Now, That’s a Challenge!
By Audrey W.
“So you wanna come over tomorrow and help build a house?” Roy asked his partner as soon as they’d finished inventorying their squad at the beginning of their shift.
John Gage closed the compartment doors on the passenger side and looked at his friend.
“What. . .you mean like a bird house. . .or for the dog?”
Roy shook his head. “A gingerbread house. Joanne insisted we give it a try this year for the kids. She’s baking all the parts. I figure I can use your help in putting it together.”
“How big is it gonna be, anyway?”
“Just the normal size. You know.” He motioned with his hands to indicate the dimensions, which were about equal to half an average loaf of bread, only a bit taller. “But I’ve heard those things can be tricky.”
Johnny shrugged. “Okay, I’ll be over. I mean, how hard can it be?”
Johnny arrived at the DeSoto home shortly before the house assembly would begin. He sat in the livingroom and watched Roy’s son and daughter, Christopher and Jennifer, pick up wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree and make guesses as to what was inside each.
“What do you think this one is?” he asked as he held up a long flat box covered in blue shiny foil wrap.
“Don’t encourage them,” Roy said playfully as he joined them after checking on the status of their project pieces. “It’s amazing how much a four and six year old can figure out just from the shape of a package.” He nodded toward the kitchen. “Jo says we can start on the house--”
He no sooner got the words out, when Chris and Jennifer scrambled to their feet and raced toward the kitchen in excitement. The two men followed behind after Johnny placed the box back on the floor. They’re enthusiasm was much less than the youngsters.
Before too long, the men were about done with the cookie house assembly. With all the pieces in place, they only had to let the icing set.
“All right, I’ll just hold this half of the roof on and..”
Roy watched in astonishment as the gingerbread roof fell in when the last panel broke in half vertically.
“What’d ya do?” Johnny asked in disbelief. They’d gotten so far on it.
“I didn’t do anything. Well, other than try to hold the roof on. But I wasn’t exactly putting any pressure on it.”
“Oh man, look at it. . .”
Joanne returned to the kitchen, and right away four year old Jennifer was over to her, pulling on her skirt.
“Mommy, looky the house!”
The mother hurried over, expecting good news. Her smile turned to a frown when she saw what had happened.
“We were doing so good,” Roy assured.
Johnny nodded in his support.
“Well, at least the walls are still standing. And it still has half a roof. You and the kids can decorate those.”
“I don’t suppose you’d be up to baking a new piece for--”
She shook her head ‘no’ in response to Roy’s suggestion, knowing full well what he was thinking.
“It’s okay, we can just pretend it has a whole roof, right kids?”
The two little ones nodded enthusiastically at their mom’s idea. They loved to pretend. They just couldn’t wait to put the gumdrops in the gingerbread house’s yard and other candies on the walls, with icing used like a ‘glue’.
“It’s fine,” Joanne assured again when she saw the two men with disappointment on their faces. “You guys gave it your best shot. That’s good enough for us,” she added with a shrug. She then started to help the children get the icing on the walls where they wanted to place some sweet decorations.
Roy chewed his lower lip in thought while Johnny furrowed his brow, both with their gaze on the mini partial disaster.
As rescuers, they went into burning structures, climbed to heights that would terrify some, and certainly found themselves in a variety of precarious situations often enough. No way were they going to let a little thing like a gingerbread house get the best of them.
They were men with their pride at stake.
Determination filled their eyes.
During their next shift, Johnny and Roy stopped by a grocery store after their first rescue of the day. They were able to find what they were looking for there; a gingerbread house kit, pre-baked and complete with icing, candies, everything they’d need.
“This is gonna be great,” Johnny said as he climbed back into the squad, the kit box in his hands.
“Let’s just be sure we don’t make the same mistake twice.”
The younger man agreed, then looked at his partner in the driver’s seat of the truck.
“Wait. I didn’t make a mistake,” he said with a hand splayed on his chest.
Roy shot him a quick glance. “Okay, I don’t make the same mistake twice.”
Gage just nodded, a slight smile on his face that soon turned to a frown. Roy hadn’t really done anything wrong. Could they avoid a repeat?
“What’re you guys doing?” Marco and Chet asked having just come into the dayroom after being called out to a house fire. Engineer Mike Stoker came in right behind them and looked at the partially built gingerbread house on the table.
