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The First December

An Emergency Story by

Alana
 

 

 

                                      

Two weeks before Thanksgiving

 

Johnny was going thru all the ads in the Sunday paper.   Roy was working the crossword puzzle, the engine was out on a run.  Roy could hear Johnny muttering and see the wrinkled forehead… "Problems Junior?"

 

"Yeah,  Lee's  birthday…I have  no  idea  what to  give her  or  what  kind  of  party to  plan…I  mean  how  do I  compete with  what  she  gave me?"  

 

"You don't have to compete with her…She isn't keeping score."    Would  Johnny  ever  completely  lose  that  feeling he  owed  someone  for  caring  about  him  or  doing  for him  Roy asked himself  silently  remembering  John's   aunts'  cruel  treatment  of  his  "little  brother".

 

"Yeah you're  right…I mean   she  can  buy  anything  she  wants and  the other  day I  saw  this  pretty  little  picture  frame…it  was  black  wrought  iron…and I  had  one of the  pictures I  took on  our  honeymoon made into a 5  by  7    and  put it on the   library  table…Just  left it  there  for her to  find.  You  would have thought it  was  a Picasso  or  something…Said  it was her  favorite  sunrise…I  spent maybe  $20  on  it  altogether and its  like I've  given her  something  priceless. She  buys me a  motorcycle and  leathers  and  acts  like it  was  no  big  deal."   He chewed on his lower lip.  "I  have  $1647.56  cents in my  savings  account at the  credit  union…Whatever I  buy her  comes out of  that  account…and  then there is  Christmas  18  days  later…She hasn't  said  much about her  birthday,  I think it  makes her  sad  …but  she is  really  excited about  Christmas…"

 

  "You did give her something priceless as far as she is concerned.  You  gave her your  time and  effort  to  give  her a  gift  because it  was  something  you knew  she  would like  not  because it  was expected…  Why would turning 23 make her sad?   It's not like she was turning 30."   Roy remembered the party they had given him a month ago when he had turned 30.

 

"The first birthday since she was 8 that she won't spend with Jeff.   He is   gonna be I Europe for awhile."  Johnny kept looking in the books.   "If he  was in  DC  I  could have  got  plane tickets and we would have  flown over there  but  no  way  to  do  that  with him  gone…And  Matt is in the middle of  some  big  Mafia  thing…"

 

 Lee spent Thanksgiving Day with Maria and Hector and their family.   The guys had planned a really great carry in dinner.    The turkey was sent to them from O'Shea's.   In fact every station in the county received a turkey from a local restaurant.   On Friday they were with the De Soto branch of their family.   Lee and Johnny took the pies and   rolls.  It was a great day.   On  Saturday  Lee,  Johnny  and the  kids  including   Stacy and  Jimmy  went  to a movie and then for  pizza  and  arcade games.    When they got home that night Lee was tired but really happy.   A quick shower then in bed watching TV and talking.

 

"Next  week on  your  days  off we'll  start  decorating and  going  Christmas  shopping…We always  just had a little artificial tree up here  because our  Christmas  celebrations  were  down  with  Maria  and Hector…Christmas  Eve  dinner then  Midnight  Mass  then  Christmas  Day ….This  year  it'll  be  different…' A'  shift's  personal  Christmas  party  would  be at Lee and Johnny's  with  Kel and  Dixie and Joe  invited,   then   Midnight  Mass  with  Hector and Maria  and  exchanging  presents  with  them   after Mass.   Roy  and Jo  were  going to her  parent's  for  Christmas  dinner   so  Kathy and  Jim  and their  kids  had invited Lee and  Johnny  over to their  house  for  dinner.  ( They had flown to Chicago and had Thanksgiving and Christmas with Jim's parents).     "This year  I  want a  big  tree and  lots of  lights and  decorations…and  the  start of wonderful  new  traditions  for  us…"

 

"You  know  Baby  girl,  that some  years I'll  be  spending  Christmas  Day  at the  station." Johnny reminded her. 

 

"I  know and  those  years we'll  readjust our  celebrations…Just  like  for us  New  Years  Day  will  be our  big  celebration starting  in the late  afternoon…Because I am  sure you all won't  get a lot of  sleep on  shift  New Year's  Eve….But then  other  years we'll  celebrate on  the  31st.…it’s a  feeling and attitude  not  just  a  date…Every day is  wonderful and  special  and  worth  celebrating  with  you….Kathy  said  at  least she has  one more  year  before she  loses her  New Year's  Eve  baby sitter.    See  one of the  advantages of  my  never having a  date was I  could always  watch  Stacy and Jimmy  for her and  Jim…And  when the  new year  started no on  was around to see me  cry  because I  was so  lonely …but  that'll never happen again  because  I have someone  so wonderful  to  love me…"  She was lying on her side facing him.  He  kissed her  lightly  as his  hand  ran  down  her  back and  across  her  hip.  The  small  circles he  made  across her  back  sent  tingles  up and  down her  spine  as she moved  closer to him and  her  mouth  found  his…

 

She was asleep curled up against him.  He  knew  she  wouldn't  be able to stay in that  position  long  but it  was  nice as long as it lasted.  His arm was across her holding her tightly.   She was so funny laughing and giggling …then in a blink of an eye could be sad and serious.    She  had   talked  about  what she  wanted to do and how  they  needed to start their  own  traditions …and  a little  about  what she  remembered  about  Christmas  with her  parents…Hanging the  stockings  and  the  Advent  calendar  with the  prize  behind  each  door…How  Maria  would  bake a  birthday  cake  for the  Baby Jesus  and  they  would have  cake and  hot  chocolate  after  coming  home  from  Midnight  mass and  sing  Happy  Birthday…And   she had  cried  for  him  never having  real  Christmas   memories  until  the   first year  he  was included in the  De Soto  family.   As  she laid  there  he  knew  what   he  was  going to  do  for her  birthday had  been  the  right  choice..  Smiling he  was  soon  asleep  his arm  still around  her  protecting  her  from any  bad  dreams.

 

 December 5

Lee  could hear  Johnny  singing  along  with the  Christmas  music  as he  finished  up in the  bathroom.  She was giggling as he cheerfully sung "5 golden rings…"     He came over to her and kissed her  as she  was finishing  getting  dressed.

 

"Good  you  didn't  start  breakfast  we have  errands to  run  so  we'll  get something  while  we're  out," he  announced.

 

"I'm not dressed to run errands…"   She had on sweats and her hair was in a pony tail. 

 

"Yes  you are  you  just  need to  change  shoes…put on  your  boots…the  ones you can  wear the  heavy  socks  with."

 

"Where are we going?"  He  just  smiled and  handed her  a  pair of  socks and  her  boots   then her  hooded  short  cape.  "No questions.   You  may  want the  extra  cushion  for your  seat…Is it in the  back of the  Rover or  your  car?"

 

 "Probably the Rover…since we never take my car anywhere it it'll be rough…John Roderick what are you up to?"

 

"I told you no questions…Now you need help with those boots?"  He knelt down in front of her and took the boot from her.   "There now   do you want your purse or are we ready?" 

 

"How do I know if I need my purse when I have no idea where I am going?"  She laughed.  He just smiled and pushed her to the elevator.  When they got off Hector and Eddie were in the entrance way.

 

 "Help, I'm being kidnapped…"  Lee giggled.  "He won't tell me where he is taking me…"

 

 "Good it's about time he showed you who was boss…"  Eddie teased.   "Don't let her bully you…"  Hector smiled at the silliness between his children.   "She uses them long eye lashes as weapons…have you noticed that Johnny?"

 

"Yeah,  about  10  months  ago,"  he  said  laughing as he  pushed  her  out the  door.      Hector held the door and gave Johnny a wink as  they went out.           

 

 Once they were in the car Johnny turned the radio onto the station she liked.   She liked soft jazz while he usually listened to rock and roll.   "How hungry are you?"  He asked giving her a sideways glance after getting into traffic.  "You ok if we run our errands before we eat?"  He asked.   "I'll  pull in  up here and  get a  us  something to  drink and see if   they have any  donuts  left."   The   small family owned snack bar was one of the places they'd stop often when in a hurry.   It had been there as long as Lee could remember.  The owner, Mr.  Hanks, waved to Lee as Johnny got out of the car.

 

"She didn't make you one of her good breakfasts this morning Johnny?"   He said as Johnny came up to the counter.

 

"Nope we're off on as mission…A large coffee and a diet soda…and a couple of rolls if you have any left?" 

 

"One…sorry it was a good morning…but its jelly filled…"    Johnny smiled that the man remembered his favorite.  He quickly got the drink and donut. After he got back in the car.  "I should have gotten you a hot chocolate…Are you warm enough?"   Johnny worried about the cool dampness making her muscles ache.

 

"I  am  fine…Ya  know when we are old and the  cold  does  bother us more we can  live in Hawaii from  October to  May…How  does that  sound?"

 

"Like we'd both be homesick after the first week… "

 

 "Probably…we'll just take Roy and Jo with us…  They'll be old too."   She giggled. 

 

"Baby girl…you can't …" He stopped before he said the word adopt.   "You can't  tell other people where to live."

 

"Sure I can.  Eddie just said I was a bully. ..I   would rather see it as take charge or   bossy rather than bully.   Like   Mrs. Levi I like to arrange lives."

 

 "You can arrange mine any time any way you like as long as you're part of that arrangement."

 

After a bout a  half  hour  they  reached a   lane  that  said  COX  FAMILY  PRODUCE FARM   and a  smaller  one that  said  Christmas  tree  …pre cut or  cut  yourself..   Johnny turned down the lane humming Oh Christmas Tree.

 

 "You said it was too early," her eyes glistened with a combination of excitement and tears.

 

"We are  going to  compromise…The  tree  can  be  up  and I'll  keep it  well  watered…All the other  greenery  you  wanted  will be  fake   ….and  no  lit  candles around  the  greenery   ….OK?"  He smiled but she knew he was serious about the conditions.   "The  garland  on the  balcony  can  be  real…and I'll  keep an  eye on to that it  doesn't  get too  dried  out,  ok?'

 

"Yes…"  They  pulled  up to the  parking area and he  got  out  quickly and  got her  chair  out and  lifted her  into it. 

 

"Make sure that seat belt is fastened."  The one thing she wasn't always in agreement with him concerning her chair.  This time it did make sense as the ground was bumpy.

 

A tall man and a girl about 17 met them.

 

"Johnny, good to see you…Tommy said you'd be out  today.   And Lee, I feel like we are old friends…I hear a lot about you from my brother Tom."

 

"Tom Cox from 88?  A really nice guy."  Lee smiled as she shook hands with the farmer.

 

"This is my  daughter  Julie…she  helps  out here  when she isn't at  school…Johnny  I  think I have the  perfect  tree for you  two…almost  61/2  ft  Douglas fir…The  path is  a  little  bumpy  but  you  should  be  ok…we  checked it  this morning  to make  sure it  was  still in  fairly  good  condition."

 

 "Thank you for going to all that trouble…"  Lee said smiling at the two men who were both grinning.

 

"Hey, Tommy  tells me about all the  things you do extra for the  guys…Besides,  John  here has  given  us a  hand a time or  two  so  glad to return the  favor."

 

 The  short  walk to the  tree  was  enjoyable and  Johnny  told her about the  different  types and  why   he thought a Douglas  fir  would  be  best suited  for  them.    Lee and  Julie  watched as they  cut  down  the  tree and  Julie  pushed  Lee  as  Johnny  helped  carry the  tree to the  Rover.  Soon  they  got  it  secured on the  top  of the  Rover and they  were  off towards  home.

                             

"That was a wonderful surprise…Thank you so much…"

 

 "Well,  you  told me  that  you always  put the  tree up  on  your  birthday and since I'll  be  working…"  He had  offered to trade with  someone  but Lee had  said  no…She knew  that the  partners  worked  best and safest with  each other.   "You know   how much I would like to be with you on your birthday don't you?"

 

 "Yes  maybe   you and  Roy  can  call  in available at  Rampart and  have  lunch with me  if  its ok  with  Cap…You  eat over there sometime  any way.   I could schedule an advisory board meeting   suddenly."  The both knew she wouldn't do that.  Lee went out of her  way to make  sure  no one could  say  that  Roy and Johnny  or Station  51  got  special  treatment  because of her.   Now  that   WBS  maybe  be  giving  more  money  to  charities associated  with  LACFD was a different matter…that  went to all stations and  Rampart  Children's  department  also had  seen and  increase…but  then  that  was  something  she and  Ben had  worked  out…The  money  was  from her  personal  account   and being administered  by  WBS as a  donation .   And  no one  except  Roy and  Jo and  Dixie  knew  about her  connection with  WBS.  Dixie knew from the time she was dating Jeff.

 

They  got to the  apartment   and  Johnny  helped her  out and  pushed  her  into the  entrance  way.  He  knocked on the  door  of  Maria and  Hector's  apartment   Lee just assumed it  was  to  get help  getting the  tree inside.

 

"Come in…everything is  ready,  Johnny…Lee  you  may  want to  come into the  guest  room and  change  I  think  your  husband  is  taking you  out  for a nice  lunch…He had  me  bring  some  things  down  here for  you…"  Lee shook her head but followed Maria.  The  bath  connected  with the  guest  room had  been  modified  for  Lee to use  when she  was  visiting.

 

As  soon as  Lee  was  safely  inside the   apartment  the  second  phase of  Johnny's  surprise  went into action.  The cars that had been waiting in the parking lot across the street quickly pulled into their lot.  Quietly   the occupants got out and upstairs.  Hector and  Johnny   with  some  help  got the  tree upstairs and  his  friends  set it into the  stand  and  put on  strings of  lights   as he   went in  and  cleaned  up.   The boxes and other supplies were neatly stacked in the corner.  Furniture had been moved.  The  dining  room  table  was  loaded  with  party  trays of  meat and  cheese,  fruit and  veggies,  salads and  chips  and  a  birthday  cake  sat in the  middle.   The  extra  special  gift  Johnny  had  for her  was  hidden  on  the  balcony.   Coolers of   beer and soda were out there also.  Christmas music was    playing softly.   The  kids  had  made a  banner  that  wished her a  very  Happy and  Merry  Birthday  and  was  placed  so all  could  sign  it.

