This story is a sequel to 'The Aroma of Love', 'Obstacles and Affections' and 'What's Next?'. It may help to read these stories first. . .
Roy DeSoto walked into the locker room and greeted his partner, who was already in uniform and sitting on the edge of his own locker. His brows furrowed, John Gage was staring at a piece of paper he was holding in one hand as he chewed thoughtfully on the end of a pen that was in the other. It was getting to be a familiar sight since Johnny had gotten more serious with his girlfriend Lorraine. With a wedding in the near future, he’d been given several papers to look over in recent weeks, ranging from invitation designs to music options for the ceremony.
“You making a list and checking it twice?” the senior paramedic teased as he opened his locker.
“Huh?” John looked up, lowering the two items in the process, and shook his head. He missed the intended humor in the comment. “Oh. __no. . .no. This is a list for a shower Lorraine’s mother is throwing for ‘er. You know. . .like a bachelor party only for girls and she gets presents and stuff.” He sighed. “Kirby, Hoover, Rainbow, Kirsty. . .”
“Is that the guest list?”
Once again, Johnny shook his head. “The gift suggestions. . .her mom gave me a copy of the gift suggestion list she sent out to Lorraine’s friends.” When he got a puzzled look in return, he clarified. “Those’re brands of vacuums I was naming.”
“Ah, I see. . .,” Roy said, pulling out a uniform shirt. “But doesn’t she already have one? I know you do. What’re you two gonna do with another one . . . or two, or three?”
“She does have one,” Johnny interrupted. “We each do. But she’s been using ‘em both often enough, they probably won’t hold up much longer.”
“I thought she’d given up the obsession with vacuuming. What happened?”
Johnny pulled out the list of baby names he’d carried around a few months earlier; it had grown considerably. “This. I had to get her mind off the idea of kids.” He sighed. “The only way to get her to drop one obsession is to give her a new one; or re-direct her to an old one.” Shrugging he added, “I figured vacuuming was probably the best one. If nothin’ else, our apartment’ll be spotless. Once we’re married and livin’ together, that is.”
Roy stepped out of his jeans and reached for a pair of trousers. “What else is on the list?”
Johnny eyed both, not sure which one his friend meant.
“The gift list,” the older man clarified.
“Well, let’s see. . .Lorraine had her mom put down some of the standard things like an electric mixer, toaster. . .”
“Don’t you already have those between the two of you?”
“Sure. But to be honest, Roy, as long as I don’t see ‘baby crib’ on here, I’m a happy man. She can suggest anything else she wants.”
“Like a changing table?”
The younger man gave a disgusted look. “Ha ha. You know what I mean.”
“Yeah. Besides, you’ll get that kind of stuff when she’s pregnant and her mom throws her a baby shower.”
“You mean they give a party for that too?”
“Usually, but don’t worry. Once you see how much diapers, bottles, formula, and baby food costs when you have to buy it all in quantities, you’ll be glad.”
Johnny looked down at the floor in thought. “I guess so. But that’s gonna be a long time from now,” he quickly added, jerking his head up. “A loooong time.”
“Yeah, right,” Roy agreed, trying to sound convinced. I give it one year, partner. . . “So, just four more weeks and you’ll be a married man. . .how’s it feel?”
“I’m not sure.”
“You aren’t getting cold feet already, are ya? That’s supposed to start like two weeks before the wedding.”
“Not cold feet. No, it’s not that.”
“Well. . .?”
“I don’ know. When I figure it out, I’ll explain it to ya.”
Roy watched as the younger man stood up and headed towards the apparatus bay. Once Johnny was gone, DeSoto shook his head. He’s getting cold feet.
Roy walked across the apparatus bay, headed for the dayroom. He couldn’t help but wonder if another shift mate, Chet Kelly, hadn’t already gotten his partner riled up. The engine crewman had been needling Gage about the upcoming wedding since the date was first set many weeks earlier. In fact, the teasing back and forth between the two men had gotten to be so routine, the others on duty didn’t know how to handle the quiet times anymore.
But as Roy walked past the rear of the engine, he noticed Johnny standing between it and the squad, leaning against the latter. The senior paramedic approached his partner.
“I thought you’d be in there,” he said, motioning toward the dayroom with his head, “drinking up all the coffee before I could get some.” He grinned to show he was teasing, but the expression went unnoticed by his preoccupied friend.
“Nah. . .I got up early and had some at home before I left. ‘Sides, I’m not in the mood to deal with Chet right now.”
“Yeah? I guess whatever’s wrong must be more serious than I thought.”
“It is serious, Roy,” he said, standing up straight and stepping away from the squad. “It’s very serious. I just wish I knew exactly what it was.”
Once again, the younger man walked away leaving DeSoto to figure Johnny’s possible problem out on his own.
“Cold feet. . .it’s gotta be cold feet.”
Johnny entered the dayroom and avoided all eye contact with anyone else in the room. Going straight for the coffee, he kept his attention on getting a cup and filling it with the brew.
“Cap brought in donuts for everyone if you want one,” Mike stated from his seat at the table.
The dark-haired paramedic glanced over his shoulder and shook his head. “I’m not really hungry right now.”
As anyone would expect, Chet was the first one to respond. He’d been sitting between Marco and Mike, but now was on his feet and approaching Gage. “Not hungry? Since when is ‘John Gage’ not ready to eat? Especially a donut.”
Johnny looked at the ceiling and sighed. What did I do to deserve this? He then turned around, his cup in hand, and addressed the comments. “For your information, Chet, I happen to’ve gotten up early and ate at home. So you see? There’s no big secret reason why I’m not hungry.”
“Okay. . .okay. No need to get defensive.” The fireman chewed his lower lip in thought a few seconds. “Hey how about we call a truce and stop all this bickering.”
Roy walked into the room just in time to hear the suggestion. Knowing his partner was more than ready for a break, he jumped in. “Now that sounds like the best idea I’ve heard around here in weeks. How about it, Johnny? Sounds like he means it.”
The younger man gave the idea careful consideration, noting the eager expressions on his shiftmates’ faces. “Oh, alright; you’ve got a deal. I’m sure I’ll regret this, but consider it a truce.”
Everyone was all smiles at the thought of fewer arguments around the place. Satisfied with how the morning was starting out, Johnny stepped forward and reached for one of the donuts that remained.
“I thought you weren’t hungry?” Mike asked.
“I’m not. But I decided I will be soon enough if I don’t eat somethin’ now. And as long as they’re here. . .and Cap went to all the trouble. . .”
Looking on, Roy took a sip of coffee he’d poured for himself. So it wasn’t cold feet after all. . .it was Chet. Maybe. Could his problem be solved already?
But he’d have to wait to find out the answer because Captain Stanley stuck his head into the room and announced roll call. The five crewmen hurried to line up in the apparatus bay, Johnny taking one last big bite of his donut before leaving the rest on the table.
“You want this?” Roy asked, holding up the remainder of the donut his partner had left before roll call. The two paramedics were assigned the chore of cleaning up the dayroom; Gage had elected to take care of the floor as DeSoto handled the table and ovens.
The younger man shook his head. “Nah, toss it.”
Roy made a face and picked up the piece of food, barely hanging on to it as he took it over to the trash can and dropped it in. Johnny glanced up during the process and smiled. He knew his partner was just playing around.
As Roy made his way back and wiped off the table, he asked, “So, was Chet the problem you weren’t sure about?”
“You said something was bugging you, but you weren’t sure what it was. After you and Chet called a truce, you seemed to relax more. So was that it? Chet getting on your nerves?”
“Oh. . .no. . .no, that wasn’t it. It wasn’t Chet. . .well, not completely.” Johnny stopped sweeping and stood up straight with the broom still in his hand. “He was gettin’ on my nerves. I’ll admit that. But there’s somethin’ else. It’s just. . .well. . .I guess maybe part of it’s the obsession thing, ya know?”
Roy grinned. “You mean hers or yours?”
