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A Last Time For
Emily was reading grant applications while Lee was typing something at the computer. Her friend allowed her to fuss until she heard some very seldom used words from Lee who had retyped the same sentence three times and it was still full of errors.
“Would you like another soda or something to eat? Sounds like you’re are ready for a break.” Emily spoke softly knowing Lee’s frustration level was stretched beyond limits.
“No, thanks…I …I’m trying to be calm and reasonable …”
“When what you want to do is scream and throw things and use all the words you were taught a lady never uses.” Emily went over to her. “I remember one time when Hank was still an engineer I had to wait for 6 hours to get any information on him…I knew he had been hurt and his captain had promised to call as soon as he knew anything. But then the power went off and the phones weren’t working, and I was home with two sick babies. Back then we only had one car and it was at the station.”
“What did you do to keep from going totally insane?” Lee asked.
“Once both girls were asleep I went into the kitchen and cleaned cupboards and scrubbed everything in sight. Then I started on the bedroom closet. Had to finish it before Hank got home from the hospital since the bed was buried under everything that had been in the closet. He was in there 2 days luckily nothing serious they had to wait for the swelling to go down before they could cast his foot.”
“Now with Chloe, it’s even worse…I don’t want her to grow up without a father…At least Johnny and I had some good memories to help fill that cold icy space…All she would have are second hand stories and pictures…Jeff offered to come stay with us, but I told him to wait until we know more.
Gina has called me every day. They’re so happy…they just bought a town house and have been decorating it…Said it had a perfect yard for Chloe to play in when we come visit and there is a downstairs guest room.” They talked awhile longer then Lee decided she needed to finish the report she was working on.
Kel and Joe came into the office looking totally exhausted. Kel went straight to the coffee pot, Joe settled in one of the easy chairs.
“If we charged that hose jockey by the hour like lawyers do we’d be rich,” Kel joked after a long sip of coffee. “His vitals are good should be back in his room in about 45 minutes. We took out several bone splinters and cleaned out a pocket of infection. One chip was pressing on a nerve in his neck, another was against a nerve in his shoulder…We put a NG tube in to help control the nausea…we want to keep all motion to the bare minimum, so he will be heavily sedated and back on the vent for a day or two. But I am fairly optimistic that he’ll be making satisfactory progress from now on unless he has some more surprises in store for us.”
“No more surprises would be nice. I think we have settled the issues that had him so upset. He should have told me he wouldn’t make that promise. I shouldn’t have asked in the first place. When can I see him?”
“In about an hour. That’ll give them time to settle him in the room and for you to do whatever you need to do.”
“Which means get something to eat and call home and let Ibbie know he is doing fine. While you get ready to go eat I’ll call Hank and give the station an update.” Emily said in a no nonsense or argument voice. “Lee, listen to me…You need to take care of you, so you can take care of them. How much weight have you lost? How many days have you skipped your exercises? You think once he’s better Johnny isn’t going to ask you about the new scar on your forehead? That man knows every inch of your face.”
“I have only lost a few pounds which I really could stand to lose. Having to cook for that perpetual eating machine who never gains weight can be hazardous to my weight.” Lee smiled thankful to have such good friends. “How can I ever thank you all for all that you’ve done for us these last weeks?”
“You would have done the same of any of us. Now go fix yourself a plate or do you want me to fix you one?”
Two days later Lee had been in her office for about two hours when Bob Houser came into see her. She watched him go over to the counter and get some coffee and a cupcake.
“Ok, what do you want?” Lee asked very matter of fact. “I know that look.”
“I heard that John’s surgery went well. I was wondering if…”
“If I thought any more about not charging Brice with trespassing and harassment?” Smiling but not sounding or looking pleasant.
“I know we have no legal right to ask you to change your mind, but it would be a nightmare for the department as far as publicity is concerned. John is a hero. If it comes out another firefighter was calling him a liability and his actions totally against regulations…Which they weren’t. We don’t want people seeing the department as so ridged that it endangers them or as so reckless they are put in more danger by their unprofessional behavior.”
“Unprofessional…that’s one of the charges Brice leveled against me.
Luckily for you I’m not part of your department. And to be very honest now I wish John Roderick wasn’t either.”
“Does this mean you’re going to try to convince him to leave the department” He knew that if she wanted him to leave he would…He would do anything in his power to make her happy including giving up a job he loved. A job that he was excellent at.
“No, I will never ask him to do that…But if he ever decides that is what he wants I’ll be supportive of whatever he chooses to do…Even if it’s to become a beachcomber. Hawaii looks better every day to me.”
“What about your house? John’s proud of what he has built for you out at The Grove.”
“Did you know he didn’t want to build that house? He wanted to stay in the apartment. He thought it was safer for me.” She shrugged. “He never thinks about what is safer for him. But that isn’t very likely to change so I guess I may as well accept it.”
“So that mean you are going to drop the charges against Brice? I need to let my bosses know.” The legal department had been pressing him to talk to her.
“Tell them I will drop the charges, but Brice is not welcomed in this office for any reason. If he has something to say at the monthly meeting put it in writing and you can present it. Tom and Will both have told me I could ban him from being there but not from sending information or questions in writing.”
“Fair enough. Personally, I think you have every right to feel like you do. But as a representative of LA County Fire Department I do as I am told.”
“And that means keep anything that could be considered bad publicity out of the
news.” Lee said with a sad smile. “I understand that. Now if you will excuse me I am going to go visit my husband.”
“Tell him I sent my regards.”
Johnny was awake but had his eyes closed. He was thinking about his past and wondering about his future. Sooner or later he had to decide. It would not only affect him but Lee and Chloe. Why kid himself, it also involved Roy and Jo. He had a family to think of now. It wasn’t like the old days when it was just him…when it didn’t matter to anyone except maybe his Aunt Rose if he lived or died.
That had changed slowly after he became a paramedic/firefighter at Station 51with Roy as his partner. Roy and his family became his family. He was Uncle Johnny to Chris and Jen, little brother (sometime third child) to Roy and JoAnne. They had taught him to trust others and his family grew…Dixie, Kelly Brackett and Joe Early at Rampart as well as his shift mates. They had given him the knowledge and confidence that his biological family had been wrong.
His parents had loved him even when he had showed signs of Asperger’s, a form of autism and a tendency for respiratory illnesses. The aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins who had rejected him they couldn’t hurt him anymore.
Thanks to Roy and Jo, Cap and the others he had learned how to be loved and love. Because of them, he had Lee and Chloe and a good future. That was what really mattered. Lee had told him she dreamed of Chloe’s wedding seeing him walking her down the aisle. He wanted that dream to come true. He wanted to see her grow up, to be there to protect her and her mother. Finally, the combination of the pain meds and the resolution of his inner conflict lulled him to sleep.
Lee came into the room quietly in case he was sleeping. Sleep was the best thing for him. The infection in his leg was healing soon they could safely cast it and discontinue the traction. Each day was bringing a small new victory to them. She moved closer and saw tears on his cheeks. She thought he was asleep until he spoke.
“Call Roy and t-t-t-cell him I n-n-n-eye-did to see him and Jo as soon as possible…ply-lease.” His voice was soft, and pain filled. She could hear the conflict he was dealing with in his heart and mind. “C-cc- come soon as he gets off.” He needed to do this before he lost his nerve or let the fear push him into a very different choice.
He had known of the three choices only 2 were workable. The one he had made was the best he was certain. The uncertainty was if he would have the strength and courage to follow through with the right choice. “T-t-h-ha-no you for no quux- stations.” The stuttering and slurring worried her but she worked at not showing him she was concerned.
“Boyo, I know you have your reasons.” She dialed the familiar number as he fell back to sleep.
“Station 51, Capt. Stanley speaking,”
“Hi. How is life at 51 today?” Lee asked, the strength that Hank’s voice conveyed gave her a feeling of security as usual.
“Not bad. Be better if John was here…Think Chet is going into prank withdrawal. He even was bugging Stoker today about how he was cooking.”
“That is bad. Is Roy available by any chance?” Lee hoped her voice sounded more relaxed and calm than she felt.
“Yeah, he and Clayton are out cleaning up the squad…How’s John doing?”
“Getting stronger every day. They should put a regular cast on his leg sometime this week. That puts him closer to coming home. We’ll to hire someone for a few weeks but that’s no problem.”
“Well just remember we all are here to help.”
“You’ve all been wonderful, and I hope you know how much we appreciate it.”
“Hi. How’s his day going?” Roy asked. They had been busy but hadn’t had a run to Rampart since early in the day.
“He is …antsy I guess that’s the word I’m looking for. He didn’t eat very much, and his hands were trembling. He had trouble looking me in the eye and there was some stuttering. Not sure if I am over reacting or what but I’m worried. He wants to see me you and Jo as early as we can be there in the morning. He thanked me for not asking him any questions. Roy, there were tears in his eyes…I pretended I didn’t see them…but something is wrong…”
“Did you talk to Kel or Joe?” Roy asked. “If something was showing up as the start of a new problem they would have caught it as close as they ‘re monitoring him.”
“Yeah I did and they both said all his vitals had been good except he had been tired from the passive range of motion pt. he had earlier in the day. Talk to Jo and see if she wants me to bring her to the hospital as soon as the kids leave for school. Just let me know what you all decided.”
Lee and Jo met Roy at the hospital the next morning. It was easy to see Lee hadn’t gotten much rest. She didn’t say much when they took the girls to school or even after they had dropped them off. Jo noticed she had just pulled her hair back into a pony tail and the only make up she had on was a light lipstick. She was dressed more casual than she usually did when coming to the hospital. It was if all the energy had been drained out of her. Roy came up to her office to meet them.
“Let’s go see what is going on with him…I don’t think I can wait much longer to find out what he is thinking. I wish I could explain the feeling I got when I talked to him last night…It was like a part of him was missing. What if Kel or Joe told him something and he made them promise not to tell us? That he wanted to do it himself?”
“I think you’re letting your imagination run away with you.” Roy said in a calm voice. “He may just need to talk about what he’ll need when he gets out of here…Kel told you it was not going to be a fast process for him to gain full mobility and independence…”
“We know that and have already talked to Jake about hiring at least three guys to help him…12-hour rotation with down time during the rotation. Jake is going to talk to the hospital supply company about what equipment we’ll need at home and if the sunroom will work as his rehab room or if he needs to have it set up in the pool house.”
“It’s good he’s making plans. Come on before you have a complete melt down. You aren’t going to do him or you any good by falling apart.” Roy sounded like a stern parent, he knew that was what she needed.
Johnny watched as Roy pushed Lee up to the bed. He frowned at how tired she looked. “Did you get any sleep at all last night?”
“Good morning, I love you too.” Lee answered him with a shake of her head. “Boyo, it really isn’t a good idea to tell someone they look bad especially when they already know it,” She took his hand and smiled at him. “To answer your question, I think it was in an hour or 45 minutes shifts…But I am going to take a nap after I leave here. Did you have breakfast?”
“No, think I couldn’t eat for the same reason you couldn’t sleep.” He looked at Roy and Jo “Roy, bring a chair around next to Lee, please. Jo, thanks for coming down here so early.”
“No problem, Lee said it was important.” Roy moved a chair for her to sit down then got one for himself slightly behind her, his hand on her shoulder.
“Laying here I’ve had a lot of time to think about a lot of stuff. Some of it has been bad but most of it has been good. Especially thinking about the time since I met you, Pally, and became a paramedic. All the stuff we had to learn, the rescues and the people we saved and the ones we lost. Even the tough times we learned things the hard way…But the most important things I learned you can’t find in books. How many hours did we spend at your table Jo studying those manuals and drinking coffee to keep awake? All the times you fed me…not just my stomach but my soul? I said it before and I’ll probably say it again, if it hadn’t been for you and Roy and the kids I would have been dead a long time ago. Because there wasn’t anyone to care if I lived or died. Most of all I didn’t care. I didn’t have a death wish or anything it just didn’t matter. Maybe Rosemary would have been sad but nobody else in my family would have been. The guys I worked with maybe would have cared a little bit, but we were acquaintances not friends. Seemed like every time I got close to someone I lost them. But you changed that Pally, you were as tenacious as a bull dog and didn’t give up on me. You taught me more than any teacher in school, or any instructor at the Academy. You showed me how it felt to be part of a family and that family was more than just blood relations. Family is the people that make you feel safe and loved and protected from all the craziness and hate in the world. You let me know it was ok to be happy or sad or to be scared…that wasn’t being weak it was being human. Friends don’t always have to agree they still are there for you when you really need them. Because of you and Jo showing me, what marriage was supposed to be like… I let myself believe I could find someone…I could have a wife and kids and be happy. Because of you I have Lee and Chloe…”
He stopped and reached for the water glass. Seeing how his hand was shaking Roy was up and handing him the glass. His hand covered Johnny’s for just an instant squeezing it slightly. Lee and Jo both had tears on their cheeks. The unshed ones in Johnny and Roy’s eyes were there but no one mentioned them. “I thought I was dying…and I was angry and afraid. It wasn’t fair…I survived when I didn’t care…and now that…that I want to live--- have something …someone to live for I was losing it. Lee, you told me you dreamed of Chloe’s wedding…I want to be there walking her down the aisle…I want us to have the biggest grandest 50th anniversary party…to see our grandkids grow. I want to spend years and years of just ordinary days together… I can’t do that if I keep on like it has been. Roy…being in that squad with you…I never thought I was a quitter…but I can’t keep on risking losing my time with my family. I keep hearing people say it was a miracle I got to Rampart ---that I got out of the OR alive…I’m not a CAT I don’t have nine lives…I only have one, I want it to be long and healthy spent with people I love. Don’t hate me for being a quitter… I love being a fireman, a paramedic, but my heart and mind and body are telling me it’s time… “
“To become Captain Gage instead of Firefighter/Paramedic Gage.” Roy softly finished the sentence. “Wantta study buddy, Junior? “
“Yeah, I do. Jo, is it ok with you? I know I promised you I’d always do my best to get him home to you at the end of every shift.”
“You’ve more than kept your promise, Sweetheart. You sent him home to
me knowing he had a best friend, a brother he could rely on to be there for him the next shift. You sent him home smiling most days. I’m proud to be the wife of a paramedic. I’ll be proud to be the wife of one of the best captains in the LA County Fire Department.”
“And I will be just as proud to be the wife of the other best captain…Even if you aren’t working at the same station you’ll always be the best team.” Lee answered the questioning look from Johnny. “Boyo, you could be a beach bum and I would be proud to be your wife and the mother of your children.” She looked at Jo and smiled. “Tell you what, this time we can share having the study sessions… Or I bet we could do some rearranging and the pool house could be a good school room. They could scatter their notes and books and not have to worry about anyone moving them…This is going to be even more intense than the recertification study sessions.”
