It’s the Thought That Counts
By Audrey W.
“Good mornin’, good mornin’!” Johnny said cheerfully as he walked into the locker room.
Roy looked up from tying his shoe. “Morning. But I’m not sure I’d call it good.”
“What’s up?” Johnny asked, as he stepped over the end of the bench and opened his locker.
“Oh, nothing, except Chris has the measles, and Joanne tripped over a baby doll that Jennifer left at the bottom of the steps and broke her wrist.”
“Broke the doll’s wrist or her own?”
The look he got in return told Johnny now was not the time for lame humor.
“Sorry. Just kiddin’.”
“It’s okay,” Roy said, standing up. “It’s just it all hit at once. And I feel kind of bad having to leave Joanne for twenty-four hours when she just got the cast on last night.”
“Man, that’s rough.”
“Yeah. I think I’ll go call her and see how she’s doin’ getting the Jennifer off to school.”
“Okay. Tell her I said take it easy.”
Roy nodded as he headed for the dorm room.
Johnny sighed. It was his birthday and he was hoping to celebrate it with the guys during the shift. But it looked now like at least one of them would be too preoccupied to remember.
“Hey guys,” Johnny called out as he walked into the dayroom. He stood at the counter, his back to the table where the others sat, and poured himself a cup of coffee.
“Hey, Gage, how did your date with that nurse go?” Chet asked. “Didn’t you go out with her last night?”
Johnny turned around and grinned. “Yes, I did, Chester B. And her name’s Missy.” His smile grew wider. “It went pretty good, too. I’m seein’ her again Friday night.”
“Twice in a week?” Chet asked incredulously. “How can you afford it? A hamburger one night and the french fries that go with it the next?”
Mike and Marco snorted at Chet’s remark, much to Johnny’s dismay.
“Ha ha,” Johnny shot back. “I’m not that chea--”
He stopped in mid sentence as Captain Stanley peeked his head in the doorway.
“You men care to join Roy and I for roll call?”
All four men forgot the conversation at hand and headed for the apparatus bay.
Later in the morning the engine stayed at the scene of a warehouse fire while Johnny and Roy transported a smoke inhalation victim to Rampart. Johnny hung out at Dixie’s desk while Roy took the patient into treatment room four.
“So, you know what day this is, Dix?” Johnny asked nonchalantly, leaning his elbows on the counter, his chin in his hands.
“Sure do. . .it’s Wednesday.”
Johnny frowned. He was sure Dixie would remember his birthday. After all, she threw him a party the first year they met.
“Of course it’s Wednesday, Dix. Everyone knows it’s Wednesday,” Johnny snorted. “But do you know what else it is?”
“Well, it can’t be the fireman’s annual picnic because that’s on a Saturday.” She looked over Johnny’s shoulder. “Hi, Roy.”
Johnny stood up and faced towards his partner. “How’s our guy?”
“He’s breathing better now. Morton thinks he’ll just need to be kept for observation.”
“How’s Joanne doing?” Dixie asked. “I heard you and she were here last night because she broke her wrist.”
“Yeah. She’s doin’ okay,” Roy gave a small smile. “Thanks for asking.”
“Chris has the measles, too,” Johnny added.
Dixie shook her head. “When it rains, it pours, huh?”
Roy sighed. “You said it.”
The H.T. squawked, interrupting the conversation.
“Squad 51, what’s your status?”
Johnny keyed the mic. “Squad 51 available.”
“Squad 51, Engine 36 in place of Engine 51, vehicle accident, 1351 North Valley Road, one three five one North Valley Road, time out 11:55.”
“Well, see ya, Dix,” Johnny shrugged as he stepped away from the desk.
“Yeah, see ya later,” Roy added.
“Hey, Johnny,” Dixie called out, “you never told me what day this is!”
“Later!” Johnny waved as he disappeared around the corner, towards the exit doors.
The scene of the accident the paramedics were sent to turned out to be a minor fender bender. Johnny called over the radio for Engine 36 to be cancelled. Once it was decided no one was injured, and recommendations were made that the ones involved seek medical attention from their own doctors as a precaution, Johnny and Roy started back for the station. They were almost there when they were toned out on yet another run.
“Man, I don’t believe this,” Johnny commented, irritation in his voice. “I’m starvin’.”
Roy looked at his passenger, then returned his eyes to the road. “We’ll get back sooner or later. Besides, it’s Marco’s turn to do lunch and no guarantees it’s ready yet.”
“Yeah. . .you’re right.”
After an hour and a half, the paramedics were once again headed back to the station after the run. The call had been for a man having a possible heart attack, which appeared to actually be a case of eating too much spicy food cooked by his wife. The man had been taken to Rampart as a precaution. But while he was still sitting in the chair in their livingroom, the man’s wife became angry at him for getting ill off of her cooking and she had tried to kick him in the shin, missing and connecting with Johnny’s leg instead.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Roy asked as he drove down the street.
Johnny glanced at him. “Yeah. It’s just a bruised shin. Remind me to stay away from angry women in shoes with pointed toes. I just hope we can squeeze in some lunch now.” Johnny paused. “Wonder if the engine‘s back yet?”
“Should be,” was Roy’s reply as he continued on towards the station.
