By Audrey W.
This story is dedicated to Tracy
Johnny hung up the phone in the dorm and leaned back in the chair, a satisfied grin on his face. Mike walked into the room and noticed the expression Johnny was sporting.
“Boy, Gage, you look like the cat that ate the canary. What’s up?”
“Mikey, my man,” Johnny began, getting to his feet and placing a hand on the engineer’s left shoulder, “I just scored my third date with an incredible chick.”
“What incredible chick?” Chet asked as he walked in the doorway. “Anyone we know?”
“As a matter of fact, yeah,” Johnny answered. “Remember that brunette gal at the clothing store fire a couple of weeks ago?”
“The one in the pink shorts and crop top?” Chet wiggled his eyebrows.
“That’s the one!”
Johnny kept a grin on his face, as he looked first at Mike, then at Chet, their mouths agape.
Chet shook his head. “No way, Gage. There’s no way a woman like that would be interested in a guy like you. What’d ya do? Give her a sob story about how you almost bought it getting bit by that rattler a few months ago?”
Johnny scowled at Chet. “No. And you can believe it or not. But in the meantime, I’ll be having a good ol’ time on vacation with Danielle.”
“You’re going on a vacation with her?” Chet asked. “I thought it was just your third date!”
Mike grinned when he realized what Chet was up to. Always finding a way to pick on Johnny, Chet was once again trying to be annoying.
“No, Chet, we’re not going on a vacation,” Johnny explained, exasperated. “I’m on vacation for the next week and I plan on spending a lot of time with Danielle.”
“Well, I’d say by the time you spend a week around Danielle, she’ll need a vacation.”
“You just wish it was you.”
Mike shook his head and walked out of the dorm. When will Johnny learn not to be so gullible?
Roy looked up from writing calls he and Johnny had gone on in the logbook. Taking in the sour expression on his partner’s face, he figured Chet had been at it again.
“What happened now?”
“You look like something’s bothering you.”
“Oh, it is. With Chet around, does it surprise you?” Johnny quickly went from sour to grinning. “But even Chet can’t ruin my mood for long. I have my third date tomorrow with Danielle.”
“Nah. She wants me to come over for a home-cooked meal.”
“Does she live far from you?”
“I don’t know. The first two times she met me at the bowling alley. Said she wanted to have her own transportation till she knew me better.”
“Makes sense,” Roy surmised. “Seems like she went from cautious to inviting you in awful quick, though.”
Johnny smiled and splayed his hand across his chest. “That’s because I’m an easy guy to trust.” Shrugging he added, “Maybe she figures with the line of work I’m in, how could I be a bad guy? Anyway, she told me to call her before I leave and she’ll give me the directions.”
Roy closed the logbook and stood up to stretch his legs. “Well, think of us here working while you kick back with the newest love of your life.”
Johnny snickered. “With Danielle beside me? You sure ask a lot of a friend.”
Johnny drove along the deserted road looking for a turn off with a bridge across it. Danielle had given him directions to the community that she lived in. Johnny had figured out that she must be a cautious person period, as Danielle had explained she was living in a gated community out by itself in the country. Once Johnny found the turn off, he was to drive another five miles before reaching the actual gate that was controlled twenty-four hours a day by a posted guard.
As he looked at his watch, Johnny could see it was already four o’clock. If he had known exactly how long of a drive it was going to be, he would’ve left sooner. Finally Johnny spotted the bridge on the left. Although it was obvious no traffic was coming, he paused before making the turn to cross the bridge. A narrow, winding dirt road followed.
Man, she wasn’t kidding it’s out by itself.
At last, Johnny could see a huge metal gate with a small shack nearby it. Sighing in relief that he’d reached the place, he stopped at the gate. He rolled down his window as a man came out of the shack and approached his Land Rover.
“Can I help you, sir?” The man asked.
“I hope so. I’m here to see Danielle Carson.”
“Ah…you must be Mister Gage.”
Johnny was somewhat surprised the guard knew him by name, but then it did make sense Danielle would let the guy know who to let in if they came to the gate.
“Yeah. I’m John Gage,” John held out his left hand.
The man returned the gesture and they shook hands.
“Pleased to meet you, Mister Gage. My name is Bill. Bill Wheaton.”
“Nice to meet you, too. You can just call me John,” Johnny smiled. He looked at his watch. It was nearly five o’clock now. Feeling anxious about being late, Johnny prompted, “Look, I don’t mean to be rude, but can I go in? I don’t want to be any later than I am now.”
The guard walked over and unlocked the gates, swinging them open so Johnny could drive through. He waved for him to move forward. As he passed through the gates, Johnny stopped his Land Rover.
“Sure,” the man smiled. “Glad to have you with us. Hope you like it here.”
“Oh…I’m just here for dinner. I’m not looking to move here,” Johnny explained.
“Of course,” the man corrected. “I just meant I hope you enjoy your visit to the town.”
Johnny nodded. “I’m sure I will. Can you tell me which way to Mandolin Street?”
“Once you hit town, it’s the second turn on the left. Go down two blocks and Danielle’s house is the second one on the right side of the street.”
“Thanks again!” Johnny waved as he headed towards the town.
The guard watched as the Land Rover disappeared over a hill. He shook his head and smiled. Closing and locking the gate behind him, the guard walked back over to the shack.
Once he was over the top of the hill, Johnny stopped. He could see the town ahead of him. It was quaint; the dirt road turned into a paved street that went down the center. Johnny noted the sign on the hill that showed the street was actually called Main Street. Small buildings lined both sides of the street, and from his view now, he could see houses scattered about the area off from the center of town.
As Johnny drove into the town he slowed down to look at the buildings. A small grocery store was on the left and beside it was a barbershop with the old-fashioned striped pole rotating on the front of it. Across the street were a hardware store and a clothing store. The next block had a small café’ with tables outside, red checked tablecloths on them. There was a liquor store beside the café’ and a library on the other side of the street.
Up farther ahead Johnny could see a church and a small schoolhouse. All of the buildings were a pristine white, except for the schoolhouse. It was made of red brick.
This looks like a storybook setting.
He noticed that people who were walking on the sidewalk and sitting at the tables eating at the café’ were staring at his vehicle as he crept along. Johnny smiled and waved, hoping they would realize he meant no harm.
Mandolin Street was on the left, just as the Bill Wheaton had described. Johnny turned onto it and gaped at the houses. They all looked alike and were white with white picket fences and gates. One thing Johnny noticed about this place, sidewalks connected everything to each other, which probably made for easy access by foot.
Man, this place is so clean. No wonder Danielle hates to come to the city.
Johnny stopped in front of Danielle’s house, pulling over near the curb. He got out of his truck, opened the small gate and walked up towards the front door. He could see a slight gap in the curtains in a front window where apparently someone was looking out. The door opened, drawing his attention there. Danielle smiled as Johnny stepped up to the porch. He half heard what she said as he took in her form fitting purple mini dress.
“You found it! I was afraid you’d gotten lost.”
“I was, too, for awhile. You weren’t kidding when you said it was a long drive.”
Danielle giggled. “Well, come on in, silly!”
Johnny glanced at the window as he got up on the porch to go in. The gap in the curtains was just closing.
“So, do you want something to drink?” Danielle asked, opening a cupboard door in the kitchen above the counter. “There’s pop, wine, beer.”
