By Audrey W.
It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Chet just couldn't figure out where it went wrong; so wrong that he was now standing alongside the road, staring down the embankment at Johnny's white Rover.
The fireman glanced up the road where his date still stood in disbelief at what had just transpired.
“Does it look very bad?” She yelled.
Kelly looked back down at the damaged Land Rover. There was no other way to describe it. “Yeah.”
He kicked at the dirt near the edge where he was standing. You had to talk Gage into loaning you his truck. . .
Chet thought back to the conversation in the locker room near the end of their latest shift. He’d pestered Johnny off and on the entire time while on duty until the paramedic had to give in.
“C’mon, John. My VW bus won’t make the climb up those roads in the hills. Your Land Rover would be perfect.”
“That’s just it, Chet. It’s my Land Rover and it’s in great shape. I’d like to keep it that way.”
“You will. I promise. I’ll treat it like a baby. It’s just. . .well, this is an important date with Charlene.”
“And the first two weren’t?”
“No. . .yes. . .of course. But you know the saying. . .third time’s a charm,” he said with a sly grin.
“I think that’s when two other tries don’t work out at all. Not dates.”
Chet shrugged. “Okay. I’ll admit you got me there. But it’s still really important. This could be the date that makes--”
“Okay, okay!” Johnny interrupted, annoyed. “Anything, just stop talking. When do you need it?”
“Tomorrow, around eight o’clock in the morning.”
“And I get your VW while you have my Rover?”
“I want mine back with a full tank of gas.”
“You’ll get it.”
“Okay,” Johnny said with some hesitance.
Chet smiled. “Okay.”
Gage had watched as the fireman left.
Chet rubbed at his aching forehead as he continued to stare at the wrecked vehicle. Johnny’s gonna kill me. He looked at Charlene who was now beside him, worried and whining.
“Oh, what’re we gonna do now? We’re stuck out in the middle of nowhere! How’re we going to get home? No one knows where. . .”
Chet’s eyes became fixed and glazed over until her voice faded from his mind as he tuned her out. He then returned his gaze to Johnny’s Land Rover. He was nauseated over the mishap as it was, but after listening to Charlene whine, the fireman decided one thing.
I don’t wanna be around her through anymore bad times.
Johnny hurried down the outside steps of his apartment building to the parking lot below. Camera equipment in hand, the paramedic was hoping to get great shots of some open and scenic land a few miles outside of town.
When he reached Chet Kelly’s old VW Bus, Gage couldn’t help but frown.
What was I *thinking*? Why’d I let him borrow my Land Rover? Man, I hope I don’t regret it.
Johnny climbed inside and stuck the key in the ignition, frowning again at the rattling noise the engine made.
“You’d better not break down on me.”
After fiddling with the radio and finding a station he liked, he drove the bus out of the lot, missing his own vehicle more and more as time went on.
Chet made his way down toward Johnny’s Land Rover, sliding a little in the loosened dirt. He could hear Charlene up above, still whining about their predicament.
I wish she’d just be quiet. My nerves can’t take much more of that. . .
Once beside the vehicle, he peered inside through one of the windows they’d had open. Some of Gage’s camping gear was scattered inside, dirt was here and there from being scooped up and in during the accident. On the outside, the roof and doors were dented and scratched from where it had rolled a few times before landing upright. Chet groaned.
Why’d Johnny hafta listen to me anyway? He never goes along with what I say. Why this time? Man, I *know* I put it in ‘park’ before we got out to go for a walk. So I didn’t use the emergency brake. You’re not supposed to *have* to! He turned and looked up at his pretty date. I guess the third time’s *not* a charm when it comes to dates. . .
Chet couldn’t get the image of Johnny’s Land Rover rolling backwards as he and Charlene started to stroll away on a trail nearby. The truck left the turnout on the side of the road, rolling backwards for over half a mile before going over the edge at the curve. Now he and Charlene were stranded and his friend’s truck was totaled.
Chet plopped down on the ground and rested his forearms on his bent knees.
What does a person do when they want to be found, but then again. . .don’t. . .
Johnny was several miles away from Carson when he heard a loud pop, then a hissing noise. The VW bus jerked hard to the left, then limped on the dirt road. The paramedic sighed. It could mean only one thing. . .
He got out of the bus and looked at the completely flat front left tire. Oh man! Of all the stupid things to happen. . . He looked around at the open fields, no one anywhere near where he was. Well, I guess there’s just one thing to do. I hope Chet has a spare.
Johnny found the jack and a good spare tire covered over with a blanket inside the rear of the VW. He set up the jack just under the edge of the bus near the left front end and pumped the handle as the vehicle lifted slightly off the ground.
“Alright. . .just a little farth--” Gage stopped in mid
sentence when the jack suddenly broke, sending the bus back to the surface of
The paramedic couldn’t do anything but just stare at the unusable item and the useless handle in his hand. He slowly stood and looked around again.
No! I don’t believe this. Why did I have to bring this old thing out here? Why did I have to agree to trade vehicles with Chet? What am I gonna do? I’m in the middle of nowhere with no help in sight!
“And Chet thought this thing just couldn’t make it up hills. Thanks to you,” he said, kicking at the flat tire, “it couldn’t even handle flat land!”