“What’s it look like we’re doin’?” Johnny wondered.
Chet came closer and leaned forward. “Like you’re building a trap for Hansel and Gretel. Only it’s kinda small.”
The dark haired paramedic rolled his eyes. “Get outta here,” he groaned and he stepped in front of the nosey fireman.
“Can’t we watch?”
“No, you’ll bring us bad luck.”
Marco turned to Roy, who hadn’t said anything yet.
“Roy doesn’t mind if we stay, do you?”
The senior paramedic stepped back after sticking the walls together with icing and glanced at the three observers.
“Actually, I think he’s right.”
“Well, where’re we supposed to go?” Chet questioned.
“Out back to play basketball or somethin’” Johnny offered. “Mow the lawn, wash the squad. . .” he added with a wave of his hand.
“Don’t you mean the engine?” Marco asked.
Gage cracked a crooked grin. “’Course not. What good is it gonna do us if you wash that?”
“That’s it,” Chet said as he headed for the couch against the wall below one of the windows. “I’m stayin’.”
Gage opened his mouth to protest, but was cut off when the klaxons sounded, sending the squad out for a dog bite victim.
The paramedics scrambled from the room, Johnny directing over his shoulder to the three engine crew members as he followed Roy out the doorway, “Don’t touch anything!”
He and Roy already had four walls to the house up. They couldn’t have anything happen to their project now.
“Man, that was some dog,” Gage repeated after he and Roy got back to the station. He’d already made the comment twice since they’d taken the bite victim to Rampart.
As they climbed from the squad, Roy commented, “Looked more like a wolf. A not so friendly one at that.”
“Yeah. . .I’m sure glad the owner had him on a leash before we got there.”
Before the conversation could continue, Chet met them at the doorway of the dayroom, them heading in, him on his way out. He rubbed his stomach and licked his lips.
“That was a tasty house you guys had there.”
Two mouths dropped open.
“You didn’t!” Johnny said as he pushed past the fireman and into the room.
Roy was right beside him in an instant. Both breathed sighs of relief when they saw it was still as they’d left it. Marco and Mike were at the other end of the table, each with a section of newspaper.
Johnny turned around in time to see the prankster grin. It was obvious now that Chet had no intention of leaving the room when he’d met them in the doorway.
The paramedic relaxed, as did Roy. All they cared was that the partial house was still assembled and there. They immediately started back to work on it, the next step being the dreaded roof.
“Well, look,” Johnny said. “With the last one, we got one half of the roof on okay. Maybe we oughta just do that, let it sit, then add the other half.”
“You wanna enjoy our success before we fail again, too, huh?”
Johnny looked at the shell of a house.
“Yeah,” he finally admitted after a brief pause.
“Boy, if the three little pigs worked like you two, they never woulda got the house of bricks up before the big bad wolf came around.”
“Funny he should mention a wolf,” Roy mumbled.
“That was only one pig that built the house of bricks,” Johnny reminded.
“Even makes my point better. It takes two paramedics to do what one pig could accomplish by himself in a lot less time.”
The two exchanged eye rolls, then Roy squeezed more icing from a plastic tube onto the top edge on one half of the house walls. The front and back ones were each triangular at the top, the side walls rectangular and only reaching to the height where the triangle shape began. That would make the roof a pitched one. Johnny placed the rectangle piece of cookie over the newly iced parts and carefully held it in place at the bottom edge.
“We’d better tie this plastic tube shut while that sits awhile,” Roy suggested. “It came out okay, but the icing was kind of setting up inside, too.”
Roy went in search of a rubber band while Johnny remained with his right fingertips gently against the roof.
Before Roy had returned from his search, another member of A-shift entered the dayroom, a file folder in his right hand.
“Ah, I see you’re back at it. The guys told me you and Roy were building the house,” Captain Stanley remarked with a slight grin.
“We’re tryin’, despite a few distractions,” Johnny explained with an annoyed glance in the direction of the others.
Chet pulled a move Gage himself would normally do. He splayed a hand on his chest and feigned innocence. “We’re just doing our part to support the project.”
“Well, what’s the deal?” Hank asked. “Is there a contest somewhere? There’s gotta be a point to all this.”