“Yeah it is…It’s going to take time away from us…I’ll have to study …It’ll take time away I could be spending with you and Chloe our time together is precious.”
“You’re precious to us. The time we hare together as a family, that’s measured in memories and joy not minutes and hours.”
“Sweet Pea. You’re sure?” She nodded. “You were wrong when you said you looked bad, you looked sad…You always are always beautiful to me even when you look sad…but I like the happy beautiful look a lot more.” He smiled with a teasing wink.
“How about me and Jo go up and get us all some breakfast from the office…” Roy said.
“There should be a box marked with my name and a Do Not Touch sign on it. Mick sent me and the Boyo some of our favorite breakfast treats. He worries the Boyo will lose too much weight.”
Lee waited until Roy and Jo had left before saying what was on her mind. “Did you really think we would be angry that you wanted to become a captain?”
“I thought it might upset you. This’ll l cut down on a lot of our free time.”
“Well for one thing you’ll have about 8 weeks to study while you are healing. When I let myself think about how close we came to losing you this time…God was so looking after us. I know it wasn’t an easy choice for you to make.”
“I had three choices, keep on being a paramedic or try for the promotion or quit the department. I really don’t think staying on as a paramedic is a real option. I don’t think I would make a very good engineer. Roy would be a great one…I even thought about talking to Kel about becoming a full-time instructor. I think I can be a decent captain… maybe even keep my paramedic certification for a while. Or if I left the department maybe learn more about the construction business.”
“That would never work…you wouldn’t be happy doing that.”
“Maybe I could be a househusband and just take care of you and Ladybug.”
“That you would have grown to hate. And me with it. I think you made the best decision. Have you thought about when you were going to tell Hank and the others?”
“Hank has been re -reading the manual for the chief’s exam. Think Mike has been thinking about taking the captain’s exam now that they have the two kids. Maybe he would like to join our study group We could do it in the pool house. Whatever makes the most sense. What did you think I was going to say this morning?”
“Ya know, I’m not sure…I just knew you were very unhappy, let the fear factor creep in. There’s a part of me that thinks if Matt had agreed earlier to his promotion he still would be with us. But we can’t let the what ifs, and could haves control our lives. You’ve taught me that.”
Upstairs Jo was making a new pot of coffee and fixing a basket to take down stairs. Roy watched her waiting for her to say what was on her mind.
“Are you really ok with what Johnny said?” She had always told him since it was his job he was the one who made the choices about the direction he would go.
“Yeah, I am. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. We’ve talked about it a few times since Chloe was born. Think it’s happening sooner because of bombing. We knew we couldn’t be paramedics forever. Maybe the paramedic part of the job but not rescue men. Our bodies aren’t made for that type of work after a certain age.”
“I think Lee is just as relieved as I am about your choice. I’ll always support you no matter what, you know that. But, it will be kind of comforting to know you won’t be the first ones running into burning buildings or climbing down mountains.”
“Yeah…it’ll be different. I think the next awkward thing is telling the others. I know Hank will be fine with it. It’s gonna be strange knowing maybe me and Junior won’t ever be back in the squad together. That was the worst break he’s had in that leg plus the muscle and tendon damage. I was afraid there for a while with all that infection it might end his career as a firefighter.” He shook his head. “Like he said some weren’t giving him much of a chance to survive this time.”
“When are you going to tell the kids?” Jo knew they would have questions and probably be worried about the change.
“Maybe we’ll do it together, all four of us so they can ask any questions. I think we need some time to let this sink in…I knew this day was coming guess I just didn’t think it would get here so fast.”
“I think that the timing is probably just right.”
Johnny had been home two weeks. The three aides that they had hired seemed to be working out well. Jake had recommended them. Wyatt, Tim and Cody fit in well with the household. The sunroom had been converted into his room. Chloe was very content to just be in the same room as her Neoee. She seemed to know he couldn’t lift her or move about and was happy just to lay beside him. Sometimes he read to her or have long talks.
Johnny told everyone she was an excellent listener and that she helped past the time when he wasn’t doing his PT or Lee wasn’t in the room with him. The tray table was used to build with her blocks and play with some of the puzzles she had. Kel had said limited visitors to make sure that he got some rest and to keep germs away as much as possible. The guys had been great about coming to see him one or two at a time Between the aids they hired and Ibbie it seemed as if everything was going to work out ok for them while he recuperated.
The rain and lower than usual temperatures seemed to increase the muscle spasms so Kel had put him on a low dose of a muscle relaxer. This was partially due to his history of low tolerance for most drugs.
Johnny was in a foul mood. He had been awake most of the night. No matter how Tim had rearranged the pillows or repositioned him he hurt. He had had the maximum pain medication he was allowed for the next four hours. Tim had even helped him into the recliner with a heating pad behind his back. Nothing helped the throbbing in his legs, back and head. To added insult to injury Lee never came in to check on him after she went to bed.
Any other night she would have been in there hearing how restless he was. Why had she chosen this night of all nights to ignore him? He shouldn’t have to ask her to come in and keep him company. She should know he needed her. Was she tired of him being laid up? She always had been supportive before, why was this time different? He looked at the clock. It was 2:00 a.m. He’d knowing it was another 4 hours before he could have a pain pill.
A little before 8, Lee and Chloe went into the sunroom with Ashke close behind them. Johnny looked up frowning at the trio. Tim was over at the side making sure he had everything written down he needed to chart since Johnny had such a restless night.
“Good morning, Boyo.” Lee said as she lifted the wiggling toddler onto the bed. “Would you like some milk or coffee while you’re waiting for breakfast?”
“Nice you finally thought to ask me if I wanted anything,” he growled. Lee raised an eye brow but didn’t say anything about his tone of voice. “Yeah some milk if it’s not too much trouble. I know you have a busy day. Going shopping with Jo.”
“We are going shopping for the fund raiser for special Olympics. We need to get the baskets ready for the drawing in two weeks.” The ticket sales have been good Jo and her committee has done most of the work.” (Jo had taken over for Lee and Johnny after Johnny was injured.) His sarcastic tone wasn’t setting well with Lee, but she was trying to ignore it. She had taken a pain pill the night before and had woken up with a headache.
“Stop it Chloe…” Johnny’s voice was louder than normal and harsh. She was pulling on his blanket wanting to get under the covers and lay close to him. He pushed her hand away pulling the blanket tighter to his body. Usually he wanted her to get under the blanket and curl up next to him as her talked with her while Lee fixed breakfast. “Get her out of here if she can’t be still.”
Chloe pulled back from her daddy the look on her face broke Lee’s heart. She had never heard Johnny use that tone to Chloe before even when it was to stop her from doing something that could be harmful. Lee took her down from the bed and wheeled out of the room, Ash following close behind.
Lee put the fussy toddler in her high chair. “Neoee.” Chloe said with a sad look. “Na neoee” she raised her arms to be lifted out of the chair.
“Neoee needs some time out. He’s being grumpy because he is bored and sad and hurting. Your Neoee made a choice that was very hard for him.
He worries about the changes--- worried about disappointing his friends and family. When you are older you’ll understand how brave and proud he is. How hard he worked to be the best at his job. Not because he wanted to impress people but because he cares so much. He wants to keep others from feeling the hurt he did when your grandparents died. He wants to make the world a better safer place for everyone not just us. He is willing to give up a job he loves for us because he loves us more. Besides, it is hard for him not to be able to move about or get down on the floor to play with you. So, I guess I really shouldn’t be mad if he is a little grumpy with me but there was no need for him to act like that with you…” Lee fed Chloe then cleaned her up.
Tim had come out and got Johnny a glass of milk, so she did not go back in there but began fixing breakfast for Johnny and Wyatt. She put Chloe in the living room with some Disney music on. She didn’t know if it really helped Chloe relax but it made her feel better listening to the music. She went into the kitchen and dialed the number for the ER nurses’ station.
“Rampart Emergency…Miss McCall.”
“Hi Dixie. Is Kel available?”
“He’s in with a patient. Anything I can do?”
“The Boyo had a really bad night and is having a rougher morning…I was just worried about him and wondering if there is anything we can do…He’s had the max on his pain meds for another couple of hours.”
“Sorry to hear that. I’ll let Kel know soon as he is available. Did Johnny say what exactly was hurting?”
“Just that he ached all over and he couldn’t get comfortable. Repositioning didn’t help he even sat in the recliner with heating pads and blankets and said that didn’t help”
Johnny flipped thru the pages of the new car magazine and then picked up the book he had been reading, it was hard waiting. Tim had left at 8:30 and now Wyatt was his aid. They went thru the passive range of motion exercises and had finished them when Lee called on the inter com to tell Wyatt that breakfast was ready and asked if he would come out and get the breakfast tray.
“Lee said to tell you she was gonna get a quick shower and that Chloe was in her play pen. Ash is out for a morning run. And Ibbie will probably be here before she is out of the shower.” Wyatt said as he placed food on the tray table,.
“She must be in a hurry to get out of here if she couldn’t be bothered to come in to tell me herself.” Johnny muttered under his breath. Wyatt wisely said nothing. Tim had told him it was a rough night. “Stupid woman, I told her yesterday I wanted sausage and gravy this morning…You can take this back out to the kitchen. Too lazy to fix me what I wanted….” He pushed the plate of French toast away but then took the bacon off the plate and ate it. “Not gonna do those useless exercises ...Just leave me alone. Gonna sleep now.” Wyatt took the tray back out to the kitchen. He was at the table reading when Ibbie came in.
“Good morning.” Ibbie said as she poured herself a cup of coffee.
“Exercises over already?”
“Johnny had a bad night isn’t doing his exercises until later. Unless he calls I’m staying out of his way. You know I never heard him say anything bad about anyone let alone Lee before today. Tim said he even snapped at Chloe. Angry and rude all morning.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“He refused to eat what Lee cooked for breakfast…called her stupid and lazy. He said was going to sleep.”
Lee came out to the kitchen about 10 minutes later. She greeted Ibbie.
“Ladybug has had her bath and breakfast. I don’t think it would be a wise idea for her to play in the sun room today. Johnny isn’t feeling very well this morning. I should be back by 12:30. Would it cause you any problems if I’m not?”
“No…nothing at home except laundry and dust…Anything special you want done today?”
“No just keep Ladybug happy and quiet. Don’t run the sweeper. Johnny didn’t sleep well last night and is in a foul mood. If Chloe gets too fussy or you need a safe place to hide go out to the pool house.”
“Is Johnny ok? You and Wyatt both seem concerned about his mood. That is so unlike him.” Ibbie asked. She was concerned about how tired Lee looked.
“I think he is just frustrated and hurting. The PT sessions are hard, and he doesn’t feel like he’s making progress. Been there done that as they say. Maybe if we get some sunshine it’ll cheer him up.”
Lee almost decided against going into to tell him good bye but decided that was childish on her part. He had put up with her moods so often, he was entitled to a cranky day with all the pain he was going through.
She entered the room just as he threw the TV remote across the room. “Problem?” She asked hoping her tone wasn’t as shaky as she felt.
“The damn batteries are dead…again. What did you do buy the cheapest ones you could find?”
“No…must have been a bad pack. I’ll have Wyatt bring you in some new ones. I’m going to run some errands. Anything you’d like me to get for you?”
“No don’t bother about me.” A hateful tone and sneer on his face.
“I’ll call before I come home just in case you think of something. Love ya.”
When he didn’t respond she turned and left the room. She hoped Ibbie and Wyatt didn’t notice the fact she was struggling not to cry as she went out to her car. A half hour later Johnny did his exercises muttering and complaining the whole time.
Once they were finished Wyatt placed a moist heated pad on his shoulder and another by his right hip. That seemed to be the two places Johnny was feeling the most pain. Since the light was bothering his eyes he closed them and listened to the tape that was playing. It was one of the soft slow jazz tapes that Lee liked and had left in the tape deck. After about 10 minutes of listening Wyatt realized Johnny had fallen asleep. He got more concerned as the day went on with the mood swings and Johnny’s feeling so tired and achy even after sleeping several hours. They did not do the afternoon exercises since Johnny felt so bad.
Lee had called home to check on Johnny and Chloe. Ibbie said both were sleeping. Ibbie told her Johnny did his morning PT with some complaining before falling asleep. He hadn’t wanted lunch saying, that he just wanted to sleep when Wyatt had woken him for lunch. Since he hadn’t eaten he hadn’t had any more pain meds since before breakfast. Lee told Ibbie she would be home by two.
Jo saw the worry in Lee’s face when she hung up the phone. “Do you want to go straight home?”
“No, we need to pick up the gift certificates at Johnny Pat’s. I can get the Boyo some of his favorite cupcakes and some of the deli stuff he likes…He loses weight on a what a normal person eats… he lost 12 pounds even with the feedings when he was in ICU. Mama Lopez has sent his flam at least twice a week since he was able to eat…Besides, as much as I hate to admit it, I have enjoyed today…It was fun buying the stuff for the raffle. I think between the raffle, the auction and sports event we should more than double our goal.”
“Why didn’t you just give them the money” Jo asked feeling a little guilty. It was really her parents who had asked the question. “Not you personally but WBSF could have given it to them.”
“Oh, a couple of reasons I guess. One there is a dignity in working for a goal…some of the parents who can’t afford to donate money are donating time and their skills to the activities . Like the families that will be doing the cooking for the food tents and the families that will be building and running the game booths on Community Day and them working the other events.
Secondly this way more of the public is getting involved and will be seeing what our kids and adults can do. They will not only see those doing athletic stuff but them doing meaningful work in the food tents, helping with grounds cleanup, selling snacks at the concession stands. They’ll have some of the products they make at their workshops on sale…it will be a chance for the public to see past the disability to see a person. To see people who have something very worthwhile to contribute to this world.”
Ibbie left for the day after telling Lee that Dr. Brackett had called. He said to let him know if she wanted him to drop by after dinner. Wyatt was out in the pool house. Lee had checked on Johnny several times since she had gotten home but he had made it clear he wanted to just be left alone or was asleep when she looked in on him. Chloe went over to the gate and cried wanting her Neoee, but Lee hadn’t taken her back to see Johnny. Instead they had sat on the couch and she had held her close talking to her softly.
“Neoee loves you very much but today he just doesn’t feel very good…I know it’s hard for you to understand, sweetie, but today is just not a good day.” Lee let out a deep sigh. “How can I expect you to understand when I don’t really.”
He was getting stronger and more comfortable with his decision every day. Was this mood swing because he was regretting his plan to become a captain? Wasn’t she being supportive enough? Chloe wanted down to go play with Ashie, so Lee went into the bedroom. At first, she thought he was asleep but then she heard him talking softly as if afraid to be heard.