 

Johnny looked around and was amazed.  Everyone had pitched in and made it even better than he had imagined it. .  Johnny  looked  at  Jo  and  Kathy and  they  gave him a  nod   so he  went  down  stairs to get her. (Jim would try to get there but he was on duty.   Kel and  Joe  were planning to  make a  lunch  hour  appearance  as was  Dixie  when they  could  get away.)

 

He knocked on the door and Hector quickly opened it.  Gone was the sweats and pony tail.  She had on a soft green turtleneck sweater and a black skirt.  The  outdoor  boots had  been  replaced with a  pair  of  soft  leather  dress  boots.   Her  hair  was  up  like  he  liked  and  you  could see her  silver  butterfly hair pin he  had  gotten  when they were  dating  peeking  thru the  curls.  The  make  up  done  so  lightly and  well it  was  hard to tell she  was  wearing  any.   "You're beautiful…"   She smiled and looked at him shyly.  Even  after all these months  she  still  felt  her heart  stop  when  he  looked at  her  like   that.  It  reminded her of the  look on his  face on their  wedding  day and she  lightly  touched  the  silver  locket she  wore  always. 

 

"You make me  feel  that  way,"  She had  never  even  thought she was  pretty  before she had  met Johnny.  "I hear we are going somewhere special for lunch."

 

 "Think it's the most special place I've ever been."   He  kissed her  lightly  but  as the  kiss  lingered he  cupped his  hand  around her  neck  pulling her  closer.  

 

 She  was  puzzled  why they were  going  upstairs  but then  thought  maybe  he had  forgotten  something.   As they got off the elevator she heard the Christmas music.     Maybe he wanted her to see how the tree looked.  They would have to do some shopping after lunch for decorations.   Johnny opened the door and she lost her breath.   There  was  their  'A'  shift  family  and  Kathy and  Cisco and  his  kids(Linda  was out of  town  on  business)   and  Eddie and Cindy. Jenny and  Stacy  were in  matching  dresses…Stacy in  green and  Jen in  red…All the  guys  had on  Santa  hats or elf  hats. Maria and Hector had come in behind her…

 

"Happy Birthday…I decided the best birthday party for you was a tree trimming party."  

 

 "But we don't have…"

 

"Yeah  you do  Aunt  Lee  because we all  bought  you  an ornament  for your  birthday  gift  and  daddy and  uncle Johnny  got  lots of  lights  the other  day,"  Jenny  said  as she  handed  Lee a  gaily  wrapped  package.   "Will you open mine first? Please?" 

 

 "Jen  why don't  we  let  Lee  come get   settled on the  couch and  while  she  opens  presents  everyone  can  watch and  eat? "  Johnny said as he wheeled her over to the couch.  As she put her arms around his neck she whispered "I love you"   in his ear.  He kissed her lightly before setting her down and helping her get comfortable.

 

 "I don't…how …when?" Lee said as she looked at everyone. 

 

"It's all junior…he organized and planned and he gave us all strict orders on how he wanted things for you……"  Roy told her.  He smiled remember the first birthday party Johnny had ever given someone.   He would have to tell Lee that story someday in private.

 

"Yeah he  even  was late  enough  twice  that  Cap had to  give him  latrine  duty,"  Chet  piped  up.  "Cause he stopped somewhere on the way to get stuff."

 

"You twit you didn't need to tell her that."  Cap said with a shake of his head.

 

"I'd do it again to see that look on your face when you came in."  Johnny was sitting on the arm of the couch.  "Ok Princess   I think you had a box for your Aunt Lee?"

  

Lee carefully and slowly opened the box.  It  was a Styrofoam  ball  with  bits of  blue and  green and  purple ( in  different  shades ) tissue  paper  glued on  then  coated  with  a  shiny  sealing liquid.  

 

"I used those colors because they are your favorite…Chris said I  should have used red and green."  Jen said waiting to see what her aunt thought. 

 

 

 "No this is perfect…Thank you sweet heart."     Stacy handed  her box to Lee.  "Oh sweetie…"  It was a felt  dove.  The two pieces of felt had been glued together then stuffed with a soft batting.  The eyes were the craft wiggly eyes and on the wings were real feathers.

 

"Mom  helped me a  little…The  glue  didn't  stick  good  so she  showed me  how to  sew it…"  Stacy said smiling at her mom.   "She said I sewed as good as  you  and  her."

 

"No honey you sew better than me and your mommy."     Jimmy and  Chris  had  made  ornaments  using  yarn  called God's Eye  that  Hector  had  taught  them as   had  some of  his  grandchildren.  There were gifts even from Tony and Hector Jr.'s families.  All the adults appreciated that Lee opened all the children's gifts first.   Lee had  each  child  place  their  gift on the  tree  and  those of the  children  not there.

 

"Lee my  mom is  in Boston  right now  but  before she  left she made  these  for  you…And  the  other  one is  from  me…"  Chet handed her two packages.   The first was a set of crocheted bells with Lee and Johnny's initials worked into the design.   The second was a glass angel.

 

"Chet...she's beautiful…She looks Irish…see the twinkle in her eye?  Would you be upset if I didn't  put her on the tree?  If it is ok with you, I would like her to stand next to the manger when we put it up on the mantle?  She is so lovely and fragile."  He put the bells his mom had made  on the tree, close together.

 

"I'd like that a lot."  He smiled and bent down and kissed her on the cheek.  "I really like that a lot."

 

Mike and  Melissa  gave her a  felt  ornament  that  looked  like a  Christmas  tree and she  realized it  was  little Mike's  hand  print  and the  decorations  on the  tree  were  painted  by  Melissa.    Johnny   watched his eyes sparkling with   joy and a few tears.  Marco  's  ornament  was a  lovely   silver  star  and his mom  had  sent  some of her  wonderful  caramel  flan   for  Lee and  Johnny to have later.   Em  and  Hank  gave her an  ornament  that  looked  like  snow flakes and a   set of  placemats  with  snow  flakes  embroidered  on  them  that matched the  ornament's  design  that Em had  made.   Hector and  Maria and  Cisco and  the  whole Alvarez  family gave her a set of  Mexican  straw  ornaments  much  like the ones  they  had  always  had  on their  tree.   The tree she remembered from her childhood.   Kathy  and  Jim  gave her ornaments  that looked  like  Santa and his  reindeer and  a  set of  ones  that looked  like  old  fashion  toys.

 

Roy handed Lee a large box that was wrapped like a package from a magazine.  The bow was red and gold as was the paper.  All were in awe of the contents when Lee opened the box.

 

"Jo  and I  we  saw this doll  at an antique  store and it  just  seemed  perfect  for you…Jo said it  was  Victorian…I  just thought it  looked a lot  like  you."  They had  gotten it intending it to be her  Christmas  gift.)

 

"Her hair is like yours and she has green eyes…"    Jen said to make sure Lee noticed.  "Then we went to see Miss Liz."

 

Lee didn't say anything as she was crying too hard.   The  doll  was  wearing a  copy  of her  wedding  dress and had  wings  made out of  the  same  lace pattern as  her  veil.   It had been made into a tree topper. 

 

"The  dress  was  Liz's  gift to you…She  said it  was a small  thing in  return  for  what you've  done for her.   Her  grandmother  copied  the  pattern  from a  small  piece of  lace  they had  left over  from  what  Kathy  had  given them…Roy  figured out  how to make  the  form  so  it  could  be a tree  topper."  Jo told Lee as she sat next to her.  Johnny  was on the  other  side of her  too  amazed  at the  priceless  gift to  say  a anything.  Besides the words couldn't have got by the lump in his throat.   

 

"There are  two more  boxes to open  before  I  give  you my  gift… from   your  New  York  family and one from Jeff…"  The  ornaments  from  New  York  were figures of  children  from around the  world  and  skaters   like the ones  Lee  and her  uncles  would  watch at  Central  Park.  The one  from  Jeff  was  beautiful hand  blown  glass  balls  with an  opal  like  sheen  that  glowed  pink and  lavender.

 

"Ok…my turn…"  Johnny   had  gotten  up off the  couch  arm and  went  over to  the  French  doors.   Hector had followed him.  Together they brought in a big box.  It had a huge bow on top.   They sat it down on the floor in front of Lee.   "You   just need to lift the top up by the bow…"  She giggled and looked at him.

 

 "Nothing is gonna jump out at me is it?"  

 

"No…but it is alive," he teased.  It  was  hard to say  who had  the  biggest  smile on  their  face as she  pulled the  top off the  box.  It was a faerie rose bush with lavender blooms.   "Happy Birthday…"  Johnny  whispered to her as he  kissed her.

 

The bush was a good three feet tall and had a nice shape.   "The  first   plant  for your  garden  when we  move…Until  then  it  can  live in  here  or on  the  balcony.  Hector  said  that  spot  by the  French  doors  would  be  good   until  we plant it  outside."   He handed her a smaller package.   She opened it up and it was a miniature sign like you would have seen outside an inn.  Inside the outline of a house was printed

 

                                                        Gage Homestead

                                                        Est.  August 1976

                                                             

Around the  edge of the  sign  were  small  pink and  lavender  flowers  that  resembled  faerie  roses.

 

"Every time I think there couldn't be a reason to love you more…there is.  Thank you my love…thank you all for the best birthday party ever…"  The tears were back but all knew they were joyful tears.

 

"Ok…everyone  please  write  your  name on  the  slip of  paper  that  the  girls are  passing around…The  kids  have  been  making  red and  green  paper  chains…on  these   white  slips   with your  name  we are  going to  connect all the  chains and  will  use  them on the  tree instead of  garland…and if  any of  you adults  want to make a  few  links  to add…Jimmy and Chris have  work  space  set  up in the  extra  room."   Maria said.     The paper chain was an old family tradition with Maria and Hector.  "And there's still plenty of food."

 

"That’s good to know…"  Kel said as he and Dixie and Joe came in.    Jo took their coats and they went over to Lee.  "We heard there is a  special tree trimming party…Dix is our official shopper…"  He bent down and gave her a kiss on the cheek.  "Happy Birthday."   Joe  followed and then  Dixie  after  giving  Johnny a  kiss on the  cheek  gave  Lee the  package.   "From us and Mike…he is holding down the fort."     Lee opened the package and was again moved to tears.  Inside  were  six  Victorian  nosegays …The  cone  shaped  pieces of   lace  were filled with  small  flowers in    pink,  blues and  purples  with  delicate  ribbon  streamers.   Kathy and  Jo  smiled as they   knew  why  so many of  Lee's  blouses  had a Victorian  touch…She had  told  Liz  when they had  first  started  talking  styles  for  the  wedding.   The  Victorian  blouses  were usually  high  necklines  but  still  lady  like and  pretty…and it  made  Lee uncomfortable  when  strangers  were  looking  down  at her…This  way she  could  protect  her  modesty and still  look  feminine.   Besides  the  style  seemed to suit her  bone  structure   and  the  way  Johnny liked her  hair  up.   Chet had  teased  him  once about  being an  Indian  vampire…He  liked  her  hair  up so he  could  nibble on her neck.

 

Everyone was eating and Johnny brought Lee a plate.   She giggled saying she felt like a queen.  As they  finished  eating the  rest of the  ornaments  went on the  tree  with  Johnny  helping and  Lee  giving  directions.  The  paper  chain  went  around  the  tree and all that  remained  to  go on  was the  topper  and  the  ornament  Johnny had  given  her. 

 

"I need  to go over to the tree, please."  Lee said as Johnny came back over to her.  When they had  first  began  to  place the  ornaments  Lee hadn't  realized  the  lights were already  strung on the  tree   until  someone  had mentioned   it.  

 

"Is there something you need moved?  I'll do it for you."

 

"No  you  won't  there is  something I  need to put on the tree  my self…and I  need to  stand  up to  do it." 

 

"Are you sure?"  He looked a t her and nodded…  "Ok we need to clear out some room…"   He picked her up and carried her over to the tree.   "OK now where?"

 

 "Over to the  left  just a  little  so  when  you  put  the  angel on  this  will  be  centered…This  is the  heart of  the  tree.."

 

"Then it would be more to the left than the center…The heart isn't in the center of the chest."   He teased.

 

"This isn't a body this is our tree and the heart is in the center."   Everyone laughed at the tone they were using with each other.    "OK just a little more.  Good."

 

"Want me to hold you or you want to stand up with me behind you." 

 

"Beside me…like on our wedding day."  Very matter of a fact.   Johnny and  Lee  both  smiled as Roy  slipped  closer  and  put an  arm out  to help  her  get steady  once  Johnny  had  her on her  feet.  Then just as  quietly and  quickly  he backed away…not  far  but  far enough  it  was  just the  two of  them as  she  slipped  the  sign  onto the  branch  and  adjusted it so it  wasn't  crooked.  Someone had  moved  her  chair  so  Johnny was  able to  help her  get  seated.   A  small  ladder  was  produced  from  the  bedroom  and  Johnny  with   Roy next to  him  steadying  the ladder  slipped  the  angel  on  top.   Once he  had the  angel on  top  Johnny  flipped the  lights  on.

 

 "Isn't it the most perfect tree ever?  We  just need a  few  other  things on it…Jo  will  you  go get the  things we  got the  other  day? "

 

"I was wondering if you'd add them."

