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Growing Pains by Mypiot
John Gage lay staring up at the ceiling of the dorm room of Station 51, while he listened to the various sounds of his shift mates sleeping around him.
The clock on the wall said two twenty five and it seemed to be mocking the fact that Johnny hadn’t been able to fall asleep, even though they had been back at the barn since just before midnight, after having rescued the two young boys, Kirby and Charles from the storm drain.
Johnny tried to convince himself that his lack of sleep was caused by both his inability to get warm after his dunking in the cold putrid water of the sewers, and the discomfort he had from the slight tightness he felt in his chest. As soon as Cap had found out about Johnny’s little impromptu bath in the sewer, he had insisted Johnny get checked out at Rampart just to be on the safe side. Dr. Brackett had said that he could hear some minor congestion in his lungs, and had given him some oral antibiotics to take over the next three days to ward off pneumonia. He had cleared him to finish off this shift, providing he promised to come in should his lungs get worse over the next few days; and that he spend his days off taking things easy.
Johnny hadn’t passed on the good doctor’s little caveat to his release for duty to either Cap or Roy. Since neither man had been in the exam room with him, he didn’t see any point in drawing any unwanted attention to himself; especially since Roy was so angry with him. So when Cap had asked him if he had been cleared to return to duty, Johnny had been honestly able to reply in the affirmative without having to go into any added details. He knew that technically he should have told Cap about Brackett’s warning and the fact that he had heard some minor congestion in his lungs, but Johnny’s conscience had never considered the sin of omission the same as a lie, so he had just conveniently not mentioned it.
The fact that the A shift would be off for three days once their shift ended in the morning had also played a role in Brackett’s willingness to let him finish off his shift.
Johnny had been chilled to the bone, in spite of the fact that it was late July and the air was warm and balmy.
Even after having had a hot shower upon his return to the barn, he had still found himself rubbing his hands vigorously along the length of his arms hoping to warm himself up. But despite his best efforts, all his attempts had failed to produce the desired warmth he had been hoping for, and he now found himself lying in his bed shivering.
Thankfully both of the young boys were going to be fine, and would in all likelihood be sent home with their parents in the morning no worse for wear.
As usual only Johnny had actually gone completely under. He had managed to keep Kirby’s head above the water the first time he had slipped, and he was alone the second time he had gone down.
Luckily for him, Roy had seen him fall and had reached down to help him the rest of the way up the ladder. Not that Johnny was surprised Roy had seen him floundering. He and Roy had developed a sixth sense about each other in the two years they had been partners.
In fact they had become best friends. Roy and his family had been there, supporting him when his Aunt had died the year before, and then seven months earlier, he had spent nearly a month at the DeSoto home, while he recovered from the plague. And up until today he was sure they were more than best friends… they had become brothers… family.
But as he lay there in the dark, Roy’s words from earlier in the day had come back to haunt him and he had begun to doubt the validity of that last thought.
He hadn’t meant to interfere. It’s just that he hated to see Roy and Joanne angry at each other … it brought back too many disturbing memories for Johnny.
The DeSoto’s were his only family now, and in his limited experience whenever family fought it hadn’t ended well for him. He had just wanted to make things better between Roy and Joanne, but it seems he had failed miserably… even though his actions had turned out well in the end, Roy had been furious with Johnny for butting in. Roy’s angry words echoed in his ears.
You’re a positive menace … that’s what Roy had called him. Even now the words cut into his soul like a knife.
He sighed as he thought about the past two years and how Roy and Joanne had welcomed him into their life. They had called him their kid brother, and for the first time in over a decade, Johnny felt truly loved and accepted as part of a real family.
Not that his adopted Aunt Marian hadn’t loved him or been good to him, but the ghosts of her dead husband James and their young son Philip who had been killed years earlier, had always been lurking in the shadows, and so for much of the time Johnny had still felt lonely and out of place… like a pale replacement for the son Marian had lost years before.
But now Johnny was sure he had spoiled all of that by his interfering, no matter how good his intentions had been. After listening to Roy berate him all day, he had truly begun to believe that both Roy and Joanne had regretted their decision to let him into their family, now that they had gotten to know him.
It had taken a huge leap of faith on Johnny’s part to finally share his troubled past with his new family. To his utter delight, they had seemed to accept him anyway. But now he had opened his big mouth and destroyed it all.
Roy’s words had made it perfectly clear that he was probably persona not grata at the DeSoto home now. It was pretty hard to misconstrue the meaning when someone called you a positive menace. Roy hadn’t even bothered to come in to the treatment room with him when he was being checked over … and Roy always hovered over him like a mother hen whenever he was even slightly injured.
And although Johnny always made a big show of protesting the over protective mothering he got from Roy, secretly he liked how it felt to know that he was cared about by Roy and his family… because nobody had cared about him for most of his childhood years, and it was a nice feeling. Which is why Johnny had been hurt when he looked back just in time to see Roy brush past him and head straight into the doctor’s lounge when he had been taken in to be checked out the night before.
When Roy had informed him that all was well between him and Joanne once more, Johnny had been overjoyed, and tried to tell Roy that that is why he had given Joanne the recipe in the first place, but Roy’s answer to him clearly indicated that he was still not happy with Johnny.
It was at that point Johnny realized that perhaps he was no longer going to be welcomed as part of the DeSoto family any longer.
Joanne hadn’t said anything the night before when he had called her, but Roy had been very clear when he informed Johnny that Joanne was merely being polite. Now Johnny was wondering if she had just been being polite all along.
Roy was angry enough that he hadn’t even asked Johnny what Brackett had said when he had examined him earlier that night. Which worked out well, because it just meant Johnny wasn’t going to be pressured to tell Roy about the good doctor’s warning to him to rest and take it easy for the next few days.
Johnny had made a point of keeping his eyes focused out the passenger side window of the squad all the way back to the barn.
When the others had gone out to the kitchen for a hot cup of coffee, he had used the excuse that he needed to have a hot shower, to make a hasty exit into the bathroom, and then slip unobtrusively into bed, feigning sleep when the others made their way into the dorms for the night.
Normally the next morning being Saturday, he would have gone to the DeSoto’s for a hot breakfast. That would have been followed by a pleasant afternoon of helping Roy work his way through Joanne’s honey-do list. Then he, Roy, and the kids would have had played catch or tag, before Roy lit the Barbeque and grilled some burgers and hotdogs for supper. But now he was convinced he had worn out his welcome at the DeSoto home.
He made up his mind to get away from the station the second his replacement on B shift arrived, forgoing the usual coffee, doughnuts, and cheerful banter. He wouldn’t even bother to hang around long enough to change into his civvies. He’d just wear his uniform home and change once he arrived at his apartment.
He had decided what he really needed to do was to get away somewhere alone for a couple of days so he could sort out this whole mess. As soon as he got home, he’d change into his older clothes, grab his hiking gear and go roughing it up in the Santa Monica Mountains for a few days.
Being July, he didn’t think he’d even need a tent. The weather was supposed to be clear, and sleeping out under the stars always seem to center him… it grounded him and gave him a chance to clear his mind and take a step back from whatever it was that was bothering him, so he could see things more clearly.
Besides it would give Roy and Joanne a chance to cool off so he could at least apologize. He knew that the rift wasn’t serious enough to affect their working partnership, but he did come to the realization, that his days of enjoyment over spending time with the DeSoto family were probably over… but then that’s how things usually ended up for Johnny.
He heaved a heavy sigh, which brought on a bought of coughing. He quickly turned his face into his pillow so he wouldn’t wake up the others.
Finally after another half hour of tossing and turning, Johnny was at last able to fall into a restless sleep.
As luck would have it, they were called out to a restaurant fire at six in the morning, so by the time they had arrived back at the station the B shift were already there waiting to take over.
Johnny had just quietly slipped out of the bay doors unnoticed, while the rest of the A shift and B shift made small talk over coffee and pastries in the kitchen.
As far as Roy had been concerned, all was right in his world once more.
As he sat around the table in the kitchen of station 51 enjoying a doughnut with his shift mates and the crew from B shift, he hadn’t even considered that all was not well between him and Johnny.
All that Roy could think about was how relieved he was that Joanne was no longer angry with him. He had to grudgingly admit to himself that it was Johnny’s act of telephoning Joanne and giving her Stoker’s recipe that had been his saving grace. In the end, Joanne’s curiosity had gotten the better of her, and she had gone ahead and tried it out for herself, only to discover that it was indeed the best spaghetti she had ever tasted.
When Roy had called her from Rampart the night before, she had admitted to him, that she had tried it out for herself and agreed that it was indeed better than hers. Then the two of them had sheepishly agreed that fighting over something as silly as spaghetti now seemed a bit childish, and both had apologized to the other.
Joanne had promised that she would have an extra special breakfast waiting for her two men, when they arrived home after their shift. Roy glanced up at the wall clock, and wondered why it was taking Johnny so long to change into his civvies. As soon as he was ready they could head home for some of Joanne’s special blueberry pancakes and sausage, and her homemade cinnamon rolls fresh from the oven.
He and Joanne had bought some filet mignon steaks to grill this afternoon, as a thank you to Johnny for all he had done for them lately. It turned out that John Gage was a Jack of all trades. It seems he could build, fix or repair anything he put his hands to. In the last few months he had saved Roy and Joanne several hundred dollars in repair bills, by fixing his refrigerator and his washing machine, not to mention helping him to enlarge his deck and re-shingle the roof before the rainy season hit.
Roy was great at fixing up cars and trucks, or painting the front porch, but he had to concede that he wasn’t really a carpenter. Nor was he that adept with appliances. So the fact that Johnny was skilled at all of those things had been a blessing to them, and a godsend to their bank account.
Roy looked up at the clock and was just about to go see what was keeping his partner, when Captain Stanley came into the kitchen looking for Johnny.
Dr. Brackett was on the phone in Cap’s office and it seemed that he was looking for John Gage as well.He had informed Captain Stanley, that after reviewing the x-rays of Johnny’s lungs this morning they had decided that since he was already suffering with some congestion, albeit minor, from his unscheduled swim the night before, that maybe it would be wise to switch his antibiotic to one that was more broad spectrum to be on the safe side.
During the last couple of hours, the boy Kirby appeared to be developing a serious case of dysentery that in all probability had come from bacteria he had picked up from the water. It had turned out that after further questioning of the boys, that Charles had admitted that Kirby had himself slipped on the wet surface and gone under before Roy and Johnny had found them.
Since Johnny had also ingested some water, there was a very real danger that he too might fall ill, especially since his body was already going to be working overtime to clear his lungs.
Roy looked up at Cap in surprise, and it was clear to Captain Stanley that the fact that John had actually taken in enough water, that some had gotten into his lungs, and that he had been given an antibiotic, was news to his senior paramedic.
That in turn surprised Cap; usually when one of his paramedics had suffered any kind of mishap that required they be checked out at Rampart, the other one was usually hovering close by like a mother hen… especially when the injured person was his youngest crew member. So the fact that Roy had obviously not been present when Johnny was checked out was surprising. But then again, there had been something a bit off between his two paramedics all shift long.
Roy’s first instinct was to be angry with his partner for not revealing the entire truth to him about what Brackett had told him. But then he remembered how he had been treating Johnny all day yesterday, and he began to realize why Johnny had kept silent about it. One of the main reasons was probably because he hadn’t even bothered to ask Johnny if he was alright, when he had come out to the ambulance bay, to get in the squad.
It was then that the famous Roy DeSoto guilt began to kick in, when he began to go over all of the reasons of just exactly why Johnny hadn’t said anything to him. After all he was the one who had deliberately not gone in with Johnny to the treatment room, opting instead to go into the doctor’s lounge and phone Joanne to try and patch things up with her one more time.
If he had gone in with Johnny, like he usually did, he would have been there when Brackett had given Johnny his verdict.
He also knew that Johnny would most certainly have noticed that Roy hadn’t gone in with him, as was usually the case, and had probably come to the conclusion that Roy was too mad at him to care.
It was at this point in his musings that Charlie Dwyer spoke up. “Ah, Roy … Cap, Johnny left over twenty minutes ago. In fact he never even bothered to change out of his uniform. The minute I arrived to relieve him, he just grabbed his civvies and high-tailed it out the bay doors. He got into his Rover and left.”
Roy stood up, and looked over at Cap.
“I’ll talk to Brackett Cap, and then I’ll head over to Johnny’s and give him the message. I need to talk to him about some things anyway.”
At precisely the same time that Roy was in Captain Stanley’s office talking to Dr. Brackett, Johnny was just entering through the door of his apartment.
He immediately began stripping off his uniform, right down to his boxers. He left his uniform crumpled in a heap by the front door. He figured he might as well drop both it and one of his spares off at the cleaners on his way out to the mountains. That way he could just pick them up on his way home. Then he could just wear one into work on his next shift, buying him a little extra time before roll call.
It also afforded him the added bonus of not having to linger in the locker room, so he wouldn’t have to deal with any awkwardness with Roy in front of the others. At least not until he had a chance to apologize to both Roy and Joanne for butting into their argument … he owed them that much anyway.
It took him less than five minutes to change and collect his mail from the day before and grab a glass of milk to take his antibiotic with. He figured he would just grab some breakfast when he stopped to buy some food for his camping trip.
Thankfully he always kept his rucksack, packed with his basic camping supplies and first aid gear, and ready to go.