The comment elicited a frown. “Roy, I’m bein’ serious. I mean, how do I know I’m not one big obsession?” he replied as he continued to sweep.
“A walking obsession. Now there’s an interesting concept.”
“Would you cut it out? I’m tellin’ ya it’s a real possibility. And I mean as in hers. I don’t get obsessed. I get inspired.”
“Oh, is that what you call it. Well, I think the other is just pre-wedding jitters getting to you. Lorraine seems to really care about you.”
“I guess you’re right. I mean, I asked her to marry me and I wouldn’t’ve done that if I had any doubts then. . .but. . .”
“Well, I don’t think that’s what’s totally buggin’ me.”
“Whata you mean?”
“We solved that and I’m still bugged!”
Roy rolled his eyes as his partner continued, “There just seems--”
Gage stopped in mid-sentence as Chet came into the room, followed by Marco.
“John, you know seeing you with that broom makes me curious about one thing.”
The younger paramedic glanced at Roy, then looked at Chet, a sour expression on his face. “And what could that possibly be?”
“I was just wondering if you and Lorraine have swept together yet or does that have to wait till after the wedding like sleeping together is supposed to?”
Roy and Marco looked on as Johnny stopped sweeping and rolled his eyes. “Look, first of all, I thought we’d called a truce. Second of all, that was dumb.”
“We did call a truce. That was a sincere question.”
“Well, it was sincerely dumb.”
“So much for a truce,” Roy mumbled as he finished wiping the table.
An hour later, the men from Station 51’s A-shift were sent out on a call for a car over an embankment. As they got out of their vehicles and peered over the edge of the road, they could see a very heavily damaged red sports car sitting upright in the brush about thirty yards below.
An officer already at the scene had explained that he’d been told the car was traveling at an excessive rate of speed before the driver lost control and drove off the side.
“Has anyone moved down there at all?” Hank wondered.
The policeman shook his head. “Not that I could see.”
“We’ll get the ropes,” Roy said, getting a nod of approval from his captain. Soon he and Johnny were set, their ropes tied off to the front of the engine. The two paramedics carefully made their way down while keeping up a steady pace.
Once they reached their destination, they disconnected from the lines and made their way over to the car.
Johnny peered in the passenger window. “We’ve got two victims; a male driver and female passenger.”
“Are they conscious?” Roy asked, joining his partner.
The younger man tried pulling on the door to get it open. “Yeah, but they both look kinda out of it. I can’t get this door open.”
“I’ll try the driver’s side.”
Roy had better luck and soon the paramedics had both young victims out with the help of Chet and Marco, who were sent down to assist.
“Victim one is a female approximately twenty-two. She’s got a fractured right tibia, multiple contusions and a probable concussion,” Johnny reported as he worked to get the vitals next.
Manning the biophone, Chet passed the information on to Rampart.
Roy gave Chet a rundown on the male victim’s injuries, which mirrored the females, except he’d lucked out and didn’t break any bones. Having given the vitals already, Roy waited for instructions from Rampart to be relayed.
It wasn’t long before Mike and the captain got a stokes to the crew, and the victims were pulled up one at a time, with a paramedic accompanying each one along side.
When everyone was once again top-side, the patients were secured on stretchers and placed in the ambulance, the young man being put on one of the benches inside.
“I guess I’ll go in with them,” Roy offered.
“Okay, I’ll see you at Rampart.” As Johnny started to close the door, he heard the young woman weakly say, “Here, you can. . .have your. . .ring back. The wedding’s. . .off.”
Unfortunately Chet was standing close enough to hear as well. He shook his head after Johnny got the doors closed and gave them two slaps to indicate they were secure.
“Hey, you know, it could be she’s obsessed with safe driving and he just blew it big time. . .”
The paramedic screwed up his face. “Chet!”
Captain Stanley reported the engine as available while a disgusted Johnny made his way to the squad and followed in the direction of the ambulance.
Obsessed with safe driving. . .man, I sure wish he’d kept his word about the truce.
Johnny smiled as he approached the base station. Nurse Dixie McCall had just returned from one of the treatment rooms and was eyeing the paramedic.
“I wish it was. . . .” he said with a slight frown.
“Oh nothin’. . .well somethin’. . .well, maybe it’s not exactly that somethin’s wrong. . .”
“Hold that thought a minute,” she said as she turned away. She walked over to the coffee pot on the counter and poured two cups. Walking back over, the beverages in her hands, she stated, “It sounds like this is one to discuss over a cup of coffee.” The nurse handed one of the drinks to Johnny, eliciting another smile.
“Sure. Now shoot. What’s not exactly wrong?”
“You’re gonna regret asking that question,” Roy said as he joined the pair. “He’ll leave you even more in the dark than you were before you even knew anything was up.”
Johnny looked over at the senior paramedic. Ignoring the comment, he asked, “How’s the couple doing?”
“Okay I guess. She not only broke her leg, but she broke off their engagement--”
“So I heard.”
Roy gave a questioning look.
“I heard her comment as I closed the doors,” the younger man explained.
“Oh, right. Well, I’d say judging by the silent ride in, they won’t be patching things up in the relationship area very soon.”
“So, what’s up with you?” Dixie asked, trying to get an explanation from Johnny before she or they got called away.
He shrugged as Roy walked around the counter to get himself a cup of coffee. “I don’ know, Dix. I just have this nagging feeling. . .”
The nurse raised her eyebrows. “About. . .?”
“Well, that’s just it. I don’t know exactly.”
“This wouldn’t have anything to do with your upcoming nuptials, would it? I mean you aren’t getting cold feet about marrying Lorraine, are you?” She glanced at Roy to see his reaction to the question, then returned her gaze to Johnny.
“No. . .no, it’s not that. I’m happy about gettin’ married.”
“Is it job related?”
“No. . .”
Roy set his cup of coffee down on the counter. “Is it bigger than a breadbox?”
Johnny rolled his eyes. “That’s one of your favorite sayings, isn’t it?”
“With your problems? It seems to be the best way to try and narrow one down.”
The younger man opened his mouth to make a remark when the tones sounded over the HT. They were being sent to another car accident. After bidding Dixie farewell, they stepped away from the base station. Glancing over his shoulder, Roy commented, “I told you he’d leave you in the dark.”
She nodded in agreement and watched as the two paramedics headed toward the exit.
After dropping off another victim at Rampart and getting a refill on supplies, Johnny and Roy climbed into the squad that was parked outside the emergency entrance.
“Too bad Dix was busy in Four,” Roy stated as he turned the key in the ignition. “I’d sure like to see if she could get to the root of your problem.”
“I can’t believe even Brackett knows somethin’s bugging me now.”
“Well, what’d you expect? You left Dixie curious. So naturally she’s gonna ask him to fill her in if you say anything about it.”
Johnny sighed. “Yeah, I guess.” He reached for the mic and held it near his mouth. “Squad 51 available.” After dispatch acknowledged the call, he placed it back in the holder.
“I’ve gotta get a few things at the grocery store for lunch. Whataya say we stop there on the way back to the station?”
“Sure,” came a disinterested reply.
Roy took a quick glance at his still preoccupied partner, then put the truck in gear and drove out of the lot.
After twenty minutes of going up and down the aisles, the paramedics had the groceries Roy needed. When they got to the check out, there was a line at each register.
“That one’s shortest,” Johnny said, pointing to a line with only two people in it.
Roy pushed the cart over to the lane and leaned on the handle. “I just hope we don’t get called out before we pay for this stuff.”
“Maybe we won’t.” Johnny scanned a display of candy that was set up on the front end of the counter where the entrance to the checkout was. He picked up a yellow package of Peanut M&Ms. “Mind if I get these?”
“And I thought the kids were bad. . .”
“Hey, it’s just a snack.”
“I take it since you’re asking, I’m paying for them?”
Johnny reached in his pocket and pulled out a dime. “Here.”