She wheeled over to him moving as quietly as she could. She saw the tears on his face as he kept his eyes closed tightly. She saw the slight movement. It looked like a cross between a shiver and rocking. She hadn’t seen him rock that way in a long time…as if the rocking was protecting him and comforting him at the same time.
His aunt had sent him to bring in water from the well. The bucket was heavy, and his shoulders hurt from the beating his uncle had given him the night before. Moving slowly to avoid spilling the water he was almost to the door way. The dim light made it difficult to see where he was stepping in the ill kept yard. As he stepped into the rut his ankle went over. He stumbled but fought to keep hiss balance. Unfortunately, most of the water sloshed out of the bucket turning the ground into a pool of mud.
“Your stupid clumsy idiot… Now look at the mess you’ve made…go get me the water I need to cook your uncle’s meal…” His aunt screeched at him. He ran as she picked up a rock and threw it at him. He was limping, but his first thought was to run and hide.
Johnny could feel someone was nearby, but he crouched down smaller trying to hide. He couldn’t put a name to the presence, but he knew it felt different from the others… caring and kind. Maybe it was someone who would help him. He had run as fast and as far from the house as he could with hurting so bad.
“Shush…made a mess…Uncle…will hurt me again…no water for me ‘because I spilled…clumsy no good…too much trouble. Aunts hurt me too. Hide in the corner Don’t let them see ya… so thirsty…don’t let them hurt you…”
“I won’t let anyone hurt you again…you can have all the water or milk you want…anything you want…I’ll do my best to get it for you. I love you Boyo…you remember that, don’t you?” She put her hand gently on his trembling arm. “It was only a bad dream. Your uncle and aunts are far away… Open your eyes, you’re safe in our home.”
“No have to hide…they’re angry…caused trouble… Hurt you…can’t let her hurt you again…took your locket…hurt you so you no love me…they hurt me…why did they have to hurt me so bad just because I spilled the water.”
“She can’t stop me from loving you…no one can…We are stronger than they are…” She hit the intercom button for the pool house. “Help.”
Wyatt heard the button click and Lee’s call for help. He ran to the sunroom. As he started into the room she motioned for him to stop. He could see Lee trying to calm Johnny down. He nodded to let her know he understood what he needed to do.
“Boyo, Wyatt is here, he’ll help us. I think we need to go see Dr. Brackett…You need to take slow deep breaths…We’ll keep you safe.” Wyatt left the doorway.
Wyatt came back quietly. “I called for the squad and called your friend Kathy…She is going to call Jo to watch Chloe.”
Andy Boyd had been Johnny’s replacement for the last three shifts. He had transferred down to LA from the Bay Area. Roy hoped that he would be the permanent replacement until Johnny came back since they worked well together. That was assuming Johnny came back as a paramedic before taking the captain’s exam. The last time he had talked with Johnny about the exam he was unsure if he would have to take the paramedic exam to recertify and he wanted to keep his certification in case the captain thing didn’t work out.
Roy had gone over to HQ on a day off and picked up the information and study guides but really hadn’t looked through them yet. He didn’t want it to accidently slip they were going to take the exam until they talked with Cap and the others.
The shift had been a quiet one Mike had his spaghetti sauce in the crock pot simmering. The salad was ready. He was almost ready to put the water on to boil. Roy had washed up the prep dishes and was now reading the paper. Cap had taken advantage of the quiet afternoon to get a few drills in and had even made a small dent in his mound of paper work. Marco and Chet had finished hanging all the hoses and were now relaxing.
Marco was doing a crossword puzzle as Chet sat with Henry brushing his ears.
“You never move, how does your ears get so matted?” Chet muttered as he worked on a tangle. “Hey Roy, does Lee really use the same hair conditioner on their dog as she uses?”
‘Nope she uses the kind Johnny uses…I don’t think she wanted Ash to smell like lavender…I mean that’s kind of a girly smell for a male guard dog.” Roy said. “You are thinking about giving Henry a bath?”
“Yeah maybe the next warm day I’ll bring in my hair dryer…Then we won’t have to put up with the wet dog smell all shift.”
“That reminds me it’s our turn to buy dog food. And his license must be renewed by the 31st.”
The SCU’s tones broke the peaceful mood “Station 51 Squad 51 structure fire…”
When they reached the location, they saw a small building fully engulfed. Cap began issuing orders as Roy and Andy began gathering their equipment.
As the paramedics began moving towards the building a CHP squad car pulled up. The officer went over to Cap quickly looking grim.
“We got a report there were two men hiding in there… They’re drunk and probably the ones who started the fire. Be extra careful the reports suggest there is some sort of illegal cooking going on in there.” They nodded to Cap and moved into the building. It had been a small Mom and Pop restaurant for several years before closing. The main room was bare except for some broken tables and chairs and a couple of piles of trash.
The two paramedics made their way back to once what had been the kitchen. More trash and some rusted pans were all they saw along the counter and island which was in the middle of the floor.
There were two doors leading out of the kitchen. Roy was guessing one was to the alleyway the other to a store room.
The first they opened lead to the alley. They looked but no one was in sight. The second lead into a large store room. There were boxes stacked up along one wall seffa exploodes!!! was scribbled on them in red marker.
The writing and spelling looked like that of a second grader. Roy moved carefully around the shelving unit. There was another door standing ajar.
The room was piled high with boxes and assorted junk. Roy saw a trail of blood and what looked to be an empty boot just barely visible between two stacks of crates. He moved closer and realized there was a foot inside the boo.t A bleeding man was laying between the crates a few feet farther in the narrow aisle. Not sure if he heard or saw something Roy looked up from the gruesome sight.
“Andy, behind YOU!” A small man with a bloody machete lunged at Andy, who was able to side step the screaming man.
Neither paramedic recognized the language, but the meaning was clear.
As he swung the machete wildly Andy was able to get between Roy and attacker. Acting on instinct Andy pushed an unevenly stack of boxes over. He hoped that the boxes would form a barrier that would slow the crazed man down and offer Roy a chance to get nearer the injured man.
Seeing the pool of blood Roy had little hope the bleeding man would survive the attack if not already dead. But he had to try to help him if by some quirk he was still alive.
The machete welding attacker looked at Andy burt quickly turned his attention back to Roy who had made his way to the body. One touch to the man’s neck confirmed the man was dead.
Roy noticed the tattoos on the dead man’s arms and face. The crazed man charged Roy yelling at the top of his lungs. Roy put his arm instinctively in front of his face and felt sharp pain of the machetes point.
Reacting more from instinct than actual planed action Andy threw a small wooden box at the attacker hitting him in the middle of his back. The man fell hitting his head on another crate. Roy and Andy quickly got the unconscious man out of the building.
Chet and Marco were outside the door and were concerned at the amount of blood they saw on the turnouts.
“Any of that blood yours?” Chet asked as he spread a yellow blanket down on the ground. Marco had brought the trauma kit and bio phone over to Roy.
“Just a little, the guy still in there had his throat slashed and some other wounds. Andy kept this one from using me as a pin cushion.” As he was talking Roy was starting his initial exam.
“Hey, I didn’t want to face Johnny or Lee if I let that nut case slash you.”
Andy was only half joking. On a visit to see Johnny when he was still in the hospital Johnny had told him it made it a little easier for him to rest knowing Roy had a good man watching his back. Roy had sent Marco over to let Cap know they needed a policeman. Vince Howard came over to them just as Roy finished talking to Rampart. Andy then put a pressure bandage on Roy’s arm.
“What’s the problem Roy?” Vince asked looking at the unconscious man.
“His friend’s body is in there with a slit throat. Andy had to hit him with a small crate to stop him from slashing me. The machete is in there too.
There are some boxes of something marked explosives…Cap knows about them…Think this is where all that bad ‘shine has been coming from.”
Johnny relaxed a little as he listened to the voice. The words, safe and loving, began echoing in his foggy mind drowning out the hateful ones of the others had been yelling at him.
He knew that soft voice would protect him…Over and over he heard the voice say he was loved and would never have to face anything bad alone…Someone would always be there loving him, protecting him…Who was that talking? It sounded like a voice he should know but he couldn’t give it a name or face…Was it his mom? He didn’t think so, but it had been so long since he had seen her…Maybe she had come back for him?
He would go with her…but didn’t he promise someone he would stay and not go away? Someone needed him…She called him by a different name…a special name that made him feel safe. The foggy shadows wouldn’t let him see who was calling him…It would be easy to get lost in the shadows and never have to be scared or lonely again…No one would find him or hurt him if he could run away into the shadows.
“Boyo… Cam and Paul are here…They’re going to help you, but I’ll be right here with you…They’re friends, remember…” She looked up and smiled at the two men as they quietly came into the room. Wyatt had filled them in on the problem.
“You have to let them exam you, so they can help…They’ll make the pain go away…”
Johnny pulled away as Cam moved closer, so Lee took his hand.
“No…don’t hit me…no more …” It broke her heart to see the tears in the pain filled chocolate eyes.
“Shush Boyo…Cam won’t hurt you, I promise you…He’ll show you on my arm what he wants to do…OK?”
“K—k.” He was tired and scared, and he wanted this over. He watched as the one she called Cam put a funny looking belt on her arm then pumped the ball. All the time she kept talking. Why couldn’t he remember her name, was she a spirit that had come to take him to take his mom and dad? It was all too confusing, his head hurt…He just wanted the hurting to stop.
Lee jumped at the sound that came from Johnny as he arched then went limp. Without a word she moved back so that the paramedics could do their job. She was scared and mystified at what was going on. He had been doing so well. Cam got on the bio phone and gave the vital signs and other information to the hospital. Cam did not recognize the doctor’s voice.
“Sounds like a few other calls we’ve had today…Check to see what he was drinking. Also check for needle marks in case he was doing some creative pharmacology along with the alcohol Transport non-code.”
The paramedics looked at each other after Cam repeated the instructions. “Rampart do you want an IV started?”
“Did I ask for one? If you aren’t capable of following directions I suggest you find another job.”
Lee heard the door open behind her and was relieved to hear Jim and Kathy’s voices.
“The doctor at Rampart is an incompetent jerk.…Take over his care.” Lee said before they could say a word.
“Kath take her out of the room.” Jim ordered as he turned to the paramedics. He had his bag and was getting out his stethoscope. Cam hung up the phone without a word d to anyone. He was sure Dr. Brackett would understand why he was not arguing with either Lee or the other doctor. Let them sort it out once they got help for Johnny.
Lee dialed the ER desk. “Ms. Waters, Emergency Room nurses’ desk.”
“Sharon, that so-called doctor in the booth is an idiot. Tell Kel we hung up on him and Jim and Kathy Kildare are treating Johnny…we should be there in about 25 minutes. Have him listen to the tape.”
“Yes ma’am…” Sharon was not as scared of Brackett as she had been as a student nurse but giving him a message like that made her uneasy. Betty came back up to the desk.
“Would you watch the desk while I go give Dr. Brackett a message from Lee Gage? She was really upset.”
“Go…If Lee was upset then it’s probably an important message.”
Dixie and the doctors left the table when Sharon gave them Lee’s message. Dixie assured Sharon she had done right thing coming to them right away. Joe and Kel had went on ahead of them since Sharon seemed a little unnerved having called a doctor an idiot when giving the two senior doctors Lee’s message word for word.
“Seems like this it’s one step forward two steps back.” Dixie was really concerned with how Johnny was healing from the explosion. “Lee doesn’t panic easily…she waits until the crisis is over before falling apart.”
“Her voice was very controlled and cold…almost like a mechanical tone,” Sharon said. There was no emotion in it.”
“Doesn’t surprise me…When she is really scared she shuts down…But once she knows Johnny is getting good care she’ll be fine. Dr. Bennett may be in for a rude awakening.” Dixie had seen this resident be insensitive and flippant to other patients and family members as well as support staff, including her nurses.
Dr. Bennett was looking over a chart when he saw Brackett and Early coming towards him. A firm believer that offenses was the best defenses he walked towards them. Before they could say anything he began complaining/
“I just had a couple of paramedics hang up on me after I question their competency.”
“They hung up on you because the patient’s wife questioned your competency. Her exact words where you were an incompetent jerk,” Kel said. Bennett’s attitude was giving him an idea of why Lee had called Jim and Kathy for help. “The ambulance should be here in the next few minutes. After Dr. Early and I check him out, we will listen to the tape.”
“Seems like a lot of fuss over a drunk and probable junkie.” Bennett snapped. “Those paramedics even questioned if I wanted to start an IV on the guy…” He shook his head. “Wasn’t long after that they hung up without a word.”
The ambulance was met by Dixie, Kel and the orderlies and rushed him into treatment room 3. Kel started giving directions for blood work and X ways. He quickly hooked him into the heart monitor and began getting new vitals. His temperature was only slightly elevated, His blood pressure was lower than normal but not low enough to be critical. What was worrying him the racing heartbeat.
“What’s going on with you now, Johnny? We get one thing straightened out and you throw us another curve.” Kel muttered as he watched the monitor.
The rate was fast and there was an occasional skipped beat. He rechecked the blood pressure and saw it had risen. Frowning he looked at the door as if he could will the lab to get the blood work results quicker and the X-rays back down to him faster. He turned when he heard the door open. Dixie stood there looking at her favorite paramedic. She went over to Kel, looking for any sign that he was conscious.
“Kel, Squad 51 just got here. Two victims a head injury to a man who killed one person then attacked Roy DeSoto.” She said it softly not wanting to chance it that Johnny could hear her. “The cut appears to be minor. Mike Morton is with the head injury. Vince is in the room with him and Carol.”
“Did you tell Roy that John is here?” Kel knew that Lee was on her way in and would be there any minute.”
“Yes , I didn’t want him to be blindsided by the news John was here.”
Good. I need to see Lee as soon as she gets here.”
Ten minutes later Lee was in Kel’s office. She had gotten some control of her emotions and was no longer ready to confront the doctor who had been talking to the paramedics before Kathy and Jim got there. Her whole focus was on Johnny and how to get him through this new crisis.
“Joe’ll be joining us. Can you tell me what happened this morning?”
He was leaning on his desk, his arms folded looking very stern.
“It really started about midnight. I heard him telling Tim he wanted to sit in the recliner, that he was hurting. Tim got him settled in the chair and got him some warm milk. I heard him complaining about his left shoulder really hurting so Tim put the heating pad on it…I think I fell back to sleep a little after one. When I talked with Tim about 6:45 he said Johnny had been restless all night. When I took Chloe in he was short with her and told me to take her out of the room.
