Disclaimer - Lydia March is an original character who first appeared in my story, Conversation Hearts. She's been in several stories that can be found on my archive page, where they are grouped together. You should read them first if you want to know what's going on here.
A little advice from Audrey - you may want to make sure you aren't wearing mascara when you read this story.  :o)
My Best Girl
Jill Hargan
You're my best girl and nothing you do is wrong,
I'm proud you belong to me;
And if a day is rough for me,
Having you there's enough for me.
And if someday another girl comes along,
It won't take her long to see,
That I'll still be found, just hanging around
My best girl.
from Mame
"Granny Lyddie... Granny Lyddie... Come over here an' see dis one!"
Lydia March glanced up from where she was weeding her small garden to see what the fuss was all about. Three year old Jordan Gage was examining the tomato plants intently and beckoning her with his hands.
"Granny Lyddie, you hafta come quick."
"Hold on, Little Man, hold on," she chuckled. "This old lady can't do anything quick anymore." She grabbed onto the chair beside her and hauled herself to her feet. She took a moment to catch her breath, then moved over to where her young helper was waiting impatiently.
"Dees potatoes have bugs on 'em," Jordan declared with alarm. "De're gonna eat 'em all up an' we won't get to."
Lydia smiled to herself. No matter how many times Jordan was corrected, he still called tomatoes potatoes. She leaned close to the nearly ripe fruit and saw the pair of ladybugs that had distressed the little boy. Her smile widened, knowing that two bugs would seem like an invasion to a three year old.
"Now there's nothing to get all excited about," she soothed. "Those are ladybugs, remember?" she reminded the child. "They eat the bad bugs. They won't hurt our tomatoes."
"You sure?" Jordan's little face still wore a dubious look under his mop of dark brown hair.
"Sure I'm sure. Here, watch."
Lydia reached out and let one of the little spotted insects crawl onto her finger. Then she held it so Jordan could see it closer.
"Give me your hand," she said and let the ladybug move from her finger to the boy's. The grin that lit Jordan's face spread from ear to ear.
The spitting image of his daddy, flitted through Lydia's mind with loving affection.
"Here you two are. What's going on?"
Jordan spun around with delight and held up his hand. "Daddy! Lookee... a ladybug. Granny Lyddie says de're good bugs, an' dey won't eat our potatoes." He giggled as the bug moved along his arm. "It tickles."
Johnny knelt down to inspect his son's new insect friend with a great amount of fatherly interest. Then he stood up and tousled the boy's unruly hair.
"Why don't you put that good bug back now and get washed up. I've got lunch ready."
"Awww... okaaaay." Jordan complied reluctantly, reaching out and letting the bug crawl back onto one of the plants. Then with a child's ability to switch gears, implored, "Can we eat outside, Daddy?"
"Don't see why not," Johnny agreed amiably. "You go on in and get washed, and I'll bring lunch out here."
"I don' needa wash," the little boy stated emphatically. "Garden dirt is good dirt. Granny Lyddie says so."
"Oh, she does, does she?" Johnny rested his hands on his hips in mock sternness as he reasoned with his son. "I happen to know for a fact that Granny Lyddie washes all that good dirt off before she eats." He shifted his gaze to Lydia for confirmation, but she held up her hands innocently.
"Don't put me in the middle of this," she declared with a chuckle.
Johnny laughed softly, then reached down to scoop Jordan up in his arms and hold him upside down, much to the child's glee.
"All right, Big Guy, guess I'll just have to toss ya into the washing machine." He took a few steps toward the house, Jordan's shrieks of laughter filling the air. As they reached the door, Johnny righted the boy and set him down, leaving his hand on the child's shoulder to guide him toward the bathroom.
Lydia watched them for a moment, a smile on her face at their antics. Then, grabbing hold of the portable oxygen tank that was her constant companion these days, she followed after them. She wanted to be sure she washed that good dirt off and passed Johnny's inspection.
A few minutes later, and after a great amount of soap and splashing on Jordan's part, the three were sitting around the patio table eating sandwiches. Johnny had made tuna salad for Lydia and himself, and peanut butter and jelly for Jordan. There was a plate of apple slices as well as a pitcher of lemonade in the middle of the table.
As they ate, Jordan regaled Johnny with tales of potatoes and bugs and pulling weeds. Johnny listened attentively, asking silly questions that made the boy laugh and then launch into long explanations meant to teach his father the basics of gardening.
Lydia was content to watch them as she took small bites of her sandwich. Life had certainly changed for her since she first met Johnny. It wasn't that she'd had nothing before then. She'd had a good life and a good marriage. True, she and Albert had never been able to have children, but it wasn't something she'd fretted about. Not really. Not until he was gone and she was left with an apartment and a cat and a few friends who were deeply involved in their own children and grandchildren's lives, and had little time left over for a single old lady.
She wasn't by nature melancholy, and she wasn't one to dwell on what she didn't have. Still there had been days when she felt the loneliness. And those days had seemed to come more frequently as the years rolled on.
Until fate literally burst down her door in the form of Paramedic John Gage. He'd rescued her from more than a fire that day. He'd taken it upon himself to look after her, and with his kindness and caring he'd become the son she'd never had. And now, years down the road from that fortuitous first meeting, with marriage and family coming for Johnny, Lydia was enjoying a role she'd never thought she would.