Roy took it and grinned. “Now if you could just do that when a higher price is at stake.”
His partner returned the smile and pointed to the cashier that was waiting for them to load the groceries onto the conveyor belt on the counter.
“Great timing,” Roy said as he reached into the cart.
When Gage and DeSoto arrived back at the station, the engine was out on a run. The two paramedics made their way into the dayroom, where Roy placed the one bag of groceries on the counter near the sink. Johnny took a seat at the table and dumped out the remaining contents of the candy wrapper.
“What’re you doing?” the senior paramedic asked as he looked over from where he was putting the food in the refrigerator. Gage was sorting through the colorful pieces. The engine could be heard in the apparatus bay as it was backed in.
“With the candy. . .why’d you dump all of them out?”
“Oh, that. I’m lookin’ for a round one.”
“A round piece in a bag of Peanut M&Ms is always solid chocolate. And there’s usually just one in each package. It’s the best part.”
“This may sound like a dumb question, but why not just buy a package of solid chocolate ones? Then you don’t have to search for one out of a couple of dozen peanut ones.”
“But don’tcha see? It’s the fact that it’s the only one that makes it taste better. It’s like you’re gettin’ away with somethin’.”
Roy stood looking baffled a moment, then shook his head as Mike, Marco and Chet came into the room. Two of them didn’t notice what Johnny was doing, however Mike smiled and picked up a yellow Peanut M&M, eyeing it.
“Hey, a round one.” He popped it in his mouth. “You know the round ones are solid chocolate.”
Johnny sat staring in disbelief with his mouth hanging open. “I don’t believe it,” he finally got out.
“What’s wrong?” Marco asked, taking a seat.
The dark-haired paramedic still had a dismayed expression on his face. “That was the whole reason I bought the M&Ms. I bought ‘em to get the chocolate one. . .and he ate it,” he said with a gesture toward Mike.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you’d want solid chocolate. It’s a bag of peanuts.”
“Am I the only one who didn’t know about the solid chocolate thing?” Roy wondered. He didn’t get an answer, but rather Chet carried on with the conversation.
“Just buy another pack, Johnny. They only cost a dime.”
Roy sighed as he put the lettuce away. He had a feeling they’d be at the store again soon.
Mid-way through lunch, the squad was toned out for a ‘child stuck’ call. Johnny took a quick bite of his burger as he pushed back his chair with his legs and stood up. Roy was already headed for the door.
“You want us to save your food?” Chet wondered.
“We’ll pick up somethin’ later!” came Gage’s reply as he disappeared into the apparatus bay.
Hank Stanley acknowledged the call at the podium, then gave the slip of paper with the address and information he’d jotted down to the paramedics. He watched a moment as the squad left the station and pulled out into the street.
Roy and Johnny were surprised when they were met at the scene by a little girl about six-years-old. Calm as could be, she waited for them as they climbed out of their truck.
Johnny looked around for an adult before addressing the youngster. “Do you know anything about someone being stuck?”
“Uh huh. My brother was playin’ with our kitten an’ Midnight. . .that’s its name. . .ran into its bed an’ Billy. . .that’s my brother. . .stuck his head inside because it’s a box with a hole in it an’ now he can’t get it out.”
The paramedics looked at one another in question, not sure they understood.
“You mean the kitten’s bed is inside a box?” Johnny clarified, his eyes now on the girl.
Now it was Roy’s turn. “And your brother’s head is stuck inside with the kitten. . .”
The little girl nodded. “Uh huh.
“Did he say if it scratched him at all?” Johnny wondered as they grabbed the biophone, drug and trauma boxes.
“Huh uh. But he’s cryin’.”
“How old his he?” Roy asked.
“His birfday’s tomorrow. He’s gonna be ten.”
The threesome started for the house.
“Well, who called us?” Gage asked, looking around again. “Are your mom and dad home?”
“I did!” She said with pride. “Mommy and Daddy went to work.”
They followed her into the house where, sure enough, they could see a little boy’s body on the floor with his head stuck in a rectangle hole that was in a large wooden box. Muffled sobbing could be heard from inside.
“It’s okay, Billy,” Johnny assured. “We’re with the fire department and we’ll get ya out of there.”
“Lucy said you’d have to cut my head off!” came another muffled sound, followed by more sobbing.
Roy looked at the little girl standing nearby. “Are you Lucy?”
“I had to tease him. He does it to me all the time! So I got even!”
The paramedics exchanged amused grins. They understood all too well, especially Johnny.
“Well, I don’t think we’ll have to go to that extreme,” Gage said with humor in his voice. He looked at Roy. “Think we can try a lubricant first?”
While they worked on getting Billy freed, Roy inquired on his well being. “Has the kitten scratched you at all?”
“No. . .it just licked my face.”
“Well, that’s a plus,” he commented to his partner.
With just enough room to reach in and smear some gel on the sides of Billy’s head, Johnny carefully got it accomplished. He them eased the boy out as Roy gently helped to guide his shoulders back. Within several minutes they had Billy freed. Without so much as a pause, the greasy boy took off after his sister.
“Cut my head off, huh?” he yelled.
The paramedics stood and picked up their equipment. “I guess our job’s done here,” Johnny stated.
“I hope so.”
Just them a lady in her mid-thirties peeked inside the main doorway. “Is everything okay? I live next door and I’m keeping an eye out for the kids. I was putting away some laundry and just saw your truck outside.”
“Everything’s fine,” Gage stated. “But you may want to check on these two more often. You never know what kids can get into with your back turned.”
“He’s right,” Roy agreed. “Maybe you can stay over here awhile or take them over to your house.”
“Sure,” she nodded. “Sure.”
As the two paramedics got back into their squad, Johnny grinned. “Does Jennifer ever try to get even with Chris?”
“All the time.”
The younger man turned in his seat as Roy pulled away from the curb. “Hey, let’s stop by a store on the way back.”
“Don’t tell me. . .the M&Ms?”
“Look, haven’t ya ever had a craving for somethin’ and as crazy as it seems, you just gotta have it?”
“I suppose. But one M&M?”
“Relax. There’s a market right up the street from here. Just promise me one thing.”
“You’ll go through the pack where no one can grab any so history doesn’t repeat itself.”
Roy couldn’t help but wonder if his partner hadn’t become more easily obsessed from being around Lorraine so much. Or maybe he’s subconsciously getting locked onto other ideas to block out the fact something else is bothering him and he can’t figure out what. . .
When they got back to the station, Johnny handed Roy the small package of Peanut M&Ms, and opened the passenger side door.
“What am I supposed to do with these?”
The younger man shrugged. “Eat ‘em.” He started to get out when his partner’s words stopped him.
“Why don’t you just eat the rest of ‘um? I mean as long as you got more. . .”
“I just needed the chocolate one, remember? And I already ate it.”
Roy stared blankly as Johnny climbed out and headed for the locker room. Shaking his head in wonder, he stayed in his seat a moment longer.
If he *is* doin this just to keep his mind off that something’s bugging him, I hope he figures out what that is real soon or he’s gonna drive *me* nuts.
He glanced down at the package of chocolate covered peanuts in his hand and sighed.
As soon as Roy walked into the dayroom, Chet, Mike and Marco struck up a conversation with him.
“Roy, we’re kinda worried,” Chet said, sincerity in his voice.
“Yeah,” Mike chimed in. “We’ve been thinking and we’re really concerned about something.”
“Gage,” all three of them said in unison.
“He’ll be okay.” Now, *me*, I’m not so sure. “I still think it’s just pre-wedding jitters.”
“Maybe he’ll be okay,” Chet added. “But what about the kids?”
“The ones he and Lorraine are gonna have. . .someday.”
Roy was still puzzled as to where the comments were going. “What about ‘em?”
Chet noticed Johnny stop in the doorway, then glanced at Marco and Mike, continuing on when they nodded for the go ahead.
