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Seasons of Change

An Emergency Story By

Alana
 

 

There is a song that says life goes on…another says it was a very good year…for the Gage and DeSoto family’s major changes are coming but one thing will always remain constant…their bond as a family.

 

                                                                 

 

Part 1

 

Winter …a Season of Joy and where changes begin…

 

 “Jingle, jingle jingle all day…”   Johnny was lying on his stomach next to the brightly lit Christmas tree.  The new ornaments blended in with the old ones to make it cheery and inviting.   Chloe was happily “singing” along with her daddy as she shook the red and green elastic band with gold and silver jingle bells firmly attached.  Lee wheeled herself into the living room.

 

“Boyo, I think the word is way not day.”  She giggled at the look he gave her.

 

“That is my version of the lyrics, thank you…  Ladybug liked it, didn’t ya?”  He pushed himself up onto his knees the grabbing the smiling baby stood up with ease and grace.  

 

Lee’s heart melted at the grin he gave her;  watching him move so quickly and gracefully she again was reminded of a powerful jungle cat.  No wonder Dixie McCall had nicknamed him Tiger so long ago.  Lee cringed as Chloe laughed as her daddy swung her up over his head.   Not because she had any fear of him dropping her but just because it seemed so high up in the air.

 

“Go change into the sweats I got you the other day then we’ll go run errands.   While you’re changing, I’ll change this one.”  He walked over to Lee and kissed her lightly.   “Be sure to put on warm socks, not cute ones, ok?”

 

“Yes, sir.”  She gave him a salute and he just laughed as he went on down the hall.  She turned and followed a few minutes later after gathering up toys from the blanket and folding it neatly before putting it in his recliner.

 

 While temperatures in the low 40’s and extended periods of rain had inconvenienced many of the people living in L.A.  The weather had presented a more fundamental problem for some.  When the weatherman had started talking about the cold front coming into the L.A, area, Johnny had gone to his favorite sports store and bought Lee several pairs of heavy duty sweats. 

 

  He knew anything below 70 degrees increased the pain in her back and legs and made moving more difficult for her because of increased stiffness in her muscles.  He now felt an increased aching in his left knee and leg when the weather was changing after the last injury to the often-injured knee and leg.

  

The errands were done so Johnny stopped at a small diner near the house and picked up lunch, barbecued pork sandwiches they served with their special coleslaw on top of the meat.   (Chloe got some mashed potatoes and green beans.)

 

“So, have everything you want bought and wrapped?  Except for the stuff, we got today, I mean.”  Johnny asked as they sat down to eat.   “Did you decide what we are having New Year’s Day?”

 

“All the out of state packages was shipped last week…I’ll worry about New Year’s after Christmas.”

“You sure you don’t mind having a New Year’s Day party instead of doing something on New Year’s Eve?

“I love the idea of having a relaxed l day with friends…I figure it’ll be about 4 before everyone one gets here but I’ll have stuff ready earlier… “

 

“You aren’t going to miss getting all dressed up and going somewhere fancy?”

 

“Nope;  you’ll have to set up the video game in the sun room.  And put a second television and VCR in there so they can play games and still watch movies if they want.  I think I am going to fix sauerkraut and pork and chick peas…Mama Lopez told me you are supposed to eat 12 grapes at midnight for good luck in the new year…or eat lentils…I may look up some more good luck traditions just for fun.”  She looked puzzled at Johnny laughing.   “And what is so funny?”

 

“You  Sweetheart.   I think you just said you weren’t going to worry about New Year’s till after Christmas and then tell me all these plans.”

 

“Those aren’t really plans they’re pre-planning plans.”   This made him laugh even more.  

 

“You never cease to amaze me…Me and Chloe are pretty lucky you chose us to love.”

 

“I think we chose each other to love and Chloe is that miracle we both prayed for.   Sometimes I wake up at night and just listen to her breathing. I know we would be fine just the two of us but she is the blessing that completes us,” Lee told him.

 

 He had a tight hold on her hand.  “You know some might see it as a mixed blessing. There is always gonna be those who can’t see past her being Cheyenne and me being a half breed.”

 

 “So, help me, John Roderick, if I ever hear you call yourself that again, I’m gonna wash your mouth out with soap.  The strongest nastiest smelling soap I can find.”  

 

 “I guess I just worry about you and Chloe being hurt because of my...my being bi racial.”  He used the more politically correct term to see her reaction to it.  She didn’t look happy but she didn’t threaten him with the soap.  He gave her a smile and a wink. He had been waiting for a chance to talk to Lee about the letter they had received from Mitch Sherman a few days ago.

 

Lee knew he was upset about the letter they had received from Lame Deer’s mayor and city council concerning the money they had donated to the town’s fire department.   The wording of the letter had been insulting in a subtle manner.  It implied that the money given to the town had been to buy a child, that Chloe’s adoption had been unethical if not illegal.  

 

 Mitch Sherman reminded her they had mentioned an ongoing contribution to the city and he was pushing a new town hall be built with WBSF money.

 

“I want Chloe to be proud of her heritage just as you are proud of both of your parents.  We’ll deal with the future when it happens.  Mitch Sherman and his friends will never get control of any money we send to Lame Deer.   The clinic and the fire department will always have that control.   The college will be getting more for the scholarships for the development of innovative programs in the trades as well as in the tribal history.  The day care center and the preschool program will receive funds in memory of Anna and Mark.  The package of toys and learning supplies were sent last week…along with a gift card so they could buy any needed winter clothing.  Micha and James got money to stock up on food and other things they felt might be needed to make the winter a little more comfortable for any family on the reservation.”  She smiled at him as he gave Chloe a green bean.   “I’ll never stop you from going there anytime you think it’s necessary.  But I can’t promise I would go with you…Or feel safe with you taking Chloe.   That may not be fair to you or her great grandmother but it’s the way I feel.   To be honest, I’m not sure I’d   feel it is safe for you to go there.”

 

“I don’t see any reason why I would want to go there or to take Chloe there …    It’s toxic…and I don’t see it changing anytime soon.  Let’s get this one cleaned up and settled for a nap. “ 

 

  “Sounds like a winner.”  She was glad to see the laughter return to his eyes.  She had known that the letter had bothered him as much as it had bothered her.  She had just been waiting for him to bring it up once he had worked out what he wanted to say.  His mixed heritage wasn’t an issue for her or anyone who was important in their lives.  She had given the letter to Ken Malansky, a lawyer who was also a friend.  He would take care of the veiled threats with a few not so subtle comments of his own.   She let out a long deep sigh.

 

“Ya know, Boyo we chose some of the strangest times to have serious really serious conversations.  I wonder why?”

 

“Because we don’t choose to have them, we let them happen when we feel we can do it in natural rational mature way.”

 

“A very grown up and articulate statement from someone who doesn’t even know the words to Jingle Bells,”  she giggled and the seriousness dissolved away.  “Your daughter has mashed potatoes in her hair.”  While they had been talking somehow Chloe had reached the small bowl of potatoes setting on the table.    She cleaned the baby’s face and hands then tried to clean some of the potatoes from her hair with the warm wash cloth she had brought to the table

 

“I guess we should be thankful there wasn’t any gravy on them.”   Johnny said as he picked up the not so patiently waiting little girl.  “Ladybug, I see another bath in your future then a nice long nap for you and your mommy.”

 

“Only if Daddy takes one too.”  Lee said cocking her head to the side and giving him a smile. 

 

                                            

 “Morning’, morning’, morning,’” a very animated Johnny Gage said as he entered the locker room at Station 51.     Ignoring the mumbling and somewhat grouchy Chet Kelly, he started to change into his uniform.  Roy came into the room and Johnny greeted him then said, “Did you ever find the perfect gift completely by accident?  I mean even if I had tried to find something so perfect I could never find anything better…”   

 

Laughing to himself Roy just smile and nodded at his friend knowing Johnny wasn’t going to stop talking long enough for him to answer.   Chet muttered something under his breath about overly cheerful pigeons.

 

“While she was looking at antique glassware I went upstairs to the furniture room…just walking around being bored ya know how it is.”   Roy nodded knowing how easily Johnny got bored just standing around waiting.   “Anyway, there was this really great black iron shelving unit…Lee loves black wrought iron candle holders and stuff like that.   It would fit perfect where she has that table with all the plants on it….and she’ll have room to add more plants…and there was this cool wall candle holder ….and an outdoor bench that will look really cool out by the front door, ya know where she has that little garden… …anyway they are going to deliver it when she is at work.  Kathy is gonna let them in the pool house.   You and Jo weren’t home when I called so I called Kathy…I figured you and me can move stuff into the house Christmas Eve….”

 

“Good Lord, Gage don’t you   ever stop to take a breath or let someone else say something?”  The grouchy linesman spat out as he clomped out of the locker room.

 

“Pleasant fellow, isn’t he?”  Roy commented as he finished dressing.   “Jo said Suzi told her she wasn’t sure if she would be dating him much longer.  They’ve been going together for what—over 3 years now?”

 

“Yeah…Hope they work it out.  They make a good couple.”   Johnny had an idea that Chet was more fond of Suzi than he wanted anyone to know.

 

Roll call was called and as soon as the announcements and chores were assigned the paramedics did their daily checks.   Johnny was cooking so they asked Cap if they could stop off at the store on their way back from Rampart.   Hank had no objections and they left.

 

“So, what are you cooking today?”  Roy asked as they made their way to the hospital.

 

“French onion soup and roast beef sandwiches for lunch and stuffed pork chops and parsley potatoes for dinner.   Not sure what veggie   besides the potatoes…maybe carrots or broccoli.  Lee made this great salad with broccoli the other night…She was gonna make a cake for today but we lost track of time yesterday after we got home from the store.   After Chloe went down for her nap we began working on our calendar for this year.   It took longer than we thought…”

 

“Because you spent so much time talking about the pictures?  Jo and I have that problem when she   tries to get me to help her put all the pictures in the albums, we have a photo bug friend who gives us so many great pictures of the kids we always have a box that needs to be put in the book.   Jenny is much better about keeping up her photo journal and Chris’ sport album is always spot on.”

 

Once they were back at the station it didn’t take Roy long to make the beds and sweep and mop the dorm.   Johnny   got his soup made and put into the crock pot to simmer before cleaning the kitchen and day room.   The morning was surprisingly quiet.   They were just about to sit down to lunch when Chief McConnikee came into the station.    “Afternoon all.   Hope you don’t mind this intrusion on your meal time.”  The Chief said with a grin, “Smells good.”

 

“Not at all.  Would you like to join us?  There’s plenty.”   Cap said as he stood up. 

 

“If you are sure there is enough?” McConnikee said as he stepped towards the table, nodded at the others as they made room for him at the table.  Marco went over to the table they used in the corner of the day room and brought over a chair.  Johnny had gotten up to dish up a bowl of soup. 

 

After a few bites McConnikee put his spoon down.  “Who’s your cook today, Hank?  Stoker or  Lopez?”

“Actually, it’s Gage.”  Hank answered.  “He is developing into a fairly good firehouse cook.”

 

“Thanks to Lee…she didn’t think all the jokes about him being such a lousy cook were very funny.”  Chet said with a smirk.

 

“Knowing that young woman I don’t think she would think anything said in a negative manner about her Boyo was very amusing.”   Johnny blushed a deep red at this statement as Hank and Roy couldn’t help but laugh.   “That girl’s temper is pure Irish…Saw her go toe to toe with some big wigs from Sacramento sent them running with their tails dragging.  She and my missus are on a state auxiliary planning committee.”    They made small talk until the meal was over.

 

“Hank, I’d like to borrow your paramedics for a few days next week.  They’re having a training session up at Mt. Shasta.  Matt Palmer has asked for these two because of their experience and expertise as instructors and as rescue men and paramedics.”

 

Both paramedics were turning red at the praise they were receiving.  “Being friends with these two he has seen them in action both on and off duty.”

 

“Exactly what kind of training session will this be?”  Roy asked.

