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They hadn’t said anything about this in any of his paramedic training classes. There had been no place at all in any of the piles of manuals they had been made to pore over and learn by rote that dealt with issues like this.
There wasn’t a chapter that warned him about patients who thought it would be a good idea to buy and smuggle in sick, orphaned, plague-carrying monkeys from Kuala Lumpur, without telling any officials so it could be quarantined and checked out by a vet, before it was turned loose onto unsuspecting paramedics and firemen…. Just exactly how in the hell was anyone supposed to see that one coming?
But Jenny Hollister had done precisely that very thing. She hadn’t meant to cause any problems, she had just felt sorry for the sick little monkey she had adopted on her trip with the USO, and once she had nursed it back to health, she hadn’t had the heart to abandon it, so she quietly snuck her new little companion into the USA, named him Koki and settled him into her California home.
It was an error in judgment that had caused not only Jenny to fall seriously ill, but it had cost fireman Tim Duntley his life, and left both Johnny and Dr. Brackett fighting for their lives as well, when they had contracted the virus themselves.
The fact that she had been exposed to the monkey for quite some time had meant that although Jenny had been very ill, she hadn’t been in as much danger as the others.
It had only been because she had remembered that her choreographer friend Roger had the same illness and recovered from it, that Johnny and Dr. Brackett had received the lifesaving antidote before it had a chance to take their lives. Sadly the antidote hadn’t come in time for Tim Duntley.
Jenny Hollister had made a remarkable recovery and had been released not long after the antidote had been administered to her, largely because she did have a partial immunity already built up in her system from her long exposure to her monkey, Koki.
But not having any natural immunity to the virulent virus themselves, meant that both Johnny and Kelly Brackett had ended up as roommates for several days, while they fought to recover their health.
Unfortunately this Koki virus was a new one, that had not been previously known, and since Dr. Brackett and Johnny were the only two known survivors who had not had any kind of natural protection from the disease, they were being used as case studies and each step of their recovery was being carefully documented.
The other downfall was that no one really knew for sure what kind of recovery time he could expect.
No one could promise Johnny that it wouldn’t come back to haunt him in the future, like some forms of malaria could. Nor could they promise that there wasn’t going to be any rebound effects during the recovery. He had already had a couple of days when his fever had gone back up to 101.
Johnny shifted uncomfortably in his chair as he sat starring out the window that overlooked the front parking lot of Rampart General Hospital. He wished he had thought to bring his novel over from the bedside table so he could read it to help pass the time.
But he hadn’t, and so for now, his book would have to remain all the way across the room.
He knew that for him to try and make it over there without the aid of someone to steady him, would be an exercise in futility…and embarrassment, because he had absolutely no doubt in his mind that the nurse would have to come in and pick him up off the floor when he ended up ass over tea kettle, should he try to get it on his own, which is what would no doubt happen … again.
He was still sporting a large bruise on his hip from yesterday’s valiant attempt at independence. He laid his head against the back of the chair and heaved a sigh of frustration. It was extremely disconcerting to feel senile at the age of twenty-two, but that’s what if felt like to Johnny. This Koki virus had left him weak and virtually incapacitated. Just standing up and taking a few steps across the room left him totally spent and exhausted.
This whole illness, and the fact that Tim Duntley had died … and he had nearly died, had been unsettling for Johnny.
He had become more disheartened and withdrawn when four days earlier Kelly Brackett had been declared well enough to be released from the hospital.
Dr. Brackett had been Johnny’s roommate for the first five days, but his recovery had been quicker and he had responded extremely well to the antidote.
Johnny too had responded to the antidote, but it hadn’t had the remarkable effect on him that it seemed to have on the good doctor. It was a bitter pill for Johnny to swallow.
The truth of the matter was that they were all learning about this damn virus together.
No one could explain why Brackett had bounced back quicker. One doctor suggested that maybe it had something to do with the fact that Johnny was half Native American, and so something about his genetic make-up, made him more susceptible.
Another doctor had commented that Johnny had a much smaller body mass index than Dr. Brackett did, which meant Johnny’s body, had been weakened more by the effects, and so it would take longer to bounce back.
It was true he had lost a lot of weight, and they were constantly trying to force food into him, to try and help him gain it back. Unfortunately for Johnny, he had a genetic make-up and a naturally fast metabolism that meant he had a hard enough time keeping up his body weight when he was perfectly healthy, never mind trying to keep his weight up when he was fighting the plague.
Normally it wasn’t something Johnny worried too much about. In fact when Chet tried to tease him about his weight it had actually backfired on the Irishman, mainly because Johnny just wasn’t that sensitive about being underweight.
Actually Johnny preferred to think of himself as being svelte rather than skinny.
Truthfully he took a perverse pleasure in the fact that the Phantom had to watch what he ate because Chet had a tendency to put on weight quickly and easily. Whereas Johnny could pretty well eat as much as he wanted, whenever he wanted and he would never gain an ounce.
And if there was one thing Johnny Gage loved to do … it was eat. In fact next to women, it was his favourite indulgence.
And being thin had, on more than one occasion, served him and some of his victims well; particularly when it enabled him to squeeze into tight places where no one else could fit, so he could rescue someone and save their life.
But now, for the first time in his life, being thin was a hindrance…he had lost a fair amount of weight and it not only slowed down his recovery, it had left him as weak and helpless as a kitten.
When Dr. Brackett had been released, leaving Johnny as the sole Koki survivor left in the hospital, Johnny became extremely discouraged.
He became silent and listless, and even stopped flirting with the nurses. Even a visit from the DeSoto’s and Dixie had failed to bring him out of his funk.
It was after his last visit with Johnny, that Roy had talked with Dr. Early.
Roy had become more than a little concerned about Johnny’s reticence. He didn’t like the look of him, and his silence unnerved him.
Joe Early agreed, that maybe perhaps, keeping him here in the hospital was doing him more harm than good. The problem was that Johnny was still far too weak to be on his own yet. There was also the issue of his weight loss. Right now they had Johnny on an extremely high calorie diet, and had intended on keeping him in Rampart until he had gained back his weight, his strength, and his equilibrium.
But Roy had already thought of that. He informed Dr. Early that Joanne had spent the last twenty-four hours converting their sewing room into a bedroom for Johnny. He also reasoned that Johnny loved Joanne’s cooking and would be more likely to eat, if he were being fed food he loved on demand. Plus the family and home environment was sure to put him in a more positive frame of mind. And Roy would be there to keep an eye on his health, when he wasn’t at work. And even then he was only a phone call away.
In the end it had been decided that Johnny would finish his convalescence at the DeSoto home.
Johnny had received the idea with mixed feelings.
On one hand he loved this family, and he had always been welcomed with open arms, and he felt at home with these people, but at the same time he felt oddly hesitant about the idea.
If he agreed to go home with Roy and Joanne, it would mean he would be entirely at their mercy. He was clearly too weak to be able to manage on his own, which meant he had to put his care entirely in their hands.
He hated the feelings of helplessness and loss of control. It left him open and vulnerable… which was another issue he did not handle well.
He had always had issues about putting his complete trust in others… his abusive background had ingrained in his soul a natural wariness when it came to sharing his innermost feelings and fears. He just couldn’t seem to let his defenses down long enough to feel comfortable baring his soul to anyone… not even with his best friend Roy.
It was a catch 22 for Johnny. All he really wanted to do was go home and try to get some normalcy back into his life, but the fact remained that he was so weak that just getting to the bathroom without his legs giving out underneath him, was considered a huge event.
In the end his desire to leave the hospital had won out, and in all honesty, it did feel kind of nice to know he was going to a house where he was wanted and loved.
And so here he was sitting in a chair, wearing the new pair of pajama’s and slippers that Joanne and Jenny DeSoto had brought to him yesterday, so he would have something to wear home today.
Correction…so he could go to Roy and Joanne’s home today.
Johnny heaved a sigh of frustration at his own weakness and leaned his head onto the back of his chair and closed his eyes.
He hadn’t realized he had fallen asleep until he was gently shaken awake.
“Hey there Junior, Dr. Early signed your release papers. Let’s get you out of this place, and home where you belong.”
Johnny opened his eyes to discover, Roy standing beside him, with his new robe in his hand.
Johnny’s suitcase, which had clearly already been packed for him, was sitting on the bed.
He twisted around in the chair and noticed that Dixie was standing by the bed with a wheelchair all ready to transport him out to Roy’s car.
Johnny took in a deep breath and pushed himself out of the chair using his arms.
He struggled to get to his feet, and had only made it about halfway up, when those same arms began to shake and he began to lose his balance and tumble forward out of the chair.
Roy was immediately at his side supporting his weight and steadying him, while Dixie slipped his new robe over his shoulders. Between the two of them, Roy and Dix managed to get Johnny settled into the wheelchair, where Dixie quickly covered his legs with a blanket.
“There you go hotshot,” Dixie smiled as she reached over and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“You behave yourself for Roy and Joanne, and no trying to be Mr. Macho and getting up without their help just yet.”
“Yes, mother.” Johnny grumbled.
On one hand Johnny was grateful to have such good friends in his life, that cared for him and were willing to help and support him… but on the other hand, he found himself assailed with more than just a little bit of resentment at how healthy they looked…in fact they appeared to be positively rude with health this morning. While he in comparison, just sat there being the perfect picture of an invalid.
The journey to the DeSoto home was done in relative silence in the beginning. After the initial “are you all settled in” and “are you sure you’re warm enough” and “are we ready to go then” questions had been asked and answered, Johnny slipped back into his own thoughts.
Johnny was sitting there lost in his ruminations. He cast his mind back to six months earlier; … to the last time he had spent a prolonged period of time at the DeSoto home. It had been after his Aunt Marian’s funeral and he had been feeling a bit distraught over her loss, and overwhelmed by feelings that he was once again, all alone in the world.
But Joanne and Roy had been there for him in a way that no one else had ever been before in his life.
It was true that his Aunt had been there for him, and he had loved her deeply. But Roy and Joanne had offered him a family. It was concept that had become almost foreign to Johnny. It had been so long since he’d had a real family, that he wasn’t even sure he knew how to be part of one anymore.
Roy and Joanne had been patient, and even though he knew they were both hoping that someday Johnny would trust their love and friendship enough to fully share his life, or more specifically his past, with them, there was always something that held him back. He knew his Aunt Marian’s friend Clara had alerted them to the fact that Johnny’s past was a painful one. He also knew that both Roy and Joanne were willing to be there for him when he was ready to share…but Johnny had never shared with anyone… well except for that one night with Dixie back when he was a boot.
But she was Dix… she had always been special to Johnny, just as Johnny knew he was special to her. Somehow sharing part of his story with her hadn’t been hard.
Deep down Johnny also knew that Roy and Joanne were the real deal, and he could trust them too, but for some reason, the moment he began to pluck up the courage to tell them, that little far off voice of panic in the back of his mind would rear its ugly head and Johnny would chicken out.
Luckily for Johnny it hadn’t been an issue at the station. After he had taken a compassionate leave of absence for his Aunt’s funeral, he had been afraid that his shift mates would be grilling him for information about why he had been off. But as luck would have it; by the time his three weeks of leave had ended, there was a new buzz going around at the station.
It seemed that Captain Hammer was moving out of state and he had taken the job as the Captain at another fire station in Oregon. Johnny just happened to return during his last weeks at Station 51.
Between all the excitement of biding Captain Hammer goodbye and preparing to welcome Captain Hank Stanley to Station 51, Johnny had gotten away with a simple explanation that his Aunt in Sacramento had passed away and Johnny had needed the time to help straighten out her estate.
That had satisfied the others…even the overly curious Chet Kelly, and the normally persistent Irishman had dropped the subject quickly, in favour of gossiping about what their new Cap was going to be like, so any further questions on the subject had been quickly and mercifully forgotten.
So it had been that Johnny had managed to effectively deflect any questions about his personal life with his co-workers.
Likewise he had always managed to head off any discussions about his past whenever it appeared that Roy might be steering the conversation in that direction.
But Johnny had something important on his mind right now, and he was trying pluck up the courage to ask Roy a question, but he just wasn’t quite sure how to broach the subject.
Roy was doing some pondering of his own as he drove along. He had hoped that somehow during Johnny’s stay that this young man, who had become a kid brother to him, and a cherished member of his family, would somehow finally let him see inside those fortress walls he had built around himself.
He hadn’t pushed Johnny after his Aunt’s funeral, because it was too soon and Johnny was still grieving the loss. Johnny had spent a week at his house after the funeral, and then he had gone off by himself to camp in his beloved mountains.
Whatever healing Johnny had hoped to find up there in nature, had obviously worked, because when Johnny returned he was clearly at peace with life once more.
They were now sitting in a traffic jam, just slowly inching forward along the freeway, and had been stuck there now for almost ten minutes. Roy was concerned that the delay would be too taxing on Johnny’s exhausted system, and he glanced furtively over in the direction of the passenger seat in an effort to check on Johnny without letting him know he was doing so.
As soon as he looked over, he could instantly tell that Johnny was worrying over something in his mind.
The sad seriousness in his eyes, and the sorrowful look of, “a lost old soul,” didn’t belong on the face of this twenty two year old kid…it seemed horribly out of place. It seemed so incongruous to see such a haunted look on this boyish faced figure sitting beside him.
Roy searched his mind trying to find the best way to approach the subject of what was on Johnny’s mind, without coming on too strong.
He wanted to find some way to reassure Johnny that neither he nor Joanne had any intentions of trying to pressure him into talking about anything he wasn’t ready to talk about during his stay there.
Of course he hoped that Johnny would come to feel safe and secure enough in their friendship to disclose more of his personal life on his own while he was there… but there was no way he would ever abuse his trust or friendship by trying to emotionally blackmail him into sharing his past….so it was a complete shock when he suddenly heard Johnny nervously say… “Roy…can I speak to you about something kinda personal?”
Roy returned Johnny’s look, and with a voice replete with sincerity he answered, “Johnny, you’re my little brother, and there isn’t anything you can’t tell me or ask me….ever.”
Johnny shifted nervously in his seat before he finally spoke up.
“Chief McConnike came to visit me yesterday afternoon… I guess for a while headquarters thought I might die like Duntley did… and well….ummm, you see….it’s just that….Well, my Aunt is dead now, Roy.” Johnny stammered out as he gave a furtive glance in Roy’s direction.
It was an unusual opening to a conversation and Roy didn’t quite know how to reply. Finally Roy just took the direct approach. “What is it John? What’s on your mind… just tell me, I promise it’ll be okay.”
Johnny looked down, concentrating overly hard at his hands that were nervously twisting in his lap.
Roy reached over and gently placed his hands on Johnny’s and gave them a comforting squeeze…
“What is it?”
Johnny drew in a deep breath and then blurted out in a sudden rush … “HQ wants to know who I want to be listed as my next of kin in case someday I get seriously hurt…or worse…and well I kind of wondered if you were really serious about this whole…”we’re family” thing, because I was just maybe wondering if you would be my…” his voice trailed off lamely.
Roy looked over and seen the young man staring back at him with an expression that was a cross between fear, trepidation and hopeful expectancy. Roy dredged his mind looking for a fitting rejoinder to the implied question that Johnny had left hanging in mid-sentence.
Unfortunately his hesitation in combination with the shock of being asked such an intimate request out of the blue, must have registered on his face; which Johnny clearly mistook to mean that he didn’t want to do it, because his younger partner instantly backtracked….
“Hey it’s no big deal,” Johnny said hastily….”I can always just leave it blank…I’m sure other guys have done that… just forget I said anything about it.” And he turned his face away and stared purposely out the window.
