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“Station 51, Captain Stanley speaking,” he said as he looked at the clock above his desk, 9:45 p.m.
“Evening Hank, it’s Joanne, is Roy there?” asked the wife of his senior paramedic.
“No Joanne he’s on a run. In fact he and Johnny have had a non-stop night. Is there something I can do for you?” he said.
She didn’t want to seem like an over-the-top wife, you know the ones you see on TV, but she couldn’t remember if she gave Roy this message before he left for work this morning. “I just wanted to remind Roy that I’m not going to be home tomorrow during the day because I’m chaperoning a field trip with Jenny’s class. That’s all.”
“No problem Joanne, I’ll give him the message. Anything else?” he continued.
“That’s it. Are you getting excited about this weekend? You do know that Emily has invited us to the football game tomorrow night, right?” she cautiously questioned.
“Of course I know Joanne. My wife has invited the whole family, the neighbors and people she hasn’t seen in 15 years. She has been working like crazy since we first got the notice a couple of weeks ago.” Hank said.
“Well you know,” Joanne said as she smiled, “this is a really big thing for any teenaged girl to experience. It’s not every girl who is elected to the Homecoming Court.”
“I know now. But to be honest, when Maggie called me here at the station and told me that she was a Junior Maid for the Homecoming Court, I really didn’t know what that meant. It has taken two weeks of lessons from all of my Stanley women to catch me up on the importance of tomorrow night,” he explained.
“I guess it’s hard sometimes for a man with a wife and two teenaged daughters to keep up with the times,” chuckled Joanne. “At least Roy will have Chris to back him up when our kids enter their teenage years.”
“I don’t know if you are aware of this but, Maggie and Amanda both have dates for the dance Saturday night.” Hank said adding, “I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet. But I have to just face the fact that my girls are growing up.”
“Sometimes I wish that we . . .” Joanne started to say when the klaxons sounded.
Engine 51, structure fire, 76 Simpson Street.
“Gotta go Joanne. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure that Roy gets the message,” said Cap as he hung up the phone.
Knowing that she would be just talking to a dial tone, Joanne still said, “Be safe.”
The engine pulled up to a Seven Eleven Convenience store where there were a couple of police squads parked in the lot with their lights flashing. Hank jumped down and asked about the need for his services.
“Captain, we suspect a possible ceiling fire in the storeroom,” said one officer.
“Chet, Marco let’s pull in an inch and a half. Check the back storeroom,” Stanley ordered. And with that his crew went into auto pilot. As Cap watched his men go into the building he saw Vince Howard and another officer escort two handcuffed individuals out.
“Are you ready for this Hank? We have these two geniuses who thought that they could hide out in the air conditioning ducts until closing and then rob the place. But then they had a craving for a cigarette and . . . you can pretty well figure it out from there huh? The store clerks could smell smoke and we decided to give you a call.”
“It’s clear Cap,” said Marco as he and Chet pulled the fire hose back toward Big Red. “We checked the place. It looks good.”
While Mike, Chet and Marco returned the inch and a half to the hose bed, Hank took the opportunity to pull Vince over for a talk.
“Hey Vince, you got a minute? I need to ask you a favor,” said Captain Stanley.
The Friday morning wake-up tones rang and 51’s A-shift was hesitant at first to leave their bunks, especially Johnny and Roy who had a terrible shift. Call after call, all night long. It was a fact that dealing with one major incident was hard, but repeated calls for minor things, over and over again were brutal. Backing into quarters, then called back out again, and again made for very little sleep for the duo. Roy was ecstatic when Cap reminded him of Joanne’s absence from the house today. He thought that he would be able to get some good uninterrupted sleep.
Shaved, dressed and all ready packed, the crew members sat around the table in the day room and talked about their plans for the upcoming weekend.
“I checked my records,” Mike Stoker said, “and I had to go all the way back to February to find the last time that we had a three-day weekend. You know Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”
“It couldn’t have come at a better time for me,” Chet Kelly said with the biggest smile across his face. “It’s like a sign from heaven that it happened this weekend.”
“Wait. I forgot what you had planned this weekend? You’re doing . . .” Johnny started to say.
“I’m going to the biggest thing to happen to Los Angeles since sliced cheese. I’m going to a 24 hour film festival at Grumman’s Chinese Theatre right down on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. “The Best of the B’s” is the name of the event. Look here, it’s right here in the paper. We got The Giant Claw, The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, It Came From Beneath The Sea just to name a few. Movies, popcorn and hot dogs. I’m gonna be in heaven.”
Roy knew that he was tired, but why in the world did Chet compare this humongous event to sliced cheese? He was “this close” to asking why, but then decided nah, what the hell. Let it go.
Marco was going to be a substitute bowler for an injured member of his brother’s bowling team in a tournament over in Oxnard, and Johnny and Mike were involved in two separate weddings. Mike agreed to be an usher for his cousin Mary’s wedding and Johnny somehow was “volunteered” to plan the wedding and reception for Laverne and Edgar, two people who lived in his apartment building.
Johnny explained, “I’m in charge of the whole shebang.”
Marco questioned, “You mean your catering the wedding reception too?”
“In a way I guess. It’s gonna be simple,” he continued to explain. “We are going to have the wedding out by the pool. Then after that we are gonna fire up the grill and have hot dogs, hamburgers and beer. Simple.” he said.
I hope the society editor doesn’t show up! Roy thought, again too tired to speak out loud. Dear Abby might think the wedding was the best thing since sliced cheese. Sliced cheese? Boy he needed a nap. Roy let out a little chuckle to himself.
“What’s so funny Roy? What have you got planned,” asked Marco.
“Oh, lots of family things. Little League, cheerleader stuff and general work around the house,” Roy said and wanting to take the spotlight off of him he changed the subject by adding, “But nobody has a more important weekend than our captain.”
“That’s right,” Marco agreed holding up is coffee cup in a congratulatory gesture.
“Boy, you’re not kidding. Emily has this weekend scheduled down to the last minute. General Omar Bradley could take lessons from her. In fact, before I can walk in the house this morning, I need to go get a haircut and then I have to pick up my dress uniform from the cleaners,” said Hank.
“Dress uniform?” questioned Johnny.
Cap said proudly, “It might interest you that when my daughter Maggie found out that I have to escort her onto the field during tonight’s halftime show, she said that she would be so proud if I wore my dress uniform instead of a regular suit. So there you have it, your captain is going to wear his uniform tonight.”
Hank’s crew responded with smiles and compliments as they talked and waited for members of the B-Shift to arrive.
“Morning Chuck, how’s every little ole thing?” Hank said knowing exactly what his barber for the last 15 years would say next.
“My wife is fine thank you,” he said. “You’re my first customer so let’s get you in the chair. You want some coffee?”
“I appreciate the offer Chuck but I have a big day today so I’ll pass,” said Hank.
“I know, Emily called me yesterday and said I should make you gorgeous,” he chuckled.
“Emily called? I’m sorry, my wife has gone crazy. She’s has been . . .” Hank started to explain about her enthusiasm but was interrupted.
“Hank, I know. My wife went off the deep end a couple of times too. Come on, let’s get started,” the barber said as he put the drape on Hank.
As tired as Roy was, he took his time driving home. No need to stress about the Los Angeles traffic this morning. When he pulled into his driveway he couldn’t remember a time when he had to whole house to himself. He was in heaven. He parked the Porsche, lowered the garage door, grabbed his work bag out of the passenger seat and went to the back door. On his way he looked at the back yard. He really needed to cut the lawn. He promised himself that he would do it tomorrow. After he dropped his work bag in the laundry room, he automatically went to the kitchen to get a glass of orange juice. He saw a note underneath the napkin holder on the table. “Please put the roast in theoven at 3:30 p.m. on 350°. Love, Jo.” He looked in the refrigerator and saw the large pan with another note on it. “Leave the foil on.” Then he pulled out the bottle of orange juice. It had a note on it as well. “Use a glass! Enjoy your nap!” God he loved his wife.
The chain of rings attached to the glass door made a loud noise as Hank walked in to Smith’s Dry Cleaning. As the counter clerk looked up, she immediately reached up and grabbed the plastic-wrapped LA County Fire Department dress uniform already hung on the customer rack.
“It’s already paid for,” she said. “Congratulations and have fun tonight.”
Hank didn’t say a word. He just grabbed the hanger with one finger, threw the garment bag over his shoulder and made a U-turn back through the jingly door. Has Emily told everybody in the world?