 

“To train expert skiers as volunteer search and rescue men and basic first aid skills.  Hopefully some will complete EMT training.   If the program progresses as we hope they will be the pilot program for the state.  They would work under trained Forest Service Rangers. Before leaving he said he would appreciate it if they could let him know their answer sometime tomorrow so they could finalize plans.

 

The quiet morning was replaced with a busy afternoon.   The squad was called out for an injured child at the community center preschool.  A four-year-old hit another child with a plastic baseball bat attempting break the piñata that was hanging in preparation for a class party.  The frazzled teacher explained the two boys had taken advantage of the fact her attention was focused on a 3-year-old who was throwing up at the time.

 

“They seem to wait until one of us are out of the room…It’s a conspiracy I think.  My assistant had just left the room for her break.  They were supposed to be on their mats for quiet time.”   She was cleaning up the three-year-old as she talked.   The other students were on the brightly colored mats watching as the paramedics checked out Noah’s “owie”. 

 

“I think he is going to be fine except for a black eye to go along with his bloody nose.  I don’t think his nose is broken but it’s going to be sore.”   Dr.  Morton had said to bring Noah in just a precaution.   The assistant returned with a child on her hip.  It was clear the little one had been crying.  

 

“The co-conspirator?”  Johnny asked with a grin.

 

“Yes…Nita took Joey a walk to help him down.  The boys are cousins and best friends.”   The teacher said as she hugged the little one she had just finished cleaning up.    “I think we’ll be calling Gina’s aunt to come get her…she feels a little warm to me.  There is a stomach bug going around.”

 

“We can get a temperature on her, if you’d like…since we’re here …it won’t take but a minute…Well, actually three.”  Johnny said smiling at the little girl.

By the time the ambulance had arrived Gina’s temp had been taken and since it was 101.4 she would be going home.  Noah’s mother would be meeting them at the hospital.  Roy went with Noah while Johnny gathered up the equipment then started out to the squad.  As he   was   passing the office the Center’s director came out into the hall.

 

“It’s been awhile since we’ve had to call your station. It’s nice to know you all are so quick in responding and so good with the kids.”

 

“Glad it wasn’t anything more serious…You have a good program here.” 

 

“We get some good community support and some very nice support from your family.   Both financially and with the time you donate here.”

 

 “It’s our pleasure but my wife gets most of the credit for that.   You have a good day.”

 

Roy was talking to Dixie and Joe Early when Johnny came up to the nurses’ desk.

 

“Roy was telling us about the special training session you might be doing up at Mt. Shasta.   They say the skiing is the best it’s been for a few years.   So, you excited about it?” 

 

“Yeah…with such good snow the trails are going to be busy.  The weather conditions should stabilize soon.”  Johnny answered. 

 

“Hopefully…More snow and weaker wind would be nice.” Roy added.  “You like to ski Dix?”

 

“I like ski lodge lounges with big fireplaces and good jazz playing in the background as I enjoy the company of my friends.”  She smiled as if seeing an old memory. 

 

“You should go up with us sometime.  You and Lee can hang out in the lodge while we ski.   They have a nice spa per Lee and Jo.”  Her answer was put on hold as the HT called them to an unknown type rescue at a nearby high school.

 

                                                       

 

The firemen were directed to the auditorium by the rather frazzled school secretary.   It was one of those rare occasions where the principal and the vice principal and director of students were all out of the building.   The fire alarms went off as the classes were changing and no one seemed to know who or what had set them off.   Then a student had come running into the office saying there was smoke coming from the air conditioning vent outside the auditorium.

 

The first thing the firefighters saw was a group of teachers and students standing on the stage.  It was the teachers who were yelling and making threatening gestures at each other and the ceiling.

 

“What in the world?”  Hank looked up and saw two boys swinging about 10 feet in the air.    The harnesses they were wearing hooked onto ropes that were supposed to travel a thin track.  Even from where they stood, 51’s crew could see the ropes were twisted and knotted and off the track.  To make matters worse the two boys were still trying to fight!  

 

“Chet, Marco, check out the air conditioning unit in the back, Gage get up there and see if you can get out to them down.”   Johnny went up the rusty ladder bolted into the side of the wall.  He could see and feel the ladder mover slightly as he climbed.  A closer look showed where the mounts were rusty and cracks showed around the brick where the bolts were attaching the ladder to the wall.

 

Chet and Marco went over to the air conditioner and disconnected it and another   motor was   plugged in using an extension cord.   Both units were over heated and smoking but no apparent flames.  They disconnected the extension cord from the wall socket and checked for damage to the socket.   They heard a muffle cry as they moved closer to the socket and noticed a small door.  It was to a small broom closet inside there was a blindfolded boy with his hands tied behind his back in the closet.  They helped him out and onto the ground.

 

“Cap we need Roy over here.”  Chet yelled.   Roy hurried over to see what the trouble was taking the trauma box with him.

 

“What’s your name and how did you end up in there?” Roy asked.  

 

“Nate Garber.   Larry and Greg grabbed me and put that disgusting towel over my eyes then tied my hands.  Don’t know why they had to use that towel, I knew who it was from their voices;   Jack’s two best football buddies.”

 

He checked the boy’s vital signs and cleaned small cut Nate had on his forehead.  “Seems to me that bullies like to be as intimidating as they can be so others don’t see how small they really are,” Roy answered as he finished with the bandage.  “Can you walk over to where our friends are?”  Once they were back over on the stage Roy set up the bio-phone and called Rampart.

 

“Rampart this is Squad 51.  How do you read?”

 

“Loud and clear 51.”

 

“Rampart we have three victims.  Victim one is male, 15 years old.  He has a small cut on his forehead that has been cleaned and the bleeding stopped and bruises from being restrained.  Vitals are… We have him on O₂ as a precaution since he was exposed to some thick smoke from a defective extension cord.”

 

“Continue the O₂ and transport.   What is the status of the other victims?”  Joe Early questioned.

 

“They are presently swinging about 10 feet above the ground in theoretical harnesses.  Neither appear to be hurt just tangled and stuck.”

 

“Keep   us advised, 51.”

 

“Gage, you are doing ok?”  Cap could hear the creaks and groans coming from above them.

 

“Cap, it’s a little rusty but I think I can get out there. “Johnny called down.   He looked over at the two boys.  He had watched his partner move to the other location. “You two, knock it off.   The more you swing around the harder It’s gonna be to get you down.”  He was making his way to the boys

 

“Please don’t let me fall…if I lose my scholarship because of this my dad is gonna kill me.”   The football player whined.  “This stupid pa ….”

 

“Name calling isn’t gonna help…Just stay   quiet and let me get the belt on you. He had made his way over to them trying to ignore the creaks and groans the catwalk was making.    

 

“Get him down first.  He’s scared of heights.”  The smaller boy said.  “I’ve been up in this harness a lot…I’m doing Peter Pan with the community   players next week,”  he explained, sounding much more macho than he looked.

 

“I am not afraid of nothing you can do, you sissy…”  The football player bellowed.  As he raised his arm back he began to spin again.   “You’re gonna pay for calling me ….”

 

“Now stop that.   There isn’t anything wrong with not liking high places.  Now just calm down; my name is John…you are?”

 

“Jack Turner.”  The boy closed his eyes.  “I think I’m gonna be sick.” 

 

“If you are just don’t fight it…It may sound gross but it’s better to just spew than try to hold it.”   Johnny keyed the HT.  “Cap, I gonna go down and get him   belted…I’LL cut the line the harness is hooked to and lower him to you.  He’s feeling a little nauseous…”   He smiled as he gave his captain the heads up.   “You ready?” 

 

“Yeah lower him.”  Cap watched as the 230-pounder started down towards them.  The men waiting below could see the weight and movement was putting a strain on   Johnny as he fought to control the descent.

 

 “Slow and easy…that’s good…”   Cap said breathing easier as the boy’s feet were almost touching the ground. 

 

 “He’s all yours,” Cap said to Vince.” The waiting deputy moved closer as the boy turned as if to bolt. 

 

The angry boy jerked away from Cap’s touch but Vince grabbed his arm.

 

“What’s the big deal?  It was just a joke.”  Jack said angrily.  “No one got hurt.”

 

“Tell that to the kid you and your friends shoved in the closet.   You’re both lucky he didn’t get hurt worst.”   

 

“Gage, you are doing ok?”   Cap had returned his attention to his junior paramedic who was inching his way over to the remaining ‘flyer’ after Chet and Marco had held the rope taut for him to climb back up to the catwalk.

 

“We both should be down soon.”  He   lowered the second belt down to the second boy.  “You are doing ok?”

 

“Yeah, I love it up here…I’m gonna be Peter Pan in the community production next week…”  To emphasize his skill and enthusiasm the boy did a midair flip.

“STOP that.”  Johnny yelled as the catwalk shook and groaned.  The rusty hardware   shifted slightly.   Johnny felt his balance shift and grabbed the railing.  “You need to keep still and let me get this belt on you.”

 

“I can do it myself…I’m not a wimp like Jack.”  The boy, Rick Summers had been bullied by Turner and his friends since freshman year.  Nothing had been done when he and his friends complained, in fact it had gotten worst.   Now it’ll be even worst…maybe I should do like Jack told me…unhook the belt and just drop down and be a nothing splat on the floor.  The look Jack had given him was pure hate and a promise of another beating and more humiliation at the hands of the jocks.  No one understands even my dad…he thinks this being an actor is for …”

 

“Look, just calm down and let me do my job.”   Johnny   could hear the pain in the boy’s voice.   “It’ll get better.”

 

“What would you know?  I bet you were always popular and had lots of friends.  Bet you were a jock; weren’t you.”

 

“Well, I ran track, but I learned to run running from the guys that wanted to beat the crap out of me.  I grew up on a reservation…Skinny half breed no one wanted around…Even now it isn’t always easy but I made it and so will you.”

 

Nothing’ll be done about what Jack and his friends did to me and Nate…The coach will see to that…He always gets his boys out of trouble.”

 

“Not this time…You and your friends were assaulted and placed in a dangerous position…There isn’t much the coach or the school can do about covering that up…The school is gonna be too busy trying to deal with all the fire violations we’ve found today to worry about the coach.”   Johnny could see the fear and anger leaving the boy’s face.    He had been working on getting closer to Rick and was finally at a place he could get the belt on   him.    

 

“I’m gonna get this on you and hook you onto to my rope.  You’re gonna be alright…”

 

“Yeah until coach and his boys get a hold of me.”   Rick shrugged as Johnny got   ready to cut the tangled rope.  The movement was enough to make the catwalk jerk again.  This caused Johnny and Rick both to swing and sway and it was a vicious cycle stressing the weaken hardware and stressed metal.

 

“Cap, I’m gonna let him down fast…We need to get some of the weight off this thing.” 

 

“We’re ready for him.”   Johnny   let him down then   threw his rope to Chet and Marco who let him down slowly.  Cap instructed the two linesmen to check all the electrical outlets on the stage and staging area.

 

Once the boy was lowered Roy did a quick assessment and said there was no apparent problems.  Dr. Early advised to have his parents take him to the family doctor if any problems came up.   {Jack who was 18 had signed a refused treatment   form.)

 

The coach moved over to where Roy and Cap were talking to Rick and began yelling. 


You stupid nothing…if you get my team in trouble, I’ll …”    He had drawn his arm back.  

 

“Coach, unless you want me to add your name to the assault charges being filed, I’d calm down and keep your hands to yourself.”    Vince had come back into the auditorium after sending Jack and the others with another unit to the police station.

 

“You guys are taking up for these sissies?  Against my team?  We have the best record in our league…That bunch of singers and dancers are a useless waste of time and money.” 

 

The other teachers and students who had been watching the rescue looked at each other and as if by unwritten commands broke into two groups.    There comments were becoming heated as well.  

 

“Look, all of you…Calm down.”  Vince ordered.    “Anyone else making verbal threats can go down to the station to cool off.

 

As he was speaking three men and a woman came up on the stage.   The coach smirked when he saw the principal and the president of the school board.   The woman was Jack Turner’s mother the other man his uncle.

