Almost a Valentine
By Jane L.
The men of Station 51 sat around the table, drinking coffee and reading the morning paper. The first part of their chores finished, they were enjoying a few minutes of relaxation before tackling the hose out back. ‘C’ Shift had fought a large fire the night before, and Captain Stanley had decided the whole crew would share in this arduous task, but he’d decided it wouldn’t hurt to give the men a little extra down time before they got started. Besides, it was Valentine’s Day, and Hank felt a little sorry for the guys. After all, wasn’t it the day when gentlemen did something special for their ladies? But once more ‘A’ shift had ended up spending the holiday together, instead of with the women they loved.
Across the table, Johnny stared into his cup, unaware that Roy was watching him.
“Hey, Partner, what’s the problem? Did you lose something in there?”
Looking up distractedly, Johnny shook his head.
“No problem, just thinkin’.”
“Oh, that must hurt.”
“Shut up, Chet.”
The stocky Irishman laughed in reply as he reached for the coffee pot. Hank shook his head as he stood up.
“If all you’re going to do is bicker, we might as well get started hanging that hose.”
Chet grumbled under his breath as the men rose to follow their captain from the room, but Johnny remained quiet. Stopping briefly at the sink to rinse his cup, Roy looked up to see his partner standing next to him.
“Okay, Junior, you might as well tell me what’s bothering you. You’ll end up telling me eventually anyway.”
Turning slowly to face his friend, Johnny cleared his throat, and then spoke in a soft tone.
“I don’t know . . it’s just that, well, here it is Valentine’s Day again, and I’m still alone. There just doesn’t seem to be any really nice girls around any more. The last girl I went out with seemed nice, but on our first date she chain-smoked the whole evening, and on top of that, she badmouthed everyone we met. Melissa seemed really great until the second time we went out; then her old boyfriend showed up and wanted her to get back together. He asked her out, right in front of me, and she went! And remember Cindy, from a few months ago? I took her to a nice dinner and she ended up getting drunk. I had to practically carry her home! There just aren’t any nice girls left out there and if there are, I sure can’t find them!”
Roy clapped his friend on the back in a sympathetic show of affection. He was almost sorry he’d asked to begin with, yet he felt badly for his friend. Johnny was really a nice guy and deserved to find someone to care about, and who cared about him. But before Roy had a chance to offer any comments or suggestions, the klaxons sounded.
The squad and engine pulled up and stopped close to the MVA. Captain Stanley quickly took control of the scene, calling to his men.
“Chet. Marco. Grab an inch and a half. We’ve got a gas leak here.”
Although there were three cars involved in the pileup, the injuries seemed fairly minor. Roy and Johnny moved amongst several victims and started treatment on those who needed it. The driver of the second car seemed to be the most seriously hurt with a minor head injury and a broken arm. Setting up the bio-phone, Roy contacted Rampart, and relayed the woman’s vital signs.
After assessing the driver of the first car, Johnny moved quickly to the taxicab, which had rear-ended the other two cars. Stopping at the driver’s door, Johnny noted the driver sitting quietly in the front, feet planted firmly on the ground as he watched the activity around him.
“Sir, are you okay?”
“Yes, son, I’m fine. Just banged up my hand a little, but you might want to check the young lady in the back seat.”
Johnny reached in and took the man’s hand, carefully turning it over and checking for injuries. At the same time, he looked down at his own watch, quickly taking the man’s pulse rate and finding it normal. Visually assessing the man, Johnny felt confident the driver was indeed, alright. Moving to the back seat, Johnny opened the door and leaned inside.
“Miss? Are you alright?”
The young woman lifted her head from where she’d cradled it in her hands. Looking at the young man studying her closely, she smiled her warmest smile and nodded.
“Yes, I’m fine.”
“Are you sure? Did you hit your head? Do you have a headache or any other pain?”
Johnny was already checking her pulse, and quickly completing that task, he looked back at the young woman. She was unaware that she was staring at him, and he found himself returning the attention. Suddenly, they both started to speak at once.
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
Johnny smiled as the young woman blushed.
“Sorry, let’s try that again. Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Yes, I’m fine. I’m just a little shook up.”
“Are you sure. .miss?”
“Kristi. My name is Kristi, and yes, I’m sure. I’m just so frustrated about all the delays I’ve had this morning, and now this. I’m sure I’ll miss my plane, and I can’t afford to do that . . Mister. . . what was your name?”
“Johnny. Johnny Gage.”
“Johnny. That’s a nice name.”
“Well, so is Kristi . . Kristi.”
The two laughed together as Johnny helped her from the car. Leaning against the side of the cab, she looked around at the traffic backed up behind them.
“This is going to take forever to get cleaned up. How will I ever get to the airport in time?”
“Why is it so important to get on this flight? Couldn’t you just take a later flight or make your trip another time?”
“Oh, it’s not a trip. I’m moving back home, and I have a job interview scheduled for tomorrow morning. It’s taken a lot of work to get this interview, and I really don’t want to miss it.”
