A Matter of Trust
by Pattie H
The minute Johnny walked into the locker room Roy could tell that someting was seriously wrong. He was not used to seeing his sometimes hyper and often animated partner looking so sad.
The younger man looked at his partner and he knew then and there what had happened. He shook his head and swore softly. "Awwww, Johnny. I'm sorry. I'm here for you when you're ready to talk about it."
Johnny was glad that everyone else was finished getting ready for roll call. He wasn't in the mood for the mock-sympathy and the snickers at his expense. No matter how many times it happened it always hurt. This time it hurt more than any other. He wasn't sure if it was because he had dated Missy longer than any of his previous girlfriends or if it was because he felt for her in a way she never felt for him. Last night made that quite clear. He had even been window shopping for an engagement ring. Roy knew he was serious about her, but not to the point of buying a diamond ring.
He tugged his shirt out of his pants and began to unbutton it. Sighing he tossed it in the bottom of the locker. Right now he didn't care if it got wrinkled or not. He had just finished tying his shoes when Cap called them to line up. It was obvious to everyone that Johnny was not his normal self and that a girl was most likely the cause. Mike, Marco, and Roy tried hard to keep the conversations light and not date-related. Johnny appreciated their sensitivity.
Cap called him aside and offered his ear if needed. He was familiar with his junior paramedic's bad luck with women and felt for him. He also wished that just once he'd meet a nice girl who would hang onto him. He was a nice enough guy, but he sure picked some strange girls to date. Rumors at the hospital certainly didn't help matters. Hank knew the rumors weren't true and could never figure out why Gage wouldn't put a stop to them. Nurses were ordinarily a compassionate bunch, but the ones at Rampart sure liked to twist the truth and gossip. He knew Dixie McCall didn't stand for gossip, but she couldn't stop it all.
Chet caught wind of Johnny's mood and knew he could get a rise out of him without trying very hard. Roy tried hard to discourage him as did Mike and Marco. However, the Phantom smelled blood in the water and was already circling his pigeon for the kill.
"Hey, Gage, how'd your date go last night? You were pretty excited about it the other day. You aren't bragging...what happened?"
"Chet, leave me alone...okay?"
"Nope. I wanna know what happened. Did you go out to eat?"
"Oh geez, you didn't take her bowling, did you?"
"No! Leave me alone. Don't you have a latrine to scrub?"
"Yeah, but I didn't get the information I want."
"Oh come on, Gage...you can do better than that. She dumped you. Didn't she?"
"Chet. That's enough. Leave him alone," said Roy.
""Roy, this is between me and Johnny-boy. C'mon, Gage... details. I want details."
"Chet - " said Marco, trying to get his buddy to lay off.
"Not now, Marco. C'mon, Gage. I'm waiting."
"Chet, shut up and go away."
"Nope. Talk to me, then I'll go."
Johnny was exasperated by this time. "Yes. She dumped me! There I said it! Are you happy now?! Go away and leave me alone."
"No!" Johnny managed to get away from him and stalked off towards the dorm.
"Chet, I suggest you do as he requests and lay off! Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir. Cap. I...uhhhh..." The sudden appearance of his captain caused Chet to stop in his tracks.
"Latrine all done?"
"Not yet, sir."
"What are you waiting for?"
"On my way, sir."
Cap shook his head and watched Chet sulk off to the supply cabinet and grab the mop and the rest of the cleaning supplies. "When will he ever learn?"
"Probably never," replied Stoker.
"Ya know, Mikey. I think you're right. What a twit."
Chet got busy in the latrine. He didn't need any more trouble with Cap. He knew he'd have time later to go after his pigeon again. He just had to time it right.
The klaxons sounded sending the engine off to a tripped call box at a local bakery. The two paramedics made good use of their quiet time to get their chores done and check the supplies in the squad. The previous shift had kept up with restocking so no trip to Rampart was needed.
Johnny and Roy made their way to the kitchen and sat down to enjoy some coffee. Johnny stared into his cup more than he drank from it. Roy watched him for a few minutes before speaking. He knew he should be enjoying his calm and silent partner but the quiet was making him edgy.
"Penny for your thoughts," he said.
Johnny looked up at Roy. "Did you say something?"
"Yeah. I said 'Penny for your thoughts'."
"Don't feel like talking about it."
"Sometimes it helps."
"I know, but I'm just not ready."
"Okay," he said getting up to refill his mug. "Don't let Chet get you down. Just ignore him. You know how he hates that."
A smile formed on Johnny's face briefly. "Yeah, he sure does. I can't help it, Roy. It really bugs me when he gets on my case about getting dumped...again."
"Like I said, don't let him get to you."
The sound of the engine returning to quarters caused both men to get up and move towards the apparatus bay. A frustrated Hank Stanley walked towards his office.
"What's wrong, Cap?" Johnny asked.
"Awwww it was nothing more than a false alarm caused by a faulty relay. A complete waste of time. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad it wasn't anything more. It's aggravating that's all."
Johnny nodded his head in understanding and continued on to the dorm. Stoker prepared to wash the rig and Marco went to get the mop out for the bay floor. Chet disappeared. Roy walked out back and sat down to enjoy the fresh air.
"Will you leave me alone?!"
"C'mon, Gage. Tell me now and I'll leave you alone. Promise."
"Then I won't leave."
"Fine! Stay here all day."
Gage got up and attempted to leave but Chet blocked his every move. "Too bad you don't use those moves on the basketball court, Chet. You might just manage to do more than warm the bench."
"Not bad, Gage. You know that was almost funny."
"Why is it so important for you to know what happened?"
"I just need to know. No real reason."
"Other than to use it against me later..."
"Of course. That's why I like you, Gage. You're just too easy."
"Easy and naive."
"Alright, alright! She dumped me. What more can I say? Isn't that enough?"
"If I knew that maybe she wouldn't have dumped me."
"Were you out in public?"
"I took her out to eat and -"
"Not another cheap dinner date I hope."
