms about her own two daughters…she never even looked back.
John was screaming pitifully. “MAMA…DAD…DY…NOOO.” The small hands reached for them and he kicked and twisted wildly in the man’s arms as they carried him away from his family to hand him into the arms of the two strangers.
The man’s arms tightened around him painfully…Almost squeezing the breath from the child. John gasped and strained away from the man...His brown eyes locking with the almost black ones of the man holding him. They were cold and empty.
“Be still,” he growled, giving the boy a light shake. It was the first of many but the ones that would follow were never small or light…They nearly rocked his head from his shoulders.
The sight of the man unbuckling his belt would send him running to hide or cringing in terror. Bile rose in his throat at the remembered sound of its crack against his bare flesh and the waves of pain it brought with it. John jerked awake…His cry of fear cut off abruptly as he realized he’d been dreaming.
John…Are you alright sweetie?” His aunt called from the doorway.
“I…I…I’m fine,” he gasped. “Go back to bed.”
She didn’t believe him but she knew he’d never tell her the truth either. She closed the door.
John wiped the sweat from his brow. Who were the family in his dream? His adopted family…The ones who no longer wanted him. He could almost remember them but the hateful words and the pain that came from trying caused them to flee from his mind.
“Your parents are dead. Those people no longer want you…You will forget them…CRACK. John flinched in his bed at the memory. “Do not call for them anymore…” CRACK. “They threw you away…You are worthless.” CRACK. John flinched again, clenching his eyes shut against the memories and let them dissipate like fog.
The next morning he and his friend Drew Burke packed up his van. His Aunt had helped him with a security deposit on a small apartment in Los Angeles, not that she was happy about it. “Why can’t you go to the academy here in Santa Barbara?” She’d asked him when he’d told her wanted to go to LA.
“Everyone here knows you…I wanna do this on my own and not because of who you are.”
He was right, the Gage family was well known here …“Alright sweetheart,” she’d reluctantly agreed.
She’d gone with him to find a place and had frowned at the tininess of the apartment but it was all he could afford on what he’d saved from working. He’d wanted to do it all on his own but he’d at least allowed her to help him that much with the understanding that he’d pay her back when he graduated from the academy and got assigned.
She’d sighed in defeat. The boy simply wouldn’t let her spoil him and refused to take anything from her that he couldn’t pay for except the occasional birthday or Christmas gift. She assumed it was because he was afraid she’d send him away too if he became a problem…The one exception was food. Her nephew was a bottomless pit when it came to eating, not that one could guess from the slender build. Her mouth tightened as she remembered the condition he’d been in when he’d first arrived…She guessed he’d been hungry a lot growing up.
She shook her head sadly as she watched them load the van. As soon as they were done the boys climbed into John’s old camper while she and Drew’s wife Pam followed in her car.
They arrived in LA two hours later and began to unload. John unlocked the door and a look of surprise crossed his features. He’d been expecting an empty apartment but he was shocked to see it fully furnished. Old but comfortable furniture filled the rooms.
He’d been expecting to sleep on the floor in his sleeping bag the first few months and his dark eyes turned to his Aunt. He opened his mouth to protest but she held up her hand. “Happy birthday my sweetheart,’ she said with a grin. “It’s not new…It’s out of the attic but I won’t have you sitting and sleeping on the floor and…” she said pointing at him sternly. “You will not pay me back. Consider it past gifts for all the birthdays I missed.”
John bit his lip uncertainly for a moment and finally nodded. “Okay…Thanks Aunt Rosemary.”
She kissed his cheek but didn’t hug him, knowing he’d only tense up anyway. “Let’s get you settled.”
A couple of hours later they all plopped down with glasses of lemonade that Rose had made while Pam had put away John’s few dishes and other kitchen supplies. “Now…How about I take everyone to dinner?”
They gratefully agreed. Afterward Rose kissed John’s cheek affectionately. “I love you sweetheart…Good luck.”
“Thanks Aunt Rose.”
“Remember John…You can always come home.”
He nodded and waved to them all as they drove away.
John was mad. He’d just had a run in with that surly doctor from Rampart General. John had run afoul of the man on several occasions but this time was different. They’d brought in an electric shock victim and he’d gone to check on him only to find out that the man had died.
John had been dismayed and had innocently commented that he’d thought they’d gotten him there in time and the doctor had climbed down his throat…Like he’d somehow been responsible for his death.
He looked at the older, pretty blonde nurse as she looked at him sympathetically…Obviously having been on the receiving end of the man’s temper once or twice herself.
“He was alive,” he said stubbornly.
“Maybe so but the best Doctor I know just walked of out of here and he couldn’t keep your man alive...“ She said gently, looking at the frustrated young man understandingly.
“Yeah…” He said sadly. “I thought Doctor’s weren’t supposed to take these things so hard.”
“Doctor Brackett is a sore loser,” she said. He nodded and left.
John stalked down the corridor of the hospital the words of his Battalion Chief came back to him. ‘New program just starting…Called the Paramedics…Might be worthwhile…’ He’d pretty much blown it off but now…?
He blasted through the ER door with his partner Tony Freeman right behind him. Okay so he’d told the Chief he wasn’t interested in the program but now he stared down at the words printed on the red squad parked beside him…And the words seemed to reach out to slap him in the face…Los Angeles County Rescue Squad 10. He slammed his hand on the hood angrily. “Rescue…? Hell…All we did was rescue a corpse.”
His partner glanced at him understandingly but John was oblivious…Maybe he’d look into this Paramedic business after all.
Dixie watched the face of the young man as Brackett snapped his head off. Her ire rose at Kel for taking his temper out on this kid standing before them who’d only done his best to save a life. Had he been properly trained, he might even have succeeded. Her heart went out to the boy…He hadn’t deserved that.
She looked him over carefully…He had a slender face. A brooding expression…A sensitive mouth that turned down unhappily at the moment and a pair of the sexiest, most expressive dark eyes she’d ever seen. He was gorgeous and for a moment Dix almost wished she was twenty again and hadn’t met Kel. She’d have given this young man a run for his money.
She thought about bringing up the paramedic program to the young rescue man but he turned and left before she could…His face was taught with anger.
John woke up the next morning still angry but a bit hesitant. This Paramedic thing might be a bit like starting all over again. He remembered his first day at station 10 and shuddered. He’d been so scared he’d screw up and these guys had been there forever and knew exactly what they were doing.
They’d all been nice enough but John had always been bit of a loner and had trouble making friends. He usually kept pretty quiet until he got to know someone but the first day there the pranks had started. Switching his jacket with one two sizes too big, His helmet full of shaving cream… Pretty typical stuff he’d been told later but at the time it hadn’t made the insecure, shy teenager feel terribly welcome.
If he went into this program he’d have to leave the security that he’d established here with these guys and start all over again somewhere else when it was done...A new station…New Captain…New partner.Having to get to know someone, work with them closely…Try and become friend’s if possible. It wasn’t something John was good at.
He heaved a sigh. He’d asked Chief Hayes about the program and frankly he was a little worried about wasting his time training for it when the bill might not even pass.
He sat up and swung his legs off the bed. “Guess it couldn’t hurt to check it out,” he mumbled to himself. The worst that could happen is that he’d be a better trained rescue man. John took a quick shower and got dressed.
Twenty minutes later he pushed the door open to the fire departments headquarters. His mind flew back to the first time two years ago and he glanced at the desk. Jean was still at her post and John grinned as he approached her.
“Hi…,” he said casually.
She glanced up and a smile spread across her face… “Well hello yourself.” Wow what a handsome guy…she thought he looked familiar.
“My name is John Gage,” he reintroduced himself. “I’m looking for…”
“Gage?” a voice said from behind him, interrupting the conversation.
John turned around recognizing the voice. “Good morning Chief Sorenson…How are you sir?” John said snapping to attention and extending his hand.
Sorenson shook it. “At ease Gage…” John relaxed and smiled hesitantly as Sorenson continued. “It’s been a while.”
“Yes sir…You stopped by the station when I left the engine crew and went to rescue,” John replied, a little surprised that Sorenson had coincidentally happened to turn up that day. He’d personally congratulated John.
The younger man was taken aback that he even remembered the incident but he threw the Chief a crooked grin that left Jean sighing wistfully…Now she remembered him…
“What brings you down here today John?” Sorenson asked casually.
“Chief Hayes told me about a new program…”
“The paramedics…?” The chief questioned.
The older man smiled in approval. He’d been following John’s career from a distance and he’d watched him come out at the top of the academy class to become a fine young fire fighter. He’d nodded in approval when he heard that Gage was moving to rescue and now he wanted more.
Sorenson like everyone else… didn’t know if the bill would ever come to pass but if it did…He had no doubt that this young man would be one of the best. “Good…Good. Roy DeSoto…That’s who you want to talk to…Good man… Listen to what he has to say. He knows his stuff.”
“Jean…Give John here an application form for the paramedics.” She nodded as Sorenson gave John a slap off the back and went back to his office.
John experienced a touch of déjà vu as he filled out the application and returned to the desk. John threw the pretty blonde a grin. “Hey um Jean…?” He questioned a bit shyly.
She smiled invitingly back. “Yes?”
“You wouldn’t like to go to a movie some night would ya?” He asked hesitantly.
Her smile broadened. “That would be fun. I’m off tomorrow.”
“Good…I’m off tomorrow too.” She nodded and jotted down her address and handed it to him. He stuffed it in his pocket. “I’ll see ya around five.”
She nodded as John turned and walked up the hallway.
He found a door with a hand written sign posted on the door…’Paramedic Questions answered here Last Day R. Desoto F/M. John opened the door and stepped inside. A man stood at the window looking out. He easily stood as tall as John which was six foot one but he appeared to be a few years older and a touch heavier.
The man turned toward him and John’s assessing eye quickly noted that they were complete opposites. DeSoto was blonde, blue eyed, fair skinned and he carried himself with an air of mature confidence despite the fact that he was young… While John was slender, dark haired and dark eyed and had a certain little boy hesitancy about him that pulled at the heart when someone took the time to look deeply...though outwardly to his crew mates he appeared a bit reckless and brash.
“Um…I’m John Gage,” he introduced himself, holding out his hand. “You R. DeSoto…?”
The blonde man’s mouth curled in an amused smile. “Roy,” he clarified.
John gave him a brief nod. “Sorenson said to talk to you.”
“Alright…Have a seat Gage.”
The younger man complied and handed Roy his application. He looked it over carefully. Lineman, rescue man…Cripe he’s only twenty, Roy mused worriedly but on the other hand…He must be pretty decent at what he does if he’d made rescue by such a young age. He glanced at the quiet youth in front of him who was fidgeting nervously in his seat. Roy decided to feel him out a bit before deciding.
Roy held up the paper... “This application isn’t signed.”
John gave a slight nod, “I wanted to talk to you first.”
“Sure…whatta ya wanna know.”
“You went through that first class of special medical training right?”
“If you rolled on a rescue call now…today,” He said tapping the table top…”could you use that training to treat a victim on the scene?”
“Then why should I or anybody else spend twelve weeks or twelve minutes learning to do what we can’t do?”
“Because you said today… There’s a bill before the State Legislature right now…assembly bill PM11307 which will permit qualified Fire Department personnel to administer medical assistance in the field.”
“If it’s passed...”
“You asked a few questions before you came in here...” Roy said, impressed by this young man.
He stood up and went to sit on the table near John.
“I want to find out if it’s a job or just a title.”
“Oh it’s a job alright…it’s gonna be the most important advance in emergency medicine in the last fifty years.”
“Going to be…? Well maybe you just better hang on to that application until it is.”
“That’ll be too late…we’re already late. Gage, there are over six and a half million people in Los Angeles County right now and not nearly enough Doctors to handle them even under normal conditions.
When you get into emergency situations…freeway accidents, drownings, heart attacks, a thousand others, People are dying at the scene. People who could stay alive if there was somebody on the spot who knew what to do.”
“But they won’t let you function,” John argued.
“They will…they’ll have too. Look if that bill passes legislature today, do you know how many people we’d have ready for the job?”
