Christmas Is A Feeling
"Thanks for doing this,
Johnny, I really appreciate it."
"Hey, no problem, Roy. Ya' know, I hate to admit it, but I'm kind of looking forward to this."
"Yeah...it's been a while since I helped pick out a Christmas tree."
Two voices cut into their conversation.
"Dad! Chris won't stop touching me!"
"I didn't touch her, she's hogging the seat!"
"No I'm not!"
"Yes you are!"
Roy turned and directed a stern look at Chris and Jennifer sitting in the back seat of Gage's Land Rover. "If you two don't knock it off, I'll have your Uncle Johnny turn around and drop you both off at the house and we'll go pick out the tree by ourselves. What'll it be?"
Chris glared at Jennifer and scooted closer to the door near him while Jennifer cast a haughty look back at him and moved a bit toward her side of the truck. Roy frowned at the two of them before turning to face the front.
He couldn't help seeing the smile that Gage wore on his face. "What's so funny?"
"Then why are you smiling?"
"It's nice doing family stuff like this."
Rolling his eyes, Roy shook his head in wonderment. Only Gage would see his yelling at his children as a family thing.
He hadn't been surprised when Gage had agreed to help them pick out their Christmas tree, but he was a bit surprised by the amount of enthusiasm he had exhibited for such a project. He had even gone as far a suggesting they take a trip into the mountains to get the tree so that it could be chosen amidst the snow that he associated with the holiday
At first Roy hadn't wanted to be bothered with such a long trip, but the more he though about it, the better he liked it. They could all bring warm clothes and play in the snow for a bit, pick out the tree, drink hot chocolate. Do all of the traditional cold weather Christmas things they saw on the television specials every year.
Joanne had decided to not come, stating that it would give her enough time to clean the house and get all of the decorations ready for the tree. All without the benefit of two small children underfoot. She also planned to go out and do some Christmas shopping and toy hiding when she came home.
Gage's voice interrupted his thoughts. "So have you decided what kind of tree you want?"
"I don't know. I guess a spruce would be nice."
"What's wrong with five feet?"
"That's kind of small."
"Johnny, the ceiling is only eight feet..."
"Then get a seven foot tree. The star you put on top can't be that big."
"Joanne puts an angel on top."
Jennifer's voice squeaked out from behind them. "Mommy said the angel looks just like me!"
Chris's voice joined in. "I'd rather have a star. Dad, can we pick out a star for the tree?"
Jennifer's happy voice now turned into a tear-filled whine. "Noooooo! We always have the angel on top!"
Closing his eyes, Roy counted to ten before turning around. "Chris, you know we always put the angel on top. It was your mom's grandmother's angel."
"Why can't we get a star though?"
Chris looked down at his booted feet and frowned. "All right."
Roy turned back around. Jennifer sniffled, then shot Chris a smug smile. Chris reached over and shoved her.
"Dad! Chris hit me!"
"I did not!"
Before Roy could say a thing, Gage slowed the truck down, pulled off of the highway and onto the shoulder. Turning in his seat, he looked back at Chris and Jennifer who looked at him with wide eyes. "Do you two want to go look for a tree?"
They looked at one another before looking back at Gage. They answered in unison. "Yes."
"Okay, that's good. Do you want to go home?"
They answered in unison again, both shaking their heads no. "No."
"Now that it's been settled, I think you owe your Dad an apology."
Two voices immediately called up to the front. "We're sorry, Dad!"
Turning back around, Gage looked in the review and side mirrors before
pulling onto the highway.
Roy gave him a small smile of gratitude. If he had been the one to end the trip and have them go back home it would have caused all sorts of problems. Joanne wouldn't be happy to see them so soon and he'd still be left with the task of getting a tree. And besides...even though he wouldn't admit it, he really was looking forward to building a snowman with his children.
They had been driving for some
time and both Chris and Jennifer had fallen asleep. Gage had turned on the
radio, keeping the volume down so as to not wake the two. Glancing to his
right, he grinned at Roy who was slumped against the passenger side door fast
He couldn't believe his luck. He had known Roy for less than two years and he found himself something of a fixture with the DeSoto's. When he had left home to come to Los Angeles, he had never thought that he would have been part of a family again and now here he was going to pick out a Christmas tree!
Pulling the Land Rover to a stop, he was tempted to let them all sleep for a while longer, but the part of him that wanted to explore the snow covered mountain won out.
He kept his voice low. "Roy...Roy...wake up."
