This is a sequel to the story *The Aroma of Love*. Thanks go to Purry for the encouragement to carry on with. . .
Obstacles and Affections
By Audrey W.
Johnny put on a pair of underwear and dark blue sweat pants after taking a late morning shower. The paramedic had gotten off duty a few hours earlier, but was met at his apartment by his latest girlfriend, thus changing his normal routine of getting cleaned up right away. Carrying a shirt loosely in his hands, he started down the short hallway towards the livingroom. As he neared the doorway, the paramedic slipped his gray t-shirt over his head and popped his arms out of the short sleeves. Pulling it down, Johnny spoke to the woman waiting for him.
“Hey, Lorraine, I’ve bee--” Gage’s words were cut short when he suddenly found himself falling towards the short-shag carpeted floor after tripping over a large object. As a rule, he would have had a clear space to land in. Unfortunately things around his apartment hadn’t been in the same place two days in a row since he’d begun dating Lorraine Crume. She was a pretty woman with silky blond hair that was just below her shoulders and beautiful green eyes that drew a guy in. Her five-foot-eight trim figure was another plus as far as Johnny was concerned. But the woman could move furniture around like he’d never seen before. Didn’t seem to matter what was in the room; in less than five minutes, she could have things shifted about. And rarely a day went by that she wasn’t moving something to a new spot.
On the way down in his fall, Johnny's left temple connected on the edge of an out-of-place end table, but he managed to put his hands out just in time to catch himself as he landed on the floor, saving himself from further possible injury. Slightly stunned, the paramedic blinked a couple of times not believing it had happened again; he’d been taken down by an inanimate object. As Lorraine came rushing over, he slowly rolled onto his right side and looked behind him to see what obstacle it was this time. His television was just inside the doorway where the livingroom joined the hallway.
“Are you okay?” Lorraine asked, kneeling down beside him.
The paramedic sighed, then sat up and rubbed his sore temple. He brought his hand down and glanced at it. When Johnny didn’t see blood on it, he figured that was a good sign. He looked at his girlfriend and forced a lopsided grin before wincing from the headache that was already coming on.
“I’m okay.” Johnny glanced at the television again, then surveyed the rest of the furniture that was haphazardly placed about. He was beginning to wonder how much more of this he could take. This was the forth time in three weeks that he’d tripped over something that had been moved, either in his home or Lorraine’s. So far he was lucky to just come out of it with a bruise here and there. But Johnny figured if it kept up, odds were against him that he’d luck out each time.
She’s either gonna put me in traction or kill me, he thought sarcastically. Gage only hoped her obsession wouldn’t land him at Rampart.
When he arrived at the station for duty the following morning, Johnny quickly changed into uniform, then headed straight for the mirror over the sinks in the locker room to check the bruise on his left temple. The paramedic had examined it several times since falling, including prior to leaving his apartment for work. He dreaded the badgering he’d get from the guys, especially Chet Kelly, if the mark was too obvious and anyone remembered how he’d gotten a bruise on the other side of his forehead just two weeks before in a similar incident. He’d considered a Band-Aid to cover it up, but that seemed to make it even more obvious.
Seeing that the nickel-sized bruise was just as purple and blue as it appeared in the lighting of his own bathroom and that it still had a slight knot under it, Johnny frowned. No way would anyone not notice, unless he could keep it covered up by his hair. His only other hope to avoid harassment was to create a believable phony story as to how he got it.
Johnny knew the question he’d get from his partner if Roy found out Lorraine had taken him down again. He had heard it a few times since he began dating the furniture mover. Why didn’t he just break it off if it wasn’t working out as well as he hoped? Johnny couldn’t come right out and say it to Roy, but he was trying to avoid yet another failed relationship. After losing Darlene, his previous girlfriend who had meant so much to him that he wanted to marry her, Johnny didn’t think he could stand to be going it solo again this soon. Maybe he was fooling himself, but he thought this latest relationship had hope if it was given a long enough chance. So despite bumps and bruises, he was determined to make life with Lorraine work . . .at least for now.
When he heard someone approaching from the apparatus bay, Gage started out through the doorway leading to the dorm. But Chet Kelly spotted him before he could get very far.
“Hey, Gage. What’s the hurry?” Chet asked, walking into the room and over to his locker.
The paramedic leaned against the end of the other row of lockers, his head slightly turned so as not to expose the bruise. “I’m not in a hurry. What makes you say that?”
“Never mind,” the curly-haired fireman said, wanting to get on to something else. He shook his head. “Man, yesterday was the worst day of my life.”
Gage tried to keep from smiling. Chet had a bad day, which meant the fireman would be thinking about his own woes and chances were he wouldn’t pay much attention to anyone else’s. “What happened?” Johnny asked, feeling more confident that Kelly wasn’t going to notice anything different.
Chet stood pondering his answer a moment before replying. “Where do I begin? With the flat tire, the fender bender in the parking lot of the gas station after the tire was repaired, or with the woman who assaulted me with a grocery cart?””
“Assaulted you with a cart?” Johnny asked. Now this he had to hear. Only Chet could get assaulted in a grocery store.
Kelly was busy changing into uniform, thus kept talking without even looking beyond his locker. “Yeah, some crazy ol’ broad. We were in the cereal aisle. She wanted the Fancy Flakes and I was in front of them, looking for the Marshmallow Monsters. I swear they used to be next to each other on the shelf,” he added in after thought. “Anyway, instead of asking me to move, she tried to ram me out of her way and---what happened to you?” the fireman asked, noticing the wound on Johnny’s left temple. The paramedic had already forgotten to keep it hidden.
“Looks like you’ve got quite a bump there, John. Nasty lookin’ bruise too. Guess I’m not the only one who got assaulted.”
Gage screwed up his face in irritation. “I didn’t get assaulted. It’s a bruise, Chet. A tiny bruise is all. And the swelling’s gone down.” He gently probed at the sore spot.
Chet stepped closer to take a better look, but Johnny waved him off.
“It didn’t even hurt.”
“It didn’t. In fact if I hadn’t been laid out on the floor afterwards--” Gage cut himself off, immediately realizing his error.
“Laid out on the floor? Don’t tell me. . .that crazy chick you’ve been seeing?”
The paramedic glanced down at his watch, then flashed a phony grin at Kelly. He quickly continued into the dorm, commenting over his shoulder, “Sorry, gotta run. It’s almost time for roll call.”
“Hey!” Chet called after the paramedic. “Don’t think this gets you out of an explanation!”
“An explanation about what?” Roy asked as he came in from the apparatus bay. “Who’re you talking to?”
“Your partner. He’s sporting a bruise and a lump on his forehead.”
DeSoto opened his locker. “What’d he do?”
“He didn’t say. Just that he ended up laid out on the floor. Seems like he’s gotten kinda accident prone since he’s been dating that new chick. I thought the guy was supposed to sweep the girl off her feet, not the other way around. Literally.”
Grabbing an empty hanger out of his locker for his shirt, Roy nodded knowingly.
I wonder what Lorraine put in his path this time?
It didn’t matter. Chet was right. Johnny seemed to come to work with a different injury every other shift. Luckily they were all minor . . . so far.
By the time Chet and Roy were dressed for duty, the men of A-shift were lining up for roll call. Roy got in line beside Johnny, as Chet stepped in place between Marco and Mike. With his full crew now present, Hank Stanley began. After a brief “good morning”, he paused.
“Gage, what on earth happened to you this time?”
Johnny probed at the bruise on his temple, well aware of what the captain was referring to. “Uh, nothin’, Cap.”
“Nothing? Well, for ‘nothing’, you’ve sure got quite a bump and bruise there.”
“And the swelling’s even gone down,” Chet added.
Gage shot a quick glare at the curly-haired fireman, then brought his attention back to Hank. “I. . .uh. . .I fell. Um, I tripped over somethin’.” He shrugged and grinned sheepishly, hoping to minimize the news.
“Did you get checked out by a doctor?”
Johnny shook his head. “It’s not as bad as it looks, Cap. Just kinda tender.”
DeSoto looked from his wounded partner to the captain. I knew somehow I’d get pulled into this. “I’ll keep an eye on him,” he offered.
“I don’t nee--” Johnny cut himself off when he noticed Hank looking at him, an eyebrow raised. He changed his tune. “And I’ll let Roy know if I start to have any problems.”
“Good. Okay, gentlemen. . .” the captain continued on with roll call.
As the two paramedics cleaned the dayroom, Roy sweeping and Johnny taking care of the double ovens, the older man questioned his partner.
“Did your girlfriend rearrange the furniture in your apartment again?”
Gage was leaning into one of the ovens and bumped his head. He pulled out and stepped back, frowning. “Yeah,” he admitted, rubbing the back of his head.
“What’dya’ fall over this time?”
“Oh.” Roy stopped sweeping and leaned on the handle of the broom. “How many times does this make it?”
“I’ve lost count.”
“Well, at least you’re still in one piece.”
Gage set down his cleaning rag on an open oven door and walked over to the table. “So far. I’m lucky I haven’t needed a cast. ..yet.” He knocked wood on the furniture nearby.
“So, why don’t you just tell her to stop moving things around?”
“And. . .?”
Johnny shook his head. “I don’t think she can.”
“I know I’ve said this before with other girlfriends you’ve had. But why don’t you just break it off?”
Johnny opened his mouth to reply when Roy held up a hand silencing him. “I know. She’s too pretty.” He started sweeping again.
Gage gaped at the comment. “Roy, I’m surprised at you. There’s more to a chick than just how she looks.”
“I know that. You’re the one. . oh never mind.”
The younger man walked back over to the ovens and picked up the rag he’d been using. “It’ll be okay. I just have to pay more attention to where I’m walking.”
“If you say so.”
“Roy, it’ll be okay. Trust me.”
The last word was muffled as Gage leaned into the open oven again.
Surprisingly Chet left Johnny alone most of the shift. Though he was tempted to razz the paramedic about his recent klutziness, Roy and Captain Stanley both reminded him that the rest of the crew would be the ones to suffer if Chet were to get Gage riled up. Kelly agreed and promised to keep his mouth shut.
At least until he does it again. The fireman thought. Then it’s just gonna be too hard to not say anything. And he was pretty sure a next time wouldn’t be far off in the future. With a chick like Lorraine around, there wasn’t even a need for the phantom.