He grabbed the pack and his sleeping bag from his hall closet. He had already decided he wasn’t going to take his tent as the forecast was for hot, clear weather for the next few days. Neither was he taking his fishing gear, as this trip would be for thinking and hiking… and maybe taking some photos with the new lens he had just bought for his camera.
He frowned as he picked up his sleeping bag. It had definitely seen better days, and he made a mental note to make sure he picked himself up a new one before the fall came.
After swallowing down his pill, he shoved the pill bottle into his rucksack, and went over to the kitchen sink and rinsed out his glass. He grabbed a light jacket, his keys and his gear and left his apartment… the whole process had taken him less than ten minutes.
Less than a minute after he had left his apartment, his phone began to ring … it went unanswered.
Roy and Cap stood in his office and frowned when they hadn’t gotten any answer at Johnny’s. He had left a half hour earlier, and he only lived fifteen minutes away from the station, so he surely should have been home by now. After all he had been ordered by Dr. Brackett to spend the next three days lying around resting.
Neither man had been happy after hearing what Dr. Brackett had had to say. If what they had been told was true, there was a very real possibility that Johnny could become ill, from what had now been confirmed as bacteria from the water in the storm drain. Pneumonia, Dysentery, E-Coli, and a few other unpleasant surprises could be on the horizon for the young man, and Doctor Brackett wanted him on a new broad spectrum antibiotic, and he wanted him back in Rampart, so he could be monitored closely for the next three to five days, which was the possible incubation period for some of these diseases.
The antibiotic Brackett had prescribed last night wouldn’t cover some of these other issues, and all three men; Brackett, Captain Stanley and Roy were all anxious to get Johnny back to Rampart and started on the new medication ASAP.
Roy had another private worry about what thoughts might be running amok inside his young partners head right now. Now that he’d had time to stop and think about the last twenty four hours without his fight with Joanne clouding his judgment, Roy had begun to remember some of the things he had called his little brother.
He cringed as he remembered calling Johnny a menace as well as several other unkind things throughout the course of their shift.
Truth be told, he was angrier with himself than he was at either Joanne or Johnny. It was his careless remark that had caused this whole fight in the first place, not Johnny’s. Although Johnny’s phone call hadn’t helped, not initially anyway … It certainly hadn’t been the impetus for the argument… he had caused the whole fight, by inadvertently insulting his wife’s cooking.
Roy knew he had lead Johnny to believe that Joanne was angry with him, when in actual fact, Jo hadn’t been upset at Johnny at all … it was Roy she was angry with.
Unlike Roy, Joanne had understood that Johnny’s heart had been in the right place, and that his phone call had been done out of a genuine desire to help. He had made it perfectly clear that it upset him to see her and Roy angry with each other. But Johnny’s phone call had provided Roy with a perfect scapegoat to share the blame for Joanne’s ire.
Now that he and Joanne had made up and he’d had some time to reflect, he began to feel horrible about some of the things he’d said in his frustration and anger. Things that were not only untrue, but that were unfair… and things he hadn’t really meant in the first place. He’d only said them because Joanne was upset, and he wanted it to be someone else’s fault besides his own.
He wished he could somehow take his angry words back, but once a word is spoken, there’s no snatching it back. He’d have to somehow not only apologize, but make Johnny believe that he hadn’t meant them in the first place.
Roy grew silent and the more he thought about it the worse he felt. Johnny had had a tragic past, and he had had enough hurtful and venomous words spewed out at him, ever since he was a small child. He’d gotten it from his teachers, classmates, doctors, and by the people who were supposed to be his family.
Roy had always told Johnny that he’d never do that to him, and yet he had just done that very thing… he had let his brother down badly.
When Roy had been yelling at him for calling Joanne and butting in where Roy said he wasn’t wanted, he hadn’t taken into consideration how Johnny had been raised.
Johnny was still finding his place in the DeSoto family, and that for the most part, he was still learning how to be part of any family again. He just wasn’t used to dealing with all the issues that went along with family quarrels that happened even in the best of marriages. To Johnny, angry words and fighting generally resulted in rejection, abuse and pain.
Roy had completely forgotten that family life and interacting in one, was still for the most part new and uncharted territory for Johnny. He had honestly just been trying to do his best to help his new family be at peace, when he had called Joanne.
Roy and Joanne both knew that Johnny had a much different frame of reference about families than they had. They had both had the luxury of growing up in a happy, stable environment, knowing they were wanted and loved. They had both parents and loving grandparents.
When he and Joanne were ten, they had just met and were forming a bond that was to last the rest of their lives…they were soul mates, living a carefree existence.
When Johnny was ten he had already had to face years of horrible prejudice both at school and on the reservation. But worst of all he was dealing with having witnessed his parents’ murders and his attempted murder… and then being tossed into a hellish and abusive life with grandparents who begrudged him every breath he drew.
At sixteen Roy and Joanne were experiencing the thrill of owning his first car and going out to school dances and to the drive in and the local malt shop.
When Johnny turned sixteen, he was in the ICU fighting for his life after his grandfather had nearly beaten him to death with a baseball bat as a sixteenth birthday present. By the time he had recovered, Johnny had ended up living alone on the streets of L.A. trying to earn enough money for his next meal.
The more he considered these things the worse Roy felt about it all. “Shit.” He muttered under his breath. He needed to find Johnny and make things right… then he needed to get him into Rampart and make sure he didn’t get sick. Silently he stood up and went out to his car, and drove out of the stations parking lot… he was heading over to Johnny’s apartment.
Johnny had been hiking for over an hour in the hot sun and it was almost one o’clock when he stopped to take a break.
He lowered his sleeping bag onto the ground and let the straps of his rucksack slide off of his shoulders. He shrugged it the rest of the way off and he let it gently fall to the ground beside his sleeping bag. As he bent over to grab his canteen so he could take a much needed drink of water, he erupted into a bout of heavy, deep coughing. During the last half hour he had noticed that his chest had begun to feel a bit tighter and his cough had settled firmly into his chest.
While he took his break he decided to give himself a cursory check. He knew full well that this wasn’t the “rest” Dr. Brackett had had in mind. But Johnny needed the solitude so he could sort out this mess between him and Roy in his mind. So as long as he didn’t get any worse than what he was now, he figured he would be fine.
Thus far there was no sign of a fever, and he wasn’t experiencing any pain when he took a deep breath. He did have to admit he was a bit short of breath, but so far the cough was more annoying than anything else. All the same he decided that rather than hike into the deep trails, he would stay within a couple hours hiking distance of the Ranger’s station where his Rover was parked; after all he wasn’t an idiot. He wasn’t about to take any chances if his symptoms did decide to get worse.
He had been hiking for another hour and he was just about at his destination when the first twinge of the dysentery began to rear its ugly head. At first it was just some mild cramping, but it wasn’t very long before Johnny was looking for a bush to duck behind. It was only a half hour after that when he felt the first signs that he was starting to run a mild fever.
This last little “quirk of fate” was all Johnny needed to concede defeat and pack up his newly “unpacked” gear.
Being a paramedic, it didn’t take Johnny long to draw the correlation between this newest development with his body, and his little dip in the storm drain from the night before.
Johnny knew what the inherent dangers of these symptoms meant, and the very real problems that the almost certain dehydration he would develop could pose if he left this untreated. So as much as he hated to do it, he knew he needed to head back home and call Dr. Brackett, and let him know about his latest indignity.
Damn it all…He had an uneasy feeling that he was going to be spending at least part of his three days off at Rampart.
One thing was for damn sure… he wasn’t going to let them call Roy. He’d intruded enough in his personal life and he didn’t need to wreck Roy and Joanne’s private family time any more than he already had lately.
Roy was already angry enough at Johnny as it was. Besides, Johnny wasn’t all that sure he’d come anyway.
Johnny reluctantly picked up his gear and started back down the trail. “So much for getting away from it all to sort things out,” he thought ruefully.
By the time he had been on the trail back homeward for an hour, Johnny found himself having to stop and “tend to business” a lot more frequently. It was getting close to five o’clock and he still had over an hour and a half to go before he got back to his Rover.
He figured that he needed to expedite things along a bit, so he decided that he would get off the trail and cut across the dry river bed and join up with the trail on the other side. By doing that he would cut close to forty five minutes off of his hiking time.
He had managed to keep up a fairly steady pace in spite of his “infirmities,” although the tightness in his chest was a bit worse, as were the coughing spasms. And the dysentery was just plain miserable.
Still he had made good time and before too long he was at the point where he would need to climb up the other side of the steep, rocky embankment and get back onto the trail again. After that it would only take another half hour to reach his Rover.
Slowly he began to climb his way up the other side of the hill, dodging the boulders and shrubs, and being careful of the loose rocks along the steep embankment. Johnny had made it up almost three quarters of the way, when he began to feel the first ominous tremors in the ground beneath his feet.
Roy pulled his Porsche up in front of Johnny’s apartment complex and scanned the parking lot. Even though he hadn’t actually expected to see Johnny’s Rover in his allotted parking spot, his heart still sank when he seen that his spot was indeed empty.
Roy just sat there lost in thought for several minutes while he debated about what he should do next. The sound of a car horn blasting behind his Porsche shook him out of his reverie. Looking in his rear view mirror he saw that he was blocking the entrance to the apartment complex’s parking lot.
The situation ended his internal debate and Roy found himself pulling his car into the parking area of the complex. He pulled his Porsche up into Johnny’s vacant spot, and he shut the vehicle off. Roy sat there fingering the key to Johnny’s apartment in his hand for a few moments, before he heaved a sigh of resignation. Finally he opened the door of his car and stepped out.
Roy walked slowly from room to room of Johnny’s apartment. He saw the glass sitting on the counter, and noted that it was still damp. Where ever Johnny had gone, he hadn’t been gone any more than half an hour. He walked into the bedroom and saw that the bed was still made up, but that one of the dresser drawers was slightly open and there were a couple of shirts hanging half in and half out of the drawer, as if Johnny had been packing clothes in a hurry… that obviously meant that Johnny wasn’t coming back home anytime soon.
Roy made his way to the front hall closet. He knew what he was going to find…or what he wasn’t going to find, before he even opened the door, but he had to be sure. He opened the door and looked inside. Sure enough it was just as he had suspected, Johnny’s rucksack and sleeping bag were missing.
Damn it Junior, you’re not supposed to be roughing it, or sleeping outdoors, you’re supposed to be lying around in bed or on your couch resting.
Roy took a closer look inside the closet and discovered that Johnny hadn’t taken either his fishing gear or his tent. He knew it wasn’t unheard of for Johnny to leave his tent behind on occasion. His younger partner was more than comfortable with “roughing it”. And ever since Roy had learned of his history, he understood why.
The thing that bothered Roy the most however, was the fact that Johnny had left his tent and fishing gear behind. It meant that his impromptu trip was not for pleasure.
Whenever Johnny headed for the mountains and solitude with just the barest of necessities; Roy knew it was not something that Johnny had planned beforehand. It meant he was in a hurry to get out of the city… and he only did that when he was overly upset about something, and he needed to think and regroup … It was what Johnny was probably thinking, that worried Roy the most right now.
The fact that Johnny had basically blown off Dr. Brackett’s admonishments to stay at home and rest, to go camping instead, spoke volumes to Roy about just how upset Johnny really was. That combined with his hasty exit from the Station that morning without a goodbye to anyone, did not bode well for Johnny’s frame of mind.
Roy looked around trying to find any clue that might indicate where Johnny had gone. After ten minutes of searching; the futility of what he was doing sunk in, and finally he decided that there was nothing to be gained by staying here.
In the end he just left a note on Johnny’s counter urging him to please call him at home the moment he got back. The only other option he had right now was to go home and wait… and worry… and explain to Joanne why Johnny wasn’t going to be there this afternoon to enjoy his filet mignon.
Scanning Johnny’s apartment one last time, Roy stepped out into the hall and pulled the door closed behind him. After making sure it was securely locked he slowly made his way back out to his car.
Roy silently cursed his temper all the way home. It was only a stupid argument over spaghetti. And now because of his overreaction, his kid brother was out wandering around in the wilderness somewhere upset and probably beating himself up over something that wasn’t even his fault in the first place. But the most worrisome aspect to this whole mess is that he was also out there alone with a potentially serious illness brewing inside of his body. Roy slammed his fist against the steering wheel in frustration… Damn it all to hell.
It took Johnny’s brain a few seconds to register what the tremors beneath his feet signified. Unfortunately it was a few seconds too many, and before he could prepare himself or even sit down, the rocks and loose dirt began to shift beneath his feet, sending him on a downward slide along the embankment.
At first Johnny managed to successfully keep pace with the sliding debris as he half ran-half slid down the embankment, but that only lasted for a few brief moments before he realized that the top half of his body was moving downward at a faster rate of acceleration than his lower half.
He had almost reached the bottom of the embankment when he finally lost the fragile hold he had on his balance. He began to feel his top heavy body pitch forward toward two very large boulders that were resting near the bottom of the hill about three feet directly in front of him.
At that point his rational brain took a hiatus and his instincts took over. Without any thought to the fact that there was no way he could win a battle with two very large chunks of rock, Johnny instinctively threw his arms out in front of his body in a last ditch effort to break his fall.
