By Audrey W.
December 22nd, 1974
Roy DeSoto sat down on the bench in the locker room to put on his shoes when his partner, John Gage, came into the room from the dorm entrance. Johnny placed his right foot on the seat beside DeSoto and leaned forward, his forearm resting on his knee.
“So, did you and Joanne get all your Christmas shopping done yesterday?”
The senior paramedic looked over his left shoulder, his hands still on his laces. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” Johnny stood up, his foot now off the bench, and put his hands on his hips. “How can you not know?”
This time Roy didn’t look up from tying his shoes. “Because Jennifer came up with an idea for a present that created a problem for us. She said she thought of something else she really wants, but she’s not gonna tell us.” Finished with the laces, he stood up and faced his puzzled partner. “She’s keeping it a secret.”
“Why would she do that? How’re you supposed to know what to get?”
“She says if it’s under the tree on Christmas morning, she’ll know there’s really a Santa Claus. If not, well. . .that parents are pretending to be Santa. Seems the kids at school have been telling her it’s the latter.”
“Oh man.” Johnny leaned against the side of his locker, his arms folded across his chest. “And you have no idea what it is she wants?”
Roy shook his head. “Not a clue.”
“So what’re you and Joanne gonna do? Break the news to her before Christmas or take a wild guess and hope for the best?”
“We aren’t sure yet. She’s only eight, so Jo doesn’t want to spoil the Santa days yet.”
Johnny looked at the floor. “Man, too bad she wouldn’t tell someone else what she wants, and they could tell you,” he said.
Roy’s face brightened. “Hey, that’s not a bad idea.”
The younger man looked up in surprise. “It’s not?”
“No, it’s not. It might just work.”
“But who. . .?”
“She likes you. You’re like an uncle to her.”
Roy nodded. “Well, yeah. Her and Chris. So whataya say? You’ll do it?”
Johnny grinned. He had no idea the kids thought of him like that. “Sure. I’ll give it a shot. Just tell me when.”
“I’ll call Joanne later and see what she thinks.”
Roy started for the door leading to the apparatus bay. Johnny followed behind, stepping over the bench on the way.
After roll call and chores, Roy used the pay phone in the dayroom to call Joanne. Johnny stood nearby, waiting to hear what the woman thought of his idea.
“Well, what did she say?”
Roy shushed him, and the younger man frowned. Now that he and Roy were sold on his plan, he was anxious to hear more approval.
“Okay, I’ll let him know. See you tomorrow. I love you too.”
Roy hung up and smiled. “She thinks it’s a wonderful idea.”
A grin spread across Johnny’s face. “Good deal.”
“Now to figure out a way so Jen won’t get suspicious.”
Gage furrowed his brow. “Yeah. . .how are we gonna manage that?”
“I’m not sure. Kids are pretty good at spotting a set up.”
“Well, we’ll just have to try something that’ll throw her off then,” Johnny said proudly.
“I don’ know, Roy. She’s your kid. Do I hafta do all the planning here?”
The older man did a double take, then wandered towards the table, mumbling to himself. “Something. . .”
The following day, Johnny arrived at the DeSoto house around lunch time, just like he and Roy had planned. As he got out of his Land Rover, Jennifer and Chris ran out to greet the guest. Roy stood on the porch and watched, his arms across his chest.
“You got here just in time to eat!” Jenny exclaimed.
“Good thing, too, or Mom wouldn’t let ya join in if ya ran late,” Chris informed him.
The boy shook his head. “Huh uh. She was just telling Dad, ‘if that partner of yours runs late--’”
Roy had made it over to the others in time to clasp a hand over his son’s mouth. When Chris had stopped talking, he took his hand away and sent the children inside to inform their mother Johnny had arrived.
“Joanne doesn’t tolerate tardiness, huh?”
“Oh, she was just joking. You know how kids are. They take things differently.”
“Yeah,” he snorted. “I also know how chicks are.”
“Let Jo hear ya say that, and you might be fixing your own lunch,” Roy teased.
“Hey, I’m here to do you a favor. Speaking of that, did you think of a way for me to talk to Jennifer and her not suspect anything?”
Roy nodded. “I’ll fill you in after lunch.”