Johnny watched as the woman reached up to get two glasses. He couldn’t take his eyes off her trim figure. How did I get so lucky?
“Johnny?” Danielle turned around, the glasses in her hands. She grinned as she caught a slight flush on Johnny’s cheeks.
“Um…I’ll have a beer. Beer is fine,” Johnny answered, hoping his face wasn’t as red as it felt.
“Okay. You want it in a glass or a can?”
Danielle nodded, still grinning. Johnny obviously was as interested in her as she was in him.
Johnny glanced around the kitchen. He hadn’t smelled the aroma of dinner cooking nor had he seen any sign of a meal being prepared.
“Danielle, we are having dinner, aren’t we?”
“Oh, sure! I have a surprise arranged for you. Don’t worry. We’ll eat soon.”
Johnny sat on the couch in the living room and set his beer down on a coaster on the coffee table in front of him. Danielle joined him, sitting with a slight gap between them.
“So, you live by yourself?” Johnny asked.
“Why?” Danielle asked warily.
“I just thought I saw someone at the window when you answered the door.”
Danielle laughed in relief, and leaned back. “Oh, there was someone here. Maggie’s a lady who lives nearby and she was over here visiting. It’s easier for her to go out the back door to get to her house.”
“I hope she didn’t leave on my account.”
“No, no. As a matter of fact, she’ll be back. She fixed us a dinner and she and her husband, Tom, should be bringing it over soon.”
Johnny was surprised. “That’s whatcha call neighborly, huh?”
“She’s like a mother to me, Johnny,” Danielle smiled. “I guess she’s hoping to marry me off to a handsome man.”
Johnny shifted uncomfortably in his seat. The motion wasn’t lost on his hostess.
Danielle placed her hand on Johnny’s right forearm. “Don’t worry. Maggie’s got marriage on her mind, not me.”
“So how long have you lived up here?” Johnny asked Danielle as she was fiddling with the rabbit ears on the television set.
“Oh, I’ve been in this house about two years, give or take a few months.”
“Isn’t it kind of a hassle to get to work?”
“Not to me. I work right here in town at Danielle’s Apparel Shop. I guess you didn’t notice the sign when you were going down Main Street.”
“You own your own business?” Johnny was impressed.
“Yes. I was just in the city a few weeks ago checking out new items being released.”
“You mean when the fire broke out in that store?”
“Yes. And now I’m glad I was,” Danielle turned around to face Johnny, “or I would’ve never met you.”
A knock at the backdoor interrupted the conversation.
Johnny stood as Danielle escorted Maggie and Thomas into the living room. He could see why Danielle would get the mothering feeling from Maggie. The woman looked to be in her sixties.
“Johnny, this is Maggie and Thomas Willard.” To them she directed, “This is Johnny Gage.”
“Hi, nice to meet you,” Johnny said reaching out with his right hand. Thomas shook hands.
Grasping Johnny’s hand, Maggie replied, “Well, hello John Gage. It's a pleasure to meet you.” A smile spread across her face.
Johnny nodded, feeling slightly uncomfortable that Maggie still was holding his hand. . “Thanks.”
Thomas looked over to his wife, as they exchanged glances. She released Johnny’s hand, her smile growing wider. “Well, I hope your appetite is big tonight. I brought over a feast.” Maggie gave Tom a knowing look, one that told him she was hatching a scheme for this visitor.
"Maggie does the best meatloaf,” Thomas added. “You'll love it."
Sensing it was time to move the guests to the dining room, Danielle spoke up.
“How about we all go get situated for dinner. Thomas, you and Johnny go have a seat and Maggie and I can bring in the food.”
Johnny looked at Danielle in surprise. Nothing had been said about a group dinner. Maybe this was another precaution she took the first time she had a guy over. She had to be the most careful person he’d ever met.
Johnny was stunned at the layout of food brought to the table. It looked like Maggie had gone to a lot of trouble to fix a big dinner. There were rolls, vegetables, the meatloaf and small dishes of fruit to set by each place setting.
“You didn't have to
do all this, really,” Johnny assured her.
Maggie was beaming. “It was no trouble. We eat like this all the time. But we don't get to share it with a special guest very often. You know, you and Danielle make a nice couple.”
Johnny looked over at Danielle as she carried in the salt and pepper shakers. Her cheeks flushed in embarrassment.
“As you can see, she’s a shy girl,” Maggie said.
Johnny didn’t know
what to think of Danielle. She dressed one way and acted another. And just when
he thought she trusted him, she had brought in two dinner guests that she had
secretly pre-planned. This woman was going to be a puzzle, if nothing else.
After dinner the dining room table was cleared and the four friends sat at the table talking about the town. Thomas and Maggie both emphasized how happy they were living there in such a quaint place. They kept off the topic of Los Angeles, thinking Johnny would be distracted and forget about his distance home. Maggie smiled as Thomas handed Johnny his third beer.
“I really can’t,” Johnny said handing it back. “I still have to drive home.”
“Oh, c’mon. It’s just one more.”
“No, I really better not. I’ll have to be leaving soon.”
Thomas looked at Danielle and then Maggie. Catching the hint of trouble in her eyes, Thomas got up.
“I guess we’ll be going.”
“Yes, we really should be. Danielle, I’ll get my dishes in the morning.”
Johnny caught a look from Danielle telling him he’d said the wrong thing. As he opened his mouth to comment, Thomas and Maggie were already heading for the back door of the kitchen. At Danielle’s urging, Johnny made his way into the kitchen.
“It was a very nice evening, John,” Thomas said as he looked back. “Perhaps we’ll see you again, soon.” He closed the door behind him.
Johnny was baffled. Had he been that rude saying he didn’t want another beer? Or that he should be leaving soon? The abrupt change in atmosphere had come as a shock. He felt a stare on him. Looking to the side, he saw Danielle.
“What’d I do?” Johnny shrugged.
“They were just being polite. They like you, Johnny.”
“Yeah, I like them, too. But what did I do?”
Danielle sighed, smiling. “Oh, don’t worry. They’re just used to neighbors being like family.”
“ ‘Kay. But I can apologize if it’ll help.”
“No. No worries. How about a little coffee before you leave?”
“Great! But I better empty out some of the beer first, if you know what I mean.”
“At the top of the stairs on the right.”
Johnny grinned. “Be right back.”
While Johnny was in the bathroom, Danielle took a chance to peek out the living room window. Thomas was by the Land Rover, the hood up. A smile crept across Danielle’s face. She let the curtains fall closed again and walked back to the kitchen. Thanks to Maggie and Thomas, Johnny wouldn’t be going anywhere.
After sitting on the couch and talking while they drank their coffee, Danielle walked outside with Johnny. It was a clear night and she gazed up at the stars as they reached the gate. Johnny looked at the woman in front of him with desire.
Danielle brought her eyes to meet Johnny’s.
“It’s beautiful up here without all the city lights, isn’t it?”
“Yeah.” Johnny was mesmerized by her soft appearance in the natural moonlight. “That’s not all that’s beautiful.”
A smile played at the corners of her mouth. “You better go before it gets much later.”
There she goes again, Johnny thought. Just when she seemed receptive to him, she closed off again. He gave her a brief kiss on the cheek and opened the gate. He got in the Land Rover and tried to start it. Trouble was, it wouldn’t start.