Roy was rejuvenated and inspired. Rejuvenated because he had hours of the most beautiful, uninterrupted sleep; and inspired to cook because of the wonderful smell that the roast was sending throughout the house. He went into the pantry and pulled out a couple cans of peas and the instant mashed potatoes. He was a little concerned because it was 4:15. School ended at 3:00. Maybe, he thought, the field trip had a delay somewhere.
At the Stanley house tempers were getting ready to flare. Emily had, for the last two weeks, turned the family dining room into a dress maker’s shop. The large formal table was the perfect place for the sewing machine and to lay out material and cut out patterns. Hank’s wife had somehow managed to make not only two formal dresses for her girls to wear to the dance, but also a beautiful suit complete with a hat, for Maggie’s presentation tonight at the football game.
“Mom, I can’t find my gloves. Why do we have to wear gloves anyway?” Maggie complained.
“They are on the dining room table,” her mom screamed from the bathroom in the hallway.
“Here they are,” exclaimed Amanda, the uniformed youngest daughter as she held up the short white gloves. She continued to shrill, “Mom, do you know where my band shoes are?”
I can’t even go to the bathroom in peace in this house! Emily thought. “They are in the washroom on the dryer. Your Dad polished them for you this afternoon.” Flush.
Emily, Maggie and Amanda frantically made it to the living room, now looking for a purse, a Homecoming corsage and a clarinet case. They looked like an ant pile that had just been stepped on when all of a sudden they all stopped in their tracks and looked at the door to the hallway. Captain Henry “Hank” Stanley was standing there in his full dress formal uniform with his hat tucked underneath his arm. The captain’s stripes on the sleeves, the polished silver badge, the whitest shirt contrasted with the blackest tie, and the pristine creases in the pants that stopped at the world’s best polished shoes, made quite an impression on all of the females in the room.
“Girls,” Emily said, “that’s why you have to love a man in uniform.”
Ten minutes later, they were all heading off to the football stadium.
“Go upstairs to your room and don’t come out until dinner! That is if I let you ever eat again!” Joanne said as she pointed up the stairs.
Roy looked out from the kitchen to see what child she was yelling at. It was Chris.
“And you, go upstairs and put on some jeans and your tennis shoes,” Joanne continued to say, very loudly to Jenny.
Roy, who was standing by the hallway, backed up quickly as his wife passed him, threw her purse on the stool underneath the phone, went to the refrigerator, grabbed a beer, popped the top and took a big gulp. As Roy started to speak she just held out her hand to stop him. She put the beer down. (She never really liked beer.) Then she uncharacteristically belched. Loudly.
“Is there a problem?” Roy asked . . . gently.
“Do you really want to know what your son did at school today?”
My son? Why is it every time he gets into trouble it’s my son? Roy thought. As he started to reply he was cut off.
“Don’t answer. Let me tell you what he did.” Joanne said with an exuberance of gestures to back up her tirade. “Chris, and his best friend Bobby, thought it would be “fun” to unscrew the caps on all of the salt shakers and ketchup bottles in the cafeteria. Needless to say, there were a lot of ruined lunches and shirts! The cafeteria ladies turned them in to the principal where your son, sat all afternoon until we got back from the field trip. That’s why we are so late. The principal had to tell me your son’s punishment. He has after school detentions all day next week and you are going to pay for anyone who complains about a stained shirt. Now I have to fix dinner and we are probably going to be late for the football g. . . ”
She stopped and looked at the pots steaming on the stove and the completely set table. How could she have missed all of this? She sighed. Joanne hated to be the kind of mother that her mother was. She closed her eyes and just stood there.
Roy took her in her arms and the two just stood there, thinking that if they prayed really hard and worked together, they would survive parent hood. Maybe.
They could hear the announcer on the stadium speakers. “Ladies and gentlemen welcome to the 1976 Carson High School Homecoming ceremony.” (Applause)
"Joanne, Roy we're up here!" shrilled Emily Stanley.
Joanne and Roy looked toward the sound of the voice and saw her waving them over to where her family and friends were gathered.
The DeSotos made it up the bleachers and got settled into their saved seats in just enough time to look out to the other side of the field where they saw Hank and his daughter on the 50 yard line.
ANNOUNCER- “Now representing our junior class is Margaret Alice Stanley. Margaret is a member of the Speech and Debate team; she is also a member of the Carson Colts Volleyball team, the Beta Club and the National Honor Society. Tonight Margaret is being escorted by her father Captain Henry Stanley of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. That’s our junior maid, Margaret Alice Stanley.” (A big round of applause.)
ANNOUNCER – “Ladies and gentlemen let's stand for the 1976 Carson High School Homecoming Court.”
Leaving the stadium was even harder than arriving late because they were the only ones going toward the exit during the third quarter and, crossing the line for the concession stand was just as hard as crossing through the line to the bathroom.
As Joanne was getting the kids into bed, Roy was in the kitchen getting ready for his favorite part of the day. Each night that he was at home, he and Joanne would enjoy an adult beverage, a snack and most importantly, each other’s company. Usually Roy would have a cold beer and Joanne would have a glass of wine but tonight, he decided that he wanted wine as well.
As soon as she got down to the kitchen table Joanne plopped in her chair and did her best
“Hard day, I gather?” Roy said.
“Oh, Roy you have no idea. Chaperoning 25 second graders on a field trip to the science museum is exhausting. I had no idea that 7 year olds needed to go to the bathroom so much! That and keeping their curious hands from touching everything in sight . . . I’m telling you Roy, teachers deserve a medal for what they do.”
“Here, I chose white wine tonight,” he said as he handed her her glass.
“Thank you kind sir, I need this,” she said as she sipped a generous portion. “And then, as soon as we got back to the school, the principal’s secretary finds me and tells me about Chris and Bobby and their prank. Then, as your son got in the car he started up immediately with ‘Bobby can do this and I can’t’ and ‘Bobby’s mom lets him do this and . . .’”
“Here have a cracker,” Roy said calmly.
“Are you trying to shut me up by forcing food in my mouth?” she said.
“Yep.” And he held out a cracker with cheese spread on it. She put the whole cracker in her mouth and started to chew. He leaned over and kissed her. “Yum, that’s good cheese,” he said as he kissed her. He then pulled his chair closer to hers and leaned in to kiss her on her left cheek, then right cheek, then right side of her neck, then left side of her neck.
Joanne thought this would be romantic except for the fact that she had a mouth full of cracker and cheese. She tried her best not to laugh out loud because it would not be pretty. Cracker pieces would go everywhere! Then Roy started to tickle her in her special spot, you know that little area on her back, between her shoulder blades.
“op oy!” she said “eze!” (Stop Roy! Please!)
Roy laughed as she was trying her best not to spew Ritz crackers. He removed his hands in a “surrender” gesture and allowed her to finally chew and swallow. He held up her glass to her lips and let her take a much needed sip of wine. As soon as he put down the glass he kissed her again and this time, he meant business.
“Yum, that’s good wine too,” he said as he leaned back in his chair and picked up his own glass.
“Roy, I hate to break this to you, but I have a ‘stomach ache.’”
“I know, but I can still kiss you can’t I?”
Boy can you! She thought. Roy was a great kisser.
Roy and Joanne had decided on a special code years ago. Whenever Joanne had her “monthly visitor,” they would use the euphemism “stomach ache” to explain to Chris and Jenny why Mom couldn’t participate in certain things.
“When do you think your stomach ache is gonna go away?” he asked coyly.
“Uhmmm . . . I’m hoping by Sunday night.”
He smiled. Yes! Send me back to work with a smile on my face! And they kissed again. Deeply. But, before they got too far down the road they couldn’t travel on, Joanne stopped kissing her husband. Roy sighed.
After about a good minute of silence, Joanne started the next conversation.
“Roy, I think it’s time that you have “the talk” with Christopher,” she said as she bit off a smaller bit of a cracker this time.
“What talk,” he said as he shoved a big cracker in his mouth?
“The ‘talk’ Roy.”
“Aw weady?” (All ready?)
“Well, he’s eleven and he needs to know soon.”
“Why don’t you do it for me?” he said after he had swallowed.
“Oh no, no, no, you’re not going to put this in my lap. You get Chris, I’ll tell Jenny. That’s the law,” she said adamantly.
“Really, there’s a law?” he smiled.
“Yep,” she smiled back as she shook her head up and down and took her index finger and circled the rim of her wine glass.
He questioned her request, “You sure it’s not too early?”
“Well gee Ward, you don’t want the Beaver to learn about the birds and the bees from Eddie Haskel down the street do you?” Joanne said, again, over-acting.
Roy smiled again, “No Mrs. Cleaver, I guess I should work up a speech.”
“Uh-huh,” she said and this time she leaned in and she started their next round of kissing.