Johnny sat on the couch in the livingroom, his left hand bundled in a thin gauze, a toy thermometer sticking out of his mouth and a pretend plastic cast on his right thumb. Jennifer reached up and took the thermometer out and glanced at the numbers etched on the solid plastic piece.
“Oh dear. You’ve got a fever.” She looked at Johnny with a frown. “I’ll be right back.”
He watched as the child ran up the stairs towards the bedrooms. When she was out of sight, he turned to his partner.
“This was the only idea you could come up with?” he asked quietly, holding up his bandaged hand. “I’d rather we be playing catch with Chris.”
“She loves to play nurse,” Roy explained in a whisper. “It’s easy. All you have to do is sit and be a guinea pig and casually ask a few questions. Joanne thought if it.” He glanced at the stairs. “I think she’s coming back.”
“Roy. . .”
Jennifer appeared at the top of the carpeted steps, a small plastic container in her hand. She carefully made her way back to the men and stood in front of Johnny. “Now hold your hand out,” she said. The paramedic complied. Opening the little bottle, she dumped two tiny Sweet Tart candies onto his palm. “Now take these and you’ll feel much better.”
Roy stood up and casually stretched. “Well, seeing that you’re in good hands for awhile, I think I’ll go help Jo in the kitchen.
Johnny opened his mouth to protest, still not happy with what he’d been stuck doing, when Jennifer picked up the two candies in his hand and dropped them in his mouth herself. Gage could taste the sourness of the treats already.
“Oh. . .man. . .” He watched as Roy disappeared into the kitchen.
Jennifer stood watching his expression change with the flavor of the candy. She giggled at him when he playfully crossed his eyes. “Those are some strong pills.”
The girl nodded.
“But they’re pretty good. You know, I wonder if Santa has that kind of medicine at the North Pole?”
Jennifer shrugged. “Maybe they don’t get sick at the North Pole.”
“Hmmmm.” Johnny sat back and placed his unbandaged hand on his chin as if in thought.
“Have you ever been to the North Pole?”
“Uh. . .no. . .no I haven’t,” he admitted. He lowered his hand. “But I’ve heard it’s a pretty magical place.”
Jennifer stood quiet in thought, then studied the paramedic’s face. After a few seconds, she asked, “Can Santa see us all the time?”
Johnny noticed Roy open the kitchen door slightly and peek into the livingroom. Gage gave a quick wink, as the plan seemed to be working so far. Roy heard that the conversation was on the right track and closed the door again before chancing that Jennifer would see him.
The dark-haired paramedic nodded in answer to the little girl’s question. “That’s what I’ve always been told.”
“Did your mommy and daddy tell you, too?”
“Yeah. And my grandparents told me. So I didn’t have a hard time believing it.”
“My mommy and daddy told me the same thing. And that if you aren’t good, you won’t get what ya want. But I’ve been real good.”
“Good deal. So what do you want from Santa?”
“I can’t tell ya.”
Johnny feigned a hurt expression. “No?”
“I’ll tell you what I want if you promise to tell me what you want.”
Jennifer gave it some thought, then smiled. “Okay, but you hafta go first for sure.”
Johnny nodded. “Okay, you’ve got a deal.” He looked at the bandage still on his hand and started to take it off. “I don’t wanna spend Christmas alone.”
“That’s not a real wish,” the little girl giggled. “It has to be a thing.”
“Sure it’s a real wish. That’s what I want. ‘Course, a new wallet wouldn’t hurt.” He eyed the young girl. “Now it’s your turn.”
“I can’t tell ya.”
The paramedic sat forward. “But we made a deal.”
Jennifer shook her head. “I had my fingers crossed.” She ran up the stairs giggling at her trick.
Johnny sighed and took the bandage off his hand. He tossed it aside and made his way to the kitchen. When he got into the room, both Joanne and Roy looked at him in question. Gage shook his head.
“That’s one tightlipped kid you’ve got there when she wants to be.”
“It didn’t work?” Joanne asked.
“I came this close,” Johnny said, holding up his right thumb and index finger, a small gap between them. “And she tricked me. She crossed her fingers.”
Roy shrugged. “Well, back to square one.”
Joanne sat down at the table and sighed. “Thanks for trying, Johnny.”
“No problem. But whataya do now?”
“Accept that this may be the year she finds out there isn’t really a Santa Claus,” Roy said matter of fact.
