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Surprised

An Emergency Story by

Julie
 

Chapter One

 

Johnny came into the apparatus bay. He was early again. He had been early a lot lately. He was smiling and whistling again this morning. Roy had never remembered seeing Johnny so happy. Although he tried to hide it, the rest of the crew noticed it too. Not even the phantom was able to ruffle Gage's feathers; much to Chet's disappointment. Chet thought at first that it was a girl, but he couldn't get Johnny to admit anything and no girls had been calling as they usually do when Johnny has a new girl friend. Chet was stumped. No one knew why Johnny was so happy lately, except possibly Roy. Even though Johnny had yet to admit it, Roy felt sure he knew why.

 

Johnny and Roy were checking the equipment to start their shift. They calibrated the cardiac monitor and did their radio checks. Johnny smiled as he remembered the last couple of days. The gang had gone out bowling a few nights before for an unofficial firefighters bowling tournament. It was station 36 against station 51. Station 10 even showed up for the fun. Johnny was pleased that Sam beat Chet so easily putting an end to his bragging, even though it meant that the station 51 team lost and the station 36 team won. Chet was always bragging what an expert bowler he was and how he thought about being a pro bowler at one point. But, Sam averaged 240 in bowling that night, beating Chet by a good thirty pins. She joked that during the long Alaskan winters, she spent half her life in the bowling alley. Watching her bowl, everyone believed that was true. Johnny thought about how much fun she was to hang out with. The whole group spent the night bowling, laughing and drinking beer. Johnny watched as all the single guys seemed to swarm around her. Sam took it all in stride.

 

She laughed and joked with all of them. She looked over at Johnny who was watching her and smiled at him. She was just having fun with all her friends. Sam even got the attention of others in the alley. It's not often that a girl is seen hanging out with such a big bunch of guys. Sam was leaning against a row of plastic chairs waiting her turn and cheering on her team. A guy from the other lane had been watching her. He figured that if she had all those guys there and she was turning them all down,

maybe she wanted someone like him. He staggered over to Sam, totally drunk.

 

"Hey honey," the drunk bowler said. "Can I buy you a beer?"

 

"No thanks," she answered and turned her back on him to continue talking to her friends.

 

"Don't you turn your back on me!" He said. The drunk was offended by her just turning away and grabbed her by the arm trying to turn her around but instead he pulled her awkwardly over the chairs. She fell flat on her back on the floor. The whole group of guys stood up to come to her rescue. Terry, the lineman from 36, was standing next to her. He turned to face the man but before he could say or do anything the drunk punched him right in the face, knocking him back and into others guys from 36 who were moving forward. Sam stood up and the drunk grabbed her by the wrist to pull her away.

 

Instead, Sam pushed her hand toward him then pulled out of his grip. She gripped the man instead of him gripping her. She held his thumb and wrist. She twisted him around and face planted him on the table top until he was drooling on his own score sheets. His friends just stood back, embarrassed by their drunken friend. "I already told you, No Thanks," Sam said. "I really don't want another beer."

 

She held the man down so he wouldn't hurt himself or anyone else and looked over at her friends.

 

"Are you ok Terry?"

 

Terry looked over at her, his eye bruising and starting to swell.

 

"I'm fine Sam," he said.

 

Alex looked curiously over at Johnny and the others at 51 who just stood there watching the action.

 

"Thanks for the help guys," Alex said sarcastically.

 

"We learned a long time ago that we didn't need to worry much about Sam," Roy explained.

 

The police came in a few minutes later and arrested the drunk for assault. Some of the guys from 36 felt a little off balance by hanging around with a girl so able to care for herself. Johnny smiled as he watched her and said, "Far out."

 

Roy looked over at Johnny as he prepared the oxygen tank for the day. "Johnny, what are you smiling about?"

 

"I was just thinking about bowling the other night," Johnny answered.

 

"Did you guys know that Sam was such a good bowler?" Chet asked.

 

"To be honest, we never talked about bowling," Roy answered.

 

"That girl is one surprise after another," Marco said.

 

Sam had settled back into the routine of station 36. She worked well with Alex and they finally got to the point that when they worked, they were working as one unit. Even though Captain David Harrison had his doubts when Sam was assigned, he had to agree, she was unique and well worth the chance he had taken when he agreed with her assignment. He took a lot of flak from some of the other captains who teased him about having a girl assigned to his crew but when Captain Hank Stanley stepped up and quietly told him not to worry about it, Harrison relented. Hank and David had been friends from way back when they worked hoses side by side at Station 10. He learned to trust Hank in many things, so he was willing to give it a shot when Hank was supporting her. Besides, David knew that Captain Stanley had seen her work. Now Captain Harrison was really glad he listened. He was so proud. His team was growing as strong as his friend Hanks. Even with the pink tutu's left in his bunk, and lipstick left on his desk, she was worth it. He just wished more of the other Captains would come around to see it too. Sam and Alex were busy doing their morning checks of equipment and cleaning up from the previous shift. There was an easy banter among the group that was often fun for the Captain to listen to. He thought to himself, Sam sure knew how to keep those guys in their place. He was as surprised as anyone when she easily took care of the drunk in the bowling alley the other night. But when it came to Sam he was learning to anticipate her surprises.

 

The klaxons sounded several alarms to break up the routine of the morning. "Station 36, Station 51, Engine 10, engine 8. Structure fire, Commerce and Central, Commerce and Central. Time out 10:21."

Captain Harrison answered the call, then handed Alex the address. Sam and Alex ran to the squad and they led the way out with the engine close behind. They drove into a manufacturing area with many warehouses nearby. As they came to the location they saw a huge warehouse well involved. Smoke poured out the doors and flames could be seen through the windows. They looked up at the sign to see that the building was used to make paint. When they saw that, they knew pulling up that this was going to be a rough response. Station 36 was the first ones in. Harrison jumped out of the engine and started shouting commands to his men as the Warehouse Manager ran up to him.

 

"The place went up so fast. We got everyone out as fast as we could but when I did a head count, there are two missing," he said.

 

"Do you know where they are?" Captain Harrison asked.

 

"The last time I saw them they were in the back of the building upstairs coming out of the offices," he explained. "But they could be anywhere now."

 

"Anderson! Martinez!" Harrison yelled.

 

The pair came over to the Captain and were informed of the two missing people and where they were last seen. Without hesitation they both ran to the squad, pulled on their turnouts, masks & helmets, then prepared to enter the building. Harrison called to the others in his crew to cover them. The other men fell in behind to help.

 

Station 51 pulled up to the scene. Johnny and Roy watched as Alex and Sam pulled their gear on and ran to the building with the rest of the men behind, toting hoses. They knew this couldn't be good. That fact was confirmed when they heard Harrison on the radio asking them to set up a cover for the crew going in to search for two missing employees.

 

Sam and Alex ran into the building. They paused for a minute and looked around. There was a lot of smoke and it was pretty hot, but the fire hadn't reached that point of the door yet. There were barrels of paint, solvents and thinners everywhere. There were also many cardboard boxes filled with different colors of paint. There was so much fuel for this fire that it was frightening. Sam and Alex could see the fire burning around some of the mixing equipment and in a few other locations nearby.

It was burning hottest near some large barrels marked thinner.

 

"Alex, look," Sam said. "We better make this fast."

 

"Yeah, I see that," Alex replied.