Saturday morning after breakfast, Emily and the two girls were hurrying to get in the car.
“They didn’t eat a lot of breakfast. Do you know where they are going out to dinner tonight?” he asked.
“Yeah, they are going to Caesar’s. Gotta go,” said Emily and they were gone.
Hank went to the phone book and looked up the number for the restaurant. He made a phone call.
Roy and Joanne were in the stands watching the little-league Lions run up and down the field. Actually, Joanne was the parent really watching her little boy. Secretly she did not like him playing football. It was too rough and was only going to get rougher if he continued to play through high school. Maybe she could nudge him into competitive swimming, his dad’s high school sport. Regardless she couldn’t believe how fast Chris was growing up. In just four years, he’d be in high school and she knew in the back of her mind that within those few years, she wouldn’t be the only woman in his life.
Roy was watching his little girl; all dressed up like a cheerleader with her pom poms moving erratically back and forth. Just looking at her, she was so . . . how could he put it . . . bad! Roy knew that he shouldn’t laugh at her but Jenny clearly missed the line to stand in when God was giving out rhythm and coordination. He hoped that maybe over her next few growing years she would improve, but for now he just smiled and cheered along her and the other girls.
Emily Stanley turned in and parked her car in the driveway. She had just dropped her daughters off at the high school gym because they were on the Homecoming Dance Decorating Committee. When she got out of her car she was a little confused when she saw Hank on a ladder on the front porch.
“Hank, what are you doing?” she asked.
“What does it look like I’m doing?” he replied.
“Well it looks like you are replacing some perfectly good light bulbs,” said Emily.
“Congratulations, you got it right!” he said sarcastically.
“Can I ask you why you are replacing perfectly good light bulbs?”
“Sure, you can ask.” Hank said but then he paused.
“I just thought we needed brighter light bulbs out here that’s all. There’s nothing strange about that is there?” he questioned.
“No, nothing strange about it at all,” his wife said. “Or could it be that our daughters will be escorted to the door after their dates and you . . . just want them to be able to see their way in? I mean we wouldn’t want them to trip and fall right?”
“That’s right. You know what they call me, Mr. Safety.”
“Uh-huh,” she said as she started to walk in the front door. “Oh, and Mr. Safety, I just wanted you to know that we’re going to allow Amanda to wear make-up tonight.”
“What!” he exclaimed not liking her choice of pronouns. “I thought we agreed that our girls had to be 15 before we allowed them to wear make-up? When did we change our minds?”
“Last night. Don’t worry, we won’t let her put a lot on,” Emily reassured him.
“Me. Worry?” Hank chuckled. “You must have me confused with someone else.”
“Uh-huh,” she said as she closed the front door behind her.
“Great game Chris,” his dad said as his son and Bobby ran up to him with their football helmets draped over their arms, just like an old woman would carry a purse.
“Dad, can I go to Bobby’s house today?” Chris asked innocently, forgetting about the incident at school yesterday.
“No,” Roy said.
“Well then, can Bobby some over to our house? His mom says that it would be okay,” assured Chris.
“Nope,” Roy said.
“Why?” said Chris as he was starting to break into the classic “whining routine.”
“Son, maybe you forgot the problem with the salt and ketchup yesterday. And, the week’s worth of detentions?” Roy reminded.
“Oh,” Chris remembered now, “But . . .”
“No buts. Besides we need to go home and mow the lawns. Let’s get your stuff and head to the car, now!” demanded Roy. As Chris went to tell his teammates goodbye Roy saw Joanne and Jenny walking towards him. Jenny was filthy.
“I fell in the mud Daddy!”
“I can see that,” said Roy. He looked back at the field and thought back a little. “Joanne, I don’t remember seeing a muddy area on the field, do you?”
“Roy,” she described, “we could be in the Sahara desert, a place where it hasn’t rained in years, and your daughter could magically find mud. Let’s just go home please.”
When they got to the station wagon, Joanne unzipped the cheerleader smock and let Jenny step out of it in her shorts and undershirt. There was no reason why the station wagon should suffer the mess from the klutzy child.
Having two children there was never a lot of quiet in the DeSoto world. Chris was depressed again so he wasn’t talking, and Jenny was trying to pick mud off of her pom poms so she wasn’t talking. Roy and Joanne just looked at each other as they both enjoyed the silence. But then, when Roy started the car, on the radio, as if it was a sign by God, the DJ started playing “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher. Joanne turned up the volume, way, way up.
Little did their children know, “I Got You Babe” was Roy and Joanne’s song. Now, Roy and Joanne would get revenge on their children for their recent embarrassing acts. Salt, Hah! Ketchup, Hah! Mud. Hold on! Now Chris and Jenny would be the ones to be embarrassed as their parents started to sing loudly and gesture wildly as they exited the stadium parking lot for the one mile ride home.
“They say we're young and we don't know. We won't find out until we grow,” sang Cher and Joanne.
“Babe,” sang Sonny and Roy.
“I got you Babe,” sang Sonny, Cher, Joanne and Roy. Then they repeated the same line.
If he could have Chris would have dropped to the floor of the car behind the driver’s seat. All of his friends were listening and laughing as the car passed them. Stupid seatbelt.
“I got you Babe,” sang Sonny, Cher, Joanne and Roy. Then they repeated the same line.
And then if the singing wasn’t enough, Jenny, who was not musically gifted, joined in. Of course without any musical timing, she was always close, but not on the beat. But she didn’t care. She yelled and shook her pom poms high every time they sang “Babe.” And of course being rhythmically-challenged she was . . . just a little off.
“I got flowers, in the spring, I got you to wear my ring,” sang Sonny and Roy.
“And when I’m sad, you’re a clown, and if I get scared, you’re always around,” sang Cher and Joanne.
“Dad, you missed the driveway.”
“No I didn’t son. There is a rule, if your favorite song is on the radio; you have to make the block until it is over.
“That’s right, it’s the law,” Joanne said supportively.
Chris was miserable. Not only were the neighbors out in their front yards, but his friends, who he had known his entire life, were watching.
“Babe,” sang Sonny and Roy.
And just a half of a second later you could hear Jenny sing, “Babe” and see her raise her pom poms.
“I got you Babe,” sang Sonny, Cher, Joanne and Roy. Then they repeated the same line with Jenny shaking and singing, a little off of the beat.
“I got you to hold my hand . . .” sang Sonny and Roy as he and Joanne grabbed each other’s hand.
Finally, his Dad drove in and parked the station wagon when everybody sang, “I – Got – You – Babe!” with Jenny a little off.
Joanne, Roy and Jenny got out of the car. Chris pretended to be invisible.
Back at the Stanley house Emily was in the dining room putting the last few touches on their daughters’ hand made full-length dresses. Hank was hosing down the front windows and screens when the phone rang. Emily stuck her head out of the door and got his attention.
“Hank, my Dad is on the phone and says he’s returning your phone call?” she asked very curiously.
“Okay thanks,” he said as he turned off the hose and he wiped his hands on a towel. He then ran into the house.
“Bob, thanks for calling me back, I need some advice. Hold on,” he said. Then he looked at Emily and asked, “Can you excuse us please?”
“What?” said Emily.
“This will be a private conversation between your Dad and me if you don’t mind. Why don’t you go in the dining room and sew more things on Amanda’s dress, you know around the cleavage part? It needs more . . . something.”
“Yeah more coverage. You know what they call me, Mr. Fashion.”
She asked for clarification, “Mr. Fashion now, I thought it was Mr. Safety?”
“Fashion, Safety, what can I say?” he said as he shoo-ed her from the room.
She started to leave but added, “You can say Mr. Mental Institution because I think you’re losing your mind. Before you hang up, I want to talk to Dad okay?”
Once Hank felt that she had left the room he returned to the phone. “Bob thanks for holding. As you know Margaret and Amanda are now dating and I don’t have any actual experience with this part of fatherhood and I’m looking for, I don’t know, ways to make sure that their dates get the point about taking out my girls . . . you know what I’m talking about.”
Yep, he’s losing his mind. Emily thought as she listened from the hallway.
Jenny and Chris couldn’t get passed the laundry room until they stripped all the way down to their underwear. Chris was told to put on some work clothes to help his Dad with the lawn. Roy was told to make lunch while Joanne took Jenny up for a quick bath.
Roy looked in the fridge and saw left over roast, but he didn’t want that again. He wanted something simple. So he pulled out the strawberry jelly from the fridge door. Then he got the Jiff Peanut Butter from the pantry and started to make his famous PB&J sandwiches.