Johnny’s forward momentum came to an abrupt halt when his outstretched arms and hands made contact with the giant spheres of rock.
The second his hands connected with the boulders in front of him, the sickening sound of bones snapping and the sharp searing pains that shot up each arm, brought home to Johnny, the knowledge that his fall wasn’t the only thing broken by his throwing his arms out in front of his body for protection.
Johnny was immediately thrown backward by the sudden, jarring stop. Falling onto his back, his body continued its downward journey of the final ten or fifteen feet of the embankment. As luck would have it, he had slung his rucksack and his sleeping bag over his shoulders, so when he fell on his back, his sleeping bag took the brunt of the abuse on the final slide to the dry riverbed.
When his body finally came to a stop, Johnny just lay there stunned and groaning in pain for several long moments. It was another few minutes after that before he realized the earth had come to a standstill once more and had stopped it’s shaking.
He had no idea how strong the earthquake had been, or how long it had lasted… all Johnny remembered was falling and the agonizing pain in his arms.
After several more minutes of panting and trying to calm his breathing down, Johnny gingerly sat up, trying his best to protect his injured arms.
Looking down he cringed at the sight that met his eyes. His right forearm, wrist and hand were all definitely fractured. His left side had fared a bit better, but his left wrist and at least three of his fingers on his left hand were broken.
Johnny twisted around, and caught a glimpse of his gear. His rucksack had been closest to his back and had escaped relatively unscathed. His sleeping bag however, had been on the outside and had been shredded into ribbons by the rock and gravel. Ah well, I was going to get a new one anyway.
As carefully as he could, Johnny let the strap of his sleeping bag slide off his left shoulder as he gently slipped his broken wrist through the strap. He would have liked to have been able to use the strap to sling up his injured right arm, but there was no chance he was going to be able to use either hand for quite some time.
Great… well at least Roy won’t have to put up with me for a good long while.
Shakily he managed to rise to his feet. As painful as it was going to be, Johnny knew he had to get back up that embankment and onto the trail. Once there he knew he was only about a half hour away from the Ranger Station and help. Taking in a deep breath, Johnny slowly and carefully began to climb back up the embankment, protecting his injured limbs as much as he possibly could.
The trip back up the hill was a long and arduous one for the injured paramedic. Each misstep, each stumble, sent a fresh jolt of agonizing pain through Johnny’s injured limbs.
The tightness in his chest had been aggravated by the dust that had been stirred up from the loose dirt and gravel on his trip down the embankment. He hadn’t been able to prevent himself from breathing some of it into his lungs. This caused increased bouts of periodic coughing which meant a fresh new experience in pain for the already hurting young man. It was definitely an added torture he could have done without, as he made his way back up the hill.
It was extremely slow going and Johnny was being extra cautious as he made the journey upward. He was pacing himself, being painstakingly careful about where he placed each foot… treading carefully over every stone and shrub, so as not to lose his balance and fall. The upshot of this tediously slow pace was that a normally five minute journey took over fifteen.
Once he made it to the top of the embankment, Johnny sighed with relief when he saw the trail not more than twenty feet off to his right. He looked around until he found a fallen tree where he could allow himself a few moments to rest. The pain and his slight fever, was causing him to break out into a cold sweat, and shiver in spite of the heat of the July day … and he was beginning to feel nauseas. Johnny wasn’t sure if the nausea was from the pain or the dysentery.
Johnny groaned out loud. Oh man… please let the dysentery calm down, he pleaded to the almighty…With no hands, and if he was caught short now he was going to find himself in a huge mess…literally.
Deciding that he was flirting with fate the longer he waited to get to help, he cut his rest break short and began to hike down the trail towards the Ranger station post-haste.
The only thing on his mind was getting himself to the nearest hospital where he could get his injuries and his other maladies tended too, and hopefully a very large dose of MS for his pain.
He had been plodding along on the trail for about twenty five minutes and his coughing spasms and cramps had both increased in their intensity, when the trail opened up into the clearing that held the Rangers Station. There were two other vehicles besides his Rover in the parking area and he was relieved to see that the Ranger was standing out on the porch, as there was no way Johnny could have knocked on the door or opened it with his hands.
True, he could have shouted, but he was already short of breath and coughing, and to use his feet to kick the door would have jarred his body and made his pain even worse than it already was.
The moment the Ranger saw Johnny, he could tell the man was obviously injured and he immediately sprang into action, guiding Johnny inside the building and leading him to the couch that was in the back office. Slowly he eased the injured man down into a semi- reclining position. He then went and radioed in the medical emergency, requesting that paramedics be dispatched immediately.
Johnny explained to the man that he was an off duty fireman/paramedic with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, and that he had been caught in a landslide triggered by the earthquake. He also explained some of his more urgent health issues.
Within twenty minutes Johnny found himself in the care of two paramedics that worked out of the Los Robles Hospital in the city of Thousand Oaks. Johnny not only explained to the medics about his broken bones, he also let them know about his recent swim in the storm drains and the ensuing cough and chest issues as well as the new complication of dysentery, and the antibiotics he was currently taking.
Due to the fact the Johnny was not only suffering from his fractures but a possible bacterial complication from the sewer waters, it was decided to send him by a life flight, in order to prevent any nasty occurrences due to the dysentery that could take place during a long ambulance ride. After all he had already had to be helped into the bathroom twice by the paramedics…neither time had done much for Johnny’s dignity or disposition.
As it was the paramedics barely got Johnny into a treatment room and onto a bedpan in time. By that time Johnny was beyond being embarrassed… the only thing he cared about at that point was relief.
Forty five minutes later saw Johnny laying on a gurney in a treatment room at the Los Robles hospital, answering questions to the admitting nurse and a man by the name of Doctor Stanley Breckenridge, the E.R. doctor on call.
He’d had a small dose of MS administered I.M. because his arms were not going to be a good option for an I.V. He had also had some blood drawn to check and see just exactly what kind of bugs were running around in his system, that were causing his lung and gastric issues.
The MS had taken the edge off, but Johnny was still in some pain as he lay there answering their questions.
“Who is your next of kin Mr. Gage?” asked a middle aged nurse with a clip board and an admitting form.
Johnny didn’t want to interrupt Roy’s days off with Joanne and the kids … especially when he was already pissed off at him.
“I don’t have any family left alive … there’s just me. He stated. “There’s really no one you need to contact for me, except maybe for the L.A county fire department. They’ll need to be told that I am injured and won’t be able to work for a while. They’ll want a doctor to confirm that the injury is legit.
“What’s the name of your personal physician?” the nurse asked.
“Uh… I don’t actually have one; I usually just get seen by whatever doctor is on call in the E.R. when I’m sick or injured.”
“You said you were on antibiotics Mr. Gage. We’ll need to know what you were on, how much, and why. Could you tell us the name of the doctor who prescribed them for you?”
Johnny began to panic. He knew if he gave them Brackett’s name or told them he worked out of Rampart, that they would contact Dr. Brackett. Once that happened either Dixie or Dr. Brackett would contact Roy as his next of kin … and that’s exactly what Johnny wanted to avoid at all costs.
“Look,” Johnny started. “I can tell you myself. I was on Amoxil and I was taking 250 mg every eight hours. So far I had only had two doses … last night and this morning.
“I am taking it because I was doing a rescue in a storm drain last evening and I went under and took on some water. The Doctor heard a bit of minor congestion in my lungs, and since I have a tendency toward developing pneumonia, he had put me on a precautionary dose for five days to try and ward off any chance of pneumonia developing. This dysentery is a new issue that has just cropped up as of early this afternoon. There was no sign of it being present when he prescribed the Amoxil last night.
“I really don’t want to bring anyone else in on this, for personal reasons. I’ve told you everything pertinent to my health, and I’m shooting straight with you … that’s all there is to it. I am afraid I don’t have the meds to show you anymore. When the paramedics went to get them out of my rucksack they were no longer there. I guess they must have fallen out of my pack when I went down the embankment during the quake.
“I’ll sign whatever waiver you need me to sign releasing you of any responsibility, but I don’t want anyone else contacted about my condition. I would appreciate it if you would contact my HQ and tell them I’ve been injured so they can get a replacement for me in lots of time before my next shift on Tuesday morning. But I don’t want anything other than the necessary details released. I’ll inform the necessary people when I’m ready to do it myself.
“Before I leave I’ll get a copy of the medical reports from my stay here to take back with me and give to the doctor who is in charge of my follow up care when I am released from here.”
Neither the doctor nor the nurse were happy about the situation, but since Johnny was coherent, and an adult, there wasn’t much they could do about it. Johnny gave them all his insurance information, but he had to have the doctor sign the forms as his agent, and the nurse as his witness, due to the fact he couldn’t use his hands.
By the time they were finished, the portable x-ray machine had arrived and the technician was ready to get some pictures of the fractures and Johnny’s lungs.
It turned out that the fractures in Johnny’s right radius and wrist were serious enough to need surgery. The orthopedist was going to have to insert a temporary pin as well as a screw in his wrist to hold the bone in place while it healed. His radius was going require a temporary pin as well. The right ulna would heal on its own with just the aid of the cast.
The break in his right hand was a complete break, but it was at least a clean break and would heal fine on its own given enough time. The same could be said for his breaks in his left wrist and the end three fingers of his left hand … the index finger and thumb on his left hand were uninjured. But there was no question about it… he had done a number on his limbs when he had fallen against those boulders.
As for his bacterial issues, the tests had shown that he did indeed have a mild to moderate case of bacillary dysentery caused by the water in the storm drain system. Luckily he had already been on the Amoxil for twelve hours, and that had prevented it from becoming a more serious case, but it was still bad enough all the same and he was running a temperature of 102.2.
His respiratory issues were not a case of pneumonia, but he did have himself a pretty good case of an upper respiratory infection.
Because he was dealing with both these maladies on top of facing surgery on his broken bones, he was going to be switched to a course of very strong broad spectrum I.V. antibiotics for the first forty eight hours … and if he improved enough, then he would be switched back to oral meds for another ten days after that.
It didn’t actually matter anyway, because of the fact that his fractures were going to require surgery, Johnny was going to have to stay in the hospital for the duration of the weekend anyway, just to insure the antibiotics were working, and he got over the surgery adequately.
Another big issue was the fact that Johnny would not have the use of either of his hands. That meant his stay in the hospital would be prolonged if his dysentery hadn’t adequately resolved itself by the time the forty eight hours were up. He would need help with his personal hygiene issues as long as his gastric system was inflamed.
The next problem that had to be addressed was the fact that they could not use Johnny’s arms, wrists or hands as a viable site to start the necessary I.V., and using his feet, although it was an option, it wasn’t the optimal one. In the end it was decided that they would have to use the external jugular vein to insert his I.V.
Johnny was not at all thrilled at the perspective of having it inserted there, but being a paramedic; he understood the doctor’s reasoning, so he acquiesced without any fuss.
By the time he had been given all of the pertinent information, Johnny was more than ready to be knocked out so he just didn’t have to deal with anything more for the next several hours. The only thing he wanted to do now was go to sleep and forget these past two miserably hellish days.
Between Roy and Jo being mad at him for butting into their fight, to his unscheduled swim in the filthy water in the storm drain, and now his run in with this earthquake, he was more than ready to just call it a day. Hell he was ready to call it a month.
Luckily for Johnny that is pretty well what had happened. Apart from rousing him in the recovery room to make sure he came out of the anesthesia safely, he had been given enough pain meds and sedation that it had allowed him to sleep for almost eighteen hours straight.
Mercifully he had been given a large dose of anti-emetics with the anesthesia so that he had been spared the usual vomiting upon awakening from his surgery.
It was just after one o’clock on the Sunday afternoon when Johnny finally awoke to full awareness once more.
He opened his eyes and took stock of the situation… his right arm was throbbing mildly, but not nearly as bad as his right wrist and hand were. Thankfully the left wrist and his fingers were only slightly uncomfortable. His left arm was in a cast from his finger tips to just below his elbow, leaving only the index finger and thumb of his left hand exposed. His right arm was in a cast from his fingers right up to his armpit. Both were resting on pillows.
He also became aware of the fact that he had a Foley….and was that a….. It was … it was an adult version of a diaper.
Please….somebody just shoot me now and put me out of my misery. Please, please, please, Johnny begged, bargained and pleaded with the almighty. Please let my nurse be an old battle axe and not some pretty young girl.
He was halfway through his supplication when the door to his room opened up and in walked a male nurse in his early thirties.
“Good afternoon Mr. Gage. My name is Rob and I’m your nurse for the day. Dr. Breckenridge felt you might be more comfortable, under the circumstances, with a male nurse. How are you feeling?” he asked as he began to take Johnny’s vitals.
Johnny sighed. “Shitty… in every sense of the word,” he said sardonically.
Rob smiled sympathetically. “Sometimes life’s a bitch isn’t it?”
That brought a smile to Johnny’s face and helped put him at ease.
“Yeah, no shit…pardon the pun…” he grimaced. “I’m almost twenty three years old and I’m wearing a diaper… You know there’s a guy I work with who was in the army, and he told me once that in Nam they referred to dysentery as the ‘Screaming Mimis’.”
“Ah…so is Mimi still screaming at you now?” asked Rob.
Johnny laughed at that comment, which caused him to cough and grimace at the pain it caused. “Well I wouldn’t say Mimi’s screaming, but she definitely raised her voice to the point of yelling at me.” He replied.
