Once Upon a Time in the Land of E! . . .
John had forgotten how chilling a wet, windy night in January could be. This last rescue in the pouring rain had reminded him. It had to be at least 48 degrees out there. His mind on his most recent rescue and the hot cup of coffee he was sure he would find in the coffee room, he walked past the wet floor sign without noticing it. Pushing open the door, he began to walk across the room, making a beeline for the coffeepot.
“Hey, watch where you’re walking,” a voice exclaimed behind him.
Startled at hearing himself thus addressed, he turned around to see a young woman glaring at him. She was standing in the middle of the room, one hand holding a mop; the other propped on her hip. Looking down at the floor he had just crossed, he saw his muddy footprints tracked across it.
“I’m sorry….” He started, but was interrupted by the woman.
“Sorry? I’ll say you’re sorry,” she said loudly querulous. “Now I have to mop this floor all over again. Get out!”
“Look, all I want is to get a cup of coffee.” He raised his voice to match the volume of hers. Halfway to his goal, he was reluctant to leave without his coffee.
“Get out.” She insisted, pointing toward the door.
“I just wanted to…”
“You’ve ruined my floor! Isn’t that enough? Now get out!”
“If you’d put up a sign or something…”
“There’s one right outside the door!”
Having heard the raised voices, Carol put her head around the door. “What’s going on in here?”
“He ruined my floor…”
“All I wanted was a cup….” They both spoke at the same time.
“Wait, wait.” Carol came into the room, holding up her hand to silence them. “John, why don’t you come with me? There’s coffee at the nurses’ station.”
“Okay.” Reluctantly, he crossed back to the door, and went out into the hallway with Carol. The young woman began mopping again, muttering to herself.
“Don’t you know better than to walk on a person’s freshly mopped floor?” Carol asked, teasingly.
“Of course I do.” He frowned at her. “And if she’d had a sign up….” He let the sentence trail off as the nurse indicated the wet floor sign beside the door.
~ * ~ * ~
What Roy could not understand, was why his partner seemed so determined to pick a fight with Cindy whenever he came in contact with her. The man seemed to go out of his way to pick a fight with her. Having met the young woman, Roy knew she was pleasant and friendly at heart. But when she and John crossed paths, sparks flew. The paramedic was growing tired of hearing about it; he had thought it was bad when his partner was in love, but this was far worse.
“That woman.” Roy did not have to ask which woman his partner was talking about as he climbed into the squad one evening after a trip to the hospital. “That woman is a shrew.” John shook his head in disgust.
“No, she isn’t,” he said, as he turned the key in the ignition, starting the squad.
“You don’t even know who I’m talking about.” John frowned at the interruption.
“Yes, I do…Cindy.” Putting the squad into gear, he started to pull out of the parking lot.
“I’m talking about…” John stopped in mid-sentence when he realized his partner had named the correct woman. “How did you know?”
“She’s been the topic of conversation almost every shift for nearly a month now.” Shaking his head, he continued, “don’t you think it’s time you called a truce?”
“A truce…a truce!” John exclaimed, then splaying his hand across his chest and turning in his seat as far as the seatbelt would allow, he continued, “I’m not the one who started all this.”
“Maybe not, but you’re sure prolonging it,” Roy muttered. Shifting to sit facing forward again, the other man snorted. “All you have to do is avoid her, then you won’t have any problem.” His partner made no comment, but merely sat in silence until the squad was being backed into the bay at the station and they were returning to their bunks. John picked that moment to resume their conversation. Roy sighed, he had known it was only a matter of time.
“What do you know about Cindy, anyway?” A tinge of sarcasm was in his voice.
“I know I’ve never had any problems with her,” Roy replied in a loud whisper, making an effort not to disturb their sleeping shift mates. “And I know that Dixie thinks well of her.” This was in the nature of a trump card, if Dixie thought well of someone that was saying a lot for them. “And,” he continued, as he climbed into his bunk, cutting off the other man’s retort, “I know enough not walk across her freshly mopped floors!”
Having discarded his turnout pants and climbed into his own bunk, John bristled at that. “It’s not my fault she’s always mopping the floor where I want to walk.”
“No, but why is it you always seem to want to walk where she’s just mopped the floor?”
“Look, whose side are you on here?” He raised his voice above the whisper he had been using. “I thought you were supposed to be my partner, my friend.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Roy was becoming exasperated with the whole argument. “Since when have there been sides?”
“Since you started sticking up for that woman,” his partner said, anger in his voice. “And she is a shrew!” He said the last rather loudly, loudly enough that the other men shifted in their bunks groaning.
“Will you two stop arguing?” Cap said, from his bunk.
“She is not a shrew.” Roy whispered emphatically.
The only answer the other man had for that was to roll over in his bunk and give another loud snort.
“Shhh.” The other four men hissed in unison.
~ * ~ * ~
“Are you guys coming to the hospital’s Valentine’s Day Masquerade Ball?” Dixie asked the next morning. Both paramedics knew she was referring to the dance the Human Resources Department had decided to put on for all hospital employees and auxiliary personnel. As paramedics whose base station was at Rampart, they were invited to the dance. No one knew exactly who, but someone had come up with the idea of having a masquerade ball to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year. Everyone was invited to come dressed in the costume of a romantic figure of fairytale, legend, or history. As the title suggested, all the attendees where to come masked and there was to be an unmasking at midnight.