 

Terry and the other guys from 36 came in behind them with charged hoses. They focused on the area where the missing were last seen. The area leading to the offices was sprayed down and the fire pulled back some so the pair could gets past. Sam and Alex ran toward the upstairs offices right above where the fire was burning the hottest. They came across the first victim right away. A man looked like he was coming down the wooden staircase and collapsed halfway down the stairs. Alex shook him. He then took the mask off his face and gave it to the man. The man sucked the oxygen in and coughed. "Tammy," he coughed again and pointed up the stairs. "She's still up there."

 

Sam ran past them and bounded up the stairs in search of Tammy as Alex half carried the first victim the rest of the way down the stairs and headed toward the door. Sam opened the door to several of the offices looking for Tammy. After looking in the third door she finally found her laying on the floor.

 

There was a commotion outside on the warehouse floor. Then she heard Captain Harrison on her Handy talkie yell, "Everyone, get back! Get Back!"

 

Alex came out of the building with the man and ran into Terry, still sporting the shiner from the night bowling. "Can you take him, Sam is still in there," Alex said.

 

Alex turned to run back inside when there was a huge explosion and the fireball pushed everyone down.

 

"Oh God," Alex said. "Sam."

 

Alex looked back through the door in disbelief as the rest of the men got back up with their hoses and started to move in to battle the now more intense blaze. There were flames everywhere. He was afraid of what he may find when he went back into the warehouse.

 

 

Sam grabbed Tammy and pulled her to her feet. Tammy coughed and Sam looked into her frightened eyes. "Come on, we've got to get out of here NOW," Sam said.

 

She whipped her mask off and gave it to Tammy who took a few quick breaths as Sam quickly dragged her out the door and toward the stairs. It was just then when the barrels below them blew. The whole floor they were standing on lifted and shook. The fireball went around them singeing hair and the wood frame of the office. Sam instinctively turned to envelope Tammy shielding her from the brunt of the flames. Sam could hear Tammy's voice muffled in the air mask as she screamed. Before they had a chance to blink, the now weakened upper level began to shift and collapse. Sam wrapped her arms tightly around Tammy as they both fell through the wood railing toward the floor 12 feet below. With the heavy tank on her back, Sam fell back first, still hugging Tammy as they fell. About halfway down they landed on some large wooden crates with a thump, then rolled onto the floor with a smack another 6 feet below them. Once they were on solid ground, Sam rolled onto her back and looked up. The structure from the offices was falling right at them.

 

"Oh Shit," Sam said then turned her face away attempting to shield herself from the debris she knew was coming right at her.

 

The office walls and walkway hit the large crate and boxes of paint near them. The debris pivoted around creating a pocket of safety. The paint cans exploded from the impact and the girls were splattered with multiple colors of paint as another deafening explosion rocked the area. Luckily they were shielded from that explosion by the fallen offices and the large equipment crate. Colorful smoke now appeared as the solvent began to react to the heat. Marco and Chet joined Alex and the others from engine 36 working their way over with the hoses. They could hear Tammy crying under the debris and Sam was coughing from the smoke and the inhaled solvent fumes. The crate had protected Sam and Tammy from the falling offices and created a small protected space. Alex pulled away some of the wood to find his partner and her victim huddled underneath. Tammy was practically pushed through the small hole Alex created and Sam followed close behind. Terry reached down to pull out Sam then went back to his hose. Alex, Tammy and Sam headed out the warehouse. Alex helped Tammy over to where Roy was working on the other victim. Tammy was cradling her wrist that broke when they fell off the crate onto the concrete floor. Sam followed slowly behind Alex and Tammy. Tammy's friend was laying on the ground wearing an oxygen mask and Roy was checking his vitals. Sam and Tammy were covered in so many colors of paint they looked like they were tidied. Alex helped Tammy sit next to her friend and he started to check her over while Sam staggered over. She was moving slowly and looked to be dizzy and in pain. She let out a few hard coughs. Captain Harrison came over to help Sam.

 

"Sam, let's get you sitting down before you fall down," he said.

 

Captain Harrison helped Sam to gingerly take her tank and turnout coat off then sit unsteadily down on the ground. She leaned back against the wheel of the squad. She dropped her head back attempting to stop the world from spinning.

 

"How is everyone doing?" He asked.

 

"We got them all out cap," Sam answered then coughed again.

 

He looked at her with some concern. "It looked a little close."

 

Sam nodded, "Yeah, it was a little toasty."

 

Sam let out another hearty cough. Captain Harrison handed Sam the oxygen so that she could breathe in some of the clean air. Alex pulled out another oxygen tank from the squad and put the mask over Tammy's face. Tammy was sobbing into her oxygen mask as Alex looked her over. He splinted her broken wrist. She seemed to be mostly frightened.

 

"Alex, see to it that Sam gets checked out at Rampart too, you hear me?" Harrison said.

 

"You got it Cap," Alex answered.

 

Tammy looked over at Sam and almost did a double take as she noticed that her hero wasn't a man as she thought. Roy got on the radio to contact Rampart as the ambulance pulled up to take in the injured.

 

"Rampart, this is squad 51," Roy said. "We have 3 victims of smoke inhalation and possible Ethel acetate fumes. All victims are on 6 liters of O2. Stand by for vital signs."

 

Roy started to tell Rampart the vitals of Tammy and her friend. Everyone was glad to see that all the injuries were relatively minor and Captain Harrison was proud of how well his lady Firefighter/Paramedic was doing. He knew that those other captains, would soon be eating their words.

 

Now that the fire was relatively contained, Johnny came over to check on his partner and see how everyone was doing. Johnny giggled as he saw Sam's colorful figure. Even with the turnout and helmet, Sam had paint covering her pants, face and hair.

 

"I always thought you were pretty colorful," Johnny joked trying to make light of the situation.

Sam took the oxygen mask off her face to answer. "Ha ha ha ha ha," Sam hoarsely said then let out another deep cough. Alex pushed the mask back to her face.

 

"Keep that on there Sam," he said.

 

Johnny felt a little embarrassed by the joke when he heard the deep cough. He knew that she had eaten smoke and was probably feeling pretty miserable.

 

"Are you ok? " he asked concerned.

 

Sam nodded then quietly trying to stifle another cough. Alex reached down to give Sam a hand up. She took his hand and followed the two victims and Roy into the ambulance while Alex carried the oxygen for her. Once she was settled inside, Alex shut the doors of the ambulance then patted on the back doors so they knew it was secure. The ambulance drove away. Johnny and Alex watched it go for a moment, then Alex patted Johnny on the back.

 

"So I guess I'll see you at rampart," Alex said to him.

 

"Yeah Alex, I'll see you there," Johnny answered as he watched the ambulance drive away.

 

Alex and Johnny picked up the rest of their equipment and headed to their squads for the drive to Rampart. Johnny drove silently, thinking. The way Sam acted when he just spoke to her seemed pretty distant. He wondered to himself if he had made her angry by his actions. Didn't she understand he was just trying to be funny. Did she decide that he wasn't good enough now that she knows more about him. When she was hurt a few months ago he told her so much about his life. He was just trying to keep her distracted. She was hurt so badly then. Johnny didn't know how much of what he told her she even remembered. They had never really talked about it. Since her accident, it didn't seem to matter, but now he was second guessing everything.

 

Now that they were in the ambulance and everyone seemed pretty stable, Roy turned his attention to Sam. She still coughed deeply every so often. Her throat was sore and she felt so congested. Every word she spoke brought on more coughing and more irritation. Roy put the stethoscope on her back to listen to her breathing. She took a couple deep breaths for him.

 

"You sound pretty congested," Roy told her.

 

Tammy looked at Sam struggling and was a bit worried about her rescuer.

 

"Is she ok?" Tammy asked Roy.

