By Audrey W.
Marco Lopez shook his head when he saw his fellow engine crew member digging through one of the large bags of donations for the Salvation Army. They were located in the apparatus bay of the station, in a corner outside their locker room. Aside from taking donations for Toys for Tots around the Christmas season, all of the fire stations in Los Angeles County were also accepting new and used clothing donations from the men assigned to each one, as well as from civilians who wanted to drop any off.
“Chet, what are you doing?”
“Looking for Gage’s goofy pants he brought in.”
“The patchwork ones?”
He looked up from the bag he was currently shuffling through. “You know of any goofier?”
Marco shook his head. “So if they’re so ‘goofy’, why do you want them?”
He couldn’t imagine why. The pants were clearly going out of style or John wouldn’t have given them up. He’d been fine wearing them to many places until a few months earlier, but hadn’t been seen in them for at least that long.
Chet was back to digging through the large bag. “Because if I draw his name for the station Christmas gift exchange, I wanna be ready.”
Marco’s mouth dropped open. “You mean you’re going to give him his own pants back?”
Again Chet looked up from his hunt, closing the bag as he did.
“Why not? But they aren’t in there.” He motioned to where he’d just been searching. “Maybe they’re in this one,” he said as he pulled another sack over.
“What if you don’t draw his name?”
Chet tossed a third bag over to him. “If you’re gonna hang out and be negative, at least be useful. See if they’re in there.”
Marco put his hands up in defense. “I’m not getting involved.”
As he walked away, he could hear Chet call out, “Ah ha!”
The Hispanic fireman shook his head at his shiftmate’s antics.
* * *
Later in the day, three engine crew members and paramedics from Station 51’s A-shift stood around one end of the kitchen table in the dayroom where their captain was seated.
Captain Stanley had placed a standard plastic mixing bowl on the table and had each man, including himself, toss a small piece of paper with their name on it into the bowl.
“Chet, how about you mix ‘em up.”
The mustached fireman reached in and stirred the six paper pieces.
“Okay, without looking, one by one we’re going to select a slip with a name,” Captain Stanley directed.
Marco glanced at Chet. His eyes were already closed.
Probably praying for Gage’s name, he thought to himself.
He quickly returned his attention to the others, as third in line, it was his turn to pick. He unfolded his while Chet went next.
The last to go was Mike Stoker, the engineer on the crew. A man of few words, he would have no problem keeping his selection secret.
Marco quickly shoved his choice in his trouser pocket, while Chet frowned.
Gage snickered at his choice, his partner Roy DeSoto just rolled his eyes at the reaction. Who knew what that little laugh meant and the senior paramedic wasn’t sure he wanted to find out.
The captain and engineer seemed content with the names they got.
Chet glanced around at his fellow crew members. He didn’t get John’s name. Who did?
* * *
Chet sat on his bed in the dormroom, his head down as he stared at the name on the piece of paper in his hands. He still wondered who had drawn Gage’s name and how he would find out. More importantly, could he talk them into trading for his choice?
He thought about the dark-haired paramedic’s laugh when he’d seen the name he got. Was it possible he drew his own name? Or maybe John had gotten his.
“I could use a new camera case.”
Chet’s head shot up at the sound of the familiar voice. There was John standing not far from the foot of his bed.
“You look like you’re thinkin’ awful hard on what to get for the name you drew. I just figured if it’s me, I’d help ya out.”
“Oh. Right. Ha ha, real funny.”
Johnny stepped a bit closer, at the same time the mustached fireman stuffed the paper in his shirt pocket.
“Relax, Chet, I’m not tryin’ to see. Look, I was just having some fun.” He turned to leave and as he walked away said over his shoulder, “I almost forgot, Cap wants to see you in his office.”
Chet watched over the brick barrier that separated the beds from the doorway as Gage left.
“Well, there’s one question answered. John definitely didn’t get his own name.”
But why would Captain Stanley want to see him? Did Marco tell him about the scrounging earlier?
* * *
Chet walked out of the captain’s office with a frown, his brow furrowed. Marco hadn’t said anything to their supervisor, but it might have been easier if that had been the case.
Instead, Captain Stanley had told his crew that whoever got his name for a gift exchange didn’t need to worry about buying him anything, but rather just donate something to the Salvation Army or Toys for Tots with the money they would have spent on him. Chet was just the only one who hadn’t been in the room with the others to hear the message at first.
Now Chet was feeling guilty about taking the patchy pants out of the bag with prankster intentions. He looked up at the ceiling of the apparatus bay.
“Why? Why’d it have to go this way? I was just havin’ a little fun. . .”
He walked around to behind the squad and engine, where the four bags of donated clothing were still piled in the corner.
With a sigh, he decided there was only one thing to do. Put the pants back. . .without being seen. That was going to be the trick now.
As he headed for his locker, where the pants were stashed, Marco came up from behind.
“Have I got a deal for you.”
Chet turned around to face him. “Huh?”
The Hispanic fireman held up the small piece of paper he’d drawn earlier.
“Ten gets you Johnny’s name.”
“Are you crazy?”
“Hey, you aren’t the only one who can spot an opportunity.”
Chet shook his head. “Ah come on. Where’s your Christmas spirit, Marco?”
“You wanted the name, here’s your chance.”
Chet looked at the paper still in Marco’s grasp. The look on Gage’s face when he got his own pants back would probably be worth the ten dollars. But could he really go through with it after the selfless speech Captain Stanley had just given him?
Chet shook his head. “No. No, Marco. It’s just not the right time. But if you could go keep the guys busy in the breakroom while I put the pants back, I’d appreciate it.”
“If you say so.”
“For free,” he added before Marco could say more.
He shrugged and turned to head for the room where the others were still hanging out, while Chet pushed open the locker room door, a pained expression on his face.