With two days off to look forward to, Johnny and the others went to their respective homes after shift. Later in the early evening Gage headed for Lorraine’s apartment to pick her up for another date. The two were going out for dinner and a movie.
When he arrived at her place, he rang the doorbell and waited. After a minute, the door opened and Lorraine greeted him with a wince. “Oh, it still looks like it hurts,” she said, referring to his bruised temple.
“Nah,” Gage lied. “I forgot it was even there.” Johnny grinned as he took in his date’s appearance in her dark red mini dress and loosely curled long hair. Her green eyes sparkled. The paramedic stood rooted to one spot.
“Well, are you going to come in?” the woman asked, stepping aside.
Johnny was brought out of his stupor. “Yeah. . .of course.” He peeked into the livingroom. Much to his surprise, nothing seemed to have changed since the last time he was there. But then, with the way Lorraine could move furniture, it was possible the room had been re-arranged five times over and had already rotated back to how it had been before.
“You want to just eat here?” Lorraine wondered. Dressed in a white button up shirt and blue jeans, Johnny looked very appealing to her as well. “We could order out for pizza.”
“But you’re already dressed up.”
“This is for you, not anyone else. As long as you see it, that’s what really matters.”
And Roy wonders why I can’t break this off. . . Johnny thought. “Okay, let’s order pizza.”
“I’ll call; you take your shoes off and stay awhile, huh?”
Johnny complied as Lorraine headed for the kitchen to use the telephone. “You want to get us something to drink?” she called over her shoulder.
“Sure.” He followed behind her after getting both shoes off. “Whataya--” Johnny’s words ended in a pain filled gasp as he banged his right toes on a chair leg just inside the kitchen. “You. . .ah. . .moved the table. . .huh?”
Lorraine was already waiting for someone to answer the phone on the other end and didn’t turn around. “Uh huh. You like where it’s at?”
Johnny sat down on the chair. “It’s convenient . . . for now.” He pulled off his sock and examined his toes. None appeared to be broken. Oh man, that hurt! He put his sock back on and limped over to the refrigerator. “You got any beer?”
“No, but I’ve got Ginger ale. Will that do?”
He took two six ounce bottles of the soda out and set them on the counter. “You got any aspirin?”
“I thought you said your head didn’t hurt.”
“Not for my head. My toes hurt. . .” he trailed off as Lorraine began to give the request for their pizza over the phone. Johnny leaned against the counter and eyed his date. He could forgive her for a little pain. And it wasn’t like the woman was doing it intentionally. Remembering the drinks still on the counter behind him, he turned around to get a bottle cap opener out of the drawer. When he pulled it open and saw kitchen towels and wash rags in it, the paramedic glanced at Lorraine with a raised eyebrow.
As the woman hung up the phone, she shrugged. “I moved a few things around. It's over there,” she said, pointing to another drawer. ”
Johnny nodded. One thing’s for sure. She keeps me guessing.
After Johnny finished his three pieces of pizza, he took a last swig of Ginger ale and wiped his mouth with a napkin. Lorraine had finished her one piece of pizza earlier and was waiting for Johnny. He carried his plate and the empty bottle to the counter. Tossing the bottle in the trash nearby, he then set the dish in the sink. Being careful of the chair legs on the way out, Johnny followed Lorraine into the livingroom where they sat on the couch to watch some television in the dimly lit room.
A short time into the show, Gage put his right arm on the back of the couch and behind Lorraine. She snuggled closer and leaned against his side. Going with the natural flow of things, Johnny placed his right hand on her shoulder and soon he was making his move.
Just as the couple was about to lock lips, Johnny heard a familiar voice play from the speaker of the TV during a commercial, causing him to pause. He quickly turned his head to look at the screen. The paramedic’s mouth dropped open in stunned surprise when he couldn’t believe what he saw.
“Johnny?” Lorraine asked with concern.
Darlene? Gage was dumbfounded as he continued to stare at his previous girlfriend on the television screen. She was promoting a special sale on Corvettes and other Chevy vehicles at Carl’s Chevrolet. The paramedic was suddenly aware of someone shaking his right shoulder.
He closed his mouth and glanced at the beautiful woman beside him. “Sorry. I. . .uh. . .” How much should he say?
“Johnny, are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I feel like I’ve seen a ghost,” he mumbled.
Lorraine gave a puzzled look. He noticed it, and tried to shove the image of Darlene out of his mind. Now’s not the time to talk or think about her.
“It’s nothin’. I just thought I saw someone I knew in that last commercial.”
“You sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah. . .yeah. I’m fine.”
“You were really glued to the TV,” Lorraine pointed out. “You sure it’s no one important?”
Johnny looked into her gorgeous green eyes and sighed. “Yeah, I’m sure. Now, where were we?”
Lorraine gave a wan smile. She didn’t quite believe what he was saying, but there was no sense worrying over it yet. She scooted closer to Johnny. “Well, I was about here, and you were there, and we were just about to--”
Gage put his right index finger on her lips to quiet her, then gently leaned forward for the kiss they’d been about to share when he’d heard Darlene’s voice in the room. Johnny tried to keep his attention completely on Lorraine, but it was useless. He couldn’t get the latest image and memories of Darlene out of his mind. Great. Why’d she have to pick now to come back to LA?
A short time later he found himself headed for home, wondering if he should try to see Darlene.
The next morning, Johnny rolled over in his bed and looked at the closed blinds that covered the windows. A smile crept across his face when he thought back to the car-print curtains Darlene had surprised him with. Though he had to admit the blinds were much better, it was the thought that counted. And the petite brown-haired woman was always one to be thoughtful.
I wonder how she got to do a commercial for a place we were banned from. . .? And what’s she doing back so soon? I thought she was supposed to be gone for eight months.
Man, how can I be thinking about Darlene with a chick like Lorraine in my life?
“Because I still care about her,” he admitted to himself.
Later the paramedic sat in his kitchen drinking a cup of coffee. He glanced at his watch. It was already ten o’clock in the morning. He’d promised Lorraine that he would be over for lunch. If he stopped by Darlene’s place now, no telling when he’d get over there.
I guess I’ll have to wait.
He just hoped he could get the petite brunette off his mind.
Just a few minutes after noon, Johnny arrived at Lorraine’s apartment. The paramedic could hear the muffled voice of his girlfriend as the woman talked to someone inside.
Wouldn’t it beat all if it was Darlene? He snickered to himself. Good thing Lorraine doesn’t know her, or I’d be worried it really could be.
Gage knocked lightly on the door and waited. After a brief moment, he heard Lorraine call out, “C’mon in, it’s open!”
Johnny slowly opened the door and peered around, expecting to see another person in the room. Lorraine was getting up off the couch to greet him, but no one else was with her.
“Who were you talking to?” Johnny wondered.
“Oh. . .you heard me?” The woman laughed. “I’d better be careful how loud I talk. Someone’s liable to walk by and think I’m talking to myself and call the paddy wagon.”
Johnny went over to the couch that was now on the opposite side of the room from where it was the last time he was there and sat down. He let the subject drop, assuming she’d been on the phone.
“Can you help me move the armoire in my bedroom?” Lorraine asked. “I’ve got most of the room done, but unless I empty it, that piece is too heavy.”
“Sure!” Johnny glanced around at the livingroom, now noticing the changes as he got off the couch. He hadn’t given it much thought when he first went in. He grinned. “You’ve been busy.”
“Yeah, I was ready for a few changes.”
As he followed behind Lorraine, he suddenly found himself thinking about Darlene again. He still was curious as to why she would be home so soon and what she might be doing at the moment. His mind pre-occupied, Johnny didn’t see the object on the floor in his path.
Suddenly he found himself in a familiar situation – off balance and headed downward. He instinctively reached out to stop his fall. Johnny’s hands met with the wall near the doorway to the bedroom. But before he could breathe a sigh of relief, a sharp burning pain shot through his left hand. Steady on his feet again, the paramedic pulled back his hand and saw that his little finger was sticking out toward the side. His eyes watered from the pain.
Lorraine heard the gasp behind her and turned just in time to see Gage reaching out to stop his fall.
“Johnny!” The woman yelled. She breathed a sigh of relief when he was able to catch himself. But the stunned, then pain filled expression that crossed his face told her it might not be over.
“Are you okay?” She asked, stepping into the livingroom again. “What’s-- eeewww!” Lorraine saw the damage done to his little finger, obviously out of place.
“It’s . . .okay. . .,” Johnny said, his jaw clenched. “I just. . .have to. . .pop it. . .back.”
“Is it broken?”
He shook his head. “Dis. . .located.” He held his finger tight and quickly reset the joint. “Oh man.” The finger still hurt, but the pain wasn’t nearly as bad. “You have any adhesive tape?”
“I think so.”
“Could you get me some? I’ll tape my finger to the other one for support.”
“What’d I trip on anyway?” He asked, glancing around. There was a round cloth covered pet bed down near his feet.
“Callie’s bed!” Lorraine called out from the bathroom.
Returning with the tape, she pointed to an area behind a rocking chair in the livingroom. “Callie’s my mom’s Calico cat. I’m pet sitting.”
Johnny nodded in understanding. But it still didn’t explain the inconvenient placement of the bed.
“She’s never happy with where her things are at,” Lorraine explained. “She’s always moving them to new spots. Unfortunately, not the most convenient places.” She grinned apologetically.
Johnny stared at the woman, not sure what to say. If the cat’s the same way, it has to be something to do with her mom or dad. “Just out of curiosity, what do your parents do for a living?”
“Dad manages a moving company and mom’s an interior decorator.”
He couldn’t help but smile. That explained a lot. Lorraine had moving in her blood. Maybe if she were to quit her job as a telemarketer and take up a position in her parents’ occupation, she’d lose the urge to change the arrangement of rooms at the drop of a hat. But the cat. . .well, not much could be done there.
His two fingers taped together, Johnny helped Lorraine clear the table when they were done with lunch. Afterwards, the couple got into Johnny’s Land Rover and headed for a movie theater.
Johnny was stopped at a red light and glanced at the corvette on the right side of them. He couldn’t see the driver clearly because the car was farther forward than them, but it looked to be a female. . .a fairly short woman.