 

“What seems to be the problem Officer?”  The principal, Arthur Myers asked.

 

He had been at the Board of Education Building when Mrs. Turner had called demanding to know why her son was in police custody and why the school hadn’t called her.  

 

“These do gooders got all bent out of shape over a harmless prank.”  The coach growled.  “Think Jack and his friends were playing too rough.” 

 

“The coach here lets his bully boys run over the other kids…Rick and his parents may want to think about filing charges…Bet they could even get a child endangerment charge if the coach knew what they had planned.   This time it won’t be swept under the rug like the other complaints.”   Gerald Moore said.  He was a teacher in the music department and was sick and tired of the way he and his students were treated by the elite athletes. 

 

 Cap and the crew left the   school personnel and made their way back to the station.  The remainder of the shift was routine with no major calls.

 

                                               

 

Lee was busy with getting things ready for the Christmas party that the auxiliary was having for the families of Station 51.  They were using a restaurant that had went out of business.  It belonged to WBS and they had turned it into a Winter Wonderland for the various Christmas parties the company sponsored for their employees and their families.   

 

 It had been decorated by a company that rented props and did staging for movies and other extraordinary events.  Lee had arranged for Station 51 and a few other stations and agencies to use the room at no charge.  Johnny Pat’s Deli was doing the food for 51’s party.   Each shift was responsible for at least one game or activity for the kids and their families and there would be pictures with Santa.  

  Lee and Emily were co-chairs for the party.  When the phone rang about 8:30 Lee answered   hoping it was Johnny.

 

“Hello.” 

 

“Hi. Got time for a few quick questions about the Christmas party?”  Emily Stanley said.   

 

“Yep, in fact you were on my list of things to do once a grumpy baby went to sleep.”  Lee said laughing. 

 

“Do we have a final count?”

 

“65 is the last number I got.  But there are a few of the guys still trying to get someone to work for them…even if they don’t make it their families will be there   Why do you have a grumpy baby?  She isn’t getting sick, is she?”

 

“No, she’s cutting teeth.  Johnny, Pat will charge us for the 65 but knowing him there’ll be more than enough for any extras.”

 

“Gifts from Santa…when do they need to be at the restaurant?”

 

“Friday.   Someone will be there from 10 to 5…if anyone needs help with getting them there we can help with that…anyone who needs help getting gifts…let me know and that’ll be covered too.”   Lee planned on having extras there in case there was a need.   If they didn’t use them they would go to the community center’s toy drive.

 

“Hank was teasing Johnny about turning into a real party animal…Three parties in one month…”

 

“He worked so hard on making my birthday special trying to make up for last year.  As if being with you all and having Chloe wasn’t special enough.”

 

“I remember that first Christmas party 51 had at Roy and Jo’s.  Johnny was so sick and so weak…but he made the night just so special by how much thought and care he had put into the gifts and how much he wanted to be with us.”

 

“He’s told me bits and pieces about that night…Think it was the first time in a long time he had really felt like he belonged somewhere… that he had a home and a family.   Can you believe I’m the one saying maybe we’ve bought enough gifts for Miss Ladybug?  He keeps seeing more things he thinks she would like.   Roy was teasing him the other night that Santa was going to get a hernia carrying all her gifts down the chimney.”   She changed the subject quickly because thinking of that time of his life made her cry. 

   They went over the details for the party and were happy with the way the plans were coming together.

Breakfast was ready when Johnny got home and he was glad of it.  They were called out at 2:30 and did not get back to the station until a little after 8.  When he walked in the door she knew it had been a bad night since he hadn’t changed out of his uniform.

 

“Do you want to eat or just go onto to bed?”

 

“I’m starved. Then shower and sleep.”   He kissed her lightly.   “Ladybug still asleep?”

 

“She had a rough night too.  She’s cutting teeth.”  They ate in silence until she started on her second cup of hot chocolate.

 

“Chief McConnikee came to see me and Roy yesterday.  He wants us to help with a training session at Mt. Shasta.   We would leave Tuesday afternoon and be back sometime Friday evening.   The Forest Service is flying us up there.”   He took a sip of the hot chocolate waiting for her reaction.  “We need to tell him today if we’ll go.”

 

“I’m surprised you didn’t say yes.”  

 

“We are supposed to let him know after talking it over with our wives.   I don’t think he really thought either one of you would object.  Said they wanted the best to help get the program started.  If this works out like they want it will expand to other areas.  Do you have any objections?”

 

“Would it really matter if I did?   You and Roy deserve the recognition of being the best of the best.   And I can understand the advantages of having better trained personnel on the mountain…and the impracticality of having paramedics their full time.   Doesn’t mean I won’t miss you but you would be at work part of the time anyway.”

 

“I’ll make it up to you…maybe after the first of the year we can take a long week end someplace…Just the two of us.”

 

“The three of us...Chloe likes to ride in the car…Maybe we can go see Rosemary or to the San Diego Zoo…  Call Roy and let him know you are planning to do the training session then get some sleep.”

 

A similar conversation had been taking place at the DeSoto home.  Jo listened to Roy explain the training session and the time line for the trip.   Just as Roy was going over to call Johnny the phone rang. 

“DeSoto residence.”

 

“Hey, Pally, Lee was surprised we didn’t just tell McConnikee yes.   You want to call him and get all the details?   Jo did say she didn’t object, didn’t she?” Johnny questioned.

 

“Her reaction was pretty much the same as Lee’s.  I’ll call then I’m gonna sleep till dinner time.”

“Yeah, me too.”

 

                                                

 

“My Christmas angels… even more beautiful than usual.”   Lee smiled at the look on his face.   It was the same look at his dad had looking at his mother in the paintings over the fireplace.   It was also the same look Johnny was giving her in the painting from their wedding.   While the looks, he gave her were always kind and gentle, this one was different.  It was a look of pure joy and love that touched her in a distinct way.

 

“Thank you, kind sir.  Your daughter and I think you are extra handsome today…I love you two in that shade of red.”   The red velvet dress with the white lace pinafore and white leggings and matching shoes brought out the sparkle in Chloe’s dark eyes and the red and white bow in her hair made it look even shinier and darker.  Johnny’s V neck sweater was the same shade of red and went so perfect with his dark eyes and hair.  Lee had chosen a red skirt of the same shade but wore a white lace Victorian style blouse.  The emerald and ruby broach Johnny had given her for her birthday was at her throat.  The broach looked as if it had been made to match the emerald and ruby earrings Lee wore that had been her mother’s.  

 

“Everything is in the car…Camera bag, diaper bag, let’s get her cape on her and we will be off.”   Liz had made a hooded cape out of the same shade of red as Chloe’s dress and had trimmed it with fake white fur.  The down filler kept the infant warm as her heavier coat but was less of a hassle to get on the squirmy baby.     Chloe was her father’s child.  She loved to be up high and she was always in motion.    Those who did not know she was adopted often commented on how much alike Johnny and Chloe looked.

 

Lee and Emily watched as Johnny began taking pictures with Santa.   Santa was a retired firefighter named Ron and was wonderful with the kids.  It was not only his size but his attitude with the kids that made him so perfect.  Chloe was first in line.

 

“Lee I want one of you and Chloe and Santa.”  Johnny said watching the uncertain look on Chloe’s face.  I think we’ll get a great smile if you are there with her.”   He snapped the picture just as Hank came over to where they were.

 

Lee said, “Boyo, let Hank take one of the three of us.”    Her tone left no room for argument not that any would have been given.    Other parents watched and liked the idea so soon Johnny was busy taking multiple pictures of many of the children.  Lee was glad they had brought plenty of film as he would also be taking pictures later in more casual poses.    Games were played, dinner was eaten.   Then Santa began passing out presents.   They started with the youngest children first.  Everyone had a good laugh when Chloe got an oversized pillow that looked like a fire truck.   Jenny was thrilled with a set of Nancy Drew mysteries   and Chris loved the box set of biographies of sport figures.   Johnny snapped more pictures and had a wonderful time talking with the parents and kids.

 

“Hey, Gage, how much are these pictures gonna cost?   My wife is gonna want copiers for the grandparents.”   One of the C shift linemen asked.

 

“No charge unless you want to donate to the ladies for their project fund.”

 

“Who’s paying for all the film and developing?  Your rich uncle?” 

 

“Yeah.”  Johnny answered.  “Riley, how many copies do you need?”

 

“Four…probably.  Why don’t I let Myra see them then she can tell you?”

 

“I’ll get as many of them developed as I can before I leave Tuesday…You’ll have them all before Christmas.”

 

“Where you off to now?  You just got back.”

 

“Doing a training session up at Shasta.  Me and Roy.”  Johnny answered with a grin.  “Gonna go play in the snow.”

 

 

“Yeah the disaster magnet is gonna go up there and race around those trees…Bet he’ll last a day before he rams a tree.”  Chet said with a not so nice smile.  

 

The guys standing around were surprised at the nasty comment and tone.   Johnny turned towards Chet but when he saw Lee and Jenny, who was pushing Chloe’s stroller, coming towards him he decided to keep his mouth shut.  Chet walked off still smirking.

 

 “Excuse me.  John Roderick, I think Miss Ladybug has had about all the holiday cheer she can handle.  So anytime you’re ready to go we are.     Murphy, me fine lad, will let your captain know there is a box of gifts he can take back to the station or just send it on over to HQ…Marco put the box for Rampart in the Rover for me.   Johnny Pat is making up carry out orders of the left overs if any of you want something.”  

 

“Hopefully there is some of that ham left…and some potato salad.”  Murphy said.  “And some of those chocolate peppermint cupcakes.”

 

“Uncle Johnny, Mom said I could go home with you if that was ok…Her and Dad Are going Christmas shopping and Chris wants to go with them.”

 

“Fine with me.  I’m going to be in the dark room so you can keep your Aunt Lee company.” He turned back to his friends and the unknown man.  “You all take care.  Merry Christmas.”

 

                                                            

 

   Lee fixed Johnny a basket of rolls and a thermos of coffee to take with him and Roy to the airfield.    Johnny softly whispered I love you and will miss you as he watched Chloe sleeping peacefully.  He bent down   his thumb gently sweeping the dark hair from her forehead. “I love you, Ladybug.  Take diligent care of your mommy while I’m gone, ok?   Don’t let her worry too much.”   He bent down and kissed her gently.   He held on her   to her fingers then gently pulled the blanket up over her.

 

Lee watched him from the doorway.  Something sent a shiver down her back.  Was he saying good bye to Chloe for the next few days or was it more?  Maybe it was her imagination but something was a cold shiver down her back. She forced a smile on her face as he turned around and   pushed her out to the kitchen.   

 

“You two behave while I’m gone, ok?  I’ll call you tonight… Cap said he’d check in on you.   And you can always call Cisco if. you have any problems.”

 

“We’ll be fine.  You just take care of yourself, hear me?   We’ll be thinking of you…Love you, darlin’ Boyo…go help make the slopes safe for all the skiers.”   

 

She watched him drive away then went into the sun room.  She had packages to wrap   and laundry to fold.   And since it was only 5:30 she knew it was going to be a long day.   Chloe usually slept until 8 or 8:30   so she decided to go wrap Johnny’s gifts.  She still hadn’t found that one perfect gift.    

 

There were several new shirts and some video games and CD’s and some books but not the one special one…Last year it had been his workshop.  Luckily that had all been set up before Troy Braxton had taken them to the lake.  

 

Lee had given him new camping and fishing gear for his birthday.   His ski’s and ski boots were in great shape.  He and Roy had taken their own ski equipment with them after a long debate on the pro and cons of using equipment supplied by the lodge or the forest service. 

 

Johnny had declared even if they didn’t take their skis he was taking his own boots.  Maybe later she would see if Kathy or Jo wanted to go shopping.   If they didn’t maybe she would see if Ibby could come watch Chloe and she would go into work for a little while.   Either way she had too much nervous energy to just sit still. 