Johnny opened the driver’s side door and got out of the truck. Walking to the front, a flashlight in his hand, he lifted the hood.
“What’s wrong, Johnny?”
“It won’t start. Looks like everything’s in place.” He tugged on a couple of wires and hoses. “Huh…”
“Did you have any problems on the way up?”
“Nope. Ran like a charm. I don’t know what could be wrong. It’s not like I just ran it again.”
“Well, we have a town mechanic, but his garage won’t be open till tomorrow morning.”
Johnny nodded and looked around. “There a motel in this town I could stay at over night?”
“A motel? Are you kidding?” Danielle’s eyes were wide. “You can stay right here. In fact I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, of course I’m sure. You can sleep in the spare bedroom. You have no choice. I won’t let you go anywhere else.”
Johnny closed the hood on the truck and tossed the flashlight back in on the seat. He locked the door and followed Danielle back into her house. The fact now she was comfortable with him sleeping there after she had made sure they weren’t alone at dinner was another confusing turn for Johnny. But as tired as he was, he wasn’t about to question it.
Thomas set the rotor from the Land Rover in the corner of the bedroom. Maggie watched him intently as he climbed into bed.
“Are you sure he won’t think to look for that?”
“Not at first. A rotor doesn’t just jump out of a car. I put the distributor cap back on and he’ll be none the wiser anything is missing.”
“Danielle did good this time, didn’t she?”
“Yes, Maggie, she sure did,” Thomas reached over and turned out the lamp. “She did fine.”
“I hope he doesn’t try to force the issue on leaving, like the last one did. I’d hate to see such a good man go to waste like that.”
“Same here. John’s got a lot of potential. We sure could use someone like him in the town.”
Johnny awoke to the aroma of coffee, toast, bacon and eggs. He pushed a blanket off as he sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Rubbing his eyes, he slowly made his way to the bathroom.
While he was still upstairs, Johnny took a brief peek at the other rooms. There was Danielle’s room…the bed already made and everything looked spotless. The other room had bookshelves along one wall and a couch on another. In one of the corners was a desk and in another corner was a lady manikin dressed in a white gown. On the wall above the couch, was a large black and white picture of a man.
Maybe her father?
Johnny headed for the steps to go check on breakfast and this intriguing woman he had met.
“Good morn--” Johnny stopped as he saw not Danielle, but Maggie in the kitchen.
Maggie turned around from where she was at the sink and smiled.
“Well, sleepy head, good morning to you, too.”
“Uh…hi…where…where’s Danielle?” Johnny looked around.
“She had to go to work. She didn’t want to wake you up, you were sleeping so soundly,” Maggie explained. “I understand you had car problems last night?”
“Yeah, I did.”
“Thomas and I can take you to the auto shop. There’s not a phone there yet…Brian’s fairly new here. But we can have him tow your truck to his shop.”
Johnny felt awkward that Danielle had just left without letting him know she was going anywhere and here he was with Maggie. Had she forgotten about last night?
“Okay. If you don’t mind I’d appreciate it.”
“Mind? Not at all,” Maggie turned her attention back to the sink. “Now go sit down and eat before your breakfast gets cold. It’s on a plate under the metal lid.”
Johnny looked at the kitchen table. It was set up for one, with a three daisies in a vase in the middle, a white linen tablecloth covering it.
As he sat in a chair, he glanced at Maggie’s back.
“You sure do go to a lot of trouble around here for meals.”
“That’s because you’re special to us.” Maggie turned around again, facing Johnny with a gleam in her eyes. “We want you to feel at home.”
“Home?” Johnny snickered. “I don’t eat like this at home.” He took a bite of bacon and shifted it to the side of his mouth. “I’m single, remember?”
“What about family?” She set a cup of coffee near Johnny’s plate. “Don’t they have you over for dinner sometimes?”
“I just have an aunt close by…well, actually not even close by. She’s in San Francisco,” he answered, pausing as he took a sip of coffee. “So no. Unless I go to a friend’s house, it’s pretty much hamburgers and hot dogs for me. Cereal or donuts at the station for breakfast.”
Maggie nodded as she sat down across from Johnny. “You need family to take better care of you.”
Before Johnny could reply, Thomas came into the kitchen from the backdoor.
“We ready to head over to the garage yet?”
“Sure,” Johnny started to get up, but Maggie was already behind him, her hands on his shoulders pushing him back down.
“We’ll go after you’ve had your breakfast and not before.”
Thomas shrugged and grinned as he sat beside Johnny. “It’s just as well you gave in. She always wins anyway.”
As Thomas drove one and a half miles beyond the schoolhouse,
Johnny saw the garage style building on the left. Above the door was a sign
saying Brian's Fix-It Shop. There was a large tow truck parked out in
the front of the building, and various pieces of equipment laying around in the
yard. Thomas pulled up beside the tow truck, parking and hopping out of the car
as a young man stepped quickly outside.
"Hey, Tom, Maggie. What's up?" The man wiped his greasy hands on a clean rag, before offering one of them to Tom. He glanced curiously at Johnny and nodded.
"Hi, Brian,” Thomas greeted him. “We have a new friend who had a bit of car trouble once he got up here. Needs to get his car towed to your shop, so you can take a look at it."
Thomas couldn't resist a glance at his wife before turning to Johnny. He knew things were in full swing now and it was just a matter of time before John would become aware he wouldn’t be able to leave.
Johnny stepped forward with his hand extended. "Hi. I'm John Gage. I was about to head home to LA last night and the darn thing wouldn’t start. Everything seemed to be okay under the hood.”
Brian smiled a genuine smile, which immediately put Johnny at ease. "No problem at all. Where’s it at?”
“It’s at Danielle’s place,” Maggie answered.
Brian and Johnny both gave Maggie an annoyed glance. Johnny because he was used to answering for himself, and Brian because he knew the woman’s tendency to speak for others all too well.
“I'll just get my keys, and we'll be on our way then,” Brian directed at Johnny. He turned back for the building. “You can just hop in the truck there if you want. I won't be but a minute.”
Johnny left with Brian to go retrieve his wounded Land Rover. Brian reminded Johnny of a younger Mike Stoker so the two hit it off right away.
Johnny watched the road ahead as Brian drove towards Main Street. “So, you’ve been living up here very long?” He asked curiously.
Brian glanced briefly in Johnny's direction, before returning his attention to the road. “Just about eight months. Maggie and Tom told me about it.”
“They were friends of yours?”
“Oh, not in the beginning,” Brian shrugged. “I was kind of down on my luck and they happened to run into me at a restaurant in Los Angeles. They’d heard me telling a friend I was fed up with everything.” A smile spread across his face, the memories fresh in his mind. “Maggie told me she knew just what I needed and that they could help me out, that I'd never have to be alone.”
Johnny nodded, taking in the information with interest. “And so they just brought you up here?”
“No. They invited me to come up and look the place over. Told me how to get to it. I was skeptical at first, but once I met Marcus…” he looked at Johnny, seeing his brows furrowed in curiosity. “Marcus is the man who started the town up here,” he explained. “He told me why he developed a place like this and what I would have to do in return to be a part of it. He made it sound so promising and tempting, I had to say yes. Maggie was right there for me anytime I needed anything, too.”
