By Audrey W.
Johnny stood silently in the group of people gathered at the graveyard and listened as a man read a eulogy for the deceased. An acquaintance Gage hadn’t seen in years had been killed in an automobile accident. Although he barely recalled much about the victim from younger days, he promised the grieving family that he would be at the services to pay his last respects. Johnny wasn't thrilled about being at a graveside service. The sight of a casket and the hole in the ground next to it always made him uncomfortable
The paramedic shuddered slightly, then glanced at the others to see if anyone had noticed. One young thin blonde woman was staring at him, her eyes puffy and red.
Man, even with a tear stained face, she’s beautiful.
Gage berated himself for eyeing a woman at a guy’s funeral. But when she made her way over to him, he had to admit his curiosity was piqued.
“Did you know Mark well?” she asked, sniffing.
Johnny wasn’t sure how to answer. “Uh. . .yeah. . .sort of. I mean, years ago, kind of,” he said in a hushed tone. “I promised his family I’d be here today.”
“I can’t believe he’s gone.” Her shoulders shook as she began to weep.
Not sure what else to do, Johnny put his left arm around the crying woman in an effort to comfort her. “It’s okay,” he said quietly. “It’ll be okay.”
“Are. . .are you here. . . alone?” She whispered between sobs.
“Is your wife. . .h. . . here?”
The paramedic was taken off-guard. He slowly pulled his arm away. “Uh. . .no,” he looked around, feeling awkward. Facing the young woman again, he whispered, “I’m not married.”
“Oh. . .” The woman looked at the casket across the way and broke into loud sobs, this time drawing stares from other mourners.
Seeing the looks she was getting, Johnny gently pulled her close. He put his arm around the woman again for support and started to lead her away. “Hey, maybe this isn’t such a good idea for you to be here right now,” he said as they walked away from the crowd. “Maybe it’s harder on you than you thought.”
When they reached the parking area, she buried her face in his chest and sobbed uncontrollably. Johnny didn’t know what to do. Obviously she was too upset to be left alone. As bad as he felt for her, he didn’t like the idea of her soaking his shirt with tears. He held out his arms awkwardly and glanced around for anyone who might be able to help. Seeing no one, he loosely put his arms around the distraught woman and patted her lightly on the back.
“Willyouomeaveupfeewifme?” came a muffled voice.
She pulled away from his now damp shirt and wiped at it as she asked again in a quivering voice, “Will you come have a cup of coffee with me?”
Caught off-guard again, Gage agreed. “My Land Rover is right over there,” he said, pointing.
“No,” she squeaked out between sobs. “I’ll meet you there.”
“You sure you’re okay to drive?”
As she nodded, Johnny had to admit she was regaining composure rapidly. Her overall stance had changed to one of a more reassured person.
Maybe all she needed was to get away from the services.
As he followed behind her car, a twinge of guilt nagged at him. Not only had he left the funeral early, but he somehow managed to pick up a date as well . . .actually, he wasn’t sure who picked up who.
Johnny parked first and was out of his vehicle before the young woman found a suitable place to park. He opened her door for her as she turned off the ignition.
“You know, this all happened so fast, we didn’t even introduce ourselves.” He held out his hand as she closed the door. “John Gage.”
Returning the gesture she replied, “Heather Neilson.”
The couple walked up the sidewalk towards the entrance of the restaurant. Gage opened the door and Heather started inside.
“I’m sorry about your friend,” Johnny said, hoping it wouldn’t start her crying all over again.
“Your friend. . .Mark. . .”
Johnny was taken aback when he saw Heather’s tears were completely gone and her eyes weren’t as puffy.
She must not have shed one tear on the way to the restaurant.
“Yeah, that,” he said, mocking her answer. “How did you know Mark?”
The paramedic was even more surprised when she casually stated, “I didn’t” and continued into the building. He followed behind, his mouth open in question.
“A professional what?” Chet asked in disbelief.
Johnny shifted in his chair at the table in the dayroom and sighed. “You heard me. She’s a professional mourner.”
Kelly scrunched up his face. “How does someone mourn for a living?” As Gage started to answer, the fireman stopped him. “Wait. More importantly . . .why does someone hire them to mourn in the first place?”
“Because . . .look, Chet. . .” Unable to come up with any good explanation, Johnny went with the only thing he could think of. “Heather’s doing something meaningful and unselfish.”
Mike, Chet and Marco all rolled their eyes as they exchanged glances. Roy sat quietly on the couch, taking it all in. He knew he’d be hearing about Heather and the importance of professional mourners later.
“Meaningful? John, she stands at funerals and cries for people she doesn’t even know,” Chet carried on. “Worse than that, she evidently picks up dates at ‘em!”