Roy could hear someone calling his name, but he didn't pay attention to it. He was outside helping his father string up the Christmas lights. Every year he'd stand at the bottom of the ladder and hand the strands of lights up, listening to the sounds of the carolers as they drew closer to the house or just enjoying the quiet of the night.
The voice was louder this time. It wasn't his mother, so who in the heck wanted him? Looking around, he tried to see into the bushes by the house. Leaning forward, he fell into the ladder knocking his father off it.
Scrambling to his feet, he could see his father lying on the front lawn, his body motionless, his eyes staring blindly upward. He screamed his name out, knowing that he was already dead. 'Dad!!!'
Roy awoke with a start, yelling out loud. "Dad!!!"
Gage jumped back in his seat, startled by Roy's loud yell. Chris and Jennifer jerked awake not knowing what was going on.
Running a hand over his face, Roy tried to calm down as his heart pounded in his chest. He gave Gage a sheepish look that turned embarrassed as he caught Chris and Jennifer staring at him open mouthed.
Quickly looking away, he stared out the windshield, effectively ignoring Gage's puzzled expression. Grabbing the handle to the door, he pushed it open and got out of the truck.
Peering through the passenger window Gage gave Roy a worried look before he got out. Shutting the driverís side door, he opened the back door to help Jennifer down.
Grabbing her coat, hat and mittens from the floor where she had stuffed them, he helped her put them on.
Chris jumped out of the truck and pulled his jacket on. The wary look that he was giving his father immediately turned to one of delight as he looked around. "Wow! Look at it all!"
Chris stared out at the blanket of white that coated the landscape. Jennifer bounced up and down in place. They were finally at the top of the mountain to get their tree. Everywhere they looked was covered in snow. It was nothing like the city they lived in.
Gage looked over at Roy who smiled at him, the incident in the truck not forgotten, but pushed aside. He wasn't about to tell Gage what he had dreamt about. "This is beautiful, Johnny. Thanks for suggesting it."
Giving him a smile in return, Gage swatted Jennifer on the butt after zipping her coat up. She giggled before darting away, scuffing her booted feet in the fluffy whiteness beneath her.
Roy couldn't remember having this
much fun with his children in a long time. Sometimes he found himself pulling
away from them. He always had a hard time expressing his feelings around them
and he knew it was because of his relationship with his own father.
He never remembered getting hugged or held, but the smiles that his father gave him, the looks of approval...they were just as warm as a hug to him. As he watched the way that Gage interacted with Chris and Jennifer, he knew that not all fathers and sons were like him and his own father.
Gage was more tactile in dealing with people. He never backed away from physical contact; almost the opposite, he seemed to crave it. From wrestling in the snow with Chris to picking Jennifer up and carrying her around on his shoulders, he demonstrated his ease with letting people know how he felt.
Taking a deep breath, Roy decided to take a step forward in his life. He knew that Chris thought the world of him, but he wanted to hear the same laughter that he gave his partner. He wanted to be able to do more than nod and smile at his son.
Bending down, he packed some snow loosely in his gloved hands. As he did it a small smile crept across his face. The idea of what he was about to do made him giddy. Packing it a bit tighter, he called over to Chris who was watching Gage and Jennifer make snow angels.
Chris jumped at the sound of his name being yelled. Turning, he half expected his father to be mad at him for some reason. His father never yelled at him unless he'd done something wrong. He jumped again as a snowball smacked him squarely in the chest.
He looked to where his father stood and found him smiling at him rather evilly. As he bent down to scoop up some more snow, Chris found himself smiling back. Quickly kneeling down, he grabbed large mittens full of snow and began to clumsily pack a snowball. Before he could stand, he was hit again.
Roy laughed at the looked of surprise on Chris's face after he hit him with the second snowball. His laughter was cut short when he himself was smacked dead center in the chest with a large snowball. As he looked up he was caught in the upper shoulder with another one.
Jennifer's laughter rang out as Chris ran toward him and threw his snowball. He tried to jump away from it and ended up getting smacked in the arm. Before he could bend down to retaliate, he was grabbed around the legs and sent to the ground.
"Get him, Chris!"
With Gage holding him down, Chris straddled Roy's chest and began stuffing his coat with snow. As he looked up, Jennifer dropped a pile of scooped snow on his face. Sputtering he, grabbed Chris in one hand and snow in the other. As he shoved the handful of snow down the front of Chris's coat and heard his unrestrained laughter, he knew he could never go back to just smiles and words of approval.