 

"Of course this is a family tree…not just my tree…"    Somehow it  didn't  surprise anyone that the  ornaments  Lee had  gotten  were all  more  Johnny  type  designs…There  was a  fire  truck  with a  51 painted on it and a helmet  and a Santa with a fishing pole.   "There isn't any  words I  can  say to  tell you all how  much  I  love and  appreciate  you…and  this wonderful  party…I  think  we need to  cut the  cake so   Rampart  can  get their  personnel  back…"  She giggled.   "Kevin Richards already says I cause too much trouble down in ER…" 

 

 The  cake  was  cut and  Happy Birthday  sung  and  with regrets  the  medical  personnel  left  taking a care package of  food  to Mike.    As soon as the   kids had  finished  their  cake  Maria and  Hector had  taken  them  downstairs to the  playroom.  Cisco  had  went  down  with  them  after  telling  Johnny  they  needed to  go  running  soon.   Eddie and Cindy left also. 

 

 "Lee, when do we get a rematch in trivia?"  Chet said as he helped himself to another slice of cake.

 

"One more important item  then we can play now if everyone wants?"

 

"What else Sweetheart?"  Johnny said as he came in from the kitchen.

 

"As  part of  my  birthday and as  our  official  start of the  holiday  season…Jeff and I  always  set  up the  manager that  had  been my  mom  and  dad's  from the  first year they  got married…Its in a  plastic  box in the  top of the  guest room  closet…"I  think  that it'll  look  nice on  the mantle  this  year."

 

 "Be right back…"

 

 Kathy had  went over to the  mantle and  moved the   pictures  and  vase  putting them on the  book  shelf.   Lee smiled her thanks.   Johnny   brought the box out and carefully sat it on the floor.  He opened it for him. And looked to her for directions.

 

"Spread out the gold cloth and then center the manager on it.  Kathy would you please set it up? "

Lee had always  done  that  when it  was on the  table  but there  was no  way  with it  up  that  high.  After Kathy had it sat up Lee turned to Chet.   "Mr. Kelly  would  you  do the  honor of  placing  my  beautiful  Irish  Angel  up there?"

 

"I would be delighted, Mrs.  Gage."    He did and  felt a tear   forming as  Lee  spoke  in Gaelic   "…Fear  not  we  bring  you  glad  tidings…  Peace be with you…"

 

 

After everyone had left Lee was sitting on the couch looking at the tree.  Johnny came back in from the kitchen and   lay down with his head in her lap.  She brushed the hair back from his forehead and watched him relax as she continued.  "Keep doing that and I'll be asleep…Did you have a good day?"  he asked.

 

"The best…because of you this is the best birthday ever…Everything in my life is the best ever because of you…"

 

"Glad you think   so…"   He sighed contently.   It had been a long day for both of them and a very emotional one.

 

"Don't  think  so know  so…And  I  can't  imagine any  day  more  perfect  but  each  time I  think  that  something  else  better  does  happen."   Lee looked over at the mantle and the manger.  "If I tell you something promise not to laugh?"

 

"I already made that promise, remember?  I'll always laugh with you but never at you."  He looked up at her and wasn't surprised seeing tears in her eyes.  When  they  first had  began  dating it  bothered him  but  now  he  knew  she  cried  as much as  when she  was  happy  as she  did when she  was sad.  And he had learned which was which.

 

"I'm  not afraid of  Chet any  more…After  seeing  the  look  on his  face  when I  asked  his  permission to  put the  angel  with the  manger…It  just did  something  to  the  way I  feel  about  him.   And his pranks as he calls them haven't been as mean as they were for awhile.  Or  as often." 

 

"You were afraid of Chet?"   Johnny couldn't believe it.   "Why in Sam Hill would you be afraid of Chester B?   He's a good friend…granted a little off center at times…"

 

"He  just always made  me  feel…ugly  and  stupid  and  out of  place…even  before I  met  him I  knew he  wasn't  going  to  like me…Then  …anyway  now  I  know he  does  like me…at  least  little.  That  wasn't a  gift  that  was  just  grabbed  up at the   last minute…When  did  you start  planning  this party?"

 

"Oh  about  2 weeks  before  Thanksgiving…I  was  reading the  ads and saw one for a trim the  tree  shop…and  that  gave me the idea…We had  talked a   little  bit  about   the tree when you were telling me about Jeff not  being able to  come  for  your  birthday.   By the  way,  your  little  tree  is  safe in  a  box…if  you  want to  put it  up  too?"

 

"I think I'd like to take that one to the office except for a few special ornaments I want on this tree.…"  She wasn't sure how to bring up the next part.    "I  think  I  probably  got  your  ornaments at the  shop  you saw the  ad for…I'd  like  us  to go there together and  get an  ornament  that  represents  your  mom and dad …There is one I have  that  Jeff and I  got  the  first  Christmas  here  for  mom and  dad and Sara…"    At  first  she  thought  she had  said the   wrong  thing  from  how  quiet  he had  gotten. 

 

When  Johnny had  to  say  something that  really  was  emotionally  important to him  he  used  a  help  that a therapist had  once  suggested.  See the words as if they were written out   in your mind.  That helped him a lot  and that was what he was doing now.  "You understand so well……"   He looked at the paintings over the fireplace.   "You honor them just as you do your own." 

 

"I love  them  because  they  gave me the  most  precious  part of  my  life…They  gave  you  to me…Their  love  for  each  other is  reflected in  everything  you  do….The  gift of  life they  gave  you  blesses  us all  so  much…me,  Roy and  Jo…the  kids…your  station  family…everyone  you  come in  contact  with  for any  length of  time  that has  an  ounce of  sense…"

 

 "Thank you…"   They sat there for a while just watching the lights on the tree.  Johnny  drifted off  to  sleep  as she  brushed her  fingers  thru  his  hair  lightly  touching his  forehead.    She  knew  it  wasn't  good  for her to  sit  so still  and  in  one  position for  so  long  but she  hated to  move  he  looked so  peaceful  and  happy.   That  was  really  the  best  present he  could  give her…the  knowledge  that her  being  there  with  him  made him  feel safe and  happy and at  peace.  

She suddenly  realized  something  that  was so  obvious  she  felt  like a fool  for  not  knowing  it  before.  It  was  total  acceptance…He totally  accepted her  as she  was and  because of  that  she could  accepted herself .  She   didn't have to try to be  perfect or  the  best  at  everything  or  anything  except  loving  him…. And she  did  that  with  every breath she  took…That was the real  present he had  given her  …the  freedom  to be herself and to  like  herself  in spite of   the  flaws and  failures…It  was a gift he had  given her  the  first time  he  said I  love you…but it had been a gift she had  been afraid to fully accept…  until  today…Something  had  finally  clicked. 

That sense of peace and acceptance and safety was there now.   And  while it  would always  make her  sad there would  be  no  babies  now  she  wasn't afraid  of  it ..that  someday  he  would  say it  was too  big of a  price to pay  to be with her…Oh  she  wasn't  silly  enough to think  there  would  never be  days  when  she  wasn't scared or  discouraged  but she  knew  now he  would  always  be there to  give her the  courage to  face  whatever  came into  their  lives.   That  was the  real  gift he had  given her  today…for the  first time   she  could  remember she  liked  herself and  was at  total  peace with  herself .

 

Johnny slept for 20 minutes before she had to wake him up.   She had  managed to  wiggle around  and  take  some of the  pressure off  her  hip   but  now  the  muscles and  nerves  were beginning to  protest. Leaning down  she brushed her lips to his forehead.  "Johnny can you wake up…"

 

"If I have to," he answered without opening his eyes.  "Didn't here the alarm yet." 

 

"That’s  'cause it  isn't  morning  and  we haven't  went to  bed  yet…But  I   need to  get up  or at  least  move around   and I   can't  do  that  with  you laying  like  you  are."   He realized he could feel the muscle in her leg jerking.

 

"You sat there hurting so I could sleep?"  Sitting up his eyes wide…"Why in Sam Hill….what were ya thinking?"   He was on his knees in front of her massaging her legs, moving them carefully. 

 

"That I have  never  felt  so  loved and  protected and  content in  my life…and  didn't  want  anything to  change that…Besides  when they  started to  hurt I  woke  you  up.  It isn't any big deal and it doesn't hurt much."

 

"What am I gonna do with you?"  He said, laughing at the look on her face.  "Now I  understand  what  Roy  means  about  us  being too  much alike  in  some  ways.  And I  know  what I’m  gonna  do with you- I'm  gonna  love you and take  care of  you the  best  I  can  forever…"  He stood up and kissed her. 

 

"Does  that include making me  some  hot chocolate  with  whip  cream and  getting me another  slice of  cake? "  It  was  going to  take  some  slow  careful  moves  before she  was really  mobile  after sitting that  long.

 

"Absolutely…Then to bed…."

 

"Oh?"  Batting her  eye lashes at  him.  "You need some more sleep?'

 

 "Who said anything about sleep?"  He smiled and wiggled his eyebrows at her.

 

 Later  laying in  bed  he  watched as she  slept  and the  smile on  her  face  touched his heart.  She  had  been  so  surprised and so appreciative  of  everything  everyone had  done  for her.  She  often  said he made her  heart  smile  and  today  he  knew  that  feeling  watching her  smile.   "Happy  Birthday  my  dear one…"  He  whispered and  kissed her  lightly  on  the  neck  before  drifting  off to  sleep.

 

Part 2

Lee looked at her watch and decided it was more than time to go home. It had been a long day. Johnny was working a 48 hour shift and she had not slept well last night so she had come into work about 7 and it was now 5:30. She had everything typed and ready for the advisory board meeting next week and sent out proposed agendas asking for input. Nell was getting ready to go also.

 

"Would you mind if I came in a little later than usual tomorrow?" Nell asked as she finished clearing her small desk.

 

"No…remember I am not a good boss I have no discipline for myself let alone my employees."

 

"Yeah that’s why half the staff across the hall were upset when they realized they could have had my job for the asking." Nell said smiling. "Lucky for me they didn't …I need to get some shopping done and since Malcolm will be here…"

 

"There is nothing that has to be done tomorrow and you worked 2 extra days last week so your hours will be the same if you take all of tomorrow off. If someone calls the recorder will be on and I can check it from home...Johnny will sleep most of the day tomorrow I'm sure so I may run over for a little bit. Or I may go Christmas shopping again……Oh we are included in the hospital staff Christmas celebrations but I want you and Malcolm to come have dinner one night…That is if you want you don't have to just because I am the boss…"

 

"Not a command performance like Mr. Richards' party." Nell knew that Lee had no intention of going to the party that Kevin Richards was having for all department heads and what he considered the upper management. And he would take it as a person insult and try to make life miserable for Lee. After one of his little rants Lee had sent a formal letter to the hospital board of directors saying she would move her office from the hospital if he ever harassed one of her employees or any family member of hers or another employee’s again.

 

The hospital collected a very substantial rent for her office from the state. And there was the little matter of reimbursement from the hospital to the state for remodeling costs if the hospital broke the rental agreement. And harassment of a state employee was grounds for charging the hospital with breaking the agreement. Lee had worked with Jean Paul and several of his staff in drawing up the rental agreement since she had met up with opposition from other officials not wanting a girl in a wheelchair in a position of authority. That John Paul was the head judge for the state supreme court made most people think twice when Lee mentioned the rental agreement. ( And cringe more when she talked about what a close friend she was with John Paul and his family.)

 

Lee went in and changed into a warm flannel gown and grabbed a diet soda then called the station.


"Station 51 Captain Stanley speaking," Hank said so very official sounding.

 

"Good evening Captain, sir. Is there by chance a rather cute dark haired paramedic hanging around there doing nothing too important? So I can pester him for a few minutes?"

 

"Usually there is but right now he's on a run…Any message for him?"

 

"Naw just let him know I'm home and in for the night…And I miss him and love him."

 

"Will do…And I wanted to thank you for your help with Emily's Christmas gift."

 

"My pleasure…Kim will be at the airport to meet you and then whenever you want or need anything all you have to do is let him or one of his family know…Think of Aunt Lila as an Hawaiian Mama Lopez…only more so…"

 

"That’s hard to imagine…" She could see him shaking his head just from the tone of his voice. "So you ready for Christmas?"

 

"No but I have the packages to New York sent and a few other places …The shopping for here is about done…all the plans for our Christmas party are made and one more good day of baking and candy making should have everything else done….The hardest part is Johnny. He hasn't mentioned anything he'd like has he?"

 

" No in fact just the opposite…Said he had more than he could ever imagine…Lee, you give that young man the world every time you smile at him…And I think that feeling is pretty mutual."

 

"Yeah it is…You my dear Hank are a very wise man…That’s why you are such a great captain… The guys there are lucky to have you and so is LA County…Some of the things I'm hearing from around the state isn't good…Not so much with the paramedics -- they're getting caught up in the trash the others are creating…But enough of that for now…You all take care and stay safe."

 

After fixing herself some soup and a sandwich Lee went into the spare bedroom to get some wrapping paper to finish up some packages so she could include them in the box Maria was sending Tony and Hector Jr. They would be flying out to Denver to spend the remainder of the holiday with the other two boys and their families but Maria wanted the grandkids to have the option of opening their gifts on Christmas Day.

 

She saw the box that had all the pictures Johnny was going to put into an album one day. There was a lot of pictures from various gatherings with the guys and families from 51…some before he met Lee but most from the last 10 months.. starting even before the first time all the guys came over to the apartment up to the ones taken at her birthday party…As she looked at the pictures and thought of the ones that were up or in albums already and she had an idea….She knew what she was giving Johnny for Christmas and what they were giving the guys for Christmas in addition to the things Johnny wanted to get them. Quickly before she got too side tracked she went to finish her wrapping. She had just finished the wrapping and cleaning up when he called.

 

"You sound really tired…rough run?" She said worrying about him.

 

"Yeah…but everyone is gonna be ok…We had a little boy trapped in a room…The stairway collapsed and blocked the hallway to the room he was in…Cap said you called earlier."

 

"Yeah…was missing you and wanted to hear your voice…Now I have a question."

 

"Well, maybe I have an answer." She was glad to hear the teasing in his voice.

 

"Is it ok if I go thru that big box of pictures you have on the bed in the guest room?"

 

"Sure… you didn't even need to ask…" But it meant a lot she did it was just another way of her showing she respected him and his right to privacy. "Looking for something special?"