She indulged in a moment of self satisfaction, knowing she'd played a small part in Johnny's current happiness. When she'd introduced him to Penny, it had been with only the smallest of hopes that anything would come of it. Since the day of the fire he'd been so kind to her, had made sure she had everything she needed, had even at times turned to her for comfort and advice. He'd made her once more feel wanted and wise.
And as she'd grown to know John Gage, she'd started to catch glimpses of him that he rarely let anyone else see. Maybe because she was an old lady and he felt safe with her. She liked to think it was because he'd grown to see in her, at least in part, the mother he'd lived without most of his life. But whatever the reason, he was comfortable enough around her to let down the public facade once in a while. And in those moments when he wasn't being the happy go lucky goofball or the confirmed bachelor ladies' man about town, she saw the longing for something else. Something he was searching for but didn't know how to find. And she'd grown more and more determined to help him find it. When she'd met Penny at Rampart, she'd taken a liking to the young woman immediately, and felt strongly that she just might be what Johnny needed.
It hadn't happened overnight. The two of them had certainly gotten off to a rocky start. But five years later with three and a half year old Jordan here and another one on the way, Johnny and Penny were more than just Lydia's friends. They were her family. When they'd bought this house, one of the deciding factors had been the small mother-in-law cottage in the back. Though Lydia had protested that the last thing the young couple needed to worry about was finding room for her, they'd both insisted she come and live with them.
They'd moved in shortly before Jordan was born. When he was an infant, Lydia had taken care of him on those days that Johnny and Penny's work schedules overlapped. But as he'd grown into an active toddler, Lydia's declining health made it too hard to keep up with the rambunctious little boy.
Joanne DeSoto had willingly taken over his care on those days, and though Lydia knew it was for the best, her heart had been heavy to lose that precious time with her Little Man. It was one of those dark reminders that she wouldn't be around to see Jordan grown. That she'd had even these last five years was a gift she would forever be grateful for. She didn't know how much longer she did have, but it wouldn't be long enough. She sighed, knowing no matter how long a body had, in the end it never seemed like long enough.
"You okay, Lydia?"
Lydia glanced up from her musings and saw the concern in Johnny's dark eyes.
"Oh, heavens yes, my boy," she assured him quickly, wanting to ease that worry. "Just lost in thought."
"Well... don't get too lost," Johnny cautioned with a grin that only partially concealed his anxiety for her that was never far from the surface.
Lydia smiled and reached across the small table to squeeze his hand. "Never you fear, my dear. I always know my way back home."
"When's Mommy coming home?" Jordan demanded around a mouthful of bread and peanut butter. He'd obviously picked up that much of their conversation.
"At dinner time," Johnny informed him patiently, though he probably answered that same question at least ten times a day. "Just like always," he added with a laugh.
"Dat's too long," the child complained unhappily. "Dat's foreeeever!"
"It won't be for much longer," Johnny reminded him. "Mommy's only working two more weeks."
"And den we get our new baby!" Jordan clapped his hands together in excitement. That part of the story he remembered completely.
"You bet," Johnny agreed with an grin that matched his son's. "And you and Granny Lyddie will be big helpers."
"We sure will," Jordan proclaimed proudly. "An' I'm gonna be the bestest big bruver in the whole world."
Jordan chattered on about how he was going to help his mommy feed the baby and give it a bath and share his toys. Lydia smiled at his enthusiasm, glad that Johnny and Penny were at a place in their lives where Penny could stop working and stay home with the new baby. She knew it had been tight before. Managing the payment on this house had taken both their incomes. It was another reason why Lydia had balked at first about them taking her into consideration when they went shopping for a home. They could have started with something smaller and more affordable. But they'd both fallen in love with this place and had been adamant about having her come live with them.
She had to admit it hadn't taken a whole lot of arm twisting for her to agree, although she had put her foot down and insisted she be allowed to contribute from her small, fixed income towards the household expenses. That hadn't gone over well with Johnny, but Lydia could be just as stubborn about some things as her young friend, and in the end, he'd relented. But only after, Lydia suspected, Penny had said something to him about old people and pride and all that sort of nonsense that Lydia snorted about. She supposed it didn't really matter why. At least they let her help.
But thing were going to be different now. Things were changing for Johnny at work. Changes that would mean a substantial increase in pay. Last summer, Roy DeSoto, had decided to take the captain's exam. His kids were getting older and would be needing things like college in the near future. Even though he loved being a paramedic, he could no longer put off the increasing needs of his family.
Lydia knew Johnny's whole heart was in being a paramedic, just as much as Roy's. But with his long time friend and partner leaving station 51, and with a growing family of his own to consider, Johnny had taken the exam as well. They'd both passed with the highest marks, and since both men had considerable seniority in the department, it hadn't taken very long to receive their new assignments.
Roy had gotten his station first. He started at Station 95 in Gardena with their B shift about four months ago. It had taken a little longer for Johnny to get his assignment, but he was scheduled to start at Station 23 out of Bellflower on their C shift in three weeks. Without Penny's salary from Rampart it would still be tight, but at least it would be workable. And Penny would get to stay home with her kids on a full time basis, something she'd longed for since she was expecting Jordan.