Lorraine’s voice faded from his ears as his heart beat increased and he zoned in on the Corvette. When the car started forward, he realized the light had changed to green. His reaction delayed a few seconds, Johnny watched as the other car drove down the street ahead of them.
“So what do you think?” Lorraine was asking.
“About my idea.”
“Oh. . .yeah. Sounds great.”
He couldn’t let on that he hadn’t heard a word she’d said. Guilt washed over the paramedic. He was going to have to get some answers about Darlene soon, before he did something stupid in regards to Lorraine. She deserved better than what he was giving her at the moment. He made up his mind; after the next shift, he would contact Darlene.
There was only one problem left.
What was the idea Lorraine had that I missed?
When he’d said it sounded great, her smile was almost scary.
Johnny came into the locker room at the station and roughly pulled the door to his locker open. The paramedic then began unbuttoning his shirt with his right hand.
Roy, Chet and Marco paused in their own task of getting changed for duty and started at the younger man. He didn’t even seem aware that they were in the room. DeSoto shrugged at the others, then broke the silence.
“So, how were your days off?”
No one answered, Chet and Marco still staring at Gage, waiting for his response. After a minute more of silence, Johnny looked at Roy, then the others, and back to his partner again.
“You talkin’ to me?”
“Yeah. I’ve already asked them,” he said, indicating Kelly and Lopez. “We’ve been here awhile.”
Johnny had a wry grin on his face. “Oh, my days off were great. Just great.”
Roy noticed the white adhesive tape that was still holding Johnny’s two fingers on his left hand together. “What happened?”
“Callie?” Chet asked. “I thought you were dating Lorraine. Don’t tell me you dumped her for another walking disaster.” An irritated look from Gage told him it would be best to remain quiet and get back to his own business.
When he saw Marco and Chet return to getting ready, Johnny turned back to face Roy.
“Yeah Callie. Lorraine’s mother’s calico cat. It turns out that she . . .uh . . . likes to move her furniture around too.”
“The mom or the cat?” Chet interjected. Once again, Johnny’s expression spoke volumes and Chet slunk down on the bench to put on his shoes.
Roy shook his head slightly. “So you fell over a. . .”
“Cat bed. And I didn’t exactly fall. . .I caught myself. But my little finger dislocated when my hand hit the wall.”
Marco sucked in a breath as he grimaced, eliciting another glare from Johnny directed at Chet. The curly haired fireman raised his hands in surrender. “It wasn’t me.”
Roy’s voice got Gage’s attention off the other two. “What’s with this moving stuff, anyway? I’ve never heard of a cat rearranging furniture.”
“Lorraine’s parents. . .her dad manages a moving company and her mom’s an interior decorator.”
“You met the parents? You’re sunk now, Johnny. She’s got her hooks in you.”
“Chet!” This time the expression on Johnny’s face told Chet he was better off in another room.
“C’mon, Marco. I think I smell coffee brewing.”
“Why should I go? I didn’t say anything.” He saw Johnny still glaring at Chet as the fireman tied his second shoe. “But coffee sounds good. Yeah. I could use a cup.” The two hurried out the door that led to the dorm.
“Look, it could be worse,” Roy said.
Having watched Kelly and Lopez leave, Johnny nodded as he faced his partner again. “Oh, it’s worse.”
Roy couldn’t help but look surprised. What else could have happened?
Gage continued. “Lorraine made a suggestion while I was thinking about somethin’ else. I didn’t hear her, so I didn’t have any choice but to say ‘great’ when she asked how it sounded.”
“The word ‘what’ might have been an option,” DeSoto offered.
Johnny shook his head. “No. I was thinking about the chick in the Corvette next to us when she said it. It was easier to just agree.”
“What were you doing thinking about the other woman when you were with Lorraine? I thought she was a beautiful girl.”
“She is. But. . .look, do you wanna know what her idea was or not?”
“Sure.” Roy sat down on the bench to put his shoes on while Johnny continued to get changed into uniform.
“She suggested we swap spare keys so that we’re not living together, but we’re closer to it. This way, if one of us misses the other when one is working, she can go to my place to get close to me by being with my stuff.”
“You make it sound like it’s just for her.”
“Well, it is. I’m not gonna go into her apartment without her. Roy, it’s weird; it’s too much, it’s . . .it’s,” he waved his injured hand as he searched for a word. “Well, it’s a bad idea. Who knows where my couch’ll be when I get off duty tomorrow. It may have made it on every side of the room and back to its original spot by the time I get home.”
“If you’re so concerned, why’d you agree to it after you knew what the idea was?”
Johnny sat down beside Roy to put on his own shoes. “Because it was easier than telling her Darlene’s back and I was too busy looking at her to hear what Lorraine was saying.”
The senior paramedic’s mouth dropped open in surprise. Lorraine’s mom’s cat and the key exchange may have put Johnny in a mood, but Roy had a feeling the real cause was a certain petite brunette who had put the younger man’s emotions in a turmoil.
As the two paramedics walked across the apparatus bay toward the dayroom, Roy tried to get clarification on Darlene’s return.
“I thought Darlene was supposed to be gone for eight months. How do you know it was her beside you in the Corvette? Did she look at you too?”
“She was. And I don’t know for sure it was her. I just have a gut feeling, ya know? I mean after seeing the commercial--”
Johnny stopped at the rear driver’s side of the squad. Not wanting anyone else to hear, he said in a hushed tone, “The other night when I was at Lorraine’s, we were making ou--uh, I was about to kiss her when I heard this voice coming from the TV. It was Darlene’s! I looked over and saw her in a commercial for Carl’s Chevrolet.”
“Isn’t that the place she got you banned from?”
“Yeah, can you believe that? She gets me banned, then shows up promoting the place on TV!” he whispered loudly.
Roy couldn’t help but grin. The images he had in his head of what must’ve been going on the past two days were more humorous than anything else. This could only happen to Johnny, he thought. Then as quick as the smile had come, it disappeared. He was going to be listening to the younger man’s troubles the next twenty-four hours as Gage tried to figure it all out. This could only happen to me, he thought, frowning.
DeSoto shrugged, hopes of getting Johnny on to a brighter outlook. “Well, maybe we’ll be busy this shift and it’ll keep your mind off everything. That could be just what you need.”
“What I need is to talk to Darlene. And soon.”
“You know, she could have filmed the commercial before she left.”
“Oh, that’s just great, Roy. Just what I needed. Another unsolved problem on my mind.”
Captain Stanley came out of his office and noticed the paramedics near the squad. “Well, you guys the only ones here?”
“No, the others are in the dayroom,” Roy explained.
Hank nodded and stepped over to the doorway to call them out as he noticed the perplexed expression on the dark-haired paramedic’s face. “Everything okay, John?”
“Great, Cap,” he lied. “Never better.”
Roy sighed as he and Johnny got in place beside each other. I’m sure glad I’m happily married.
After having to make a quick run to Rampart and reassure Captain Stanley once again that he was okay despite having a slight injury to the hand to add to the growing list of mishaps, Johnny went about his chore of sweeping the dorm room. He couldn’t help but glance at the telephone on the desk in the room.
If I just take a minute to see if Darlene’s home, no one will ever know. I could just let it ring and hang up if she answers. That way I’ll at least know if she’s back or not. He frowned. Nah. That won’t prove a thing. What if she’s just at work? He sat down on the end of his bed, the broom handle still in his grasp. Man, what am I gonna do to figure this out soon?
“Done already?” Hank asked as he walked into the dorm.
Johnny immediately got to his feet. “Uh. . .no. Sorry, Cap. Just thinkin’.”
“Anything you care to talk about?”
The paramedic was quick to answer. “No!” Maybe too quick, he realized. “Uh. . .no, thanks.”
“How about you keep working while you think. Maybe it’ll help.”
“Maybe.” Gage began his chore again, not really believing it would help. But he took the hint he needed to get back to the business at hand.
Hank smiled and shook his head as he went into the apparatus bay after picking up a folder he needed that was on the desk in the dorm. He knew something was bothering his youngest crew member. Judging by Roy and Johnny’s behavior, it didn’t seem too serious.
Johnny watched as the door closed behind Stanley. When the coast was clear, he hurried over to the phone and picked up the receiver. After dialing Darlene’s number, he waited. Fifteen rings later and no answer, the paramedic hung up. He wasn’t surprised he didn’t feel anymore at ease than before. I *knew* it wouldn’t help. She could be anywhere in town right now.
Resigned to the fact there wasn’t an immediate solution to his current problem, Johnny carried on with his chore. Maybe when I get off tomorrow morning, I’ll stop by Darlene’s place.
Roy had halfway listened to his partner debating over how to solve the latest relationship dilemma throughout the day. When a response was called for he’d give a quick “uh huh” or “nope”, depending on the topic. But DeSoto had learned earlier that Gage wasn’t really looking for answers from an outside source. More like a sounding board to sort out his own ideas. It had become obvious when every solution Roy suggested was quickly shot down by the younger man.
In the late afternoon, the paramedics were on their way back to the station after taking a victim of smoke inhalation to Rampart. Just as they were two blocks away from their destination, the tones sounded over the radio. Johnny and Roy waited for word on the call.
“Engine 8, Squad 51, woman trapped, Carl’s Chevrolet, 2022 West Wilshire Blvd, two zero two two West Wilshire Blvd, cross street Nineteenth avenue, time out 16:34.”
Johnny felt his stomach knot up as he picked up the mic to acknowledge dispatch. “Squad 51, 10-4.” He placed the mic back in its holder. What if it’s Darlene?
“Wouldn’t it be something if the woman trapped turned out to be Darlene?” Roy commented, echoing the younger man’s thoughts.
“Yeah. . .really something,” came a sarcastic reply.
The senior paramedic glanced at his partner. “I thought you wanted to see if she was really back in town.”
“I do. But I want to be the one to find out. . .on my own . . .when I’m ready. Not to come up on her stuck in some. . .well, whatever a person could be trapped in at a car dealership,” Johnny said, his right arm waving in emphasis. “I can’t believe you’d be wishing her to be stuck in the first place.”
“I’m not. I just think it would be ironic-- I mean what are the odds--” he cut himself off when he saw his partner shaking his head. “Nevermind.”
Johnny looked out the passenger window. **I wonder what the odds* are*?**
As Roy drove into the lot of the dealership, the two paramedics noticed a small crowd gathered around a parked car close to the building. Engine 8 was yet to arrive.