He reached up and grabbed some plastic cups, filled them with milk and by the time he was done, everyone was there grabbing for the food.
“Daddy,” started Jenny, “we have a boy in my class that can’t have peanuts. He says he is allertic to them. Is that right?
“Yep, that’s true.”
“Im gad Im not allertic cuz I li peanu butur,” she said the best she could with part of her sandwich stuck to the roof of her mouth.
“You know, Bobby’s mom uses crunchy peanut butter,” said Chris not so innocently.
The second Joanne heard “Bobby’s mom” she just closed her eyes. She was so tired of being compared to this woman. Roy sensed the same thing so he quickly changed the topic.
“How about we bar-b-que some hamburgers tonight?”
“Gweat!” said Jenny.
“That’s fine with me,” Joanne said as she left the room to go upstairs, sandwich uneaten. She needed to be alone. Damned stomach ache.
“Chris, I’m going to pull out the mower. We’re gonna start with the front yard. See you in a few minutes,” instructed Roy as he left through the back door.
“Okay Dad,” he said.
Around 4:00, Hank found both of his daughters with rollers in their hair. “Maggie, Amanda, I want to give you some money. You’re mom says that you’re going to Caesar’s Italian Restaurant tonight, right?”
Both of his daughters shook their heads. “I’m doing this because,” Hank handed them each a $20 bill, “sometimes dates don’t have enough money and I want you to take this just in case.”
“Thanks, Dad,” the both said, in harmony.
“And this is very important. Here is a quarter for each of you. You should put the quarter in your bra.”
“Daddy!” exclaimed his youngest. She had never heard her dad talk about bras before.
“That way” he continued, “if you have a problem, or the car breaks down or anything, you find a phone booth and just call and I’ll come get you okay?”
“Got it Dad,” Maggie said.
Usually Roy and Chris made a great team. Row pushed the mower and Chris was in charge of raking and sweeping up. It was going smoothly. . . he thought. They finished the front yard in record time and as Roy was finishing the few rows around the backyard he noticed that his son was talking out loud to himself with a determined look on his face. Roy thought back to when he was eleven years old and could not think about any subjectthat would make him look as serious as Chris did right now.
“Daddy, can we call Uncle Johnny to come over for dinner? I need to ask him something.” asked Chris as he and his Dad picked up everything and returned the mower to the garage.
“No, he’s at a wedding today.”
Stunned, Chris yelled, “Uncle Johnny’s getting married!”
“No Chris calm down, he’s just helping some people who are getting married, that’s all.”
“Good I’m glad,” confided Chris.
“Glad about what?”
“Girls are weird,” he continued. “Uncle Johnny knows that. I can talk to him, he’s single.”
“Wait a second, don’t you think that it would be nice if your Uncle Johnny would fall in love and get married?”
“I just think that girls are trouble Dad. We have this girl in class, her name is Susan and she keeps looking at me. Every time I look at her, she’s looking at me. Every time. Bobby and I just ignore her.”
“Is she pretty?” asked Roy.
“Daddy, she’s a girl! Gross.”
“Sorry, I lost my head for a minute,” Roy said, suddenly feeling very old.
“And girls mess up everything. Like Mommy. We can’t do anything when she has her stomach aches.”
Roy assured him, “I’ll bet she will feel better in a few days.”
“I know but.” Chris said, as if he had just given up on the whole matter.
Roy looked at his confused son. Then he bent his elbows at his waist, put his palms face up, shrugged up his shoulders and said, “Women!”
“What?” Chris was confused.
“Well Chris, the best thing to do when a woman makes you crazy is to pull your shoulders up like this, raise your hands palms up and say ‘Women!’ Men have been doing that for years. It seems to help. Here you try it.”
Chris just thought his Dad was going crazy, but he did what he said. “Women!”
“Feel better?” Roy asked.
“A little,” Chris said and Roy was pleased because that was the first time he saw his son smile since the football game this morning. Why don’t we cool off and wash the station wagon?
Then they both heard Joanne yell from the laundry room. “Roy! Where is your work bag?”
“Where I always put it, on the dryer.” Roy yelled back as he got down the bucket and wash rags.
“So tell me more about this girl Susan,” he asked as he uncoiled the hose from the side of the house and started to wet down the car.
“She sits two rows away from me in class. And she’s always looking at me! Bobby says that she has my name written on her notebook with hearts drawn everywhere. That’s sick, Dad.”
“Oooh, she must like you.” Roy said pointing like he was a little boy.
Then Joanne appeared out of the front door and said with determination, “Roy, your work bag is not on the dryer, could you have possibly left it in the car.”
“No Joanne, I promise I put it on the dryer. Maybe it got moved when the cheerleader and football player were forced to strip earlier today.”
Then he did it, right in front of his mother. Just as he was taught Chris gestured beautifully and said, “Women!”
Instantly, Roy grimaced because he forgot to tell his son that the gesture was not to be done in mixed company.
“Christopher Roy DeSoto, what did you just say to me?” Joanne said very seriously with her hands on her hips.
Silence and an unbelievable look of panic appeared on Chris’ face. Roy could see by Joanne’s body language that she meant business . . . but he couldn’t let his son take the wrap so . . . he did the only thing he could do. He blasted Joanne with water! He got her good too!
Stomach ache or not, Joanne wasn’t going to take that! She ran and grabbed the bucket with soapy water in it and threw it smack dab at Roy. And before Chris knew it, his parents were embarrassing him again in public as they started to run, yell, laugh, splash and fight for the hose in the driveway in front of the house.
Joanne knew that there was no way she was going to be able to take the hose away from a professional fireman, but she tried her best as they both wrestled to the ground.
Jenny joined the ruckus as she started to cheer, “Go, Mom! Go Mom!”
Roy tickled Joanne until she stopped holding onto the hose, then in a classic wrestling pin he held her down. “Say ‘My husband is stronger than me!’ Come on, say it!’”
She couldn’t talk because she was laughing too much. So she gave in, exhausted . . . and wet. Roy leaned down and gave his water-soaked wife a big ole kiss. Right there in the front yard!
Jenny ran over cheering, “Go Mom!” but, as if it was planned, right when the seven year old got to her parents, she slipped and fell, face down into the mud.
Roy, Joanne and Jenny started to laugh . . . hard. Chris just wanted to disappear.
“Okay, last one. Just Maggie and Billy,” instructed Emily Stanley. “Smile!” Click.
“Well Mr. and Mrs. Stanley . . .” a nervous teenaged boy said.
“That’s Captain Stanley,” corrected the taller man.
“Oh I’m sorry, Captain Stanley, we really need to go, our reservations are for 6:30 and . . .” The poor teenager was so nervous that he didn’t see the police car pull up in front of the house.
“Uncle Vince?” Maggie said.
Uncle? Thought the boys.
Vince Howard got out and then reached into the backseat of the car and pulled out a large heavy box and walked to the six of them in front of the house. As he got closer, you could see that someone had written “Ammunition” on the side of the box. “Hi Amanda, Margaret. Wow, don’t you look lovely. I’m sorry to interrupt; I just stopped by to drop off your dad’s case of ammunition for his new rifle.”
“Oh Hank,” Emily mumbled under her breath.
“Vince I’d like you to meet Paul and Billy, the two young men who will be escorting our precious daughters to dinner and the homecoming dance tonight at the school gym. Boys, Officer Vince Howard.”
“Nice to meet you.” Vince said as he carefully put down the box on the driveway and stuck out his hand to strongly shake the hands of the young men.
“Hey you all look so nice,” Vince said, “why don’t I take a group shot of all of you in front of the house on the porch?
“Hey that’s a great idea.” Hank thought and handed him the camera.
“There is definitely enough light.” Emily said sarcastically.
“Emily” Hank mumbled under his breath in the direction of his wife. Everyone got into the classic pose.
“Okay on three. One, two, three. Smile.” Click. “Okay, now just the Stanleys.” Click.
Vince said as he gave the camera back to Hank, “You know the police love to have photographs . . . can’t have too much evidence.”
Evidence? Thought Paul and Billy.
“Thanks Vince, it’s a good thing you just happened by,” Emily stressed.
Vince carefully picked up the box and started toward the house. “I’m just gonna put this box of ammunition in the house.”
“You can just put it on the kitchen table,” instructed Hank. “Thanks Vince.” Then Hank turned back to the foursome. “Okay you guys have a good time. Don’t forget curfew is 11:00. Okay?”
“Bye bye Dad, Mom.” said the girls. Then Emily and Hank watched them drive away.
Vince came back outside without the box, “Okay Hank you’re all set.”
“Hey, Thanks Vince, I owe you one.” After they shook hands, Emily and Hank watched their friend drive away.