Roy turned in his seat and took hold of Johnny’s chin, and forced the young man to look him in the eyes. The look of sorrow on his face made Roy’s heart break, and he found himself starting to choke up.
“It’s is a big deal Johnny… at least it is to me, and I feel privileged you thought so much of me to ask. Johnny, I am your next of kin, and first chance we get, we’ll go to HQ and Rampart and make it official.”
After another moment had passed, Roy whispered in a voice heavy with emotion, “Thank you for trusting me with such a special honour Junior.”
“No. Thank you Roy.” Johnny whispered.
Roy glanced over worriedly at his young partner. Johnny looked wan and tired and much too thin. The trip home was clearly exacting a heavy toll on his limited physical resources and Roy silently cursed this damn traffic jam.
Johnny became aware of Roy’s scrutinizing gaze, and tried to straighten up in a futile attempt to appear healthier. He gave Roy a small smile hoping that it was at least a little reassuring to his friend.
Roy reached over and put a hand on his shoulder.
“How’re ya doing Junior?”
Johnny shifted in his seat uneasily and rubbed his sweaty palms on his bathrobe… an action not missed by Roy. “M’okay Roy, just a little tired.”
“Well, we should be home soon and you can get some rest. Jo’s got your room fixed up real nice, and her sister Elaine has the kids for the day, so it should be nice and quiet for you. Joanne even made your favourite lasagna dish too.”
Johnny just nodded his head. Once more there was an extended pause of silence as the car gradually began to move along in the long line of traffic, but the tension in the car was still palpable.
Johnny’s eyes were wary as they darted nervously around the interior of the car. Roy thought he looked like he was ready to open the car door and make a run for it. His body’s whole posture was reminiscent of a wild animal that had been trapped and caged and was ready to spring as soon as the door was opened, in an effort to gain its freedom.
If it weren’t for the fact that he could barely stand up for more than thirty seconds at a time without falling, Roy would have been worried that Johnny would have actually tried to make an escape attempt.
Roy figured he had a good idea what was bothering the young man.
There had been more than once in the last six months that Roy had wanted to question Johnny about his childhood, and there had been a few times he’d actually come close to asking him about it, but thankfully, he had remembered his self-imposed vow not to push Johnny to talk about it, and he had managed to stop himself in time.
But Roy could see that Johnny was upsetting himself, and it was definitely not something he needed in his weakened condition, so he decided that maybe now was the time for him to reinforce his vow to his partner.
“Look, Johnny. I don’t want you to worry. No one is going to push you to talk about anything you’re not ready to talk about okay? We just want to make sure you get your strength and health back.”
Roy paused, “I don’t know who it was that hurt you when you were a kid Johnny, but it wasn’t me… and it’s never going to be me. Johnny, you’re my best friend…you’re my brother, and I would never do that to you…never.”
“You are an important part of our family now John and we want you here with us, and we want you to feel comfortable and at home with us. So please just try and relax and let us take care of you until you can take care of yourself alright? I promise you Junior… no pressure. “
Johnny looked like he was battling some inner demon in order to find the right words to say in answer to Roy’s proclamation. After a few moments longer of his internal struggle, he took a deep breath … “You just don’t understand Roy…. You don’t know what it was like for me…” his voice trailed off into a plaintive sigh.
“Look, Johnny, I already know a little bit about your past…but you’re right… I don’t know, and I don’t understand, but I’d like to … but only if and when you’re ready to talk about it.”
Johnny sat beside him, trying desperately to calm himself down. He hated this feeling of being trapped. He hated being so weak and totally dependent on Roy and Joanne. He hated how it made him feel so vulnerable and exposed.
It was an unsettling feeling and Johnny just wished that he could close his eyes and that when he opened them again, he would all alone on the banks of his favourite mountainside stream, just relaxing and fishing…but he wasn’t. He was on his way to Roy and Joanne’s home for an extended convalescence period.
He had stayed with them once before after his Aunt had died, but he had been perfectly healthy then, and hadn’t needed them to physically care for his needs. But they had made him feel welcome and at ease that first time he had stayed with them, and if it had been anyone else, other than Roy and Joanne who had offered to bring him into their home while he recuperated from his illness, he would have flatly refused.
He knew in his head, that he could trust these people who had adopted him into their family… but his heart was still carrying around the scars of those painful wounds that had been so cruelly inflicted on him in the past.
Roy’s declaration that he was already aware of some of Johnny’s past had unnerved him slightly, even though he was aware his Aunt’s friend Clara had discussed a little of his and Aunt Marian’s relationship with Roy and Joanne at her funeral. Suddenly it became important to Johnny to know just exactly how much of his past Clara had told them.
He knew it wasn’t the worst of it, because he had never told anyone the worst of it. Not the reservation police, not his grandparents, he hadn’t even told Aunt Marian the worst of it.
But he still wanted to know how much of what he had told Aunt Marian, had Clara known and repeated to Roy and Joanne.
Taking a deep breath to calm himself down, he looked up questioningly at Roy.
“Just how much exactly, did Clara tell you at Aunt Marian’s funeral?” he asked.
Roy paused to collect his thoughts for a moment before he honestly answered Johnny. “I know this much… your folks died when you were ten…and that you ended up living on the mean streets of L.A. by the time you were sixteen, and that you were pulled out of an abandoned burning building unconscious. That’s when it was discovered you were homeless and an orphan, so Marian took you in and became your legal guardian, and eventually your Aunt… but that’s where my knowledge ends Junior.”
Gradually the traffic picked up to a normal pace, and Roy took the next exit ramp that would lead him to the streets of his own neighbourhood.
Johnny just sighed heavily and broke off any hope there had been for any more conversation on the subject, when he turned and stared out the window, apparently lost deep within his own thoughts.
Once again the uncomfortable silence invaded the cars’ interior.
Another five minutes of driving put them right in front of the DeSoto home.
As Roy pulled into the driveway, Joanne came out through the door and hurried down the front steps to greet them.
Roy got out and walked to Johnny’s side of the car. By the time he had reached the passenger side of the vehicle, Johnny already had his door open and had swung his legs out. He was just in the process of using the doorframe to pull himself up to his feet, when Roy called out to him.
“Hold your horses there Junior. How about you just wait for me, and we’ll do this together okay? Don’t forget, you’re not up to running any marathons just yet.”
Johnny sighed and held out his arm so Roy could take hold and help pull him up. Roy grabbed on to the proffered arm and hoisted Johnny up into a standing position. Johnny leaned heavily against the open doorframe until Roy could slide his right arm around his waist in order to both steady, and support him. They had just gotten themselves arranged into a good position, when Joanne arrived at the car.
She reached over and gave Roy a quick but tender kiss on the lips. She then turned and drew Johnny into an affectionate hug.
“Ah…so both my boys are home at last… breakfast is all ready. We’ll eat just as soon as we get you settled in Johnny.”
Johnny looked over at Roy and raised his eyebrows questioningly. “You came and got me before you even ate breakfast?”
Roy shrugged his shoulders. “Sure, I just came straight from the station. I figured we could all have breakfast together. I know how awful that crap they feed you at Rampart tastes.”
Johnny nodded in understanding. “Oh, … I forgot you were on duty last night… I’ve kind of lost track of time these last couple of weeks.”
It was true he had lost all sense of time, while he had been gripped in the clutches of the raging fever and discomforts that were caused by the Koki virus. He only had vague recollections of time and events. The days and nights all ran together in his mind, and even then what he did remember was confusing. There were fleeting impressions that Roy, or Dixie or another one of his friends had visited him, but even those memories were circumspect at best.
As the antidote began to do its job, he had been so tired, that for the first week he had slept almost constantly. Then during the second week, when Dr. Brackett had recovered enough to be released, Johnny had despaired of ever getting home, and he had fallen into pit of depression that had left him little desire to even care what day it was. Even flirting with the nurses lost any appeal for him.
It had only been yesterday morning when he had been told he was going to be released into Roy’s care that he had started to show signs of cheering up. The truth was that even though he was a bit unsettled about staying at Roy’s, it was still head and shoulders above staying cooped up inside the sterile walls of Rampart.
Roy’s voice beside him brought him back to the conversation at hand.
“Yes, Johnny. I’m just coming off of a forty-eight, so I have today, Saturday and Sunday off. That’s why we decided this would be the best time to bring you home and get you out of the hospital. I remember how much I hated it there when I had my appendix removed five years ago.
Joanne looked Johnny over carefully. “You look tired sweetheart… I’ll have Roy get you settled in your room, and then I’ll bring a couple of breakfast trays and we’ll have a little visit while you eat. Then after you and Roy have had a chance to catch a nap…we can really visit.”
She deftly slipped in onto the other side of Johnny and grabbed hold of his other arm and helped guide him up the walkway.
Johnny thought about refusing her help, but he didn’t want to seem ungrateful for their kindness to him, so he smiled and allowed her to help him towards the front steps.
Truthfully, it turned out to be a good thing, because before he had even made it halfway up the front walk, he legs had started to shake and were threatening to give out on him. By the time he reached the bottom step leading up to the front porch, Johnny knew he wasn’t going to be able to make the climb.
As much as it embarrassed him to admit his weakness, he knew it would be even more embarrassing if he collapsed on their front lawn…so with a sigh of resignation, he stopped and looked at Roy.
“Roy…can we please stop for a moment. I need to sit down on the bottom step and rest for a second before I tackle the stairs,” he said apologetically.
Roy looked over and motioned for Joanne to let go of Johnny’s arm and to go and open the front door.
While Joanne went to open the screen door, Roy braced Johnny up. He could feel Johnny growing weaker and as much as he knew that Johnny was going to hate what he was about to do… it had to be done.
He decided that the element of surprise would be best, and so in one swift move, be bent down and putting one arm behind Johnny’s shoulders and one behind his knees, he scooped up his recovering partner and quickly carried him up the stairs and into the house.
He could feel Johnny tense up in his arms, but he kept on going, until he had carried him right on through the living area, and into the room that had previously been Joanne’s sewing room. Joanne had done an amazing job of converting it into a spare bedroom in just twenty-four hours.
Joanne had pulled the blankets down and Roy gently set his partner down on the bed.
Johnny sat there with his eyes deliberately averted, his face red in embarrassment.
Roy could sense his uneasiness and he found himself foundering for what to say next, in order to break the awkward tension that prevailed in the atmosphere of Johnny’s bedroom.
Thankfully Joanne being a practical woman tackled the situation head on. She walked over to their houseguest and stood in front of him, with her hands on her hips.
“John Roderick Gage, you can just stop that right now. There will be no male posturing allowed in this house, do I make myself clear? Now, I don’t see what the big deal is over your needing a bit of help. You’ve been extremely ill… in fact you almost died on us; and contrary to what all of you big, strong, hulking firefighters like to believe, you are not supermen. “
“Now your body is weak, and it’s going to take some time for you to regain your strength, so right now you only have two things you need to be doing. Number one… you need to get complete bed rest and allow your body to recover.
Number two… you need to allow us to help you, so we are able to make sure that you successfully accomplish number one … even if that means we have to physically help you get around for a while. So you can just stop being embarrassed and let Roy get you settled in while I go and get my husband and my brother their breakfasts.”
After delivering her sermon, Joanne turned on her heels and walked out of the room, leaving Johnny staring after her open mouthed, while Roy looked on in amusement.
“Well, you heard the woman Junior; let’s get your robe and slippers off, so you can get into bed properly…unless you need to use the little boys’ room first.”
Johnny looked up and rolled his eyes. “Man she’s bossier than most of the nurses at Rampart Roy. And no I don’t need to use the men’s room,” he said with a smirk, while he struggled to try and get his robe off, without having to stand up again.
Roy watched Johnny try and tug his robe out from underneath his butt, while still remaining seated for another moment before he finally shook his head.
“You’re driving me nuts…here just let me help you out,” chided Roy. He reached over and pulled his partner to his feet with one hand, while yanking away the offending robe with the other. Once the goal was accomplished, he let Johnny drop unceremoniously back onto the bed again with a smirk.
Johnny scowled up at Roy, with a frown.
“Hey, I would have gotten it off eventually ya know… besides I can make it to the kitchen and eat at the table just fine… I’m tired of eating in bed anyway.” He complained.
He jumped, when Joanne’s voice sounded at the doorway, startling him. She set down the tray of food she’d been carrying on the dresser, and once again put her hands on her hips.
“Excuse me, Mr. Gage, but before you go trying to put anything over on me. I think you should know, that both Roy and I have had a nice long talk with both Dixie and Dr. Early yesterday, and you are to be on total bed rest until you’re steadier on your feet. You’re not supposed to even attempt to walk anywhere without one of us beside you to steady you… is that clear? Now you’ve already pushed yourself way too much today just getting home, so for the first day or two, you’ll be eating your meals off of a tray in here.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Johnny mumbled sullenly.
Joanne’s features instantly softened and she went over and sat beside Johnny pulling him into a comforting sideways hug.
“I know it’s uncomfortable for you to have to accept help Johnny… especially when you’ve been so used to doing everything on your own for so long. But you’re part of a family now… and we care about you. So let’s make a deal. We’ll try and cut you some slack, and you just grin and bear it. Just give us DeSoto’s a chance okay? We’ll grow on you … I promise.”
Johnny sighed and looked up at his hosts with a sad smile… “I’m sorry…I promise I’ll try harder to stop acting like such an ingrate.”
This time Roy joined Joanne on the bed, sitting down on the other side of their young friend.
“Johnny, no one thinks you’re being an ingrate. We know this is hard for you, and you’re doing just fine. Just cut yourself a little slack here too Junior. You’ve been seriously ill, you’re still too weak to do much of anything for yourself, and you’ve been put into a situation that you are uncomfortable with…no one expects you to be able to handle it all with a cheerful smile.”
Joanne reached over and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“Now how about you just sit here on the edge of the bed and I’ll get us one of the TV trays from the den, and set it up in between you and Roy, while he brings over the chair and joins you. There are scrambled eggs, bacon and some toast, and I’ll be right back with some juice and coffee for all of us.”
She stood up and gave his hair a scruff and went back out to the kitchen to fetch their beverages and the folding TV tray.
Once the initial tension wore off, the three of them had an amiable chat over their coffee, listening as Roy regaled them with stories of all the happenings from his last shift.
By the time Joanne had cleared away the dishes and removed the tray table, Johnny’s eyes were beginning to get heavy.
Roy stood up, and stretched his arms.
“Well Junior, I was called out twice during the night last night, and I’m definitely ready for a nap... and you look like you could use forty winks yourself, so I’m gonna head off to my bed for a while and let you get some sleep now too.”
Johnny was already sliding himself down underneath the covers on the bed, while he nestled his head down into the pillows.
“Yeah, I am really tired, now that you mention it,” he yawned. “You have a good nap Roy.” Johnny said sleepily.
By the time Roy reached the bedroom door, Johnny had already closed his eyes as he slipped away into a deep and pleasant sleep.
“You have a good rest too Junior.’ Roy whispered as he slipped out of the room, and quietly closed the door behind him.
Johnny’s body was indeed tired, so much so, that it was almost four o’clock in the afternoon before he returned to full wakefulness and opened his eyes.
It only took him a few seconds to realize just exactly what it was that had pulled him from his slumber. The culprit being his extremely full bladder.
He slowly sat up, tossed back his covers, and swung his shaky legs over the side of the bed. Remembering his promise to allow Roy and Joanne to help him, he knew what he had to do next.
“Roooy…” he called out plaintively… but there was only silence. It was then he realized that the entire DeSoto house was uncharacteristically quiet for this time of day. Drawing in a deeper breath he shouted louder this time.
“Hey Roy, Joanne, I could really do with some help in here…urgently!” Again he was greeted with silence.
