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“Mornin Guy’s…” The cheerful voice of paramedic John Gage broke the sleepy silence of the day room. Station 51’s youngest crew member bounced over to the coffee pot. Johnny seldom walked anywhere… he bounced, trotted, bounded or ran but rarely walked. Today he was especially excited…three days off and his partner and best friend Roy DeSoto, were heading up to the mountains to go camping.
It had been a sixteen months since they’d first met and thirteen months since they’d become partners. They’d been through some rough times… ‘Most of them because I got hurt…not to mention a few other problems they’d been through,’ Johnny mused.
But this time they were gonna have a great time…Johnny had given Roy a sleeping bag and tackle box for Christmas just a couple of months ago and this was the first chance he’d had to use it.
Roy shook his head at Johnny… “You’ve got more energy than the rest of us put together Junior... Sometimes you wear me out just watching you.” John threw his partner a grin.
“So where are you off to Gage? Roy?” Chet Kelly asked.
“You remember that spot in the Canyon?”
“Where you took me a month ago to fish…?”
“Yeah that’s it…it’s like hanging on the edge of the world,” Johnny said enthusiastically.
Chet nodded in agreement. “You’re gonna love it Roy…as long as you leave Gage at home…”
“Ah shut up Chet,” Johnny growled at the curly haired fireman.
The SCU tones interrupted their argument… “Squad 51… Vehicle accident with injuries 1645 West Cisco…1-6-4-5 West Cisco…cross street Rita…Time Out 07:43…” They both ran for the squad as Cap acknowledged the call…
“Squad 51… 10-4…KMG-365,” He handed the slip of paper to Roy and they began to roll.
They arrived at the scene a short time later. A man lay on the ground moaning softly and holding his leg, while a woman stood over him… arms folded in irritation. Johnny shot a glance at Roy as they climbed from the vehicle, wondering what they were walking into.
Roy approached the woman… “What happened here?” He asked as he knelt next to the man…
“This is my boyfriend…”
“Ex boyfriend...,” the man growled…it turned to a howl of pain as Roy started to examine his leg…
“Ex boyfriend…,” she said snidely. “Anyway, this is my car…”
“It’s my car…,” he argued.
“No…it isn’t…,” she shot back.
“My name is on that car…”
“Well my name is on it first so…”
“Okay…okay you two…,” Johnny interrupted, playing referee… “We're not cops and we don’t care who owns the car…we need to know what happened to you?”
“She ran me over…,” he accused.
“I just barely bumped him…,”
“She ran over my leg…”
“You wouldn’t get out of the way…”
“So you could steal my car?”
John heaved a sigh of frustration… “Okay…I get the message… How’s his leg Roy…?”
Roy glanced up at him… “I think it’s broken…you better call Rampart…”
John nodded and opened the Biophone as the man once again started arguing with the woman... “Rampart Base this is rescue 51…”
“Go ahead 51…,”
“Rampart…we have a 30 year old male with a possible fracture of the left tibia…”
“10-4 51…,” Brackett’s voice responded… “Splint the leg…Administer 40 mgs of Pentazocine and transport.”
“40 mgs Pentazocine and transport…10-4 Rampart…,” Johnny acknowledged, before reaching for the necessary items and handing them to Roy.
The couple was still arguing possession of the car as the ambulance arrived… “No wait…,” he yelled as they began to lift him to the stretcher. “She’ll take the car…I’ll never get it back…”
“It’s my car…,” she yelled.
Johnny rolled his eyes as Vince Howard arrived on the scene. “What happened here?” He asked as he stepped from his own vehicle.
“A little disagreement over the ownership of the car Vince…she ah…ran him over when he tried to stop her from taking it…”
Vince shook his head with a sigh of disgust… “You take him in…I’ll take her in.”
The man began to protest once again until Roy stepped in… “Look mister…she isn’t gonna take the car…she’s goin to jail…”
“Running you over…,” Roy said in exasperation.
The woman began to cry… “You’d let them put me in jail…? It was an accident…,” she wailed…
“It’s okay Honey…You...you can’t put her in jail…it was a mistake…I mean...I wouldn’t get out of the way…,” he railed.
“Oh no sweetie…it was all my fault.”
Johnny and Roy heaved a sigh as Vince stepped into the fray to sort out the details…
Johnny rolled his eyes at his partner…“Three days in the mountains is gonna be a picnic…,” He whispered.
Roy and John headed out as soon as they returned. They drove for over an hour and Johnny was going on and on about a new auburn haired nurse at Rampart. According to Johnny, Angela was perfect, Beautiful, funny, smart and a host of other adjectives that wore out Roy’s ears. He shook his head already knowing Angela would most likely be an ex girlfriend by next week. Johnny just couldn’t seem to hang onto a relationship…Roy knew from his conversations with his young partner that certain events in Johnny’s childhood had left him with serious problems in forming and keeping relationships. And while Roy knew he’d been badly hurt by his Mother’s family… one in particular that John called Uncle George...he often found himself wondering exactly what his young Partner had been through…
Johnny finally pulled into a parking space at the local camp ground but his spot was still a rough, three mile hike but worth every step, the younger man assured him …When they finally arrived, Roy was stunned…the view was breathtaking. Heavily wooded, sitting on the edge of a drop off of over a hundred feet. The drop off was edged by scatterings of boulders. The sun seemed to hang on the edge of the mountain peaks. Johnny had found this place with his dad fourteen years ago and he came here often but especially when he was stressed.
Johnny pitched the tent while Roy gathered fire wood and rocks for tonight’s campfire and then Johnny led him down a path to a slow flowing river. They cast their lines and resumed their conversation.
“How’s Joanne feeling Roy?” Johnny asked.
Joanne had been sick for the last four days with a nasty cold but she was feeling pretty good now, except that now Chris had it and was keeping her up half the night because of it. “Better…but now Chris has her cold so she’s still pretty tired. I kinda felt guilty goin off and leavin her this weekend but she insisted I needed some time away.”
Joanne understood the friendship between these two men sometimes better than they did. She recognized the mutual need they fulfilled in each other…two halves of a whole…she called them and even though Johnny could sometimes drive her crazy, she loved him like a kid brother and liked to make sure Roy spent time with Johnny away from work.
The younger man had a rough time a short while ago, discovering that he had a condition called Aspergers Syndrome. It was mild and he’d pretty much outgrown most of the symptoms unless he was under a great deal of emotional stress. He had it under control now and Roy and Joanne intended to keep it that way.
“So how’s my favorite Princess doing?” Johnny asked. Jennifer was one of John’s favorite topics and one girl he had no trouble winning over…Jen was John’s best girl…or so he assured the toddler regularly and it was mutual…no matter how fussy Jennifer was being…all Uncle Johnny had to do was talk to her and she perked right up.
“She’s doin good…thankfully she hasn’t picked this up yet. One sick kid’s enough.” Johnny nodded as he looked at his friend questioningly. Roy glanced over to see his friend’s dark eyes watching him… “What…?” he questioned.
“Man Roy…you think I’ll ever be lucky enough to find someone like Joanne. I mean I’m not ready to settle down or anything just yet but man…to find the right woman and have a couple of great kids like Chris and Jen…that would be so great. Something like my parents had before…,” Johnny trailed off running out of steam with that thought.
“Good Lord Johnny, do you even breathe when you get goin…,” Roy asked in awe…
“Huh…?” John looked at him blankly for a moment before Roy’s words sank in… “Oh ha ha…very funny…”
Roy chuckled at his friend’s obvious irritation but answered seriously…“I think you will someday Junior…just don’t narrow your choices so much.”
“What do you mean…?”
“Well let’s face it Junior…sometimes all you see is the pretty face and you could be missing the right one who’s just average but really special.”
Johnny grinned as he waggled an eyebrow at his friend. “Well since I’m not ready to settle down, I’ll stick to the pretty face,” he teased.
“You’re impossible Junior…,” Roy replied with a laugh as he shook his head at his young friend.
A jerk on Roy’s line ended the conversation as they turned their attention back to fishing…they returned to camp a short time later.
Their conversation continued by the campfire and covered a dozen topics, occasionally lapsing into companionable silence. Right after dinner the storm clouds began to roll in and a short time later the rain started, forcing them to retreat into the tent. Thankfully, the younger paramedic was an experienced camper and he’d picked the perfect spot…the tent remained dry as a bone.
“Where’d this come from?” Johnny complained. “I checked the weather…it was supposed to be beautiful,” he complained as lightning flashed and thunder rumbled.
“That’s Mother Nature…,” Roy placated. “Don’t worry partner, it’s not your fault.”
They spent an uncomfortable evening…wind and rain came in sheets. They stayed dry but the snapping and creaking of the tent kept them awake most of the night. The storm continued well into the early morning hours but by dawn the clouds had cleared and the sun was once again shining. Johnny and Roy breathed a sigh of relief. They sat on a pile of rocks overlooking the edge and ate their breakfast, breathing in the fresh air, admiring the view and enjoying the peace and quiet before setting off to the river.
By late afternoon they’d caught a half a dozen large fish and returned to their camp to watch the sunset in silence over coffee…letting the stress of their jobs fade with the sunlight. “Man…sometimes I wish I could stay out here forever…It’s so peaceful…,” Johnny murmured softly.
“That was beautiful…,” Roy agreed, understanding now why Johnny came here so often…especially when he was stressed or uptight.
An hour later their opinion changed as the storm clouds once again began to gather and the rain began to slant down in buckets. The ground turned to slush and the mud was ankle deep. There was no way to even start a campfire in this weather so cooking the fish they’d caught was out. John and Roy exchanged a frustrated glance. “Well at least we caught some fish…,” Johnny quipped.
“Be nice if we could actually eat them instead of just looking at them…,” Roy replied ironically.
“More beans…?” Johnny said ruefully as he handed his friend a plate of cold food.
The next morning the sun shone in a clear blue sky. They were getting ready to take one more trip to the river before breaking camp. John stood at the edge of the drop off taking in the scenery. He saw a pair of Eagles circling below and rising slowly, majestically upward. “Far out…,” he called to Roy as he ran back toward the tent and his backpack. He grabbed his camera and turned toward the edge… “Roy…come take a look…”
Roy was rolling his sleeping bag and gathering his personal items into his own pack. “What’s up Junior?”
Johnny was clicking away but took a second to point in the direction of the gliding birds. “Hey Roy…can you get a picture of me with them in the background…? I’ll set the distance and everything.”
John adjusted the settings and handed the camera to his partner. Johnny went to the edge but the birds had climbed and Roy couldn’t get his excited friend and the Eagles in the viewfinder. “They’re too high Junior…”
“Wait…!” he said… “What if I stand on these?” He asked as he climbed onto the rocks they’d been sitting on the night before.
“Johnny, you’re makin me nervous….would you get down from there?”
Johnny grinned… “Just take the picture would ya?” He replied.