Marco suddenly became more interested. “Yeah, Johnny. Why are you two building a gingerbread house?”
“Because. . .because we wanna,” he shrugged.
The captain set his file folder down on the table beside the project, then took a seat.
“I hope it won’t interfere with your concentration if I do my work here. I need a change from the four walls of my office – they’re kind of closing in on me.”
In his mind, Johnny said, ‘well, actually—‘. But what came out of his mouth was, “Nah,, not at all, Cap. Not at all.”
Hank opened the file and picked up a sheet of paper with charts printed on it.
“Hey, I found a rubber band. It’s kind of big--” Roy stopped in mid step and sentence when he saw their audience had grown. At the same time the klaxons went off. The squad was being sent out for a woman in labor.
“Chet, you wanted to do your part. Hold the roof,” Johnny directed. He about dragged the fireman over and put Chet’s hand where his had been. “Gently!”
Roy tossed the rubber band onto the table in front of Mike. “Close up the icing tube.”
The two paramedics were gone in a matter of seconds. The captain hurried out as well, to acknowledge the call.
Chet just wondered how long he was now going to be stuck literally supporting the edible project he’d considered laughable.
The rescue had gone well. Johnny and Roy had gotten to the scene before the baby arrived and delivered a healthy boy, eight pounds nine ounces.
“Well, if we can bring a life into this world, we can certainly put together a small house made of cookies,” the dark-haired paramedic commented as he and Roy headed out of Rampart and toward their squad near the exit.
“I don’t know. Don’t forget, a baby comes out fully assembled.”
His partner had to admit, he had a valid point.
This time when they got back to the station, the engine was not in the bay. The crew had been sent out with Squad 16 on a motor vehicle accident.
“Oh man!” Johnny jumped out of the squad as soon as Roy brought it to a stop.
He was very glad to soon see that the icing had set enough to keep the roof panel from sliding off with no manual support. So far, they were still on the road to success.
This time Johnny trimmed the top edge of the remaining open walls with icing and Roy would put on the left roof panel.
“You sure you don’t wanna just decorate it as it is?”
Roy didn’t say anything, but the two mentally crossed their fingers as he went ahead with the plan to close up the small house.
He held the piece in place the same as Johnny had before.
Gage almost cringed as he anticipated disaster to hit again. When it didn’t, both he and Roy grinned with sighs of relief.
“Do you believe it?” the younger man asked, still with a crooked grin on his face. “Do you believe it? We did it,” he added with a pat on his partner’s back.
Luckily, the pat wasn’t very hard, certainly not enough to make Roy move. However the quick ‘what’re you doing?’ look he gave was reminder enough it could’ve changed everything.
Johnny immediately stepped away and grabbed the kit box from where they’d set it on the counter earlier. He went back over to the table and a couple of spaces away from the house, began to lay out the candies in their individual clear plastic packages.
There were green and red gumdrops, peppermint lifesavers, red hots and green sugar. The picture on the front of the box showed the lifesavers as shingles on the roof, icing underneath used to hold them on.
“We’d better go easy on these roof extras,” Johnny said as he looked over them. “Including the icing. I don’t know that all the weight won’t make it collapse.”
Roy nodded in agreement. “It may have worked for them, but with our luck, I’d say the less the better.”
“Yeah, no kiddin’. We got this far, no sense in pushin’ it.”
But the decorating would come later anyway. For now, they were just glad they’d gotten as far as they had and they’d take it as a victory.
Johnny and Roy were at the table admiring their work when the engine crew returned.
“Well, you got it put together,” the captain said as he approached the table. “Looks great!”
“Looks a little plain to me,” Chet put in.
“We’re gonna decorate it,” Johnny assured, “We’ll decorate it. It just needs to sit a little longer, that’s all.”
“Why?” Mike asked. “It looks sturdy enough.”
Roy sat back in his chair. “We just wanna make sure it’s ready. A little extra time can’t hurt.”
Johnny caught some motion out of the corner of his right eye and batted Chet’s hand away from the gumdrops.
“Those’re for the house.”
“Ah, c’mon, everyone knows part of the fun in this stuff is eating the trim.”
“As in off the house. Not before it goes on.”
But although most of the candies made it to the house later, all six firemen had eaten a few while Johnny and Roy worked on it.