“Oh come on. . .she doesn’t pick up dates. It just so happened we met at one. She’s at these things to help the other mourners to express their grief. It’s like a release for them when she cries.”
“Does the family get a refund when she leaves early with a date?”
“She must be one good lookin’ chick for you to be defending her already,” the stocky fireman shot out. The expression on Johnny’s face told Chet he was probably right.
The sound of klaxons saved the others from having to listen to any more argument.
“Squad 51, child injured, 2130 West Clairemont Street, two one three zero West Clairemont Street, time out 10:02.”
Johnny ran towards the apparatus bay, Roy right behind him. The conversation with Chet was forgotten as the two paramedics were on their way to the call.
When they arrived at the scene, a nine-year-old girl met the paramedics on the sidewalk. After they grabbed the basic equipment, she led them into the house where her younger brother was on the couch. Their mom was sitting with him, holding a damp towel on his right lower leg. Both men hurried over, anxious to access the situation.
“Your daughter says he cut his leg . . .is that correct?” Johnny asked.
“Yes, they were riding their bikes. . .they got tangled up and crashed. I guess a rough piece of metal on Barbie’s bike caught his leg.”
“It did,” the boy whimpered.
“Let’s have a look at that,” Roy suggested as he motioned for the mom to move, making room for him. When she complied, he leaned over the boy and lifted the towel. There was a deep one-inch gash in the boy’s shin.
“I think he’s going to need stitches.”
Johnny nodded as he questioned the girl. “You hurt anywhere, sweetheart?”
“Just a few scratches. I’m okay.”
“Well, let me put some antiseptic on ‘em,” he said, pulling out the can of spray. He treated her scrapes while Roy took care of the boy. After hearing strong vitals on the victim, Brackett instructed the men to bring the boy in non-code R. As he was lifted up into the ambulance, the girl and mother stood watching.
“Okay, Barbie, let’s get in the car and follow behind the ambulance.”
“Awe, mom, do we haveta?”
“Barbara Sue Jennings, I’m surprised at you! Of course we have to go to the hospital with your brother!”
“I’d rather be goin’ to his funeral,” she pouted, her arms folded across her chest.
“Nice sister, huh?” Johnny quietly said to Roy, who was peeking out of the open rear of the ambulance.
“Barbie! You don’t mean that!” Her mother scolded.
The girl continued to sulk as she turned and headed for their car.
Roy looked over at Barbie’s retreating back and grinned. “I wonder if this is how Heather got started on the idea?”
“Whatta ya' mean?”
“The way Barbie turned on that pout in a matter of a seconds. I wonder if Heather started out like that, then worked her way up to crying, and from there, working as a professional mourner. Not to mention the fact the kid would rather go to a funeral than a hospital. Kind of would explain why Heather never chose to become a nurse as a way to show her concern for others if she was like that.”
“Roy,” his partner began with annoyance in his voice, “Chet’s enough to deal with. Don’t you start.”
The senior paramedic just continued to grin. “See you at Rampart.”
“Yep. See ya there.” He closed the doors and gave them two slaps. Taking a quick glance at the mother and daughter getting into the car in the driveway, Gage wondered exactly when Heather did decide she wanted to mourn for the purpose of earning some extra money. He’d have to ask her when he got to know her better.
Johnny wandered up to Dixie McCall’s desk near the base station while he waited for Roy to come out of the treatment room. Handing her a list of supplies they needed to replenish, he flashed a grin.
“Hi yourself, Johnny.”
“Hey, Dix . . .” He leaned on the desk . Cocking an eyebrow he asked, “You ever hear of a professional mourner?”
The head nurse reached for the saline IV’s. “Oh sure! I’ve never run into anyone who actually is one. But I’ve heard there’re people who do it.”
“Yeah? What do you think about it?”
She shrugged. “I haven’t really ever given it much thought. I suppose it’s okay.” She handed him a small box with the supplies and raised an eyebrow. “You aren’t thinking of trading in your helmet for a hanky, are you?”
Gage snorted. “Nah. I met this chick--” He stopped in mid-sentence as Roy came up to the desk, then continued. “She’s a professional mourner.”
“I don’t know, but I’d think that would be a depressing job,” Roy said. He ignored the glare he got from his partner.
“Oh . . .fine. . .go ahead and make jokes about it. Just wait till you meet Heather. She’s incredible!”
Dixie and Roy watched as Johnny started down the corridor towards the exit.
“Sounds like Johnny really likes this girl.”
“Yeah, lucky us, huh?”
The nurse looked at Roy in question.