“What did you have to do in return…in return for what?” Johnny asked, his curiosity increasing.
“Well, I'm good at tinkering with stuff, so I just had to agree to help out whomever, whenever I was needed. And in return I get a small house to live in. It's really nice.”
Johnny was about to ask another question, when they turned the corner and his Land Rover came into sight. “There it is. I sure do appreciate this.”
“Hey, it's no problem.”
They hooked up Johnny's truck for towing and headed back towards the garage. This time it was Brian's turn to ask Johnny some questions.
“What made you become a paramedic?”
“I was tired of rescuing people and not being able to do anything more than that. Just rescue them.” Johnny paused briefly, remembering one of the last victims he’d lost before becoming a paramedic. “Too many didn’t make it.”
“You must get in some pretty hairy situations.”
“Yeah, but it’s part of the job. I kind of thrive on it.”
Brian was pulling into the lot of his garage. “Are you on one of those big red fire engines?”
Johnny laughed. “No. Well, I’ve been on the back of one before, but no, my partner Roy and I use a squad. A Dodge truck.”
He and Brian got out of the tow truck and unhooked the Land Rover. Brian lifted the hood and right away noticed a broken wire and hose.
Johnny stood with his mouth open. “Now how…?”
Examining the damage, Brian concluded the cause. “Looks like it’s been chewed in half. It’s not a clean edge…more like frayed. I’d say a squirrel was the culprit.”
“But…but I was only here a few hours at the most,” Johnny protested. “And why didn’t I find the broken wires and hose last night? I checked ‘em!”
Brian shrugged. “Maybe they were caught down and in towing the truck we hit a couple of bumps that jarred them loose.”
Johnny shook his head. “Nah. It’s too easy. There has to be another explanation.”
“So, what did you find out, Brian?” Thomas asked as he and Maggie approached.
Johnny shot them a glare. He appreciated their help, but they were starting to wear on his nerves.
“Some wires and a hose to the radiator were chewed through. Probably by a squirrel.”
“An easy fix?” Thomas wondered.
“Sure. I just have to splice the wires,” Brian explained. “The hose can be replaced if I have one lying around. I may have to go up to the next town to get one, though.”
“If you do have to, I’ll ride out with you,” Johnny offered. He really needed some breathing room from the Willards.
While Johnny helped Brian look around the garage for a spare hose, Thomas drove Maggie to the middle of town. Maggie rushed into Danielle’s store to let her know what was going on. Not wanting Johnny to get beyond the gate of the community, the two women developed a plan.
Johnny was climbing into Brian’s truck when Maggie and Thomas pulled into the lot, Maggie almost jumping out before the car had completely stopped. She ran screaming towards Johnny.
“Oh my God! Oh! Please, don’t go now!”
“What’s the matter? What is it Maggie?” Johnny met her, grabbing the woman by the shoulders to calm her down. “Take a few deep breaths and tell me what’s wrong.”
Maggie tried to catch her breath as Thomas came up behind her.
“It’s Danielle, John,” Thomas said nervously. “She was on a ladder in her store and fell off. Must’ve fallen about six feet.”
Johnny let go of Maggie’s shoulders and was running to their car in an instant. “C’mon. Let’s go!”
“I’ll get the stuff for your truck, Johnny!” Brian called out.
Johnny ran into the clothing store, Thomas and Maggie close on his heels.
“Did you call an ambulance?” Johnny asked as he hurried towards the back stock room.
“No, we don’t have them here,” Thomas explained. “The closest hospital is in the next town up the highway.”
Johnny stopped in shock. “Did you even call for a doctor?”
“We don’t have one right here. He makes visits twice a week to his office in the school house.”
“Great!” Johnny sighed. “Look, I’m not a doctor. I’m not certified to do anything here. Get someone. Now!”
He hurried into the doorway and stopped when he saw Danielle on the floor in the fetal position. Her forehead was cut slightly and bleeding. Johnny went over and knelt down at her side. He gently began checking her for injuries.
Brian drove out the gate, his destination being the next town fifteen miles farther up the main highway. He waved to Bill Wheaton as he passed by.
Bill locked the gate and watched as Brian’s truck disappeared around a corner. He walked back into the shack and sat down, startling when the phone suddenly rang. Bill listened to the voice on the other end of the receiver. When the person was through speaking he replied.
“Yes, sir. I’ll let you know as soon as he gets back.”
Hanging up the phone, the man shuddered. He knew that Brian was close to finding out exactly what kind of neighborhood he’d joined up in. He hoped the man would be a willing participant in the latest quest for a member. Almost everyone who was drawn to the town ended up liking it. Most traveled closer to the city for work, but never would tell anyone about the place they lived at for fear of the serenity being destroyed. Those who showed resistance were not allowed to leave, and the few who tried were remembered on a hillside by a line of white crosses. Bill didn’t approve of the idea of force being used, but he knew if he ever betrayed Marcus, he would be on the hill with the others.
Although Johnny tried to keep Danielle lying down, she insisted on sitting up. Giving in, he helped her till she was leaning against a wall.
“Well, nothing seems to be broken. You sure you’re okay?”
“Yes, I only fell off the third step.”
At this information, Johnny looked up sharply at Thomas, who in turn shrugged.
“My head hurts,” Danielle continued. “I hit it on the shelf.”
“I see that,” Johnny nodded, frowning. He gently dabbed at the cut with a wet cloth Maggie had handed him. “I don’t think you’ll need stitches. You feel dizzy or nauseous? I know you said you didn’t lose consciousness. But you may have without realizing it.”
The woman watched Johnny’s face as he placed a large Band-aid out of the store’s first aid kit on her forehead. “I’m a little dizzy, I guess.”
“You think you can stand with help?” Johnny asked.
“Yeah, I think so.”
Johnny motioned for Thomas to get on the other side of Danielle. On his cue, the three stood up.
“Now, let’s get you to a doctor,” Johnny said.
“No? But you need to be checked out.”
“No, I just want to go home.” Danielle displayed the best doe eyes she could muster. “Please? It’s not like I’m alone…after all, you’ll be there…right?”
Johnny sighed and nodded. “Yeah…sure.” He didn’t like the idea of skipping a trip to the doctor’s but as long as he was going to be around and Danielle was agreeable to it, he would let it go for now. First sign of anything unusual, he would put his foot down on the issue.
Thomas pulled up in front of Danielle’s house. He and Johnny got out first and helped Danielle up to the door. Once inside, Johnny got her situated on the couch.
“You want a blanket to cover you up?” Johnny asked.
“No. I’m fine really.”
He sat down on the end of the couch near her feet and looked at the woman who had been so puzzling the past day or so. She was everything he wanted as far as beauty. But he had yet to figure out exactly what made Danielle tick.
Thomas’s voice brought Johnny out of his thoughts.
“You two kids have an easy afternoon. We’ll see how you’re doing later, Danielle.”
“Okay! I’m sure we’ll be just fine,” she said, smiling at Johnny.
Johnny watched as the Willards walked into the dining room towards the kitchen.
Finally some time without them hanging around.
Brian pulled up to the gate as Bill Wheaton came out of his shack.
“Any luck finding the stuff you needed for John’s truck?”