John shook his head… Roy stood and returned to his seat, “Just me and five other guys who took the course. Six men for six and a half million people… No… we can’t wait for the go ahead and then train our people. If there’s one chance in a million that bill will pass, we have to be ready.”
Roy was convincing. He had the same passion for rescue work that John did and it was clearly visible. John nodded his head convinced.
“Use your pen?” He asked seriously.
Roy’s fears were put to rest. The kid was bright…Real bright and he decided to put his worries about his age and experience aside and give the kid a shot. He held out his hand as John stood up. “Thanks for coming in.”
“I’ll see you in a few days.”
John looked confused. “Why?”
“I’m going through the class again…Just to be sure I know what I’m doing.”
John nodded ruefully. “I guess I better pay close attention…I’m only gonna get one shot,” he said drily.
Roy chuckled as John left and then went to pour himself a cup of coffee. Chief Sorenson was in the room when he returned. He held Gage’s application in his hand.
“Sir…? Is there a problem?” Roy asked hesitantly.
“No DeSoto…Not at all. What did you make of the boy?” He asked, giving the application a little wave.
Roy wasn’t sure whether Sorenson was hoping for a good report or a bad one…He gave him an honest one. “He’s very young…Not even twenty one.” Roy shrugged that off. “But he’s also real smart…Asked some tough questions. Checked around and did his homework. The fact that he made rescue at twenty is pretty impressive.”
The Chief nodded. “You look after him DeSoto…I’ve kind of been watching this kid.”
Roy wasn’t exactly sure what that meant. Was this kid some kind of trouble maker? Reckless…Undisciplined? Roy chewed his lip a bit nervously…Worse was he someone close or special to Sorenson? The last thing Roy needed was to have to babysit some personal pet of the Chief’s. He wondered if that’s how he’d climbed the ladder to rescue so quickly. Still if John Gage was as smart as he appeared then it wouldn’t be all that bad to watch out for the kid in class for a few months…After all, he wouldn’t have to work with him. He shrugged and decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“Yes sir…I’ll keep an eye on him.”
Sorenson had seen the frown and the play of concern on the younger man’s face. “Relax DeSoto…I’m not expecting you to hold his hand to get him through. I have no doubt he’ll do that all on his own. Just like he’s done everything else,” he assured him. “I just thought he’s a little withdrawn and maybe he could use a friend. “
Roy smiled in relief. “Yes sir.”
Roy returned home early in the afternoon. Joanne was just beginning to prepare for dinner. She stepped from the kitchen at the sound of front door closing. “Hi honey! You’re home early,” she noted.
“I got enough men to fill the next class so I figured there was no point in hanging around.”
“Well that’s good. I know you were afraid they hadn’t pushed the program hard enough and you wouldn’t get too many that were interested.
Roy nodded and followed her back into the kitchen. He dropped into a chair at the small table. “Where are the kids?”
“Chris is playing in his room and Jennifer is still napping. She should be up soon.”
Roy nodded and then chuckled. “Speaking of kids…” Jo looked at him curiously. “One of the new trainees is only twenty.
“That’s pretty young for such a responsible position isn’t it?”
Roy shrugged. “He’s already made rescue.” He didn’t add that he wasn’t sure that he hadn’t been helped along. “He’s been a fireman since he was eighteen so two and a half years.” He grinned before continuing. “At least he isn’t still a boot.” Joanne grinned back at him. “He seemed pretty bright so I’m not really worried.” He frowned. “Sorenson seemed pretty interested in him though.”
“The Chief…?” She asked incredulously. “Is he family or something?”
“No…No I don’t think so…I was kinda worried about that too but he didn’t ask me to treat him special or anything…As a matter of fact he assured me he’d do it on his own.” Roy shrugged again. “John Gage will have to earn it just like the rest.”
Joanne’s heart did a little skip at the name but after a moment she shook her head…She didn’t know anyone named Gage…She was certain of it.
John returned to Station 10 for his last shift before paramedic training began. Tony and the other guys teased him a bit throughout the day but there was a definite sense of loss in their attitude. They liked this kid who’d been with them since he’d been a green boot even though he’d been shy and unusually reserved. They’d seen the potential and drawn the professional and exceptional fire fighter in the boy out and he was good at what he did. He could also be a lot of fun on those rare moments when he forgot himself and cut loose.
It was a bit like sending their youngest child off to college but they knew they couldn’t hold him back. He needed to do this…There was something in this boy…No…This young man that screamed rescue…That’s how he’d ended up in the squad in the first place and he was good at it. They recognized that it’s what he’d been born to do.
John finished his shift the next morning and packed up his locker. He shook hands with each of his crewmates and said goodbye.
Chief Hayes walked with him to the parking lot. “We’ll miss you around here Gage but for the record…I think you’re doing the right thing.”
“I’ve watched you over the last two years…First as a lineman and then rescue.”
John looked surprised. “You have? Why sir…?” John asked worriedly.
Hayes smiled. “Let’s just say you impressed me…And I’m not the only one.” John flushed a bit in embarrassment. “I have no doubt at all that if this paramedic bill goes through…You’ll be one of the best.”
“Thank you sir,” John said softly…His face was scarlet but he was obviously pleased by the comment.
Hayes clapped him on the back and offered his hand. “Good luck John.”
“Thank you sir,” he said again, shaking it.
John drove home feeling pretty good about himself until another voice intruded into his thoughts…One that had played over and over in his head most of his life. “You’ll never amount to anything. It’s a good thing your mother didn’t live to see what you are. Even the ones that adopted you didn’t want you…They threw you away…”
“No…No…Mama and daddy loved me.”
The argument was always met with Uncle Joseph’s leather belt landing viciously across his bare buttocks…The crack of leather against flesh loud and clear in his mind. “Go to your room…You are an ungrateful boy…” And John knew hunger would follow. He flinched as the words cracked through his memory with the same intensity as the belt. “You are worthless… No one will ever want you…You better remember that…We are all you have. You owe us.” He shook away the memory…He’d finally learned not to say it and eventually he finally believed it.
“Chief Hayes doesn’t think I’m worthless,” he mumbled. “Neither does Aunt Rose…”
CRACK…John flinched once more and quickly pushed the mutinous thought away.
He reported to Rampart two days later to begin Paramedic training. “Hi Gage,” the blonde fireman…What was his name? DeSoto…Roy DeSoto.
John smiled and held out his hand. “DeSoto…Nice to see you again.”
“Same here…You ready to get started?”
John smiled ruefully. “As ready as I’m gonna get I guess. I’m a little bit nervous.”
“So was I the first time. You’ll get over it. Come on in Junior.”
John flinched at the name before he caught himself but Roy had seen it. “You okay?”
John tossed him a nervous half hearted smile. “Yeah…Yeah, I’m fine. Let’s go in.”John walked through the door and stopped short at the sight of Joe Early and Kelly Brackett leaning against the wall. He didn’t know the kindly gray haired doctor but it was plain from the look of annoyance that the dark haired physician wished he was anywhere but here. John wished he was too.
Dixie McCall glanced up as the two men entered the room and joined the other five men. She grinned broadly at the sight of the handsome, young fire fighter but she said nothing as John gave her a shy smile in return. She’d been hoping he’d show up eventually for this training. Dixie had long ago learned to trust her instincts. This young man would be one of the best, she was certain of it.
She watched his face cloud in annoyance as he spotted Brackett and realized for the first time just who his teacher would be.
Over the next few days John Gage did nothing to change her mind. She as well as Roy watched in admiration as the young man began his training along with five other men but the kid was bright…Quickly picking up everything Brackett threw at him without missing a beat…Though a dark scowl would appear when the surly doctor singled him out occasionally.
They butted heads with alarming regularity…Worrying Roy and impressing Dixie. She admired anyone who’d stand toe to toe with the very intimidating surgeon who generally left those who didn’t know him well shaking in their shoes.
Roy had been watching the young man for a week now with a critical eye. He’d finally decided that he’d worried needlessly and Sorenson had been right. John hadn’t gotten where he was by riding someone’s coattail’s…The kid had earned his spot.
He stood with him in the hallway as John rubbed his shoulder absently where Roy had demonstrated giving an injection. “Did I hurt you?” Roy asked in concern.
John gave him a rueful grin and leaned toward him to whisper… “I hate needles.”
Roy chuckled. “None of us are fond of them.”
“Yeah…? Well mines a phobia,” he confided.
“Any particular reason…?”
“Yeah…I was sick a lot when I was a kid…Pneumonia. Once you’ve had it,” he shrugged. “It weakens your lungs.” Roy remembered Joanne telling him that a long time ago. “Anyway I had more than my share of needles,” he said drily.
“Understandable then… My suggestion,” Roy said standing up straight in a teachers pose… “Learn to do it right...Quickly.”
John laughed. “Can I practice on you?”
Roy chuckled and gave the dark head a teasing scruff. “Not a chance junior…Use an orange.”
John had stiffened slightly at the familiar gesture and the name. He shuddered slightly as he reached up to smooth his hair. He cast a nervous glance at his new friend and a cocky half smile but Roy had already seen the reaction. He frowned and shrugged. Maybe he was embarrassed by being treated like a kid.
Roy would have to remember that despite his young age this young man was a fire fighter and rescue man and there was no doubt from what he’d seen so far that he’d also be a paramedic if the bill passed.
“Sorry about that,” he said nodding at his hair.
John shrugged… “It’s okay.” John sipped his coffee. “McCall and Brackett the good but taciturn Doctor… Give me a reading,” he said, changing the subject.
“Dixie spent some time in Korea. Field hospital, in the thick of it… I understand she bought the unit citation, quite a girl...” He finished taking a sip of coffee.
“Which accounts for her understanding attitude, she’s rubbed shoulders with corpsmen…medics…,” John said trailing off.
“That’s how it would seem. Doctor Kelly Brackett, Johns Hopkins…Residency at Mayo… Medical jack of all trades…, Master of all.”
“Including gloom,” John said sourly. “Learnin anything the second time around?”
“That I’m not a moron. The first time I didn’t even understand the words.”
“I’ll drink to that,” John agreed with a smile.
“Listen I’m lucky, if that bill had passed I’d be doing this to nice people instead of to you guys,” Roy joked. John half smiled at him.
“Let’s go Junior.” John glanced up once more at the nickname but he was getting used to it. Memories flickered in his brain. Junior…Jr…J.R… Someone had called him that but who? CRACK…John flinched visibly as the voice of his uncle boomed in his head as it always did when he tried to remember.
“You will forget those people…They didn’t want you. You are nothing to them.”
“Are you okay Junior?” Roy asked in concern as he realized the younger man had stopped walking and now stood frozen with a look of fear on his face.
“Don’t call me that,” he whispered.
“I’m sorry John,” Roy said softly. “Are you alright?”
John took a deep breath and clenched his eyes shut for a moment until he regained control. He blew out the breath he’d been holding…He opened his dark eyes to find worried blue watching him.
“I…I’m sorry I got uptight man…Um…”
“It’s alright. I won’t call you that anymore.”
“I’m sorry…I…” John was embarrassed but it was easier to deal with the nickname than to explain why it upset him and something in those blue eyes told him he’d want to know. He knew he’d push him to tell him…
“Junior’s fine pally,” John tried teasing back with a tight grin.
Roy gave him a half smile but he wasn’t convinced…Something had really upset the kid. John hastily pushed the door open and entered the class. Roy followed but his eyes narrowed speculatively. If he didn’t know better he’d think John was Post Traumatic, he’d seen the look before but one thing was for sure…Sorenson was right…The kid desperately needed a friend.
Class ended for the weekend and they all left the room. Roy saw his young friend crossing the parking lot. “Hey John hold up,” he called as he ran to catch up.
The young, dark haired man turned at his approach. “What’s up Roy?”
“What are you doing tonight?”
John frowned cautiously for a moment before tossing Roy a smirk. “Why…? You wanna date?” He snickered.
Roy looked at him in exasperation before he suddenly grinned at him. “No smart ass…I wanna know if you’d like to come for my house for dinner. I’d like you to meet my family.”