 

"I'm fine," Sam answered trying to stifle another cough. She smiled at Tammy, trying to reassure her.

 

Roy agreed, "She's fine. Sam's pretty tough."

 

Tammy was relieved by his answer. Roy smiled at Sam and Sam winked back at the compliment. They finally arrived at Rampart. Tammy and her friend were brought out of the ambulance on the gurney first. Roy helped Sam out then they followed behind. After Roy saw his first victim to his treatment room and reported that there were no complications on the way in, Roy went looking for Sam. He went in the room with Dr. Early, who was checking on Tammy. "You sound pretty good," Dr. Early said.

 

"It was all thanks to that girl firefighter," Tammy said. "The whole place exploded and she shielded me from the fire and the fall too. I thought we were going to die." Tammy began to cry again. "I was so scared."

 

"Well, you’re safe now," Dr. Early calmly said.

 

Roy backed out of the room and ran into Dr. Brackett as he walked through the hall. "Have you seen Sam?" He asked.

 

"I saw her go into treatment 2," Dr. Brackett answered. "I was just going in to check on her."

 

They opened the door to treatment 2 and Dr. Brackett immediately discovered why Roy had been so concerned. After washing her face and standing up from the sink she began coughing.

 

"Hi Sam," Dr. Brackett said.

 

"Hi Doc," she hoarsely answered back.

 

"It sounds like you ate a little smoke," he said.

 

"Yeah, I Did," she answered. "I felt so grimey, I was just washing my face. It figures that Roy would have tracked you down for me before I was finished cleaning up."

 

"How about you hop on the table so I can have a listen to those lungs?" Dr. Brackett said.

 

Sam stepped away from the basin still cleaning paint out of her ears with a paper towel and climbed up onto the exam table. She unbuttoned and untucked her blue uniform shirt revealing her usual white tank top underneath so the doctor could listen more clearly to her lungs. As he walked behind her, Dr. Bracket looked with curiosity at Sam's hair.

 

"You got a little close to the fire didn't you?" Dr. Brackett asked. "Your hair is singed."

 

"Oh, it is," Sam said. "There was an explosion and the fireball came around us."

 

Dr. Brackett moved her short hair out of the way to check her neck for burns. He then pulled her white tank top up in back to listen to her lungs and saw a huge back bruise up Sam's back. "I had a bit of a fall too," Sam said knowing that he would have something to say about the bruise on her back.

 

"Sam, why didn't you say anything?" Roy asked concerned.

 

"You were busy with the other two and it really doesn't hurt that bad," she hoarsely answered.

 

"Sam, you are as bad as Johnny sometimes," Roy said.

 

"How far did you fall?" Dr. Brackett asked.

 

"I was wearing my tank and fell about 6 feet onto a wooden crate," She answered. "And Tammy fell on top of me."

 

Brackett probed the area to make sure there were no broken ribs or back injuries, then he listened to her lungs. "Dix, let's get some chest and back X-rays," he said. "You have a little congestion, but it's not too bad," Dr. Brackett said. "Let's get you back on oxygen while we get the X-rays. Are you still feeling dizzy?"

 

"No, not really," she answered.

 

Just then Alex found his way into Sam's room too. "Hey Doc, so is she gonna live?" Alex jokingly said.

 

"I want to get some X-rays on that back," Dr. Brackett said, "but she looks pretty good."

 

"Wonderful," Alex said. "I was afraid we lost her when that warehouse went up."

 

"So did I," Sam agreed.

 

Johnny arrived at Rampart and walked in the door. He walked over to the base station where he found, Dixie, Alex and Roy talking as they laughed and sipped some coffee.

 

"Hey guys," he said.

 

"Hi Johnny," Dixie said.

 

"Where's Sam?" Johnny asked.

 

"She's in with Dr. Brackett now," Alex answered. "He said she's fine, just ate a little smoke."

 

"That's good to hear," Johnny answered.

 

Sam walked up to the base station behind the guys, still buttoning and tucking In her shirt. She still had quite a bit of multi colored paint on her pants.

 

"Hey guys," she said with a raspy voice. Sam coughed. "Did they get the fire out?"

 

"Yeah, they had it under control when I left," Johnny answered.

 

"You sound a little better than you did a while ago," said Roy.

 

"It's amazing what a little oxygen can do," Sam commented.

 

Just then the alarm went off on the handy talkie. "Squad 36 are you available?"

 

"Squad 36, available from Rampart," Alex answered.

 

"Squad 36, possible heart attack. Wiltshire and Sepulveda, Wiltshire and Sepulveda. Time out 1:29."

 

"Squad 36, 10-4," Alex answered. He turned to the others. "Talk to you later."

 

Sam coughed again as she followed Alex out to the squad and they headed out on their run. Johnny and Roy watched them go.

 

"We should probably get going too," Johnny said. "See you later Dix."

 

Johnny and Roy headed to their own squad and back to the station. As they were driving Johnny was talking to Roy.

 

"Hey Roy is Sam mad at me about what I said at the fire?" Johnny asked. "She barely spoke to me."

 

"I don't think so Johnny," Roy said. "She took in a lot of smoke and fumes. I don't think she was able to really talk to you at the fire."

 

"Oh," Johnny said. He looked out the side window of the squad and smiled as he thought about her.

 

"So she didn't say anything in particular in the ambulance?"

 

"No, she didn't say anything about you," Roy answered. "Did you want me to pass her a note in study hall" he joked."

 

"Very funny Roy," Johnny said. "It's just that I never met anyone like Sam before. The more I get to know her... She's smart, pretty, understanding and can even handle Chet."

 

"I agree, she's something special," Roy said. He smiled. "Johnny, It almost sounds like you’re smitten."

 

Johnny smiled at Roy then looked back out the window. "We're going out for breakfast tomorrow after our shift."

 

Roy raised his eyebrows. He really didn't have anything to say. He wasn't sure where this was going. At this point he was just glad that Johnny was happy.

 

The sun was shining and it was a beautiful warm morning, which was a bit unusual for so late in December. Johnny was sitting outside the small cafe overlooking the ocean. He sat back in the chair sipping his coffee as he waited. Johnny checked his watch again for what seemed like the hundredth time. She should have been there thirty minutes ago. Where could she be he thought. Then he thought, she changed her mind and decided not to come. A gentle cool breeze blew through the seating area outside the cafe blowing Johnny's napkin off the table. Sam came strolling over. She was wearing a beautiful red v neck sweater and perfectly fitting blue jeans. Johnny leaned down to pick up the napkin from under the table. As he was picking up the napkin, he didn't see Sam approach until she was standing right in front of him. He looked up to see her standing there looking at him.

 

"Hi Johnny," she said still with a slight rasp to her voice from the day before. "I'm sorry I was so late. Alex had to leave for a dentist appointment and Travis was running late so I hung around a little until he got there."

 

Johnny looked up at her and smiled. He stood up for her. He had rarely seen her dressed nicely.

 

Other than her uniform he had seen her mostly in jeans and a t-shirt. "I was starting to think that you might have changed your mind about breakfast."

 

"No chance of that," she said.

 

"You look very festive today," he said

 

"Thank you. After all, tis the season," she replied.

 

"Are you hungry?" He asked.

 

"Starving," she said.

 

Sam pulled the chair out and sat down. Johnny joined her.

 

"Did you have a good night?" She asked.

 

"It was a pretty quiet for a change," Johnny said. "How about you?"

 

"It was pretty busy," Sam said. "At Midnight we were called out to a fire that turned out to be a dumpster, then At 2am we had a five year old fall out of the top bunk of his bed and hit the nightstand."

