Disclaimer: The characters from Emergency! belong to Universal and Mark VII. I’m just borrowing them for a little holiday fun.
By: Vanessa Sgroi
Johnny Gage pulled his blue jeans up around his trim hips, momentarily leaving them unfastened. With a tired yawn, he reached into his locker and pulled out a lightweight navy plaid flannel shirt. Weary from a long shift, he automatically thrust his arms into the sleeves, buttoned, and tucked in the shirt.
“You’re coming tomorrow, right?”
Still zipping, Gage turned at the sound of his partner’s voice.
“Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss Joanne’s Christmas dinner! Man, I can just about taste those mashed potatoes now.”
Roy smiled in agreement. His wife made great homemade mashed potatoes. “Bring aspirin. The kids will be bouncing off the walls.”
“Man, I bet. I remember last year.”
“So what are you doing today?”
Another huge yawn delayed Johnny’s response. An early morning three-alarm fire had capped off a busy shift, and both paramedics were exhausted.
“Remember that girl I told you about a couple of shifts ago? Eve?”
DeSoto thought back and nodded. “Yeah, I remember you mentioning her.”
“I invited her over tonight.”
“You’re not going to cook, are you?” Roy teased, his right eyebrow lifting.
Johnny snorted. “No way. I thought we’d have some cheese and crackers and stuff. I even bought her a bottle of wine. Women like stuff like that, right?”
His partner shrugged. “Yeah, they do as far as I know. Joanne likes to have a little wine now and again.”
“This’ll be great,” Johnny said as he rubbed his hands together in anticipation, “The guy at the liquor store said it was good wine, so she should like it.”
“Sounds like you’ll have a good time then.”
“Hope so. I bought her a couple of gifts too. They’re already under the tree even though I don’t have it decorated yet.”
“You’ll have to entertain us all with the story tomorrow.”
“You bet. I’ll spare no . . . wait a minute . . . all? What do you mean all? Joanne’s mother’s not coming is she?” The dark-haired paramedic’s voice squeaked on the last word.
Roy couldn’t help but chuckle. “No, thank God. She went on a Christmas cruise, can you believe it? But my mom will be there, and she’s bringing her friend, Ronald.”
“Her friend Ronald?” Gage wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.
DeSoto scowled. “Yes—FRIEND.” At least that better be all he is.
Johnny banged shut his locker door. “Good deal. I’ll see everyone tomorrow then.”
* * *
Johnny caught himself humming “Deck the Halls” as he placed decorations on his small Christmas tree. Several of the ornaments were handmade by Jennifer and Chris. Glitter drifted to the floor as he placed them on their branches. Stepping back, Johnny observed his handiwork. Satisfied, he finished up by haphazardly tossing some tinsel here and there. A nap and some food had revived him, and he was looking forward to seeing Eve.
He was gathering the empty decoration boxes when the telephone rang. He dropped them on the couch before grabbing up the handset.
Hearing the voice at the other end, Johnny smiled and nodded.
“Hey, Mitch. Uh huh. What?”
The dark-haired paramedic swallowed a sip of coffee from his mug on the counter and glanced at his watch.
“Sure. No problem. I can be there in . . . uh . . . 20 minutes. See ya.”
Gage hung up the phone. His buddy, Mitch Manning, wanted him to help pick up a table and chairs he’d bought for his wife for Christmas. If they hurried, Johnny would make it back in plenty of time for Eve’s arrival.
* * *
Almost three hours later, the paramedic unlocked his door and entered his apartment. A quick peek at his watch told him he had a half hour before his date’s arrival. Due to some unforeseen problems, he’d been gone much longer than expected. With a grimace, he headed straight for the shower. Hauling that table and chairs around had left him sweaty and dirty.
* * *
In record time, Johnny was showered, dressed, and in the kitchen cutting cheddar cheese into cubes to go along with the crackers already on a plate. A small dish of deep purple and green grapes lay next to the plate.
The doorbell rang before he could finish. Wiping his hands on the dishtowel tucked into his belt, he rushed for the door.