 

 She folded the laundry, stripped the bed and remade it, and started the washer.  Chloe woke up and after a bath and breakfast was happily playing on her quilt in the front room while Lee was in the kitchen.  Lee heard a car door slam and was pleasantly surprised to see Jo and Kathy coming up the steps. 

 

“You two are out early.”  Lee said as they came into the kitchen. 

 

“We took the kids to school then decided to stop and see if you wanted to go out to breakfast and shopping.”

 

“I was thinking about calling you or going to work…Shopping sounds better.”  She went into change clothes while Jo got Chloe ready.   “You all have anywhere in mind where to shop?”

 

“I need to get some gifts for the people at the clinic.   Was thinking of getting them gift cards to O’Sheas’.”  Kathy said as they started down the ramp.   “Anything special you need to get?”

 

“I need one more present for Johnny…something extra special. Any idea what he might want but hasn’t told me?”   He was always careful about saying he   liked something or wanted something around her but even more so around special occasions.

 

“His whole life is you and that little girl.   Seeing you two happy is the best present for him.”   Jo said as she pushed the stroller down the ramp.  “Whatever you give him he’ll cherish.”

 

“I know…but I want this to be the most special Christmas ever…Matt and Jeff and Rosemary will be her.  There is just something   about this Christmas.  It has to be perfect.”

 

“Just relax and enjoy it. “Kathy said.

 

“Gonna try.”  Lee said with a shrug.  “I’ll know the perfect gift when I see it.”

 

                                             

 

 Roy read and Johnny dozed as the plane made the 90-minute trip.   Matt was waiting for them.   After storing the gear in the truck, they drove to the lodge.

 

“They have a breakfast bar set up…It’ll be about an hour until we start the class.  You get some food and we’ll go over what we have planned for the first day.”

 

“Great, I’m starved,”

 

“Junior, when aren’t you hungry?”  Roy laughed as they went into the lodge.

 

Johnny and Roy fixed their plates then went back to where Matt and two others were sitting.  Matt introduced   Jerry Hunter and Adam Booth who were on the volunteer ski patrol.

 

“How’s Lee and Jo?  Still working together?”

 

“They’ve been busy with Christmas projects, averaging about 10 applications a day.   Mostly for children’s charities and homeless shelters.   Jo is president of the stations’ auxiliary and just organized a great family Christmas party for all three shifts.”  

 

“With lot of support and help from Lee and Emily Stanley.   Those three should run the country.”  Roy added.   “Junior here spent the whole party taking pictures of everyone.  Bet he took a couple of rolls just of my kids and Chloe.  Jenny takes her role as cousin, honorary big sister very seriously.”

 

“I didn’t know Jo’s sister had a baby.”  Matt was surprised Betsy hadn’t told him that.  He knew she kept in touch with Jo.

 

“She didn’t …Chloe Elizabeth is our daughter.”  Johnny said with a huge grin.

 

“Yeah Lee finally broke him of saying his daughter.”  Roy teased.  Not that it had been a laughing matter at the time.

 

“She is a beautiful 8-month-old miracle.   Lee is a fantastic mom, she   still works both jobs and volunteers and takes great care of me and Chloe.  Her nick name is Ladybug.”  He was reaching for his wallet to show off the picture he had taken of Lee and Chloe in front of their Christmas tree.  It was his new favorite.

 

“She is beautiful.  Either Jo didn’t tell Betsy or I just forgot.  Congratulations.”  They passed the picture around the table.

 

Following breakfast the five went into the conference room.  There were 18 others waiting for them.  There were three women in the group.

 

Ok, let’s get started. Today we are going to learn the basics procedure for a rescue.  Our instructors are firefighter/Paramedic Roy DeSoto and Firefighter /Paramedic John Gage.  Both are expert skiers and excellent rescue men.   I have seen them both on action on more than one occasion.  At this morning’s session, we will be doing advanced first aid training.  Lunch will be at 123:30 till 2:00.  From 2:00 until 5:30 we will be out on the slope.  Dinner will be in the west dining room at 6:30. The same basic schedule tomorrow.   Breakfast is from 6 to 8 with class starting at 8:30.   Thursday there will be written and clinical tests.   Now, I’m turning this over to Roy.”

 

 “Thanks Matt.  This morning we are going to go over the basic procedures for any accident causing any injury you suspect is going to need more than basic first aid.  The first thing you need to do is an assessment to decide the severity of the injury.  Is it a minor or major injury?”

 

“How do we know if it’s a minor or major injury?”  Thomas ‘Dex’ Dexter asked. 

 

“Observation and training.   First you check if the victim is conscious, then for spontaneous breathing and any obvious bleeding.   A cut on the head will often bleed profusely even from a small cut.   Then very carefully run your hands over the victim’s neck, back and limbs.  Check with a very light touch check   for any signs of broken ribs.  The ribs protect the lungs…but a broken rib can do a lot of damage. A cracked rib can become a broken one    if any pressure or movement is applied in a sudden move…even a light touch or a strong cough.”    Roy glanced over at Johnny with a knowing look.

 

“Yeah, been there done that, to myself a few times.”  Johnny said with a hit of a smile and a shrug.   

 

“On skis?  Thought you were an expert skier?”  For some reason Dex seemed determined to challenge Johnny.  

 

“Not in skiing incidents per se…just in general life.”   Johnny sat back and let Roy continue with his lecture and just looked around the room trying to get a feel of the room.  Most looked interested and some had valid questions.   Dex and his friend Tony seemed the readiest for a sarcastic remark but still interested in what was being said.

 

Dex watched the two paramedics laughing as the dark-haired man made a face at something his partner said.  The session time went fast.   Roy and Johnny went up to their room before going to lunch.

 

“Hey, Pally, think before the winter is over we need to go up to the lodge and let the kids play in the snow?  I can take Chloe and Lee on a ride in one of the dog sleds…we can make a snowman.   If we get one of the condos maybe Jim and Kathy could come too.   The boys would love to try the stage two slope…. Jim is a pretty fair skier…the girls can do the bunny slope and Kathy and Jo could go with them or we could sign them up for the kid’s ski   camp.   Maybe we could even do the night run parade.”

 

“Slow down Junior…Those condos rent for big bucks and are usually rented months ahead.”

 

“Yeah… maybe we could go up for a day …”  Johnny said with a smile.   “Do you think Ladybug will like the snow?  As much as she likes the water?”

 

“Maybe so Junior.”  Roy knew once Johnny got an idea in his head he didn’t let go easily.   Especially when he wanted to do something for ‘his girls’.

 

“She’s gonna start walking any day now…Remember how she would get up on her hands and knee and sit and rock?   Made Ash a nervous wreck.   I can just imagine that poor dog will probably have a nervous breakdown when she starts walking.”

 

The two men laughed and Roy shook his head at the changes that he had seen in his friend’s life since they had first met.  The day John Gage had come into the office to investigate the paramedic program had changed both their lives for the better.   He had not only got the required number of interested firefighter for the program but he had found a best friend, a brother. 

 

Dex went over to where Matt and Jerry Rivers were talking.  “How well do you know the two paramedics?  That one doesn’t seem to be taking this very seriously.”

 

“Don’t be fooled …He may come off like an over grown kid but on the job, he is the tops.   He and Roy are the best paramedic team in the county if not the state or the country.    I’ve seen them in action and they are the best for this project.”

 

“We’ll see.”   Thomas Dexter was a business man and use to being in charge.  He had been on track to be on the Olympic skier when an injury had made him miss the final trials.

 

Once everyone was seated Roy took over the class.  “Ok, I am if you all are certified in CPR.  That is one of our best tools in the field.  It will help keep the heart and lungs functioning until advance care is available.  Someone not trained properly can do more harm than good.”

 

“That and the Heimlich maneuver should be two first aid techniques that every adult knows.”  Johnny added. Looking over at Matt, “Lee can’t get certified but she knows the proper way to do CPR.  She’s certified in infant and toddler CPR.”  He grinned.  “If she needed to she’d give it a hellava try for any adult needing help.” Johnny said.    Matt and Roy nodded in agreement.

 

“We’ll practice taking vital signs on each other and using the blood pressure cuff.   We’ll also practice the basic spinal precautions.   Broken bones, sprains, spinal injuries and head injuries and breathing problems are common problems you deal with in snow rescues as well as hypothermia.    And of course, heart attacks are a major concern.”

 

“Listening to all that makes you wonder why you risk it out on the powder.”  Jerry Martin said. 

 

“Frostbite and cuts and bruises are something else we see a lot of.”

 

“Good point. So is dehydration.  Any questions?”

 

“Even if we don’t get EMT certification can we still use this stuff we’re learning?”

 

 “Under the Good Samaritan Law, you can come to anyone’s aid.  You can’t give drugs without a doctors’ direction even with certification.  What we are teaching here is good for situations you find in everyday life.”

 

They showed the class how to use the bop cuff and had them practice on each other. 

 

“Roy, is this guy always so low?   Or am I doing something wrong?”  Dex asked. Johnny was his ‘victim’.

“Around 90/70 is normal for him.   What are his other vitals?”

 

“Pulse is 80 beats per minute, his respiration is 15.”  Dex answered.

 

“That’s about as normal as he gets.”  Roy answered grinning. 

 

“Thanks pal.  His would be in the 110/80 range, pulse about 90 and respiration around 16.”

 

“Man, how did you know that?”  Max the volunteer who had taken Roy’s vitals was amazed.  “The respiration was 19…but other than that you were on the money.”

 

“Ok, anyone have any questions about or problems with taking the vitals?”

 

“What if the patient doesn’t want our help?”

 

“If they are conscious and lucid we have them sign a waiver refusing treatment.  You would have to walk away but let someone in charge know they refused your help. If they appear unable   to make a rational decision try to find a friend or relative help convince them to let you help.  Or a relative may have the authorization to ask for treatment.

 

As Roy was answering questions Johnny noticed that Tim Varner was rubbing his neck and head.    He was looking paler than he had earlier and there was some bruising on his neck.

 

“You ok?  Let me listen to your neck, ok.”   He grabbed a stethoscope.  

 

“Yeah just got a wicked headache.  And my neck hurts some.  Got whooped by a tree branch skiing the other day.  Rang my bell a good one.’’

 

“Did you get it checked out?”  Johnny asked.  “How did it happen?”

 

“I was showing a friend a favorite trail and zigged when I should have zagged.  My friend came back and we put some snow on my shoulder then went on with our trip down the mountain.”    Johnny placed the bell of the stethoscope on Tim’s neck

 

“Roy, check him and see if you hear anything.”  Roy came over, concerned as did the rest of the class.    They all stayed silent and still so the paramedics could listen to their friend’s neck.

 

“I think we need to get you to the hospital for an X-ray.  There is some indication there is an obstruction in your neck.  Better to get it checked out and prevent any other problems.”  Roy told the worried man.  “Matt, can you have someone take him?”

 

“I’ll do it myself…the others can go ahead with the class.”

 

Three hours later Matt and Tom were back.  The X-rays had shown a small clot had formed at the top of the shoulder and as it grew the pressure had been increasing the pain and headache.

 

The doctors were impressed with your finding it…It was still relative small. Yeah, if it had grown more I could have had a stroke or   even worst.” Tim said with a grateful look at the dark headed paramedic.

 “Just doing our jobs,” Johnny said with a shrug.   “You ok to finish the class?”

 

“The classroom part.  No skiing for about 10 days.    Then I go back then for another checkup.”

 

The class continued until they broke for lunch.  Johnny went up to their room  and called home.   Ibby told him Lee had gone shopping and was planning on being home by four.

 

Roy watched as he came into the room.  He could tell by the look on his face he he hadn’t talked with Lee.  “Problem?”

 

“No, she went shopping with Jo and Kathy.”  He went over and fixed a plate. “Ya know, this Christmas is gonna be so special.  Even with Chloe being so title and she won’t remember it I will.”   He stopped then restated, “Her mom and I will.”  Roy laughed at his correction.  

 

 Dex and Matt came over. “Can we join you?”

