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Roy stood up, arching his back in an effort to stretch out the kinks that had settled in after almost an hour of leaning over the open bonnet of the semi-restored 1932 Dennis fire engine that was sitting in its temporary home outside his detached garage. All he could see of his partner was the bottom of his long lanky legs sticking out from underneath the vehicle as he lay sprawled out on the wooden creeper. Roy reached around to the back pocket of his work jeans and snagged the rag he had shoved in there earlier and wiped his hands on it.
The early April sun had felt good against his back when he had been sitting out on the deck at eight o’clock that morning enjoying his coffee. Unfortunately, the effects of the mid-day sun shining down on the metal of the engine’s surface, made working under the bonnet feel more like roasting in an oven. He wiped the sweat off his forehead with the crook of his arm, and continued his conversation with his paramedic partner, and best friend, John Gage.
“So anyway, Joanne, Elaine and Todd’s wife, Loretta, got together and decided that we should all chip in and pay for a romantic weekend in Carmel for a big tenth wedding anniversary celebration … the next thing I knew, they had turned it into a mini vacation for Joanne and me as well. So now we have a suite reserved at a fancy bed and breakfast somewhere along the Big Sur coast.
I have no idea why Joanne and I were included. I mean, it’s not our anniversary for months, and even if it was, we’ve only been married seven years. But according to the ladies, it won’t be the same unless all of us are included. I finally told Joanne it was fine by me, but with what it is costing us, we won’t be going away during my vacation time this summer.”
Johnny slid the creeper from beneath the engine, raising his hand to shield his face from the bright mid-day sun that assaulted his eyes. He used his free hand to hoist himself up into a seated position, keeping his feet set firmly on either side of the creeper to prevent it from moving.
“Loretta … now that’s Elaine’s sister-in-law, right?” asked Johnny.
“Yeah, Loretta is David’s younger sister. She and Todd were married the same day as Elaine and David in a double ceremony. Joanne was Elaine’s maid of honor. We’ve met them a few other times at Elaine and David’s annual end of summer barbeques. Todd and Loretta started their own New Age health food store down in San Diego a few years ago… it’s all organic food and herbs … crazy weird sounding stuff like eye of newt or some other kind of shit like that; they even have their own community garden.”
Roy paused for a moment.
“They’re kind of free spirits … if you know what I mean. They live a more Bohemian lifestyle than the rest of us.”
Johnny let the implications of what Roy had just told him sink in for a moment. His face broke into an impish grin as he looked over at Roy.
“Sooo they’re into smoking those jazzy herbal cigarettes and weaving their own clothing made out of hemp, huh? Let me guess, they’re trying to reach their dolphin oneness through interpretive dance, too?”
Roy grinned back at Johnny. “That pretty much sums them up in a nutshell.”
Johnny sniggered as he stood up. “I’ll just bet old Prissy and Chuck are thrilled to death that Elaine has those two for in-laws.”
Roy shrugged as he reached over and closed the bonnet of the old engine.
“Hey, at least it takes some of the heat off of me. Priscilla and Charles despise Todd even more than they do me.”
Johnny reached over and snagged the rag from Roy’s hands and wiped his oily hands off on the cloth.
“Speaking of your beloved in-laws, are you gonna leave Chris and Jenny with them while the six of you enjoy your wicked weekend of debauchery?”
Roy shook his head vehemently. “Hell no. They don’t know anything about this trip. I mean they’d both probably fall over dead from heart failure if they found out that Elaine and Joanne were going away for the weekend with Todd and Loretta.”
Johnny tossed the rag back to Roy and laughed. “Well, if they did cash in their chips from shock, at least you wouldn’t have to put up with Cruella and her sniveling husband anymore.”
Roy swatted Johnny on the arm playfully. “I’m serious, Junior, I mean It’s bad enough they have to live with having a lowly fireman for a son-in-law… but Joanne’s parents are convinced that even spending an afternoon with Todd and Loretta would send Elaine spiraling down the path of degradation. If they found out both their daughters were going away for an entire weekend with those two… well it just doesn’t bear thinking about.
We’ve already made other arrangements for Chris and Jenny. Joanne’s best friend from high school, Charlotte Morley is going to keep them for us. My mom is busy with selling her house and getting everything packed up for her big move to Georgia. Besides, she’s 75 and I have serious doubts that she could keep up with my two little imps. And even if Charles and Priscilla knew about this trip, neither Joanne nor I are willing to expose our kids to her parents without one of us there. We won’t have her filling their heads with their arrogant and snobbish ideals. And I sure as hell won’t let her mother belittle either me or my job to my own children.”
Johnny nodded his head in agreement. He had only met Joanne’s parents on a couple of occasions, and as far as he was concerned it was a couple of times too many. He still seethed whenever he thought of their very first meeting. It had been at Christopher’s fifth birthday party, and Chris had specifically asked his favourite uncle to come and share in his special day.
Johnny had been subjected to disdainful looks enough times in his life to recognize when someone was looking down on him. From the moment Joanne had introduced him as Roy’s paramedic partner to her parents, both Priscilla and Charles Hirsch had left very little doubt in Johnny’s mind that they viewed him as nothing more than an insignificant bug that needed to be exterminated from both their daughter’s and their grandchildren’s lives.
Johnny had smiled politely and shook off their rude behaviour … it wasn’t as if he had never had to deal with people like that before. It wasn’t until they openly disrespected his partner’s worth as both a husband and a father in front of Chris and Jenny that Johnny’s temper started to do a slow burn. Not to mention the fact that they had dismissed his job as nothing more than menial work that was beneath their daughter’s ‘station’ in life.
Johnny’s ire grew to the point where he was all ready to put the old witch in her place. Roy put his life on the line every shift while saving people’s lives, and he faced horrific scenes of carnage and death over and over again, often times with very little sleep. He did all this and more. He was a loving husband and father who provided food, clothing and a nice home for his family, and as far as Johnny was concerned, that earned Roy respect and admiration… and he sure as hell didn’t deserve to be so blatantly disrespected in his own home, in front of his wife and children. If Roy hadn’t stopped him, he would have let the old bag have it with both barrels. Following the old axiom, you never get a second chance to make a first impression; Johnny’s opinion of Joanne’s parents had been cemented in Johnny’s mind that day. From that moment on, Roy’s in-laws had become public enemy number one in Johnny’s eyes.
Ever since that day, Johnny had taken to calling Priscilla Cruella De Vil … the evil villainess from a movie he had watched with the DeSoto family one night on the Wonderful World of Disney. He only did it around Roy, and only when Chris and Jenny weren’t there.
Personally, Roy thought the name suited his mother-in-law to a tee; consequently, he had never made any attempt to stop Johnny from referring to her by that name. If anything he encouraged it by laughing whenever Johnny used the appellation.
The two men had just finished putting the tools away in the garage, when Joanne opened up the sliders and announced that lunch was ready.
“Perfect timing Jo…I’m starving,” Johnny said as he bounded up the steps and onto the back deck.
“When aren’t you hungry?” Roy teased.
Joanne stood aside in order to let Johnny slip past her into the kitchen.
“Well neither one of you will get anything to eat until you’ve washed those filthy hands,” she decreed.
Roy walked up to his wife and kissed her on the cheek on his way into the house.
“Mmmmm, something sure smells good in here,” he said.
“It’s fresh baked banana bread … make sure the two of you leave some for the kids. They’ll be home from Sam’s birthday party by three.”
Johnny looked over and saw the banana bread sitting on a plate on the counter. He leaned closer and took in the scent of the fresh, out of the oven treat.
“This smells delicious … Hey Roy, I’m stealing your wife away from you,” he yelled over his shoulder.
Roy just scoffed. “Go find your own woman, Junior…this one is already taken,” he said as he walked over to the counter, picked up that morning’s mail and began idly thumbing through it.
“Anything good come in the mail today?” he asked Joanne.
“Not much, most of it was junk mail,” she paused and looked over at her husband with a grimace. ... “and a letter from my mother informing me that my cousin, Louisa just got engaged to some big shot lawyer from New York.
She just had to tell me the good news….and to comment on how nice it was to discover that at least someone else in the family besides Elaine had shown good judgment when it came to choosing a husband.”
Roy sighed in disgust and tossed the mail into the trash bin.
Johnny looked at Roy and rolled his eyes before turning to make his way to the guest bathroom so he could clean up before lunch. He had barely made it out of the kitchen before Joanne and Roy heard his slightly off key voice singing, “Cruella De Vil, Cruella De Vil… If she doesn’t scare you… no evil thing will….”
“Stop corrupting my husband, Mr. Gage,” Joanne yelled while trying to stifle a giggle.
Joanne had discovered Johnny’s little ‘pet name’ that he had christened her mother with several months earlier when she had overheard Roy venting to Johnny about her mother’s latest insult to him during her last visit. And although she had made it perfectly clear to Roy that she didn’t ever want to hear him using the name, mainly because she didn’t want the kids to overhear it, she let Johnny away with it.
After all, her mother had started it when she had said something so rude that it bordered on derogatory to Johnny the first time she had met him. In fact, Joanne had been sure Johnny was going to let her mother have it that first evening, after she had started berating Roy about his profession and his ability to provide for his family during dinner. It was only Roy’s steadying hand on Johnny’s arm and his pleading look, begging him to let it go, that had stopped Johnny from tearing a strip off of her mother right there and then.
Truth be told, Joanne dreaded her parent’s visits almost as much as Roy did.
Joanne was proud of her man and the work he did. As far as she was concerned, any insult toward her husband was an insult toward her. There were many times she had wanted to ask her parents to leave. It had only been Chris and Jenny’s presence that had stopped her from doing so.
~ ~ ~
The afternoon passed pleasantly enough for Roy and Johnny. Once lunch had ended, the two of them went back to working on the engine. Both men had been glad that they had stuck with their original idea of keeping the engine and fixing it up.
As the weeks went by and the engine had really started to take shape, the two of them had started to discuss what to do with it once it was finished. After going over all the options, they had decided that re-selling the engine was a better choice than simply fixing it up for demonstrations and parades. Not that they wouldn’t take it on one or two parades and the odd demonstration before they sold it… just for the experience. But flipping the engine for profit had now become their ultimate goal.
Johnny had already decided that his half of the money was going to be put toward his goal of owning his own little ranch somewhere in the hills … and of course no ranch would be complete without a horse or two. He smiled at the thought of finally being able to bring Koda, the paint horse he had rescued, home at last.
Roy, on the other hand, had decided that all of his share would be going into Chris and Jenny’s college funds. If the engine fetched as much money as one of the parts suppliers had suggested, it would guarantee that Roy would have more time to enjoy being a paramedic, before he had to worry about moving up to a job that paid more money, but didn’t bring him as much joy as being a paramedic did.
“Who’s ready for an ice cold beer?” Joanne called out from the open patio doors.
Neither man said a word, but they both jumped up and headed for the deck where Jo stood waiting with two frosty bottles of the liquid refreshment in her hands.
An hour later, the three of them were still sitting on the deck enjoying their little break, just chatting about the engine’s progress, when their conversation was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone.
“It’s probably Krista, phoning to let me know that Chad is bringing the kids home now,” Joanne said as she hurried into the kitchen to pick up the phone.
Johnny and Roy watched her until she disappeared from view before they went back to discussing the engine. They were just about to get back to work, when Joanne came back outside with a look of dismay on her face.
Roy moved quickly to her side, grabbing hold of her shoulders.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, with a hint of alarm in his voice.