“Why?” John asked suspiciously.
Roy looked at him in surprise. “I just thought you know…? We're getting to be friends…Maybe you’d like to come over and meet my family. It’s no big deal.”
John relaxed a bit. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I don’t get asked to people’s houses very often,” he explained with a rueful quirk of his mouth.
“I can see why. Geez Junior…I wasn’t planning on kidnapping you.”
John flushed a bit. He generally didn’t allow himself to get to close to people. Close friends tended to ask personal questions that John didn’t like to answer but for some reason the younger man felt drawn to Roy…He was somehow familiar and John liked him.
“Sorry,” he mumbled again. “Sure…I’d like to come if it’s not a problem for your wife.”
“No it’s not. I already checked,” he assured him.
“Great! What time?”
“Five thirty okay…?”
“It’s 285 Washington Street in Carson…You know where that is?”
John nodded. He prided himself on knowing the streets they traveled within their territory. “I know where it is.”
“See ya later then.” John nodded and left. Roy watched him leave…Once again the blue eyes were filled with concern. The kid had some serious trust issues and Roy wondered what had caused them.
Joanne was setting the table when the doorbell rang later that afternoon. Roy came down the stairs. “I’ll get it honey.” She nodded and finished up before following her husband into the living room to meet their guest. Roy opened the door. “Hey John…Glad you could make it…Come on in.”
“Thanks,” Jo heard the quiet reply.
Roy stepped aside and let the young man step past him. Jo’s heart picked up its pace a bit. The boy was heartbreakingly handsome. Tall, slender of build, sable haired. He had a straight nose and the dark eyes that lifted to meet hers were bottomless pools to his soul…Hooded... innocent and unintentionally seductive. The lips twisted in a slight crooked grin beneath high cheek bones.
She had a brief image of the face of her five year old brother…The crooked grin that tore at her heart was identical to this young man’s.
“John…I’d like you to meet my wife Joanne,” Roy said extending his hand toward Jo.
Jolee… the name flashed through his mind but then it was gone. “Hi Joanne…It’s nice to meet you.”
“Same here John…My husband’s told me all about you.”
John’s nose crinkled in disgust. “Yeesh…What a boring conversation that musta been,” he teased.
Roy grinned and Joanne laughed at the jest. “Not at all…Come on in. Let me get you something to drink.”
“Thanks.” He followed them further into the living room. His eyes were drawn to a little boy of about four, who stood peering at him through the rails of the stairway banister. John grinned and threw the child a wink.
The boy giggled and Roy glanced up and spotted him. “Chris, come on down here. I want you to meet someone.”
“Can I get you something to drink John?” Joanne asked as Chris slipped past her.
“Um…Whatever you have is fine.”
“John this is my son Chris…Chris this is Mr. Gage,” Roy said introducing the pair.
John snorted indignantly and his nose screwed up in distaste. “Mr. Gage? Man…You make me sound like I’m twenty four or something,” he complained throwing a sideways glance at Roy. The twenty four year old Roy’s lips compressed into an annoyed grimace and a giggle from the younger man… “It’s Johnny,” he corrected with a grin as he held his hand out to the little boy.
The little blonde shook it. “It’s nice to meet you Johnny,” he said with serious blue eyes.
“Wow…You got a heck of a grip there Chris,” he complimented him before he tousled the blonde hair.
Joanne returned with a coke for John and a beer for Roy. Johnny grinned. Roy must have told her how old he was…She hadn’t offered him one. “Dinners almost ready John.”
“Its Johnny mommy,” Chris corrected his mother.
Joanne’s eyebrow rose. “Oh well excuse me. Dinners almost ready Johnny,” she teased. John shot her a crooked grin that melted her heart. He reminded her heart wrenchingly of J.R…She shook the feeling away. “So Johnny, Roy tells me you’ve been a fire fighter for two and a half years,” she said sitting next to her husband.
“Yes Ma’am…Almost two as a lineman and eight months on rescue.”
“That’s very impressive for someone your age.”
“Thank you ma’am…”
“It’s Joanne or Jo if you’d rather…Ma’am makes me sound old and I’m only twenty four,” she said with a grin that let John know his snipe at Roy had been heard. He blushed but a grin still curled the corners of his mouth. It was all Jo could do not to reach out and brush his cheek affectionately.
“So where are you from Johnny?”
He shifted a bit nervously. “Santa Barbara.”
“Oh…Roy took me there once…It’s beautiful.” John nodded. Jo noted the sudden look of withdrawal in the dark eyes…The boy had suddenly become very uncomfortable.
“I’m going to go up and get Jennifer. I need to get her up soon or she’ll be up all night again.”
Roy nodded in rueful agreement as Joanne disappeared up the stairs. She started into Jennifer’s room but hesitated, turning to the master bedroom instead. She walked to a bookshelf that held several framed photographs. One was of a dark haired, dark eyed boy. She picked it up and looked closely at it. No she wasn’t mistaken. J.R. and John Gage bore a striking resemblance to one another.
She brushed her fingers over the picture for a moment before setting it down. J.R. was far, far away from here. A tear slipped down her cheek as she wondered if he even remembered them…Most likely only as a vague memory now. She brushed the tear away and left the room.
Johnny glanced up as she came down the stairs…A blonde, blue eyed, freshly changed toddler in her arms. She brought the thirteen month old into the living room. John stood up politely as she approached him. “John…This is Jennifer.”
John’s heart melted as the precious blonde child looked him over curiously. “Oh wow…She’s beautiful,” he said in awe. He reached out to touch the baby’s hand.
Jo grimaced. “Oh sorry…She’s a little touchy about strangers,” she explained, expecting her daughter to pull away as she usually did with people she didn’t know but the little girl shocked her as she leaned toward Johnny with both arms extended. He grinned questioningly at Joanne. “Go ahead,” she said invitingly.
John took her from Joanne’s arms. “Hey princess,” he said softly as Jen’s hands gently began to explore the new face looking down at her. Satisfied that he was okay, she laid her head trustingly on his shoulder.
“Well I’ll be darned,” Roy muttered in surprise.
“I have a way with women,” he teased as he sat back down on the couch. Chris plopped down close beside him.
“And with children it seems,” Roy pointed out.
John grinned and sat back.
They sat down to eat and though Johnny still seemed a bit uncomfortable with talking about himself, he still managed to eat without a hint of discomfort. He practically bolted the food down almost as if afraid it would be snatched away.
Joanne glanced at Roy first in amusement and then almost with concern. The young man ate like he’d been starved and while Joanne was no psychologist, she’d bet her last dollar that this kid had been hungry…Really hungry at some point in his life.
Roy frowned as well as he wondered about the young man. He seemed friendly and outgoing enough but then in an instant he could display some characteristics that worried the older man…A lot.
He finally sat back and glanced at Jo and Roy, completely unaware of his lack of table manners. “Thank You Joanne…That was the best meal I’ve had in a long time,” He said a little shyly.
The words ‘I could tell’ almost slipped from her lips but she smiled instead. “Thank you Johnny.”
“You have room for dessert Junior?” Roy asked pushing his concerns away.
“Junior…?” Jo asked in amusement.
Roy laughed. “Nickname I stuck him with,” he explained. “I happened to notice his initials on his application. J.R. Gage…Junior.”
Jo’s face briefly took on a far away, sorrowful look at the words but she quickly pushed them aside. “Think I’ll stick to Johnny,” she teased with a wink at the younger man.
Roy understood why but John hadn’t a clue but he grinned in relief. Roy was bad enough… He certainly didn’t want his wife calling him that as well. “Thanks…I appreciate that.”
“Oh? How come…?” Joanne asked.
John shivered at the sound of his initials used as a name but he didn’t know why. He sometimes heard someone call him that in his dreams… ‘J.R.’ but he could never grasp the memory when he woke. Junior was too close not to bring the flash of remembrance…Memories that in his childhood had been followed by hunger or beatings or both. He couldn’t tell them that. “Just makes me sound like a kid I guess,” he said lightly, tossing them an embarrassed grin.
Roy gave the dark hair a playful scruff. “You are a kid,” he teased. At John’s indignant look he added… "You’re also gonna be one of the best paramedics we’ll have…Fair trade.”
John smiled in pleasure at the words. “Thanks.”
The words of his uncle flashed through his mind. ‘You are worthless…You’ll never be anything.’ John pushed them away but the smile had faded with the memory. CRACK. John flinched but quickly recovered…Roy thought he was worth something and he let those words flow in his mind instead.
Roy saw the brief play of emotion on John’s face, along with the sudden jerk and frowned slightly, wondering once again if John was having some kind of flashback. The younger man finally looked up and smiled. “So what’s for dessert?” He asked drawing a laugh from the older couple.
Roy walked him to the door a short time later. John shook his hand. “Thanks…I had a good time tonight. You have a really nice family.”
“Thanks Junior. What about yours?”
John’s face paled a bit. “My what…?”
Roy laughed. “Your family Johnny…Do I get to meet your family?”
The younger man glanced away uncomfortably. “I uh…I don’t have…I mean…I’m not married and…My parents are dead,” he finally stuttered out.
“I’m sorry Johnny,” Roy said gently.
John shrugged indifferently. “I never knew them. I was only a baby when they died. I lived with my Aunt in Santa Barbara,” giving his new friend only the most recent residence. He didn’t like to remember the other.
Roy nodded. “Just you…?” he asked curiously.
“Yeah…Last and only Gage,” he tried teasing but it fell flat at Roy’s sympathetic look.
The young man left and Roy closed the door and returned to the kitchen where his wife was just finishing the dishes. Roy dropped a kiss on her neck drawing a giggle from his wife. “So what did you think?”
“He’s such a nice kid Roy,” she said as she dried her hands.
“Yeah he is.
“A little shy maybe.”
“I get the feeling he’s had it pretty rough.”
Joanne agreed but she wanted to hear what Roy had to say…“Why do you say that?”
Well earlier today outside of class he had…,” he hesitated.
“I don’t know what to call it exactly…Like a flashback…I don’t know he just looked scared.”
“That’s what I mean…There was nothing there…It was just for a minute but it was like he was remembering something that scared the hell out of him and just now outside he told me his parents are dead. I just wonder what he’s been through ya know.”
Joanne’s attention was caught…It couldn’t be could it? No...He’d said he was raised in Santa Barbara not Montana. “Maybe foster care… That can be pretty rough on a kid,” she suggested sounding a bit disappointed.
Roy was lost in thought and didn’t catch the undertone in her voice. “I don’t think so. He mentioned an Aunt in Santa Barbara…She’s probably the one that raised him.” Roy shook his head. “I don’t know…Maybe I just imagined it…He snapped out of it pretty quick.”
Jo doubted it…Roy wasn’t prone to rash judgments…Something had really caught his attention but she let it go. She set the dish towel aside…They headed for the living room to watch TV with Chris.
Johnny drove his old camper toward his empty apartment. Dinner with the DeSoto family had been fun and John imagined that that was the way family dinners were supposed to be. Not like the stilted ones he’d dealt with in his Aunts home with his uncle Geoffrey before he died or worse…The cold ones he’d sat through with his Grandparents on those rare occasions that they’d visited from Sacramento. His Aunt rarely spoke to them but Johnny didn’t know why.
He shuddered at the memory of the ones he’d endured in Montana. He remembered wolfing down his food and hoping to finish before he did something that would displease his aunt and she took it away.She’d been displeased with him a lot and Johnny remembered the rumble of his empty stomach many times growing up.
He’d run away from there so many times but the authorities had always caught him and dragged him back. He’d tried to tell them that they’d hurt him…Starved him but they never listened. As far as they were concerned, John was a trouble maker…A chronic runaway. A half breed orphan that no one else wanted and thought he should be grateful that his Aunt and Uncle had taken him in and as far as they were concerned…He wouldn’t amount to anything anyway.