This time it was Robs turn to laugh.
“How about your pain level, how is that right now, because your BP’s a bit high.”
“Yeah, the limbs are throbbing pretty good right now actually, and like I said, I’m still feeling some cramps as well. Say, was anyone else hurt…or killed in the quake yesterday?” Johnny asked as Rob shook down the thermometer and placed it under Johnny’s tongue.
“Naw, it only measured 5.1 on the Richter scale. According to the paper it was one of those blind thrust faults acting up. It broke a few windows, and shook the produce off some of the local grocery store shelves. There were reports of pictures falling off walls and books tumbling out of bookcases, but the only real damage was a couple of small landslides that were triggered…but I guess I don’t need to tell you that eh?” he said as he gestured towards Johnny’s casts.
“There were eleven people who were injured… all but three were minor. One little girl broke her leg when a bookshelf fell over on top of her. And another man was admitted with a concussion when his car drove into a pot hole that opened up in front of him on the road… and then there was you. The rest were all just cuts and bruises from things falling off shelves.”
Rob removed the thermometer and smiled. “Hey it’s down to 101.7… are you feeling any nausea?”
“No, actually I’m a little hungry, and I could murder a glass of water right about now. My tongue feels like it’s coated in fur.” Johnny replied.
“Okay, well I’ll tell you what, I’ll get your pain meds on board and then I’ll get you a tray and help you eat. After that, Dr. Breckenridge left instruction for the Foley to be removed, providing you keep your lunch down. Then later on I’ll get you up and into a nice warm bath. I’m afraid showers are out of the question for your foreseeable future Mr. Gage.”
“Please, call me Johnny and I think a lot of my normal activities are out of the picture for the foreseeable future… are you expecting the doctor anytime soon? I’d like to find out what the prognosis is on my hand, wrists and arm.”
Rob poured Johnny a glass of cold water from the pitcher on his bedside table and helped raise him up into a better position for drinking. He held a straw up to Johnny’s mouth so he was able to take a long sip of the cool water, while he answered him.
“He’ll be around to talk to you later on this evening, but I can tell you this much for sure … everything went really well with the surgery.”
By the time the evening meal was being served, Johnny had enjoyed a lunch of soup and sandwiches and pudding, which he managed to keep down without any problems. He was even happier when Rob managed to get one of the orderlies to sneak him up a real cup of coffee from the cafeteria.
He had been more than happy to lose both the Foley and the diaper. But the best of all had been when Rob had wrapped his casts in plastic and he had been able to enjoy a long soak in a nice warm tub of water. By the time Rob had helped him out of the tub, his bed had been changed, and two extra pillows had mysteriously appeared. But even better was the fact that in the last hour his cramps had begun to ease up a little and his temperature was now down to 100.4.
His cough was still being stubbornly persistent, but Johnny figured he could live with that for now.
By the time noon hour on Monday rolled around, Johnny’s temperature was down to 99.8 and the dysentery had abated to nearly non-existent. The initial pain from the surgery had faded to the point he no longer required his pain meds. His fractured bones still continued to ache, but he was able to manage just fine with Tylenol. His I.V. had been pulled and he was now taking all his meds orally.
He was still plagued with a deep heavy cough, and his chest was still a bit tight, but it too was better than it had been.
He had also discovered that he was able to use the index finger and thumb on his left hand to do several small tasks that actually gave him some measure of independence. For starters he could grip a fork or a spoon to feed himself … although using a knife was still quite beyond him at the moment… and holding a cup was pretty tricky too.
As usually happened when he began to feel better Johnny was starting to grow extremely bored and restless. All he wanted to do now was go home. Normally he would have called on Roy to come and get him … which would have invariably meant an extended stay at Chez DeSoto until he was feeling 100% once more.
But he had no doubt in his mind now, that after his social faux pas of butting into Roy and Joanne’s private argument, he was no longer going to be welcomed with open arms. He had already accepted that as a fact while he had been hiking in the mountains.
He had come to the conclusion that from now on his and Roy’s relationship would be strictly a working one. He mourned the loss of the close bond the two men had once shared, but coming to terms with being alone once more was not unfamiliar territory for the young paramedic. Unfortunately that seemed to be the story of his life.
But the situation now left him with the unresolved issue of how he was going to get home when he was released from the hospital, which if he had his way, would be this afternoon. Rob had brought him his keys this morning, and informed him that someone from the forest service had dropped the Rover off at the hospital that morning.
After much deliberation, Johnny decided that his best bet would be to phone his old friend Drew and his wife Pam. If Pam would be willing to drive Drew up to Thousand Oaks, then Drew could drive him back to his apartment.
Now he just has to convince Dr. Breckenridge to release a man with little to no use of his hands to go home. That, Johnny knew, would require some fast talking and a bit of subterfuge on his part.
The only bright spot was that once again he had been assigned Rob for his nurse, who as it turned out, was very pleasant company for the injured paramedic. Rob had come in and wrapped Johnny’s left hand and his three casted fingers in plastic wrap earlier that morning. That had enabled the injured man to take care of some of his more personal needs without soiling his cast. This was another huge boost to Johnny’s morale.
Johnny still knew that the Doctor wouldn’t want to release him without some assurances he had help waiting for him once he was at home. Johnny was usually fairly adept at doing some fancy footwork as he danced around the edge of the truth… once again he would fall back on his “sin of omission” rule if the situation called for it.
Johnny heaved a sad sigh as he began to realize that never again would he enjoy the warmth and love of being part of the DeSoto family, and that once again, he was on his own. The worst part of it was that he had done it himself this time... Him and his big interfering mouth. I’m such an Idiot he raged to himself.
As he lay there he began to think back wistfully to when he and Roy had first met. Back to the birth of their friendship; Well… he thought resignedly; every birth ends in a death eventually… and every death has a birth…that terrible starting point where it all begins to go downhill. Sometimes it was the death of a life, and sometimes it was the death of a career, or the death of a marriage, or the death of a relationship… and sometimes, it was the death of a friendship. It was just how life worked out sometimes. And more often than not, it was how Johnny’s life worked out.
But it was indeed true that every ending had a starting point. There came that point when the solid ground you thought you were standing on, suddenly began to erode and crumble beneath your feet ... Somehow that straight, comfortable road began to gradually change and slowly descend, getting steeper and steeper on the way down the slippery slope, until finally you hit the bottom… and the eventual end.
Johnny began to wonder if this was the beginning of the end of his association with Roy entirely. Not that he would be surprised. Fate seemed to enjoy watching him lose those that were most important to him.
It was then Johnny had an epiphany. Perhaps it wasn’t fate at all. Perhaps it was just some flaw in his character… something in his personality that invited that kind of pain and rejection… maybe it was his lot in life to end up alone.
Not just the alone of being single, but the alone as in, being an outcast from society … destined to always be on the outside looking in. It was sort of like being invited to the banquet where one was allowed to taste the food, but never actually allowed to eat enough to get full.
Johnny shook his head in disgust…stop being so morose Gage…you did this yourself with your big mouth. He just hoped if he apologized to both Roy and Joanne, he could at least keep hold of the working partnership he and Roy shared. It wasn’t what he wanted, but under the circumstances, he’d take it.
It was just at that point that Doctor Breckenridge came into the room. “Well, John. I see you’re doing much better today. Things are looking very good.”
Johnny sat up straighter in his bed. “Well, actually doc, I wanted to talk to you about that. I was kind of hoping to be discharged this afternoon so I could get back home today.”
The doctor looked skeptical as he looked his patient over from head to toe. “I’m not so sure you’re quite ready for that just yet John.” He said doubtfully.
But Johnny was more than prepared to plead his case. “Look Doc, I’m a paramedic, which means most of my friends are in the emergency field as well. They’re all either paramedics, policemen, doctors or nurses. I’m virtually surrounded by medical personnel. The only reason I was so elusive before about my contacts, was because my buddies were just starting a three day stretch of downtime. Now you being a doctor know how rare those occasions come along, and I just didn’t want to spoil their days off for them.
“If I had given you the name of the doctor I usually see at Rampart, you would have contacted him, and he in turn would have contacted my next of kin, who just also happens to be my paramedic partner. Now he was off enjoying his R & R with his wife and two small kids… so surely you can understand why I lead you to believe I had no one to call.
“The doctor that usually handles my health issues is Kelly Brackett out of Rampart General in Carson… and when he isn’t on call then Joe Early steps in for him. You can forward my file onto him, and he can take it from here on in…what do you say doc?” The young man looked up at the physician standing before him with his best pitiful and pleading look.
Upon hearing the names Kelly Brackett and Joe Early; Doctor Breckenridge raised his eyebrows in surprise.
“Well I must say; you hang out with the cream of the crop don’t you? Well, I suppose since you’ll be under the care of those two excellent doctors, I don’t have a problem with releasing you… but how will you get back to Carson? You certainly aren’t in any shape to drive? I guess we could send you to Rampart by ambulance”
Johnny grinned. “One of my best buddies is an emergency responder, and he will be more than happy to come and get me.”
Doctor Breckenridge gave Johnny a quick examination and then smiled. “Well, I guess under the circumstances, I don’t see why I shouldn’t turn you over to Kelly Brackett from here on in. I’ll have your release papers ready for you by the time lunch is over with.”
When the doctor finally left, Johnny lay back on his pillow and let out a sigh…thank heavens he didn’t question when I said emergency responder… after all a police officer is an emergency responder… just not a medical one. He’d ask for forgiveness for yet another sin of omission later. Right now he had to get a hold of Drew.
Johnny was just about to ask for an outside line so he could dial his friend at home, when Rob came in with his lunch tray.
“So, I hear you’re getting sprung this afternoon…congratulations. I was afraid that you wouldn’t be sprung until I was off duty and I’d miss the chance to say goodbye to you.”
Johnny grinned, “Thanks Rob. So you’re scheduled for some down time are you?”
“You bet,” said Rob. “I get off at three and then I’m heading to my place to grab my suitcase and then I’m off to the bus station. I’m heading down to Torrance for three days. My big brother is getting married on Wednesday, and I’m the best man… I only hope my tuxedo doesn’t get crushed on the bus trip down.”
Johnny’s face slowly broke into a sly smile. “Soooo Rob, do you know how to drive a stick?” he asked, while dangling his keys between his intact index finger and thumb.
It was twenty minutes before roll call on Tuesday morning, and Roy sat at the kitchen table in Station 51, sipping on a cup of coffee. Mike and Marco had just arrived and were changing in the locker room. Captain Stanley and Captain Hookraider were still in the office going over last minute issues before Hookraider officially handed over the reins to Hank.
Neither Chet nor Johnny had arrived yet, and Roy had his entire attention focused on looking out the window of the back door in hopes of seeing Johnny’s Rover coming pulling into the parking lot at any moment. He hoped he arrived early enough so he could pull him aside and apologize for taking his irascible and bad tempered attitude out on Johnny the entire last shift.
He had gone by Johnny’s place earlier but there had been no sign of the Rover. Roy just figured that Johnny had simply arrived home too late the night before to stop and pick up any groceries, so he had probably just gone out for breakfast before coming into work. And whenever Johnny was camping because he was upset about something, he tended to prolong the trip as long as he possibly could.
He had done that before on some of his camping trips, when he had arrived home rather late in the evening only to discover that the milk had gone sour and the bread was stale… although usually he begged a free meal off of Joanne on those occasions. But in light of how upset Johnny had been at the end of last shift, Roy knew why he’d chosen to go to a restaurant this time… it was a situation he hoped to soon rectify.
It had always been Johnny’s custom to go off alone quite frequently. Roy quickly realized that sometimes it was to refocus after a hard shift. Sometimes it was simply to immerse himself in the joys of being out in nature. And sometimes it was for reflection on life in general. But at times like now it was because he was hurt and unsure, and he had gone away so he could lick his wounds in private.
When all wasn’t right in Roy’s world, he needed to tackle the problem head on and find a solution. Johnny on the other hand needed silence, distance and time to reflect and regain his footing. His background of abuse and being all alone in the world had fostered that attitude. So when he was faced with emotional turmoil, like Roy suspected he was now, Johnny would retreat to safer ground.
Brackett hadn’t been at all happy when Roy had to phone him back and tell him that Johnny had taken off for parts unknown, when he had been ordered to rest, and was probably in need of some stronger antibiotics than he was currently on.
Joanne had been more understanding, when he confessed what he had said to Johnny in anger, and that Johnny had taken off at the end of their shift without anyone seeing him, and he had now disappeared up into the mountains somewhere. Joanne had admitted that she had to take part of the blame for putting Roy in a foul mood in the first place. She then put the filet mignon back into the freezer declaring that on their next day off, they would have an, ‘I’m sorry’ as well as a thank you barbeque for Johnny. She’d even make him his favorite apple pie.
Roy was still lost in thought, when Captain Stanley came out of the office and walked over to Roy. “How’s John doing pal? How serious are his injuries. HQ was a bit vague on the details… I was shocked when I came in and was informed that he had hurt himself over the weekend and would be out on medical leave for at least eight weeks… why didn’t you call me when it happened?”
Roy just stood there shell shocked, his mouth gaping open in surprise. After a few seconds he found his voice and turned to face his Captain head on. “WHAT? What do you mean he’s on medical leave for eight weeks? No one told me anything? Are you sure it’s Johnny?”