“That must be where our trapped lady is,” Roy commented, stopping the squad nearby.
Johnny didn’t say a word. He got out of the truck and trotted around to the other side, then on to where the people were standing. Roy was just ahead of him.
“What’ve ya got?” DeSoto asked, trying to see what he and his partner were up against.
An employee glanced at the paramedic. “The lady in there can’t move,” he said, pointing to the car they were a few feet from. “Says there’s a rattlesnake under her front seat.”
Others in the small group continued to murmur as they made comments on the situation to each other.
Johnny paled. “A rattlesnake?” Memories of his experience of having been bit by one on a previous rescue came flooding back.
The man nodded. “That’s what she claims.”
Gage gave an uneasy look to his partner. Roy knew what he was thinking. The younger man hadn’t been comfortable around snakes since coming close to dying from the bite. For the moment, finding out who the victim was, was shoved to the back of their minds.
“Let’s get the extinguisher off the squad,” Roy suggested. ”We can spray CO2 under the seat to chill the snake and at least get the lady out of her car.”
Johnny agreed and after retrieving the extinguisher, he stepped back over near Roy. The paramedics carefully approached the driver’s side of the car. Something about having a snake involved automatically made them move slower than usual, even when it couldn’t see or sense them. Johnny felt a quick wave of relief when he saw that it wasn’t Darlene who was in the car, more so because that meant she was safe somewhere else; but also because he didn’t want to look like a fool if he did anything to display his uneasiness during the rescue.
Roy leaned down near the open window. “Ma’am,” he began in a quiet tone. “You said there’s a rattlesnake in the car?”
“Yes. ..yes.” Whimpered the middle-aged redhead. She reminded him of Lucille Ball. “He’s under the seat.”
Johnny tried to look inside over Roy’s shoulder. He could only see the lady’s lap and the empty passenger seat beside her. He noticed the other door wasn’t locked.
“I’m gonna go around to the other side,” Gage whispered. “I’ll open the door real slow while you keep her calm. Then as soon as I spray under the seat, get her out.”
Roy stood up and took one step back from the car so the lady wouldn’t hear all he said.
“Sounds good to me. I wonder where the Engine 8 is? We could probably use their help.”
Gage shrugged. “Maybe they got hung up in traffic.”
“Could be. Well, let’s get this over with.”
Johnny quickly, but quietly, made his way to the passenger side of the car. He very carefully opened the door. Slowly leaning in part way, he peered under the seat from a distance. There he could see part of the snake’s body. The coloring looked wrong for a rattler. It had more of a green tint. It also seemed a bit small in circumference. But if the lady had heard a rattle from it, who was he to argue right now? He glanced up at Roy who had gotten the other door open in preparation of freeing the victim. He then took a deep breath, blew it out and with a slight nod to indicate this was the moment, he let fly with the CO2 from the extinguisher.
At the same time, Roy grabbed the woman by the arm and quickly helped her out to safety. The crowd closed in around the driver’s side of the car to try to see the snake, as Johnny stood up straight and stepped back. He didn’t relish the thought of getting the reptile out.
Much to the paramedics’ relief, Engine 8 pulled into the lot. Captain Stone and his crew climbed down and trotted over to Gage.
“Are we glad to see you,” Johnny said.
“What’ve we got?” Stone asked.
“Rattler. The lady over there,” he explained, pointing to the victim beside Roy, “was trapped in her car with it under the seat.” He held up the extinguisher. “We got her out after spraying it with this. You guys want to handle getting the snake from its hiding spot?”
“Have you seen it? How big is it?”
“Just a part of it. Seems to be a little one.”
“Their bite can be worse than an adult’s.”
Johnny nodded. “Yeah, I know. You don’t have to tell me a thing about snake bites.”
Stone couldn’t help but grin. “You’ve had your experiences.” He turned to his men. “Okay, let’s see about getting this snake out.”
A crowbar in hand, one engine crew member got down with his head, shoulders and arms just inside the passenger side of the car and leaned on the floor. After gently prodding at the snake and getting no reaction from it, he carefully maneuvered the temporarily chilled snake out from under the seat. When he saw it in the open, he smiled and picked it up at the back of the head, then got out of the car. Holding the snake for all to see, he called to the paramedics.
“Hey, I think you guys can relax now! It’s just a garden snake.”
Johnny exchanged a glance with Roy, then looked to the woman. “Didn’t you say he rattled?” Gage asked.
“Rattled? No, I just assumed it was a rattlesnake when I saw it slither under the seat.” She sighed. “I was driving, so I only caught a glimpse.”
The two men kept silent as the woman walked over to where the snake was being held.
“Oh, for pete’s sake. This is my son’s pet snake Artimus.” She was relieved to see the reptile starting to move again. “Thank heaven he’s still alive.” The woman looked at the observers gathered around. “Well, don’t just stand there. Show me some new cars. I’m ready to buy.”
“All that for a lousy garden snake,” Johnny commented to the other firemen.
“Better safe than sorry,” Stone offered.
After exchanging a few more words of conversation with the crew of Engine 8, the paramedics headed back for the station.
“Well, at least we got one problem solved there,” Johnny commented.
“I thought that’s all we had.”
The younger man shook his head. “Have you forgotten about Darlene? I still don’t know if she’s back. I forgot to ask the guys who worked there if they knew anything.”
“I thought you didn’t want to find out that way.”
“Roy, Roy, Roy,” he said, shaking his head again. “I said I didn’t want to be rescuing her. But I wouldn’t have minded if someone could’ve told me something.”
DeSoto glanced at the younger man, then returned his eyes to the road ahead. “No wonder you don’t know which woman you like the most.”
“What’s that s’posed to mean?” the other asked, slightly offended.
“Nothin’. I just get the feeling you don’t know exactly what you want when it comes to Lorraine and Darlene.”
Johnny grumbled under his breath, then looked out the passenger window. He had to admit, Roy was right. But he’d never tell his partner that.
A couple of hours after eating dinner, the men of Station 51 were called out to a house fire. After rescuing a child from an upstairs room, Johnny and Roy prepared the boy for transport to Rampart. He’d suffered some smoke inhalation. Roy rode in the ambulance with the small victim while Johnny followed behind in the squad. As they sped through the streets towards the hospital, Johnny caught a quick glimpse of a Corvette that had pulled over to the side of the road to get out of the way. He noted the color was the same as the one he’d seen before. He couldn’t help but think about his girl problems again. No way was he going to mention the car to Roy. But there was someone else he could bring it up to.
Roy followed alongside the boy on the stretcher and accompanied him into the treatment room. The child had already improved significantly after being on oxygen for awhile. Seeing that their small patient was doing much better, Johnny headed towards Dixie’s desk to have a talk with the nurse. She met into him as she stepped out from behind it.
“Hi, Dix,” Johnny said, grinning.
“Hi yourself, Johnny.” She pointed to the nurse now behind the desk in her place. “Carol can get your new supplies for you.”
“Where’re you going?”
“Home,” she simply stated. The head nurse noticed a disappointed expression on his face. “Well, you didn’t think I lived here, did you?” she teased.
“What? No, no.” He shrugged. “I just wanted to talk to you a minute.”
“Uuuuhhhhyee. . .no. Not exactly.”
Taking the hesitant answer as a yes, Dixie motioned towards the doctors’ lounge with her head. “C’mon. Let’s grab a quick cup of coffee.”
Roy came out of the treatment room in search of his partner. When he saw Carol at the desk, he walked over. “Did Johnny already get the supplies?”
“No,” she shook her head. “I think he’s with Dixie.”
The paramedic looked around the corridor.
“They’re in the lounge,” the nurse informed him.
“Ah. I see.” Roy brought his attention back to the desk. “Well, I’ll get the supplies and catch up to him in there.” He rattled off what they needed.
After Carol had filled the request of supplies, Roy headed for the lounge. Opening the door, he heard his partner explaining part of his situation.
“That’s just it, Dix. I don’t think I can settle down with Lorraine even if it works out. The chick. . .er. . .a. . .lady is the most unsettled person I’ve ever met. She’s constantly rearranging things in her apartment. . .and mine. But Darlene just up and left me for a movie role. I’m not so sure I can trust her again.”
“Not to mention Darlene has a hang up, too,” Roy added. The look he got from Johnny told him the contribution wasn’t appreciated.
“She’s not a nut, Roy.”
“I didn’t say she was.”
“But you were thinking it.”
Roy looked at Dixie and shrugged. “He can read minds now.”
She smiled and shook her head. “I don’t know what to tell you, Johnny, except maybe go with the one who causes you the least amount trouble.”
“And injuries,” DeSoto added, again getting a glare.
“But don’t hem and haw over it too long, or you’ll decide and they’ll both be gone anyway.”
“That’s exactly what I’ve been telling him.”
Johnny pushed his chair back from the table and stood. “You’re right. You’re both right. I’m gonna try to have my answer by next shift.”
Roy smiled. “Now that’s the best idea I’ve heard yet. So, you ready to head back? I’m tired.”
“Sure, but we need to get the sup. . .plies. Oh, sorry,” Johnny said, seeing Roy had already gotten them.
“Hey, how’s the kid?”
“He’s gonna be fine.”
Dixie got up from her seat and headed for the door. “I’ll see you two next shift. Good luck, Johnny.”
“Thanks. I think I’ll need all the luck I can get.”
The paramedics followed behind the head nurse.
After getting off duty in the morning, Johnny drove home, all the while wondering if his apartment was going to be unrecognizable inside.
For all I know, the bedroom could be the livingroom now and the livingroom, the bedroom.
When he pulled into the parking lot, he glanced around for Lorraine’s car. It wasn’t anywhere that he could see. That was a good sign. As much as he was attracted to the blonde, he still didn’t like the idea of her being in his place while he was gone.
He parked his Land Rover, then climbed the steps to his apartment on the second level. Johnny inserted the key into the lock and turned it. Slowly opening the door to a crack, he peeked inside. All the furniture seemed to be in place. The paramedic breathed a sigh of relief and entered, going down the short hall next to check his bedroom. Just like with the other furniture, nothing looked like it had been moved.
Good deal. Maybe she *can* keep from shifting things around.