Unfortunately his bladder was making it known in no uncertain terms that if he didn’t do something to rectify the situation in the next minute or so, he was going to have deal with an even more seriously embarrassing incident than he had when Roy had carried him into the house earlier that morning.
He stood up tentatively and tried to gain some equilibrium while he made one last valiant attempt to summon help.
“HEY…IS ANYBODY OUT THERE?” he shouted out….but the only sound in the house, was his own voice echoing back.
Sighing he began to take unsteady steps in the direction of the guest bathroom across the hall from his bedroom.
“Please God…just don’t let me fall…” he silently prayed. “Please God…don’t let me wet myself before I get there.” He desperately pleaded out loud this time.
Outside in the front yard, Roy stood beside Joanne’s sister Elaine’s car with his sleeping five-year-old son Christopher in his arms, while Joanne was leaning into the back seat, undoing Jennifer from her car seat. They stood in the driveway chatting with Elaine, who was recounting the children’s fun filled day of activities to her sister and brother in law. After a good ten minutes had passed, two year old Jenny began to grow bored of sitting in her mothers arms and began to squirm and fuss.
Taking their cue from the little girl, the three adults said their goodbyes, and Roy and Joanne carried their young brood into the house.
Roy was just on his way to take his young son upstairs and lay him on his bed, when he stopped dead in his tracks. There before him, lay his partner sprawled out on the hall floor trying hard not to let his tears of frustration get the better of him.
“Johnny! What do you think you’re doing?” he bellowed out in a tone that was part fear and part anger.
“Joanne!” he urgently called out in the very next breath, instantly startling Chris awake, causing the young boy to start crying in fear, which only added to the pandemonium.
Joanne came running with Jenny still in her arms, who had by now decided to add her wail of discontent into the fray.
Roy quickly set Christopher down onto floor next to Joanne, and knelt next to Johnny.
“Damn it Junior… I thought we agreed you were going to let us help you … what are you trying to do?” he said angrily.
Laying there on the floor feeling utterly exposed and more than a little embarrassed, the situation became too much for Johnny’s already overtaxed nerves. Before he could stop them, his tears of frustration leaked out and ran down his face.
“Stop treating me like a child Roy…you’re not my father…My father’s dead, remember?” he spat back angrily. “I woke up and had to use the bathroom.”
By now his anger and frustration were beginning to rise to out of control levels, as his breathing increased and he began to gasp for breath. But he continued on with his rant.
“And for your information, I did call out for help… three times … at the top of my voice, I might add. But no one was here, and finally I couldn’t hold it any longer, so I went on my own. Unfortunately my legs didn’t feel like co-operating and I fell, so I had to crawl the rest of the way to the bathroom. I was on my way back to bed, when my arms gave out on me too.”
By this time he was half weeping and half yelling; all the while he was struggling like a turtle caught on its back, as he tried to pull himself into a sitting position.
While all of this was happening, Joanne had taken Chris and Jenny into their bedrooms to calm them both down.
As soon as Roy realized what had happened, his emotions instantly switched from anger and fear, right into guilt.
“Shit…I’m sorry Johnny. Jo and I were out front with Elaine. She just dropped the kids off, and I guess we got talking. I didn’t mean to yell at you. I just got scared when I saw you lying here on the floor.”
He leaned down and grabbed hold of Johnny’s arm.
“Here, let me help you get up.” He said apologetically.
Johnny pulled his arm out of Roy’s grasp, as he gradually got his breathing slowed back down to a more reasonable level. “I wanna go home Roy… to my home.” He said quietly.
Joanne had heard the entire exchange and had once again appeared in the hallway. She knelt down beside the distraught young man and rubbed his back soothingly, trying to get him to calm down.
“Sweetie, you can’t go home.” She explained. “You’re just not able to look after yourself yet. It’s either stay here with us or go back to the hospital… and before you say it. We’re not taking you back to Rampart. We want you here with us…with your family. We’re sorry this happened, and we’re even sorrier for getting upset with you when it wasn’t your fault.” She said “Now, how about we just try and forget about this whole unfortunate incident, and let’s just get you back into bed.”
As much as he hated to admit it, Johnny realized she was right, and so he just sullenly nodded.
This time when Roy reached for his arm, Johnny allowed him to help him up into a standing position. His still weak legs immediately began to buckle beneath him, and so for the second time that day, he found himself being carried by Roy, back into his bedroom.
Johnny didn’t say a word, as he watched Roy and Joanne fuss with his blankets, making sure he was tucked in neatly.
He had gotten to know Roy well enough to recognize when he was going off on one of his famous guilt trips, and as angry as he was at him for yelling at him, he just couldn’t stand to see his best friend tear himself up with guilt.
“Stop it Roy. No guilt trips okay? It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was just an unfortunate circumstance, and it’s over… you apologized for yelling at me, so let’s just drop it okay.”
Joanne came over and gave Johnny a kiss on the forehead. She stopped and quickly stood up and placed the back of her hand on Johnny’s forehead.
“Roy, he feels a little warm to me… I think he may be running a low grade fever.”
Roy walked over and he too felt Johnny’s forehead.
“I think you’re right honey. Dr. Early did say that there would probably still be a few instances of some minor rebound febrile episodes. Are the thermometer and the aspirin still in the medicine cabinet in our bathroom?”
Joanne nodded her head. “I’ll go and bring them in to you, along with a glass of juice, while you two continue to kiss and make up.” she teased while she walked out of the room.
Johnny looked over at Roy suspiciously. “You even think of kissing me Pally, and I really will leave.”
Roy rolled his eyes and grinned. “Shut up Junior, and lay back and rest. I’m going to go and get my first aid kit, and get a set of vitals on you while Joanne’s getting the thermometer and the aspirin.”
Within a few moments Roy was sitting on the edge of the bed, giving Johnny a cursory examination.
“Well, Junior, your BP’s a bit low, but nothing alarming and you’re running a temperature of 101. But considering the day you’ve had, it’s hardly surprising. Here take these aspirin; they should help bring the fever back down again.”
He handed Johnny two aspirin and a glass of orange juice.
After Johnny had complied by swallowing down the pills, he looked over at the suitcase sitting on the dresser that held his belongings.
“Hey Roy, did you bring my necklace from my locker?” he asked.
Roy nodded and walked over to Johnny’s suitcase and rummaged around inside until he finally produced the brightly coloured, and distinctively native necklace. It was made of a long strand of thick soft leather, which had several rows of blue and white glass beads embroidered onto it.
On the end there was a large bone pendant with several small animals intricately hand carved and painted on its surface He carried it over to where his ill partner lay, and handed it to him.
Johnny lovingly fingered it for a moment and then slipped it on over his head.
Roy watched him with interest. The beautiful work of art obviously meant a lot his partner. Roy knew Johnny wore it almost constantly, only taking it off while on duty, in the hospital, or while he was taking a shower.
“That’s a beautiful necklace Johnny. Did you make it?” Roy asked.
Johnny continued to gaze at it while he gently fingered the intricate beadwork.
“No,” Johnny replied quietly.
“My father made most of it, although my mom did do a couple of the tinier painted carvings on the back of the pendant, later on…. It was the last thing she ever gave to me.” Johnny said his voice raw with emotion.
“She gave it to me on the night they… on the night they were…” Johnny’s voice broke and he couldn’t finish the statement.
Roy came over and sat down on the bed beside him.
“Do you mean on the night they died Johnny?” Roy asked gently.
Johnny looked up at Roy. His eyes were full of pain and sorrow, and Roy regretted asking him any questions about the piece of jewelry that was now back in place around his neck.
“No, Roy…not on the night they died…it was on the night they were murdered.”
Roy opened his mouth to speak, but Johnny cut him off before he was able to get another word out.
“I’m kinda tired Roy…I don’t really feel too much like talking right now. I’d really just like to try and get a little more sleep before supper okay?”
Roy patted Johnny’s leg through the blankets. “Okay Junior, you get some rest.”
Roy got up and quietly exited the room, shutting the door behind him. As he stood out in the hallway he raised his eyes to the ceiling and blew out a long breath.
Johnny’s revelation had left Roy feeling like he’d just been sucker punched in the gut.
Murdered…Johnny had clearly said his parents had been murdered.
“Damn.” Roy exclaimed under his breath.
He ran his hands through his hair in frustration as he slowly walked down the hall and into the living room where his two small children were happily watching cartoons.
As soon as Johnny heard the click of the bedroom door being closed, he sat back up in his bed. As tired as he was… and he was exhausted… he knew there was very little chance of him actually falling asleep anytime soon.
Between the incident in the hallway and his fever, Johnny knew it would be a while before he would be able to settle himself down and relax enough for sleep to come and claim him. Heaving a sigh, he turned around and repositioned his pillows so that they were propped up against the headboard, then he lay back against them until he was in a semi-reclined position.
Reaching down with his hand, he found the bone pendant part of his necklace that was hanging around his neck. Grasping it with his fingers, he held it up high enough so that he could see the intricate carvings from his recumbent position against his pillows.
He smiled as he remembered the nights when he was a small boy, when he would crawl up into his mothers lap, and listen as she retold the necklace’s history to her young son.
Sometimes, he would sit in her lap for hours, as she rocked with him in her rocking chair while she sang to him.
Then there were the nights she would sit on the edge of his bed late at night. He would listen to her tell him the story of how she and his father had met and fallen in love. She would explain to him what each of the carvings on the pendant meant, as she lovingly brushed the hair off his forehead.
She would tell young Johnny about how she had lovingly painted the tiny symbol of the gray wolf onto the back of that bone pendant on the night he was born.
Johnny didn’t realize he had drifted off to sleep, but obviously he must have, because the next thing he knew it was past six o’clock and Roy was shaking him awake, telling him it was time for supper.
As he sat up sleepily, he noticed Joanne standing behind Roy with a tray bearing one of his favourite foods… Joanne DeSoto’s lasagna.
After he had finished his meal, Roy helped him into the bathroom so he could attend to his personal business. He would have loved to have taken a shower, but he decided that the request could wait until morning… he was just too damn tired tonight.
He had just gotten nicely settled into bed again, when he seen Chris’s small blonde head peeking around the corner of the bedroom door. “Hi Uncle Johnny,” the child said shyly.
“Would you please read me my bedtime story tonight?”
Johnny grinned at the child and motioned the five year old to come on in. Chris had a copy of Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss in one hand, and his two-year-old sister Jenny in the other.
Johnny took the book out of the boy’s hand and patted the bed, in an invitation for Chris to crawl up beside him.
Jenny just stood beside the bed with her hands outstretched, waiting for her Uncle Johnny, to pick her up. Just as he was about to lean over and grab a hold of her to hoist her up, Joanne came into the room.
“There you two are… I hope you’re not disturbing your Uncle Johnny.” She said as she bent over and picked up her daughter.
Johnny looked up and grinned. “Nope, I was just getting ready to read them a little Dr. Seuss before bedtime.”
Johnny slid over further towards the middle of the bed and held out his arms to take the little girl from Joanne.
Joanne chuckled and set Jenny down on the bed beside her uncle. “Alright, but just one story, and then it’s time for baths and bed for both of these little rug rats.”
Twenty minutes later Roy stood quietly at the bedroom door and smiled as he looked into Johnny’s bedroom and seen both of his young children curled up, one on either side of their uncle. All three of them were fast asleep, with the book lying open on Johnny lap.
It was such a sweet and innocent scene, that Roy was loath to disturb it. As he stood there he couldn’t help but notice how young his partner appeared when he was asleep. Roy was filled with an immense feeling of sadness as Johnny’s words from hours earlier, ran through his mind… it was on the night they were murdered.
All of a sudden, Roy felt an overwhelming urge to protect his young partner, but he wasn’t sure from what. He just knew that as much as he wanted Johnny to trust him enough to finally confide in him about his past, he was equally afraid of what it was he would hear, when and if Johnny ever told him.
He was still standing in the doorway of the bedroom, when Joanne came up behind him and slipped her arms around his waist and nuzzled the back of his neck.
“They do look adorable all snuggled up together don’t they?” she whispered.
Sliding around until she was standing beside her husband, she reached over to the dresser and grabbed the first aid kit that was still sitting there from earlier on in the afternoon.
“I’ll get my two little charges all ready for the night, and you take care of yours.” She giggled as she shoved the medical bag into Roy’s hands.
Roy grinned at his wife’s teasing comment. He walked over to the bed and carefully lifted Christopher out from underneath Johnny’s arm, while Joanne extracted Jenny from his other one.
By the time Roy had returned from taking Christopher into his bedroom, Johnny was sitting up sleepily in his bed, holding Christopher’s book in his hands.
Roy walked over and took the book from Johnny’s hand, and set it on top of the dresser. He sat down on the edge of the bed while he opened up his modified first aid kit and pulled out a BP cuff and the thermometer.
Johnny watched as Roy shook down the thermometer.
“Uh… Roy, I understand about the thermometer, but what’s with the complete vitals, check? I’m really not sick anymore. It’s just all of this extreme weakness and fatigue, that’s keeping me down. That’s why they let you bring me home… this little fever is just a bit of an after effect.”
Roy reached over and shoved the thermometer into Johnny’s mouth and began to wrap the blood pressure cuff around his arm.
“Just humour me Junior, I promised the doc’ I’d keep an eye on your vitals until you stop having these rebound episodes of fever… remember, you and Brackett are being monitored, for the medical journals.”
Johnny just sat with the thermometer in his mouth and gave his partner an exaggerated roll of his eyes. He lay back against his pillows, so Roy could count his respirations.
After the correct amount of time passed Roy removed the instrument from Johnny mouth and read the numbers. He frowned slightly and set the thermometer down on the nightstand.
“Well, how am I?” asked Johnny
“Well, your vitals are still low, but it’s not unexpected. Unfortunately your fever is still hanging on around the 101 mark. I’ll have to call Doctor Early and tell him, and see what he wants me to do about it.”
Johnny lay back further on his pillows and sighed. He hoped that the doctor wouldn’t tell Roy to bring him back to Rampart. Rampart General Hospital was a great place to work, but it certainly lost its appeal when you found your name listed on its long-term guest list.
Roy got up and gave Johnny an encouraging smile. “Relax Junior, I don’t think he’ll make you go back, but he may want to prescribe something a bit more powerful than aspirin to deal with the fever, it may be that you need a bit more of the antidote.”
Johnny nodded his head, and watched silently as Roy got up to go make the call to Doctor Early with his report.
As Johnny lay there he could hear the sounds of Joanne and the children as they were going through their nightly bedtime routine. It was a warm and pleasant sound, and he found himself feeling a bit maudlin as he thought back to when he was a small child. It reminded him of how much he missed his parents right at this moment.
Further in the background he could hear the muffled sound of Roy’s voice as he talked on the phone to Dr. Early. Man, he sure hoped he didn’t have to return to Rampart again.
Although no one liked to be a patient in the hospital, John Gage had a particularly strong aversion to all hospitals…even the ones where he was friends with most of the doctors and nurses.
It had started back when he was a child and he had found himself the victim of cruel abuses that often landed him in either the reservation clinic, or the local hospital just outside the reservation.
It was a sad truth that even though many of the doctors and nurses who had treated him, had known full well what was happening, they had done nothing to stop it.
It largely came down to the fact that the medical personnel all fell into one of three groups.
Group one, were the native doctors who had a dislike for Johnny because he was half white.
Group two, were the white doctors who had a dislike for the entire Indian race … even the “breeds” as they called them. Group three, were the ones who wanted to help, but either bowed down to peer pressure to look the other way, or they simply didn’t want to get mixed up in reservation issues … but no matter what group they fell into…it was Johnny who suffered the consequences.