“That was Charlotte on the phone… she called to say she can’t keep the kids for us next weekend. It seems she got her dates mixed up, and next weekend is her husband’s big family reunion in San Diego. Oh Roy, where on earth are we going to find someone else to keep the kids for three days on such short notice?” she wondered fretfully.
“We had it all worked out so beautifully. Charlotte was going to take Jenny to her swimming lesson on the Saturday morning…and then Andy was going to take Chris to his little league game in the afternoon. Now what are we going to do? I had a hard enough time finding Charlotte. Everyone else I tried already had other plans.”
Joanne sat down on the deck chair with a disappointed sigh.
“I’ll do it,” Johnny offered.
Both of the DeSoto’s looked over at Johnny to see if he was serious. Although Johnny had looked after the kids the odd time while Roy and Joanne had gone out to dinner… and he had even done the occasional overnighter, he had never had to be alone with their two active youngsters for three full days.
Johnny looked over at the pair expectantly, waiting for an answer.
“What do you think Roy?” Joanne asked hopefully.
“I don’t know, Junior. I don’t think you realize what a big job this is going to be,” Roy said skeptically.
“You mean you don’t trust me?” Johnny asked incredulously. He looked over at Roy, his eyes full of hurt at the thought that Roy didn’t feel safe leaving him in charge of his kids for an entire weekend.
Roy saw the flash of hurt in his partner’s eyes and instantly regretted his choice of words.
“Of course I trust you, Johnny. It’s just that three days of cooking and running kids to lessons, and mediating fights is a lot more taxing than a couple of hours in the evening or a simple overnight stay. I just want to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into before you commit to the task,” Roy explained.
Johnny let out an exasperated sigh. “Roy, I know what I am agreeing to here. Don’t forget, I have spent enough hours in this house while recuperating from illnesses and injuries to have seen how much work it takes for Joanne to keep this place running smoothly. I am not saying you’ll come home to a perfectly vacuumed and dusted home… but I’ll manage. And I realize I tend to fall back on hotdogs or hamburgers when we’re at work, but I can cook… as long as it’s not anything too complicated.”
Joanne stepped forward and put her arm around Johnny’s shoulders as she turned to face Roy.
“I’ll tell you what,” she said. “I’ll cook up enough meals for the weekend and put them in the freezer. That way all you have to do is re-heat them when meal time comes.”
“There, you see?” Johnny said. “There’s one issue all sorted out already. Look Roy, that’s our regular three day weekend off, so I won’t have to take any time off work. We get off shift at eight on the Friday. I’ll run home and shower and get ready, while you come home and get organized. By the time you’re ready to leave, I’ll be here… What time does your flight leave?”
Roy knew with both Joanne and Johnny against him, that he had already lost before he’d begun. “Our flight to Monterey leaves LAX at noon.”
“Perfect,” Johnny exclaimed. “I can be here by ten. I’ll even drive you to the airport. Chris will be in school, and we can bring Jenny with us. You won’t have to worry about a thing. I can even pick you up at the airport Sunday evening.”
Roy wasn’t convinced Johnny fully understood just exactly what it was he was taking on, but he also knew that Joanne had already decided that their little brother was up for the task… ergo, he was out-voted. In the end he gave in and accepted Johnny’s offer.
~ ~ ~
Just as he had promised, Johnny was at the DeSoto home by ten o’clock on the Friday morning. He grabbed his duffle bag and his shaving kit from the back seat of the Rover and carried them into the spare room of the house, depositing them on the freshly made bed.
Joanne came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dish towel as she walked over to greet him. “Ah, you’re right on time … I like punctuality in a babysitter,” she joked as she reached up and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“Now I have a plate of sandwiches made up in the fridge for yours and Jenny’s lunch, and there is a pan of lasagna all made up as well. All you have to do is pop it in the oven about 45 minutes before you want to eat. I left the baking instructions on the counter.”
A large thump at the top of the stairs interrupted Johnny’s reply.
“Good, you’re here,” Roy said as he made his way awkwardly down the stairs, both hands full of luggage. “I wanted to leave a little early, so we make sure we have plenty of time, just in case the traffic is heavy.”
“Here, why don’t you let me take those bags and put them in the Rover for you?” Johnny said as he took the suitcases out of Roy’s hands and headed toward the door.
“Wow, my own personal Valet… I’ve never been able to afford my very own man servant before,” Roy joked.
Johnny grinned as he carried the bags out to the porch. “Well you’re a richer man today, Pally,” he replied good naturedly.
Within ten minutes, they had the car loaded and were pulling out of the DeSoto’s driveway on their way to the airport.
By the time Johnny got back home again, it was almost one. He unhooked Jenny from her car seat and led her into the house. Once they had eaten the lunch Joanne had left for them, Johnny washed Jenny’s hands and face and got her settled down for her afternoon nap. As soon as he was assured that his little charge was asleep, he made his way into his room to unpack his bag, and settle in to read until it was time to go pick up Chris at his school.
Truth be told, Johnny himself was a bit nervous about looking after Chris and Jenny for three full days, so he was more than relieved when eight o’clock came and everything had gone off without a hitch. The lasagna was delicious and the children had been on their best behaviour.
The two kids sat quietly and watched TV, while Johnny washed the dishes and placed them in the rack to dry. Afterwards Jenny sat on Johnny’s lap while the three of them piled on the sofa to listen to Chris practice his spelling words.
After a quick game of Go Fish with Chris, it was bath time. Once they both had their pyjamas on and had brushed their teeth, Johnny sat on Chris’s bed, while Jenny snuggled in beside him. He allowed both children to pick out their favourite bedtime story for him to read.
Jenny was asleep before he got halfway through Christopher’s book. He gently picked up the sleeping child and carried her into her own room and tucked her in, making sure he switched the nightlight to the ‘on’ position before he closed her door.
He then returned to Christopher’s room to tuck him in. As he sat on the edge of the bed he looked down upon the angelic face of the small six year old boy as he slept. Johnny reached out and swept an errant wisp of hair out of the boy’s eyes. He couldn’t help thinking that Roy DeSoto was a lucky, lucky man. As he sat there, Johnny began to wonder if he would someday have a son to call his own… not that he was ready to settle down just yet. But at moments like this, he couldn’t help but feel a little bit sad that he was, for all intents and purposes, alone in the world.
It wasn’t that he minded living alone. Being alone wasn’t necessarily a bad thing… if it was done in moderation. Johnny was of the opinion that it was actually good for the soul to have some time for solitude and silent contemplation. It was a time for one to take stock of things … or to just decompress from all the noise and bustle that life threw at a body on a daily basis … especially in their line of work. There were always those shifts where the stress and strain of the horrors they dealt with bombarded the senses, and it was then that those moments of silence and calm were exactly what Johnny needed to catch his breath and regroup; a time for oneself where no one was putting any demands on your time.
Conversely, too much alone time wasn’t good either. There was always the danger of one’s thoughts turning too far inward. You could end up shutting out the rest of the world, causing you to miss so much of what life had to offer.
Solitude also had a nasty habit of blowing up small problems into huge issues. When you spent too much time alone, your mind could play funny tricks on you. You could end up tying yourself up into knots, worrying about things that in the end usually never happened anyway. They’d clutter up your life like old boxes of mementos one stored in hall closets…they’d just keep on accumulating until eventually your emotional closet would be so full that you couldn’t even get the door to close anymore.
Johnny needed others in his life… it was the social need everyone needed to feel connected, to feel like they belonged somewhere. He needed family … he needed that person … or persons, who could talk him down off the edge of the cliff when his loneliness and fears were getting the better of him, causing his insecurities to run rampant inside his head. He craved the security and sense of belonging that a family like Roy’s provided. It just wasn’t the same when the only things you had to talk to, were the houseplants and the face that stared back at you when you looked in the mirror.
Family was the one thing Johnny wished for more than anything else in the world. The trouble was, no matter how many times Roy said he was family, Johnny still felt like he was stuck on the periphery whenever he was there. Even though they had told him he was their brother… somewhere deep inside he knew he wasn’t … not really.
He looked down once more upon the sleeping child in the bed before him, before he finally stood up and walked out into the hall, quietly closing the door behind him.
There was no doubt about it. Roy DeSoto was one lucky man.
~ ~ ~
Roy wriggled his bare toes in the warm sand and wrapped his arms around Joanne’s bikini clad body. The weather that day had been picture perfect. The sky was clear, the winds gentle and balmy and the temperature had hovered in the mid-seventies all day … they couldn’t have asked for better weather, supposing they had ordered it off a menu.
They’d slept in late, and had enjoyed an early lunch at a tiny bistro they had found in the city. After lunch David had cajoled them out for nine holes on the renowned Pebble Beach golf course; Roy had been pleased when only David had come in with a better score.
Upon arriving at the airport in Monterey the day before, Roy had been surprised to see David pull up in a brand new Cadillac Freemont Sixty Special… a true landyacht, he had remarked at the time. David explained that he had decided to get a vehicle large enough for all six of them to travel in comfortably. He hadn’t been fussy on renting a van…and since it was a special weekend, he decided that they might as well go whole hog and travel around in luxury.
Consequently they had all traveled together. Not that Roy and Joanne had minded. They had always gotten along quite well with both David and Elaine and despite their odd little quirks; Todd and Loretta were pleasant company as well. Todd was a small, slight, energetic man with bright red hair and green eyes. He was not a man of pretense, nor did he mince his words. He called it like he saw it … no bones about it. He was also extremely genial and fun loving. Loretta was similar in appearance to her brother David. Both were blue eyed and blonde with athletic builds. They both possessed a sharp wit and were very self-assured.
Roy was currently sitting on the beach with Joanne, the two of them just enjoying each other’s company in silence while they watched Todd and Loretta frolic playfully in the water. The young couple was in high spirits due in large part to the fact that just two days earlier, Loretta had found out she was twelve weeks along with their first child. It had been a bittersweet announcement for the simple reason that several months earlier Elaine had found out that she was unable to conceive children. Not that either David or Elaine had ever wanted children… they were both career oriented and hadn’t really planned on kids, but just the idea of having the option taken away from her had bothered Elaine slightly. But even so, Elaine had been happy for the young couple when they announced their good news.
Roy heaved a contented sigh as he sat on the sand looking dreamily over the ocean waves, Joanne nestled in close beside him, his chin resting on the top of her head. He could smell the perfumed scent of whatever shampoo she had used that morning… it reminded him of wildflowers. He would have been content to stay there on the beach holding his wife in his arms all afternoon, but it was at that point that Elaine and David came up behind them.
“It’s almost four guys… our dinner reservations are for seven. If we want to make it back to the Bed and Breakfast in time for a shower before we get ready, we’re going to have to leave now,” announced David.
Roy leaned into his wife’s soft hair and kissed the top of her head, before reaching down and pulling her to her feet.
“You heard the man, honey… time to go.”
Roy picked up their beach blanket and shook the sand out of it, while David made his way over to the water’s edge to summon the other two into the shore. Elaine grabbed the beach blanket out of Roy’s arms and hurried them all along, ushering them into the Caddy, so they could get ready for the five star restaurant David had been gushing about all weekend.
~ ~ ~
Bright light blazed down on their linen covered table from a row of crystal chandeliers, their reflections casting prismatic rainbows that glittered and danced gaily in iridescent colours along the walls. Hidden away in a corner, a four piece orchestra provided soft music throughout the room.