Dusting the last bit of snow from
Chris's back, Roy rested his hand slightly on his shoulders as he smiled down
at him. The look on Chris's face was one that he would never forget. It was one
part love, another part open adoration. It was the look he had seen him give to
Joanne and Gage so many times before and now it was being given to him.
It wasn't as if Chris had never shown him any love, it had just been reserved, as if he were afraid of getting rebuked for being too caring or overly demonstrative. It wouldn't be an easy thing to do...letting himself be more open...but he vowed to continue trying to do as much as he did today.
He and Chris walked over to where Gage was finishing braiding Jennifer's slightly damp hair. Gage grinned as he looked up at them from where he was kneeling.
Roy grinned back at him. "Are you two almost ready? We need to pick out the tree."
Jennifer pouted. "But you said we'd make a snowman!"
Looking at his watch, Roy frowned. They had been playing in the snow for some time and they were a bit off schedule. If they stopped to make a snowman, they more than likely wouldn't get home until late and that would mean decorating the tree tomorrow, not tonight like he had planned.
As he raised his head he found three pairs of eyes staring back at him, all with the same pleading look.
Gage gave him a tentative smile as he tied a purple ribbon off on Jennifer's braid. "I don't have anything to do tonight if time is what you're worried about."
"You don't have a date?"
"Nope. I made sure I kept this day free so we wouldn't have to rush."
Roy hesitated for a few seconds. He really wanted to get some other things done tomorrow, but it wasn't like they were going to be on a snow-covered mountain every day. Decorating the tree could wait. "Okay...I guess we have time to make a snowman."
Chris whooped and Jennifer squealed in delight as they rushed off to start making the snowman. Roy's eyes followed them for a bit before he directed his gazed to the man standing beside him. Gage stood with his arms loosely crossed, his posture relaxed as his eyes followed the two children.
"Kind of makes you want a couple of your own huh, Johnny?"
Gage turned to him, his arms uncrossing. One hand rested against his chest while the other one flung out to the side. "Me? You think I want kids?"
Smiling back at Gage, Roy couldn't help it. "Sure you do. You'd make a good dad."
"Roy, I'm not ready for kids. I don't know if I'll ever be ready."
Roy frowned slightly. By the way Gage acted around Chris and Jennifer, he would have thought that he would want a ton of them. "Why not?"
Gage grew silent. He lucked out when Jennifer raced up to him and grabbed him by the hand.
"Come on, Uncle Johnny! Help us make the snowman!"
Gage let Jennifer drag him away from Roy, thankful for the diversion. He didn't want to explain to him why he felt the way he did. Sometimes he longed for a family of his own, especially during the holidays. There were also times when he remembered exactly why he should never have a family at all.
When Roy walked over to help them make the snowman, Gage kept his eyes averted, hoping that Roy would let the subject drop. When they were on duty it was easy to avoid questions what with all that went on at the station, but here there would be no tone outs, no calls to race to.
The feeling of stress slowly began to leave his body as he realized that Roy wasn't going to pressure him for answers. Breathing a sigh of relief, he cast Roy a cautious look and found only a smile waiting for him. Grinning back at him, he quickly turned to the task at hand.
Jennifer skipped ahead of them,
her voice singing out a Christmas carol. Roy and Gage chatted amicably while
they carried the tree back to the Land Rover. Chris walked along side of Roy,
his voice high with excitement.
They had found a beautiful tree. Seven feet tall and so fat that Roy had some doubts about it fitting in the living room. Gage had to reassure him several times that it would be fine. The only thing left now was getting it on the truck and back home.
After loading the tree on the rack and tying it down securely, they all climbed into the truck. Jennifer shrugged out of her coat and stuffed it on the floor before Roy could tell her to stop. With a resigned sigh, he knew that Joanne wouldn't be happy with having to wash the now mud covered pink and purple pastel coat.
Just as he was about to tell Chris to not do the same thing, he heard him stuff his coat on the floor as well. He wanted to yell at them for doing something so stupid, but he bit his tongue. They were only kids. To be precise, they were two small, very tired children who weren't even thinking about keeping their coats clean.
As Gage pulled out onto the road, Roy looked back at the snowman that stood in the middle of the snow-covered field that they had played in. It had been a good trip. One that he wouldn't mind making an annual family outing.
Pulling up to the curb, Gage
looked across at Roy and shook his head. He was asleep again, just like Chris
and Jennifer. Suppressing a yawn, he realized that he was tired as well, but it
was a good tired, not the bone weary tired that he got while working.
Reaching across the seat, he pushed Roy gently on the shoulder. "Hey, Roy, we're home."