Kel, his tone was mean and so was the look on his face. He pushed---slapped at her hand. Her expression was so pitiful…and she cried to go back into his room. He complained about breakfast and me and …I went and did some errands leaving Ibbie to take care of Chloe and Wyatt to take care of Johnny. So, what does that make me? A terrible mother and wife?”
“No, it means you are human and made a difficult choice. You took care of you for a change. John and Chloe had excellent care. I’m waiting for the blood work to come back from the lab and the X-rays should be here soon.”
“Kel, something triggered a flashback to when he was a kid on the reservation. He didn’t know me…I couldn’t see any recognition in his eyes, just fear and pain. Yet he was trying to protect me from his uncle… Do you think there has been some brain damage…Something that has skewed his memory?” She looked at him silently begging him to tell her she was wrong. “He was aggressive, confused and Wyatt said he threw a book across the room saying the print was too small and what he could see wasn’t making sense.”
Before anything else was said there was a knock at the door.
“Come in.” Kel said frowning. His expression changed when he saw Roy. Lee noticed the bandage on his forearm.
“What happened? Are you gonna be ok?”
“I’m doing ok…8 stitches to close a machete cut. Morton is going to send me back to work …How’s Johnny?”
“Stable and sleeping… We’re waiting for labs. He isn’t making this easy on anyone including himself. I think regardless of what the labs show I want him here overnight at least.”
“I’ll call Hector to see if he or Cisco can stay.” Looking at Roy shaking her head NO!. “ I know that I can’t stay the night…physically or emotionally I can’t HANDLE IT RIGHT NOW. If you think that is wrong then I’m sorry I disappointed you.” She looked at Roy as if she expected him to scold her.
“I’m glad you aren’t staying, he’ll know you’re taking care of Chloe and yourself. He worries about ya, ya know.”
“Right now, I think he really doesn’t care if I’m here or not…” She couldn’t keep the hurt out of her voice or off her face.
“Lee, that isn’t being fair to him. I don’t think he really knows what he is feeling right now and probably hasn’t all day.” Kel wanted to stop her from getting resentful or more hurt. “Once we get the blood work back we’ll have a better idea what we are looking at. You can use my phone, I’m going back to check on him.”
“I’ll see him before I leave if it’s alright with you.” Roy looked at Lee.
“Of course, it is and I’m sorry I snapped at you. The fear factor as Peggy use to call it is setting in.”
“And the not sleeping more than two hours at a time or not spending enough time in the pool.” Kel added with a glare.
“Kel, once the Boyo is better I will be fine. Besides, I have to take care of the Ladybug…She was feeling a little sad not being in with her Neoee today. He didn’t want her near him today.” She explained to Roy.
This more than anything else that had been said bothered Roy making his concern for Johnny’s condition heighten. Chloe and Lee were the center of Johnny’s being…what was going on in his mind if he was pushing them away. Was he thinking something was going to happen to him and he was trying to push them away for a reason?
He wished he had time to wait but he needed to get back to the station.
Roy called Jo once he got back to the station. They talked about the kids then he told her about the stitches reassuring her he was fine. (She was at Lee’s with Chloe and her kids.)
“So, is there any news about Johnny? Kathy and Jim couldn’t stay until the lab work came back.”
“They are still waiting. Lee should be home soon. She was going to try to get Cisco or Hector to stay and to bring her home.”
“She was feeling bad about leaving him earlier even worst about enjoying herself. Honey, be honest, do you think he is getting worse instead of better?”
“I thought he was doing really good…but now…Hopefully they’ll know something soon. I better get off here and let Cap know what is going on.”
“Ok, love ya…Honey, has Johnny told Hank yet he was taking the Captain’s test? That you are taking it too?”
“No. Call you soon. Love you.”
From the change in his voice Jo knew that Chet or one of the others had come into the kitchen.
Roy knocked on Cap’s door. Cap looked up from the papers on his desk.
“Come on in, Pal. How’s the arm?”
“A little sore nothing I can’t deal with. Thought you’d want to know Johnny is at Rampart. They are still trying to figure out what is going on with him now.”
“How’s Lee handling it?”
“So far so good…think she is just to the point she takes it minute by minute.”
“Let me or Em know if she needs anything. Roy, do you think John will be coming back to the station?” Cap voiced what all the guys were thinking but didn’t want to ask. Probably because they were afraid of the answer.
“I don’t know Cap…” Roy said being as honest as he could.
Kel had sent him up to ICU to better monitor his heart rate and rhythm. They had sedated him after he woke up and became combative. Dr. Bennett came storming into the room as Lee was waiting on Cisco.
“What gives you the right to tell the paramedics to hang up on me? I am the doctor not you or those over trained wannabes. I’ll have their jobs and yours too. I’ve seen you running around here like you own the place…”
“I suggest you leave this room before I call security, and have you thrown out. And let me give you something to think about…If I call security the next call will be to file a formal complaint with Dr. O’Donnell and the hospital ethics board and whoever else I can think of…One step closer and it will be to the police.”
Bennett took a step towards Lee who didn’t move just glared at him a look of pure contempt on her face.
“Am I supposed to be afraid of you? I’ve faced much scarier idiots than you before…I don’t scare easy nor do I back down from cowards, bullies or bigots.”
“Dr. Bennett you’re on duty in the ER. I suggest you go back there. We will have a talk about your conduct and medical ethics when I get down there. Mrs. Gage does not make idle threats so it would be in your best interest to leave now.”
“Neither do I.” Bennett said giving what he thought was a frightening scowl.
“Do your best…my dad’s law firm would love a slander case.”
“My lawyer loves to put people like you in their place, but right now you bore me so leave.”
She turned to Kel. “ What did you learn?”
“John’s blood work came back…He’s a mess.” Kel looked over at the sleeping man. “If you hadn’t called Jim and Kathy we could have easily lost him…His heart rate was erratic and the rhythm so out of sync…His electrolytes are all over the place, especially the potassium level…Who gives him his meds?”
“Whoever is on duty when, it’s time. They chart it, so we know when and who gave the last dose. I never do because they are kept up high since the kids come over to visit and Chloe spends time in there with him.”
“Could someone be giving him extra to make him sleep or keep him quiet?”
“No, we just got a refill and there are some days he doesn’t want them, said they make him feel disconnected and sleepy.” She gave the pill bottle to Kel. “See we have had this a week and it’s still almost full.”
“Damn it…these aren’t the right pills…This is a stronger dosage than I would ever give him…I think we can get his levels straightened out in a day or two…”
“It is with great sorrow we report the passing of Firefighter /Paramedic John Roderick Gage from the injuries he received in the line of duty.”
Lee watched as the line of people slowly moved pass the coffin. The words spoken were acknowledged and tears shared…It seemed as if the line was never ending. Jeff stood by her side, his hand always on her shoulder. The fact that none of the men from Station 51 were present didn’t seem odd to her…They were too busy to come… Then suddenly Craig Brice was standing in front of her reciting the rulebook…Telling her it was his own fault for not following procedure…foolish,
incompetent…stupidity…useless…a burden…Brice morphed into his aunts …saying all the horrible things they had told him when he was a child on the reservation…Saying they were taking Chloe to be raised by her own people.
Lee’s screams woke Maria who had insisted on staying with her when they picked her up the hospital. Maria had fixed her something to eat then stayed in the bedroom while she showered. Once Lee was in bed she insisted Lee take a pain pill. She had been asleep about an hour when the dreams began… first it was dreams about Matt and his funeral then it changed…It was Johnny in the coffin and the news accounts were announcing his death and they put his coffin in a grave in an isolated neglected spot. His aunts and uncles were taking Chloe…telling her she wasn’t a fit mother …that Johnny had deserved a useless barren crippled for a wife because he was a useless burden to all. They took
Chloe back to the reservation vowing she would never see her again.
“Lee wake up, It’s only a dream.” Maria’s voice worked thru the haze. “Johnny is alive, Chloe is asleep in her room…It’s just a dream…We would never let anyone take Chloe from you…Even if Johnny didn’t survive this…They have no legal right to take her away. Take a slow deep breath, you’re safe, so is Chloe.”
“Call the hospital, check on Johnny…He told me he did not want to die in this house…He wanted …he…”
“Leona Elizabeth, being hysterical isn’t going to help you or your family, now stop it…” Maria’s voice was firm but kind. She had dealt with Lee in this type of panic before. “I will call the hospital for you when you are calm enough to talk to the nurse. When you are calm, you will get in your chair and we will go check on Chloe. You can see for yourself no one took her anywhere.”
“It was so real…the sounds and smells…the background conversations…just like being at…at Matt’s funeral…it was how it was at Matt’s funeral…It wasn’t just Jeff standing with me…Johnny was with me too…The aunts were saying all the awful things they said in Lame Deer…Brice that first day at the hospital…all the real memories mixed up in that horrible dream…But why did I dream someone was taking Chloe away?”
“Maybe because you never acknowledged to anyone you heard the gossip and rumors…maybe it was from when they wanted to take you away from Jeff. You have kept all those memories locked up inside you…Now, let’s go check on the baby, then you can call Rampart.”
“Why didn’t it bother me that Roy and the others weren’t there but Brice was?”
“Because you knew if it had been real they would have been there for you…”
Lee let Maria help her into her chair then they went into the nursery.
Lee just sat and watched the sleeping baby. Chloe had her right thumb in her mouth, her left hand rested on her unicorn, Miracle. Ashke raised his head and looked at the two women then settled back to sleep after giving them a look as if to say, “I’m taking good care of her.” Lee resisted the urge to touch her knowing if they woke her she wouldn’t go back to sleep. Once she was in bed Maria handed her the phone.
“I’m going to make you some hot chocolate while you make your phone calls. Then you can sleep without the dreams.”
Lee dialed the ICU nurses desk wondering who was on. She was relieved to hear Gale Hardy answer.
“I was just wondering how Johnny is doing.” Lee said after exchanging pleasantries.
“I just did a vital update and he was sleeping but a little restless. Cisco seemed to think he was dreaming about something that was making him uneasy but then he was calmer when Cisco talked about you and Chloe.”
“That’s good. So, his heart rate is better and the rhythm has settled down?”
“Yes, his blood pressure is still a little high for him but nothing to be alarmed about. They’ll be taking more blood in a few hours. I owe Cisco a coffee and a doughnut, he bet me you’d call about now unless his mom took your phone away.”
“You tell Lt. Alvarez his mom hasn’t done that to me since I was 17.” Lee laughed. “She is making me hot chocolate with cinnamon and marshmallows then I am going back to sleep.”
“Nightmares? Now I owe Cisco an Egg McMuffin, Rampart version.”
Gale laughed. “Seriously, John is doing well and you can rest easy.”
“Thanks, and you tell Francisco Michel Alvarez to stop betting on me…One of these days I’ll surprise and do something totally out of character. Oh, and that coffee and doughnut you owe him…get them out of my office…Johnny Pat brings fresh ones in about 6… the pecan sticky buns are his favorite. Tell both my guys I love them, ok?”
Lee went into Rampart early to take care of some matters in her office. She left word at the nurses stations (ER and ICU) that she would like to talk to Kel or Joe when they had time. Since Lee was now officially a consultant rather than project manager Nell had been given a new tittle and a raise. She usually worked the same hours as Malcom so they only had to one car so she wouldn’t be in until 9. Lee heard the door opening and she wasn’t totally surprised to see Roy and Andy.
“Mind if we come in?” Roy asked before entering the room.
“Of course, not…An early morning run?”
“Andy just delivered his first baby…a healthy boy, 7 pounds . He decided to come 2 weeks early.” Roy said as they moved over towards the Mr. Coffee on the counter.
“Congratulations to all.” Lee liked the paramedic. He seemed to fit into Station 51 well. Maybe he could be assigned there permeate. “I was waiting for a little more civilized time to go see the Boyo…maybe around 7:30.”
“So what time did you get here?” Roy made a pot of coffee.
“A little before six. Maria is at the house…Ibbie’ll be there about 8. Andy help yourself to the doughnuts or whatever…Johnny Pat usually delivers them about 5:45…so they are good and fresh…Did you guys have a quiet night?”
“Yeah once we got done talking to the police. Our machete wielding friend not only slit his brother’s throat but two other guys earlier in the day. It was some rival tribal things…they had been feuding with each other for years over in the Philippines…Machete man and his brother were making their version of moonshine…an old family recipe…the other guys were trying to steal the recipe and their profits.”
“Glad you were able to get out of that mess with just 8 stitches…Good work, Andy. I know the Boyo will thank you too when he is feeling better.”
“How is he doing this morning?” Roy asked trying to sound casual.
“Gale said he was doing better, less restless and the heart issues seem to be clearing up. They took more blood for labs about 5. Cisco stayed until about 6:30…The boys have a martial arts tournament next week ends and he is helping the team get ready for that. The coaches are good but have never been to a state event before, just the local ones.” Lee knew she was babbling, trying to keep the conversation from anything except what had happen yesterday.
“Jo said you all got a lot done for the Special Olympic fund raiser...B shift is handling our part of it.”
“Johnny is still planning on coaching water volleyball with me. Andy, we can always use extra help if you have free time…The kids love it when they have a cheering section at the practices or someone to play against.”
The HT tones interrupted Andy’s answer and they left quickly. Lee worked on her reports and left some notes for Nell then did some work on WBSF applications and grants. Finally, she decided it would be a good time to pop into Johnny’s room. Even though Kel was able to bend the rules some she tried hard not to take advantage or be disruptive. Well, at least most of the time.
She went quietly into the room. He was asleep, his arm across his eyes. She listened to the steady even breathing and smiled at the nose piece he had pushed lopsided. He looked peaceful and his color was so much better than yesterday. She had been there about 10 minutes when he opened his eyes.
“You came back.” Very softly almost as if he wasn’t sure she was really there.
“Now, me Boyo, why would that surprise you? Ya know I will always be back …Darlin’ I would have stayed last night but Kel said no…and as much as I wanted I knew I couldn’t….Not as strong or as brave as you. But even when I am not here in this room, remember I am in your heart and you are in mine.”
“You were mad…because I was bad…you left me alone…”
“I left you with Ibbie and Wyatt because I had to do some errands but I was never mad at you. You didn’t feel good and were a little cranky.” She smiled and cocked her head sideways batting her eyes, trying to make him smile.
“A little? I think it was more than that. I heard Cisco talking to someone,” a faint smile showing his lips but the worry still in his eyes. “ …Did I really smack Chloe?”