 

“Sure, we were just talking Christmas.  It’s Junior’s first Christmas as a dad.”

 

“Pretty exciting time.”

 

“Yeah…we’re having fun” Johnny grinned.  “Wanta see her?  She’s 8 months. Her name is Chloe Elizabeth aka Miss Ladybug or just Ladybug.  She is always on  the go and exploring.”   He pulled out his wallet.  “Some were taken at the Christmas party the auxiliary had.”   He passed around the pictures.

“She looks like you…Your wife is very pretty.”   Johnny nodded.

 

 They had set his camera’s timer so he was in the picture too.    Sitting in front of the tree, she was holding Chloe while he was sitting slightly behind therm. Lee was leaning back into him for support.   (While she can sit up without support it places a lot of pressure on her back.)

 

They finished their meal then went up to change into their ski clothes.  The jackets, gloves, pants boots had been Christmas gifts from their wives.

 

“You ready to go play in the snow?”   Roy asked.

 

“Yeah…it’s funny, when I was a kid I loved the snow it gave me a sense of  freedom  I had out by myself.  But man, did I hate the cold.   I could have lived like a king being warm in this outfit.   Let’s go.”  Johnny shook off the  feeling something was going to happen.

 

Every soon had their backpacks on and were on their way up on the mountain. The lift ride was quick and smooth.    

 

“Ok, we want to go over some of the more popular runs and get an idea of where accidents are most likely to happen and what kind…Is it gonna be a place that results in a lot of tumbles that are minor…sprains, strains and simple breaks?   Or is it a corner that is gone to send people into the trees…more bones and neck and spinal injuries will occur in this type of accident.  Remember a spinal injury can result from even a minor fall if the person is moved wrong or moves wrong  herself.” (Only Matt and Johnny picked up in his saying herself rather than this self.)

 

“There are some dummy victims along the ruin with tags describing the  injury represented.  Read the tags and do the steps needed to help the victim and we’ll review your work.”

 

They went off down the trail Johnny and Roy following the others.  They had no trouble keeping up with the expert skiers moved with ease and grace.  At the  first site there was a ‘body’ with a broken arm and ankle.   The four-man team  did an excellent job of evaluating but Johnny and Roy thought the technique they used to splint the ankle was unsteady and awkward.

 

“You need to be confident I what you are doing.   A doctor at Rampart told me  once when I was thinking about quitting…We are the best chance a victim has  at the scene.  They are depending on us to do our best with confidence.”

 

They finished the drill and went on to the next victim.  This time there was two victims.    Two skiers had collided and   one was seriously hurt with spinal injuries and a head wound.  The other had a broken arm and a gash on his  forehead.  The team doing third one did much better and soon they had covered

all the set ups.

 

“Where did the victims come from?”  One of the members asked after they returned to the lodge.

 

“The Forest Service and the fire department save old CPR dummies after they are no longer usable for CPR training for stuff like this.  Let’s go to dinner.”

 

Matt and Roy went on up to clean up for dinner.   Johnny saw something in the gift shop window and went to check it out.

 

“He is even worse than Lee buying for that baby.”  Roy chuckled.  “He is even buying her shoes…said she needs to keep up with her mom’s sense of style.”

 

“Can I ask a question?”  Matt thought since they were alone in the elevator that this would be an appropriate time.  “Is that baby related to Johnny?”

 

“She is full blooded Cheyenne.  There is some thought his great grandmother  and Chloe’s were cousins.  They met the great grandmother when they went to Lame Deer when they presented the city and the reservation with plaques  honoring his folks.   They gave the fire department and the doctors who serve

the reservation grants from WBS.”  Roy wasn’t sure how much Matt knew about Lee’s connection with WBS.

 

The elevator reached their floor and they went to their respective rooms.  Roy  took advantage of Johnny being gone to grab a hot shower letting the hot water stream over him not being in any hurry. 

 

Johnny came in just as Roy finished dressing.  He had large shopping bag.

 

“Did you buy out the gift shop?”

 

“No…gheeze Roy, give me some credit.  I got Lee some things and then I  I saw a few things for Chloe.”   As he was talking Johnny was stripping down  to his shorts and heading to the shower.   “Hope you left me some hot water.”

 

                                     

 

The next morning, they went into the conference room and after a quick review of how to take vital signs and going over any questions they practiced  splinting and bandaging techniques.    They spent a portion of the morning on  the subject of frostbite.  Much of this time was spent explaining the reality of the treatment virus the old wives’ tales.

 

“The best treatment of frostbite is the prevention.  By knowing the signs of  frostbite you can help prevent it when it comes to yourself or others you are with.

 

“What should we look for?”

 

“Redness or pain in the area affected, change in the skin coloring…Check for  yellowing or a grayness to the skin.”

 

“Thought frostbite made your skin red?”  One of the men questioned.

 

“No, the redness may come later at first when it’s in the frosting stage, it’s  the yellow and gray stages that are more serious discoloration to look for. The ability to feel anything at the infected suite and a firm or waxy  feeling to the area are things to look for.  Frost nip is there first stage and no  permanent damage has occurred yet.    Make sure there is no sign of hypothermia and get the victim into a warm or more protected environment…”  Roy continued  lecturing with Johnny adding things from time to time.  He reminded them they needed a very light touch when dealing with frostbite as pressure could increase the damage and to use warm water never hot.

 

The class asked some good questions and before they realized it was time to break for lunch.   Matt received a sheriff requesting help.   A minivan and a skimobile had  crash near the lodge.   Due to other needs at the time they were shorthanded and could use some help. 

 

“Ok, guys, we are gonna get some firsthand experience.  John, Roy, the sheriff is getting in touch with a judge so you will have temporary certification in Siskiyou county.   The fastest way for us to get there is   ski down to it…Roy, John anything you can think we may need extra?”

 

“Some blankets…any way the sheriff can bring in some oxygen?”

 

“I’ll check and I’ll check with the   hotel manager about the blankets.”

 

Ten minutes later they were already to start down to the accident.  The hotel had 

provided blankets and they were in a large laundry bag.  Johnny had Matt help

him secure it on his back like an oversized backpack.

 

 “You sure you can ski with that on your back?”  Dex asked looking at the slender

paramedic.

 

“No problem this weighs less than full air tank.”   Johnny replied.

 

One of the local Rangers lead the way down to the crash.  The minivan belonged to a local community college and was on their way to take skiing lessons at the lodge as part of a PE class.  It was a 15-passenger van and was filled. 

 

 

Roy and Johnny began giving orders and had the two snowmobile riders being cared for by 4 of the class members.    Roy and Johnny along with Matt and the sheriff’s deputy was trying to see how to best get the injured from the van  It had rolled over at least once before coming to rest on its side in a small gully.

 

“Roy, I’m going to go down there and check how stable it is and if we can pry the doors open.”    Johnny removed his skis and began making his way to the van. 

 

“He makes it look easy.” Dex said watching him.

 

“He grew up in Montana…moving in the snow is second nature.”   Roy said.  “He has a lot of natural skills he has built on over the years?”    Roy had checked the work done by his students and was very pleased with their performance.  The splint on the passenger from the snowmobile was tight but not tight enough to impaired circulation to her lower arm.  The cut on her forehead had been cleaned and bandaged.  The driver, a 19-year-old male had a broken arm and a broken leg.  His pupils were sluggish but reactive.  Roy was sure he had a moderate concussion.  He was also complaining of his ribs but Roy didn’t feel any movement. 

 

Johnny    made his way over to the van as quickly as it was safe to go.  He could hear people calling for help and calling out names of those they were concerned with.  He moved a little slower as he got nearer the van as the ground became more uneven and harder to keep his balance at times.

 

“There is help on the way…just stay as calm as possible, we’re gonna get you out safely.” He called as he came closer.  He could see the back doors were bent and as he tried to pull them open he was frustrated when they stuck. 

 

“Anyone in there who is able to push on the doors while I pull them?”  He called hoping there was at least one or two who could help. 

 

“Yeah, we can, me and Zak and Chris…Tell us when.”

 

They pushed and pulled for several minutes without success.  Johnny told them one more try then he would go see if he could find something to use as a pry bar.  With a groan and jerk the door popped open just a bit.   Soon with some more pushing and pulling it was wide enough for Johnny to get in with some help from the three young men. 

 

“I’m John Gage, a paramedic with L.A. county Fire Department.  My partner and I are doing a training session up at the lodge.   How many are in here?  And who is in charge?”

 

“16 including the driver. I’m Pam Day, guess I am in charge.  I’m the PE instructor from Siskiyou Community College.  We got hit by snowmobile that came out from the trees.”

 

Ok, let’s check you out and get you out of here.  There are others here to help.”  He could hear the others coming so he began checking the students out.  With Zac, Chris and Ryan’s help they began getting those who were not injured out. 

 

“Johnny what do we have?”  Roy called into him.

 

“At least three broken legs or ankles, 2 broken arms. I got three unconscious but they seem to be breathing ok…The driver is the one I’m most worried about.  I need to get some of these others out so I can have room to check the driver more closely.”   

 

“Ok, we’re working on that…”  Soon were out except the driver.  He had his seatbelt on and was limp against the driver’s side door.  Johnny managed to get his vitals and check his pupils.  He did an assessment of his neck and back and limbs.  There was no obvious breaks or spinal involvement but Johnny was worried about the sluggish pupils and labored breathing.  He felt the driver’s ribs for movement. “Roy, we need to get him out of here. I can feel some movement in the ribs.  We need a back board…We could puncture a lung.”   They looked around the wrecked interior of the van.  “The   seat back.  Can you get that one in the back off?”

 

Outside of the van Matt and Dex had taken over the care and rescue of the others.

 

“Ok, Matt, they are all splinted and ready for transport.  The ambulances should be here soon.”  The sheriff’s deputy had been in contact with the hospital. “Think we need to go help with the driver?”  Dex asked as they had splinted ad bandaged the last of the students.  

 

“Wouldn’t hurt to go see.”  Matt answered.   Matt knew the guys had it under control but he wanted Dex to see it for himself.  He had a lot of influence in the county and with some of the people up in Sacramento.  He could do a lot to help get this program up and running.

 

They saw Roy as he took the back off the last seat, there was rope that had strapped the luggage to the van’s top.  They had gotten that and cut it into lengths to use as straps.

 

“Roy, John what do you need” Matt called to them as they approached the van. 

 

“We can use some help getting this guy out.  Once we get him on this board we need to get him up to the road.  He’s got a concussion and at least two broken ribs.  We need to be extra careful, if he is jostled it could cause the rib to puncture his lung.”

 

The four men worked well together to get the injured man out and headed back to the road.  It was slow going trying to keep the carry smooth as possible over the rough ground.   Once they reached the road they checked over the treatment the students had received.  They were pleased with the results. 

 

“You want to ride in with the driver when the ambulance arrives?” Roy asked.

 

“Yeah…If Lee calls before I get back tell her I’ll call her first thing.   It may sound selfish but I’m hoping Chloe doesn’t start walking till I get home.  She is so close.”  A small smile played on his lips.  “She is growing so fast it’s exciting but kind of sad…ya know what I mean…She isn’t going to be a baby for much longer.  We’re gonna have a toddler.”

 

“Yeah I was at the station when Chris took his first steps but watched Jenny go from the footstool to the coffee table.”   The ambulance arrived as well as had a bus to transport the others.   

 

                                 

  Roy called Jo while Johnny was in the shower.   They talked about the kids and their plans for the upcoming holiday.

 

“Johnny thinks we should plan a ski trip before the season is over…you might want to sound Lee out that one.   She’d likely say yes even if she hated the idea.  She is doing ok with him being gone?”

 

“Yeah.   She promised she’d call if there were any problems.  I think she sees this as a test.  And you know she hates to fail any test.”  Jo said.

 

“She hates failing anything…and especially if she thinks it’s going to disappoint Junior or any of us she considers family.  Almost like we’ll leave her.”

 

“Maybe that’s part of the reason they are so good together both know what it’s like to be left by someone they love.”