Roy shook his head but dutifully lifted the camera and snapped the photo. He turned away to set the camera down. He heard a faint rumble and a startled gasp from his partner…
John grinned at his partner in amusement at his nervous directive. “Just take the picture would ya?” He asked. Roy shook his head but raised the camera and took the photo…he turned away. The younger man was about to jump down when the boulders…loosened from the previous two night’s rain suddenly shifted beneath his feet. He lost his balance...his arms wind milled briefly but the rocks shifted again and he felt himself falling backwards. He gasped in shock as his feet left the solid surface and he plummeted backwards over the edge. He never even had time to cry out before he slammed into the ground and the world around him went black.
“Sounds like another storm rollin in…,” Roy advised but trailed off as he turned back to look at his friend… Johnny was gone… “Oh my God…,” he whispered. His first hope was that Johnny had jumped to safety when the rocks rolled…his eyes scanned around him but there was no sign of his partner. Reality hit…John had fallen. Roy’s heart climbed into his throat and his stomach sank in equal proportions as he ran to the edge. He lay down on his belly in the mud, easing himself forward over the side and peering down. Johnny lay on his back on a ledge about fifteen feet down…he wasn’t moving.
Roy eased himself back and ran to their gear. He knew he’d never be able to pull Johnny up especially if he was injured and unable to help. They were due home this afternoon and back to work tomorrow… Joanne and Cap would both be looking for them soon. This really was his only option.
Pulling the rope from the pack he quickly knotted the sleeping bags and backpacks to one end and the other he tied off to a sturdy tree. Roy lowered the gear down beside his partner knowing it could be a long night before help arrived. He began to climb down.
Johnny was beginning to stir as Roy reached the bottom. The young paramedic was lying precariously close to the edge of his narrow perch and a sure fatal fall several hundred feet below.
“Johnny…don’t move,” Roy commanded sharply.
John was well accustomed to taking orders…he froze as aches and throbs flooded into his awareness. His eyes clenched shut against the waves of pain and he began to take stock of exactly what hurt.
Roy moved quickly to his friend’s side. Kneeling beside the younger man, he began to check Johnny for injuries. Roy carefully straightened John’s twisted knee. “Ahh…,” he cried…writhing away from Roy’s hands.
“Easy Junior…,” he murmured softly as he pinned the younger man to the ground to keep him from rolling off the edge. Once John relaxed he continued to examine him for injuries. His hands felt down Johnny’s extremities and found his left wrist was broken…his hands moved over his torso drawing a strangled cry from his young friend as he touched his chest and side. He checked his respirations… Johnny appeared to be breathing okay.
Roy leaned over his partner. “Johnny…can you open your eyes for me…?” He asked gently.
John groaned softly…but his eyes remained closed as he fought back a wave of pain and nausea.
“Come on Junior…I know you’re awake…I heard you…,” Roy urged the younger man as he carefully smoothed the sable hair from John’s forehead.
The dark eyes fluttered for a second before he managed to force them open…he squinted painfully up into the face of his best friend. “Roy…? Man…what happened?” He gasped out.
“The rocks shifted and you fell. Johnny can you tell me what hurts?”
The younger man’s eyes closed and for a moment Roy was afraid he’d lost consciousness but then he realized that he was trying to figure out the answer to the question he’d been asked. “My head…my back …I think my wrist is broken…,” he whispered as he tried to lift his hand. His face twisted in pain at the effort.
“Just lay still Junior…don’t try to move,” Roy warned.
“My knee hurts some…”
“That’s good in a way…means you can still feel them…which probably means your neck and back aren’t broken… but we’re still gonna be real careful about letting you move for a bit okay?” He instructed softly as he looked around him and took stock of their predicament. He didn’t really want to move Johnny but he was dangerously close to the edge. Six inches more and the younger man would have plummeted all the way to the bottom.
“Okay Johnny…I’m gonna get you away from the edge alright?” There was a slight nod of acceptance to that suggestion though John still hadn’t re opened his eyes. “You don’t move…let me do all the work okay?”
“Kay…,” he whispered, sounding vague.
“Don’t go away Junior… I’ll be right back.” Roy moved to where the gear lay and grabbed one of the sleeping bags, he quickly unrolled it… laying it next to his young partner. “Okay pal, I’m gonna roll you on your side…”
Johnny’s brown eyes flickered open to shoot a pain filled look at his partner… “Okay,” he panted.
“Let me move you…don’t try to help…”
“I don’t think I can…”
Roy slid his hand under Johnny’s head and the other under his lower back…supporting his friend’s neck as he carefully rolled him on his side. He let go with one hand to pull the sleeping bag closer and eased his friend back onto it.
“Wow…,” Johnny murmured softly… “That was a…s…sight I didn’t need to see.”
Roy looked blank for a moment before he realized his friend had had an unimpeded view of the fall he’d barely missed taking. Roy grinned at him as he gently ruffled John’s hair. “Sorry Junior,” he replied with a chuckle.
Roy grasped the sleeping bag , carefully dragging his partner away from the edge and getting him safely situated close to the mountain face. Roy tugged several items of clothing from his pack and twisted them into a tight roll that he tucked closely around his partners head to help hold it steady. He sat down at his side to check John out a little better. His fingers slid through John’s dark hair, locating a fairly large lump at the back…The blonde paramedic surmised a concussion from the slightly dazed look his partner still wore.
Roy pressed his partner’s belly…relieved that there didn’t appear to be any indicator’s of internal bleeding. The older man’s biggest concern was the potential injury to John’s back and neck. He hoped the fact that John could still feel his legs was a good indicator that although it was sore it probably wasn’t broken…he just wished he could be sure.
“So what’s the plan pally…?” Johnny asked softly as Roy continued to check him over.
“We wait for someone to come looking for us… when we don’t show up this afternoon Joanne will call Cap,” Roy assured him.
“Maybe you should g…go back up…go for h…help…?” He gasped out.
“Good idea Junior…Now what do I do with you?” Roy inquired incredulously… “I’m not leaving you alone and I can’t pull you up on my own...especially not injured,” he pointed out as he unbuttoned his friend’s shirt.
“I’ll be o…okay alone for a while…,” he argued.
Roy pulled Johnny’s shirt away to check his ribs…he pressed gently drawing a cry of pain from his friend and he tried to twist away from the probing hands. “I’m sorry Johnny…lay still…you’ve got to be still,” he said grasping John’s shoulder’s and pressing him flat on the sleeping bag once again. Johnny was gasping, fighting desperately against the nausea that threatened to erupt.
Johnny’s face paled and he raised pitiful, brown eyes to meet Roy’s. “Are you gonna be sick?” Roy asked quickly. Johnny nodded miserably as Roy rolled him as carefully as he could to his right side. He held his friends forehead as he lost the contents of his stomach… “Done…?” Roy finally asked as the spasms eased. A weak nod answered him. Roy rolled him to his back. “That’s why I’m not leavin you alone Junior…”
Johnny threw a forlorn look at his friend and a slight nod as he panted, trying to regain his breath.
“Okay Partner…let’s get you settled…” Roy unrolled the other bedroll and pulled the extra blanket he’d brought along out and spread it over John. Roy pulled a Tee shirt from his pack tearing it into strips and then emptied the contents of his pack on the ground. Johnny watched him silently…curious about what he was doing but not having the energy or control of his stomach enough to ask him. Roy ripped the metal braces free from the pack…bending one several times before snapping it in half. He turned to his injured friend. “Okay Junior…this is gonna hurt a little…”
Johnny nodded and bit his lip as Roy lifted his hand…Roy’s blue eyes looked almost as pain filled as his partners as he set Johnny’s wrist, trying to ignore the stifled cry of pain while he splinted and wrapped it. He glanced at his friend…Sweat beaded John’s brow and his eyes were squeezed shut … blood trickled from his bitten lip. “I’m sorry Junior…but it had to be done…,” he said quietly as he brushed the now sweat dampened hair from John’s brow.
“I know…,” he whispered as Roy used a piece of his shirt to wipe the blood from John’s mouth.
“Next time, scream Junior…,” he said softly as he turned his attention to Johnny’s knee. He probed it gently, drawing another grimace of pain from his friend… “I don’t think it’s broken Johnny but I’m gonna splint it just in case.”
“Kay…,” he murmured.
Roy used the last brace and another one of his tee shirts to gently splint his partner’s knee. Johnny breathed a sigh of relief when he was done… “I guess I’m gonna need to buy you some new tee shirts…” Johnny mumbled tiredly.
“Don’t worry …Joanne will thank you for getting rid of the overflow,” Roy assured him as he moved down to run the handle of his pocket knife up the bottom of one of Johnny’s feet and then the other. The toes curved inward both times. “Negative Babinski ,” Roy assured him. “You warm enough Junior…?”
“Yeah…but my head’s really hurting…”
“I think you probably have a concussion…,” Roy warned him. “Let’s see what we can find in the first aid kit,” he suggested rummaging through the small box Johnny always carried in his pack. “There’s not much here but I guess we can try these…,” he said tearing open a small packet of aspirin. “It’s not gonna help much I’m afraid.” Roy opened the canteen of water and held it to Johnny’s lips as he sipped the water and downed two pills.
The younger man’s eyes were beginning to droop tiredly. “Johnny I need you to try and stay awake…can you do that for me…?”
“T’red…,” he slurred as his eyes continued to try and close.
“I know Junior…but you need to try…I want you to talk to me okay?”
“Anything…tell me about you…,” Roy said.
“Short conversation…,” Johnny snorted skeptically.
“No seriously…, tell me about your childhood…about Montana…” Roy suggested, hoping Johnny had regained enough trust in their friendship to tell him about his past...wanting to know about his friend even as his stomach turned flip flops at the idea of hearing what Johnny had endured as a child…but it would kill two birds with one stone…to find out more about his friend as well as keeping him awake. “You’ve already told me the worst…Can you trust me enough to tell me the rest?” He asked hesitantly.
Roy knew that a misunderstanding that had happened a couple of months ago had placed a wall of distrust between him and his young partner. He’d misheard a phone call and falsely accused his best friend of having had an affair with his wife…He’d driven him away from station 51 in a rage and right into the hands of a group of criminal and psychotic firemen at station 88…including John’s former attacker…Brad Kimmerlin.
Johnny had been badly hurt not only physically but emotionally as well which had led to their discovery of a disorder called Aspergers Syndrome that Johnny had suffered with from his childhood but it hadn’t ever been properly diagnosed or treated. He’d pretty well outgrown the worst of the symptoms but the stress of the situation had been tremendous and they’d manifested once again.
When Roy had found out the truth…that Johnny had merely been helping his wife plan an anniversary party, he’d gone to his partner and begged his forgiveness and to his surprise and relief…he’d received it. He’d promised himself and his friend that he’d always be there for him…but Johnny had been hurt and his trust was broken…it would take time to heal…Roy hoped they were almost there but he still felt horribly guilty over what had happened. He threw a glance toward his young partner and saw the dark eyes looking back at him.
“Quit Roy…,” He murmured. “It’s done Pally… it’s in the past…let it go…I have.”
“Have you Johnny? You think you can you ever really trust me again?”