”We’ve been discussing it and, well, what if it’s genetic? With two obsessive parents, those kids are gonna turn out to be hung up on everything. They’ll inherit every obsession known to mankind.”
“Oh for pete’s sake,” came an annoyed response from Gage.
Roy rolled his eyes as he glanced over his shoulder in time to see his partner turn around and head back out of the room. Johnny mumbled inaudibly as he disappeared from sight.
DeSoto turned his head to face the others, a slight grin on his face. “You know, it might just be the opposite. You know how two positives can cancel each other out.” Three baffled looks had him clarifying. “You know, like with batteries. You put two positive ends together and you get nothing. Maybe Johnny and Lorraine’ll cancel each other out and have kids who won’t obsess over anything. In fact they very well could end up being the most laid back kids you’ve ever seen.”
The men were quiet a moment as they took in Roy’s words. Finally Mike spoke up.
“And then Johnny and Lorraine can obsess over why their kids are so easy going.”
Roy shook his head in defeat and walked over to the couch, taking a seat. It was obvious that the guys weren’t going to give Gage a break. At least not yet. He absently dumped four candies from the package into his hand and plopped them in his mouth. Stopping in mid-chew he looked at the wrapper and thought back as to why he had the M&Ms in the first place. I hope it’s not genetic . . .
After a bit more ribbing from Chet the remainder of the shift, Johnny was happy to be getting off duty. As he and Roy walked out to their vehicles in the back lot, the younger man sighed.
“Maybe now I’ll be able think clearly without Chet buggin’ me and I can figure out what’s been naggin’ at me. . .besides Chet that is.”
“I hope so because it’s starting to nag at me and I don’t even know what you’re problem is.”
“Hey, I’m sorry about hummin’ the wedding march song so much after dinner last night. But once Chet got it in my head, I couldn’t get it out.”
“That’s okay. It kind of grows on a person.” Roy cracked a smile. “Plus it brought back a few nice memories.”
Johnny stopped and snapped his fingers, looking at his partner.
“What?” Roy waited for an answer, then continued when he didn’t get one. “You remember what’s been annoying you?”
Roy looked bewildered. Joanne? *Joanne*? “Joanne’s been nagging at you? What could possib--”
“No, no. Joanne’s not it. It’s not Joanne. I just remembered Lorraine’s mother must’ve forgotten to invite Joanne to the shower.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it. Joanne doesn’t really know Lorraine very well anyway. She’s only visited with her the couple of times you two were at our house.”
“Yeah, but she knows me.”
Roy eyed his partner suspiciously. “You wouldn’t be tryin’ to get a new vacuum out of my wife, would ya?” He grinned to show Johnny he was just kidding.
“Look, I’ll bring an invitation next shift. The shower’s next weekend.”
Johnny started toward his Land Rover as Roy headed for his Porsche. The younger man glanced over his shoulder and yelled, “Be sure and tell Joanne not to make any other plans!”
“Right!” He sighed. Though Jo was a sociable person, he knew she wasn’t going to be thrilled about spending the afternoon with a group of gals she hardly knew. “I’ll remind her she’s doing it for Johnny. I hope she goes along with it.” He waved as Johnny drove past him in the lot.
Johnny stopped by Lorraine’s apartment on the way home. He knew she’d had the day before off and was supposed to be free this day as well. But when he knocked on the door, he didn’t get an answer.
Glancing at his watch, he could see it was only 8:45. Where could she be at *this* hour? She has to be home.
He tried knocking again before using his own key. He opened the door and called out her name as he looked at the sight before him.
Having arrived home, Roy came into the kitchen where his wife Joanne was fixing breakfast. As she put two slices of bread in the toaster, she asked, “How was your shift?”
“Not bad. Busy enough, but nothing major.”
“Yeah.” He opened his mouth to tell her about the shower, but the words wouldn’t come out.
“Is something wrong?”
The toast popped up and Joanne turned to take it out as she continued with the conversation. “You seem kind of on edge. Are you sure everything went okay?”
“That’s what I said.” She leaned against the counter and folded her arms across her chest. “Okay, I get the feeling there’s something you’re not telling me.”
“You’re right. . .there is. I. . .uh. . .I was talking to Johnny about something and he realized you hadn’t gotten an invitation to Lorraine’s bridal shower.”
“I don’t know her very well. I didn’t expect one.”
“I know, I know. But you know Johnny.”
“Johnny’s not the bride,” she said sarcastically.
“You aren’t making this any easier. Look, he just wants you to go to the shower this weekend and spend some time with Lorraine.”
“Roy. . .”
“He doesn’t want to leave you out,” he said with a shrug. “Can you do it for him?” He waited as she gave it some thought.
After a few seconds, Joanne sighed. “Sure, why not. . .it’d be easier if I knew Lorraine better, but usually by the end of a shower everyone knows the others there a little more anyway.”
Roy smiled. Well, that went smoother than I expected.
But the smile quickly faded when she added, half teasing, “You know you’re going to owe me one though.”
Great, it’ll probably be something to do with her mother.
Johnny scanned the livingroom and sighed. The furniture was rearranged and the carpet was freshly vacuumed. Two shoe boxes sat open on the couch, a pair of men’s brown sandals and corduroy slippers could each be seen from their respective box. The aroma of freshly baked cinnamon something filled the air.
Rearranging, vacuuming, baking, buying me shoes. Don’t tell me she’s back to all her hang-ups at once. . .
He stepped inside and turned his head toward the kitchen
When the paramedic still didn’t get an answer, he walked into the other room. Sure enough there was a homemade Cinnamon Bun Pie on a plate on the counter, but no sign of his fiancée. Johnny headed back into the livingroom and then on to the bedroom. There he found Lorraine just coming out of the bathroom after showering. With just a towel wrapped around her, she nearly lost her hold on it at the surprise of having company.
He reached out and helped hold the terry cloth material in place as she regained her composure. The two exchanged a kiss, then pulled back and smiled at one another.
“I didn’t think you were coming over till later.”
“I wasn’t. But I thought of someone else who could go to your shower. . .” He eyed her wet hair and damp skin. “Uh. . .bridal shower. . .your bridal shower. And I thought I’d just drop by. You’ve been . . .uh. . .busy,” he added.
Lorraine sighed. “I wanted to surprise you.”
Johnny sat on the edge of the bed which had been on the other side of the room the last time he’d been over. He glanced around at the rearranged furniture, then thought of the other things he’d noticed. “Ya did.”
The paramedic was starting to get the nagging feeling back that had plagued him while on duty. But he still couldn’t figure out what exactly was causing it.
“You want to eat?” Lorraine asked. “I baked--”
“I know,” he said with a lopsided grin. “Another Cinnamon Bun Pie. Sure.”
“Okay, let me get dressed first.”
Johnny stayed seated as a still towel-clad Lorraine grabbed clean clothes from her dresser drawers and closet with her one free hand, then headed to the bathroom to get changed. When she noticed his disappointed expression as she walked by, she teased, “We’re not married yet.”
Johnny once again found himself sighing. It was times like this he could totally shrug off the beautiful blonde’s obsessive behavior. She was a pleasure to be around, both for the traits that were obvious and the ones not visible to the eye.
She’s just a little hard to figure out at times.
Lorraine’s next question coming from the other room brought him out of his thoughts. “So, who did you think of for the shower? Did my mom forget someone?”
He nodded, though she couldn’t see him. “Joanne.”
“You know, Roy’s wife. Joanne DeSoto.”
Now in purple hot pants and a white bra, Lorraine stepped out of the bathroom. “Oh! My mother doesn’t know her, so she wouldn’t think to ask. You think Joanne would be okay with it?” She pulled a cropped white shirt down over her head. As she put her arms through and pulled it the rest of the way on, she continued. “Or do you think she’d be uncomfortable?”
“I’m sure she’d have fun. She really seemed to like you when we were over there.”
She shrugged and smiled. “If you say so. Jot down her phone number and address later, and I’ll have Mom get in touch with her.”