“Yeah!” Brian smiled. “I should have--” He looked at Bill in surprise. “Boy, news sure travels fast here! I didn’t think you knew what I was doing.”
“The gate keeper knows all,” Bill teased. “Thomas Willard called and told me.”
“Oh. Okay. Well, the sooner I get in the gate, the sooner I can get Johnny on his way.”
Bill gave Brian a blank look as he secretly wished he could give the man fair warning. Coming out of his thoughts, Bill realized Brian was waiting on him. “Right! I guess you want in the gate, huh?” He laughed. “Sure thing.”
As Brian drove through, Bill waved. Once the mechanic was on his way, Bill locked the gate and trotted over to the shack to make his phone call.
Johnny grinned as he spelled out another clever word on the Scrabble board. The pout on Danielle’s face made it all the more fun.
“That’s not a word!” She playfully argued.
“Sure it is. It must be…I’ve used it before.”
“Wufflespring? A word? What’s it mean then?”
“Uh…I’d have to think back on that. It’s been awhile.”
“Uh huh. I get it…you need time to make something up.”
Johnny laughed as this was the first time since he’d gotten to Danielle’s that they had been able to feel at ease with each other. He looked longingly at her before leaning forward and kissing her tenderly on the lips. As he drew back, his eyes met hers.
“I think I need to rest now,” Danielle said quietly.
“I’m sorry if--”
“No. Don’t be. I just need to rest…can you help me upstairs?”
Johnny shrugged. “Sure.”
He couldn’t explain it to himself, but the more this woman played with his emotions, the more he wanted to be with her. Like a determination to break down a door that kept opening so far and then closing again. Johnny didn’t know if it was desire or ego…but he knew he wanted to play the game to the finish line.
Brian got out of his truck at his shop and went over to where Johnny’s Land Rover was. Lifting the hood again, he started to take out the damaged hose.
“Need help there?”
“Huh?” Brian jumped in surprise at the voice behind him. Turning around, he smiled. “Marcus! Well, I never expected to see you want to change out a radiator hose,” Brian chuckled. “Not a man who runs a whole town.”
“Keeps me in touch with my people,” Marcus explained. “So we know we have an understanding.”
The tone used was a simple but serious one. Brian didn’t know if he wanted to laugh at the man’s answer or ask for more of an explanation.
“An understanding about what?”
“That you’re going to find more wrong with John’s truck.”
“There’s nothing else wrong with his truck…this’ll fix it. Thomas tell you about this, too?”
Marcus took a step closer without answering Brian’s question. He looked at the new hose lying on the toolbox nearby. A better idea came to his mind.
“Go ahead and fix it. I’ll drive it over to him myself.”
“But…what was that other about?” Brian asked hesitantly. “Finding something else wrong?”
“It’s not important. Just fix John’s truck so he can be in his way.”
Brian nodded unsurely as he turned his attention back to the job at hand. He wasn’t real comfortable with Marcus watching over him now, but as long as he stayed involved in his work, maybe he could get that part out of his mind.
Johnny walked into the kitchen to get a drink of milk. As he poured the cool liquid into a glass, he eyed the telephone on the wall.
Maybe I should give Roy a call and let him know what’s up…just in case anyone’s looking for me. Nah…then word may get to Chet about the squirrel and I’ll never live it down. I’ll be back by the end of my vacation, anyway.
His mind miles away, Johnny dropped the glass of milk when the kitchen door flew open, startling him.
“Oh, John! I’m so sorry,” Maggie was saying. “I should have knocked, but I’m used to it just being Danielle here.” She rushed past a still surprised Johnny and grabbed a sponge near the sink. “I’ll clean this up…you just sit down.”
“No, I can do it,” Johnny said as he stooped down near Maggie. “I don’t want you to cut yourself.”
Maggie allowed him to take the sponge from her. She stood up and watched as he set the sponge down and began to pick up the larger pieces of glass.
“Where is Danielle?”
Johnny looked up from what he was doing. “She’s upstairs resting. Said she felt tired.”
“Is that a good idea? I mean, I always thought with a head injury people had to be kept awake.”
“No, they can’t have any pain medication before a doctor sees them so he can diagnose more accurately, but rest is actually the best thing if it’s not real serious.”
“You ever think about becoming a doctor?”
Johnny laughed. “Never. I don’t think I have it in me. I’m good at what I do…fire and rescue.”
“Ah, I see. Well, we sure could use someone like you around here. For the little emergencies, you know.”
Johnny put the pieces of glass in a trashcan and began to wipe up the milk.
“For things like spilt milk?” He grinned.
Maggie let out a hearty laugh. “You got me with that one. Wasn’t expecting it.” She watched him as he rinsed out the sponge and set it near the sink. “I’ll bet your family’s proud of you.”
Johnny shrugged. “I’d like to think so…but we aren’t in touch very much.”
Maggie tried to contain her excitement. Here was a man they really wanted in their small community…a caring individual with medical and rescue skills, who could fill the gap of not having a full-time doctor available. If any of the children in the town were to wander off and get in a fix, John would be one who would know what to do. And he had no family that would be missing him. The only problems were getting John to agree to stay and finding a way to keep him from contacting his co-workers and friends in the city.
Brian had Johnny’s Land Rover fixed and ready to go. Marcus came out of the garage, a can of pop in his hand.
“So, how’s it coming along?”
“It’s ready,” Brian said, slamming the hood down. “I can take it over to Johnny if you want me to.”
“No, I will. I think you have another job coming along.”
Brian looked curiously at Marcus, then noticed the blue station wagon pulling into the lot. He had worked on many cars in the town, but this one wasn’t familiar. He handed Johnny’s keys to Marcus and ran over to the car now coming to a stop.
Marcus watched as the man got out of his car. Smiling, he climbed into the Land Rover and waved as he drove by. He then pulled out towards Main Street and headed for the main gate.
Johnny came down the steps after checking on Danielle and walked into the kitchen. Once again, Maggie surprised him with a layout of food.
“Just want to say thanks,” she said.
Although he had grown tired of Maggie at first, Johnny found himself feeling more at ease with the woman. Maybe she was a type that had to grow on a person. In any event, he could understand now how Danielle came to look on her as a mother. She certainly looked after everyone enough.
“You don’t haveta keep doing this,” Johnny explained. “Believe me, I’m not used to eating like this at all.”
“And it shows. No wonder you’re skinny.”
Johnny snickered and sat down at the table. “You win.”
Handing him a sandwich, she casually commented. “I hope you’re right.”
Brian was under the blue station wagon looking for what the owner claimed to be a leak of some kind. The mechanic couldn’t find anything wrong. Wriggling out from under the car, Brian sat up, wiping his sweaty forehead and dirty hands with a rag.
“Well, everything looks okay.”
Don Gleason smiled. “I’m glad to hear that. Now for my next problem.”
“Sir?” Brian looked up from where he sat on the ground.
“Marcus feels like you might interfere in some plans he has laid out.”
An uneasy feeling came over Brian. He sensed something was off. He got to his feet, asking, “Why would I do that?”
“Let’s just say he needs a volunteer to disappear as though they stole a vehicle and you’re the prime candidate.”
The mechanic screwed up his face in puzzlement. “Huh?”
Don was staring over Brian’s shoulder. “It’s only till John Gage decides to stay.”