 

“Yeah. Oh, Jenny is excited you’ll be able to come to her Christmas program.  Lee is going to come even if Johnny can’t go.  I told her I’d ride with her so we don’t have to switch car seats.”

 

It was almost 9 before Lee and Johnny finally got to talk on the phone.

 

“Ladybug decided she didn’t like her dinner and most of it ended up on the floor.  Ashke didn’t like it either.”

 

“What were you feeding her?”  Johnny laughed at the picture he had in his head.

 

“Some kind of chicken and veggie mix.   Think from now on I’m gonna make her homemade baby food.”

 

“Been telling her for months she’ll be in a treat when she can eat your cooking.  Miss, you muches.”

 

“Miss, you more.  I heard you and Roy were great today.  There was a report on the news.”

 

“We were just doing our job. They were lucky.  The driver had three busted ribs and a concussion.  The snowmobile driver had to have surgery to repair his leg and the arm is broken in two places.   The ambulances were held up getting here because of an accident out at the intersection.  Between the traffic jam and them needing ambulances we were backed up.  This was better than any test we could have come up with.”

 

“Does that mean you can come home sooner?”

 

“No, tomorrow we are supposed to go talk with some of the country officials.  Just think this will make it easier.”

 

“You be careful up there.  The weatherman said there’ s a chance for a storm tomorrow.  But right now, they don’t think it’ll be coming in until late.”

 

“Don’t worry about us.  Give you a call in the morning, ok?”

 

“Yep.  Love you Boyo…and so doers Chloe.   She kept crawling over to your chair and pulling herself up.  I would love to understand her when she jabbers at Ashke.  He sits and listens and follows her everywhere.  It’s exciting watching her grow.”   They talked a few more minutes, then he could hear Chloe over the intercom.

 

“Tell her dad said to be good to her mama…Night and peaceful dreams Sweet Pea.” 

 

The next morning, they were getting ready for the meeting with County officials when Matt knocked on their door.

 

“We’ve got 4 missing frat boys who were drinking big time last night and two missing snowmobiles…Two of the boys were bragging they could beat the winning time for the Serpent’s Tooth run.  So, our meeting with the officials is cancelled.

 

“Didn’t you say that trail was closed?”  Roy asked as he put down his coffee mug.   Johnny gulped down the last of his milk.

 

“Yeah, there are a few trees down and lots of hidden branches and rocks from a small avalanche about 2 weeks ago.  That area is dangerous under the best of conditions.”

 

Ten minutes later they were on their way.   

 

                                     

 

“Are you ok?”  Jo asked as she watched Lee’s face.  

 

“Yeah just thinking about something I need to do… so are we going to the Mall or somewhere else?”   Jo knew which mall Lee meant.  “I need to order some more fudge and some cashew brittle.”

 

“Isn’t there a new shop there?  The Silver Hammer?  Someone at the PTA meeting said they had some really nice stuff a lot of one of a kind hand crafted items.”

 

Lee and Jo had made their purchasers at the Sweetheart house and would pick them up on their way out.   Chloe was happily watching all the people and lights as Jo pushed her stroller through the crowd.  

“We’re teaching her the joys of shopping,” Jo said as the baby happily babbled as they passed a display of reindeer and elves.

 

“Johnny says I have already taught her that shoes are a necessity.  We saw a little one with her ears pierced the other day and he asked me if I thought that was a clever idea.”

 

“And you said?”

 

“Not until she was older but there was a pair of opal earrings at Chambers that I thought were very nice if he was in the mood to buy jewelry.”  They went into The Silver Hammer.  The first thing Lee saw she liked was a set photo frames.

 

“That would be perfect for the pictures Johnny wants to give Rosemary.  She is coming   up on Christmas Eve.  Matt and Jeff and Gina will be here on the 23rd.   Gina’s family has their family Christmas on New Year’s Day.   I think I’ll get 2 sets of the frames.  There several other things Lee saw she liked and Jo found a necklace she thought her sister would like and a set of cuff links for her brother -in- law.  

They moved over to the display of candlesticks.  “Maria would love these. There was a set that had delicate roses around the and a set that had some vines encircling the   slender stem and the top looked like an open flower that she thought would look nice on mantle at their house.    Jo had gone back over to the jewelry case after deciding she would get her mom a pair of earrings. 

 

“Excuse me, could I see those two pairs of candle sticks?”  Lee asked a clerk who was at the case with the watches.    His back was to her as he was writing.  “They are up a little higher than I can reach.” 

 

When the man turned to face, her she realized he was Native American.   She assumed he was Navaho.

“Of course.”  The man came around the counter and got them for her. “Is there anything else I can help you with?”  As he handed her the candle sticks she noticed his watch.  It was a wide cuff like band with beautiful etching on either side of the watch face.

 

“Your watch is beautiful.  Do you have some like it for sale?”  Hoping it wasn’t a custom design.

 

“Our pieces are all handmade so there are no two exactly alike.”  The man answered.   “We have a nice selection over   in the next case.  Let me box those up for you…My son-in-law made the squash blossom set.   I think one of his friends made the rose set.  I’m Joseph Chee.   My family owns the store.”

 

“Lee Gage.  It’s very nice to meet you, Mr. Chee.”  She followed him over to the other case.  There were watches with several assorted styles of bands and bracelets.  There was a pocket watch that yelled Hector at her.   “I know I definitely want that one…”

 

“We can personalize it and have it ready to pick up by Monday.”

 

“Fantastic.   So that and the one with the turquoise encircling the watch face.   Do you have one with horses on it?” 

 

“Not in stock but we can design one for you…And yes have it ready by Christmas.”   Before Lee could answer Jo came over to her. 

 

“We are going to the lady’s room.   Didn’t want you to panic if you couldn’t find us.”

 

“Thanks…I’ll still be here when you get done.   I’ve found that special gift I needed for the Boyo.”  Chloe was reaching out to her and looked like she was ready to cry.  “Soon sweetie…We’re almost done here.”   

 

“That was a very beautiful little girl.”  Lee could see the questions in his eyes he was too polite to ask.  “How old is she?”

 

“Eight months.   Could you do a band with the turquoise and horses.  And the inscription to read Na'mé' hόt, with an infinity symbol.”

 

“That’s excellent pronunciation. 

 

“Thank you.   My husband says that to me and our daughter that often.”   They worked out the details and she was very pleased with the design that he came up with.   They took the items she was getting and went over to the register. 

 

“Will this be cash, check or credit card?”  Joseph said.   “Would you like to make a down payment on the watch today?”

 

“No, I’ll payday it all now and if there are any extra charges I can pay those when I pick up the watch.  And add that pair of silver and opal earrings there.”    She gave him her credit card and one of her cards.

 

  “You can call either one of the business numbers but please don’t call our home phone.  Johnny sometimes hears the messages on there before I do.  This is a very special Christmas present.”   Lee smiled as the items were carefully wrapped and placed in a shopping bag.  

 

  Her Christmas shopping was officially over.  Then she saw a bracelet that would be perfect for Gina.  It was a variety of semiprecious gems in bedded in a narrow circle of silver. 

 

“Maybe I should be slower in wrapping your packages so you can look around more.”  Joseph said with a smile as she paid him for the bracelet. 

 

“No, I have a little one who is ready for some lunch and a nap.  May I have some of your flyers to share with friends?  I’ll put one up on the bulletin board in my office.”

 

“I appreciate that.” 

 

“I appreciate you and your talent.  Have a good day.”   Lee wheeled over to where Jo and Chloe were waiting and they went off to lunch.

 

                          

 

The search party had been out on the trail for about 15 minutes.  They had found   some traces of the snowmobiles but the wind and snow was making tracking harder.  What tracks they found were seen first by Johnny and while this amazed the others Roy and Matt just took it for granted.  

 

“We’ve ago about 15-20 minutes before these scattered flakes turn into a full-blown storm…Roy, why don’t you and three others go off to the right I’ll go to the left with Dex…Matt, you and the others keep on this path… We all meet up in 15 minutes here if we haven’t found anything.”

 

“What makes you so sure the snow is gonna get worst?”  Dex questioned.

 

“The look of those clouds and the way the wind is changing.”

 

Johnny was just about to tell Dex they needed to turn back when they saw the small tree with the damaged bark.  Johnny stopped and looked around carefully until he spotted they found the first over turned snowmobile.  The driver’s left leg was pinned down under the machine.  Johnny quickly checked his vitals. 

 

“The pulse is weak but steady, let’s get this off so I can check the leg.

 

As soon as they moved the snowmobile they saw the bloody snow.  “Help me turn him.”  Johnny ordered after doing another quick check for broken bones.   

 

Johnny let out a sigh of relief when he saw the cut was not near the artery and the snow packed around it had slowed the bleeding almost completely.   “Let’s get a pressure bandage and splint on this leg.  Call the others and let them know what we’ve got here.”   Once they had the bandage and splint applied Johnny stood up. 

 

“Stay with him…I’m going to keep following this path and see if we can find the others.  Roy’ll be here quick as he can.  If this guy wakes up just keep him from moving around.

 

Dex wasn’t sure about the paramedic going off by himself but Matt had a lot of confidence in his tracking ability.    The wind was picking up and that snow storm seemed to be more likely with each passing minute.  ‘You sure you shouldn’t wait the few extra minutes it’ll take the others to get here?”

 

“Those other boys might not have a few extra minutes.”  Johnny packed up his supplies and equipment and started down the trail.    He had only gone short distance when he found the second frat boy sitting against a tree.  The blood on his face was from several small cuts and one two inch cut over his eye brow.  He looked at Johnny.

 

“You real or just wishful thinking on my beer addled mind?”  The boy slurred.  “Mikey wrecked the snowmobile…I was trying to find the road but kinda got lost.”

 

“Yeah you kinda did.   Any idea where your two friends are?”  As he was talking he was cleaning the cuts.  “We don’t have much time till that storm hits with full force.”

 

“Rick and Skip were ahead of us…think they went over the hill there.”   He looked at Johnny trying to get something straight in his mind.   “You think they’re dead?  I heard a scream…I think…they were drunk that doesn’t mean they deserve to die in the cold all alone. Skip, he didn’t want to go out on the snowmobiles.  Skip never even been drunk before…”

 

“Well, I have no intention of letting them or you die.   Someone will be here to get you.”  He called back to Dex giving him directions to the second victim.   “Get him and get back to the lodge…” 

 

Johnny made his way slowly down the trail watching for any sign of the snowmobile. 

 

Roy and his team had made their way to the first snowmobile.  They had called for a truck to meet them there.  They decided the fastest way to get the injured man there carry him in the blanket that Roy had added to his back pack.  With three men on each side it seemed the best option. 

 

 Matt had called for another truck and snowmobile to also come down to the meeting place.  He also asked that the county’s snow cat respond to their location.   After checking with Johnny over the radio Roy said, “Dex, you come with me and I’ll have you take the other guy Johnny found back to the road.  Sounds like he isn’t hurt too bad and should be able to walk ok.   Unless your want to head back…That storm is moving in fast.”

 

“Then we better go find that partner of yours…”  He had been around the two paramedics enough to know DeSoto wasn’t going to head back to the road until they caught up with Gage.  “Frank, you come with us and you can take the second guy up to the road.

 

Five minutes after leaving the second snowmobiler they found a thin bit of a yellow blanket tied to a tree.

 

“Excellent job Junior.”  Johnny had realized with the snow and wind picking up no tracks would last long.   They followed the yellow strips and 10 minutes later they found the second snowmobile.  The passenger had been thrown off when they hit a hidden log.   He was dazed but otherwise unharmed.   He was leaning against a tree trunk one of the yellow rescue blankets wrapped around him.

 

“Your partner said to be really careful there are lots of broken branches under the snow and the drifts are deeper than they look.”   He looked off to his left.  “Dale went off in that direction when we hit the branch and skidded he just went off in the direction he was facing.  I’m not sure he even realized I fell off…He was drunk still drinking from a flask even while we were on our way out here.”