The memory of what followed brought a flinch of fear. The sound of his Uncle Joseph’s belt as he pulled it from the belt loops…The sight of it slapping ominously against his leg as he approached him. The humiliation of being forced to drop his pants and the feel of the sturdy leather across his bare buttocks and legs…The whimpers of pain that slipped from his lips and when his Uncle had had enough of that …Then would come the hunger.
He shivered at the words… “You ungrateful boy…What we give you isn’t good enough? You have to run away and embarrass us before the people…Before the police. Make them drag you back and tell them lies…Then go without.”
John would go for days sometimes without eating until he’d give in and beg for their forgiveness for his ingratitude. John pushed the thought from his mind…It was over. He was free now and he’d never see those people again but tonight…Tonight was what it should have been like. He hoped Roy would invite him again.
John became a frequent visitor at the DeSoto home over the next couple of weeks. The loneliness that Roy often saw in the brown eyes prompting him to invite him home more often than he thought Joanne would appreciate but she didn’t seem to mind and in fact she appeared to enjoy the young man’s company.
Roy had a momentary twinge of jealousy but he shoved it away. Jo just saw the same thing he did, he reassured himself.
He was right but there was more…While Joanne enjoyed the young paramedics company, she also frequently caught herself looking at him and substituting her little brother into his place. She’d caught herself almost calling him J.R. a couple of times.
She saw the loneliness in his eyes disappear whenever he was with Roy and he lit up around the children. She could only imagine how he’d grown up but it was the one thing he never talked about with Roy. All they knew was what he’d told Roy that first night. That he was an orphan like J.R. and that an Aunt in Santa Barbara had raised him but nothing more.
She shrugged and prayed that J.R. was loved wherever he was but in the meantime there was no harm in giving her sisterly affection to another young man in need of it.
The class was only a couple of weeks away from graduating and Roy was once again at headquarters trying to garner enough support to get another started. He’d just poured himself another cup of coffee when Chief Sorenson came in.
“Good morning DeSoto.”
“Good morning Sir,” he replied standing to attention.
“Relax DeSoto…” Roy stood at ease. “How’s it going with the sign up…Getting enough men to fill the class?”
“Working on it sir…I only have three so far.”
“I’ll tell them to push it to our rescue teams…”
“Thank you sir…”
“How’s the current class coming?” He asked casually.
“Very well sir.”
“Um…How’s Gage doing? I’m curious if my instincts were right about the boy.”
Roy grinned. “They were…He’s at the top of the class sir.”
Sorenson smiled back. “And did he get there on his own?”
“Yes sir…,” Roy assured him, grinning broadly. “Uh…Chief? Did you want me to sit in on the next class too?”
“No Roy I don’t…I think you’re getting over trained…I think a little field duty might be in order.”
Roy bit his lip for a moment, trying to figure out how to bring up the subject of getting Johnny assigned with him. The fire department didn’t usually work on personal preference.
Sorenson saw the hesitation but he didn’t know what was bothering the younger man. DeSoto was an excellent fireman…One of the best the Chief had seen and like Gage, he thought he’d go far but he was a little too removed…Too emotionally strong and uninvolved for a paramedic…Insulated.
John on the other hand had an exuberance that practically leaped from his eyes and attitude but there was something vulnerable about the kid that begged you take care of him. The two men would compliment each other, he was sure of it. If the paramedic program was successful, he had no doubt these two would lead the way and he had his own idea to present to Roy.
Sorenson couldn’t begin to understand himself why his interest was piqued by the boy but he figured it was the same vulnerability that DeSoto was responding to…And DeSoto…He didn’t doubt the man would be a Chief one day himself but he had a lot to learn about people and relationships and Gage would teach him. He hoped he’d read the blonde fire fighter right.
“Look DeSoto…You’ve worked hard on this project so I’m not going to make this an order but…I’d like you to consider John Gage as a potential partner…” Roy grinned in relief and opened his mouth to reply but Sorenson held up his hand to stop him, thinking he was going to protest. “I know he’s young but I think he’ll be a good paramedic and I think you’d make the best teacher to bring him along…You’re patient and mature. You’d make a great team,” he said convincingly. “I’d like you to think about it.”
Roy laughed. “Sir…I don’t need to…it’s okay…I was trying to figure out how to ask if you’d assign Johnny to wherever I’m going.”
Sorenson grinned…He’d been right about both men…Roy would be a good role model for the boy and John Gage would soften the toughened DeSoto and smooth the rough edges…He could see it happening already. The care and relief in DeSoto’s blue eyes was heartwarming.
“Good…Good…I’ll see to it that you’re both assigned to station 51…It’s brand new…Just incorporated into the county.”
“Thank you sir...” Sorenson shook Roy’s hand
John and the rest of his class took their certification exams two weeks later. Roy was there to wish him luck. “You’ll do great Junior I know it,” Roy assured the nervous twenty year old.
John nodded and blew out a breath. “I’m a little scared. What if I don’t do well?”
“You will…You’re so incredibly smart Johnny…I don’t know why you’re worried.” The older man reassured him. John smiled at the encouragement.
‘You are worthless…’ The words slithered through his brain. ‘You will never be anything…’ CRACK…John flinched and the smile faded.
“Are you alright?” Roy asked touching the younger man’s shoulder…The kid was shaking.
John jumped, startled. He tried to smile once more but it wouldn’t come. “I’m okay…I’m fine,” he whispered but the dark eyes seemed haunted and far away and Roy frowned wondering where he was at that moment.
“Johnny, look at me,” Roy commanded.
The brown eyes swiveled toward him… “I’m sorry,” he mumbled.
“It’s okay but I want you to focus on me… Can you do that?” Roy asked gripping the younger man’s shoulders. John nodded and swallowed hard. “Good boy,” he said as John seemed to come back from wherever he’d been…His eyes locking with Roy’s. The older man saw the fear in them. It faded to uncertainty…“Put everything and everyone else out of your head…I want you to just concentrate on the exam. You know this stuff inside and out okay?”
“Kay…,” he breathed out softly.
Roy didn’t think first…He just reached out to touch John’s cheek briefly. The younger man drew in a deep breath and smiled. He nodded his thanks, seeming to finally regain control and relax. “Get in there and don’t let me down Junior.” The negative words tried once more to insinuate themselves into John’s brain but he pushed them away and looked at the older man worriedly but Roy threw him a wink and then nodded toward the room. “I’ll be here when you’re done.” John grinned hesitantly and went inside.
“You want to tell me what that was all about?” A feminine voice asked from behind him? Roy spun around to find Dixie standing there watching him.
Roy glanced around to be sure no one else was within hearing range. “I don’t know Dix…Look can I talk to you. I mean confidentially. I don’t want to get John in trouble.”
Dixie smiled and turned away. “Let’s get some coffee Roy.” They walked toward the doctor’s lounge.
They poured coffee and sat down at the table. “You won’t repeat what I tell you will you Dix?
“Roy…I’m very fond of Johnny and as long as it’s nothing that will endanger a patient or him…My lips are sealed.”
“Okay…Dixie, I know this is gonna sound crazy but sometimes I think Johnny is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder…I saw it several times when I was a medic in the army.”
“Why would that be crazy Roy?”
“He’s only twenty and he’s never been in the military…”
Dixie smiled and leaned her chin on her folded hands. “PTSD isn’t just military related Roy. It can be caused by a number of things and be experienced by anybody including people in your profession.”
Roy looked at her in surprise. “Really…? I thought only soldiers…”
She shook her head. “Anyone that witnesses or experiences trauma, tragedy or disasters can suffer from it. It all depends on the severity and sometimes the repetition and how well they cope with the trauma…”
“I don’t understand.”
“Just like in a soldier Roy…Repetitive battle scenes…The death of friends…Villages and innocent civilians being killed. It’s the same with anyone…Especially police and fire fighters but it can also be caused by abuse, the loss of someone close to you.” She shrugged…“Sometimes children being away from their parents…In hospitals or foster care…Any number of things.” Roy nodded. “So tell me why you think John Gage is post traumatic.”
“Sometimes he…He seems to be turning into himself…Like he’s reliving something that frightened him. You can see the fear in his eyes Dix and he flinches…Like he’s ducking.” Roy demonstrated.
“Does he have nightmares?”
Roy grinned. “I don’t know Dix…I’ve never slept with him,” Roy teased.
She swatted his arm. “Has he talked to you at all? Told you about bad dreams…?”
“No…He won’t talk about his past much at all. I know his parents are dead but he doesn’t seem upset by it…He says he never knew them…That they died when he was a baby.”
“Was he adopted…Foster care…Was he abused?”
Roy shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said softly. “I want to help him but I don’t know how.”
She shrugged…“I don’t know if you can help him much. After today you won’t see him as often.”
Roy grinned. “I’ll be seeing him a lot more Dix…I’m gonna ask him if he wants to be my partner.”
“That’s great Roy…I think you’ll be good for each other but in that case…Watch him…If you notice that he has nightmares or difficulty remembering things that he should remember.”
“His childhood…At his age...If he experienced some kind of trauma, that's probably when it occured.”
“PTSD victims frequently block traumatic events…Memories tend to pop up without warning…sometimes they don’t even understand what triggers them or what makes them relive the trauma. The ones who do…tend to avoid those situations.” Roy nodded for her to continue. “Um…If he seems too detached from people and that he likes to be alone a lot…or has trouble sleeping.”
Dixie thought about it. “Watch for outbursts of anger…Or if he’s easily startled…” Roy nodded, remembering the incident in the hallway. “Guilt…Shame…Distrust…Maybe takes the blame for things he didn’t do…Suicidal.” Roy’s head snapped up in alarm. “That’s what you’re looking for but remember we all experience some of those things from time to time…You’re looking for a lot of symptoms lumped together, not just one or two.”
“If he is experiencing something like that…What do I do?”
“As long as he’s not a danger to himself or a victim…Just be there for him…You might want to suggest professional help but if he won’t do that then talk to him. Let him know it’s not weak to need help and help him face what happened instead of hiding from it because he can’t. The memories will resurface and he can’t control them until he confronts them and lets them go…Got it?”
“Just don’t push him too hard Roy…Let him learn to trust you a little at a time…Remember what you’re dealing with is some kind of trauma so be patient. I’ll help you anyway I can Roy…Just ask okay?”
“I will…You won’t tell anyone?”
“I’m trusting you Roy…You tell me if you think he’s in trouble.”
“I will Dix…Thanks.”
John sat at the table with the exam in front of him. He read the first question and his mind went blank. He rubbed his forehead nervously as he heard his uncle’s voice. ‘You… will… never… amount to anything.’ But a new voice insinuated itself into his brain. ‘You’re so incredibly smart Johnny…I don’t know why you’re worried. You know this stuff inside and out.’ John’s eyes clenched shut and for a moment he almost bolted from the room. Roy’s voice came again. ‘Get in there and don’t let me down Junior.’ John blew out a breath and picked up his pencil.
True to his word, Roy was leaning against the wall when he finished. John stopped as he left the room and looked at his friend…A little worried that Roy would push him for an explanation of what had happened in the hall but he didn’t. He grinned at him… “How’d you do?”
John smiled back in relief…Both that the test was over and that Roy appeared to be letting the incident go. “I think I did okay.”
Roy tossed his arm around the kids shoulder…He felt him stiffen but he didn’t object so the older man simply steered him down the hall. “I’ll buy you lunch.” He promised. John nodded and let Roy lead him to the cafeteria.
The next day the six men who passed the exam stood in line as California representative Mike Wolski and Chief Sorenson congratulated them. Roy had affixed a new name plate to each bearing their name and their new position. He pinned John’s on last and shook his hand before moving away to stand with Dixie. John glanced down at it. J. Gage Paramedic…Mobile Intensive Care Unit. He grinned.
Roy watched from across the room. First in the class…The kid had come through with flying colors, coming in with the highest test score next to Roy’s own. Roy grinned to himself and turned his attention back to Wolski as he finished up a short speech. He looked over at the kid and threw him a proud smile.
John seemed to sense his look... He glanced toward his friend and headed in their direction. Roy and Dixie noticed Mike Wolski approach Kelly Brackett, but turned their attention back to Johnny as he approached them throwing a grin at Roy.