 

"Was he okay?" Johnny asked.

 

"He had a broken arm and a concussion, but he's going to be fine," Sam answered. "Other than that, we had a pretty quiet night and I'm glad. We didn't get back until 4am. I'm beat."

 

Johnny seemed disappointed that she was so tired. The waitress came by and filled the coffee cup on the table in front of Sam.

 

"Ohhh, coffee. Thank you," she said to the waitress.

 

"Are you ready to order," the waitress asked.

 

Sam took a small sip from her warm cup, then they placed their breakfast order and talked as they ate. Johnny with his eggs, bacon, toast and hash browns; Sam with her omelet and fruit. It was lots of small talk about work, the weather and what they were planning to do for the upcoming holidays. It was a pleasant breakfast for both of them. After breakfast they decided to walk along the beach and enjoy the quiet morning. Sam kicked off her shoes so she could feel the warm sand on her feet. Johnny decided to do the same.

 

"I grew up so far inland I never even saw a beach until I moved here. It's like I always imagined it would be," Sam said. "It's so beautiful."

 

Johnny looked over at Sam and smiled. Even though it really was a beautiful morning. His thoughts were more of her. "Yes, beautiful," he agreed.

 

They watched as a small boy ran into the surf followed by his sister and a man went jogging at the waters edge. The wind kicked up a little blowing sand around. Sam turned a bit toward Johnny to keep the sand out of her face. He put his arm protectively around her shoulders and gave her a bit of a squeeze. Sam groaned and squirmed from the squeeze and pulled out of the hug.

 

"Sam," Johnny said confused. He was hurt and felt a bit rejected.

 

"I'm sorry Johnny," Sam said. "My back is a little sore this morning."

 

"Your back? What happened?"

 

"It was at that warehouse fire yesterday. I kind of thought I would be a little sore today, but it's a little more than I expected." Sam explained.

 

"The warehouse? You weren't in there when it blew were you? Is that how you got covered with paint and ate all that smoke?" Johnny asked.

 

Sam was surprised by the amount of concern that Johnny was showing. It's something she hadn't expected. Johnny was a lot like her. Un-afraid to step in for the victim. She tried to play down the injury.

 

"Johnny, it's just a bruise on my back. Brackett checked and everything's fine," Sam explained. "My cough is gone for the most part too."

 

Johnny suddenly turned her and pulled up the sweater in back. He looked at the huge black and blue bruise on her back from the fall she had in warehouse.

 

"Hey," she cried when he looked at her back.

 

"Sam, this is more than just a little bruise," he said.

 

"Johnny, you know that this is just a part of the job," Sam said. "It's not that big of a deal. Sometimes we get hurt."

 

"You could have been killed. You were lucky you weren't killed. That place was an inferno," Johnny said. "Why didn't you come out when they called for everyone?"

 

"I was on my way out, there just wasn't enough time," she explained. She was getting frustrated. Sam pulled the sweater out of his hands and pulled it back down around her hips.

 

"You've got to be more careful," he said.

 

"Come on Johnny. You would have done the same thing as I did and you know it," Sam said.

 

"But Sam," Johnny said.

 

"No buts. You know I'm right," Sam argued. "You've spent so much time as a patient at Rampart there's talk of them even naming a room in your honor. The official Johnny Gage hospital room. So don't think you can lecture me about being careful."

 

He walked a few steps away from her running his hand through his hair. He was obviously frustrated with the conversation. He couldn't believe she was taking this so lightly.

 

"Sam, it's not the same," he said.

 

"What do you mean it's not the same," Sam yelled increasingly frustrated by him. "If I hadn't been

there Tammy would have been killed," Sam explained. "Do you want me to stand there and let an innocent person die because I might get a boo boo?"

 

"No of course not," Johnny answered.

 

Sam continued, "I'm not going to leave them waiting and praying for help that never comes any more than you would."

 

Johnny said. "Sam This is a little more than a little boo boo."

 

Sam had come to the end of her rope. She was angry. She asked, "Why is it such a big deal? It's a little smoke inhalation and a bruise. So why is it not the same as when you do it? Its because I'm a girl isn't it. Man it always comes down to that doesn't it? No one wants to see the girl hurt. Blah, blah, blah. I thought you we're different. I thought you accepted me for who and what I am. My job means a lot to me. I worked hard to get to this point. Those people like Tammy. They mean a lot to me."

 

"Sam, it has nothing to do with you being a girl," Johnny said.

 

"Then what the hell is it Johnny? Why is it such a big deal? Why is it so different?"

 

Johnny was really flustered from the argument. She was right in his face. She was practically yelling at him. People were walking past them watching and at the same time acting like they were hearing nothing. Johnny looked at the strangers faces as they walked by. He was having a hard time answering Sam's questions.

 

"Well, Johnny. Then what is the issue here!" Sam yelled.

 

Johnny yelled out, "Because I Love you."

 

Sam stopped. She stepped back a couple steps. She looked at him like a deer in the headlights and took a deep breath. "What?" She quietly asked.

 

Johnny looked at the unusual expression on her face and just reacted.

 

"Just forget it," Johnny said. He turned around and started to walk, almost stomp, back down the beach toward the restaurant and his car.

 

"Johnny?" Sam called to him. But Johnny just kept walking. Sam followed behind him.

 

"Just forget I ever said anything," he said angrily. "I'm know, I'm not good enough. It's the story of my life. I've always been too white or too Indian. I've never been good enough!"

 

"Johnny Gage!" She yelled.

Johnny stopped. He stared straight ahead. He bit his lip. He wouldn't turn to face her. He couldn't. Sam just looked at him, tears in her eyes.

 

"Johnny, It's not that. You are perfect the way you are. I thought that since the first day we met," Sam said. "It's me."

 

"Yeah right," he said quietly. He pushed past her and continued his walk away from her at a much slower pace than before. "That's what they all say."

 

Sam rushed up to Johnny and went around to face him. She looked him right in the face but his head was down and eyes were closed. She spoke anyway.

 

"The first time I saw you, I knew how special you are. I was so happy when I woke up in ICU. To see you were sitting there. It meant so much to me. Then when you took me home and stayed with me. You helped me and took care of me all that time while I recovered. You never asked for anything. You were there at my weakest. You stayed," Sam said.

 

Tears were streaming down her face. She paused to think deep down then said "I've watched so many people I care about die right before my eyes." She took a deep breath. "I never planned to get so close to anyone or fall in love. I'm so afraid Johnny. I Don't want to hurt like that again." Sam said.

Sam was struggling to find the words to explain her feelings to him. She looked away from Johnny in fear and frustration. She looked out to the vastness of the ocean. Johnny opened his eyes and looked at Sam. Johnny understood how she was feeling. He had closed himself off from feeling to avoid the hurt too. He smiled at her.

 

"You have no problem running into a burning building about to explode or climbing the outside of a 10 story building and you're afraid of me?" Johnny said.

 

Sam chuckled a little at that but said nothing. She just continued to look out to the ocean.

 

"I don't want to lose you too," she said.

 

Johnny smiled his crooked grin then taking her shoulder, he turned her to face him and gently said, "I don't want to lose you either. But I would rather take a chance of losing you than regret the time that was lost because we were too afraid."

 

Sam resigned herself to the fact that as hard as she tried, she already lost this battle. She had lost her heart to this handsome young firefighter long before this day. Sam put her head down and leaned into him with her head on his shoulder and her hands around his waist. Johnny responded by putting his arms around her and pulled her tight against him, "Johnny ow!" She said and squirmed away a bit.

"Remember, my back."