"No, as a matter of fact it was a really nice place and dinner was NOT cheap."
"Then it musta been you."
"Must have. I asked her to a movie on our next night off and she laughed. Said she'd had enough of my weird schedule and that she had met someone more exciting...an intern."
"Dumped for a man with money. Now that's funny. I want the truth."
"That's it...the whole truth." Johnny stopped talking when Chet started to laugh. "Chet, it's not funny. I really thought we were going to be together for a long time."
"Three dates IS a long time...for you. Musta been a new record. Poor girl must have been a saint."
"Chet...that's not...I mean... Oh why do I do this to myself?!" He managed to get around Chet and left the room. Chet continued to snicker and followed.
He ran into Marco in the bay. "What's with Johnny? He looked really upset. What did you do to him this time?"
"Nothing. I just was...ummm...just..."
"Chet, you didn't tease him about his date, did you?"
"Yeah I did. He's such an easy mark. I couldn't help myself."
"That wasn't nice."
"I'm not nice?"
"Chet, why do you always kick him when he's down? Can't you be more supportive? It's tough enough to be dumped when you have strong feelings for someone but then for you to rub salt in the wound is unforgivable. Think about it."
Chet stood thinking and realized what Marco had said was true. He'd acted badly towards Johnny and now he regretted it. 'How can I make this up to him?' His thoughts were interrupted when the squad was called out on a run. He knew he'd find a way to let his friend know he was sorry, but how?
"Johnny, I'm sorry about razzing you earlier. I hurt your feelings and I didn't mean to. I'm sorry," said Chet.
"You? Sorry? How can I really believe that? I don't know that I can. Yeah you did hurt my feelings, but I'll survive...yet again," replied Johnny.
"I don't expect that you can accept my apology, but it's there and it's sincere. Ummm...I know someone who is in the same boat as you where dating is concerned. How 'bout if I get you two together?"
"You drive me crazy, Chet! First you endlessly torment me and now you wanna set me up...on a date?" he said his voice rising as he spoke. "I don't think so, pal. I may not have any luck with dating but I still have my self respect!"
"C'mon, Gage, I'm serious. She's a great girl...honest."
Johnny wasn't at all sure about Chet and his proposition. "No! Besides, if she's so great how come you aren't dating her?"
"Why not?" he challenged his nemesis.
"I just can't. If you agree to meet her, I'll explain. Not here and not now. Outside the station."
"Is something wrong with her?"
"No. Honest. She's pretty, but she's a little on the shy side where men are concerned. She's really nice and has a great sense of humor. What do you say?"
"I don't know. There's a little voice in my head that keeps saying I shouldn't trust you. That if I do, then I'm a bigger fool than you think I am."
"Johnny, I understand your not wanting to trust me. Lord knows I've given you enough reasons not to. I'm serious this time. Just think about it, okay?"
"Think about what?" asked Roy who had entered the dorm and heard the tail end of the conversation.
"Nothing," answered Chet.
"Sounded like something to me, Chet," Roy replied. "Haven't you bothered him enough? Leave him alone."
"I'm leaving," he said and he exited the dorm.
"Johnny, you alright?"
"Yeah, Roy. I'm fine."
"What did he want?"
"Nothing really. He was just . . .sort of apologizing. That's all."
"Yep." Johnny got up off the bed and headed for the latrine.
Roy shook his head and made his way to the kitchen. The moment he entered the room the tones sounded sending Engine 51 out. Roy sat down with a cup of coffee and started to read the paper. He was determined to enjoy the peace while it lasted. Ten minutes passed before he realized his partner had not joined him.
He finished his coffee and got up to go look for him. Henry sat up and looked at him before rolling over and going back to sleep. He searched the dorm, locker room, and Cap's office but could not find his partner. At the last minute he decided to look out in the back lot. There he found his partner tinkering under the hood of the Rover.
"Need a hand?" he asked cautiously.
"Nah. I'm not really doing anything. I'm gonna tune her up next break and was just looking to see what else needed to be replaced. Might as well do it all at one time."
"Oh, okay. Don't forget you promised to come over tomorrow."
"Roy, how could I forget? You really think I'd forget?"
"Nah, just messing with you, that's all."
"Very funny. I've got enough to deal with from Chet. I don't need you adding to it."
"I'm gonna make a fresh pot of coffee. Interested?"
"Yeah. I'll be in in a minute."
Roy returned to the station and Johnny put his tools away. He closed the hood on the Rover and placed his toolbox inside, locking the door. He picked up his jacket and proceeded to the backdoor of the station.
He couldn't help but think of Chet's offer and his motives. He seemed sincere but should he really trust a guy who constantly made him the butt of his jokes? A guy who constantly pulled pranks on him? It was a matter of trust and he wasn't sure he could in this case. He trusted the man with his life on the job, but could he trust him with his heart? He'd had enough heartache in his lifetime. Trusting people all his life only to be let down. Trust was something that didn't come easily for him any more.
The young man was startled. He looked up to see Roy staring at him from the doorway with concern.
"You coming?" he asked.
"Uh, yeah. I'm coming," he said and proceeded to enter the station.
"That's what you said ten minutes ago. Are you sure you're okay? You were just standing there and staring into space."
"I'm okay, Roy."
"I find that hard to believe, Junior. Anything you want to talk about?"
"No," he looked at his partner and smiled. "At least not right now."
The tones sounded sending the paramedics out on their first run of the afternoon.
"Squad 51. Child trapped. 4007 Calvin Blvd. 4-0-0-7 Calvin Blvd. Cross street Nantuckett. Time out 11:25."
"Squad 51. KMG 365," replied John Gage.
In no time the squad was enroute to the scene. When they returned, the engine was already back in its customary spot in the garage.
Mike Stoker had lunch almost ready. Johnny got out the plates and set the table while Roy straightened the dayroom.
"Thanks, Johnny. I really appreciate the help."
"No problem, Mike. We were wondering if you guys were ever going to come back. What'd you have?"