“You gonna be with us for the next class Roy?” Dixie asked.
“No... Chief said I was getting over trained… Says I need a little field duty,” He glanced toward Johnny hoping he’d take the bait…He did
“Out of where…?”
“51’s… Brand new station,” Roy had been waiting for the opportunity. “You play your cards right, I’ll let you team up with me.”
John was a bit excited by that prospect but also a bit hesitant…He covered it with a cocky smirk... “He needs me,” he quipped to Dixie. She grinned back but she knew he was right to some degree. One of them definitely needed the other.
“What are you doing after the party Johnny?” Roy asked.
The younger man shrugged. “Not much…I thought I’d maybe go to a movie.”
“How about dinner with me and Jo…?”
John bit his lip. “I don’t know Roy…Joanne’s got to be getting tired of me by now,” he protested.
Roy wondered what would have prompted such a negative comment…Had Jo said or done something that made him feel that way? He doubted it…His wife was unusually fond of the kid. She didn’t normally welcome his crewmates with as much enthusiasm as she did John and suspected that she felt a little sisterly toward him…That she was thinking of her brother when John was around though she’d never said so. He had caught her looking at the photograph of J.R. more often than she had before.
Roy slapped him off the back. “Well she’d better get used to it Junior…We’re partners now remember? She’s gonna be seeing a lot more of ya.”
Joanne cut off the vacuum cleaner as the front door opened and Roy came inside…John followed close behind. “Hi babe…,” Roy greeted planting a brief kiss on his wife’s lips.
“Hi honey…Hi Johnny. So how’d it go this morning?”
“Pretty good Jo…Our friend here came in number one.”
“Oh Johnny…! Congratulations sweetheart,” she said excitedly as she kissed his cheek drawing a slight frown of jealousy from her husband and an embarrassed blush from the young man at the gesture as well as the endearment.
“Um…Thanks Joanne,” he mumbled shooting Roy a ‘what just happened’ look.
“Ahh babe…Johnny’s staying for dinner,” he said glancing at his mortified partner…He pushed his irritation away. He’d talk to Joanne later.
“Great…I was planning on steaks if that’s okay?” She asked as she headed into the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee.
“Yeah,” John said lighting up at that prospect.
“Hey babe…We’ve got some good news to tell you,” he called after her.
“What’s that?” She asked coming back into the room.
“I told you I was assigned to station 51.” She nodded. “I asked Johnny to be my partner?”
She looked at the younger man who was watching her anxiously, afraid she wouldn’t be too happy with that piece of information but she seemed okay with it. “That’s wonderful…You said yes right?”
“Um…Yeah,” he replied in surprise. He’d half expected her to protest that he was too young. Roy did too from the look on his face. His earlier suspicions suddenly evaporated and a new one rose up full force.
“I’m so glad to hear that Sweetheart.” John’s eyes widened once more.
The blonde man’s mouth tightened as John took on a deer in the headlights look at the show of affection from Roy’s wife but it wasn’t jealousy the older man was feeling it was worry. “Jo…Can I talk to you a minute?” Roy asked, nodding toward the stairs.
“Sure honey,” she said casting him a concerned glance.
“We’ll be right back Johnny,” Roy said softly. “Pour yourself some coffee Junior.”
John watched them disappear up the stairs with a worried look. Roy had seemed upset but he wasn’t sure with whom…Him or Joanne? And what was that kiss and the sweetheart thing that she’d called him. Did Roy think it was his fault? He didn’t think he’d done anything to encourage her affections but what if Roy thought he had? Was he angry with him?
Maybe he should just go home and stop hanging around here so much but he really liked Roy and they’d become pretty good friends…He sorta looked up to him. He chewed his lip in indecision. Maybe it had nothing to do with him at all…He’d just wait. If Roy asked him to leave…His heart sank a bit at the thought. Then he’d go and stop hanging around the older man so often.
Roy and Joanne walked into their bedroom and Roy closed the door. Joanne saw the concerned look on her husband’s face. “What is it honey?”
“Jo…What’s going on with you and Johnny?”
She looked shocked. “What kind of question is that? Are you asking me if John and I are…?”
“No…,” he cut her off. She looked relieved. “I’m asking you what’s going on?”
“Nothing’s going on…He’s your friend and your partner. Don’t you want me to like him?”
“I never heard you call Will Poston sweetheart and I certainly would remember you kissing him and he was my partner for two years,” Roy said gently.
Jo looked away. “That was different.”
“He’s not J.R.,” Roy said softly.
“What?” She asked, looking shocked.
“Honey…Your substituting Johnny for J.R.”
She shook her head… “No…” but after a minute her eyes welled with tears. “I guess…Maybe. I’m sorry honey…I didn’t realize I’d let it get so far,” she said woefully.
Roy hugged her to him. “It’s okay but I just wanted to be sure you understood what you were doing and I don’t want you to be hurt…Besides…I think you’re scaring Johnny,” he teased, softening the blow.
She laughed a bit and wiped her cheeks. “Well let’s face it…That poor kid could use a big sister.”
Roy grinned. “You’re right…He could…I feel a little big brotherly toward him too and as long as you remember that he’s Johnny and not J.R. I don’t have a problem with it but Jo…I think you need to move a bit slower.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I think he’s had it pretty tough and he’s little gun shy about relationships so don’t push him too fast or he’s apt to retreat from both of us.”
She looked at him hard. “What are you not telling me?”
Roy shrugged. “Just a couple of little things I’ve noticed. It’s nothing concrete…He just seems distant…withdrawn…A little scared sometimes of getting too close to people. He’s coming around though. I talked to Dixie McCall and she helped a lot. Don’t get me wrong…John’s a good kid…I just think he has some issues.”
She nodded. She’d noticed some of them herself. “I think that’s what tears at my heart about him too.”
“I pretty much guessed that. I mean if I picked up on it someone with such a loving heart as yours sure would,” he said kissing his wife gently. “Come on…He’s probably getting nervous down there all by himself.”
The couple headed downstairs. John glanced up as they came back into the kitchen and they both caught the anxious expression. “Look um…Maybe I should just go home,” he mumbled softly…avoiding meeting their eyes.
Roy and Joanne’s eyes met with an understanding look. “Don’t be silly Johnny,” Roy said as he hooked his arm around the young man’s neck and turned him toward the living room. “You haven’t had dinner yet.”
John cast a sideways look at his friend and breathed a sigh of relief. Roy didn’t appear to mad at him or Joanne so maybe it had just been his imagination after all. “Okay.”
Joanne gave his cheek a gentle pat when he left for home later. “Goodnight Johnny.” He smiled in relief but he kind of missed the ‘sweetheart.’
John reported for duty at Station 51 a week later. He knocked on the door of the Captain’s office.
“Come…,” a deep voice barked.
John stepped inside. “Uh…Captain Hammer…? I’m John Gage…Reporting for duty sir.”
Captain Richard Hammer looked up…An expression of shock crossed his face. He pulled the file for John Gage in front of him. August 28th 1951…Holy cow…The kid was only twenty. He glanced up as the young man shifted nervously from foot to foot.
John’s dark eyes watched the shock on his new Captains face. He chewed his lip nervously as the man reached out to grab a manila folder…John’s name was written across the front of it. He fidgeted uneasily as the man looked about to have a stroke.
“Is everything okay sir…?” John asked worriedly.
“Twenty…,” Dick muttered half under his breath…God he hated working with kids…He hated to risk anyone under his command but the idea of throwing a kid into a fire always left him more than a bit uncomfortable. John bit his lip at the mumbled comment but remained silent. “Did they get this right…Are you reporting as a Paramedic or a boot lineman?” Dick asked frankly.
John flushed in embarrassment. “I haven’t been a boot for over a year sir,” he said softly. “And I’ve been in rescue for eight months.”
Dick shook his head. What was headquarters thinking? He should have paid better attention when he received the file. Still…They knew how old the boy was and they’d allowed him into rescue and the paramedics… They must have some faith in his abilities. Well either way…It was too late now…He was stuck with the kid but in all fairness… DeSoto spoke very highly of the young man he’d personally handpicked to be his partner…Dick decided to give this…Man? The benefit of the doubt… He could always transfer him if it became a problem down the road.
He stood up and offered John his hand. “I’m sorry Gage…I didn’t realize just how young you were…Kinda took me by surprise.”
“Yes sir,” John said. “I get that a lot,” he said with a rueful grimace.
Dick chuckled at the kid’s sense of humor with the situation. “C’mon Gage…We’ll go find Roy and introduce you to the rest of the crew.”
John nodded as he followed the older man from the office. Cap showed him around the station... pointing out the day room, dorm and finally the locker room where they found Roy and the other three crewmen getting ready to go on duty.
“Hey Johnny...,” Roy greeted, he turned to the others... “Guys, this is my new partner John Gage.”
John nodded politely, “John, this is Bobby Fulton and Hal Travers, our two linemen and this is our Engineer Tom Henderson. “
“Cripe Roy…Startin em awful young ain’t ya…,” Fulton complained.
“Lay off the kid Bobby…It’s nice to meet you Gage…,” Hal said with a grin.
“Hey John…,” Tom said with a nod but the concerned look said he agreed with Fulton.
John heaved a sigh...The guys at Station 10 hadn’t had this problem. They knew when he’d arrived as a green boot that John was only eighteen and while they’d had a field day at his expense they weren’t surprised by it either…He guessed he was in for it here too even though he’d been a fire fighter for two and a half years. Sometimes he wished he looked older than he did.
“He’s not a kid guys…He’s twenty…,” Roy defended his youthful partner even though he’d teased him himself but that was different…John was his friend and knew he was kidding.
“Oh…I guess that two years makes a difference,” Fulton said with a disbelieving head shake.
Roy shot him a grin… “Yeah…I guess it does. Johnny, that locker there’s empty if you wanna stow your gear,” Roy said breaking John’s reverie and pointing to one that was two over from where he stood.
“Thanks,” John replied pulling it open and stowing his things. He turned to face the others as he began to change…His eyes sweeping over them in resignation. He was gonna have to prove himself all over again. Roy slapped him on the back when he was done.
“Let me show you the rig.”
“There it is…Same squad but with a difference,” Roy said directing John’s attention to the red Dodge parked in the apparatus bay.
“That being the right front compartment... It’s locked,” John stated with certainty.
“Good Boy...here’s yours,” Roy said handing the key to a frowning John… “Try your key.”
John unlocked the compartment with a small sigh, resigned to being the junior member of the team. Roy treated him like a kid sometimes just like the others had but it was different. It wasn’t taunting or annoyance at his youth…It was good natured teasing and a touch of concern.
He knew he could take care of himself but still…It was nice to have a friend at his back looking out for him... It just wasn’t something he was used to.
John pulled the compartment doors open. An intimidating array of boxes and instruments greeted him.
“Impressive…” He murmured. “Data scope, electrocardiograph unit…I didn’t know they made them this portable.”
“A thousand dollars worth of portability...”
“Does it have a lead selector?”
Roy smiled at the question…He knew his business and it reassured him that John had been a good choice as a partner. “We can look at and send a full twelve lead EKG. Here’s the nerve center…This orange box. Two way UHF radio links us up with the Doctors at the Hospital with voice and EKG Telemetry. This unit, like all our hardware is battery powered. You and I are to charge it at the start of shift. It gives us two hours of talking time. “
“This blue box is the Cardiac Defibrillator similar to the one the good Doctor demonstrated with your capable assistance. “
John came out of his awed daze with a grin, “I remember… it’s no aspirin.”
Roy returned his smile. “Good boy.”John didn’t know why but Roy’s approval pleased him.
Roy reached in and pulled out what appeared to be a black fishing tackle box…he opened it. “This black job here is the drug store, Pain killers, preloaded syringes with drugs to stabilize the heart rhythm, I.V. solutions. In all we carry an $8000.00 inventory.”
“Kinda makes this wagon a prime target for addicts doesn’t it?” He said worriedly.
“Not so… We only carry a small amount of pain killing drugs... not worth anyone’s time. We pick up the refills from the hospital after each run… we have to account for each milligram. “
“And this small one here…?”
