A THANKSGIVING TO REMEMBER
The fire raged hot and loud. The people stood as far from the doomed building as possible, yet still keep within sight of the remains of their homes. They stood in a tight group, friends comforting friends, family hugging other family members. All that is, except one. She stood alone under a large tree.
Johnny paused in his mad flight away from the fire. He saw her standing alone and felt sorry for her, and the other tenants who were now homeless. He remembered what it was like to lose everything in a fire. He also remembered the frantic hunt for a new place to call home. Now, someone else was in the same boat. He shook his head and hurried to the squad and knelt beside his partner.
“How’s he doing?” Johnny asked.
“He’s coming around. He swallowed quite a bit of smoke, but I think he’s going to be fine.” Roy, his partner and best friend turned and reached for the bio-phone. He glanced up at his partner before making contact with the hospital.
Johnny leaned over their victim and quickly began taking a blood pressure reading. He scribbled the information down in his book and gave it to Roy, who read off the readings to the waiting doctor.
“10-4, Rampart, IV D5W TKO and transport.” Roy returned the small book to his partner. “I’ll ride in with him.”
“Okay, I’ll meet you at the hospital.”
Roy jumped into the ambulance and helped load the gurney with the injured man aboard. He grabbed the bio-phone and drug box from Johnny then seated himself on the bench, ready for the long ride to the hospital.
Several hours later the two men returned to the station where the rest of A-shift was already in their bunks. The fire had been a bad one, and the men were tired after fighting the raging monster for five hours. Roy and Johnny slipped into the dorm area as quietly as possible.
“Is the man going to make it?” their Captain whispered as they crept by his bunk.
“Yeah, he swallowed a lot of smoke, but the doc said he’d be fine,” Roy whispered to him.
“That’s good to hear. Well, good night.” Captain Stanley rolled over and pulled the covers up to his chin.
After a quick shower Roy and Johnny crawled into their bunks and quickly fell into a deep dreamless sleep.
The next morning the men left as quickly as their replacements arrived. They were ready for the long weekend ahead of them. Roy and Johnny paused beside their vehicles for a last word.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come over for Thanksgiving? Jenny was really looking forward to you coming,” Roy told his friend.
“Not this year. I have a recipe I want to try out, and Thanksgiving is a good time to do it. I might call and see about coming over for a late snack, just to keep my girl happy, though. If that’s okay, that is?” Johnny quirked an eyebrow.
“Sure. Jenny’ll like that. So will Joanne; that means less leftovers for the next week!” Roy waved and climbed in his car. “See ya tomorrow sometime!”
“Have a great day and even better long weekend!” Johnny called back as he, too jumped in his vehicle and pulled away.
Johnny stopped at his mailbox before entering the building. He saw a new name penciled in the box just below his. He grinned when he realized it was a woman’s name, and there was no other name beside it.
Quickly he unlocked the gate and headed for his apartment on the second floor.
A young woman stood uncertainly at the door of the recently rented apartment. She juggled a bag of groceries and a small overnight case, trying to get a clear shot at the lock on the door. Before Johnny could offer to help, she swung the door open and entered the apartment. Johnny shook his head. He could not recall where he had seen her before, but he knew she looked vaguely familiar. Shrugging off the feeling of deja' vue, he entered his own place and closed the door.
Someone was knocking on his door. Johnny rolled over and glanced at his clock. It showed the time as five o’clock. He had slept most of the day. The knocking came again.
“Johnny?” he heard the voice of his landlady calling. Thinking something must be wrong he jumped from his bed and pulled on a robe. He opened the door and saw Mrs. Hargraves standing with a pie in her hands. She smiled at him and offered the tantalizing treat to him. He was one of her favorite tenants.
“Wow! Thanks!” he said as he took the proffered offering. “Come on in for a minute.” Johnny stepped aside and waited until she was in the room before closing the door and heading for the kitchen. He placed the still warm pie on the counter. “Would you like some coffee?” he asked.
“No, no. I just wanted to bring the pie over before Frank got home. He would have dug right in and asked if it was okay after. Land sakes, I didn’t mean to wake you!” She fussed around Johnny like a mother hen.
“That’s okay, Mrs. Hargraves. I needed to get up anyway! I need to get the turkey on to cook that I bought several days ago. It should be thawed by now.”