“That’s all we’re gonna be hearing about at the station.”
“Well, hang in there.”
He gave a quick wave, acknowledging the comment, then followed his partner out of the hospital.
Johnny stared out the passenger window of the squad. He hadn’t said a word since leaving Rampart.
“What’d I do?” DeSoto asked. “Chet’s the one who’s been giving you a hard time.”
The younger man didn’t turn his gaze from the window. “I’m not mad at you.”
“Then why the silent treatment?”
Johnny looked over at Roy, a frown on his face. “I just wish you guys would give Heather a chance. She’s beautiful, Roy! Absolutely flawless!”
“I’ll tell you what. I’ll talk to Joanne and see if she’ll agree to have the two of you over for dinner tomorrow night. That way we can meet Heather.”
Roy nodded. “Sure.” He glanced quickly at Gage and smiled. “I’d like to meet her. She sounds like a nice girl.”
The younger man looked forward, a smile on his face. He hoped Joanne would agree to the idea.
“She wasn’t that bad,” Gage found himself once again defending Heather Neilson. Dinner at Roy’s hadn’t gone as Johnny hoped it would.
“Wasn’t that bad? Are you nuts?”
“No. Look. . .Roy. . .she was real friendly with Joanne. And she enjoyed talking with you, too.”
“With me?” Roy asked incredulously. “More like for me. That girl finished every sentence I started!”
“Oh, she did not.”
Roy went on, ignoring Johnny’s comment. “Joanne and I have known each other since fourth grade and she doesn’t even end my sentences for me.”
Chet shook his head. “Man, Gage, it sounds like you’ve got a real winner there.”
The dark-haired paramedic gave a disparaging glare, then glanced up as the tones went off.
“Squad 51, motor vehicle accident, 1015 Tillman Street, one zero one five Tillman street, time out 08:32.”
Johnny and Roy headed for the squad, their differences on the subject of Heather pushed aside.
When the paramedics returned from their run, they went into the dayroom. The engine crew was out on a run, which was a relief to Gage. He didn’t want the conversation they were all on when the tones sounded earlier to resume.
The younger man poured himself a glass of milk while Roy got a cup of coffee, both feeling awkward at their silence. No sooner had they sat down at the table, and the engine could be heard backing in to the apparatus bay. Roy didn’t think anything of it, but Johnny wondered if Kelly was going to start in on him again.
Sure enough, the first words out Chet’s mouth were directed at his favorite shiftmate to tease.
“Hey, John, your girlfriend called earlier.”
“Yeah, and you know what? Roy’s right! That chick finished every sentence I started!”
Roy glanced first at Chet, then Johnny. His partner looked ready to pounce.
The stocky fireman pulled out a chair and sat; Mike and Marco stood waiting to see what was about to transpire.
“No, really! I mean, she asked if you were here and I started to tell her you were out on a run. Well, man, I just got out the ‘he’s out’ and she said, ‘on a run.’ ” Noticing the anguish building in Gage, he continued. “Then I asked ‘you want him t’ and she says ‘to call me back? Yes, please.’ I tell ya, Johnny, the chick knew what I was gonna say before I did.”
“Chet she was probably just . . .just. . .” Johnny waved a hand, searching for a word that fit.
“I don’t know. Just. . .just. . .”
“He’s been hanging around Heather too long,” Mike said matter-of-factly. “The guy can’t end a sentence now.”
The others snickered while Johnny put his face in his hands and groaned.
Roy got up and patted him on the back.. “Don’t worry. Once you’re married, she’ll be around to finish all your thoughts for you.”
Gage pulled his hands away and looked up at his partner, an expression of ‘oh man’ on his face, followed by a weak grin that said he hoped the blond man was kidding.
Later in the shift, Roy found Johnny slumped by the phone in the dorm. As he approached, the younger man glanced up at him.
“You know, Roy, it’s a shame such a beautiful chick has so many faults.”
“You mean Heather?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t call ‘em faults . . .” The ‘give me a break’ look from his friend had him changing his tone. “Okay, so she has a bad habit and a weird job. That’s what makes her unique.”
“Unique? Roy, we just had a whole conversation on the phone and I don’t think I finished one thought on my own. It started with ‘how’s your day’ and she answered, ‘going? Oh it’s wonderful, Johnny. Absolutely wonderful.’ Mike’s right. It’s getting so I can’t even get a complete thought expressed on my own.”
“You’re doing good now.”
Johnny paused a minute, then grinned. “You’re right! I am!” He sat up straight. “I really am!”
The telephone rang and the dark-haired paramedic held up a hand signaling for Roy to hold his thought while Gage answered the call.