Johnny leaned against the bus and sighed. “I wish every car came equipped with a phone.”
Chet could feel his stomach knot up the more he thought about trying to explain the accident to Johnny. The fireman had closed his eyes a few times, hoping that when he opened them he’d be up on the road above, and the Land Rover would still be parked in the turn-off and looking as good as it did before he borrowed it. Unfortunately, each time he peeked it looked as bad as before.
Slapping his hands on his knees, he got to his feet and sighed. I guess I may as well get it over with. Chet climbed back up to where Charlene was waiting.
“What’re we gonna do about getting home? Not one car has come by since we’ve been here,” she cried.
Chet shrugged. “We’ll have to start walking.” Great. Not only is Gage gonna kill me, I have to walk who knows how many miles to give him the chance.
Charlene frowned. “I guess we don’t have a choice. But can I ask one favor first?”
“Can you go back down and get my purse?” She sniffled.
He had no desire to climb back down and up the embankment again, nor to get another close look at the damage. But it was better than listening to Charlene get upset again if he said no. Without another word, the fireman went into action rescuing the handbag.
Johnny reached inside the VW bus to get his camera equipment and a canteen of water out.
I guess I’m gonna hafta walk and find help. I hope someone else decides to take a drive out this way today. . .but I may as well make the best of things and try to get some good shots while I’m out here.
He slung the strap attached to the canteen over his head and under his left arm. After taking the keys from the bus, he rolled up the windows and locked the doors. He then started on his trek. Once he was several yards away, Johnny glanced over his shoulder and shook his head.
Chet peeked into the open driver’s side window of the Land Rover and searched for Charlene’s purse. He recalled it was a denim bag with a flower design embroidered on both sides. But he didn’t see it on the seat or on the front floor board.
Maybe it flew out on the way down.
He walked around the area where other items were scattered about as they’d been thrown out the windows. Still there was no sign of the purse. He glanced up at Charlene. She was watching intently, obviously not up for negotiation on coming back to get it later.
Kelly tugged hard on the driver’s side door in an effort to yank it open. Unfortunately it wouldn’t budge. He went around to the back end door and, expecting it to stick, gave it one hard tug. The door gave easily, causing the fireman to stumble back and land on the ground on his bottom.
He once again looked up at his date and forced a grin as he got to his feet and brushed the dirt off the seat of his pants. “I’m trying to find it. . .”
Chet leaned into the rear and shoved aside an overturned cooler, rolled up sleeping bag and a couple of old blankets in hopes of finding the purse. Much to his delight, he found the hidden ‘treasure’.
“I got it, I got it!” he shouted as he stepped back.
Feeling relieved that they’d soon be on their way, Chet rushed up the embankment. In his haste he stepped wrong on his left foot, causing his ankle to twist.
Chet quickly dropped to the ground and grabbed the wounded leg.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he said through gritted teeth. “Just give me a minute.” After working through the pain, he slowly got to his feet and made his way up, handing Charlene her denim bag. “Let’s go.”
“You sure you’re okay? You’re limping.”
Chet forced a wide grin. “Are you kidding? I’m a fireman.” He pointed at his ankle. “This is nothin’”
Charlene put her purse over her shoulder. “If you say so.”
The two started on their way, Kelly wincing with each gingerly step he took. ‘Are you kidding? I’m a fireman. This is nothin’.’ Maybe if I keep telling myself that while we walk for several hours,*I’ll* eventually believe it too.
Johnny walked down the middle of the road, disappointed that there wasn’t even anything worth taking pictures of.
Of course there isn’t or I would’ve stopped and taken some on the way out. Man, even trying to make the best of a bad situation isn’t working out right. And it’s all Chet’s fault. If he hadn’t asked me to. . .Gage frowned. Actually, if I hadn’t *agreed* to switch, none of this would’ve happened. Man, things are going so wrong for me, I can’t even blame someone else.
After walking a couple of miles, Chet’s limp was getting worse. His ankle was hurting more than before and the fireman had to stop for a break. As he held his left foot just off the ground, Charlene eyed him with concern.
“Too bad we don’t have a first aid kit. I’ll bet wrapping it would help.”
“A first aid kit?” Chet glanced over his shoulder. Ah man! John keeps a first aid kit in his Land Rover! Why didn’t I think of that before? Too late now. *I’m* not walking all the way back just for *that*. . .and I’m sure as heck not letting Charlene know I screwed up.
“Yeah, too bad, huh?”
“Maybe I should go on alone and bring help back to you.”
Suddenly feeling his manhood threatened, he put his foot down and started forward again. “No, I can make it. See? I’m making it just. . .fine.. . .” Chet swiped at the perspiration that was already building on his forehead.
“But. . .”
Chet turned around, his arms spread out in a gesture of ‘so what’. “Hey, I’m a fireman, remember. . .?”
“Yes, and that’s nothing,” she said, pointing to his ankle.
“Right.” And as long as I don’t look at it, maybe I’ll convince myself yet. . .
He and Charlene continued their journey in finding help.
Gage took a swig from the canteen, then let it fall down by his side again. He wasn’t sure how far he’d walked, but was more than ready to be back home in his apartment.