Gage nodded slightly. “Seems a shame. Maybe you’ll guess the right thing to put under the tree anyway.”
“Maybe.” The senior paramedic glanced at his wife. He could tell by the expression on her face that she wasn’t going to be happy if Jennifer found out the truth about Santa this Christmas.
Johnny stayed at the DeSotos’ house until early evening. Although Roy and Joanne had offered he stay for dinner, the younger man declined. He didn’t want to impose and still needed to get his latest girlfriend a Christmas gift. The bachelor didn’t relish the idea of being in any gift shops this close to Christmas. Any place was liable to be a madhouse. But he’d been unsure of what to get Belinda that he could afford and still have it nice enough. Now he was going to have to look around and hope an idea popped in his head. At least he’d gotten Roy’s family taken care of with several coupons for a local fast food place.
The dark-haired paramedic shivered as he stepped out of the house and into the cool evening air. It was only 5:30, but the sun had already set and a slight breeze made it feel that much chillier. A brief rain had fallen just enough to dampen the air and streets. Dressed in blue jeans with only a white t-shirt and a lightweight brown cotton collared shirt over it, the sleeves rolled up, Johnny wasn’t ready for the drop in temperature.
“You can sure tell it’s late December,” Roy commented from the doorway.
“No kiddin’. I remember as a kid, this weather would’ve felt like Spring. Since living here for several years, 60 degrees feels chilly.”
“I’ll bet people in the Northern states would laugh themselves silly if they knew we ran the heaters in our cars now.”
“You’re probably right,” Johnny agreed.
“Well, thanks again for trying to work the kid.”
“You bet. See ya tomorrow at work.”
Johnny walked to his Land Rover parked on the side of the street. He climbed in and started the engine, allowing the truck to warm up before turning on the heater. As Roy went inside, Gage pulled away from the curb and headed down the road.
Glancing at the Christmas light displays on various houses as he drove by, Johnny thought about Christmases gone by; times when he was a kid and the holiday still held the magic of Santa Claus. All of a sudden it seemed sad that little kids like Jennifer ever had to learn any different from what they’d been told.
Soon he was away from the houses and driving down a main thoroughfare towards a strip mall. Coming up on the general location of the place, Johnny saw the sign for it up ahead on a cross street in the distance. He got over into one of two left turn lanes, making sure he was in the outer one that would put him on the far right lane of the other street when he turned. The paramedic sat at the red traffic light, waiting. Finally the green left turn arrow appeared. Johnny lifted his right foot off the brake and pressed on the gas pedal.
Harriet Wilfred was looking for the store where her neighbor had found a bargain on Christmas wrap. Not sure of exactly where it was located, she scanned the area in front of her looking for a sign that sounded familiar. There on the next street up was a strip mall.
Maybe the store is there, Harriet thought.
She pulled into the inner left turn lane and noticed the light change to yellow. Not one to be patient, the fifty-year-old woman gunned her car engine to make it through before the traffic signal became red. As she was making the turn, she saw a sign on the store she was looking for.
Bradley’s. That’s it!
Her mind completely absorbed in getting the good buy on wrapping paper, she didn’t pay attention to the traffic around her. She shot directly into the far right lane of the street.
Harriet heard the loud crumple of metal, breaking glass and squealing tires at the same time she was jostled around in her Buick Skylark. Next thing she knew, her car was hit in the front left corner, sending it in a spin. Another vehicle hit it in the rear on the same side. More squealing tires, crumpling metal and breaking glass was heard, then all was silent. Stunned, Harriet sat in her Buick trying to grasp what just happened. Her car facing the direction that she’d come from, she peered through her windshield at the white Land Rover in the distance. The driver’s side had ended up against the fronts of two parked cars in the lot of a furniture store close to the street.
The woman didn’t look anywhere else. She was afraid to see what the rest of the scene was like.
Johnny was looking ahead to spot the entrance of the strip mall as he made his turn. Suddenly something slammed into the side of his Land Rover near the rear and the paramedic found himself in a spin. Trying to keep some degree of control, he hung on to the steering wheel as he hit the brakes in an effort to stop. With the sounds of metal crumpling and glass breaking in the background, he could smell the rubber of his own tires burning as they skidded on the pavement. In a matter of seconds, the front of his vehicle had swung around and hit the front corner of a Buick Skylark hard, sending that car it into a spin as well. His truck continued for another full circle before the driver’s side slammed into two cars parked in a lot that lined that section of the street. The vehicle was now facing the opposite direction Johnny had been traveling.