“Hi. . .”
He mouthed ‘Heather’ to DeSoto, letting him know who was on the other end of the line.
“I missed you, too. . .”
Roy rolled his eyes. Oh brother. They’d just been on the phone with one another. How could they already miss each other?
“Hey, listen, Heather. How would you--
“Yes, go on a date. We could--
“That would be--” Johnny’s face turned to a frown as he rested his left cheek on the palm of his hand, left elbow on the desk.
“Okay, bye.” He started to pull the receiver away from his ear, then quickly brought it back, making a brief kissing sound into the phone. Placing the receiver in the cradle, he turned and looked at his partner.
“Roy, it’s hopeless.”
The senior paramedic shook his head. “You sure can find them.”
“Tell me about it.” Johnny said as he rested his chin on his right palm and sighed.
After two days off, the crew of Station 51’s A-shift was back on duty. The men assembled in the apparatus bay as Captain Stanley briefed them on plans for the shift and assigned chores.
Having been given the duty of the hose rack with Mike, Johnny walked beside the engineer as they headed to the rear lot.
“How were your days off?” Gage asked.
“Care to elaborate on that?” First Heather won’t stop talking and with Stoker, it’s like pulling teeth.
Mike shrugged. “Nice. Quiet. Nothing special, but good.”
Johnny nodded. Okay, that’s a start. “Can I ask you something?”
“How come you’re always so quiet?”
“I’m married to someone who finishes my sentences for me. After awhile, it’s force of habit not to say very much.”
The paramedic grinned. He’d never known that about Mike’s wife. When they got to the hose rack, the engineer paused.
“How were your days off?”
“Good. . .well. . .okay.”
“Care to elaborate on that?” Mike asked, a grin on his face.
Johnny gave him a double take, then continued. “Can you keep it quiet from the others?”
Stoker shot a ‘what do you think’ expression Gage’s way.
“Never mind,” John said, already knowing the answer. He started to help Mike with a hose, then paused, once again caught up in his own problem. “Man, you wouldn’t believe our ‘date’ yesterday, if you can call it that. She had to go to a funeral. A funeral! We spent the entire afternoon paying our respects to someone we didn’t even know. I don’t know how she does it.” He shook his head. “Heather was literally sobbing, just like she was when I met ‘er.”
“Not quite romance, huh?”
Gage snorted. “Uh uh.”
“Why don’t you dump her?”
“Because she’s so damn beautiful. As much as she irritates me, I can’t--”
“Let go,” Mike finished. He smiled and shrugged when Johnny gave him a disgusted look.
That afternoon, Johnny was sitting deep in thought on the bench in the locker room when Roy walked in. Closing the door behind him, DeSoto went unnoticed by Gage. The senior paramedic could tell something was really bothering his partner. The younger man was okay during runs, but in between he was unusually quiet.
“Anything I can help you with?”
“Huh?” Finally noticing he wasn’t the only one in the room, Johnny shook his head. “Oh. . .no. . .no.”
Roy shrugged. “Okay, but--”
“I just got off the phone again with Heather,” Gage interrupted. He looked up at Roy. Running a hand through his hair, he sighed. “Man, I don’t know what I wanna do.”
Roy sat down on the end of the bench and rested his elbows in his knees, hands clasped together. “Did something happen?”
“No, nothin’happened. . .well, just the usual stuff . . .you know. . .she carried on most of the conversation.”
“It’s getting to y--”
“Man, I can’t believe my luck,” he interrupted again. “Every time I meet a beautiful chick, there’s a catch.”
“Well, I wouldn--”
“First,” came a third interruption, “there was Paula Slaton. . .she lived out of town.” He held up a hand as he named off women, pulling down a finger with each one listed. “Then there was Cynthia, the fireman chaser. Then Ellen, the nurse who decided to hit the high seas, and Barbara who wanted to get married. And then the real disaster with Valerie.” He snorted, shaking his head. “Who could forget that?”
“Maybe you’re looking at the wrong kind of girl.”
“Roy, I just want a good lookin’ chick that’s normal. Is that asking too much?”
“You’ve gotta be normal to get normal,” came an answer from the dorm room entrance.
Johnny scowled. “Shut up, Chet.” He looked curiously at the fireman. “What are you doing listening anyway?”
“I live here, too. Remember?”
Roy shook his head at the two men. “Look, if you don’t like Heather, break it off.”
Gage got a miserable expression on his face. “That’s the problem. I really do like her. If it wasn’t for a couple of things, I’d be crazy about ‘er.”
“You are crazy,” Kelly said, turning and leaving from the room.
Johnny stared at his partner. “I suppose you think I’m crazy, too?”