“I’d even rather be home watching TV game shows than wandering down a deserted road.”
Suddenly a car came into view from over a small slope in the road. Johnny waved his arms, his camera case moving with the motion as he held it in his right hand.
Alright! Help is *on* the way!
The paramedic smiled as the light blue station wagon continued to approach and came to a stop beside him. His grin faded when he saw four very giggly, although cute, teenage girls inside, none of them appearing to be over seventeen.
How will I ever live down being rescued by a car full of kids?
Charlene let out a whimper. His mind still on the wrecked Land Rover, Chet gave a distracted “What’s wrong?”
“My tennis shoes have been rubbing on the sides of my little toes since we started walking. I think I’ve got blisters.”
The fireman stopped walking and looked down at her feet. “Why didn’t you say something sooner?”
“What difference would it have made?”
He shrugged. After all, she had a point. “Well, take off your shoes and let me take a look.”
Chet gave her question thought. He had no idea why, except that it seemed like checking out the injury seemed like the gallant thing to do. “I. . .well. . .le’ me see how bad they’re blistered.”
“Okay.” Charlene sat on the ground and unlaced her shoes. She slowly removed both, then gingerly pulled off her socks. Sure enough, both little toes were cherry red and each had a rather large blister on it.
“Have those shoes ever done this to your feet before?”
“They’re brand new. I’ve never worn them before.”
Chet wanted to ask why in the heck anyone would wear brand new shoes and not break them in first, but knew asking the question would only make things worse.
“Well, put ‘em back on and we’ll take it slower.”
“Slower? We’ll never get anywhere.”
Kelly had to agree that his sore ankle was costing them time. He was doing his best to keep up a steady pace, but the swelling was increasing and the pain hadn’t let up one bit. He was about to voice his agreement, when he reminded himself that being negative often spread like a cancer. Once he complained, she would again, and before long they’d both be griping the rest of the way. With the dark cloud of the mangled borrowed car already hanging over his head, he was determined to do anything to keep Charlene from adding to his woes with her whining again.
“We’ll find help. And the sooner you get your shoes and socks back on, the quicker we’ll get started again.”
Charlene nodded, then slowly pulled on her socks, wincing.
“Why’d you have me take my shoes and socks off if you weren’t going to do anything anyway?”
Chet shrugged. “It sounded like a good idea?”
The woman sighed as she picked up one of her shoes and tried to put it back on. Kelly watched as his date winced again and tears formed in her eyes.
“Don’t tell me. . .”
“I can’t get them back on. It hurts too much.”
Once again he chastised himself for forgetting about the first aid kit. When it rains, it pours. Hey, that’s one bright side. After all, it could be raining. . . The image of the Land Rover dented and dirty entered his mind again. But it’s not bright enough.
Johnny gave a nod to the teen girls. “Hi.”
“Are you lost?” The driver asked.
“No. A tire on my car blew a coupla miles up the road,” he explained. “And. . .uh. . .well, by a stroke of bad luck, the jack broke. So I couldn’t put on a new tire.”
“You want a ride?” asked one of the girls leaning over the back of the front seat.
Johnny paused a moment. Did he really want to get in a car with four teenage girls? With no guarantee anyone else would come along soon, he figured he did.
“If ya don’t mind.”
Four anxious ‘no’s’ and ‘uh uh’s’ came in unison. Before the paramedic could say another word, one of the girls in the back seat was climbing into the rear of the station wagon from inside; at the same time, the front passenger door opened as that girl hurried into the other’s spot.
Johnny sighed. Their enthusiasm was a little much, but if it meant getting home. . .He trotted around the front of the car and got in after removing the canteen from over his shoulder, closing the door that was left open in the girl’s haste to change seats.
For a moment there was an awkward silence until Johnny spoke up. “Nice car.”
The driver blushed. “It’s my parents’. I’m going to get my own sports car after I graduate from high school.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Another silence in the still stopped car and Johnny had to speak up again. “Sooo. . .should we be heading back to town?”
“Right!” The young driver said with a sheepish grin.
As the car was turned around and in motion, another girl asked, “What’s your name?”
Johnny glanced over his shoulder. “John.”
“I’m Debbie.” The teen then went on to introduce the others. “That’s Tina driving, Bobbie right behind ya, and Susy is in the very back.”
Johnny shifted slightly in his seat to acknowledge the girls with another nod and ‘Hi’. He then adjusted his position again and looked at the empty road ahead. It wasn’t long before he could feel at least three sets of eyes staring at him.
Man, what I wouldn’t give to just have my Land Rover right now.
Chet hobbled along beside the stocking footed Charlene. His pretty date was carrying her shoes, one in each hand as she and the fireman made their way down the road.
“At least it’s all downhill,” Chet commented.
“The road or the day?”
He shot a quick glance her way, then couldn’t help but think how much more downhill his day was going to go.
Once Gage finds out about his Land Rover, everything else is gonna seem like a ray of sunshine.
Johnny was still watching ahead, trying to ignore the awkward feeling of being stared at, when another question from Debbie had his attention.
“Are you a photographer?”