Even today, the memories of the cold indifference he suffered at the hands of those who were supposed to have sworn an oath to be caring, had left a bitter taste in his mouth and a deep dislike for all hospitals in general.
It was just at that moment; Roy came back into the room.
“Well, Dr. Early says to just keep on with the aspirin for tonight, but he’s going to come by sometime tomorrow and give you another shot of the antidote. For some reason your body seems to be a bit more resistant to its effects. Your last blood tests showed that the antibodies are in your blood, but there are a lot less in yours than in Brackett’s. I guess the general consensus is that it could have something to do with the genetic make up, of your native heritage. He also wants you to have more blood drawn twenty four hours after he gives you your shot tomorrow.”
Johnny just sighed and nodded his head…. “I really hate monkeys,” he muttered miserably.
“Can’t say that I’m that fond of them anymore myself Junior.” Roy agreed sympathetically.
“Look it’s only eight thirty, what do you say, I help you into the living room. We’ll get you settled on the couch and we can watch a bit of the ball game together.” Roy asked his very unhappy patient.
Johnny just shook his head. “Naw, I kinda have a bit of a headache Roy. I think I’ll just take my aspirin and try and get some extra sleep. It’s been a long day, and besides, I’d probably just fall asleep before the second inning was over anyway.”
Roy walked into the bathroom, and came back with a glass of water and two aspirin and handed them to Johnny.
“Here ya go, Johnny. Is there anything else I can get for you before I turn out the light?”
“Actually there is Roy. Could you please leave me a glass of juice? I find I get pretty thirsty with these low grade fevers, and I’m kinda sick of just plain old water.”
Roy nodded his head and disappeared out the door. It was only a couple of minutes before he returned with a very large glass of grape juice, and a straw.
“Here, I brought you some grape juice this time… I remembered that you told me in the hospital that it was your favourite, so I made sure Joanne picked some up for you yesterday. I thought it might be a nice change from the apple and orange juice you usually get.”
Roy handed the glass over to Johnny’s waiting hands.
Johnny smiled up at Roy as he took the glass and took a long sip from the straw. “Thanks Pally, it is a nice change…tell Jo thanks for me okay?”
Roy nodded. “Is there anything else you need, before I go and cuddle with my wife on the couch for the evening?” he asked on final time.
Johnny laid his head back on his pillow and smirked up at his friend. “No, … but promise me if you start to do anything more intense than cuddling, you’ll keep the noise level down. I don’t think I could handle hearing all the moaning and panting in my weakened condition,” he giggled.
Roy rolled his eyes, and shut off the bedroom lights. “Goodnight Junior…oh and you might want to stick your fingers in your ears… just in case,” he joked.
He could still hear Johnny’s giggles as he pulled the door closed behind him.
Johnny lay in the dark for a long time, while he tried to sort out the myriad of thoughts that were racing around inside his head.
He went over the day’s events one more time, especially the incident in the hallway.
On one hand Roy’s reaction had angered him. He hated being talked down to like that.
But on the other hand, there was no denying the genuine fear and concern he had seen in Roy’s eyes when he was kneeling beside him on the floor. It was the main reason why he had forgiven him for his outburst so quickly.
In fact Roy had been there for him throughout this whole ordeal… not to mention how he and Joanne had taken him in as part of their family … especially since his Aunt Marian’s death.
He still couldn’t believe that they had traveled all the way up to Sacramento, just to be with him and support him when she had passed away six months earlier.
Johnny knew Roy was hoping he would share his past with him, but he just wasn’t sure. Sharing his parent’s death with him was one thing… but what about sharing the rest?
Did he really want to share with this man the years of hell he had lived through between the ages of ten and sixteen?
Part of the time, those years filled him with bitter resentment and anger over the loss of his childhood. It was a loss he could never recover. He mourned the fact that you only get one chance at a carefree childhood, and a huge chunk of his had been stolen from him, and he could never ever get it back.
There was also another part him that was filled with a deep shame and embarrassment at the idea of having to tell anyone at how he had been humiliated at the hands of his grandparents.
How he had been forced to sleep on a pallet on the floor of the woodshed where the dogs slept… or that he had only been allowed to eat what was left over after everyone else had eaten, and even then he hadn’t been allowed to eat in the kitchen…no they made the filthy little breed eat in the wood shed where they fed the dogs, because they said he wasn’t worthy to eat at their table.
His face burned in humiliation even now, as he remembered all of the beatings and those dehumanizing and degrading comments he had had to endure on a daily basis.
How could he ever hold his head up again around Roy if he told him those things?
But the biggest obstacle, holding him back from confiding everything to Roy, was the fear.
It was the fear of giving anyone enough of his heart so that they had the power to hurt him again.
He was afraid of trusting someone enough to let them in, only to have them shatter that trust, and leave him wounded and alone once more.
All the years of abuse had broken something inside the young child that was Johnny Gage; and now here was his partner … a man who was offering adoption into his family … a man who wanted to be his brother and help Johnny pick up the pieces of that previously shattered trust and mend his broken spirit.
Johnny knew it would take a huge leap of faith on his part to let this man and his family into his heart.
The question was… was Johnny willing to put his heart and soul back on the line and trust these people enough to accept that offer? Or should he continue to keep his past and his heart hidden behind the protective walls he had spent more than a decade building?
Coming to no clear consensus on the matter, Johnny finally fell into an uneasy sleep.
Johnny was sitting in the back seat of the car as it traveled down the narrow gravel roads that wound their way through the Montana foothills. It was almost dark and he could hear his mom and dad in the front seat discussing the upcoming rodeo that would be happening on the ranch where his father worked, in the next few weeks.
“I’m telling you Katie, I’m going to win that ten thousand dollar purse, and when I do, I promise you I’m going to take you and John, and get off this reservation once and for all. I’ve already talked to Pete and he’s promised he’ll co-sign the mortgage for the twenty five acres of land next to his ranch…’
Johnny looked up when he heard his father suddenly exclaim… “what the hell?”
“What is it Rod…what’s wrong?” his mother worriedly asked.
“I’m not sure Kate…there’s someone in a truck coming up awfully fast on our tail... Surely they know that this road is too narrow to pass on…what’s that idiot doing?…he’s not slowing down.
Johnny turned around in his seat and he saw a dark coloured pickup truck bearing down on them with alarming speed. Suddenly he heard his father’s voice laced with panic begin to shout.
“Dear God Katie, he’s deliberately trying to run us off the road…Johnny get down on the floor, right now….”
It was only a second later when he heard his father scream out, “HOLD ON HONEY, HE’S GOING TO RAM INTO US….”
The next thing Johnny was aware of was the sickening sound of crunching metal and shattering glass, intermingling with the shouts of his father, and his mother’s screams, as the car began to cartwheel over the side of the embankment.….. It was then he heard his father scream …”JOHNNY!!!!!!!!!”
He could still feel the sensation of the bones in his arm breaking as his body made contact with the door he was thrown up against. The force of his body against the car door caused it to spring open, and toss Johnny out onto the shoulder of the road. Johnny caught a quick glimpse of the taillights of the pickup truck that had sent their car plunging over the side of the bank, as it disappeared around a bend in the road.
He rolled over just in time to see his father’s body being tossed around inside the vehicle as it slid down the steep edge of the embankment. Then before he could even process what was happening, he saw the car explode on impact as it hit a pile of rocks at the bottom of the hill.
He laid there, his gaze fixed on the sight of the blazing inferno that had been his father’s car only seconds before. The realization that his parents were inside that car made his stomach turn and he lost the contents of his stomach in the long grass along the edge of the embankment.
Slowly he became aware of the sound of someone moaning in pain. It appeared to be coming from a few feet down the side of the embankment. Pulling himself up unsteadily to his feet, Johnny made his way over to where the sounds were coming from. To his dismay he discovered the noise was coming from his mother’s bloodied and battered body, which was lying in a crumpled heap in the grass.
Her eyes were open, and glassy, and her face was covered in blood. Her legs and back were twisted and bent at awkward angles, and she was gasping in pain.
Johnny cradled his broken limb as he knelt down beside his mother. He reached out with his uninjured arm and carefully picked up his dying mothers hand in his own small one. It already felt cold and lifeless. Johnny began to cry as he called out to his mother who lay moaning on the edge of the road.
“Mama…are you going to be okay? … What should I do mama?” He sobbed as the tears fell down his face, “…daddy’s in the car, mama…he’s dead mama…daddy’s dead…”
Johnny reached down with his good hand and began to stroke his mother’s forehead in the same way she had done for him whenever he was sick or hurt.
The woman lying on the ground realized that she was mortally wounded and that she was dying…with the last of her strength she reached up and slipped off the necklace she was wearing around her neck, and she put it into the hands of her weeping child.
“Son…Johnny…listen baby…mama wants you to listen very carefully…I want you to take this necklace and I want you to wear it always…promise me okay…I want you to remember that as long as you have this around your neck, that you, and daddy and mama will always be together in our hearts.
The woman began to cough up blood and she began to struggle for breath…
I want you to promise me that you’ll grow up to be a good man…that you’ll make your daddy and me proud.”
“No mama, this is your necklace…you have to keep it so you can tell me the story about it when I can’t sleep at night…you have to keep it mama…”
Johnny was sobbing into her neck as he held onto the necklace in his one good hand.
“No sweetie…mama has to go and be with daddy now…I want you to go and stay with your grandfather and grandmother now… you be a good boy for them okay? And remember Johnny. I love you…mama and daddy both love you and we always will…I promise you, we will be watching you from heaven…just remember baby, mama loves you…”
Again the woman coughed up more blood, only this time her breathing became more ragged until finally there was nothing left but the death rattle of those that are drawing their last breath.
Johnny looked down and continued to sob piteously, as he saw his mother grimace one final time in pain … then he watched as her eyes rolled back into her head briefly as she gave a final gasp and then her beautiful dark eyes, just stared up lifeless into the night sky.
NOOOO, no mama…don’t leave me mama…please don’t go…I’m scared mama…please don’t die…please stay here with me….MAMA!”
Roy and Joanne were sitting in their living room cuddled up under the afghan that hung over the back of the sofa. They were watching the late show, with the volume turned down low so they wouldn’t disturb Johnny.
Roy had confided to Joanne earlier what Johnny had told him about his parents having been murdered, and they had both agreed, not to push Johnny for any more details, and to just let him set the pace about how much he was ready to share with them, and when.
All of a sudden a cry coming from Johnny’s bedroom shattered the quiet of the night.
Roy and Joanne were instantly on their feet, as they ran the short distance to the doorway of the spare room.
They flung open the door and saw Johnny, his face was drenched in sweat as he tossed and turned restlessly in his bed. There were tears streaming down his cheeks and it sounded like he was sobbing in his sleep.
They could hear his words as he cried out in his sleep. His voice was filled with fear, pain, and the sobs of a young boy in absolute anguish.
“Daddy’s in the car mama……he’s dead mama…daddy’s dead.”
Joanne went over and began to gently stroke Johnny’s brow. “Johnny…sweetie….you’re having a bad dream, come on now…wake up sweetheart.”
Johnny continued to thrash about in his bed, still caught up in the throes of his nightmare.
NOOOO, no mama…don’t leave me mama…please don’t go…I’m scared mama….please don’t die…please stay here with me ….MAMA!”
Suddenly Johnny bolted upright, the tears still falling down his face, his breaths coming in short ragged gasps.
Joanne’s motherly instincts took over and she gently pulled Johnny into a hug and rubbed his back as he continued to sob.
Roy stood in the doorway dumbstruck at what he was witnessing. He watched as his wife tried to calm the young man down.
Johnny’s eyes were glazed and unfocused and both Roy and Joanne knew that he still wasn’t fully aware of their presence, but his breathing had slowed down and he had ceased his sobbing.
Joanne continued to hold him tight while she spoke soft soothing words of comfort to him.
Finally Johnny’s eyes slid shut and Roy came over and helped his wife ease his partner back down onto his pillow.
Roy stepped into the bathroom and wet a cloth. He brought it back and bathed the sweat off of Johnny’s fevered brow.
Stepping back into the bathroom he returned with two more aspirin. Joanne quietly slipped out of the room, while Roy gently shook Johnny back into full wakefulness.
“Come on Johnny… I need you to wake up and take these pills, your fevers up again and I don’t want it to get ahead of you.”
After several more tries, Johnny’s eyes slowly cracked back open. Roy pulled him back up into a sitting position and waited for Johnny to become more aware of his surroundings.
“Shhh Junior, I just need you to take these aspirin and then you can go back to sleep…”
Johnny sat and stared woodenly at the pills for a second, until finally his brain registered what Roy had just said.
He took the two pills and put them in his mouth. Roy handed him his glass of grape juice, and he took a couple of long swallows letting the pills slide down the back of his throat. After taking another long drink of the juice, he set the glass back down onto the bedside table.
Johnny just sat there, staring off into space, not saying anything. He took another shuddering breath and turning his head toward Roy, he looked up at the older man with a haunted and lost look in his eyes.
“They killed them Roy…and I couldn’t do anything to stop it…those bastards, killed them both.”
Roy eased Johnny back down onto his pillows.
“I know Junior…we’ll talk about this tomorrow if you want to okay? But right now I want you to try and get back to sleep….I promise I’ll sit here with you until you drop off.”
Johnny, lay back and nodded. He lay there for a minute until finally he looked over at Roy, and with tears in his eyes he softly said, “You know Roy, my parents died that night and went to heaven … and I survived and got sent to hell.”
He gave a deep sigh, and then rolled over onto his side so that he was no longer facing Roy.
Gradually his eyes grew heavier and he slipped back once again into a fitful sleep.
Roy sat beside his friend for several more minutes watching him sleep. Every few moments Johnny would draw in a shuddering breath and toss his head restlessly on his pillow.
It wasn’t long before Joanne came back in and sat down next to her husband. She leaned in close and began to rub his back comfortingly.
“Dear God Jo,” Roy whispered. “He was there…he was only ten years old and he witnessed his own parents death…he saw their murders.”
He turned and grabbed hold of his wife’s hand and held on to it tight.
“I’m almost afraid to ask him how it happened” he said “But no matter what it takes, I’m going to be there for him. I’m going to help him deal with all of this, Joanne.”
Joanne pulled Roy into a hug, and she whispered into his ear.
“No honey… we’re both going to help him get through this…now let’s both get to bed. I have a feeling tomorrow’s going to be a long day for all of us.”
Roy leaned over and checked on Johnny one final time before he walked out of the room. But this time he left the bedroom door open, and the light in hall switched on.
After checking on Chris and Jenny, the two DeSoto’s went into their bedroom and closed the door.
Back in Johnny’s room the young man began toss and turn once more…
He was still sitting beside his mother’s dead body on the side of the road watching the car that contained his father burn, while he clutched the necklace in his good hand and cradled his broken arm…his sobs had abated, but the tears were still streaming down his face.
Suddenly he heard a vehicle on the road. From a distance he could see it was the same dark coloured truck coming back…suddenly filled with fear, he quickly scrambled further up the embankment and hid in a large bush that was growing along the side of the road several feet away.
He watched in horror as he saw three men get out of the vehicle…the night was just dark enough that he was unable to make out their features, but he could hear their voices clearly.
The three men walked over to the edge of the road and stared down over the edge of the embankment at the burning remains of Roderick and Kate Gage’s car.
One of the men walked up next to Kate’s battered and lifeless body, and nudged her corpse with his foot.
“This one’s dead Ray…what about Gage and that half breed whelp of theirs?”
“Looks like they never even made it out of the car, Lenny..” the second man laughed.