“I think so…,” he whispered.
“Good, so tell me about Johnny…Let me start for you…My Parents met…” Roy let the sentence hang.
John looked at his partner, knowing Roy somehow needed this. To know that with this step that he’d truly forgiven him. It was a step of trust he had to take…for Roy’s sake as well as his own.
Roy watched his Partner’s brown eyes narrow as he thought about what Roy had asked of him…There was a long silence and for a moment the older man thought John wasn’t going to answer but then he gave a slight nod as if making a decision…knowing Roy would never betray that trust again, Johnny gave him a small smile.
“Um…let’s see…Well Chet’s always askin where I got the middle name Roderick so I guess I’ll start there…,” Johnny said so quietly that Roy almost had to strain to hear him. “I got it from my dad... his name was Roderick...He got it from his mom...It was her maiden name…Roderick Gage met my mom when he came to Montana to visit an army buddy named Rick Miller. I guess his friend took him out to the reservation for the annual Spring Festival. It’s a pretty big event with Rodeo’s, dancing and handmade Indian goods …blankets, jewelry, carvings, knives and other stuff like that and it always drew a fair crowd from all over the State…It made the Reservation some money every year. My Mom was working in one of the booths selling blankets and jewelry. She was only nineteen.”
“Tell me about her…?” Roy asked softly.
John’s eyes closed in memory… “She was so pretty Roy…,” he whispered. “Well you saw the picture…”
“Yeah Junior…she was stunning.”
“My Dad said she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen…She was so gentle…she never yelled…never hit…just spoke softly…she’d forgive me anything…She had beautiful, brown eyes that seemed to look into your soul…,”
“You have her eyes Johnny…,” Roy informed him, remembering the photo of John’s parents that John’s Aunt Rosemary had found for him.
His friend’s dark eyes opened to look at his partner… “They all said I did…Her hair was black as coal and hung to her waist like silk and she was delicate…like a flower.” Johnny smiled at the memory but it wavered a moment later. “God she was so beautiful...inside and out ya know…?” Johnny glanced at Roy with sorrowful eyes.
“Johnny I’m so sorry… I shouldn’t have asked you to talk about her… you can stop now if you want…we’ll talk about something else,” Roy said feeling guilty that he’d hurt his partner yet again by asking him to remember something so painful.
“No Roy, It’s okay. I don’t mind tellin you about her…it just hurts a little ya know…I still miss her,” John’s voice cracked slightly but he continued.
“Are you sure…?”
“My Dad said he was afraid to talk to her…he said he was so tongue tied that his friend had to finally go over and point my Dad out to her…she smiled and waved him over. Her smile could light up a room Roy…”
The older man smiled at his friend… “What was her name?”
“Ma’taa’éeše’ho…” At Roy’s confused look he translated. “Red Moon, but my Father called her by her English name…Katie…”
Roy’s brow furrowed in thought… “Do you have an Indian name Junior…?” He asked curiously.
Johnny bit his lip suddenly looking embarrassed. “No…they ah…never gave me one…I should have been given one on my fourteenth birthday but…,” he shrugged and looked away… “I wouldn't give up my dream of being a fireman, so my grandfather wouldn't allow it…,” He said sounding ashamed.
Roy could have kicked himself for asking. His hand gently brushed the hair from John’s forehead. “Okay Junior, I think you need to rest for awhile…,” the older man suggested as his partner’s eyes drooped tiredly.
John nodded and closed his eyes as Roy pulled the blanket a bit closer to his friends chin. He laid his hand on Johnny’s shoulder and closed his eyes. He dozed off himself a moment later.
Joanne DeSoto paced by the phone, periodically glancing at her watch. Roy and Johnny should have been home an hour ago. She stopped to peer out the window, hoping to see Johnny’s camper pull into the driveway. Maybe they had car trouble…she glanced at her watch again. It wasn’t like either of the guys to not call if they could…maybe she should call the police and find out if there had been any accidents or she could call Captain Stanley but he’d probably tell her to give them more time but she was worried. Both of them knew she was planning dinner for them…she glanced at her watch again…She’d give it another hour.
Roy lightly shook Johnny awake… “C’mon Junior, I need you to open your eyes…wake up…you’ve slept long enough.”
Johnny’s brown eyes fluttered open… his unfocused gaze shifted aimlessly before finally settling on Roy.
“Hey Roy…,” he murmured tiredly.
“How ya feelin…?” Roy asked.
“Like I fell off a cliff…”
“Smart ass,” Roy said with a chuckle.
Johnny smirked back. John’s gaze shifted to the sun overhead…he could tell from its location that it was now afternoon… “How long did I sleep?”
“A coupla hours… How’s your head…?”
Roy lifted the blanket to gently press on his partner’s belly. He was relieved to find it still soft and with no signs of rigidity…there would have been by now if there was internal bleeding. He ran his hand lightly over his partner’s ribs… “Ahhh…,” Johnny cried.
“You’re getting some great shades of purple here Junior…,” Roy commented. “Can you move your feet?”
Johnny dutifully wiggled his toes… “I don’t think my back or neck are broken Roy…they’re just sore,” he said as his eyelids started to droop.
“No you don’t Junior…I want you to stay awake for a while okay? You were tellin me about your parents…you told me about your mom…how about your dad…? Tell me about Roderick Gage.”
“My dad was born here in California. He was in the Army for a while… he was twenty six when he got out. He’d only been out a few months before he met my mom. He was an engineer and he got a job working for an oil company on the offshore rigs. He went all over as a troubleshooter…wherever he was needed. Sometimes he’d be gone for weeks at a time.
His hair was the same color as mine…My mom said I looked like him except his eyes were green and he was bigger than me…taller, more muscular. He used to throw me in the air and I thought I could touch the sky when he did that…,” Johnny confided the childish notion with a small laugh. Roy smiled sadly knowing there was no happy ending to this tale.
Joanne DeSoto couldn’t stand it anymore, they were three hours late. She picked up the phone and quickly dialed the number for Captain Stanley…
“Hank…this is Joanne DeSoto.”
“Hello Joanne…is something wrong?” The tone of her voice and the fact that she was calling him at home instantly concerned him.
“Hank, it’s Roy and Johnny…they went camping and they haven’t come home…They were due back three hours ago…”
“Okay Joanne just stay calm…they probably had car trouble. You know that old camper John drives…it’s very possible it just broke down.”
“I know but…don’t you think they’d of called or got a ride by now if they were okay…?”
“Okay Joanne…I’ll make a few phone calls and see what I can find out…maybe if nothing else it’ll put your mind at ease.”
Johnny continued with his story…”My Mom and Dad fell in love at first sight…My Mother’s family were pretty uptight over her seeing a Ve’ho’e…,” Roy had pretty much guessed what the word meant but Johnny translated anyway. “White man…anyway they flat told her she couldn’t see him. I guess it got pretty ugly, so they ran off together and got married but then he brought her back to California and it got worse. His parents were pretty well off and they were really angry that he’d married a penniless Indian woman. I guess they’d been hoping he’d marry someone in his own,” he hesitated … “class,” he said softly, sounding embarrassed for his mother’s sake.
“Sounds to me like he married someone above theirs,” Roy pointed out.
Johnny shot Roy a grateful look. “Yeah…I think so too… Anyway they disowned him so…they took off…went out on their own…she traveled with him the first year I guess but then I came along. My mom told him she didn’t want to raise a baby going from hotel room to hotel room so they decided that she should come back to the reservation where her family could help her with me…at least until my dad could afford to buy a house. He came home whenever he could.”
“Man…I guess I was about three when I first remember him comin home after being gone for weeks. We had to get to know each other all over again every time. He’d hold me, play with me…he even sang songs to me…,” Johnny chuckled softly… “My mom didn’t like some of them much…they weren’t exactly ah…nursery rhymes...they were songs he used to sing when he was in the army,” he said waggling an eyebrow suggestively at Roy.
Roy grinned, remembering the ditty’s they sang when he was in the military…they most certainly were not for children.
“He’d come in at night and read to me. He used to…,” The younger man hesitated blushing furiously.
“What Johnny…?” Roy questioned curiously.
“C’mon partner…,” The blonde paramedic urged.
“He ah…used to brush the hair off my face…like you do sometimes…,” he hesitated again, looking embarrassed. Roy grinned…“He used to tease me that my hair was too long and he couldn’t see my eyes…after he’d tuck me in he’d go into the living room and turn on the radio. I used to sneak out of bed and watch them from my room. He’d sing her mushy love songs and dance…she loved to dance with him. Their favorite song was Secret Love…He used to just gaze at her…I think he couldn’t believe how lucky he was…but then in a few days he’d be gone again,” Johnny said with a sigh.
When my father was away, my Grandfather and my Cousin Thomas used to take me out to the reservation ranch. They taught me to ride and use a rope.”
Roy nodded, remembering Johnny wanting to try his hand on the rodeo circuit. He smiled at the memory as Johnny hadn’t remembered that riding was something you had to keep up with or pay the price for it. Johnny had sat on a pillow for two days afterward.
Johnny saw the smirk and rolled his eyes at his partner, remembering how sore his behind had been and the good natured teasing that had followed. “I was roping sheep by the time I was five and calves by the time I was six…,” He said indignantly.
Roy chuckled at the tone. “I believe ya junior…I never doubted you for a minute,” Roy assured him.
“My grandfather taught me about the plants and the animals,tracking…what was edible, what could be used for medicines or weapons or even to hunt with.”
“You hunt…?” Roy asked in surprise. Johnny loved animals…though he put up a good front about it…pretending that they annoyed him.
“Well no…," he admitted. "I never was much good at that…My Grandfather said I was too soft hearted like my dad but I could do the other stuff alright.”
Roy had to admit he was impressed by John’s training…he’d watched him set up the camp with practiced ease. “Your Grandfather must have been proud of you…”
Johnny shook his head… “Not that he ever mentioned…but I was a prime target of those anthropologists I told you about. They loved to come out to watch the little half breed perform…see how I interacted with the others.” He flicked a glance at his partner, knowing how irritated Roy got with him when he used that term but his friend was watching him with a look of sadness…
“I’m sorry Junior,” Roy said softly.
“Aw don’t be Roy…It was a long time ago…the people from the reservation, my family…even the people from town called me that…I was used to it.”
“You shouldn’t have been Johnny…,” Roy said quietly. “No child should have to live like that.” He reached over and gently patted John’s shoulder.
John smiled at his friend…Roy loved to tease him along with the rest of the crew but when it came right to it…his friend always had an encouraging word…a reassuring touch of the hand. He continued on…“I can tell ya it was pretty confusing to me sometimes…I didn’t really belong to either world. I lived on the reservation and I was brought up to live like an Indian but they thought of me as white. When my Dad was home…I was Johnny Gage…white boy…playing baseball and football and singing silly songs and my family hated it…they expected me to live like an Indian…I don’t think I knew for sure what I was…” He shrugged. “I didn’t really belong…anywhere.”