“No, you just pushed her hand away.” Knowing the thought of his smacking her even lightly probably sent waves of pain and guilt through him. “You just wanted to stop hurting…”
“There will never be a reason to hurt her…”
“Oh, I am sure before it is over she’ll be given a smack or two on her hand or backside…but always in love never in anger.” Lee said,
“some think I should have gotten more spankings than I did…”
“Who spanked you?”
“Jeff once that I remember and Maria gave me a few loves taps on the bottom to remind me of my manners. I threw a hook him and screamed shut up at Jeff one day…Told him he wasn’t my father and he couldn’t tell me what to do…I think I was about nine. He turned me over his knee and spanked me. Made me clean up the mess I made and had to work for Maria to pay for the vase I broke. Folded towels and dusted for her for two weeks down at her apartment. That cured me of throwing books. Lost my library card for a month that hurt more than the spanking. But I still could read my books and the books downstairs.” She giggled. “Setting boundaries and discipline are part of love. I’ve heard the stories of how you reacted to Chris and Jen getting disciplined.” She was glad to see he was smiling and that the tension lines were easing around his eyes. “You sound like you feel a lot better.”
“It’s not ok but its better…So what happened? It was like I was in a fog and it was me but it wasn’t…Heard voices and saw people I knew couldn’t be here.”
“A bad reaction to the meds… ”
“I want to go home.”
“We want you home.…You get some sleep. I’m gonna go do some work till Kel has time to talk to us”
“Né-mé hotátse” He said softly as his eyes began to close but he tried to keep them open.
“Love you always muches and mores.” His eyes closed and he was soon sleeping.
She went out to the nurses’ desk Gale was doing last minute paperwork before shift change.
“He’s went to sleep smiling. If you could give me a call when Kel comes in I’d appreciate it.”
“We appreciate all the little things you do for us. Not just when Johnny is up here but other times.”
“Did you find out how the dosage for his Ativan got changed?” Lee asked Kel once Johnny was settled in his regular room.
“The pharmacy tech misread the order and the pharmacist didn’t check as close as he should have. Once we flushed as much of the medication from your system as we could and got some other meds into him to get the electrolytes back into some sort of balance his heart rate and rhythm settled down.”
“So, the strange dreams and feelings were from the meds…not me losing my mind.” Johnny said seriously “I thought it was just me worrying about…” He stopped and looked at Kel, unsure if he wanted to finish the sentence. “About things…in general.”
Kel looked at him knowing what a bad liar Johnny was and how he hated liars. But he knew Johnny would tell Roy or Lee what was bothering him so he changed the subject.
“Before you ask, if all things goes as planned we’ll send you home tomorrow. Everything is looking better…The leg and the arm are looking good…movement is good. Tony Vanace is really pleased with your lungs. My guess is you’ll be back in the squad by April.”
“Great.” Johnny said softly not daring to look at Lee. Did he want to go back in the squad even for a few months? What if he went back and something else happened or once he was back he couldn’t go through with the plan to be a captain? He knew that Lee would back whatever he decided but would it be fair for him to change his mind?
What about Roy and Jo? Would that be fair to them? It was making his head spin all the questions and worries about what others thought.
Lee watched all l the emotions playing across his face and his body language. She had a pretty good idea what he was thinking. “Boyo tell him what you’re thinking. Don’t let it eat at you. You need to just concentrate on the good stuff, getting well.”
“I..m..kinda thinking ….maybe…it’s time I try taking the captain’s exam…Not that I don’t still love being a paramedic…but just…haven’t told Cap or the guys yet…’cept Roy.”
“Roy going for the exam too?” Brackett had his arms fold across his chest, frowning. “Don’t answer that. I hate to lose you both but I’m glad for you…you both’ll make great captains.” He noted the uneasy look on Johnny’s face. “And don’t worry this comes under patient /doctor confidentiality.”
That seemed to ease Johnny’s mind and his eyes closed. Kel and Lee left so he could get some sleep.
“You know what is worrying him, don’t you? Lee asked Kel once they moved out into the hallway. “It’s more than he said in there.”
“That he won’t pass the captains exam? That he won’t be a good captain?”
“No, he’ll make a great captain they both will. What he is worried most about is disappointing you and Joe and Dixie as well as Hank. That you’ll think he is scared to be a paramedic and is taking the easy way out. That he is a quitter and a failure.”
“The easy way out is him is quitting the department and living on your money.”
“Don’t you ever dare say that or imply that he would do that. Even joking.” The fire was jumping out of her eyes. “He would no more do than… than you would let Dixie support you if you ever get the nerve to ask her to marry you if she said yes.”
“And just what makes you think she would say no if I asked her? “
“Because even though you two love each other you both are too hard headed and stubborn for your own good. I’ve known that since Jeff and Dixie dated and you were so jealous steam came out your ears when anyone mentioned his name.”.”
Brackett glared at her and she glared right back. “Now he and Gia are happy and you two are still alone.” She smiled and wheeled to her office, leaving one scowling doctor standing alone.
Kel was still fuming when he went down to the ER. Joe Early saw him and went over to check on Johnny’s progress.
“He is doing better than Lee. That girl has a wicked sense of humor and a sharp tongue to go with it. Wouldn’t want to cross her right now.”
“Then you better hope she doesn’t hear about Craig Brice’s latest maneuver. Or that we aren’t around when she does.” Joe said seriously.
“Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.” Kel started to walk away then turned back. “Okay, what did he do now?”
“Sent a letter to the Fire Department explaining why John Gage should not receive any type of commendation for his part in the latest fiasco that he has been involved with also a letter to their union complaining that all firefighters suffer when he runs up these huge hospital bills. That is why their premiums have gone up.”
Kel just shook his head and walked away.
Cap got off the phone then called Roy at home. He was rubbing his forehead as he dialed. After getting off the phone he went out to the kitchen where Em was.
“Roy is on his way over. don’t think he is gonna be very happy after we get done talking.”
“Is Johnny worse?”
“No, it’s what Brice is up to now.”
They settled in the living room while Emily went upstairs to give them some privacy.
“Did you talk to Lee yet today?” Hank asked before taking a sip of coffee.
“No, I thought I’d run over to the hospital after we talked. Is there a problem?”
“Yeah, HQ called me. We need to talk about what is gonna happen when Lee and Johnny gets wind of the latest stunt Brice pulled.” Cap put his coffee cup down. “There isn’t any way this isn’t gonna cause more hard feelings on Lee’s part. Brice still hasn’t a clue about how close he came to getting arrested.”
“So, what has he done now?” Roy asked not really wanting to hear the answer.
“He is making a formal request to stop any kind of recognition for what John did to save that littler girl…and the firefighters he alerted to the bomb. In fact, he wants him disciplined for failure to follow proper procedure. Plus, he sent a letter requesting John be removed from the department insurance plan. Blaming him for the recent increase in premiums. He quoted the rules to Chief Houser…The man has the social skills of a rock at times.”
“What did they say?”
“He has the right to state his opinions but he is still not allowed at any meeting at her office. He can request an official copy of all notes taken during any meeting and can submit items for the agenda as long as they are written in a respectful manner. Any suggestions on how she should be approached?”
“Think the sooner we talk with her the better. Hearing it thru the rumor mill wouldn’t help matters. And that it should come from us not HQ or Brice.”
“We? Not you?” Hank questioned knowing the answer.
“We… needs to know we don’t agree with Brice especially about the insurance thing. That was talked about and we were told it was coming back before Christmas. Any extras he needs they pay for it out of the policy she has with WBS or their own pockets.”
Hank went upstairs and told Em where they were going and why. She offered to go along but Hank declined saying this was official department business but maybe she could go over later in the day.
Lee was in her office since Johnny was sleeping after being moved to a regular room. As they walked in the door she saw they were frowning.
Giving them a heartfelt smile, she asked “What are you going to tell me you think will send me into a Gage rant?”
“Well, you are almost as good at them as Junior,” Roy answered. He let out a sigh of relief. If she was teasing things might not be as bad as they feared.
“Hey, some days I am even better…So get some coffee or a soda and tell me what brings you here, besides visiting the Boyo. Hank there’s a few pineapple upsides down cupcakes left… Would one of you please bring me a Dr. Pepper? Thanks.”
“OK, uhum…Brice has written to the department with…his…views about Johnny’s involvement in the bombing…He made it an official request…He wants him disciplined for failure to follow department guidelines and procedure and that he receive no positive recognition for actions.”
Much to their surprise Lee rolled her eyes and giggled. “That man has no idea what a fool he makes of himself, does he? I have 2 choices…scream yell and raise a fuss that would put a two-year-old to shame or ignore him. You two know as well as I do Johnny doesn’t do this for glory. He does it because he cares about people. So, I totally refuse to let that man make me miserable or so angry that I have nightmares any more. My time is too valuable to spend thinking about him when I can be thinking about the Boyo and Chloe and how wonderful our lives are together.” She shrugged, “My energy is better spent thinking about the future and helping Johnny get past these injuries.”
She took a long drink of her soda. “I thought about the kind of person I was turning into and I didn’t like me, worse, I knew while he would still love me, Johnny wouldn’t like that person. Does that make sense to you?”
“Yeah knowing Junior, it does. The anger and hurt only hurts you not the person you’re mad at. Heard him say that more than once…especially when he was talking about his family. Heard him tell you he never wanted you to hate anyone because of him.”
“When we were in Lame Deer. He showed more class and compassion and strength than I ever could. I want to have that kind of strength.” Lee looked serious for a minute then giggled again. “Poor Bob was almost afraid to come in here for something to eat the other day…Because he is Brice’s partner and Brice is banned from this office, even to eat. They can take something to him but he can’t come in here.”
“Isn’t that a little harsh?” Hank was surprised she said that.
“That isn’t my call…My bosses made that decision and your chief agreed. I left it up to them.”
“After you said if he ever walked into this office again you would walk out for good?” Roy remembered that conversation. “I was there remember.”
“I may have made a statement like that. I was a little upset and angry at the time.” She laughed. “Seriously, guys, what else is it you aren’t telling me? I’ll find out sooner than later. Rather know now from you.”
“He wants the department to drop Johnny from their insurance.”
“If they do no big deal. Remember I am the irresponsible rich kid who has no concept of the value of money…Ask Roy’s mother-in-law. She said that several times. She is another one who can’t hurt me by her attitude anymore. She makes the top ten on my list of non-important people.”
“That sounds like an interesting list. Who else is on it?” Hank asked.
“It is. The bigots in Lame Deer, Josh and Tiffany, Richard Palmer, Kevin Richards, Brice, a few people you don’t know…Now, if we are done with this bull, let’s go see Johnny. Poor baby was worn out by the time they got him moved. Kel said it was because he had been hallucinating when he was awake and having very vivid dreams when asleep. So, he wasn’t getting any real rest. The levels were all looking better so he will most likely be going home tomorrow.”
The three went down to Johnny’s room talking about Chloe and her newest accomplishment. She had managed to climb on the small table Lee had in the front room for the girls to use for board games and coloring when they were sitting on the big oversized pillows Johnny had gotten them.
“She is her father’s child…she loves high places…Up is one of her favorite words…”
“Hey, Boyo, want some company?” Lee said as they went into his room.
“Cap, Roy…good to see ya.” He greeted the with a warm crooked grin. “I was just thinking about you both…Sweet Pea, ya know that was the best sleep I’ve had in ages… no bad dreams, no funny feelings like I was in a fog when I woke up…I feel better now than I have in days.”
“That is why you have to tell us when you’re feeling that way.” Lee rolled her eyes at him but she was smiling.
“Silly, how can I tell you I feel that way until I didn’t anymore? I didn’t know how bad I was feeling until I felt good again.” He gave her one of his special smiles. “I’m sorry I worried you.”
“No problem. Speaking of problems…” They filled him in on what Brice was doing.
He lost the smile and looked down at his hands, not meeting their eyes. “Sorry.”
“Listen to me, Pal, you have nothing to be sorry about. Brice is …” Cap stopped stuck on what to say.
“Brice is a control freak. What he can’t control he can’t understand…He uses rules and regulations to try to gain that control. Yeah, everyone needs to work at trying to do the best they can…But not at the expense of making others feel inferior.” Lee shook her head. “ I saw kids like that when I was at Westwood. They were bright over achievers who feared not being the best. Their whole self-identity was being the brightest. You can almost feel sorry for them.”
“How did you get so smart?” Johnny asked the love shining in his eyes.
“Hung you with smart people like you and Jeff and Matt, the Alvarez family…now with my Station 51 and Rampart family.”
“Think we both have been pretty lucky having the guys at 51 in our lives.”
Johnny’s voice cracked and all the laughter left his eyes. He looked at Roy and they had one of their famous silent conversations. Only because she was watching so closely did Lee see the nod Roy gave to Johnny. The tears began to well up in her eyes.
Hank looked confused at the sudden change in the room’s feel and the expression on their faces.
“Cap, ya know…I guess you know…I look up to you…sometimes when you talked to me… it was like hearing what I think my dad would have said. You as much as Roy have taught me what it really means to be a man, a father…Chloe and her mom are the best and most important part of my life…” He took several deep breaths and reached out for Lee’s hand. “Because of them and our future as a family…I’m gonna take the Captain’s exam in the fall.”
“We’re taking the exam.” Roy said, “It was going to happen sometime.”
“Fathers look forward to their sons growing up…watching you two grow…How can I be anything except proud to be your captain, your friend.” He smiled at Lee. “Bet you are already planning their graduation party.”
“Hope Em will let me help plan your part when you’re promoted to Battalion Chief.”
“You know anything I can do to help you two…just ask. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike joined you…Think in a way I’ve been expecting this to happen. Maybe not this way.”
“You’ve taught us so much about being a leader and a good human being…We’ve been learning from the best all these years.” Johnny said. Suddenly he was exhausted both mentally and physically.
“Why don’t we put off telling the others for a while. Maybe when you’re feeling a little stronger.” Cap told them. “I think we need to let you get some rest.”
“Hank, Station 51 A shift is always going to be part of our lives because you all are family.” Lee didn’t try to hide the tears when Hank kissed her on the cheek. Roy gave her a quick hug.
“Junior, you get some good sleep. Lee, I can help you get him home tomorrow. Call me, ok?”
Johnny had been home a week. It was a busy morning of therapy and playing with Chloe then a good lunch.
Chloe was perfectly happy to lay next to him as they both took an extralong nap. Ashie was sleeping at the foot of the bed, as usual not far from Chloe.
Lee was in the kitchen making a pie. Wyatt was out in the pool house working on his homework…at the end of the semester he would be a certified physical therapy assistant. Lee finished her kitchen clean up and went in to watch TV. When the phone rang she answered quickly.
“ Cap just called me. The guys want to come to visit tonight…if you don’t think that will be too much on Johnny,” Roy told her.