“Be honest with me Mr. Fashion, what did you have to promise to do for Vince to get him to show up unexpectedly tonight?”
“Nothing that bad.”
“Such as . . .”
“The engine and the squad have to be his daughter’s Show and Tell item next week. That’s all.”
“Does headquarters know about your bartering?”
“Nah. I’ll surprise them next week,” he said as he turned his wife and started to walk her to his car. “So you ready to eat? I’m feeling like Veal Parmesan from Caesar’s. You love that don’t you?” He started to open up the passenger door.
“Oh no Hank! We are not going to the same restaurant as the kids.”
“But my stomach has been looking forward to it all day.”
“That does it! I can put up with the light bulbs and the advice from my father and I can even put up with a case of rifle ammunition when you don’t even own a rifle, but we are not going to embarrass our daughters by showing up at the same restaurant!” She turned quickly and made a bee line toward the house.
“Who said anything about that?” Hank said as he followed her inside.
“You have lost your mind!” she said as she went into the kitchen. And then she saw it! Somehow, Hank, without her seeing it, had managed to put out the good tablecloth, china, silverware, candlesticks, wine glasses and napkins, and she could only assume that in that large box of ammunition that was now leaning on it’s side against the wall, came a bouquet of roses, a bottle of wine and two complete Veal Parmesan dinners from Caesar’s.
“They also call me Mr. Smooth,” Hank said.
“Dad that’s a kid’s game do I have to play?” whined Chris.
Roy sighed. Maybe Joanne was right. I need to have a one on one talk with him soon.
“Hank, do you think they are having a good time?” asked Emily during the television commercial.
“Sorry!” Jenny screamed, “I won I won I won!”
“Honey,” she said as she kissed her husband on the cheek, “I think I’m gonna go to bed early so maybe you and Chris might want to use this time for a talk.” Joanne said as she winked at her husband. Roy saw her suggestive wink. He knew what she meant.
“Hey, stop.” Roy said as he sat down next to his troubled son. “Chris, talk to me. You seem to be a little contrary these past few days. What’s going on?”
Chris looked at him confused.
“What I mean is that you seem confused. You know. Come on Chris, you have been acting a little differently than you usually do. Come on; tell me what’s bothering you.”
Chris just sat there looking at the blue Sorry piece that he was rolling back and forth on the table.
“Dad, I . . .” (Silence) “It’s just that . . .” (More silence) “I don’t know what to do.”
“Do about what?” asked Roy.
“Do you remember when I told you about Susan?”
“The girl in your class?”
“Well. You know I said that she is always looking at me. Well, I look at her a lot too.”
Roy smiled a little.
“She’s really kinda nice. And when we are in music class . . . she sings good. (Pause) And I don’t know what to do because my friends laugh at all the girls and they would laugh at me too and yesterday in the cafeteria, it was Bobby’s idea to do that, I don’t know why I did it.” Then Chris looked up and saw his Dad with a big smile on his face.
“Daddy, are you laughing at me?” Chris seemed genuinely hurt.
“No son, I’m not laughing at you. I’m just happy that you are starting to notice girls. You’re growing up.”
“It feels weird Dad,” confided Chris.
“Don’t worry, it’s gonna get better.”
“Probably very soon.” (Pause) Roy thought that Chris had had a bad day and that maybe this wasn’t the best time for “the talk,” so he changed the subject. “Well, do you still want the play Battleship©?”
Everything seemed to go well tonight; in fact the girls had no trouble meeting their curfew as they were dropped off at 10:30 p.m. Maybe the presence of a police officer worked. He would have to share this with Roy when Jenny starts to date.
Lying in his bed he heard one of his daughters walk downstairs. It was around 1:30 a.m. so he went to check up on her.
“Hey princess, what are you doing down here so late?” he questioned Amanda, his youngest.
“I just came to get some tea. That’s all.” Hank noticed that she was just sitting at the kitchen table, without that glass of tea.
“Did you and Paul have a good time tonight?”
“I don’t know.” She looked down at the table.
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
Well, Daddy, it just seems like I wasn’t there.”
“What do you mean?” Hank could see by her slumped body language, that she was depressed. She paused. Maybe she didn’t want to tell him. Hank just sat down and waited for her to talk, if she wanted to. He didn’t want to pressure her, but he did reach out and gently hold her hand.
Still looking at the table Amanda started. “When we were at the restaurant all Paul did was talk to Billy about football and the new P.E. teacher who is so strict and, well it was like he never even noticed me. And then when we got to the dance, we went in the gym you know, and then he saw some of his friends and then he like, disappeared for a long time. I found some of my band friends and we hung out together.”
She raised her head and Hank could see that his baby girl had tears in her eyes. In Hank’s line of work he had seen all kinds of tragedies, even deaths over the years. And through it all, he had maintained his composure. But at that moment he sat there crushed, wanting to hug his daughter and make the tears go away.
“But then after about . . . a long time, (sniff) he came up next to me, and I smiled because I thought he was going to ask me to dance but then Janet, the cutest girl in the freshman class walked by and he asked her to dance instead.”
Her voice started to waiver as she continued. “ My friend Brian, he plays the trombone, said that he heard that Paul only asked me to the dance because he didn’t want to be embarrassed to have one of his parents drive him . . ., so he asked me because I could ask Amanda to double date.” She wiped her tears with her hand. “Anyway, then he kind of disappeared again until the principal got on the microphone and told everyone to go home and then he came and found me. Then at that time, Maggie and Billy met us at the car and we came home.”
At this point, she was crying so badly that he could hardly make out what she said. “Daddy . . . , it was my first formal dance and . . . I didn’t even dance one dance.”
Hank wanted to hurt that boy.
After a lengthy pause for her to wipe the tears from her eyes she looked at him and said, “Daddy I know I’m not as pretty as Maggie, and I know that I have braces, but tonight I felt so ugly.”
“Hey come here,” Hank said patting his lap, as if she was five years old.
“I want you to listen to me. Promise?” She nodded as she sat on his lap and hugged him around the neck.
“First, look at me.” Held put his hand under her chin and pulled up her head a bit. “You are beautiful. So get that ugly thought out of your mind. Got it?”
She hesitated to agree.
“You – are – beautiful. Hear me? And any boy who says otherwise is a fool.”
“Why didn’t he like me?”
Hank sighed. How could he explain adolescent males?
“Sometimes boys are . . . stupid. I work with a lot of men and sometimes, they are just plain stupid. (Pause) Kind of like Uncle Chet?”
That did it. Amanda started to smile
“Daddy, he’s not stupid.”
“No he’s not . . . but I got you to smile didn’t I? Look. I just want you to know that I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of my girls today; you, your sister and your mom. I don’t know what I did to deserve the three most beautiful women in the world? I promise you, that you will find a man who will love you for who you are one day.” He hugged his little girl, still in his lap.
She shook her head and hugged him back. “Thanks Daddy.”
Hank and his daughter had no idea that Emily, who had also come down to get a drink, sat on the stairs wiping her eyes as she heard the whole conversation.
“Since we’re up, how about we split a sandwich? What do you want? PB&J or what?” Hank asked as they both stood up.
Amanda thought out loud, “How about a BLT sandwich?”
“Great! We can use mom’s new toaster over. I’m told that it is the best thing since sliced cheese.”
“Mom and Maggie might smell the bacon,” said the concerned high school freshman.
“So what, we’ll have a party, a real homecoming party right here, what do you say?” her Dad said.
“Okay, I’ll get the stuff.”
Emily joined the pair and the three started cooking.
Joanne didn’t mean to knock over the toothbrush holder but she got so dizzy after she flushed the toilet, she had to hold onto the bathroom counter to remain standing. “Damn,” she said to herself. She looked up and saw her face in the mirror. Even though she only had the illumination from the small night light, her cheeks looked like they had been in the sun all day. And even though it was a little after one in the morning, she felt like she was standing in the bright sunshine. She was very hot. And dizzy. And nauseous.
“Roy” she said in almost a whisper.
“Roy” she repeated a little louder.
“Roy!” she screamed!
What was that noise? Roy thought as he heard the clanking in the bathroom. He thought Joanne must have accidentally knocked something over on the counter. He rolled over and got comfortable again. Then he heard his name. By the time he got to her she was screaming.
“Joanne, what’s going on?” he said as he got by her side. He could see that she was distressed. He turned on the overhead light. It was then that he saw what she saw.
“Something’s . . . wrong . . . Roy,” she said slowly almost as if there was a two second delay between each word.
“Okay, let’s get you back to the bed so . . .” he said but was interrupted.