Just then his partner for the day entered into the kitchen and looked around. “I’m looking for Captain Stanley and Roy DeSoto… I’m Clifford Ashcroft and I’m John Gage’s replacement while he’s off on sick leave.”
Hank Stanley, as well as the others, were taken aback… they were almost as shocked to find out that Roy was just as much in the dark as they were about Johnny’s obvious accident, as they were to learn Johnny had even had an accident.
Roy immediately assumed he had been in a car accident. That would explain why his Rover wasn’t in the parking lot. But why hadn’t the hospital called him? He was Johnny’s next of kin and should have been called right away.
“What did HQ say Cap… was it a car accident?” Roy asked after giving just the briefest nod to the newly arrived Clifford.
“They didn’t say, they just said they had received a medical report late Saturday that Johnny had been admitted to a hospital and that he was not expected to recover enough to return to duty for at least the eight weeks … but I don’t know any more than that. Sorry pal.” He said apologetically.
Roy couldn’t wait until roll call was over. He wanted to get over to Rampart and ask why he hadn’t been called. Even if Johnny was upset with him, he didn’t think he would tell Dixie not to call him… and he certainly knew if he had, Dixie would have talked him out of it.
The moment Cap had finished with the announcements, Roy walked over and told Cap that he wanted to go and replenish the squad’s supplies at Rampart.
Hank couldn’t help but smile. He knew full well the squad was fully stocked this morning, as the log had clearly shown that C shift’s paramedics had made a run just before bed the night before and the squad hadn’t been called out on a run all night.
“Sure thing Roy, go ahead. Oh … and if he’s up to it, tell that twit to call me here at the station.”
Roy grinned back at his Captain. “I promise Cap, I will.”
Then his face sobered as he added quietly… “If he’s up to it.”
Roy rushed through the emergency doors of Rampart and the first people he seen were Dixie, Joe and Kelly Brackett. Roy didn’t even bother with the niceties of greeting his friends. He simply walked up to the desk and asked. “Where is he… how bad is it, and why wasn’t I called?”
Kelly Brackett had been expecting this because not half an hour ago, Johnny’s medical report had arrived at his office via courier from Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks. He had already called Roy’s home, and when he wasn’t there he had called the station, only to be informed by Captain Stanley that Roy was already on his way over to Rampart because he had assumed Johnny was there. Captain Stanley had informed Kel that Roy was just as much in the dark as everyone else…which Kel had thought was odd. Why hadn’t Johnny told someone to notify Roy?
Kel and Joe took Roy into Brackett’s office and handed over Johnny’s file to the now agitated paramedic. As Roy read over the list of things that were wrong with his partner, several facts stuck out to him.
First of all, Johnny had been ill as well as injured in that tremor on Saturday afternoon, when he had been caught in an apparent landslide. And second, he had been released the day before, but it was clear that the doctor who had released Johnny was under the impression Johnny wasn’t going to be alone. Which was a good thing, because looking over the list of his injuries, Johnny was going to need some help for quite some time. So the big question now was… “Where the hell was he and why didn’t anyone call me? Who took him from the hospital and where did they take him?”
Roy hadn’t been aware that he had voiced the string of questions out loud, until Brackett answered him.
“That’s what I want to know Roy. He was still running a slight fever and on antibiotics for dysentery and an upper respiratory infection when he was released yesterday afternoon. I also want to keep a close eye on those fractures.”
Roy continued to scan over the medical report. Apparently he had had to walk out to the nearest ranger’s station before he had received any definitive care.
His eyes scanned the report some more. His heart sank when he read the line that said … next of kin. Beside it somebody had clearly written, patient says he has no living family left.
The fact that he had made Johnny think that he was no longer part of his family struck Roy as if he had been physically slapped across the face. He began to fully understand just how deeply affected Johnny had been by his harsh words.
Of course he should have known that; Johnny had had a lifetime of that kind of treatment at the hands of those who were supposed to be his family. In his anger, he had hurled out his angry barbs towards Johnny like daggers. Obviously those cold, cruel barbs had found their mark, piercing his partner’s heart.
Roy read the words on the admittance forms from Los Robles hospital once more … ‘patient says he has no living family left’. Damn… what had he done? He had hurt someone he cared about, all because of a quarrel over something as stupid as spaghetti.
Hadn’t he and Joanne spent months trying to convince him that he was part of their family… and all Johnny had wanted to do was help his family not to be angry at each other… he’d seen too much of that already in his life. His actions were born out of a genuine concern for those he cared about, and Roy had repaid that concern with venom. He wished to heavens that he could go back and relive their last shift… in retrospect he would have handled things differently.
Johnny had been seriously injured and felt he had to go through it alone… he hadn’t even felt like he could call Roy for a ride home.
“Damn it.” This time he spoke the curse out loud for everyone in the room to hear.
Dixie walked over and put her hand on Roy’s arm in a sympathetic gesture.
Kel put down Johnny’s file and looked over at Roy. “There’s obviously something else going on here that I’m not aware of…Is there something wrong that I should know about?” he asked.
“No, Doc… at least nothing about you. It’s about us … Johnny and I … or more specifically me.”
“What’s wrong Roy?” asked Dixie.
Roy walked over to the couch and sat down heavily. “I’m what’s wrong Dix … I screwed up with Johnny.”
“Come on Roy, everyone knows how close you two are … it can’t be so bad that you two can’t repair it, can it?”
“Johnny, didn’t break it, I did. Oh not intentionally, but I did break it. I did something … no I said some things I shouldn’t have said, and I upset him. That’s why he took off to the mountains on the weekend in the first place. Whenever Johnny’s upset he goes up into the mountains to be alone and think.”
Dixie came over to the couch and sat down beside Roy. “Look Roy, I know how you feel about Johnny, and I’m sure he does too, and I know you’re not the type of person to say anything too bad.”
Roy looked down at his hands and shook his head. “That’s the problem Dixie; I said something that made Johnny question whether or not we still even have a friendship…that’s why he didn’t call me when this happened. That why he told them what he did when they asked him for his next of kin.”
“You guys aren’t thinking of ending your partnership are you?” Kel asked his voice full of concern.
Roy’s head jerked up and he answered quickly. “No, absolutely not; I made this mess and I’m going to fix it, but it’s going to be up to me. I doubt Johnny’s going to make the first move. If anything he’ll close himself off and pull away… But I’m not going to let that happen,” he added quickly.
“But I have to handle it just right. Winning Johnny’s trust isn’t the easiest thing to do. I have it, or at least I did, but I think I’ve kind of shook its foundations, and now I need to go around and patch up the cracks in the mortar. But I gotta be the one who does the work to fill in those cracks, because I’m the one who put them there.”
“Well, I just want him located and brought here as soon as possible.” Bracket stated. “I’m more than a little concerned about his health.
“I gave him specific orders on Friday night to take it easy and rest over the weekend. He already had some congestion in his lungs and that was before I even realized about the threat of those other issues … which clearly surfaced since it he’s had to be treated for dysentery, which is why I ordered him to lay around and rest.
“So what does our impetuous friend decide to do? He goes for a hike in the Santa Monica Mountains, which is hardly my idea of resting.” The doctor was clearly frustrated and angry.
“Doc,” Roy broke in. “It’s my fault he went hiking… I’m the one who upset him.”
“I don’t care whose fault it is…besides he’s a paramedic and he certainly knows the difference between resting and hiking, no matter how upset he was.”
Dixie looked over and rolled her eyes. Sometimes she wanted to go over and smack Kel upside the head. There were times when his professional demeanor made him clueless to the fact that when people are upset and distressed, logical thinking isn’t always foremost in their minds.
Kel noticed Dixie’s look and understood the implied admonishment, and he immediately softened his stance.
“Look Roy, I’m just worried about Johnny. The stress on his body from fighting off an upper respiratory infection on top of the dysentery will be extremely taxing on his immune system, but now he’s added to it the trauma of multiple fractures, some of which required surgical correction.
“Right now his body is at risk of contracting any stray bug he comes in contact with. Even with the antibiotics on board. Not all illnesses are bacterial in nature … he’s going to be vulnerable to a whole host of viruses. And I want him in here where I can keep an eye on him until I’m sure he’s fine.
“I spoke to Dr. Breckenridge from Los Robles earlier, and he was under the impression that our wayward friend was going to come directly here and check in with me when he was released yesterday… in fact that was the only reason he was allowed to be released in the first place
“I’ve tried calling his house several times in the last…” Kel looked down at his wrist watch… “Forty five minutes, and all I get is the busy signal.”
Roy spoke up at this point. “Then Johnny either took the receiver off the hook, or it was knocked off, because he hates talking on the phone. To John Gage any conversation that takes more than two minutes is too long.”
Kel grimaced. “Well I hope it’s the former and not the later of the two, but just in case something is wrong… I don’t suppose you have a key to Johnny’s apartment do you?” he asked.
Roy grinned. “Of course I do, but I’m on duty and we aren’t allowed to use the squad to run any personal errands. We can only respond to calls, restock supplies, or official departmental business.”
“Well that’s not going to be a problem. I’ll just call into your headquarters and tell them that I’m sending you on a welfare check to Johnny’s address. I’m also sending along an ambulance, because I expect you to bring him in… kicking and screaming if you have to. Although with his injuries I don’t think he’ll be able to put up much of a fight… I’ll be waiting for you at the base station. Now get out of here and go get your partner.”
“I sent your temporary partner into the doctor’s lounge to get a coffee and told him to wait for you there.” Dixie said, giving him a wink.
For the first time since he arrived, Roy had a genuine smile on his face. “Thanks guys… I can use the time in the back of the ambulance to start to repair things with him.” Roy stood up and made his way to the door. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.” He said and he walked out of Dr.Brackett’s office and headed to the Doctor’s lounge to pick up Clifford.
Johnny woke up on the Tuesday morning and looked at the clock that sat beside his bed. The bright red numbers on the illuminated face of the clock radio said ten seventeen. Hold on … that couldn’t be right, he’d never slept in that late… ever.
A wave of panic swept over him as for one brief moment the thought entered his mind that he was late for work. That thought was fleeting however; because the moment he tried to sit up, he became instantly aware of his casted arms, and the last three days came back to him in a rush of relief mixed with dismay. He had been injured… again.
Then he remembered the previous day. Rob had driven him home in the Rover. It had saved both men a lot of trouble and aggravation. In gratitude Johnny had told Rob he could make use of the Rover for the next three days while he was down this way for his brother’s wedding. Besides Johnny was paying extra each month for second party insurance on the Rover… he might as well take advantage of that fact… and he was grateful to his new friend. Otherwise he could well have ended up having to stay in the Los Robles hospital if Drew hadn’t been available to come and get him.
Johnny shifted himself up awkwardly until he was standing. Walking across the room in nothing but his boxers he made his way into the kitchen. Using his one good finger and thumb he latched onto the fridge door and pulled it open and managed to snag the container of milk.
Rob had stopped off at the grocery store and had picked Johnny up some easy to prepare food and a box of bendable straws. He had also had the foresight to remove the lid from the pill bottle that contained his prescription for antibiotics. Johnny had had it filled at the hospital pharmacy before he had left yesterday afternoon.
Using his two good digits, Johnny picked up one of his pills and popped it into his mouth. Then he thumbed open the opening on the milk carton, and inserted a straw, and took a drink to help swallow down the pill.
Johnny smiled again when he noticed that Rob had also opened up the box of pop tarts for easier access. Johnny picked up a couple of the strawberry flavoured pastries and inserted them into the toaster, and with his index finger pushed down the lever. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the breakfast of champions, but hey, any port in a storm right? Besides he really couldn’t be choosy these days.
Finally he decided he would tackle the coffee maker. He managed to get the filter in and he even did a fairly decent job of getting the coffee open and into the filter without too much of a mess. He left the coffee open, for easier access next time. Now for the hard part; he carefully lowered the glass pot into the sink underneath the faucet and using his finger and thumb, he managed to get the tap running. As soon as the water had reached a level full enough to produce at least two cups of coffee, Johnny shut the water off again. Now he had to somehow, without use of either hand, lift up the full pot and carry it over to the rest of the coffee maker, without spilling any water on his casts.
He soon found that it was going to be nearly impossible to complete his task. After several failed attempts Johnny heaved a sigh of aggravation… “This is hopeless” he muttered miserably. This latest disability exasperated him to no end. He was thoroughly disgusted with himself and his lack of ability to even make a simple cup of coffee.
He decided he would give it one more try before he gave up and went across the hall to ask his neighbor for some help. Gingerly he grasped the rim of the coffee pot between his index finger and his thumb and slowly began to lift it up out of the sink. He had almost made it to the desired destination, when the dampness of the edge caused the glass coffee pot to begin to slide out from between his fingers. As it headed out of his grasp and onto the floor Johnny made an instinctive grab for the coffee pot.
The sudden movement, in conjunction with his altered center of gravity caused by the heavy plaster casts, caused Johnny to lose his footing and he began to fall forward. He tried to shift his body weight to regain his balance, but it was too little, too late, and he went crashing down towards the floor, the side of his head met the counter with a crack and he fell into total darkness and lay still.
Johnny thought he heard the echoing sound of someone knocking on a door, and then he heard the far distant sound of a voice calling out his name forcing its way into his awareness … Johnny? Johnny? Are you in there Junior?