“Actually, I think that will be good for him. He is feeling so much better, he could use the company. Why don’t you see if they want to comer for dinner? May not, be anything fancy but it will be plentiful.”
“You sure? You didn’t take that bunch to raise. Wouldn’t want you to go to any extra trouble.”
“No, I took them as family… it won’t be that much trouble. Already have an apple walnut pie in the oven. How many more times will we have our 51 family all together? What are the chances you all will be on the same shifts?” There was a sadness in her voice.
“Hey, these friendships are gonna survive no matter where or what we’re doing.”
“I know. Call the guys and let me know what they said about dinner.. I hear Chloe so I better go rescue her Neoee. Talk to ya soon.”
Roy went into the laundry room. “That was Lee she wants us to come to supper. Sounded more like the old Lee than I’ve heard her since this all began. Think everything is gonna be ok now with her.”
“Roy, do you think there is a chance he’ll change his mind about the Captain’s test?”
“No, ...it’s time. He was hurt so bad time, he was sure he was going to die. It isn’t so much that he’s afraid of dying, he’s afraid of what it would do to Lee and Chloe. He had some nightmares in the hospital about when his dad died,. He felt angry and hurt and confused...then helpless to make to his mom feel better. He asked me once if something happened would we take care of his kids…I told him in a heartbeat…His whole career as a fireman has been to keep any other women or children from having to feel that lost and hopelessness.”
“Yeah, just like his partner and best friend.” Jo said bending over and giving him a quick kiss on the cheek.
It was a pleasant meal with everyone relaxed and enjoying the company. Johnny was in a wheelchair sitting at his regular place at the table. Lee looked around and felt a pang of sadness. How many more times would they be together like this as part of Station 51?
It would be March before Johnny could return to work and the exam wasn’t till September…would he go back to the station or take Kel up on his offer to teach paramedic classes? Lee and Johnny had had several long serious talks about their future. A lot of unanswered questions but also a lot of hope and dreams shared.
“Hey, Gage, beat her in any wheelchair races yet?” Chet asked as he watched Lee wheel over to the kitchen doorway.
“Nope…wouldn’t be a fair race” Johny answered laughing. Em and Jo noticed the look on Lee’s face. A brief flash of anger then the eyes rolling as she shook her head.
“Why because she’s a pro ad you’re a rank amateur?”
“No, because I can only maneuver with one hand,” Johnny replied.
“Besides its not good for you to be wheeling yourself too much…give those ligaments, muscles and tendons in your back and shoulder a chance to heal and get stronger.” Lee reminded him. “Anther two weeks and the cast will be off your arm…then just a soft brace for a while.”
“So how long until you’re gonna be back to the station?” Chet really was missing his pigeon. Even with the ban on locker water bombs and water bombs in general frowned on, the Phantom hadn’t retired. Chet missed the verbal sparring as well.
“I’m not sure…may help with the new class of paramedics starting in a few weeks…that’ll help keep my certification up to date…”
“No more shop talk…Lee while you and Melissa check on your children we’ll clear the table…Trivia or Euchre?” Emily Stanley knew the paramedics were going to be taking the exam in September but she also knew they weren’t ready to tell the others.
“You all decide.” Lee was grateful for the excuse to leave the room. Johnny and Roy followed the two women down the hall. They went into the nursery while the men went into the bedroom. Roy waited in the bedroom while Johnny was in the bathroom.
Meanwhile the table was being cleared and it was decided on by flipping a coin to see what they would play.
“Call it Jo.” Cap said as he flipped the coin.
“Heads trivia.” She answered smiling at the way Hank and Em had eased the building tension.
“Tails it is…”Cap announced. “Marco, you and Chet go out to the pool house and bring in two tables and some chairs. Knock first Cody is out there watching tv.”
“Cap, can Gage hold the cards? I mean he is kinda one handed now.” Chet wasn’t being funny he was concerned for his friend being embarrassed.
“No problem, they have card holders from when Roy had a broken hand a year or so ago.” Jo said as she got the cards and score pads out. “We going to draw for partners?” She got the can with the colored blocks and the card holder out.
By the time Lee and Melissa came back into the room all was set up. By 11:30 all was cleaned up and by midnight Johny was settled in bed.
“Love you Boyo…Peaceful dreams.” Cody had gone out to the kitchen to give them a few minutes to say good night.
“Love you too…Man, it’s gonna be good when we can be in the same room again…You’ve put up with a lot this last month…Gonna have to do something really special for you on Valentine’s Day …and to celebrate our second first date anniversary.”
“Silly, you do something special for me every day…the love and smiles you give me are the best presents I could ever get. I saw a poster the other day that said Love is a verb… Keep your love active not stagnant and dying. Made me kind of sad that so many people take love and life for granted and waste it.”
“Beautiful and smart and mine…Makes me pretty lucky doesn’t it? If it wasn’t for you and Ladybug, I don’t think I would have survived that bomb…It was you two that kept me fighting. “
“And we always will…Who knows maybe it will be three or four of us.”
Time passed quicker once Johnny was able to do more for himself. Once he was in a walking cast, the three aids were no longer necessary. Roy and he had talked more about the Captain’s exam but they still had not said anything to Mike, Marco or Chet about their plans. Once the cast was ff he worked even harder getting the muscles and tendons back into shape. He had been doing a lot of walking sometimes pushing Chloe in her stroller, sometimes with Roy or Lee or the kids.
Marco and Chet came over with Mama Lopez’s car. They were using the garage to do a tune up since the weather was iffy. As they were leaving Chet looked around the garage that reminded him of the apparatus bay in its lay out.
“It’s gonna be nice when we’re all at the station together. Those other guys have no sense of humor. Boyd is a nice kid but doesn’t understand good humor at all. The station’ll feel like home again.”
Johnny knew this was Chet’s way of saying he had missed him and was glad things would be back to ‘normal’ soon. “With us all working together, it’ll be great.”
“Your brand of humor isn’t what I would exactly call good, Chester B.”
Johnny said with a straight face. “Roy said he was a pretty good paramedic…a fast learner.”
‘Chet’s right, it will be good to have our crew back together.” Marco added. Johnny was supposed to go back in three weeks. Johnny listened as Chet and Marco filled him in on the latest happenings at the station and the department in general.
“Did Roy tell you that Brice got reamed royally for his suggestion you get dropped from the insurance and got reprimanded for getting hurt? They said the rate hike was to all county insurance policies and your actions at the bombing saved lives and prevented injuries.”
“He didn’t because he knew we didn’t care.” The way Johnny said it told Chet the subject was closed especially around Lee.
Two days later:
Johnny just pushed his lunch around the plate and hardly said a word at lunch. Lee watched hm not sure if she should say something or not.
“If it doesn’t rain after you get a nap, want to let Chloe drive us over to see Jeff?”
“Sure, anything you want.” Johnny gazed out into space.
“Okay, John Roderick, that is it.” Her voice sharp and demanded his attention.
“What?” He frowned. “What did I do?”
“What are you obsessing on? Something is bothering you.”
“What makes you think I’m obsessing on something? Nothing is bothering me.”
“You haven’t eaten hardly any of your lunch, you haven’t said 2 words to me unless I asked you something. But the real give away was when you said Chloe could drive us to see Jeff. Don’t think she should drive that far until her feet can reach the pedals.”
Johnny did a double take then shook his head.
“I can’t do it.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I can’t …Chet…Marco they think it’ll be like before…It won’t be…It can’t be…”
“Tell them…or if you can’t then have Roy or Cap do it. Or tell Roy you want to stay in the paramedic program. Call and talk to Roy…or Hank…but don’t let this eat at you until it makes us both miserable. I’m selfish, ok? I am glad you decided to become a captain once I got used to the idea I realized how very glad I was. Wouldn’t be surprised if Jo feels the same way. Being captain doesn’t mean your job won’t still be dangerous but it means you won’t be the first one running into a burning building or climbing down a mountain. It means you will have a better chance to come home to me and our daughter. But if being a paramedic is what you want to do then I will be happy for you that you are doing a job you love. But be honest with me and yourself.”
“I haven’t changed my mind. I didn’t realize how hard it was gonna be. Wonder if Chet knows that in some ways that was my home…the first one I really felt like I belonged at since my folks died. But, like I said, it’s time. If I put off telling them about not staying at the station it’s like I am lying to them.”
Lee didn’t answer just let Johnny talk and remember good times and bad at the station. The pranks, the parties…The serious times when someone was hurt or ill. Lee made occasional comments or nodded but she let Johny talk without any real interruptions.
Ashke’s barking put an end to the conversation when Chloe came into the kitchen. She went over to Johnny.
She raised her arms up to him. The fact he could lift her now had not been lost on her. Soon as she was on his lap she cuddle up to him and her thumb went in her mouth. The contented sound coming from her was almost a purr.
“Ok, Ladybug, think you and your daddy could both use a quiet time out.”
“Ya know, your mommy has this bad habit of being bossy sometimes. Worst part is she is usually right.” He stood up. “I’ll put her down.”
“Her bed, not ours. She needs to get use to taking her naps by herself.”
During his recuperation Johnny had gotten into the habit of letting Chloe nap with him.
“See, what did I just tell you.” Johnny went over, kissed Lee then took Chloe into her room. Ashke followed to take up his usual position at the foot of her bed.
Johnny dialed Roy’s number chewing on his lower lip as he did. Jo answered on the second ring.
Hi. How’s your day going? Is Roy busy?”
“Good. He just went to the store for me. How’s your day?”
“Good, just taking it easy. Would you please have Roy call me when he gets a chance? It’s nothing all that important…I just had a question.”
“He shouldn’t be long. Ask Lee if she wants to work on grants dinner.
Both the kid are gonna be gone tonight…dance and scouts. It’s Kathy turn to drive.”
“Ok…well you all take care.”
Lee watched as Johnny went out to the swing on the deck. She debated if she should go out but decided he needed time alone.
She went into the sunroom to get some work done for WBSF. Tomorrow she was going into Rampart and do the weekly reports and go over a few things with Nell. She was down to one or two days a week at the office but doing some programing at home and received weekly reports from the other two offices in the state.
“I’m back.” Roy said as he placed the groceries on the kitchen table. Jo came into the kitchen from the den. She gave him a kiss.
“Thanks. Did you get everything on the list?” Looking at the three bags.
“Yeah ad a few more things. The had some good sales on some stuff so I got some extras. They had steaks on sale...rib eyes….and some chicken and a roast. Got 10 pounds of ground beef freezer wrapped. Pork chops so you can make stuffed ones.”
“Good. Johnny called, said he had a question for you. He sounded a little down. Sad like he was worried about something.”
“Chet and Marco were going over this morning…He didn’t say what the question was?”
“Just that he had a question but it wasn’t very important.” She watched the expression on his face. “Why don’t you walk over there? You can check it out better than on the phone.
“Smart lady.” He kissed her and said he’d be back soon.
Johnny was in the recliner reading and Lee was out in the sunroom. Chloe was playing with her blocks near Johnny’s chair. Roy knocked on the door then came in. Ashke had stood and growled just before the knock but had laid down as quickly.
“Hey, Pally. Nice to see you.” Johnny put his book down. “Want a soda or a beer? Should be ice tea out there too.”
“Nothing right now. Jo said you called.” He bent down and gave Ashke a scratch behind the ears. “Good watch dog. I heard that growl.” He sat down on the couch.
Chloe looked at her Uncle Roy and got up taking him a block. “Hey Ladybug.” He helped her up on the couch beside him.
“Jo said you had a question. Chet and Marc make it over this morning?”
“Yeah. The car was sounding good when they left. Have you thought about when we’re going to tell the others about our taking the exam?”
“Not really. What do you think?”
“Chet and Marco, they were talking about us all being on shift together again. Really looking forward to it. Is it fair for us to let them think it’s gonna stay that way? I felt like a liar not telling them it wouldn’t be like before.”
“Yeah, you have a point. Maybe we should tell them before you go back. Cap might have an idea when it would be best. Why don’t I talk to him about it and then we can decide?”
“That would work. Once we tell them there won’t be any easy way to change our minds, will there.?”
“Don’t think there is now…Jo and Lee were pretty happy when we told therm. Even Brackett seems to be fine with the idea. Once we tell the guys we’ll need to tell Dixie and Dr. Early…wouldn’t be fair to them to hear it thru the rumor mill.”
“Yeah…Lee said something about telling Jeff and Gina…They are coming out for Chloe’s birthday. What do you think the kids will say? Lee has been wanting to tell Jim and Kathy…And I guess I should let Rosemary know…Didn’t think this was gonna be such a big deal. Lee and I talked about it today...said she would support me no matter what we decided.”
“Yeah that is kind of what Jo told me. We’re pretty lucky to have supportive wives. Kent Wise over at 36 is getting a divorce because his wife can’t handle the stress…Her brother who works up north just lost a leg in a building collapse. She told Kent it was their marriage or his job.”
“That’s a tough choice…I know what I would chose but it would be hard.”
Johnny said looking at Chloe as she climbed down from the couch. “He’s got a little boy about her age…”
Before any more could be said Chloe went over to Johnny and held her arms up.
“Toilet training not going real well?”
“Nah, it was then we kind of got off track…Come on, let’s go get you cleaned up. Let me know what Cap said.”
“I will. Tell Lee Jo wanted to know if she wanted to work on grants tonight.”
“She’s out in the sun room…Go on out there.”
The next afternoon A shift meet at Roy’s. Jo went over to see Lee and work on WBSF grants and reports. Lee and she decided it would be best if the guys and the house to themselves.
“What is so important that we needed to meet today?” Chet sad as they got settled in Roy’s living room. “If it’s about station stuff why couldn’t we meet tomorrow after roll call?”
“Because I suggested we meet here, you twit, so we wouldn’t be interrupted.” Hank said. He didn’t want this it be any harder on John than it already was.
“Why is Gage here and not Boyd? He’s supposed to be there until Gage stops goofing off.”
“If you would shut up maybe Cap and Roy could tell us what the meeting is about.” Mike said. Chet had been getting on his nerves more and more lately.
“It’s my fault you guys had to give up part of your day off.” Johnny’s nerves and guilt were starting to make his head ache. At least the drummer in his head was keeping time with the throbbing in his leg.
“Is everything ok with you, Johny?” Marco asked seeing how uncomfortable his friend was looking. “You still coming back in a few weeks aren’t you? Wells said he heard you were gonna teach paramedic classes because your leg didn’t heal right.”
“Wells is as big on gossip as Kelly.” Mike muttered. Hank nodded in agreement. “He…”
“Of course, he’s coming back…We aren’t just a crew we’re the best team in the county. “ Chet interrupted. “He wouldn’t give up being a paramedic …He’s not a quitter…Not like he has to do it for the pay raise.”