“You belong here with me Junior…,” Roy told him sincerely.
“Thanks…,” he murmured in reply.
“One day when I was about five I guess, my dad and I were walking home from the ranch and this fire engine passed us…it was a Tiller Truck. I was so impressed…I told my dad I wanted to be a fireman like that man. He told me they were called Tiller men. I was really excited and I think he knew I meant it…he encouraged me but boy that really set my mom’s family off when they found out.”
“Why?” Roy asked in confusion. “They didn’t want you, why would they care if you became a fireman?”
Johnny shrugged… “It was a white man’s job and don’t tell Chet this but back then Roy, we didn’t leave our people… our culture…though it happens more frequently now… It caused a big fight…But then my dad reminded them that I was also half white. He threatened to take us back to California and they backed off. My Grandfather didn’t want him to take my mom away but I think it alienated them even more.He took me to a real fire station for my birthday that year, ” he said remembering the crew who'd befriended a five year old.
Johnny’s eyes were beginning to droop once again… “Get some rest Junior.” The younger man’s eyes drifted closed. Roy laid his hand on Johnny’s forehead, checking for any sign of fever and then gently swept John’s hair back, smoothing the shaggy, sable tangle from his forehead. Roy wasn’t sure if he should ask Johnny to continue. While he wanted his young friend to trust him enough to tell him everything …he also knew how hard it was for the younger man to open up about this difficult time in his life. He didn’t want to bring on the emotional stress that had toppled Johnny’s control less than four months ago. “What a lousy way to grow up Junior…,” Roy whispered to his sleeping friend.
Captain Stanley called the police to check for reports of accidents but they told him there had been none reported. They did agree to ask officers in the area to watch for Johnny’s old camper. He called the Ranger Station in San Gabriel and they promised to start a search…though Chet wasn’t certain they’d find the campsite…he was pretty sure John’s favorite spot was off the beaten track. Cap called the rest of the crew and they agreed to meet at his home…Chet said he was pretty sure he could lead them back to the place Gage had taken him that day to fish.
Joanne was pacing the living room with a fussy Jennifer held in her arms. “Well Jen…let’s hope the guy’s can bring your Daddy and your Uncle Johnny home safe,” she whispered as she stroked the blonde curls back then brushed her fingers through Chris’s hair as he watched TV on the couch… She looked upward… “Please God, bring them home safe.”
Johnny stirred a while later…his movement brought a sharp stab in his ribs…he gasped in pain. The sound woke Roy immediately. “Johnny… you okay?”
“Yeah…” He rolled his head to look at his friend.
“Keep your head still Junior…,” Roy instructed.
“How long have we been down here?”
About six hours…”
“You think Joanne’s called anyone yet?”
“I’m sure she’s at least called Cap by now. How’s your head feel?”
“It’s pounding…,” he admitted. “I ache all over but other than my ribs and my wrist…I don’t think I broke anything.”
“Can you still move your toes?”
“Yup…,” Johnny replied, wiggling his feet.
“Good…now lay still.”
“Um… unless you got a bed pan or a catheter in that back pack…I’m afraid I’m really gonna hafta move…it’s ah…been…um...and I gotta…” John trailed off, flushing in embarrassment.
“Gotcha…,” Roy sighed in frustration…he really hated letting him up before he was sure but trapped as they were, he really had no other option. He hoped that after all this time there would be some sign if there were a serious injury, but that the possibility was still there. “Okay Junior…but let’s do this real slow and careful alright?” He queried as he helped John to sit up.
Johnny’s face suddenly went white as dizziness washed through him. Nausea rose up in his stomach and he gagged, retching helplessly. Roy leaned him over and held his forehead until the spasms passed. “Okay now…?” A slow nod answered as Johnny gasped for air. “Can you kneel if I help you?”
“I think so…,” he panted.
Roy managed to help him to his feet and support him until John finished and then eased his pale, shaking partner back down. He rearranged his blankets and avoided looking at his partner’s reddened features until Johnny regained his dignity.
He retrieved the canteen and held it for Johnny to sip and then opened a can of beans. “Can you try and eat…?” The younger man nodded tiredly. They shared the food in silence. Setting the can aside…Roy looked back to his partner… “So junior….you wanted to be a fireman…?”
“Tillerman…,” Johnny corrected.
“Right…Tillerman…since you were…?”
“So then what happened?”
“I started school…I guess it was the first time in my life when I really understood prejudice…I mean up till then I just thought it was my family that didn’t like me…but it wasn’t. The kids in town harassed the kids from the reservation and the kids from the reservation didn’t like the kids from town… being the only Kid of mixed blood…I was a target for both sides. Even some of the teachers didn’t like the reservation kids. My mom and her family fought over it all the time. They told me I had to be strong and just tough it out but they blamed her for marrying a white man and having a half breed child…she cried all the time… I used to sit in my room and just cover my ears to block out the sounds. I mean my grandparents weren’t outwardly mean to me or anything….just indifferent ya know? Not like my other…” Johnny trailed off for a moment before continuing. “My other grandparents… but that was later.”
Roy shook his head in disgust. He loved his kids so much…he couldn’t imagine treating his children the way John described the verbal and emotional abuse they’d put his mother through. Browbeating and degrading her and their grandson…how could John believe that they weren’t mean? It was simply a different kind of abuse. John spoke about it so matter of fact that it broke Roy’s heart.
John’s softly voiced words pulled his attention back to the moment. “Sometimes after a few minutes…it was like I couldn’t hear them anymore and then the next thing I’d remember would be sitting on the floor with my mom. She’d be rocking me…she’d tell me dad would be home soon and it would get better. I never realized before why I couldn’t remember everything.”
“My Dad came home for almost a month that summer but he and my mom got into a huge fight with her family. I guess when he got home they were already there and he heard them yelling at my mom. He threw them out and found me in my room in my corner…I think that was the last straw…he told them he was taking us away. He claimed they were turning me into a basket case. The next day he moved us to a little town in California called Duarte.”
Roy nodded, he knew the place…it was only a short distance from where they were right now.
“It wasn’t that far from where Aunt Rosemary lived but I didn’t get to meet her then…her family was in Santa Barbara with her father in law. He was pretty sick…dying actually and they needed to be there. He tried to get his parents to meet me…,” Johnny shook his head. “But they were still angry about my dad and they wouldn’t see me.” John chewed his lip looking sad for a moment.
“Did you ever get to meet them?” Roy asked curiously, annoyed at these people who took their anger out on an innocent child.
“Yeah, once or twice…about seven years ago…”
“Oh…,” Roy murmured, he waited patiently but Johnny didn’t explain further…he continued to talk about his father.
“Anyway…my dad took me to the mountains, including this one. I fell in love with this place that year.”
Roy suddenly understood why Johnny came here so often. He felt close to his Dad here.
“I made a few friends here in Duarte. The kids here were a lot more open about me being half Indian…they thought it was pretty cool really. I…ah kinda started to give my parents fits…My Dad was home more often since he was based out of California and I was getting a bit outta hand ya know? But no matter what I did, I never remember him raising his voice to me. He was a great Dad. I mean don’t get me wrong…his hand connected with my behind a few times,” John said with a grin. “But he never yelled like the others did.” Johnny rolled his head toward Roy. “You remind me of him when you’re with Chris…they way you talk to him, teach him.”
“Thanks Johnny…,” Roy said softly as his hand came to rest on his partner’s head…his fingers gently sweeping the sable hair from his brow. John grinned up at him even as his face reddened at the familiar gesture.
“Anyway…,” he said trying to regain his composure… “I was getting to be a real handful…I mean the kids I was hangin out with were a couple of years older than me. They were into a lot of things that my parents weren’t too happy about. It was nothin serious…it was just kid stuff but we were sneakin out and runnin around the neighborhood…they were into smoking…and skipping school , sneaking a beer from their parents and drinking it.”
“Did you do that Johnny?” Roy asked in amusement.
“Nah…,” He said with a grin…. “They were eleven or twelve and I was only eight…they never let me have the stuff… but half the cops in town knew their names...and mine… I was a pretty dumb kid…and I just wanted to belong somewhere…they accepted me.”
Johnny’s lighthearted reminiscing suddenly turned somber. “One afternoon, me and my friend’s skipped school to go fishing…when I got home, there were two men there. My mom was crying…I…,” Johnny swallowed hard. “She just fell on her knees and wrapped her arms around me… Man I didn’t know what was goin on. I remember patting her back and lookin at those two guys, wonderin what they’d done to her, they gave me the creeps...she finally managed to tell me that my dad was dead…,” he whispered, swallowing hard. A single tear rolled down Johnny’s temple, he reached up and swiped it away.
“I’m so sorry Junior…,” Roy murmured softly. “How’d it happen?” He asked as his thumb continued the unconscious soothing motion across John’s forehead.
“There was an explosion and fire on one of the rigs…he got trapped and they couldn’t reach him in time.”
“Okay Johnny…I think that’s enough…you don’t need to tell me anymore…,” Roy said softly as he reached to wipe a tear off his own cheek.
Johnny turned dark eyes toward his friend… “Yeah Roy…I really think I do.”
The older man realized that this might well be the release his friend did need. To finally talk to someone about all that he’d been through. Roy found it difficult to listen to but at the same time he was relieved that Johnny had regained enough trust to let him be the one he confided in and had chosen to share a part of himself he’d never talked about with anyone else.
It was getting late and the sun had set. There would be no rescue after dark even if someone were looking for them right now. Roy knew they’d be spending the night on their uncomfortable perch. Johnny seemed to be holding it together as long as he didn’t move around too much. Every time they’d tried to move him the result had been dizziness and violent nausea. His head and rib cage seemed to be the worst.
Roy had opened a can of soup and mixed it with a little water. It was cold but edible and he’d managed to get some of it into Johnny, hoping he could keep it down. One canteen was empty… the other still held enough to see them through the night but Roy could see the beginning signs of dehydration in his young partner. He said a quick prayer that rescuers would arrive soon.
After Johnny had been resettled for the night, he once again picked up the story. “You bored with this yet…?” He asked.
“What…? Hangin out on this ledge or listening to you talk about your past?”
“Both I guess.”
“Well…while I’d much rather be hearing this story with you safely in a hospital bed, hooked to an IV of ringers…,” Roy patted his shoulder and Johnny gave him a half smile in return… “I wouldn’t miss this story for the world.”
John continued… “After my dad died I really don’t remember the next few days or even the funeral…,” He said sadly. “I guess I musta been away,” he explained using their personal code term for when Johnny had withdrawn from Aspergers.
“Understandable,” Roy told him.
“I guess…Afterwards my mom got a job in Duarte as a seamstress. Man, I hardly ever saw her anymore. She worked piecework so the more hours she put in the more money she could make, which still wasn’t much. She came home so tired but even then she always tried to make some time for me.”
“She musta loved you a lot,” Roy commented.
Johnny nodded. “After I confessed to spying on her and dad when they danced together, she taught me how…so when she came home at night we’d dance in the kitchen and she’d laugh when I stepped on her toes,” he grinned.
