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Thanks: To Donna and Peggy for taking the time to give it the once-over.
Summary: "John nodded; he knew and said as much. 'But this time there's only one person I can rely on.'"
"I'll be in the dorm catching a little shuteye," said Gage wearily. "I didn't get much sleep last night." He left the room.
"Okay, so do you know what's eating him, Roy?" asked Chet.
"I don't know." Roy shrugged his shoulders a bit and reached over for the coffeepot. As he poured some into his cup, he said, "He sure is moody though, isn't he?"
"Yeah, he is," agreed Captain Stanley. "Not very sociable at all."
"Yeah, but it's different from his usual moods, ya know?" observed Roy.
"How do you mean?" Marco asked, as he took the coffeepot from Roy and poured his own cup.
Roy shrugged his shoulders. "Don't know if I can explain it. I mean, usually when Johnny's in one of his moods, he's ranting and raving or just giving someone the silent treatment 'cause he's pissed off with someone, right?"
Everyone nodded in agreement.
"But this time," he mused aloud, "I dunno, he just seems so...so, sad, I guess."
"Now that you mention it, I see what you mean, pal. John does seem more depressed than angry," Hank concurred.
"Well, he's right on schedule."
Everyone looked directly at their shift-mate, but it was Mike who voiced their puzzlement. "What do you mean by that, Chet?"
"Just what I said. He's right on schedule."
When Chet offered no further explanation, Hank, using his best captain's tone, said, "Kelly, would you mind explaining what the hell you mean by that?"
"C'mon, you guys. You mean to say you've never noticed that every year around this time, Gage goes into his grand blue funk phase?" Chet smirked at the phrasing he'd created, and said, "Man, wouldn't that make for a great rock band name?"
"Kelly," said Hank with exasperation, "don't change the subject. What do you mean?"
"Cap, all I'm saying is that Gage pulls this crap every year like clockwork. I can't believe none of you ever noticed."
Hank looked at Roy and when he received a blank expression in reply, he looked at his other men and got the same response. None of them had a clue as to what Chet was talking about.
"I dunno, Cap. It usually starts around the twenty-third or so of August and lasts until twenty-eighth, maybe the twenty-ninth. He gets all quiet and withdrawn; shoot, the phantom can't even deal with him when he gets like this." Kelly shook his head forlornly at the lost opportunities of playing with his favorite pigeon.
"Roy, do you have any idea of what the hell he's talking about?" asked Cap.
Roy shrugged his shoulders and then admitted in a tone of defeat, "I wish I could say I did, Cap, but I can't. I want to say that it's a crock -"
"Hey! That's not fair-"
"-But, what I was going to say, Chet, was that there's no reason for Chet to make this up. Besides, if there's a chance that there is truth to it, well, maybe Johnny's got a problem that he needs help with, or something."
"Yeah, pal, you make a good point." Then the captain turned to Chet and said, "But so help me, Kelly, if you're making any of this up just to lead us on a wild goose chase, you're gonna see the inside of that latrine till the next century. So, is there anything you want to amend to your little observation before we continue this discussion?"
"Cap, I'm wounded. I'm telling you; Gage goes into this sad sack mode every year around this time. I don't know why; he's never offered me any explanation even when I've asked him. And yes, I have asked him in the past. I gave up. He usually snaps out of it in a week, give or take a couple of days anyway."
"Okay, Chet. We'll keep an eye on Gage and on you," Hank quickly added, "just to be on the safe side."
Chet nodded and then returned to the newspaper that lay in his lap. Roy, on the other hand, wondered why a short little guy with a mustache seemed to know more about his best friend than he did.
E!E!E! E!E!E! E!E!E! E!E!E!
That night brought blissful silence from the klaxons, but it did little to enable Johnny to get the much-desired sleep. He was grateful that his shift ended at seven o'clock in the morning and hoped that all would remain quiet till then.
Which of course was the exact time the tones sounded: MAN DOWN, POSSIBLE HEART ATTACK, 14 MAYWOOD AVENUE, CROSS STREET BELLHAVEN BOULEVARD. TIME OUT: 5:37.
John was out by the squad with Roy quickly following him. As the squad's doors slammed shut, Captain Stanley handed Roy the slip. The sirens were turned on, and the squad took off for Maywood Avenue.