He took off his shoes and uniform, and laid the clothes across the end of his bed. He then changed into navy blue sweat pants and stepped back out of the room.
Johnny soon walked into the kitchen and got the orange juice out of the refrigerator. He set it on his table, then proceeded to open a nearby cupboard to get a glass. His mouth dropped open when he saw boxes of cereal and canned goods inside instead. Johnny closed the cupboard door and turned around. Standing in place, he did a mental check of where he remembered putting things in the cupboards.
Yep, that should be glasses, cups and dishes.
He stepped over to where the food items were normally at and opened the cupboard door there. Sure enough, there were the glasses, cups and dishes.
Ah, Lorraine. What am I gonna do with you?
He reached for a glass and was just bringing it down when he heard a female voice behind him.
“Don’t you know it’s dangerous to leave your front door unlocked? You never know who just might stroll in.”
Johnny startled and dropped the glass that was in his hand. It fell towards his right foot and the floor, shattering on impact, pieces of it flying in all directions as it broke. Johnny felt the drinking glass land on his foot at the same time a portion of it had hit the floor. The paramedic gasped as the breaking glass caused cuts on the top of his foot near his toes. Roy’s words from the evening before echoed in his head. Or the one that causes you the least amount of injuries.
Right now that was a toss up.
The hair color was different, but the rest left no doubt. “Darlene!”
Johnny sat on a chair in his kitchen, applying pressure to his bleeding foot with a damp cloth. Darlene watched with question in her eyes as she wondered if they shouldn’t go to Rampart to get the small cuts stitched up. The woman had noticed Johnny’s left hand with the two fingers taped together. His explanation that he fell into a wall after tripping over a pet bed, and a few bruises from a couple of other falls he took, had her concerned about his accident prone stage.
“You sure you’re okay?” She asked.
“Yeah,” came a reply as he hissed at the stinging pain from his foot. Johnny glanced up at her standing in front of him while he kept his hand in place applying pressure to his wounds with the cloth. She looked so different with blonde hair. “Why’d you say you came back again?”
“My leading man got sick. They had to put us all on a hiatus until he gets over it.” She sighed. “Apparently some sort of African insect bit him and he had a bad reaction to it.”
“Tough break. So how long are you gonna be here?”
“I don’t know. Chad has been sick for over a week now.”
Johnny nodded and looked at his foot, lifting the bloody cloth back slightly.
“Has it stopped?”
He shook his head.
“Probably on the one anyway. Uh. . .can you drive me?”
Darlene smiled and reached for her purse and keys. “Sure! I’ve got a surprise for you anyway.”
At the moment, Johnny was only half listening to her words. He was thinking about how much he dreaded going into Rampart with yet another slight injury, and he wondered what Lorraine would say if she found out his previous girlfriend was back in town. Luckily Lorraine was at work for the day, which gave him less worry about an awkward situation.
Johnny and Darlene put gauze pads and adhesive tape over the three cuts, making sure the gauze was putting some pressure against them. Then after getting dressed more suitably for going in public, Johnny hobbled out of his apartment. He was still in blue sweat pants, but with a grey t-shirt added, as well as a tennis shoe on his left foot. Darlene walked alongside on the right.
I just hope Morton isn’t on duty, Gage thought to himself.
As they made their way to Darlene’s car, he noticed she didn’t have a Corvette after all. It was her old light blue Ford Thunderbird.
Johnny and Darlene were halfway to Rampart when the woman reached over and turned off the car radio. Since he’d been enjoying the tunes as a distraction from what lay ahead, Gage looked over in surprise.
“What’dya do that for?”
“Shhhh. . .listen.”
Johnny was quiet, trying to hear whatever she was referring to. He didn’t notice anything. “What? Do you hear sirens?”
He tried again, but all he could hear was the car engine. He shook his head. “I. . .I don’t hear a thing. . .not a thing.”
Darlene sighed. “Didn’t you hear me tell you I had a surprise for you?”
Johnny started to nod, a confused expression on his face, but the nod soon turned to a shake. “Huh uh. When did--”
“Shhhhh! It’s my new tires on the pavement. Isn’t it a beautiful sound?”
The paramedic eyed her warily, then gave a wan grin. “Yeah,” he said nodding. “Yeah . . .beautiful,” he played along.
Well, at least she isn’t going on about needing a new car smell. Though he had to reason with himself, this apparent new hang up of hers wasn’t much better. He looked down at the bandaging on his right foot. It looked like two of the cuts hadn’t bled much. But the deeper one was soaked through. Luckily they were almost to Rampart now. He glanced at Darlene; she had a smile on her face as she continued to ‘listen’ to her new tires as they moved along the pavement. His mind wandering, an odd thought came to mind.
She rearranges everything else. . .I wonder if Lorraine rotates her own tires?
Which brought on another thought.
Why am I thinking of *her* now when I’m with Darlene?
When they got to Rampart, Johnny had Darlene park in a lot near the ER entrance. He then hobbled along, as she walked beside him, still going on about her new tires.
“I could’ve got some cheaper, but I don’t think I would’ve gotten such a smooth ride out of them. Those were the most expensive ones in the shop.”
“Uh huh,” Johnny commented as they entered the hospital. He was more concerned about which doctor was going to be seeing him and how he was going to explain what happened.
Darlene walked up to the sign-in desk with the injured paramedic, and glanced around at the others in the room as he talked to the nurse on duty. Afterwards the two sat down beside each other and waited for Johnny’s name to be called.
“By the way, I saw your commercial about Carl’s Chevrolet.”
“You did?” Darlene was beaming. “They’re already showing it?”
“Yeah, it was on just the other night. Did you film it as soon as you got back?”
“How did I do?”
“You got my attention,” he answered honestly.
“Did I look good?”
Johnny shrugged. “Well, ‘course. You always look good.”
“I do, don’t I?” She didn’t notice the paramedic was a little taken aback with her reply and continued on. “Oh wow. It’s already on TV!” She opened her purse, pulled out a quarter and stood up. “I’ve gotta call my mom. This is so cool!”
“I’ll be right back.”
Gage watched as she walked over to the pay phone nearby. She looked cute all excited about the commercial, but something about her had changed. Lost in thought, he stared absently at the petite woman.
Darling Darlene. . .man, I’ve missed her. We had a lot of good times. . .
Memories of their times together ran across his mind; dinner dates, their special night in the shower, going from auto dealership to auto dealership. . . getting banned. . .
Lorraine would never get banned from anything.
The sound of his name being called startled him out of his thoughts. Oh man. What am I thinking? When he saw it was Morton who was going to treat him, he groaned inwardly. Can’t *anything* go right?
Darlene saw Johnny get up to follow Mike Morton and quickly ended her phone call. The actress caught up to the others as they entered into Treatment Room Two.
“So what happened this time?” the doctor asked.
“I dropped a glass on my foot.”
“And why would you do that?”
Johnny scowled, then answered, “It just happened.”
“It was my fault,” Darlene offered. The men turned around, surprised to see her in there.
“Um, miss, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait out there.” Mike pointed toward the door as it closed behind her.
“But I wanna be with Johnny.”
Morton glanced at the paramedic, who shrugged, then returned his eyes to the woman. “I’m sorry, but if you’re not related, it’s against policy for you to be in here.”
“But didn’t you hear me?” She looked at Johnny. “What is it about you men? You never seem to hear a word I say.” Addressing the doctor, she added, “I said it was my fault. So I think I should be in here with him. It’s the least I can do to give him some support.”
“For a few stitches?”
“But it was my fault,” she repeated.
“Oh. . .I get it.” Morton smiled as he looked from Gage to Darlene and to Gage again. “This is Lorraine.”
Oh great, Johnny thought. This is just great. “Uh. . .”
“Lorraine? Who’s Lorraine?”
“You’re not Lorraine?”
“No, I’m Darlene.” She looked at Johnny who was suddenly turning to make his way to the exam table. “Who’s Lorraine?”
He stopped in place and found himself shrugging again. “A. . .uh. . .a chick I. . .uh. . .I’ve kinda been. . .uh. . . dating. Sort of.” Why am I feeling guilty about it? Darlene left *me*. . .
The petite blonde nodded and looked down at the floor. She slowly turned around and headed for the door. “I’ll be out here waiting for you,” she said solemnly.
“What about the support?”
Darlene was half way out of the doorway and glanced over her shoulder. “Maybe you’d prefer Lorraine.” The door closed behind her.
An awkward moment passed as the two men both stood in place in the room. Morton shook his head, then spoke up. “Well, let’s take a look at that foot and get you out of here.” He motioned toward the exam table.
Johnny started for the table again, still looking back at the door. Man, I didn’t want her to find out this way. . .I hope she’s okay. He glanced at Morton. “Doc, did ya hafta bring up Lorraine?”
“How was I supposed to know you’d be dating two chicks at once? You know, that’s not very smart. Playing with fire’ll get you--”
“Burned. I know.” Johnny got up on the table and watched as Mike examined the cut. “Besides, I’m not. I’m dating one. Darlene just showed up and I didn’t have the heart to tell her about Lorraine.”
“The heart or the guts?”
Gage frowned. “Look, seeing her again brought back some old feelins’. I didn’t know what to say.”
Morton readied a needle to numb the area around the cut. “Oh, you don’t have to explain that to me. It’s the two chicks you’ve gotta worry about. Good luck. You’re gonna need it.”
Johnny glanced at the door again. “Man, don’t I know it.”
Darlene drove in silence as she and Johnny headed back to his apartment. Only the sound of songs on the radio filled the car. Hoping to smooth things over a bit, Johnny reached over and turned off the tunes.
“That’s not going to work,” Darlene commented. When she noticed Johnny look at her, an apologetic expression on his face, she continued. “I know what you’re up to and it’s not going to make me feel any better.” She turned the radio back on even louder than before. “I don’t want to listen to my tires right now. I’m not in the mood.”
“Okay, you got me. But--” he frowned at the tunes drowning out his words. The paramedic reached over and turned the radio down. “Look, I was gonna tell ya about Lorraine.”
“Oh yeah? When?”
“Uh. . .when the time. . .when the time was right. Like after I quit bleeding all over the kitchen floor,” he exaggerated.