Johnny stood as he eyed his pretty fiancée. Man, I can’t wait to be able to say she’s my wife.
“You ready to eat?” Lorraine asked.
He followed her out, still shoving aside the little nagging voice in his head that told him something was a little off.
If I don’t know what it is *yet*, it can’t be *that* important.
As they entered the kitchen, Johnny stopped Lorraine from going more than two steps beyond the doorway. After a long kiss, he offered to serve the homemade breakfast while she relaxed at the table.
“You’ve done enough around here.” Man, is that an understatement. “It’s my turn.”
“Do you want me to make coffee?”
Johnny shook his head. “Sit, I’ll do it.”
A quick kiss on the lips and Lorraine was taking a seat as the paramedic set to work. He opened one of the cupboards to get two plates and cups, but found cereal boxes and canned goods were in it instead. Johnny glanced over his shoulder at Lorraine, eyebrows raised.
The blonde woman gave a small apologetic grin and pointed to another cupboard at the opposite end of the wall. Johnny closed the one he’d opened and walked over to the other. I get the feeling I know what it'd be like to be a mouse in a maze and have someone switching the walls around.
After breakfast, Johnny sat on the couch and took off his shoes. Lorraine smiled as she waited for him to try on the sandals and slippers she’d bought him.
“I hope they fit okay.”
The paramedic eyed the sizes printed inside. “They should.” He stuck his left sock-covered foot into one of the slippers, then his right, and stood up to get a feel of the fit. “Hey, these are pretty comfortable,” he admitted with a smile. “Not bad. Not bad at all.” He then looked at an equally happy Lorraine. “But you know I’ve got plenty of footwear now. You don’t hafta keep buying these things for me.”
“Well, try on the sandals, silly. See if you like them too.”
Is she ignoring what I said? “Sure.” He took a seat on the couch again and took off the slippers, replacing them with the sandals. Once again he got to his feet. After taking a couple of steps forward he commented, “They’re great. They fit good. Of course I’ve got socks on, but I don’t think it’ll make much difference barefooted.”
“Oh, I’m so glad. I was hoping you’d like them both.”
“I do. I really do.” He sat down beside her again and looked in her eyes, wondering if he should voice a thought he’d had. With a sigh, he decided he would. “Are you. . .um. . .maybe by chance a little nervous about gettin’ married?” Before she could answer, he quickly added, “I mean, not that you’re havin’ doubts or anything. Not doubts. But are ya kind of . . . .I don’t know. . .anxious?” It sure would explain all the obsessions coming to surface.
“I guess so. But there’s something that’s been nagging at me for the past week or so and I can’t figure out what it is. My mom says it’s just pre-wedding jitters.”
Johnny couldn’t hide the surprise in his voice. “You too?”
“You mean you’ve got the same problem?”
“Well, yeah,” he said. “Kind of. And Roy’s been tellin’ me the same thing. Wedding jitters. Only I don’t think it is wedding jitters.”
“Me either. I wonder what it is though?”
Resting their elbows on their knees, chins on the palms of their hands, the two sat looking forward in thought until Lorraine broke the silence.
“Maybe if we don’t think about it so hard, we’ll each figure out what it is.”
Johnny sat up straight, his forearms now resting on his lap. “Maybe.” It was then he noticed three open packs of Peanut M&Ms on an end table nearby. There didn’t seem to be many missing, as the packs appeared full.
Lorraine saw him looking and smiled. “You can have those if you want. I just bought them for the solid chocolate ones. Did you know each package usually has one perfectly round one that’s always solid chocolate?”
The paramedic slowly nodded, his lips parted in a silent answer. The guys are right. Our kids don’t stand a chance.
The following morning, Johnny was back on duty and standing in front of his open locker when Roy came into the room, Chet and Marco close behind him.
The three men noticed the younger man could barely turn his head to look at them.
“What happened to you?” Roy wondered.
“Oh, I had too much on my mind to sleep very good last night. And don’t say it, Chet.”
The curly-haired fireman looked at the others, then Johnny, with innocence. “Say what?”
“What ever comeback that was formulating in that twisted mind of yours. Just spare me, okay?”
“Sure, Johnny. I’d say you’re sinking yourself pretty good without my help.”
Gage sighed, then continued. “Anyway, I tossed and turned half the night. Then when I finally dozed off, I must’ve slept wrong, ‘cause I can’t turn my head beyond this,” he said as he demonstrated the lack of mobility in his neck.
“So I take it you haven’t figured out what it was that was bugging you?”
“Nope. But that’s not the whole reason I couldn’t sleep. It’s not the whole reason.”
“Well, it kept me up part of the night,” Roy admitted. “So what was the other reason? And don’t tell me you don’t know.”
First Johnny had to get the look of surprise off his face that Roy’s confession caused. He couldn’t believe the older man had lost sleep over his problem. He then explained, “I ate three packs of Peanut M&Ms right before bed. Lorraine gave them to me and I’d forgotten about them until I was alone and thinkin’ about the other. I sat down on my couch and next thing I knew, I was popping the last of the candy in my mouth.”
“I’m not even gonna ask why Lorraine had three packs of the M&Ms” Roy said as he thought back to the day before. “And I hope no one else is either,” he added, eyeing Chet and Marco.
The two got the hint and clammed up.
Johnny pulled out a pair of uniform trousers from his locker. “I just hope this crick in my neck goes away soon.”
The four men changed their clothes in silence a moment until a new conversation started.
“Hey, I thought you were going to give them the big news, Chet,” Marco reminded.
Roy looked from Lopez to Kelly. “What big news is that?”
“Oh, I’ve just been thinking. . .and with John here getting married. . .it just seemed right that I ask Vanessa to marry me.”
Both paramedics’ mouths dropped open in shock. Johnny ignored the agonizing pain in his neck as he whipped his head around to look at the fireman.
Vanessa Vavoom was a gal Chet had met at a bar several months earlier. The main attraction to her had been her very large breasts. The fireman himself had claimed Vanessa wasn’t nearly as loyal and caring as Lorraine was, despite the latter having a quirky personality.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Johnny stated. Roy nodded in agreement.
“Nope. I’m pretty sure I’m in love with her.”
Gage almost shook his head in disbelief, but thought better of it. He was regretting the earlier motion as it was. “Chet, the only thing you’re in love with are two things; her left and right.”
“Her left and right what?”
“Do the words ‘size double D’ ring a bell?”
“Hey, I’m willing to bet they could ring a bell. And they happen to be triple D.”
“Great, she can be ringing the church bells with ‘em on your wedding day. Nice.”
“Why don’t you guys go back to your truce so you can get along?” Roy asked, not wanting another shift of bickering.
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”
Chet nodded in agreement with Johnny. “Besides, this is us getting along. Right?”
Johnny resisted trying to nod and just answered verbally instead. He was working on slowly turning his head to face forward again. “Right. You don’t want us bein’ too nice to each other, or we’d be doin’ this with everyone else. Remember that episode of Andy Griffith? Where he gets the couple to quit arguin’ and then they start in on the rest of the town, but are too nice to each other?”
Marco and Roy looked at one another and shrugged.
“Maybe he’s got a point,” Marco admitted.
Roy just toyed with the idea of hiding for the next few weeks.
“So when is the wedding taking place?” Johnny asked as he and the others made their way across the apparatus bay.
”I didn’t say I was getting married. I said I was thinking about asking.”
Johnny grinned and turned around to look at the others’ reactions. He then turned his whole body more forward again to address Chet. “So what’s the delay? You. . .uh. . .getting cold feet before you even make the commitment?”
“That’s not a good sign, Chet,” Gage continued. “Hey, you want some advice on how to propose?”
“Yeah, as a matter of fact I do.” He ignored Johnny’s smug grin and glanced at Roy. “So how’d you propose to Joanne?”
Johnny glared at the curly-haired fireman as Roy responded.
“Are you sure you want to get married?”
