Home | Emergency Stories by Tammy | Send Stories | Fun Page | Guest Writer's
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.
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
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.
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.
"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.
"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."
"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?"
"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 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.
"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 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.
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?"
"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."
"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.
"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.
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.
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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."
"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.
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?"
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…"
"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!
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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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