Gage looked over his shoulder. “No, I’m a paramedic.” He held up the camera. “This is just a hobby.”
Suddenly the car swerved hard to the right and his gaze shot to the wide-eyed expression on Tina’s face, immediately continuing to the view from the windshield as they headed for the slightly raised bank on the right side of the road.
Johnny instinctively pressed his right foot hard to the floor, as if an imaginary brake would somehow stop the car.
Tina slammed on the real brakes, sending the station wagon spinning in a full circle on the loose gravel and skidding sideways into the bank that rose above a ditch, passenger side first. Girls’ screams filled Johnny’s ears as the accident took place. But once the car was stopped with a rough jolt, all was quiet until Debbie reached over and smacked Tina in the back of the head.
“Someone needs to take your permit away!”
Johnny quickly looked to Tina in surprise. “Permit?”
The girl shrugged. “I’m a good driver! I’m ready for my license!”
The paramedic looked out his window at the dirt bank up against his door. “Yeah, I can tell.”
“Look, we’ve got more to worry about right now than whether or not you have a license. You could’ve gotten us all killed. Why’d you swerve in the first place?”
“I thought I saw a fox in the road.”
“Well is everyone okay?” Johnny asked, looking around at the various girls. He was mostly concerned with Susy, who was still in the rear of the vehicle.
“I hit my shoulder and head on the side of the car,” Susy whined. “And my right hip hit against it too.”
“My right arm and side hit the door,” Bobbie complained. “And Debbie bumped heads with me.” She added, rubbing at her left temple.
“It wasn’t my fault! I couldn’t help it!”
“Alright, alright.” Johnny tried to quiet them down again. “What about you?” he asked Tina.
“I’m okay. I held onto the steering wheel.”
“Okay, you girls just stay put and I’ll check you out.”
All four girls suddenly looked way to happy for having just been in an accident. Johnny sighed. “Check out your injuries,” he quickly corrected. Man . . . girls.
“What about you?” Debbie asked. “Are you okay?”
Aside from a wallop to the right side of his head, Johnny didn’t recall hitting anything else. “It kind of rang my bell a little. But I’m okay.”
All was quiet again as they waited for Johnny to move. He looked at Tina. “I guess I’ve gotta get out that way.”
“Oh. . .right.” She opened her door and climbed out of the tilted vehicle. The girl eyed Johnny with admiration as he crawled out and leaned into the back seat to examine the other girls’ minor injuries. All worries of being caught without a drivers’ license left her mind.
After walking nearly three miles on the paved road, Chet and Charlene came upon two cars parked just off to the side in a large turnout. One vehicle was empty, but the other’s occupants were just getting situated inside after having returned from a hike along a nature trail.
“C’mon,” Chet said, taking his date by the hand and leading her over. Both hobbled as the people in the car watched the couple with curiosity.
“Can we get you to help us out?” The fireman asked.
“What happened? Were you in an accident?” The man wondered, getting out of the car and eyeing their disheveled appearances. His wife and two young kids remained in their station wagon.
“Uh. . .not exactly in one,” Chet explained. “Our Land Rover was. . .er. . .my friend’s Land Rover, that is. Not this friend,” he awkwardly added, indicating Charlene with his head. “Another friend I borrowed it from.”
“How could it be in one and not you?”
Chet shrugged. “We got out after I shut off the engine and put the truck in ‘park’. . .I guess it slipped out of gear and next thing we knew, it was rolling backwards. . .and over the edge of the road. . .and flipping a couple of times. . .” He felt the nausea from earlier return as he relived the horrible incident.
“How’d you get hurt?”
“Me?” Chet asked, pointing to his own chest. “Just a stupid misstep, and I twisted my ankle.” He then looked at Charlene. “Her shoes rubbed blisters on her feet after we walked awhile.”
The man motioned toward his car. “Get in, I’ll have the kids climb into the backend.”
“Man, thanks,” Kelly smiled, stepping to the car. His happy expression soon faded as they pulled onto the road and started down the hill toward the inevitable confrontation he was going to have when he told Johnny the news. Maybe if I limp a little more, he’ll go easy on me.
“Well, I’d say you’re gonna have some serious bruising,” Johnny said as he examined Bobbie’s right arm. He gently palpated her ribs, noting a wince in reaction. “Nothing appears to be fractured.”
Johnny nodded. “More bruises.” He looked at the girl and Debbie. “You both have a headache?”
The two nodded.
“That’s really not surprising, considering. Just be sure and let me know if you feel dizzy at all.”
Both girls shook their heads ‘yes’ again. As Johnny backed out, Bobbie walloped Debbie in the arm with her left fist. “Thanks a lot!”
“What’d I do?”
“You were the one who suggested a ride to begin with!”
“Well how was I to know a stupid fox was gonna run across the road?”
Johnny listened to the argument and rolled his eyes. It’s a wonder these girls are friends. They sound like. . .they sound like me and Chet is what they sound like. . .man, he’s out with a nice lookin’ chick. . .who’s not jail bait. And look at me. . .all because I couldn’t say ‘no’.
Having reached the rear end of the station wagon, Johnny lifted the window open and pulled down the gate. He crawled inside to examine Susy’s injuries.