It was a familiar voice and for some reason he found the sound of it reassuring. Somewhere in the back of his mind a picture of a face began to slowly emerge … that was good, he knew that was a hopeful sign… and then finally his slightly addled brain produced a name to go with both the face and the voice … Roy!
With that last piece of information firmly in place the fog in his brain began to recede, and he remembered the last few days clearly.
Johnny, I’m coming in.
Suddenly the feeling of reassurance he had felt at the sound of that voice changed to trepidation. Roy was mad at him… he had called him a menace…oh shit.
Johnny moaned from the throbbing inside his head as he struggled to get up onto his feet. It was a task made almost impossible, due to the dizziness he was experiencing. The fact that he was being weighed down by two plaster appendages, didn’t help either. Johnny heard the distinct sound of a key being slid into the lock, and the click of the door handle being slowly turned.
He hadn’t even noticed that he was bleeding profusely from a gash on the side of his head, as he began to struggle frantically, in a blind panic to get up. The extra effort was only rewarded by a severe bout of coughing, and he began to gasp in an effort to catch his breath.
And that was the sight that greeted Roy as he and Clifford stepped through the door.
Roy stood frozen for the briefest of seconds as he took in the scene in front of him. There was Johnny, lying on his kitchen floor in nothing but his boxers. He was surrounded by water and broken glass… both his arms in casts, and there was blood running down the side of his face. He was pale and sweating as he gasped for breath while he was fought to get his coughing spasm under control. Roy quickly ran across the room and dropped to his knees beside the injured man.
“Bring me the oxygen and the drug box Cliff. Then open up the line to Rampart.”
Johnny’s coughing started to subside, but he was still taking in shallow gasps as he tried to get his breathing under control. Roy wasn’t sure if his breathing problems were caused from his respiratory infection or his struggles to get onto his feet.
“Whoa there Junior, how about you try and calm down a bit so I can help you out here.” Roy said as he grabbed his struggling partner by the shoulder in an effort to get him to sit still. He reached up and grabbed the clean towel off the counter and pressed it against the gash on the side of Johnny’s head in an effort to stop the bleeding. “Everything’s going to be alright, I’m here now… Did you hurt yourself anywhere else besides your head?” he asked trying desperately to mask his concern.
Johnny was aware that Roy was talking to him, but he was still a little slow to process what was being said to him. It took a few moments for him to understand the question Roy had asked him. “Roy?” was all he managed to get out between his gasps, although he was slowly getting his breathing under control again.
Roy took notice of the slightly glazed look in Johnny’s eyes and realized he was still fairly dazed. He gently felt around Johnny’s body and determined that other than the head injury, Johnny didn’t seem to have any other new injuries. He then checked the casts to make sure they hadn’t been damaged in the fall. He sighed in relief when it appeared as if they had come through Johnny’s little tumble unscathed.
By now Cliff had returned to the apartment with the biophone, drug box and the O2.
“Come on Junior; let’s get you out of all this water and broken glass.” Roy motioned over to Cliff to give him a hand in helping Johnny over to the sofa.
Johnny’s head was throbbing in time with his pulse, and his stomach was starting to feel a bit iffy, and he wasn’t convinced that trying to stand up and walk was going to be a good idea right at the moment. He was about to tell Roy that, when he felt someone grab hold of him under his left arm. Up until that moment he hadn’t been aware that anyone other than Roy was in the apartment with him.
He turned his head slowly and saw a man he had never seen before grabbing him. He was still dazed enough so that he didn’t fully comprehend what was going on, and he drew back in shock and panic at this stranger who was trying to manhandle him. “Who the hell are you?” he demanded.
Roy leaned into his line of vision, his eyes full of concern; he was really beginning to worry about Johnny’s mental status. “Johnny, he’s my partner for today. Remember, you’re on sick leave.” Roy reminded him gently.
Johnny stared at Roy, and slowly he began to comprehend the situation. He looked at Roy, with an appraising glance and realized for the first time, that his partner was in his uniform and not in civilian clothes. Suddenly the haze began to dissipate and his thoughts began to regain some clarity. “You’re on duty?” he asked.
“Yes, Junior, now how about you let us get you over to the couch and then I’ll get some oxygen on you… you’re still wheezing a bit.”
Johnny batted Roy’s hands away. “What are you doing here Roy; you know you’re not supposed to be visiting friends on company time, and I may be a bit fuzzy, but I know I didn’t call for a squad.”
Roy rolled his eyes; “This is an official visit Johnny. Brackett sent us over here to do a welfare check on you.”
Johnny groaned as he realized that Brackett was probably royally pissed off at him, for not checking in with him yesterday when he got back to L.A.
Roy and Cliff each grabbed Johnny under one of his arms and gently hoisted him up onto unsteady legs. The effect was instantaneous.
The moment he was lifted to his feet, it felt like the top of his head was sliding forward over his skull. Johnny valiantly tried to fight off the dizziness and forestall the inevitable as his stomach rolled. Unfortunately all of his efforts were to no avail and he broke out into a sweat as he leaned forward and vomited on the floor. Slowly the edges of his world began to grow dim, and the urgent words Roy was speaking to him, began to sound as if he were calling to him from down a long tunnel.
In his fading awareness, Johnny remembered that there was something he urgently wanted to say to Roy. “Roy?” he slurred.
“Shhh Junior,” said Roy as he tried to slip the oxygen mask in place while Cliff was getting a BP.
Johnny weakly tried to bat his hands away. “M’sorry Roy.” Johnny was beginning to fade out on Roy.
“Sorry for what?” Roy asked in confusion.
“Sorry, for bein’ a menace.” Johnny whispered as his eyes slid shut, and he sagged back into Roy's arms.
The next hours were fragmented as far as Johnny was concerned. He had vague, hazy recollections of an ambulance siren, an emesis basin being held in front of him while he vomited; lights that were painfully too bright for his eyes, and a string of what he considered to be asinine questions, that he really had no interest in answering.
In the end, despite the urgings of the voices surrounding him to stay awake; Johnny closed his eyes and let himself recede back into that lovely dark place where he was once again bereft of his senses and there was no agonizing thumping inside of his head.
The next time Johnny opened his eyes, he was lying in a hospital bed and it was clearly night time.
Roy was sitting beside him in a chair and he was now dressed in civilian clothes. He held a book open in his hands which he was pretending to read.
Johnny knew he was only pretending, because this scene had played itself out a few times before in his association with Roy… and he was always pretending. His eyes would be on the words in front of him, but his thoughts would be elsewhere.
“I’ll bet you, that if I gave you a test on what the plot of your book is about … you’d fail,” he said thickly.
Roy was unbearably weary. He had been sitting beside Johnny for hours anxiously waiting for him to return to full awareness. It had been ten hours since Johnny’s plaintive apology earlier that morning, just seconds before he had collapsed, falling limp and heavy into Roy’s arms. Roy had lain him down gently on the sofa, and finally managed to get the oxygen on him, while Clifford radioed in his vital signs to Rampart.
After that there had been a hive of activity inside his partner’s small apartment. The next several minutes had been a whirlwind of treating Johnny at the scene and getting him loaded into the
ambulance. For some reason the ambulance rides to Rampart always seemed to be interminably long whenever Roy’s victim just happened to be Johnny.
For the first hour, Roy had been running on autopilot, fueled somewhat by panic and guilt.
The entire morning was made appreciably worse when he and Cliff had been toned out to another run, while the x-ray technician was still in the treatment room getting a skull series on Johnny. That meant Roy had to leave Johnny before Brackett’s verdict came back.
What bothered Roy most; was the fact that this was the second time in five days Roy had left Johnny alone in a treatment room, without knowing if he was going to be alright.
It only added to Roy’s guilt when he had to admit to himself that the first time when he had abandoned Johnny in a treatment room alone on the Friday night after his dunking in the storm drain, it had been completely voluntary on Roy’s part.
Roy’s frustration continued to grow, when just as they were almost at the scene; word came over the radio from dispatch that the run had been cancelled. That meant, with no victim to transport to Rampart; Roy and Cliff were now headed back to the barn without any chance to get back to the hospital for an update on Johnny.
Roy probably would have lost his composure entirely, if it hadn’t been for Cap’s sagacity.
By the time the squad backed into the station, someone had obviously called Cap from Rampart to clue him in on the situation.
Roy had no idea who that someone had been, but he was willing to bet that it had been Dixie… she was famous for taking care of her paramedics; especially when those paramedics just happened to be John Gage and Roy DeSoto.
Roy had just exited the squad and was making a beeline for the telephone, when Cap stopped him and told him that he had already arranged for a replacement for Roy, and that he was officially off duty for the rest of the shift.
After thanking Hank profusely, Roy changed his direction and instead of heading to the phone, he went straight to his locker and changed out of his uniform… he’d phone Joanne from Rampart as soon as he knew the full extent of Johnny’s condition.
So now here he was sitting beside Johnny’s bed, with his traditional ‘waiting room book’ in hand, just waiting for Johnny to wake up.
Dr. Early had assured Roy that while Johnny had sustained a moderate concussion, he would be fine given time. Dr. Brackett had said that it had taken a dozen stitches to close the large gash on the side of his head, and he’d had to shave a small area of Johnny’s hair above his right ear in order to put in the sutures. Brackett had gone on to inform Roy that Johnny had been running a temperature of just over 102 when he arrived in the ER, but he had put it down to a combination of the trauma he’d been through that the morning, and his upper respiratory infection … which wasn’t responding as quickly to the antibiotics as they would like; but given Johnny’s weakness for pneumonia, it wasn’t entirely unexpected.
The good news had been, that the antibiotics had been quite effective at knocking back the dysentery, and it seemed like Johnny had put that problem behind him for good.
Brackett told Roy not to expect too much from Johnny in the areas of comprehension or awareness for the rest of the day. Johnny had been given a fairly hefty dose of anti-emetics for his vomiting, on top of the antibiotics he was on for his lung infection and meds to bring down his fever. When you added all that to recovery from broken bones and a concussion, it was to be expected that Johnny’s body would be exhausted and he would most likely spend the first day or so sleeping in between his neuro checks.
Thinking about Johnny’s last few neuro checks elicited a small chuckle from Roy. They had been interesting affairs in and of themselves.
The main reason for that was simply because; one of the more unpleasant aspects of John Gage’s personality, was that when he was woken up unexpectedly from a deep sleep, without being allowed to wake up naturally; he could be extremely irritable. The only exception to that rule was when he was called into wakefulness by the klaxons. The sound of the alarm bells always caused Johnny’s adrenaline to kick in and he had no time to think about being grumpy.
Now when you factored in all those things, and added to it, the fact that Johnny was feeling miserable at the moment because of all his medical issues; … well suffice it to say, waking John Gage up for neuro checks should have come with hazard pay, because right now his young partner was an extremely unhappy camper.
Normally Roy would have offered to wake Johnny up himself in an effort to spare the poor nurse, but it just so happened that Johnny’s nurse for the day was one of those ‘old school’ types that ran her ward and her patients as if she were in the army. And so her demeanor was more reminiscent of a drill sergeant than of an angel of mercy.
That was the reason why Roy was chuckling right now as he recalled the last few rounds of Johnny’s neuro checks.
When sick, tired or frustrated, Johnny tended to have an irrepressible temperament, which meant basically; that if he thought it…he said it.
So his drill sergeant nurse was dealing with a very grumpy and somewhat punch drunk patient, whose level of awareness was circumspect at best. This had resulted in Johnny not remembering to use his ‘edit button’ before he spoke, and that had led to some rather ‘candid’ responses on Johnny’s part. When he was awoken for his neuro checks, it was usually first punctuated with a few summary groans and moans, which quickly became interspersed with some fairly colorful invectives, just to make sure the nurse was aware of his displeasure at having been disturbed.
Roy was obviously not the only one who thought Johnny’s nurse had the aura of a drill sergeant, because on the last neuro check, Johnny had called his care giver a ‘Nurse Nazi” and claimed that as her prisoner, he wasn’t required to give her anything more than his name, rank and serial number … which in Johnny’s case ended up being his badge number, claiming it was his right as a POW.
That had caused Roy to laugh outright, which earned him a death glare from the nurse, but it had done a lot to relieve some of the tension Roy had been feeling all afternoon.
Thankfully right at the moment, Johnny appeared to be sleeping comfortably. His fever had come down to just under 101 and his nausea was now under control. Roy looked down at his sleeping partner and smiled. He never got used to how young Johnny looked when he was asleep, and it was even worse when he was ill or injured.
He couldn’t imagine life without him now… this young force to be reckoned with who had come crashing into his life almost three years earlier.
As he continued to watch Johnny sleep, Roy began to replay the last shift they had worked together. He recalled the angry words he had said to his little brother. Once again the guilt he had been feeling earlier rose to the surface of Roy’s emotions.
He wished he could have taken back all the angry words he had hurled at his partner. He also wished to high heaven that he had gone into the treatment room with Johnny when Cap had ordered him to be checked out by Dr. Brackett. If he had been in the treatment room with Johnny on Friday night, then he would have known about Dr. Brackett’s warning to Johnny about making sure that he spent his days off resting. That in turn would have meant that Roy would have insisted Johnny spend the weekend at his place so he could keep an eye on him, and he would have realized sooner that Johnny had taken the wrong inference in regards to Roy’s anger; and Roy would have been able to clear the matter up.