Suddenly Darlene slammed on the brakes, nearly sending her passenger into the dash. Johnny put his hands out to stop his forward momentum, cursing to himself that he’d been so preoccupied, he forgot to use the seatbelt. A sharp pain shot up his right wrist and arm.
“Arrghh!” The paramedic looked over at Darlene. “What’dya’ do that for?”
“I missed your street.”
“Oh. . .” He was sure she was trying to make him pay for what he did, but they had gone beyond the street his apartment was on. He had to give her the benefit of the doubt. “Well, just drop me off here. It’s only a block and a half away.” He started to open his door to get out.
“You’ve got one barefoot and you’re wounded.”
“S’okay. I’ll manage.”
Darlene grabbed his left arm, stopping him. “Wait. Don’t.”
“But your ma--”
His words were cut off by a lip lock like he’d never experienced before. Caught off guard, he didn’t resist. He let the door fall closed and the throbbing pain in his right wrist subsided as the kiss lingered. Darlene pulled back after more than a full minute had gone by.
“Now about this Lorraine. . .”
“Lorraine who?” Gage asked, never taking his eyes off Darlene. Suddenly he became more alert. “I mean, Lorraine. . .yeah. . .about that. . .”
“Do you love her?”
“No. . .I don’ know. Look, you left and I hadn’t heard from you. . .”
“I know. It’s okay.”
Johnny looked warily at Darlene. He knew women could be confusing and hard to figure out, but she had his mind and emotions all over the place. He didn’t know what to expect next.
“So does this mean I have a ride home?”
The woman nodded. “You’ve got a lot more than that coming.”
Gage gave a wan grin that he hoped didn’t display the fear he was feeling after her comment.
What does she mean by that?
When they got to the apartment, Johnny opened the door and motioned for Darlene to step inside. He was glad that Lorraine was working a full shift all day, as it gave him time to sort things out with the petite blonde actress.
“You want something to drink?”
Darlene cocked an eyebrow and folded her arms across her chest. “I don’t know that you should be doing the getting.” She looked down at his bandaged foot. “Your track record in the kitchen with glasses leaves a little to be desired.”
“Hey, this wasn’t my fault.”
“Just a glass of water,” she said with a smile.
Johnny hobbled out of the room to get the drink. When he came back out, Darlene was no where to be seen.
“Johnny, could you come here a minute? I need some help.”
He looked in the direction her voice had come from. He set the glass down on an end table and hobbled forward. She’s in my bathroom? What on earth could she nee—
Gage’s thoughts ended when he saw Darlene standing in the room, wrapped only in a towel. “Uh. . .”
“Remember our special night in the shower?”
Johnny nodded, looking at her from her doe eyes to her smooth legs. Man, she looks so hot.
She dropped the towel off her body. “Care for a repeat performance?”
Johnny’s mind whirled. Here was his chance to relive one of the best moments of their relationship and he couldn’t get the word ‘yes’ to come out. Instead, the paramedic stood dumbfounded with his mouth open in a silent reply.
Darlene stepped closer and put her arms around him. “Well?”
Johnny put his hands on her arms and held her out away from him. “I. . .I. . .I can’t.” There it’s out. Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Who’m I kiddin’. Yes it was.
“Whata’you mean you can’t? No one’s here but us. It’s perfect.” She looked at his bandaged foot again. “Oh, wait. You mean because of that?”
“No, I mean I just can’t. I can’t do this today because I have a date with Lorraine tonight. I can’t do that to her.”
“You have a date wi--”
“I didn’t know you were back, remember? I. . .had plans.”
Darlene picked up her underwear and stepped into them, roughly pulling them up. She did the same with her jeans. She then quickly pulled her t-shirt over her head. “Call me when you’re ready to have a good time.” Darlene picked up her bra she’d left off, slipped on her clog shoes, and stomped out of the room and the apartment.
Johnny sat down on the toilet lid and put his face in his hands. “Oh man, I don’t believe this. Man, the guys would never let me live this one down if they knew.” He looked up and moaned. “Man, what am I thinkin’?” Feeling miserable about the whole day so far, Johnny hobbled into his bedroom and fell onto his back across the bed. He put his left arm over his eyes, hoping he’d go to sleep and forget what just happened.
After five minutes went by, he lifted his arm up and stared at the ceiling. It’s not working. The paramedic sighed. Women!
Johnny went outside to get in his Land Rover so he could go pick up his uniforms at a local drycleaners. When he got down to the vehicle, his mouth dropped open in shock.
“Lorraine! What’re ya doin’?”
The paramedic couldn’t believe what he was seeing. His girlfriend had the Land Rover up on jacks for the third time in less than twenty-four hours.
“I’m rotating your tires for you, sweetie.”
“But. . .but. . .you’ve already done that. Twice. . .”
“Three times,” she corrected proudly.
“Okay, three times now.” Johnny ran a hand through his hair. How could he softly break it to her. . .? “I think you’re missing the point of rotating them. You’re supposed to wait till I drive . . .oooohhh. . .say about 6,000 miles. . . on the new set up before changing it again. I haven’t even put the key in the ignition yet.”
Lorraine stood up. “Oh.” Tears started down her cheeks as her bottom lip quivered. “I’m sorry. I was only tryin’ to help.”
Feeling bad, Johnny took the weeping woman in his arms and hugged her, soothingly patting her back. “It’s okay. I know you meant well.”
Suddenly another car pulled into the lot. Johnny watched as it came to a stop and Darlene got out.
Johnny woke up with a start. Lying on his back, he looked warily at his surroundings.
Oh man, I’m in my bedroom. . . He quickly sat upright, rubbing at his eyes with his left hand. Must’ve fallen asleep after all. I wonder how long it’s been. . .?
He winced as he moved his right wrist to glance at his watch. Wha. . .? Oh man. Darlene and her sudden braking. The paramedic rubbed at his sore arm, then looked down at his bandaged foot. Man, if someone had told me being around chicks could do this to a guy. . .ah hell, I wouldn’t have believed ‘em anyway.
Later in the day, Johnny was getting ready for his date with Lorraine. Dressed in jeans and a brown collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up, he sat on the couch and pulled a sock over his left foot. He then gingerly tried to put one on his right foot over the bandages. After much effort, he smiled as he met with success.
Next came the shoes. The left foot was no problem, but the right foot. . .Man, I can’t get a shoe on it. I hope Lorraine won’t mind coming over here for our date. I can’t exactly go out with one shoe off. .. “Oh no! What about work?” He groaned. “Cap’s gonna kill me.”
Gage cleared his throat as Hank Stanley picked up the line on the other end.
“Uh. . .hi, Cap. It’s. . .this is John.”
There was a short pause, then, “Why do I get the feeling this isn’t a social call?”
“Well. . .you’re. . .uh. . .you’re not gonna believe this, but . . .uh. . .I. . .well, it’s like this. . .”
“What happened now?”
Johnny sighed. Although he could tell the captain wasn’t happy, the question asked made it a lot easier to get the words out of his mouth. “I cut my foot. Um. . .it’s not bad, but it’s in a bad spot and. . .well. . .I can’t get my right shoe on.”
“And you’re calling to let me know I need to get a replacement for you for tomorrow.”
The paramedic smiled. “Yeah. Man, you’re good at this, Cap.”
“Never mind the buttering me up.” Another brief pause was followed by, “Look, John, I know you really like that girl you’ve been dating. . .but don’t you think it may be time to give her up? Before she puts you in ICU?”
“Oh, Lorraine didn’t do anything, Cap. It wasn’t Lorraine who caused it. Someone else popped in my apartment. She surprised me, and I dropped a glass on my foot and it shattered. . .the glass that is, not my foot,” he snorted. When he didn’t hear a chuckle on the other end of the line, he continued. “We went to Rampart so I could get it stitched up, but it’s just so sore. This’ll give my wrist a chance to heal, anyway.”
Johnny winced. He’d said too much. Oh well, I guess I’ll just get it over with. “Uh. . .she missed my street coming back and hit the brakes kinda hard. . .I didn’t wanna eat the dash so . . .”
“I’d say you’ve had quite a day.”
“Man, have I. I’m sorry, Cap.”
“The main thing is, it’s not a serious injury. Right?”
“And you’ll be back. . .?”
“Hopefully by the next shift after tomorrow’s.”
“Okay, but I’m gonna hold you to one thing.”
“Don’t go damaging yourself anymore than you are now. I don’t care if you have to lock yourself in seclusion. Get healthy.”
Johnny hung up the receiver and sighed. The captain was probably right that seclusion wouldn’t be such a bad idea. But how could he deliver the news to Lorraine? Not wanting to break the date, he picked up the telephone receiver again, intent on inviting her over.
Lorraine rushed into Johnny’s apartment when he opened the door.
“Are you okay? How’s your foot? Is your wrist swollen?”
Johnny was still standing in the open doorway facing out by the time she completed her third question behind him. It was as if a whirl wind had blown in when he opened the door. Closing it, he turned around, amazed at the woman’s ability to rapid fire the questions.
“The. . .they’re oka--”
“Oh, you poor guy,” Lorraine said, looking at his bandaged foot. “Come here and sit down. . .get off your foot.”
Johnny hobbled over and sat on his couch as she took a seat beside him. “I’m okay. It’s just that my foot’s too sore on top to put it in a shoe.”
“You know, you should be more careful handling breakable things. But. . .how did you hurt your wrist?”
“I. . .uh. . .I hit it on. . . something. It’s not bad. . .it only kinda hurts when I move it.”
She reached over and gently placed his wrist in her hands, carefully massaging it. “Let me know if I’m hurting you.”
Johnny grimaced, but not from pain. The thought of telling Lorraine about Darlene was making him ill.
Lorraine had prepared a dinner after rearranging the cupboards back how they were the day before as she talked to Johnny. Sitting at his kitchen table, he watched in wonder at the speed she could shift even the glasses and dishes around.
Now sitting across the kitchen table from Lorraine, Johnny wasn’t eating his dinner, but rather pushing the peas on his plate around with a fork.
“Hey, something wrong?” Lorraine wondered. “Is it my cooking? You don’t like the table being angled differently? What is it?”
Johnny held his fork still and looked up. “No, ‘course not. Everything’s great.”