“I don’t know, Dix.” John frowned, sounding uncomfortable. “A masquerade ball? Who came up with that one?”
“I don’t know.” Dixie shrugged. Seeing the man’s frowning expression she continued, “Come on, Johnny. You’d look really good dressed up as Prince Charming or some such thing.”
“Yeah, be right in character, too,” Roy said with a laugh. “You’re a real prince of a charmer, especially when it comes to women.” John knew his partner was ribbing him, but after their argument the night before, he was in no mood to joke with him.
“As a matter fact, that’s just what Melissa said.” Ignoring Roy and speaking to Dixie, he referred back to her comment. “She’s going as Cinderella and I’m supposed to go as the prince.” He grinned.
“Oh, you,” Dixie said, swatting at his arm, catching on that she had been had. “You were going all the time.”
“Well, ever since Melissa talked me into it anyway.” His grin widened at the look on Dixie’s face.
~ * ~ * ~
“You, go the hospital masquerade?” LeNore snorted with derision. “Who would you go as? Cinderella?”
“Oh, now that would be a hoot!” Ronni exclaimed. “I can just picture you as Cinderella.” She gave a loud hoot of laughter. Both she and LeNore began laughing loudly. Their laughter drifted back to her as they left the apartment and walked down the hall to the elevator.
They were right. She had been foolish to express the wish that she could go to the hospital’s masquerade ball. In a moment of forgetfulness she had let herself indulge in the idea of going. Now with the other girl’s laughter ringing in her ears, she realized she had been silly to even contemplate going to the dance. She felt like Cinderella all right; not the Cinderella who got to go to the ball, but the one who had to stay home while her wicked stepsisters went. Of course, LeNore and Ronni, though they were her stepsisters and could be thoughtless at times, were not the wicked stepsisters of the fairytale.
She sat for a few moments, thinking about her life thus far. Her widowed father had remarried when she was six, a year after her mother’s death. Her stepmother had brought two daughters to the marriage. LeNore had been ten and Veronica (better known as Ronni) eight. Both of the two older girls had gone to nursing school and gotten jobs working at Rampart. She had no aptitude and no desire to follow in her stepsister’s footsteps. Finally, despairing of finding her stepdaughter a job she could or would do, her stepmother had suggested she get a job on the housekeeping staff of Rampart Hospital and live with her stepsisters in their apartment. Cindy had gone along with the plan, deciding that if she was going to “keep house” she might as well get paid for it. As she could not afford an apartment of her own, she had also agreed to room with her stepsisters.
Rising from the table, she cleared the breakfast dishes and began to wash them in the sink. When she was done there, she would go and get some sleep. Working the night shift, she slept as much as she could during the day. She was nearly through with the dishes when she heard a knock on the door. Opening the door, she found her friend and next-door-neighbor, Clare, standing in the hallway.
“Was that LeNore and Ronni I heard cackling in the hall a little while ago?” Clare asked, as she entered the apartment.
“Yes, it was.” She walked back into the kitchen to resume drying the dishes. The other woman followed her.
“What set them off?” she asked, as she sat down at the table.
“Something I said.” Cindy sighed.
“Oh?” Clare raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, it was silly really.” Shrugging, she continued to put away the last of the breakfast dishes.
“What was silly?” her friend asked, curious. Knowing the other woman would not be satisfied with anything less than the truth, she sat down at the table. Shrugging, she tried to make light of it.
“I just said maybe I could go to the masquerade they’re having at the hospital. It’s for hospital employees, so I was thinking, maybe I could go. But…” She tried to laugh, but it sounded hollow even in her own ears and she knew she wasn’t fooling her friend. The older woman shook her head.
“They told you you couldn’t go?”
“No, not really.” Cindy shrugged. “Just laughed at the idea. And really, it is a silly idea; me going to the masquerade.”
“I don’t think it’s silly at all,” Clare said, hotly.
“Yes it is, I couldn’t rent a costume anyway.” Sighing, she continued, “though it would have been nice to go, even if it was as Cinderella. Maybe I would even have found my prince there.” She laughed at the idea, a sound much more convincing than her first attempt.
“Oh, but you could.” Clare sat up straighter in her chair. “You’re about the same size…yes…it could work.”
“Come with me and you’ll find out,” Clare said cryptically.
Cindy rose and reluctantly followed her friend out of the apartment. In the other woman’s apartment, Clare went to a closet in her bedroom. Pulling out a large box, she set it down on the floor. “When I was in college we did a play, a musical play.” She opened the box to reveal layers of tissue paper. “It was Cinderella; I played the lead.” At Cindy’s look of surprise, the older woman smiled. “It was small college. You’re about my size.”
“Oh, not now.” Clare looked down at her plump figure. “Back then, when I was about your age. Oh, what a beautiful ball we staged.” Her eyes took on a far away look as she remembered a time in the distant past. She smiled at her reflections for a few moments, and then, sighing, brought herself back to the present. Cindy couldn’t help but wonder what the woman was getting at. Eyeing the box with the tissue in it she waited impatiently, stifling a yawn. She was tired and wanted to get to bed, but she could not hurt her friend’s feelings by being abrupt with her, so she just waited. She could only hope her friend would get to the point soon. Watching as Clare peeled back the layers of tissue gently, almost reverently, she began to feel prickles going up and down her spine. Under the layers of tissue was pink satin, or at least that was what she thought she saw there.