“Decides to stay? He’s not gonna stay. I talked to him earlier. He’s happy where he lives.”
How many people know about him? And why?
Seeing that the man was still looking past him, Brian turned his head to look at what Don was staring at. There was Thomas walking towards him. He hadn’t heard Thomas pull up.
“Relax, Brian. No one’s going to hurt you,” Thomas assured as he approached. “But it’s too dangerous having you around right now.”
“Dangerous?” Brian scoffed. “What are you talking about? I’m a mechanic.”
”You can’t be trusted to keep quiet around John,” Don explained.
Brian looked at the two men. He swallowed hard, fear rising up in him. "What are you going to do?"
Thomas gave a fatherly smile. “Don't worry Brian, we'll take good care of you.”
With that, he felt the poke of a needle in his arm. Brian found himself feeling woozy as he was led over to the station wagon and put in the back seat. Thomas slid in beside him.
Before they had gotten very far down the road, Brian slumped to the side, unconscious.
Up in Danielle’s bedroom, Johnny sat back on a chair near the bed and looked at the woman in front of him. He gave her a crooked grin as he thought about how much things had changed between them in such a short time.
“You seem to be doing better, but you’ve got one heck of a bruise going there.”
“Well, between you and Maggie, I’ve gotten the best care a girl could ask for. I told you she’s like a mother, didn’t I?”
“Yeah. And it’s nice to know you’ll be in good hands when I go back to LA.”
The woman tried to hide the alarm she felt. “You’re not leaving all ready are you?”
“Hmm mmm,” Johnny shook his head. “You aren’t getting rid of me that easy. I just mean when the time comes. When I have to get back to work.”
“I see…” she looked down at her lap.
“Hey, don’t look so sad!” Johnny said, lifting Danielle’s chin up with his fingers. “We have a few days.”
“Right.” Her expression suddenly brightened. “You’re absolutely right.”
Johnny couldn’t get over how quickly she cheered up. Counting it as a blessing, he shrugged it off. Getting on to a new subject, he looked towards the bedroom door.
“That picture in the other room down the hall…is that your dad?”
“Uh…no…just a friend.”
“A big picture like that, I figured he had to be a relative.”
Danielle shook her head. “He’s a close friend, though. Did Maggie show it to you?”
Johnny blushed, “I uh...I kind of peeked around. This morning.”
“It’s okay,” Danielle smiled at the paramedic while thinking, Just remember, curiosity killed the cat.
Marcus pulled off to the side of the road near a steep embankment. The car following him stopped behind the Land Rover.
Getting out of the vehicles the two men stood on the side of the road.
“You think this is far enough away, Marcus?”
“It’s about forty miles. Should keep them from looking around where we live. No one would expect a healthy man to walk very far, let alone an injured one.”
The other man looked over the edge of the road. “Sure is a long drop to the bottom.”
“Precisely,” Marcus answered. “It’ll be hard to find in the first place.” He looked up and down the empty winding road in front of them. “Well, let’s do it.”
Starting the engine, the man with Marcus drove the Land Rover back onto the pavement. He turned it around after going a short distance and stepped hard on the gas. As he came up on a curve, he let the truck go straight and he jumped out, rolling across the pavement. Marcus watched with a gleam in his eyes as the vehicle sailed over the side and slammed into the embankment. It flipped end over end, then rolled, and disappeared in the deep brush at the bottom.
The man limped over to his car.
“You okay?” Marcus asked.
“Yeah. I just sprained my ankle in the jump.”
“You did good, Trevor.”
The two men got in the car, Marcus behind the steering wheel, and headed back towards town.
Johnny could hear Thomas downstairs in the living room talking to Maggie. Excusing himself from Danielle, Johnny went to have a word with the man.
“John! Well, I hear you’re taking good care of our girl,” Thomas remarked, cluing Maggie in to the fact that the paramedic was right behind her.
Maggie turned around and smiled. “Yes, he certainly is. Remind me if I ever get hurt to call on our friend here.”
Johnny grinned slightly. “Hey, I haven’t done much.” He looked over at Thomas. “Is there any way you could give me a lift to Brian’s shop? I wanta see if he got the Rover fixed yet.”
“Sure…what time is it though?”
Johnny looked at his watch, while Thomas glanced at the clock above the television.
“Oh I’m afraid we’re too late for today,” Thomas replied, sounding disappointed. “We’ll have to do it tomorrow.”
“It’s only four-thirty. What time does he close?”
“Four O’clock. Unless he has a customer waiting.”
Johnny sighed. “I guess I wasn’t leaving yet, anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.”
Danielle came down the steps, carefully holding on to the rail. Maggie winked at the woman, as they both knew the Willards couldn’t stay the whole evening, and someone would need to keep an eye on Johnny to prevent him from using the phone and to make sure he stayed busy.
Johnny was over to Danielle’s side as she came down the last few steps.
“You should’ve said something. I would’ve helped you down the stairs.”
“I’m okay. Really.”
“Being that you two are doing so well, we best be leaving for the evening. But call if you need anything at all,” Maggie said, looking directly at Danielle. “And I do mean anything.”
Johnny put his arm around Danielle’s shoulders. “We’ll be fine.”
Maggie and Thomas left as the young couple sat on the couch for another quiet evening. Shutting the door behind them, Maggie pulled Thomas close.
“What are we going to do when he finds out his truck is gone?”
“Tell him we already called the police. Marcus is sending someone over early to discover Brian’s gone…we can make John believe the report has been filed…Trevor’s a former cop, remember? He can dummy up one of his old forms.”
“But, he’s going to want to borrow a car or call his friends, I’m sure.”
“Don’t worry, Maggie, my dear. Tomorrow John Gage cooperates or he gets a rude awakening. No one new to the town leaves once they come in that gate. No one.”
The early morning sun shining in the bedroom window woke Johnny. Getting out of bed and changing into his jeans, he quietly walked into the hallway and peeked in the room across from his. He could see Danielle was still sound asleep. Although they had only watched television together the night before, things had gone rather well. Danielle’s trust in him had apparently grown and the two were becoming closer. Johnny grinned as he closed her bedroom door. He may not be the best at cooking, but he did know the basics, after all. It was his turn to surprise someone.
Danielle giggled when she found Johnny in her kitchen making pancakes. He hadn’t made too much of a mess, but the powder from the mix that had gotten on his jeans and chin made him look like a typical bachelor trying to be a chef. She handed him a paper towel, pointing to her chin.
“You’re wearing some of the breakfast.”
“Thanks,” Johnny said, wiping the towel across his chin. “I’m better with hamburgers and hot dogs.”
“This is nice. Really!”
“How do you feel?”
“Much better. No more headaches, no dizziness. Not tired.” She walked over and sat at the already set table. “You are really something, you know that?”
Johnny put a small stack of pancakes on a plate and set it in front of her. “Now that can go both ways. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
“Good,” Danielle assured, watching him as he turned around to get his own pancakes. “People like you are what we need more of around here.” She waited for his response.
Carrying his own plate to the table, Johnny sat across from her. “If you’re hinting for me to live up here, it’s nice. But it’s too far from work. I’d have to leave an hour and a half early just to get to the station on time. That’s probably if I broke a few speed limits. I’d never make it.”
“Who said anything about the station?”