The party of six had been placed at a table next to the patio where they could look out onto the ornate water fountain in the courtyard. All around them, black jacketed waiters glided from table to table taking orders and pushing trolleys laden down with orders of food and drink. The ambience was one of refined elegance without being overly decadent or ostentatious.
Plates full of prime rib, smoked salmon and sautéed mushrooms appeared at their table, along with several other delicacies. The salty treats brought on a thirst that they happily quenched with several glasses of sparkling red wine… with the exception of Loretta, who was abstaining from alcohol due to her pregnancy.
Presently their Sommelier approached the table with a bottle of champagne, and presented it to David.
“Compliments of the house, sir, in recognition of your tenth anniversary… would you like me to open it for you now or would you prefer to save it for later?” the man asked.
David smiled appreciatively. “What a wonderful surprise. I think we’ll have it now… I don’t suppose since we are sitting so close to the patio, that you would saber the bottle for us? I don’t think either Roy or Joanne have ever had the pleasure of seeing it done before.”
The Sommelier hesitated and then nodded. “It’s not something we’re allowed to do indoors, but since, as you have pointed out, you are so close to the patio, I think that it could be arranged… if you will just excuse me for a moment sir, I will go and find a champagne saber.” The Sommelier reached over and tipped the champagne bottle neck first into the silver champagne chiller and excused himself from the table.
Roy looked over at David, his eyebrows raised. “Sabering the champagne?” he questioned.
“You’ll love it… it was one of my favourite party tricks when I was in university,” David answered.
Presently the Sommelier returned carrying a large knife in his hands. Stepping behind the table, he opened the patio doors wide. Reaching over he took hold of the champagne bottle and removed the foil wrapper from the neck. He carefully loosened the wire cage, making sure to keep his thumb on the cork in order to keep it secure. Then he moved the wire cage up one notch and once again secured the cork by tightening the wire. Slowly, he turned the bottle until he had located it’s seam, and then stepping out to the patio, and pointing the bottle away from himself and into the dense bushes, he took the blunt edge of the saber and quickly and forcefully slid the blade up the seam… there was a loud pop and the entire top of the champagne bottle flew away, the cork, wire and top lip disappearing into the bushes. The top of the champagne bottle was clean and neatly severed without any jagged edges whatsoever…the champagne foaming out onto the surface of the patio.
Joanne gasped and then giggled as the Sommelier poured the bubbly into their champagne flutes. He smiled at the appreciative compliments the happy group bestowed upon him, as he returned the bottle back into the champagne chiller and slipped back out to the patio to retrieve the top of the bottle.
After dancing and dining until just before midnight, the three couples finally departed the restaurant. By virtue of the fact that Loretta had been the only one who had not had anything alcoholic to drink, she was designated to be their driver on their way back to the Bed and Breakfast.
At some point during the course of the evening, a dense fog had settled in shrouding the entire coastline in a thick soupy mist. Joanne shivered in the cool evening air, as the clammy mist from the fog clawed at them with icy fingers, prompting Roy to remove his dinner jacket and wrap it around her shoulders.
As soon as the Valet arrived with their vehicle, the six of them piled into the Caddy. Loretta, Todd and David sat in front, while Elaine, Joanne and Roy slid into the roomy back seat.
The world had an ethereal cast to it, as the other cars on the road appeared out of the gloom and passed by like shadowy figures as they lumbered slowly along, then disappeared again like phantoms in the night. It wasn’t long before they left the more heavily trafficked streets in the center of the city. Loretta swung the Caddy onto a darker road that led to the main highway that snaked its way along the Big Sur coast to where their Bed and Breakfast was located. As they approached the edge of the city, the street lights grew further and further apart forcing Loretta to crawl along the road at a snail’s pace.
The fog distorted their perception of distance, so that each passing car seemed to appear out of nowhere, as if it had popped out of thin air. It seemed to Roy as if the fog had managed to find its way inside the Caddy and wrapped itself around the vehicle’s occupants in an ice-soaked blanket. The heater inside the Caddy was on low, and still the mist seemed to reach in and take hold of him.
Roy pulled Joanne in close beside him as the occupants inside the car grew silent. The combination of his full stomach and the wine began to make Roy drowsy and before too long he felt himself starting to drift off.
It happened so fast that Roy’s brain barely had time to register what his eyes were seeing. Two pin points of approaching headlights appeared explosively out of the murkiness directly in front of the Caddy, driving on the wrong side of the road.… He heard Todd swear savagely at the approaching driver as Loretta tried valiantly to get over onto the shoulder of the road and out of the path of what appeared to be a large delivery van that was approaching at an alarming rate of speed. Todd reached over and laid on the horn...but time had run out.
Roy felt the car jerk sharply to the right. Panic swept over him and instinct brought his arm up to shield his face, his other reached out towards Joanne. An instant later he felt himself lurch as he was lifted bodily in his seat and hurled sideways. Somewhere in front of him, a woman screamed. He felt Joanne’s body slam into his, shoving some unknown object into his face, snapping his head back forcefully into the back of the seat. Something hard and metal hit him in the chest as his head connected with the frame of passenger window … a blackness denser than the surrounding fog descended upon him, and he knew no more.
~ ~ ~
Roy’s first conscious thought was that, wherever he was, he was extremely cold and uncomfortable. If this was a dream he hoped he would wake up soon. It took a few more minutes for it to sink in that he wasn’t asleep… he was awake, and in an uncomfortable position. He was lying face up and wedged in tightly against something cold and hard that was poking into his shoulder. His arms were pinned to his sides, and his legs were jammed under the front seat. It wasn’t until he tried to move that the fiery pain lanced through his right side… Even though his head was throbbing unceasingly, and his mind felt like it was a tangled mess of cobwebs, the paramedic in him fought its way to the surface. He had the presence of mind not to attempt any violent movements that would send him back into unconsciousness.
Doing an IPS on himself, he concluded that he had some kind of head injury, probable broken ribs…possibly a clavicle injury as well. Now he just needed to figure out what exactly had happened to him that had put him in this condition in the first place … it was a question that was answered almost immediately when somewhere close to his left shoulder, he heard Joanne whimper.
It was all he needed to jar his memory … Suddenly he remembered what had happened to him … right up to the instant he had been knocked unconscious. His semi-detached interest now turned into complete awareness… and fear.
Joanne, Elaine, David and the others had been in the car with him!
As panic set in, his paramedic knowledge of what he should and should not do completely deserted him. He tried to sit up in an effort to find his wife, while he frantically called out her name.
The sudden movement sent his throbbing head spinning out of control as a wave
of nausea he hadn’t previously been aware of overtook him. He leaned out the shattered remains of the passenger window and began to painfully heave.
It was at that point he became aware of several mist-shrouded figures in turnout gear standing close to the carnage that had been their car. The shadowy ghost nearest him quickly stepped back to avoid getting doused with the remains of what had only a short while ago been a very expensive dinner. The ghostly image deftly leaned around the pool of vomitus on the shoulder of the road and put a steadying hand on Roy’s uninjured shoulder. As soon as he drew closer, Roy recognized the paramedic logo on his helmet.
“Sir,” the phantom paramedic said firmly. “I need you to settle down. Now we’re going to get all of you out of here… but you need to lie still so you don’t make any of your injuries worse. Now I’m just going to get you on this backboard so I can get you out of here, so my partner can get to the women… but I need you to help me by remaining calm and not moving around too much.”
“Please….jus’ help my wife,” Roy pleaded.
“I promise you, sir… we’re going to get to her just as soon as we can… now can you tell me your name?”
“Ummm…it’s Roy… Roy DeSoto, I’m a fireman paramedic from Los Angeles County, and the women beside me are my wife, Joanne and her sister, Elaine.
My brother-in-law David and his sister and brother are in the front seat.”
Roy wasn’t aware enough to see the grim looks exchanged by the paramedic and his partner when he mentioned the passengers in the front … nor was he aware of the two yellow blanketed corpses that sat just a couple feet ahead of him in the remains of the front half of the Caddy. All Roy was aware of was his own pain and quiet whimpering of his wife somewhere close by.
He slowly realized that the paramedic towering above him was asking him some questions… questions he himself had asked accident victims more times that he could count.
He did his best to answer the questions correctly, but he found it to be a monumental task to concentrate on himself, when all he really wanted to do was find out how Joanne was. The thought flitted through his mind that, from here on in, he would have a lot more empathy for future accident victims he dealt with in regards to their hysteria.
He felt the prick of the needle as an IV was inserted into his left arm, as well as the sensation of a backboard being slid in behind him. Even with the paramedics being as gentle as they possibly could, the pain that shot through his body the moment they moved him was excruciating, and try as he might, he simply couldn’t stop the world around him from fading to black once more.
~ ~ ~
It was a soft morning… at least that was how his mother would have described the warm gentle rain that was falling outside. It was one of those slow, steady rains that were just slightly more than a mist. The temperature was warm and the winds were non-existent.
Johnny stood at the sink, up to his elbows in warm soapy water while he washed the breakfast dishes. The window over the sink was open and he could hear the birds singing as they flitted around. That usually meant it was going to be an all-day rain. If it was going to clear off quickly, the birds would have stayed in the shelter of the pine tree in Roy’s back yard and waited the rain out. The fact that they had come out in the rain to feed likely meant the rains were going to hang around for most of the day.
Chris and Jenny were happily watching cartoons on the television, leaving Johnny in peace to clean up the mess in the kitchen. Johnny had let the kids ‘help’ him make their French toast and sausage breakfast. Consequently the mess was a lot bigger than if he had just done it himself. But the mess had been worth it… he wouldn’t have traded the giggles and horseplay for anything.
Those were the sounds of family… and the DeSoto family was the one thing that was even more important to Johnny than being a Paramedic.
Although he never voiced it out loud, especially in front of the guys at the station, Johnny secretly enjoyed the feeling of being included in their family life. He’d been quasi-adopted by the DeSoto’s. He’d often thought about adopting them back. There was a Native tradition that allowed for it, but he still felt awkward about saying anything to Roy and Joanne. He just wasn’t that sure how they’d react to it… he wasn’t completely confident in just how serious they were about his being family. It was one thing to say you were part of the family… it was another thing entirely too actually do something physical that made it official.
The sound of giggling coming from the living room brought him out of his reverie; he picked up the final plate and began to wash it. He had the entire day ahead of him to spend with the kids.
His original plan, had been to take the kids out for an all day picnic at the park, but the rain had kind of put the kibosh on that idea, so he had to come up with some kind of plan B. He wondered briefly about taking them out to the movies, but Jenny was still a preschooler and he doubted that the limited attention span of someone that young would allow her to sit still for so long in one place. Any board games would be fruitless as well. The age difference between the kids was at that awkward stage where the three years between them made a big difference. Jenny was only three but Chris, being a month away from turning six, was already in school and learning to print and read simple words. As the kids grew older the three year age difference would not matter as much, but right now any games they played would either be too hard for Jenny or too babyish for Chris.
Johnny glanced up at the clock on the wall …9:03. He didn’t have to be at the airport until six-twenty to pick up Roy and Jo. That meant he had over eight hours to kill. Well, the two youngsters were happy enough with the morning cartoons… for now. That would give him plenty of time to finish tidying up the kitchen; after that he decided that he would maybe get them to help tidy up their bedrooms a bit, or as much as a six and three year old child could help, with the promise of taking them out to MacDonald’s for lunch if they did a good job of it. There was one located not too far away that had a giant indoor playground. He’d let them spend an hour or so playing there. By the time they got home it would be Jenny’s naptime and then he could play a board game with Chris. Then maybe the three of them could build a blanket fort in the living room and he would tell them some of the Native American legends and stories the children liked so well. After that… it would be time to start dinner. There was still a shepherd’s pie in the freezer to cook for the three of them.
