By Jane L.
“Johnny Gage! It’s time for you to wake up! You have things to do.”
“Come on, now. Don’t think that keeping that arm over your eyes is going to get rid of me.”
“Yes, son, I’m here, right beside you. And I’m not going anywhere, so you stay awake for me, alright?”
“’m tired. . so sleepy.”
“I know, John, but you can’t sleep right now. There’re people depending on you. You can’t let them down. Don’t let me down. . .”
“M . . o m ?”
* * * * * * *
A warm hand gently held Johnny’s wrist and he relaxed at the soothing touch. The pain in his head was excruciating, but he wanted so much to see his mother’s face. As his dark eyes slowly opened, he searched the dimly lit area for her, but knew instantly that something was very wrong. The worried eyes gazing down at him were not his mother’s eyes.
“R . .o y?”
“Yeah, partner, I’m right here.”
“But . .”
Turning his head in a desperate attempt to see around him, Johnny almost screamed in pain. His hands flew towards his head only to be caught in Roy’s firm grasp.
“You’re going to be okay, Johnny. Everything’s going to be alright. You just have to lie still.”
There was no answer from the younger paramedic; he’d already slipped back into unconsciousness. Leaning over his partner, Roy checked his breathing, then sat back on his heels. Johnny had taken quite a blow to his head, and with no equipment and an injured shoulder of his own, there was nothing more Roy could do for his friend.
Looking around the dark hole they were trapped in, Roy groaned in frustration. Their only light was a thin beam provided by a flashlight, and that was getting weak. It had been several hours since the building had collapsed. Captain Stanley had sent the two men in for a quick search, but Roy knew that the order had been made with much trepidation. He hoped that the man wasn’t blaming himself now. There had been a report of two kids playing in the condemned building, and everyone knew they had to check it out. It was only by sheer coincidence that the last aftershock had tumbled the old structure, and that the two men had been in the basement at the time.
But Roy knew that their time was running short. Even though Johnny had recognized him the last time, the young man wasn’t responding to Roy. Oh, he was talking alright, but the conversations weren’t with his partner. And that’s what had Roy worried. It almost seemed as if Johnny were talking to his mother, and the senior paramedic knew that was impossible. Mrs. Gage had been dead for years.
* * * * * * *
“Johnny! Didn’t I tell you to wake up?”
“What do you mean, can’t? You can and you will.”
“I know, son, but you mustn’t sleep. Remember when Billy Two-Feathers fell into that old well? He hit his head so hard, the doctors made him stay in bed for two weeks.”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“Well, you don’t want to have to stay in bed like that do you?”
“No. . but, umm. . Billy didn’t.”
“Didn’t stay in bed that long.”
“What do you mean? John Gage, what are you talking about?”
“Don’t nothing me, young man, what did you start to say?”
“Well, Billy didn’t stay in bed that two weeks. Some of us would meet out under his window and help him sneak out at night. We watched him careful, though. He was okay.”
“Uh huh, I’m sure the doctor wouldn’t have agreed with you. How many other pranks did you pull behind your mother’s back?”
“Oh, Mom, it wasn’t like that. We just wanted to help Billy out. He was going crazy lying in that bed all day.”
“I know, John. You’d never do anything to hurt anyone else. That’s what makes you such a good paramedic. Do you know how proud I am of you?”
“Of course, I am. You’re a fine young man, and you’ve made a good life for yourself here. You have good friends; friends who care about you. Just like you cared about Billy Two-Feathers years ago. But you have to help them now. They need your help. Roy needs you. . .”
“I’ll try, Mom. Mom?”
* * * * * * *
Debris cascaded around the two men and the creaking of the beams above them intensified. Suddenly, a light shone into the darkness.
“Roy? John? Are you in there?”
“Yeah, Cap. We’re in here, but Johnny’s hurt bad. We need to get him to a hospital, now!”
“Okay, Pal, hang on.”
