Friends Not Forgotten
(Sequel to One Wish)
It was New Year’s Eve Day and John Gage couldn’t believe the year had gone so fast. He had spent Christmas in the hospital but was quickly given a clean bill of health. It was his first day back to work and he knew this would be a busy shift. For once, he was the first of his crew to arrive. His partner, Roy DeSoto strolled in right behind him.
DeSoto smiled as he opened the door to his locker. “Hey, Johnny! It’s great to have you back. How’re you feeling?”
“Actually I feel great. I don’t even mind working New Year’s Eve. I still can’t believe we have to work two holidays though. I also can’t believe B-shift was willing to do overtime just to be off for a wedding.”
“Hey, we had Christmas day off. Besides, you’ve had the last week off.”
Johnny shot Roy a hurt look. “I was recuperating. It wasn’t like I was on vacation or something.”
“Oh yeah, how many nurses did you manage to take out while you were ‘recuperating’?”
Gage hesitated a moment before answering. “Uh, well, two.”
Roy laughed. “I knew it!”
“Well, you’re not always right. But, I’ll give ya this one. Come on, let’s go and get a cup of coffee. I need a little caffeine. Something tells me this is gonna be a LONG shift.”
Johnny had been right. The shift was long and the squad had eight runs in a row before things quieted down for the paramedics. Tired and hungry, the partners made their way into the kitchen where the rest of the crew had already gathered to eat.
“Marco, I’m starved,” said Johnny. “What’d ya cook for dinner?”
“Ah, I made my special chili. I figured it’s just the meal we need to bring in the New Year.”
“Yeah, well, I tried to tell him that it was black-eyed peas that were supposed to bring us luck for the New Year but he wouldn’t hear of it,” complained Chet.
Johnny squished up his face and gave Chet a disgusting look. “Ewwww, I hate black-eyed peas. Give me some of that chili Marco.”
Marco dished out a bowl of chili for Johnny. “How about you, Roy?”
“Yes, I’m starved. I’d love some.”
“I still think we should make some black-eyed peas,” suggested Chet. “We could do with a little luck around here.”
Johnny replied with his mouth half full of chili. “Oh come on, Chet. You don’t believe in stupid superstitions do you? You really think eating black-eyed peas will give you luck?”
“Sure I do. My sister told me about them last year and I didn’t have one injury all year long. You of all people should at least try one bowl full.”
“Nope, I hate them. There is no way I would ever put one single black-eyed pea in my mouth!”
Roy couldn’t help but laugh. “Johnny, they are actually quite good. Have you ever really tried them?”
“Uh, no. But it doesn’t matter now. We don’t have any here.”
Chet spoke up. “Yeah, we do. I brought in two bags. I can still make them later tonight.”
“Well, there ya go,” replied Roy. “Tonight you’ll get your first taste. Besides, I agree with Chet. You could use a little luck, partner.”
An hour later the station was called out to rescue a couple that were trapped when their home was caught in a rockslide. Crews were already attempting to remove the rocks that buried the backside of the house. Johnny and Roy were preparing to enter and search for the couple as soon as a path was cleared for them.
“Cap, I thought these homes had been condemned? Any idea why someone would move back into one?” Roy asked.
“Sometimes people don’t want to face the fact that they’ve lost their home.”
“Yea, well losing a home is better than losing a life.”
“Hey, Cap,” yelled Mike. “They say it’ll be about twenty more minutes before they can clear a way into the house.”
“Okay, thanks Mike.” The Captain turned back to his paramedics. “Are ya ready?”
“Yeah, I just hope we can get in there in time,” replied Roy.
Johnny picked up his gear. “I just pray there aren’t any more rockslides.”
It was a little more than twenty minutes before the pair was able to climb through the rubble and into what was left of the small home. Gage took the lead as they slowly made their way through the tight path that had been cleared for them.
“Johnny, do you see anything?” asked Roy.
“No, not yet. I think there’s another room off to the right. Let’s see if there is a pocket of space there. Do ya hear anything?”
Roy’s response was somber. “No, not a thing. This doesn’t look good. I’m not sure anyone could have survived this kind of destruction.”
Johnny’s prediction was right on the mark. He found a small pocket of space in what looked as though it use to be an office. As he slowly made his way into the room, his partner followed.
“I don’t see anyone, Roy.”
“Okay, let’s backtrack. . .”
Before DeSoto could finish his sentence, he felt his surroundings move as more rocks tumbled down the hillside. He quickly grabbed his partner and dove for the small pocket of space in the corner of the room. The slide stopped as quickly as it started.
“Johnny, are you alright?” yelled DeSoto. “Can you hear me?”
“Uh, yeah, I think so. My knee hurts a little though. Are you okay?”
Roy let out a sigh of relief. “Yeah, I’m fine. I think I banged my shoulder up some.”
The paramedics moved around until they both achieved a sitting position within the confinements of their tiny space.
“Do you still have your flashlight on you?” asked Roy.
“Yeah, hang on a minute.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I will be as soon as we’re out of here, Roy.”