“I’ve never seen you dance,” Roy interrupted.”I didn’t know you could.”
“Yeah, well after she died I never did again.”
“Anyway …it was about a year…I think I was almost ten and the money dad had left was gone and she couldn’t make enough to pay the mortgage…The bank was gonna take everything we had so she took her last paycheck and loaded us on a bus for Lame Deer. We had to move in with her sister Lacee and her husband Joseph. They weren’t real happy about it. They had three kids of their own and I ended up sleeping in the living room with my Cousin Thomas while my mom had to share the room with their girls.”
Roy shook his head at the way Johnny had had to live. He’d often thought that he’d had it rough as a child growing up but compared to his friend, he’d lived pretty well. Sometimes you had to see it from someone else’s perspective to realize how much you really had… “What happened then Johnny?”
“Man that wasn’t a good tme in my life. They fought constantly...mostly over me I think...I could never understand how she put up with her sister and managed to stay so sweet and keep a smile for me but she always said I had to learn to forgive others their faults if I wanted mine forgiven...,” he said trying to smile.
Roy smiled back…It was a lesson his partner had learned well…for all of his nuttiness, his partner was the most forgiving person Roy had ever met… His being here with Johnny was proof of that.
“My Mom got a job as a waitress in Lame Deer and she worked every hour they’d give her to try and get us a place of our own. When she wasn’t working, she was worrying about me…My Aunt used to watch me while she worked and… well… I tended to get on her nerves I guess…She blamed me for everything that went wrong…I mean everything…If it rained outta season it was my fault… She told me if my dad hadn’t come along my Mom would have married Blue Eagle and been the wife of a tribal leader. She’d have never had to struggle like this. That if I hadn’t been born she might still have found someone but no man would have her now because of me.”
Roy shifted around to look at his young friend. He recognized the look of shame on his face. “Johnny don’t do this to yourself… from what you’re telling me your mom and dad were totally in love with each other… she might never have had to struggle but she wouldn’t have been happy either… Johnny her happiness was centered around your father and you…understand?”
John’s dark eyes turned to his partner as he chewed his lip…once again Roy had managed to say the words Johnny desperately needed to hear right now. He gave a small nod.
“So why was she worried about you.”
“I was zoning out a lot…failing in school and she couldn’t figure out why…she didn't know I had AS...I'm sure of it...I mean, we didn't have the money for Doctors. ”
“But you only do that when your really...emotionally stressed...Do you know why you were zoning out …? Can you tell me…?”
He nodded after a minute…“I guess it was because my Aunt hit me… a lot…I mean up until then I’d never experienced anything like that ya know? I mean my dad had popped my butt once in a while and I had a teacher who smacked my hands with a ruler but…she used to slap me…hard…,” Johnny reached to touch his face. “I was in shock the first time…no one had ever hit me in the face like that, ya know?” Roy had heard this before a couple of months ago… “I guess it scared me ...I just... went away…”
“You didn’t tell your mom?”
“I was afraid to…though she saw the handprint on my cheek that first time and went off. I never saw my mother yell at anyone until then. She told her never to hit me again but Aunt Lacee threatened to throw us out…she…we had nowhere to go ya know…so she had to practically beg her not to hurt me…,”He shrugged. “She did anyway…”
“God, I’m so sorry Johnny…”
He shrugged… “You still wanna hear this?”
Roy didn’t…his heart was aching and he was angry, but now he truly believed that Johnny needed to talk about it, so he smiled through gritted teeth. “I still wanna hear this,” he reassured him.
“I don’t remember a lot of what happened but I know we were both missing my dad a lot. Sometimes I’d hear my mom sneak out in the middle of the night…and I’d follow her. She’d be out on the porch talkin to dad you know…? I’d just go sit with her and she’d hold me…she’d tell me how much she missed him…how much I reminded her of him. Sometimes if she wasn’t too tired she’d still turn on the radio and dance with me…my favorite song was April Love…” John blushed at the admission. “I think it was her way of hanging on to him too…She never got over him.”
John grew quiet for a few minutes and Roy sensed that Johnny was coming to something really hard to talk about. He waited patiently, glancing at the moon overhead and listening to the quiet sounds of the wildlife all around them. Johnny finally began to speak once again.
“I was still struggling in school…I missed a lot of time cause I was out of it so much then…days sometimes and when I was there…well there I was back in a town that didn’t like the Indians. I was small for my age and so the other kids picked on me about that too. I ended up with a lot of nosebleeds and black eyes. My mom used to get really upset and she’d cry…but my Grandfather told me to be tough…don’t cry…be a man…ya know? Sometimes it got really bad…”
Roy’s heart was breaking as Johnny grew quiet once more…his blue eyes filled with compassion as they turned toward John…He thought he’d fallen asleep until he saw the tears rolling freely down his young friends cheeks. Roy knew what was coming.
“One day I noticed that my mom was losing weight…,” he snorted in disgust. “I mean a lot of it...and she was small to begin with…I was just a kid and I didn’t think to ask about it.” Johnny sounded bitter, almost angry with himself.
Roy’s hand once again rested on Johnny’s head. His hand smoothing the sable hair from his friend’s forehead in a comforting gesture… “Johnny you were what ten…eleven...?” Roy interjected. “That’s nothing a kid would pick up on. I don’t think Chris would and I know I wouldn’t have.”
“I should have known there was something wrong…done something…I…”
“How…?” Roy turned his friends face until he was looking at him.”You were a kid Johnny…a kid with a severe emotional disorder…being raised in a dysfunctional family. Give yourself a break here junior. Quit beatin yourself up for something that you couldn’t possibly have known.”
“No…,” Roy interrupted again, frustrated with his young partner’s determination to carry this guilt. “She was probably hiding it from you. She didn’t want you to know. Your mom loved you and she didn’t want to burden her already traumatized child with that load too. Please Johnny, don’t carry that burden…she didn’t want you too…I don’t want you too…besides, even if you had known …could you have done anything? Would it have changed the outcome?” Roy asked.
“No…,” Johnny admitted softly.
John turned his tear streaked face toward his friend as he swiped the wetness from his cheeks. “I’m sorry Roy…,” he began, embarrassed by the tears… but Roy cut him off.
“Don’t ever apologize for feeling Junior.”
Johnny grew quiet for a few minutes and Roy thought he’d gone as far as he could go with his story. He patted John’s shoulder. “Get some sleep Junior,” he said softly. John’s eyes closed.
Captain Stanley, Chet, Marco and Mike had loaded up Captain Stanley’s station wagon. They brought along anything they could think of that they might need for a search and rescue. Cap had called B shifts Captain Hookrader to inform him that A shift might be late and why. The older Captain understood the closeness of this team…even envied it just a bit. Hookrader assured him they’d stay as long as necessary
Chet had gotten lost twice before he finally directed them into the right parking area. They spotted Gage’s camper immediately, unfortunately by that time it was so dark there was no way they could find their way to Johnny’s camp site. They got comfortable in the car…prepared to set out at first light.
Johnny and Roy dozed for about an hour…Roy had kept Johnny awake and talking off and on all day and had pretty much decided that Johnny’s head injury wasn’t as severe as he’d first thought. His biggest concern was now the broken ribs. He was prepared to let the younger man sleep through the night but when Johnny began tossing restlessly he grew concerned about him further injuring his ribs. Roy shook his partner awake.
“Wake up Junior,” he urged gently. Johnny’s eyes snapped open along with a startled gasp. “You okay?” Roy asked.
John ran his hand over his eyes, trying to clear the last of the dream from his brain. He glanced at Roy… “Nightmare I guess. Man…Roy I ache all over. You think I can sit up for a while?”
“Okay Junior.” Roy got up and helped his partner into a sitting position.
John fought off the nausea movement seemed to bring. Johnny glanced at the moon overhead… “Must be around midnight…,” the younger man commented. “You think anyone’s lookin for us yet?”
“I’m sure they are,” Roy replied. “But I think we’re both gonna be late for work in the morning.”
Johnny grinned at his friend. “I guess we’re both in for latrine duty huh?” Johnny sat quietly for a long time. Roy peered over in the darkness to see if he’d nodded off again.
“You awake Partner?”
“Yeah, just thinkin…”
“What you said earlier…about not carrying the guilt that I didn’t realize she was sick.”
“And was I right?”
Johnny sighed and looked his friend. “Probably but…I’ve carried it for so long…I don’t know if I can put it down.”
Even knowing that it was an emotional strain on Johnny, Roy knew John had to finish this story. He’d never talked this out with anyone before. He’d carried it alone for a very long time. This was therapy of sorts … Roy wasn’t trained in psychology but he’d spoken at length about John to a therapist a couple of months back and had contacted her a couple of times since then for advice. She'd told him there would come a time when John would trust him enough to tell him about what they'd done to him...Roy just hadn't expected it to be so soon...especially after what he'd done...He wished he could call her now but that wasn’t an option…he just hoped he didn’t screw this up.
“Tell me the rest Junior…”
“You sure pally…?”
John watched Roy for a long moment. “Thanks Roy…”
“For what Junior…?”
“Bein my friend…listening to me…stickin with me even when I’m bein a pain or doin…well you know...doin what I did a few months ago.” He looked away in embarrassment.
“John stop it…,” Roy said sternly. “I had a hand in what you did a few months ago if you recall. You have nothing to be embarrassed about or to thank me for. What you went through as a child might have driven a weaker person over the edge.” Roy reached over and gripped his friends chin, turning his young partner’s face toward him. “Please don’t thank me for being your friend. It’s something I enjoy being okay? I’ll always be there partner…I promised you that a few months ago and I meant it.”
Johnny gave a slight nod and then continued his story…Roy bit his lip knowing that the worst was yet to come. “It wasn’t long after I noticed how thin my mom had gotten that she really got sick. She had to quit her job. My Aunt Lacee really had a field day then…we were completely dependent on her.”
Johnny glanced up at Roy with a frown. “I could never figure out how someone as sweet and gentle as my mother could be related to someone as bitter as my Aunt Lacee and man she really had it in for me.”
Roy nodded his agreement…He wondered how someone like Johnny could be related to her as well.
“My mom tried to keep up a good front for me for a long time...but she was getting weaker every day and pretty soon it was obvious how sick she was...Even I finally understood…that she was dying…she had cancer. There was no more dancing or singing or laughing…,” he whispered. “She talked more and more about going to be with my dad…I think she wanted to die. Even leaving me behind didn’t matter anymore. She was ready…but I wasn’t.”
John’s voice cracked and his breath caught with a hitch…but he recovered….She died just before my twelfth birthday. I didn’t know anything could hurt more than losing my dad ya know? I just held her and screamed…and then I don’t remember anything.” There was a long pause… “I don’t remember her funeral…,” he gasped. Roy heard the plaintive cry of a grieving child in his friend’s voice. He glanced over to see tears once more coursing down John’s cheeks, while he tried furiously to scrub them away.
