The Fine Feathered Friend
By Audrey W.
December 23. . .
“Good mornin’, good mornin’,” Gage said as he entered the locker room, ready to begin another shift.
Roy looked up from tying his shoes, his left foot up on the bench, and grinned. “Well, you sound chipper for a guy who’s just starting the day.”
“Oh I am,” Johnny assured. “I am. But, it’s because of what’s after the shift is why.”
“What’s after the shift? Or do I want to know?”
“I’m gonna stay at Stoney’s place and keep an eye in things while he and his family are gone for Christmas.” He opened his locker and began to pull the hem of his white shirt out of his jeans. “I don’t have to be in my apartment over the holidays for a change.”
“Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in your own place?”
“Roy, are you kiddin? All’s I have is a tabletop artificial tree! Kind of looks like a Charlie Brown tree, if ya know what I mean.” He pulled on his blue uniform shirt and began to button it up. “But now I get to be in a regular house with a big tree, a fireplace, colorful lights on the outside. . .it’ll be perfect.”
“You should’ve said something. You could’ve come and stayed with us.”
Johnny gave his partner a strange look, then shook his head. “Uh, no offense, but I . . .uh. . .well, it’s kind of that there won’t be anyone else there. That’s the nice part. I mean last year spending Christmas with you, Joanne and the kids was nice. But. . .”
Roy stood staring at the younger man, forcing him to explain himself.
Gage squirmed, slightly uncomfortable. “You know. Sometimes it’s just nice to be alone. Besides I have a date for Christmas Eve, so this way I’ll be well rested because I can take a long nap after we get off tomorrow.”
“What’re you gonna do? Chase her around the table?”
“No. . .”
DeSoto turned and walked towards the door leading to the apparatus bay. As he opened it, he looked over his shoulder. “It’s okay. But if you change your mind, you’re welcome to come over.”
“I’ll keep it in mind.” Gage said, watching the door close behind his partner. Guilt tugging at his conscience, he glanced at the Smokey Bear picture on his locker door. “What are you staring at? I said I’d keep it in mind, and I will.” Johnny tossed his jeans in his locker and pulled out his uniform pants, then glanced once more at Smokey The Bear. He closed the locker door, determined to escape the ‘stare.’
December 24. . .
Johnny looked in awe at the two-story decorated house as he got out of his Land Rover. Stoney and his family had really gone all out for Christmas. There were two small trees in the front yard with strings of lights on them and the house was also trimmed in colorful lights. A Santa and reindeer display was up on the center of the roof and three-foot tall candy canes lined the driveway and sidewalk.
Now, this is what I call decorating! There’s even more here than at Roy’s house.
He frowned as a pang of guilt washed over him for not taking his partner up on the invitation he had extended. But considering how tired he felt, it seemed like this was more what he needed, anyway. He headed up the sidewalk to the porch, where a pinecone wreath was hung on the door.
The paramedic stifled a tired yawn as he fidgeted with his keys, searching for the correct one to the house. It had been a busy shift with calls for everything from a little girl being stuck in the window of a gingerbread house display at the mall to a grocery store fire. Besides having a busy day, the men of A-shift had only gotten three hours of sleep during the night.
Gage pulled the door towards him as he turned the key, like Stone had instructed him to. He gave a push on the door and it opened to reveal an entryway. Tan carpeted steps lead up to the bedrooms, and a livingroom could be seen to the left. A huge decorated real tree was in the far corner of the room. On the right was a coat closet. Johnny closed the door behind him and headed up the steps. The paramedic was exhausted and all he could think of was going to bed. Stoney had told him which room he could sleep in, as it had a twin bed with clean sheets.
For the moment the tree and other decorations were forgotten as the tired man plopped his duffle bag down on the floor and got out of his uniform. Once in bed, Johnny put his left arm across his eyes and drifted towards some much needed sleep.
Several minutes later a rapping on the house awakened the dark-haired man. Johnny slowly pulled his arm away from his face and blearily looked at the clock near the bed.
I haven’t even been asleep fifteen minutes.