“This was the gown I wore to the ball,” Clare said lifting it out of the box. Cindy gasped as the gown was revealed. It was indeed, pink satin, with lace and pink rosettes artfully placed around the neck. Pink puff sleeves and a satin tie at the waist added to the charm of the dress. A full skirt fell in soft folds that Cindy was sure would sweep the floor when the dress was worn. “My mother made this for me. I’ve kept it all these years; I just couldn’t part with it.” She heard Clare explaining.
“Oh, I couldn’t wear this.” Though she wished she could do just that. “What if something happened to it?”
“I’m sure you would be careful,” the older woman said, smiling. “Besides, what good is it doing anyone packed away in tissue paper?”
“Do you really think it would fit?” Cindy felt as if she had been transported magically into a world of serendipity. She slipped the gown on over her head and found that with just a few nips and tucks it would fit perfectly. The only let down were the shoes, they were a size and half too small.
“Oh well, dear, we’ll find you something.” Clare was undeterred. “You go get some sleep and I’ll make these alterations to the gown.”
“Are you sure you don’t mind me wearing it?” Cindy fingered the material of the gown, feeling its smooth luxurious texture. She was worried that the other woman might be having second thoughts about her generosity.
“I don’t mind at all.” Her friend reassured her. “As a matter of fact, it’ll be good to see it being worn again.” Reassured, Cindy smiled and hastened to change into her own clothes.
Back in her own apartment she crawled into bed and was asleep almost before her head hit the pillow. Her dreams were filled with balls, ball gowns, and princes. When she woke, she was surprised to remember that one face in particular had been familiar. That of a certain paramedic who seemed to take an unmitigated joy in walking over her freshly mopped floors. Why she would have seen his face in her dreams, she could not fathom. His habit of dirtying her newly cleaned floors infuriated her; he was the last person she would consider “prince” material.
~ * ~ * ~
As promised, the gown fit to perfection and as she had suspected, the skirt swept the floor. Cindy tried it on that evening before going to work. Lifting the skirt she whirled around, watching herself in the mirror. Catching sight of her shoes, an idea came to her.
“Why don’t I just wear these shoes with the dress?” She indicated her red canvas slip-ons. “The skirt of the dress hides the shoes most of the time anyway and red looks okay with the pink dress.”
“Don’t you have any others that would be more suitable?” Clare was dubious.
“No, just my work shoes.” Cindy shook her head.
“Oh well.” Her friend sighed. “I guess they’ll do.”
“Clare, do me a favor, would you?” Cindy asked as the other woman lifted the dress off over her head. “Don’t tell my sisters about this. I don’t want them to know I’m going. I don’t want them laughing at me.”
“If that’s what you want,” Clare said. “But won’t they know you were there when you unmask at midnight?”
“Not if I don’t unmask at midnight.” Cindy shook her head. “No one said I had to stay until then. Besides, I’m going as Cinderella and she always leaves before the stroke of midnight.”
~ * ~ * ~
“What do you mean you have to work tonight?” John frowned into the receiver he held in his hand. “Can’t they get someone else to do the double shift?” Listening impatiently, he looked down at the costume he already wore. He barely listened as Melissa explained that she could not get out of working the double shift that evening. All he could think about was how much he had spent on the costume she had insisted he rent. He was dressed in full costume as the prince from Cinderella, she had been going to go as Cinderella, but then she had found that one of the girls on the next shift was sick. Having gotten out of working the double shift the past several times it had come up, her supervisor had put her foot down and insisted that Melissa work this one. When John hung up the phone, he flopped down on the sofa with a sigh.
When he thought about all the money that he had spent renting the costume, it seemed a shame he would not get to wear it tonight. After sitting on the sofa for a few minutes he went into his bedroom to change. Catching sight of himself in the mirror he sighed again, such a waste. Then a thought came to him. Why not go alone? Roy, JoAnne, Dixie, Drs. Bracket and Early would all be there. Why not just go and enjoy the dance anyway. A handsome prince, such as himself, surely would have no problem finding partners. Grinning at his reflection in the glass, he straightened his costume. Nope, no trouble at all.
~ * ~ * ~
When Cindy turned to look at herself in the mirror, she was astonished at the sight that met her eyes. The pink dress seemed to make her skin glow. Her hair was piled high on her head with a rhinestone tiara nestled in it. Lipstick and light rouge, artfully applied by Clare, leant warmth to her face, something she had not seen there in a long time. A pair of long white gloves finished off the costume.
“I know it’s a bit old fashioned, dear….” Clare began, but was interrupted by Cindy.
“It’s perfect,” she declared, twirling before the mirror. “I love it!”
“I do wish we could have found some other shoes…” Clare bemoaned, for what seemed the hundredth time.
“But these are perfect; with this skirt no one will see them, and they’re comfortable.”
“Well, perhaps you’re right, my dear.” Clare smiled as she looked at the pretty young woman standing before her, transformed into a fairytale princess. “One thing is sure, no one will be looking at your feet.”