"Grass fire behind the lumber mill."
"That could have been rough, especially for as dry as it's been."
"Don't we know it. It's ready. Wanna let everyone know?"
Roy helped Stoker put the food on the table while Johnny gathered the rest of the crew.
After lunch the squad was called out to the first of several back-to-back runs.
The squad was toned out to a child trapped. They arrived to find a child with his thumb stuck in a keyhole. It was an old lock on a really old wooden door and the child's thumb was wedged tightly in the opening.
After trying several lubricants and a lot of screaming from the child, the finger was finally freed. Roy advised the mother to take the child to their family physician if there was any swelling.
"Thanks so much you guys. I didn't know what else to do. Jimmy is always doing dumb things like this. I'm really glad you could get him free."
"No problem, Ma'am. We're glad we could be of assistance," replied Johnny.
"Maybe he'll grow up to be a locksmith," the mother said. They all laughed and the two men headed out to the squad.
"This afternoon is ..."
"Squad 51. What's your status?" Sam's voice came over the radio.
"Squad 51 available."
"Squad 51. Stand by for response."
"Squad 51. Man down, possible heart attack. 721 East Gloverton. 7-2-1 East Gloverton. Cross street Mitchell. Time out 1325."
Hank replied, "Squad 51, KMG 365." He handed the call slip to Roy who in turn handed it to his partner.
The paramedics arrived at the scene and a frantic woman ran out to the squad.
"Oh please - hurry! He's gonna die."
Gathering their equipment they followed her into the house.
"Ma'am? Where is he?"
"He's in the bathroom. Hurry!" She quickly headed for that room with the men still following.
A rather large man was on the floor slumped against the bathtub. Johnny moved past the woman and quickly began to assess their patient.
Roy set up the biophone and contacted Rampart General.
"Pulse is rapid and weak, rate is 120. Respirations are rapid and shallow, rate of 30. BP is 130/90. Patient is semi-conscious and diaphoretic."
Roy relayed the vitals to the hospital. "Roy? Patient is also complaining of a squeezing and burning sensation in his chest. He denies any other pain at this time. Patient is also feeling nauseous."
"Rampart requests an EKG and IV of D5W."
Roy handed the IV supplies to his partner and then set up for the EKG. Before he could attach the leads and before Gage could insert the needle, the man lunged for the toilet. He threw up several times and flopped back down on the floor. Roy got back on the phone with Rampart to update the patient's status.
Johnny asked, "Sir? Are you okay?"
"Hell yeah! I feel a lot better! Musta been somethin' I ate." Then he belched loudly. He refused the IV and wouldn't let Roy attach the leads for the EKG. Johnny got the man to sign the refusal of treatment form and they packed up their equipment. The wife apologized.
"That's okay, Ma'am. Better to be safe than sorry."
"Thanks again for coming all the way out here," she said and apologized again. They placed the equipment back in the squad.
"Rampart?" Roy asked as he started the engine.
"Yeah, we need to replace that IV and those leads. Can you believe that guy?"
"No! Let's get out of here."
The squad was toned out from Rampart to another call.
"Squad 51. Unknown injury. McDougan's Restaurant. 1623 Cypress. 1-6-2-3 Cypress. Cross street Balsam. Time out 1550."
"Squad 51. KMG365."
Loud screams assaulted the paramedics’ ears for the second time that afternoon. They entered the fast-food restaurant to find a small crowd gathered around a child who's leg was trapped below the knee between the bars of a barricade. The barricade was a permanent structure that separated the order line from the dining area and was formed by metal bars several inches in diameter that resembled upside-down "U's". The bars were spaced approximately three inches apart. Bystanders were trying to free the child and comforting the frightened mother while the little girl screamed and cried.
Johnny tried to console the little girl, Melissa, and her mother while assessing the child's leg. The three-year old still had a faint pedal pulse but her leg, below the knee, was cool to the touch.
"How long has she been trapped?"
"About twenty minutes," replied a customer who was standing nearby.
For the second time today they pulled out all the lubricants they carried and still the leg remained trapped. They tried pulling the set of bars apart in opposite directions but they barely moved.
Roy got the K-12 while Johnny explained what they were going to do to free Melissa's leg. Melissa screamed louder when she caught sight of the saw.
Johnny covered both himself and the child with a blanket and talked to her while Roy cut one of the bars.
The restaurant manager was not happy but he realized there was no choice. They couldn't very well leave her trapped nor could they sacrifice her little leg. Finally the little girl's leg was freed. The crowd cheered and Melissa hugged her mother for dear life. The mother was still crying but was also thanking the two men for saving her baby.
The joint was swelling and bruises were forming so they transported her to Rampart. Melissa was scared but no longer screaming. She was still sniffling when they wheeled her into the treatment room. Before she'd allow Dr. Morton to touch her she insisted on giving her rescuers hugs.
Meanwhile Dr. Morton was trying to get the information from the girl's mother about how the accident happened. Melissa's mom explained," She was climbing on those bars. I told her not to, but she didn't listen. She slipped and her leg got stuck between them. It was so scary. I was afraid they'd never get her out."
"Ah ha. Those two men are two of the best. Now let's take a look at her leg so we can see how badly she was hurt. Hi sweetheart. I'm gonna take a look at your leg now, okay? Carol? I want an x-ray to be sure nothing is broken. Then -"
Gage and DeSoto left the treatment room. They exchanged glances and started to laugh.
"Strange afternoon eh, Junior?"
"You said it, Pally. Let's get back to the station. I'm starved."
Roy clapped his partner on the back and laughed. Things were quieter after dinner. They were all sitting around the television. It was nice to have a little time to relax. Then the klaxons sounded.
"Station 51. Gas leak. Marshall's Restaurant. 3209 Damascus Road. 3-2-0-9 Damascus Road. Cross street Anson. Timeout 2155."
"Station 51. KMG 365."
The station's captain was met by a frantic Maitre d`and frightened patrons were milling around.
"Is anybody still inside?" Capt. Hank Stanley asked.