“We both are.” Roy said before Chet could make it any harder for Johnny.We aren’t doing it for the pay raise, it’s just time.”
“You quitting the department? Gonna go to work for that company ya own. He gonna give you a nice cushy office job?” Chet challenged Roy.
“That’s enough of that, Kelly.” Hank snapped. “John and Roy have every right to go for a promotion or get a better job.”
“You always said there wasn’t a better job than being a fireman.” The look he gave Johnny was anger and disappointment.
It was the tone of his voice and the look of disgust that hit Johnny so hard. Suddenly it was like her was back on the reservation and they were telling him he was useless and would never amount to anything.
Mike and Marco looked over at John and then at Chet. “You guys are gonna make great captains.” Marco said wanting to be supportive of his friends. “So, Johnny, you gonna be at 51 until after the test results?”
“Yeah, ..looking forward to being back.” He still didn’t look up. “I…I told Dr. Brackett I appreciated the offer to teach but I wanted to be back at the station.”
“To prove that you aren’t too scared to do the job you were good at before making a fool of yourself trying to be a captain?”
“You want a study partner?” Mike asked with a grin. “Melissa and I have been talking about me going for the exam in August.” He looked at Chet. “You got a problem with my trying for captain?”
“No, you’ll be a great cap…Hell, you do a good job when Cap puts you in charge of things.”
“Gage is an adrenaline junkie, he acts without thinking. He’ll get some linesman killed rushing in without thinking things out.” Even as he said it Chet knew that wasn’t true. But the words came out without him thinking what they were doing to his friend. Chet hated the idea of change at the station. They had worked together so long and so well. They were family they looked out for each other.
Johnny didn’t say anything he just left the room. Cap started after him but Roy put his hand up to stop him.
“Give him a few minutes to clear his head. You think you could have done any better tearing his heart out? Maybe made some of your famous references to him being a half Breed or cracks about him being a disaster magnet? Maybe thrown in some of the snarly things you’ve said about Lee and Chloe? That would have put the finishing touches on your hatchet job nicely.” Roy turned away from the stunned linesman and went out to check on Johnny.
Lee and Jo were in the sunroom when the phone rang.
“Is Johnny there? He left here without saying anything to anyone.”
“Why? Was he ok?” Lee felt the panic rising. “What happened?”
“Any idea where he might have gone? He isn’t supposed to be driving yet.”
“No, the Rover is in its spot…Ashke would have let me know if he heard it.
Would he have had time to walk home? Hopefully he is taking it slow and easy.”
“Does he ever take anything slow and easy”
“Jo can stay here and I’ll start over that way. He shouldn’t have any trouble walking that far…would he?”
“Come on, Marco, Gage has played the prima donna and I’ve got better things to do than sit here and wait on him to make a grand entrance back in here.” Chet grumbled at the glares he was getting from Hank and Mike.
“Roy is gonna be playing mother hen and all protective of him.”
“Let me know Johnny’s ok.” Marco asked after Chet grabbed his coat and stomped out.
Cap and Mike were sitting there talking quietly when Roy went back into the living room.
“Lee going to start over this way…Think maybe I should start walking that way. Chet settle down any?” Roy asked as he got his jacket.
“No. I think he and Marco will probably have a long talk on the way back to Chet’s place. I can’t believe he behaved that way.”
“Think this whole thing hit all of us harder than we wanted to admit even to ourselves. Like Johnny said a lot of people gave up on him this time…He was ready to give up on himself.”
Lee met Roy at the Y in the path. He didn’t say a word there about the tears in her eyes.
“I brought his heavier jacket…Think he went out to The Grove? He is so worried about letting people down. He thinks he’s failed us in some way.”
“You need to get back to the house…I’ll find him.” He could see she was shivering. Taking the heavier jacket from her he watched as she started towards her house. He quickened his pace as he walked the half mile to the grove. He saw Johnny sitting on the picnic table.
“Lee brought you a warmer jacket.” Roy said as he handed the coat to his best friend. “Junior, don’t let Chet get under your skin. We decided a log time ago to ignore him, remember,..”
Not looking up Johnny took the jacket and put it on over the lighter one. He pulled the hood up then stuck his hands in the pockets. A slight smile showed on his lips when he found a pair of gloves in the pocket and a HT.
“What if other people think the same thing? That I lost my nerve? That I’m too scared to do my job? If they can’t trust me to do this job why would they trust me to be a captain? A crew has to trust each other…especially their captain.”
“Junior, no one who knows you are going to doubt you. You have great instinct when it comes to fires. You’ve proven it over and over. Chet shot off his mouth because he’s Chet. Once he has a chance to think things over he’ll know you didn’t lose your nerve. We know that most of us take promotions sooner or later…I think he reacted that way because he missed the feeling our shift had. The best team out there. A family more than just 6 guys who worked together. But, families change…kids grow up, people move away from home, change jobs…that’ the natural order of life. The ones that know you or matters in your life are going to support you and be proud of your accomplishment. Me, you and Mike we’ll study and work hard at learning the bookwork but we have the experience and knowledge you can’t get from books on our side.”
“Better call Lee and let her know we’re on our way back.” Johnny said looking up for the first time since Roy got there. “Thanks, Pally. The guys still at your house?”
“Mike and Cap…Marco took Chet home.”
“Think he’ll find a new pigeon once I’m gone for good?”
“Probably but the new guy will benefit from the rules that are in place now.”
Before starting back Johnny keyed the HT and smiled when he heard Lee’s relieved voice telling him hot fresh coffee would be waiting for him.
Johnny was up before the alarm went off and was out on the deck drinking coffee when Lee went out to the kitchen. She smiled as she looked out the window at him.
He looked so healthy and strong and handsome. Today was the first day back on the job since January. There had been times over the last three months she had thought this day would never come. It had but it was the start of a new phase in their lives.
Johnny would be taking the exam to be a captain in August so the next months would be filed with study time and some sadness knowing his time at 51 was drawing to a close. But what would not change was the close bonds between A shift.
Johnny, Roy, Mike would be taking the exam to be captains. Hank was finally going to put his paranoia about McConnikee to rest and take the chief’s exam. Even Marco had talked about maybe someday taking the exam to be an engineer. Chet was still refusing to even talk about retaking the engineer’s exam.
Lee tapped on the window and Johnny turned giving her a huge grin. As always her heart melted at that crooked grin and the look in his eyes. He came into the kitchen.
“Thought you’d be sleeping a while longer.” He bent down and kissed her tenderly.
“I missed you beside me. Guess I’ll have to get use to that again. Chloe is gonna be lost without her favorite playmate.”
“Ash’ll keep her company. Tina and the twins can come for more play dates…Along with Mickey and Lizzy…She’ll be fine.” He sat down at the counter. “I’m gonna miss you two…but it’s time to go back.”
“I know, Boyo. You have worked so hard…I am so proud of you for all you did and will do. I fixed a basket for you to take with you since Hank told me you were cooking today.”
“And why did he tell you that?”
“Because I asked him when I called Em the other day. Think there was a mention of a pecan pie or a pineapple cake being made to celebrate your return to work.”
“Girl what am I gonna do with you?”
“Tell me you love me give me a kiss on my forehead and eat the breakfast I’m going to fix you.”
Johnny noticed that only Cap’s car was in the parking lot when he pulled in but didn’t think nothing of it since he was earlier than normal. Four cars quickly pulled in from across the street as soon as he went in the building.
“Good morning, good morning good morning.” Johnny said as he entered the station.
It did feel good and right to be there. C shift all welcomed him back as he made his way not the locker room. There was balloons and streamers on his locker. He shook his head and opened the door half expecting a water bomb. Instead he found it filled with tissue paper and streamers.
He and Lee had come over last week bring his extra clothes and uniforms. Lee had taken the stuff that had been in there for 3 months home to wash.
Chloe and Lee had given him a new shaving kit the night before and he placed it on the top shelf. There was a Welcome back sign fixed on his poster of Smokey the Bear. He was just starting to think it was strange none of the others were there yet when Mike and Roy came in followed by Marco.
“Morning all. It’s gonna be a good day.” Johnny greeted his friends.
“Good to see you, Amigo.” Marco said extending his hand.
“You’re looking good. Nice haircut.” Mike said with a nod.
“Yeah, Cap reminded me that a pony tail wouldn’t be anywhere near regulation.”
Johnny said with a grin. He hadn’t had a haircut since before the bombing until last week. “Lee said if she was getting a haircut so was I. Chloe even got a little trim. She was not happy about it.”
“Like Lee says, she’s her father’s daughter.” Roy said smiling. He knew that for a while that had been a sore point but they had gotten it worked out.
Chet came in and changed clothes not saying much. He and Johnny had talked once after the fiasco at Roy’s. Johnny and he had agreed it was over and done and their friendship intact.
The five friends went out to get a cup of coffee before roll call. Johnny went first after some jockeying around by the others.
“Welcome back, John.” There was a banner across the cupboard with platters of breakfast sandwiches, of doughnuts and one of fresh fruit on the table. A large helium balloon fire truck floated above the table anchored by a small toy truck and a fireman toy.
Johnny looked at the table then all the men around it and realized men from all three shifts were there. The three captains had came out of the office.
“This is a first and probably a last, a speechless John Gage.” Chet laughingly said.
“We just wanted you to know we’re glad your back and that what you did that day for everyone hasn’t been forgotten and is appreciated.” Murphy from C shift said,. “A lot of good men owe their lives to you for what you did that day. The arson guys figured out there was at least four bombs that went off that day after that madman pushed the detonator.”
Roy knew Johnny had never read or heard the full report and saw the amazement in his face as well as all the other emotions.
A little later than usual roll call and morning chores were started.
Johnny and Roy went into do the morning radio checks and check supplies
“Why don’t you do the radio check?” Roy suggested.
“Rampart this is County 51…How do you read?”
“Loud and clear 51.” Dixie responded. Roy thought he could almost hear her smiling.
“Stand by for lead two…”
“Looking good on this end. Sounding good, too.” Kelly Brackett responded. “Welcome back, John.”
Cap was standing in the door way watching his two paramedics and smiled. He didn’t think anyone was gonna mind the slight deviation from protocol this morning.
An hour later the SCU sounded and the engine and squad were off to a warehouse fire. As they pulled up to the building Roy glanced over at his partner.
“You doing ok?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Gage, De Soto they think there are two women in the office, northwest corner second floor.” They quickly got suited up and made their way up to the second floor. There were two offices in the northwest corner. Roy went in the one that said Accounting while Johnny went in the one that said Personnel. Both offices were empty.
“Let’s try down the hall.” Roy shouted not raising his mask. Johnny nodded and followed,. They checked the supply room then came to the bathroom. Pushing their way into the room Johnny raised his mask. “Fire Department.”
He went farther into the room and saw the two women huddled in the corner.
They had wet paper towels over their noses and mouths and looked up at the men wide eyed.
“Ok, ladies, let get you out f here.” Johnny said as he knelt next to the women. A quick check showed no injuries other than a burn on one woman’s hand.
“Roy, you lead them out.” He helped them stand up all the while reassuring them all would be fine. He let each breathe in some oxygen from his mask as Roy went to make sure the passage was clear.
“HT51 to 51…we’re on our way out with the victims.”
Outside the women were quickly given a closer exam and the information given to Dr. Early. It was decided to send them to Rampart as a precaution since both had slightly elevated blood pressures.
Since an IV had been established I the older of the two Johnny rode in with them.
Johnny was drinking coffee at the nurses desk when Brice came in to pick up supplies and his partner.
“Gage.” Brice acknowledged him with a nod.
“Brice. How’s your morning going?”
“Two minor runs. Morton ordered an IV that was precautionary so here to pick up Belliveau. You?”
“Just waiting for Roy. Rode in with a lady who took in some smoke.”
Belliveau came up to the desk.
“Good to see you Johnny.” Bob said. “Glad you’re feeling up to it.”
“Yeah, a lot of people didn’t think I would be back.” Johnny watched as Brice started to walk away. “You better go before your partner gets upset.”
“Johnny about what he said…”
“That’s just it Bob, its what he said, not you.” Bob nodded his thanks then went out to his squad.
“You’re a good man, John Gage.” Dixie said as she watched Bob walk away. “There is a lot of men who wouldn’t have been that civil.”
“Learned a long time ago to ignore people worse than Brice. Dix, there’s something I need to tell you…Before you hear it in the rumor mill…Kel already knows so you or him can Dr. Early…”
“Tell me what?” Johnny had not noticed Joe coming down the hall.
“Roy and I are going to be taking the captain’s exam in August.” He waited to see their reaction with some trepidation.
“That’s great, Tiger. You’ll both make excellent captains.” Dixie smiled her pride in him and Roy as always.
“The paramedic program is losing two of the best…Our loss is the Fire Department’s gain.”
“Thanks.” Roy saw the look on Johnny’s face as he approached the desk. “So, Junior you tell them the news?”
“I’m gonna miss you but really proud of you. Jo and Lee excited about the change?”
“Yep…but it’s not happening for a while…Even after the test, it may be a while before there are any positions available. They’re given out according where you place on the test.”
“Then you two won’t have long to wait”.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Doc. Mike Stoker is taking the exam too. Not sure how many others.”
“HT51, what is your availability.”
“HT51 available from Rampart.” They left with a wave to respond to a child injured call.
The rest of the day was fairly quiet. Cap was able to get some drills in and to no ones surprised Johnny was the fastest on the knots and getting into gear drills. He was just a little slower than normal getting up the ladder and bring down the victim, the CPR dummy that had been retired from CPR training.
Dinner was a huge success, the chicken casserole, Cole slaw and home-made rolls Lee had sent in were enjoyed then when Johnny brought out a pecan pie and a pineapple cake everyone was happy and full. They settled down to watch TV, Return of the Magnificent Seven. Johnny waited until all were engrossed in the movie then went out to the kitchen to call Lee.
“I was hoping you’d call.” She said. “Did you have a good day?”
“Yeah, it was. I’ll give you all the details tomorrow. How was your day? Chloe in bed?”
“It was good. She kept looking for you and I would tell her you were working. She went to sleep about 15 minutes ago. I let her stay up longer than usual so maybe she’ll sleep late in the morning. Did the guys like dinner?”
“Loved it. They left some of the cake for in the morning but the pie is gone. I missed you today…Thought of things I wanted to tell you…wondered how Chloe was doing. Did you turn on the alarm and check all the doors? Make sure the safety bar is in the patio doors and the sunroom doors.”
“I did. Ashke had his evening run and is with Chloe. She feel asleep pretty quick after I put her down. I stayed in there for a few minutes after we finished our story time. We only did one book tonight. You sound content but tired. Why don’t you go get some sleep?”