“Oh? You aren’t going to your friend’s home this year?” she asked, intrigued.
“No. I decided to start my own tradition this year. I had a friend give me a recipe for some stuffing, and I want to try it out.”
“Why, you are becoming very domesticated for a single young man!” she said and laughed at his expression.
Johnny blushed and quickly changed the subject. “Whose the new tenant? I saw her this morning as I was coming in.”
“Oh, the poor dear!” Mrs. Hargraves said and wrung her hands. “She lost everything in a fire the other night. She was recommended by one of the charity places around here. She has very good references, even from the place that burned.”
Johnny nodded as the memory of a young woman standing alone under a tree surfaced. “I remember the fire. It took five hours to get it under control. My partner and I ended up with a patient at Rampart because of it.”
“I wondered if your station was there. I say a prayer for you and the men every time I hear the sirens going by. I do so worry about you, Johnny!” Mrs. Hargraves bustled from the tiny kitchen and headed for the door. She stopped and said, “Her name is Lilly Myers. She’s single, and a nurse. Although right now she is looking for a job here in the city. She moved from one of the southern states, but I can’t quite tell which one. She has a nice accent, though.”
Johnny rolled his eyes at his landlady’s attempt to interest him in the newest tenant.
“Thanks for the pie, Mrs. Hargraves. You have a nice Thanksgiving.” Johnny started to close the door once his landlady had left, but a slight movement caught his eye. He looked down to the newly rented place. The young woman, whose name he now knew, was quietly leaving. She looked tired and about done in. Johnny shook his head. He remembered all too well what he went through when his place had burned a few years earlier. She smiled as she passed him. He heard a quiet greeting then she disappeared down the steps. Johnny closed the door and stood leaning against its coolness. He became lost in thought for a moment, then shook himself to clear his mind. He had a turkey to get started cooking! With a crooked grin and a small skip in his step, he walked into his tiny kitchen and pulled the turkey from his refrigerator. He scanned the directions for cooking, then slid it into the waiting oven. A shower was the next thing on his agenda.
The next morning dawned cold and gray. Clouds obscured the watery winter sun. Johnny bustled around his apartment, getting ready to make the stuffing from the recipe his latest date had given him. He sniffed appreciatively at the aroma the baking turkey was making. He felt his mouth watering and could barely make himself wait for it to finish cooking.
He gathered the required ingredients for the stuffing. He dug around his cabinets looking for the oregano, but could not find the bottle he had bought a few days earlier. “Now I know I bought a bottle of that stuff! Where did I put it?” He shuffled the contents around some more, but the missing bottle remained elusive. “Now what will I do? There’s not a place open today!” He stood looking into his cabinets. Frustration covered his features. He could, he supposed, call over to Roy’s and ask Joanne if she had any of the needed spice, but he did not want to bother the family. An idea occurred to him, and before he could change his mind he was out the door and standing in front of his new neighbor’s place. He knocked softly, a thought that she might not be up or home, slipping through his mind. A few seconds later he heard the sound of a chain lock sliding from its housing. The door opened a crack and an eye peeked around the edge of the opening.
“Hi. My name’s Johnny Gage. I live just down the hall from you,” he said in greeting. “I uh, I’m sorry to bother you, but I was wandering if you might have some oregano I could borrow?”
She stood staring at him with a strange look in her eyes. Johnny fidgeted in place. He was not used to someone looking at him in such a peculiar manner. Suddenly she laughed and smiled. Her entire features changed with the simple act of smiling.
“Sure, step in a minute and I’ll get it for you.” She stepped back and motioned him inside. He stepped in and glanced around. She hurried to the kitchen area and he heard her opening and closing one of the cabinet doors. She returned with a small glass bottle in her hand. “Here ya go. Just keep it, since there isn’t much left. I hope it’s enough for what you need.”
“Yeah, I think so,” he said, holding it up to the light. “Thanks!” He looked around again and made a quick decision. “Would you like to join me for Thanksgiving lunch? It’s just me and a big turkey.”
She smiled again and started to shake her head. “I wouldn’t want to intrude on your day off, Mr. Gage. I was planning on a nice quiet day to make a list of things to buy tomorrow once the stores open up again.”
“You were one of the people displaced by the fire a few days ago, weren’t you?” Johnny asked.