Roy's eyes opened and he gave Gage a sleepy look. "Huh? You want me to drive?"
Gage snickered as he opened the driver side door. "No, I said we're home."
Roy blinked a few times and rubbed his hands over his face. One of the back doors opened and Gage began to undo Jennifer's seat belt. He couldn't hear what he was whispering to her, but her arms automatically wrapped themselves around his neck. Picking her up, he hugged her to him, then backed out of the truck. The door shut, leaving him in darkness.
He could see the front door open and Joanne ushering Gage inside. She waved from the house, waiting at the door for him and Chris to come in. Getting out of the truck, he did something he hadn't done with Chris for some time. Undoing the seat belt, he picked Chris up. Softly shutting the door, he made his way up the walk. Joanne shook her head at them as she held her hands out.
"Here, give him to me."
"No, I'll take him up."
As he walked up the stairs, he listened to Joanne's light tread following him. He stopped briefly at the doorway of Jennifer's room to watch Gage as he help her into bed. Again he could only make out the tones of their voices, one deep and one a little whisper. When Gage touched the tip of her nose with a finger, she giggled, then yawned before reaching up to give him a hug.
Roy moved forward, taking Chris to his room. Taking his socks and shoes off, he made quick work of pulling his clothes off and putting on his pajamas. He couldn't help but be amazed at how fast his son was growing.
Chris yawned as he lay back in bed, his lips curled into a sleepy smile. "Night, Dad."
"Good night, Chris."
As he stood, Chris called out to him. "Dad...can we go to the mountains again...just for fun?"
Chris rolled over onto his side and snuggled down into his pillow. Taking one last look at him, Roy softly closed the door and made his way downstairs.
Walking into the living room, he heard Joanne and Gage talking in the kitchen. When he heard them laughing he wondered what Gage was telling her.
"Man, Chris was shoving the
snow down his coat for all he was worth! And when Jenny dumped it on
Gage snickered and Joanne raised an eyebrow at Roy as he made his way over to them.
"What's so funny?"
"You...covered with snow."
Roy couldn't help smiling. "It was fun Joanne, I wish you would have come."
"Oh, I had plenty of fun here."
"What did you do?"
"Well let's see...I dusted and vacuumed the entire house, brought all of the lights and decorations down, went out and bought gifts, hid them, went back out to the market, then I came home and took a nice long bubble bath."
Gage shook his head and grinned. "That sounds more like work to me. Except the bubble bath."
Joanne gave him a teasing smile. "I didn't know you took bubble baths, Johnny."
"Well, sometimes...you know..." He waved a hand at her, his face pinking up. There was no way he was going to tell them he did take bubble baths on certain occasions, but they were usually shared with someone.
Joanne giggled and shook her head. She got him again. "Are either one of you hungry?"
Roy patted his stomach. "We ate on the way home, but I wouldn't mind a snack. How about you, Johnny?"
"Sure. Whatd'ya got?"
Joanne opened the refrigerator and pulled out a plate. "How about some cold chicken?"
"Man, that sounds good...hey, Roy, shouldn't we get the tree in first?"
Roy looked longingly at the plate, then back at Gage. He was tired and wanted to sit for a bit, but if Gage who had driven the entire trip could hold off on eating, then so could he. "That's fine with me."
Carrying the tree into the living
room, they laid it down on the tarp that Joanne had spread on the floor. She
had set the stand in the corner and was now looking over the tree, trying to
decide just how she wanted it.
Directing the two men, Joanne had them place the tree in the stand, then she twisted the bolts into place. Standing back, she eyed it. "You know...I always envisioned a tree without rope tied all around it."
Roy rolled his eyes and Gage pulled a large pocketknife from his back pocket. Flipping it open, he cut the knot that held the tree together. As he pulled the rope off, the tree fluffed out, filling the entire corner of the room.
Joanne stared at it, her voice low. "It's big."
Gage grinned at her. "Yeah, Roy wanted to get something smaller, but I talked him out of it."
Joanne shooting daggers at Roy was totally lost on Gage as he walked up top the tree and checked the branches. "My mom always liked big trees. Our living room wasn't half as big as this so the tree practically swallowed the room. It was so cool when it was all decorated."
Joanne couldn't picture a tree larger than this one in a room smaller than the one they stood in. She had always thought their house was rather small and the idea of this same tree being in a smaller room seemed ridiculous.
After checking the tree over for any damages or bugs, Joanne filled the stand with water. Satisfied that everything was okay, they headed into the kitchen for their snack.