The second man walked back over and spat on the ground next to Kate Gage’s body… “that’s what the dumb redskin bitch gets for marrying outside of her own kind…well I say good riddance.”
After a few more moments the third man came over and looked down at the dead woman’s body, while Johnny looked on from his hiding place in the bushes.
Well boys it looks like we got a good night’s work done here, by disposing of this worthless trash.. With Gage gone, along with his squaw and their half breed brat, that rodeo money is ours for the taking….come on boys, let’s get outta here before someone comes along and sees us…”
Johnny continued to toss and turn in his sleep as the tears streamed down his face.
The dawn was just beginning to break, and the stars in the sky were growing paler before the dawn, when Roy got up and made his way downstairs and shut the hall light off. Not wishing to wake his younger partner up, he tread softly upon his feet as he made his way down toward the open door of Johnny’s room.
He was hoping Johnny would sleep in late after the emotionally charged evening he’d had the night before. That, on top of his fever had not done his recovery any favours.
Roy decided he would quietly sneak into Johnny’s room and check to see if his fever had abated overnight.
When he entered into the room, he discovered that Johnny was no longer in his bed, but had at some point through the night, gotten up and made it over to the tub chair that sat by the window that overlooked his backyard. Johnny was wide-awake and staring out into the early morning light, lost in his own thoughts.
Roy quietly made his way into the room and sat down on the side of the bed nearest Johnny. Finally after several minutes of silence Johnny heaved a heavy sigh.
“It’s 100.6, I checked myself an hour ago, in case you were wondering. You left the aspirin bottle on the nightstand, so I took two more. By the way, grape juice isn’t nearly as good when its warm as it is when it’s cold… sorry I didn’t do a vitals check.”
Roy stood up and walked over and squatted down in front of the chair. He lifted his hand and felt Johnny’s forehead.
“An hour ago huh? You’re still warm. I’ll wait another hour or so and check it again. Do you need to use the bathroom?”
Johnny nodded his head. “I’m not in danger of having an accident, but yeah, I’d like to go. Then I thought maybe you could make us some coffee and we could have a little talk. I figure you probably want an explanation about what I told you last night.”
Roy moved around until he was right in front of his ill friend.
“John, I want you to listen to me… It would be a lie if I said I wasn’t curious about it… but that doesn’t mean you have an obligation to tell me anything. And I want to make it perfectly clear, that it’s not a condition to us bringing you home to recover. There are no strings attached to being part of this family, and I meant it when I said there would be no pressure on you to explain anything to us… okay?”
Hearing Roy’s words made Johnny surer than ever of the decision he had made hours earlier.
After Roy and Joanne had left him the night before, he had been plagued by memories of the night his parents had been killed. He had woken up in a cold sweat not long after they had gone to bed, so he had gotten up and walked on his unsteady legs, over to the chair by the window and he had spent most of the night going over things in his mind.
He had to decide once and for all, did he or did he not, trust these people enough to let them in?
He looked around the room and smiled. Joanne had done an amazing job of turning her sewing room into a spare bedroom. She had made sure to reiterate several times throughout the day, that from here on in, it was to be considered his room.
He thought back to the week he had spent here after his Aunt’s death, and how much they had helped him get through those first few days of grieving.
Not to mention the fact that Roy and Joanne had gone all the way up to Sacramento, looking for him, and had remained there with him at the funeral…and even during these last couple of weeks, they had been there at the hospital every single day during this entire Koki virus incident.
He finally had to ask himself, what more did he want from them as proof that they were sincere in their friendship and love towards him?
It was then he realized that sooner or later he would have to take that leap of faith and trust someone… or else live the rest of his life all alone.
He knew he certainly did not like being alone… not anymore anyway.
So he had decided that it was time for him to take his first tentative steps on the long road to trusting someone again.
He figured he would start by telling them about his past up to the time of his parents’ death, and see how it went.
As for the rest of the hell he had lived through… well, he figured he could decide about that part later.
Looking back into Roy’s serious blue eyes, Johnny smiled.
“No Roy… I’ve thought about it a lot, and I realized that if I am truly going to be part of this family, then it’s time I started trusting you… I’m not saying it’s going to happen all at once, but I think it’s time for me to make a start.
Now, how about you help me into the head, and then you can get that coffee made, okay Pally?” he said using the familiar nickname to emphasize his point.
Roy stood up and offered an arm of support to his friend. He helped him to rise up onto his weak, unsteady legs and he let Johnny lean on him for support as they walked across the hall to the guest bathroom.
After helping Johnny into the bathroom, Roy stood just outside the slightly ajar door while Johnny took a quick shower and shaved, just in case he became light headed or his legs gave out on him while he was inside.
Once Johnny had taken care of freshening himself up for the day, Roy made him get back into his bed so he could re-take his temperature and check his vital signs like he had promised Dr. Early. Then he left to make some coffee.
Now that the moment had arrived, Roy was a little uncertain about how he felt in regards to the revelations he was about to hear from his little brother about his tragic past.
On one hand, he wanted to know more about this man who had become his brother. But if he was honest with himself, he had to admit that there was another part of him, that wasn’t looking forward to the information Johnny was about to divulge. He wasn’t sure how he was going react to what he was about to hear, and that made him extremely nervous.
It was a half hour later when they were finally ready to begin their talk. Johnny was back in his bed, while Roy sat in the chair by the window. Both men were clearly anxious and uptight.
Johnny was lying back against the pillows on the bed staring up at the ceiling in silence. It almost appeared to Roy as if Johnny was appealing to the almighty for some kind of divine intervention about how to begin the conversation.
Roy began to re-evaluate the wisdom of allowing Johnny to do this when he was still so weak and running a bit of a fever. Maybe this wasn’t the right time to do this. After all he was still trying to recover from having the plague, and both his physical and emotional reserves were low.
Roy looked over at Johnny, and his faced immediately registered his concern.
Roy could see that Johnny was still far too pale, and thin. The dark circles under his eyes, betrayed the fact that he hadn’t gotten any sleep the night before.
Roy got up out of his chair, walked over, and sat on the edge of the bed.
“Look Junior,” he started.
“Maybe this isn’t the right time to talk about all of this. Are you really sure you’re ready to do this right now?”
Johnny shook his head sadly and sighed.
“Nope, … but trust me on this one Roy. There’s never really going to be a good time for this,” he answered with a wry smile.
“But I think this is something we both need to have happen, … I think I need to do this, as much as you need to hear it.” Johnny paused briefly, … “It’s time Roy. In fact it’s probably long overdue.”
Johnny’s mind was more composed now that he had finally concluded that this was something he needed to do; and now that he had those thoughts sorted out inside his head, he began to speak.
“I guess the best place to start is at the beginning… so here goes.”
“My father’s name was Roderick Gage… that’s where I got my middle name. I’m not exactly sure where he was born, but he was raised in Wyoming on the horse ranch where his mother worked as a housekeeper for the ranch owner.”
“His mother, my grandmother; was a single parent, and as far as I know, my dad never ever knew who his father was. His mother was an only child, and her parents had both passed away by the time my dad was nine.”
“My dad worked on the ranch with the horses and was already winning rodeo competitions by the time he was fourteen. My grandmother died from complications from pneumonia when he was seventeen.”
“Since he had no other relatives that he knew of, he just stayed on at the ranch until he was eighteen. Once he was of legal age, he got himself hired on at one of the biggest horse ranches in Montana. That was where he met my mom.”
Johnny stopped and pulled his necklace out from under the T-shirt he was wearing. He looked at it for several long moments, before he went on with his story.
“My mother’s name was Kate Running Wolf. She was the only child born to Daniel and Mary Running Wolf. The reservation where she was raised was not far from the ranch where my father had been hired on.”
“The two of them met one spring afternoon when they both happened to be at one of the local stores in town.”
Johnny fingered the necklace once more and then looked up at Roy with a sad smile. Roy could see the moistness that was barely concealed behind Johnny’s eyes.
“According to my mom, it was love at first sight. She used to tell me how the two of them would sneak off every chance they got. Sometimes after everyone was in bed, she would slip out of her bedroom window and meet my dad down by the lake where they would lay on a blanket in each other’s arms, just looking up at the stars for hours.”
Johnny stopped talking. He seemed to be lost in some long ago memory. Roy sat quietly and waited to see if Johnny was going to continue. It was several moments before Johnny let go of the necklace and heaved a sad sigh, and started back into his tale.
“It didn’t take too long before my mom’s folks caught on, and they forbid her to ever see my father again… apparently my father’s fellow ranch hands weren’t too gone on the idea either. But my mom and dad were madly in love and refused to let anyone else’s prejudices stop them.”
“By the time summer was over, my father had saved up enough money to buy a ring and the two of them became secretly engaged to be married. Because my mom was only seventeen, and they knew that her parents would never give their consent, they had to hide the ring. It was then that my father gave my mother this necklace. He had spent the entire summer crafting it, working on it every spare moment that he could find.”
Johnny reached up and removed the necklace and handed it over to Roy.
“My father had spent weeks learning the Lakota traditions and stories from an old Indian who lived alone up on the hills named White Eagle. The old man would sometimes come down and work for a few days on the ranch to earn a bit of cash to buy some of the supplies he needed that he couldn’t get by just living off the land… things like tobacco or blankets. He and my dad became quite close, and it was from White Eagle that my dad…and then later on I … learned all about the Lakota culture.”
“Do you see the buffalo and the bear that are carved on the front of the bone pendant Roy?”
Roy looked at it carefully and admired the delicate craftsmanship of the small carvings. He nodded at Johnny.
“This is beautiful Johnny.” He whispered.
“Yeah, my dad was good at anything he put his hand to… anyway in my culture the buffalo, for the girl, is a symbol of her ritual into womanhood. And for the man the buffalo represents his responsibility to provide protection for the female. Now … the bear carving is kind of the male polarity of the two animals. Buffalo being female and bear male.”
“The beads on the leather are blue and white. My mom and dad both loved the colour blue, and it‘s one of the traditional colours of the Lakota people. The white beads symbolize purity.
My mother added those other animals on the back of the pendant. The turtle she added on the day she found out she was pregnant with me. The turtle is a common symbol for babies. The gray wolf she added on the night I was born. She picked the wolf for me, because the wolf is a symbol of a fleet runner that has great endurance and knowledge of many things. It also reminded her of the Running Wolf surname.”
Johnny reached over and moved Roy’s fingers down nearer to the base of the thick leather strands until his fingers were right above where the leather strands joined up with the bone pendant. As Roy moved his hand down he could feel an object that had been sewn inside the thick soft strands of leather. He couldn’t quite make out what the object was so he looked at Johnny and raised his eyebrows in question.
“That Roy; is my mothers engagement ring. In order for her to be able to wear his ring every day without letting anyone else find out about her engagement to my dad, they had to conceal it inside this necklace.”
Johnny reached out slowly and took the necklace back, and slipped it back onto his own neck. When he resumed talking this time his voice held a slight quiver to it.
“My mom put this around her neck the night my dad gave it to her, and she never took it off again until the night she died… that’s when she gave it to me.”
Roy reached out and grabbed onto Johnny’s arm. “Look, maybe we should take a break for a while Johnny… I think this is getting to be too much for you right now.”
Johnny sat up straighter in the bed and shook his head.
“No, Roy. I’m fine. I want to keep going.”
Roy gave Johnny’s arm a slight squeeze and then he moved back to his former position on the side of the bed.
Johnny slipped the necklace back under his T-shirt and continued on once again. “I used to love it when she would sit by my bed at night when I was little and tell me the story of this necklace. You could see how much she and dad loved each other reflected in her eyes as she would tell me about it.”
“On the day of my mother’s eighteenth birthday, they slipped away and eloped. They left for a two-week honeymoon, and when they returned they went back and told her parents what they had done. Of course they were livid, but in our culture family is important, and so even though she was ostracized by all, they were allowed to live on the reservation.”
“Luckily my father was the best horseman in the area; otherwise he would have been fired. As it was, his boss made it perfectly clear that Kate was not to make any appearances on the ranch property. My father stayed on at the ranch, because even though she was an outcast; my mother didn’t want to be far away from her people, and ranching was the only line of work my father knew… and it paid pretty well. “
“By and large my dad was left alone, because the ranch owner didn’t want to lose my dad to another ranch. He also didn’t want to make White Eagle angry. The old Indian, like my father, was amazing with horses, and he had ways to heal a sick horse that even the local veterinarians didn’t know about.”
“Eighteen months later I came along, and in some ways things got better, and in some ways they got worse.”
“How do you mean?” Roy asked.
Johnny looked over at Roy with a doleful smile.
“Well, let’s just say that Mom and Dad were the only ‘mixed’ marriage on our reservation, which made me the only half breed. And so as far as everyone else was concerned, our family had brought down a great shame on the entire reservation. “
Johnny sat in silence for a moment and then shrugged his shoulders.
“It did make things better for Dad though, because apparently the ranchers’ wife fell in love with me from the very first time she laid eyes on me.”
“Well, you always have had a way with the women, Junior.” Roy teased.
Johnny grinned and rolled his eyes.
“The ranch owners’ wife and her husband finally got to know my mom better and they quickly became good friends. After that, they made sure that no one on the ranch ever hassled our family again. It also meant that mom had a friend and somewhere to visit when she felt too smothered by life on the rez…and I had free range of the ranch whenever mom and dad took me with them.
I have to say, by the time I was seven or eight; I was a damn good rodeo rider and horseman myself.” Johnny said proudly.
Johnny sat his now empty coffee mug on the nightstand and shifted himself up higher in the bed.
Roy couldn’t help but notice that when he spoke again, the tone of his voice had changed and it was now laced with bitterness.
“My mom always held out hope, that once her parents saw me, that they would soften their stance on her marriage to my dad, like the ranch owner and his wife had”
Johnny scoffed in derision. “Man, was she mistaken… it made things worse, not better. And not just in her family or the rest of the tribe. It affected all aspects of our lives.
I can’t even begin to describe what going to school was like for me. I don’t think a week of school went by in those first two or three years without my coming home with a bloody nose or a black eye. The worst part of it was, the more my folks complained, the worse it got. The teachers weren’t exactly enamoured with me to begin with, but my parents accusations of them not doing their jobs, just made it worse.“ Johnny said scornfully.
“That’s where I learned to live up to the fleet part of that wolf symbol my mom had carved into the necklace…. It was learn to run fast, or get beat up daily.”
“Didn’t they have a school off the reservation you could have gone to?’ queried Roy.
Johnny shook his head. “If you lived on the reservation, you were required to go to the reservation school. It wouldn’t have mattered either way Roy. To the white man, I was Indian…it would have been just as bad no matter what school I went to anyway.”
“I used to wish we could move off the reservation, but my dad never would have found another ranch that could have paid him what that one did. It was not only the biggest and most successful ranch in Montana; but in the surrounding states as well. Besides my mom just couldn’t let go of the hope that one day her parents would come around and accept dad and I. She refused to leave her childhood home, no matter how bad it was for us, and dad wouldn’t do anything that would make her unhappy. ”
Johnny’s voice trailed off for a few moments before he began to go on with the story.
“The best days for me, was when dad took me to the ranch. I loved hanging out with the other ranch hands. Once they got to know us, most of them treated us great. There were always a few that couldn’t get over their prejudices, but most of the men were good to me. They taught me how to ride and rope and my dad showed me all the tricks to rodeo riding. By the time I was ten I was entering rodeos of my own… and winning them too.”
Johnny’s eyes took on a despondent look, and his voice lowered to barely a whisper.
“That was only a few months before my mom and dad were killed, and that ended everything that was good in my world.” He finished mournfully.
It was at the point that Johnny began to expound upon the night that he had lost his parents for Roy. By the time he had finished the tragic story, Roy could see the grief and distress in Johnny’s face, as a few errant tears slid down his face.
