By Jill Hargan
Station 216's ladder truck came to a stop inside the bay. At the rear, Tillerman Rob Crawford climbed down from his seat. It was nearly lunch time and he was starved. As he started to follow his shift mates toward the kitchen, he stopped and stared at the open bay doors. Peering timidly around the side of the wall were two brown eyes, half hidden under a mop of dark hair.
Rob smiled and waved the boy in. After a moment's hesitation, the child gathered enough courage to show himself completely. He seemed about 8 or 9 years old. He was thin and his clothes looked to be hand me downs, but he was clean and looked like someone made sure he was taken care of. Not like most of the kids in this neighborhood.
As the child approached, his eyes glued to the big engine, Rob realized this was the same boy he'd seen on the sidewalk for the last week every time they went on a run.
"You live around here?" he asked with a smile.
The boy shook his shaggy head. "Nah. We're just staying with Aunt Rachel 'cause Mom's sick and has to be close to the doctors."
Rob listened as the kid offered this information without any hesitation. He still hadn't taken his eyes off the truck, looking longingly up at the tiller seat.
"Ya wanna try it out?" the man asked, chuckling at the smile that broke out on the boy's face.
"No kidding." He reached down and took the boy under his arms and hoisted him up to the step, then followed behind him to make sure he didn't lose his footing.
He needed have worried. The kid was as sure footed as a mountain goat, and quickly seated himself behind the wheel. If his smile had been big before, it was nothing compared to the ear to ear grin he was wearing now.
"What's your name?" Rob asked.
"Johnny... Johnny Gage." The boy grabbed hold of the wheel and craned his neck to see the front of the engine. It loomed a long way off. "I've never seen one of these before," he told Rob. "We just got an old pumper back home."
"Montana," he answered, then finally turned his eyes to meet Rob's. "Dad says we might have to move here for good if Mom doesn't get better this time. I'm gonna be fireman when I grow up," he informed the man. "Maybe if we have to move here I can drive a truck like this."
"You never know," Rob told him, hoping this likeable little kid's mother got over whatever was ailing her. He gave the boy a wink. "If you do, look me up. I'll put a good word in with my captain."
Johnny's brown eyes grew wide. "You will? Wow!"
The bell sounded at that moment, interrupting the tour and Rob held out his hand to help his visitor down.
"Take care of yourself," he advised, and he climbed up to take his place.
As the truck pulled out of the station, Rob saw Johnny standing on the sidewalk outside, waving madly. Rob smiled and waved back.