“Yes. I lost all my furniture and clothes. Luckily my other stuff was still in storage, so I still have photographs and other paraphernalia.”
“I know what you mean,” Johnny said. “I lost all my stuff in an apartment fire a few years ago. It was pretty devastating. But it took me a while to actually accept it. I went from one friend’s home to another until I found this place.”
“I guess I was lucky, then. The Red Cross sent me here. Mrs. Hargraves said she had an opening just before I came over. So I didn’t argue the point. I told her great! And here I am.”
“Well, you won’t be intruding on my day off, ‘cause I am inviting you over. Why don’t you come down around two o’clock and we can eat then?” Johnny asked, giving her one of his crooked grins.
“Well, if you’re sure?” she said, still not certain.
“Great! I’ll be looking for you around two!” He grinned again and headed back to his place.
“You nut!” she called to his retreating back.
He waved, but did not stop. She watched until he disappeared through his door. She sent quick prayer Heavenward, then closed her door. Quickly crossing the small space she pulled pans and bowls from the cabinets. In no time she had two pies and a two dozen cookies ready for baking in her oven. If nothing else, she thought, she could carry him some desserts!
Johnny put the glass jar on the shelf. He grabbed the telephone and began making some calls. By two o’clock he had everything ready. He was pulling the dressing from the oven when he heard the knock at his door. He quickly deposited the hot pan on the waiting pads and went to answer the door. She stood waiting for him to open the door.
“I don’t think I ever told you my name,” she began as he took one of the pies from her. “I’m Lilly Meyrs.”
“Nice to meet you!” Johnny said. “Let me help you!” He spotted the cookies and snagged the plate. He grinned at her as she hefted one of the pies, pretending to throw it at him.
“Keep that up and I’ll take my offerings and leave!” she laughed, feeling comfortable with the paramedic. “I see you like cookies. There’re three different types, to be exact. I was only going to make one kind, but since I don’t have a chance to cook often, I decided to make a bunch!”
“Yum!” Johnny said, snitching one from the plate he was carrying. “These are great!” he said around a mouthful of cookie.
She shook her head at him. He was cute, in a boyish kind of way. She put the plate of cookies on the table and swatted at him as he grabbed another handful. “Those are for later! You eat them now and you won’t want to eat lunch, or is it dinner now?”
“Dinner, I think,” he said, his voice muffled by the cookies.
“Pig!” she said teasingly.
“You’ve got that right!” a new voice said from the doorway.
Lilly spun around and saw a short stocky man with dark curly hair standing in the doorway. Behind him was a tall Hispanic man. He pushed the shorter man into the room.
“You’re blocking the door, Chet! Move on in!” Marco slid around his friend. “Hi, I’m Marco Lopez. The dude with the dumb look is Chet Kelly.”
“What dumb look?” Chet demanded. He walked further into the room and held out his hand, “Nice to meet you, Miss?” he left the question open.
“Lilly, meet Chet Kelly and Marco Lopez. We work together.” Johnny called from the kitchen.
“Nice to meet you,” she said, nervously.
“Hey, Johnny, can I talk to you for a minute?” Marco asked.
“Sure, come on in the kitchen. Lilly, would you mind going downstairs and getting Mrs. Hargraves to open the ice machine for us?” Johnny poked his head through the doorway.
“Sure, not a problem.” She quickly left the crowded apartment.
Chet watched until she vanished from view. He, Marco and Johnny quickly laid out the plan to set up the surprise for her.
“Cap and Roy will be here in about an hour with the truck. Joanne and Maggie will be here, too. Mike said he and Peggy would come help, but we will need to call and let him know when we are ready. He has his in-laws over,” Johnny told them.
“What made you decide to help her? Do you think she’ll get mad if we just go in and set stuff up? How are you going to keep her in here? You know moving stuff isn’t very quiet work,” Chet fired the questions at the paramedic.
“I remember how it was for me when my place burned. I think it would be good to help someone who is in a bad way. If it hadn’t been for you guys and all you did I wouldn’t have what I have now. I’d probably still be trying to get stuff together. This way she won’t have to worry about spending money she may not have available. Besides, Roy and Cap said they had plenty of extra furniture that needs a new home, and it’s in good shape. As for keeping her from hearing us; we’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it.”
A gentle tap on the door heralded Lilly’s return. She had a small bucket filled to overflowing with ice.