"Do you think it's a good idea for her to still be working?" Lydia asked, giving up on finishing her food and setting it down on the plate. "She's been pretty tired the last couple of weeks."
Johnny nodded his awareness of his wife's condition. "I know, and I tried to talk her out of it, but at least they've got her at a desk most of the time, so she's not on her feet all day." He chewed his last bite of sandwich thoughtfully, then added, "She really does love her job. I know she's gonna miss it... no matter what she says."
"Probably," Lydia agreed knowingly. "But sometimes we give up what we want for what's important. The hospital will still be there a few years from now if she wants to go back."
Johnny flashed a smile. "That's just what Penny said. I wonder where she heard it from."
"Smart girl, your wife. Good thing you married her, my boy."
All she got in answer was a cocky grin as he pushed back from the table and got to his feet. "Somebody told me it was a good idea."
Lydia laughed as she too pushed her plate away. She'd only eaten about half her sandwich, and she hoped Johnny didn't notice. Of course, as he cleared away the plates he obviously saw it, but he didn't make an issue of it, and the older woman was grateful.
As Johnny took the lunch dishes inside, Jordan following at his heels wanting to help, Lydia took hold of her oxygen tank and made her way down the walkway to her little house. She'd had a full morning, and she was tired. This time of day she needed to rest a bit. She wanted to cook dinner for everyone tonight, and she would need the energy.
* * *
Penny brought the stack of patient files to her desk and sat down, grateful to be off her feet. They'd been swelling a bit the last few weeks, and she took advantage of any opportunity to rest them. She kicked off her white nursing shoes and wiggled her toes to help relieve her discomfort. Too bad Johnny wasn't here to rub them for her.
It's a good thing he isn't here, she reminded herself. He'd have a fit if he knew how much work this desk duty requires.
It wasn't her supervisor's fault. She tried her best to keep Penny from doing anything too taxing, but realistically there was just too much work for one nurse to do nothing but paperwork. Penny didn't complain. Sitting at a desk for twelve hours was tedious at best, and not the thing that made her love nursing. She didn't mind helping out with the patients when she was needed, though by the end of the shift she was more than ready to go home and take it easy.
She shifted in her chair, stretching to ease the kinks, and felt a twinge in her lower back. She reached behind and rubbed at it absently. It had been bothering her all day.
Just one more fringe benefit of being pregnant.
She chuckled to herself, knowing that in the end, all the aches and pains would be worth it. Only two more weeks of work, and then about another week before the baby came. She knew from experience that after that she wouldn't have any time to worry about a few minor back pains.
"Penny... Penny, Mrs. Granger in 402 is complaining about her TV reception again. I hate to bother you, but..."
Penny glanced up to see Bridget Everly standing in front of her desk, her young face twisted in frustration. The girl was had just graduated from nursing school and hadn't yet the experience to deal with problem patients.
"Did you tell her we don't have anything to do with television maintenance?" she asked with a laugh. Mrs. Granger was one of those people who thought of a hospital as a hotel, complete with room service and valets.
Bridget nodded, her auburn ponytail bobbing vigorously. "I tried, but she won't listen to me. You know you're the only one who can calm her down when she's like this. So I was wondering... well, if you wouldn't mind..."
"Okay, okay. I'll be right there."
The look of relief on the younger nurse's face was enough to make up for the hassle of putting her shoes back on and struggling to get up from the chair. Penny knew she looked as awkward as she felt when she saw Bridget reach out to try and give her a hand.
"I'm all right," she said with a grin. "Just doing my beached whale imitation."
Bridget giggled and moved off to some other chore.
Penny stood for a moment, catching her breath. Then she started down the corridor toward room 402, rubbing at her back as she walked and trying to remember if she'd had this much back pain when she was carrying Jordan.
The last few hours of her shift passed in much the same manner. She managed to spend about half of it at her desk, and by the time she walked out to the parking lot at six o'clock, she was more than ready to call it quits for the day. As she maneuvered gracelessly behind the wheel, she felt her back muscles protesting again.
Maybe Johnny was right. Maybe I shouldn't still be working.
But as she pulled out onto the street and the pain subsided, thoughts of quitting work left her mind. She was just anxious to get home and see her husband and son.
Traffic was heavy, even on the surface streets Penny took to go home. She was grateful they lived close enough to Rampart that she didn't have to go anywhere near the freeways, which would be crawling this time of night. As it was, she only had to deal with the stop and go of traffic lights and people who didn't always know which street they needed to turn on.
As the light in front of her turned green, Penny stepped on the accelerator . She never even saw the pickup who tried to beat the yellow light and sped through just as Penny and the car beside her entered the intersection. She heard the screech of brakes and the crash of metal on metal, just as she felt the jarring impact as the truck plowed into the passenger side of her car.
* * *
L.A. County Fire Station 95 was a small one - one engine with a crew of four. The building had been built at least thirty years ago, and their modern rig barely fit into the tiny bay. It didn't house a rescue squad, which caused Roy DeSoto frustration at times. Though he was enjoying his new responsibilities as captain, and he had a great group of guys working under him, he missed being a paramedic more than he'd thought he would. And definitely more than he'd ever admit to Joanne. Though she'd never badgered him about his work, he knew the extra money had lightened a lot of the stress on his wife's shoulders as she did her best to run their household on only his income.