Johnny sat still, trying to comprehend what had just taken place. Although he wasn’t knocked unconscious, he had hit his head on the frame of the Land Rover when the driver’s side connected with the other cars. Even his seatbelt hadn’t been able to spare him from injury. The door was partially dented in.
He knew he’d been in an accident, but why or where exactly he’d ended up, he wasn’t sure. The paramedic felt something trickling down behind his left ear. He carefully reached up with his right hand and felt the area, then brought his hand down. There was blood on his fingertips.
Next he took notice and felt relieved that the two cars he was up against appeared to be unoccupied. Both had damage to the front ends, the hoods partially pushed up. Since it was obvious he wasn’t getting out that way, Johnny slowly undid his seatbelt and leaned to the right to slide out. He immediately felt a sharp pain in his left side that stopped him from any more movement. The paramedic in him wanted to get out and offer assistance to others. But the victim in him wasn’t so sure it was a good idea.
Suddenly the Land Rover rocked slightly as someone began to tug on the passenger door in an effort to open it. The impact had been great enough to offset the entire frame of the vehicle and jam the doors.
A man with graying hair and a beer gut knocked on the window. Johnny could hear his muffled voice. “Are you okay?” Apparently Gage didn’t reply, although he could have sworn he’d said ‘yes’. The man outside called out louder, “Hey, buddy, are you okay?” He then began tugging on the door again. Johnny ignored the hurting in his side and started to slide over. He hissed in pain when he tried to lift his left arm to grab on to the steering wheel for leverage. He couldn’t tell if anything was broken, but his arm hurt all the way from his shoulder to below his elbow.
Finally the door creaked open and the man was leaning into the Land Rover to check on Johnny. “You’re bleeding.”
“I know,” Gage answered quietly. “Is. . .is anyone else. . .hurt?”
The man nodded. “Yeah, a few. It was a chain reaction. Must be six cars involved.”
Johnny started to slide towards the open door, once again ignoring the pain the movement caused in his left side. He kept his left arm against his body.
“Hey, you think you should be movin’?”
“I’m a. . .a paramedic. I haveta be . . .movin’. People. . .need help.”
“Yeah, but--” The man shut up and reached out to assist Johnny in getting out as he finished the words in thought. So do you. He hoped Johnny knew what he was doing and wasn’t in too much shock to be thinking clearly.
“Did. . . anyone call. . .the fire department?” Johnny asked, panting slightly from the exertion of moving.
“Yeah, a guy ran out from the furniture store and said he’d called.”
Johnny looked at the building nearby and noticed people now surveying the damage he’d done to the parked cars. Others were trotting to various cars that were haphazardly placed on the road. The intersection was a mess with stuck traffic wanting to go the direction that was now blocked with damaged vehicles.
He slowly swung his legs out and with assistance, got his feet on the ground as he slid off the seat. It was then Johnny realized his left knee was sore. Stood to reason, he thought, since his left side had taken the brunt of the accident. He wavered slightly as he took the pressure off his sore leg.
“You passin’ out?” the man helping him wondered.
“No. . .” Johnny hissed in pain again as he gritted his teeth. “Knee hurts.”
“Look, maybe you should just sit down.”
The paramedic disagreed. “Help me over. . .to there.” He pointed at Harriet’s Skylark several yards down the street on the other side.
Against his better judgment, the man obliged. Since Johnny obviously wasn’t able to move his left arm, he got on the paramedic’s right side, allowing him to lean that direction. The two slowly started forward. Before they got very far, sirens could be heard as police and fire trucks descended upon the scene. As the emergency crews arrived, slowly making their way closer to the wrecked vehicles through the gnarled traffic, Johnny looked at the flashing red lights. The movement of the rotating bulbs brought on a wave of dizziness he’d so far been able to avoid. His head throbbed in time with the motion. He dropped to the pavement as he unexpectedly became dead weight to his helper.
“Over here!” The man called out to a few of the firemen. “I’ve got an injured man over here!” He looked at Johnny, who had his eyes closed and was gritting his teeth. “I knew it was a bad idea to let you get out.”
Johnny thought back to Jennifer and her toy medical kit she’d used on him. He sure could use a few bandages now.