The men filed into the dayroom where a few members of C-Shift were still sitting at the table.
“Well, yeah,” Chet answered the senior paramedic’s question. “I can’t stay single forever.”
“You’re getting married?” Charlie Dwyer asked. He looked at the other two men from his crew. “I think we’ve been leaving too soon lately. We’re not up on the latest news.”
“He’s not getting married,” Johnny corrected. “He hasn’t asked yet.”
“But I will.”
“As soon as the time is right.”
Johnny snickered as he poured a cup of coffee, which Roy abruptly took from him when it was full. The younger paramedic frowned, but didn’t say a word. He poured another, which Marco took next. Again Johnny gave a displeased look. He went to pour a third cup, but the pot was empty except for a few drops. He set the empty cup down on the counter, his lips pursed in annoyance. But the lack of coffee was dismissed as the conversation continued.
“How’re your wedding plans coming?” Dwyer wondered.
“Pretty good, I guess.”
“He’s got something bothering him about it though,” Roy informed. “But he doesn’t know what it is yet.”
Johnny quickly turned his head as he looked in shock at Roy for the slip of the information. He immediately swore inward at the pain it caused in his neck. I’ve gotta quit doin’ that.
Dwyer went on, unaware of Gage’s self-inflicted pain. “Are you getting cold feet?”
“I don’t have cold feet.” The dark-haired paramedic had slowly turned his head to face forward again.
“It doesn’t feel cold in here to me. . .”
Johnny gave an irritated sigh. “He’s not talkin’ about--” He cut himself off when he realized it was Captain Stanley in the doorway who’d made the comment. “Cap!” He forced a grin. “Uh. . .Dwyer’s not talkin’ about the room temperature.”
“Well, what ever you guys are talking about, you’ll need to get back to it later. It’s time for roll call.”
Marco and Roy set their nearly empty cups down on the table and followed behind the captain and Mike. Chet and Johnny fell in line behind them.
Once A-Shift was out of sight, Dwyer looked at his shiftmates again. “Johnny’s getting cold feet.”
“But he says he’s not.”
Charlie grinned as he eyed the doorway the others had gone out of. “I’ll bet you guys five dollars each he is.”
“How will we know?” The other crewman asked.
“The closer the wedding gets, the more it’ll show.”
The others agreed and shook on the bet.
Before roll call was complete, the klaxons went off and the paramedics were sent out on a call for a woman in labor. The two climbed into the squad as the captain acknowledged the call and jotted down the information for them. Once they had it in hand, the two men were on their way.
“How’s your neck?”
Johnny slowly tried turning his head side-to-side. “The same. Don’t worry, I’ll manage.”
They continued on to the call, Gage occasionally trying to get his head to turn more.
Johnny looked out the windshield as Roy pulled up to the address of the call. Neighbors that had been gathered around pregnant woman stepped back at the arrival of the squad.
“I don’t believe it. Roy, look. She’s laying in the driveway. . .and she’s not wearing any--”
“Must be time.”
The two quickly climbed out of the squad and grabbed the OB Kit and biophone. They hurried past the onlookers as they rushed over to the pregnant woman lying on the cement beside a small compact car, just her husband’s collared shirt covering her hips and thighs. He was squatted down near her and a wet spot from the amniotic fluid was between her legs on the ground.
Johnny set down the biophone as he kneeled; Roy did the same with the OB Kit and opened it up.
There was no need to ask about the duration of or the time between the contractions. As soon as the paramedics were near the couple, the husband scooted away from his wife to get out of the way while he filled them in, nervous excitement and worry in his voice.
“Hurry! The baby’s coming! I can see the top of its head!”
Johnny and Roy got into position, Roy having been the one elected to actually deliver the baby. With sterile gloves on, he quickly lifted an edge of the shirt enough to check.
As Roy talked to the woman, instructing her push, Johnny addressed the husband. “You were about to leave for the hospital, huh?”
The man shook his head. “This isn’t our house! We’ve been driving for twenty minutes; we stopped here hoping to call for an ambulance when we figured we weren’t going to make it to the hospital, but no one was home. The contractions were so bad by then, well. . .”
Roy glanced at Johnny, the two briefly exchanging amused grins. Someone might be coming home to quite a surprise in their driveway.
It was only several seconds later until the baby was out and taking her first breath. Johnny contacted Rampart and soon the mother and baby were on their way to Rampart via an ambulance. The new father followed in his car.
“Well, you two certainly had an interesting run,” Dixie said with a smile.
Johnny grinned. “Yeah, but it would’ve been even more so if the family that lives there’d come home.”
“I’m sure the neighbors who saw will fill them in.”
Johnny snorted. “And there were plenty there to see, trust me.”
Roy came out of the treatment room left of the base station and joined them.
“How’s she doin’?” Johnny wondered.
“The mother or baby?”
“Well, the baby’s fine. She’s about to go up to the nursery. The mother is okay other than feeling a bit embarrassed about her partially nude display in the driveway.”
“Man, I’ll bet they call an ambulance first thing next time. Or start out sooner.”
“Just remember this when it’s you and Lorraine,” Dixie commented.
Johnny groaned, eliciting a raised eyebrow from the nurse.
“You two don’t want any children?”
“Uh. . .yeah. . .we do. We do.”
Roy couldn’t hide the amusement in his voice. “He’s just been getting a little harassment about the idea from the guys.”
“Ah. . .I see.”
“Well, they haven’t started on it again this shift. . .yet. But then there isn’t much that can be said during roll call.”
Roy patted him on the back. “Don’t worry. I’m pretty sure Chet’s got enough on his mind with Miss Vavoom.”
“I’m sure he does,” Johnny snickered. “Well, should we get back?”
“Sure. See ya, Dix.”
“Yeah, see ya, Dix.”
“I’ll be here.” As she watched them leave, it dawned on her that Johnny had seemed kind of stiff-necked. Maybe the teasing is having a physical affect on him . . .
As Roy drove the squad away from the emergency parking area of Rampart, he questioned his partner. “Are you sure you’re ready to marry Lorraine? I mean, you aren’t enthused at the idea of starting a family with her; and you obviously have some problem nagging at you.” He glanced at Johnny, then looked forward again. “Maybe. . . just maybe you aren’t ready for the commitment.”
“Roy, I’ve been givin’ it a lot of thought. And yesterday I questioned those same things you did.”
Roy looked over in surprise. “You did?”
Johnny nodded and the senior paramedic returned his eyes to the exit of the hospital parking lot. He pulled out onto the street as Gage continued.
“Uh huh. And I figure, I may not love Lorraine for all the same reasons a lot of guys love their wives. But she certainly makes life unpredictable and keeps me guessing on what’s coming next. I’m never bored when I’m with Lorraine,” he said with a shrug. “And she really cares about me. So, yeah, I’m sure I wanna marry her. I’m positive.”
“But how can you say that when you don’t know what’s been bugging you?”
“Because I’m not gonna let it interfere, what ever it is. If I haven’t thought of it yet, it can’t be that big of a deal. So, I’m gettin’ married,” he said, a satisfied grin on his face.
Roy thought a moment before responding. “You know, maybe we were right to begin with. Maybe Lorraine is the right girl for you after all.”
“Well, of cour--” He quickly turned his head, once again forgetting he couldn’t. “Wait, whataya’ mean ‘after all’? Did you have doubts?”
“Uh. . .sort of. But you just cleared them all up.”
Roy nodded. “What you just said actually made sense for once, so apparently she really is good for you.”
Johnny glared at his partner a few seconds, then rolled his eyes as he worked at slowly turning his head forward again.
After arriving back at the station, Johnny followed Roy to the supply closet, where he grabbed a broom from inside. Roy wheeled out a bucket with somewhat clean soapy water and a mop already in it.
As the two made their way to the dayroom, Johnny discussed more things on his mind.
“You know, you never said if you told Joanne about the shower.”
“I told her about it as soon as I got home.”