 

"I've got an idea I want to play with before I tell you…to see if I can translate it from my head to reality…You need to get off here and go get some sleep…You sound really beat my love. Ahumum, did you forget to mention you had your mask off and swallowed some smoke and now have a headache and a sore throat?"

 

"How did you know that?" Frowning…If someone from Rampart called her he was going to complain to Brackett.

 

"I can hear it in your voice me boyo…don't you be thinking you can hide something from me about how you feel." Teasing and keeping it light but getting her point across. "Did they give you something at Rampart?"

 

"Yes and I am going to go get something cold to drink then go to bed…love ya."

 

"Luv ya too…and if you don't feel better in the morning maybe you better stop and get a breathing treatment?"

 

"Naw it's in my throat not my lungs Doc checked them." He did not want her to worry about him any more than she already did. "Nite love ya…"

 

"Good dreams…good night…luv ya too." After she hung up Lee went back into the other room and spent an hour going thru pictures…It was amazing how many Johnny had taken in the last 10 months and she was impressed that he had dated and captioned most of them,. There was even some she had taken, granted they weren't as good as his but she loved them since they were mostly of him.

 

Her favorite one she had taken had been at Roy and Jo's. After a spirited game of tag Johnny had sat down under the big tree in their back yard and pulled his Stetson down over his eyes. Soon Jenny was curled up against him on one side and Stacy on the other. Even asleep his love for the two little girls had shown itself… an arm around each holding them protectively. Johnny had never even woken up when they came and snuggled up against him.

 

Lee remembered the conversation the five adults had watching the trio sleep.


"How does he do that? I mean two seconds ago he was racing around like a mad man." Jim said truly amazed. In the few months he had known the young paramedic he had been impressed with him as a professional and as a friend.

 

"When you're a fireman you learn to use every chance you get for a nap. Last night we had 4 runs between 9 pm and 8 am…" Roy answered.

 

"When he got home this morning he ate and went into to catch a nap and two hours later he was up and ready to take on the day. I'm the one who wasn't ready to get up…and I had slept fairly good the night before." Lee said yawning. "Some days it makes me tired just watching him."

 

"That's the sleep of the pure of heart," Kathy said watching her daughter and her "cousin". In the logic of 6 year olds they had declared themselves cousins after their first meeting. Jim and Kathy's son and Chris De Soto had also become good friends so whenever they could the new blended family got together "He is so at peace with himself."

 

"I can remember when his sleep was filled with tossing and turning on a good night and when the screams from his nightmares tore your heart and soul out." Jo said softly. "I don't think there has been a nightmare in months…That look he always had in his eyes after a nightmare is gone."

 

Now after the realization she had experienced the night of her birthday party Lee better understood what Kathy had meant by it when she said he was at peace with himself. That was a big difference within …it went beyond just being content and happy…She couldn't put it into words but that didn't matter as long as she felt it in her heart and soul and that Johnny did.

 

Lee was up before the alarm went off and was up making a coffee cake for breakfast. She had not slept well so she was planning on taking a nap when he did. The schedule they followed seemed to be working well. Lee rarely worked on days Johnny was off and what they did depended on his need to sleep when he got home. Lee had just taken the coffee cake out of the oven when Chet and Johnny came in. Johnny gave her a quick kiss. "Chet needed a ride so I told him we'd drop him off after breakfast."

 

"Hope that’s not a problem." Chet said. "I told him we should call and check, that you might have had other plans."

 

"You're welcome any time, you should know that by now…I was just going to fix some cream of rice cereal but I can make bacon and eggs or pancakes."


"Scrambled eggs with cheese and bacon? That sounds great…I am starved…" Johnny said with a big grin as he poured himself a large glass of milk. "Want some to go with the coffee cake while we wait on the other stuff?" He asked Chet holding up the milk.

 

"No but that coffee smells really good." Johnny got him the coffee and a piece of cake and they sat and talked with Lee as she fixed the eggs and bacon.

 

"Hey, are there any potatoes left? You could fry them up with some green pepper and onion." Johnny said as he got a second piece of cake."

 

"What did you have for dinner last night?" Lee asked. Johnny shook his head since he had a mouth full of cake.

 

"He didn't eat said his throat hurt too much just had some milk and cold water." Chet volunteered as John growled at him. She didn't need to know that.

 

"Ok, I have some potatoes and I 'all fry them for you…And while I am doing that you can tell me anything else I need to know…The way you're eating I take it your throat is feeling better?"

 

"Yes it is and no there isn't anything else…It was a long shift and I was tired when I got back to the station and my throat was scratchy so I gargled with the stuff Kel gave me and went to bed…Which I'm glad I did because we had a run about midnight that wasn't hard just long…" He watched as she sliced the potatoes into the pan of bacon grease. He reached over an took a strip of bacon from the plate she had put it on.

 

 "We saw Ponch and Jon at the fires they said to tell you hi. They were talking about maybe doing a fund raiser in February …maybe a bowling challenge."

 

"Sounds like fun…They wanted to know if you would be interested in helping. Kind of like the soft ball game back in September?"

 

"Except the bowling alley wouldn't let us run a concession since they have their own…maybe just a bake sale type thing would work." Lee answered as she put cheese on top of the scrambled eggs

 

"See didn't I tell you she'd have a good idea?" Johnny said with a grin as he took another strip of bacon.

 

"Let’s get thru today and Christmas before we worry about that…You have any plans for today?"

 

"Take Chet home then go shopping where ever you want." Soon as the potatoes had finished heating she had them fix their plates and they went to the kitchen table to eat. There was very little talking as the two men concentrated on the food.

 

"Ok you two finish up and I'm gonna change clothes and fix my hair…Chet why don't you take some of the coffee cake with you?"

 

"Are you sure? It is really good…Reminds me of the kind my mom makes." He said not wanting to seem greedy but it was good.

 

"Sure she can always make another one for me, right?" She fixed a plate of the coffee cake to go and went into change clothes.

 

"Man no wonder you are usually the first one out of there every morning…She never batted an eye when I walked in…just made me feel at home." Chet said as they finished their meal. "She cooks like this all the time and you're still that skinny?" They cleared the table and put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher.

 

"Yep…And she has been making fudge and fancy cookies for the last week or so…There are all these tins and platters she bought to fix to give away…Roy teases me about being a big kid at Christmas…She is even more hyper than you all accuse me of being."

 

"I heard that John Roderick…I am not hyper…I just have a lot of energy and a lot of plans for the holidays…Chet will your mom be back from Boston soon?" Suddenly worried he would have no place to go on Christmas Day. You know you're welcome to come here for dinner…Matt and Jeff will be here…Kathy and Jim and the kids and Roy and Jo will be here around 1 or so…" She came back into the room. Chet smiled at the look she gave Johnny. Seeing those two without a crowd around was a new experience.

 

"Thanks but I'm going to my brothers…Mom wasn't sure if she would be home then or not…Her sister is pressing for her to stay in Boston…My oldest aunt is in her 80's and she wants al her sisters and brothers there for one last family Christmas…She had a minor heart attack and she is afraid it'll be the last Christmas…But my cousin said she was healthier now than she had been in years because now she is doing what the doctor has been telling her for years." He laughed.

 

They dropped Chet of at his apartment. "Ok where to next?" Johnny asked before pulling out of the parking lot.

 

"The book store then to the Pottery Place…" Lee looked at the list. "I had this idea and I was wondering what you thought…" She explained what she wanted to do and as she talked the bigger the grin on his face grew "So you like the idea?"


"Its super cool…You think we can get it done in time?"

 

"Sure…we do our part and I'll take it to get it finished tomorrow…" He frowned. "Something wrong?"

 

"I sort have plans for most of tomorrow ….at least 5 or 6 hours…I thought maybe you could find something to do alone or with one of your friends."

 

"Sure I can make some more candy and cookies…Maybe see if Jo wants to come help…Or I could go run some errands…"

 

"Then we'll have a nice quiet evening at home just the two of us…Ok?"

 

"Yep…Honey you sure you feel up to doing errands?"

 

"I'm fine it doesn’t hurt just sounds a little scratchy… "

 

They went into the bookstore. Mr. Lester and his daughter Carla were both there. Carla was up on a ladder dusting a top row of books. She called a greeting and her father came out of the office.

 

“My dear, it is so good to see you…Johnny. It has been a while since you were in…I thought maybe you were going to one of the big new book stores."

 

"No just busy …between the office and home…before if I didn't clean or cook it didn't bother anyone but me…now…it’s a home again…"Lee said smiling as Johnny squeezed her shoulder. "I do need to look for some new cook books, gotta keep from being a boring cook."

"She couldn't be boring if she tried…" Johnny declared.

 

"Lee you could feed him peanut butter and jelly three times a day and he wouldn't care as long as it was from you." Carla said as she got down from the ladder. "But we did just get in a really nice cook book that is healthy and good tasting foods…I made a couple of things from it…"

 

"Oh good…Johnny give Mr. Lester the list while I look around…Did you think of anyone else we needed to put on the list…?"

 

"Nope…Alvarez…De Soto, Kildare, Brackett, Early, Stoker…Why is there a question mark by Emily?"

 

"I needed to check with Hank that the girls hadn't gotten that book…they got another one for her…Oh and I need a selection of books for pediatrics…I think I should get at least 3 sets of the Narnia stories…Better make it 4...a set of Thomas the Engine for Mikey…2 sets of Beatrix Potter…The books Jimmy and Chris wrote down…then I'll let you pick out the books for the library at the hospital…probably 25 for ages 3 to 16..."

 

"Do you want some of the sets with the cassette tape that they can hear the story as they look at the pictures? "Carla said as she was going through the list in her head. "We have a nice selection of those and the Radio shack has cassette players for kids at a good price that include ear phones…we have some with coloring books to go along with the story books…and you can buy the coloring books individually also…I got some for my girls and I always buy two coloring books." The two went off to look at cookbooks and children's books."

 

"I first meet Lee after the wreck did you know that?" Jeremy Lester said as he looked over the list. "Her uncle Jeff came in and asked if I would gather up a selection of books for her to look thru and he would pay me extra for the time and trouble. Said that Ben Oliver had suggested I would be willing to do that…Ben is an old friend and for him I said yes. It was not until later I learned about her accident… And that she was confined to that bed the majority of the time. That first year I think she read at least two books a week. Told me that when the pain got bad she could escape that bedroom and go any place in the world…She loved the classics…especially Dumas….and the Count of Mont Cristo were her favorites…We just received a lovely leather bound set of his works with new illustrations painted in the style of the original…She told me one day that her old copies had been given away…sent to a school in Mexico where they were teaching English as a second language and that if I ever had books that I was going to dispose of she would buy them and see they went to needy schools or small town libraries that didn't have a budget that allowed for a lot of extras. Such a good and kind heart."

 

"Yep that’s my girl…How expensive is the Dumas set?" Johnny asked."

 

"You have an unlimited charge here. I thought I had told you that before. When you came to pick up the books she had bought for gifts to your friends… The set is $250.00...and contains most of his major works…"

 

Johnny explained. "I want those books for her and I'll get them one day when she isn't around… I pay for her gifts from my paycheck…so this won't be on the regular account."

 

"I will have Carla box them up and would you like her to wrap them for you?"

 

"That would be great. Let me know when they are ready…leave a message at the station…I'll pick them up." Johnny usually didn't tell people to leave him a message at the station but this was special circumstances and he was sure if the guys knew it was for Lee they wouldn't mind taking the message.

 

While Johnny was, busy with Mr. Lester Lee and Carla were looking at children's books and the tape and book sets. Lee had found several more books she thought the kids would enjoy and ordered them as well as the books for the hospital. She and Carla then went over to check out the cookbooks. She got the one Carla had suggested for her and got one on bread making for Maria and found several more she liked for Jo and Em and Melissa.

 

She and Johnny had agreed they would use self-control when buying gifts. For someone who had grown up so poor it was still hard for Johnny to realize he could buy anything he wanted and never see the bill.

 

The years with his aunt money hadn't been a problem but by then he had learned to be very careful of what he spent. Lee had never had to worry about money but it had never meant that much to her except than tit allowed her to buy for those she cared about. Maria and Hector and their family, Kathy and Jim , her uncles and her New York family had finally made her agree to a limit on what she could spend for each on Christmas and birthdays.

 

Now that same rule was applied to her new family members. Johnny was the exception…no one not even Johnny could tell her what she could and couldn't buy for him. It wasn't as one malicious person had suggested she was buying a husband or her own personal paramedic…It was just she loved him so much and wanted to make up for all the years he did without…and for all the years she never had that special someone to spoil. But even then she did try to use some restraint because she knew it made him feel bad he could not spend as much on her. While most of their friends knew she had a trust fund none except Roy and Jo and Dixie knew how much it was worth.

 

"I am done except for Dixie and a few small gifts… I think we can get the rest of what we need over at the Wild Wind Mall."

 

"Sounds good…Am I still not allowed in Jeff's room?" He said in a whinny voice. He was teasing her and she knew it.

 

"No you are not…but then if you want to spoil your Christmas surprises that’s your choice." Actually, everything she had in there for him was already wrapped.

 

"You would be so hurt if I did that…And you know I would never do anything to hurt you in any way, right?" He could not help but laugh at the fake pout on her face.

 

"Absolutely." She leaned back I her seat totally relaxed. "I think if its ok with you I might check out the new stuff at Styles Remembered after we leave the mall… Any place besides the pottery store you want to check out. "

 

"We can walk around for awhile and see if anything catches our eye…then go to lunch…"

 

"Good plan… You know one of the things I always liked about you?" She said as he pulled out into traffic.

 

"Besides my dashing good looks?" He teased.

 

"Well now that you mention it you are kinds cute." She giggled at the look on his face. "No seriously after you found out about the chair you never let it bother you…You would just naturally say things like let’s take a walk around the mall…or forget that we had the handicapped parking sticker…A lot of people are uncomfortable saying things like that to me."