“I think you’ve got one big decision to make and the sooner the better.” Roy stood up and started for the dorm. “Or you’re gonna make yourself . . .and the rest of us. . . crazy.”
All alone again, Gage started to talk to himself. “I just need one big thing to happen that would make breaking it off easier . . . just one incident to convince me I’d be better off without Heather.”
Half an hour later, the paramedics were responding to an unknown type rescue. As Roy pulled the squad into the u-shaped driveway of a ranch-styled house, they could see a skinny and well-tanned woman with dried out bleach-blonde hair standing on the porch waving.
“She doesn’t look very upset,” Johnny said as he opened his door. “Maybe it’s not too serious.”
The two paramedics gathered their gear out of the compartments and quickly walked towards the woman still waiting on the porch. As they started up the three steps at the end of the sidewalk, she opened the front door behind her.
“He’s this way. . .in the bathroom.”
“Bathroom?” Johnny wondered.
“Bathroom,” the woman repeated dryly.
The two paramedics exchanged glances, wondering what they were in for.
Stepping into the room, DeSoto and Gage saw a large man sitting in a drained tub, a bath towel on his lap.
“Marilyn, did you have to--”
“Call them? Yes.”
Johnny turned sharply to look at the woman. Never mind that they had a heavy naked man that they were going to have to help out of an empty tub. Did she just finish his sentence?
“Okay? No, you’re not, Harold. You can’t get out of there on your own and I’m certainly not going to lift you out of there!”
Johnny continued to stare at the woman, while Roy started to question the man.
“Sir, what’s the problem? Are you hurt? Did you fall?”
“No.” He looked at his wife glaring at him. “Yes, it’s my right knee. It’s an old injury that acts up at times. And right now I can’t stand up to--”
“Get out of the tub,” Marilyn finished.
Johnny tried to ignore the way the woman ended her husband’s sentences for him. He instead focused on the task at hand. Hands on his hips, he looked at Roy. “Well, whataya’ think?”
The senior paramedic studied Harold’s situation. They needed to get him out and somehow still save his dignity.
“Can you stand at all?” DeSoto wondered.
“Nope. The knee just goes right out on me as soon as I put any weight on it. In fact, it’s all I can do to move it, the pain is so bad.”
Johnny looked at Roy. “Lift him out?”
The other shrugged at his partner’s suggestion. “We’re gonna have to.”
The dark-haired paramedic eyed the man. If he had to put his money on the guy’s weight, he’d put him at 260 pounds. . .on a frame that had to be less than 6 feet. It wasn’t going to be easy. He hoped that not only would his back hold out, but that the towel would stay in place on Harold’s privates.
“Why don’t you--”
“Go show the ambulance attendants in?” the woman finished for Johnny.
He nodded, still feeling odd at how much she reminded him of. . .
“Heather!” The woman exclaimed as she started out of the room.
Gage looked at the doorway in shock as Roy finished relaying Harold’s vital signs to Rampart on the biophone.
“Hea. . .Heather?”
“Well, this is a dejavu’,” Roy commented, remembering how Johnny had found out his other love, Valerie, had three kids.
The younger man quickly glanced at his partner, then looked at Heather, still surprised.
“Okay? Yes,” Marilyn answered, “it’s just his knee again. It had to pick now--”
“To go out on him, huh?”
The mother nodded at her daughter. “Well, I’d better go--”
“Meet the ambulance? I’ll stay here--”
“With your Dad.” Marilyn disappeared out of the doorway.
Gage looked from one woman to the other during their exchanges, his head going back and forth as if he were at a tennis match. He couldn’t believe it. They were finishing each other’s sentences without a break in between.
“Johnny, I’m so glad it’s you here to take care of Daddy,” Heather said in an over appreciative tone. “Is he going to be okay?”
“Yeah, he’ll be fine. We’ve just gotta get ‘im--”
“Out of the tub, I know.”
Johnny looked at his grinning partner. If there was ever a time he didn’t need to see that smile, it was now. Oddly enough, the line from the movie Love Story ran through his mind. ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry.’ Yeah, Johnny thought, because she’ll probably say it for you before you can get it out.
“Ready?” Roy asked.
Gage saw that the ambulance attendants were coming in with the stretcher. “Let’s do it.” He then addressed Harold. “Sir, just let my partner and me do all the work. Your job is to...uh....”
“Hold the towel in place,” Roy finished Johnny's sentence for him while suppressing a grin at the look Johnny shot him.
The paramedics positioned themselves each with one leg in the tub and the other out. They carefully lifted Harold out, grunting slightly with the man’s weight causing extra exertion.