"Yeah. The kitchen staff and - oh my! I forgot to check the restrooms!" The man attempted to go back inside, but Hank caught his arm.
"Sir, please stay out here. My men are trained for this. They'll check the restrooms and make sure everyone is safe."
He nodded his head and said, "Of course. I'm so sorry. It's just - well - nothing like this has ever happened to me before."
Hank's features softened a little, "It's okay -"
"Alan. Alan Franklin," he interrupted.
"Mr. Franklin," he smiled. "I understand. It'll be okay."
He then left to co-ordinate the search.
"Gage. DeSoto. The kitchen staff are still inside and the restrooms need to be searched. Be fast and be careful."
"Sure thing, Cap," the two men replied simultaneously.
A quick search of the dining area and restrooms revealed no patrons were inside. The kitchen staff were all still bustling about the room. Several were shocked at the sight of the two paramedics. A small man with a large white hat and a heavy French accent tried to shoo them out of his kitchen.
"Sir! We're sorry but you must leave right now. There is a gas leak and the danger of an explosion is imminent. This is very serious."
Roy continued to reason with the man while Johnny gathered the rest of the staff. He had them exiting the building by the time the master chef saw the light.
A look of frustration crossed his face followed by one of fear and finally resignation. He nodded and followed his team outside.
Roy yelled, "C'mon, Johnny. Let's get out of here!" DeSoto proceeded to the door. Johnny followed and had just cleared the door when it happened.
A loud explosion rocked the building and flames overtook the back half of the establishment.
The little man and Roy could feel the force from the blast pushing them forward.
He dropped to his knees when they reached safety. "I'm sorry. I didn't believe it and I could have been killed. You would have too and it would have been my fault. I'm so sorry."
"It's okay. You're safe and that's all that matters. Relax." He looked up and realized Johnny was not beside him.
"Johnny!" he shouted. Looking around frantically he saw his partner picking himself up off the ground and shaking his head. He ran over and put his hand on Gage's arm. "You okay?"
"Yeah. That was a little too close."
Chet and Marco approached and focused on the kitchen area with the hose. Marco took the time to holler over, "You okay, Johnny?"
He waved and nodded his head while his friends continued to work on the blaze.
Hank ran up to them and repeated the question, "John? You okay pal?"
"A little shaky, but fine."
"Okay. Why don't you two grab a reel line and help out Kelly and Lopez."
"Sure thing, Cap."
"You sure - "
"Yeah, Cap, I'm sure."
A half hour later the blaze was contained and the men of 51 were ready to start the arduous task of cleaning up.
It was after 1am when the six weary firefighters pulled into the station. They filed into the dayroom and Mike started a pot of coffee.
Marco headed for the shower. The rest of the men sought out a place to sit down. Chet and Roy went to the sofa and took opposite ends. Henry slept right through their joining him. Cap sat in the recliner and Johnny dropped heavily into the overstuffed chair. He put his head in his hands and sighed.
"You okay, pal?" asked a concerned Hank Stanley.
"Yeah. Just tired and a little sore."
"You ought to be. That was some ride you took," remarked Chet.
"Huh?" asked Johnny.
"That explosion threw you pretty far. I'm surprised you got up afterwards."
Roy and Hank exchanged confused glances. Neither man had witnessed Johnny's little trip.
"Maybe we should have gone to Rampart," said Roy.
Gage looked up, "I'm fine."
Roy pulled himself off the sofa and moved towards his partner.
Mike walked over to Johnny as well. "Need anything from the squad, Roy?" he asked.
"I'm - "
"Yeah, Mike. That would be great," answered Roy.
"Roy - "
"Hush. Did you hit your head?"
"He landed on his hands and knees," offered Chet.
Mike brought the equipment to Roy who then tried to check his partner's pupils with the penlight. He pushed the light and Roy's hand out of the way. "Will you cut that out?"
Roy grabbed his partner's hand and turned it over. His eyes bugged out when he saw the large abrasion on the heel of Johnny's hand. He quickly grabbed the other hand and it too was similarly injured.
"What?" asked a confused and irritated Gage.
"Look," stated Roy.
"Oh man! I had no idea." He had not felt the pain even after putting his gloves on and handling the reel line.
"Probably the adrenaline. You're gonna feel it soon enough."
Marco entered the room and checked on the coffee. "Coffee's done. Anyone interested?" He laughed and pulled out six mugs, proceeding to pour some of the hot liquid into each.
Chet got up. "Anyone mind if I go next?" When he got no arguments he left to take his shower.
"Coffee's ready, guys," Marco repeated and walked over to the group. "What's going on?"
Mike answered, "Roy's running a check on Johnny. He got hurt when he got knocked down at the fire."
"Wow. I had no idea," Marco mumbled.
"Neither did I," said Hank quietly to the man who had just joined them.
Johnny looked up at Roy. "Are you quite through?"
"What do you mean?" he asked innocently.
"You heard me. I'm going to take a shower when Chet's done."
"Okay," he raised his hands in mock surrender. "I'll leave you alone for now."
"Fine. Whatever," he got up and slowly made his way to the door.
Mike spoke up, "Your coffee's getting cold."
Johnny stopped and looked at Stoker then over at the coffee. He continued over and drank some of it. "Thanks." Placing the cup in the sink he turned and left the room.
Chet returned a moment later. "What's with Gage? He was walking like an old man and grumbling."
"He's not very happy right now. I expect he'll still be grumpy after his shower as well," replied Roy with a grin.
Johnny stepped into the shower. He was so tired and the warm water felt so good. Well, that is until it hit his injuries. His knees were as bad as his hands. The water stung and he didn't think he was going to be able to finish his shower. When he finally stepped out, he wrapped a towel around his waist and sat on the bench. He was glad it was late and that he didn't have to get fully dressed. He prepared for bed. Then he went to the dorm and lay down. Roy hit the shower next and then Mike. Cap was last and turned out the lights before he climbed into bed himself.