 

Johnny smiled.

 

"Come on," he said.

 

Johnny took Sam's hand and they walked back down the beach toward the restaurant and their cars. Hand in hand.

 

 

Chapter two

 

The next day Johnny was back on duty. He walked into the locker room where Roy was changing into his uniform.

 

"Good mornin, good mornin," Johnny happily said.

 

Johnny opened his locker and started to change clothes. Roy watched him for a minute then curiously asked. "How was breakfast yesterday?"

 

Johnny had a huge smile on his face. "Breakfast yesterday was absolutely incredible Roy," Johnny said. "We had a fantastic breakfast at that little cafe you told me about right on the ocean in Hermosa beach. Then after breakfast we went for a barefoot walk on the beach. It was such a nice day. It was just incredible. There was no way it could have been any better."

 

Johnny smiled and seemed to be bursting. Chet came around the corner after obviously listening in.

"I knew it had to be a girl Gage," Chet said. "So who is the unlucky girl?"

 

Johnny shut his locker and just smiled at Chet. "Eat your heart out Chester B. Eat your heart out."

 

Johnny giggled at Chet being so frustrated. Just then the tones sounded. Johnny and Roy went rushing out of the locker room to the squad.

 

"Station 51, child trapped. 5314 Emerson, 5314 Emerson. Cross street hill. Time out 8:02."

 

Captain Stanley answered the call for the squad. "Station 51, KMG365."

 

He handed the address slip to Roy who passed it on to Johnny, then the squad drove out to the rescue with the engine close behind. They arrived at a beautiful house with nice old trees in the yard. A young woman came running out to meet the squad. She ran right up to Johnny as he got out of the squad.

 

"I'm so glad you're here," she said. "I didn't know what to do?"

 

"We had a report of a child trapped," Johnny said.

 

"I'll say," she said frustrated as she led them into the back yard. She pointed toward a large tree in the backyard.

 

"My son Russell built a tree house up there," she explained. "He was climbing up and the rope broke. I didn't even know he built that thing until I heard him crying up there."

 

They came to the tree and found a coil of rope laying at the base of a large oak tree. They looked up to see a small face watching them from a platform of several boards about 30 feet in the air.

 

"How did he even get way up there in the first place?" Johnny asked.

 

"I have no idea," she answered.

 

"How old is he?" Roy asked.

 

"He's 12," the mother answered.

 

"Mike, Marco, grab the extension ladder," Captain Stanley said.

 

Mike and Marco ran off to get the ladder.

 

"Russell, hang tight. I'll be right up there to get you," Johnny yelled.

"Okay," came a frightened voice from above.

 

Mike and Marco brought the ladder over. They extended the length and they set it against the trunk of the tree just past the tree house. Johnny immediately began climbing up. He got to the top and found the young boy just sitting and waiting.

 

"Hi Russell, how are you doing? Are you hurt?" Johnny asked.

 

"I'm ok," he said. "When the rope broke, I grabbed on the branch and climbed up. I didn't know how I was going to get back down."

 

"Well, I've got you," Johnny said. "Just get on the ladder right here in front of me and I'll walk you down."

 

Russell, got on the ladder and Johnny walked him down slowly to the ground. The mother thanked the crew for all their help then grabbed Russell by the ear and led him into the house while getting a good talking to. The guys just watched them go and smiled. Then they put away the ladder and headed home. Johnny sat in the squad with a goofy smile as Roy drove.

 

"LA, 10-8 to rampart for supplies," Johnny said on the radio.

 

"So out with it," Roy said. "Tell me about breakfast."

 

Johnny continued to smile, "Roy, I don't know where to start."

 

"How about the beginning," Roy answered.

 

"Well she was a half hour late," Johnny started. "I thought she had changed her mind and gone home. Just when I was getting ready to leave, she got there. She looked beautiful. It turns out Travis had car trouble and was running late so she stayed to wait for him."

 

"Go on," Roy said.

 

"We talked," Johnny continued. "Then we went walking on the beach. Roy, you didn't tell me she hurt her back at the warehouse. I found that out when I tried to hold her. Then we had an argument right there on the beach and I blurted out that..."

 

"You blurted out what?" Roy asked.

 

"I told her I loved her," Johnny answered smiling.

"What????" Roy exclaimed.

"I love her Roy," Johnny said. "I think she loves me too, but after all that's happened with her in the last couple years, she's afraid to admit it."

"Holy Cow Johnny," Roy said.

The squad pulled up into the parking lot at Rampart and after parking, they went in to get supplies.

 

Sam and Alex were in the apparatus bay mopping the area. Sam was quiet. More quiet than usual.

 

"Sam, you're awful quiet this morning. What's going on?" Alex asked. "Did something happen on your day off?"

 

"It's nothing," she answered and continued to mop in the same place.

 

"Sam, you've been mopping that same spot for five minutes. I know something's going on," Alex said.

 

"I'm your partner. Come on. You can tell me."

 

Sam started mopping a few other spots in the apparatus bay. "Weren't you going out to breakfast with Gage yesterday morning?" Alex probed.

 

Sam nodded, "yeah, we went out to breakfast. It was at this little cafe in Hermosa beach. It was right on the ocean. Alex, Johnny's such a great guy. We have so much in common. After breakfast we walked along the beach."

 

Alex looked at her. "Oh no," he said.

 

Sam looked at him confused. "What do you mean oh no?"

 

"You have the look," he explained.

 

"What are you talking about?" She asked.

 

"You know exactly what I'm talking about," Alex said. "It's the same look my wife gives to me. You've fallen for him."

 

"Alex..." Sam said.

 

The klaxons started to go off. Bell after bell after bell was heard. Station 98, station 36, engine 8, engine 10, station 51, engine 236, engine 214, engine 264, engine 70 battalion 5, station 106, engine 60. Brush fire Arroyo Pescadero Trail, Arroyo Pescadero Trail. Grid 13 H. Time out 10:59."

 

"Station 36 KMG 445," Harrison said, then ran to the engine.

 

Alex and Sam put the mops in the buckets and pushed them to the side as the guys came running in and jumped on the engine to go. Sam and Alex jumped into the squad and led the way to the brush fire. As they drove closer, they could see the orange glow from the massive fire on the horizon. Sam leaned forward in the cab of the squad just amazed at the enormity of it.

 

"Have you been in a brushfire before?" Alex asked.

 

"Yes, but I've never seen one this big," Sam answered, amazed at what she had been seeing. "How about you?"

 

"I was in a pretty big one a few years ago," Alex said. "I had hoped to not see another one that big again."

 

They continued to drive forward into the fire zone.

 

Squad 51 was called to search for a pair of missing hikers in a canyon a few miles from the fire line. They drove up the fire road. The whole area was dark with smoke. There was debris across the road and Roy stopped the squad. They would have to hike the road and hope to find the missing hikers soon.

 

"LA, the road is blocked by a slide. We are on brown mountain fire road one mile north of the junction. We are continuing on foot," Johnny reported on the radio.

 

Johnny and Roy got out, and started hiking up the road. They had hiked about 3/4 of a mile when they came upon the two hikers. One had an injured leg and was half being carried by his friend. They were really excited when they saw the firefighters coming up the road toward them.

 

"Hey! Hey! We are so glad to see you guys," one of the guys said

 

"Are you ok?" Roy asked.

 

"My buddy Harry fell," the guys explained. "I think he broke his leg"

 

Johnny quickly took a look. Harry squirmed at Johnny's touch. "Yeah, it's broken," Johnny said.

"Squad 51," the handy talkie said, "Be advised, The fire line has moved to within two miles of your current position."