Once the man was on the stretcher, Roy let Rampart know they were ready for transport. Since it was an old injury acting up, Brackett directed them to bring in the patient non-code R.
“You want to go in with him?” Roy asked his partner.
Johnny stared at the women standing side-by-side, observing them. Heather looked exactly like her mother, except for being younger. They both had unnaturally blonde hair, only her mother's already looked like a dandelion gone to seed from the years of bleaching it. They both had dark tanned skin, except he noticed Marilyn’s had the appearance of leather. What was it his dad had told him once? Something about if a guy wanted to see what a girl would look like when she got older, he should take a good look at her mother.
Quickly coming out of his thoughts, Gage nodded. “Yeah, sure.” It’ll give me a quick escape from here.
“Take good care of Daddy!” Heather called out to Johnny as he climbed up into the ambulance. The paramedic turned around and, still bent over inside, smiled. “I will.” Close the doors, Roy. Close the doors.
DeSoto shut one of the doors. As he was closing the other, he grinned again. “Looks like it’s a family trait.”
Johnny gave a slight groan. “Just close the door, will ya?”
Both doors shut, and the customary two slaps given, Roy watched the ambulance pull away. As it left the driveway, he walked towards the squad and noticed Heather and her mom heading his way.
The senior paramedic just nodded at everything the two ladies said as he heard Heather, then Marilyn, go on and on about what wonderful men Harold and Johnny were. Smiling and still nodding, Roy got into the squad. He was grateful to be making his escape. The blond man figured Johnny was in for one interesting future if he stayed with Heather. He would never finish another thought on his own the rest of his life.
I wonder how he’s gonna get out of this one?
Johnny sat staring at the rear doors of the ambulance. He couldn’t get Heather and her mother off his mind.
“There’s only one way to deal with it,” Mr. Neilson said.
The paramedic shifted his gaze to Harold. “The bum knee?”
“No, hell, that’s a piece of cake. No, I’m talkin’ about Marilyn and Heather constantly finishing sentences in conversations.”
Gage was glad to hear there was some normalcy in the family. But he was surprised the man brought it up.
“Don’t look so shocked. Son, I’ve been puttin’ up with it for years. You find that eventually you just start talking less and less. That’s the solution. Without us, they’ve got nobody to interrupt.”
The younger man grinned. Harold and Mike didn’t know each other, but they both had the same strategy.
“It’s okay. It doesn’t bother me that much,” he lied, trying to be polite.
“Keep tellin’ yourself that. Maybe someday you’ll believe it. Never worked with me.”
Harold was right. His daughter’s habit of cutting in and finishing a sentence was driving Johnny nuts. And if she ended up like her mother when she got older. . .he shuddered at the thought. But for now Heather was so beautiful. Could he really let that go? Would it be that bad to try to enjoy it for now and hope she changed? Too much to decide on yet, Johnny shoved all thoughts of his girlfriend away and went about business.
“How’re you doing?”
“Okay. Embarrassed. I can’t believe I got stuck in the tub of all places. And Marilyn had to pull the plug.”
“Don’t worry about it. You aren’t the first person we’ve had to rescue from a tub, and I doubt you’ll be the last.”
Harold nodded in thanks. He liked Johnny, but had doubts the guy would last long enough with his daughter to become family. In fact, he knew just how to save the man wasted time trying to pretend it was going to work out.
“Just think, you stick with my Heather and someday the fire department’ll be pulling you out of a tub.”
Johnny grinned. “Awe, it’s not like their lives follow a pattern that closely.” The expression on Harold’s face told him otherwise. “Is it?”
“It’s uncanny, but that’s how it’s worked out so far. For instance, how’d you meet?”
“At a funeral. She was. . .uh. . .working.”
Harold nodded. “Her mom was a professional mourner when I met her. I thought she was very upset, so I took her under my wing. Found out later she was doing it as a job.”
His mouth open in shock, the dark-haired paramedic sat back and stared at the rear doors, thinking again about the two women at the scene.
Man, I think I’m in trouble.
By the time Roy arrived at Rampart, Johnny had picked up supplies and was sitting in one of the chairs in the waiting area. When he saw his partner, he stood up and hurried over to him, all the while glancing around for the Neilson ladies.
“What took you so long, Roy?”
The look he got in return was answer enough.
“ Let me guess. Heather and her mom?”
“I’ve never seen a mother and daughter so much alike in my life.”
“Tell me about it.”
Just then Heather and Marilyn came in through the Emergency entrance. Johnny’s eyes grew wide. He pulled Roy down the corridor and into the men’s room before the two women could notice them.