With his plans settled in his mind, Johnny rinsed off the last dish and pulled the stopper from the sink. He was just in the middle of drying his hands on the towel when the phone rang. He tossed the towel onto the counter and made his way over to the wall and picked up the receiver.
“Hello, DeSoto residence,” he spoke into the receiver.
The sound of Joanne’s plaintiff voice came through the receiver. The minute Johnny heard her voice, he knew something was dreadfully wrong.
~ ~ ~
It was stifling hot and the air in the cab of the Mayfair felt like it was suffocating Johnny, especially with three men jammed tightly into the front seat. He shifted uncomfortably, a stream of sweat trickling down the back of his neck where it pooled just above his shoulder blades. He reached up and undid another button near the top of his shirt in a futile effort to cool himself off as the sun continued to beat down relentlessly on the windshield.
Johnny’s hair stuck to his forehead and he could feel the beginnings of a stress headache coming on. Unfortunately only the working area of the Mayfair was air conditioned and he was regretting his decision to ride up front instead of in the back of the large box style ambulance. The temperature outside was uncommonly hot for mid-April and knew he was in for long ride up the 101 freeway. It was going to take over six hours to get to their destination, but Johnny wasn’t about to complain… the heat notwithstanding, Johnny was just relieved to be on his way up to Monterrey.
Ever since he had received the phone call from Joanne twenty four hours earlier, he had been running purely on adrenaline. His heart had dropped into his stomach as he listened to Joanne while she tearfully recounted in detail the horrific accident. Even more distressing was the fact that Roy, because of a moderate concussion, was sleeping so he hadn’t been able to speak to him.
At first the news had sent him into a momentary tailspin, but Joanne’s obvious distress and his need to find out exactly how she and Roy were had quickly pulled him back into focus.
Johnny listened in shock and dismay as Joanne told him about Todd and Loretta’s deaths. Even more disheartening was the news that while both David and Elaine had survived the accident; they were in very serious condition.
Elaine had broken her pelvis as well as her right arm. David, who had been the only survivor in the front seat of the Caddy, had suffered the most serious injuries. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the impact had sent the car careening into a ditch, David would have died instantly along with his sister and her husband. The slight angle of the car that had resulted from its being shoved into the ditch had created a small enough space that that, coupled with the fact that he had been the one sitting next to the passenger door, had meant that his life had been spared.
As it was, the entire left side of his body had been pinned by the dash board and part of the engine, leaving his left leg almost completely severed. The damage was so severe that the doctors had been unable to save the leg and they had had to amputate it just above the knee. He also was suffering from a compound fracture of the left arm, a badly bruised left kidney and a serious concussion. He was currently listed in critical condition in the I.C.U.
And while both Roy and Joanne’s injuries had not been life threatening, just the very shock of being in such a horrific accident on top of dealing with the fact that two of their party had died…and two more were seriously injured was complicating matters. Especially since one of those seriously injured was Joanne’s sister.
Johnny’s concern for their welfare had been amped up even further when Joanne had informed him that both Priscilla and Charles had flown in early that morning and instead of offering support to their daughter… they had only served to upset her even further. In fact it was because of them that Joanne had called him personally this morning, instead of letting the police call him. He still seethed inside when he thought about Priscilla and Charles Hirsch’s actions when they arrived in Monterrey.
Upon reaching Monterrey they had informed the hospital staff that David’s colleagues at UCLA Medical Center were currently in the process of arranging to have both David and his wife airlifted back to L.A. as soon as they were stable enough to travel. Priscilla had then told Joanne that she and Charles had also arranged for her to be flown back to L.A. as well. The problem was, the invitation did not include Roy. They had made it perfectly clear they were not willing to pay for Roy’s return home… he would have to wait until he was released and then one of his firemen buddies could come and drive him home.
It had been a cruel act and had only served to upset Joanne even more. Johnny couldn’t understand how Joanne’s parents couldn’t see that by hurting Roy, they were only further distressing their own daughter. But, then again, he had firsthand knowledge of how hate could blind someone to what they were doing to their own family…and how destructive it could be.
Just that information alone had spurred Johnny into action… his family needed him.
Johnny wasn’t going to stand by and watch Priscilla Hirsch attack Roy with one of her cold character assassinations while he was at such an emotional and physical disadvantage. Johnny had known that Priscilla would be angry once she discovered that she had been deliberately kept in the dark about the entire vacation….but he was bound and determined that the woman would not make things any more difficult for Roy and Joanne because of it… not on his watch.
Johnny had done his best to reassure Joanne that he would get things all sorted out, and that she wasn’t to worry … he would take care of everything, including the kids. He told her to try to get some rest … he was on his way.
His final words to his adopted sister still rang in his ears, “…You just hang tight…as soon as I get everything arranged here in L.A… I’ll be there.”
Johnny’s mind automatically began to assemble a list of things he needed to do. So what if David and the Hirsch’s had money and influence? Roy had connections too.
As soon as he had said good bye to Joanne, Johnny got on the phone to Brackett, Cap and the Chief. He put out several requests for assistance in getting the DeSoto’s back to L.A. to the department heads of both the Fire department and Rampart General.
He had hoped that both Brackett and the Chief would wrangle with the powers that be over covering the cost of transporting the DeSoto’s back to Rampart.
Johnny himself was determined to make it happen. Even if he had to use his half of the future profits from selling the Old Engine to pay it back … Come hell or high-water, Roy and Joanne were going to be brought back to Los Angeles, ASAP.
Personally, Johnny knew that if there was any way to get Roy back to L.A., Kelly Brackett was his best hope. He may have to argue it out with the hospital administrators for a while…but if Johnny had been a betting man, he’d put his money on Brackett. Kelly Brackett had a lot of clout in the world of medicine.
In the end, Johnny didn’t care who had been ultimately responsible, the Fire Department or Brackett. He was just grateful that a little over an hour after he had put out the request, the phone in the DeSoto kitchen rang, with news that everything had been arranged and that someone was willing to foot the cost for an ambulance to be dispatched to Monterrey to bring both Roy and Joanne back to Rampart. Since their injuries were not life threatening, Johnny’s presence would be all that was needed to ride in the back of the ambulance with them on their journey home.
He had arrived at Rampart promptly at eight a.m. the next morning and had been handed a file folder containing the paper work he would need for the transfer. He would be bringing back the medical reports and x-rays from the doctor’s in Monterrey to Brackett.
It was going to be a long day for Johnny…six hours up, and six hours back. But it would be more than worth it to have Roy and Jo back home; which is why he was currently sweating to death in the cab of this Mayfair as it travelled north up the 101.
Ever since he had walked into the Paramedic recruiting office and signed his name on the dotted line, Roy and Joanne had been there for him. And there had certainly been enough times in the past few years during his many convalescence periods where the DeSoto’s had rearranged their lives to care for him. Now it was time for him to step up to the plate. Besides, there was no place else he’d rather be….wild horses couldn’t keep him away.
Upon hearing that the Hirsch’s had already flown up overnight, and how they had been more than willing to leave Roy hanging in the breeze, Johnny’s first impulse had been to head right up there and give her a piece of his mind. But after having been assured that their injuries were not life threatening, he had calmed down. He’d quickly realized he had a host of things he needed to take care of back here in L.A. before he could leave; primarily Chris and Jenny. He also needed to phone Cap to confirm that his request for a leave of absence had been approved.
Johnny reflected back on the phone conversation he had finally been able to have with Roy the evening before. As soon as Johnny had everything in place so he could head up to Monterrey, he had called the hospital to see if Roy was up to speaking with him yet so he could fill him in on the details of what he had arranged. The truth of it was, he just needed the reassurance of hearing Roy’s voice, and that he really was going to be okay.
Roy had not been too happy to discover that Johnny had requested a six week leave of absence from work so he could move in and help care for the two of them while they recovered. But Roy’s protests had fallen on deaf ears…
“Forget it, Pally… it’s a done deal. I’ll be up there by two tomorrow afternoon to bring you guys back to L.A. I’ve already handled everything. I’ve talked to Brackett, Cap, even the Chief...it’s all settled. Brackett’s going to have an ambulance waiting for me first thing tomorrow morning. I’ll be accompanying it up to bring you and Jo back to Rampart.
I also talked to your mom this afternoon. With her arthritis I knew there was no way she could handle running around your house chasing after a couple of small kids, but she’ll be up to Rampart to see you as soon as you’re settled. I’ve made arrangements with your neighbour, Mrs. Harrison, and she is going to watch the kids for me tomorrow while I come up to Monterrey and bring you guys home. Now would you stop worrying about it…I’ve got it all covered. You just rest and let yourself start to heal … I’ll be there tomorrow…”
~ ~ ~
In the end, Roy was too weak and shell shocked to put up too much of a fuss…besides it was a huge relief to know Johnny was not only making sure his kids were taken care of… but that he had taken care of the problem of getting him and Joanne back to Los Angeles.
There had been no question of their turning down Priscilla’s offer to fly Joanne home… the pain and horror of the accident was still too fresh for him to even consider being separated from Joanne. But that had left him with the problem of getting them both back home to L.A.
He had begrudgingly decided to ask his mother to take care of Chris and Jenny for them until other arrangements could be made. The trouble was, Harriet was seventy-five years old and suffered from arthritis, so it hadn’t been the ideal solution, but Johnny was supposed to have been on duty the next day, and they’d needed someone who could take the kids on short notice.
In the days ahead they’d need a lot of help and because his mother suffered from arthritis, there was just no way she could keep up with two lively children on a regular basis. He and Joanne were going to need to find someone to help them with the kids once they were released from the hospital … at least for a little while, and there was no way in hell he wanted Joanne’s parents anywhere near his two children.
So when Johnny had called him and told him that he had things under control, it had taken a huge weight off of his shoulders. It had even eased the throbbing in his head… slightly. Still, he hated the thought of Johnny taking so much time off work to care for them.
~ ~ ~
As much as the phone call had eased Roy’s mind considerably, it had only served to increase Johnny’s concern for his friends. He hadn’t liked how weak and strained Roy’s voice had sounded to him. His greatest desire was to catch a plane and fly up to Monterrey right then and there, but he had two young children who needed him in L.A. and they had their own imperatives. It was going to be hard enough on them as it was.
As much as possible, Chris and Jenny needed to stick to routine, which meant Johnny needed to stay with them until tomorrow morning. Then it would be an early start… the kids would have to be dressed and fed. Chris had to get ready for school and he would need a lunch. Jenny would have to get to Mrs. Harrison’s, and she would need a bag packed with the things she would need for the day. He also wanted to double check to make sure Mrs. Harrison knew when to meet Chris at the bus that afternoon.
Thankfully, everything had gone off without a hitch that morning. He glanced at his watch and sighed, it was only 12:43. Johnny could feel his feet pushing against the floorboards of the ambulance, subconsciously urging it to move faster. He was impatient to get to his family and bring them home where they belonged.
He glanced down at the paperwork in his hands. They were the transfer orders for Roy and Joanne to be moved to Rampart General. He smiled as he looked at the signature sprawled across the bottom of the page... Kelly Brackett had signed them himself. Johnny remembered joking about it with the good Doctor that morning … “Make sure you write legibly on those transfer orders Doc… that’s not a prescription you’re writing out.” It had been a feeble attempt at humor to try and quell his nerves. He looked down at the photo copy of the report that the Monterrey Hospital had sent to Brackett.