“Thank you, Clare.” Cindy hugged her friend enthusiastically. “Or should I say, fairy godmother?” she asked laughingly as she released her friend.
“Fairy godmother will do just fine, thank you,” Clare said, with mock sincerity, then laughed. “Now off with you and don’t come back till you find your handsome prince,” she admonished.
“That’ll be the day.” Cindy gave an unladylike snort as she started for the door.
“You never know, dear,” Clare said, as she watched her friend leave.
~ * ~ * ~
John slipped on his mask and walked into the ballroom. Scanning the room, he saw several people he thought he knew. Of course he probably knew a good majority of the people in the room, because they all worked at the hospital in some capacity or another. In their costumes and with their masks on, it was surprisingly hard to tell who was who. Suddenly, a man dressed in antebellum ball dress stood beside him.
“Where’s Cinderella?” As soon as the man spoke, he knew it was Roy, dressed as Rhett Butler.
“Hey, Roy.” John grinned at his friend and partner. “Don’t you look snazzy?”
“You’re not looking so bad yourself.” The other man grinned back at him.
“Where’s Scarlet?” he asked, looking for JoAnne in the crowd.
“She went to the ladies room…. So, where’s Cinderella?”
“She had to work tonight.” He frowned, remembering the phone call he had received.
“So, you came by yourself?”
“Yeah, I figured why waste the costume.” John shrugged. Soon the two men were joined by a woman dressed in a hoop skirt with ruffles and bows artfully arranged on her gown. John recognized JoAnne behind the mask. “Well, I do declare,” he said in his best exaggerated southern drawl, “if it’s not Miss Scarlet.” JoAnne grinned as she recognized him and offered him her best curtsey, batting her eyes at him flirtatiously.
“Hello, Johnny,” she said when she had finished. “Where’s Cinderella?”
“She had to work tonight.”
“But, I thought I saw her just a minute ago coming into the ballroom.” JoAnne looked puzzled.
“She said she had to work tonight.” John shook his head. “She couldn’t get out of it.”
“Oh, well maybe it was someone else then. But I would have pegged her as Cinderella.”
“Maybe she was someone else’s Cinderella,” Roy said.
“Maybe,” she replied distractedly as she was looking around the room. Then she saw the woman again. A young woman, in a pink satin gown, wearing a tiara, standing in the doorway looking slightly lost. “See, there she is.” Triumph sounded faintly in JoAnne’s voice as she pointed the woman out to the two men.
John turned to look where she pointed. Standing near the doorway, looking slightly dazed and uncertain, was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
“Why don’t you go see if she wants to join us.” JoAnne suggested, seeing the look on his face.
“Surely she’s not here alone,” John said, protesting. After watching her for several moments it became clear that she was alone. Walking across the room to her, he greeted her. “Hello. Cinderella I presume?” He gave her his best lopsided-smile.
“Oh.” Startled at being addressed, she jumped. Then regaining her composure she smiled back. “Yes, of course.”
“Let me introduce myself, I’m your handsome prince.” He bowed to her with a flourish. “At your service.” Cinderella smiled at him and he held out his arm to her. “Would you like to join me and my friends?” Suddenly, he could not say exactly why, it was very important she say yes. She hesitated and he held his breath. Then she smiled and put her hand on his arm and he could breath again.
“Yes, that would be lovely, thank you.”
As Cindy walked toward Roy and JoAnne with her hand on John’s arm, she wondered what the joke was. Why was he being so “princely?” Somehow, she was sure she would find out soon enough. She just hoped he would not make too big a scene in front of this crowd of people gathered for the dance. Having recognized him the moment he had spoken, she was surprised when he introduced her to the other couple. It became obvious he did not know who she was. She was sure when he found out, he would become angry with her; he always did.
“Roy, JoAnne, I would like to introduce you to…” John paused and looked to her to finish for him.
“Cinderella, of course,” she said with an enigmatic smile.
“No. What’s your real name?” he asked, surprised.
“Now that would be telling. Wouldn’t it?” Cindy laughed lightly. She knew by his reaction that she had given herself away to another member of the party. “Isn’t that the reason for the masks and costumes, to add a little mystery?”
“I guess,” John said, then grinned. “But don’t forget there’s an unmasking at midnight. I’ll find out who you are then!”
“But not before.” Cindy was grateful Roy had, so far, held his peace and that she had already planned on leaving early.
The music started and John and Cindy moved onto the dance floor. Roy stood for a moment and watched them. He was astounded that his partner had not recognized Cindy.
“What is it?” JoAnne asked, as she watched him watching the other couple. “Do you know Johnny’s ‘Cinderella’?”
“Yeah, and so does he, only she’s not Johnny’s ‘Cinderella’.” Roy led his wife out onto the dance floor.
“Then who is she?” She looked at him with a puzzled frown.
“You remember me telling you about a girl named Cindy?”
”Yeah, you said she was very nice.” Her eyes widened when it dawned on her what he was getting at. “And that she and Johnny fought like cats and dogs. That’s Cindy?”
“Why doesn’t she tell him who she is?”
“I’m not sure, maybe she’s playing a joke on him. I’ll find out later.”