Roy didn’t hesitate…he edged closer to his partner and reached out to pull him into his arms…stroking the dark head soothingly. Roy felt the gentle rocking motion that usually accompanied Johnny’s stressed emotional state. “It’s okay Junior…just let it out,” Roy whispered.
“How can I not remember that…? She was my Mother…,” He choked out.
“Johnny…it was an extremely difficult time for you. I’m sure you went away…that’s why you don’t remember. You had no control over it then…not like you do now.” Roy was concerned that his friends’ fragile emotional state could end that control again…the tell tale rock was a warning sign.
He desperately wanted to keep Johnny talking…to keep him focused and keep him from sliding away but would asking him to continue talking about his past make it worse or heal the hurt? Sometimes Roy wished for a P.H.D. in psychology to deal with his young friend.
Most people saw Johnny as a vivacious, carefree spirit but only Johnny’s closest friends new about the Aspergers Syndrome and they kept it carefully secret and made sure to never let the stress overwhelm their youngest crew member but Roy was the only one who knew the deepest secrets of Johnny’s troubled past.
Johnny finally sat up and wiped his face on his sleeve. “Sorry about that pally…,” Johnny murmured in embarrassment.
“What did I tell you about that?”
“No apologies for feeling right…?”
“Anyway I don’t remember how long I was gone that time but when I came back, things were pretty bleak. My Aunt continually told me I was crazy or stupid…she blamed me for my Mom's death...she used to ask me why couldn’t I have just died with my Mom… I remember thinkin that I wish I had too…to be with my Parents…ya know?”
The thought of any child wishing they were dead tore at Roy’s heart, even more so because it was Johnny.
“I missed so much school that I was way behind the others but the school in Lame Deer passed me through anyway…,” he said with a shrug… “I guess they figured I’d just end up a poor, drunk Indian anyway…so they didn’t worry about really educating me…just getting rid of me.”
“One day when I was thirteen, my Uncle Joseph lost his job...He blamed me and he went after me...Grandfather was told that if he hurt me again, they'd take me away…He got pretty upset over it and they took me with him…then it went from bad to worse.”
Roy’s blue eyes narrowed, suddenly knowing where this was going and unsure of whether or not to let him tell him about that right now…it was so draining for his friend and it tore at Roy as well when Johnny was upset or hurting… He tensed slightly as Johnny began to voice Roy's suspicions... he decided to let the younger man go on but he wasn’t sure who would find it more difficult…him or Johnny.
Johnny had grown silent…his eyes grew distant and for a moment Roy was afraid he’d slipped away but he finally drew a shuddering breath and continued with his story. “They took me to my Aunt Mase and Uncle George. My mother was afraid of him and she’d always made sure I wasn’t alone with him…she was stubborn about it…he’d offered a number of times to watch me…but she wouldn’t have it. I didn’t know why at first but then he...started touching me...I didn't know what he was doing but…I knew he scared me and the way he looked at me…” Johnny shrugged.
Roy looked at his friend…looking for any sign that this was going to be too much for him to talk about but he seemed in control.
“He was a cruel man…you could see it in his eyes…I think he enjoyed hurting people and not just me ya know? Other people were afraid of him…even the people in Lame Deer steered clear. He used to tell me I was never gonna be anything…I once asked him if that meant I was gonna be like him…I thought he was gonna beat me to death that time…I guess I deserved that one.” He threw Roy a rueful glance.
“You didn’t deserve it… No child deserves what was done to you Junior…,” Roy assured him softly.
“I don’t really remember a lot of the time I spent there…I was out of it most of the time…but I think I spent most of it hiding or just trying to be sure there was someone else around…I learned to run when I saw him comin…he couldn’t catch me…but sometimes I couldn’t get away and he hurt me…I thought I passed out or something…I never knew what was happening…, I just knew I’d wake up locked up or black and blue or he’d be shaking the hell out of me and screaming at me… I d...don’t know how many b...bones he broke but…,” Johnny was gasping slightly as he went on and Roy was concerned that he would pull into himself. He wasn’t sure he could handle this himself.
“Johnny stop…you don’t need to tell me any more…,” Roy insisted.
John continued as if he hadn’t heard… “He caught me alone one n...night…I guess he’d h...had enough and decided this was it ya know? B...but…I was so scared…I got sick…,” his voice hitched. “He was so angry…I think he meant to kill me…He almost beat me to death…,” he whispered.
Roy reached over to comfort his friend but Johnny flinched away at the motion. “Johnny, are you okay?”
John’s eyes were fixed on his hands for a long moment but he finally raised his head… “Yeah…yeah…I’m okay…I’m sorry Roy,” he mumbled.
“Don’t be…you can tell me anything, I’ll understand…you know that…it’s okay as long as you’re alright.” Roy once again reached out to sweep the dark hair from his friends face…Johnny didn’t pull back this time.
“My Aunt came home and found me…she called Sun Walker…I guess the only good thing was that my Grandfather finally realized that my injuries weren’t being caused by my... ‘crazy spells’ like my Uncle always tried to claim and he took me home with him. Things got better after that. I did better in school…I almost never went away…but then... a couple of months later my Grandmother died and my Grandfather kinda went to pieces without her. He couldn’t handle my being there I guess so, he sent me to live with another cousin and her husband. They were pretty annoyed at my being dumped on them but at least they didn't hurt me. They basically ignored me…they just went off and left me most of the time… I think it was the final straw…I can’t even remember my time there…”
“I was fourteen when my Grandfather became ill…It was just like what happened to my mother…He just didn’t want to live without my Grandmother. He wrote to my Fathers parents to tell them that my mom was dead and they should come and get me…” Johnny looked away. “They refused…they ah…told him they didn’t want me.”
Roy shook his head in disgust… “I’m so sorry Junior.”
“Ah…don’t be…I didn’t even know them…But my Aunt Rosemary found out about it and she showed up in Montana about a week before my Grandfather died. She brought me back to California…I think Uncle George was pretty angry…I think he was planning on taking me back when Grandfather died…I heard him tell my Cousin that.”
Roy noticed that Johnny was sweating slightly…he laid his hand on John’s forehead and felt the warmth of a low grade fever. “Okay Junior, why don’t you stop for a while…?” He suggested, reaching for the canteen of water.
“You gettin tired?” Johnny asked.
“No, but I want you to try and drink some of this …,” Roy told him as he carefully raised Johnny’s head and held the container to his lips.
“Kay…,” he agreed, sipping the water.
“A little more…,” Roy prompted.
“There’s not much left…”
“You let me worry about that…go ahead and drink it.”
“But Roy…,” he began to argue.
Johnny’s dark eyes managed an impressive roll of exasperation but he drank the water.
“Are you tired…you want to rest?” Roy asked.
“Alright…so tell me about your Aunt…”
“It was a really rough time for her…My Uncle Geoffrey died just after she came for me…but that didn’t stop her. Man she was good to me. I mean I know for almost a year she really had her hands full. I mean here I was living with strangers and I was terrified…She couldn’t get me to really talk to her for weeks…I was still so meesed up from what my uncle had done to me that I wouldn’t let anyone touch me… but she was so patient…She just kept trying. She took me to every doctor in San Gabriel…she held me while I fought her…she cried with me through the nightmares. She went through speech therapy with me…she was terrific. Once I finally started to come around she hired a tutor to get me back to ninth grade levels...he really pushed me but by the time school started I was back on track with the other kids.”
“She sounds really special…,” Roy told him.
“She spent a lot of time working with me and I'd told her about my dream of being a fireman…”
“Tillerman…,” Roy corrected.
“Nope…by then I’d changed my mind. After my Father was killed I changed my mind…I wanted to be more hands on…involved ya know?”
Roy looked at his young partner knowingly…It was pretty clear why he’d changed his career choice. He wanted to be able to go in and get the victims out so no other child…no mom or wife would get that kind of news if John could stop it…He understood now why Johnny took the loss of his victims so personally…why they hit him so hard and why he risked his own safety to complete a rescue…it’s what drove him.
My Aunt never gave up on me even though I fought her. She did finally stop pushing me into family gatherings but she always encouraged me, no matter what it was I wanted to try. I don’t think I ever heard a negative word and man…she spoiled me rotten…,” He said with a small grin.
Roy smiled back almost in relief that the worst parts of John’s life seemed to be past. “How did she spoil you Junior…?” Roy asked
“If I so much as showed an interest in something she’d buy it…”
“Anything…Horses...Skateboards…Mini Bike…Bowling Balls…you name it…” John frowned… “You know…I think I owe her a phone call to apologize…”
“I don’t think I ever really thanked her for all she did…sometimes I even rejected it…but I was so afraid of becoming a burden…” John shrugged uncomfortably. “I was so screwed up…I guess I was afraid she’d get tired of me and send me away too ya know?”
“I know…,” Roy said softly.
John glanced toward his friend at the quietly voiced answer…knowing the older man understood him better than anyone ever had. “Anyway…I started doing better in school…and I only had a couple of more episodes during that first two years and then they went away completely. I never remembered anything so I was completely unaware of what was happening except that I lost some time occasionally and Aunt Rose never said anything about what the Doctors had found out and she finally stopped taking me to them…I guess that was when she found out I had AS and that there wasn’t much they could do.”
“So high school was pretty good for you then?” Roy asked, hoping that the story could only get better from here.
“Well I was still pretty withdrawn then so I didn’t make too many friends but I did join the track team that first year. ”
“Yeah..? Were you any good?”
“Not bad…The track coach happened to see me one day just…ya know…horsing around with this other guy…Gil…he asked me to try out…” John shrugged. “And Gil talked me into it. I still wasn’t gonna but there was a girl…Mary Lynn...”
Roy grinned… “When isn’t there…? So what was your event?”
“What was your time…?”
“48.3…the school paper even dubbed me with a nickname…”
“What was it…?” Roy asked curiously.
Johnny blushed scarlet… “Uh…never mind…”
“Come on…,” Roy urged.
“Um…well…they uh…called me the uh…galloping greyhound…,” Johnny mumbled.
Roy laughed at his partner’s embarrassed look, giving him a playful scruff of the head but then he frowned...He had a vague recollection of having heard that name before.
“Cut it out…,” Johnny said grumpily, pulling his attention back to him. “Didn’t you ever go out for anything…?”
“Yeah swimming…but they didn’t call me any nicknames like that one,” he teased.
“I guess fish don’t gallop too well…,” Johnny sniped. Roy chuckled back.
“Anyway…,” Johnny began, trying to change the subject. “That was the year my Aunt gave me my camera for Christmas and the school paper signed me up to take pictures. The teacher encouraged me and taught me a lot about photography.”
“He teach you to stand on loose boulders to get a shot?”
“Nah…that was my own variation of action photography…,” Johnny replied with a grin. “But that was also the year I finally met my other Grandparents. I think they were shocked at how much I reminded them of my father and they were pretty uptight over me wanting to go into fire fighting…especially after my dad was killed in a fire.” He shrugged… “Anyway they made it pretty obvious that they weren’t really interested in getting to know me.”