“Eve! Uh, hi!” Johnny stood thunderstruck at the blonde bombshell dressed in a killer formfitting crimson dress.
“Hello, John.” Eve leaned forward and kissed his cheek, leaving a glittery red smear behind.
Swallowing against a suddenly dry mouth, Gage mumbled, “Uh, come in.”
Eve entered the apartment, teetering gracefully on high-heeled sandals. Glimpsing her surroundings, she said, “My, your apartment sure is . . . quaint, isn’t it?”
Stilling reeling from the red dress, Johnny missed the slight hesitation in her comment.
“I like it. It’s in a nice location and it’s pretty close to work for me. Listen, why don't you have a seat, I’ve got some munchies for us. Oh—and wine.”
Eve walked to the couch. Before sitting, she brushed at the cushions, her nose scrunched in suspicion. Finally, she settled on the very edge. She carefully laid her purse on the floor next to her feet.
It wasn’t long before Johnny Gage returned carrying the plate of cheese and crackers in one hand and the bowl of grapes in the other. He placed them both on the coffee table.
“Can I get you some wine?”
“I suppose. But first, will you please blow out these candles? The smell is bothering me.”
“Oh. Uh . . . sure. No problem.” He snuffed the two vanilla-scented candles with a quick puff of air.
“Let me get that wine.”
In the kitchen, Johnny pulled his only wineglass out of the cupboard. Filling it half way, he set it aside for Eve. For himself, he grabbed a blue tumbler. He wasn’t crazy about wine, but Johnny figured it would look funny if he drank a beer. Picking up the two glasses, he returned to the living room.
“Here you go.” He handed Eve the wine and sat down next to her. He cautiously sipped his wine.
“Hey, this is pretty good. How about some cheese and crackers?”
“Heavens, no! Cheese is too fattening.”
“Well . . . some crackers then? And grapes.” Johnny nervously rubbed his hands on his jean-clad knees.
She sighed. “I’ll have one cracker and a couple of grapes, I guess.” The blonde waited for Johnny to hand her the items.
“Try the wine.”
Eve swallowed her small bite of cracker before sipping from her glass. With a gasp, she put her drink down on the table.
“My God, that’s terrible! It tastes like vinegar.”
The paramedic scowled. “But, the guy at the liquor store highly recommended it.”
Eve laughed, yet there was no mirth in the sound. “You trusted some guy in the liquor store?”
Johnny’s heart sank and his smile dimmed. This evening wasn’t going like he’d hoped.
“Let me show you my tree. And then I have a couple of gifts for you to open.”
That statement brought a small smile to the woman’s face. “Gifts for me? How wonderful!”
Taking Eve’s hand, Johnny helped her up and led her over to the tree.
“I know it’s small, but look at these ornaments. My partner’s kids made them for me.”
Eve’s gaze barely flicked to the ornaments Johnny was so proudly pointing out.
“Yes. Charming, I’m sure.” Her crimson painted lips were pinched in boredom.
After another minute or so of strained, one-sided conversation, the dark-haired man gave up.
Still hoping to salvage Christmas Eve, Gage said, “Well, why don’t you sit back down and I’ll bring you your gifts.”
Without a word, Eve teetered back to the couch and sat.
Johnny picked up two gaily, if not perfectly, wrapped presents from under the tree and carried them to her. An excited glint sparkled in his eyes.
She grabbed the smaller of the two and hurriedly ripped off the Christmas paper. Her nose wrinkled when she opened the small box. “A pin. A . . . cheap . . . pin. How nice.” The tone of her voice indicated just the opposite. She tossed the box on the couch and reached for the second package.
Seconds later, the wrapping paper was on the floor, and she was lifting the lid off the box. Nestled inside was a glass vase. The change in her demeanor was swift.
“A glass vase? What the hell do I want this for? Another cheap gift, I see.” Eve’s voice rose with every word until she was screaming.
Johnny stood there, utterly bewildered.
“But . . .”