Johnny looked out the passenger window as he thought back to Rampart. He had tried to find Dixie to see if she remembered it was his birthday yet, but she had gone out for lunch while they were there. He would have to check with her later if the chance came up. Surely someone would remember.
When he saw the engine was back, Johnny was anxious to talk to the rest of the crew. He jumped out of the squad almost before Roy had it completely stopped.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that!” Roy yelled as he got out of the squad and saw his partner go into the dayroom.
Chet raised his head off of the table when he heard Johnny come in.
“Oh, hey, Gage. Lunch is on the stove,” he said wearily, laying his head back down.
Marco was resting his head against the back of his chair, his eyes closed. Upon hearing Chet speak, he cracked one eye open and peered at the dark-haired paramedic.
Johnny looked at each of the firemen. Chet with his head on the table, Marco nearly asleep in his chair and Mike stretched out on the couch.
“Look at this,” Johnny said over his shoulder to Roy. He turned his attention back to the others. “What’s with you guys?”
“We’re tired, man,” Chet answered, yawning.
“Yeah, Johnny,” Marco added, his eyes closed again. “We stayed to help at the warehouse after the fire was out. We’re beat.”
Johnny gave a helpless look to Mike. He got a simple nod in return.
“You guys can’t be worn out. . . not today. . .”
“Why not? Is there some rule firemen can’t be tired on Wednesday?” Chet asked sarcastically.
“No, but. . .oh man, just forget it,” Johnny sighed as he walked over to the stove. He roughly lifted the lid off the pot of chili and set it on the counter. He then dished out the chili into two bowls and handed one to Roy without saying a word. The others looked on, completely baffled.
“What ruffled your feathers, Gage?” Chet asked.
“Nothin’. . .I’m fine,” Johnny mumbled, as he sat at the table.
Roy pulled out a chair beside his moody partner and sat. He started to eat his chili, already deciding he didn’t want to know what was up in Johnny’s mind. Some things were better left unknown. The two men ate in silence while the others looked on.
Johnny thought about how his day was going. First Roy was preoccupied, then Dixie forgot the day, and it looked like the rest of the crew was going to be too tired to care the rest of the shift.
Evening came and the day hadn’t improved for Johnny. The engine and squad were toned out on a couple of rough calls and afterwards everyone was anxious for morning to come so the shift would be over. Although the paramedics had seen Dixie at Rampart, the treatment rooms had been so busy that Johnny wasn’t able to pin her down for a conversation.
Roy sat in Captain Stanley’s office filling out the logbook, while Johnny was responsible for dinner.
“August twenty-eighth,” Roy said aloud after he wrote the date in the logbook. What is it about August twenty-eighth that I’m supposed to remember?” His eyes widened as it suddenly dawned on him.
“Johnny’s birthday!” Roy said as he snapped his fingers. No wonder he’s been so moody.
Roy looked at the clock. It was seven-fifteen. There was still plenty of time to do something for Johnny on his birthday. Giving it thought, Roy picked up the telephone receiver and dialed.
“That was a good dinner, “ Captain Stanley commented as he helped clear the plates off the table. “Never can have hamburgers often enough.”
“Thanks, Cap,” Johnny sighed.
The others looked at Roy, then at the clock. He had clued Mike in on his plans and the engineer was supposed to have relayed them to the rest of the crew, being careful not to let Johnny in on anything.
At eight thirty, the buzzer at the door sounded.
“I wonder who that could be?” Chet said in an exaggerated tone. Marco elbowed him in the ribs. “Ow! Hey--”
A stern look from Roy silenced the stocky Irishman.
“I’ll get it,” Mike said as he left the dayroom.
Soon Mike returned alone.
“Who was it?” Johnny asked.
“No one important,” Mike shrugged. “ Just Dixie McCall with your birthday cake.”
“Huh?” Johnny was puzzled. His confused look turned to one of surprise when Dixie walked in the doorway with a pink iced cake and a few candles on it.
“Pink?” The guys all asked in unison.
“Well, try finding anything else at this time of night and on short notice,” Dixie explained. She smiled at Johnny. “Roy asked me to pick this up on my way home from work. So this is what today was. I should’ve thought of it sooner.”
Johnny waved his hand, grinning “Nah. . .I’m a grown man. It’s no big deal.”
The others looked at him in disbelief. With his moodiness, it was obvious John Gage wanted someone to remember him on his special day, but he’d never admit it now.
Dixie set the cake on the table. “Happy Birthday, Johnny,” she said as she gave him a chaste kiss on the cheek. “Next year, I’ll try to be better about remembering.”
Johnny felt his face warm up as he blushed.
“Same here,” Roy added.
“Don’t worry,” Johnny assured. “This is great! Pink cake and all.” He smiled at Dixie.
After “Happy Birthdays” were said to Johnny by all, the men and Dixie were ready to have some cake. Just then the tones went off.
“Station 51, Station 110, Engine 36, structure fire, 612 Old Cramble Road, six one two Old Cramble Road, time out 20:59.”
“Guess the party’s over,” Roy said, as they ran for the squad. “Sounds like a big one.”
“That’s okay,” Johnny replied as he ran towards the other side off the squad.
“It’s the thought that counts.”