 

"That’s because they aren't looking at you but at their own hang ups…Did someone say something to you?" Surprised at how serious and almost sad she suddenly sounded.

 

"The other day at work…You know how stuff like that gets stuck in your head and pops up at strange times…Or at least it does in mine…Some of those people at that hospital don't have a clue."

 

"Do you still like your job? Or are you staying at it because you think everyone expects you to?"

 

"We're supposed to be Christmas shopping not being serious…Yeah I do still like my job because I feel like I'm doing something important something that is really helping people…Face it neither one of us would be happy doing nothing and or something we thought of as busy work. I just want you to be happy…at whatever you do…if you want to quit your job and travel around the world give me a few weeks to finish some projects and we're out of here… If you and Roy want to start your own business …you can do it in a heartbeat the money is there for the start up and to live on while you do.….you already have trust funds set up for Chris and Jen…just like there is for Jimmy and Stacy…and the Alvarez kids…if you want to set up something for Mikey that is fine too…and Cap's Kristie…It's up to you what you want to do. The money is there but I guess because it always has been I don't see it as that important. If you want to do something for the reservation in your mom's memory…that would be great….Maybe this is the kind of stuff we should have talked about back in the summer…but it didn't matter then…all that mattered then and now is that you love me. I think before I was afraid to talk about this because of stuff that had happen in the past…but now the past is just that…and I …don't know why all of a sudden its important to say all this…" She bit her lip waiting for him to say something.

 

"You're right this isn't the time to talk about that and you're right about the past being the past…lets just concentrate on now. We're going to have a great Christmas and a wonderful New Year and I love you for you…not for any other reason…but the fact you're a great cook and kinda cute helps." He grinned hoping she knew he was teasing her.

 

"Gee thanks," laughing as she felt the tension leave the car. "Does that mean I have to cook tonight instead of going out?"

 

"That means I will always do whatever I can to make you happy, Baby girl, and hopefully you know that…"

 

"Totally…and have for a long time."

 

They drove the rest of the way in silence listening to the radio play familiar Christmas songs. But it was an easy silence. Once they reached the small mall Johnny quickly got her out of the car and into her chair as the wind was chilly. He did slow down enough to give her a kiss and whisper "I love you" in her ear.

Grant Madison was at the small service desk and waved hello to them. Johnny pushed her over to the desk.

 

"You two should be about done shopping as often as you are here." Grant said as he gave them the daily flyer on specials in the various shops. "The fudge of the day is now white chocolate and black walnuts…someone came in and bought all the maple pecan they had left about a half hour ago…Sissy just came up with an update. They are doing great …their Christmas sales will really help carry them over thru January then the Valentine sales and Easter and Mother's Day…" Grant was a really fond of the two young sisters and their families who had recently opened the candy store.

 

"And I need to go down there to see if they can do an additional 5 trays for the WBS…Ben called me the other day and I almost forgot…And I need to call the Hogan's and let them know they will probably need extra tables and help…He keeps upping the number of people he expects…Ok Pottery Place, Sweethart House, and the jewelry store…Let's go to the Sweethart House first so you can get something to nibble on until we get to lunch…"

 

"And I want to check out the model store…They were suppose to get some new pieces in…" Johnny said as they started back to the candy store. Lee liked to shop here since it was usually one of a kind items and a lot of hand crafted items. There was a small dress shop that she liked almost as well as Styles Remembered and she usually stopped in there to just look.

 

The small candy shop looked like the house from Hansel and Gretel minus the wicked witch. The small of chocolate and peanut butter mingled with the peppermint, vanilla, and popcorn. Sissy looked up as they came in and the sounds of Jingle bells softly chimed.

"Hey you two…I was just thinking about you…Lee that idea you had about putting sample platters at Nana's Garden worked great…And I got several of her wreaths for in here and some of her smaller arrangements…I think we are going to work out something that will carry over after the holidays."

 

"Good…any chance I can add 5 more trays to the WBS order? I know its short notice…" Lee said as she took a piece of peanut brittle from the sample tray. "And I need about 10 pounds of this for me and 5 pound s of the cashew brittle…And whatever Johnny wants."

 

"How much of what you just ordered is for the house? Or is it all going on your cookie trays?"

 

"Can we make that 15 and 10 on the brittles?…That way there will be some left maybe to send home with Jeff after Christmas…And another 5 pounds of the bonbons and turtles and caramels…"

 

"That would be great…Guy and Dave are both off from school now and they can help us…Finals are over and they aren't working anywhere else…Hopefully soon they won't have to work part time during the school year except here."

 

Just then, they heard a loud crash and a scream from the kitchen. Johnny was the first one to reach the screaming man. Quickly grabbing him he put the man's hand under cold running water. "Lee…call dispatch and have a squad and an ambulance sent here…then go give Grant the key the Rover and have him get the first aid kit…" A large glass bowl had shattered when Dave poured a hot caramel sauce into it. Not only was his hand burnt there was a blood from a cut. Lee quickly went to the phone on the desk and dialed the number for dispatch. Giving them the information need and adding there was an off duty paramedic assisting the victim.

 

"Sissy…give these to Grant and tell him Johnny's Rover is in the second handicapped spot right across front door. The first aid kit is in a red bag in the back…Run…" She handed her the keys and went back into the kitchen. "Sissy can get there and back quicker than me…A Squad is on the way…"

 

"Get me some clean towels from that drawer over there… And some ice if you can reach it." Johnny was holding Dave's hand under the water and putting pressure on the pulse point in his wrist.

 

Lee got the towels but could not reach the ice. While Johnny was busy she undid her seat belt and moved the foot rests. Pushing up on the chair arms she stood up and got the ice cube tray. Quickly sitting down she wheeled over to him. "Go wait out front…we don't have a lot of room back here, ok? And put the closed sign up…if you can do it without standing up."

 

"Ok" Grant and Sissy came running down the hall with Johnny's bag. Lee moved out of the way after telling them to put the closed sign up and left the shop. When the squad arrived she gave them directions to the shop which was in one of the side corridors at the back off the building.

 

Johnny had wrapped the ice filled towel around Dave's arm to help slow the bleeding and had applied sterile water and sheeting to the hand from his kit. He had a set of vitals ready for the on duty paramedics and quickly got out of their way.

 

He went over to Sissy who looked like she was ready to pass out. Quickly he got her seated and had her put her head down and talked to her, helping her to control her breathing. Grant stood back watching at the efficient and caring way all three paramedics worked. Lee had come back down to the shop when the ambulance had arrived. She was sitting outside the store when Grant came out and handed her a can of soda.

 

"Thank you." She took a sip.

 

"Johnny said to bring it and check on you…and tell you to put your seatbelt on."

 

"I forgot all about it…" He handed her the keychain. "Nice picture." It was of her and Johnny on the Ferris wheel. The key chain had been a gift from Roy and Jo and the kids…Johnny had one just like it.

 

"That is the first picture we ever had taken together…How is Sissy?"

 

"Fine since your husband got her calmed down…She called and Kasey is going to meet them at the hospital. Ya know I had forgotten he was a paramedic…guess I never thought about it."

 

"One of best…He and his partner are the best team in the county…"

 

"Now that I think about it…didn't I see them on the news not to long ago? On the side of a cliff?"

 

"Yeah…that’s why I don't watch the news when he is on duty. Look, I am going over to Harrison's and buy him a shirt…and a pair of jeans…Tell him I'll be right back…"

 

She wheeled off before Grant could answer wondering why it was such an urgent matter.

 

In Harrison's Lee looked around for a clerk and soon found one. "I need a pair of jeans, boot cut and a sweat shirt…" She gave the sizes. "Any color shirt will do…and take all the tags off and don't bother putting them in a bag." She handed the clerk her charge card. "The quicker the better…I need to get these over to my husband now…" Getting impatient as the clerk was fumbling with the card and talking with another customer and clerk." I'll be back in a minute." She grabbed the clothes from the counter and left. The clerk looked shocked then called security. The security guard came into the store and took the information. When he saw the card he knew who it was and what had happened and went down to the candy shop to return the card and remind her to go back and sign the charge slip.

 

When Lee got back to the candy shop Johnny and Grant were sitting outside the shop drinking a soda. Handing him the clothes, "Do I need to start carrying extra clothes for you in the car like we do for the kids?"

 

"Might not be a bad idea." He kissed her then went into the shop to change. On the way to the small bathroom at the back of the kitchen he grabbed a few more towels to do a better job of washing off.


In the bathroom he stripped down throwing the tee shirt and sweat shirt in the trash. His jeans he'd try to save…and washed off good before going back out front."

 

In the model store which Lee called a toy store for adults they looked at the cast iron steam engines and horse drawn fire engines. Johnny knew that Hank and Mike would both love to have one of these to scale miniatures. He got Hank the old train engine and the horse drawn fire engine for Mike. For Marco he had gotten an am/fm radio/cassette unit for his car. Marco had mentioned his radio was broken and he missed listening to music when he was driving. He got Chet a new reel and fishing pole. The last time they had been fishing somehow Chet had managed to leave his fishing rod at the camp site. The last place they went was the Pottery Place. In addition to ready made pieces there you could get supplies and tools and assorted odds and ends. The bought a small detailing set then a gift certificate that he could use to buy clay and other items that he might like.

 

"We are done…all the major stuff is done and I have most of what I need for the stockings…now we just need to go thru the pictures and get them to the printer…The cards are sent, the cookies and candy done until I see a new recipe I want to try…Lunch then maybe stopping by to see Liz? I know we said we had everything for the girls but…And the boys I thought maybe a gift certificate good for a game 2 tickets to any sporting event they choose…They had such a great time at the football game when you all used their gift certificates from the rehearsal dinner. And that way you and Jim and Roy get an extra gift….Oh did I tell you I just found out that WBS has a box at the football stadium and the at Dodger stadium? And maybe one at the basketball arena …So maybe one of these days you guys can all go there…They may have one at UCLA too."

 

"You just found this out? Why?" Johnny asked stopped by the news as they were going to the car.

 

"Nobody ever bothered to tell me because they knew I didn't like sports…except for ice skating."

 

"Oh ok…why didn't you ever tell me you like ice skating? You never watch it on TV."

 

"Because I know you don't by the way you acted when I did watch it on television. Can we go to the New Mexican restaurant? The one Marco's cousin just opened…They have caramel flan just like mama Lopez makes for me."

 

"So you don't watch ice skating because I don't like it? That isn't fair."

 

"Doesn't bother me…if it's on when you're at work I watch it. Come on lets go eat. Were you able to find out what happen back there?"

 

"Somehow a bowl that was for displaying the candy got mixed in with the bowls that were safe to use to mix the candies….When the hot sugar hit the glass it shattered…"

 

They went to lunch then when they got home they worked on sorting and organizing the pictures. They had such a good time doing that they lost all track of time until Johnny's stomach started growling.

 

"You finish putting stuff away and I'll find something to fix for dinner…Any idea what you would like?"

 

"Pizza and salad…I saw a commercial on TV and have been hungry for pizza ever since…"

 

 Lee was sitting on the bed with pillows behind her back and stacks manila envelopes stacked on the bed stand each envelope labeled. Johnny picked up the other photos and put them back in the tub and cleaned the bed off. He sat down next to her. "But there is something else I want first…" He gently pulled her over to him and began kissing her as his hand traveled up under her sweater. As always his touch sent a ripple of tingles down her back. Gently and carefully he moved her so her back was supported as he undressed her.


Johnny was up before she was the next morning and decided to surprise her. He switched off the alarm clock and went out to the kitchen. He started coffee then went to the fridge and began pulling out fruit and yogurt. He whistled along with the Christmas music on the radio. He made some toast and sprinkled it with the cinnamon sugar mix she had made and put it under the broiler while he put the yogurt and fruit in a bowl. He got the toast out just at the right time and poured some juice into the pitcher. He put everything on the serving cart and went into the bed room leaving the cart in the hall where she could not see it. .She was awake sitting up. "You moved my chair."

 

"Yep I did… I wanted to make sure you didn't come out and spoil my surprise…Now if you'll close your eyes…" She did with a giggle and he went out and brought the cart in. He had sat the bed tray on the bottom of the cart. "Ok…open your eyes…Good morning and Happy Breakfast." He placed the tray over her lap then gave her a quick kiss. "As a thank you for all you do." He pulled a chair up close to the bed so he could use the cart as a table. "I was going to fix something else but decided this was good…I just wanted to let you know how much all the little things you do mean. I guess if you grew up in a home where your friends were welcome or cared if you were dressed in clean clothes…you could take those things for granted. The way you handled Chet being with me yesterday…And getting me the clean clothes…I really like that sweat shirt and jeans by the way." The shirt was black with a eagle soaring across a back ground of fluffy clouds.

 

"Johnny, my luv, this is your home…your friends are always welcome any time…But a little warning in the mornings might be nice…"She giggled. "Me wearing this when he came in could have been embarrassing…" She had on a short low cut lacy gown. "And you looked very nice in the jeans and shirt…I knew those other clothes had to be uncomfortable…I'm glad you left your jacket in the car…It would have been ruined."

 

It was the leather jacket she had given him for his birthday. After breakfast and a shower they quickly dressed and he left on his errand. As he was getting ready to go out the door. "If you need me call Jo…she knows where I'll be but is sworn to secrecy…You gonna be here most of the day?" He kissed her again. "Christmas secrets are allowed, remember telling me that when I asked you where you were going the other day?"

 

"Yes I remember…I have 2 quick errands to run then I am home…Do you want to get that pizza we never got last night?"

 

"Sounds good…I'll call before I come home to make sure you don't need anything else, ok " He kissed her again and was gone.

 

Listening to the radio as he drove over to Hank and Em's house he was pretty pleased with himself. He had three presents for her…and some little stocking stuffer things. Jo had given him some ideas for that. He had decided the one present was going into the toe of her stocking. Matt and Jeff would be in on Christmas Eve about 5 their time…They were having a family dinner.