Finally the whole thing was done. A thin layer of white icing covered the roof, a few lifesavers were on it here and there. Gumdrops lined the bottom edge of the house and two stacks of three green ones were placed in front on the cardboard platform it was built on for ‘trees’. Red hots were on the sides of the outside walls in the pattern of window frames, with icing holding them in place as well. The front door was drawn on with icing too, and a gumdrop was in place as a doorknob. The green sugar was sprinkled on the roof to make up for the lack of color with less lifesavers being used.
The paramedics went to sleep that night, satisfied that they’d met their goal completely. Roy would take the cookie house home in the morning. Johnny insisted he get to be there so he could see Joanne’s and the kids’ faces when they saw it.
But the sound of the klaxon at four-thirty in the morning shoved all that away for the time being. The men of Station 51 found themselves at a large structure fire. Johnny and Roy’s only concerns were making sure no one was trapped inside, as well as treating any victims for smoke inhalation or injury, including their fellow firefighters. With no serious injuries occurring, the medics assisted in tackling the flames and some of the clean-up afterwards.
By seven-forty-five in the morning the men from A-shift had finally made it back to the station, tired and smelling of smoke, but in time for B-shift to take over for them at eight o’clock.
“Man, I can’t wait for Joanne and the kids ta see that house,” Johnny said as Roy backed the squad into the apparatus bay.
Roy found it funny Johnny seemed almost more excited about it than him. This wasn’t the first time he’d been like this. A few years earlier, when they’d been accused of stealing a victim’s money then were cleared later, Johnny couldn’t wait to tell Joanne the good news because he needed to ‘share it with someone’ too.
The captain headed for his office to talk with his replacement. The others went into the dayroom, where the newly arrived crews usually waited for roll call.
“This is gon_ na__be____gre. . . .” Johnny trailed off, his crooked grin fading. His mouth dropped open in disbelief and shock, he hurried over to the table. “What happened?” He asked, his arms outstretched.
Roy was speechless. He was beside his partner, equally in shock.
Three firemen sat around the table, munching on pieces of cookie. Gingerbread cookie. Half the roof to the house was gone.
“Kirk accidentally broke it trying to pry a lifesaver off,” one explained to the dismayed paramedics. “We tried to fix it, but it only got worse. So we figured there was only one thing to do,” he shrugged and held up what was left of his cookie piece. “It tastes pretty good.”
The other two nodded, including Kirk himself, who was on B-shift’s engine crew.
“I’m sorry guys,” Kirk added. He sounded sincere.
Johnny shifted in his stance and groaned quietly, while Roy still stared at his lost chance to prove to Joanne he was able to build a gingerbread house after all.
Chet came up between the two and put a hand on each of their shoulders.
“Well, guys, it looks like this gingerbread house thing just isn’t in the cards for ya after all.”
The two continued to look at the now non-perfect house that once was. They then turned their heads to eye one another, Chet still between them, but his hands off their shoulders and in his trouser pockets.
“Alls it needs is minor repair,” Johnny said.
“One panel,” Roy agreed.
Marco stepped up to the table. “But how’re you going to get one panel without buying a whole new kit?”
Johnny still had his gaze locked on his partner. “It’s for Joanne and the kids. . .”
“They’d really enjoy it ,” Roy agreed.
The paramedics from B-shift walked into the room. Roy and Johnny glanced at each other once more after eyeing the house.
Roy turned and handed off the squad keys that had been in his pocket to their replacements. Johnny reached out and carefully grabbed the sturdy cardboard tray edges and, with the house in his possession, followed him out of the room.
“They had enough kits when we got this one,” he said enthusiastically. “There’s gotta be some still there.”
“We could stop at your place on the way to mine and fix it there.”
“And have the leftover cookie pieces for breakfast. . .”
Roy wasn’t sure Joanne would be impressed if she found out about that idea, but they were on the right track overall.
The two headed for the lot behind the station where their private vehicles were parked, once again on a mission. This time not just for their own pride, but to bring more smiles to the faces of three people they both cared very much about.
This was inspired by my husband and daughter a few weeks before Christmas. Only they haven’t tackled the second kit yet. :o)
*Click above to send Audrey feedback
Christmas Stories Stories Page