Johnny gave Danielle a curious look and took a bite of his pancakes. Surely she was kidding around.
Thomas let himself in the back door of Danielle’s house out of habit. He could tell he caught Johnny off guard when the man spun around in alarm from where he was at the sink.
“Got you doing the dishes, does she?” Thomas teased.
“Make a mess, clean up a mess,” Johnny shrugged. “I’m used to dishes. I seem to get the duty all too often at the station. But I’m not used to someone just popping in the door like that. Sorry.”
“Hey, it’s okay. We know it’s not common practice in the city,” Thomas assured. “Just another reason we stay up here. You ready to go get your vehicle?”
“Yeah…sure. Let me tell Danielle I’m going and put on my shirt.”
“How is she doing?”
“Much better. But I still wish she’d gone to a doctor. You know, I’m not qualified to do anymore than a doctor tells me. As a paramedic, I’m just his eyes at the scene in the field.”
“You did fine, son. Now go tell her so we can get a move on.”
There were a few men outside Brian’s shop when Thomas and Johnny arrived there. Getting out of the car, the two men walked over to the group.
“What’s up?” Thomas asked, taking in the concerned faces.
“It’s Brian,” one man answered. “Looks like he skipped town. Emptied out all his money he had in his safe and left.”
Johnny just stood silent, listening to the men.
“His tow truck’s still here,” Thomas pointed out. “Why would he leave without it? How could he have?”
At the mention of the truck still being there, Johnny looked around for his Land Rover. A sudden uneasiness washed over him as he realized it wasn’t anywhere to be seen.
“He took that car he fixed. The white one. Bill saw him goin’ out the gate in the middle of the night…didn’t realize he stole it till early this mornin’.”
“Stole…? He stole my Land Rover? Why?” Johnny shifted on his feet. “He didn’t strike me as a car thief.”
“Me either,” Thomas added. “But he was fairly new to the town. Who knows what the man was capable of. Maybe he was just waiting for the right vehicle to come along.”
“This is just great,” Johnny sighed, frustrated. “Well, we need to call the police.”
“Already been done,” Trevor said, holding out a carbon copy of a report. He let Johnny take it from his hands. “They’ll be looking for it and Brian till they find one or both of them.”
Johnny nodded, glancing over the report. Everything looked to be official. But still…shouldn’t the police talk to him as the owner?
“Didn’t they ask about me? I mean it is…was…my truck.”
“That may be the way it works where you’re from, but here everything in this town belongs to all of us once it comes through that gate.”
Johnny wasn’t sure he understood what the guy meant. Rather than push his luck in asking further, he assumed they meant everyone looked after each other’s belongings.
“I guess I’ll have to drive the tow truck till they find my truck.”
One of the men shook his head. “Sorry, that won’t work. He took parts off if it yesterday. It’s missing half the engine it looks like. No tellin’ why.”
“How am I gonna get to LA?”
At that question the men dispersed, going to their own respective cars. Johnny’s mouth dropped open at the sudden turnabout of concern. He glared at Thomas.
“What…when a guy really needs help around here, everyone looks the other way?”
“It’s not their business. They did their part.”
“I hate to ask, but could you give me a lift somewhere so I could rent a car?”
“Certainly, when the time is right,” Thomas said as he turned to walk back towards his car. Johnny stood and watched as the man got in on the driver’s side.
When the time is right? What the hell does that mean?
He trotted over and got in the car.
“What do you mean when the time is right?”
“There’s no cryptic message there, John. When you’re ready to leave, I’ll take you.”
“What if I’m ready now?” He raised his eyebrows in question.
Johnny chewed his lower lip, thinking about Danielle. He had to admit, he wasn’t.
“Well, I’d say we’ve got time then. What’s your worry? The police are looking for your truck.” Thomas studied Johnny as he started the engine. “This is your vacation. You need to go back to relaxing and enjoying it. You fish at all?”
“Good. We’ll get my gear and go.” When he saw Johnny start to protest, Thomas took one hand off the steering wheel and raised it to silence him. “No arguments. We know what you need.”
What I need is a beer.
Johnny chewed the tip of him thumb as he looked out the window.
My Land Rover could be anywhere.
He hit his fist on his right leg in frustration.
“You know one problem I’ve got, is I don’t have a change of clothes up here,” Johnny remarked to Thomas as they sat on some large rocks, watching their fishing lines in the water.
“Danielle can help there, I’m sure. Just ask her if you can have something out of her store.”
“I don’t want to take anything. If I have to stay up here a couple more days while they look for my truck, I suppose I could buy something.” Johnny thought about his closet of clothes back at his apartment. “You wouldn’t want to run into town so I could get some of my own clothes, would you?”
He hated to ask…he hated being dependent on these people to get him around, period. There was something about having one’s own transportation. Now he understood why Danielle had started out with him like she did. He was beginning to feel trapped without his own wheels.
“We’ll get you set up,” was the answer.
Johnny nodded and looked out at the clear water in the lake. He felt the frustration start to build again. In an effort to keep in control, he focused on the beauty of the place around him.
“Here you are,” Danielle said as she handed two pairs of jeans to Johnny.
They had gone to her store to find Johnny a couple of changes in clothing and a package of underwear. Trying on the jeans, he found some that fit. Danielle had already refused to accept any payment for them. Johnny had been there for her, so she in turn wanted to be there for him.
He looked out the big window at Maggie and Thomas sitting in the car outside.
“You ever feel smothered here?”
Danielle shrugged. “No, not really. Why?”
“I…I don’t know.” Johnny glanced again at the car outside. “I just get the feeling like I can’t make a move without someone knowing what I’m doing. Every time I turn around Maggie or Thomas or both are right there. Are they always like that?”
“They care about you.” She frowned. “I think it’s kind of rude of you to look at them that way. Be grateful. They could just leave you on your own, you know.”
Johnny was taken aback by Danielle’s answer. This was the first sign she’d given that she could turn on him.
“Look, don’t get me wrong. I’m…well, I’m not used to it. Were they this way with you?”
Danielle sighed. “It’s okay. I’m sorry.” She studied his face to see him more at ease, then continued. “Yes, Maggie did a lot for me. She was always there and helped me realize that when it came right down to it, my own family wasn’t even around enough for me. Not as much as the people here would be. And my family got angry at me for wanting to live so far away from them, so I haven’t spoken to them in months. Maggie told me I should do this for myself. Not worry about them. And Marcus told me how rewarding it is to have real friends in life who are closer than family. Ones I can rely on.”
“Doesn’t your family ever visit you here?”
“No.” Feeling like she was giving too much information to Johnny, Danielle changed the subject. “Let’s get out of here. I’ll be spending enough time here tomorrow when I open up again.”
When the Willards dropped them off at Danielle’s house, Johnny looked at Danielle’s car parked in the driveway. As he watched the older couple pull away, he got an idea.
Why didn’t I think about it before? Surely Danielle’ll help me out.
“Hey, can I borrow your car to get to LA?”
Danielle looked at Johnny like he had two heads.
“Now why would I let you do that?”
“What?” Her answer once again caught him totally off-guard.
“Let’s just go inside.”
“I’m not going inside. Not till I get an answer.” Johnny stood rooted to the ground as he waited for a response from the woman.
“Okay,” Danielle let her shoulders drop slightly as if in defeat. “Let’s go in and talk. It’s easier.”