“For the biggest job… bringing in a new life, the O.B. Kit…”
“Very fine, now all we have to do is get a license to use all this gear. Meanwhile we’re just a rolling arsenal against death,” Johnny said with a smirk. Roy grinned at him.
The Station Control Unit sounded and they both looked up... “Squad 51, traffic accident with injuries…”
John began slamming compartment doors as Roy ran for the control unit podium.
“…6th and Kinmore...” Sam Lanier’s voice continued… “Time out 11:25...”
“Squad 51…10-4” Roy responded. He jumped into the cab and began to roll out.
“6th and Kinmore… That’s over near 10’s… Hang a left…I know a short cut.”
“I know a shorter one...” John looked questioningly at Roy... “We swing right to Rampart emergency.”
“Get a nurse on board…you forget we’re the impotent wonders.”
A few moments later they picked up Dixie and headed to accident scene.
Roy and John returned to the station frustrated and angry. Their very first run and some officer at the scene had treated them like traffic cops instead of trained paramedics. It was humiliating and they’d exchanged a glance of annoyance.
Dixie was angry for them as well but the one good thing she had noticed during the incident however was the look that passed between the two paramedics in unspoken communication, speaking without words. She was relieved to see how well these two worked together and if Johnny was having any trouble…She couldn’t see any sign of it. Either he was very comfortable with Roy or the older paramedic had possibly over reacted to a moment of panic at a very important point in the younger man’s career.
Regardless of which one it was…Roy was exactly what the younger Paramedic needed. Mature and professional…The perfect offset to John’s youth and sometimes immature nature. She had no doubt they’d both learn a lot from each other.
Dixie had briefly mentioned what had happened to Kel Brackett and even though he didn’t get along well with John and didn’t agree with the whole Paramedic program he’d understood their frustration. They’d worked very hard at this. It had to be especially hard on Roy. He was definitely one of the best that they’d trained…In all fairness though…So was John Gage though he’d never admit it to Dix. She’d never let him hear the end of that.
He didn’t know what she saw in the boy but it was obvious that she was very fond of him and DeSoto as well. He caught her eyes on the team frequently and she made it clear she enjoyed working with them. Dix never had a problem drawing a grin from the temperamental young Gage whereas he couldn’t be in a room with the kid for five minutes without butting heads. They just couldn’t see eye to eye. If this paramedic bill passed he’d have to deal with this young man on a regular basis. He’d have to find a way to bury the hatchet and preferably not in each other. Kel grinned in amusement at the thought.
Johnny and Roy responded to several calls throughout their first shift together, three of them with the engine crew in tow. Two crew members and one Captain had watched John perform efficiently and well and had to admit that they’d maybe been a touch too hasty in their judgments about his age. He was very good at what he did. The fourth one they were called to, was a structure fire…A warehouse full of furniture was blazing merrily.
Hammer was off the engine and calling instructions before Tom had even pulled it to a stop. John and Roy both pulled on turnouts and shrugged into their SCBA tanks. John watched the smoke roiling from the windows and frowned.
Roy saw Hammer signal them and nodded. “Come on Johnny…Hammer’s giving us the in and out.”
John nodded and followed his partner. Fulton and Travers followed, dragging the hose behind them. They’d been in the building only a few minutes before John stopped. Roy looked at him curiously but the younger man’s eyes were on the ceiling and the smoke gathering there. The dark eyes looked at the furniture as it burned, emitting it’s toxic smoke and chemical gases. Tongues of fire licked upward toward it and the heat was building rapidly.John knew it would go any second.
John grabbed his partners arm and began shoving him toward the door. Roy glanced upward and realized mere seconds after his partner what was happening. “It’s gonna flash…!” Roy, who was being shoved from behind by his young partner shouted waving frantically at the two linemen. They didn’t stop to argue…Travers and Fulton dropped their hoses and ran.
All four men made it to the door as the impending explosion finally rocked the building. John was the last one out and the concussion from the blast knocked the young fire fighter off his feet where he laid panting for breath.
He felt hands turning him gently. His air mask was pulled clear and the dark eyes blinked open to look up into the worried face of his partner. A cocky grin spread across the youthful face and Roy breathed a sigh of relief. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah…I will be…I just got the wind knocked outta me.”
“Just lay there for a minute then.”
Hammer threw a glance at the Captain of Station 36, being sure he had it under control for the moment and then trotted over to where his men were regaining their feet and dusting themselves off…They gave a rueful glance at their Captain at how close they’d all just come to being killed. “What happened?” Dick asked.
“Flashover Cap,” Hal said breathlessly.
“If DeSoto hadn’t called a warning…,” Fulton began.
Roy shook his head and nodded toward Johnny… “Wasn’t me Bobby…You’ll have to thank my partner here. Johnny realized it first and got me moving.”
The eyes turned to the young paramedic as he finally began to struggle to get up. Roy quickly moved to help him. “I’m okay,” John protested half heartedly as he climbed to his feet.
“How’d you know Gage?” Dick asked curiously.
John shrugged. “Just a feeling mostly I guess…Saw the smoke gathering…Angel’s fingers Cap…,” he said referring to the small tongues of fire he’d seen.
Hammer grinned and the other two watched the young man feeling like idiots…The kid might be young but John was an intuitive fireman...A natural and that boded well for them. He felt with his gut…Watching and listening and letting the fire tell him what it was up too…It was in his blood. Captain Hammer reached out to his youngest crew member and shook his hand. “I’m sorry Gage…I think I judged you a little too quickly this morning. Good job.”
“Thanks Cap,” John said quietly, with a pleased flush to his cheeks.
“Thanks Gage,” Travers said with a grin as he pulled his gloves back on and got set to go back in.
Fulton looked at the kid… “Sorry about this morning Gage…Thanks for saving my butt.”
John smiled and nodded. “Let’s get back to it huh. We left the hoses in there…I don’t wanna have to pay for em.”
Fulton grinned and slapped the younger man on the back. They all headed back inside.
Thirty minutes later the fire was out and they were refolding hoses. Tom Henderson slapped his two friends on the back. “You two almost bought it huh?”
“Yeah…Good thing Gage was on the ball,” Fulton said sincerely.
“He’s gonna make a good fireman,” Henderson predicted.
Travers grinned. “He’s already a good fireman…He’s gonna be a great one,” he laughed.
“Let’s hope he’s as good a paramedic.” They finished up and headed back to the station.
Captain Hammer sat down at his desk. He pulled John’s file from the pile of papers on his desk where’d he laid it earlier and turned to a small file cabinet behind him. He tugged the drawer marked ‘Permanent Crew’ open and dropped it in.
By the end of their third shift Johnny and Roy had established a routine of teamwork. The crew watched them begin to move around each other like a well oiled machine…Each seeming to instinctively know where the other would be. Hammer thought it was impressive…The crew thought it was amazing.
John had rapidly become a member of the DeSoto family. He’d learned to tolerate Jo’s shows of affection with an embarrassed blush as she kissed his cheek in greeting or farewell, earning a laugh from his partner for his shyness. Roy’s fleeting feeling of jealousy had faded away once he’d realized that Jo had been looking at him as a little brother and not a potential replacement for Roy.
Roy got a kick out of watching his partner’s flustered reaction to Joanne’s nickname… ‘Sweetheart’ but they noticed that he tended to stiffen up uncomfortably if she hugged him.
John loved the kids and Roy frequently had to track him down in Chris’ room where he’d find both ‘boys’ engaged in some game or other type of play. Jennifer remained fascinated with the younger man and John would sometimes hold Jen for hours without complaint.
Whatever it was Roy had seen during his training hadn’t made a reappearance and Roy put it from his mind. It must have been nothing more than a case of nerves.
At work their partnership was already being noticed and the crew aimed amused smiles at Roy for his big brother attitude with his young partner but despite the fact that they were quickly becoming the best ‘RESCUE’ team out there, the lack of movement on the Paramedic Bill left them frustrated. It’s what they’d trained for and they were anxious to see it passed.
Brackett hadn’t budged on his stance and Mike Wolski was afraid it would be shot down without it. John was obviously annoyed with the surly doctor and his outspokenness hadn’t helped in the cessation of hostilities.
Two weeks later Roy, John and Nurse Carol Williams had just returned from a run. A young man had been knocked off his motorcycle by a side swiping car. They had just stepped out of the treatment room when the Emergency room doors swung open. Two attendants brought the gurney in. The young Asian girl on it was whisked into room 2.
A short time later they were standing at the base station. Dixie came out of the treatment room. She spotted the two Paramedics, “John… Roy…the girl in that room lost her arm to a boat propeller. We need to find it fast. Emerson boatyard, how close is it”?
“What’s the difference, we’ll make it closer.” Roy replied as they ran for the squad.
They arrived at the boatyard in a matter of minutes. They spoke briefly to the Dock master. It only took them a moment to figure out in which direction the arm would have been flung. It took them only minutes to locate the amputated limb.
“Saline… Sterile sheets,” Roy yelled to his partner. John ran for the squad... They delivered the arm to Rampart six minutes later. The severed limb and the girl were whisked to surgery.
John and Roy glanced at each other, “Were we in time?” Johnny asked.
“I hope so junior…I hope so,” Roy repeated softly.
Several hours and a couple of runs later John and Roy headed for the Hospital cafeteria for coffee. They were sitting at a table sipping their coffee when Brackett came in. He spotted them... hesitated and then headed in their direction… “Mind if I join you?” He asked.
John glanced away. Roy looked at his partner before answering, “Sure Doc...” He replied hoping Brackett was making an effort to make it right with Johnny.
Kel sat down and sipped his coffee.”So…how is she?” Roy asked.
“Well her arm may not function as well as it used to but at least it’ll be her own,” He told them. “You getting here as fast as you did made the difference.”
Johnny glanced up at Kel, “We’re handy to have around Doc…you outta give us a try,” Johnny said flippantly. He covered the untactful remark with a half grin.
Joe Early stepped out on the patio interrupting their conversation. “Gotta a real challenge in four,” He told Kel. Brackett shot a brief annoyed look in John’s direction as he got up and left.
Johnny looked at Roy… ”Alright tell me that wasn’t necessary,” He said to Roy expecting a rebuke from his older Partner.
“For you or for him…?” Roy asked.
“Well now, sounds to me like you might be switching sides.” Johnny said.
“No but I’m beginning to choose up.”
They returned to the station still feeling frustrated. Roy poured them both a cup of coffee and came back to the table. “So what are we gonna do if this doesn’t pass?” Johnny asked, looking at him worriedly.
“Don’t worry junior…Wolski knows what he’s doing. He’s got a bunch of other doctors if Brackett won’t come around.
“Yeah I guess,” John said dispiritedly.
“Don’t give up Junior…If it doesn’t pass…We’ll still be a team…It’ll just be in rescue…You won’t be completely worthless ya know,” Roy teased.
‘YOU ARE WORTHLESS…’ the words flashed through his mind and John seemed to shrink into himself a bit as he waited for the expected blow that always followed. The reverberating sound of the CRACK of leather against skin brought a frightened flinch and John began to shake…The brown eyes staring at nothing.
A hand fell on his shoulder and John cringed away in terror. “NO DON’T,” he cried.
“Johnny…? Johnny…Look at me. It’s me Johnny…It’s Roy.”
The dark eyes turned toward him expecting the cold black eyes of his Uncle Joseph but they were met instead by concerned blue. “R…Roy?” He blinked and looked away in confusion, trying to clear the image from his head…His breaths coming in gasps.
Roy reached out to slowly cup the younger man’s cheek, tilting his head until the eyes were looking at him. “You’re shaking…Are you alright?” He asked gently.
John pulled away quickly…“I…I…Yeah…Man I’m sorry. I don’t know what just happened. I just…I’m sorry,” he stammered, as his face flamed in embarrassment.
“You’ve done that before John…Is something wrong? Something you wanna talk about?”
John’s face took on an almost frightened look…“NO,” he said quickly…Too quickly for Roy’s taste.