“How’re ya doin’?” He asked as he checked her over.
“Okay. My arm hurts the most.”
As the paramedic continued with the brief examination, Bobbie and Debbie went on with their argument.
“You know, if we weren’t coming back this way so early, the accident would’ve never happened!”
Bobbie shot her friend a glare. “Oh yeah? Well, whose fault is that?”
Suddenly it was dead silent as the two girls eyed Johnny. The dark-haired man felt the stares again. He looked up and gave a wan grin. “At least I have a driver’s license.”
Tina had been leaning over the back of the front seat, watching the paramedic in action. After hearing his comment, she turned around and sat, her arms folded across her chest.
Gage couldn’t believe the way his day was continuing to slide down hill. I can’t *wait* to get home. . .
Not long after they’d started out on the trek down the hill with the family, Chet glanced over his shoulder at the children riding in back. He suddenly wished he hadn’t when he saw the little girl’s right index finger go up one of her nostrils. Chet screwed up his face in disgust and looked forward again. Unfortunately, the fireman couldn’t keep his attention on anything else as he wondered just what the girl would do if she got anything out.
“So, how long have you been with the fire department?” The father asked as he drove along.
“Uh. . .a few years.” Chet was too distracted with the thought of what was going on behind him to pay much attention to the conversation.
I don’t mind going into burning buildings; I can handle rescuing victims from hairy situations, he thought to himself. But I can’t *stand* it when a kid picks their nose.
“ . . .what do you think of that, Chet?” The man asked.
Kelly snapped out of his preoccupation just long enough to hear the tail end of the question. Not wanting it to be obvious that he hadn’t been listening, he answered. “I . ..uh. . .I think it’s good. . .” By the reaction on Charlene’s face, he figured it wasn’t the appropriate kind of reply.
The fireman shrugged, glancing over his shoulder at the little nose picker again. Charlene noticed what was going on and covered her mouth, suppressing an involuntary gag as the little girl went up for more.
“What do you want to do, see people like us homeless?” The dad wondered, looking in the rearview mirror at his passengers.
“What. . .?”
“You said you think it’s good that construction workers like myself are having to go lower on our bids in order to snag a job.”
“I did?” Chet was now keeping an eye on Charlene who was looking ill, her hand still over her mouth as she tried to look anywhere but at the kids.
“Yes, you did. I was telling you how being a fireman might not be such a bad idea and why, and that’s what you said.”
“Oh. . .well I didn’t mean it. . .”
“Well, you said it. How could you not mean it?”
The fireman kept an eye on his girlfriend as he wondered how he was going to dig his way out of the mess he was in. Dig. ..why did the kid have to be a nose picker? “Is it getting hot in here or is it just me?” Chet wondered.
“It feels normal to me,” the mother responded. “Maybe you’re coming down with something.”
I hope so, Chet thought. After today, I hope it’s terminal. He knew he didn’t mean it, but at the moment, terminal sounded like the best way out of the whole mess.
“Okay, step on the gas again!” Johnny yelled as he pushed on the rear of the station wagon.
Tina did as requested, once again spinning the tires while she gunned the engine and turned the wheels slightly toward the left. Dirt and dust flew up at Gage as he closed his eyes and coughed, in the meantime giving it his all to free up the vehicle. But so far the right side tires remained stuck in the ditch.
He couldn’t imagine the five of them walking to find help. It had taken several minutes for the girls to get over their blaming him as it was, and if they had to go in search of help, it was likely to start all over again. Johnny also could only guess at the amount of bickering that would take place amongst the four girlfriends. Being that he already had a slight ache from his head getting hit in the accident, that scenario was only likely to make it worse.
The dirty air cleared after Tina once again gave up. “It’s not gonna work!” She whined. “Stupid fox; we’ll never get out of here!”
“Yes we will! Just give it one more try!”
“But--” She looked in the side mirror and saw the look on his face that said, ‘do it’. Tina sighed as she followed his direction.
Johnny coughed, sputtered and squinted in a cloud of dirt, wishing he had help in getting the car away from the raised bank. But none of the girls was in shape to push a car at the moment. And he wouldn’t want to risk any of them getting hurt in the process anyway. The station wagon moved and the front tires gripped as Tina continued to press on the gas pedal.
Johnny felt the car give under his efforts and the paramedic leaned into it as he tried to push even harder, grunting in the process.
I’m not givin’ up now. . .
Suddenly the resistance was gone when the car took off and onto the road. Gage wasn’t quite prepared for the quick relief; his efforts now unchallenged, the momentum he had carried him forward and onto the ground. He gasped as his left ankle twisted on the way down, sending a quick sharp pain up his leg. Johnny rolled from his stomach onto his side and got to a sitting position. He slowly drew his left foot closer.
Ah man. . .just what I needed.
Not wanting to chance wrecking the car again, Tina first tapped, and then stepped on the brakes, bringing the vehicle to a gradual stop. She and the others got out of the car, and saw Johnny sitting with a grimace on his face and looking at his left ankle.
“Are you hurt?” Susy asked.
Gage looked up. The four girls were walking toward him. He shook his head. “Nah. I’m okay.”
“Then why are you holding your ankle?” Debbie wondered.