“You too. Love you.”
“Love you mores and muches…Be careful all of you and peaceful dreams.”
Within the week it was known that Mike, Johnny and Roy would be taking the exam. There was none of the negative feedback that Johnny had worried about. The days and weeks flowed by. The three friends would meet once a week to go over the manuals and old test questions as well as time spent studying on their own. They were able to find a way to study and still have quality time with their families. Lee planned to celebrate Chloe’s second birthday with a small family party. A small family party that ended up being 3 times the size Lee had originally planned. But with 5 honorary uncles, the Kildare and Farrow, Alvarez families, Jeff and Gina and Rosemary it just seemed to keep growing. It wasn’t unusual for the entire crew to end up at their place especially once the weather turned hotter than usual their pool was a very popular place to be.
Since the exam was the week after their anniversary Lee insisted that other than dinner out they postpone any celebration. They would combine their anniversary and Johnny’s birthday into one celebration.
Two nights before the test Mike, Johnny and Roy had their last study session in the pool house. While they all felt confident they, all knew it wasn’t a good idea to be too confident.
Lee had typed up a practice test made up of questions from old tests and the study guides they had been using. She knew the areas each was most concerned with and used those areas for the questions. They went over the test and when they did not agree on an answer talked it out, looking up references for that question. Lee made sure there was plenty of snacks and coffee available that night.
The day of the test Johnny was up before the alarm was set to go off. He wasn’t surprised when Lee joined him at the kitchen table. She knew he was too nervous to eat so she made a pot of coffee (half regular, half decaf) and quizzed him on the areas he was most worried about. When it was time for Roy to pick him up she gave him a package.
“What’s this for?”
“From me and Chloe…Melissa helped me make it. Just something to remind you how proud we are of you.”
He opened the package and his crooked grin spread across his face. It was a tee shirt with Chloe’s picture on it. It was a picture Johnny had taken on her birthday in the pedal car Chet and Marco had given her for Christmas. The caption read Proud daughter of a LA. CO. F.D Captain.
Johnny looked at the shirt then at Lee. She was looking very pleased with herself.
“Go do your best and know you and Roy have a whole lot of people who believe in you and no matter what the outcome is love and respect you.”
He bent down and kissed her long and hard. Johnny hoped to score in the top 10 to make his family proud.
Roy honked the horn to let Johnny know he was there so one quick kiss and Johnny was out the door.
The exam was over and all three candidates from Station 51 felt good about it. Waiting for the results would be hard but life kept them all busy so none had time to brood about the results.
Finally, the results were published and to no ones surprise 3 of the top 5 spots went to A shift Station 51 personnel, with Brice scoring the fourth highest score.
Two weeks after the results were posted Roy and Johnny were told their last shift as paramedics would be the following Monday. Andy Boyd and Greg Ramsey would be taking their place.
Mike would start at his new position the following Wednesday. They would be filling in for vacationing captains until permanent openings were available.
Johnny had a restless night and was up and dressed by 5:30 Friday morning. Lee was awake burt forced herself to give him the alone time he needed. At 6 she heard in Chloe’s room talking as he changed her. (She wore her big girl panties in the daytime but slept in diapers.)
“Tomorrow when I come home I’ll be a man without a station to call my own. Me and your Uncle Roy start our new jobs on Monday…at least for the first two weeks we’re on the same shift. You’re still gonna have all your uncles…They all love you and made it clear they still wanted to be part of your life. Think Chet is gonna make life interesting for Andy and Greg as he introduces them to the Phantom. But Cap…he’ll make sure he doesn’t go overboard. Your mama is planning a big party to celebrate our new jobs. Her and Jo and Melissa have been talking and making lists. Makes sense to have one party since we have a lot of the same friends. Tell you a secret…it’s kind of scary and sad to think about this as my last shift as a paramedic and the last time I’ll be Roy’s partner. The day I signed up to be a paramedic was just about the luckiest day of my life…It started all the really great things that happened to me…getting to be part of Roy’s family, meeting your mom, us getting you…Made some great friends and a few enemies… could have done without some of the injuries and times I was pretty sick but in their own way they were important times too. Made me realize what great family and friends we have. You go back to sleep now…I’ll see you before I leave.” Lee could hear the rocking chair squeak as he rocked and hummed to Chloe.
Roy also was awake before the alarm, just not as early. He smiled as Jo moved closer.
“Didn’t mean to wake you.” He softly brushed her cheek. “You don’t have to get up.” She had turned over so she could sit up.
“How many times have I sent you off to work without breakfast?” She asked as she reached for her robe. “You think today’ll be harder than usual?”
“It’s either gonna go really fast or really slow. Cap has some drills he wants to do and I know there was a stack of inspection forms on his desk. Hopefully the other shift got most of them done. Mike told him he wanted to cook today...wasn’t sure if it was gonna be spaghetti or chicken. I’m gonna try to make it as normal as possible.”
“And Johnny?” She had laid back down, her head on Roy’s shoulder.
“Junior is gonna be fine. He’s at peace with the choice he made. Not saying it won’t be sad but we all know this is the right time for both of us.”
“I knew you wouldn’t have been happy being an engineer…but I know this is the right thing for you. Who knows in 5 or 6 years maybe you’ll be studying to be a chief.”
“Let’s get through today first before we start planning that.” He turned and kissed her deeply, his hand moving down her back.
Cap’s car was the only one from A shift in the parking lot when Johnny got to the station. He sat out in the Rover remembering the times he had been the last one in and the times he had been the first to leave often in response to a prank by the Phantom. He was still sitting there when Roy pulled in. Roy got out of his car and got into the Rover.
“You doing ok?” He asked looking at Johnny’s expression.
“Yeah just thinkin’. Part of me wants today over quick the other …. Johnny stopped and shrugged his shoulders. Lee said she hopes we can get some vacation days at the same time so we can go to Hawaii together. But you know anytime you want to use the condo you can, it doesn’t have to be with us.”
“Chet still saying he’s gonna go over with Suzi for New Years?’
“Yeah, think he is still trying to talk her into it. Maybe see if Marco and Anita want to go…Cap said Em would like to go over again, maybe take the girls.”
They both knew there were rambling not saying what really was on their minds.
“Hope Andy and Greg make a good team. They’re both good paramedics.”
“Yeah. Hope Andy lets Greg drive once in a while so they both know the streets.” Johnny said with a grin.
“Yeah wonder if either of them will spend part of their days off driving around memorizing cross streets and addresses.” This was first time Roy let Johnny know he knew about his habit of doing that when they first became partners.
“It was worth it. It all was, Pally.” Johnny let out a deep sigh. “Thanks for being the best friend a guy could ever have…The best big brother and sometimes dad. I owe you so much.”
“I thought we were over your feeling like you owed me for being your friend. It has and will continue to be a pleasure to be your best friend. What we have is a bond that goes beyond friendship, being brothers…There’s a deeper connection neither one of us can explain. And to borrow a line from Lee, it’s never boring being your friend.”
“Is that why you blame that thin spot on the top of your head on me?” The impish grin spreading across his face. Roy just rolled his eyes. They saw Mike puling in and without a word both opened their door to go inside.
Roll call went smoothly with no mention made of it being the last time they would be together as a crew. Chores we assigned and everyone went off to do their jobs. Marco and Johnny were given hose to hang after the bay. Mike had meals and day room. Roy the dorms and Chet for booby trapping the supply closet had the latrine.
“Junior, you want to do the honor of our last radio check?” Roy handed him the bio phone.
“Rampart this is Squad 51, how do you read?”
“Loud and clear 51.” Dixie answered pride.” She felt a moment of saneness knowing it was the last radio check from her favorite paramedic team. But even more so she felt pride in all they had accomplished over the years. Pride in the lives they had saved, pride in the professionalism they showed. Even more so she was proud of the men they were, men she called her good friends. She was proud in the part she had played in their lives both as a colleague and as a friend.
Roy teased and said he knew he was second favorite but he understood the special bond between her and Johnny. There had been (still was to some extent) a part of Johnny’s personality that made you want to protect him, to reassure him he wasn’t alone.
Thankfully now it was rare to see that lost little boy in his eyes or his behavior. Roy she watched as he grew into a more open person. He had always had cared about others but now it showed in a more open and natural way. She knew that they were going to be excellent captains following the lead of Hank Stanley. Johnny handed the mic over to Roy so he could finish the check. This brought a smile to her face. Partners sharing responsibility to the end.
Morning chores finished, Cap ran three of the standard drills. As always,
A convoy of trucks were heading down the highway day the traffic was moving at a good pace. Two car carriers from a local auto plants carrying brand new pickups and SUVs to a local dealership were talking on their CBs making plans for after work. A truck full of liquor going to a local state stores was following them.
The driver was getting impatient with the two drivers who were e going just under the speed limit. He was running late because of paper work that wasn’t filled out correctly and had two more stops to ache before the end of the business day. He hit his horn but the two front trucks ignored him.
Those drivers traveled that stretch of road regularly and knew it was heavily patrolled by CHP officers. The liquor truck’s driver lost his temper and pulled around the car carriers. He had just started to move back into the right lane when a passenger side tire blew. The driver of the first car carrier pulled to the right and put his brakes on. The second carrier couldn’t stop quick enough and hit the first. Pieces of the tire that had exploded littered the road. A small car that had been behind the trucks slammed on her brakes and lost control as a large fragment df rubber hit the windshield.
By the time LA County Fire Department got there it was a mess. Accidents had happen on the other side of the highway because of people rubber necking. And the original 3 vehicles had started a chain reaction that now numbered 10 cars and trucks.
“Kelly, start disconnecting the batteries, Lopez, spray down the road…Engine 51 requesting another squad for the west bound side of the highway and another engine crew for same.”
The majority of the injuries were cuts and bruises. A few heads had hit the steering wheel or the door because seat belts weren’t used.
The driver of the small car that had been behind the trucks was trapped in her car. Her legs were jammed up under the dash board where a small pickup had landed on her roof and hood. She also had a cut on her forehead. Roy was taking care of her.
“Cap, we’re going to need the jaws to get her out. A backboard to put her on.” Roy said. “Johnny, what you got over there?”
“Drivers got a cut on his head, a broken arm. Unconscious but reacts to pain. Gonna need help getting him out.” He saw a couple of CHP officers he knew and called to them.
“Bear, Grossie, need some help here.” They came over. “I’m gonna go over on the other side and Bear, you can help lift him out of here. Grossie, can you grab a couple of the yellow blankets and a back board?”
“You got it John.” Grossie went to do as he was asked.
Johnny made his way slowly into the truck. On his knees he was able to safely move the trucker so his body was straight. With his arms under the man’s shoulders and Bear guiding him they were able to get him out of the truck and onto the ground.
“Thanks.” Johnny said as he knelt to do a more in-depth exam. Once he was satisfied with the results the two CHP officers took the backboard over to the waiting ambulance. Johnny following behind to check for any other injured.
A couple of teenage boys had decided to steal whatever they could from the liquor truck since all the attention was elsewhere. Running away with several bottles in hand, he slipped on the wet pavement. Now besides the water, gas and oil there was a a stream of cognac running down the pavement. The boy who fell cut his hand and wrist badly, blood was spurting.
HELP!! HE’S BLEEDING TO DEATH!!!!!!!” The frighten boy screamed at the top of his lungs not knowing what to do for his friend.
Ponch and Johnny heard the screams, quickly making their way over to the two boys. Johnny reached the boys first. Seeing the spurting blood. he knew an artery had been slashed. The boy screaming had a bandana Indian style around his long hair.
“Give me that.” Johnny ordered. He took the bandana and quickly wrapped it around the wrist tightly.
“Get him over to triage, they’ll get a pressure bandage on it and check the other cuts.” Ponch and the boys friend set off towards triage while Johnny made his way back to heck for injured passengers and drivers.
Johnny came up on a cargo van with two people still in it. The drivers was semi- conscious, the passenger was dead. The odd twisted angle of his neck left no question of how he died. As Johnny was working he could hear a strange hissing noise. His first reaction was snake but then realized it was something more mechanical.
Johnny could see the driver was caught because the front was so crushed inward. The engine showed inside the cab. He had been hit from behind by a large tractor trailer. The driver of the tractor trailer was standing nearby.
“My brakes froze and I hit him hard. Can I do anything to help? Let me help.”
“Just move back and give me room. You could walk up forward and tell any fireman or police to send the jaws and some help.” He knew the driver was showing signs of shock , but driver in the truck had to be his priority, by sending the man to get help for him he was sure the others would see his needs also.
Johnny heard people talking and relaxed a little. He had been able to get a pulse and respiration on the victim. Also, he had checked his pupils, sluggish but reactive.
“What you got, Junior?” Roy inquired. “They’ll bring us the jaws soon as they get finished in the other car.”
They had been working about 10 minutes when Johnny raised his hand to stop. Looking confused the others turned off the jaws and waited in silence. They could see Johnny heard or sensed something was wrong. As much as they teased him about the squeaks and creaks only he heard in the squad, at a fire they never questioned his instincts.
“We’ve got to get him out fast, something is leaking…I can hear it.” They resumed working faster and were able to get him on a backboard and in a stokes. Several others had came over so they had plenty of help carrying the stokes. Roy and Johnny were walking behind the stokes carrying equipment.
They were about 50 feet from the cargo van when it exploded. Debris flying started several fires and when a piece of burning metal crashed into the over turned liquor truck all near there ran. The explosion sent out a huge surge of hot air and sound waves that knocked Roy and Johnny and several others off their feet. Luckily no one was seriously injured in the blast. Cuts, bruises and sore bottoms from hard landings were the only injuries.
Once back to the station showers were taken and the tired men just relaxed. Mike had planned on making fried chicken for supper but the spaghetti sauce he was going to have at lunch had been slow simmering all the time they were out. The pasta was soon in boiling water and Marco and Johnny who had already showered made the salad and fixed the garlic cheese bread Mike had taken out of the freezer earlier. A fresh pot of coffee to go along with the dessert and ice tea completed the meal. Lee had sent a pecan pie and Jo sent a carrot cake so the meal was a huge success. Chet and Marco helped with the cleanup.
“Roy, John I want to thank you for what you did today.” Cap said as he finished his coffee.
“We just did our jobs like always.” Roy and Johnny said in sync.
Chet rolled his eyes the others just smiled.
“You twits, what I am thanking you for is the fact after two explosions I didn’t have to call either of your wives and tell her you were at Rampart.”
The famous Gage grin spread across his face. “But you have to admit, Cap, we went out with a bang.”
Posted to Site 7/10/18
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