 

Lee had invited Hector and Maria but they were going to Cindy's to have dinner with her parents then going to midnight mass with them. Cindy's mom and dad knew Eddie was going to give her an engagement ring after mass when they gathered for back at the apartment for Jesus' birthday cake. They all were going to St. Mary's where Fr. Chuck would be saying the Mass. They had seen him a few times since their wedding and had promised to come if Johnny wasn't on shift. Johnny pulled into the drive and Hank answered the door.

 

"Everything is out in the workshop…Em and the girls left awhile ago…Want some coffee before we go out?"

 

"Yeah …I appreciate you letting me do this over here." They were sitting in the kitchen.

 

"Look, as much as that girl does for us…It's my pleasure. I can't wait for Em to open her gift Christmas

morning…I'm going to the flower shop Christmas eve and get the arrangement your friend Nana is doing for me…The tickets are gonna be stuck in it….They finished the coffee and went out to the workshop. Johnny had picked up the wood and glass last week. It was a beautiful cherry wood and had not need much more than a thin coat of shellac. Johnny had kept the pieces in his locker and waxed and polished them when he had some down time the last week. Cap pulled up a stool and watched as Johnny measured and cut the base then the side pieces …He smiled knowing that the finished product would be perfect. "Ok, Pal, can I trust you not to cut off any fingers? I don't know who I would be in trouble with the most, your partner or your wife…or HQ if they had to find a replacement for you."

 

"Think it would be a close race between all three. I'm fine…" The work went well and he was pleased.


"I'm on my way home anything you need besides the pizza." It was a little after 6.

 

"I had started to think you for got me. Nope I'll call them and it should be ready about the time you get there from…" She waited for an answer.

 

"Not gonna catch me in that…If I have to wait on it I will or hopefully it won't be sitting done too long before I get there. " He went out to the kitchen where Em was having a cup of coffee. "Tell Cap I said thanks again and I'll be over Christmas Eve morning to pick it up."

 

"It was our pleasure. Give her our love."

 

The apartment looked beautiful…everything was in place. The table had all three leaves in it and was set with her grandmother's Christmas china, crystal and silver. The Christmas music was playing on the stereo and the fire in the fireplace was just the right intensity. The Beef Wellington was due out of the oven in 10 minutes. The casserole dishes of au gratin potatoes and scalloped corn were in the oven also…The salads were ready and in the fridge, the rolls would go in soon as the roast came out.. The plates of cookies and candy and fruit breads were ready. Ice tea made coffee ready to turn on to brew. The packages for tonight under the tree.

 

"Johnny where is the crystal pitcher?"

 

"The one with the ice tea in the fridge…" He came out of the bedroom. Lee looked at him and smiled, he looked so handsome. The deep red sweater and black dress pants fit him perfectly.

 

The one that matches the punch cups that you got down earlier…for eggnog if anyone wants it…And did you check to see if there was any open brandy?"

 

"On the kitchen table and yes there is…Will you calm down…Everything is perfect…"

 

"Except me…I need to go in and get dressed…"

 

"I wish you had found some time to get out of that chair earlier…Your back hurting?" He went behind her and began massaging the extremely tight shoulder and neck muscles. "Honey I told you it is gonna be fine…Everything looks wonderful…like the pictures in the magazines at the end of the checkout line at Keelson's."

 

"Thank you…." She took a deep breath. "Now I need to go get ready…" She gave him instructions concerning the food and timers to be set. He had not seen the new blouse and skirt she had gotten at Styles Remembered. The silk emerald green blouse was cut lower than she normally wore but the lace insert and high collar made it look modest.

 

Her locket lay in the hallow of her throat perfectly. Her makeup perfect and did not look as if she had anyone except for the dark wine lipstick. The high waisted skirt fit perfectly and when she sat down the skirt showed the soft leather boots with a perfect sized heel for her to stand up in. Roy had promised to bring and put up a sprig of mistletoe and she fully intended to stand up with her arms around Johnny's neck and collect a Christmas kiss. Her hair was up like he liked and she had her mom's ruby ear rings on…She was standing at the rail looking at herself in the mirror when he came into the room. Seeing the expression on his face made her catch her breath. It was desire and love and pride.

 

"We could put a note on the door saying the party was cancelled or delayed.." He came up behind her and pressed his body against hers as his arms crossed protectively over her. He nuzzled her neck before kissing it the smell of the soft floral perfume teasing him.

 

"That wouldn't be very nice of us." She moved slightly and he helped her pivot so she was facing him. "She raised her head back as her mouth found his and she cupped her hand around his neck pulling him closer to her. His tongue flicked on her lips as he pulled back just a little. "We did invite them."

 

The door bell interrupted the kiss and she let out a sigh. He moved her chair over closer and helped her get settled. She smiled as he raised his eye brows at the unbuckled seat belt. "No" and turned to leave the room.

 

"Vixen." He said with a laugh as she left the room. Lee opened the door and as she guessed it was Roy and Jo. Roy had 2 bags of presents and Jo had a small florist box which she handed to Lee.

 

"Wow you trying to compete with that angel on the tree?" Roy said as he stood up and came over to her giving her a kiss on the cheek.

 

"Nope she outshines anything in this room." Johnny said as he came into the room. "Jo you're beautiful too…I think me and Pally here are the luckiest men I know." Jo gave him a kiss and took her and Roy's coats into the spare room. The buzzer in the kitchen went off.

"Excuse me…" She started out to the kitchen.

 

"Wait on me…You don't need to be lifting any hot heavy dishes out of the oven…I'll take care of it." Johnny said with a stern look. "Ok?"

 

"Ok…and thank you." She went over to where Roy was standing. He handed her the box and smiled at the way her eyes lit up when she saw the mistletoe ball. It was perfect and he thumb tacked it up without a word.

 

"Let’s see if Junior can keep his eyes off of you long enough to notice it." Lee just laughed and went to answer the doorbell and just left the door open after Cap and Emily came in. Roy took the coats and Lee and Jo went to help Johnny finish setting out the food. When Marco came in he had a pan of caramel flan that his mother had sent Lee, telling her it wasn't for tonight. Soon all were gathered and gifts put under the tree.

 

"Ok everyone if you would go to the table and find a seat…There is coffee if anyone wants it now…" Once they were all seated. " Johnny and I just wanted to thank you all for being such a wonderful part of our lives and sharing this first magical Christmas with us… And I wanted to thank you all for being such wonderful gifts from God in our lives."

 

"That works both ways, you two…." Soon everyone was busy eating and laughing and remembering other Christmas parties and Christmas related incidents while on duty. Lee laughed so hard at Chet and Johnny bickering back at forth her side hurt. When all had declared they couldn't eat another bite including Johnny, Lee began to clear the table.

 

"Leave that Baby girl, I'll get it later. There isn't anything that going to spoil if it sits out for awhile."

 

"Gee Gage I bet she's got you trained to do windows too." Everyone looked at Chet then at Johnny waiting for Johnny to explode at the hurt look on Lee's face. The three other women at the table glared at him. They knew how much pride Lee took in the fact she needed very little help in taking care of her home. She shook her head and Johnny didn't say anything just carried a stack of plates to the kitchen.

 

 Roy stood up and started clearing the table as did Mike and Marco without a word. As Cap picked up the platter he looked at Chet and said "Twit." He looked around confused at why suddenly it felt so chilly. Like usual he had no clue how he had hurt her.

 

"Ya know Chet, I’d love to wash windows but I’m short and I don't do well on ladders." Lee said softly trying to let the others know it was ok that she hadn't taken offense. She wasn't going to let an offhand remark spoil her evening. "John Roderick…do me a big favor?"

 

"Whatcha need sweetie?" He came back in from the kitchen."

 

"Go stand in the doorway over there." He frowned and looked to see what she was looking up at. When he saw the mistletoe ball he got a big grin on his face and went over as directed. "Ok, Cap and Mike…after I wheel myself over there…Roy is going to stand behind me and hold my chair steady and you two are going to hold your arm nearest me out in front of you and let me use you as supports while I get my balance…Then I am going to walk over to my husband and get a kiss under the mistletoe…"

 

"Where did that come from?" Johnny hadn't noticed it until she had pointed it out.

 

"I put it there…You never take your eyes off her so it doesn't surprise me you never saw it." Roy smiled at the confused look on his partner's face. Lee moved her chair where she wanted it and put the brakes on.

 

Not looking at all comfortable Mike and Cap got beside her and waited for her to push up and reached for their arms. When she stood up and took the first step Johnny had to fight the urge to stop her. He knew how important this was especially after Chet's remark. Roy reached down and took the brakes off and moved the chair back out of the way. Biting on her lower lip in concentration she took the first small step…It was getting harder for her to do this and she hadn't really done much of her exercises or therapy lately. In her head she was counting…6.…7.…….8.…….9.………10.…His arms were around her holding her up as her knee gave out…Her hands around his neck as they kissed. She was standing under the mistletoe with the man she loved…Her Christmas wish had come true.

 

 He felt her knees giving out, the left one first as usual. The nerves on that side of her body seemed so much more damaged…Without a word he scooped her up in his arms and carried her to his recliner. Getting her settled.

 

"Toss me the two smaller pillows and the blanket from the rocker." He gently massaged her legs as she tensed. "OK…now you're relaxing and let us do all the work, ok?"

 

""Now I don't have any choice in the matter…But I would do that again in a heartbeat." The pillows were placed and the blanket spread over her lap and tucked around her legs. "Marco, lets swing this chair around so she can get a better view of the tree….and the packages…Ok…Where do I start?"

 

"Since Cap is our fearless leader give him and Emily their gifts first. But before you start…I need to say something…don't I always…someone …no one here…made the comment that I have more money than sense…and that I buy my friends….You all know I have the trust fund…and that gives me a lot of freedom to do what I want but it is never used to buy friendship…its used to celebrate friendships and I never mean to make anyone feel bullied …"

 

"Who ever told you that is an ass," Chet Kelly said. "I know sometimes I say the wrong thing or things don't come out like they should…But I don't think any of us ever felt that way…You two have the biggest and kindness hearts I've ever had the pleasure to know."

 

"Thanks Chet. .I appreciate that and you've got a pretty big one too, ya know. Now let's get on with the fun…" Roy and Johnny took a stack of gifts and set them down by Em and Hank. The model steam engine and books on the history of the Southern Pacific railroad were admired as were all the gifts.

 

Mike loved the horse drawn fire engine model and Melissa was thrilled with the water color pencil and pens for her calligraphy .

 

Marco thought the set of chef knives and the kit to grow herbs was perfect. Chet was thrilled with the set of tools and the box with all sorts of automotive things. Roy and Jo were surprised with books on favorite subjects and teased with the stack over in the corner with their names on them that were for Christmas Day.

 

"Ok it’s your turn," Cap said as he and Roy carried a stack of gifts over to Lee and Johnny who had brought over a chair from the dining room table and was sitting next to her. He had not let go of her hand or otherwise maintained some form of touch since he had sat down beside her. He handed Johnny a package from then one exactly like it to Lee. : These are from Mike and Melissa… He waited for her as she carefully undid the paper. They opened the boxes at the same time. The sweat shirts were hand painted. Her shirt was a pale pink that had 3 faerie roses tied with a bow. There was a heart of ivy surrounding the roses and if you looked close you saw the ends of the ribbons formed letters. It was done so well it looked like a casual cascade of ribbons and in the middle of the bow a small golden G was there. His was white and the painting on it was the station house. With the squad sitting in front.

 

"They are so wonderfully special…" Lee looked up her voice full of the awe she was feeling. "I can't draw a straight line with a ruler."

 

"This is great…Thank you both so much." Johnny was almost speechless.

 

"I love doing this kind of thing…And Mike was really good at helping around the house and with Mikey while I worked on them,." Melissa said blushing at the praise from her friends.

 

The next package was from Marco and had both their names on it. The opened it together and found a wooden recipe box. Inside were hand written cards with the recipes of some of the favorite things Marco cooked at the station and some from his mom and other family members. There was also an assortment of the spices needed for the various dishes. The box had Lee's name and the date carved on its lid. "My brother made the box for me…and all my family helped with recipes." Marco said. "Johnny your part of the gift is all the good food you'll get when she uses these recipes." He teased his friend.

 

"Yeah and seeing the look on her face each time she makes something from it…" Johnny answered.

 

The next package was from Chet. It was a hand crocheted table runner and place mats. "Mom did this when she did the bells for your tree….I'm not real good at the craft type stuff." He turned red as Lee and Johnny praised the gift.

 

Cap and Emily's gift was an envelope with an IOU in it for a quilt. "I have it about half done but time just got away from me…."

 

"That you would even start one for us…It’s so …" Lee swallowed the lump in her throat. "This is so unbelievable." Johnny just nodded as he wiped the tears from her cheek.


"You all …Every year since that first Christmas at Roy's I said it was the best ever…That doesn't even start to say what this year means…"

 

Roy handed Johnny and Lee a small package. Inside were two tickets to an upcoming country western show. "Wow…How did you know?" Johnny said …."These have been sold out for weeks."

 

"Junior…every time we get into the rover you turn on the radio, right?"

 

"Right."

 

"And its always on the country music station and you always try to sing along…especially to one song…Lee I called and there is a perfect place for you two to sit…it’s all set up." Everyone laughed because Johnny had a really bad tendency to sing off key…when he stopped and thought about the music he was hearing then he had a fairly nice voice.

 

Johnny went into the bedroom and came out with the brightly wrapped packages. They were instructed not to open them until everyone had a package. They opened the calendars and were amazed at the pictures decorating each month.

 

Emily looked at the two beaming gift givers." This was a wonderful idea…I had no idea how many pictures you had taken of us all."

 

"Oh that is just so few of them…We wanted this to be a history of our first year together…I used pictures he had taken before he met me for January and February from the station or from his camping trips…The one of us on the Ferris wheel is the first one we had taken together…The rest of the year is filled with you all …Now there is cookies and candy and eggnog…Hank there is some very good brandy for the eggnog…My uncle Jeff left it….so please everyone help yourselves."