But there were those times when his crew was the first in, when they came across injured people and could do next to nothing to help them, that Roy had to clench his fists and remind himself why he'd taken his promotion.
It would have been better if his station had a squad. At least then Roy wouldn't have felt quite so helpless, knowing he had the skills but not the equipment to help anyone. But that was the way of it for now, and some day he would move up to a larger station. His practical nature kept him grounded and told him that he wouldn't be here at 95's forever.
Things had been slow today, with only a couple of runs before lunch. But their luck ran out just as they were sitting down to eat dinner. The tones sounded loudly just as their engineer, Luis Guerrero, set a pan of lasagne on the table.
"Happens every time," Luis grumbled as he dropped the hot pads onto the table. The men rushed out to the engine bay as dispatch gave them the info on their call.
Station 95... Station 10... Traffic accident with injuries... Intersection of Vermont and Artesia... Vermont and Artesia. Time out: 18:15.
Roy picked up the land mic and acknowledged the call, then trotted around the front of the engine to the passenger side. He pulled on his turnout coat as he climbed up into his seat. He reached up to hit the reds as Guerrero maneuvered the engine out of the bay, impressing his captain, as always that he didn't knock off either of their large sideview mirrors. As Roy put on his helmet and tightened the chin strap he couldn't help wonder about what kind of injuries they'd find. With the location of the accident, it was a good bet they'd beat Squad 10 to the scene.
Sure enough, as they approached the intersection, the crowd already being controlled by three black and whites with their blue lights flashing, Roy could see three vehicles smashed together, but no sign yet of either Engine or Squad 10. Understandable, since they had farther to come in rush hour traffic. Roy just hoped none of the victims were critical.
Spotting the fluid running freely from under the tangle of cars, Roy began issuing orders before Luis had even stopped completely.
"Gary... Jeff... get the reel line... wash down that down." As he climbed down out of the cab he was met by the deputy in charge. "What've we got?" Roy asked as they walked towards the cars.
"Looks like the pickup blew the light." As he talked, the deputy gestured at the vehicles. "Smashed into the Plymouth and rammed it into the station wagon."
"How many hurt?"
"Four... but the lady in the Plymouth is the worst. She's pregnant."
"That's just great," Roy muttered, hoping 10's paramedics got here in a hurry.
As they reached the pickup, Roy could see the driver standing there holding his right arm. He looked like he had a few bumps and bruises, but since he was upright and looked stable, Roy passed him by for now. There two people from the station wagon were both out of their car as well. A deputy was holding a compress to one woman's arm and the other woman only looked shaken up. They could all wait. It was the pregnant lady Roy was concerned about. As he maneuvered his way through the wreckage, trying to get to the woman, he could hear the sound of approaching sirens, telling him Squad 10 was on their way.
The truck had hit the Plymouth at the front quarter panel, which was a good thing. The doors were tweaked but still working. It didn't take much for Roy to get the front passenger door open, and he slid inside to assess the woman's condition before the guys from 10 got here. It would save time if they had a clear picture all ready for them.
"Miss? Miss, are you okay?"
She looked at least seven or eight months pregnant, and when she turned her head in Roy's direction, he would see blood seeping down the left side of her face. Instinct told him in a flash that due to the type of collision it had been, she'd more than likely hit the side of her head on the driver's side door. But that all registered in an instant as he suddenly recognized who had turned disoriented brown eyes at him.
Oh, shit!
* * *
Penny wasn't sure what had happened. Her head was pounding, and she couldn't quite figure out why she was in her car or why her back was hurting her again, or why people she didn't know kept coming to her window and asking if she was all right.
She shifted to try and get more comfortable, and a stab of pain caused her to moan softly. Automatically she lifted her hand to the side her head, only to stare dumbly at the blood that covered it when she pulled it away.
I'm bleeding. Why am I bleeding?
"Miss? Miss, are you okay?"
Another voice asking about her, but this one was much closer than the others had been - and vaguely familiar too. Penny turned her head slowly, wary of causing herself further pain, and saw someone sitting beside her.
Turnouts... he's wearing turnouts. Was there a fire?
"Penny? Penny, are you all right?"
The voice had taken on an urgent tone, so she blinked a bit to try and clear the cobwebs. And then she managed a weak smile as she recognized the man staring at her with so much concern.
"Roy? What are... what are you doing here?"
His worried face broke out into an relieved smile. "Just doing my job... you know how it is."
Penny started to nod, but thought better of it. "I know," she answered. Her eyes moved to the white striped helmet on his head. "I like the look."
Roy's smile turned a bit self-conscious. "Yeah? Well, Johnny'll get his pretty soon."
"He... he can hardly wait." She crinkled her forehead in concentration. "Was I in an accident?"
"I'd say so," Roy answered softly. "The guys from 10'll be here in a minute. "Looks like you banged your head. Do you hurt anywhere else?"
Penny took a moment to try and figure it out. She was still a little foggy. "Um... my back... my back's hurting some."
"Your back?" Roy scooted closer, Penny could feel his hands move along her neck and upper back.
"Not there," she told him. "Down lower. But's it's... it's been like that all day."