The paramedic sighed as he set down the utensil and clasped his hands together, still looking across the table. “It’s. . .I mean. . .it’s not bad. I. . .um. . .” He noticed her waiting patiently with a confused expression on her face. I can’t tell her about Darlene. Not yet. “I’m wondering what Cap’s gonna do to me if I get one more off-duty injury. He wasn’t very happy with this one.”
“I’m sure he’ll understand. Things happen.”
Man, do they ever. . .
“After dinner, how about I give you a nice back rub? It’ll help you relax.”
“Uh. . .sure.” He nodded. “Sure.”
Johnny closed his eyes as he lay on the couch while Lorraine massaged his back. All thoughts about his girl and injury problems melted as he found himself extremely relaxed.
Lorraine leaned over and peered at his face. “You feel better now?”
She smiled and went back to rubbing his bare back.
Johnny was about to allow himself to doze off, when the naked image of Darlene in his bathroom popped in his head. Suddenly startled, he sat up, causing Lorraine to stop the massage.
“What is it now?”
The paramedic couldn’t believe it was happening again. When he was enjoying time with one of the women most, the other always came to mind. How could he tell Lorraine that a chick named Darlene was now in his thoughts? He didn’t even know if he felt the same way about Darlene anymore. Maybe. . .but I do like Lorraine. . .
“Uh. . .Nothin’. I just. . .do you mind if we call it a night?” I can’t believe I’m sending her away. . .
“No, it’s okay. I know you aren’t feeling well.” Lorraine made her way near the kitchen and put on her shoes.
“I’m sorry,” Johnny said, watching.
She shook her head as she picked up her purse that was on the floor beside the couch. “Don’t be. It’s okay. Really.” Lorraine walked to the door, with Johnny right behind her. They exchanged a quick kiss before the woman stepped outside. “Call me? I’m off at three o’clock tomorrow.”
“And be careful.”
Johnny nodded. He watched as she left, making sure she got out of the lot okay. He then closed the door and groaned. “What a jerk I am. I don’t wanna be a jerk. I hate jerks.” He looked up at the ceiling, his arms spread out. “Why me? Why did you give this problem to me?”
The following morning, the men of Station 51’s A-shift lined up for roll call. Roy was surprised not to see his regular partner, but rather a paramedic from 36’s instead.
“What are you doing here?”
“You haven’t heard?”
Roy shook his head. “Apparently not.”
“Gage is sick.”
“Sick?” Chet asked, overhearing.
“He’s not sick,” Hank Stanley corrected as he approached the crew. All eyes fell on the man in charge, waiting for an explanation. “John’s out for at least one shift. He had to get stitches in his foot, so he can’t get his shoe on. And he did something to his wrist.”
Roy and the others continued to stare in disbelief. Finally Chet broke the silence.
“Man, that Lorraine chick must be beating the crap out of him.” He looked at the others. “You know, I was all set to give Johnny a hard time, but now I kinda feel sorry for the guy.”
Roy shook his head. “Did he say how any of it happened, Cap?”
“Just that he dropped a drinking glass on his foot and it shattered . . .the glass, that is, not his foot." When no one reacted, he continued. "And on his way back from Rampart, he had to save himself from eating the dashboard.” Hank shrugged. “I was afraid to ask for anymore details.”
DeSoto couldn’t wait to talk to Gage and try to convince him to end it with Lorraine before she accidentally killed the poor guy.
Hank Stanley sat in his office going over some paperwork, when there was a knock on his door. Looking up, the man set down his pen. “Come in.”
Roy opened the door and stepped inside. “Do you have a few minutes?”
“Sure. Have a seat.”
The senior paramedic complied. “Cap, I’ve been thinking about Johnny and his problems.”
“You and me both, pal. That guy sure knows how to find trouble.”
“I think he just needs someone to point out how normal things were for him before he met this Lorraine girl. Maybe he’ll see how much dating her has changed things for him.”
“You’ll have to go farther back than her.”
Roy nodded. “Darlene. But she hasn’t been around for awhile.”
“Don’t be so sure.”
“Lorraine didn’t bring on Gage’s latest problems. I thought so too, but he said another woman showed up at his apartment. I just didn’t wanta give Kelly anymore ammo than he already has for harassing your partner, so when he mentioned Lorraine, I didn’t correct him.”
“You’ll have to ask John. But that would be my guess. All I know is, if it continues to interfere with his duty here, I’m gonna have to step in and tell him to fix his personal life . . .and soon.”
“I’ll stop by his place tomorrow when we get off shift.”
“I think that’s a good idea. Maybe you can talk some sense into his head.”
Roy gave a wan smile. “I’ll give it a try.”
Late in the afternoon, Johnny kept his promise and called Lorraine. He sighed as he hung up the phone after their conversation.
So much for seclusion again.
As soon as she got done rearranging her livingroom, Lorraine was coming over to see him for awhile.
Maybe she won’t be so anxious to move anything around *here* if she gets her change ‘fix’ at *her* place.
Glancing at the telephone, Johnny thought about someone else. Darlene.
I should give her a call. She was kinda upset yesterday. . .
He picked up the receiver and dialed the actress’s number. Just as she answered, he quickly hung up without saying a word. “What am I doin’? It’s just gonna make things worse if she wants to come over and I haveta tell her she can’t.” He glanced at the phone and winced. “Only now she’s gonna think it was a prank phone call.” Johnny sighed. “Man, being involved with two chicks is rough. I’m beginning to think I was better off dateless.” He screwed up his face, puzzled by his own admission.
When morning arrived, Gage found himself rearranging his livingroom, being careful of his sore foot. He stood by his couch in the middle of the room, the rest of the furniture still in a disarray as well, as he thought back to the night before.
Sitting on the couch with his date, Johnny looked at Lorraine as he put his arm around her. “You know, I was just wondering. . . uh. . .well . . . don’t you ever get tired of moving stuff around?”
The woman shrugged. “Whata’ you mean?”
Johnny’s mouth dropped open in surprise. Surely she knew what he was talking about. He’d fallen over enough items that had been shifted from one place to another by Lorraine. . .and Callie, her mom’s cat.
“Uh. . .you know, changing the furniture. . .and other things. . . around. . .all the time.”
“Oh. No,” she answered simply. “Do I do it that often?”
“Well, yeah. Enough.” ‘She really doesn’t know how many times she does it?’
“Huh.” She looked around his livingroom. “You know *your* place could use another change.”
Before Lorraine had any more time to think about it, Johnny pointed to the television where the movie ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ was on the screen. “Hey! I don’t remember this part of the movie.” He smiled when he saw Lorraine’s attention return to the show.
Coming out of his thoughts, Johnny grumbled at the unorganized room. “Why am I doing this, anyway?” A knock at the door had him making his way over and around furniture obstacles to answer it. He smiled as he greeted the visitor. “Roy!”
“Hey, partner, how’re you doi--. What are you doing?”
The younger man glanced around and shrugged. “I figured the place could use a change.”
Roy warily eyed him. “Lorraine rubbing off on ya?”
“No. . .maybe.” Johnny sat on the arm of a nearby chair and ran a hand through his hair. “Never mind that. Man, am I glad to see you. I’ve been so confused.”
“You mean about how to put the furniture?”
“No,” came an annoyed reply. “Roy, Darlene showed up the day before yesterday. Just came right in and tried to pick up where we left off.”
“So Cap was right. It was Darlene who caused your latest injury.”
“What? Oh. . .yeah, it was . . .kind of. I dropped a glass when she surprised me.”
“How’s the foot? Shouldn’t you be off it?”
“Nah. It’s just a little cut. Just too sore for shoes, but it’s already feeling better. ‘Sides, I’ve got bigger problems than that. Like who do I wanna be with, Lorraine or Darlene?”
Roy nodded. “I’d advise you to make up your mind soon. Both ladies may take offense at your way of handling this and be gone. That or Cap’s liable to make a choice for ya, and I don’t think he wants you hanging out with either one.”
“He’s mad, huh?”
“Not so much mad, but he’s not pleased about your time off the job.”
Johnny sighed. “It’s just so hard. On the one hand, I have Lorraine who is beautiful, intelligent, thoughtful, and keeps things interesting for sure.” He held his right hand out to one side, his left to the other. “On the other hand, I’ve got Darlene who is cute, intelligent, thoughtful. . .I think. . .I can’t put my finger on it, but something about Darlene seemed different. Aside from being a blonde now.”
“Well, her life style changed with an acting job. She’s bound to be a little different.”
“I suppose. . .”
Roy glanced at his watch. “Well, I’d stay and try to help you figure this out, but I’ve gotta get home. Jo needs the car since hers wouldn’t start this morning.” He looked at his partner. “Just try to think back to how simple things were before you got involved with these women.” He took one more glance around the unorganized room. “And good luck with your project.”
“Thanks.” Johnny watched as DeSoto closed the door. He then stood up and started for the middle of the room, whacking his big toe on a leg of the out-of-place coffee table on the way. Ow!
Since he was able to get his shoe on his right foot the next duty day, Johnny was back at work. As he got changed for roll call, Chet Kelly came into the locker room.
“Well, would you look at what the cat dragged in,” the fireman remarked. “You look vaguely familiar. Do I know you?”
Johnny scowled. “Shut up, Chet.”
“A bit testy, aren’t we? What’sa matter? Trouble in romance land?”
This time the paramedic kept his eyes on his locker and remained silent.
“Look, Johnny, I’m on your side. I think you need to dump that Lorraine chick before it’s too late.”
“It’s not just about her, Chet. Darlene came back.”
Chet stopped in mid motion of putting on his uniform shirt. “You’re kidding.”
Gage shook his head. “Nope.”
“So you dumped Lorraine?”
“No, I didn’t say that.”
“You’re dating them both? At the same time? You’re really looking for trouble, John.”
Fed up with Chet’s butting in, Johnny stopped what he was doing and looked over at the mustached man. “I didn’t try to be seeing ‘em both at the same time. It’s not my fault. It just happened. And I’m gonna solve the problem,” he said, nodding. “Just as soon as I figure something out.”
“I don’ know. I know I like Lorraine . . .a lot. . .but I’m not sure how I feel about Darlene. We had a date last night and it went well, but. . .””
Kelly stepped into his uniform pants and pulled them up. “I’ve got a solution to your problem.”
“Just what I needed. You getting involved.”
“I’m tellin’ ya, Johnny, I have an answer. Do you wanna hear it or not?”