 

“You can wait here or come with us.”  Roy told the young man after doing a quick vital check.

 

“I’ll go with you.   Your partner wanted me to wait for you.  He was positive you weren’t more than 15 minutes behind him.  He said to be sure that you don’t remove his markers so you don’t get lost.  But then he did kinda laugh at that.”

 

Johnny found the overturned snowmobile next to the unconscious boy.   Lucky for the boy the machine was on its side and not top of him. The snow bank also had provided some protection from the increasing wind and snow .   He felt the muscles in his back and shoulders protest as well as his ribs from falling when his ski hit a small pile of hidden rocks.  That is when his walkie talki had gotten broken.  

 

 He continued his check on the boy’s vitals.  The only outward injury was the bruise and small cut over the boy’s right eye.  What was really concerning Johnny was the odd way there boy was twisted.  A wrong move on his part could paralyze the boy for life.  The pain and cold was starting to fog Johnny’s thinking but he knew Roy and the others would be there soon.  

 

 His faith in Roy never wavered no matter what.  Johnny kept moving as much as possible as the cold seemed to eat away at his strength and ability to stay focused.   All the remaining yellow blankets were tucked around the unconscious boy to provide him with some warmth and protection.   Johnny had made a shaky lean to help keep some of the wind and snow off him and the boy using the fallen branches that were scattered about.

 

“See I told you he’d be sitting around waiting for us to do all the work.”  Roy said hoping the joking words covered his concern.   The snow and wind had made the trip from the third victim to where Johnny was long and tedious even though the distance wasn’t that great.   It had been 45 minutes since theory had left the lodge.   “How’s he doing?”

 

“Pulse is   slow and thready…breathing is labored.  Didn’t move him cause of some swelling I could feel in his lower back. We’ll need a backboard and some sands bags.”

 

“What about you?”  Roy could hear the pain in his friend’s voice and see it in his eyes.  And he was sure he heard some wheezing. 

 

“Just some bruises from being a klutz.”  Roy called Matt and decided for the necessary equipment be brought to them and was relieved to hear the snow cat was also coming to their location.

 

90 minutes later they were   at the small local hospital.   Johnny was waiting his turn in X-ray and was getting impatient. 

 

“Roy, I’m fine…we need to get back to the lodge and get packed and out of here before this storm gets worse.”

 

“Look, Junior, just chill out.”

 

“No thanks I’ve had enough chilling out, just started getting some warmth back in my toes.”

 

“Don’t be a smart ass.  I am not gonna be the one to tell Lee you didn’t get checked out or that because you didn’t get checked ,  be blamed for you being in Rampart Christmas morning with pneumonia.”

 

Dex and Matt were over by the coffee machine listening to the two best friends.  Matt was smiling but after meeting Lee he had to agree Roy had a very valid point. 

 

“Don’t expect me to be your messenger either, John.   That is one lady I don’t want to tangle with.”  Matt added his two cents to the conversation.

 

 “There isn’t any way I’m not going to be there for   Chloe’s first Christmas morning.”

 

“Mr. Gage, they are ready for you in X-ray now.”

 

“Is he always that impatient?”  Dex asked as they wheeled Johnny X-ray. 

 

“He was being good today, never tried to leave or call anyone names…Lee has mellowed him out.” 

 

“I’m gonna have to make a trip down to Carson to meet this lady.”

 

“She would make you welcome unless she thought you came across critical of her Boyo.”

 

“Somehow, I think Dex is smarter than that,” Matt said, “even if he is as opinionated as she is.”

 

Christmas morning dawned bright and clear.  The men of A shift were all up and ready before the morning tones.  Roy had to work at not laughing at his pacing bouncing partner.  Coffee was made, juice as well as a wide variety of holiday treats were set out on the table and counter.  The fridge was packed with dishes for the on-duty shift’s Christmas dinner.   

 

The wives, mothers and girlfriends in the auxiliary had seen to that.  Johnny had missed setting out Santa’s gifts but L eel had plenty of help from their family.  Jeff, Gina and Matt had decided to stay in the pool house while Rosemary stayed in the house.   Christmas Eve had pretty much followed tradition with going to midnight mass and then to Hector and Maria’s for the birthday cake Maria made for the Baby Jesus.   Even though it had been almost 3 when she went to bed Lee was up and cooking by 7.

 

 “Merry Christmas...”  Lee said as she handed the men fresh cups of coffee.  “I figured you would sleep at least until 8:30.” 

 

“Old habits…and think I am still on East Coast time.”  Jeff answered as he took a muffin from the tray on the counter.  Gi is on the phone to her folks.  “Cranberry?”

 

“With pecans…The Boyo called a while ago, he should be here soon.   Both the paramedics on C shift are bachelors so they came in a little early.”  She cocked her head as she heard the intercom in the nursery.  “Help yourself to whatever…I need to go get Ms. Ladybug ready.”

 

Just as Lee and Chloe came into the front room they heard footsteps on the porch.  (Technically it was a deck but Johnny usually called it the porch) and the door opened.

 

“HO Ho Ho, Merry Christmas!!!”    Chloe turned towards the sound.  “Merry Christmas to all and to all a wonderful day!”  

 

Wearing a lopsided Santa cap and carrying a red velvet bag Johnny went over to Lee and kissed her deeply scooped up the little girl sitting on the blanket her arms raised towards her daddy.  Rosemary and Gina stood back watching as Johnny swung her high before settling her in the crook of his arm.  “Is it presents or breakfast first?” 

 

“Unless everyone is starving I thought we could get plates and nibble while we do presents.  There are muffins and sweet rolls and fresh fruit and mini quiches …ham and broccoli and sausage, egg and mushroom.   Now, John Roderick, you must open your present from me and Chloe first.  No argument, ok? “

 

Splaying his hand across his chest and with a huge crooked grin he tried to look shocked.  “Me?  Me argue with you?”

 

“Yes, you but not today.”  She was giggling as Matt and Jeff carried a large gayly wrapped package to him.  They sat it on the end table and Rosemary took a protesting baby from his arms.   Carefully he unwrapped the box not sure what it could be that had her so excited about him opening it even before Chloe got her   presents.

 

“How…Man this is fantastic…I just saw this advertised the other day…”

 

“Me too…Its all charged up and ready to use.  Jeff and Gina picked it up for me yesterday.  It has all sorts of bits and pieces…”   Johnny held the movie camera not believing she had done that.  Until the other day watching Chloe he had never even thought about getting something like this.  There had been a spot on the news about the newest technical gadgets and this camera had been one of the top 5. 

 

“I called the guys who did your dark room and they got it all together and set up for you.”

 

“You are amazing.”   He put the camera down and went over to her.  The look in his eyes and the gentle way he touched her neck as he kissed her said all that was needed to be said.  Soon he was happily making a movie of Chloe opening her packages and of everyone enjoying themselves.  Everyone loved the gifts and as usual the calendar was a favorite.   Lee had honored Johnny’s request that she not go out to the sun room and had not opened the curtains.  There was only one package left for Johnny and the sun room.

 

“Ok, let’s go check out the sun room then I’ll open the last package.”  Johnny said as he pushed her towards the room. 

 

She loved the new plant stand and the bench for the front garden and the candle holder.  The shelves were perfect for what she wanted to do with the flowers in there and the candle holder would be wonderful on the side board or on the table in the dining room area.   They went back to the front room and Johnny opened the watch from Lee and Chloe.  He was blown away with the workmanship and the inscription. 

 

Over across the way Roy and his family were having a wonderful morning.  He wasn’t surprised when before they left for Jo’s sister’s house that Lee called and wished them a good day and asked if they wanted to have dinner with them the next day. 

 

Just as each season of the New Year would bring changes into their lives there was one thing that would only change for the better…The strength of the love shared by this family in good times and bad.

 

 Part 2

 

Spring…a season of joy

Lee and Johnny were finishing up decorating the shelter house.  There were streamers and balloons and bright colored table cloths with party hats and favors for the kids.   Jeff, Gina and Matt were helping as was Rosemary.   Roy and Cap were getting the grills ready and Jo, Kathy and Emily were at the house getting the food ready to bring out to The Grove.  

“Matt, we’ll be in New York on the first of October…then we’ll be heading up to Boston on the third…Jeff and Gina are going to try to be in New York on the second…I can’t wait for Uncle Johnny and Marie and Chris and Nancy and Jeff’s New York friends to meet Ms. Chloe.   I’ve already have a room booked for the party.”

“This party isn’t even started and she’s planning another one?  Maybe you should switch jobs and become an event planner.”  Gina teased.

“No, then it would be work, this is fun.”  Lee answered with a giggle.  She   loved watching Jeff and Gina together.  She still found it strange to think of Gina as her aunt because she always thought of her as a good friend.   A moment of sadness crossed her mind as she watched Matt tying off a bunch of balloons.   Matt’s wife and child had died before she was born he had never remarried or even dated seriously.  But today was a day of celebration not sadness and the thought soon was pushed out by the laughter and chatter around her.

Two hours later The Grove was full of family   to celebrate   Chloe’s first birthday.   The Desoto, Kildare, Alvarez and A shift families were having a wonderful time.   Kelly and Val and their three kids were also invited as the two families had become very good friends. There were games and craft activities set up for all ages and Chloe looked like a little princess in her party dress.  

 Ashke was never too far from the toddler.  Dixie, Joe and Kel came after their shift ended.  They got there just as the birthday cakes were   brought out.  There was a large sheet cake decorated with pink and purple flowers and ladybugs.  The there was an oversized cupcake that had a lady bug on it that was just for Chloe.

“Before we cut the cake and sing Happy Birthday, we want to thank you all for being here and for being such a wonderful part of our lives.    Roy, take Johnny’s camera and you, Boyo, come stand over here so we have at least one picture of the three of us.”  

Everyone laughed because they knew Johnny was always so busy taking pictures he was hardly ever in them.  Johnny   held Chloe and stood beside Lee then He had Roy take one of Lee holding her with him behind her.  Johnny laughed as he watched Lee putting the oversized bib on the squirmy little girl.   He then set her in the high chair and moved so he could get pictures.  (Jeff had arranged for a friend to take a home movie of the day but Johnny had already shot several rolls of film.)   Everyone sung Happy Birthday then they gave her the cupcake. 

“She has her Daddy’s sweet tooth,” Rosemary said laughing at the frosting smeared face.  Jo and Kathy cut and passed out the cake as Hank and Marco dished up the homemade ice cream. 

“As you all know, we asked you not bring gifts for Chloe but bring something to be sent to Lame Deer in memory of Mark and Anna.    We are not only celebrating our beautiful daughter but we are celebrating the memory of   her birth parents.  Their love for one another created this beautiful child and we will always be grateful to them and to her great grandmother for letting us be a part of her life.”   Lee took a deep breath.  “That you all are a part of her life is a Blessing to all three of us.  Thank you for the gifts for Lame Deer and thank you for the gifts for her.”

After they cleaned her up they sat her on a blanket so she and Johnny could open her gifts.   At first, she wasn’t sure what to do but after a few times tearing the paper hand over hand with her she caught on the idea.  Everyone laughed at the fire truck Chet gave her.  

 Suzi gave her a set of books about community helpers, firemen, police men and mailmen. 

Chloe picked up the one with the firemen on front first much to the delight of all.   Val and Kelly gave her a set of books by Val’s father.   Lee was thrilled at this because they were some of her favorites from when her father would read to her.  

Tina and the twins gave her a soft cuddly Froggy to go along with the books.  Stuffed toys, clothing, books and toys were piled around the blanket.  Johnny smiled as she clutched the small doll Rosemary had given her with her left hand as her right thumb   went into her mouth.

“I think the guest of honor is ready for a change and a nap.”  He scooped her up and carried her to Lee.  “There is plenty of food and soda…help your selves, we’ll be back in a few minutes.”   The three of them made their way back to the house.   Several of the mothers went with her as they had hired Emily and Hank’s daughter to watch any of the babies or toddlers who needed a nap.   Ashke had followed Johnny and Lee to the house and no one was surprised he didn’t come back out with them.