The jackhammer like tapping began again, sounding like a piece of tin was being hit in rapid succession.
What the. . .?
When the sound moved up a few feet and came from the roof, Gage realized he had a visitor of the feather kind.
A woodpecker! Of all the . . .man, just my luck.
He threw off the covers and sat on the edge of the bed. Glancing up at the ceiling, he listened to the bird peck on and on. Gage made his way to the bedroom window and opened it. Sticking his head out, he looked upward and yelled.
“Knock it off!”
After a moment of silence, a satisfied grin spread across the man’s face. He closed the window and went back to bed, content that the annoying visitor was gone.
Johnny had barely been back in bed for ten minutes when the rapping noise returned.
“Man, I’m never gonna get any sleep with this going on,” he grumbled. Once again sitting on the edge of the bed, the paramedic ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “Well, maybe a little noise’ll do the trick.”
He quickly ran down the steps, clad only in his red boxers, and grabbed a saucepan and a frying pan from the cupboard. Snickering at his own cleverness, the dark-haired man went back upstairs to the bedroom and leaned out the window, banging the two pans together. Again the bird was quiet. Unfortunately, Johnny was met with a yell from below.
“Hey, buddy, ya think it’s New Years or somethin’? Enough with the noise!”
“Uh. . .sorry! I was just tryin’ to get rid of a woodpecker!”
“A woodpecker. . .you know. . .a bird!”
“Well, he can’t be making more noise than you are!”
Gage sighed. The man was right. Now he was the one disturbing the peace and quiet.
“Sorry!” He glanced up at the edge of the roof above him. “Thanks a lot, ya dumb bird.”
Johnny closed the window again and set the pans on the dresser nearby. With no sound from the woodpecker again, he got back into bed and draped his left arm across his eyes.
Thirty minutes later, Johnny bolted upright in bed as he was awakened by the sound of tin gutters that lined the edge of the roof being pecked on by the woodpecker. The bird was relentless in his annoying actions. Gage wiped at his tired eyes, then threw back the covers and got out of the bed, heading over towards the window. He glanced at the pans on the dresser and thought about using them, but the memory of the upset neighbor kept him from going that route again. He opened the window, shuddering at the cool breeze from outside and leaned over, squinting up at the roof.
“Hey, man, stop pecking!”
Again, the bird was silent. But the man who had complained before was in his yard next door and walked over, annoyed at the sudden outburst.
“Hey, I thought you were gonna be quiet!”
Johnny looked down and sighed. The bird was going to get him thrown out of the neighborhood. “I’m sorry, but the wood—”
“You’re still hung up on that?” he interrupted. “Why don’t you just move to a different room?”
Hey yeah. . .why don’t I? Why don’t I just go to my own place or Roy’s? Johnny wondered. But he already knew the answer to that. He wasn’t going to let the bird win.
“Thanks!” he yelled, waving to the man below.
Gathering up his pillow and the blanket off the bed, Johnny headed down towards the livingroom. He set the items on the couch, then went to the kitchen for a drink of water. As long as I’m up, I may as well. Afterwards, the paramedic settled on the couch, and pulled the blanket up over his bare chest.
This is a better place to relax anyway. At least I can look at the tree before I go back to sleep.
His eyes grew heavy as he stared at the unlit lights and ornaments on the huge tree. His scrawny, artificial tree would never be the same at Christmas again. Guess next year I’ll have to spring for a better tree. I wonder how much that’ll set me back? Gage drifted off to sleep, dreaming about having an unending amount of money in his bank account, a slight smile on his face.
Rap, rap, rap. . .
Johnny opened his eyes and squinted as he heard the sound that had woken him up for the fourth time. The woodpecker was now pecking on the side of the house near the livingroom window.
“I don’t believe this,” Gage grumbled. That bird knows where I am!
He yawned, then got up from the couch and slowly wandered across the room. Forgetting he was only in boxers, the dark-haired man opened the front door and peeked outside, shuddering in the cool air. Looking around the doorframe, he saw the woodpecker hanging on to one of the decorative shutters to the side of the livingroom window.