The wake-up tones sounded and the men of 51's A-shift got up for their morning duties. It had been a quiet night for all.
"How're you feeling this morning?" Roy asked his partner.
"Still tired. I'm glad it was a quiet night."
"I meant your hands and knees."
"Oh, they're okay. A little sore and stiff."
Both joined the rest of the crew for breakfast. They were all busy cleaning the dayroom when the next shift arrived.
"What's this? You guys so bored you decided to do our chores for us?" asked Pete Jenkins, one of B-shift's medics.
"No. We had a restaurant fire last night and got in really late. We thought we'd help you out since we couldn't get to the hose," replied Stoker.
"Oh, that's cool. You guys have a nice couple of days off. Hey! Valentine's Day is fast approaching. You all have plans?" He laughed. He knew A-shift would be off that evening and was certain at least two of them would be dateless.
They all laughed and said their goodbyes as they headed off to their vehicles.
"I'll call you later and let you know what time, okay?"
"Sure. Talk to you then." He climbed into his Rover and left.
Johnny was still tired so he decided to lay down on the sofa and watch some television. He got himself a soda from the refrigerator, hung up his keys, turned the tv on low, and flopped down on the sofa. He finally managed to get comfortable and closed his eyes.
The sound of the doorbell, followed by a gentle knock, startled him awake. Glancing at his watch he saw that he had only been asleep thirty minutes. The doorbell rang again.
"Alright! Hold on. I'm coming." He managed to get up and hobbled to the door. Grabbing the knob he swore softly as the pain rudely reminded him of his injured hands. "Dang that hurt!" Johnny unlocked the door and opened it. Peering out, he squinted as the sun hit his eyes. There stood Chet Kelly. "Chet?"
"Sorry, Gage. Were you sleep?"
"Yeah. C'mon in." He opened the door all the way for Chet to enter.
"Sorry man. If I'd known I would have waited."
"S'okay. Have a seat. What'd you want?"
"Have you given any thought to my offer the other day?"
"Oh...that. Well to be perfectly honest - no I haven't," he looked anywhere but at Chet.
"Look man, I understand your hesitance. If I were you, I wouldn't trust me either. I came over to tell you what I didn't - couldn't - at the station."
"Oh? What couldn't you tell me at the station? Is she that bad?"
Chet threw him a hurt look. "No. She really is a great girl." He pulled out his wallet and showed him a picture.
Gage's eyebrows shot up as he stared at the picture. She was indeed pretty, very pretty. "What's the catch?"
"No catch. Her name is Shannon. Want to meet her?"
"I don't know."
"Sure she's pretty, in fact she's beautiful, but I'm not interested in going out with her just because she's pretty."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to imply that."
"How do you know her and why aren't you interested?"
"I've known her all my life. She's my little sister."
"Your sister? I didn't know you had a sister."
"Well, she's been away at school the last few years. She's back home now and studying to be an...ummm...what did she say? It's the people who work in the hospital and use a special machine to see what's inside your body - like babies."
"Yeah, that's it!"
"Why didn't you ever tell us about her before? I'm curious."
"Do you have any brothers or sisters?"
"No really. Do you?"
"I had a sister. She died when I was five. She was only three."
"I'm sorry, Johnny. I had no idea."
"S'okay. It's not your fault. I never told you. She got sick - I think it was Reubella. Mom and Dad couldn't afford the shots, not that they were easy to get on the reservation."
"Didn't you get it, too?"
"Yeah. I was really sick, but I survived."
"I'm really sorry, Johnny."
"Like I said. It's okay. It wasn't your fault. Now, about your sister."
"Oh, well, would you want a bunch of wolves leering at your little sister? Ummmm - sorry."
Johnny laughed. Chet gave him a strange look. "It's okay, Chet. You don't have to keep apologizing. If my sister were still alive I'd feel the same way. I wouldn't want a bunch of guys oggling her or hitting on her. Especially some of the guys in the department."
"She's a bit naive and has been hurt recently. I just don't want her to be hurt again."
"I understand. I'm surprised you even brought it up, Chet. I mean you're always getting on me about my reputation with women and I know about the rumors. That's just what they are...rumors...and lies. Why me?"
"If I didn't trust you I wouldn't have asked you. Besides I could see how much this last one hurt you and my teasing you didn't help. I think she needs someone to talk to or hang around with other than her brother. Maybe you and Shannon won't even hit it off but - Well it's up to you," he blurted out. "She doesn't know yet."
"Sure, Chet. I'd like to meet her. Thanks."
"Great!" Chet said. Johnny could see the sparkle return to his eyes. "How about tomorrow afternoon?"
"That would be great."
"I'll call you tonight."
"If I'm not home, I'll be at Roy's."
"Okay. Well, hope you get some rest. I really didn't mean to wake you."
"Don't worry about it, Chet."
"Okay man. Take it easy and I'll talk to you later."
Chet reached out to shake Johnny's hand and he responded in kind. Once their hands clasped Johnny let out a moan and broke contact. "I keep forgetting. Damn that hurts."
"Not your fault."
"Later man," he said and left.
Jonny went into the bathroom and rummaged around for aspirin and bandages. He took the items into the living room. Sitting down he took several of the tablets with his soda and examined his hands. He bandaged them the best he could and lay down again. He had just closed his eyes when the phone rang. In exasperation he sat up and reached for the phone. The pain it caused made him drop it and he swore softly. "Sorry. Hello?"
"Johnny? You alright?"
"Yeah. I was almost asleep and when I grabbed the phone it hurt my hand."
"Well, I just wanted to let you know what time to be here. Is 4:30 okay?"
"Yeah, it's fine."
"See ya then."
He hung up the phone, turned off the television and went into his bedroom. Closing the door he sighed. Johnny set his alarm for 2:30 and crawled into bed. The exhausted firefighter was asleep in no time.