Dancing with his partner, John found himself attracted to the beautiful woman. Off the dance floor they talked about several different things and found they had many similar interests and opinions. Both John and ‘Cinderella’ danced with other partners, but always he knew where she was, and whom she was with.
Though she tried, Cindy found she could not give her full attention to any other partner than John. When Roy led her out on the dance floor she knew he would question her and she was not disappointed.
“Cindy, what are you doing?”
“Dancing.” Cindy replied calmly.
“No, I mean, why don’t you tell Johnny who you are?”
“You should know that as well as I do. When he finds out who I am, he’s going to blow his stack. I came tonight to have fun and I am having fun, and so is John. I don’t want to spoil it this early in the evening.”
“He’ll find out who you are sooner or later.”
“I’d rather it were later.” Cindy looked up at Roy pleadingly. “Please, Roy, don’t tell him. I don’t want him getting mad and spoiling everything. Let me have this one evening of fun.”
Seeing the pleading in her eyes and knowing that she was right about what John’s reaction was likely to be, Roy agreed not to tell her secret. It wasn’t his place to tell her secret anyway, it was hers. He was rewarded by her lovely smile, which he returned.
Seeing his ‘Cinderella’ smile at his partner, John felt a stab of jealousy flash through him. Once again he tried to think where he knew this woman from and came up empty. Sure that he knew her, he was willing to bide his time until the unmasking at midnight; then he would find out who she was.
“Alright ladies and gentlemen,” the DJ said over the sound system later that evening, “it’s the last dance before the unmasking. So grab your sweetheart and love them tender.” As the DJ finished his announcement, the strains of Elvis’ “Love Me Tender” came over the sound system.
John had made sure that he was near ‘Cinderella’ and claimed her for the dance. Holding her in his arms, he was struck once again by her familiarity. He felt he almost knew who she was, but then it slipped away from him. One thing he was sure of, she felt right in his arms. When he heard the lyrics of the song he knew they echoed what was in his heart.
“Love me tender, love me true, all my dreams full fill, oh, my darlin’ I love you and I always will…”
Somehow, looking into this woman’s eyes, he knew she would full fill all his dreams. Dreams of a wife and family, of a companion, a lover. Seeing his feelings reflected in her eyes, he drew her closer, wishing he would never have to let her go.
Cindy looked into her prince’s eyes and knew the words of the song were saying what she was feeling. Seeing her feelings reflected in his eyes, she let him draw her closer and for a moment, let herself dream of a life with this man. As he held her tighter, she rested her head against his shoulder. It would be wonderful, all she could ever hope for, all she had ever wanted. She realized that she was in love with this man, had been for weeks. This man who walked across her freshly cleaned floors and fought with her every chance he got. As the final strains of the song floated away, time seemed to be suspended for a moment, between the end of the song and the beginning of the DJ’s announcement. In that lull, reality hit. This was John, the man who fought with her every chance he got. The man who would be angry when he found out who he had spent the night dancing with and talking to. Suddenly, she knew she had to get out of the room before the unmasking. Even now, the DJ was making the announcement. Pulling back out of John’s embrace, she gave a strangled, “I have to go now,” then turned and ran as quickly as she could through the crowd to the door and out of the room.
John was startled when ‘Cinderella’ suddenly pulled out of his arms and with a stricken look on her face and a strangled cry, turned and ran. So startled was he, that he stood and watched her for a few seconds before he began to try and follow her. But the crowd was too thick and by the time he got to the door she was gone. She had not even left a single shoe for him to find her with. But he knew he would find her, he was sure when he saw her again, he would recognize her. Turning from the door he found Roy standing nearby.
“What happened? What did you say to make her run like that?”
“Nothing, I didn’t say anything.” John shrugged, not noticing his partner’s protective attitude in his distraction. “When the song ended she just got this look on her face and ran.”
“Oh, well, maybe it’s for the best.” Roy remembered what Cindy had said earlier in the evening.
“I’ll find her though, don’t worry about that.”
“Oh, and how will you do that?”
“I’ll recognize her the next time I see her,” John assured his partner.
“Oh, will you?” Roy had serious doubts about that. If he had not recognized Cindy tonight, he doubted his partner would recognize her as ‘Cinderella’ the next time he met Cindy.
“Sure I will,” John said, then grinned, “and if I don’t, I’ll recognize those red canvas slip-ons she was wearing.”
“Red canvas slip-ons? Do you know how many pairs of red canvas slip-ons there have to be in L.A.?”
“At least one.” John removed his mask and headed back into the ballroom. Shaking his head, knowing he had not heard the last of this, and knowing that he still could not tell John ‘Cinderella’s’ true identity, Roy followed him, sighing.
~ * ~ * ~
Over the next several weeks Roy watched as his premonition came true. Practically every shift he had to listen to his partner’s tirades about Cindy and how awful she was. He almost literally had to bite his tongue to keep from saying anything when John began to compare Cindy to ‘Cinderella’, with Cindy coming up short in his estimation. Roy decided he had to talk to Cindy, either to get her permission to tell his friend the truth or to talk her into telling him herself.
Approaching her that evening during a run to Rampart, he pled with her to one way or the other let John know the truth.
“If you don’t want to tell him, then I will.”
“No, please, Roy.” She pled with him. “I’m not ready for that yet.”