“She’ll be there.”
Johnny stopped just outside the room and turned around to smile at his partner. “She will?”
“Yeah, that’s what I just said.”
“Far out! Joanne’s gonna have a great time!”
“I’m sure she will.” I hope so. . .
As the two entered the dayroom, Johnny continued with his enthusiasm. “Man, I’ll hafta call Lorraine and give her the good news. She’s gonna be so excited.”
“Any idea what we should get for Lorraine?”
“For the shower?” Johnny asked as he began sweeping.
Roy nodded. “Jo’s going to need to bring a gift.”
“Oh. . .yeah, I guess so.” He gave it thought a moment. “I don’t know. . .maybe one of those new things for cooking hot dogs. You know. . .it’s got prongs inside that you stick each end of the wieners on and it heats ‘em up from the inside out. Takes like eight at a time.”
“I think we’ve seen those before. You sure that’s okay?”
The younger man paused in his work as he considered his own suggestion. “Yeah. . .yeah, that’d be great,” he said, a smile on his face.
“Okay. I’ll let Joanne know.”
If they end up having six kids, they’ll be set, Roy thought to himself. He didn’t dare mention the notion to Johnny.
The next duty shift, Roy came into the locker room where Johnny was involved in a conversation with Chet. As like with the others they’d had lately, it seemed to be one of annoyance.
“Oh c’mon. Surely you--” The dark-haired paramedic cut himself off when he saw his partner enter. “Roy, you aren’t gonna believe this.”
“You finally figured out what’s been bugging you the past few days,” he said pointing at Gage as he stepped over to his locker.
“Huh?__ No, no. That’s forgotten. I forgot all about that. . .till now,” he added with a glare. “You mean that’s been on your mind all this time?”
Roy didn’t answer for a moment. Like so many other times, his partner had moved on to a new problem and left him behind with the other. Did he want to admit it?
“No. So what am I not going to believe?” he asked, glancing at Chet, then back to Johnny.
The younger paramedic looked at Kelly. “Tell ‘um, Chet.”
“It’s no big deal,” he shrugged. “Johnny just asked me if I’d proposed to Vanessa yet and I said I was still trying to decide on the right place to do it.”
“He’s stalling,” Gage put in.
“Well, actually he’s got a point,” Roy commented as he changed his shirt. “I mean, you don’t want to ask in the wrong place or it could alter the outcome.”
“I asked in a hospital.”
Roy stared at him a few seconds.
“What? It’s working out good for me.”
“You aren’t to the alter yet,” Chet said.
“Now wait a minute,” Johnny protested, putting his hands up in defense. “How’d this get to be about me?” he asked pointing to his chest. “It wasn’t me we were discussing.”
Chet grinned. “See you guys later,” he commented as he ducked out of the exit leading to the dorm room.
Johnny just looked at his partner. “I don’t believe it.”
“I thought that was supposed to be my line.”
“I finally had something to pay Chet back for some of the harassment and you got ‘im off the hook. I had im, Roy.”
The senior paramedic turned toward his locker when he saw the pained expression on Gage’s face.
“Man, I had ‘im,” Johnny repeated as he went out the door to the apparatus bay.
"And to think . . .Only twenty-four hours to go," Roy said sarcastically to himself as he continued changing into uniform.
Still feeling put out by Roy’s interference with his revenge on Chet, Johnny kept quiet during roll call and beyond. Even during their morning check on the squad supplies, the dark-haired paramedic only spoke when he absolutely had to.
When they were finished with the squad, Roy closed one of the compartments and sighed. “Look, I’m sorry.”
“You don’t hafto apologize.”
“I want to. I don’t want you mad--”
Johnny shook his head. “I’m not mad.”
“I wouldn’t call it mad. I was just frustrated. You could’ve backed me up.”
Roy nodded in agreement. “I could’ve. But he did have a point.”
“All right, all right. He had a point. . .but next time. . .if there is a next time. . .could ya just not let Chet know that?”
Roy shook his head as his partner walked away. If only there *wouldn’t* be a next time.
Two responses and a couple of chores later, it was already time for lunch. Things had gotten back to normal between the paramedics after their brief talk earlier in the morning, thus Johnny and Roy took a seat beside each other at the table in the dayroom as Captain Stanley placed a large bowl of clam chowder on the table. Chet and Marco set six empty smaller bowls and spoons at each place before taking their seats as well.
Just as the captain was about to sit down, the telephone rang. He stepped over to it with a sigh and lifted the receiver while the others took turns dishing up their lunch.
“Station 51, Captain Stanley speaking.
“Sure, hold on, Lorraine.”
At the mention of the name, Johnny pushed back his chair and got to his feet. He made his way over to the phone where he took the receiver from Hank, a concerned expression on his face. It wasn’t a time of day Lorraine had called lately.
“Well, I can’t--” He looked over at his shiftmates and gave a shrug as he listened to Lorraine. After a moment of silence, his expression turned to one of recognition.
“Yeah, yeah. It does.
“Well, is it still sucking stuff up?”
The men at the table looked on as they listened to Johnny’s side of the conversation.
“It’s gotta be something to do with the vacuum,” Chet remarked.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out,” Mike commented dryly.
Roy smiled at Mike’s words and continued to watch his partner.
“I’ll take a look at it tomorrow after I get off.
“Okay.” He turned away from his shiftmates and sent a quick kiss over the phone. “I love you, too.”
Johnny hung the receiver back on the telephone and returned to his seat.
“Problem?” Hank asked.
“It’s her vacuum,” Johnny said with a nod.
Chet eyed the others knowingly, cracking a grin.
“She called you for that?” Marco couldn’t believe it.
“It’s sounding kinda funny. Like. . .well. . .like it has a sore throat. If a vacuum could have one that is,” he added. “‘Course we all know they don’t have throats,” he snickered. When he saw the blank stares he was getting, Johnny realized he was only making the situation worse. He quickly started dishing up more clam chowder; but much to his dismay, the subject didn’t end.
“A sore throat?” Chet asked. “So what are you? A paramedic for vacuum cleaners now?”
Johnny rolled his eyes. “Chet, she just wants me to take a look at it. I know I can’t do anything but run it and agree again that it’s sounding different and maybe take it to a repair shop. But she’ll feel like I did something because I didn’t blow it off.” He narrowed his eyes as he scrutinized the fireman. “I don’t think you even know what real commitment’s about.”
“Good comeback. I hope you’re better with words when you propose to Miss Vavoom.”
Gage eyed Roy beside him in hopes of making sure he didn’t jump in on Chet’s behalf again. In the meantime, Kelly opened his mouth to respond, but the klaxons went off, sending the station on a call for an unknown type rescue.
The six men looked longingly at their clam chowder as they quickly pushed back their chairs from the table and hurried to the vehicles in the apparatus bay.
Roy brought the squad to a stop at the address of the call, a brick one-story house with an uncovered porch; Mike parked the engine close behind. Johnny and Roy looked around as they climbed out of their truck.
“Must be inside. I don’t see anything going on out here,” Gage commented as the engine crew joined them. Only a few curious onlookers were visible from nearby houses.
The six men hastily made their way to the front porch of the home where Roy rang the doorbell. When there was no response after a few seconds, Johnny stepped over to peer into a window to the left while Marco went to one on the right.
“I don’t see anyone,” the fireman commented.
“Me either,” Johnny added. “Wait, there’s a lady coming this way.” He continued to watch as the sixty-year-old woman approached the window. “She’s pointing behind her,” he informed them. Hank stepped over to take a look inside.
“Ma’am!” he called through the glass. “Can you let us in?” When she appeared not to hear what he said, he asked with more enunciation, “Can__you__open__the __front__door__for __us!”
She shook her head, causing Johnny and the captain to give each other a puzzled look. They quickly faced forward again when they heard her muffled voice from inside.
“The back door!”
With that, the six men took off toward a gate at the side of the house. As they rounded a rear corner of the home on the other side of the fence, they saw a ten-foot ladder leaning up against the house covering the back door.