“Did someone hurt you?”
John shot to his feet. “NO…NO…Don’t over react Roy,” he snapped angrily… “I just…I guess I just FEEL worthless…Useless sometimes with this whole mess. I guess the crack just hit home.”
“I was just kidding Johnny…I don’t believe you’re worthless…You know that? We’re friends and you’ve got the potential to be the best…Well…Second best paramedic out there,” Roy joked.
John tried to smile but it didn’t quite make it to his whole face…He was busy trying to push the voice from his head. “Thanks,” he mumbled. “I just wish they’d get on with this ya know?”
“I know…I feel the same way.”
The station control unit began to tone interrupting their conversation… “Station 51…Station 36…Structure fire. 165 5th Street. 1-6-5 5th Street…Cross Street Alameda…Time out 14:27…
Captain Hammer was at the podium as they ran for the squad. “Station 51…KMG365.”
They arrived at the scene thirteen minutes later. “We’ve got a guard still trapped inside,” Cap yelled as he swept his hand toward the end of the building. John and Roy nodded as they shrugged their air tanks in place.
Squad 36 was already working with several victims with minor burns and injuries alongside an older nurse from Rampart…Carol Jacobs. “Let’s go Junior,” Roy called. John nodded as they headed inside.
They worked their way through the suffocating smoke that filled the hallways. The air seemed heavy and thick. John and Roy moved in a semi crouched position…Keeping beneath the worst of it. They opened doors and checked for victims as they went.
John pushed a door open and saw the feet of their missing victim showing from behind a desk. He moved quickly, stripping off his glove and checking for a pulse. It was there. Weak but beating steadily. John glanced around but Roy had apparently gone on.
He struggled with the man’s dead weight but finally managed to sit him up against the desk. He grasped him by the collar and gave a mighty heave…pulling the victim to his feet and allowing him to sit on the desk until he could get his shoulder beneath him and lift him in a standard fireman’s carry.
John moved toward the door…The fire was spreading rapidly and the ceiling above the hallway was burning…Chewing its way through to the floor above. John glanced down the hall and saw his partner emerge several doors further down. “Roy…,” he yelled above the crackle of the flames. The older man raised his hand and started toward him.
John turned and started up the hall toward the stairs. The ceiling above him seemed to heave as if it were alive…The creaking and groaning ominous above the roar of the fire…John looked up as it finally gave up the struggle and began to collapse. He dropped the victim and threw himself over him…He felt a crushing weight and pain in his shoulder and his leg…The hiss of escaping oxygen from his now damaged air tank whispered past his ear. The sound dwindled to a halt and he was surrounded by rubble…He could see nothing.
John managed to raise his arm beneath the debris, crying out painfully as he pushed the now useless mask from his face. The stench of smoke hit his nostrils and his eyes began to burn. He heard his name yelled from a distance and there was agony…He hurt all over. He coughed as the smoke began to fill his lungs…His eyes closed and sensation began to recede as blackness closed in around him…
Roy left the room he’d just checked…There was no sign of the missing guard. He wondered if Johnny had had any better luck. He turned toward the stairs and the room he’d last seen Johnny enter. He was relieved to see the younger man exit a room up the hall. The missing man slung over his shoulder.
“Roy…,” he heard the muffled yell from his partner and raised his hand in acknowledgement. He started toward him. He saw Johnny’s head snap up and Roy’s eyes rose to the tiles above his partner just as the ceiling began to buckle. He started to run as his partner dropped the guard and threw himself over him. A mountain of debris rained down on top of him.
“JOHNNY…,” Roy yelled. He whipped the handy talkie from his jacket pocket. “Engine 51…HT 51…I have two men down in the hallway on the east side if the building…One is a code I…”
“Hang on HT51…Helps on the way,” Captain Hammer’s voice came back.
“10-4.” Roy shoved the HT back in his pocket and began to yank pieces of wood and ceiling tiles from off of his partner. His heart climbed into his throat. He could barely hear the sound of a weak cough from beneath the rubble but couldn’t tell if it was his partner or the guard. “Johnny,” he called again. There was no answer.
He lifted a piece of tile and saw a gloved hand… It was limp and motionless. He pulled his own glove free and felt for a pulse, breathing a sigh of relief as he felt it beating strongly. A raspy cough came from his partner…His body jerking as he tried to draw air into his oxygen starved lungs. Roy saw the gauge on Johnny’s tank…0 pounds of pressure…Empty… He whipped his own off and placed it carefully over John’s face.
The fingers twitched briefly before falling limp once more. Roy heard the sound of running feet as Travers and Fulton charged down the hall. “Hang on Junior… helps coming.”
He began to pull the remaining debris from off of his partner and the guard. The other two arrived and quickly joined in. They pulled the last heavy beam off and Roy carefully rolled John to his back. His hands moving rapidly over his limbs to be sure nothing was broken. He nodded to Fulton and moved over to check the guard. Finally assured that they wouldn’t do any more harm moving them…He and Fulton lifted John and slung him over Roy’s shoulder. Bobby and Travers lifted the guard between them and they made their way from the building.
Doug Stone glanced up as Roy exited the building with John…Two other firemen followed with the last victim. “Miss Jacobs?”
Carol looked up and he pointed in their direction. She glanced around…There was nothing here that the two Paramedics couldn’t handle. “You two handle the rest...I’m going over to help Roy.” Doug nodded.
The blonde paramedic eased John from his shoulder…Fulton helped him pull the tank off as Roy held John against him. His hand held the dark head gently as he laid him down on the yellow blanket. “Get the oxygen off the engine,” Roy barked as he left John and turned to his first priority…The guard. His eyes returned several times to his partner whose breaths were coming in raspy gasps…Punctuated by a gravelly sounding cough.
The guard had faired a little better. Trapped beneath the young paramedic…he’d managed to avoid being injured by the falling ceiling and hadn’t suffered any worse smoke inhalation than he’d already been exposed to. He was coughing lightly and beginning to stir as Carol joined Roy.
She looked at Johnny and her hand closed over Roy’s taking the BP cuff from his hand. “I’ve got this one Roy…See to your partner,” she said gently.
Roy threw her a grateful smile and moved to John. Captain Hammer suddenly appeared at Roy’s side. “What happened?”
“Ceiling collapse Cap…John went down under it.”
“He gonna be okay?”
“I think so…”
Dick nodded. “Stay with him til you know for sure. I’ll get a replacement.” Roy nodded as Hammer turned away. He took the oxygen mask from Hal as he returned and carefully fitted the mask over Johnny’s nose and mouth.
The younger man’s head turned restlessly as the cool oxygen began to fill his lungs. He coughed harshly and his eyes opened briefly only to drop closed again a second later…Pain flooded his awareness. His chest hurt. His shoulder and his lower thigh felt like they were on fire. He tried to move but a hand came to rest gently on the top of his head, holding him still. He heard a voice he recognized as Roy’s.
“Shhh Junior…Just relax…You’re okay. Johnny can you hear me?” A low moan slipped from John’s lips. “Open your eyes Johnny,” Roy commanded.
The dark lashes fluttered and the lids cracked open obediently. “R…Roy.”
“I’m here Johnny…Can you tell me where you hurt?”
“My shoulder…My leg…Chest hurs too…,” he mumbled.
“Let’s get the jacket off him,” Roy suggested to Fulton. They raised John to a sitting position long enough to ease the ripped turnout coat off him, drawing a gasp of pain from the young man. Blood stained the back of the pale blue shirt beneath. The younger man’s head lolled and he clenched his eyes shut against the pain.
Roy didn’t waste time…He ripped the shirt open, exposing the deep, three inch long gash in his right shoulder along with severe bruising. Something heavy had hit it hard and ripped flesh. “I need a pressure bandage Carol,” he told the older nurse.
“How bad is it?”
“Pretty deep…About three inches long…I don’t think it hit anything major but there’re a lot of bad contusions and bruising.”
She nodded as she left the guard who was now breathing comfortably with the aid of the oxygen mask. “Check his leg…,” she directed, pointing at the torn and bloodied pants. I’ll get a bandage on this and get his vitals.”
Roy nodded as he pulled his knife from his belt clip and slit the leg of John’s trousers clear up to his thigh. The leg was cut deep and a black and purple discoloration was already beginning to show at the edges. Roy shook his head, knowing this had to hurt...A lot.
John groaned miserably and twisted against the touch of Roy’s hand and despite the fact that he’d probably hear about it later from Carol and his crewmates he reached up gently to smooth the sable hair away from the soot stained brow. Tears of pain slipped from between the closed lids and trickled down the younger man’s temple's and into his hair. “Shhh Junior…I know you’re hurting. Carol’s gonna give you something for it a minute, I promise okay?” John nodded briefly.
Carol already had the Biophone in her hand and Roy could hear her talking to Kelly Brackett at Rampart. She looked at Roy and nodded as Brackett confirmed the order for Meperidine and an IV of Ringers. She quickly got the IV started drawing another grimace of pain from John as the needle pierced his skin. She loaded the syringe as Roy returned his attention to getting a bandage on his junior partner’s leg.
The ambulance rolled in. The two attendants pulled a gurney from the back. They lifted the guard onto it and loaded him into the ambulance. They returned a moment later with a stretcher. They lifted Johnny onto it carefully. John’s eyes fluttered once more but the Meperidine was doing its job and he quickly dropped back to sleep.
John’s eyes cracked open as they transferred him to the exam table. Dixie followed Kelly Brackett into the room. “Thanks Carol…I’ve got it from here,” she said gently as she set the oxygen canula beneath John’s nose. Carol smiled at the slightly proprietary attitude Miss McCall had for the young paramedic. Kel on the other hand frowned and for the same reason. Dix saw the dark eyes open and smiled gently. “Well hi handsome,” she teased. Kel frowned again but turned his attention to his patient.
Roy moved to stand at the back of the room to try and stay out of the way, hoping he wouldn’t be noticed and be sent from the room like a civilian. Dixie gave him a glance but said nothing as she grabbed the scissors and quickly cut the rest of John’s clothes from his body.
John stirred uneasily as she gently pulled them out from under him…His head tossed. “No…,” he mumbled, fighting the effects of the drug he’d been given. Dixie grinned at what she thought was a youthful display of modesty and quickly spread a sheet over the boy. The covering seemed to ease his mind a bit and he relaxed once more…A raspy cough erupted from his lips.
Kel listened to John’s lungs and checked John’s eyes briefly and looked toward Roy…The older paramedic tensed, expecting the normally grouchy doctor to send him from the room but he surprised him. “Roy, can you help me roll him on his side?”
Roy quickly came to the table and they eased the younger man onto his left side. John coughed again as Brackett peeled the bandage away. He checked the wound drawing a slight whimper of pain from the patient. “Mmmm R…oy…,” he mumbled half incoherently.
Roy’s hand came to rest against the dark hair. “Shhh junior…It’s okay…You’re at Rampart…I’m right here okay?” John relaxed back as Roy’s thumb began an absent stroke over the younger man’s temple…The brown eyes closed under the soothing motion.
Dixie grinned but Roy was too absorbed in what Brackett was doing to notice his own gentle ministrations much less her amusement from them.
“Dix…Get X-ray down here. I want a chest film. I also want a shot of his shoulder and his leg. Set up a suture tray…4.0 silk…” She nodded and moved away as Kel lifted the blanket over John’s legs.
John felt a cool draft of air wash over his bare skin and his heart began to race…. “No…,” he whimpered again softly as he tried to raise his head…He sounded scared.
“Shhh,” he heard the calming whisper close to his ear. A gentle hand pressed his head back down. The sheet didn’t climb any higher and the younger man laid his head down. The eyes blinked open meeting the blue of his partner’s worried gaze as he sat on a stool in front of him…His blonde head close to John’s. “It’s okay…It’s just Dr. Brackett okay?”
John’s eyes remained locked on Roy’s but he gave a small nod of understanding. He struggled to keep his eyes open. His teeth clenched, stifling another cough as Brackett shot Novocain into the wounds.