“Hey, do you mind?”
“Do you?” Came a familiar voice.
Johnny looked straight ahead to see the next-door neighbor standing at the end of the sidewalk, his hands folded across his chest.
“We have kids in this area you know.”
Gage looked down at his boxer-clad body. “Oh. . .uh. . .sorry. I. . .”
“I know. The woodpecker.” The man started up the walk. “Look, mister, why don’t you just—”
“Don’t say move to another room. I just did that and the stupid bird followed me.”
“I’d say he’s not so stupid then,” the man said, grinning. He wiped the smile off his face when he saw that it didn’t humor Johnny. “Look, it’s Christmas. Can’t ya just let the bird do his thing?”
“What. . .?” Johnny asked, incredulous.
“Christmas isn’t just a time for being nice to other people. It’s a time for being nice to all God’s creatures.”
“It’s also a time for peace on earth and I don’t think he cares about that.”
While the men debated, two elderly ladies walked by on the street, their mouths dropping open at Johnny’s attire. When the paramedic noticed, he quickly thanked the man for his advice and shut the door. His face felt as red as his underwear.
Man, I should’ve just stayed home. I’d be asleep right now, I wouldn’t have a bird tormenting me in a house and I wouldn’t have just shown my underwear off to two old ladies!
It had been an hour and ten minutes since the woodpecker had been on the window shutter and Johnny had been caught at the door in his boxers. Thinking he’d finally gotten rid of the pesky bird, the paramedic decided to try to get more sleep. He’d just settled down on the couch when there were a few rapid taps on the front door.
“That’s it. That bird’s gone too far!”
He threw off the blanket and hurried across the room, determined to have it out with his feathered annoyance. He pulled the front door open in a huff and was startled speechless when he was met by the two elderly ladies who’d passed by earlier. One of them held a neatly wrapped gift in her hands. This time Johnny’s mouth hung open in shock, but the ladies stood smiling.
“Give him the present, Clara.”
“I will, Bernice,” answered the other lady. She held it out for Johnny to take. “We thought you could use this.”
“Huh?” He slowly took the package from Clara, blushing when he realized he once again disregarded his attire when he went to the door. He had been so set on getting the bird, it had slipped his mind that someone might be outside to see him. “I . . .uh. . .” he wanted to shut the door and hide, but the ladies had just given him a gift. How could he shut it on them?
Seeing that their mystery man was embarrassed, the ladies took the first step. Clara pulled slightly on Bernice’s arm and motioned for them to leave.
“Have a Merry Christmas,” Bernice said as they started to turn to walk towards the main sidewalk.
Johnny glanced up from the package he had been staring at the last few seconds. “Uh. . .yeah. . .have a Merry Christmas.” Realizing they were actually leaving, he held up the present slightly. “Thanks!”
Clara looked over her shoulder and grinned. “By the way, you have very nice legs.” She winked.
Johnny looked down at his lower half, surprised at the comment. When he looked up again, the ladies were already near the street. He noticed the man who had been annoyed by him watching from across the yard. Johnny held up the present and gave a wan smile. “They. . .the ladies wanted to give me a gift.”
The man hung his head down and slowly shook it. He then turned and walked away.
Johnny frowned at the man, then watched once more as the ladies disappeared around a corner. He stepped back inside and closed the door.
Sitting down on the couch, the paramedic opened his gift. It was a man’s dark blue plaid, long flannel robe.
They think I don’t own a robe.
He had to smile, as the ladies meant well. And they must have gone out of their way to get it for him. He had no idea who they were or how to get in touch with them to return the gesture. He could always ask Stoney later, but wasn’t sure explaining the whole thing would be very easy.
The sound of the woodpecker back at the house went unnoticed by Gage as he tried on the new robe. When he did notice, he gave the situation thought.
Maybe the ladies giving me a gift on Christmas Eve day was a sign. Maybe I should take that guy’s advice and be good to the bird. After all, he is one of God’s creations. . .