"Yeah? All day? When's your due date?"
"Uh... not... not for three more weeks."
"That's not too much longer." His hands had now left her back and were moving down her legs. "Any pain in your legs?"
Penny automatically shook her head and cringed a bit at the pain. But it was only in her head and not where Roy was palpating. "No. They... they feel okay."
She felt him pause a moment, then ask, "Any contractions?"
"No." Then it struck her what he'd asked. "No... why?" She heard the panic in her voice, but couldn't help it. For the first time since the collision she was frightened.
"Take it easy. Everything's gonna be okay. You're gonna be fine."
He was using his paramedic tone. She'd heard Johnny use it too in dealing with distraught patients. She reached over and grabbed hold of Roy's bulky coat.
"Please, Roy," she implored. "Don't hide anything from me."
He took her hand and squeezed it reassuringly. "Penny... really... you're going to be okay." He hesitated only briefly, then added, "I think your water broke, though."
"No... It can't... not yet."
"Hold on, now. You have to keep calm. Three weeks isn't all that early. We'll get you to Rampart pretty quick, and they'll take good care of you and the baby. But you have to stay calm, okay?"
Penny sucked in her lower lip, but managed to give Roy a small nod. He flashed her another encouraging smile.
"Atta girl. You're gonna be fine."
I believe you, Roy. I do. I just wish Johnny was here. I just want to see Johnny.
Penny closed her eyes, feeling the sting of tears that had nothing to do with the pain in her head.
* * *
"Whatcha got, Roy... uh, Cap?"
Roy glanced up to see Alan Wynder, Squad 10's senior paramedic peering over his shoulder. Both he and his partner, Kevin Nichols, had done their field training under Roy and Johnny at 51, so Roy could forgive him the slip in protocol. He was having enough trouble himself getting used to his new rank.
"Female... late twenties... 37th week of pregnancy. She's got a gash on her head from a side impact. No other apparent injuries. But it looks like her membranes have ruptured. She says she's had lower back pain all day, so she may have been in labor for some time."
"Right, Cap. Ya wanna switch places and lemme in there?"
"Sure thing." He squeezed Penny's hand again. "The guys are here," he told her. "They'll take good care of you now and get you out of here."
He started to back out of the car, but Penny's grip tightened.
"Don't leave me, Roy. Please?"
She was scared. He could hear it in her voice. But he had to let the guys do their job.
"I'll be right outside," he told her in a soothing tone. "You'll be in good hands." He gave her a little wink. "Johnny and I taught 'em everything they know."
That finally elicited a smile, and Roy quickly backed out of the car. Before Alan moved in, however, the captain grabbed the paramedic's jacket sleeve.
"That's Penny Gage... Johnny's wife. She's pretty scared, so treat her right."
"You betcha, Cap," Alan replied emphatically and ducked into the passenger seat.
Roy noticed Nichols setting up the relay to Rampart and breathed a little easier. At least now they could do something.
* * *
Johnny lifted the living room drapes and peered out into the twilight. This time of year, with Daylight Savings Time, even though it was after 7 o'clock it wasn't dark yet, so he had a clear view of his driveway. But just as it had been the last time he looked, his Rover was the only vehicle parked there.
Over an hour. She's never this late... not even when she gets hung up in traffic.
He'd already called the hospital. Penny had left at six, right at shift change. They didn't live that far from Rampart. There shouldn't be any reason for her to be this late.
Not true, he corrected himself. Lots of reasons... just none of them good.
He shook his head and moved away from the window. He'd been a fireman too long. His mind was too quick to jump to frightening conclusions.
"Why don't you come and eat, Johnny."
He turned and saw Lydia standing in the doorway to the kitchen. She'd fixed a nice dinner for them tonight, but the pork chops that had smelled so inviting earlier now held no appeal. He shook his head and gave her an apologetic smile.
"I'll wait a little while longer. Did Jordan eat?"
Lydia nodded and smiled. "We had a bit of a discussion over his green beans, but he finally ate them."
Johnny laughed softly at the long standing battle between his son and any green food. "Thanks for helping out. I couldn't just sit at the table."
"She'll be okay... you'll see."
"I know, I know. I'm over reacting."
"You're allowed," Lydia chuckled.
Johnny took a deep breath and tried to shove his worry aside. "I guess I'd better give Jordan his bath. Will you listen for the phone for me?" He knew Lydia was tired. He could see it in her face. She probably wanted nothing more than to go to her own place and retire for the evening, but he'd be quick in the bathroom. He didn't want to chance missing a call from Penny.
"Of course I will. You go on."
He headed to Jordan's room, knowing his son would be there playing. As Johnny walked into the room, he saw his son lying on his back on the floor, a small wooden train car in each hand. Although there was a labyrinth of track pieces laid on the carpet, it appeared Jordan was having more fun letting the cars talk to each other.
"Hey, Big Guy... bath time," Johnny announced casually. He'd been trying not to let his son catch on to the anxiety he was feeling.
"I don' wanna bath now, Daddy," Jordan replied reasonably. "I'm plaaaying," he explained in drawn out tones, as if his father couldn't understand and he had to enlighten him.
"I can see that," Johnny laughed, taking in the mess Jordan had made of his room. "But you need a bath before bedtime. You can play in the tub."