Chet jumped to her side and took the bucket. “Jeez, your arms must be freezing!”
“Just a little!” she laughed.
“Well, we gotta be going. See you on Monday, Johnny! Nice to have met you, Lilly!” Marco and Chet said as they hurriedly left.
“Your friends didn’t stay long. Did I run them off?” Lilly asked, worried.
“Nah, they just stopped by to make sure I really was cooking.” Johnny laughed. “They don’t think I know how to cook anything other than hotdogs or hamburgers.”
“Well, I think I can tell them differently!” She laughed with him.
“Where are you from, Lilly? I like your accent.” Johnny was removing another dish from the oven. Melted marshmallows covered the contents of the dish.
“I’m from all over. My parents were in the military and we traveled everywhere. Mostly, though, I could claim Texas or Louisiana. My dad was stationed at Barksdale for a while. Mom left the military once she and dad got married.”
“Wow, then you’ve seen a lot more of the world than I have!” Johnny grinned at her. He proffered the plates to her. She took them and began to set the table.
“There’s four plates here. Is someone else coming?” she asked.
“I hope you don’t mind. I asked my partner and his wife over. They sent their kids to stay with Roy’s mom until tomorrow.”
“Why tomorrow? Don’t they want to have Thanksgiving together?”
“They will, tomorrow at his mom’s place. His family is gathering there and they are going to make a day of it. It isn’t often they get a chance to gather together at one time. Most times we end up working Thanksgiving.”
“Oh. I can certainly understand that!” She stood gazing sadly out the plate glass door to Johnny’s balcony.
“What about you and your family?” Johnny asked. He carried out four glasses and set them on the table. “Do you have a hard time getting together?”
She shook her head and sighed. “My family was killed three years ago when a drunk driver hit the van we were traveling in. I was the only one that survived.”
“Oh,” Johnny said, unsure what to say next. “I’m sorry.”
“It was three years ago, and I have moved on.” She smiled to let him know he had not upset her. “I have a lot to be thankful for this year.”
“What do you mean? You lost your home and all your furniture. Your family is gone. And well, Mrs. Hargraves said you are looking for work?” Johnny stared at her.
“Even so, Johnny Gage, I have a lot to be thankful for.” She walked back into the kitchen and began pulling drawers open. “Where’s your cutlery?”
“You surprise me,” Johnny said as he entered the small area and pulled open a drawer to reveal the knives and forks.
“Why’s that?” she asked.
“You’ve had a lot of tragedy in your life recently, and yet you still say you can be thankful?”
“Yes. Would you like to know what I am thankful for?
“Friends, a place to live, food on my table, a car to get where I need to go and my own life. I could have lost my life either in the fire the other day, or even when my family was killed. I am a Christian, and so were they. I know I’ll see then again.
“I start a new job on Monday. And I am making friends every day I live.”
“I never thought to look on it like that!” Johnny exclaimed. He smiled at her, then reached out and gave her a hug. Briefly he felt her stiffen, then she relaxed and returned the hug. “Friends?” he asked.
“Yup,” she answered and shook his hand.
“Roy and Joanne should be here any minute. Let’s get this table set! You’ll like them. Roy is kinda quiet, and serious, but Joanne is really open. You and she will get along great. Maybe you two could go shopping together tomorrow.”
“You take things for granted a lot, don’t you?”
“What do you mean?” Johnny stopped in his tracks.
“You’ve already said she and Roy were going to his mother’s house for Thanksgiving. When would she have time to go shopping?”
“Oh yeah. Guess I forgot. Well, maybe you could go Saturday?”
“Why not wait and see if we even like each other, first?” Lilly laughed as she sat the bowl of candied yams on the table.
A knock sounded and the door swung open. A tall blond haired man and a shorter dark hair woman entered the apartment.
“Lilly, this is my partner and best friend Roy DeSoto and his beautiful wife, Joanne.” Johnny pushed Lilly forward.
“Hello. It’s nice to meet you.” Lilly said. She smiled shyly at the couple. Joanne reached out and gave her a hug. Roy shook her hand.
“Johnny told us you were involved in the fire at the apartment complex the other day. I am so sorry! Is there anything we can do to help?” Joanne said with a rush.
“Oh, um, no, not really. Now that I have a new place all I have to do is replace some furniture and some clothes. Most of my stuff was still in storage.” Lilly smiled at them. Johnny was right; she did like the DeSotos.