But he had just brushed Johnny aside because he was so preoccupied with some stupid argument. He hadn’t even bothered to inquire about what Brackett had told him regarding his little swim in the storm drain. Both of those actions had seemed small at the time, but they had only reinforced Johnny’s mistaken idea that he was no longer welcome as a member of the DeSoto family.
Roy; being the self-proclaimed King of self-castigation, had managed to work it all out in his mind, that Johnny’s accident this morning could be entirely traced back to him.
The way he had it figured; Johnny’s belief that he was no longer welcome at Roy’s had been the reason he had quietly snuck away at the end of their last shift, instead of going home for breakfast with Roy like he usually did.
And because of Roy’s words and actions; Johnny had been so upset that he had ignored Brackett’s advice and gone hiking instead of staying at home and resting. And if Johnny hadn’t been hiking, he would never had been caught in that landslide, and ended up in casts on both of his arms. And if he hadn’t been in those casts; Johnny wouldn’t have hurt himself trying to make coffee this morning.
Yep…the way Roy had it all figured out, this whole mess was entirely his fault.
He continued to sit there beside Johnny’s bed, staring blindly at the pages of his book.
He hadn’t read a single word of his book the entire time he’d been there… his mind was too busy playing the blame game.
And of course in Roy’s version of the blame game, he was always the one at fault.
He was so lost in those thoughts that he hadn’t noticed the pair of dark, semi-glazed eyes watching him from beneath heavy and drooping eyelids; which is why he nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard Johnny’s weak raspy voice say; “I’ll bet you, that if I gave you a test on what the plot of your book is about … you’d fail.”
Roy’s first instinct was to rush over to Johnny’s side and apologize for his behavior of recent days, and try setting things straight with his partner. But he wasn’t convinced that Johnny’s mental faculties were firing on all four cylinders at the moment, and he wanted to make sure that when he did give Johnny the apology he deserved, that he was not only capable of understanding the message he was trying to convey to him, but that he actually retained the memory of his having said it.
The quandary Roy was currently facing however, was that he knew where Johnny’s mindset was right now.
He knew that his partner was under the mistaken belief that Roy no longer thought of him as part of his family, and he wanted to at least be able to set his mind at ease on that score, for now … the rest could wait until he was more cognizant.
It was then the solution came to him. He quickly walked over to stand beside his ill and injured friend. He leaned over and gently placed his hand over the exposed part of Johnny’s fingers on his left hand and he gave them a reassuring squeeze, as he softly said the five words that he hoped conveyed the message of reassurance he wanted Johnny to understand right at that moment. “I’m right here … little brother.”
Johnny looked up at Roy and studied his face for several long moments, before he replied; his voiced laced with fear and a deep sadness. “Am I?”
Roy was taken aback by his reply. “I don’t understand Junior. What do you mean by, Am I?”
Johnny turned his head away from Roy and closed his eyes, as he quietly repeated; “Am I still your little brother?”
Roy had clearly seen the uncertainty and sadness in Johnny’s eyes, and his heart constricted when he heard Johnny’s plaintive question.
Gone was the usually brash, bold, self-confident young man he was used to.
This tired and pale version of Johnny sounded for all the world like a lost, scared little boy.
It broke Roy’s heart to know that he was the one who had put that fear in Johnny’s heart.
Roy bit back the sob that was threatening to escape from his throat. His right hand released Johnny’s fingers and moved to take hold of Johnny’s chin in order to turn the young man’s head so that they were once more looking at each other.
“You never stopped Junior ...” Roy was unable to hide the moisture in his eyes or the catch in his throat as he spoke. “… and when you’re up to it, the two of us are going to have a long conversation, and get some things straightened out between us…”
Johnny looked up a Roy, he looked fearful and nervous.
Roy took hold of Johnny’s exposed fingers again and gave them yet another light squeeze of reassurance, as he continued to speak to Johnny, never breaking eye contact with him. “I’ve got some explaining… and some apologizing to do to you … little brother …” he finished, putting the emphasis on the words, little brother.
Once again Johnny just stared up at Roy for almost a full minute, before he let out another sigh.
Roy’s words slowly began to register in Johnny’s mind, and even in its muddled state, the implication of what those words meant began to really sink in. Roy had called him, little brother.
Those words were like music to Johnny’s ears, and a soothing balm for his aching soul.
His tired eyes closed once more; as he slipped back into the land of nod with the full knowledge all was going to be right in his world once more.
It was just before eleven when Dr. Early came in and ordered Roy to go home and get some sleep.
So far Johnny’s neuro exams had been fine, and they would be dropping them down to every four hours now… if he did well; and Dr. Early was positive he would; then they would stop them altogether when the shifts changed at seven the next morning. After that they would let Johnny get some much needed uninterrupted sleep.
Roy walked over and looked at his sleeping partner one last time before he reluctantly left.
He went home and fell into a deep but uneasy sleep. His dreams were plagued by the scene he had walked into in Johnny’s apartment that morning; but even worse he kept replaying the few words that Johnny had spoken to him that day.
He kept hearing Johnny apologize for being a menace over and over in his dreams. And when he wasn’t hearing that he was replaying the look of sadness and fear in Johnny’s eyes as his voice, weak with the meds and his illness asking him sadly; Am I still your little brother?
When Roy did finally wake up at eight the next morning, he was just as exhausted as he had been when he had fallen asleep just after midnight.
Roy wasn’t the only one whose thoughts had been dwelling on their argument. Johnny had had a few restless moments of introspection as well.
The nurse had come in and had roused him for his last neuro check at seven that morning… the only change was that this time when she left, Johnny hadn’t immediately fallen back asleep. This time when he woke up, Johnny had become aware that Roy was no longer in the room with him.
Of course he would have gone home to Joanne and the kids for some much needed sleep.
It was while he was lying there alone for the first time in almost twenty four hours, that Johnny had a chance to seriously ponder over everything that had transpired in the last week.
He definitely remembered the brief exchange he’d had with Roy the night before. And he had been relieved to hear the words Roy had said when he’d assured Johnny that they were still family… but the fact still remained that Roy had even said such hurtful things to him in the first place.
Johnny understood why Roy was angry with him; he had tried to help and only ended up making things worse. In retrospect he could see now that he had interfered with something that was really none of his affair. It was just that he hated to see family fighting. Even after all these years it still unsettled and even in some ways frightened him to see his family angry at each other.
He knew logically that his fears were unfounded. His new family was nothing like his old family… at least not his grandparents. The truth was Johnny could never remember his mom and dad being angry with each other. As an adult he knew they probably had had arguments from time to time, but if they had, they had done it out of sight and sound of their son… so when he had heard about Roy and Joanne’s tiff, it had sent his mind running a bit wild.
In his head he knew those feelings weren’t logical… but then again, when were feelings ever based on logic?
It wasn’t Roy’s anger that had shaken him so badly… it was Roy’s choice of words. Roy had called him a menace… and then when Johnny had said Joanne seemed grateful to him, Roy had told him; she didn’t mean it she was only being polite. These were phrases he had heard before, and they did not conjure up good memories.
Why had Roy used those particular words? Somewhere in the darkest recesses of his mind, his insecurities and doubts began to rear their ugly head. Had Joanne just been acting polite for Roy’s sake this entire time?
Joanne was an inherently kind woman… it would be just like her; and what about Roy? Was there actually a part of Roy that had grown weary of Johnny and his quirks? Was Roy now hanging on to the family part of their friendship out of habit, or some sense of duty… or even worse, because it was what his social conscience dictated he do?
Johnny sighed. He may not have much, but he did have his pride, and he wasn’t about to hang around and be someone’s charity case, or pet project to help the socially downtrodden.
He was still sitting there deep in thought; his features schooled into a frown; when he heard Dixie’s voice cut through his musings…
“Okay Johnny… Spill it.”
Johnny looked up in surprise.
“Huh?” he asked.
“What’s got you so worried? By the look on your face, something sure has.”
Johnny gave a halfhearted smile and tried to bluff his way out of it. “Nothing Dix… I’m just really over tired and feeling a bit rough around the edges is all.”
Dixie subjected Johnny to a long penetrating glance. “Nope … I’m not buying that one Johnny … not in the slightest. Something is definitely wrong. Why else would you be sitting there looking like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders… like you’ve just lost your best friend?”
Johnny didn’t answer for some moments and then he finally glanced up at Dixie.
The moment she looked into the young man’s eyes she knew her words had hit close to home. It was then she recalled Roy’s conversation from the previous day.
Roy had told her and Dr. Brackett that he had said something to hurt Johnny enough to make him head for the hills…but what? It was clear Roy was right. Johnny was obviously upset about something. Otherwise he would have told Dr. Breckenridge that Roy was his next of kin and it would have been Roy who had gone up to get him and bring him back home. In fact Johnny would have either been at the DeSoto home under their watchful eyes or Roy would have made him come to Rampart, instead of going home alone to his empty apartment.
Finally Dixie decided to plunge head long into the issue…after all she thought, in for a penny in for a pound. And these two men meant a hell of a lot to her. “This wouldn’t happen to be about a certain disagreement you and Roy had recently would it?” she inquired.
Johnny frowned. “It wasn’t a disagreement Dix; it’s more like me wearing out my welcome with Roy and Joanne.” Johnny said grimly.
Dixie sat down on the side of the bed and patted his leg. “Well now I don’t believe that. That could never be true. Roy may have lost his temper, but he would never ever want to lose you as his brother.”
“How do you know Dix? What makes you so sure? You didn’t hear what he said to me.”
Because Mr. Gage; I have just spent a good part of the last twenty four hours with Roy, and I can tell you he was frantic to find you. When he found out you were hurt he was down here like a bat out of hell demanding to know where you were and why he hadn’t been called.
“Then when we got the medical report from Los Robles and discovered that you had been released the day before and no one knew where you were or who had brought you here… well he was beside himself with worry… and guilt.”
“Guilt? What for? He didn’t screw up Dixie… it was all my fault.”
Dixie shook her head in disbelief. “I’m not sure which one of you two boys takes the prize for misplaced guilt…right now I’d have to say it was a toss up. Look enough is enough. Now I’m going to sit here and you’re going to tell me the whole sordid tale from start to finish, and then we’ll get this all straightened out once and for all… now start talking.”
For the next half hour Johnny sat and related the entire last week’s events to Dixie, leaving nothing out. He even told her about the events in the mountains, the Los Robles hospital and his ignominious tumble in his apartment the day before.
When he had finished Dixie got up and brought him some water and fluffed up his pillows. When she was finished she resumed her position on the side of his bed. “Well, I guess I can see how you might misconstrue what happened… especially since you’ve spent most of your life alone with no experience of real family life. But Johnny…that’s all it is. You’ve just misinterpreted those events.”
“How do you mean? I was right there and I know what I heard Dixie.”
Dixie smiled. “Johnny, have you ever heard the song, You Always Hurt the one you Love?”
Johnny looked confused. He wasn’t too sure where Dixie was going with this. “Yeeeeah,” he warily replied.
“Well, that’s what’s happened here. Sometimes we get so used to having our loved ones around us day in and day out, that we begin to take them for granted. We get so comfortable with being around them that we get careless with some of the things we say and do. All of us fall into the trap where we tend to save our best manners for strangers.”
“I don’t get it Dixie”
Dixie snorted in frustration. “That’s the trouble with men… you’re totally clueless seventy five percent of the time.”
She tried to explain it again. “Okay, think of it this way. Let’s say you and your shift mates go out for some special dinner to a fancy restaurant. The first thing you do is you dress up nice and use your very best manners around the waiter and other patrons. But when you’re just kicking back with Roy or the other guys while you’re camping, you are so comfortable around them; your manners tend to be less refined. You talk louder; your conversation is more unrestrained; as are the topics you will discuss most of the time.”
Both Dixie and Johnny sniggered.
“You boys are more likely to scratch and burp and even shall we say… relieve yourselves of a little pressure when it builds up, without giving it a second thought. In short you do all the things you would never dream of doing when you are out near strangers in that expensive restaurant.
“It isn’t that you only care about their feelings while you’re out in public… it’s just that you don’t feel like you need to impress them, when it’s just you… you save your best manners for those folks in the expensive restaurant, even though at the end of the day, the waiter and the patrons are just nameless people you will forget as soon as you leave. But with your good friends, you can sometimes take that friendship for granted and get careless with your actions.
“Well, Johnny, the same things can happen with those you love too.”
Johnny got a bemused look on his face. “Ah Dix…are you trying to say Roy’s in love with me?”
Dixie rolled her eyes. “If you didn’t have a concussion and you’re arms weren’t covered in plaster, I’d smack you… Of course Roy isn’t in love with you… but he does love you. In fact his whole family adores you Johnny. You’re Roy and Joanne’s kid brother. And you’re Chris and Jenny’s Uncle Johnny.
“It’s just that he was having a bad day, and sometimes when you’re having a bad day, you can easily forget to check yourself when you’re upset and venting around folks you’re comfortable with… and you end up taking those frustrations out on those you feel closest to…because you don’t feel like you have to use your so called, public manners.
“Roy didn’t mean what he said Johnny, he was frustrated and he lashed out at the first scape goat he found, and unfortunately that was you.”