“Then they were fools…,” Roy stated sincerely.
Johnny looked at him in shock… “What?”
“Then they were fools,” Roy repeated. He turned so that he was looking his young partner straight in the face. “They missed out on the most special gift their son ever gave them.”
Johnny raised his dark eyes to meet Roy’s gentle blue… “You really believe that?” The younger man asked softly. ‘’
Johnny grinned broadly. “Thanks…”
“You never saw them again?”
“Once or twice…It was more like meeting friends of my Aunts than family…they were killed in a car accident when I was eighteen…the week before I graduated from the academy.”
Roy shook his head…It was just one thing after another for John…no wonder he was afraid of losing everyone…he seemed to move from one tragedy to another.
“So what happened to your friend?”
“My friend…? Oh you mean Gil? We weren’t close friends exactly…I was still too shy and he was just someone who was nice to me. We just hung out once in a while like on the bus rides to meets and stuff. He taught me to ride a motorbike and his dad taught me how to work on engines. I told him I wanted to be a fireman once…he thought that was pretty cool…said it was something he might look into himself…but then his dad sold his shop and they moved to LA so…” John shrugged. “I lost track of him…it just seemed to be easier not to try and get close to anyone ya know?”
Roy squinted into the darkness...it was no small wonder John tried to keep his distance from everyone…he was just glad his young friend had made the choice to let him in. He wouldn’t have missed this friendship for anything…
“When I hit my sophomore year and I met this guy Drew…Drew Burke and his girlfriend Pam Henson…they were a year or so older than me…seniors…They were like you and Jo though….they’d known each other forever and they just knew they belonged together. Anyway…they took pity on me and started hooking me up with dates and stuff. Drew tried to pull me out of my shell but…,” Johnny grinned… “He wasn’t as tenacious as you were…and it was just too ingrained in me not to trust anyone ya know…? But man…we sure did get into some trouble.” Johnny grinned at the memory.
Roy wondered what Johns friend would think of him now…he grinned to himself as John continued.
“Then one night we got caught…I mean we were just out after curfew but the cop was really cool about it…after that Drew had his heart set on being a cop. He was really impressed. We argued a lot over who’s got the most dangerous job…I haven’t seen them in a long time though…I probably should call them.” John’s eyes were drooping tiredly.
“You tired Junior?”
“Get some sleep then…,” Roy said as he helped his friend lay down and pulled the blanket over him. They both drifted off soon after.
Dawn was barely lighting the sky when Roy woke again. He glanced over at Johnny as his partner stirred restlessly beside him. He reached over to lay his hand on his friend’s forehead and was relieved to find that his temperature hadn’t gotten much worse. Roy hoped someone would show up soon as they were now almost out of food and water. He didn’t want to have to leave Johnny alone but he’d have no option if help didn’t show up soon.
The vomiting and low grade fever had left Johnny dehydrated and weakened and as if on cue… his partner woke with a start. He struggled to sit up as he began to retch helplessly…he gasped in pain as his ribs protested the rapid movement. Roy quickly rolled him on his side to keep him from aspirating… holding his young friends head until he was done. He carefully eased him onto his back and wiped his friends face with a piece off his torn tee shirt. He raised John’s head and gave him a sip of water to rinse his mouth before allowing him to drink the remaining water. Roy opened the last can of soup and coaxed him to drink some…hoping he could keep it down.
Johnny finally rolled his head toward his friend… “Sorry…,” he murmured.
“It’s okay as long as you are.”
“I’m okay…Can I sit up?”
“I think you should sleep some more junior.”
“I’m not tired…besides I feel better when I sit up…”
“Okay partner…let me help you.” Roy helped John to sit up, propping him back against the cliff face. They watched the sky lighten before the older man looked over at his friend. John looked tired but he tried to encourage his partner with a wan smile.
“I’ll be okay Roy…really.”
Hoping to take his friends mind off of how bad he was feeling, Roy looked at his partner. “Ready to finish your story Junior…?” Johnny nodded.
Captain Stanley woke the others as the sun was coming up. They quickly gathered their gear and grabbed their backpacks. “Lead on Chet…” Cap gave Kelly a gentle push in the direction of the trail head.
“Try not to get us lost…,” Marco added.
“Yeah…,” Mike agreed. “I’d hate to have someone out lookin for us too.”
“Real funny guys…,” Chet whined as they headed up the path.
“Well, let’s see…Where did I leave off?” he asked…
“Drew and Pam…,” Roy urged. He’d heard Johnny refer to them before but he’d never met the couple.
“Oh yeah…They graduated ahead of me and they got married that summer. Then he went to the police academy. I graduated the following June and then went straight to Fire Fighter training in September. I was a lineman for the first year at 8’s… I had a friend there named Jim…Jim Wright. He kinda broke me in…but I was really fascinated by the Rescue Squad and I really wanted to give it a try…so I asked Jim and he told me I needed some extra training…I decided I wanted to try it.”
Roy was surprised at the mild twinge of jealousy he felt while his best friend spoke of the other lineman… “You never talked about Jim before…how come?”
“He’s dead…He ah…got killed fighting a fire. I was nineteen…He um…saved my life…the roof collapsed and he knocked me down…threw himself over me…”
Roy shook his head in frustration for his friend…Good God did the kid have to lose everyone he cared about? His parents, Jim the eleven year old boy Tommy that had worked his way to John's heart and then died froma brain tumor. It just was't right. No wonder he cut himself off from everything…and everyone.
“They pulled me out with only a concussion …Jim wasn’t so lucky…his wife blamed me…”
“I’m sorry Junior…that wasn’t fair,” he said softly, feeling guilty for being jealous. He wished Johnny had been able to keep his friend.
John shook his head. “I swore never again…I was never gonna let anyone close again. It just hurt too much when they went away. I even stopped hanging out with Drew and Pam…I went into rescue training the following week and then transferred to 10’s when I finished. I was there for a year when Chief Conrad told me about a new program called the paramedics…I didn’t want any part of it. I liked what I was doin ya know…but then I lost a victim that I shoulda been able to save…That’s when I changed my mind and I came in to check it out…”
“And you met me.”
Johnny grinned at him… “Yeah…and I had no intention of getting close to you either…,” he said ruefully, remembering his first weeks with Roy and how hard he’d tried to keep him at arms’ length and how hard his friend had had to work to tear down those walls he’d built around his life.
Roy smiled at him. “But you had other plans…,” Johnny finished quietly. Roy reached over to flick the hair from John’s face. The younger man looked over at him. “I was still so scared of losing another friend ya know?”
Johnny frowned and grew quiet as he remembered how close he’d come to losing Roy…not to death but to a stupid misunderstanding…and how afraid he still was that something would happen and he’d lose Roy too.
Roy was remembering as well. He remembered Captain Hammer telling him that Johnny had said he’d made a mistake and let someone too close…that he’d never make that mistake again. Roy thanked God that Johnny had been able to forgive him and that he hadn’t lost his friend forever… that their friendship had not only been restored but had grown even stronger…he didn’t know what he’d do without Johnny now…despite the fact that he occasionally drove him nuts.
He loved this young man like a brother and he understood why Johnny did the things he did…why he got hurt so often…why he was so afraid of losing another friend…of facing another angry wife…and that it had almost happened again in the first six months of their partnership but Johnny had been there…he’d been the one to throw himself over his partner and save Roy’s life. This story explained so much about John Gage’s little quirks…
He never complained of injuries because he’d been told it was weak and he had to be tough. That he covered the sensitive spirit with false bravado so no one would know how bad he hurt inside. His forgiving nature…his fear of being close to anyone…his need to help others…and his fear of being a burden to the people in his life…that somehow his mere existence had brought on the abuse and loss he’d suffered through as a child and on into adulthood. A burden which Johnny had unfairly carried the guilt for his whole life. Guilt that he’d shouldered yet again when Roy had been angry with him…even though he’d done nothing wrong…Johnny just automatically assumed he was at fault…and he was being punished for it…Roy shook his head at his own foolishness… he’d come so close to losing his best friend.
Roy glanced at his partner…his dark eyes were closed and Roy had the feeling that finishing this story had had a cathartic effect on his friend. Johnny had finally shared his burden with someone and he felt at peace.
“You’ve had it really rough junior but I’m gonna change that for you…I’ll be there for you junior…no matter what…I promise.” Johnny’s head slowly slipped to Roy’s shoulder as he drifted deeper into sleep. A slight smile curled his mouth. He’d heard his friends voice…he was safe. Roy could feel the heat from his friends skin through his shirt…Johnny’s fever had climbed.
The crew of station 51 broke through the trees into the clearing. “This is the place Cap, I’m sure of it.”
“That’s what you said about the last two places…,” Cap growled.
“Cap look…,” Mike pointed to the tent. They ran over to it …
“Roy …John…,” Hank yelled out.
Marco saw the rope… “Cap look at this…,” he said as he ran to lift the line.
The four men moved to the edge, peering carefully over. They saw Roy and Johnny on the narrow ledge. Both were asleep...John’s head rested on his partners shoulder.
“Roy…John…,” Cap called. He was rewarded with a sudden jerk from the older man who carefully held Johnny as he turned to look up at his crew mates.
“Oh thank God…,” Roy murmured. “Hurry Cap…Johnny’s hurt and we need to get him outta here,” he shouted up. Johnny stirred…his head tossed restlessly. “Easy junior…,” Roy soothed. “We’re gonna get you outta here.”
“Where’s he hurt…?” Cap hollered down.
“Broken ribs…sprained knee…broken wrist…probably a concussion. He’s a bit feverish and he’s been vomiting…He’s getting dehydrated.”
“Okay pal…just hang tight and we’ll get you both outta there.”
“Johnny…,” Roy lightly shook his partner. “Wake up junior…the Cavalry has arrived.”
The younger man looked confused for a moment and then leaned his head back to see Chet slowly climbing down the rope.
Johnny groaned… “Oh God…I’ve died and gone to hell…” Roy chuckled in amusement.
“Hey pal how ya doin…?”
“I’m dead…,” Johnny murmured.
“Nothin Chet…I’m just really not feelin too well.”
“How about you Roy…?”
“I’m fine…just worried about Johnny…We need to get him outta here. ”
“His back okay…? I mean…is it safe to move him?”
“Yeah it’s his ribs that concern me…there’s just no way to move him without hurting him unless we go back to the parking area and call a squad…,” Roy suggested.
“That’s another hour or more.”
“I think we should chance it…he’s already been out here too long as it is.”
Hearing a scraping sound from up above, Chet grinned. “Just so happens that Cap borrowed the extra stokes from the station before we headed out.”
“Rank hath its privilege…,” Roy commented.
“Yeah…well knowing Gage like we do…we thought we might need it.”
“That’s real good thinkin Chet…,” Johnny muttered, refusing to give the Irishman the victory by getting upset about the crack. Roy grinned at them both. The two of them managed to lift Johnny into the stokes despite the narrowness of their perch.