“Just making sure I’m okay.” He got to his feet and put a slight amount of weight on his injured leg, biting back a gasp as he did so. “See? It’s fine. I’ve been in a lot worse scrapes than this as a paramedic. This is nothin’,” he added, pointing to his ankle.
“If you say so,” Tina said, looking at the others.
The paramedic hobbled over to the passenger side of the car and let out a low whistle. His reaction was followed by a groan behind him.
“Oh no . . . my parent’s are gonna kill me! Worse than that, I’ll be grounded for life!” Tina stared at the very visible scratches on the lower half of the car.
“Wow! The accident really left some marks,” Debbie said, shaking her head.
“Will you quit making me feel worse? What am I gonna do? I wrecked my parents’ car!”
“Do they even know you have it?” Johnny asked, though he couldn’t imagine a kid being out with the family car and the parents not knowing.
Surely they’d miss it.
Tina shook her head, tears in her eyes. “They went to my grandparents’ house for the day in my dad’s Toyota. Oh, what am I gonna do?” She moaned.
“You must’ve known you were takin’ a chance by sneaking out in it.”
“Yeah, but this wasn’t supposed to happen.” She leaned with her bottom against the side of the car and broke into sobs. “My life is over. I’ll never be free as long as I live.”
“Oh, I’m sure by your mid-twenties you’ll be forgiven.”
The girl eyed Johnny, obviously not amused. “I should’ve never borrowed the car in the first place.”
Johnny thought about his Land Rover that was out and about without him. At least I know *mine* is in the hands of a licensed driver.
“I’ve just got one question for you other three girls.”
“What?” Debbie asked for herself and her friends.
“Do you always get into stolen cars with unlicensed drivers? I mean, didn’t even one of ya stop to think that it might not be a good idea?”
None of them answered, but rather frowned.
Tina stepped away from the car and looked at it again. “Why me?”
Under different circumstances Johnny may have smiled at the fact that someone else was asking the question he’d been wondering all day. But for the moment, he just wanted to back up time to where he could tell Chet ‘no deal’. One bad thing after another had snowballed off of the old VW bus’s misfortune and even the girls had been sucked into the equation.
“If I could ever have a minute back, that’s the one I’d take for sure,” he mumbled to himself.
The father brought his car to a stop at a visitors’ center located just inside the Angeles National Park. He looked over his shoulder, past Chet and Charlene, to his children.
“You two go with your mother for a bathroom break.”
Their bladders full, the kids were in total agreement. Chet and his girlfriend got out of the car, allowing the young boy and girl to climb over the seat and out the passenger doors. Their mother was already waiting at the front of the car.
“Thanks for the lift,” Chet said.
The dad got out of the station wagon. “Don’t mention it. I hope you can get a hold of your friend to pick you up here.”
“Well, I’ve got a few I can call on. The odds are in our favor.”
A still pale looking Charlene tapped the fireman on the shoulder. “I’m gonna go to the ladies’ room,” she said.
Chet nodded and watched her limp away, still in her stocking-clad feet. Much to his relief, he noticed that she no longer whined about their troubles.
With everything going wrong, she must be feeling resigned.
The father also eyed Charlene as she left. “Shame your girlfriend isn’t feeling good. You two must’ve got the same bug.”
If you only knew. . . “Yeah, probably so.”
“You sure you don’t want to ride any farther with us? We could get you a lot closer to Carson.”
“Yeah, yeah. . .we’re sure.” Chet could tell by the expression on the man’s face that he’d probably sounded a little too certain and offended him for the second time. Better get out of here before I make it even worse. “I’ll go try calling Marco now. Thanks again.”
Man, I sure could’ve used that wish this morning.
“Well, we’d better get going,” Johnny suggested as he gingerly made his way past the girls and over to the driver’s side of the station wagon.
“Wait. . .what are you doing?”
He looked at Tina. “I’m driving us back to Carson.”
“But I can’t go home. . .”
The paramedic put his hands on his hips. “Don’t worry. I’m sure your parents’ll just be glad ya didn’t get hurt. Cars can be fixed or replaced,” he said, motioning toward the wagon. “Kids can’t . . .not replaced anyway. I’ve seen a lot of mishaps and the parents are always just glad to have their kids alive afterwards. Nothing else has mattered.”
Johnny wasn’t being totally honest since he’d seen a few parents quite upset over a ruined vehicle. But the white lie was doing its job to ease her fear. He waited a few moments before prodding her with words.
Tina shook her head, but climbed into the passenger seat regardless. Her friends got back into the car and Johnny drove the station wagon down the road, being careful to keep his left foot and ankle still.
The sounds of Tina’s suppressed sobs and occasional sniffles filled the vehicle.
I hope she’s learned a lesson with all this. I know *I* have. Never take the short end of a deal, especially when cars are involved.
Chet and Charlene waited inside the visitors’ center. Marco Lopez was on his way to pick them up and give them a lift to Rampart. In the meantime, a first aid station inside the center had come in handy with a wrap and ice pack for Chet’s ankle and bandages to cover Charlene’s blisters. The fireman leaned against the back of a bench as he spoke to Charlene.
“You know, Johnny’s gonna kill me.”