Dixie McCall had come up on the accident scene shortly after it happened. The nurse was out doing the last of her Christmas shopping and was trying to get to the strip mall herself. She pulled her car off to the side of the street and made her way on foot to two of the vehicles that were involved. One was a station wagon with a family in it; the other a small sports car that had rear-ended it when the driver couldn’t stop in time. Aside from a few scared kids and what appeared to be possible whiplash to a few of the occupants, everyone appeared to be okay.
“Look, stay put. I’m sure help’s on the way.” Dixie forced a smile to reassure the children still seated in the back of the station wagon. “I’m going to see if anyone else needs immediate help.”
The people nodded, thanked her for checking to make sure they were okay, and watched as she started to walk away. Still in shock, the driver of the station wagon stared at the wrecked cars in the street. It hadn’t sunk in yet how lucky he and his family were.
The nurse surveyed the rest of the scene as she came closer and noticed a few people gathered at a truck that had stopped near the Buick, its front end severely damaged. The Skylark was banged up in the back and the front from what she could see. A man was leaning in the driver’s side window talking to the driver. Then she brought her attention to the white Land Rover resting against two damaged cars. She’d noticed it right away and wanted to get over to it to see if the vehicle was John Gage’s. But the professional in her had kept her from panicking, and she knew she had a duty to treat every person on the scene with the same importance. Now as she watched, she saw that the passenger door was open and a man was helping another man along.
Dixie heard sirens nearby and could see the red lights reflecting off the cars as the fire trucks drove in closer. Suddenly the younger man she’d been watching was on the ground, the other waving for help. The nurse found herself in a trot along with Charlie Dwyer.
Harriet was still stunned. Her car doors were jammed shut and she could feel pain in her pelvic area anytime she tried to move. Not totally with it, she kept thinking about how she needed to get to Bradley’s Department Store before the best selection of wrapping paper was gone.
Soon two firemen appeared outside the car, one with a crowbar, and the effort to get her freed was underway. When the door popped open, paramedic David Blake leaned in to examine the lady.
“Can you tell me if you’re hurt anywhere, ma’am?”
“Here,” she said pointing towards the left hip. “But I can’t stay. I need to go.”
“I. . .I have wrapping paper to buy.”
Blake glanced at the other fireman and shook his head. He brought his attention back to Harriet. “Let’s get you to a doctor first, then worry about your wrapping paper.”
“It’ll be there awhile.” He suspected a broken pelvis and possibly whiplash from the way she was having a hard time moving her head to look around. He didn’t think now was the time to tell the lady she’d probably be in Rampart for Christmas. “Go get the backboard, a c-collar and a blanket,” he directed his co-worker.
Another paramedic unit arrived on the scene and the men were assigned to take care of the other victims by the captain in charge. Meanwhile, Vince Howard stood nearby the Skylark, writing down statements from witnesses while two other patrolmen directed traffic. He shook his head when he overheard Harriet’s comment about the wrapping paper. It was becoming pretty clear as to why the accident happened.
Dixie reached Johnny as Charlie Dwyer set down the equipment beside him. The nurse opened a yellow blanket another fire fighter had brought over and placed it around the paramedic, then went on to check his vital signs while Dwyer contacted Rampart.
“You’ve got a small cut and lump on the side of your head,” she remarked. “Did you lose consciousness at all?”
“No.” Johnny shivered despite the blanket.
“He’s shocky,” she reported to Dwyer.
“What. . .what’re you. . . doin’ here, Dix?” Johnny asked as she checked his eyes.
“I guess I knew you’d need a nurse.”
He again thought about Jennifer DeSoto and her medical kit. “You know. . .it’s just . . . that kind of day.”
Johnny listened as the run down on his condition and injuries was given to Doctor Brackett. He knew one thing. Christmas wasn’t going to be quite what he’d planned.
Once Johnny arrived at Rampart he was whisked down the corridor to Treatment Room Four. Dixie had stayed at the scene to help with a few of the other victims.
Dwyer filled in Brackett as he and the ambulance attendants lifted Gage onto the exam table. “There were no changes to his condition en route. He’s aware of what happened and he knows what he was doing earlier in the day.”
Kel Brackett looked under the bandage that was wrapped twice around Johnny’s head above his eyebrows, holding a gauze pad in place over the cut. “Did he lose consciousness at all with this?”