DeSoto: Joanne E.
Female: aged 28
D.O.B. July 27, 1945
Injuries: Fractured tibia and fibula, right leg.
Fractured tibia, left leg.
Two inch laceration requiring 8 stitches, left bicep.
DeSoto: Roy W.
Male: Age 29
D.O.B. November 9, 1944
Injuries: Moderate concussion.
Fractured clavicle, right side.
Fracture of the right distal radius (scaphoid, lunate.)
Rib fractures, right side, anterior, two through five.
The practical, Paramedic side of Johnny knew that these injuries, though painful, were not life threatening and that both Roy and Joanne would make a full recovery. But the friend and brother side of him couldn’t shake the uneasiness and worry he was feeling, despite his words of assurance to Roy’s mother before he had left that morning. Johnny wouldn’t be totally satisfied until he had seen both Roy and Joanne with his own eyes.
As he sat in the front of the ambulance, he silently petitioned, bargained and pleaded with God for Roy and Joanne’s complete recovery… both physical and emotional. He promised all the usual things people did in situations like this...at least those people of faith.
And he was a man of faith…though few folks would have ever guessed it by his outward demeanor. He was not by nature a church goer… but he had a very strong belief in God.
He didn’t wear his faith on his sleeve like Marco did. Not because he was embarrassed to show it outwardly… it was simply because, to Johnny his relationship with God was a deeply personal and private part of his life, and one he liked to keep between him and his Maker.
He knew of several others in their profession that were the same. He guessed the old saying was true about there being no atheists in foxholes…it seemed it also held true for men who made a living out of running into burning buildings.
Maybe they believed in God because of the miracles they had all witnessed from time to time in their line of work…all the people who survived when logic dictated that they shouldn’t have… or all the times each firefighter could recall when they themselves had had miraculous and unexplainable escapes from their own deaths…or perhaps it was simply because they got a good glimpse of Hell on a regular basis. Whatever the reason, Johnny knew he was not alone in his belief in God… and miracles.
Johnny also made sure he was on good speaking terms with the Big Fireman in the sky… and it had always brought him a sense of security… almost as if he could feel God watching over him… like an answered prayer.
He just prayed now that He was also watching over those he loved… he had a feeling that with the death of Loretta and Todd and the devastating injuries suffered by David and Elaine…that this family was going to need Him… a lot.
Although the traffic on the 101 had been heavy all the way up the coast, it had been surprisingly free of traffic jams. Consequently they had made good time, and had actually arrived in Monterrey twenty minutes ahead of schedule.
The wheels of the ambulance had barely stopped moving, before Johnny flung open the door and entered into the hospital through the bay doors. Once inside, he hurried through the halls, his eyes scanning the hospital’s interior until they landed on the main desk. He strode over to the middle-aged and somewhat corpulent but officious looking nurse that stood behind the desk and handed over the files.
The nurse gave the papers inside the file folder a cursory glance before she lifted her heavy lidded eyes to look back up at Johnny.
“I take it you would be John Gage?”
Johnny nodded his head and reached around to the back pocket of his jeans, already anticipating her next question.
“I’ll need to see some identification,” she said skeptically.
Johnny simply gave her a curt nod of his head as he handed over his Paramedic I.D. card and badge, momentarily wishing that he had worn his uniform today so he would have “looked” the part.
The nurse gave the both the identification and Johnny a long scrutinizing gaze… evidently he had passed muster, because the heavyset woman motioned a much younger and prettier nurse over to the desk.
“Mary, I’ll need you to watch the desk, while I escort Mr. Gage here to Dr. Wilkinson’s office.”
Johnny gave the pretty nurse a warm smile. If it hadn’t been for Nurse Ratchet’s glare and the seriousness of his mission, he wouldn’t have minded trying to wrangle a date out of her.
He turned around to follow the older woman, and almost ran into the two ambulance attendants and their accompanying gurneys. Hmm maybe it hadn’t been so much his face, but the presence of the ambulance attendants that had convinced Broom Hilda here that he was an actual Paramedic, and not some radical hippie who liked to spend his days kidnapping random hospital patients for fun.
He got that reaction from time to time…Joanne had told him it was because he looked young for his twenty four years, not to mention his slightly shaggy head of hair; most people when they first met him out of uniform assumed he was in college … not a seasoned firefighter with six years’ experience under his belt, let alone a highly skilled Paramedic. Fortunately Dr. Wilkinson wasn’t one of those people and he greeted Johnny with a welcoming smile.
“Good to meet you, Mr. Gage. Kelly Brackett has told me a lot of good things about you and Mr. DeSoto,” he said as he held out his right hand.
Johnny smiled and extended his hand in return.
“Johnny,” he clarified as the two men shook hands. “How are Roy and Jo, this morning… did they have a restful night?” he asked anxiously.
“Well … Johnny, I was just up to see them, and I am pleased to report that they are both doing very well. I don’t anticipate either one of them having any difficulty making the journey back to Los Angeles.
Mrs. DeSoto’s parents are in the I.C.U. with their other daughter and her husband, but they mentioned that they wanted to slip down and speak with Mrs. DeSoto before she left.”
Johnny cringed at the mere mention of the Hirsch’s. Ever since that disastrous dinner he had had with them at Roy and Joanne’s a year earlier, Johnny had made a point of staying out of Priscilla’s way. Joanne had tried to invite him over for dinner a couple months back when they had been visiting …mostly to be a buffer for Roy, but Johnny had refused to come. He had no intention of trying to smooth things over with the Hirsch’s. His days of tolerance for Joanne’s sake were over… If Priscilla Hirsch was going to be at the DeSoto’s, he’d made sure he wasn’t. And thus far, he’d been successful. Just the very idea of having to be in the same room with the woman, left Johnny in a top-step-at-the-dentist’s frame of mind.
Johnny could handle Charles… he rarely spoke about anything one way or another. In fact, come to think of it, Johnny wasn’t even sure Charles Hirsch knew any phrase other than “yes, dear.” Charles was more of a milquetoast kind of man… but he came from old money, and he was highly respected. His family’s wealth and position after so many generations had made him blasé and somewhat bored with society in general, so that his usual expression was one that could best be described as being vacuous. His conversational skills were equally vapid. But what Charles lacked in personality, his wife made up for in spades. Unfortunately her personality tended to make one focus on the more alarming aspects of her character, which generally consisted of all the more nasty traits of human nature … or at least, all the ones that Johnny despised the most.
He hoped he wouldn’t run into them now. He knew both David and Elaine got along well with both Priscilla and Charles and that they were dealing with an awful lot right now. Both David and Elaine would be in need of the Hirsch’s support. The pair of them had suffered terrible injuries. David had not only lost a limb… but he had also lost his only sibling. The injured couple had as many emotional wounds as they did physical.
Still Johnny hated the thoughts of having to deal with the Hirsch’s… it was a tough situation, but his primary concern was for Roy, Joanne and the kids. The dead… they were past caring. It was the living that were left behind to deal with the scars and the pain. David and Elaine had Jo’s parents. It was his job to be there for Roy and his family.
As they rode up in the elevator, Dr. Wilkinson had informed Johnny that both Joanne and Roy were almost ready to go. Joanne’s personal effects had been gathered up and she had been moved into Roy’s room and was currently awaiting Johnny’s arrival. She had already been wheeled down for a brief visit with her sister and brother-in-law before she left.
“How are David and Elaine doing?” Johnny asked Dr. Wilkinson.
“Well, not being a family member, I am not at liberty to discuss their injuries with you myself, but I can tell you that they have both been upgraded to serious, but stable condition. The expectation is that they will have stabilized enough to be airlifted to UCLA sometime tomorrow.”
The two men walked along, until finally the Doctor stopped outside of room 516. Johnny could hear a very animated conversation filtering through the door before Dr. Wilkinson even opened it and walked inside, with Johnny trailing in close behind.
Johnny stiffened visibly when he walked into the room just in time to hear Priscilla say to Joanne, “I don’t see why you don’t just accept our offer, and let us fly you back home. It’s certainly quicker, more comfortable…and a more dignified way for our daughter to be transported. Your husband,” she said, casting a disdainful glance in Roy’s direction, “can surely get one of his fireman friends to come for him once he is released. In the meantime you and the children can come and stay with us.”
Roy’s face wore an expression that was equal parts harassment and fatigue and his mouth was drawn down at the corners into a narrow frown.
“There’ll be no need for that,” Johnny said from the doorway, startling them all. “I’ve already made arrangements for both Roy and Joanne to be transported back to Rampart today. In fact the ambulance is waiting for them downstairs, and I’ll be accompanying them back to Los Angeles personally.”
Johnny looked over at the injured couple and gave them a critical once over.
Joanne was sitting in a wheelchair; both legs were casted up to her knees. Roy was lying in his bed, and from the slight glaze in his eyes, Johnny knew he had recently received some form of pain medication, but even in his semi-drugged state, he understood the Cavalry had just arrived. Roy shot Johnny a grateful look and lay back against his pillows with an audible sigh of relief that was a little too blatant to be tactful.
Johnny stepped further into the room until he was face to face with Pricilla and Charles Hirsch and regarded them with a steady stare. A momentary trace of anger flashed in Johnny’s dark eyes, but he managed to force a tight smile onto his face as he greeted the group. Now wasn’t the time to air old grievances or get into it with the Hirsch’s. Joanne and Roy were too ill and shell shocked to deal with anything like that.
“Mr. and Mrs. Hirsch,” Johnny acknowledged stiffly.
The tone of his voice belied anything the forced smile was trying to convey.
Johnny noticed the harried and apprehensive look on Joanne’s face … the tension in the air was palpable. He immediately stepped up between Roy’s bed and Joanne’s wheelchair in an overtly protective gesture.
“Hey, Pally, how’re ya doing today?” he said, glancing in Roy’s direction.
Without waiting for an answer he leaned over and gave Joanne a peck on the cheek. “I came as soon as I could,” he said quietly. “I had to get the kids taken care of first, and then I had to get to Rampart and pick up the paperwork from Brackett,” he informed the pair. The entire time he spoke, his gaze never left the Hirsch’s.
Tense seconds ticked by, as Johnny continued to glance narrowly at Priscilla. The look in his eyes conveyed the unspoken warning… “You’d better not say anything disparaging…”
“As for looking after Joanne and the kids,” Johnny said, looking Priscilla directly in the eyes, “I have already arranged for a six week leave of absence, and I’ll be staying with them until I am sure both Roy and Jo are able to get around and cope with the kids.”
Johnny walked over to the closet and began to retrieve what remained of Roy’s personal effects as he shifted the direction of his conversation back in the injured couple’s direction. “The plan is for Joanne to be admitted for another night, just so Brackett can check her over himself. But since I am going to be there to help her, he fully expects her to be able to go home tomorrow afternoon.”
Johnny turned and looked over at Roy lying in the bed. “Unfortunately for you, Pally, one of the dividends paid for sustaining a concussion is the lingering nausea, headaches and dizziness, and until these issues have resolved themselves, I am afraid you will have to remain a guest at Rampart. Brackett also said he wants to make sure you are breathing effectively enough to keep your lungs clear with those broken ribs. My guess would be that you won’t get home before the end of the week… By the way, I called your bed and breakfast this morning…they are having your personal effects from your room shipped back to your house tomorrow. I knew you wouldn’t have had much time to make arrangements for that kind of thing, and I really don’t have time to do it today. Unfortunately, we’re on kind of a tight schedule as it is,” he finished with a reassuring smile at Roy.