“No, I . . . might . . . have . . .to . . . throw . up,” she said, again very slowly.
“Okay, let’s sit you down,” he said as he so carefully and gently placed Joanne on the floor with the bathtub as a backrest. Once seated, he put his hand on her forehead. “Baby you’re burning up.” He then grabbed a hand towel and wet it with cold water “Put this on your head. I’m going to go down and get my medical bag. I’ll be right back. You gonna be okay?”
She did not respond.
“Joanne?” he repeated.
She gave him a feeble nod. He did not want to leave her but he needed to and he did not know how many of stair steps his feet actually hit, but within the time it took him to get to the first floor he knew what he had to do. He went to the wall phone in the kitchen and dialed the number that he needed.
“I need your help. Can you come over?” he said as he heard the responder’s hello.
“I’m on my way.” Then both phones were hung up.
Roy went to the cabinet above the refrigerator and grabbed his medical bag and headed back upstairs. When he got to the top he saw his son standing in the hallway.
Chris, who saw his father running up questioned, “Daddy, what’s going on?”
Roy bent down and looked his son in the eye. “Chris, your mom is not feeling well. I’m going to take her to the hospital. Your Uncle Johnny is on his way over. Can you go down to the living room and let him in the front door when he gets here?”
“Good. Turn on the front porch light but don’t open the door until he gets here okay,” explained Roy.
“What’s wrong with Mom?” he said.
“Just go on Chris, please.” Roy said as he made way for Chris to get down the stairs.
When he returned to the bathroom he saw that Joanne had flushed again and returned to sit with the wet towel now over her mouth, as if to cleanse her mouth after she threw up.
“Joanne, I’m gonna take your temperature now. Do you think you can hold the thermometer in your mouth?” he asked.
She nodded. Then he took the thermometer out of his bag, shook it down and placed it in her mouth.
Roy used the next two minutes to get dressed. He went to grab his favorite pair of jeans that were thrown over the back of the chair in the room. He then opened the second of his chest of drawers and grabbed his LA County Fire Department sweatshirt and got dressed. After he put his wallet from the tray on the top of his dresser in his back pocket, he turned around to head back to Joanne when he saw Jenny. She was a step away from seeing her mother.
“Jenny!” Roy said a little louder than he needed to. “Stop!” Roy didn’t want her to see Joanne in the state she was in. He knelt down and turned her to face him. “Baby, your mom is not feeling well. Your Uncle Johnny is on his way. Why don’t you go downstairs and wait with Chris, okay?” Roy said with a little less stress as he scooted her out of the master bedroom and down the stairs. “Go find Chris.”
Jenny didn’t say anything but Roy could see that he had startled her and she was on the verge of tears. “Go.” God he hoped that Chris would be the big brother that he needed him to be right now.
Roy removed the thermometer and read 103. She feels hotter than that he thought. He then reached into his medical bag and pulled out his pen light, stethoscope and BP cuff. Roy gently put his hand on her chin and pulled up her face so he could look in her eyes. It was then that he saw her tears.
Roy’s heart sank. “Oh baby, I’m not going to be able to handle this if you cry,” he said. “Please don’t cry.” He put his pen light on the floor and grabbed a couple of tissues and, with tears in his own eyes, wiped her’s away.
“Come on baby, you don’t want Chris and Jenny to see you like this do you?” he said.
Joanne agreed as she moved her head from side to side.
Roy placed the BP cuff on her right arm as she was now leaning against the tub and the wall. He put in the ear pieces, something that he had done a zillion times. He could take a B-P in his sleep. But, when he put the stethoscope bell on her arm he looked up and saw more tears.
Roy stopped being a paramedic at that instant. He couldn’t see the dial nor did he know what he was supposed to do with that thing around her arm. All he could see was that the woman, whom he loved more than anything in the world, was silently crying.
“John is on his way over to watch the kids. We’re going to go to Rampart. I’m going to go get your robe.”
“I need your help, can you come over?” Johnny kept repeating Roy’s plea in his mind as he drove. Did one of his kids get hurt? Joanne? I guess it didn’t matter; he just drove as fast as he could. He was prepared to “break the law” if he had to, but it seemed that fate was pushing his Rover through every green light between his apartment and the DeSoto home.
Roy managed to find Joanne’s best robe in the closet and put it on her even though she was still seated on the bathroom floor.
“Dad, Uncle Johnny is here!” screamed Chris from downstairs.
As Johnny parked his car on the street he saw that every light in the house was on. By the time he got around to the sidewalk Chris had run out across the front yard to him. Johnny put both of his hands on Chris’ shoulders and then he knelt down to look him in the face. Johnny could see that as brave as his favorite nephew was trying to be, he had tears in his eyes.
“Chris, what’s going on?” he asked.
“There is something wrong with my mom.” Chris said.
“Okay, let’s go see” Johnny said as he turned Chris back toward the house. As they were walking up Johnny saw Jenny, silhouetted in the doorway clutching Lily, her favorite stuffed animal. He knew that she was too old to pick up but he didn’t care. As she ran barefooted to him he scooped her up onto his hip and with his free hand he grabbed Chris’ hand and the trio went back into the house.
“Do you think you can walk? Never mind.” Roy said as he picked her up and cradled her in his arms. By the time he got down the stairs Johnny was walking in the front door with Chris and Jenny.
Roy didn’t stop. He just continued to walk through the house and out the front door as he said, “John please, can you get her purse?”
Johnny put Jenny down and grabbed Joanne’s purse that was always hanging on the back of the kitchen stool. He then ran out in just enough time to open the passenger side door of the station wagon. As Roy carefully placed Joanne on the seat and buckled her seatbelt he said, “Call Rampart. Tell them that I’m bringing her in. She has a sudden high fever. Nausea and she’s dizzy.”
“Okay,” Johnny said.
After he closed the door he stood up and the two friends finally made eye contact. Johnny and Roy had been partners for years and Johnny had seen Roy professionally handle 5-alarm fires, car wrecks and other disasters. But now, things were different. Johnny had never seen Roy so scared.
“I don’t know when we will be back,” Roy said as he rounded the front of the car.
“Okay,” Johnny repeated. “Call when you can.”
“I will. Thanks.” Roy said and then he drove away.
The smell of bacon woke up Maggie and by the time she got down to the kitchen, Emily, Hank and Amanda were getting everything ready for their impromptu feast.
“What’s going on down here?” the Junior Maid asked.
“We’re having our own homecoming party. Care to join us?” answered Hank.
“At 2:00 in the morning?” questioned Maggie.
“When do we ever get the opportunity to sit around the kitchen as a family anymore? Let’s enjoy this. Hey, I’ll go and put on some music.” Hank left.
Maggie, Amanda and Emily finalized the sandwiches and beverages and got everything on the table as he returned to the kitchen.
“What did you put on Dad?” asked the youngest and more musically aware daughter.
“Did you have to ask?” said Maggie, “Who else? Perry Como.”
And sure enough, they could hear the soothing sounds of “Catch a Falling Star” flowing out of the living room and into the kitchen.
Roy was seriously focused on driving the station wagon. Nobody talked and since it was after midnight all of the radio stations were off. He was prepared to “break the law” if he had to, but it seemed that fate was pushing the station wagon through every green light between his house and Rampart emergency.
“Stay here, I’m gonna go get a wheelchair.” He quickly left the car and was pleased to see that an orderly and Dr. Varner were already ready for their arrival.
“Roy, let’s take her into Exam Room 6,” said Dr. Elizabeth Varner, the eastern European doctor who had come to the United States last year with hope of establishing a career and a life for her and her family. Initially, Dr. Bracket had concerns about her professional work, until he learned that she was pushing herself too hard with three shifts at three different hospitals. Once that was cleared up, she became the regular night shift doctor at Rampart and, Roy and Johnny got to know and respect her.
The trio got Joanne out of the car and onto the bed in Exam Room 6 where two nurses were waiting. Nurse Linda Cole removed her robe and covered her with a cooling blanket and Dr. Varner ordered an IV Ringers Lactate as she drew out a blood sample.
“Cindy, do you know who’s working in the lab tonight?” Varner questioned the other nurse as she removed the stethoscope for her ears.
“I believe it’s Scott,” Cindy answered. “Her BP is 90 over 60. Pulse 80.”
“Go on up and sweet talk him into getting us a full work-up as fast as he can will you,” the doctor ordered as she handed Cindy the vial.
“Got it.” And she left the room.
“Joanne. I’m going to ask you some questions okay?” Varner said as she checked the patient’s pupils. “When did you start to feel sick?”
Roy said, “About 25-30 minutes ago.”