“He claims he never did.”
“I didn’t,” Johnny commented from his supine position on the table. “Just everything on my. . .left side hurts.”
The doctor noted the arm that was secured against Gage’s side, his forearm at an angle across his chest, as he lifted the man’s shirts part way and examined the bruising on Johnny’s left side. He also noted a splint on his knee. Brackett carefully palpated Johnny’s ribs, eliciting a groan from his patient. There would need to be an x-ray to confirm it, but he was pretty sure Gage had cracked a few ribs.
“I’ll have x-ray take pictures of your arm, ribs and knee,” the doctor explained. “You’ll probably need a couple of stitches in your head.”
Dwyer cleared his throat. “Do you need me anymore, Doc?”
“No, you can go ahead.”
“Thanks.” Charlie looked at Gage. “I hope you can salvage a good Christmas out of this. Just don’t chase too hard after the nurses.”
“That’s the last thing on my mind,” Johnny quietly defended, suddenly feeling a false resurgence of energy.
“Uh huh.” Dwyer started for the door, then turned around. “Don’t forget, I’m the same way as you. I know what you’ll be enjoying during your stay,” he teased.
With a slight lopsided grin, Gage replied, “Take it easy.”
With most of the accident victims taken to Rampart, Dixie left the scene and headed for the hospital to get word on Johnny. As she came down the corridor near the base station, she was met by Betty, the nurse on duty in her position.
“Dixie! What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to see how John Gage is doing. I happened to come up on the accident he was involved in and needed to stay to help out a bit. I wasn’t able to get over here till now.”
“Doctor Brackett just got the x-rays back on him. He should be in Treatment Room Four now, going over the results with Johnny.”
Dixie walked over to the door of the room and opened it part way, peeking into the room. “Mind if I come in?”
Brackett looked over in surprise. “Dix, what are you doing here?”
Johnny just turned his head towards the door and gave a slight wave.
The nurse opened the door the rest of the way and walked over towards the two men. “How is he?”
“He’s banged up a bit. . .but how did you know?”
“He didn’t tell you?” She glanced at Johnny.
“Huh uh,” came the paramedic’s answer. He furrowed his brow. “How’s my truck?”
“I’m afraid it didn’t fair too well.”
Gage frowned. He knew it had to be damaged but couldn’t recall any details of how it looked when he’d gotten out. The whole incident seemed like a dream now.
Dixie noticed Kel looking puzzled. “I came up on the accident scene after it happened. So I stayed around to help.”
“Ah, that would explain the couple who spoke about the ‘nice nurse’ who checked them over before the fire department got there.”
Dixie blushed. “Were there any serious injuries?” She eyed Johnny, hoping his was all good news.
Kel shook his head. “Nothing extreme. Apparently everyone had seat belts on and that more than likely saved a few lives. Johnny’s got a slight concussion, needed two stitches in his head, and has four cracked ribs. His left arm and knee are badly bruised, but nothing broken there. He was lucky.”
The nurse agreed, thinking back to the scene of Johnny dropping to the ground. She’d been so worried then. “I’d better get going. I’ll check on you tomorrow when I come on duty.”
“ ‘kay.” Johnny’s voice was quiet as he began to feel the effects of pain medication sinking in, making him tired.
Dixie headed for the exit, her desire to Christmas shop gone.
The following day, Johnny was feeling even more pain from the accident each time the pain medication he was on began to wear off. As the day went on he began to hurt from head to toe. Not only where the obvious injuries were, but his abdomen, right leg and back were very sore also. Brackett figured the latter two were from tensing up during the course of the accident, the other from the seatbelt holding him in place.
Even with a visit from his girlfriend and a few welcome visits from Roy when he and his temporary partner were at Rampart between runs, Johnny still felt worse.
Not ready to be released, Gage’s plans for Christmas with Belinda and her family in San Diego were dropped. She’d promised to come by in the morning before she left to visit.
Christmas Day afternoon, Roy went to Rampart to pay his injured partner another visit. He expected to see a mopey John Gage sitting alone. Instead he walked in and saw a long chain made of red and green paper strung across one of the walls and taped in place; on a chair was a ‘tree’ made out of a Reader’s Digest Magazine by folding the pages down at an angle; and three nurses stood around the bed with Styrofoam cups of fruit punch in their hands. They were having a simple holiday celebration with the younger man. A somewhat healthier, though still sore, Johnny looked over and took in the surprised expression on DeSoto’s face. When they saw Roy, the nurses excused themselves, promising to be back after awhile.