Priscilla looked at Johnny like he was something she had stepped in, and needed to be scraped off the bottom of her shoe. She pulled herself up to her full height and turned to face Joanne indignantly.
“The children should be with Charles and I while you’re laid up. We can give them the kind of support and care that they need right now … that sense of stability that only a grandparent can give to a child in the absence of their parents.”
Johnny rolled his eyes at that statement. He could have enlightened her on his opinion about the kind of care he had received from his grandparents in the absence of his mother and father… but a sense of propriety about saying something in front of the Doctor, Roy or Joanne kept him silent. Johnny listened disinterestedly as she continued to pontificate about her superior qualifications for the job.
It was true Priscilla and Charles could offer those kids anything money could buy. They could give them almost everything…. but warmth, caring, love and a sense of empathy for others.
Priscilla was so filled with her own self- importance that she failed to notice the anger and frustration building in Joanne’s eyes.
“They need to be with family,” Priscilla reaffirmed defiantly.
Joanne reached over and grabbed Johnny’s hand and smiled. “They will be with family… Johnny will be there with us to pick up any slack,” she said firmly, ending any further discussion on the matter.
Dr. Wilkinson wasn’t sure he could define the exact nature of the exchange between the people in this room, except to say it was one of mutual distrust. But what was obvious to the Doctor was that Mr. Gage was in high protective mode, and ready to fight to the death for the DeSoto’s; it was equally obvious that his two patients were depending on the young Paramedic to do the protecting.
Either way he knew it was in everyone’s best interest that Mr. and Mrs. Hirsch be asked to leave the room. Mr. Gage was still eyeing the older couple coolly, while Charles Hirsch stood by the door looking sullen. It was Priscilla Hirsch’s countenance that alarmed him the most…there was no mistaking the venom in those eyes. It actually sent a silent shiver down the Doctor’s spine… If looks could have killed, John Gage would have been six feet under, pushing up the daisies right then and there.
~ ~ ~
Johnny woke with a jolt and sat straight up in the bed, his heart pounding. The screech of the alarm clock that pierced the silence was going through his head like a nail.
It was still dark out… too early to be awake. He looked around the room and remembered… he was now in the den at the DeSoto home. He contemplated hitting the snooze button and trying to sneak in another ten minutes, but quickly abandoned the idea… he just had too much to do today to prepare for Joanne’s homecoming that afternoon. He reached over and silenced the offending noise. Johnny flopped his head back down onto the pillow, closed his eyes, and concentrated on slowing his breathing.
He lay there quietly and listened to the silence… the sounds were all wrong for the DeSoto house. Usually when he was staying here, the first sounds he heard upon waking in the morning were the sounds of Joanne and Roy laughing in the kitchen with their children. On those occasions he would burrow down deeper into his pillow and just listen, taking comfort in the normal, mundane sounds of family life. In some small way it gave him a sense of belonging…that there were people who cared for him… that he wasn’t alone. But today there was only silence… it was a lonely sound; a sound that left Johnny feeling unsettled and sad.
It had been a very long, emotional two days on very little sleep. The den where he was sleeping, with its rich wood and low lighting, felt far more inviting than the empty cavernous feeling of the rest of the downstairs, and Johnny would have preferred to let his body melt back down into the thick soft duvet and just allow himself to drift back off to sleep for another hour or two… but it was going to be a busy enough day as it was. Johnny tossed back his eiderdown covering, heaved a regretful sigh and pulled his tired and overtaxed body out of bed. The thought of getting up and functioning on less than three hours sleep was daunting; he was already exhausted and he had just stepped out of bed.
He shuffled quietly out of the den and made his way up the stairs to the kids’ rooms. He quietly opened the door to Chris’s room and peered inside. The little boy’s face was bathed in the pre-dawn shadows; he looked peaceful as he lay in his bed fast asleep. Johnny crouched down until he was eye level with the sleeping child and gently brushed back the tangle of blond hair. He hated to wake the boy up, but he had missed his bath the night before and Johnny wanted to make sure it was a clean, properly dressed and well fed boy he sent off to school.
By the time he got home from Rampart the night before it was after nine. He had made the short walk to the neighbours to pick Chris and Jenny up from Mrs. Harrison’s. Both kids had fallen asleep on her sofa by the time he had arrived. Thankfully Mrs. Harrison had thought to tell him to bring their pajamas when he had dropped Jenny off that morning, so at least she had them ready for bed. Jenny hadn’t even stirred in his arms as he carried her across the yard, with a very groggy Chris in tow.
Once he had settled the children into their beds, he’d allowed himself a brief respite to sit and have some coffee and a sandwich.
After that he got right to work. First on the list, was the mound of laundry to do; Joanne had told him to just leave the kids’ laundry for her to do when she got home from their weekend… but now the plan had changed, so at ten o’clock in the evening, Johnny found himself separating the colours from the whites.
Even now, he blushed as he remembered emptying out Joanne’s bag from the hospital. He had felt almost voyeuristic picking up her delicate personal lingerie to wash it along with the rest of the dirty clothes. When he had first reached into the plastic bag the hospital had used to store Joanne’s personal clothing, he hadn’t thought about what he was grabbing. As soon as he realized he was holding Joanne’s panties, he dropped them onto the floor with a gasp.
Anyone looking on would have thought he had just picked up a deadly viper. He cringed with embarrassment and sent up a silent prayer of thanks that no one had been around to see the event. He could just imagine what the guys would have said, if they could have seen him run to the kitchen, grab a pair of salad tongs, and use them to pick up the underwear and drop them into the washing machine. That was another thing to add to his ‘to-do’ list; he had to remember to buy Jo a new pair of salad tongs.
Both she and Roy had sent Johnny home from the hospital with a list of things they wanted him to bring with him when he came to pick up Joanne.
Joanne had decided that it would probably be best to wear a dress home, as it would be easy to slip on and off, and she wouldn’t have to worry about getting it on over her casts. Johnny had felt equally uncomfortable going through the bedroom closet looking for the dress she had requested. In the end he saved himself the agony of having to go through her drawers to find her a pair of underwear… he simply put the ones he had just laundered back into the bag.
Roy’s bag had been so much easier to pack… being a patient himself on numerous occasions, he knew from personal experience what ‘guy’ stuff to pack. He also grabbed the novel Roy had been reading off his nightstand. He’d stop off tomorrow and pick up a magazine and the L.A. Times for Roy to read… he even remembered to throw in a pencil and a small sharpener…Roy was the only person he knew who did the crossword puzzle in pencil.
Next on his list of ‘to-do’ items, had been tackling the issue of the bedrooms. The master bedroom was located on the second floor and he knew it would weeks before Joanne would be able to navigate the stairs.
He looked around and decided that the easiest solution would be to dismantle the queen size bed in the master bedroom and bring it down to the spare room. It would be a tight fit, but it was do-able. He could transfer their clothes down to the dresser and closet as well. Joanne was going to be in casts for six to eight weeks, depending on how quickly the bones healed, and he wanted to make her as comfortable as possible…even Roy was going to be sore for quite some time, and not having to tackle the stairs would make it easier on them both.
That left the problem of where he would sleep. There was no way he felt comfortable sleeping in the master bedroom… that was Roy and Joanne’s intimate space, and it just felt too weird for him to take up residence there. He just couldn’t bring himself to do it. In the end, he moved the leather recliner in Roy’s den, out to the living room, and moved his single bed out of the spare room and into the den, where he would be staying for the duration.
By the time he had the laundry folded and put away and the rooms changed around it was after two in the morning. Johnny had availed himself of a quick shower before he dropped into bed, completely exhausted. Unfortunately the alarm’s rude awakening, less than four hours later, had left him feeling as if he hadn’t slept at all.
Johnny got the coffee pot on, and set the table for breakfast. He decided that in light of all he had to do today, that cold cereal would have to suffice for breakfast. He figured if he sliced a banana on top of the cereal and added in a glass of milk or juice and a slice of toast, that it would pass for a nutritious breakfast… even if it wasn’t a hot breakfast like Joanne usually prepared on weekday mornings.
He silently went through his mental list of chores for the day: feed the kids, drop Chris off at school, go shopping for groceries, come home and make the kids’ beds and do the breakfast dishes, tidy up. Stop by the station and sign the leave of absence forms and grab my stuff from my locker. Pick up Chris from kindergarten at noon, feed the kids lunch… go get Joanne and let Roy visit with his kids. It was a lot to do, but he was positive he could handle it all.
Roy and Joanne had let Johnny know that they were anxious to see their children. Ever since the accident, they had both become acutely aware of how close Chris and Jenny had come to being orphaned. It had been a sobering thought that had left the couple with an overwhelming need to just see and hold their children close. Doctor Brackett had told Johnny that he didn’t see any reason why the children couldn’t come and visit Roy when he came to pick up Joanne. In fact it was probably the best medicine for Roy in light of everything that had happened.
The afternoon visiting hours at Rampart began at 2:30 each day, and Johnny made sure he and the kids were there by 2:15 so he could check on Joanne’s status. He found both Dixie and Dr. Brackett at the main desk drinking a cup of coffee while they enjoyed a brief respite in what had, thus far, been a busy day.
Johnny was relieved when Brackett told him that Joanne’s release papers had been signed, and according to her nurse, she was just waiting for someone to bring her some clothes so she could get dressed. The only other thing holding her back was waiting for her prescription for her pain medication to be filled at the pharmacy and a transporter to become available to take a wheelchair up to her room.
Johnny looked around the lobby until his eyes fell upon and empty wheelchair sitting in a corner of the waiting room.
“Is that chair available?” he asked, pointing over to the vacant wheelchair.
“Because if it is, I can just take it on up to Joanne’s room now… I’m sure Jo would like a chance to visit with Roy before she leaves… and I know these two munchkins,” he winked as he pointed to Chris and Jenny, “are anxious to see their mommy and daddy.”
Without waiting for a reply, Johnny set the overnight bags he had brought with him on the counter, walked over, grabbed the wheelchair and pushed it over to desk. He put on the brake and looked expectantly into the doctor’s face.
Kelly Brackett set his empty coffee cup down on the counter and stuck his hands into the pocket of his lab coat.
“I don’t see any problems with that, do you Dix?”
Dixie leaned over the top of the counter and smiled at Chris and Jenny.
“Oh, I think that would be fine… I’ll tell you what, I’ll have a candy striper bring Joanne’s prescription up to Roy’s room when it’s ready, and then she can help you take Joanne, her bag and the kids out to your Rover.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Johnny said as grabbed the wheelchair and turned it toward the elevator doors.
“Who wants a ride up to see your mom and dad?” he asked as he sat Jenny down in the wheel chair.
“I do,” Chris sang out as he piled into the chair beside his little sister. Johnny sat the two overnight bags he had brought with him on the boy’s lap and released the brakes.
With a small wave of his hand to Dixie and Dr. Brackett, Johnny pushed the wheelchair into the waiting elevator and hit the button that would carry them up to the fourth floor.
By the time the elevator doors opened up on the fourth floor, Johnny had cautioned both children that there were a lot of sick people here who needed rest, and that both children needed to remember to use their ‘inside voices’.