* * *
Finally the day had come for the Christmas gift exchange. The men of A-shift stood gathered around the table in the kitchen end of the dayroom, a few presents on it that they had each brought in.
Marco opened his gift from Roy, a ten dollar gift certificate for a local clothing store, where he could pick out what he wanted. Mike got his present from the captain, which was a model kit of a fire engine.
Mike had drawn Captain Stanley’s name and had done exactly what he’d requested. The captain smiled as he opened an envelope, then pulled out the brief letter of acknowledgement inside.
“Easiest gift ever,” Mike said with a grin in return.
John opened his gift, an envelope with a letter much like the captain’s. He displayed an expression on his face that was perhaps happy with a slight crooked grin, but bewildered with furrowed brows. He glanced at the gift giver.
“Hey, thanks, Marco.”
The other laughed slightly.
“Just kidding. Here is your real present,” Marco said as he handed him a small square box wrapped in red and white striped paper that Roy had just handed him.
Gage glanced at Roy with a slight scowl, then opened the gift, three rolls of 35mm film.
“Man, this is perfect, Marco. Perfect.”
It was obvious he was happy with his lopsided grin wide this time.
Next was Chet’s turn. Gage handed him a box from the table. It was wrapped in Christmassy paper with a snow scene.
“So you had my name.”
“Just open it,” Gage prodded.
“Am I gonna get wet?”
John rolled his eyes once again. “C’mon, man, it’s Christmas. Nothin’s gonna happen.”
“Open it, Chet,” Captain Stanley put in. “We’re all curious now.”
Chet took a quick glance at each one of the crew, then a longer one at his gift giver before returning his attention the present.
“Okay, here goes.”
He tore off the paper, then opened the box and lifted his gift out by a leather braided handle that looked much like a belt without the buckle. Once he had it out, he could see it was a large cloth bag, which brought one thought to his mind he voiced out loud.
Gage rolled his eyes a third time and grabbed the gift from him. “Not a purse. It’s a bag for when ya go on your barbed wire excursions.” He opened it up and tilted to toward the mustached fireman. “Look inside, it’s got a multiple small pockets in the lining just the right size to keep smaller wire pieces separated from others.”
He closed it and handed it back to Chet as he explained, “Roy’s wife Joanne made it.”
It was then Kelly noticed something else. “Hey, wait a minute, is this the same material those patchwork pants you had were made out of?”
“Better’n that, Chester B. That is the material they were made out of.”
“You mean. . .?”
John gave him a single pat on the left shoulder. “That’s right. It’s made out of ‘um. I saw you go into the locker room with them and when I asked Marco if he knew what you were up to, he told me how much you liked ‘um.”
Chet shot a quick glare at Lopez, who in turn offered, “I had to tell him something.”
“He’s right,” Chet quickly cut the youngest crew member off. No way did he want to let on about his devious little plan. “But obviously they wouldn’t fit no matter what I tried, so I put ‘em back in the bag.” He gave another brief look at Marco. “Where I figured they would stay.”
“I couldn’t help it if--”
“Hey, hey,” Captain Stanley interrupted. “We’re celebrating Christmas. We’ll have nothing but merriness in the room. Besides, Roy hasn’t opened his present yet.”
Chet was still trying to figure out how he was not holding a purse when Marco nudged him.
Chet stared at him a moment before it registered. He motioned toward the remaining gift on the table, a flat box in green paper, with one free hand.
“Go for it.”
John and Roy exchanged amused glances.
“Now, where’s your Christmas spirit, Chet?” Gage asked as his partner picked up the present.
“Yeah, Kelly,” the captain added. “Since when do you just say ‘go for it’ at the gift exchange?”
“I’m just. . .” he trailed off as he once again was looking inside the bag he’d gotten.
Roy tore off the green wrap, then lifted off the lid.
“Hey, this’ll come in handy. Thanks, Chet.”
He set the box on the table after taking out a book for designs in pottery making. In the meantime he’d just gotten a mumble in reply from the gift giver.
John rolled his eyes. He then pulled back the chair near him, picked up a small brown paper bag that was sitting on it.
“Here, Chester B.”
“What?” The mustached firemen still didn’t look away from what he still was so sure was a purse.
“I’ll trade ya.”
That got his attention and his gaze immediately shot to the paramedic.
“Trade for what?”
“Your real present. That one you thought was a purse is a purse. And Joanne didn’t make it outta my pants. When I found out what you planned to do if you drew my name, I decided to have my own fun. Roy an’ I saw that purse in a store and it was close enough material to my pants, I figured you’d ‘recognize’ it.”
Chet looked at Marco. “You told him?”
Marco shrugged. “I was cornered.”
“Just give me the purse and I’ll let ya have your real present here.”
Kelly took his gaze off the Hispanic fireman and shifted it to the other. He warily switched items.
“I’m not gonna get zonked, am I?”
“Would ya just open it?” Gage said, exasperated.
“Nice Christmas wrap there, John,” Captain Stanley chided with a pained grin.
“I forgot to get something to put it in. But it’s what’s inside that counts, right?”
They all had to agree to that, some nodding.
Chet slowly peered into the bag, then pulled out two slips of paper with one hand, the top edge of the paper sack still in his other. He read the print on one of the items.
“Prepaid rental of one bowling lane, to be used any time based on availability.” He dropped the bag onto the table to shuffle the papers to read the other. “Wow, another one? Thanks, Johnny.”
Chet looked under the table. “No new bowling ball bag hiding anywhere?”
“You could always use that,” Marco said, pointing to the large purse Gage had just set on the table.
“But you could take us with you.”
“You know what, Gage? Since you can’t wear those wild pants anymore now, you’ve got a deal.”
John rolled his eyes. He was going to miss those pants after all.
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