Sitting at the table they chatted about the trip into the mountains, telling Joanne every single detail. When she told them about her day, she brushed over the details, after all, how much could she tell them about standing in long lines and miserable shoppers?
Yawning, Gage looked at his watch
and stood. "I think I better be going."
Roy looked at the clock on the wall and was surprised to see how fast the time had flown. He frowned as Gage yawned again and rubbed at his eyes. "Johnny, why don't you stay for the night?"
for the offer, but I have to meet someone kind of early in the morning."
"Are you sure? It wouldn't be any bother, would it, Jo."
"You know it isn't. Johnny, I know you're tired, why don't I make up the couch and you can leave in the morning."
Gage looked at his watch again and shook his head. "No, Kimmie wanted to get an early start tomorrow and she'd have a fit if I was late."
Roy's face screwed up in confusion. "Kimmie? What happened to Sarah?"
Gage cleared his throat and had the decency to look a bit embarrassed. "Well...Kimmie and Sarah know about each other and they don't seem to mind...I mean we're only dating."
Joanne shook her head and smirked at Gage. "When are you going to settle down?"
"Uh uh, not me. Besides, I'm too young. I have to spread the Gage charm around to the masses."
This statement drew rolled eyes from both DeSotos.
Placing a hand on Gage's arm, Joanne gave it a squeeze as she reached up to give him a quick peck on the cheek. "You be safe going home." She waggled a finger at him. "Don't forget you're spending Christmas here, not with some strange girl."
Gage slapped a hand to his forehead. "Aw man, I forgot to tell you!"
Joanne placed her hands on her hips and stared at him. Looking at Roy, he knew he wasn't about to get any help getting out of this one. He also knew that once he explained, they would understand.
"Well...I was talking to Mike yesterday and he said that Mark over at 110 has to work Christmas day and I kind of volunteered to take his shift. I'll be able to come over afterwards."
Joanne seemed a bit peeved. "But you promised Chris and Jennifer weeks
ago that you'd be here in the morning to watch them open their gifts!"
Holding his hands up in front of him, he looked pleadingly at Roy. "You know Mark, right?"
"Kind of. Isn't he the guy that transferred in from New Jersey?"
"Yeah and this is their first Christmas in L.A. and his family is flying in to visit them."
He turned to look at Joanne, hoping he appeared pathetic enough. "Besides that, their kid is only three years old. It'll be the first time that they have a Christmas where the kid'll actually know what's going on. You can understand why I took his shift."
Joanne's expression softened and he knew he had won her over. "John Gage, sometimes you amaze me."
Grinning back at them, he looked at his watch again. "I really gotta' go."
"Thanks again for taking us to get the tree."
They said their good nights and Gage left. Joanne and Roy stared at the tree that filled the room. She turned and fixed Roy with a stare, her voice dry.
"How could you let him talk you into getting a tree this big?"
Placing a hand on the small of her back, Roy directed her out of the room and up the stairs, trying to explain Gage's logic to her. It had seemed fine at the time, but later when reality set in, it was a bit off. Closing the door to their bedroom, he thought of just the thing to distract her from talking about the tree anymore.
Looking at the piles of wrapping
and ribbon strewn across the floor, Roy sighed as he settled into a chair.
Chris and Jennifer were playing with their new toys and Joanne was in the
kitchen checking on the turkey.
Picking up the television guide, he flipped through the pages. It was too early for a game to be on and he didn't know if he wanted to watch the parade.
Before he could make up his mind on what to watch, Joanne came into the room and turned the television on. She smiled down at Chris and Jennifer. "The parades on! I thought you two wouldn't have forgotten it."
Chris and Jennifer dropped their toys and settled directly in front of the screen.
Looking blankly at the backs of their two blonde heads, he pushed himself out of the chair and headed for the closet to grab his coat. Maybe he could fix the gutter that was loose by the back door.
Lying on their stomachs, Chris
and Jennifer swung their feet back and forth in the air. They were totally
captivated with the balloons and floats that were making their way across the
Jennifer sat up and pointed excitedly at the television. "Look, Chris! Horses!"
Chris rolled his eyes and grinned at his little sister. She always went nuts when she saw a horse. His grin faded as the parade vanished from the screen to be replaced by a news report. He quickly sat up beside Jennifer as the reporter began talking about a large fire in a high-rise apartment complex.
The camera darted about showing
people running around and the building burning. When it settled on a fire
engine, he felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. One ten. That was
the number on the side of the engine. Wasn't that the station that his Uncle
Johnny was working at today?