Roy quickly realized that Johnny had had enough for now. He was doing an amazing job of holding his composure, but it was clearly taking a heavy toll on the young man.
For his own part, Roy was heartbroken about what he had just learned about Johnny’s past, and he found that he was barely able to keep his own tears in check.
Roy reached forward and squeezed Johnny’s shoulder gently. Johnny lifted his chin and looked up at Roy. His sorrow filled brown eyes, met Roy’s concerned blue ones, and for the first of many times in their partnership, the two men found that they were having an entire heartfelt conversation without either one of them having to speak a single word.
It was a new level of depth and understanding in their friendship.
It was at that precise moment that both men knew beyond the shadow of a doubt, that they truly were brothers, and that they would remain so, until their dying day.
It was the sound of Chris and Jenny getting up for the day that finally broke off their unspoken conversation.
Roy reached over and pulled Johnny into a quick hug and he could feel that he was still running a slight fever. Pulling back out of the hug, he gently pushed Johnny back down onto his pillows.
“I think that’s enough going down memory lane for today Junior. Doctor Early will be here soon, so I’m going to go help Jo get our breakfast going, and then I think you should try and get in a quick nap before he gets here. “
Johnny nodded tiredly and settled down further into his bed, the evidence of dried tears still on his face.
Roy gently patted his leg, and quietly slipped out of the room.
As promised, Dr. Early arrived shortly after breakfast and gave Johnny his shot. He also gave him something for the persistent low grade fever that he had been running for the last twenty four hours.
After giving him one final examination, the good doctor stood up and smiled at his patient lying in the bed, and his two anxious care givers.
“I think this fever is a combination of a rebound effect and the busy day you had yesterday Johnny, but if it hasn’t gone by tomorrow, we may have to consider bringing you back into Rampart. Either way Dixie is going to stop by and draw some blood on her way into work tomorrow. We’ll want to check your blood and see if this shot hasn’t helped to increase the antibodies in your system. I’m hoping that this shot gives them a boost up to a level more on par with what we have seen with Kel.”
As he made his way to the bedroom door, he turned one final time and looked over pointedly at Johnny.
“And I want you on complete bed rest for another few days yet. This fever has meant that your body has spent what limited reserves it has right now on fighting that instead of regaining its strength… so it’s strictly bed rest for now.”
Johnny heaved a sigh of resignation and reluctantly nodded his head.
“Don’t worry doc’ we’ll make sure he behaves himself.” Joanne said, throwing a smile and a wink in Johnny’s direction.
It hadn’t actually been a difficult order for the young paramedic to follow. The combination of his fever, his nightmares, and his impending conversation with Roy had meant that he had only had an hour or two of sleep the night before.
In the end, he had ended up spending the majority of the day napping. During those few periods he had been awake, Joanne and Roy had spent most of that time coaxing him to eat something or checking his temperature.
Whether it was the shot Doctor Early had given him, or the extended sleep… or a combination of both; by the time Dixie arrived to draw a blood sample on the Sunday morning; his temperature had returned to normal, and he felt more like himself again.
Roy had done a lot of thinking on the Saturday, while Johnny slept. There had been a few things he had noticed while Johnny had related the horror that had been his childhood. When he had spoken of his paternal grandmother, he had actually referred to her as “grandmother”, even though she had died before he was born. But whenever he referred to his mothers’ parents, he had referred to them as “her parents or them.”
Not once had he used the more affectionate term of grandmother or grandfather. It had also bothered Roy that there had been very little doubt as to their feeling towards their own grandchild.
Roy’s gut twisted, as he thought about the missing six years in Johnny’s life that he had yet to be told about. The more he considered the possibilities surrounding those years between the ages of ten and sixteen, the more a very disturbing a picture was emerging in his mind about how and why his new little brother had ended up as an orphan on the street. And none of the scenarios that his mind was conjuring up were happy or comforting ones.
He wasn’t sure whether Johnny would ever tell him about that part of his childhood, and he had no intention of forcing the issue. But he now understood that if and when Johnny ever did tell him about it, that Roy would have to make sure that he controlled his anger in front of his partner.
It had taken great resolve on his part the previous morning not to show how angry he was with how his parents’ death had been handled by the local authorities. It was abundantly clear that neither the native police nor the white police had given a damn over the fact that the couple had been killed.
Roy wasn’t naïve. He knew prejudice and injustice still ran rampant in this day and age. But this was the first time he had ever truly come face to face with just how ugly it could be for anyone who didn’t conform to what some racist, bigoted bastards had determined to be the gold standard for a human beings existence on this earth.
Yes, he thought … it was going to take every bit of resolve he had not to lose control of his anger in front of Johnny. He didn’t want Johnny to think he had upset him. And he really didn’t want to make him regret or feel guilty about finally confiding to him about his childhood.
It had been in the afternoon when Joanne had taken Christopher across the street for a play date with his friend Jesse, and Jennifer was down for her nap, that Roy had told Joanne what Johnny had told him thus far about his troubled past.
The more they learned about this young man, that they had taken in and adopted as part of their family, the more they felt validated in their decision to have him become part of their lives.
It also solidified their determination to gain his trust and to show him all of the love and support being in a proper family entailed.
True to his word, Johnny was a model patient. This was especially true on the days that Roy was on duty … largely because Johnny knew that if he were to try and get up to walk around without someone there to help steady him, and offer him some support, he would almost assuredly fall down.
He was also aware that if that were to happen, it would in all likelihood, frighten Christopher.
Not to mention the fact, that even though he was thin, it would still require an almost herculean effort on Joanne’s part to lift Johnny up off the floor, should he require it. And these were things he definitely wanted to avoid at all costs.
By the time the end of the first week rolled around, Johnny had gotten used to Joanne’s schedule, and the days began to fall into a habitual pattern. It had also afforded Joanne and Johnny the opportunity to become better acquainted without Roy being around.
Joanne had discovered a playful enthusiasm in Johnny that she hadn’t seen before. She knew that Roy would often speak of that side of Johnny, but until now, Johnny had always been wary about letting his guard down long enough to show it around her.
She was extremely impressed by his patience in dealing with her two small children. As a result of which, Joanne reaped the added benefit of having a built in babysitter on hand twenty four hours a day, to occupy the children. That in turn, allowed her to get more work done around the house.
But the best part was having someone around to talk to during the day that could discuss something more riveting than Kermit the Frog or Mr. Rogers.
Johnny, for his part, seemed to enjoy being exposed to the family environment of the DeSoto home.
He spent most mornings reading story books or playing Go Fish with Chris. He even cheerfully joined in when the kids wanted to colour in their colouring books. And although he didn’t share little Jenny’s enthusiasm for dressing up her “babies,” he was still a good sport about it all, and humoured the little girl.
When Johnny wasn’t napping, he would lie in his bed and help Joanne fold the laundry.
He even managed to fix her coffee maker that had needed attention while he rested in his bed.
Joanne also discovered that getting her children to nap was easier too, since most afternoons found her two children cuddled up with a book; one on either side of their Uncle Johnny.
They would snuggle in while he read to them until the three of them would invariably fall asleep.
It was nearing the end of the first week and Roy was once more off for another two days.
Now that Roy was off for more than twenty four hours, Johnny was ready to begin getting out of his bed and start doing more and more for himself, despite the fact that he was still quite weak and unsteady on his feet.
During that entire first week, Johnny hadn’t given any indication that he was going to elucidate any further on the subject of his childhood. But then again Roy’s shifts had been, on twenty four and off twenty four all week long.
It was now Thursday morning and Roy had just returned home from his latest twenty four hour shift at the station. He was scheduled to be off for the next two days, and he was looking forward to spending some quality time with his entire family, which now included Johnny.
It was at lunchtime that same day, when Roy finally helped Johnny make it out to the kitchen so he could eat his meal with the family for the first time since his arrival, nearly a week earlier.
They were halfway through the meal, when Johnny casually asked his partner how his shift had been. Joanne listened as her husband and little brother talked shop.
It gave her a warm feeling to see Roy and Johnny so deeply involved in their conversation. She had never before seen Roy become so animated while talking casually with anyone other than herself before.
Roy was a wonderful husband and father, but Joanne had always felt a bit sad that her husband had never had a really close friend, to whom he could talk about “guy stuff” with. Although she and Roy had a wonderful relationship and had always communicated well with each other, she had always been of the understanding that there were some things that men only shared with other men.
She had always had her sister to share “girl talk” with, but Roy was an only child and he had never really had a really close friend to spend “guy time” with.
So when Roy had come home one afternoon almost two years earlier, talking enthusiastically about this young man he had signed up for the paramedic program, she had been pleasantly surprised.
She was even more surprised the first time he had invited the young man, John Gage, to their home to study. That in itself was something her husband had never done before.
The two men were as opposite as night and day, and this dark haired recruit was obviously a few years younger than her husband. But it had been very obvious to Joanne, that Roy had finally found someone he had really been able to connect with as a friend… so as far as Joanne was concerned Johnny would always be welcome in her home.
It was even more fortunate that after meeting him, she also found him to be both engaging and an enjoyable addition to her husband’s life. In fact she liked how Johnny always seemed to bring out the sense of fun in her usually serious husband.
Johnny had definitely been a positive influence on Roy, which trickled on down to how his entire attitude had changed in his home life. Roy had become a lot more spontaneous and fun with Joanne and the children.
Lunch was over, but the two men were still sitting at the table talking. Roy was in the middle of telling Johnny about a factory fire the station had been called out to the evening before.
Joanne had been busily loading the new dishwasher Roy had recently bought, so she didn’t immediately notice that all talking had suddenly stopped.
She glanced over and watched in amazement as she witnessed for the first time as Johnny and Roy carried on the rest of their conversation without speaking out loud.
Instead of feeling jealous over the fact that the two men were close enough to seemingly read each other’s minds, she felt an amazing sense of comfort, knowing that the two men had formed such a close bond.
To her it was another reassurance that no matter what, the two men had each other’s backs, and that it may well be that ability to sense what the other was thinking that would save her husband’s life one day.
She had enjoyed this past week and the chance she had had to really get to know Johnny one on one. Before Roy had always been around and the two of them had never actually had a chance to really get to know each other.
The more she got to know this man, who had become a little brother to her, the more she was thankful he had come into their lives.
She walked over to the table and gave her husband a kiss on the top of his head. “Why don’t the two of you go out and sit on the back deck and get some fresh air… or at least as much fresh air as you can get in L.A.”
Grinning Roy stood up and waited while Johnny slowly pushed himself up from the table and carefully made his way over to the sliders with Roy close by his side.
Johnny was pleased that he had made it all the way out to the back deck with only a minimum amount of support from Roy. But he was more than ready to sit down by the time he made it over to the deck chair.
The two of them sat outside enjoying each other’s company for over an hour before Johnny finally allowed Roy to help him back into his bedroom where he laid down on his bed and took a nap. He had by now gotten over the embarrassment of having to come in and nap in the afternoon along with Roy’s two children.
It had taken a serious lecture from Joanne a few days earlier to make him realize he was lucky to have even survived the Koki virus in the first place, and that making sure his body got the rest it needed to recover was a small price to pay for his life. That evening, after the kids had been put to bed, Johnny and Roy sat on the couch and watched the Dodger’s play on the television, while Joanne took the opportunity to get out of the house and go to the movies with her sister Elaine.
It was later in the evening and the game had ended, when Joanne phoned Roy to let him know that she was going to go back to her sister’s house for a coffee before she came home.
After hanging up the telephone, Roy walked back over to the sofa where he found Johnny thumbing through one of the many photo albums that sat on top of the coffee table.
The particular album Johnny had picked up just happened to be one that was full of pictures of Roy as a young child. Johnny stopped and looked at one photo that was of a young nine year old Roy with his father at a Boy Scout meeting.
Johnny looked up and smiled. “You look a lot like your father Roy… I guess you take after his side of the family. Now me … I take after my mom. Except for my smile … I have my dad’s smile.”
Roy took advantage of the opportunity to find out a bit more of his partner’s past.
“Well, someday you’ll have to show me a picture of your parents, so I can see for myself.”
Johnny looked up and gave Roy a pensive smile. “I only have a couple of pictures from before I was sixteen that I can show you Roy. After my folks were killed, my mother’s parents went through and burned any photographs that had been taken after my mom had married my dad. They especially burnt any that were of me.”
“The day my mom ran off and married my dad, her parents pretty well disowned her. But they had always held out a faint hope that perhaps one day she would see the light and leave my dad. But the moment I came along, that hope was dashed forever, because they realized that even if she did ever decide to leave my dad…which she never would have… she would never leave her child behind. That meant that they would always have to live with the shame of having a half breed for a grandson. So as much as they resented my dad… they hated me even more.”
“To them I was the final nail in the coffin. To them I signalled the death of their only child … at least emotionally anyway. Then when her actual death occurred ten years later, and it became evident that it was at least partially racially motivated, their hatred of me grew even stronger. In their minds, if it hadn’t been for my dad and me, she would have still been alive. In their twisted line of logic, it was dad and I that had killed their daughter.”
“The only reason I have any pictures from my childhood at all, was because of the ranch owner where my dad worked. He and his wife had taken a few pictures of us over the years and they were kind enough to send them along to Aunt Marian after I came to L.A. They both knew how my mother’s parents felt about me and my dad and they realized that they would more than likely get rid of anything that had to do with the marriage. So the morning after my parents were killed, he and his wife slipped over to my house and took a few items that they figured I might want one day.“
“The ranch owner’s wife took both of the homemade blankets my mother had woven for her and dad’s bed and my bed, as well as the dream catcher she made for me when I was born.”
“They also collected my dad’s pocket knife and the belt buckle he won at his very first Rodeo, as well as their wedding photo from off of the nightstand. Sadly they weren’t able to find where my parents kept the family photo albums; consequently I lost any other photo’s that existed of my first ten years.”
“Thankfully my mother’s folks never knew anything about it, since they had never once set foot inside our house, so they never knew anything was missing. I was still in the clinic when they had someone come in and sell anything of value from our house, and then they sold the house itself. I never got a chance to go home and collect anything… not even any of my toys, books, or my dog. The only thing they allowed me to keep was some of my clothes.”
Johnny turned his attention back to Roy’s photo album while he continued talking.
“The ranch owner’s wife was kind enough to keep them safely stored at their ranch, knowing that I would come for them one day.”
“So you see I only have about a half a dozen pictures of us as a family that the ranch owner’s wife took. I have one she took when I was only a few weeks old. There are a couple pictures of the three of us taken when I was about two or three and then another one of all of us when I was around seven. The last picture I have was taken two months before they died. It was taken on the day I won my first rodeo.”
Roy just sat there in stunned silence, not quite knowing what to say. Luckily for him, Johnny broke off the conversation as he continued to thumb through the photo album on his lap.
He had only flipped over a couple of pages further in the album, when a huge grin broke out on his face.
Roy looked over and noticed that Johnny was staring at a picture of him and Joanne taken on his sixteenth birthday. The two of them were standing next to a red and white Studebaker.
Roy looked over and smiled. “That one was taken on my sixteenth birthday, and my dad had just given me that car as a gift. It was a used 1953 Studebaker Commander Starliner. He’d had it re-painted as an added bonus. I was going to go the next week and try for my license, and the fact that my dad had so much faith that I would pass on my first try, meant so much to me. “
“It was my first car, and it didn’t matter to me that it wasn’t new. It was mine and I loved it.”
Johnny sat looking at the photo for another moment, before he looked up at Roy and said bitterly, “Hey, it’s a helluva lot better than what my beloved grandfather gave to me on my sixteenth birthday.”