“Well, I can understand that.”
Johnny looked almost downcast as the young lady before him finished her explanation. For some reason he couldn’t quite understand, the thought of her leaving bothered him.
“Why don’t you come over by the squad for a few minutes? I’d like to bandage that cut on your arm, and maybe we can figure out a way to help you get to the airport.”
Kristi nodded silently in reply. She glanced down absently to note that there was, indeed, a cut on her arm. Her mind was already reeling with thoughts that didn’t quite fit together, and she struggled to make sense of it all. She didn’t even know this man, but here she was feeling bad about leaving LA. Having lived here only a year, the thought of leaving the large city had never bothered her, but suddenly, Kristi felt as if she was making a huge mistake. Following the paramedic past the other cars, she noted briefly that everyone else seemed okay.
Maybe that’s why he’s paying so much attention to me. No one else is really hurt, so he’s just trying to find someone to take care of.
Johnny stopped at the side compartment of the squad and quickly pulled out the articles needed. Turning to face the young woman, he motioned her to the passenger side of the squad.
“Why don’t you sit there? I’ll bandage this arm, and you’ll be good as new.”
His warm smile traveled from his lips to his deep brown eyes, and Kristi couldn’t help but appreciate the crooked grin that lit up his face. She searched her mind frantically for something interesting or witty to say to this man, but remained silent. Instead, she opened the squad door and sat gently on the seat.
“Okay, let’s get this cleaned up.”
Working quickly and efficiently, it was only a few minutes before Kristi’s arm was cleaned and wrapped. She found herself wishing that it could’ve taken longer. His touch was warm and friendly, yet comforting, and she felt as if she could stay there watching him forever. Returning the supplies to their appropriate places, Johnny clicked the box closed and turned back to face the young woman.
“Now, what can we do to fix the rest of your problem?”
“Well, there’s really not much that anyone can do. I have to be on the 11:00 flight, and there isn’t much time. If I don’t make that interview tomorrow, I’m in real trouble. I’ve already quit my job here and sent my things home. But I don’t have enough money saved to look for other employment. I’ve practically been promised this position, but I’m supposed to meet the owner of the company tomorrow. He’s leaving on a three-week vacation right after our meeting, so as you can see, I have to be there on time.”
Kristi looked down, and Johnny thought he might have seen a hint of a tear in her eyes.
“Where is home?” He asked gently.
“Do you miss it?”
“Yes. Yes, I do. I like it here, but there are so many people, and I didn’t make very many new friends. I was too busy working and I didn’t take enough time to enjoy myself. I realize now, that was a mistake.”
Johnny smiled at her simple confession, and once more surprised himself with a strong desire to protect her. He knew all about the departments warnings about getting involved with the victims, and he’d only met her fifteen minutes ago, but Johnny felt a tremendous desire to help the young lady.
“Well, Kristi, I don’t know if I can help you, but I’d like to try. Let me talk to my captain. You sit here and relax, I’ll be right back.”
Kristi watched as Johnny walked quickly towards the engine. Several firemen were busy at work, replacing their hoses on the truck, and preparing to leave. She realized with a start, that the accident scene had quieted down, and policeman on the adjoining lanes were already directing traffic around the scene. But all that seemed unimportant as she continued to watch the dark haired paramedic. She could see he was talking to his superior, and occasionally he motioned towards where she was seated. After only a few minutes, another paramedic joined them and their discussion. But her eyes remained fixed on her new friend.
Where have you been this past year, Johnny Gage? Why couldn’t I have met you before?
He was striding back towards her when her thoughts cleared again. Watching her expressions, Johnny smiled as he reached her side.
“Don’t look so worried, Kristi. I’ve got it all worked out. Roy, that’s my partner, is going to the hospital with one of the victims. I’ll just have to follow him in with the squad anyway, and we’ll be out of service for a while, so the captain’s given me permission for a detour.”
“What do you mean, a detour?”
“Well, a detour to the airport. Let’s get your bags and I’ll drive you there right now. If we hurry, you should be able to make your flight.”
“Are you sure this will be alright? I mean, the fire department probably doesn’t allow this type of thing, do they?”
“Well, normally they don’t. But like I said, we’ll be out of service for a while anyway, and we’re in the business of helping people. So, let’s not question it, let’s just take advantage of it.”
Johnny was grinning at Kristi as he reached in and helped her from the squad.
“I assume your luggage is in the cab?”
Kristi noted that he was flashing his crooked grin at her once more. Already she’d grown to appreciate the warmth of his smile. Shaking herself purposefully, she led him back along the cars to the back of the taxi. The driver had been waiting for them, and as they reached his car, he walked back to the trunk.
“I’m assuming you’ve found yourself a better ride, miss?”
“Yes, sir, it looks like I’ll make that flight after all.”
“Well, I wish you luck. Better luck than you had in my cab, anyway. Have a safe trip, ma’am.”