Scrambling to his feet, he rushed out of the room.
He ran into the kitchen, sliding across the floor as he skidded to a stop in front of Joanne.
"Mom, where's Dad?"
Joanne stopped cutting the cabbage on the counter to give Chris a worried look. "Chris, what's wrong?"
"On the t.v.! I gotta find Dad!"
Wiping her hands on a towel, she knelt down before Chris and held him by the shoulders. "Calm down and tell me what's wrong."
"There's a big fire...the reporter said it's bad...I saw the engine. Isn't Uncle Johnny working at one ten today?"
Joanne shivered slightly, then stood. Placing a hand on Chris's back, she directed him into the living room. She found Jennifer sitting before the television, clutching a new stuffed animal.
As soon as she saw Joanne, she jumped up and ran to her, the stuffed animal dropped to the floor as she grabbed her mother around the legs. "Mom, Uncle Johnny's gonna' get hurt!"
Joanne looked at the screen, seeing a building totally engulfed in flames. The smoke made it hard to see anything except for people from various stations running back and forth. Engines, ambulances and squads all sat with their lights flashing. It was bad, but she wanted to keep Chris and Jennifer calm.
"I know it looks bad, Jennifer, but your Uncle Johnny and your Dad have been in worse fires than this one and they never got hurt." She looked back at the screen, her voice distracted. "How about you two go up to your rooms and get changed."
Chris's voice was high, his fright obvious. "But I gotta' tell Dad!"
Casting another look at the television, Joanne ushered the two upset children toward the stairs. "I'll go and tell your Dad. I'm sure Uncle Johnny's okay, but if it makes you both feel better, I'll have him call the station and make sure. How does that sound?"
Chris and Jennifer stood silently before her for a moment, then to her relief Chris took Jennifer by the hand and began leading her upstairs. She could hear his voice as he and Jennifer made their way to the upper floor. "Hurry up and get dressed, Jen!"
When she was sure that they were in their rooms, Joanne walked back to the television. She stared at it for a moment before turning and making her way out of the living room and through the kitchen. Pushing the back door open, she walked out onto the back steps.
Roy looked down from his perch on the ladder, smiling down at Joanne as she came outside. "Isn't it a little cold for you to be out here without a jacket?"
Rubbing her arms, Joanne shivered again, but not from the cold. "There's a big fire downtown. One ten is there."
Roy's smile faded and he made his way down the ladder. Stepping down, he frowned. "How do you know they're at the scene?"
Joanne bit her lip, then took a deep breath. "It's on the news. Roy, it's really bad. The kids are terrified. I know you probably won't get an answer, but could you call the station or someone who could tell us what's going on?"
Roy's chest tightened as he listened to her talk. If Joanne thought the fire was bad, then it had to be a big one. Making his way into the house, he entered the living room to find Chris hugging a crying Jennifer.
Joanne walked over and picked her up and held her tightly. "It's okay, Jenny, Uncle Johnny's okay. Your Dad'll find out what's going on."
Jennifer wailed and held onto her tightly. "I don't want Uncle Johnny to die!"
Roy looked at his daughter crying hysterically, then down at Chris. His face was pale and his lower lip trembled. He could see he was on the verge of losing it as well.
"Dad, Uncle Johnny isn't going to die, is he?"
Looking at the television, Roy felt his stomach drop. It had to be one of the worst fires he had seen in some time. Walking toward the television, he held his breath as he scanned the crowd, trying to recognize one of the firefighters. Before he spotted anyone, the screen turned blue and an announcer's voice droned on about it being a special report, then the parade came back on.
He stared at a young girl waving happily from the float she was on. It all seemed rather surreal after seeing the destruction taking place at the fire.
Chris's voice took his eyes away from the screen. "Dad, can you really find out if Uncle Johnny is okay?"
Looking back down at Chris and then at Joanne who was trying to get Jennifer to stop crying, he nodded his head absently yes. "I'll call the station."
Chris went to follow him and he motioned him to stop. "Chris, stay here with your Mom and Jennifer."
He made his way to the phone in the kitchen. Flipping through his list of station houses, he dialed the number. He knew there wouldn't be an answer, but he had to try. After it rang twelve times, he hung the phone up.
Staring at the wall, he picked the phone up and dialed it. As it rang, he mentally berated himself. What if Hank Stanley wasn't watching the television? He would be ruining his families Christmas. The phone was picked up on the second ring.
"Stanley residence, can I help you?"