The constant jackhammer like rapping brought Johnny out of his thoughts.
Nah, that bird is a pain in the butt, plain and simple.
He headed for the front door, once again ready to chase the woodpecker away.
Later in the evening, Roy heard a knock at the front door as he and Joanne watched It’s A Wonderful Life on television. The kids were getting ready for bed, anxious to go to sleep so morning would seem to come faster. The blond man set down his eggnog and got up to see who had come to visit. He was surprised to see Johnny standing alone on the front porch.
“What’re you doing here?”
“You invited me. . .sort of. . .”
“No, I mean, where’s your date? I thought you were gonna stay at Stoney’s house, then go on a date.”
“I was. . .er. . .I did.” Johnny shrugged. “I did stay at Stoney’s house. And I’ll go back later. I just thought I’d stop over.” He looked past Roy, into the livingroom. “Can I come in?”
“Yes, sure,” Roy said, stepping back and gesturing with his left arm. “But what about your date?”
“Oh, I was too tired.” When he saw a questioning look on DeSoto’s face, he put up a hand and shook his head. “Don’t ask.”
“I won’t. But somehow I get the feeling you’ll tell me.”
“All’s I’m gonna say is I have a pounding headache and I got a new robe from two old ladies I don’t even know. And one of them liked my legs.”
Roy shook his head. He wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the details. He and Johnny went into the livingroom and sat down, Johnny in a recliner and Roy on the couch next to Joanne. She looked up as the two men settled in.
“Hi, Johnny. Good to see you could make it.”
“Do you want some eggnog?”
Gage shook his head. “No thanks.” He couldn’t stand the stuff and never understood how Roy could drink it. Next they’ll be offering me fruitcake.
As the adults watched the movie, Johnny was reminded of the angel’s name in the movie. “Clarence. . .I wonder. . .Clara could be a name for a girl angel, huh?”
Roy looked over at his work partner. “I guess so.”
“Huh. . .I may have met my Clara angel when she gave me the robe and said she liked my legs.”
Joanne had a bewildered expression on her face. “What on earth are you talking about, Johnny?”
Roy and the younger paramedic both looked at her and answered at the same time, “Don’t ask.”
It was nearly midnight when Johnny was ready to leave the DeSotos’. Joanne was getting the extra gifts placed under the tree while Roy walked outside with their guest.
“So you’ll be over tomorrow morning?”
“You’re welcome to sleep here, you know.”
Johnny nodded. “Yeah, I know. But I think I’d better stay at Stoney’s. . .you know. . .to keep an eye on his place over night.”
“It’s pretty late. You sure you’re going to be awake early enough?”
Johnny thought back to his day and how the woodpecker had hung around most of the time. And he recalled how the birds were known to be early risers, themselves.
“Oh, yeah. I’ll be awake.” He snorted, climbing into his truck. “I’m sure Woody Woodpecker’ll be sure of that.”
Roy figured out why Johnny was probably tired. But he didn’t ask, as he still was afraid to know about the robe and why Clara had seen the younger man’s legs. He just chalked it all up to Johnny being Johnny.
Gage closed the door to the Land Rover and rolled down the driver’s side window. He knew he’d done the right thing in canceling his date and spending the evening with the DeSotos instead. And in the long run, he had one very annoying bird to thank for the decision.
“You got any bird seed?”
“Bird seed. . .for wild birds.”
“Can I borrow a cup of it?”
“A cup?” Roy was puzzled.
“Yeah, for one bird. I kind of owe ‘im.” He shrugged. “Besides, Christmas is for being good to all God’s creatures.”
“I’ll be right back.”
Roy soon returned with the seed in a container and handed it to Johnny, who was still in his Land Rover.
“Merry Christmas, Junior.”
The dark-haired paramedic backed out of the driveway and headed for Stoney’s house. Between being in a well decorated home, spending time with close friends and doing his part for the woodpecker, this was going to be a simple, but meaningful Christmas. One he’d remember for a long time to come.
Thanks for the beta read, Kenda! :o)