Johnny returned from Roy's at 9:30. Dinner with his surrogate family had been nice. The kids were disappointed when he didn't run around with them like he usually did. Jennifer wanted to play nurse and fix her 'uncle's' owies but Roy and Joanne talked her out of it. He grabbed a can of soda from the fridge and sat down to watch tv. The phone rang at 10pm.
"I called earlier but you were still at Roy's."
"You could have called there, you know."
"I didn't want to interrupt. Is 3pm okay?"
"Sure. Have you told her yet?"
"I wish you would. That way there are no misconceptions. In fact I won't agree to come over until you do."
"Okay. I'll talk to her in the morning."
"Alright, Chet. Anything else?"
"Call me tomorrow."
The next morning Chet was up early. He didn't sleep well because he was afraid his sister would be mad at him when he told her he set her up on a 'date'.
"Good morning, brother dear."
"Morning, sis. Sleep well?"
"Not bad. You?"
"Oh? What's wrong?"
"Well, I need to talk to you. I don't want you to be mad at me."
"Oh, Chet. You didn't find me another date did you?!"
"Yeah, but it's different this time. I swear!"
"Let me guess. He's a really nice guy and we'll hit it off from the start," she replied hotly.
"Look I said I was sorry about that. I had no idea he was such a pig. I really am sorry. This is way different, Shannon."
She glared at her older brother. "I'm 22 years old and I can find my own dates, thank you very much!"
"I know. It's just that last guy hurt you so bad. I know this guy and he's not like Carl."
"You said that Steve was a nice guy too. He was until he turned into an octopus."
"Yeah and you made sure he never made that move again!"
Shannon laughed at the memory. "Yeah. He had a hard time explaining to the ER how he got that broken arm."
Chet laughed, "Just don't try that move on Johnny. They know him well in the ER."
"He's a paramedic at my station."
"The Johnny? The one you're always playing pranks on?"
"One and the same."
"I thought you didn't like him."
"I never said that."
"You pick on him all the time."
"I know but it's hard to explain. It's kinda like when I used to pick on you and - " he paused and sighed. "You and Larry when we were kids."
"Chet, you're a strange man."
"That's what he says."
"What if I don't want to meet someone?"
"I'll call him and tell him. He wouldn't agree to this until I talked to you first."
"Really. In fact I have to call him or he won't come at all."
Shannon folded her arms and walked away from her brother. She really wasn't looking to get involved with anyone right now. Carl had hurt her bad.
She stood looking out the kitchen door. Chet walked up behind her and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Shannon, I'm sorry. I should have talked to you first. I - "
"You were just acting like an overprotective big brother."
"Yeah, I was. Look, if you don't want to - "
"I didn't say I didn't want to meet your friend. I just want you to talk to me first if you ever get the urge to do this again. Okay?"
"Okay." He hugged his sister. "So can I call Johnny now?"
"Lord help me, I guess. You better not be wrong about him."
"I trust him with my life, Shannon. I'm confident I can trust him with my sister. But don't you tell him I said that!"
"Hey, Chet. Well?"
"We had a long talk. She wasn't exactly thrilled with me but she said okay."
"If she feels she's being forced into this - "
"No, Johnny, it's okay. She's looking forward to meeting you."
"Alright. Still want me over at 3:00?"
"Yeah. See ya then."
Johnny hung up the phone and went to take a shower. He chose a new pair of black jeans and a blue plaid short sleeve shirt. He hated to admit it, but he was nervous! His last date ended in disaster and she had hurt him. He swore he wasn't going to get involved again for a long time. He looked at his watch. 'Why so nervous? You're just meeting her. It's no guarantee of a date. She may not even like you,' he reasoned with himself. 'Great first impression - bandages on my hands. I should call and cancel.' The ringing of the phone startled him from his thoughts.
"Oh hi, Roy! No, sorry. I've got plans."
"Well...I'll let you know next time I see you."
"Yeah, I'm sure."
"No. I'm not gonna tell you right now."
"Okay, Pally. Bye."
He once again glanced at his watch. 'Time to go. Too late to chicken - I mean back out now.' He checked his appearance in the mirror, picked up his keys and pulled the door closed behind him.
Johnny got in his Rover and drove to Chet's. He had only made one stop on the way. A case of 'the nerves' overtook him and his hand shook a little as he reached for the doorbell. Chet opened the door and invited his friend inside.
"Awwww...Gage! Flowers? For me? You shouldn't have!" he joked.
Gage looked at Kelly and shook his head, "They aren't for you. You twit!"
"Oh! I get it! Are you for real?"
"Chet, knock it off. My parents taught me some manners okay. Maybe I should just leave."
"Please don't," said a soft feminine voice from behind Chet. She walked around to stand beside her brother. "My brother may not appreciate manners, but I do. Hi. I'm Shannon," she said extending her hand.
"Hi," he turned in her direction, "I'm John Gage. These are for you."
"Thank you. They're beautiful," she said taking the flowers.
'Not as beautiful as you,' he thought to himself. 'Chet's picture didn't do you justice!'
"Oh! What happened to your hands?" she asked when she noticed the bandages.
"I...um...got knocked down at work the other night," he replied.
"Yeah! You should have seen it! When that building exploded and he went - " Johnny looked at Chet in disbelief. Shannon shook her head. Her face held a look that said she couldn't believe her brother would go on about something like that.
"Why don't you have a seat in the living room while I put these in some water. Chet, why don't you go with him." Johnny caught the glare she threw at Chet. He was wondering if she was mad about the set up.
"She looks mad, Chet. Maybe I should leave."
"Don't! She's mad at me, not you. As long as you're here, I'm safe."
"You're afraid of your little sister? Now that's funny!" he giggled.
"Knock it off. You don't understand Kelly women. If you tell any of the guys about this I swear the Phantom will haunt you."
"I won't. It's funny but I won't say a word."
"Sorry for taking so long. Would you like something to drink?"
"No thanks. I'm fine," Johnny replied.
'You sure are,' thought Shannon. She also wondered how to get rid of her brother.