"Uh Cap...it's Roy. I don't mean to bother you, but have seen the news report?"
A heavy sigh filled his ear and Roy immediately knew that Stanley had been watching the same thing.
"I was just about to call you. I'll try and get a hold of someone at headquarters to see if John's all right."
"Cap, I didn't mean to interrupt your day, it's...my kids are worried."
Stanley smiled at his end. He knew that meant that Roy and Joanne were worried sick as well. "I know what you mean,pal, Chet just called and I know I'll be hearing from Mike and Marco soon. Don't worry, I'll find out what's going on and then I'll get back to you."
"I really appreciate it, Cap. Thanks alot."
"No problem...talk to you soon."
The dial tone echoed in his ear and Roy hung the receiver up. Turning, he walked back into the living room. Jennifer's wailing had now died down to choked sobs and sniffles. Chris sat stiffly in a chair, his hands clasped tightly around his knees. All three of them turned to look at him as he entered the room.
"I called Hank...Captain Stanley. He's going to contact headquarters and let us know what's going on." Stuffing his hands in his jeans pockets, Roy tried to smile, knowing he had to keep his mind and their minds off of the fire.
"How about we put together that airplane that Santa brought you, Chris?"
Chris frowned and tucked his head down. "I don't feel like it."
Roy couldn't think of what to say next. As always, Joanne knew exactly what to do. "Come on you guys, we can't sit around and mope. Uncle Johnny'll be fine. I know...how about we go out and make a batch of cookies for him. I'm sure after fighting that fire he'll really appreciate something special tonight when he comes over."
Jennifer lifted her head off of Joanne's shoulder. "Can we make peanut butter cookies? He likes those best."
Joanne smiled as she carried Jennifer out to the kitchen. "Sure we can."† Roy looked at Chris and Chris looked back at him. He could tell that his son was scared...just as much as he was. "Let's go help them."
Chris shook his head no. "He's not coming over tonight, I know it."
"Chris, you don't know that."
"He's going to die!"
Shoving his face in his hands, Chris tried to muffle his crying. He didn't want his dad to see him crying. Men didn't cry.
Roy stood for a few awkward moments, remembering what it had felt like to cry like that as a child and have his father walk away and leave him alone. He wasn't going to continue in his father's footsteps.
Going over to Chris, he picked him up and held him, surprised at how tightly Chris held onto him as he cried. Rubbing a hand over his back, Roy hugged him to his chest. "It's okay, Chris. Everything's going to be okay."
As he said the words, he hoped he wasn't lying to his son.
It was only a few hours, but it
seemed like forever. He found himself constantly looking at the phone, willing
it to ring. He knew that it would be awhile, but the waiting was killing him.
If it wasnít Christmas, he would have jumped in his car and driven to the scene
to see if Gage was all right.
Jennifer had calmed down somewhat once she and Joanne had begun making the cookies. It was quite a sight watching them jumping up and down to check on them what with the turkey cooking on the upper rack and the single sheet of cookies on the lower rack.
Chris sat across from him, fidgeting nervously with an action figure he had received. The army figure went through multiple poses before Chris dropped it noisily on the table.
"Dad, when is Captain Stanley going to call you?"
Jennifer stopped picking at a cookie to stare at him. Joanne hesitated before opening the oven to check on the last batch of cookies.
"I don't know, Chris. He said he'd call me when he found something out. You have to understand...it was a big fire. They have to contain it, then thereís the clean up. Johnny wasn't on duty as a paramedic today, so more than likely, he'll be stuck there for a while and if that happens, they might not get a report into headquarters as fast."
Roy felt a little bad about dragging the explanation out, but he had said it to make himself feel a little better about things. He knew that Stanley could have pushed the request through and contacted one ten directly, but for something so simple, it wouldn't have made much sense to do it.
When the phone rang, all four of them jumped in place. Wiping his hands nervously across his thighs, Roy stood and made his way to the phone. Picking it up, he could feel himself tensing.
"Merry Christmas, Roy!"
The voice on the other end was a bit raspy, but other than that, there didn't seem to be anything wrong.
"Johnny! Hey, Merry Christmas to you, too!"
As soon as the word left his lips, Jennifer and Chris jumped up and began yelling. "Can I talk to Uncle Johnny?" "Uncle Johnny's not dead!!!"
Gage pulled the receiver back from his ear a bit and frowned before he continued talking. "Uh Roy...did I hear someone say I was dead?"
Roy chuckled and winked at Joanne across the room. The look of relief on her face told him volumes.