Feeling like he had finally made progress, Johnny followed behind her, hopeful he would be able to go soon to take care of a few things before coming back.
“Sit down and I’ll get you a drink,” Danielle suggested, motioning towards the living room. The two walked over to the couch, and Johnny sat down.
“The drink can wait,” Johnny said firmly. “Start explaining what you meant.”
She put her index finger to his lips. “Shhh.” Pulling her finger away, she leaned forward and kissed him tenderly on the lips. As she backed off, Danielle looked in his brown eyes. She could see the desire return. “I’ll be right back with a drink…beer okay?”
Johnny sat stunned by the changes in her behavior. If she wanted him hooked, he had to admit it was working. His hormones and emotions were as confused as his mind was.
His mind wandered over the past day and a half. This whole town is strange.
The paramedic looked towards the dining room to see if Danielle was coming back yet. Not seeing her, he fiddled with a stack of coasters to stay occupied.
Sure is taking her long enough.
Johnny got up and started towards the kitchen. He and Danielle nearly collided in the dining room.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Danielle said, startled.
“No, it’s my fault. I just wondered what was taking so long.”
Danielle eyed him carefully. “Why? Don’t trust me?” When he opened his mouth to reply, she cut him off. “Don’t say it. I just decided to put more beer in the fridge. These were the last two cold ones.”
They walked back into the living room. Sitting down on the couch and taking a swig of beer, Johnny looked up at Danielle.
“So explain to me why you won’t let me borrow your car.”
“I will. Let me run upstairs real quick. I’ll be right back.”
Johnny sighed, “ ‘Kay.”
Waiting for Danielle to come back down, Johnny noticed her keys on the coffee table.
Should I grab them and just go? Maybe that’s the only way out of here. Nah…don’t be stupid. You’re being paranoid.
The ringing of the telephone interrupted Johnny’s thoughts.
“Can you answer that?” Danielle called from upstairs.
Johnny ran into the kitchen to get the phone before the caller hung up. Danielle peeked down from the landing above to see him rush out of the living room. She smiled as everything was going just as she had set up.
“Hello?…Yes, this is John.” After a brief minute on the telephone Johnny hung up; he was on his way to the bottom of the stairs.
“Danielle, we gotta go!”
The woman came to the landing at the top of the staircase. “Why?”
“One of your neighbors just called! Maggie had her call me…her little girl is having some sort of an attack!”
Without saying anything more, she was down the steps and grabbing her keys. They hurried out the door to the car. Johnny gave Danielle the directions he’d been given. She knew by the location who it was. Three minutes and two turns later, they were at the house.
Danielle opened the front door and Johnny followed in behind her.
“Up here!” A distraught woman directed them from where she stood leaning on a rail above.
This time Johnny led the way and Danielle was behind him.
Entering a bedroom, Johnny could see the little red-haired girl curled up on the bed, her breaths were coming too rapidly.
“What’s her name?” Johnny asked as he went over to the girl.
“Okay, Susy. I’m just gonna take a look at ya, sweetheart,” Johnny held her wrist and checked her pulse. “She ever do this before?”
The mother shook her head. “Huh uh.”
“No…no, nothing like that.”
He frowned. “She’s getting too much oxygen. Do you have any small paper bags?”
The woman nodded.
“Good, go get me one. And make it fast.”
He turned his attention back to the girl as her mother ran out the door.
“It’s okay, Susy. Try to slow your breathing down some, okay, hon? You’re gonna be all right.”
“What’s wrong with her, Johnny?”
He glanced up at Danielle. “I think she’s just hyperventilating. Look, is there a phone upstairs? Do you know? I could call Rampart and get a doctor on the line.”
“Uh…I…I don’t know.” She hadn’t thought of him asking about this. “Tina can tell you when she gets up here.”
The mother came rushing in the door with a small paper sack in her hands. Winded from running up the stairs, she handed it to Johnny.
“You have a phone upstairs?” He asked as he placed the bag over Susy’s nose and mouth.
‘Yeah…in…in my bedroom,” Tina answered. “Why? I don’t want her going anywhere.”
“I need to get a hold of a doctor, that’s all,” Johnny said somewhat angry. He had about had it with their reluctance to get good medical care, especially for a child. “I’m not certified to treat or diagnose anyone on my own. Even less so out of the county.”
“Well, you’ll have to use it in my room. It won’t reach this far.”
“Okay. Hold this on her like it is…just tell her to take slow deep breaths.” As Tina replaced him at the little girl’s side, Johnny went into the other bedroom to make the call. He could hear it ringing on the other end of the line. Dixie picked up, but as Johnny went to speak, the line went dead. He tried hanging up the phone several times to try to get a dial tone. Not getting any results, Johnny held out the receiver and stared at it.
He slammed the receiver down on the base and dejectedly walked into the other room. Susy was now sitting up by her mother and Danielle came in the door behind Johnny.
“What’d he say?” Danielle asked, startling the paramedic.
Johnny turned around and stood with his hands on his hips, chewing his lower lip. “He didn’t. I got cut off before I could say anything to anybody.”
“That’s odd,” she remarked, trying to sound puzzled.
“Where were you?” Johnny asked.
“In the bathroom.”
Trying to ignore the nagging feeling he was getting in the back of his mind, Johnny went over to where Susy was sitting on the bed hugging her mother.
“You okay, sweetheart?” Johnny looked her over and took her pulse again. “She seems to be okay. But really a doc--”
“No! No doctors. Not unless it’s one we have here.”
He put up his hands and stepped back. “I don’t know what it is with you people, but you’re putting yourselves at risk not seeking medical attention when you need it. The least you could do is let your own kid get the best care possible.”
“Johnny, please,” Danielle interjected. “Don’t.”
“Let’s go. Just keep an eye on your daughter, okay?” He asked Tina, his tone softening. “If she has more problems, bring her to me if you have to.”
Tina nodded and hugged her daughter tighter.
Danielle forced a smile. “We can show ourselves out.”
Johnny was the heading out the door, so he didn’t see the two women wink at one another. After the two visitors were gone from the room, Susy gave a questioning look to her mother.
“Did I do okay, mommy? Did I act? I was kinda scared.”
“You did great sweetie,” Tina assured. “Uncle Marcus is going to be proud.”
“Can we play another game to make the prince come save me? I like ‘im!”
“Maybe a different day, Susy. But you know what?” She pinched her daughter’s left cheek. “I think he likes you, too!”
The little girl was beaming.
Dixie hung up the phone after the call disconnected. She stared at it, almost willing it to ring again.
Hmm…that was kind of odd…must’ve been a bad connection.
Danielle and Johnny headed for the front door. As they passed by another room, Johnny caught something familiar out of the corner of his eye. Peeking in the doorway to a den, he did a double take when he saw the same picture of Danielle’s friend in this house as well. She winced when she realized what he was looking at.
“Popular guy, huh?” Johnny said sarcastically.
“I think it’s time I told you everything,” Danielle offered.
“Really? Ya think so, huh?”
They got in the car outside and she pulled away from the curb.
“Whatever happens, Johnny, just remember…you brought it on yourself.”
He stared at the side of her face, as her eyes stayed locked on the road ahead. This time he didn’t ask what she meant. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know.