“Maybe he’ll just be glad you’re okay.”
Chet shook his head. “I don’ think so. He’s gonna wring my neck.”
“What did Marco say when you told him what happened?”
“That Johnny’s gonna kill me.”
Charlene was silent as she wasn’t sure what to say.
Chet looked at his date and frowned. Great. She thinks Johnny’s gonna kill me too.
Once in town, Gage headed to a local familiar destination. The girls watched out the windows with curiosity as they passed gas station after gas station.
Bobbie looked at the paramedic. “I thought you were going to get someone to fix your tire for you.”
“Then why are you passing by all these places that could help you?”
“Because there’re a few more important things than a tire right now.” He turned down another street and into a lot.
Debbie’s eyes opened wide. “Rampart General Hospital? You’re taking us all to the hospital?”
“You girls and myself; I know I need someone to look at my ankle.”
Susy started to cry. “But if my parents find out where I was and what happened, I’ll be in big trouble!”
“Me too,” Bobbie added, her voice whiny. “Besides, I thought you said your sprained ankle was nothing.”
“And I’d like to keep it from turning into a big something. But there’s more going on here than that. You’ve been in an accident. I’m not about to let you hide it from your parents. They need to know.”
“But. . .” came two protests. More sniffles started when they realized he wasn’t backing down.
Johnny sighed. I’m glad they didn’t figure out where we were going till now. . .I’d of had to listen to this for miles.
Dixie McCall did a double take when she saw Johnny coming down the corridor in civilian clothes and sporting an obvious limp. But even more unexpected were the four young girls that seemed to be accompanying him, one of them walking as if her leg hurt as well.
The head nurse waited until the group was close by.
“What happened to you?” She asked.
“I borrowed Chet’s old VW bus and got a flat tire,” he answered, a wryness to his tone.
“And that did. . .” she trailed off, glancing at his left leg.
“Well, that started a string of events you wouldn’t believe.”
“Who’ve you got with you?” She asked as she looked at the teens.
“Oh. . .this is Tina, Bobbie, Debbie and Susy.”
Dixie smiled at the girls and gently pulled Johnny aside by the right arm. “Uh. . .Johnny. . .I don’t mean to question your judgment, but those girls can’t be much over sixteen years old,” she whispered.
“Don’t worry. It’s a long story, Dix, but I don’t actually know these girls. I just happened to meet them and we . . .uh. . . had a slight accident; kind of got tossed around. They seem to be okay, but I’d rather at least two of them get checked by a doctor.”
“Sure. But no one can do anything for them here without their parents’ permission you know.”
He nodded. “I’ve got it all worked out. Tina’s agreed to make a few phone calls.”
“Okay. . .well, they can go in room three. You can take four.”
“Good deal. Thanks.”
Later, after having spoken with the girls and their parents in the cafeteria, Johnny bid the entourage goodbye. He then hobbled on crutches toward the lounge to call for a ride when Dixie approached from the opposite direction.
“I hear you’ve gotta stay off your ankle for several days.”
“Yeah. Looks like I’ll miss a few shifts.”
“Well, maybe you and Chet Kelly can get together for a several games of checkers since you’ll both be laid up.”
Johnny stared a moment at the nurse. “What’d you say?”
“That you and Chet Kelly can play checkers while you’re--”
“Chet? What happened to Chet? Don’t tell me. . .” Gage suddenly got a sinking feeling. The way this day has gone, anything’s possible. . .
Dixie was quiet a moment, not sure what exactly Johnny didn’t want to know.
“Was. . .was he in . .an accident?” The words were harder to get out than he thought they’d be. Please say no. . .
“I don’t know. He came in with Marco Lopez and a woman. Chet sprained his ankle too.”
Johnny let out a breath he hadn’t even realized he was holding. If it was a sprained ankle, it was more likely to be a hiking mishap than an automobile accident.
Or maybe the Rover got stuck and he had to push it. . .wouldn’t that beat all if we sprained our ankles doing the same thing. . .and right now, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
Chet sat on the examination table as he waited for a nurse to return with a pair of crutches. Marco stood nearby, his arms folded across his chest.
“You know, you’re probably going to end up right back here when Johnny finds out what happened. You might want to just have him meet you here to save yourself the extra ride over.”
“Marco, don’t say ‘over’ and ‘ride’ in the same sentence.” Man, I keep seein’ the Land Rover go over the edge. . .
“Right. But you know John is going to flip when he hears the news.”
The two firemen looked toward the doorway. Johnny was leaning on a pair of crutches with the door propped open.
“What news am I gonna flip over?”
“That’s another pair of words I didn’t need to hear,” Chet said to Marco.
Johnny came into the room, the door closing behind him. “Chet. . .what news?”
Kelly could feel his stomach knot up. He opened his mouth to reply, but no words would come out. Lopez saw the helpless expression on his friend’s face and answered for him.
“Your Land Rover is lying at the bottom of an embankment in The Angeles National Forest, and it’s totaled.”
Now it was Johnny’s turn to be speechless. His mouth open in shock, the paramedic just stared at his two colleagues.
Chet glanced at Marco. “I would’ve started with how I put the Land Rover in ‘park’ before I got out. . .”