He quietly made his way down the hall to room 405, stopping just outside the door where he gently knocked, paused for a second or two, and then pushed the door open and poked his head inside the room. He smiled when he looked inside and saw Joanne sitting on her bed flipping through a magazine. Pushing on the door with his left hand to hold it open, he grabbed the handle of the wheelchair with his right hand and pushed it all the way into the room.
“Your carriage milady…” he said regally with an overly dramatic flourish of his hands.
Joanne looked up and immediately broke into a grin and held out her arms to her children. Setting the overnight bags on the floor, Johnny picked up Chris and set him down gently on one side of his mother. Once he was sure the boy was situated safely, he repeated the process with Jenny, only he placed the toddler on the other side of her mother. Johnny stood back and drank in the scene, as he watched the tearful reunion.
It was only a matter of a few minutes before a nurse appeared in the room. “I assume you are here to pick up Mrs. DeSoto?” she queried.
Johnny nodded his head and held up the small satchel. “I brought her some clean clothes …there is a sundress inside. We figured it would be the easiest thing for her to put on.”
When no one said anything right away, Johnny looked around the room and shifted restlessly from one foot to the other.
“How about if I take the kids to see their dad now, so the nurse can help you get dressed…then maybe the nurse can bring you down to Roy’s room when you’re ready.”
The nurse grabbed the bag out of Johnny’s hand and nodded.
“I think that would be best,” she said with an air of efficiency.
Joanne gave her children one final kiss and sat back so Johnny could lift Chris off the bed and set him on the floor. He picked Jenny up off the bed, and held her in his arms. He leaned over and gave Joanne a peck on the cheek. “I’ll see you in a few minutes,” he said before he left her in the hands of the nurse.
The trio didn’t have far to go; Roy was just three doors down the hall in room 411. Johnny entered the room, just in time to see Roy struggling to reach for the water pitcher that sat just out of reach on the nightstand.
“Knock, knock, Pally. You feel up to some company, while we wait for your wife?”
Upon looking up and seeing Johnny and the kids at the door, Roy gave up trying to reach the cup, and immediately held out his good hand toward Chris.
“I sure do, bring them over here, Junior. I have been waiting to give these guys a kiss for three days.”
This time however, Johnny did not put Chris on the bed. Roy had four broken ribs and a concussion, as well as a broken wrist and clavicle. Instead Johnny held the boy up next to Roy’s face, so Roy could give his son a kiss and a small sideways hug. He then pulled up a chair next to the bed and settled Chris onto the seat. Once Jenny had her turn of giving daddy his kiss, Johnny set her carefully on the foot of Roy’s bed.
Johnny then walked over to the water pitcher and filled the plastic glass with cold water and held it out to Roy.
“Do you want something to drink?”
“Drink?” Roy asked.
“No,” Johnny smiled. “Drink is what I said. You have to say something else. Yes or no comes to mind as being the usual response.”
Roy rolled his eyes, and made a feeble attempt to swat Johnny’s arm, before grabbing the glass and taking a long soothing drink.
“Thanks,” he said as he handed back the empty glass.
Roy sat back on his bed and listened contentedly as Chris sat regaling him with stories of everything he and Jenny had done during the last few days. Jenny had managed to slowly worm her way up until she was snuggled in against Roy’s uninjured side, while Johnny kept a close eye on the little girl to make sure she didn’t inadvertently hurt her daddy.
Ten minutes into their visit, the door to Roy’s room opened and the nurse pushed a now dressed Joanne into the room. Johnny stood and leaned idly against the wall as he took in the scene. It was good to see the four DeSotos back together in the same room. He stood silently and let the four of them visit… the kids getting reassurance, that although they were banged up, their parents were indeed going to be fine. Conversely, Roy and Joanne were taking their own measure of comfort in just being able to hold their children in their arms.
Before too long, there was a knock upon the door, and a young girl of about 19 entered into the room holding a bag containing Joanne’s meds.
“Excuse me, but I was told to bring these up to Mrs. DeSoto and help you get her settled into your vehicle,” she said.
Johnny looked at his watch and was surprised to see that they had been there for over forty-five minutes. He pushed off the wall he was leaning against, and walked over to Roy’s bed.
“I guess that’s our cue to get going huh? Is your bag still in your room Jo?”
“Yes, I’m all packed and ready to go,” Joanne said. “My bag is sitting on the bed along with my get well cards and the beautiful flowers the fire department sent me.”
Johnny walked over and took the bag of pills from the candy stripers hand.
“Well, how about if…” he gestured towards the young woman.
“Julia,” she supplied.
“How about if Julia here takes Chris and Jenny down to the doctors’ lounge to wait for us, and I’ll pop back to Jo’s room and grab her stuff. That will give Roy and Joanne a couple of minutes alone to say good-bye. I’ll come back here and get Jo, and meet you downstairs in a few minutes.”
Roy reached down and gave Jenny a final kiss, with an admonition for her to be a good girl for mommy and Uncle Johnny before Johnny gently lifted her down and set her on the floor near Julia. He then proceeded to lift Chris up until he was level with Roy’s face, so he could give his dad a farewell kiss and a hug.
As soon as they had finished their good-byes, Johnny knelt down and told the kids to go with Julia, and that he and mommy would meet them downstairs in a few minutes.
Once the children had left the room, Johnny slipped out with the promise of being back for Joanne in five minutes.
Joanne wheeled herself next to Roy’s bed and took his un-casted hand in hers and lifted it tenderly to her lips and gently kissed it, as a tear slipped from her eye.
“It’s going to be good to get back home,” she said with a slight quiver to her voice. “But somehow it won’t feel right until you’re home where you belong, too.” She paused for a moment before she added, “I’m really anxious to find out about Elaine and David. I need to know if they got home today or not.”
Roy reached over and softly wiped the tears from her eyes.
“Elaine and David are going to have a hard time of it for a while… David especially has a lot to adjust to emotionally, just dealing with the loss of his leg… and his sister,” he said.
The two of them sat there holding hands for several moments, when Joanne suddenly looked up…“My hairbrush,” she exclaimed.
“Pardon?” Roy asked.
“I forgot to tell Johnny to pick up my hairbrush. I left it on the edge of the sink in the bathroom.”
Just at that moment the nurse came in to give Roy his medication.
“Nurse?” Joanne asked.
“Could you please wheel me back to my room… 405? I am leaving today and I left a personal item behind in the bathroom.”
The nurse handed Roy the small paper cup that contained his medication, poured him a glass of water, and then turned to Joanne.
“Certainly, Mrs. DeSoto, I’m headed in that direction anyway.”
“We’ll be back to say good-bye, honey,” she called over her shoulder as the nurse pushed her out the door.
~ ~ ~
Back in room 405, Priscilla Hirsch stood pacing. She had just arrived back in Los Angeles, having flown back that morning … right after David and Elaine’s Medevac had left Monterrey. After making sure her eldest daughter and her husband were settled comfortably at UCLA, she had made her way over to Rampart to try and talk some sense into Joanne. She knew that if she could get her away from Roy and that fireman friend of his that she could convince her that she and the children should stay with them while she recovered.
But when she had arrived in Joanne’s room, the bed was empty and the only indication that anyone was even here was an overnight bag sitting on the unmade bed. She was just about to leave, when the door opened up and John Gage stepped inside.
Johnny froze for a second, but quickly shook off his shock as he walked over to the bed and picked up Joanne’s bag.
“We’re just leaving… I’m taking Jo and the kids home now,” he said by way of explanation. He turned his back and started toward the door…he had no intention of staying anywhere near the woman any longer than he had to.
Priscilla turned and starred at him icily.
“You’re not fooling anyone, you know,” she spat out vehemently.
“Excuse me?” Johnny said as he turned to face her.
“You…you think you are really clever, getting my grandchildren to call you Uncle Johnny, and letting my daughter refer to you as her brother, but I see right through you, MR. GAGE.”
She said his name as if the words were poison in her mouth.
“I see you trying to wheedle your way into my family… Why don’t you stop trying to horn in on something that doesn’t belong to you? You’re only kidding yourself if you think you will ever be family. You are nothing but a usurper.”
“Can’t you see what a joke it is to everyone… to see a grown man, pretending that he is actually part of another man’s family? It’s disgusting and it’s laughable, but most of all, it’s pathetic. Why don’t go out and find your own family instead of trying to steal mine…or maybe your own family didn’t want you?” she said snidely.”
Her words found their mark as Johnny thought back to his own grandparents, and how they had never wanted him around; his face drained of all colour.
Priscilla smiled smugly as she realized she had hit a sore spot in Johnny’s life … she moved in for the kill.
“That’s it, isn’t it? Your own family doesn’t want you,” she said scathingly.
“Well I can’t say that I’m surprised. I mean look at you…What could you possibly have to offer anyone?”
Johnny staggered back several steps, as her final words ran through his body like an icy cold dagger. In that one sentence she had exposed his innermost secret fears… exposing his insecurities about his true place in the DeSoto household.
Johnny heard a sharp gasp coming from somewhere behind him. He turned around and came face to face with Joanne and the nurse. Joanne’s facial features were taught and absolutely livid.
Johnny’s flushed in embarrassment and he quickly averted his eyes to some imaginary spot on the floor.
“Excuse me, Jo,” he said, his voice almost a whisper. “I’ll be waiting outside in the lounge for you … whenever you’re ready to go … just get the nurse to bring you down to the doctors’ lounge when you’re ready.”
Joanne reached over with her good hand and grasped his arm. “Johnny wait …” But Johnny pulled his arm free and continued towards the door.
“I’m okay, Jo…” he mumbled, as he pushed past the nurse and exited the room.
Joanne looked at the retreating figure. She sat in her chair, wishing desperately that she could be in two places at one time. Part of her wanted to follow after Johnny to make sure he hadn’t believed anything that her mother had said to him… but an even bigger part of her knew she needed to stay and get a few things straight with her mother.
Joanne was furious…when it came to her parents, her tolerance was wearing thin…and after what she had tried to do to Roy, and now this with Johnny, it was wearing thinner by the minute.
Joanne looked at her mother, her anger clearly evident in her eyes. But it was the nurse she spoke to.
“Could you get my brush out of the bathroom and hand it to me please… and then I’ll need a few moments alone with my mother, before I’m ready to go.”
The nurse hurried into the bathroom and grabbed the brush and handed it to the irate woman in the wheelchair. She was feeling more than a little uncomfortable about having walked in during Priscilla’s diatribe.
“If you just want to push the call button when you’re ready, I’ll have someone come get you and take you downstairs.”
“Thank you nurse… that will be fine,” Joanne said; the anger could still be plainly heard in her voice. Once the nurse had left, Joanne stopped in order to gain control of her emotions.
“Don’t you ever speak to a member of my family like that again, mother….we’ve had this conversation before. I will not tolerate this kind of treatment of any of my family members…and that family includes John Gage, whether you like it or not.”
“John Gage is a good man, and he has been more of a family to Roy and kids than you ever have. And you have no right to blame him because we would rather it be him that helps us out. If you want to cast around blame for who is at fault for that, then you don’t need to go any further than a mirror…because you only have yourself to blame. You alienated yourself from my family, when you refused to accept and welcome Roy into the family.”
“He’s a very loving husband and a wonderful provider for the kids and me, and I am damned proud of the work he does. He and Johnny make a real difference in peoples’ lives and they don’t deserve the treatment they receive from you and dad. When you disrespect Roy, you disrespect me. What you are saying in essence, is that I have exercised poor judgment in regards to my life choices.
And if you had even bothered to try and get to know Johnny, you would see what an incredible brother and uncle he has been to us.”