 

"10-4," Roy said. "We have located the hikers. We are 3/4 of a mile east of the squad on the brown mountain fire road one mile from the junction. One hiker is injured. We are heading back to our vehicle now."

 

The four began the hike back to the squad. Johnny had his arm around one side of Harry and his friend was on the other side, helping him hike quickly down the road. As they hiked they could see an orange glow up ahead and feared the worst. The fire was closing in behind them and had spotted out in front of them, cutting them off from the squad. "LA, the fire has spotted out in front of us, we're cut off," Roy said. "We could really use a water drop or we're not going to be able to get out of here."

Roy and Johnny listened to the chatter on the radio.

 

"Copter 10, copter 14, this is battalion 5. We need you to do a water drop at Squad 51's location. Brown mountain fire road, one mile from the junction. Engine 51 and squad 36 assist squad 51."

 

"Engine 51, 10-4. ETA 5 minutes," Captain Stanley said.

 

"Squad 36, 10-4. ETA 3 minutes," Sam said.

 

"They're not going to make it in time," Johnny said as the fire continued to grow.

 

Roy looked down below the road and saw a clearing.

 

"Down there," Roy said.

 

The four of them rushed down the hill to a clearing just below. Johnny and Roy grabbed the shovels and started to dig. They dug a good hole very quickly as the fire continued to move closer to them from all directions. The two victims were laid down with Johnny on one side and Roy on the other.

 

They pulled the dirt over them with just their heads poking out of the earth. Johnny and Roy fought to keep their victims calm as they watched the fire quickly climb the hill and before they knew it, it had overtaken them.

 

Sam and Alex arrived just moments behind the first water drop. As they pulled up the fire road, they found squad 51 fully engulfed in flames.

 

"Oh God," Sam said.

 

Then copter 14 made another water drop just as squad 36 pulled up. Sam saw the reflection from the helmets just down the hill in the clearing. She jumped out of the squad almost before it stopped moving and she ran down the hill where Johnny and Roy and their victims had dug in. Sam ran down the hill like a deer. Alex had a really hard time keeping up. She found the four buried. None of them were moving. Sam pulled the helmet off Roy and checked his pulse. Roy began to move and cough.

 

"Are you ok?" She asked.

 

Roy nodded, then turned to check the victim right next to him, who was scared and hot. Sam moved over to Johnny. She checked his pulse and breathing just as Alex finally caught up to her. Alex took Roy's hand and help him to stand, then the two of them helped the other victims just as Chet came up behind them.

 

"He's not breathing," Sam said.

 

The fire was burning back up the hill toward them again "Sam, we've got to get out of here," Alex said.

 

Sam gave Johnny two quick breaths then threw him across her shoulders and sprinted up the hill faster that anyone watching her could believe. They wondered how she could move so fast up the rugged terrain carrying Gage. Marco and Captain Stanley were working on putting out the burning squad and holding the approaching flames at bay. Sam got to the top of the hill, she laid Johnny gently on the ground next to squad 36. She pulled out the oxygen and put the mask over his face trying to fill his lungs with cool fresh air. Captain Stanley came over.

 

"Cap, get on the radio to rampart. He's in respiratory arrest. I need to insert an esophageal airway,"

she said. "He's not ventilating well. I think there's laryngeal swelling."

 

Captain Stanley got on the radio with Rampart. "Rampart this is squad 36. We have a Code I. Smoke inhalation, respiratory arrest, difficulty ventilating. Cyanotic. Request esophageal airway."

 

Sam was preparing the tube as he spoke to the hospital and was ready to insert the air way just as Rampart gave the go ahead.

 

"Don't you die on me Johnny Gage," Sam said, "Now breathe damn it."

 

Sam inserted the airway, connected the oxygen to it and Johnny was finally breathing better. Alex, Chet, Roy and the other hiker came up and stood next to the squad. Roy watched with worry. Mike came over to captain Stanley. Alex sat Harry on the running board of the squad and splinted his ankle to get him ready for transport.

 

"Cap, the fire is coming back this way," Mike said.

 

"Thanks stoker," Captain Stanley said. "Chet, grab the stokes. Let's get Johnny on the engine.

Martinez, can you get your victims to Rampart in the squad?"

 

"Sure thing Cap," Alex answered.

 

Chet brought the stokes over to Sam and they carefully lifted Johnny into it. Roy, Stanley Chet and Sam lifted Johnny onto the back of the engine. Roy and Sam followed Johnny up. Marco rolled the reel line back onto the engine and Captain Stanley handed Roy the drug box, defibrillator and the bio phone. Anticipating an IV to come and knowing she couldn't start it on a moving engine, Sam went ahead to start an IV on Johnny. Mike began to back the engine down the fire road and headed to Rampart. Chet assisted in ventilating Johnny and Sam listened to his breath sounds. She nodded to Roy.

 

"Rampart, this is squad 36," Roy said. "Vital signs are, pulse 120, BP 130/90, breathing is assisted. He has first and second degree burns on his face and neck. We are applying sterile dressings."

 

"Squad 36, start an IV TKO," Rampart said.

 

"10-4 Rampart, IV TKO," Roy repeated back. "ETA 25 minutes."

 

Sam applied the sterile dressings to Johnny's face and neck. She looked worriedly up at Roy who was watching her. Sam checked Johnny's eyes and listened again to his breath sounds.

 

"I'm picking up striders," Sam told Roy.

 

Engine 51 pulled into Rampart's parking lot. Chet, Marco, Roy and Captain Stanley got Johnny off the engine and carried him inside followed by Sam carrying her equipment. Dixie Saw them coming in and directed them to treatment 2. Roy held Johnny's neck and shoulders as they moved him out of the stokes and onto the exam table. Sam hung the IV, Dixie hooked Johnny up to the ventilator, then started checking vital signs. Dr. Brackett came in and began checking Johnny. He listened to his lungs and looked under the dressings at the burns on his face and neck. Sam stood back and watched.

 

"Pulse 100, BP 115/90," Dixie said.

 

"How long was he in respiratory arrest?" Dr. Brackett asked Sam.

 

"I don't know," Sam said. "He wasn't breathing when I got to him."

 

"Carol, draw blood for CBC and electrolytes and get some chest X-rays, STAT," Dr. Brackett said.

Carol called up for X-ray, then she started drawing blood. Dixie walked over to Roy. She could see the first degree burns on his dirty face.

 

"Come on Roy," Dixie said. "Let's get those burns taken care of."

 

Dixie led Roy out of the room and left Sam standing there watching as they worked on Johnny. Tears were running down her face leaving streaks through the grime. Alex came into the room. He saw Sam watching all that was going on with Johnny.

 

"How's he doing?" Alex asked.

 

"He's pretty stable right now," Dr. Brackett said. "We're going to move him up to ICU in a few minutes."

 

"I'm sorry Sam," Alex said. "We've got to get back up there."

 

Sam didn't want to leave but knew he was right. Alex grabbed the bio phone and defibrillator. She followed him out the door, carrying the drug box and oxygen. Station 51's crew watched her run past them and out to the squad. A moment later Johnny was wheeled past them, heading up to ICU.