"It's a long story, Johnny, I'll tell it to you when you come over."
"Yeah, I thought as much when Chief McConnike said I should call you."
"Yeah, it was kind of weird. We were doing clean up on this fire...man, Roy, it was a bad scene. I'll tell you about it when I come over. Any way, he walked over to me and started talking like we were best friends or something. Wished me a Merry Christmas, asked me if I was going anywhere. When I said over to your place, he said I'd better call you and say hi just in case I got stuck doing some overtime. Is that weird or what?"
"Yeah, Johnny...it's kind of weird."
Roy knew it wasn't weird. Stanley had some how contacted McConnike.
"Well, I gotta' go if I want to get there in time for dinner. Tell Joanne and the kids I said hi, okay?"
"Sure, Johnny, I'll tell them. See you soon."
As he hung up the phone, he could feel a weight lift off of his shoulders. Chris and Jennifer danced around him, asking question after question. For once he didn't mind.
The knock on the front door sent
Jennifer and Chris racing through the house. The door was jerked open and two
small figures launched themselves at a very surprised John Gage.
"Hey! What is with you two?" Gage looked up to see Roy heading toward the door with a big grin on his face. "Have you been feeding these guys sugar all day or what?"
"No, they're just a little excited that's all."
Gage could barely hear Roy over the sounds of Chris and Jennifer yelling his name and bouncing up and down like two springs.
"Hey...hey guys...calm down a little." Reaching down, Gage scooped Jennifer up and smiled at her. "Why're you all excited, Princess?"
Jennifer hugged him tightly, tucking her face into his shoulder. "Cause you're not dead!"
Gage gave Roy a confused look. There it was again. Someone said he had died?
"Roy, what is going on?''
"How about I explain it to you over some cookies and milk."
Jennifer chirped up. "They're peanut butter! Mom and me made 'em for you this morning when you were at the fire."
He gave Roy another look and followed him into the kitchen, hoping that he'd soon know what was going on.
It was later in the evening and
Gage sat on the floor of the living room with Jennifer sitting between his legs
showing him a new Christmas book that she had gotten. Looking at the pages as
she turned them, he felt himself relaxing even more.
The day had been a turbulent one. There had been the lull of the early morning that had changed to a terror filled one once he had arrived at the fire. Too many people had lost their lives. People that he hadn't been able to save.
As he sat there with Jennifer, he counted himself lucky. From what Roy had told him, then later Joanne, he knew that he was loved more than he could have ever imagined. The attention that the entire family lavished on him had shown him that.
Jennifer tilted her face upward to look at him.
"Uncle Johnny, what're thinkin' about?"
"Oh, just that I must be the luckiest guy in the world."
She giggled and leaned back against him. Looking around the room, she watched her mom and dad a bit. Then her eyes rested on Chris for a moment. She looked back up at Gage.
"Uncle Johnny, do you have a brother?"
"No sweetheart, I don't."
"How about a sister?"
Jennifer twisted around to look directly at him. "What about your mom and dad? How come you didn't go and see them? Don't they miss you?"
Gage paused for a second, trying to think of how to say it the right way. He guessed the truth was his only option. "My mom and dad are dead, Jenny."
He could swear that he could hear a pin drop after he said it.
Jennifer frowned and tucked her head down. "I guess Christmas isn't any fun for you then, is it?"
Looking at the forlorn figure, he pulled her into a hug and pointed at the tree. "Every Christmas my dad and I would go and get the tree. My mom always said it had to be a big fat one, just like this tree here. We'd drag it home, then mom would bring us hot coco and we'd all decorate it."
A smile came to his face as he remembered all the times he had spent with his parents enjoying Christmas. Those memories seemed to be a heck of alot stronger than those lonely years when he hadn't celebrated the holiday at all.
"You see, Jen, Christmas is a feeling you get right here." He patted his chest. "It's knowing that no matter where you are or where the people you love are, you're always going to be together no matter what. Memories will keep you together."
Jennifer cocked her head to the side, then smiled. "So that means if you weren't here, you'd be here." She placed her small hand over her heart.
Gage smiled down at her and nodded his head. "That's right, Princess."
She gave him another smile before leaning back into him to look at the tree.
Hugging her, Gage looked up to find Joanne and Roy looking at him. Joanne smiled back at him, looking as if she were going to cry. He gave them an embarrassed grin before turning his gaze back to the tree.
Closing his eyes, he pictured his mom and dad, the only two people that had loved him and in his minds eye, they were joined by the four people who had shown him what it meant to be loved like that again.