”You’re not ready for what?” Roy was becoming exasperated. “He’s angry with you anyway. What difference does it make if he’s mad at you about the floors or about the other night?”
“But, at least this way he’s mad at me and not ‘Cinderella’.” She tried to explain but since she did not understand it well herself, she did not do a very good job. She only knew she was not ready yet to have the memory of that night marred by the anger she knew John would express when he found out who ‘Cinderella’ had been. She could only look into Roy’s eyes pleadingly, hoping he would understand.
“Okay.” He gave in, he did not understand her reasoning but he did understand the pleading look in her eyes. “Only a little longer though.”
“Thank you.” She smiled up at him.
John had been looking for his partner to tell him that they had another run. When he found the man, Cindy was smiling at him. A surge of anger went through him. He did not stop to analyze it, but it did creep into his voice as he called to Roy, “Come on, Roy, we have to go.” His partner and Cindy looked at him. The smile left her face and something else replaced it. Thinking about it as he walked quickly from the ER, he though it was disappointment, but he did not know what reason she would have to feel that way. Unless it was because her tete-a-tete with Roy had been interrupted. Why the thought of her having a tete-a-tete with his partner should make him angry, he did not know. Surely there was not anything between the two, was there? Then they were in the squad and headed for the rescue scene and all thoughts of Cindy were suspended.
~ * ~ * ~
Back at Rampart later that night, Roy stood by the nurse’s station desk and talked with Dixie and John. As they talked, he saw Cindy working a little way down the hall. His partner was pointedly ignoring her and he was glad, at least it was a relief from the fighting. After they had been standing at the desk for several minutes, he saw an orderly approach the young woman. She shook her head and tried to go on with her work. But the orderly became more insistent and grabbed her arm. Pulling away from him she stiffened.
“Stop that! I said no, now leave me alone,” she exclaimed. The orderly did not leave her alone but became more aggressive. About to intervene, he noticed John walk over to the pair.
“Leave her alone,” he said to the other man, a scowl on his face.
“Come on, Cindy,” the other man said, ignoring the paramedic.
“I said leave her alone.” The paramedic’s voice rose in volume as his anger grew.
“Who’s going to make me?” the orderly asked belligerently.
“I am. That’s who.” The paramedic’s face was dark with anger. “Now she said no. So, go away and leave her alone.”
After a few more belligerent remarks were exchanged the orderly finally turned and walked away scowling. John turned to Cindy to see her looking at him with anger.
“What?” he asked, surprised.
“Why did you do that? I had the situation under control.”
Roy sighed as they continued to argue. Dixie shook her head.
“You know what I think?” she asked.
“No, what do you think?”
“I think he’s in love with her.”
“You think what?” Roy was incredulous. “They’re over there fighting like cats and dogs and you think he’s in love with her?”
“Look, if he was in love with her, I’d know it,” Roy declared. “First off, he’d be talking about her all the time…Oh well, okay so he talks about her a lot. But if he was in love with her he’d be singing her praises, not complaining about her all the time.”
“Wanna bet?” Dixie raised her eyebrows. “Of all the women he’s been in love with and sung their praises, how many is he still with?”
“Well…none.” The paramedic shrugged. “Okay, but what makes you think he’s in love with Cindy? If he’s in love with her, why is he always fighting with her?”
“Because he’s in denial. She’s the first woman who could really get to him, who could really threaten his life style. So, he’s fighting that and her.”
“You know, JoAnne said something like that the other night. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but you may have point.” John finished his argument with Cindy and came back over to the desk, fuming. Picking up the supply box, Roy shoved it into his partner’s hands. “Let’s go.”
When they were in the squad, John began to grumble about Cindy and her ingratitude. Roy started the engine and turned the squad toward the exit.
“You know who you remind me of?” he asked, interrupting the other man.
“Are you saying I act like a 12-year-old?”
“Sometimes. Look, Chris teases Jenny, sometimes until Jenny’s in tears. But let anyone else tease her and you have a fight on your hands.”
“What are you getting at, Roy?”
“Never mind.” Roy shook his head. Dixie was right; John was in denial.
~ * ~ * ~
Shortly after noon of the next shift, the tones sounded and the men of 51’s A-shift scrambled for their vehicles. Station 51 was only one of several stations assigned to a structure fire. Captain Stanley’s heart sank as he saw that the structure on fire was an apartment building. Already showing flame, smoke billowed from the top floors of the building, while the flames shot out of windows on the lower floors. As the engine and squad pulled closer to the scene, he could see a group of people huddled together under a tree well away from the burning building. His spirits lifted when he saw them; hopefully everyone had gotten out uninjured.
Climbing down from the engine, he began to issue orders to his men. As he was not the first captain on the scene, it did not fall to him to take charge of it. His heart sank once again when he saw a frantic woman approaching.
“Captain.” Doing her best to control the fear he could see in her eyes, she swallowed hard. “I think there’s someone still inside. I can’t find her anywhere out here.”
“Are you sure she’s not out here?” Cap asked hopefully. Often in the confusion, people were overlooked. He could not count the times he had sent his men into a burning building looking for someone who had gotten out long before and not bothered to let anybody know they were safe.