“Roy,” Johnny whispered sharply, “do you wanna listen to those two again?”
“Shhhhh. They’ll hear you.”
Roy glanced at the bathroom door, then returned his eyes to Gage. “How long do you plan on hanging out in here?” he asked quietly.
“As long as--”
The dark-haired paramedic was interrupted by the HT. “Squad 51, what is your status?”
“You were saying?” DeSoto asked as he took the HT out of his stunned partner’s hand. “Squad 51, available.”
Both men listened as they were toned out to a motor vehicle accident.
“Let’s go.” Roy opened the door and led the way out. Johnny was relieved not to see Heather anywhere as they exited. His relief was short-lived when a familiar voice called out just before they got to the doors.
The paramedic peered into the corridor and saw his girlfriend . . .his beautiful girlfriend. . .standing beside her mother. The sudden reminder of what the future held made Johnny grimace.
“Go, I know,” Heather replied. “I’ll call you!”
Johnny was out the door after giving a quick wave. He climbed in the squad and put on his helmet. “Think we can change the phone number to the station?” he asked as Roy drove the squad away from Rampart, lights and sire going.
“I think you’re gonna have to deal with it head on.,” He shrugged. “Tell ‘er you don’t think it’s working out. Or have you ever thought of turning the cards on her?”
“Annoy her to a point where she wants to dump you.”
Gage snickered. “And just how would I go about doing that?”
Roy shot a disbelieving expression at the younger man, then shook his head, opting to stay silent.
Soon Johnny found himself on an apprehensive journey to Rampart with the victim from the motor vehicle accident. The patient only suffered a broken leg and bruising so there was no life threatening injuries to cause tension for the paramedic. However, knowing that Heather may still be at the hospital had Johnny dreading the arrival there.
Once they reached Rampart, the dark-haired man half expected to see Heather waiting near the base station when he turned the corner with the victim beside him on the stretcher. When he saw the coast was clear, he felt relieved.
Maybe she went home. Suddenly another thought washed over him that made him cringe. Or maybe she and her mom are still here, but hanging out in the cafeteria.
“In here,” Dixie said as she opened the door to Treatment Room 3, her voice breaking into Johnny’s thoughts.
He wanted to ask her about Heather’s whereabouts, but the nurse closed the door behind him, not coming into the room.
With the patient in the good care of Mike Morton and a nurse, Johnny made his way out to meet up with Roy. Opening the door into the hallway, natural instincts had Johnny looking both directions to see if the coast was clear. Seeing it was, he quickly walked over to the base station where Roy and Dixie stood watching his actions.
“Relax,” Roy said with a grin. “She and her parents went home.”
“They did?” The relief that came over the younger man was obvious in both his expression and stance.
Roy nodded and Dixie explained.
“His said his leg acts up from time to time. He wasn’t here long before it felt better and your girlfriend’s father insisted he was okay and wanted to go home.”
“Kind of reminds me of you,” DeSoto directed at his partner.
Knowing what he was getting at, Johnny’s face soured.
“Those two women sure like to talk a lot,” Dixie commented, a slight frown on her face.
“Yeah, for everyone else,” Gage added dryly.
“Well, you ready to go, Junior?”
“Sure.” Johnny stepped away from the desk. “See ya, Dix.”
“Bye. Good luck with your girlfriend.”
He snorted. “Yeah. . .thanks.”
Roy started for the exit, Johnny alongside him.
The paramedics climbed out of the squad after returning to the station. Gage slowly made his way to the dayroom, wondering if Heather had called. As soon as he stepped into the room, he got his answer.
“Hey, Johnny, it’s for you,” Mike said, handing the telephone receiver to him.
“Heather,” the engineer nodded.
Johnny accepted the phone and slowly put it to his ear, stepping over to where the telephone was mounted on the wall.
“Bye.” He quickly made a discreet smooching sound and hung the receiver back in the cradle of the phone. He leaned against the wall and sighed. “She wants me to go to another funeral with her tomorrow,” he said glumly.
“I sure hope you’re getting a cut of her pay,” Chet commented, disdain in his voice. Before Gage had time to give any kind of answer, Kelly voiced his next thought. “I wonder what professional mourners do when they run out of jobs.”
Four puzzled faces stared at the man, waiting for an explanation.
“Think about it, guys. A volunteer fire fighter who’s desperate for work has been known to set fires; an office employee might find a way to create more paperwork to make themselves even more needed.” He shrugged. “So what does a mourner do when the calls stop coming in for gigs?”
Johnny screwed up his face. “Oh come on. Chet, it’s not like she’s gonna kill anyone.”