Johnny handed Roy the flashlight. He quickly turned it on and began to assess their situation. “Well, looks like we’re in a stable place for now. Let’s just hope they get to us soon.”
“I guess there’s no hope for that couple now,” replied Johnny.
“I know. I was just thinking the same thing. Let’s take a look at you. I know you’re hurt.”
Johnny had a large scrape on his forehead and his knee was beginning to swell. Roy was mostly concerned that his partner had suffered a concussion.
“How does your head feel?”
Johnny started to reach for his injured forehead when Roy grabbed his hand and stopped him. “Don’t touch it. Let me see if I can find some of our supplies in this mess.
“Okay. I am getting a bit of a headache. It may be the lack of oxygen in here though.”
“Yeah, I figured we’d save using the oxygen until we really needed it. There’s no telling how long it’s going to take to dig us out of here.”
Roy was able to find the few supplies that they had carried in with them. He made Johnny hold the flashlight while he bandaged up his partner’s head. “There isn’t much I can do for the knee right now partner.”
“It’s okay. As long as I’m sitting still, I’m fine. I think we’d better conserve the flashlight batteries though. We may need it to show them where we’re at.”
Roy smiled. “Good thinking, Junior. But, hey, before you turn it out, what time is it?”
Johnny flashed the light onto his watch. “It’s ten after eleven. Only fifty minutes until the New Year.”
The partners sat quietly for ten minutes while trying to relax, conserve oxygen, and listen for any sign of digging around them.
Gage broke the silence. “I wonder how long it’ll take to find us?”
“If I know Chet, he’s out there pressing everyone on. He’s dying for you to try those black-eyed peas and I’m sure he’s not gonna let you out of it this easy.”
Johnny snickered at his partner’s humor.
“Your head still hurt?” Roy wondered.
“A little. It’s not too bad though.”
Roy was relieved, but he decided it would be best to continue to talk to his partner and keep him awake. “That’s good. Hey, Johnny, there’s something I’ve been wondering and well. . .”
“I don’t know. I feel like I’m prying by asking this but I just really want to know.”
“Okay, Roy. Just ask.”
“Who is Rob Burger?”
Johnny responded with a light laugh. “Well, I figured you’d ask that eventually. You actually took a little longer than I thought you would. Joanne was a doll to keep my secret.”
“Yeah, that kind of took me by surprise. When did you and Joanne talk about that?”
“Last year when you had that accident. Joanne was so upset when you were in surgery. We stayed up and talked all night.”
“So, why did you make up all of that stuff about what you two were going to do on Christmas?”
Johnny shifted his weight to find a more comfortable spot near his partner. “Well, it actually wasn’t made up. We did have all those plans. It just wasn’t for this year.”
“So, who was he? What happened to him?”
Roy was caught off guard by Johnny’s matter of fact reply. “He died.”
“Uh huh. We worked together before I became a paramedic. He was my best friend.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Roy replied. “I didn’t know. I never heard of him.”
“It’s okay. He didn’t die on the job.”
“How’d he die?”
Johnny was silent.
“Johnny? Are you okay?”
“Oh, yeah, sorry. I was just thinking about Rob.”
“If it’s too painful to talk about we can change the subject,” replied Roy.
“No, it’s okay. He was a good guy. I just wasn’t sure how to say this without giving you a bad impression of him.”
“Oh, okay. Well, go ahead.”
“He had a girlfriend. They were finally going to get married that February. They had two little girls. It would have been the perfect life.”
“But, he had been injured on the job earlier that year. As a result, he was hooked on painkillers. He managed to get them from several doctors.”
Roy worked carefully to stretch out his legs. “I’ve heard that happens quite often. It’s kind of scary.”
“Well, he could have gone into treatment. His girlfriend begged him to get help. I wasn’t even aware of it until he started missing a lot of work. On Christmas day his girlfriend had taken the girls out of town to visit her mother. We were supposed to meet up and hang out. He never showed.”
“Did you go and find him?”
“Nah, I stayed home. I’ve always kinda regretted that.”
“What happened?” Roy knew without asking but he pushed to hear the answer.
“He overdosed. They said it probably happened the night before but still. . .”
“You think you could’ve saved him?”
“Maybe. I don’t know, probably not. But, that was part of the reason I decided to become a paramedic. I thought about that day a lot. Even if I had gone there to find him, what could I have done?”
Roy sat quiet for a moment. “So, why haven’t you wanted to talk about him?”
“I don’t know, Roy. I guess I figured if I forgot about him, it wouldn’t hurt so much. He was my best friend. We did everything together. I just couldn’t get over the fact that I didn’t see that coming.”
“Yeah, well, sometimes when you’re that close to someone it’s hard to see the signs.”
Johnny’s mood was somber. “Well, I have realized that I can’t change what happened. It’s just that I feel guilty, ya know?”
“Guilty? Why do you feel guilty?” Roy asked.
“Well, because even though he was my best friend at the time, I’ve never had a better friend than you. I know it’s silly but sometimes I feel guilty about that.”
Roy smiled. “Thanks, I feel the same about you. But you really don’t have anything to feel guilty about. Is that why you were going to spend Christmas at his grave?”