“Hey, Merry Christmas,” Johnny said.
“Merry Christmas to you too. And thanks for the coupons. They’ll come in handy when Jo doesn’t want to cook.” He looked around at the decorations again. You know, I thought you’d be bored here.”
“You’re welcome. And surprisingly, it’s turned out to be a good day really. Belinda was by and gave me this.” He slowly reached over to a nightstand beside the bed and held up a new camera lens in his right hand. He had felt bad that he hadn’t gotten her gift yet, but she’d been more than understanding, making him feel less like a heel.
“That’s nice. I’m glad she could stop in and see you.” Roy paused then with a little hesitation, continued. “The gift we gave you earlier in the week is still at your apartment since I don’t have your keys, but there was something for you left at our house.”
He nodded. “Apparently someone knew you wouldn’t be at your own place and I’d be able to get it to you.”
“What is it?”
Roy held out a small flat present wrapped in green foil paper. Johnny set the lens back on the nightstand and took the gift from him. After he opened it, he held up a new wallet in his right hand.
“Did Jennifer tell you I wanted this?”
“Well, who’s it from?”
“We don’t know. It was under the tree with your name on it. And Jennifer’s gift she wanted that she wouldn’t tell us was right beside it. It’s an Easy Bake Oven. There was a Hot Wheels track by her present that was for Chris. We didn’t even know he wanted that.” Roy smiled. “There were even gifts for Joanne and I. . .a Polaroid Camera for her and a new fishing reel for me.”
“Roy, these things couldn’t have just appeared out of nowhere.”
“That’s what we keep telling ourselves. But they did.”
Johnny eyed his friend warily. “You sure you aren’t pullin’ my leg?”
“Does this mean there really is a . . .” he didn’t even want to say it for fear of sounding crazy.
“Unless you can think of anything else that would make presents appear out of nowhere under a tree. And be exactly what each person wanted.”
“Nope. But why did it happen all of a sudden this year? And why am I included?”
“Maybe ‘someone’ thought we all needed something a little magical this year. Something to keep a certain little girl’s Christmas filled with wonder.”
Johnny turned the wallet over and smiled. He recalled what his other wish had been; to not spend the holiday alone. He certainly wasn’t doing that either, despite being in the hospital. “Well, as long as Jennifer still believes. I guess that’s the main thing.”
“That’s true. And she sure does now.”
Neither man wanted to admit he was a bit unnerved with the discovery. After a brief visit, Roy decided it was time he headed home to spend more of the day with his family. As he got to the door, he paused and reached in his pocket. “I almost forgot.” Turning around, Roy walked back over to Johnny’s bed, setting a package of sweet tart candies on the hospital tray table. “Jen wanted me to give these to you. Says they’re guaranteed to make you feel better.”
“Tell Jennifer she’s gonna make a great nurse one day.”
“I think she’s going to try for being a doctor.”
“Well, take it easy.” Roy looked at the simple decorations again and smiled. “Don’t party too hard,” he teased as he headed for the door again.
“In this place?”
The senior paramedic left and as the door closed behind him, Johnny picked up the wallet again. A smile spread across his face.
So Santa’s been real all along? He wanted to believe it. . .was actually finding it hard not to feel a bit of comfort in the thought. Johnny stared at the package of candies from Jennifer and thought about what a good Christmas it turned out to be. Suddenly an alarmed expression came over his face as the paramedic recalled it wasn’t such a happy ending for him after all. “Oh man,” he groaned, once again looking at the wallet. “I wonder if it’s too late to wish for a new Land Rover instead. . .”
Thanks to Jill H. for the encouragement and information on a few things about CA weather and such. Thank you, Becca, for advice and info on a medical question I had. And thanks to Vanessa and Jackie B. for the beta reads. All the help I got was very much appreciated! :o) Now I’ve just got to hope ‘Santa’ brings the right gift for my daughter . . . :o)
*Click on Johnny to send Audrey feedback
Santa hat pictures on this site are created by my husband, Chuck. :o)
Christmas Stories Page