Roy covered his partner with the sleeping bags and strapped him in. Chet climbed back up the rope and helped pull Johnny up while Roy anchored it from below to keep it from swinging into the cliff face. After Johnny was safely at the top…they quickly pulled Roy to safety. The men grabbed the stokes and headed up the trail.
An hour later they reached the parking area. Cap dropped the seats and they quickly loaded Johnny inside. Chet and Marco agreed to drive John’s camper back while the rest climbed in with Hank.
“Where to Roy…Rampart or the hospital in San Gabriel…?”
“San Gabriel…,” Roy said
“Rampart…,” Johnny murmured at the same time.
“Johnny it’s almost an hour to Rampart and you need attention now…”
A mutinous pout settled on the younger man’s face and Roy sighed in exasperation. “Rampart Cap and could you please hurry…?”
Fifty minutes later Captain Stanley backed into the Emergency bay at Rampart. Mike Stoker ran inside, grabbing a gurney…he spotted Dixie coming down the hall… “Miss McCall?”
She looked blankly at him for a moment before she recalled who he was. “Mike Stoker…51…,” she stated.
“What can I do for you?”
“It’s Johnny…he’s in the car and he’s hurt…”
Dixie reached out and stopped a passing nurse. “Sally… Page Dr. Brackett to Emergency stat…set up treatment room four.” She grabbed Mike’s arm and steered him along with the gurney out to the entrance. Chet and Marco had arrived and they were helping Cap and a bedraggled Roy pull Johnny from the back of the wagon, laying the stokes on the gurney…they hustled him inside.
They helped transfer Johnny from the stokes to the exam table as Kel pushed through the doorway with Joe Early on his heels. He glanced at Roy…saw his disheveled appearance and his eyes snapped toward the table. “Roy, what happened?” He asked as he moved to John’s side and began to check the young man over.
“He fell from a cliff Doc…about fifteen…twenty feet…broke his wrist and at least a couple of ribs on his left side. His knee is twisted but I don’t think it’s broken. He got a good bang on the back of his head but he’s been awake and coherent since yesterday morning. He’s been vomiting and he began running a low grade fever early this morning…he was showing the beginning signs of dehydration…he passed out in the car about ten minutes ago.”
Kel, as always was impressed by Roy’s skills. He’d instantly and easily made the transition from worried best friend to professional paramedic. Kel would bet his Medical degree that the diagnosis would be dead on even without a single piece of equipment.
“Dix…get X-ray down here. I want a full skull series…chest…back…lateral C- spine. Roy… start an IV…ringers…wide open.” The blonde paramedic nodded and went to do as he was directed.
Joe Early already had John’s vitals… “Kel…temps 102°…BP 110/60…Respirations 16 and pulse is 70.” Brackett nodded.
Johnny began to come around as the needle entered his vein…a low moan escaped his lips turning to a cry of pain as Dr. Brackett’s hand moved over his ribs. John’s eyes flew open and he writhed away from the hands touching him. A gasp and hitched breath followed as nausea rose in his belly and he began to gag.
Dixie and Roy quickly rolled him on his side…the blonde nurse shoved the emesis basin under his cheek as the young man emptied the contents of his stomach. Dixie nodded at Roy to roll him back when he was done while she retrieved a damp cloth and bathed the sweat coated face.
“He’s been doin that since yesterday mornin Doc…,” Roy advised him.
“Dix…would you get me Phenergan… let’s see if we can get his stomach under control…Roy cut that shirt off him.”
Roy was just tugging the shirt free as the door opened and a technician entered pushing the portable X-Ray unit before him. He laid his hand on Johnny’s forehead… “Okay Junior…we have to step out for a minute. Will you be okay?" Exhausted, brown eyes met Roy’s for a moment but he managed a faint nod and then the eyes closed.
The crew of Station 51 was waiting in the hall, leaning against the wall. They came forward anxiously as the door opened and Roy and the three members of the medical team exited the room.
“Doc…how’s John?” Cap asked.
“We’re waiting on the X-Rays Hank…but I think he’s gonna be fine. Roy did a great job of improvising and keeping him immobilized. I don’t think there’ll be any lasting repercussions. We’re re-hydrating him now and once we get the vomiting under control, I think he’ll feel a lot better. The head injury is probably moderate from what Roy said but it’s causing him some dizziness which is what’s more than likely upsetting his stomach. We’ll put him on prophylactic antibiotics and Ibuprofen to bring that fever down and hopefully nip any little bugs he might be brewing in the bud. So unless something more serious shows up on his films or we can’t get the fever down, we’ll probably send him home in a day or two.”
“Will he be okay on his own or should I make arrangements to bring him home with me for a few days?” Roy asked.
“Well I’d prefer that he have some help to get around on that knee for a few days but…”
“Not a problem Doc…,” Roy interrupted… “I just needed to let Joanne know.
“Well Roy…,” Cap said. “We’re all running late for work…so we’re gonna go. I’ll call headquarters and get a replacement for you and John. Keep us informed and call Joanne…she’s worried about you.”
“You bet Cap and thanks for comin to get us. You have no idea how happy I was to see you guys.”
“Hey…we had two members of the family missing,” Mike said.
“Yeah…did you have any doubt that we’d be lookin for ya?” Marco asked.
“None at all…,” Roy replied with a grin. “I’m gonna go call Jo…thanks again guys.”
“Get some rest, okay pal?” Cap ordered.
Roy nodded… “As soon as Johnny’s settled.”
Chet handed him the keys to John’s camper. “Tell my pigeon to hurry back.”
“I will Chet.”
“Glad you’re okay Roy…,” Marco said.
“Take care of Johnny for us,” Mike added as he hurried after the others. Roy watched them leave once again thanking God for such a great group of friends.
Roy called Joanne and reassured his worried wife that he was fine. She was concerned about Johnny’s condition and readily agreed to have Roy bring him home with him until the younger man was ready to be on his own.
Roy went back into the treatment room but Johnny was once again sleeping. Roy swept the dark hair from John’s forehead and glanced at Kel.
“Meperidine…,” Kel said with a smile. “And you were right…” Roy looked at him curiously. “Moderate Concussion…sprained knee…two broken ribs and a broken wrist. The good news is that his fevers already come down some. We’ll be sending him up to a room soon.”
Roy accompanied his partner upstairs and made sure he was still sleeping peacefully before he headed for home in Johnny’s camper.
Joanne was out the door and in his arms before he could close the car door. “I was so worried about you.” She kissed him hard as Roy pulled her close. She took his hand and pulled him toward the house. He scooped Jen up in his arms as he went through the living room and ran a hand through his sons blonde hair as Chris sat glued to the TV.
“Hi Dad…,” He said distractedly. Apparently Joanne hadn’t let on how worried she was and Chris was totally unaware that there had been any problem at all.
Joanne took Jen from her tired husband. “Go clean up and I’ll make you something to eat.”
“That’s a deal,” Roy agreed enthusiastically as he stood up.
Sitting at the table a short time later, a cleaner Roy enjoyed a large, home cooked breakfast as he told Joanne what had happened. “I kept him awake most of the day talking…,” he finished.
“About what…?” She asked.
“His life...how he was raised…” She looked at him curiously… “He had it pretty rough Jo…” Roy said quietly.
“Uncle George…?” She questioned.
“He was just one of the low points…”
“There were more…?” She asked in shock.
“Most of his life…I don’t know how he came through it with his sanity.” Roy said in admiration of his partner's strength.
“Because Johnny’s a lot stronger than some people give him credit for. I know that sometimes he’s emotionally fragile but don’t sell him short.”
“I know Jo…but some of what he told me would break your heart. He’s been hurt bad…here…,” Roy said, tapping his chest.
“Then it’s up to us to be sure it doesn’t happen anymore. He’s part of our family now…and it's our responsibility to protect him…but then you already do a great job at that.”
“Huh…," he said in disgust... "I almost lost him yesterday Jo…He was six inches away from being gone forever.” Roy rubbed his face. “I was never so scared in my life. When I realized he’d fallen…I was sure he was dead.”
Joanne rubbed his shoulders… “But he wasn’t and he’s gonna be fine. Look...why don’t we drop the kids off with the Cooper's and go see him?”
Johnny was awake when Roy and Joanne got there. “Hey Junior…how ya feelin…?” Roy asked.
“Hey Roy…Jo…I’m feelin a lot better.
“Hi sweetheart…,” Joanne greeted the younger man with a kiss on his cheek and then she smiled as Roy automatically rested his hand on Johnny’s forehead like a worried father.
“Fever’s down some…,” Roy commented.
“Doc says I can go home tomorrow if comes down to normal but…”
“Not alone…,” Roy finished for him. Johnny nodded. “Don’t worry partner…I’ve already told them your comin home with me… It’ll give you a chance to spoil Chris and Jen…”
His friend lit up immediately… “Thanks guys…I'll try not to be a problem…I promise.”
Joanne squeezed his hand… “You never are sweetheart.”
Three weeks later, Roy threw a party for Joanne’s twenty sixth Birthday…Johnny had already started physical therapy on his knee and was barely limping and the cast would be off his wrist in another two weeks. He’d arrived early to help set up. He was holding two bags…one was obviously a gift but Roy couldn’t figure out what was in the other.
The other guests began to arrive…the crew from A shift…along with their wives and girlfriends. Doctor Brackett, Dixie and Joe Early…Joanne’s sister Eileen…Joanne’s parents along with Roy’s mom and a dozen others Johnny didn’t know. Johnny appeared to be a bit nervous but Roy chalked it up to his friend’s usual discomfort in social situations where he didn’t know everyone.
Roy turned the stereo on and soon several couples began to dance. Roy took his wife by the hand and led her into the living room. They swayed gently to the music but Roy was thinking of Johnny and his mom. He had told Joanne the story of why their young friend never danced and he could tell from the sad look on her face that she was remembering it too as she watched John across the room.
The dark haired paramedic had been studiously avoiding watching the dancers and kept his attention on the conversation he’d been having with Chet and Marco. When the song ended, Roy led his wife back to the group and began to chat with Kelly Brackett and Dixie.
Johnny had excused himself and gone to where he’d left the other package when he’d come in earlier. He carried it over to Roy’s neighbor Ron, who was sorting through several records. A few minutes later the opening strains of April Love began to play. Roy looked up quickly…his eyes scanning the crowd for his partner but Johnny was suddenly there in front of him…He gave Roy a slightly melancholy smile…
“Maybe it’s time to let the past go…,” he said softly as he turned to Roy’s wife. “Joanne…would you dance with me…?”
She glanced at Roy and took John’s hand… “Anytime Sweetheart…” She followed him into the other room where Johnny took her in his arms and proved himself to be a very accomplished dancer. She made eye contact with Roy over Johnny’s shoulder and saw the tears in her husband’s eyes…a small smile tugged at his mouth. She pulled Johnny closer and smiled up at him…
The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me…They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. My thanks for allowing me to take them out to play once in a while… Posted to Site 10/25/09
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The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Productions. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made. I merely like to toy with them and return them to their proper owner in good working order.
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