Varner continued as she probed Joanne’s neck and thyroid glands, “Did you do anything different today, eat something out of the ordinary?”
Roy said, “No nothing really.”
Roy said, “Nothing.”
“Any muscle aches?”
Roy said, “No.”
“Excuse me Joanne. Roy can I see you in the hall?” she said as she gestured the nervous man out of the exam room.
In the hallway Varner confided in Roy that she wanted Joanne to answer the questions, not him and that he should maybe go to the doctor’s lounge or the waiting room until she needed him again.
“Please Roy, I’m going to take real good care of your wife and I promise and I’ll call you as soon as I can okay?” reassured the doctor.
Roy hesitated but agreed. He didn’t want to wait in the lounge. It was too small. He needed space to pace, so he walked down to the waiting area.
Elizabeth returned to Joanne. “Sorry about that. Now we can talk. So, do you have any muscular pains, anything bothering you?” Varner asked as she began to visually examine her more carefully.
“Nothing really, except I’m on my period, but even that’s almost done,” she explained.
“Is your cycle regular, do you have any problems in that area,” questioned the doctor as she started to study the sunburn-like redness of Joanne’s cheeks.
“No, not that I know of.” Joanne sighed. “It couldn’t have come at a worse time this month. I have just had two of the most stressful days.” She was so glad that her doctor was a woman. She would have been so embarrassed to talk to a male doctor and especially if it were Dr. Bracket or Dr. Early!
“I’m going to take a throat culture and send this up to the lab as well,” she said as she went to the stainless steel cabinet against the wall. She grabbed the necessary items needed and performed the simple procedure.
“Linda, please bring this to the lab as well,” Dr. Varner instructed.
“Yes doctor.” And she was out, leaving just Joanne and Dr. Varner in the room.
“Dr. Varner, do you know what happened and why it happened so fast?” asked Joanne who was, except for the sunburned look, looking much better.
“Well, we’re going to wait for the test results and, I still have a couple of more questions, okay?”
It took Johnny about an hour to calm the kids down. They weren’t crying out loud. Instead they were very quiet and very nervous. Johnny went upstairs and grabbed each of their bedspreads and pillows and returned to the living room. He then went to the hall closet and took out a pillow and blanket for himself.
“Let’s have a camp out down here in the living room, okay” he suggested. They moved the coffee table against the wall and the kids took their pillows and blankets and settled down on the floor. Johnny left the hall light on, then took off his shoes and lay down on the couch. Within 20 minutes, Chris and Jenny were asleep. Johnny remained awake, waiting for any news.
As the doctor finished her exam with Joanne, the nurse stepped in and told Varner that there was an accident and a couple of injured people were on their way in.
“Can you get Roy for us?” the doctor asked. And then the nurse was gone.
Once Roy entered Varner said, “Well, I think the IV and cold packs are helping with the fever. Do you feel better Joanne?”
“Yes, a little. I still feel kind of weak though,” she said as Roy got to the side of the bed to hold her hand, and to sneak in a pulse reading too.
“We should have the tests results soon. I have to go so just continue to rest until they get here,” the doctor instructed, and then she left the room.
“I hope Johnny and the kids are okay?” Joanne thought out loud.
“I’m sure they are,” reassured Roy. “How are you feeling?”
“To be honest . . . stupid. I think I over reacted, it’s just that . . . I got so dizzy and then when I saw that my face was so red and . . . I was so hot that . .”
Roy stopped her, “Hey, enough. You did what you had to do so just calm down.”
Five minutes later the nurse entered the room with a small silver tray with a pre-loaded syringe. She went to Joanne’s arm, swabbed it down and injected the medication.
“What are you giving her?” Roy asked.
“Penicillin. Dr. Varner just got the lab results. Joanne we are going to let you continue to rest, and then we are going to take another blood sample in an hour. Okay?”
Roy and Joanne both said at the same time, “Okay.”
Without waking the kids, Johnny left the living room and went upstairs to turn off all of the lights that were still on. When he got to the master bathroom he saw Roy’s BP cuff, pen light and stethoscope on the floor. He picked them up and returned them to his medical bag. He also gathered the soiled towels and brought them to the laundry room.
Instead of returning to the sofa, he just sat at the kitchen table and waited. Hopefully the kitchen phone would ring soon.
“You know, we are in my favorite examination room, room 6,” said Roy, trying to make small talk to lighten the situation.
“I don’t know, I guess because it’s around the corner from the busy hall. Close to the Doctor’s Lounge too. Free coffee. Well, there was one time when the administration was trying to cut costs so they brought in a vending machine that sold coffee, but it kept breaking so they took it away,” he described.
Roy was just about to tell his wife about the time that Dixie got her hand stuck in that very same machine when Dr. Varner entered.
“Okay Joanne, Roy I received the results and now I can tell you what happened tonight.”
She then explained Joanne’s quick rise in temperature, her sudden weakness and the reddening of her cheeks and forehead. Roy and Joanne were stunned because they had never heard of anything like this before. Dr. Varner admitted that she had seen a few cases when she was practicing in the Ukraine, a country in eastern Europe and she was surprised that it wasn’t getting more attention here in the United States. Unfortunately, she added that it would take a few fatalities before the media and the medical establishment started to address it more seriously.
After the doctor answered their questions she said, “We’re gonna get another blood test up to the lab next. Then we will see if the medication is doing its job. So just hang in there a little bit longer okay.”
And then she left.
The Stanleys remained around the kitchen table long after the BLT’s were gone, and just talked and laughed about the last couple of frenzied weeks.
“Well ladies, you might have to fight over who gets to go first, but I think we should continue with our celebration and have a dance. Girls you probably don’t know this but, they call me Mr. Dance.” Hank said.
“Wow, that’s Mr. Safety, Mr. Fashion, Mr. Smooth and Mr. Dance,” listed his wife, “How did I get so lucky?”
Hank stood up and took his right arm and gestured for his wife to join him on the dance floor. “Shall we?”
“Absolutely,” said Emily as she went with Hank, arm in arm, to the living room. Maggie and Amanda were right behind.
And they all danced to the sounds of Perry Como and Frank Sinatra until the sun came up.
Around 5:00 a.m. Dr. Varner and Nurse Linda opened the door to Room 6 and found Joanne and Roy, still awake talking.
“Okay, your new test came back and it is encouraging so I’m going to give you a couple of options. Joanne, we can admit you to watch your vital signs, just to make sure that the medication is working or; because your husband is one of our best paramedics, we can send you home with complete instructions for him and you to follow. Which ever option you choose, I want to examine you again thoroughly in a couple of days,” said the doctor.
Joanne looked at Roy hoping that he would agree with her decision. “I want to go home. Okay Roy?”
“Dr. Varner, you are sure she’s gonna be okay?” he questioned.
“As long as she takes it easy for the next couple of days, I think she will recover completely.”
Roy said okay. Then Varner and Roy went to the nurse’s station to go over all of the procedures that he would have to take, and gathered the necessary medication and supplies. Linda went and removed Joanne’s empty IV from her arm and got her up off of the bed, steadied her and then walked her to the ladies room across the hall. When she came out, there was a wheelchair waiting to take her to their car.
Roy went to Dixie’s desk and phoned home.
“Thank you so much,” said Joanne said to the hospital personnel who had been so nice to her and her husband as she was wheeled around the corner.
Sitting in the kitchen, Johnny did not want to do anything to wake up his niece and nephew. He thought about making coffee, but he knew they would smell it. So he just sat there, thinking about how scared Roy looked. What could have happened? Then the wall phone rang. He got to it by the second ring.
“Yeah,” he said.
“We’re coming home, and tell the kids we are gonna stop and get doughnuts for breakfast,” Roy said as calmly as he could.
“Is Joanne okay?” questioned his partner.
“She will be. Look I gotta go, the nurse is wheeling her out right now. We will see you in a few minutes. Bye.” he said as he hung up the phone.
Roy parked the wagon in the parking lot of the station’s favorite doughnut shop. He looked over at his wife. Joanne hadn’t said a word since they left Rampart. In fact, she just looked out her window the whole time. As he opened his door he said jokingly, “Don’t go anywhere, I won’t be long.”
She nodded. Joanne so wanted to be by herself to just let go of her emotions. She knew that when they got home, Roy would be hovering around her, the kids would be hovering around too and Johnny, oh my God, she forgot about Johnny. The nervous energy that she had experienced over the past few hours finally caught up to her and she started to cry. Face in her hands cry, as if no one would see her
Lisa the owner of the pastry shop looked out and then gently asked Roy if his wife was okay. When Roy looked through the glass store front and saw Joanne in tears he responded, “Yeah, she’s okay. She just had a big scare tonight, that’s all.”