“I’ve looked everywhere. If she were out here, I would have seen her. She works nights and sleeps days. I knocked on her door and called to her, but I’m not sure she was really awake when she answered me.” Both paramedics, having overheard the exchange as they donned their turnout coats and SCBA, now approached the Captain. “I should have made sure she was awake and out of the building, but there was so much smoke…”
“It’s okay, ma’am.” Cap hastened to reassure the increasingly agitated woman. “You did the right thing, getting yourself out was the most important thing. Now, if you’ll tell us where you last knew her to be…”
“Cindy, her name is Cindy,” the woman said distractedly.
“If you’ll just tell these men where you think Cindy would be, they’ll go in and see if they can find her and get her out,” Cap said.
Turning to the paramedics, she told them they would probably find Cindy on the 4th floor. After she gave them the apartment number, they reassured her they would do their best to find the missing woman and get her out safely.
As they had been talking with the woman, other firefighters had been busy. When they entered the building, they found firefighters armed with hoses already pouring water on the flames, trying to knock down the fire before it engulfed the whole structure. Climbing the stairs to the second floor, they found more firefighters with hoses pouring water on more flames. Reaching the third floor, they found it engulfed in smoke, but as yet, the flames had not broken through. The fourth floor was no better than the floor below. Thick smoke made it hard to see anything and John was glad of his SCBA. As he exited the stairwell he nearly tripped over the figure lying on the floor. Bending down and examining the figure more closely, he found that it was a woman in pajamas and he knew he had found their victim.
“It’s her,” he said to Roy, behind him. His partner nodded agreement as John picked the woman up. Carrying her out of the building, he laid her down on a blanket the captain had laid out for them. As he looked down at the woman whose face was covered in soot, it struck him that she was familiar to him.
“Cindy.” The woman who had reported her friend missing ran up to stand beside them. “Is she okay?” she asked with a worried expression on her face.
When he heard the name, recognition clicked and, like the pieces of a puzzle falling into place, he suddenly knew who this woman was. She was Cindy, his Cindy. His heart leapt into his throat as he looked at her still form lying on the ground. Was she going to be okay? Was she even breathing? Suddenly he had to know. Leaning down, he turned his head so that his cheek was less than a half-inch from her nose and mouth, and watched for the rise and fall of her chest. Then he felt it, the soft feathering of her breath against his cheek. With relief he saw the rise and fall of her chest. His numb fingers began to feel again and his heart resumed its beat as he felt the pulse in her neck. Though it was weaker than he would have liked, it was regular. “She’s breathing, she has a pulse.” Then looking down the length of her body, another piece of the puzzle fell into place when he saw her shoes. In addition to her pajamas, Cindy was wearing red canvas slip-ons. He sat back on his heals stunned.
“Roy, it’s her.”
“I know.” Roy placed the nasal canula on Cindy.
“She’s Cinderella,” John explained.
“I know.” Roy reached into the trauma box and took out the BP cuff and stethoscope. Handing them across Cindy to his partner, he looked into the other man’s surprised face.
“You knew? She told you?” John took the instruments from him automatically.
“Yes, I knew. She didn’t have to tell me, I knew that night.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“She asked me not to. She didn’t want you to get mad and spoil everything.” Indicating the instruments in his partner’s hands he asked, “are you going to take her BP or you want me to?”
Looking down at the instruments he held, John slipped into paramedic mode. He did all the right things and said all the right words, but he did it automatically from long years of practice. All the while echoing in his mind were Roy’s words, “She didn’t want you to get mad and spoil everything.”
Soon they had the still unconscious woman ready for transport. John transferred her onto the stretcher the ambulance attendants had wheeled over. As he helped them load the stretcher into the ambulance, his partner picked up the biophone and trauma kit and followed them.
“I’ll ride with her,” Roy said, as he prepared to climb into the back of the ambulance. Making no protest, he merely shut the doors behind Roy and one of the ambulance attendants, giving it two thumps to let the driver know they were in and ready to go. He watched as the ambulance left the scene then turned and began to pick up the debris and equipment still lying on the ground. Placing the equipment in the squad’s compartments automatically, he shut the doors and walked around to the driver’s side. Sitting there with his hand on the key, he heard Roy’s words once again. Would he have gotten mad? Since he was finally being honest with himself, he had to admit that yes, he would have been angry, more out of habit than for any other reason he could think of. Starting the engine, he hastily drove the squad to Rampart.
When he arrived, he found his partner standing near the nurse’s station talking to Dixie, explaining how it was that Cindy had ended up in the treatment room. Walking up to them with long strides, he interrupted them with a succession of rapid-fire questions. “Where is she? Is she going to be okay? Can I see her?”
Dixie looked at him in surprise. The last time she had seen John and Cindy together they had been fighting.
“He finally figured it out,” Roy said to Dixie and understanding dawned on her face.
“You knew?” John asked the nurse, incredulous. Dixie nodded. “Did everyone know but me?”
“Pretty much.” Dixie nodded.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked, turning to his partner.
“Because she asked me not to.”
“You should have told me.”
“If I had told you, I would have betrayed Cindy’s trust. Besides, if I had told you, would you have believed me?”
John glared at his partner, but before he got the chance to answer, his attention was diverted to Dr. Bracket coming out of an exam room. As the doctor walked toward them, Roy and Dixie looked at him expectantly, but John practically pounced on him. “How is she? Is she okay? Can I see her?”