Johnny moved closer using the crutches. “Wha. . .What’dya’ do?”
“It wasn’t my fault. Your truck malfunctioned.”
“Malfunctioned? It’s totaled and you tell me it malfunctioned?”
“Well. . .yeah. . .I put it in ‘park’. I swear I did. Then Charlene--”
“Is she okay?”
“Charlene. . .is she okay?”
Chet nodded. He’d expected more anger from his co-worker. “She’s got blisters on her feet from when we had to walk for help. And she was a little nauseated from an experience on the way down when we did get help.” He paused a moment to get past the urge to gag when he thought back to the little girl in the car. “But she’s okay.”
“Good.” The paramedic glanced at Chet’s wrapped ankle. “So how’d ya do that?”
“Trying to get up the embankment after getting her purse out of your Rover.”
Johnny braced one crutch with his underarm as he rubbed at his forehead. The accident he was in may have only caused a brief headache, but it felt like a migraine was coming on now. “Man. . .totaled . . .what am I gonna do?”
“They’re supposed to be towing it out. But it was going to take awhile to get it up. I’m really sorry, man.” Chet looked at Johnny’s wrapped ankle. “Hey, what’re you doing here anyway? And what happened to you? You didn’t wreck my--”
“No, don’t worry. Your van’s fine. I twisted my ankle pushing a car that was stuck. One of your tires blew and your jack broke, so I had to walk for help. It so happened my ‘help’ was unlicensed and quick to react on the brakes.” He noticed a disappointed look on Chet’s face. “What’s wrong? I said I didn’t wreck the van.”
“I know. I was kinda hoping you had a little bit. Maybe then I wouldn’t feel like such a creep totaling yours.”
Johnny thought back to what he’d told Tina on what mattered most when a vehicle was wrecked. At least Chet and Charlene weren’t seriously hurt. “Chet, it’s okay. I’ve got full coverage on my insurance. Besides, it was an accident. If you put it in ‘park’ and it slipped out of gear, then there’s nothin’ you could’ve done about it. I mean, the emergency brake might’ve helped, but even that’s no guarantee. And the way my day’s been goin’, I’m almost ready to believe it was my fault in some crazy cosmos way. I’ve just gotta figure out how to get around until I can get another set of wheels.”
“I think Chet should loan you his.”
“Ah no.” Johnny shook his head. “I’ve had enough problems develop from that thing. As soon as it’s back, Chet can have it.”
“A soon as it’s back? Where is it?”
“Still out where the tire blew. I had four girls I had to take care of first.”
“Four girls? What did you do, pick up a harem?”
“Teenagers, Marco. Just teenagers. And trust me; you don’t wanna be in a car with four teenage girls.” Johnny looked around. “Speaking of girls, where is Charlene?”
“She went home. Her roommate came and picked her up.”
The three men’s attention suddenly was on the door when Dixie came in with a wheel chair and crutches.
“Do you guys have a way home?” The head nurse asked.
Johnny looked to Marco. “Would ya mind?”
The fireman shook his head. “Not at all.”
“Wait. . .what about my van? You’re the only one who knows where it’s at.”
“I’ll give Roy a call. Maybe he and Marco can go out and get the tire changed and one of them can drive it back. . .Marco. . .?”
“Sure. And if Roy can’t do it, I’ll see if Mike will. I guess we don’t have to worry about getting yours,” he said to Johnny.
The paramedic groaned. “You had to remind me. . .”
Johnny looked at Dixie, a defeated expression on his face. “You don’t wanna know.”
Figuring he’d tell her when the time was right for him, the nurse carried on. “Well, Chet, you’ll have to ride out in a wheel chair. But you’ll have the crutches for when you get to your destination.”
“Hey, how come he goes out in a wheel chair and I’m already on crutches?”
“Because you took off on yours and haven’t slowed down since. Why? Would you prefer a wheel chair?”
“No. I was just wonderin’.”
Dixie smiled. “I didn’t think so.”
Chet got off the table with help from Marco and sat in the chair. Dixie handed his crutches to Lopez, then wheeled Chet out of the room, and into the corridor.
Johnny had Marco get his camera and canteen out from behind the desk next to the base station. Carrying the crutches, camera and canteen, Marco had a hard time staying in step with the others.
“So I guess this day ruined any chances you had with Charlene, huh?”
Chet glanced at Gage, who was doing a good job of keeping up. “No, as a matter of fact, she asked me out on our next date.”
“Nope. She felt sorry for me with your Land Rover getting wrecked, not to mention she found me to be a not so boring date with everything that went on. I guess third time’s a charm with a date after all.”
Johnny couldn’t believe it. Chet came out ahead for the day despite everything that had happened. Meanwhile he was without his Land Rover, wounded, and just spent a morning with four teenage girls armed with a station wagon. Though he knew things would work out in the end, for the moment only one thought came to his mind. . . %&$#@%&%!
Thanks to Lizabeth S. Tucker for the story start that was too good to resist playing with. The idea of Chet with Johnny’s wrecked Land Rover over the side was all hers, and she wrote the opening line. :o) My thanks to her and Jill Hargan for the beta reads.
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