“As of this moment, I am putting the two of you on notice… You and dad better start reconsidering your attitude. You’ve already burnt a lot of bridges as far as my family is concerned…especially when it comes to how you treat my husband, and my brother. It’s only been for the kids’ sake that I’ve tolerated it this far… because you’re their grandparents. But I am warning you… you’re on your last bridge with me.”
“I am a grown woman, and Roy and I are Chris and Jenny’s parents… not you. And it will be Roy and I who will decide what is best for OUR children.”
“As for Johnny’s place in this family… it has nothing to do with you. And as far as him usurping your place in our family… let me inform you of something…Johnny didn’t take anything away from you… you threw it away with your refusal to respect and accept my husband.”
“And if you continue to act this way, you will be permanently cut out of our lives… I would suggest you think long and hard about that.”
“Furthermore, until you can apologize to both Roy and Johnny, you will not be welcome in my home…and when you are there, you will be polite, and courteous to anyone who is a guest in my house. That is Roy’s home, and you will treat him with all the respect he deserves…do you understand me?”
Joanne didn’t wait for, nor did she expect an answer. She simply wheeled the chair next to the bed and grabbed the call button and pressed it. Looking up at her mother, she was frustrated to see that her mother still had a defiant look on her face. It was as if nothing she was saying was getting through to the woman.
“Now, if you have nothing more constructive to say, then perhaps you should return to David and Elaine; because I am going in to say good-bye to my husband, and then I am going downstairs so I can go home with my children and my brother.”
The nurse chose that moment to enter the room.
“Yes, Mrs. DeSoto?” she asked.
“I’m almost ready to leave now,” Joanne informed her. “But before we go, would it be possible for me to stop off at my husband’s room? I have something I need to discuss with him before I leave.”
“Certainly, ma’am,” the nurse said as she took hold of the handles on the wheelchair, and pulled Joanne out of her room.
~ ~ ~
The nurse at the main desk on the fourth floor jerked her head up in surprise when the door to room 405 burst open and a young dark haired man she recognized as being one of the Paramedics that worked in Rampart’s territory came bursting through… it was obvious the man was upset. He looked over and their eyes met briefly, before he turned and headed towards the bank of elevators.
Johnny hurried down the hall, stumbling a little in his haste to get away from Priscilla’s cruel accusations, that he had forced himself onto the DeSoto family.
He pressed the down arrow and waited for the doors to open, resting his forehead against the wall in an effort to calm himself down. Once inside the elevator, Johnny took a deep breath and composed himself so that by the time he got to the children they wouldn’t be able to see how upset he was.
When he entered the waiting room, he found Chris and Jenny chatting happily away with Julia. The moment they laid eyes on him, they forgot about the young lady, jumped up and ran the short distance to Johnny.
“Uncle Johnny, is it time to take mom home now?”
Johnny gave them as big a smile as he could come up with under the circumstances and shook his head. “Soon, guys,” he answered. “Your mom is still upstairs saying good-bye to your dad. I told her the three of us would wait for her in the lounge.”
Johnny thanked Julia for sitting with the kids, but told her he would be fine alone with them now. The girl said good-bye to the kids and left the room.
He walked over to the stack of children’s books that were piled on a table in the corner of the waiting room and leaned over and grabbed a couple of generic story books and shepherded the kids into the staff lounge. Once inside he stuck his hands into the front pocket of his jeans and fished out a handful of change, stepped up to the vending machine and purchased a couple of orange soda’s for the kids.
He sat down on the sofa and both children scrambled up, one on either side of him as he opened up the first book. He began to mindlessly read to the children; completely unaware of what the plot of the story was about, reading mechanically with none of his usual enthusiasm. He didn’t have the desire to try and embellish the story today…it was simply something to do to pass the time. It kept the children content and quiet… and right at that moment, that was all he required of the book.
That was the scene that greeted Joanne as she was wheeled into the doctor’s lounge; Johnny sitting on the sofa while Jenny slept, slumped next to him … his face expressionless as he read to Chris from a storybook.
Not much was said as Johnny pushed Joanne’s wheelchair out to the Rover. Jenny sat in her mother’s lap while Chris, who had insisted he was big enough to carry his mom’s bag, trotted along beside his Uncle.
The entire ride home, neither adult mentioned anything about what had happened back in Joanne’s hospital room. Johnny didn’t want to, and Joanne wasn’t totally sure how to handle it. This kind of thing was Roy’s bailiwick when it came to Johnny… not hers. She had told Roy what had transpired between Johnny and her mom when she had gone in to say good-bye to him. She hadn’t wanted to mention it while Roy was flat on his back in a hospital bed, but he had known she was upset the second he saw her face… that and the fact Johnny hadn’t returned with her to say good-bye.
It was a good thing for her mother that Roy was laid up, because he had been furious with Priscilla and had wanted to go after her and tear a strip off her, right there and then. As it was, he had told Joanne that he didn’t want that woman stepping one foot inside his home ever again.
Joanne had promised Roy she would make sure Johnny came up to visit him the next day so they could ‘talk’ things over. In the meantime, she would try and speak to him herself; she just wasn’t sure what it was exactly she was going to say to him. She had never seen Johnny look so hurt before … she wasn’t sure how to handle hurt in a grown man. If it had been Chris or Jenny, she could have handled it… but a 24 year old man, she wasn’t too sure.
She watched Johnny as he concentrated on the road. When they stopped at a red light, he turned to her briefly and smiled.
Joanne reached over and lightly squeezed Johnny’s hand.
“None of what she said was true…you know that, right John?” she said quietly.
His dark eyes studied her for a moment before they drifted off to stare out the window. He smiled sadly but didn’t answer.
“Johnny?” Joanne gently urged.
“Doesn’t matter,” Johnny sighed.
“It most certainly does so matter… and this conversation isn’t over. Once we have a quiet moment alone, we’re going to talk about this.”
“Jo …” Johnny started, but she cut him off before he could finish his thought.
“Later, Johnny,” she said firmly.
At that moment the light changed to green and Johnny turned his full attention back to the road. In the end both Johnny and Joanne let the kids carry the bulk of the conversation during the ride home.
Upon entering the house, Joanne noticed right away that Johnny had been hard at work getting things ready for her arrival. The dining room table and chairs had been pushed up against the far wall, out of the way, and the coffee table that usually sat perfectly centered in front of the living room couch was now conveniently positioned further down towards the far end of the sofa, leaving plenty of wide open spaces for her to maneuver her wheelchair around the room. In the kitchen, it was the same... the table and chairs had all been repositioned, so it allowed her more freedom of movement, as well as access to the table so she could eat with the family.
“This looks great, Johnny; you’ve thought of everything,” Joanne said appreciatively.
“I tried to,” Johnny replied. “I also moved your bed into the downstairs bedroom, along with yours and Roy’s clothes. I knew the stairs would be too much of a challenge in those casts.”
Johnny paused for a moment before he bent down closer to her ear, lowering his voice to a whisper, “I…um… well, I installed a temporary support bar beside the toilet in the downstairs bathroom… to um…. help you transfer over from the wheelchair… you’re going to need something to grab hold of to lift yourself over.”
He shifted nervously on his feet, a blush settling on his face. “I…uh…Well I think I better help you practice it a time or two before you need to use the little girl’s room for real.”
Joanne smiled and nodded her head. “Yes, well we can do that as soon as I get my things settled in my room.”
Joanne pushed herself through the living room and into the spare room, where Chris had set her bag on the bed. Looking around the room, she could indeed see that Johnny had thought of everything… right down to her bedside lamp and box of tissues.
“You are amazing, Johnny. This must of taken you hours. I hadn’t even thought about having to do this stuff,” she praised him.
Johnny patted her shoulder and winked at her knowingly, “You forget, Jo, I am the world’s foremost expert on getting around the DeSoto home while convalescing. I have firsthand knowledge of all the pitfalls and hazards that can trip you up.”
Joanne smiled as she looked over the bedroom a second time. “So I take it you moved your bed up to the master?” she quizzed.
For some reason Joanne could not fathom, Johnny averted his eyes and looked decidedly uncomfortable.
“Uh, no … I moved my stuff into the den,” he hedged.
“Why didn’t you take our room? The master bedroom has so much more space… and it’s empty now anyway,” Joanne asked in confusion. Johnny immediately got that ‘deer in the headlights’ look in his eyes.
“I couldn’t do that,” Johnny exclaimed. “I mean that’s where you and Roy….” He stopped as he realized what he was about to say, his face reddening.
Joanne suddenly realized what he had been about to say and tried hard to suppress her laughter. Now fully flustered, Johnny stumbled over his words… “I mean… what I was trying to say was …” he stammered out.
This time Joanne did laugh out loud. “John Gage… you prude. You mean you won’t sleep in our room because that’s where Roy and I get it on?” she laughed.
Johnny’s face turned an even deeper shade of red. “Jo-aaaaane,” he whined.
Joanne continued to giggle while Johnny stood there looking flustered.
“Besides,” he finally said. “I need to be downstairs so I can hear you … in case you need me for anything through the night,” he informed her.
“I see,” she said with a wry grin on her face… “Well, if you say so.”
In an effort to change the subject, Johnny turned his focus onto the kids who were currently sitting on the bed “helping” mommy by unpacking her bag.
It was Chris who provided the perfect excuse for Johnny to change the subject, when the six year old reached in and pulled out the bag of prescription medicine from Joanne’s satchel and held it up.
Johnny quickly reached over and snatched the bag out of the boy’s hands.
“Uh, uh, uh, Chris…those are not for children. I’ll just take these and put them somewhere safe. Now how about you and Jenny go into the living room and watch some TV, while I get supper going.”
Johnny glanced over at Joanne, giving her a critical once over. “Would you like to lie down and rest a bit before supper Jo? I know how much a trip home from the hospital can tire you out.”
Joanne shook her head as she rifled through the rest of her things. “I’m fine Johnny, but I am ready for some real food. Hospital food is barely edible, I think it must be 99% sawdust…I’ll never try and force that stuff on you ever again. So what are you making for supper tonight… hotdogs?” she joked.
Johnny chuckled, as he took the now empty bag and stowed it in the closet.
“No, it’s not hotdogs,” he said mimicking her voice. “Actually we’re having tuna casserole tonight, courtesy of Mrs. Harrison next door. She dropped it off this morning, with the cooking instructions taped to the side of the pan. She knew it was going to be a busy day for us, so she thought she’d help out.”
“That was so sweet of her… I’ll have to be sure to send her a thank-you card,” Joanne answered.
Johnny nodded. “And the best part is, she used one of those disposable aluminum trays…no pots to scrub afterward,” he said happily. “You sure you’ll be okay here, while I go pop that in the oven?”
Joanne rolled her eyes and gave him a playful shove toward the door. “Yes, mom, I’ll be fine.”
“This is a bit of a role reversal, isn’t it?” he sniggered. “I could get used to having all this power.”
Joanne grinned and threw her magazine across the room, hitting him in the legs. “Scoot,” she laughed playfully. “I’m starving… especially now that I know supper isn’t going to be one of your own creations.”
“Hey...” Johnny said with a look of mock indignation. “I’m not that bad of a cook,” he said defensively.
“That’s not what Roy says,” Joanne answered back.
Johnny snorted. “Like he’s one to talk … Well then, Mrs. DeSoto, since you’re such an expert on haute cuisine, I guess tomorrow you’re just going to have to show me how it’s done.”
Continued in Part 2
Posted to Site 03/30/13
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