“It’s not just ‘anyone’ I’m talkin’ about. I know I wouldn’t wanna be around when employment opportunities got slim.”
“I never thought about that,” Mike added. “But how would she guarantee she was gonna be called to mourn at Johnny’s funeral?”
“Mike! There’s not gonna be--”
Johnny stopped in mid sentence when his partner interrupted him. “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
“Huh?” The men all stared blankly at Roy.
“Arsenic and Old Lace. It was a movie with Cary Grant.” Still getting the same looks, he elaborated. “Two old ladies liked to poison old gentlemen, thinking they were doing the guys a favor.”
“What’s that got to do with this?” Johnny wondered.
“Well, it’s not quite the same scenario, but the discussion just reminded me of the movie. That’s all.”
Gage stared at his friend, his mouth open. “I don’t believe you sometimes.”
“We’re tryin’ to have a discussion here and you’re going on about some movie.”
Roy shrugged. “It was a good movie. Pretty funny, actually.”
Johnny started to make a comment when the klaxons once again went off, drowning out his words.
“Nevermind. A guy needs a little support from his best friend and what does he get?” he went on mumbling to himself as he headed for the squad. “An old movie review.” He climbed in the vehicle, shutting up once he was seated.
By the end of the shift, Gage was determined to break off his relationship with Heather. He decided he would try to do it before he had to attend another funeral of a complete stranger.
“So this is the day, huh?” Roy asked as he and Johnny walked to their vehicles.
“Yeah, I’ve gotta do it. I can’t take much more of ‘er.”
“Thanks. It sure would be easier if she could hold up a picture of her mother or somethin’ to remind me of what the future’s gonna hold. It’s gonna be tough lookin’ at her now.” Thinking about the woman’s beauty, he sighed.
“Or hold up a towel to remind you of what may be in yours if you stay with her.”
Johnny rolled his eyes as Roy got into his car, a grin on his face. If the older man had to make a bet on it, he would say his partner would be back the next shift still attached to Heather Neilson.
The following day, Johnny came into the locker room whistling cheerfully. Mike and Marco eyed him curiously, while Chet questioned the paramedic.
“So I take it you broke it off with Heather?”
“Yep.” He opened his locker and began to change.
“And it went well?”
“Better than I could have ever imagined.”
“Well?” Chet finished buttoning his uniform shirt and paused. “What happened?”
“Happened where?” Roy asked as he came into the room, the door closing behind him.
“Johnny broke up with Heather,” Mike explained.
“Will you guys give me a minute? I’ll explain.” With his audience impatiently waiting in silence, Johnny began his story. “First, I couldn’t get the words to come out. She was dressed in a . . .well. . .a dress that really complemented her. . .well, you know. So we went to the funeral as planned.” He looked at the four men staring back at him. “Well, it worked out better anyway. I figured she’d already be cryin’. So what would a few more tears hurt if I upset her? Not that I wanted to upset her. But it had to be done. It had to.” He still was trying to convince himself.
“Not to mention more tears might get her recommended for another job,” Roy put in. “A little reassurance she stays booked up, maybe?”
“That too,” Gage admitted. “A guy has to cover all the bases ya know.”
“So did she?” Marco wondered.
“Did she what?”
“Yeah,” the dark haired paramedic sighed, remembering how hard it was to hurt the young woman. “I mean, she was already doing her crying act. But when I broke the news to her, she started sobbing. I mean really sobbing. She buried her face on my chest and there I was again, with my shirt getting wet.”
“So what did you do?” Chet asked.
“I looked around and I saw this guy standing near us by himself. I figured Heather could use some support by someone other than me since I’d just hurt her feelins’ so I pulled her off me and planted her on him in the same position.” He shrugged. “She cried into his shirt, not missing a beat.”
DeSoto shook his head. “Bet he loved that.”
“Roy, you shoulda’ seen ‘em. It was like a match made in . . .well. . .you know. And when I looked back after I started to leave, she was staring up at him and he had his left arm around her. . .tight.”
Mike was surprised. “You sicced her on someone else?”
“I didn’t sic her on anyone. I saw a guy alone and had a lonely girl attached to me who needed some TLC. I simply put the two together and wallah.”
“Wait till he meets her mother,” Roy said with a snicker. “You may be going to your own funeral yet.”
Johnny rolled his eyes. “Ha ha.”
The five men continued getting ready for duty, the younger paramedic silently wishing Heather and the man at the funeral a happy future together. I wonder how long it’ll be before we pull him from a tub?
Thanks to Kenda and Jill for the beta reads! :o) And thank you to Wanda H. and Ziggy for letting me use the professional mourner and sentences being finished by someone else ideas.