She looked around for her wheel chair but it was nowhere to be seen.

 

"Don't think of getting up it’s your turn to rest…:" Emily said with a firm hand on her shoulder. "Lee you have to stop that you know." Very quietly, the others had went over to the table.

 

"What?"

 

"Trying to convince others that Johnny didn't make a mistake in marrying you…That you're good enough for him." Lee looked at the others over by the table. "Child we knew you were the best thing that ever happened to him the first day we met you. You need to believe it."

 

"I think I do then something is said or happens and …I get scared again. But today wasn't about that…today was about making a Christmas wish come true…If I didn't do it today it may never have happen...I wanted to kiss my husband under the mistletoe standing on my own two feet. I need to do things now before it’s too late…But today isn't a day for thinking sad things it’s a day to celebrate the end of a very wonderful year and the start of the an even more wonderful new year…"

 

Christmas Eve day Lee was on pins and needles all day long. Johnny just sat back and let her know there was nothing he could do to make her any less hyper. He went over to Cap's and picked up the display case. Cap was off on his own errands Emily asked him if he wanted a cup of coffee and some cookies and he said yes. Figuring Lee might need the time alone.

 

"Lee ready for tonight and tomorrow?" Em asked as she poured the coffee. "I know how much she has been looking forward to her uncles coming…."

 

"Yeah she has…she said on Christmas eve they always had oyster stew and sour dough bread…and then after Mass they had cake with Maria and Hector…I guess it’s important to her to remember the old traditions and start new ones…She has everything planned out for tomorrow's dinner…The serving dishes are down and labeled ….She asked the kids if they wanted to sit with us or have a table of their own …Its all what she calls easy comfort food tomorrow…ham, macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes and cranberry salad and deviled eggs and I even promised to eat at least one Brussels sprout.


And there is candy and cookie and fruit breads…I think she is planning to send a care package down to the station this afternoon…the ham and other food have already been delivered….you ladies took care of the guys working like usual. Well I better get back and see if there is anything else she needs…Tell Cap I said Merry Christmas…" He kissed her lightly on the cheek then left.

 

By 5:30 she was ready to jump out of her skin. She was sure something had happen and they weren't coming…Johnny was just as antsy worried about how upset she was getting. He paced around the house, went out to the rover and checked it was locked up tight and then went back upstairs. He could see her eyes were red but didn't say anything about her eyes or the pill bottle on the counter.

 

"Come sit on the couch and watch TV with me." He said. "Or better yet why don't you get in the recliner and lay back and just rest awhile. They will be here and it will be fine…"

 

"Pretty much driving you crazy too? Sorry…This is the worst part waiting…I think I have checked the bedrooms and the bath a half dozen times making sure there is clean towels and soap and there are pillows and extra blankets…" He picked her up and set her in her corner of the couch then set down next to her. It was almost 6:30 now.


"The house is perfect, you look beautiful…I like you in that color." It was a deep wine colored blouse and she had a white V neck sweater on that had just a touch of silver threads in the v and around the cuffs. Her black A line skirt was mid café and she had on her black dress boots that came up to her knees. Her hair was down and lay on her shoulders with a silver Gaelic knot barrette holding it back from her face. He kissed her and felt her trembling. "They are probably just as anxious as you are since it’s been 4 months since they saw you…With your hair like that you really look a lot like your mom…"

 

"Sometimes I think I can remember what her voice sounded like and her laughing…I remember her reading to me…the old fairy tales and the children's classic…Do you think they talk about us to each other? I do…I think they are great friends and are watching over us…Tonight will you go and light 5 candles? Jeff will light for his mom and dad and Matt will light 2.…And if there is anyone else you want to light one for…Before the accident I went to church at least once a week with Maria…but when I was mad at God I wouldn't go at all and just barely admitted I still believed in Him…later Fr. Chuck and I would talk and …Now I thank Him every day for you…" He pulled her over closer and turned her so he could kiss her. It was a soft reverent kiss that warmed her heart and soul. She nestled down next to him, her head on his shoulder. His arm was around her protecting her from all the old and new self doubts. There was a movie on TV but they weren't really watching they were just enjoying being together. He smiled when he realized she had fallen asleep. His arm was numb but no way was he going to move and wake her up. Unless the dreams became more frightening for her. He could feel her body tense and shudder as she became more restless. For just a minute he panicked, what if something had happened and Jeff and Matt didn't come or worst had been hurt in some kind of accident? He tightened his hold on her as much as he could with his numb arm.


Would he be able to comfort her? She moved snuggling closer to him and he smiled. Nothing bad was going to happen…It was going to be the perfect Christmas she deserved. He heard the front door open and held his free arm up in the air. Matt and Jeff came into the room and smiled as they saw her. It was a little after 7.

 

"Baby girl you need to wake up, you've got company." He whispered and kissed her lightly. She opened her eyes but still not awake.

 

"Hey sweet pea…sorry we're late." Jeff squatted down in front of her. "Blame your uncle Matt and New York air traffic."

 

"Jeff……" She pulled herself up straight and reached out to them. "I was …" She was crying a mixture of relief and happiness. Johnny grimaced as he moved his arm and the pin and needles raced up the numb muscles. "I was scared you wouldn't come." Suddenly 7 years old again trapped in fear of being alone. "I was afraid of being alone for Christmas…"

 

"You know I am always here with you on Christmas …" He moved over so Matt could bend down and give her a kiss. "Always just a phone call and a plane ride away from you, remember." He had a tight hold on her hand. "Besides Johnny was right here…" She turned and smiled weakly.

 

"It was a dream…only a dream…You left to go …SCU called you…" She blinked rapidly. "Need to get up and …"

 

"You need to sit down there and wake up…We're gonna go put our stuff away then we'll talk." Matt said letting go of her hand.

 

Johnny went out and got her a glass of tea and went back in and handed it to her. "Drink it all now… Did you eat anything since breakfast?"

 

"We had lunch didn't we?" She frowned not remembering. "I made you a sandwich …and some chips…"

 

"But did you eat?" Johnny looked down as she took a drink.

 

"I don't remember." She finished the tea. "My back was hurting bad so I took a pain pill…only one."

 

"Honey you can't take them if you don't eat…OK?" She nodded and finished the tea. "Ready to get into the chair?" She nodded and he lifted her carefully and fastened her seat belt. Soon they were all laughing and talking about all that had happened over the last few months. Lee teased Matt about his friendship with Lesa a reporter who he had known for years, and was thrilled to hear that Jeff had a special friend who worked in one of the offices where he did.

 

 Matt and Jeff laughed at the stories they told about Station 51 and looked at the pictures of Lee's first fish and were amazed at ones of her riding on the back of Johnny's motorcycle. Matt and Jeff were very impressed that this year instead of buying sour dough bread she had made her own, even starting the initial yeast mixture to sourer.

 

After dinner they talked more until time to go to church. The service was beautiful as always and Johnny lit the requested candles. And he lit an extra candle one of thanks for all the blessings. In addition to the check Lee had written earlier he put another envelope into the donation box one that came from his special account he used for her gifts and surprises.

 

They sat with the Alvarez family and then all went back to the apartment for cake and hot chocolate and to celebrate Eddie and Cindy's engagement.

 

"I remember oh how grown up I felt the first year I could have the adult hot chocolate…Then how I decided the other was better…but I was grown up enough to decide…Still not a big fan of brandy…"

 

"How could you have tasted it under all the marshmallow and whip cream you had added?" Cisco teased as he handed her a cup over flowing with whipped cream.

 

"You drink it your way I'll drink it mine."

 

At 6:30 even if it had been after 2 when she went to bed, Lee was wide awake. Johnny was sleeping soundly so very gingerly she got up and into her chair so not to wake him. After a quick stop in the bathroom she went out to the kitchen. Stopping to switch on the tree. She made a quick check that all the packages were out…And was very surprised that there was a large one she had never seen before. It was wrapped in paper showing the 12 days of Christmas and had a huge red and gold bow on top. It was pushed back so she could see it but not reach it.

 

With a sigh she went on out to the kitchen and made coffee and put a tray of brown sugar sprinkled bacon in the oven and sausage links on the stove. She pulled the corn meal batter out of the fridge and got out a carton of eggs and a pitcher of orange juice. She turned the kitchen radio on softly.

 

"Sleeping late on Christmas morning was never one of your strong points." Jeff said as he got a cup of the just finished coffee. "Merry Christmas sweet pea." He went over and kissed her on the forehead. "I can remember when you would bring me a cup of coffee and sit it on the nightstand waiting for me to wake up."

 

"And you would drink it even when I was first learning to make coffee and it was terrible…and tell me it was the best coffee you ever had. Lots of good memories…And now a lot of good ones to make."

 

"It's so good to se you so happy and content…at peace with yourself." He was at the counter watching her as she was slicing fruit.

 

"I am…I have finally accepted some things…but I am seriously thinking about seeing this new doctor…He has done some work with lasers and scar tissue…Johnny is not sure but said he would respect my right to decide…It’s like walking down the aisle was…if I don't do it I'll worry all my life what if…and I am doing it for me not anyone else…"

 

"Just so you know he thinks you're perfect just the way you are…"

 

"Yeah we talked once about dreams…and I asked him if in his dreams could I walk…it was just after I had this dream we had run in a race together…and he said no…me in this chair was the me he loved and he couldn't imagine me any other way…because I was who he loved…not some girl that didn't exist."

 

"Knew I liked him for a reason." Matt said as he came into the kitchen. She had no idea how long he had been standing there. "Got some more of that coffee?"

 

"Merry Christmas…and yes…"

 

"So you start this party without me?" Johnny went over and held up the mistletoe ball from the party. "Merry Christmas Baby girl." The uncles smiled at the kiss.

 

"Do you think they'll come up for air before that bacon burns?" Jeff said laughing.

Johnny moved over to the oven and took the pan out sitting it back from the edge of the counter.

 

"It's not time for the alarm clock to go off." Lee said. "I set it for 8:30"

 

"I don't need an alarm clock when this one is cooking…" He told the two standing there watching him.

 

"You never slept till 8:30 on Christmas in your life. I was lucky if she let me sleep till 6." Jeff was refilling coffee cups. "You got any more of those coconut cookies?"

 

"Yes for after …Now who wants cornmeal pancakes and wants regular?"

 

"Never had corn meal pancakes but sound good," Matt said.

 

"I have a pretty good idea what you two want…Eggs? Jeff and Johnny want poached I would guess…Matt you still like them fried over easy? Johnny will you pour the juice and get the platter down for the bacon and sausage…Butter and syrup needs to go out to the table…"

 

"My little girl is grown up…use to be she would barely let me have coffee before we opened gifts."

 

"That’s because now I know our time together is the greatest gift." The three guys looked at her and shook their heads. She looked like a little kid with her hair down and in the flannel gown with Santa's and candy canes on it and her slipper socks and talking words of wisdom.

 

Lee was on the sofa her back against the pillows packed behind her, her legs straight out on the cushions. Johnny was seated on the floor in front of her his back resting against the couch front. . (Before she got settled they had pushed the couch over closer to the tree). Matt had pulled the recliner up closer to the couch. Jeff was standing by the tree with his old and rather worn out Santa hat on.

 

 Lee absolutely refused every year when he said he was throwing it away. He placed a pile of packages from him and Matt in front of the two and watched as they opened them. Johnny was thrilled with the tri pod and timer for his camera and the new camera bag. The one he had he had gotten when he was in high school.

 

Lee loved the books, the figurines and the beautiful leather purse and the emerald earrings and bracelet. Matt and Jeff opened their stuff and of course it was perfect. Lee looked as Jeff handed her 2 more packages.

 

"Merry Christmas my luv." She handed the first bigger one to Johnny who had turned so he was facing her. He had no idea what was inside of it and when he unwrapped the box he couldn't believe it. There were two lenses for his camera. They were the ones he had looked at and circled in a catalog. But how had she known? He had never said anything about them and was careful not to bring the catalog into the house.

 

"They're perfect…how?"

 

"You had the catalog stuffed down beside the seat in the Rover and I saw it while I was waiting in the car…the day we went shopping and you had to make two trips into the store to bring everything out."

 

"OK now you open this one." He handed her a small box with a red velvet bow. "She opened it slowly. It was a plum colored silk blouse. It had a vee neck but there was a white lace Cami to wear with it if she wanted. He had seen it at Styles Remembered when they were getting Jo's gift. "It's so beautiful…I love the color… " She bent down she could kiss him and handed him a small package done up in red and foil with a gold ribbon.

 

"Those lenses were more than enough…I didn't expect anything else…"

 

"That’s what makes giving you presents so much fun…you never expect them…" She giggled. "We have to go down to the basement before you can open that one…Can I go down there like this?"

 

"Sure…there isn't any one here except us…" Jeff pushed the chair over to her and Johnny got up and put her in it.

 

"You are coming down with us aren't you?" The excitement in her voice and the look on her face made her look even younger. As they followed them out of the apartment Matt watched them shaking his head. "I think they are even more in love now than in August…didn't think that was possible."

 

"I know…I talk with her and you can tell the difference when he is in the room and when he is at work in her voice."

 

"I don't think I will ever get over hearing her giggle like that when he is around or she is talking about him. And the way he treats her…like a china doll…like the one on the tree."

 

"A china doll with a will of steel…"

 

They got off the elevator and Lee directed them back to the west corner of the basement. Johnny looked puzzled as there was a room that he had never seen before. "Open the box" She said as she handed him the package It was a key ring with a place you could add your own picture. "Well open the rest of your present." Nodding towards the lock on the room door.

 

Johnny's hand was shaking as he put the key into the door. He had no idea what he was going to find behind the door. Maybe it was the saw he had told Roy he wanted…it would make sense to lock it up down here since the kids kept bikes and other stuff down here. He turned the key and the lock popped open. He opened the door and could not believe his eyes. "How… when…why?? My God it's …How did you?"

 

"I called Corey and Eric Fergus and when you were working so were they…Eric is a friend of Stan's who did our wedding pictures."