The three year old brightened at that. "Can I play wif' my duckie?"
"Sure thing. I think he's in there waitin' for ya."
In a few minutes Johnny had the boy undressed and in the bathtub, happily carrying on a conversation with his faded yellow duck. He let him play for a little while, but nowhere near as long as normal. With quick movements, he washed his son and shampooed his hair, then pulled the plug and bundled the boy up in his fluffy towel. Jordan complained through the whole process.
"I still wanna play, Daddy. You're too fast. Mommy a'ways lets me play."
"I'm sorry. Tonight was kind of a hurry up night."
"Awww... dat's no fun."
As Johnny was rubbing Jordan's hair with part of the towel, he heard the faint ringing of the telephone. Even though he knew Lydia would answer it, he wasted no time. He scooped up his towel wrapped son and headed for the living room.
Lydia was there holding out the phone for him, but when he set Jordan down and reached for the receiver, his friend shook her head.
"It's Roy," she told him.
Johnny's shoulders sagged with disappointment.
"Thanks, Lydia. Can you help Jordan get his pajamas?"
"Sure thing. Come on, Little Man."
Johnny watched them walk down the hall, then turned to the phone.
"Hey, Roy," he greeted, trying not to broadcast that anything was wrong. "What's up, man?"
It seemed to Johnny that it took a moment for his friend to answer. And in that brief time, he could hear the muted sound of dispatch in the background. Only then did Johnny remember that Roy would be at work. Before he could piece together why that should bother him, Roy began talking.
"Johnny... has anyone from Rampart called you yet?"
His stomach suddenly felt leaden and his throat dry. He didn't want to answer Roy's question, yet he knew he had to.
"No.... why?"
"Johnny... Penny's at Rampart. She was in an accident tonight. She's okay," Roy added hastily in a reassuring tone.
"She's okay?" Johnny repeated dumbly.
"She looked good when they transported. She'd banged her head, but it didn't seem too bad. Wynder and Nichols were with her. They said she was doing good."
"But she's okay?" Johnny had never felt more stupid in his entire life. He'd heard what Roy was telling him, but he wasn't processing it.
"She's gonna be fine. But... Johnny, she's in labor."
"She's what? Oh, shit. She's not due for... shit. Okay. I'm on my way." He knew he was babbling, but he didn't seem to be able to stop himself.
"Johnny? Johnny?"
He'd almost hung up, but he heard Roy calling to him, so he put the phone to his ear once more.
"Roy, I gotta go, man."
"Johnny, calm down."
"But you just said..."
"You've got time," Roy assured him. "She wasn't having any real contractions. But her water broke."
"Okay. Okay, I know. I've got time. I just gotta get there."
"Right. Just take it easy... and don't kill yourself getting there. I don't wanna respond to another call for a friend tonight," Roy added with a chuckle.
"Oh, ha ha... very funny." But his the other man's humor had the right touch, and Johnny was able to edge back from the panic he'd been feeling and see the situation for what it was. His wife was all right. She was in labor, but there was plenty of time. He heaved a shaky sigh of relief.
"Okay, Roy... I'm gonna run now. Thanks for calling and letting me know."
"No problem. Sorry it wasn't sooner. We had some clean up to do at the scene before we could get back to the station."
"That's okay. Don't worry about it. I'm just glad you were there."
"Me too. Let us know about the baby, okay? You know Chris and Jenny have a bet on whether it's a boy or a girl."
Johnny laughed, then told Roy goodbye. He hung up the phone and took a deep, calming breath. But he didn't have time to just stand here. Penny was okay, but she was still in labor. They had a long night ahead of them. He moved down the hall to share the news with Lydia. He would have to ask her to stay with Jordan. With the way she'd been feeling, he didn't like putting that on her, but at least it was close to the boy's bedtime. There wouldn't be much the older woman would have to do.
* * *
Dixie McCall felt her stomach rumble, reminding her again that she was still at work long past shift change. She should have gone home over an hour ago, but they'd been swamped today and the stack of patient files desperately needed to be caught up. She glanced at the diminished pile and promised herself she'd go home in twenty more minutes. At least this way the night shift wouldn't have to worry about paperwork that wasn't their own.
The head nurse glanced up at the urgent call. What she saw caused her eyes to widen in surprise and a degree of alarm. John Gage was striding towards her, his face flushed and anxious. It flashed through Dixie's mind that Johnny was in street clothes, so he wasn't working. This was obviously personal. She stood up to greet the agitated man as he reached her desk.
"Johnny... what's wrong?"
"I need to find Penny. Do you know where she is?"
Dixie's brows knit in confusion. Johnny's wife worked up in Orthopedics. There wouldn't be any reason for her to be down in Emergency, unless...
"Did something happen?" she asked.
"She was in a car accident," he explained, adding in a rush, "Roy called me. He responded to it. He said Squad 10 brought her here."
"Okay, okay," Dixie soothed. She took Johnny by the arm and led him behind her desk, pulling on him slightly to get him to sit down. "You need to relax a minute," she told him kindly.
"But, Dix... I need to find her."
"I know, I know. First off, I don't remember her coming through here, but it's been pretty hectic. Do you know how badly she was hurt?"