 

Sam put the equipment away then punched the equipment door before getting in. Alex knew better than to say anything to Sam. He knew that nothing he said would help. It was a very silent ride back to the fire zone. Alex and Sam worked side by side the rest of the day and into the night. As the sun started to come up the next day, a storm front that they had been hoping for had moved into the area covering the fire with a downpour of rain and cooler temperatures. Sam looked up as the rain washed over her dirty face. She took a deep breath knowing that this was exactly what they needed to get the fire under control. By 6am on the third morning, with the rains help, the fire was now more than 90% contained. Station 36 was finally sent back to the barn. The guys went to shower, change clothes and were looking forward to a warm meal to come. While the rest of the crew did that, Sam stood in the kitchen sipping coffee for a short time as she waited for the next shift to arrive. When they got there, Sam didn't even stop to shower or change clothes. She climbed into her car and drove directly over to Rampart. She went straight to ICU, where she knew Johnny would be. The ICU nurse stopped her as she came in.

 

"Where is Johnny Gage's room?" Sam asked.

 

"Only family is allowed," the nurse said.

 

Sam was tired and well beyond caring what the policy was. "Do I really look like someone you want to say that to?" Sam asked.

 

The nurse thought about it for just a moment then said, "He's in the third door on the right."

 

Sam went to Johnny's room and sat by his bedside. She took his hand but got no response. Johnny was still on the ventilator. His face was red and shiny with burn cream and blisters. The sounds of the ventilator and the heart rate monitors were almost comforting. It meant he was still alive. She had had an exhausting 48 hours of straight duty on the fire line. Before she knew it, Sam had fallen into a deep slumber with her head on the side of Johnny's bed, still clutching his hand.

 

Johnny was about ten years old. He was in his room putting away his clothes. The moccasins his mother made for him when he was born sat in a place of honor on top of his dresser. Johnny carefully made his bed and lovingly pulled the quilt his mother made for him up. He laid the pillows in their place and gently smoothed out the quilt. The house smelled of bacon eggs, toast, and coffee; Johnny's fathers favorite Saturday breakfast. As Johnny came out of his room he could hear his mother singing. As he came closer to the kitchen he heard the quiet giggles of his parents. Johnny snuck a peek around the corner and watched his parents sing together and dance in the small square kitchen and around the table. The room was sparse. Just a simple dining set with a small table and four dining chairs. A red and white checkered table cloth covered the table. His father started to sing too, but didn't have the beautiful voice that his mother did. Johnny smiled as he watched the two of them together. His father had his hands wrapped tightly around his mothers thin waist and she had her arms around his neck. She was wearing a beautiful white dress with simple salmon colored beading. Her long straight black hair hung loosely down to her waist. His father was tall, thin and strong. He was wearing jeans and a red flannel shirt with the arms of the shirt rolled up to the elbow. He was wearing his boots and the rodeo belt buckle he won at the local rodeo just a couple months ago. Johnny's father had short black hair and smiled with the same crooked smile that he shared with his son. Both of Johnny's parents were smiling and looked so happy. Momma looked over and spotted Johnny watching them.

 

"There you are my little one," she said. "Come on over here and let's get some breakfast into you. It's going to be a big day."

 

Johnny walked over to his mother. She mussed his scruffy black hair and kissed him on the forehead as he looked up to her. She poured Johnny a big glass of milk and he began to eat the food on his plate. Johnny's parents both sat at the table with him and worked on their breakfast too. They talked as they ate.

 

"So what do you know about the horses they have there?" Johnny's mother asked.

 

Johnny's father answered. "I think we can find a couple of great breeding mares. It's going to be a great day."

 

Johnny was riding in the back seat of the car as they drove down the road. Johnny's parents were talking quietly to each other. Johnny was quietly playing with a small toy horse as they drove. All of a sudden Johnny's father said "What the hell!!!"

 

The car swerved. Johnny slid across the backseat of the car and hit his head on the window. The car catapulted off the road and Johnny felt himself launched from the car. Johnny landed on his arm and felt the bone snap as he hit. Johnny continued to roll down the hill and finally came to a stop in the grass. He grabbed his wrist and started to cry. After a few moments, the pain started to ease and Johnny started to look around for his parents.

 

"Momma? Daddy?" He called out. "Momma? Daddy?"

 

There was no answer to his calls. Johnny looked around more. He saw the car at the bottom of the hill. It was on fire. He could hear some sirens in the distance. Johnny stood up and looked around more. He spotted his mothers white dress in the grass. Johnny crawled over to where his mother was laying. Her head was bleeding and her breathing was ragged. She looked up as Johnny came to her. She smiled at him.

 

"There you are my little one," she said.

 

Johnny was crying. "Momma," he said. "I don't know where Daddy is."

 

"Johnny, don't be afraid. Everything is going to be all right. I love you my little one," she said. "I will always love you. No matter what, remember. Mommy and Daddy love you."

 

She reached up and wiped the tears from his face with her thumb and held his face in her hand. Johnny cried even harder. Even at his young age, he seemed to know that her time with him was coming to an end. She lovingly smiled at him. Then the smile faded. Her hand slipped from his face. She closed her eyes as she took her last breaths.

 

"Momma, no," Johnny said as he cried.

 

Johnny could hear the fire truck and men come up behind him and the water began to spray over the car to control the beginning of the brush fire. The water blew back at Johnny wetting his face and body. The spray of the cool water mixed with his hot tears.

 

Sam and Johnny were at the base of a large fir tree. Johnny sat with his back against the tree and Sam was laying with her head on his lap. Snow was falling all around. It was very cold.

 

"There was a point that I used to like snow," Sam said. "I don't like it as much as I used to."

 

Sam started to get more drowsy. She was fading in and out of consciousness. Her eyes closed again and her breathing began to get slower.

 

"Sam!" Johnny said. "Sam, hang on now. Roy will be here anytime now."

 

Johnny checked Sam's pulse. It was fast but getting weaker. He could hear the sirens in the distance and knew that help was on the way. "Sam," Johnny said. "Do you hear the siren Sam? Help is on the way. They are coming."

 

Sam woke to an alarm going off at Johnny's bed. The nurse came in and shut off the ventilator alarm. Sam just watched her. The nurse looked at Sam.

 

"That's good, he took a breath on his own," the nurse said.

 

"How is he?" Sam asked.

 

"He's been stable since he was brought in," she answered. "This alarm is a good sign. He's been setting it off pretty regularly. I expect they will be removing the vent soon."

 

Sam rubbed her eyes and stiff neck. She looked at her watch to see that is was almost noon. The nurse brought a food tray over and set it next to Sam along with some scrubs.

 

"Ms. McCall brought this in for you," the nurse said. "She said, and I quote... Take a shower and get out of those filthy clothes. You stink. Then eat this food and don't argue."

 

The nurse handed Sam the scrubs, "There is a doctors lounge in the hall just around the corner that has a shower."Sam had to agree, she was a mess. Following instructions, she went to the doctors lounge, took a quick shower. The warm water felt good but she didn't take the time to enjoy it. Sam rushed through the shower, then Sam dressed in the clean scrubs. When she returned to Johnny's room, she ate the sandwich Dixie had sent for her. Sam looked out the window of Johnny's room. Outside, the rain was still coming down hard. Every once in a while the sky rumbled from thunder. Sam stood at the window and looked out at the dark skies and rain pounding on the window pane.

 

Sam and. Johnny were sitting quietly on the sea wall at the beach. The sun was crossing overhead showing the change to afternoon. Sam looked over at Johnny.

 

"Where I grew up! half the people there were yup'ic," she said. "I never really cared. I always believed that the measure of a man was the size of his heart. Johnny, you are a great man with a big heart. I have nothing but pity for those in your life who have been too blind to see that."

 

The vent alarm no longer went off. It had been going off so often that the nurse silenced the alarm.

 

Sam sat back down in the chair next to Johnny's bed and took his hand again.