The fully equipped darkroom was built to professional standards. The chemicals were in a cabinet that had a lock on it. There was shelf unit with slots and reams of papers and the labels ready to be attached in the order Johnny wanted. There was even a leather apron hanging on a peg and safety glasses. "How did you know?"

 

"I heard you talking to Charlie Dwyer one night at the bowling alley…And …do you like it?"

 

"Like it? How could anyone not love it…You did all this for me?" He turned to the two men standing there. "Did you know she did this?"

 

"No we knew she was getting you the lenses and when we asked about what to buy you she gave us some camera related ideas…Up stairs is a gift certificate from my squad for film and or supplies…I couldn't give it to you before this… they're expecting a lot of pictures to go into that album they gave you for an engagement gift." Johnny just stood there still trying to take it all in. Lee watched and tears were very close to spilling out of her eyes as she saw them in his.

 

"They were wrong." He said so softly she wasn't sure she had heard him right.

 

"Who was wrong luv?" She had moved so she was holding his hand tightly.

"My uncle and my aunts…they said no one would ever love me…but I met you and they were so wrong…I didn't think there was anything more you could do to show me that than all you have already done…but this…"

 

"I wanted to do something special…but there is nothing I can say or do to tell you how much I love you…nothing is enough to show you." He kissed her and whispered something in her ear and she blushed and giggled… They went back upstairs and Lee was surprised how late it was getting.

 

"I guess I need to get dressed and start thinking about dinner." She said as she looked around the room. "We'll do stockings when everyone is here."

 

"There is one more gift…" Johnny said as he pushed her towards the tree. "Or didn't you notice that package back in the corner?"

 

"I noticed but the way it was pushed back I thought maybe it was for the kids"

 

Matt and Jeff stood back knowing right then only two people existed in that room for all intents and purposes. Johnny pulled an end table around to the front of the couch then parked her chair behind it. He went over and got the package and set it on the table giving her the card. "For my darling Baby girl with all my love always."

 

She unwrapped the paper after re reading the tag and putting it off to the side. As she tore the paper off her was holding her breath. It was beautiful…The display case looked like an old fashion lantern with a slanted roof. He had made it so there was a small light under the raised platform.


"It’s a perfect home for my angel…Where in the world did you find something so perfect?"

 

Blushing but with a huge Gage smile. "You really like it? I made it….over at Cap's. He let me use his workshop. I was thinking maybe Melissa could paint a faerie rose on the top …like the one she painted on your shirt…"

 

"No it's perfect just like this." She was running her hand over the wood it was so smooth and perfect.

 

"I got a table at the antique place Roy told me about its hidden in the closet in Matt's room…It'll fit really nice in that little nook between the fire place and the book shelf or over by the sideboard."

 

"You spent hours making this for me…It is the most …How did I ever deserve to be loved by someone so …"

 

"I would say and think you would agree Matt, that these two deserve each other? Honey I hate to mention it but it’s a little after 12 and didn't you tell me your company was due at one? No I think you're adorable in that Christmas night gown…"

 

"Come on Baby girl, let's go show these two what a chameleon you are."

 

"Put my case on the hearth and don't let anyone bother it If they get here before I get changed…"

 

Jeff watched them head for the bedroom and just laughed. "I would be surprised if we see them for awhile…Lets check the list hanging on the fridge and see if there is anything we can do to help…"

 

Lee took a quick shower then was sitting at her dressing table fixing her hair. Johnny was lying on the bed watching her. She could see him in the mirror. "You know what?"

 

"Only thing I know is you're beautiful. And I wish our company was coming at three not one." She blushed and he laughed.

 

"Not sure that is the proper attitude to take towards Christmas dinner…and our best friends. But very flattering. So you were surprised when you saw your dark room? And really liked it?"

 

"Liked it? I love it…Today has been awesome…but no day is ever gonna be more awesome than the day we were married. No nothing can ever top that day…You gonna wear the outfit you did for the Christmas party? Do I need to change?"


"Yes I am wearing that outfit and no you don't have to change.”

 

When Lee came out of the bedroom she was surprised to see both tables set and the tray with the veggies and cheese ball set out and the punch bowl ready to fill. Her uncles looked pretty pleased with themselves. And they looked very impressed with her.

 

"What happen to that little girl that went in there? The one who looked about 12 years old?" Jeff said as he saw the smile widen and reach her eyes. No wonder Johnny didn't come out and help with the set up."

 

"He was busy helping me…And thank you for doing the set ups. The food that needed to be heated?'

 

"Is in the ovens…Ahum is that scalloped oysters in the one dish?"

 

"Jefferson Spencer since when have I not made you scalloped oysters? Well me or Maria."

 

"Never sweet pea…I was just checking…And its macaroni salad with your home made mayo?"

 

"Of course and I made the rolls yesterday to re heat today…anything else you need to know?"

 

"Just when did you grow up on us?" Matt said as he sat back watching . "I seem to remember you as a little girl who loved to go ice skating and see the parades."

 

"Still like the parades and watching the skating…Johnny and I are planning on saving a week of his vacation time to come to New York at Thanksgiving…"

Before anything else could be said the doorbell rang and Jim and Kathy and the kids came in followed soon by Jo and Roy and the kids. The girls had their dolls. Lee and Kathy and Jo went into the kitchen as the men sat in the front room out of the way.

"So Junior has it been a good Christmas so far?" Roy asked as he settled on the couch. The girls were off in a corner comparing new outfits for their dolls, the boys off talking whatever 11 year olds talk about.

 

"It’s in a two way tie for the best Christmas ever." This surprised all the 3 other men. "I can't decide which was better because each are so special in its own way…the first Christmas with you and Jo and the kids…or today. If it hadn't been for you and Jo and that first Christmas there wouldn't be today or Lee …so I guess that makes today the second best by just a iota."

 

Looking over at Matt and Jeff, "Ya know what is scary? I can not only follow that logic but understand it." Roy said with a smile.

 

"Like he said each is special in its own way…"

 

"So what did Santa bring you?" Roy saw the camera case and tripod.

 

"My uncles in laws gave me a camera case, timer for the camera, tripod and a gift certificate for film…My wife gave me two new camera lenses and a completely out fitted dark room." Johnny said with pride. Bet you never thought I could say the words my uncle and be proud to call them that." Roy didn't answer because he was so surprised at what Johnny said. The other two didn't understand the conversation fully but knew they had been paid the supreme compliment.

 

"And what did Lee get?"

 

"A purse and bracelet and earring set and some figurines and books and a display case."

 

"A beautiful silk blouse in a plum color that I love and a display case for my angel made by my darling husband…Isn't it the most beautiful display case that you have ever seen?" Lee said as she wheeled in from the kitchen " … and a table to keep it on…Dinner will be ready in about 5 minutes…

 

After they had eaten the kids looked over at the tree and the stockings hung up across the mantle. There was a stocking for all…

 

"Aunt Lee, can I ask you a question?" Stacy said as they gathered around the tree.

 

"Of course,, sweetheart."

 

"Mommy and daddy adopted me when my birth mommy died…why didn't your uncle Jeff adopt you?"

 

"Because the court wouldn't let him…he could be my guardian but since he wasn't married he couldn't adopt me….But that’s ok because I knew he loved me and would take good care of me…"

 

"If something happen and mommy and daddy weren't here to take care of me…would you take me and Jimmy and be our new mommy and daddy?"

 

"I would be honored to do that and so would your Uncle Johnny…" Lee looked at Kathy and Jim for some help understanding why the questions.

 

"Just before we left the house there was a story on the news about two kids her and Jimmy's age who lost their parents in a car crash and have no relatives…"

 

"You don't need to worry about that sweetheart because you have me and your Aunt Lee …"

 

"Even if you had a baby of your own? "

 

""Even then… now you ready to open up some more presents?"

 

"Yes…Santa brought Stacy Lee and Jenny Lee matching outfits…in different colors and they are so pretty."

 

"Stacy Lee and Jenny Lee"? Matt asked. They were back closer to the kitchen drinking coffee and watching as the others settled around the tree.

 

"The dolls Lee and Johnny gave the girls at the rehearsal dinner…Jen named her doll Stacy ….The two girls are best friends and so are their dolls…I swear I think Lee is a witch or a good fairy sometimes the way she seems to know what those two are thinking before they do…" Jim said as she watched the two little girls get settled. "Kathy and I were talking about the accident I guess Stacy heard more than we thought."

 

"Stacy talked about her birth mother…mind if I ask about her dad?"

 

"Sandi was 18 when she and Alex got married.. .He was 19. Two months before Stacy was born the transport he was in went down in Viet Nam…A trucker who had been driving for 36 hours with just a few coffee breaks fell asleep and his rig crushed the VW bug Sandi was driving. Sandi was my aunt's granddaughter…my aunt was in her forty's when Sandi's mom was born and Sandi's parents were older when she was born. Kathy and I saw her at her mother's funeral and we fell in love with her…The family was more than glad to give her up for adoption…it was too painful for them and none of them were in good health.."

 

"Looks like you've done a fine job of raising her…She is a beautiful little girl."Jim watched as his daughter snuggled close to her mom. "People say her and Kathy look a lot alike."

 

"Ok Johnny is gonna pass out packages." Lee said laughing at the sight of her husband in Jeff's old Santa hat. (It had been decided between the DeSoto s and Kildare's that the kids would exchange small gifts)

 

As the packagers were passed out it was another time of laughter and ohs and ahs. The adults enjoyed watching the kids open things and gave Johnny and Lee these looks that said next year you aren't spoiling them. The boys were thrilled with the sport books and gift certificates and the games. The fishing poles and tackle boxes brought pleas of when can we go camping from the boys and smiles from Johnny who had picked out the gear. The little girls loved the books and games and more new doll clothes . Lee was even more anxious than they were as they opened the last packages. It was matching outfits…for the new jumpers and blouses that the dolls had gotten.

 

"How did Miss Liz know to make these?" Stacy asked her eyes wide with wonder.

 

"Oh I think Miss Liz got a note from Santa about the outfits and she told me …because she thought it was such a cool idea for you …" Lee had never expected a question like that and was rather proud of her quick answer. "Santa and Mrs. Claus know what a good job Miss Liz does making clothes and ask her for help on special items." This made perfect sense to the 2 six year olds.

 

"Ok now it’s your turn…" Johnny handed Kathy and Jo a stack of presents. "Lee and I can never thank you enough for everything you bring into our lives." Kathy loved the purse and skirt and sweater set. The purse would double as a tote when she returned to work part time at the clinic after the holidays. Jo got a 3 piece outfit…skirt, pants and sweater. Lee knew it would be perfect for a big PTA meeting Jo would be attending later in the spring. She loved the cookbook and the novel as well. The gold earrings were also a hit. Roy loved his shirts and the pottery supplies.

 

Roy and Jo gave Lee an assortment of Victorian hair jewelry. The silver pieces were delicate and beautiful. One piece in particular was her favorite. It was a barrette that you used when your hair was up…It was flat and had a slender pencil shaped wand that held it in place. Johnny got tools for his rover's tool box.

 

 Jim and Roy got shirts and gift certificates to sporting events. Matt and Jeff were surprised to get a copy of the Station 51 calendar and were totally impressed with the pictures and idea. The stockings were passed out and small treasures found there.

 

The girls loved the coloring books and markers and lotions and pale pale pink lip gloss along with the candy. The boys got trading cards and a small transistor radio. Jim found a new pen and pencil set and a gift certificate to the car wash near his house. Roy found some fishing lures and subscription notice to a car magazine he liked.

 

Jo loved the necklace and bracelet that would match and a pen and pencil set that said madam president on the box in honor of her upcoming PTA duties. (New officers took over in the spring so they had the summer to work on the fall projects) Matt and Jeff got homemade candy and candy from Sweetharts and aftershave.

 

Johnny found a note in his that read him to a stack of board games hidden under the bed. They were duplicates of the favorite games he played with at kids at their houses and cologne that just happened to be Lee's favorite. Lee's stocking had some new gloves and some cassette tapes and perfume and in the toe a ring box. She opened it to find a note telling her to send someone to look in the closet in the spare room. Matt went in and came out with the box of Dumas books. On the box was another smaller package and when she unwrapped it, it was a treasure chest. Opening it she found a ring…and looked at Johnny tears in her eyes.

 

"I kinda stole the idea from Roy…The middle stone is peridot for August…then blue topaz for December and a sapphire for September…our family ring…"

 

"I thought ….I'd never have one of these rings…Thank you."

 

Paper was picked up and more food eaten then by 6 everyone had left. Jeff and Matt had gone to visit an old friend of Jeff's. Jim and Kathy were going to stop at a friend's home before going to their house. Roy and Jo were going home and just relax before Roy had to get ready for shift the next morning.

 

 It had been a long busy day and the alarms would go off way to early in the morning. And they wanted to be there early to let the guys who had worked get home to their families as soon as possible.

 

Lee would have never admitted to how tired she was and how good it felt to be out of her chair and laying down. Johnny had helped her undress and had even brushed out her hair after feeling how tight her shoulder and neck muscles were. Once they were in bed and the television on she snuggled up close to him. He moved around so she could rest her head in the crook of his shoulder.

 

"Merry Christmas Mrs. Gage…did you have a good day?"

 

"I had a wonderful day…You make every day wonderful but I think I told you that before…"

 

"Yeah maybe a few thousand times but I never get tired of hearing it…"

 

"That’s good because I never get tired of saying that and how much I love you." Soon she was asleep and he smiled knowing at some point she would have to wake up and reposition the correct way…But for right now this was the correct way regardless of what the doctors said.

 

The greatest gift of the first Christmas was the love shown to the world by the birth of a small babe in a manger. And that love that shined so bright that night was shining in the hearts and dreams of a young couple sharing their first December.

 

Merry and Blessed Christmas to all!

 

 

THE END

 

 

 

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The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made. I merely like to toy with them and return them to their proper owner in good working order.

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