Johnny ran a hand distractedly through his hair. "Roy said not too bad. She banged her head, but he said she looked okay."
"Well then... maybe all she needed was a few stitches and she got sent on her way."
"Dix... you don't understand." Johnny popped up from his seat, his arms waving wildly. "She's in labor. Roy said she was in labor."
Things suddenly became clear, and Dixie hid a smile at the nervous father in front of her. A few years ago she would have never imagined John Gage in this role.
"Calm down, Johnny. If she wasn't hurt badly they would have taken her right up to Labor and Delivery. It was crazy down here today, and you know we don't like to keep expectant women in E.R."
Johnny's face relaxed as he listened to what Dixie was telling him. It wasn't something he didn't know. But she knew he hadn't been thinking clearly.
Now she did smile so he could see. She patted his shoulder comfortingly.
"Come on. I'll go with you upstairs."
It only took a few minutes to take the elevator up to the sixth floor. Johnny fidgeted nervously the entire time. It was his second time around at fatherhood. He shouldn't be this worked up over Penny being in labor. But Dixie supposed having your wife go through a traffic accident on top of everything else would add to your level of anxiety.
When the door opened, Johnny rushed out and headed for the nurses' station, Dixie following in his wake. The nurse on duty greeted them with a smile.
"We've been trying to reach you, Johnny. Penny's been asking for you."
The fact that the young woman knew Johnny by name didn't surprise Dixie. The paramedic was gregarious by nature, and easily made friends with the people he worked with and around. That many of them were nurses at Rampart was just something that Johnny had taken in his stride. In the early days, when he was young and full of himself, he only saw the young women on the staff as prospective dating material, leading to some fun times, but more often than not disappointment.
Marriage had brought Johnny a new perspective. He was able to be friends with the nurses without trying to hit on them, or worry about what they thought of him. There had also been repercussions Dixie wasn't sure Johnny was aware of. The same young nurses who'd never given him the time of day had suddenly felt like they'd been cheated out of something. She'd even heard some of the more caustic of them trying to figure out how Penny Chandler had managed to "hook" Johnny Gage.
Dixie had only shaken her head and kept out of it. As much as she hated gossip, she knew sometimes it was better not to say anything. If she had spoken up in Penny's defense, it would only have added fuel to the fire. And she'd been right. After a time, things had calmed down, and over the years, people moved on - both to other jobs and other lives. Penny and Johnny had a good life and an adorable son, and according to what the nurse was telling Johnny, their second little one would be here before too much longer.
"She's in room 610," Johnny announced with a smile.
Dixie would have stayed back and let him go on without her, but for some reason he grabbed her hand and led her down the hall.
"They said she had a very mild concussion and some stitches. But she's fine." He was beaming at that good news, and even though time had matured him, in many ways he was still the same Johnny Gage Dixie had first met. He'd been under a great amount of stress, and now he needed to talk. "And they just started her on pitocin, so hopefully her contractions will start being more regular. I guess she's had back pain all day, but she never had back labor with Jordan."
"That sounds like it's all going smoothly," Dixie interjected, getting an ear to ear grin in response.
They'd reached the open door. Dixie gave Johnny's arm a squeeze and stayed in the doorway as he walked in. Penny was lying in the bed with a bandage on the side of her head and an IV in her arm, but there was a smile on her face when she looked up and saw her husband.
"Oh, Johnny... you're finally here."
Johnny rushed to her side, bending down to meet her outstretched arms. They embraced for a few moments, then Johnny pulled back, keeping hold of her hand as he sat down in the chair beside the bed.
"Are you all right? I was so worried when you didn't come home... and then when Roy called...."
"I didn't mean to make scare you. I'm fine... really. Just a headache... oh, yeah, and a baby who wants to be born ahead of schedule."
Johnny smiled and kissed his wife's hand. "We can handle that. As long as you're not hurt."
Penny's smile faded a bit. "I'm afraid the car's totaled," she told him, her regret evident in her voice. "I'm sorry."
"You think I care about a car?" Johnny's voice raised in surprise.
Penny lifted a hand to touch her husband's face in a tender gesture, then gave him a mischievous smile. "Only if I'd been driving the Rover."
Johnny sputtered indignantly, then realized his wife was teasing him. He leaned over and kissed her forehead. At that point Dixie discreetly left the room. In the next few hours they wouldn't have much privacy. She would give them what little they could grab.
As she headed for the elevator she decided she would stick around for a little while longer. Even if it meant grabbing a bite from the cafeteria. She wanted to be here when the newest Gage made his or her entrance.
* * *
Lydia shifted on the couch, trying to get comfortable. It was quiet. Jordan had gone to bed with a minimum amount of stalling. Johnny had called about thirty minutes ago to tell her Penny was all right after the accident and that her labor was going along smoothly. So there was nothing to worry about. They just had to wait for the little one to arrive.
She didn't know if it was the stress of worrying about Penny, or if she'd just done too much today, but she was bone tired. She should just go to bed. Even here at Johnny's she had a little place she could lie down. There was a spare bed in the nursery that she used on those few occasions that she spent the night here. But she was having a little trouble catching her breath and sitting up seemed to help. So she stayed on the couch watching Little House on the Prairie.
"Granny Lyddie?"