Once pleasantries were finished and introductions complete, the small group gathered around the table. Roy asked the blessing. Roy and Johnny discussed events at the station and Joanne and Lilly talked about what was needed to replace the belongings that was lost in the fire. A pleasant hour passed. The group remained at the table drinking coffee and nibbling on the remains of the turkey and other food.
“Johnny, why don’t you and Roy go for a short walk? I’m sure Lilly and I can handle the cleanup. I never knew you could cook so well, Johnny.” Joanne rose and began collecting plates and cups. Lilly stood and helped. Soon the table was cleared and the two, who had become fast friends, were loading the dishwasher. Roy and Johnny disappeared through the door.
Lilly and Joanne laughed and talked like old friends as they made fast work of the mess Johnny had made in his tiny kitchen.
“Why are men such nasty cooks?” Joanne asked as she wiped the counter with a damp rag.
“Um, because they think we women will follow behind and clean up after them?” Both women broke into gales of laughter at the comment.
“You know, Joanne. I realize we’ve only known each other for about two hours, but I feel I’ve known you so much longer. It’s really nice to have another woman to talk to.” Lilly spoke softly, afraid of rejection.
“I feel the same way, Lilly. Maybe we can go shopping together on Saturday? I know you were planning on going tomorrow, but, well, would you mind waiting a day?” Joanne asked.
“No, not at all! It would be really nice to have some company!” Lilly reached over and gave her new friend a hug. “Oh my! Look at he time! I need to get back and get the place cleaned up. Not that there is much cleaning to do!” she laughed. “Want to come help with more cleaning?”
Joanne laughed, “Sure! Hang on, let me write Roy and Johnny a note.”
The door opened and Johnny and Roy walked in. Behind them were several other people, two of which Lilly recognized from earlier in the day.
“Well, I won’t need to write that note after all!” Joanne jumped up and gave Roy a hug. “Everything ready?” she whispered.
“Yeah,” he whispered back.
“We are going to do some clean up work in Lilly’s apartment. I’ll be back shortly. Coffee is made. Help yourself!” Joanne and Lilly left the apartment. The others crowded in the doorway to hear Lilly’s reaction. It was not long in coming.
Lilly opened the door and stopped in her tracks. Her living room now had a couch and an easy chair. Two end tables held small lamps that illuminated the room softly. She walked in, mouth agape. In the dining section of the apartment was a small round table with two chairs. She ran to her bedroom and stopped, staring at the bed that was now in place of her pallet. It had been made with her sheets and comforter. Two large pillows rested against the headboard. Lilly spun around and raced back to the living room.
“How? When?” she exclaimed, tears running down her cheeks. Joanne smiled at her then motioned to the waiting group down the hall.
Six men and four women crowded into the small apartment. The men stood grinning at her surprise. The women quickly introduced themselves then gave her hugs of encouragement.
“Oh my! But, I don’t understand! None of you even know me!” Lilly wailed.
“We don’t need to know you to help you!” Joanne explained. “Johnny called us and told us you needed help. We gladly volunteered to give that help. You see, Johnny was in the same position as yourself not long ago.”
Lilly nodded her head. “Johnny told me. But, still.”
“Johnny asked us to help. We couldn’t say ‘No.’ We honestly hope you don’t mind,” Maggie, Hank Stanley’s wife told her.
“Mind? Not at all! You have all given me a Thanksgiving to remember!”
“Come on, let’s go get some of that coffee Joanne made!” Captain Stanley said to the group. “Then we can all introduce ourselves to this young lady.”
“I’ll….I’ll be there in just a minute,” Lilly said. The group left a still stunned Lilly and headed for Johnny’s apartment. Johnny stood in the doorway watching her. He grinned at her expression. He walked over to her and gently took her by the arm.
“Come on, coffee’s getting cold.” He closed the door and escorted her to his apartment.
She stopped just outside his place. She turned tear-filled eyes to her benefactor, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” They entered the now crowded room and closed the door. Laughter drifted down the hall.
Outside the building the sun broke through the cloud cover and gentle fingers of light filtered down from the Heavens. A dim rainbow stretched across the rapidly darkening sky.
You may want to read the story ‘Displaced’ by dee_ayy, which is referenced in this story with Johnny losing all in a fire.