Soon the older kids and some of the more energetic adults were playing volleyball while others set around talking.  Rosemary had never met the Farrows before and she was talking with Kelly while Val played volleyball.  She heard the story of how they had met Johnny then the chance meeting in the doctor’s office.   Again, she was amazed at what a difference Johnny made in the lives of people and how he had changed since becoming a paramedic.  

Jim and Kathy were talking with Joe as Kelly and Dixie played volleyball.   Matt, Jeff and Hector laughed at the antics of the players.   Several people were playing cards or dominos …all were relaxed and content.   Lee looked over at her husband and felt all was right in the world.  

                                                                            

Summer …a season of friends and family

It had been a peaceful and enjoyable summer.  It had become almost routine at least once a week the three families would gather for dinner and to swim.  Some evenings they ate in The Grove other nights   around the pool.  On days that she didn’t work or only worked part time the kids would come over to swim, sometimes bringing friends.  Other friends would call or just drop by especially when it was hotter than usual.  

Several times Johnny and Roy had supervised sleep overs with Chris and Jimmy and a few of their friends out at The Grove.  Of course, the girls had had sleepovers also, but they preferred the comfort of the pool house.   A shift had gotten together for some planned pool parties but often they had been spur of the moment affairs.

                                                               

Autumn…a season of loss

It was the second week of September.   The days were still warm but it was starting to cool off in the evenings.  The kids were back to school and their activities were keeping them busy along with their studies.   It was a long week end for them due to teacher meetings so they had spent most of the day in the pool.  Now while Johnny and Roy just relaxed after a day of chores Lee and Jo were fixing dinner.   The phone rang.

“Boyo, can you get that please?”  Lee asked as she was mashing potatoes. 

“Gage residence.” 

“John, have you seen the news?”  Jeff asked without any greeting. 

“No, we haven’t had the TV on until I turned the ball game on.”  Puzzled but also concerned by Jeff’s tone.

“Good…Look, there was a mix up at the police department and they released Matt’s name before notifying me…We never changed my being the one to notify if something happens…Since Lee was his only living relative it was decided since she was a child they’d call me….”

“How bad is it?”

“He died on the way to the hospital…Johnny Russo and Chris Ballard were seriously injured.  I called Jake.  He has a plane standing by for you just call and let him know when you want to leave.  There is a suite waiting for you in New York…Gina and I’m getting ready to go there now.   Do you want me to tell her or...?”

“I’ll do it.  Roy and Jo are here…I’ll call you back soon as I know anything…You have a number where I can reach you?”

“Call my work number, they’ll get a hold of me immediately.”

Johnny went back outside to talk to Roy then went inside.  “Sweet Pea, we need to talk.”  

She looked up at his tone.   He pushed her into the front room then squatted down in front of her.  He looked at Jo who nodded and went out to Roy.

“What’s wrong?”

“Sweetheart, there isn’t any effortless way to say this.  Matt is gone.” 

“No, that’s not true…We’re going to go see him in two weeks and have a party …and…and?” 

The tears were rolling down her face and she was gripping his hand.  “He …he’s taking a new job in a few weeks…He’s gonna be an assistant police commissioner…Why would anyone tell us such a terrible lie?”

“Jeff called…he wouldn’t lie to you about something like that.  He has never lied to you.”

“No…We need to go…Uncle Johnny and Chris?  Are they alright?”

“They’re alive. But in serious condition.  Look, I’m gonna call Ibbie, I think it would be good if she went with us…Why don’t I have Jo come in and she can help you pack.”   Lee nodded too numb to think or speak.   She wanted Chloe to start crying and wake her up from this night mare.  It couldn’t be happening, she had just talked with Matt two days ago.  They had been laughing over something Chloe had done.   Johnny undid the seat belt and picked her up.   He held her and softly whispered in her ear, telling her how much she was loved and how he would be by her side as they dealt with this.   

Roy had called Cap and then called HQ telling them Johnny was requesting emergency leave.    He had been able to get a hold of Bob Houser who said he would take care of it.

Three hours later they were on a plane to New York City.  Jeff and Gina met them at the plane and took them to the hotel. 

Three days later the funeral was held in the same church his wife and child had been at so many years before.  Chris and Johnny Russo were still in the hospital. 

Chris had been upgraded to stable but Johnny was still in critical condition.    Lee was numb but held up well as Matt would have expected her to do. 

The day after the funeral they saw the lawyer and made some choices that surprised many and confused others but they were hers to make. 

After visiting Chris and Johnny in the hospital   Lee and Johnny   had lunch with Jeff and Gina friends from his office.   They had been very supportive and had made sure the press hadn’t been a problem.    The papers had been full of the details of the shooting and so had the television coverage. 

 The fact a 14-year-old addict had shot and killed a police captain was sensational enough but then when it was revealed she had done it to try to free her 20-year-old boyfriend it became even more of a media circus.  

Part of the press   played up the fact she was only 14, an addict and pregnant as a means of gaining sympathy for her.   There were the usual outrage cries blaming racial tension and gang warfare.  None of this phased Lee since it was blocked by the all-consuming sense of loss and nameless fear.  

After lunch, they went to the airport to meet up with Ibbie and Chloe.  Thanks to the sleeping pill that Kelly Brackett had arranged for a friend in New York to prescribe Lee slept most of the way back home, holding onto Johnny’s hand much of the trip.   

 Kathy and Jim met them at the airport since A shift was on duty.  Ibbie’s husband was there to pick her up.    Ibbie looked shock when she opened the envelope   Johnny gave her.  It was a check and a voucher for two first class tickets to Hawaii. 

The note thanked her and her husband for all that Ibbie had done for them while they were in New York and explained about their house on the beach that they could use any time they wanted and it had 3 bedrooms if they wanted to take anyone with them.   

When they got home, Jo was waiting for them with a casserole and salad as well as an apple pie.  

  Kathy helped Lee put Chloe to bed soon after she ate.  Kathy and Jo had made sure everything was clean and there were fresh sheets on the bed and the fridge well stocked.

Mama Lopez had sent over food as had Emily and Melissa.   Maria and Hector were back in Denver but they had called her in New York and had sent flowers to the funeral and had more waiting for their return home.   These were to plant out in the grove as a living memorial to Matt around a tree they were to pick out.  

Lee was in Johnny’s recliner with the afghan Em had made him for   his birthday over her legs.  He smiled when he saw her smiling at something Jo was telling her.  It was the first real smile he had seen from her since he had told her about Matt.  This smile showed in her eyes as well on her face.

“Boyo, Jo just told me Jenny won a   contest at school using the pictures she has taken out in The Grove to illustrate an essay she wrote.  It was about appreciating nature and caring for the environment.   She not only won for her grade in her school but for all the fourth grades in the district.   Stacy won for her the third-grade classes at their school.  She did an essay on wild flowers and used the pictures she has taken on your walks.”   

“That’s great.”  What was great as to see Lee smiling again. 

By ten they were ready for   bed.  Johnny helped her get settled then went into the bathroom.    He was surprised to see her crying.  He went over and set down next to her. 

“Talk to me Sweet Pea.”    She had cried briefly at the funeral but for most of the time she had been very stoic. 

“Promise me …you have to promise me…”   She was sobbing almost hysterically.

“Promise you what?  You have to tell me before I can promise.”  He had a tight hold of her hand.

“Promise me I’ll die before you…”  

                                                      

Winter…a time of healing…

Thanksgiving had been hard.  They had gone to Rosemary’s and it had just been the four of them.   Lee had worked very hard at enjoying the day.   

Chloe was now a happy curious toddler who kept her parents busy and provided so much joy.  They had stayed over so they could all go to the Christmas parade on Friday.    This Christmas she was so much more aware of all the lights and decorations. 

Johnny was in a quandary celebrating her birthday.  Did they have the usual tree trimming party or celebrate quietly.  Roy thought about it carefully before answering when Johnny had asked for his advice.   Johnny appreciated all the hours Roy had spent since September listening to him worry about Lee.

“The thing is…if you suddenly stop all the old traditions is she going to feel even more of a sense of loss?  She needs to have the old familiar memories as an anchor but at the same time be making new ones, starting new traditions.  If you stop the old ones it’s kinda like saying they didn’t matter any way.” 

This year he had invited Val and Kelly to join them.  Lee had been working with Val and Kelly on several projects related to Special Olympics and the families had become close friends.  Val teased her saying he and Kelly were their token non-fire/police/medical friends.

 

 

Rosemary invited them to come to her home for Christmas bur Lee refused.  Partly because Johnny had to work on the 26th and partly because she wanted Christmas to be at their home.  She wasn’t sure if Jeff and Gina were coming or if they were going to her family’s celebration this year.  She had told Jeff whatever was best for him was fine with her.  As much as Jeff hated it, especially this year, they would be in Maryland with Gina’s family.   He explained that Gina’s dad had some serious health issues and she really needed to be with him.

“I’ll fly out and be with you while she is in Maryland.”  Jeff told her. 

“No, you should be with your wife on Christmas.  We’ll get together later, maybe a week in Hawaii.”  She was fighting back the tears.    “It’ll be ok, it’s not like I will be alone.  Chloe is all excited about Santa…Johnny got a set of doggie antlers for Ashie…and she puts bells on him…We’ll take lots of pictures ad movies.”

“Love you Sweet Pea…you tell that Boyo of yours I’m trusting him to take care of you…and Chloe.” 

“I will he does an awesome job of taking caring of his girls…Love you.”   She could hear someone in the background calling him to a meeting.  “Talk soon.”

The next few weeks were busy with holiday preparations and work responsibilities.  Lee was glad there was so much to do it helped to fill that empty space inside.   She and Jo were swamped with grant applications as well as auxiliary Christmas projects.   It was hard sending the packages to Johnny Russo and his family and Chris Ballard and his wife and new son.  

Johnny had taken medical retirement and kept promising to come visit.  Lee sent there packages off to Maryland for Jeff and Gina and some canny and nut trays from the Sweethart House for Gina’s family.   Rosemary   had agreed to spend Christmas with her children in Mexico.  

Johnny and Lee went with Roy and Jo to the Christmas play at their church.   Chris was one of the wise men and Jenny was in the angel choir.   Maria and Hector understood the reason they didn’t go to Mass or to the house for cake on Christmas Eve.     It was a time for new traditions for the young family.  It would bet a blend of old and new.

Christmas morning   was a fun time watching Chloe open her presents and play with the new toys.  Johnny loved the gifts from his girls and Lee was over whelmed with the gifts from Johnny and Chloe.  Johnny had sent a picture of Chloe to a doll maker and he gave Lee a porcelain doll that looked exactly like Chloe.  He even had Liz make her an outfit that was exactly like the one Cap and Em had given her that had given her  nick name.

After Chloe was in bed for the night, Johnny and Lee were sitting in front of the fire place watching the fire and listening to Christmas tapes.

“Happy?”  He whispered in her ear.  He was sitting his back   against the couch, she was in front of him leaning back against him. 

“Very…I thought for a while I would never really be happy again…That such a big part of me had died with Matt.  But now I know that part wasn’t dead just waiting to grow strong again…All the good memories they’ll keep him alive in our hearts.   When she is older we’ll tell Chloe about our folks and Matt and Anna and Mar that’ll keep them alive in her heart.”  

She giggled as his lips played with her ear lobe.   “You know, we haven’t been to Camp Gage in a long time.”  He was surprised but pleased at her statement and the way she moved closer.

“You sure?” 

“Positive…can’t  think of a better way  to  end  this  day…It’s  not  just  time  that  heals  wounds,  more importantly  it’s  love … and I  love  you  for  giving me the  time  to  find  myself  again and  to learn its  ok  to  be  happy…It’s  more  than ok,  it’s  the  best  way to  honor  those  we’ve  lost…by  continuing  to live to the  fullest  we can.   Not to be afraid to keep loving those we are with…not to fear the new reality but face it with hope.”

 

TBC

 

Posted to Site 5/30/17

 

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