An uneasy silence settled on the young people in the living room. The phone rang and all three of them jumped. Laughter erupted and Chet left the room to answer it. Several minutes later he beckoned his sister into the kitchen. Shannon excused herself to join him.
"It's Marco. He wants me to come over. What do you think?"
"What do you mean?"
"That would leave you two alone."
"Oh. I guess it'd be alright." Secretly she was thrilled to have a way to get rid of her brother. "Go ahead. I'll be alright." Shannon returned to the living room and Chet went to finish his conversation.
Chet returned and sat beside Gage. If he didn't know better, Johnny would have sworn that Chet was nervous.
"That was Marco. I'm gonna head over to his place. You okay with that, Gage?"
"Sure, Chet. Have a good time. We'll be alright."
Chet glanced from his sister to his friend and relaxed a little. He felt sure they would be okay but this was his little sister. "You two play nice," he remarked. He turned to Shannon, "Don't do anything to disgrace the Kelly family name - "
"Chester Brogan Kelly! I can't believe you said that! How dare you! I oughta - " she had stood up and had backed her brother up against the wall.
"Sorry, Sis. I couldn't help myself. I was just kidding!"
"Brogan? Chet, I thought you said your middle name was just a 'B'. Brogan?"
"Gage - I swear if you tell another living soul what you just heard I will kill you and when I die I will personally haunt you for eternity. Am I clear?" the stocky Irishman yelled.
"Chet! Calm down. It's alright. I swear I won't tell. There's nothing wrong with your middle name. It's unusual, but - "
"It's an old family name that has been handed down from generation to generation," Shannon explained.
"That's cool. Chet. Chet? Chet! Marco is waiting. He's gonna think you got lost or something," Johnny said.
"Huh? Oh yeah. I'll be back later." He was still flustered. Before leaving he gave Johnny a look to warn him not to try anything with his sister. "See you later."
Shannon and Johnny broke into laughter as Chet pulled out of the driveway. "He sure was upset about you spilling his 'secret'."
"He'll get over it. I think he was afraid to leave us alone."
"I don't think he trusts me to be alone with you."
"Actually, John, I think it's me he doesn't trust."
"Please call me Johnny," he paused and added, "should I be worried?"
They both laughed.
"Not yet," she replied with a serious expression. Shannon smiled and they both laughed again.
They returned to the living room and sat down. Several more awkward minutes passed before the conversation started to roll. They were soon at ease and began to get to know each other. Johnny couldn't believe how comfortable he felt with Shannon and she seemed to feel the same way. Before they knew it, it was supper time.
"Shannon, I don't know about you but I'm hungry. What do you say we run out and get something to eat?"
"Sounds wonderful, Johnny. Let me get my purse and leave a note so Chet won't worry."
"Good idea," he smiled.
They ate at a little Italian restaurant not far from Rampart Hospital. Time seemed to fly as they talked. They shared a few interests including baseball, fishing, and bowling. She also liked the outdoors and hiking. Both of them being in the medical field gave them many other things to talk about as well. She was fascinated to hear about the paramedic program and he was equally interested in her studies to become an ultrasound technician.
It wasn't long before they were curious about past relationships. Johnny decided to broach the subject before dessert.
"I...ummm...want to ask you something. If it's too personal just say so."
"What do you want to know?"
"How come an intelligent, attractive young woman like yourself isn't married by now?"
She blushed, "No it's not too personal, not really. Chet didn't tell you?"
"No. He mentioned that your last boyfriend wasn't very nice to you. That's all."
"Well, that's an understatement. He was a real jerk. Oh, he was real nice at first and then he turned into a pig. Carl was very controlling and he got mean when he didn't get his way."
"Is he around here? Is he still bothering you?"
"No. He's in Tulsa. I met him when I was going to school there. They had a great photography program there. I went there to become a photographer. That's where I met him. We had a few classes together. We started dating and everything was fine for the first few months. Then he started to change. He got mean. I was never so glad to get away from anyone. Chet was really upset. He wanted to hunt him down and kill him. I have never seen him so angry."
"Yeah, my protector. He's really not such a bad guy... Just a little hard to understand sometimes."
"That I can believe! I mean he targets me constantly but when the chips are down he's there in ways I could never expect. Then he wants me to meet you!"
"Well, I'll let you in on a little secret. Promise not to tell?"
"I promise," he said. 'I'd promise you anything,' he thought.
"He really likes you. You know? Kinda like the kid brother we don't have any more."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"Well, Larry was nine when he was killed. He and Chet were riding bikes at the time. Chet blames himself, even today. He used to tease Larry all the time as well. I guess you remind him of our brother. He used to call Larry his pigeon too."
"You mean he told you about that?" Johnny asked, slightly embarrassed. "I really hate when he calls me that."
"Larry did too! I guess you filled that void for him."
"You know it's amazing."
"That you can work with someone for years and not really know them."
"Well, he never mentioned you or Larry. We talk at the station but very little personal information is discussed. Then again, he didn't know about my sister until yesterday."
"You have a sister?"
"It's okay. It's just something I don't talk about. Like Chet doesn't bring up your brother."
"I understand. I'd say it's an honor that he chose you. Oh...that sounded bad. I can't believe I said that. What you must think of me."
Johnny laughed and Shannon blushed. "I do consider it an honor. Of all the guys he knows, he asked me to meet you. The rest of the guys don't even know about you. Please don't be embarrassed."
"It just sounded so...so...conceited."
"I didn't take it that way. We better be getting back or Chet may change his mind and call the police on me."
They both laughed and left the restaurant. Johnny helped her into the Rover. Chet's car wasn't in the driveway when they returned to his place. Johnny walked her to the door and waited while she unlocked it. "Well, I think I better be going. Thank you so much for a lovely afternoon...and evening."
"The pleasure was all mine, Johnny."
"May I see you again?"
"Oh that would be wonderful!"
"How about Saturday? It's our next break."
"I'd love it. Will this be our first 'official' date?"
"If you'd like."
"I'd love it!"
"Okay then, it's a date. I'll see you then. Good night." He reached for her hand and kissed it gently.
