By Audrey W.
"What is that?"
"It's a Santa hat," John Gage responded, referring to the headgear he was wearing.
"No, not that. That," Chet Kelly emphasized, motioning toward an item on the table.
John Gage looked at the three foot tall wooden Christmas tree in front of him. What did Chet mean 'what is that?' Wasn't it obvious?
"Whataya think it is?"
The curly-haired fireman stepped closer to where John was seated in the dayroom of Station 51.
"I know what it's supposed to be."
"Look, this is a tree I carved outta wood myself years ago. I got the idea a couple of years back to make it better by drilling holes so it could have real lights in it, you know these mini bulbs they came out with back then. I'll have you know, this has been my Christmas tree in my apartment for the past few Christmases and it's served me well, Chester B." He eyed the green painted artwork fondly. "Yes sir, it most certainly has."
"So what's it doing here at the station?"
"Well, every time I pull it outta the closet, the lights pop out from the holes and I have to stick 'um in all over again. Even though it's just thirty-five lights, it's annoying, ya know?"
Chet nodded. "So you're gonna keep it here? I'm not sure just being out of your closet is going to change things so much."
John screwed up his face. "No," he groaned. "No, Chet. That's not it. That's not it at all. I brought it here because I decided the solution would be to glue the lights in place. Only I didn't have any glue on hand, so I figured Roy and I could pick some up and I could work on it here in my spare time."
"Oh. Well, that makes sense, I guess." Chet looked around. "Where is Roy? Wisely hiding so he won't have to help?"
The dark-haired paramedic shook his head, annoyance on his face.
"While we were out and about, he spotted a model car his son Chris wants for Christmas. He hadn't been able to find it anywhere till now. But it was the only one left and the box was open, so he's in the dorm room sortin' it out to make sure all the pieces are there."
"Let me guess. . .you tried to help so he moved in there."
Again John appeared annoyed, perhaps this time because Chet was right.
"Look, would ya just let me get back to my work here?"
"Sure, John. Just one last question."
Gage sat back in his chair with a sigh. "Okay, one last one. What?"
"Did you. . .uh. . .check to make sure the lights were still working before you glued them in?"
"Yes, I made sure! Of course."
He looked at the tree with half the light string still laying loose on the table behind it, a few spare bulbs off to the side in case. He had really checked, but now that Chet brought it up. . .it wouldn't hurt to do it again. Just to be absolutely sure. He gathered up the partial line of mini lights, then picked up the tree along with them as he pushed back in his chair.
"What're you doing?" Chet wondered.
"Checking the lights," John said with a shrug, having gotten to his feet.
Chet watched as he walked past, toward an outlet above the counter near the stove top.
"I thought you said you already did that."
"I did," came the reply without turning to look at him. Gage then did face his shiftmate. "But I figure what's the harm in double checking?"
Both men kept their gazes on the halfway completed project as the paramedic stuck the light string's plug into the outlet. The multicolor bulbs all lit up brightly.
"There, ya see? Perfect."
"You didn't have to prove it to me," Chet stated matter-of-factly. "I had no doubts."
Gage pursed his lips together and swore to himself. In a sense Chet's question had planted doubt in him, making him figure about the time he was so certain, it wouldn't work. He'd let the curly-haired fireman get to him. . .as usual.
With the tree again unplugged, John returned to the table to complete his work while Chet observed.
When it was done, the paramedic found another outlet near the television at the other end of the room. There would be counter space there to display the tree until he took it home the next morning. With confidence, he plugged it in. . .and immediately looked on in bewilderment.
The lights didn't illuminate and his bright idea wasn't looking very 'bright' at all.
"Aw, c'mon! You just worked over there!" He said to them, pointing toward the kitchen end of the room.
Chet got to his feet and hurried over.
"What did you do to it, Gage?"
"Nothin'," he said with a shake of his head. "I didn't do anything, except carry it over here. Man, I can't believe this. They were just lit up not even thirty minutes ago!"
As he'd answered, he unplugged, then plugged it in again. Still nothing.
"Dammit. . ."
"Maybe a bulb is loose. I've heard that one loose bulb in those strings can cause none of them to light up."
John fiddled with each as much as he could, all felt snug.
"That can't be it."
"You know, there's something else I heard about these bulbs."
Gage glanced at him. "What?"
"If one goes out, they all do, until you replace the bad bulb. Maybe when you plugged it in over by the stove, that was the last of life for one of the bulbs. Which means all you have to do is find the bad one and replace it."
"I'd love to replace one, Chet. I'd love to. There's just one problem with that."
As Gage uttered the word 'problem', Roy came into the room with the box containing the model pieces. He kept quiet and went unnoticed as the other two continued on.
"What?" Chet wondered.
"I glued 'um in from behind. . .with just the tips out the front. I can't get any out to change a bulb without undoing what I just did." He groaned. "All that work. . .for nothin'. . ."
Chet pulled the plug from the outlet and handed the wooden tree to the paramedic.
"You know what you gotta do."
It was then they noticed the new arrival, who seemed unsure what to do or say. He wished he'd already gotten back out the door and knew he should have as soon as he'd heard there was something not going quite right.
"Roy!" John called out with a lopsided grin.
Roy held up the box. "I. . . uh. . .I better double check to make sure I counted the pieces right."
Before his partner could object, he was turned around and gone.
"I'll help ya!" Chet said as he quickly followed behind.
A look of misery back on his face that seemed out of place with the fun holiday hat, Gage headed for the table with his tree.
This was inspired by my husband. :o) Only he had to order a new string of lights and it was a year since we'd checked the ones we had.
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