 

"It's such a gloomy day," Sam said. "At least with all this rain, the fire is contained. Everyone is back home now. Everyone but you Johnny."

 

Dixie came walking into the room and looked at Sam sitting holding Johnny's hand.

 

"Well, you look much better. And smell much better," Dixie said.

 

Sam looked down at her clothes as if taken by surprise. "Thanks Dixie," Sam said.

 

"How's he doing?" Dixie asked.

 

"He's taking more breaths on his own," Sam said. "But still hasn't regained consciousness."

 

Dixie came over to the bed, opposite of Sam and checked Johnny's pulse.

 

"Sam, you've been here all day," Dixie said. "Why don't you head on home and get some rest. He'll be ok without you for a while."

 

"I'm fine Dixie," Sam said. "I've got nothing to go home to. Everything important to me is right here."

 

Dixie looked at Sam. She knew that nothing was going to drag the girl home. After all, Dixie felt the same way. If it wasn't for work, Dixie would have spent the day here as well. Sam paused for a minute, then continued.

 

"Hey Dix, How is Roy and the kids they pulled out?"

 

"They're all fine," Dixie answered. "One broken leg, some minor burns and smoke inhalation. They all went home yesterday."

 

"That's good," Sam said.

 

Dixie was worried. She could see by looking at her that Sam had barely slept and assumed she hadn't eaten much either.

 

"Can I get you anything?" Dixie asked.

 

"I'm fine," Sam answered.

 

"Listen, I better get back to work," Dixie said. "I'll check back with you again later."

 

"Thanks Dixie," Sam said.

 

The day dragged slowly on. It was late in the evening. The room lights were dim and little lite shone through the window. Sam sat back in the chair with her feet stretched up to the edge of the bed, ankles crossed. She was dozing as she sat. Roy stepped into the room and stopped. He looked at Sam sitting there. He walked slowly toward her.

 

"Sam?" Roy said.

 

Sam put her feet down and stood up. As Roy came closer and into the dim light, Sam could see his red face from the first degree burns he received in the fire.

 

"Roy, are you ok?" Sam said. "Come sit down."

 

"I'm all right," Roy said. "How's Johnny?"

 

"He's pretty stable," Sam said. "I just wish I could have gotten to you guys sooner. I don't know how long Johnny was respiratory arrest."

 

"You couldn't have done any more," Roy said. "Don't give up on Johnny. He's pretty tough."

 

"Roy, the rules still apply even to Johnny Gage," Sam said. "4 minutes is still 4 minutes. As strong and stubborn as he is, I just don't know if I got oxygen to him in time. Dr. Brackett said that he hasn't regained consciousness since he got here. I'm afraid we may have lost him."

 

"We don't know anything, Sam," Roy explained. "Right now all we can do is wait."

 

"I know," Sam said. She smiled over at Roy. "You know, we went out for breakfast the other morning."

 

"He mentioned that," Roy said.

 

Johnny is something else," Sam said. "I've never met anyone quite like him."

 

"It's funny," Roy said. "He says the same thing about you."

 

Sam smiled. She went back to the window and looked out at the storm.

 

"Roy, when I left Alaska I never had any intention of getting close to anyone ever again," Sam said.

"Then Johnny came along. He smiled that goofy crooked smile of his. Now I... I never got to tell him... I feel like I missed my chance."

 

Roy said. "Johnny knows how you feel."

 

Sam rubbed her face with her hand. She wiped away the tears running down her cheeks and breathed deep as she tried to get her emotions back in check.

 

"You look exhausted," Roy said. "When was the last time you got some sleep, or to eat for that matter?"

 

"I'm fine Roy," Sam said.

 

"No you’re not," said Roy. "Now come on. Let's at least get you something to eat. You’re not going to do him any good if you get sick."

 

"Come on Roy, I'm fine," Sam protested.

 

"No arguments," Roy said.

 

Roy grabbed Sam's hand and led her out of the room and to the cafeteria. He knew that she would at least get some sleep by Johnny's bedside but if he didn't get her to the cafeteria she wouldn't be eating much.

 

Dr. Brackett was doing his rounds and came into the room to check on Johnny. He listened to his chest and was pleased that he was doing so much better. Johnny was now breathing on his own. It was a good time to remove the ventilator.

 

It was so dark. Johnny knew that the room had gotten really quiet. His throat hurt. His chest hurt. Even his hair hurt. He was so tired but felt like something was missing and he needed to find what it was. He could see a bright light then he heard a voice calling to him.

 

"Johnny, can you hear me?"

 

Sam and Roy came back to ICU. As they came to Johnny's room they were both alarmed by all the activity and by Dr. Brackett being in the room. The nurse was walking the ventilator out. Sam became very pale as she slowly walked to the door. Roy could feel the energy drain from her body at that moment. He had a grip on her elbow as she walked forward, afraid that she would either faint or vomit.

 

"Johnny?" Sam said concerned.

 

Dr. Brackett, turned to look at Sam and Roy as they came into the room. Sam's eyes were focused on the bed. As Brackett turned, Sam could see Johnny. He was sitting in bed, a nasal cannula was now under his nose. When Johnny saw Roy and Sam he smiled at them and they returned the smile.

 

"Hi," Johnny croaked out.

 

"Hi yourself," Sam said with a sigh. The color was now coming back to her face.

 

"He's looking much better," Dr. Brackett said. "The laryngeal swelling is down and the lungs sound clear."

 

Sam and Roy made a big sigh of relief.

 

Dr. Brackett continued. "If he keeps doing so well, we'll move him out of ICU tomorrow. Maybe home by the end of the week."

 

"That's great to hear," Roy said.

 

"Are you ok Sam," Brackett said, "you look white as a sheet."

 

"Just tired," she responded.

 

"Well I better get going," Brackett said. "I need to look in on someone who is actually sick."

 

Dr. Brackett left the room. Sam moved back to the chair next to the bed. She took Johnny's hand and looked right into his eyes.

 

"How you doing partner?" Roy asked.

 

Johnny cleared his throat and with a raspy voice answered, "I'm doing all right."

 

"I thought I was going to lose you," Sam said.

 

She started to cry. Johnny put his hand on her head to comfort her. "Don't worry. You won't lose me that easy," he hoarsely said.

 

Sam smiled and looked deeply into his brown eyes. "I love you Johnny Gage. Now don't do that again!"

 

Johnny squeezed her hand and took a good look at her as she kissed his hand.

 

"Sam, you look awful."

 

"Johnny, you sweet talker," Sam said.

 

Roy smiled at the two of them together. He knew they were two of a kind.

 

"I think I need to leave you two alone," Roy said. "I'll see you later."

 

Sam and Johnny both smiled at Roy and watched him go out the door. "See you later Roy," Sam said.

 

A few days later Sam was walking Johnny to his apartment. Johnny was moving slowly. He still had a lingering cough and his face was really red and peeling from the burns. He was glad that Dr. Brackett didn't anticipate any scarring. Sam walked Johnny into the darkened apartment and set his clothes and get well cards down on the coffee table in the room. Johnny sat down on the couch in his living room, already exhausted from just walking from the car. Suddenly the radio came on. 'Let it snow,' was playing. Then the room lit up from the glow of a small Christmas tree. Johnny looked at the glow of the tree like a little boy. There were a few presents placed under the tree by friends.

 

"Far out," he said.

 

Sam sat down on the couch next to him. He put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her tight.

"Merry Christmas Johnny Gage," Sam said.

 

"Merry Christmas Samantha Gage," Johnny replied back to her as she snuggled into his chest.

 

THE END

 

 Posted to Site 11/20/13

 

 

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