Dr. Bracket looked slightly taken aback by the rapid-fire questions, but he answered calmly enough. “She’s going to be fine,” he said, putting his hands into his pockets. “As for you seeing her…I don’t know if that’s such a good idea.”
“Please, Doc, I need to see her.” John pled with him.
“The last time I saw you and Cindy together, you were arguing…loudly,” Dr. Bracket said. “I don’t want you upsetting her.”
“I won’t, I promise,” John said earnestly.
”Okay, but at the first sign of trouble, I’ll throw you out…personally,” Bracket conceded.
“Thanks, Doc.” The young man bounded across the hall to the door of the treatment room. Pausing outside the door he took a deep breath and then slowly pushed the door open. Looking into the room, he saw her lying on the treatment bed. Having just finished washing the soot from Cindy’s face and hands, the young student nurse left the room as he entered. Without the soot, Cindy was very pale. His heart leapt into his throat again and he had to remind himself that Bracket had said she would be okay. She lay with her eyes closed and he approached her quietly. Taking her hand in his, he looked into her face. Her eyes fluttered open at his touch and she looked surprised to see him. “Hey,” he greeted her.
“Hey,” she replied, smiling slightly. “What are you doing here?”
“I just came by to apologize.” He brushed the hair back off her forehead.
“Apologize? For what?”
“For being such a fool, for not being honest with you or myself.” Cindy frowned at him and he continued. “Roy and I, we pulled you out of that fire. When I saw it was you, I realized something, that I love you. I have loved you for a while now; I guess I just didn’t want to admit it. If I had been honest with myself and with you, instead of fighting it, I would have realized it a long time ago. And I would have known all along that you were my Cinderella.”
“Did Roy finally tell you?” She looked at him apprehensively.
“Your shoes…red canvas slip-ons…just like the ones Cinderella wore the night of the dance.”
“My shoes? I didn’t think anyone noticed.”
“They didn’t, at least not until you ran out of the room. Then you picked up your skirt and…”
“You saw my shoes.”
“Yeah,” he admitted, smiling.
“So, you’re not mad?”
“No. How could the handsome prince be mad at his Cinderella?” Leaning down, he kissed her softly on her forehead. “I love you,” he whispered.
Just then the door opened and Dixie came in pushing a wheelchair. “Okay, you two, time to break it up. We need to get Cindy moved into a room.” John and Dixie helped Cindy into the wheelchair. As they got her settled, Roy popped his head into the treatment room.
“John, we gotta go, they need us back at the apartment building.”
“I gotta go,” John said, stating the obvious to Cindy. He brushed her cheek with a kiss. “I’ll be back,” he promised, then turning, he ran out to the squad and jumped in just as his partner was starting it.
Later that night, after the engine crew had gone to bed, the two paramedics sat at the table drinking glasses of milk.
“Roy, I want to apologize,” John said suddenly.
“What for?” Roy asked, puzzled.
“For being such a fool.”
“Oh, that.” Roy took a sip of his milk. “I understand. You can’t help it, it’s what you are.”
John tried to frown but the crooked smile tugging at the corners of his mouth won out and he grinned instead. “Okay, so I am. But, what I meant was, if I hadn’t been acting such a fool about Cindy, I would have known all along she was ‘Cinderella’ and I wouldn’t have needed you to tell me.”
“Can’t argue with the truth.” Roy smiled back at him.
~ * ~ * ~
Valentine’s Day 1 year later:
“Can you tie this for me?” John asked his best man, as he fumbled with his bow tie.
Why his partner had chosen to wear a bow tie with his suit, Roy would never know. Nor would he ever have imagined, this time last year, he would be standing with John as his best man at his wedding to Cindy. If anyone had asked, he would have told them John and Cindy were the couple most likely to kill one another rather than to marry and live happily ever after.
Watching his friend fidget, Roy smiled. “Nervous?”
“No, not at all,” John said automatically as he pulled at the sleeves of his jacket, resettling it on his shoulders for the umpteenth time. “Well, maybe a little.” He grinned when he saw the look on Roy’s face.
“Not getting cold feet are you?”
“No. It’s just…have you seen all those people out there?” John asked, then began to pace. “Roy, what if she backs out, what if she gets cold feet?”
“I can assure you, that’s not going to happen.”
“How do you know?” John narrowed his eyes in suspicion.
“Because, I know Cindy and I know how much she loves you.” He took his friend by the arm and began to pilot him toward the door. “Come on, time to get this thing started.”
Dixie, sitting in the congregation, watched as her two favorite paramedics took their places at the front of the church. She did not need the music, nor did she need to turn around to know who was entering the chapel, she could see it on the two men’s faces. Their expressions were almost identical.
First, Roy’s face lit with joy as JoAnne started down the aisle between the pews. Then John’s face transformed from a worried frown to pure delight as Cindy entered the chapel. Both women were glowing with happiness as they walked with measured steps toward the waiting men.
Dixie watched as John and Cindy made their vows before man and God. When the ceremony drew to a close and the preacher said, “you may kiss the bride,” John did exactly that, without hesitation. A long slow kiss, heedless of watching eyes.
And they all lived happily ever after.