She turned to see a sleepy eyed Jordan standing in the hallway, his well-loved teddy bear dangling by one arm.
"What's wrong, Little Man?"
He walked over and climbed up beside her on the couch. She put an arm around him and let him snuggle close.
"Did you have a bad dream?"
Jordan shook his dark head. "No. I jus' want my Mommy."
"She'll be home in a day or two. She's going to bring home your new baby. Sometimes that takes a little while."
Jordan heaved a heartfelt sigh. "Why can't it be now?"
Lydia hugged him a little tighter. "I don't know, my boy. Some things just take time. We have to be patient."
Jordan buried his face deeper against Lydia's side. "I don' like being payshun."
The elderly woman chuckled. "Nobody does, Little Man... nobody does. You want to sit up with me for a while?"
She felt him nod, so she scooted over a little to let him get more comfortable. After a few quiet moments of watching Nellie Oleson be hateful to Laura Ingalls, Lydia could hear the child's soft, regular breathing and knew he'd fallen asleep. She was in no hurry to move him. He was happy here, and she wasn't going to bed any time soon. Besides, she wasn't sure if she could carry him to bed.
* * *
Penny was exhausted. But it was the best feeling in the world. Nothing felt better than that last contraction, when the baby you've carried for nine months finally emerges and you hear it cry. All the pain fades away. The aches and pains and morning sickness become a distant memory, and all you care about is that tiny little person the doctor shows you briefly before they whisk it away to the warmer to give it the once over to be sure the baby is healthy and pink.
She was content to lay here now and watch the buzz of activity around her new daughter. Coming three weeks early, she was a little small, but not dangerously so. She was five and a half pounds, so she wasn't technically preemie weight. The doctors were pleased with her breathing, telling the anxious parents that the baby's lungs looked good and were functioning well. They were checking other things out now, doing a thorough job before they okayed her for the regular nursery.
Johnny was standing just behind the doctors, his height giving him a good view of what they were doing. He wasn't taking pictures. In his haste to get here he'd forgotten both the bags they'd so carefully packed ahead of time for this moment. Hers had her personal items and things for the baby. His held, among other things, the camera.
Penny smiled. It really didn't matter. He could always bring it up later and take all the shots he wanted. For now he was watching his little girl with that same expression of wonder that Penny had seen on his face when Jordan was born. He'd been a paramedic for over ten years, and in that time he'd delivered a dozen or more babies - enough to have grown complacent about the miracle of childbirth. But she supposed it would always be different when it was your own child you'd just watched come into the world, whether it was your first or your tenth.
A picture flashed through her mind of Johnny wrestling on the floor with ten wild kids and Penny's smiled grew wider.
"What's so funny?"
Penny hadn't realized her husband had come over to stand beside her. She also hadn't realized she'd chuckled out loud at her imaginings.
"Nothing," she told him. "I'm just a little loopy." She glanced in the direction of the baby. "How's our girl?"
"Pretty good, considering she barged her way in unannounced." Johnny was smiling, but Penny knew him well enough to see there was something he wasn't quite so happy about - something he was reluctant to tell her.
"What's wrong?" she asked quietly, not ready to panic yet.
Johnny's smile twisted a bit and he took her hand. "Nothing really bad," he assured her. "She's just a little jaundiced. They wanna take her to NICU and let her spend some time under the bili lights."
"But she'll be all right, won't she?" As a nurse she knew jaundice was common in full term infants and even more so in preemies, but it normally didn't show up until a day or two after a baby was born. That her little girl was already showing signs of the disorder didn't bode well, and right now Penny was more worried mother than nurse. All she wanted to hear was that her daughter was healthy.
"She'll be fine," Johnny assured her. His smile returned in full force. "She just needs to work on her tan is all."
Their conversation was interrupted at that moment by the nurse bringing the tightly swaddled baby over for Penny to hold. She took her daughter lovingly into her arms and cradled her. With so much of her covered, it was hard for Penny to see her skin tone. Her face looked pink enough, with her dark hair sticking out in tufts from the knitted cap she wore.
"She's beautiful," Penny breathed, her eyes filling with joyful tears.
"That she is," Johnny agreed, reaching out a finger to brush against the baby's delicate cheek. "She looks like her mom."
Penny beamed at him, unable to trust her feelings to words.
In all too short a time Dr. Murphy, the pediatrician, came over. He assured them that the baby should be fine in a day or so. That occasionally a newborn showed jaundice at birth and that they shouldn't worry. He explained photo therapy to them and how in almost all cases the jaundice was resolved without any other problems. Penny know most doctors adopted an optimistic tone for their patients, but she didn't detect any insincerity in his words. He was Jordan's doctor too, and Penny trusted him. She reluctantly surrendered her little one to the nurse, who placed her in the incubator and wheeled her out of the delivery room. The doctor followed after his tiny patient.
"They said I could go with her and see her settled." Penny could tell by Johnny's voice that he didn't like the idea of having their daughter out of his sight. But he squeezed her hand and kissed her. "Then I'll be back."
Penny watched him go, feeling better knowing he was going with their baby. She let out a weary sigh, and closed her eyes for a moment, feeling her exhaustion completely. She'd been lucky today. Considering how things could have turned out, a little jaundice was a small problem.

* * *

Part 2