Johnny shot up ahead and moved the ladder aside as the others caught up to him. The backdoor flew open and out stepped the woman they’d seen inside.
“Oh, thank you!” she said with a sigh of relief, her right hand across her breast.
“But we didn’t do anything yet,” Hank stated.
“Is there someone inside needing help?” Roy asked.
She smiled. “No. It’s just me here right now.”
The captain glanced at his men, then returned his attention to the lady. “Ma’am, we got a call for an unknown type rescue at this address.”
“Yes, that was me.”
Hank hid his frustration as he asked, “What’s the rescue?”
“I couldn’t get out of my house. You see, my husband. . . Bill is his name . . . he did some work on the roof last night and forgot to take down the ladder.”
Hank nodded and waited for more as his men looked on.
“Well, this is the only way I can get in or out of the house. Bill calls me foolish, but I’ve just had too much bad luck when I use the front door. So about a year ago, I started using this door only and it’s proven to be better luck. But when I looked out one of the windows and saw the ladder still there. . .well, I had to call for help or I’d have never gotten out in time for my dentist appointment.”
“Couldn’t you have just opened the backdoor and knocked the ladder over?” Johnny wondered.
The woman looked at him like he was from another planet. “Certainly not! Everyone knows it’s bad luck to be under a ladder and if I opened the door, that’s exactly where I’d have been. And who knows how long that curse would have followed me around.” She glanced at the bewildered expressions on the firemen’s faces and shook her head. “Men. . .”
Hank turned to see a police officer come around the corner of the house. He hurried over to fill him in on the senseless call and let him know he wasn’t needed. In the meantime the woman stepped inside to grab her purse, then came back out, closing the door behind her.
“Thank you again for the help, but I’ve got to be going to my appointment now.”
They watched her walk away, going into a side door of a garage that acted as a divider between the front and backyard on the opposite side of the house than the gate.
Chet shook his head. “And I thought your girlfriend was a nut,” he commented to Gage. “I may not know everything about commitment, but I do know what it takes to be committed, and this lady’s about there. She almost makes Lorraine seem normal.”
Johnny looked at Roy. “I don’t know whether to thank ‘im or wring his neck.”
The senior paramedic cracked a grin. “You’d better wait till after the wedding if it’s the latter. You don’t wanna kill off one of your ushers.”
It was then the younger paramedic realized how close the wedding day was getting; he felt a sudden twinge in his stomach.
“I can’t believe I forgot Chet was gonna be an usher at the wedding.”
Roy glanced at his partner in amusement, then looked forward again as he drove the squad back to the station. “I don’t think Chet could believe it either. But I wouldn’t be too hard on myself if I were you. You’ve had a lot on your mind and part of that’s been Chet’s fault.”
Johnny had kept his eyes straight ahead as he’d listened to Roy. Still watching out the windshield, he replied, “Yeah, it has. It really has.” A slight grin spread across his face. “But I guess Chet wouldn’t be Chet if he wasn’t tryin’ to get under my skin.”
“That’s right. Hey, you know,” Roy said, once again glancing quickly at the younger man before returning his eyes to the road. “I just thought of something. Chet may have done you a favor. Maybe his antics got your mind off your other problem.”
Johnny’s lower jaw dropped open as he whipped his head around to look at his partner. “Roy! You did it again! Why is it you hafta keep reminding me about that?”
“I thought you said it didn’t matter that much anyway.”
“It doesn’t.” After a brief pause he admitted, “I just would still like to know what exactly my problem is. You know,” he began, facing forward again. “For curiosity sake.” He didn’t want to tell Roy about the nervous twinge in his stomach at the mention of his wedding earlier.
Chet sat watching the traffic around them as he and the rest of the engine crew headed back to the station a fair distance behind the squad. His mind on a small problem, the fireman turned to face Marco beside him.
“How could John forget I was going to be an usher at his wedding? I mean, he didn’t forget you were.”
“Maybe he subconsciously blocked it out,” Marco shrugged.
“But people only do that when they don’t wanna face something. . .” His voice trailed off, his features registering comprehension. “Wait a minute. . .”
Hank Stanley had been listening to the men and turned slightly to join in. “I wouldn’t take it personally. John’s had a lot on his mind lately.”
“Maybe. . .”
“Well, it’s either that or you two are right; he blocked it out because he can’t face the idea.”
Chet paled, eliciting an eye roll from the captain. “Relax, pal. I’m kidding. I’m sure if he had a change of mind, he’d say so.”
“Yeah, he probably would,” Chet agreed. Or would he? Maybe he’s just trying to be nice. . . He looked back out at the traffic as he chewed his lower lip in thought.
Marco noticed his still bugged friend and shook his head. Of all the times for Chet to get sensitive . . .
Before Johnny and Roy could make it back to the station, they were toned out on a call for a man down at a tire shop. The paramedics both quickly put on their helmets and secured them in place as they continued on to the response.
“Wonder what this one is about,” Johnny thought out loud.
“After the last run we had, who knows. . .”
The engine crew re-heated the clam chowder in hopes they’d be able to enjoy some of it before being toned out again. Luckily the response with the lady and her ladder hadn’t taken much time and the food hadn’t sat out for long.
“Save some for John and Roy,” Hank reminded as Chet added more to his bowl.
“Yeah,” Marco agreed. “You eat all the clam chowder and Johnny will really wonder why he made you an usher at his wedding.”
Chet frowned. “Always good to know a guy can depend on his co-worker for support when he needs it,” he said sarcastically.
The incident at the tire store turned out to be a customer that had taken a direct fall on his back when his feet slipped out from under him. The cause of the mishap was that an employee had recently polished a tire display and the overspray from the treatment coated the floor in that area with a slippery film.
Once they had the twenty-six-year-old patient ready to transport using full spinal precautions, Johnny climbed up in the ambulance with the man while Roy followed behind in the squad.
“This. . .reminds me of. . .my wedding day,” the victim said with a moan. With his neck in a c-collar, he couldn’t turn his head to look at Johnny. But he knew he had a captive audience to hear his story with the paramedic in the ambulance with him.
Gage looked over in surprise at the mention of a wedding. “Yeah? Did you fall down on the way out of the church?”
The man gave a slight snicker. “Yeah. Unfortunately it was before the ceremony.”
“Oh. . .”
“I should’ve known. . . I had a nagging feeling. . .all along. . .that something would go wrong. I just. . .just didn’t know what.”
Alarm suddenly registered on Johnny’s face. “A nagging feeling?”
“Yeah. For about. . .a month before.” The man paused a moment. “Then the day came. . .I walked into the church. And then. . .then I remembered I left. . .my good shoes in the car. . .I’d driven in my. . .tennis shoes.”
The paramedic was now listening with even more interest, wondering how many grooms got these nagging feelings before a wedding; and if his was a sign of anything to come.
“I went back out,” the man continued. “To get the shoes. . .was in a hurry. I stepped off one of. . .the outside steps wrong. . .and went down on my side. Broke my ribs. . .was in the hospital four days.”
Johnny sat back and looked down in thought a few moments before returning his gaze to the man, asking, “And you had a nagging feeling all the way up till that happened?”
“Funny, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Funny.” His expression read anything but humored. His brows furrowed, he decided to get more information. “So what happened when you finally did get married? Or did you?”
“We got married in the . . . hospital. Divorced three months later. . .you know. . .you’ve gotta make sure. . .you do it in the right place. . .just like proposing.”
Johnny’s mouth dropped open as he once again gave the patient’s words thought. Oh man. Chet might actually be right!
The ambulance came to a stop and the rear doors opened, revealing the entrance to Rampart’s emergency section. Johnny helped to lift the stretcher out of the ambulance as Roy parked the squad beside the vehicle and came around to assist.
The senior paramedic couldn’t help but notice his partner looked rather ill. I wonder what’s wrong with *him*?