Again Roy’s fingers began a soothing motion…Sweeping the dark hair back. John had seen him do it to Chris once when he’d fallen and hurt himself. He might have been indignant by it under normal circumstances but at the moment it felt good.
John’s eyes were starting to droop once more…He could feel the pressure of Brackett’s suturing but no pain as he worked on his shoulder. He coughed harshly before he vaguely registered the conversation around him.
He felt Dixie’s gentle finger’s bandaging the wound. “Immobilize his shoulder Dix.” Kel’s voice came…heard as if in a tunnel. He felt Dixie’s hands touching him, moving his arm and strapping it in place. Roy’s fingers continued their gentle motion.
John jumped as the sheet over his legs lifted…Struggling to raise his head and sit up.
“Shhh…Relax,” the gentle reassurance came once more as the doctor began to work on the wound on his thigh, just above the knee. The sheet resettled and John let Roy press him back.
“Something tore him up good,” Kel said casually as he worked. “This is going to be real sore for a while Roy…The shoulder too. Does he have anybody at home who can look out for him for a couple of days?”
Roy shook his head. “His parents are dead and he’s an only child…He has an Aunt in Santa Barbara but that’s the only family he has around here.”
Kel shook his head. “I’ll have to keep him here for a few days then.” John groaned softly at those words. The reaction even drew a grin from Kel. “I don’t think he liked that option,” the doctor teased with a glance at DeSoto.
Roy smiled. “I don’t think Joanne would mind if I brought him home for a couple of days. She’s pretty fond of him.”
“Good…Then I’ll let him go home in the morning if there are no complications.”
“Thanks Doctor Brackett.” John smiled drowsily at that information.
Kel finished up and dropped the last needle on the tray. “Dix…Give him a tetanus shot,” he said moving to the cabinet on the wall. He took down a bottle and handed it to Dixie. “Give him 500mgs of that as well.” He caught the blonde fireman’s eyes on him. “Antibiotic,” he explained. “Just in case…Let me know when X-Ray’s done…I want to see those films.” She nodded.
Roy nodded and the dark haired doctor left the room. Dixie filled both syringes and glanced at Roy with a teasing wink as she began to raise the sheet. “Since it happens to be handy…,” she began with laugh.
Two things happened simultaneously. The first was when John felt the sheet pull away, exposing his backside to the pretty blonde nurse. He began to fight to roll onto his back…The whimper that escaped from between his lips a combination of pain, fear and embarrassment.
Roy shot to his feet to try and hold onto his suddenly struggling partner. “Shhh…John what’s wrong…It’s just Di…”
The second thing was Dixie’s gasp of horror as her blue eyes fell on the young man’s bared behind. The hiss of rage that escaped from between her lips cutting off the blonde paramedics words. Roy held John against him, effectively stilling the writhing form of his partner and his eyes followed Dixie’s.
They widened in shock and then looked down at the dark head pressed against him. “Oh my God,” he whispered. He could feel John’s body shaking against him. There were small gasping sounds as John alternately tried to cough and keep from crying from humiliation. Roy’s chin came to rest against the dark head…The tough fire fighter disappeared and the father in him took over. “It’s okay…It’s okay. Just relax…I’m here…No one’s gonna hurt you anymore,” he whispered gently as his hand stroked through the sable hair.
There was a multitude of fading scars crisscrossing the younger man’s buttocks and upper thighs climbing upward as high as his lower back. The obvious effort having been made to be sure they weren’t visible unless the kid was naked.
Roy’s anger clawed its way upward from his gut…His teeth clenched to keep from bellowing his rage out loud and shaking the truth from the frightened boy he held in his arms but he knew the young man was too upset right now…Too drugged…Too embarrassed and more than likely too scared. The angry blue eyes met the equally enraged ones of Dixie McCall.
She bit her lip and gently emptied the contents of both syringes into the John’s right cheek. He jumped despite her gentleness and Dix could understand that…The poor thing had probably been terrorized at some point in his life. She pulled the sheet over him and threw the syringes back on the tray. “Get a gown on him before X-Ray gets down here,” she growled as she turned and stormed from the room. Roy heard the thump of the blonde woman’s hand as it slapped the door in rage.
Roy turned his attention back to Johnny. “It’s okay junior…It’s okay. I want you to rest now…” He laid the younger man back against the table.
“R…Roy,” he gasped…A ragged cough escaped.
“Shhh…Not now…We’ll talk later.”
“No…I can’t…I…It’s not…,” he stuttered with hitched breaths.
“Shhh,” He hushed him again. His fingers once again swept the hair back. John’s face was scarlet in humiliation. “I’m gonna get a gown on you okay?”
Feeling at the moment like he wanted to die…John nodded his heartfelt gratitude. “Thanks,” he whispered. Roy pulled the gown in place…Lowering the sheet only enough to be sure Johnny was decently covered by the garment before tugging the sheet to his young partners chin.
“Okay now?” There was a nod but John’s eyes were squeezed shut. “You go ahead and sleep okay. X-Ray’s on their way and then we’ll get you in a room so you can rest,” Roy soothed. “I’ll be with you til they get you upstairs.”
The X-Ray technician pushed the door open. His concerned glance over his shoulder warned the blonde paramedic that Dixie was probably still outside the room and probably still just as angry. Roy started to leave but John’s hand reached out to grab his. “Roy…?”
The older man took it in his own. “Yeah Junior…?”
“You won’t tell anyone?” The eyes were closing…Finally losing the battle with exhaustion and Meperidine…
“I won’t tell anyone,” he promised. Well maybe Joanne but the kid didn’t need to hear that right now. The dark eyes drifted closed.
Roy nodded at the technician and left the room.
Dixie was waiting for him. She leaned against the wall with her arms folded tightly across her chest. Her watery blue eyes met Roy’s as he stepped outside the door. “How is he?” She whispered in obvious distress.
“He’s asleep. He’s um…Pretty embarrassed and I think he’s a little scared. He asked me not to tell anyone.”
Dixie nodded her head. “I’m sorry I bailed on you Roy but I couldn’t stay…The idea that someone beat that child that badly and left those kinds of scars…”
“I know Dix…I felt the same way but I had to stay with him…I just couldn’t walk away…I guess I was afraid he’d think I was upset with him or something.”
“Battered children often feel guilty…Like they deserved what was done to them…I’m glad you stayed.” She patted his arm. She sniffed and glanced up at the blonde man. “Well…At least we know what the trauma was that you were concerned about.”
Roy’s head snapped up. “I hadn’t even thought of that…You’re probably right. If he’s having flashbacks then…”
“That’s what he’s remembering,” Dix finished. “And God only knows what else.”
Roy looked at her in concern. “I don’t know what to say to him…I’ve never been around a battered child I…”
Dixie took his hand. “What you did in there was a start Roy…You understood his fear…His embarrassment. You stayed by him…Held him and let him know it was okay…That you were there for him…That’s what he needs most.”
The young man nodded. “Thanks Dixie.”
“Any idea who…?”
“He said he was raised by an Aunt…I don’t know if she had a husband…Maybe…,” Roy shrugged. “Doesn’t matter…I’ll be there for him regardless of who or why?”
“I can help you too, now that I’ve got it out of my system,” she teased holding up her reddened knuckles. Roy laughed.
Kel looked the X-Rays over a while later. He glanced at the sleeping young man on the table…“Nothing’s broken,” he advised Roy and Dixie. “His lungs are a bit congested but that’s normal after smoke inhalation.
“Good,” Roy breathed. “How long will he be out of commission?” He asked as his hand gave his partner’s hand a reassuring squeeze.
“A week…Maybe ten days… If you could keep him down for at least three days…Then we’ll get him up on his feet a bit.”
Roy nodded. “I’ll call Jo when I get back to the station but I don’t think she’ll mind. She’s kinda adopted him like a little brother anyway, he said wryly.
“She’s not the only one,” Dixie teased in a whisper aside to Roy.
His face colored a bit but he grinned at the pretty nurse.
Roy went with John when they took him upstairs. He waited patiently as they transferred the young man into the bed. John’s eyes fluttered a bit as a pretty blonde nurse named Delores moved in to be sure he was comfortable. She raised the head of the bed slightly, fitting the oxygen canula under his nose. She pulled the blanket up under his chin, making sure the IV line was clear. She threw a smile in Roy’s direction and disappeared out the door.
Roy stepped over to the bed. “You okay junior?”
The dark eyes turned toward him…And a ragged cough erupted from his lungs…He gasped in air and nodded. Then memory returned and John’s face paled at what he realized Roy had seen…That he’d seen the scars and John had wept in his arms like a child. His stomach rolled at the thought. “Gonna throw up,” he whispered miserably.
Roy pushed the nurse call button and grabbed the emesis basin as John began to vomit…The nurse came back in and saw what was happening. “Sometimes Meperidine can upset the stomach,” she explained. “I’ll call Dr. Brackett and see if I can give him something to settle it.”
Roy nodded as she spun on her heel and left. The spasms eased and John finally seemed to relax. Roy disappeared into the small bathroom, returning with a wet wash cloth to gently bath his face. “Better now?” He asked. John nodded tiredly. “Johnny…About what happened downstairs…What I saw…”
John looked scared. “Nothing happened…It’s not w…what you think,” he whispered. “I…I told you…My p…Parents were killed…That was from the accident th…that’s all,” he stuttered, using the same lie he always did when someone saw the marks. He looked away in embarrassment, unable to meet Roy’s probing eyes…First for what had happened and second for lying to his friend about it.
Maybe that lie worked with others but Roy wasn’t buying it. The terror and the tears said otherwise. The nurse came in with a syringe and John tensed. She smiled and he gave a sigh of relief as she inserted it into his IV port. “Compazine,” she said with a smile. “It’ll settle your stomach.” John nodded without looking at Roy. She left once more.
Roy waited for her to leave before he reached out to gently grip the younger man’s chin. Evasive dark eyes looked everywhere but at him. “Try that lie with everyone else Junior, but not with me.”
John’s eyes finally locked with Roy’s…He shook his head and opened his mouth to reply but the older man held his hand up to stop the words. “I’m not gonna push ya Johnny…You’ll tell me when you’re ready…When you trust our friendship enough to know that I won’t blame you for whatever happened okay? But those scars weren’t caused by any accident and whatever they were caused by… wasn’t your fault.”
Tears welled and John struggled not to let them fall but he didn’t argue…It was pointless. The older man wouldn’t believe the same lies that the others all had. Johnny wished that the authorities, teachers, and social workers that he’d tried to tell would have believed him back then. They’d listened to his Uncle and Aunt instead…He’d finally given up knowing he’d only get hurt worse for telling. John looked at Roy and nodded miserably. Roy nodded and swept his hand through the sable hair. “I’ll be back to get you tomorrow okay?”
“Kay,” he whispered as his eyes drifted closed.
Captain Hammer stepped from his office as Roy backed the squad in and climbed out. “How’s Gage?” He asked as the other three crewman came from the rec room to listen.
“He’s got a couple of really deep cuts on his shoulder and his leg. They put in a lot of stitches. He got smoke inhalation but the doctor didn’t think it would have any lasting effects. John’s pretty healthy even if he is a skinny runt.” Roy teased. The others smiled at the bravado but they could see the worry in the blonde paramedic’s eyes. “He had some pretty severe bruising so he’s gonna be hurtin pretty bad for a few days but the doc’s gonna let him go home tomorrow as long as his lungs are clear.”
Hammer patted the younger man’s shoulder in relief. “Good…We were worried. I called Dwyer in. I know he’s not trained as a paramedic but he’s a good rescue man.”
“Not a problem Cap…Give me a chance to recruit him and his partner for the next class.”
Hammer grinned and returned to his office as the others headed for the rec room. “So is the kid gonna be okay by himself when he gets out tomorrow?” Fulton asked sounding concerned.
“Sounds like the kid’s won you over,” Travers taunted his friend.
The other shrugged as Roy replied. “I’m gonna call my wife. I’ll probably be bringing him to my house for a few days if she doesn’t mind.”
The others nodded as Roy moved to the pay phone.
Continued in part 2
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