Sitting down on the bench to put on his shoes, Johnny sighed. “Why not. . .what is it?”
“It’s simple. Cards.”
“Yeah, cards. Pick two numbers. . .or face cards. Draw one, it’s Lorraine. Draw the other, it’s Darlene.”
Johnny stared at his shiftmate in disbelief and shook his head. “I can’t make a decision like that with cards!” He stood up and headed for the exit. “That’s crazy!”
“Okay, draw straws,” Chet offered.
The paramedic glanced over his shoulder and shook his head again, then stepped into the apparatus bay.
“Rocks, Paper, Scissors. . .?” Kelly said as the door closed behind Gage. Alone in the room, he shrugged. “He could always set one of ‘em up with me.” Chet’s eyes brightened. “Yeah. . .hey, Johnny. . .!”
As the men got in line for roll call, Chet sidled up to Johnny. “Hey, Gage, I think I have an even better solution to your problem,” he whispered.
“No,” Johnny answered back in a hushed tone.
“Just hear me out. Set one of your girlfriends up with me and your problems’ll be over. I think I want the actress.”
The paramedic looked at Chet as if he had two heads. “Are you out of your mind?” he blurted out.
All eyes fell on the two men. Realizing he’d disrupted the start of roll call, Johnny shifted nervously on his feet. “Uh. . .sorry, Cap. Chet,” he began through clenched teeth as he looked at the fireman beside him, “just . . .uh. . .kind of surprised me with a. . .uh. . . dumb idea.”
Hank Stanley nodded. “Well, you two think you can pay attention now?”
“Sure, Cap,” both men answered in unison.
As Captain Stanley continued, Gage and Kelly exchanged glances, each shaking his head at the other.
Soon after roll call ended, the station was sent out on a run involving a man who was trapped in a private sauna. As the two trucks came to a stop, a woman came walking out of the house, a cigarette in her hand.
“What? They sending the fire department to put these out now?” she asked as she took a drag.
Not sure what to make of the lack of urgency with the woman, Hank Stanley approached her as his men waited. “Ma’am, we got a call about a man trapped inside a sauna at this address. You know anything about that?”
“Trapped? Oh, he’s not trapped. Who called you, anyway? No one else is here.”
“We just get address of the calls and a basic description of what’s wrong, not who reported in. Now, can he get out of the sauna or not?”
“Sure. When I think he’s had enough time to think.”
Johnny and Roy started forward as a neighbor came running toward the firemen. “Did you get him out? I heard him yelling and pounding on the door. I couldn’t get the door open so I called you guys.”
Hank looked at the woman with the cigarette. “How long’s he been in there?”
“Not long enough, if you ask me.”
Realizing something was definitely wrong, Hank prodded, “Could you take us to the sauna? My paramedics need to check the guy out, just to make sure he’s okay.”
“Oh, he’s okay. Maybe a few pounds lighter.”
“Ma’am,” the captain said firmly.
“Okay. Follow me.”
Johnny and Roy exchanged glances as they walked behind Captain Stanley and the lady. The rest of the engine crew and the neighbor followed.
When they all arrived in the backyard, the woman flicked some ashes off the end of her cigarette and pointed to an extended room off the house. The extra section was made of wood and had a single door that was bolted and padlocked shut. “He’s in there. The keys are under the door mat.”
“You locked him in there?” Hank asked.
“Why?” she put her cigarette butt on the ground and smashed it with her shoe. “I’ll tell ya why. We were supposed to get married this week, but an old girlfriend of his came back to town and suddenly he wasn’t so sure he wanted me,” she said with disdain. “Naturally, I got upset. Then he told me not to sweat the small stuff. . .that it’d all work out how it was meant to be. Well, when he went in the sauna, I figured he could use a little sweating. So I locked him in.”
Chet opened the door after getting the keys and the paramedics entered the steamy room. On the center of the floor was a nearly naked man with a towel wrapped around his waist. He was passed out and very flushed, his skin dripping with perspiration.
Johnny and Roy quickly went over to him and knelt on either side of the man to assess his condition.
“Well, he’s alive; pulse rates pretty fast,” Johnny commented.
Roy nodded. “Let’s get him out of here.”
As they picked the man up, Roy holding the upper half while Johnny was at his feet, Chet looked around the steam filled room. “The woman’s story sounds a bit familiar, eh, Gage? Take a good look at the place. I have a feeling we’re seeing your future.”
Gage shot a quick glare at the fireman. “Funny, Chet. Very funny.”
When they laid the man out on the ground and began to treat him, police officer Vince Howard showed up at the scene and took down the facts supplied by Hank Stanley and the woman.
“Will I go to jail?” she asked, now concerned for her own well being.
“Only to hold you for the time being unless he presses charges,” Howard said, indicating her boyfriend. The man was just starting to come around.
The woman began crying as she was led away. “I only wanted to make him feel bad for what he did to me.”
Johnny watched the others as he read the victim’s blood pressure and pulse off to Doctor Brackett over the biophone.
That’s it. I’ve gotta make up my mind about Lorraine and Darlene before someone gets hurt. . .including me.
Shortly after getting back to the station, Roy walked into the dayroom and noticed his partner sitting at the table, part of a deck of cards in his hands. Other cards were already on the table in front of Johnny in two piles. As Gage set another on top of the others, Roy spoke.
“What’re you doing?”
“Hmm?” Johnny looked up and shrugged. “Deciding who I want to be with, Darlene or Lorraine.” He pointed to one pile of cards, then the other. “Which ever has the highest card at the end--”
“You can’t be serious,” Roy interrupted, pulling out a chair and sitting down across from him. “You can’t make a decision like that with a deck of cards! That sounds more like something Chet would do.”
“Uh. . . yeah, well. . .” I *knew* I shouldn’t have listened to Kelly. He shifted in his seat and set down the cards. “Roy, you saw that chick today. Man, she was hurt and put out and. . .well, she had every right to be mad. I don’t wanna do that to Lorraine or Darlene. I’ve gotta make a decision and I’ve gotta do it now.”
“It’s too bad Darlene finished filming her movie so soon or you wouldn’t be going through this in the first place.”
“Yeah, tell me about it. I was so sure she’d moved on to her leading man, that-- Wait! What’d you say?”
“About Darlene and her movie. If she hadn’t finished film--”
“That’s it!” Johnny sat forward. “Darlene’s not done with her movie. She’s on a break because the lead actor got bit by some African bug and was sick. She’s gonna be gone again!”
“That’s a good thing? I mean, just like that your feelings for her end? You sure she won’t be on your mind still? Seems like things’ll still be unresolved.”
Gage gave it some thought, then slumped in his chair. “You know, you’re right. I will be thinking about her.” Unless. . . “I hope she’s home.”
Roy watched as his partner went to the phone and dialed Darlene’s number. When she picked up on the other end, Johnny began to speak, but was quickly cut off. The rest of the conversation on his end consisted of “uh huh’s”. After several minutes of that, the younger paramedic said, “No, I don’t think so. But good luck.” He hung up and smiled.
“What was that all about?”
“I’ve been tryin’ to put my finger on what was different about Darlene. At first it was subtle, but after our date last night, it was a little more obvious. She thinks pretty highly of herself since becoming a Hollywood actress. Last night, that’s all she would talk about. Seems each time we saw each other, which I suppose in a few days wasn’t much, the more comfortable she felt goin’ on and on about why she’s so good. . .how cute she is. . .that sorta stuff. So I thought I’d see if it was just her mood last night or if she’d carry it into today. Sure enough, that’s about all that conversation was. It’s a big turn off, Roy.”
“Well, what’d she ask you that you answered no to?”
“If we could go out before she heads back to Africa in two days. Guess her leading man is doing okay.” He shrugged and smiled. “But I’m not interested. I’m dating Lorraine.”
“Now that you’ve decided that, you’d better get rid of some of your furniture or you’re liable to need Lorraine for in-home care when you’re laid up with a broken leg or worse.” Roy got up from the table and leaned against the counter near the sink.
“You’ve got a good point,” Johnny said thoughtfully. “If there was just some way to get her to quit rearranging stuff all the time. . .”
“What else does she like to do? Maybe you could redirect her obsession.”
“Yeah, redirect,” the younger man echoed. “Redirect. . .re. . .” he grinned. “This could very well be the answer. Man, I can’t wait till we get off tomorrow!”
Several days later, Roy and Johnny were completing the routine checks at the start of their shift on the equipment and supplies from the squad while the engine had already been sent out on a call. The men soon found themselves in an all too familiar conversation they seemed to have had before.
“You’re awful quiet today,” Roy remarked, noticing his partner hadn’t said but a few words since the shift started.
“About Darlene? Does it still bother you after all?”
Johnny shook his head. “No.”
“Well, were you able to think of a way to redirect Lorraine’s obsession with rearranging things?”
“Ye-ah. . .” the younger man answered hesitantly. “I. . .I did.”
“How’d it go? Or is that what’s got you so preoccupied this morning.”
I just. . .well . . .Roy, what do you think of a chick who likes to vacuum a few times a day. . .every day?”
DeSoto looked up from inventorying the drug box. “Don’t tell me. . .Lorraine?”
Johnny nodded. “Lorraine. I told her she should find a good hobby. . .do something else she really enjoyed. Who knew she was gonna pick vacuuming.”
“Your place or hers?”
“Well, look at the bright side.”
Gage stared at his partner, waiting for an explanation.
“When other guys are spending big bucks on roses and such to please their girlfriends, you just need to pick up a ninety sent package of vacuum cleaner bags and you’re off the hook. Gives a whole new meaning to the word ‘gift bag’, doesn’t it?” the senior paramedic teased.
“Cute, Roy. Real cute.”
The men went back to the task at hand, DeSoto smiling at his partner’s new dilemma and Gage running the scenario of handing a package of vacuum bags with a big red bow on it over to Lorraine on a romantic evening. . .
It *would* be more practical. . .nah. . .
Johnny sighed. Though he had hopes Lorraine would eventually get past the obsessive hang ups, he had to admit life was much simpler again dating one woman. For the time being he’d take that as a plus and be happy.
Thanks go to Carol Orndorff for the beta read! And thanks again to Purry for some inspirations. She really knows of a cat that moves its bed around! :o)
*Click on the vacuum to send Audrey feedback