“Yeah. It was five years this Christmas. Do you know I hadn’t even thought about him once in the last three years? I was so busy enjoying Christmas with you and your family. I wanted to be invited again but part of me felt I should at least stop and remember the friendship I had with Rob.”
“I tell ya what,” replied Roy. “How about I go by there with you when we get out of this mess?”
“You’d do that? Thanks, Roy.”
“You’re welcome. Hey, what time is it?”
Johnny turned on the flashlight and held it toward his watch. “We have two minutes until midnight. Guess we’ll be ringing in the New Year in here.”
Gage counted out loud the last ten seconds until midnight.
Roy was surprised as his friend began to sing but he decided to join in.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?
And days of auld lang syne, my dear,
And days of auld lang syne.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?
Johnny grabbed his partner’s hand and shook it. “Happy New Year, Roy.”
“Happy New Year, Junior.”
The small celebration was halted as the pair felt a shift in the rocks surrounding them. Roy called out to what he hoped was the rescue party. “We’re over here!”
DeSoto could make out the muffled voice of Chet. “We should have you out of there in about an hour. Hang on!”
“Roy, I think the air is getting a bit thin in here. We should probably take turns using the oxygen.”
“You’re right. I think we should.”
Roy was still worried about Johnny’s head injury. He felt it was important to keep his partner from falling asleep until they were safely out of the demolished home and at the hospital. “Johnny, don’t go to sleep. Just take in the oxygen and keep focusing on the rescue.”
“Don’t worry Roy, I’m okay.”
Don’t worry. . . That was the last thing that Roy heard before he realized that he was having a problem keeping his eyes open. Panic set in but it was too late. Everything went black.
Breathing in a fresh gulp of air, Roy was startled as he opened his eyes and focused on the ceiling above him. Instead of lying in the debris of the rockslide, he was in a bed, a hospital bed.
A small hand gently pushed Roy back down on his pillow. “It’s okay, Roy. Take it easy.”
“Yes, I’m right here. You’re going to be fine.”
“What happened? Where’s Johnny?”
Joanne moved and sat on the edge of the bed beside her husband. “He’s right over there in the next bed. You were buried in the rockslide.”
“I remember the rockslide but how did we end up here? Is Johnny okay?”
Joanne tried to calm her husband down by continuing to talk to him in a smooth, soft one. “You were both without oxygen for a short period. They got to you just in time. Dr. Brackett thinks that Johnny will be fine. He said it might take him a little longer to regain consciousness due to the head injury. Johnny has some bruising on his knee but Brackett said there shouldn’t be any permanent damage. They’re keeping an eye on him.”
Roy breathed a sigh of relief. “I don’t even remember them pulling us out.”
“It’s going to be okay, Roy. I need to go and check on the kids. They are with the Jacksons. You try and get some rest.”
Roy watched as his wife shut the hospital door behind her. He tried to close his eyes and rest but he couldn’t stop thinking about his partner.
DeSoto rolled over on his side to get a better look at Johnny. He was wearing an oxygen mask and his head had been re-bandaged. Roy guessed that he must have had stitches. “Johnny? Johnny, can you hear me?”
Gage reached up and removed the oxygen mask. “Yeah, I can hear ya. I was just trying to give you a little alone time with your wife.”
Roy laughed. “That’s okay, partner. We’ll have plenty of time for that later. How do you feel?”
“A little tired but I’m fine. How about you?”
“Same here. At least we didn’t have to spend all of New Years day buried alive.”
“You got that right. I’m thankful for that.”
Roy pointed towards Johnny’s oxygen mask. “Put that back on before Brackett gets back in here. The last thing we need is a lecture from him.”
Johnny laughed and did as instructed. He mumbled under the mask, “Let’s get some rest.”
That afternoon both men were awake and feeling better. Joanne had gone home to change and the other members of the crew stopped in to visit the paramedics. Chet was the last one to drop by.
“Guess what, Johnny?” asked Chet.
Chet handed Johnny a Tupperware container. “I saved you a bowl of black-eyed peas.”
Roy laughed. “What about me?”
“You can have mine. I told you that I was not about to eat one single black-eyed pea.”
Chet wasn’t about to give up. “Look here, Gage. You have now spent Christmas Day and New Years Day in the hospital. Don’t you think you could use a bit of good luck?”
“Nope, not from black-eyed peas.”
“Oh, give em here,” replied Roy. “I’ll take them. With a partner like Johnny, I can use all the luck I can get.”
“Oh ha, ha!” said Johnny.
Roy laughed. Johnny knew he was kidding.
Gage handed Roy the peas. “Something tells me this is going to be a good year.”
“Yeah, ya know, I think you’re right,” replied Roy.
Roy spooned out the peas and handed the utensil to Chet.
“Okay, Gage, open up,” instructed Chet.
As Johnny tried to object, the fireman stuffed the spoon in his mouth.
Gage chewed and swallowed the peas. “Hmmm…..not bad.”
Roy laughed. “Want some more?”
“Sure, why not. But, Chet, you’d better be right about this luck thing. I don’t want to end up in this hospital again this year.”
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Happy New Year!
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