The rescue proceeded quickly, but Roy continued to worry over his friend’s condition. Johnny was no longer speaking, either to his partner or his mother. An occasional fluttering of his eyelids told Roy the man was still partly conscious, and once Johnny had even opened his eyes part way and squeezed Roy’s hand. He hoped the young man heard his response and would do as he asked.
“Keep fighting, partner, we’re almost out of here. Just stay with me. .”
* * * * * * *
“I’m here, son.”
“My head hurts.”
“I know it does.”
“Remember when I was little? You used to stroke my head whenever I was sick. It always felt so good. . made me feel safe, like everything would be alright as long as you were there.”
“You know I’ve always been here, don’t you? I know it may not have seemed like it, but I’ve always been beside you, and I always will be.”
“mm . . missed you. .”
“I know, John. I wish it could’ve been different. You’ve had a hard life, and I wish I could’ve helped you through it, but it wasn’t meant to be. But know that I love you, son.”
“Love you too . . .”
* * * * * * *
Johnny opened his eyes slowly, the pain still burning inside his skull, but this time there was no warm darkness to peer through. Instead, a blinding light seemed to pierce his vision, and he blinked rapidly in an effort to see through its brilliance. Straining to see the face above him, he longed to look into his mother’s dark eyes.
“No, Johnny, it’s Dixie. How are you feeling?”
Dixie moved her hand from the young man’s forehead where she’d stroked the tension from his brow. A thick bandage covered part of his head, and she quickly checked the dressing as she watched him try to focus on her.
“ umm. . . Roy. Wake up, Roy. There’s someone here to see you.”
From the adjoining bed, a tired but happy face emerged as Roy pulled himself up and slowly crossed the room.
“Welcome back, partner.”
Johnny’s answering grin was short lived as he continued to look about the room. He was only able to move his head several inches without the pain overwhelming him, but he quickly realized the person he searched for was not there.
Watching his two friends whispering at the end of his bed, he struggled to understand the situation. What had happened? He realized he was at Rampart, but what had happened to bring them there? And what was wrong with Roy? The sling on his arm and bandage along his cheek were obvious signs that they’d run into some kind of trouble. The last thing he remembered was calling out to Roy as the building came down around them. The building. . . They must’ve been injured there. But his mom . . he’d talked to his mom. Where was . . . No. That couldn’t be, his mom was dead. Had been dead since he was nine years old. So what . . .
Looking up, he realized Roy was sitting on the edge of his bed.
“She’ll be right back. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I think so. You?”
“Yeah, just a banged up shoulder.”
There was a brief silence while Johnny struggled again to put the missing pieces together. Roy watched him anxiously, aware that his partner was upset.
“Roy? Did you see. . .”
“No, Johnny. I didn’t see her, but I know she was there with you.”
“How do you know?”
“I don’t know. I can’t explain it. It just seemed like every time you talked to her, you’d calm down, the pain seemed to lessen and your vitals improved. I guess it just made sense. If she wasn’t actually there, at least your memory of her was enough to make the difference, and that’s all that really matters. You’re okay, and I’m sure that’s what she’d have wanted.”
“You know, the funny thing was, it felt just like when I was a kid. I could hear her calling me, and feel her touch. I don’t know . . .”
“Don’t try to explain it, John. Just remember how good it felt to have her close.”
“Yeah. . .”
“Get some sleep now.”
“Okay. You too. You look like hell, you know.”
The answering laugh was one mixed with amusement and relief. The blond paramedic made his way back to the other bed and settled in. There was no further conversation, just an amiable silence as the two men rested quietly.
The headache plagued Johnny as he tried to relax, and he struggled with the unanswered questions running through his mind. It was only as he finally began to drift off to sleep that he truly felt at ease. He opened his eyes carefully, almost afraid of what he might or might not see. But the room was empty except for Roy sleeping in the next bed. Closing his eyes once more, he smiled softly at sound of the familiar voice.
“Sleep well, son. I love you.”
Thanks to Kenda for the quick beta read and Audrey for the invitation. Happy Mother's Day!