Johnny looked up at her thoughtfully. “Well, I did interfere when I called Joanne… but honestly Dixie, I just wanted to try and do something so they would stop fighting… I hate it when those I care about fight. It stirs up feelings and memories that I find unsettling… and a bit scary. I guess looking back on it, I did the wrong thing.”
Dixie reached over and brushed an errant hair off his forehead. “Maybe you did sweetie, but you did it for all the right reasons… and both Roy and Joanne know that. Just like deep down, you have to know Roy didn’t actually mean what he said to you… he was frustrated, and maybe even a bit insecure himself. No one likes fighting with those they love.”
Johnny thought some more and then his gaze softened and a huge smile of relief broke out on his face. “Thanks Dix… I feel a lot better now.”
Dixie stood up and smiled. “Good…now that we have that all settled, I’m going to go and get your breakfast and make sure you can manage it okay with your casts; especially the coffee.”
Johnny just snorted, and grinned sheepishly.
“And then you are going to get your meds and have a nice long nap… I told Roy not to come before this afternoon, so I expect you to spend the morning getting the rest you need.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Johnny grinned.
It was three hours later when Roy came walking up to the Desk where Dixie was working and stopped in front of her. “How’s Johnny doing this morning Dix?”
“He had a good breakfast, and his fever is down. The congestion is slowly clearing up as well. He’s still suffering from some residual dizziness and a headache, but that should resolve itself in the next couple of days.”
Roy grinned. “That’s good news Dix… I guess I’ll head on up and visit with him for a while.”
Before Roy had a chance to leave, Dixie reached out and snagged his shirt sleeve, and stopped him. “Actually Roy he’s asleep, and we want him to stay that way for as long as he can. Due to the neuro checks, he really didn’t get a chance to get any uninterrupted sleep last night. And he needs the rest. But I’ll tell you what, I’m due for my break now, so what do you say you and I head down to the cafeteria for some pie and coffee and a nice long talk.”
“Talk?” Roy raised his eyebrows questioningly.
“Yes, I had a nice long talk with your partner before breakfast, and now It’s your turn,” Dixie said as she came around to the front of the desk and linked her arm through Roy’s and lead him toward the cafeteria.
Roy carried the tray with their food over to a private corner on the outdoor patio and sat down across from Dixie.
Neither one of them spoke for a good minute. It was Dixie who finally broke the silence. “So, I’ve heard Johnny’s side of the story, about this trouble between the two of you… now let’s hear yours.”
Roy looked up in amazement. Johnny was usually so reticent about opening up to others. He wondered what Dixie had done to get him to open up to her. “How did you get Johnny to talk to you about it? He’s usually very tight lipped about his feelings.”
Dixie winked over at her friend. “You forget Roy; I’ve known Johnny longer than you have. I’ve known John Gage since he was an eighteen year old Boot, still wet behind the ears.
“Before he met you; I was the one he turned to. I know he hasn’t shared as much with me about his past, as he has with you… but I know enough to feel protective of him too. The point is, he was brooding this morning, which is not conducive to healing. So I got him to tell me the whole story. Now I want your version.”
Like Johnny had several hours earlier Roy told Dixie the story. The only difference being that Roy’s didn’t include the trip up to Thousand Oaks… and of course in Roy’s version he placed the guilt squarely on his own doorstep.
When Roy had finished telling her his side of the story; Dixie looked over at him and shook her head. “Well, I must say between you and Johnny you have refined guilt down to an art form.”
Roy just sat playing with his coffee cup, saying nothing.
Finally Dixie sighed. “So you lost your temper, over reacted, and in the process you said some things you probably shouldn’t have said, and now you regret it. We’ve all done that at one time or another in our lives Roy. What makes you so different from anybody else? Did you honestly think you were perfect?”
Roy’s head shot up. “I’ve never said I was perfect…” he answered defensively.
“Then cut yourself some slack here Roy. What you said wasn’t terrible; it was a natural response to your frustration. Most folks would have just shrugged it off, but we both know there are special circumstances in Johnny’s past that make him a little more vulnerable. This family stuff isn’t second nature to him, and there are still some areas where he’s not yet proficient in all the different dynamics that come with being part of a family.This is new territory for you both. You’ve never had to deal with raising an orphan.”
Roy opened his mouth to interrupt, but Dixie stopped him.
“I know, I know. Johnny is a full grown man and not a child, but emotionally when it comes to the family business, he’s learning the ropes from you and Joanne. And it’s not something you’ve had to do when it comes to another adult. They usually come fully equipped with having had their parents’ guidance, and Johnny doesn’t have that.
“As I said before, this is new territory for you both, so there’s bound to be a few bumps in the road along the way. The two of you are just going through some growing pains right now. It happens in all new families… You and Johnny are dealing with your own very unique and special learning curve. I tried to explain it to Johnny this morning, and he seems to understand things a little bit better now. And he knows now that phoning Joanne wasn’t the best thing to do; but the fact that he did, is a testament to how comfortable and welcome you and Joanne have made him feel. He felt comfortable enough to be able to call and try to help his family out when he thought they needed it.
“And he obviously cares about you two as well, otherwise he wouldn’t have given a damn if you and Joanne were fighting or not. He just panicked when you and Joanne were angry with each other. Don’t forget, Johnny understands better than any of us what anger between family members can lead to.
“He knows what it’s like to lose your family and have no one left. He got scared and just wanted everything to be good again between you two.
“The bottom line is that you’ve both learned a valuable lesson from this whole experience. Now take what you’ve learned and move on. It’s time to put this behind you now.” Dixie leaned over and took the tray of empty dishes from in front of Roy and nudged his arm. “Now go on upstairs and talk to that brother of yours…”
Roy stood outside the door of room 417 and composed himself. As much as he knew Dixie was correct, he was still feeling like a louse for saying what he had to Johnny. Especially since he knew more than anyone else, the kind of verbal abuse that Johnny had been subjected to while he was growing up.
Slowly and carefully, Roy opened the door and peeked his head inside to see if Johnny was awake yet. Roy stuck his head inside the room; Johnny was just lying there looking pale and small. His eyes were closed and he appeared to be sleeping; so it came as a total to surprise when Johnny spoke.
“Are you coming in… or are you just going to play peek-a-boo at the door all afternoon?”
Roy pushed the door open wide and walked fully into the room.
Johnny opened his eyes and turned his head so he was facing Roy.
The two men eyed each other up and down for a few moments.
“I’m Sorry.” They both said at the same time.
An awkward silence hung in the air.
It was Roy who eventually began to speak first. “Look Johnny, I’m sorry about the things I said to you on Friday… I was way out of line, and I wouldn’t blame you for being angry with me.”
Johnny gaped at him incredulously. “Angry at YOU Roy? Where in the hell did you get the idea that I was mad at you?”
Roy looked over, his face showing his confusion. “Then why didn’t you tell the doctor’s up in Thousand Oaks that I was your next of kin? And why didn’t you call me and tell me what had happened?… and why didn’t you call me to come and bring you home? You shouldn’t have gone home alone.
“You never would have gotten hurt yesterday if you had been at home with us, where you belonged.”
Johnny looked down and picked at some imaginary lint on his blanket with his one good finger and thumb.
“I’m not angry at you Roy; I’m angry at myself.” Johnny quietly said. “I’m the one who opened up his big mouth and put his foot in it… not you. I’m the one who wore out my welcome. I didn’t tell the doctor you were my next of kin because I didn’t want them to call you. And the reason I didn’t want them to call you wasn’t because I was angry. It was because I didn’t want to give you any more reason to think I was a bigger pain in the ass than I already had been... and I figured you and Joanne had had enough of me barging into your lives.”
Roy began to realize just how truly devastated Johnny had been by his remarks and the guilt he had been feeling earlier began to rise up within his heart once more.
“I shouldn’t have said what I did to you Johnny, and I am sorry.”
Johnny shrugged self-deprecatingly. “Naw, I probably deserved it.”
Roy walked over and stood beside Johnny’s bed. “No, John. You didn’t deserve those words, and I really didn’t mean to say them to you.”
Johnny shook his head. “Yes you did Roy.”
“Johnny… you have to believe me…I didn’t.” Roy stammered out dismally.
Johnny looked up and smiled sadly. “Roy, it’s okay. I don’t blame you, and I do understand where it came from… well I do now anyway. You were frustrated, angry and upset because of your fight with Joanne, and then my well-meaning, but poorly timed blundering into your personal affairs just made it worse. It made you understandably angry with me. You did mean to say what you did…you may not have really believed what you said was true, and you may not have meant the words…but you did mean to say them ... even if you didn’t mean them. It’s alright, like I said I understand that now… we all vent, we all lose our cool from time to time. You just forgot to use your edit button. Hell, Roy how many times have you seen me get angry… but after I cool down a bit, I usually realize I over reacted.”
Roy sat on the edge of the bed, and by the look on his face; Johnny could tell that Roy still wasn’t convinced that this whole thing wasn’t his fault.
“Stop feeling guilty Roy…there’s absolutely nothing to feel guilty for.”
Roy was about to protest, but Johnny cut him off before he could speak.
“Do you want to explain to me why my own insecurities and big mouth are your fault?”
Roy began to pace back and forth across the hospital room as he began to explain his guilt to his partner.
“Johnny… I didn’t go into the treatment room with you on Friday night; and then I never even asked how you were or what Brackett said, and that was wrong. I know how messed up your childhood was, and I know you’re still figuring out this family stuff. And I should have known what my words would have sounded like to you. I know how it was for you in the past. I just shouldn’t have said what I did to you. You’ve had enough of that shit from your grandparents to last a lifetime.”
Johnny laughed bitterly. “Roy; there’s absolutely no way you can even begin to compare your words to my grandparents. You’re not even in the same league as them.
“If I had interfered with one of my grandparents fights by butting in the way I did with you and Joanne...? Well, let’s just say I’d still be lying in a hospital bed with both arms in casts, only it sure as hell wouldn’t be from any damned earthquake… although the ground would have shook.
“Besides I never cared that they were fighting. In fact to be totally honest with you, I could have cared less if they had beat each other to death. The only reason their fighting bothered me, was because of the trickledown effect. Somehow their anger always ended up on my doorstep.
“But Roy, what my grandparents did is not your fault, and my insecurities because of it, aren’t your fault either.”
Roy nodded slowly and then he looked up at his friend and brother. “You will be coming to our house when you’re released in a few days. There is no way you’ll be able to manage on your own for quite some time.”
Johnny shifted nervously in his bed. “Naw…I’ll be okay at home. Joanne doesn’t need to be putting herself out for my sake, just to be polite Roy. I understand how busy a mom with two small kids, a husband and an entire house to keep up and running smoothly can be, without having to look after a sick houseguest on top of all of that… I’ll manage just fine at my place.”
Roy’s face was crestfallen. “Aw hell Johnny, I’m sorry about that too. It never occurred to me that you would take my words literally until it was too late. Joanne was never actually mad at you. She knew why you phoned. It was me she was upset with. I was just trying to find a way to shift the blame onto someone else, rather than admit it was my comment to Joanne that had caused the fight in the first place. And unfortunately you just provided me with the perfect opportunity when you phoned her. But Johnny … Joanne loves you to death. You are just as much a brother to her as you are to me.
“Besides if you go suggesting to her that the only reason she is nice to you, is because you think she’s just doing it to be polite; I’ll have to tell her why you would think that. Then she’ll kill me for putting that stupid and false idea into your head in the first place. You gotta help me out here Junior or I’m a dead man. If you don’t come home and stay with us, Joanne’s going to know something’s up, and I’ll have to admit just exactly how much of an ass I was to you by telling you she was only acting polite with you. I was lucky to not feel her total wrath when I told her why you wouldn’t come home for breakfast with me on Saturday.”
The two men exchanged glances with each other and smiled.
“Okay Roy, you got a deal.” Johnny laid his head back on his pillows and soon his famous crooked grin appeared.
“So how on earth did the two of us end up like this, sitting in a hospital room, over something as stupid as spaghetti Roy?”
Roy chuckled as he pulled up the plastic chair and sat down beside the bed. “According to Joanne it’s because most men are clueless about that kind of stuff half of the time.”
Johnny grinned. “Only half? Well that’s not too bad Roy, because according to Dixie it was more like seventy five percent of the time… we must be improving,” he said triumphantly.
The two brothers fell into that easy and comfortable rhythm of conversation that they had always shared, and for the rest of the afternoon Johnny regaled Roy with fabulously embellished tales of his harrowing experiences over the past three days.
Standing outside the door of room 417, Dixie McCall smiled in satisfaction. It was good to see her two favorite paramedics back in sync with each other once more. She smiled as she listened to the sounds of laughing coming from inside the room. She decided to make sure to tell the duty nurse to make sure they were not disturbed. Right now the two brothers needed to share some much needed alone time.
She stood and listened to the happy sounds coming from the room for several more minutes, before she turned and made her way towards the elevator that would carry her back down to the ER. She needed to make a phone call to Joanne DeSoto and let her know that their plan had been a success, and that she should most definitely plan on having a houseguest when Johnny was released.
She leaned forward and pressed the down arrow.
Yes sir, she thought… those two boys could be totally clueless sometimes… but she wouldn’t want them any other way.
The door to the elevator opened up and Dixie stepped onto it. She knew the smile that was on her face would remain there for the rest of the day.
Published to Site 12/28/11
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