Looking back on it later, Roy wished that his next question hadn’t slipped out of his mouth, but it had just popped out instinctively.
“What did he give you Junior?”
Johnny kept his eyes averted down towards the floor as he quietly said.
“A fractured skull.”
You could have heard a pin drop as Roy just sat there with his mouth gaping open in horror and disbelief.
Johnny looked over at Roy. His face flushed in embarrassment, and he ran his hands nervously through his hair.
“Shit… I’m sorry Roy. I shouldn’t have said that… it wasn’t fair… helluva conversation stopper eh?”
Roy quickly got up and moved over to sit beside Johnny on the couch. “Don’t apologize Johnny…I want to know all this stuff. I kinda already figured out a while ago that you didn’t exactly have an Ozzie and Harriett upbringing. It just kind of caught me off guard, when I heard you say it out loud. But I want you to understand, that you can tell me anything Junior… good or bad. I want to know all about my little brother, so as long as you are okay with telling me all about your history, I’m up for hearing it. And I promise you that it will never leave this house… you can trust Joanne and I to respect your right to privacy.”
Johnny gave Roy a long searching look, and then he said slowly, his voice full of trepidation, “Do you really want me to tell you everything Roy? Because some of it, is pretty ugly, and to be honest with you Roy. I have never ever told anyone else everything. Not Aunt Marian, not White Eagle….not anyone. A big part of the reason is because, my dear beloved grandparents …”
Johnny spit out the word grandparents acidly, his loathing and contempt bled through his voice.
“… my dear beloved grandparents, treated me like a dog, and I’ve always been a bit self-conscious and ashamed about telling anyone about it.”
Roy’s anger began to climb to the surface. The fact that Johnny had taken on this misguided sense of shame that had been forced onto him since his birth, simply because he was of a mixed heritage, made Roy’s blood boil. He had to stop and take a deep, calming breath before he spoke to Johnny.
“Stop it John… I don’t want to ever hear you talk like that to me again. Whatever prejudices others had towards you is a flaw in their character, not yours. The only people who need to be ashamed are the idiots who treated you that way.”
Johnny sat with downcast eyes, looking totally unconvinced of Roy’s words.
Roy grabbed Johnny by the shoulders and turned him so they were facing each other.
“Look, if someone came up to Marco, or Doctor Morton and yelled out some kind of racial slur, treated them with lack of respect, or did anything to demean them, would you think that either of them should be ashamed, or that there was something wrong with their character?”
Johnny looked back at Roy, and to his relief, Roy could see Johnny make the connection as he understood the point he was trying to make.”
Johnny gave Roy a sheepish grin and sighed.
“Okay, Roy. Point taken… Look I’m kinda getting tired, so how about you help me into my bedroom, and I’ll tell you the whole sordid tale.” Johnny stood up and began to take a few faltering steps before his legs gave out and he began to go down. Roy lunged forward and managed to catch Johnny underneath his arms before he hit the floor, or the coffee table.
“Whoa there Junior. I think we may have over done things a bit today… you’ve been out of bed most of the day today.”
“I was sitting down for all of it … and I had a two hour nap this afternoon.”
Johnny was clearly frustrated and disheartened by his own weakness, and Roy could tell he was becoming impatient with himself.
Between that and reliving his horrific past, Roy was afraid that maybe he was allowing Johnny to over tax himself emotionally. Not that anyone could ever allow John Gage to do anything.
John Gage usually did whatever the hell he wanted to…once he set his mind to it… Johnny may be a bit shy in the art of trusting others and allowing them to see past the walls he had constructed around himself, but he more than made up for it with an overabundance of perseverance and tenacity. Once Johnny Gage decided he was going to do something… he did it.
So if Johnny had decided he was going to tell Roy about his past, well then, he was jolly well going to do it. But Roy still felt slightly guilty because he had been openly encouraging Johnny to open up to him about his childhood all evening long, and now he was wondering if maybe he hadn’t been pushing Johnny a bit too hard to talk to him about it tonight. He couldn’t help but feel that he was asking more of his young partner than he actually had a right to.
Roy maneuverer himself so that he was in a better position to help support some of Johnny’s weight.
“Look Junior, stop expecting so much from yourself… you know that it’s going to take a while for your body to get over this thing. Even Brackett is still staying at Dixie’s because he still has periods where he is weak and tired. Just give yourself some time.”
Roy walked Johnny into the guest bathroom. He reached over and closed the lid on the toilet and sat Johnny down on top of it.
“I think you should probably skip the shower tonight Junior. Just sit here and wash up at the sink and brush your teeth. I’ll pop across to the bedroom and grab your pajamas and slippers…You know maybe it might be better if we just save this talk for another time.”
Johnny reached over and grabbed a hold of Roy’s right arm and stopped him from leaving the room.
“Well, you’re right about one thing. I am too tired and unsteady to stand under a hot shower tonight, but I still want to have this talk… at least I do if you want to hear it. “
Johnny looked up and Roy could see the sincerity in his eyes. He reached over and grabbed hold of Roy’s other arm and pulled himself up so that they were standing eye to eye.
“Look Roy, I’ve known for a long time now that you have been hoping I would trust you enough to finally tell you about my past. And I have appreciated that you haven’t pushed... It’s just that I’ve spent so much of my life having to be on my guard just to survive, and it’s not easy for me to shut off those instincts. “
“The fact of the matter is; I am not white. I am half white and half Native American; and that means that there will always be a certain segment of the population that will consider my time on this earth of lesser value and worth… and not just from the white community. I face it from a large segment of the Native community as well. “
Johnny began to tire of standing up, and he lowered himself back down onto the closed seat of the toilet.
“You see Roy to some people I’m not anything… I’m not white, I’m not Native…I don’t fit in completely anywhere…
Now I know that’s not true and you know that’s not true, and I believe that the majority of people know better than that as well. But the sad truth is, there will always be some people who think that way. And it’s something I have to be aware of, because it is a very real part of my reality.”
Roy remained silent but he crouched down in front of Johnny and put his hand on his shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze.
Johnny looked up and smiled warmly.
“I guess what I want to say, is that you’re the first person I‘ve ever known, that I totally feel like I can trust, with everything. I never told Aunt Marian a lot of this stuff, because I didn’t think she could handle it… and I knew I couldn’t handle it, if she got upset about it. But when you told me not to apologize earlier tonight and that I could tell you anything at all, and that you didn’t care if it was good or bad… that you wanted to know all about me… well… for the first time in my life, I felt like maybe I was safe in putting my total trust in you.”
Johnny looked up at Roy; his eyes were full of unshed tears as he said, “I gotta tell ya Roy, it’s a nice feeling … feeling safe I mean. To have a big brother who is willing to share and even lighten the load.
“A brother who is ready to listen to me unburden some of the pain of my past by allowing me to talk about it and get it out.”
Johnny gave Roy a sad smile and then squared his shoulders. “I’m finally ready to tell you everything Roy. And I believe you when you say that you are ready to hear it.”
Johnny held out his right hand towards Roy so he could help him stand up again. “Now, how about you let me take care of my personal business and then you can help me back to my room, because I’m ready to get started…”
Roy smiled and grabbed onto Johnny’s outstretched hand and hoisted his partner up to his feet.
As soon as he had steadied him, Roy stood back. When he was sure Johnny was going to be okay, he stepped out of the bathroom to wait in the hall.
It was twenty minutes later and Johnny had just gotten himself nicely settled on his bed, when Joanne arrived home.
As soon as she walked into Johnny’s room, she knew that the two men were involved in a serious conversation. Not wanting to interrupt she stood just inside the door as she greeted them.
Roy walked over and the two of them shared an affectionate kiss.
“Did you and Elaine have a good time tonight honey?” Roy asked.
“Yes, actually, we had a lovely time. Elaine wanted me to stay a bit longer but I told her I was too tired; so if you two boys will excuse me, I’m just going to go straight upstairs to bed.”
“I won’t bother waiting up for you Roy,” she said as she leaned over and gave him another goodnight kiss.
“And I’ll see you in the morning.” She said to Johnny as she walked over to the bedside, leaned over, and gave him a kiss on the top of his head. She stood back up and walked out of the room, quietly closing the door behind her.
As soon as he heard the click of the door closing, Johnny leaned back into his pillows and waited for Roy to get settled on the tub chair that sat next to Johnny’s bed.
Johnny gave Roy one more searching look and then let out a deep breath.
“Well, I guess were ready… now let me see, where did I leave off? Oh yes, the night my parents were killed.”
“Well, after I was released from the reservation clinic from having my arm put in a cast, I was sent to live with my only living relatives… my so called grandparents. I no more wanted to live with them, than they wanted me there. But both the white man’s law and the tribal law was clear on the matter. Because I had no other family left alive… they were my legal guardians. Like I said before, not too many people on the reservation, including the doctors, teachers or the local law were really willing to stick their neck out or get involved with a half breed. And those off the reservation didn’t want to get mixed up in reservation business period.”
“My grandmother refused to even acknowledge me. She absolutely refused to lower herself to even talk to me. In fact if my grandfather wasn’t around, she wouldn’t even allow me inside the house. I had to stay in the woodshed or better yet, out of the house entirely.”
“Now my grandfather on the other hand, took a much different approach. To him I became a personal slave and punching bag on which he vented all his anger and frustrations. After my mom was killed he started to drink heavily. His grief over losing his only child and the guilt he felt over not talking to her during the last decade of her life quickly turned to anger and resentment. His anger turned to hatred…and all of that hatred was directed towards me.”
“I’m not going to tell you about the beatings I got… especially when he was drunk, because they were pretty much daily, and frankly it’s hard for me to even single out one from another anymore. They basically fell into two categories; there were the beatings I got when he was sober, which mainly ended up with me having split lips, bloody noses, black eyes, and assorted bruises. The others were the ones he meted out when he was drunk. Those were the ones that resulted in cracked or broken ribs, and the occasional broken arm or wrist.”
Roy sat listening quietly, but inside he was raging. It especially bothered him how matter of factly Johnny was reciting his injuries off like he was reading a grocery list. Roy wanted to grab Johnny by the shoulders and tell him not to be so cavalier about it all, but he knew that if he did that, he would risk Johnny pulling away, and then there would be a very good chance he would never feel comfortable confiding in him ever again. So Roy just bit his tongue and let Johnny continue.
“My bed was basically a small pallet on the floor of the woodshed that was attached to the back of the kitchen. In the winter I did have a wool blanket. I slept out there with the dogs, and in the winter I’d let the dogs curl up beside me, for the added warmth. It was my job to serve their meals, but I was never allowed to eat with them. I got what was left over, and even then they wouldn’t allow the “filthy little breed” as they called me, to eat in the kitchen.
My place was in the woodshed where they fed the dogs.”
“I was never allowed to refer to them as my grandparents, which suited me fine, because as far as I was concerned they didn’t deserve to be anyone’s grandparent.”
“By law I was supposed to attend school… and believe it or not, it actually became a respite for me… even though I was still considered an outcast there too. At least I was indoors out of the elements and safe from my grandfather.
Johnny looked down at his hands and his voice began to quiver slightly.
“You know Roy; for the first year or two I desperately tried to figure out what it was that I had done wrong. I was just this scared and confused little kid who was grieving the loss of his parents.
My mind was still reeling from trying to deal with my parents murders and everything I had seen the night they were killed.”
“I just couldn’t understand the sudden hell I had been cast into… I mean the way I figured it … what good had it done me to survive the accident? As far as I was concerned it would have been better off if I had died that night too, because what I was living through was worse than death.”
“But I was just a kid. I was only ten. Where else was I supposed to go? What else could I do? My whole world was gone … it had been turned completely upside down. So I just stopped trusting everyone… I stopped caring about anything… and I stayed that way for a very long time.”
By this time the tears were flowing freely down Johnny’s face, and it finally became too much for Roy to bear. He went over and sat on the edge of the bed, and pulled Johnny into a hug, and the two of them sat for over five minutes shedding tears over the lost innocence of the small boy, Johnny had been back then.
Johnny sat back and composed himself, while Roy got up and brought him a glass of water.
“Do you want to call it quits for tonight Junior?” Roy asked.
Johnny shook his head. “Not unless you’ve had enough… if you’re still up for it, I’d like to keep on going. Now that I’ve started, I’d really rather just do this all at once so we can finally close the door on the subject for good.”
Roy nodded and sat back down, only this time he sat on the edge of the bed instead of on the chair, so he could be nearer to Johnny, in case he should need him.
Johnny finished his glass of water and settled back against his pillows once more.
“The fall after I turned twelve and I started to skip school and run off to the ranch where my father had worked. It was only about three miles outside of the reservation and I was a fast runner, so I could make it back and forth fairly quickly… at first I hid out in the fields and stayed amongst the horses. I was always careful to make sure nobody saw me.”
It got to be so that I was only going to school one or two days a week, but nobody really cared enough to question why I wasn’t there. I could have fallen off the face of the earth and that would have suited my grandmother just fine. And usually in the daytime grandfather was at work or in the bar drinking himself stupid.”
“Then one day after about six months of hanging out and hiding amongst the horses, I met up with White Eagle, the old Indian friend of my fathers. He took me under his wing and he spent his days teaching me all about the ways of our ancestors. He taught me how to survive. He taught me how to hunt, fish and live off the land. He told me all the old legends and stories of our people… but best of all he accepted me for who I was and he treated me like I actually mattered.”
“By the time the following spring rolled around, I had been discovered by, Old Bill.
Old Bill had taken over the job of foreman on the ranch, when dad was killed. Luckily I had inherited my dad’s gift with horses. Old Bill used to say I was better with the horses than the adult ranch hands. He let me hang around and help out around the ranch after that … he even slipped me money under the table from time to time.”
Johnny looked over and Roy and gave him a wistful smile.
“I never knew if the ranch owner knew about it. I suspect he probably did … but even if he had, he couldn’t have told anyone he knew. Technically it was against the law for him to hire anyone under the age of eighteen fulltime … especially a twelve year old boy who was playing truant. But I think everyone knew what was happening to me at home, so they turned a blind eye. I just made sure that I wasn’t around whenever the owner was about.”
“The one good thing about my grandparents not wanting me around; is that it allowed me to stay under the radar about certain things. I had managed to pull up one of the old floor boards in the woodshed, and underneath I had a small metal box that I had slid as far back as I could reach. Inside it I kept my necklace and any money I had been paid. In the six years I lived there, they never discovered it.”
“I had really gotten my double life down to an art form. I went to school every Monday and Friday. I’d pick up my homework or assignments from the previous week on the Friday and do them at nights during the weekend when I couldn’t get away to the ranch. Then I would go back on the Monday and turn them in.”
“I rarely took a test, but it didn’t matter, they always passed me. The sooner I graduated and got out of their school the better as far as they were concerned.”
“Like I said, nobody really cared about the half breed. And the one or two teachers that did were too frightened to go against the others. After all, it was no secret that my parents had been murdered… and it was no secret why.”
“So like I said, I had my double life all worked out. I knew that I had from seven in the morning until four in the afternoon on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, to work on the ranch.
By this time Old Bill would wait for me in his truck outside the reservation and pick me up and the he would drop me off again, during the school year. “
“In the summer it was even better. My grandparents didn’t have any farm animals other than one horse and a couple of dogs and few cats. My grandfather technically worked at what we called “The Trading Post”…it was basically the big dry goods store on the rez. But after mom died he spent less and less time working and more and more time drinking, until I think eventually he just spent all of his days drowning his liver in the local bar.”
“My grandmother stayed at home and kept house, but she refused to let me inside unless grandfather was home… I got anything that was leftover from breakfast after I had served them, and then I went hungry until supper, unless I was at the ranch. So as long as I was home before grandfather, I could spend five days a week on the ranch during the summer.”