“I can’t believe this. A cheap glass vase. I should have known. I mean, look at that pathetic tree. I deserve so much better than this.” With that, Eve grabbed the vase from the box and heaved it at the wall. It shattered, sending pieces of glass flying. A shard nicked Johnny’s cheek.
Still yelling, Eve grabbed her purse and stormed out of the apartment. The slamming of the door jarred the pictures on the wall.
Ears ringing, Johnny stood there for a moment in shock. He’d had no idea what Eve’s true personality was like. A soft knock at his door broke through his reverie. He carefully stepped around the glass and went to answer the summons.
“Oh hi, Maggie.” Johnny greeted his next door neighbor. She’d moved in about six months ago, and they talked occasionally.
“Johnny! What’s happening? I heard screaming.”
“Uh, yeah. Sorry about that.”
“You’re bleeding. You’ve a cut on your cheek.” Maggie’s voice held a soft Irish lilt.
Gage reached up and rubbed at his cheek. “It’s just a nick. My . . . uh . . . date broke something.”
“Yes, I heard the crash. May I come in?”
Maggie entered and spotted the broken glass all over the floor. “Oh, dear. I guess she did.” Looking at the cut on his face again, she said, “Do you have a bandage for that? Let me clean it up for you?”
“That’s okay. You don’t have to do that.”
“I know. But I’d like to.”
Johnny smiled and felt the tension flow from his shoulders. “There’s a wash cloth and Band-Aids in the bathroom right down the hall.”
“Sit then. I will be right back.”
Moments later, Maggie returned with a wet wash cloth and a bandage. She quickly washed the small trickle of blood off his cheek, washed the cut, and placed the Band-Aid over the wound.
“There. You look much less frightening now.” Her soft laugh filled the apartment.
Johnny smiled at her.
“What a wonderful tree you have!” Maggie walked over and peeked at the ornaments. “Such lovely ornaments. Handmade. I’ve a few of those on my tree as well.”
“My partner’s kids, Chris and Jennifer, made them for me.”
“Be sure to tell them that they’re quite lovely.”
“Hey, would you like to sit down and have some cheese and crackers?”
His neighbor grinned. “I would love to—if you don’t mind. And is that wine? I’d love a glass.”
Gage hesitated. “Um, well, Eve—my date—claimed it tasted like vinegar. Are you sure?”
“Did she now? I hardly would trust her opinion. She sounded like a banshee. All that screaming and wailing. I would love a glass. And if you’ve a broom and dust pan, I’ll clean this mess up for you.”
Gage opened his mouth to tell her it wasn’t necessary, but she cut him off.
“I know I don’t have to. Now, where’s your broom.”
With a grin, Johnny told her and then hurriedly disposed of Eve’s wineglass and brought Maggie a jelly jar glass filled about 1/3 of the way. Cartoon characters grinned at them from all sides.
“Sorry about the glass.”
“Don’t be sorry. I think it’s cute.” Maggie sipped her drink. “Mmm . . . and the wine is wonderful. The banshee was simply crazy.”
An hour passed in quiet contentment as the two talked, laughed, snacked, and sipped.
“Hey, I need to make a quick phone call. I’ll be right back.”
Johnny returned a couple of minutes later with a big grin on his face.
* * *
At 1:00 p.m. Christmas Day, Johnny knocked at the DeSoto’s front door. At his feet lay bags of presents for his partner and his family. Roy opened the door with a smile, a red Santa hat perched on his head.
“Merry Christmas, Junior.”
“Same to you, Pally. Help me with these bags.”
Gazing over Johnny’s shoulder, Roy said, “Hi, there. You must be Maggie.”
“That I am. Thank you, indeed, for allowing me to celebrate the holiday with you and your family.”
“You’re welcome. Come on in.”
Further conversation proved impossible when two jubilant children came screeching from the family room.
“Uncle Johnny! Uncle Johnny! Santa came! Come look!”
The front door closed on the cacophony.
* * * The End * * *
Dedicated to my friend, Ralph Schwonke, who loves to hear about my Emergency! obsession and is always encouraging.
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Stories by Vanessa Christmas Stories