She looked into his eyes and wished he'd kiss her on the lips. 'Steady girl - there's plenty of time for that!' She thanked him again for a wonderful evening and he left when he was sure she was safely inside.
Later that evening Chet came home and asked her how things went. He could see how happy she was. He was glad to learn they not only got along but even went out to eat. Chet was also very excited to know they had a date planned. His sister's happiness was very important to him. In his eagerness to get details he hadn't noticed her frown.
"What's wrong, sis?"
"Nothing really. He asked about my last boyfriend and I told him all about Carl. Then we got sidetracked and I never got to find out about his last girlfriend."
"Oh. Well, she hurt him pretty bad. I don't like to be mean, but I could never figure out what he saw in her. She was a real witch. He could have done soooo much better. He's like a magnet for weirdoes. He has not dated one decent girl in all the time I've known him."
"Well, he spends way too much time chasing nurses. Not that he chases women...that's NOT what I meant."
"Probably because he spends most of his time between the station and Rampart. I guess he figures they'll have something in common."
"Oh. Well, I'm getting sleepy. Think I'll call it a night."
The morning dawned bright and cheerful with blue skies and sunshine. Johnny woke early and managed to get the Rover tuned up and a few other chores completed. After all that hard work he decided to take a shower. He had just wrapped a towel around himself when the phone rang.
"Hi Junior. What's up?"
"Nothing much. I just got out of the shower. What's going on?"
"Well...how'd it go yesterday?"
"How'd what go?" he asked innocently.
"You know. You had plans...remember? So, what's her name and when do we get our wedding invitation?"
"Very funny, Roy. You're a barrel of laughs. What makes you think I had a date?"
"Okay. I did...sorta."
"It wasn't a date. I just had the opportunity to meet someone and ..."
"She's really great, Roy. We have a real date later in the week."
"That's great, Johnny."
"Yeah. I think so, too."
"How'd you meet her?"
"A mutual friend."
"Anyone I know?"
"I'd rather not say right now."
"Oh, okay. Watcha doing later?"
"I was just wondering if - "
"If I'd come over and help you with the 'honey-do' list?"
"How about in two hours?"
"Sure. See ya then."
The ringing of the phone startled Shannon. She picked up the receiver on the second ring.
"Oh hi, Mary Catherine."
"No, I'm not busy."
"Oh, not much - other than I met a really great guy thanks to Chet."
"No really! He's a great guy. He works with Chet."
"Yeah, we talked and then we ate dinner out."
"I don't think so. He's really sweet and such a gentleman. Even brought me flowers!"
"Yeah, we like a lot of the same things."
"What? Oh, we have a date for Saturday night."
"You're kidding! I wasn't even thinking about that. I had completely forgotten."
"I'm serious! I completely forgot what day Saturday is. I'll bet he forgot as well."
"Huh? Just a hunch."
"Of course I'll let you know," she giggled. "Well, almost everything."
"Okay. Talk to you later. Bye." Shannon hung up and giggled some more as she headed to the kitchen.
Chet ducked back into the hallway and out of sight. He didn't want her to know he had been eavesdropping. All the giggling made him suspicious, then again she and Mary Catherine always got the giggles on the phone. He was a bit concerned when he heard about the date on Saturday night. The more he thought about it, he wasn't sure he liked this at all.
The members of A-shift were busy changing into their uniforms when Chet arrived. He seemed a bit quieter than usual. Everyone greeted him and he just nodded in response. In no time at all, Johnny and Chet were the last two in the locker room.
"What's up, Chet?"
"No. Do you and Shannon have a date Saturday?"
"Do you have any idea what Saturday is?"
"The beginning of our next break. Why?"
"Anything else about Saturday?"
"It's Valentine's Day."
"Oh my. I had no idea. Did Shannon say something about it? Did she want to cancel?"
"No. It kinda took me by surprise when I realized what day it was."
"Man, me too!"
"Roll Call. Line up!"
"Coming, Cap!" answered Johnny. "C'mon, Chet. Let's move."
The shift was a quiet one and everyone was glad to be going home. The married men all had plans for their evening. The single guys were reluctant to give away theirs. Some good-natured teasing came from the crew coming in, but they chose to ignore it. They were all quite surprised when no information was given out, so they began to imply that the 'dates' were figments of their crewmates imaginations. A round of laughter followed and they all went their separate ways.
Johnny picked Shannon up at 5pm sharp. Since he had forgotten it was a holiday he wanted to leave early. He was sure they would have to wait no matter where they went. Chet was preparing to leave when Gage arrived to pick up his sister. They exchanged pleasantries and Chet left.
Johnny again brought Shannon flowers. "Thanks, Johnny! These are so pretty and you are so sweet."
It was Johnny who blushed this time. "Glad you like them. My dad brought my mom flowers all the time. She loved every single one."
"Sounds like you learned a lot from him."
"Sure did. Ready?"
"Yes. Where to?"
"It's a surprise."
"I love surprises!"
He took her to Vinnie's, the same Italian restaurant they ate at the other day. He had reserved a table and was surprised they didn't have to wait. They enjoyed their meal and the conversation that followed.
"You know something?"
"Valentine's Day has never been my favorite holiday. Until now I've never been able to enjoy it."
"What do you mean, Johnny?"
"I was either alone or after dinner I was dumped. Not a great track record."
"Well, for the record, it has never been on my list of favorites either. Carl kinda ruined it the last few years, but before that I never really had a date or boyfriend."
"Hmmm...both of us getting a fresh start. Maybe things are looking up for the future."
"That would be nice. To be able to trust again and have no fear of the hurt and the pain."
"I agree. I propose a toast. To the future and our chance to trust again."
They raised their glasses and drank to their friendship no matter where it may lead.
Author's Note: Standard disclaimer...I don't own da boys. Just like to play with them and return them unharmed...or barely harmed! All medical and technical errors are mine. This was written for fun and nothing was gained from it. Enjoy! :)