The driver slammed the trunk lid down after setting her suitcases on the ground. Walking quickly away from the couple, he slid back into the front seat and fiddled with his radio.
“I guess I don’t owe him anything for the fare.” Kristi mused.
Johnny picked up her suitcases and the two made their way back to the squad. Neither noticed the strange looks from the stocky fireman standing near them, or the paramedic watching from the back of the ambulance. It was only minutes before Johnny had stowed her luggage in the squad and had helped her in and closed the door. Waving a hand towards the captain, Johnny climbed in and started the engine. Very quietly, almost too soft to hear, he asked one question.
“Are you sure you have to go?”
In a soft and quivering voice, Kristi slowly replied.
“Yes, I’m sure. But I wish I wasn’t.”
Johnny started the engine and drove away from the accident.
Kristi and Johnny enjoyed the drive to the airport. It almost seemed like they’d known each other for years, and their conversation was friendly and relaxed. They both sighed as the airport came into view. Without realizing it, they both pondered this new friendship, even as their minds screamed with the frustrating knowledge that this same friendship was about to end.
Parking the squad in the nearest lot, Johnny quickly retrieved Kristi’s baggage and escorted her to the terminal. The hustle and bustle of the airport was overwhelming, but they managed to find the appropriate ticket counter where she promptly checked her baggage, and received instructions regarding gate number and departure time.
Finally, the process was complete, and Kristi turned to Johnny with another sigh.
“Well, I guess it’s time to go. Your partner’s probably looking for you at the hospital.”
“Yeah, Cap was going to fill him in, but we are on duty, and I need to pick him up as soon as possible.”
The two laughed again as they realized this was the second time in the past hour that they’d experienced this problem.
“You go first.”
“Okay. Kristi, it was real nice meeting you. I just wish it could’ve been under different circumstances.”
“Me, too, Johnny. You don’t know how much I appreciate your driving me out here; you’ve been a true gentleman. Thanks for taking care of me. ”
A moment of silence stretched between them as they watched each other closely. Johnny broke the spell, but rather than being disappointed, Kristi was caught up in the obvious excitement his voice held.
“Just a minute . . don’t move. I’ll be right back!”
As she watched him disappear into the crowd, Kristi looked about nervously, silently wondering where he was going. Glancing at her watch, she realized it was almost time to board, but she continued to wait for his return. There was something about this young man, and she suddenly felt like she was about to lose someone very important.
It was at that moment that Johnny returned. Hurrying up to her side, he held one arm behind him in an obvious attempt at concealment, but he didn’t make her wait to find out what it was. With a grand gesture, he brought his arm forward and held out a single red rose.
“Happy Valentine’s Day!”
Her hand moved slowly to join his as she accepted the small token.
They stared at each other for a moment, their eyes focused only on each other.
“Kristi . .”
“Flight 203, boarding at Gate 14.”
The voice from the loud speaker interrupted whatever thought Johnny wanted to express. Leaning toward the young woman, he gently kissed her cheek.
“Have a safe flight, Kristi. And if you ever make it back to LA, you know where to find me.”
“I will, Johnny, and if you ever make it to Kansas, well . .look me up.”
Kristi turned away, but stopped after only a few steps and turned back to find Johnny still standing there watching her. Hurrying back, she hugged him quickly.
“Thank you, kind sir. I’m glad I found a friend here, even if it was for only an hour. I’ll never forget you. . .”
With that, she turned once again and hurried away. Within minutes Johnny lost sight of her in the crowd.
The rest of the shift was busy, and it was evening before Roy and Johnny had a chance to talk. Roy was aware that Johnny’s mood had not improved since their first discussion, in fact, he seemed much worse after their call at the freeway accident. Roy wondered if it had something to do with the girl Johnny had driven to the airport, but dismissed that thought as unlikely. Finally, an opportunity to talk privately presented itself when the engine crew was called out to a trash fire.
“How are you doing, Johnny?”
“Not so good.”
“I know you’re upset about the girlfriend thing, but you know there’s someone out there for you. Someday you’ll meet her, you just have to be patient.”
“Yeah, well, I think I already did, Roy. The only problem is, she’s already left me, and this time we didn’t even have a chance to go out.”
“What do you mean? What are you talking about?”
Roy shook his head in frustration as Johnny stood up and walked from the room.
“Johnny! Will you please tell me what’s going on?”
The engine’s run had been canceled and the crew returned to the station as the two paramedics were talking. Chet entered the room just as Johnny exited, and he noted the look on his pigeon’s face. Wasting no time, he echoed Roy’s questions.
“Yeah, what’s going on? Valentine’s Day and nobody will have you? What’s wrong, Gage, can’t find a woman that will go out with you more than once?”
Before the fireman could continue his barrage, a faint voice echoed back as the locker- room door closed.
Thanks to Audrey for the challenge, and to Kenda for the beta read And the inspiration on this one!
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