“Who knows, maybe my grandmother even knew where I went, but, as long as I stayed out of her sight, she really didn’t give a damn where I went or what I did. It was my grandfather who insisted I stay. As long as I was around, he had someone to look after his horse, and mow the lawn and do any other jobs that came up. He took perverse pleasure in making me serve him his meals like a slave. But he took even more pleasure in knocking me around.”
“Everything came to a head on my sixteenth birthday. On the rez, once you are sixteen you can legally leave school. I could quit, and I wouldn’t be breaking anyone’s laws. White Eagle and I had talked it over. Until I was eighteen I couldn’t be hired on at the ranch, and I didn’t want to get the owner or Old Bill into any trouble; but I had made plans that as soon as I turned sixteen I was going to run away and live with White Eagle up in the hills permanently.”
“To this day I don’t know how my grandfather found out about my plans… but he did. It was about six o’clock in the morning of my sixteenth birthday, when I woke up to see my grandfather standing over me with a baseball bat, and a murderous look in his eyes.”
Johnny took a shuddering breath before he continued. “My grandfather tried to kill me with a Louisville Slugger that morning…and he was almost successful too.”
Roy felt himself gripping the edge of his bed … his stomach churned because he already knew what Johnny was about to tell him next.
“I raised my right arm up to try and deflect first the blow. It broke my arm, but it allowed me to shift in the bed, so it threw his aim off. So the blow that hit my head was more of a glancing blow, but it still fractured my skull. By the time his rage was spent, I had also become the proud owner of a broken shoulder, collarbone, along with 5 broken ribs, and a punctured left lung. I was in a coma for three weeks, and developed pneumonia on top of everything else.”
“I was in the local hospital for a total of seven weeks and after that, I was transferred back to the reservation clinic for a further two weeks. “
“The only reason I didn’t die, is because Old Bill got worried when I didn’t show up for my ride out to the ranch earlier that morning. He knew about my plans to run away, and he had arranged to help me gather my few meagre belongings and bring them out to the ranch. He told me later that he had just had a really bad feeling about it, so he came looking for me. He was the one who found me more dead than alive and got me into the hospital off the reservation.”
“It was while I was recovering in the hospital that I got the final devastating blow. White Eagle had died. His body was found up in his camp. They figure it was probably a heart attack that killed him. It was then that I started to make some real plans for my life.”
“I knew there was no way my life could keep going on as it had been for the last six years. I knew that I couldn’t go back to my grandparents again. There had been one thing that had made this last beating different from most of the others … apart from the fact that grandfather nearly killed me. It was the fact that this time, grandfather had been stone cold sober when he had so viciously attacked me. I couldn’t tell myself he had only been so vicious because he was drunk. It finally dawned on me that it was because he had found out I was planning on leaving, and that the only reason he hadn’t killed me before that time, was because he was enjoying degrading me, and beating me. This time I knew for sure that he really did intend to kill me.”
“I realized then that I only had three choices. I could either get out of there now by running away, or I could stay behind and be killed, the only other option would be for me stay behind and kill him defending myself.”
Johnny looked up and shook his head sadly.
“It’s not in my nature to be violent or kill anybody Roy… I save lives … I don’t take them… not even the life of a worthless bastard like him.”
“I knew I hadn’t saved up enough money to live on, but I knew I wasn’t going to stay either. In the end I decided that I would take what money I had and buy some really good camping gear and go ahead with my plans to live off the land out in the hills somewhere.”
“There was one big hitch in my plan however. I knew that by the time I would be released from the clinic, it would be early November, and Montana winters are cold. So I decided I was going to have to head for warmer climates.”
“I thought about it for a few days, and then I finally decided that I would either go to Texas, Southern Florida or Southern California.”
“In the end California was closest geographically to Montana, so that’s where I decided I would hitch hike to.”
“So on the night before I was to be released from the clinic, I went AWOL as soon as it was lights out. I slipped back over to my grandparents’ house and retrieved my necklace and the tin box full of cash that were hidden underneath the floor boards. Then I walked away from that house and the reservation for the last time without even a backward glance. And I have no intention of ever returning to either the reservation or Montana. “
“I made my way over to the ranch and said my goodbyes to the owners and Old Bill and those ranch hands that I considered my friends. I told them what I was intending to do, but not where I was going because I didn’t want them to have to lie, if someone came around looking for me. This way they could honestly say they didn’t know where I went. But the owners and Old Bill told me that they didn’t have a problem lying to anyone about where I had gone, because as far as they were concerned the entire system had failed me, and didn’t deserve to know the truth anyway.”
“In the end they convinced me to tell them where I was headed.”
“It was then they told me about the things they had taken from my home the night after my mom and dad were killed. .. it was the best present I had ever been given Roy.”
“They agreed to hold on to them and keep safe for me until I had gotten myself established somewhere permanent.”
“They put me up for the rest of the night, and then first thing in the morning after breakfast was over, Old Bill took me up to where White Eagle was buried, so I could say goodbye.
Then I went to my parents graves, so I could say goodbye one last time to them as well.”
“While I was out doing that, the ranch owner went out and bought me a complete set of camping equipment with his own money, so I wouldn’t have to spend any of my own.”
“His wife had made sure that she had packed me enough food to last for the entire trip to California … But the biggest shock I got, was when they said they wanted to make sure I got there safely, and they didn’t want me to have to hitch hike with all my gear. They insisted on buying me a bus ticket to Los Angeles. But they figured that if they dropped me off at the local bus station, someone would recognize me, and report me as a runaway. So he drove me the three hours into Billings and bought me a ticket from there. He even told the agent I was his son and that I was going to visit some relatives for a week.”
Johnny looked up and shrugged his shoulders. “And that’s how I ended up in Los Angeles Roy."
Roy smiled over… “I’m glad you chose L.A. and not Florida or Texas, Junior.”
Johnny grinned at Roy and nodded his head. “Me too partner… me too.”
“So how long was it before you finally ended up with your Aunt Marian?” Roy asked.
“Well, as soon as I landed in Los Angeles, the first thing I did was store my gear in a locker at the bus station so I could buy some food supplies. It was at that point that I realized that someone had slipped an extra hundred dollars into my money tin. So the next thing I did was phone the rancher and his wife to thank them and let them know I was in L.A. safe and sound. I promised them that I’d keep in touch, and I did. I made sure that I called them at least once a month for those first three months.”
“I hiked way up into the San Gabriel Mountains and I wandered a good distance off all the main trails to what I figured was a safe place to set up camp, and not be seen. Thankfully White Eagle had taught me how to make fires that would not be easily seen, and how to camouflage my site. I usually ended up having to hitch hike back into LA about every three weeks to restock.
There was just no way I could carry any more supplies than three weeks worth at one time in my rucksack. Not while I was hitching rides anyway.”
“When my money began to start to run low after three months, I started doing odd jobs to earn enough cash to get supplies. I would stay in L.A. for four of five days, sleeping in abandoned buildings at night and then working odd jobs throughout the day. It was during one of those nights that a couple of my fellow vagrants lit a fire inside the building to keep warm, and fell asleep without extinguishing it properly.”
“The next thing I knew, I was being slung over the shoulder of some fireman while he carried me out of the building. I remember reaching down and grabbing my rucksack as he was hoisting me up. Once I was outside I guess I must have collapsed again, because the next thing I know I was lying in a hospital bed, and the local child welfare people were paying me a visit. It was through them that I ended up with Aunt Marian.”
Johnny looked over at Roy and grinned. “And the rest of the story you already know.”
“ Aunt Marian got in touch with the rancher and he sent down all of the family keepsakes he had been storing for me, plus those few pictures they had taken of my mom, dad and I over the years.”
“Aunt Marian got me enrolled in school, and she really did try to interest me in University, but the man who had pulled me out of that burning building made a huge impression on me and I had already decided that I wanted to be a firefighter.”
Roy looked over at Johnny and patted his leg. “Well, I am glad that you made that life choice too… otherwise we would never have met and I wouldn’t have found my kid brother. And that would have been a tragedy, because you’ve brought a lot of joy and happiness to me and my family Johnny.”
“So do you still keep in contact with the rancher and his wife… by the way, how come you never use their first names? “
Johnny looked over and grinned impishly.
Well, when I was younger I was never allowed to call another adult by their first name, and their last name was some foreign thing I never did learn how to pronounce… then when I was older I was always afraid of getting them into trouble, in case anyone ever discovered they were aiding and abetting a twelve year old truant.”
“By the time I was sixteen it just became a bit of a joke between us… they always referred to me as “that young man” and I referred to them as “the ranch owner and his wife.”
“The rancher’s parents had come over from Macedonia during the First World War, and his wife came to the USA from Macedonia when she was nineteen. To this day I’m still not too sure that I’m pronouncing their names correctly. Their actual names were Stojce and Vaska Cherepnakoski.”
Johnny gave Roy a small sad smile as he neared the end of his tale.
“Then one day Vaska wrote to me and told me Stojce was killed in a farming accident. That was almost three years ago now.”
“Vaska didn’t have any other relatives living in the US, so she sold the ranch and went back to Macedonia to be with her two sisters and their families… Old Bill’s gone now too”
Roy hesitated to ask this next question, but somehow he needed to know the answer. He shifted uneasily and then finally asked the young man in the bed. “What about your mother’s parents… where are they?”
Johnny looked up and his face clouded over and he frowned. “If there’s any justice in this world, then they’re rotting in Hell…” he answered bitterly.
Johnny took a deep breath and then amended his last statement. “I don’t know what happened to them Roy, and frankly, I don’t care. As far as I’m concerned they’re already dead to me.” He answered tiredly.
As Johnny finished speaking, the grandfather clock in the DeSoto living room chimed out the midnight hour.
Roy stood up and stretched out his stiff back muscles. He looked down on his friend, who was still far too pale and wan looking. He leaned over and put his hand on his shoulder.
“Thank you for telling me this Johnny. I’m glad that you trusted me enough to tell me about your past… I feel so lucky to have you for my partner and I feel very blessed that I can call you brother.”
Johnny’s face flushed in embarrassment and he averted his eyes downward.
“I’m glad were partners too Roy, and I’m honoured that you want me for a brother.” He whispered quietly.
Roy bent down and pulled Johnny into another quick hug… “No Junior, the honour is all mine.”
Roy stood up and grabbed the empty water glass off the bedside table. “Now, I’m going to refill this for you, and then you’re going to get some sleep.”
He walked over to the door and switched off the bedroom light. “I’ll be back in a couple of minutes with your water,” he said as he left the room.
Johnny slid down further underneath the blankets. He felt a warm sense of belonging, and inwardly he breathed a sigh of relief. Roy had seemed to handle the story well, and he was glad that he had finally shared his sad tale with someone else. Somehow it made him feel a little less alone in this world. He smiled to himself as he sunk his head down into his pillows and closed his eyes.
It must be true that confession is good for the soul, because Johnny immediately feel into a peaceful sleep that was free of nightmares, for the first time in several days.
Roy walked back into Johnny’s room and set the glass of water on the nightstand where Johnny could easily reach it.
He looked down on his kid brother and smiled. It had broken his heart to hear Johnny relive the horrors of his childhood that evening.
As Roy stood there watching Johnny sleep, he began to wonder if his grandparents were still alive. There was a huge part of him that wanted to march right up to Montana and find them, and make them pay for how they had treated Johnny. The thought had even crossed his mind that perhaps someone should go up there and beat his grandfather with a baseball bat… or maybe a tire iron.
Roy shook off his dark thoughts, as he continued to watch over the sleeping form of the young man who had become such a big part of his life.
As he watched him sleeping peacefully he couldn’t help but think of the phrase, There but for the Grace of God go I.
He suddenly began to think about his own young son, and what if it had been Chris who had had to face what Johnny had? It made him physically ill to even think about it.
For that matter, he wondered how he himself, or Chet, or any of the guys would have fared if they had had to overcome the obstacles in life that Johnny had had to face?
What would he have done? Would he have stayed and been killed? Would he have killed the man?
Or maybe he would have grown bitter and given up in despair. Maybe he would have turned to a life of crime, or alcohol or drugs… or worse, maybe even suicide.
As Roy stood there he began to fully understand the depth of Johnny’s inner strength and resolve. It filled him with a deep sense of awe and admiration at just how much Johnny had been able to accomplish in his life.
He had come so far and overcome so many obstacles to get where he was in his short twenty two years.
Roy was filled with an overwhelming sense of pride about having this young man in his life, and that he had done him the honour of considering him a big brother.
Johnny had finally given Roy his complete trust and he had put his faith in their friendship.
As far as Roy was concerned it was one of the most amazing gifts he had ever been given.
Roy looked down one more time on his sleeping friend, and then he silently made his way out of the room and shut the door.
In the end Johnny ended up staying at the DeSoto home for almost three weeks while he regained his strength.
Because his job required him to be in top shape, he ended up spending a further three weeks doing physical therapy and strength training before he was finally cleared to return back to work.
Although Johnny and Roy had never talked to anyone else about their time together during Johnny’s convalescence period, it became obvious to everyone, both at the station and at Rampart; that something between the two men had changed.
Everyone had been aware that in the last two years the two men had become best friends, but ever since Johnny’s illness, it seemed as if the two men had somehow melded into one.
It had caught most of them by surprise the first few times they saw the two men communicate with each other without speaking. But gradually over time everyone just accepted it as a normal part of the Gage- DeSoto dynamic.
Johnny had been back at work for over a month, and things had pretty well returned to normal around the station. It was later on in the evening and he had climbed up on top of the hose tower in order to find a quiet place to think.
He was lying on his back looking up at the night sky as he thought about how much his life had changed in the past year.
He thought about his Aunt’s death, and about how close he had come to dying from the Koki virus … but mostly he thought about the long talks he and Roy had had while he was recovering from his illness.
He smiled contentedly as he thought about how much better his life had been since he had moved to Los Angeles. He held up his necklace that he had removed from his locker and carried up to the top of the hose tower with him.
He moved it around until the tiny carvings on the bone pendant were illuminated by the moonlight.
Out of the night air, he heard Roy’s voice quietly call up to him from below. “Hey Junior, what are ya doing up there?”
Johnny sat up and looked down at his partner and grinned. “Nuthin’ Roy … just thinking.”
“Well come on down. I got a hot cup of coffee here with your name on it.”
Johnny slipped the necklace over his head and climbed back down and joined his partner on the ground.
Smiling he reached over and took the cup Roy was holding out to him, and took a long drink of the hot liquid.
Roy looked over at the necklace around Johnny’s neck and smiled. He reached over and lifted up the pendant and studied the tiny carvings.
“Your parents would be so proud of the man you’ve become Johnny… they really would.”
Johnny looked down at the necklace and gently picked it up in his hands. “Thanks Roy. That means a lot to me that you said that… I’d like to think so too.”
The two men sat staring into each other’s eyes in silent communication for several long minutes in the night air.
Finally Roy put his arm around Johnny’s shoulder and led him back inside the station.
“Come on Junior, let’s go inside…it’s time we both went to bed.”
Johnny grinned back and put his arm around Roy’s shoulder in return.
“Okay Pally… if you say so.”
Slowly the two brothers made their way back inside Station 51 and went to bed.
Emergency and its characters are the property of Mark VII Productions Inc. and Universal Studios. All rights reserved.
No infringements of any copyrights are intended or should be inferred.
This is a fictional story written for entertainment purposes only. No financial gain is being realized from it.
The story itself and all original characters are the property of the author.
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The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made. I merely like to toy with them and return them to their proper owner in good working order.
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