After he put the boxes in the backseat, he sat down. Before he started the car he quietly said, “Joanne. What can I do for you?”
Joanne shook her head from side to side, took her hands and wiped away her own tears. She took a deep breath. Then another one.
“Roy. I’m so embarrassed.”
Roy didn’t reach out to her but he turned to her and said, “There is nothing to be embarrassed about. You heard what Dr. Varner said. It is a serious medical problem and women have already died because of it. There is nothing embarrassing about it.”
“You don’t understand Roy, it – is - embarrassing. Please don’t tell anyone. Please Roy. Please,” she said, getting herself all worked up again.
“Calm down. Okay, we will just tell the kids something else. But, Joanne, I’m going to have to tell Johnny.”
“Oh, God. Why?”
“Well for one, he made it to our house in record time when I called him, no questions asked. Two, he’s a paramedic, and three, he loves you. He won’t say a word to anyone. I promise.”
“Now, let’s dry those tears and head home. I’m sure you have three people who can’t wait to see you. Dry those eyes okay.”
He started the car and started to back up when he said, “Okay dear, we have 5 miles to come up with an illness. Got any ideas?”
“Okay you two; let’s pick up your bedspreads. Chris, can you get them back upstairs for me? Jenny and I will go pour some milk and I’ll make some coffee.” Uncle Johnny said.
By the time the coffee started dripping, they all heard the car pull up and they all ran to the front door and out to the car.
Jenny and Chris stopped at the end of the walkway that led from the house to the driveway. Johnny passed them up to get closer to the car.
“We’re back!” said Roy as he got out of the front seat and opened the back driver’s side door. “Chris, Jenny, why don’t you come and get these boxes of doughnuts?”
The kids each took a box. “Good job kids, why don’t you bring them to the table while I help your mother in. Go in and have her chair pulled out for her. We’ll be there in a minute.”
Once the kids had returned to the house, Roy reached in again and pulled out the box with the medication from Rampart. “Johnny, can you sneak this up to our bedroom? We don’t want the kids to see it. Oh, and can you hold the door open for a second?”
“Sure, no problem.” Johnny replied. Then he watched Roy walk around to the passenger side of the car. He reached in and picked up Joanne in a classic cradle hold. When they cleared the car and made it to the front door Johnny saw that Joanne’s ankle had been wrapped with your basic ace bandage.
As Roy carried his wife passed Johnny, he said softly, “I’ll explain this to you later.” Then Roy carefully placed his wife in her chair in the kitchen, and then brought another chair over to support her bandaged ankle.
“Mom, what happened?” asked Chris and Jenny at the same time.
“I’m so sorry that I scared you this morning, but I was asleep and then I needed to go to the bathroom and silly me, I slipped and fell and hurt my ankle. That’s all,” Joanne said.
“Is it broken?” asked Chris.
“No,” Roy answered, “but your mom is going to have to stay in bed for a few days. So guess what? We get to take care of her for awhile, okay?”
Johnny was confused as he backed out of the kitchen to sneak up to Roy’s room. As he walked up the stairs he looked in the box. There were all of the things necessary to establish an IV, a bag of D5W, and three pre-loaded syringes of penicillin. There was also a bottle of pills that he wasn’t too familiar with. All this for a sprained ankle? He thought as he put the box up high on Roy’s chest of drawers.
When he returned to the kitchen he saw Chris and Jenny eating doughnuts, but also hovering around their mom at the same time. Roy handed him a cup of coffee and he stood next to his partner who was leaning on the counter.
“Look Mommy, Daddy and Uncle Johnny look alike,” Jenny pointed with chocolate icing stuck around her fingers and mouth.
Joanne and Chris looked up and smiled. Sure enough, Roy and Johnny in their haste this morning grabbed the same clothes. The both had on jeans and their LA County Fire Department sweatshirt.
Joanne said, “Great minds always think alike.”
Roy and Johnny grabbed a donut. Roy was sure to get a couple of jellied-filled doughnuts for Johnny.
Chris made his way to his mom and because she was sitting down, they were at the same level of eye contact. He seemed very serious. “Mom, I’m sorry I have been so canary lately.”
Joanne furred her eyebrows and then looked at Roy for help.
“He meant to say ‘contrary’.” Roy clarified.
“I’m sorry I’ve been so . . . weird and I promise that I will not make you mad anymore,” he said almost in tears.
Joanne was still a little too weak to hug him, so she took her hand and cradled his chin as she assured him, “That’s okay my love.”
Roy couldn’t handle any more crying so he interrupted them and said, “Chris, why don’t you go see if the Sunday paper is here?”
Jenny hugged her mom and said that she was going to take care of her and that later on today; she would color a picture for her.
Chris came back with the paper and put it on the table in front of his mom. Then he helped himself to another doughnut.
Roy and Johnny noticed that Joanne hadn’t had anything to eat or drink yet. Roy reached in the refrigerator and got out the orange juice bottle while Johnny reached up into the cabinet and grabbed a glass. Roy brought the glass to his wife and without any words, insisted that she drink it.
Joanne put the glass up to her mouth and started to drink when she quickly put it down again, as if she was going to spit out the orange juice all over the table.
Roy and Johnny took notice and were ready to get to her when she said, “Roy, Johnny! Chet Kelly’s picture is on the front page of the paper!”
And sure enough, front and center of The Los Angeles Times was a picture of Chet, holding a smoldering pop corn machine with the caption reading: False Alarm at Film Festival: Off duty LA County Fireman Chester B. Kelly quickly prevents a faulty appliance from ruining The Best of The B’s film festival. (See full story on page 7).
“How ‘bout that!” sad Roy.
“We’re gonna hear about this for years. I bet Chet has already bought out all of the newsstands,” said Johnny.
As soon as Joanne finished her juice Roy said, “Okay everyone, your mom and I are going to bed. We haven’t slept all night. Chris and Jenny, say goodbye and thank you to Uncle Johnny. I’m sure he has other things to do.”
“Ah, Roy, I can stay if you need me to watch the kids when you and . . .” Johnny offered but he was cut off.
“Thanks anyway Johnny, but I think that Chris is old enough to take care of things while we take a nap. He’s grown up a lot this weekend. Haven’t you son?” Roy said proudly.
“Yes Sir,” smiled Chris.
Johnny was confused now for the third time but, he knelt down and took the goodbye hugs from Chris and Jenny. Then he went to Joanne. He hugged her and while his ear was next to her she whispered, “Thank you John. I love you.”
“I love you too,” he said and as he pulled back, he could see tears in her eyes. Roy tapped him on the shoulder and then Roy offered to walk Johnny to his car. “Hey kids, why don’t you go upstairs and grab your pillows and wait for us in our bedroom. We’ll all take a nap together okay? Chris, would you take your sister to the bathroom and clean her up?”
“Yes sir,” he said proudly. “Come on Jenny, you’re a mess. Let’s go.”
Roy and Johnny left Joanne alone in the kitchen as they left the house. Once outside Johnny whispered, “You want to tell me what’s going on. IVs, penicillin, plus the fact that Joanne is as weak as a kitten and you want me to believe it is because of a sprained ankle. What’s going on Roy?”
“Joanne doesn’t want anyone to know what happened. When we left the doughnut shop we came up with the sprained ankle gig. I happened to have a First Aid kit in the car so I stopped a block away and wrapped her ankle. The kids don’t have to know what happened.”
“Are you going to tell me what happened?” Johnny asked. “Is she going to be all right?”
“She will be in a couple of days,” assured his best friend. Then he started to explain the last few hours of his life. “Dr. Varner says it is called Toxic Shock Syndrome. It’s rare, but can cause death if it is not diagnosed quickly. She came across a couple of cases when she lived in Europe. She said . . .” and Roy told his partner everything that he knew, so far. He planned to study up on this condition before next month rolled around.
After he was done, he hugged his partner around the shoulders and thanked him for always being there for him. Johnny left with tears in his eyes.
When Roy got back to the house, he closed and locked the front door, put the milk back into the fridge and then went to his wife’s chair.
Before he reached down to pick her up, he held her face in his hands and kissed her so gently on her forehead. Then he placed her arms around his neck, put his arms behind her back and under her legs and lifted her up. When they got to bottom of the stairs Joanne said, “Be careful, Roy, that’s a long way to go.”
Roy looked her in the eyes and said, “Don’t worry Joanne. I Got You Babe.” And then they both made it upstairs together.
All medical mistakes are mine.
Posted to Site 4/29/15
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