"This is right on the border of 110's district, isn't it?" asked Johnny.
"Yeah, seems to be," agreed Roy. "Guess they must be on another run."
Several minutes later the squad arrived in front of an older home from the early twenties, with what appeared to be the original homeowner at the front porch.
"Please, hurry. My husband can't breathe. He said his chest felt like there was an elephant sitting on it. Please, hurry!" the elderly woman cried out.
"We're coming ma'am. We need to get our equipment so we can help your husband," explained John. "What's your name, ma'am?"
"Eleanor. Eleanor Murphy."
The two paramedics carried in the various paraphernalia of medical equipment and followed the anxious woman into the house. Lying on the floor was her husband, a man they'd estimated to be in his eighties. John looked surreptitiously at his partner and caught his glance. It didn't look good for the old man, and Roy's slight nod confirmed John's first impression.
"Mrs. Murphy, I'm going to call Rampart General Hospital to give them some information. I'll need your help in giving them that information, okay?" asked Roy gently.
When the woman nodded, her eyes never leaving her husband, Roy picked up the biophone and called in. John, meanwhile, gathered the vitals on the victim.
"Rampart, this is squad 51. How do you read?"
Only seconds passed when Dr. Morton's voice could be heard, "Squad 51, we read you loud and clear. Go ahead."
"Rampart, we have a male, age?" Roy looked over to Mrs. Murphy for confirmation of his estimate.
"Eighty-six. Well, he's going to be eighty-seven in two days. His birthday is the twenty-eighth."
"Eighty-seven in two days, Rampart. His wife says he complained of difficulty breathing and of chest pains. We're going to patch him in on lead two."
Roy busied himself recording necessary information in the log as he waited for Johnny to patch the patient into the ECG. When seconds ticked off and no transmission was made, Roy heard a squawking from the biophone.
"Squad 51, is there a problem with your transmission?"
Roy looked up at his partner only to find him just finishing up the attachments of the leads. "Johnny, everything okay?"
The paramedic nodded an affirmative, but Roy wondered if that were truly the case. Something didn't look right about his younger cohort, though Roy couldn't quite put a finger on what that was. The lack of affect was Roy's first clue, however, as John Gage usually was the first to offer sympathy and support to a victim's family. Not this time. It was apparent that Gage could barely make eye contact with Mrs. Murphy.
"Transmitting on lead two," said Gage.
Roy repeated the directive into the biophone. Once it was determined that the victim was suffering from an arrhythmia, Dr. Morton transmitted the necessary instructions for treatment. The paramedics set up the necessary IV lines and wrapped their patient up for transport.
"Johnny? How about I go in with the patient? I think Mrs. Murphy could use a lift to the hospital in the squad."
He nodded. "Sure, that's probably a good idea."
Roy climbed into the ambulance with the patient, while Johnny assisted Mrs. Murphy into the squad. Johnny closed the doors, but not before Roy had a chance to take a quick glance at his partner. The sadness was more evident than ever, and Roy didn't have a clue as to what triggered it this time. "Johnny?"
"I'll meet you at the hospital, Roy."
Roy nodded. "Okay, partner. See you at Rampart."
John thumped the door twice.
Johnny kept his eyes on the road as he drove the squad to the hospital. This allowed the paramedic a legitimate excuse for avoiding eye contact and conversation with Mrs. Murphy.
"Will he be all right?" she asked worriedly.
"He'll get good care at Rampart, Ma'am."
"He's an old man. I know he's lived a good, long life, and I'm being selfish, but I'm just not ready to give him up, you know?"
"Do you think he'll be all right? All of the children were coming in for his eighty-seventh birthday tomorrow. The grandchildren...we even have great-grandchildren. Four of them, believe it or not."
"Do you think he'll be able to see them? I mean, I'm sure we won't have the party now, but do you think they'll let the babies in to see him? He'd be so upset if he couldn't see the great-grandbabies."
"I don't know, ma'am. That's something you'll have to discuss with the doctors."
"Yes, of course," replied Mrs. Murphy. She looked at the young man curiously. Though there was nothing in his voice that indicated anything other than polite professionalism, Eleanor Murphy had gained, if nothing else in her eighty-two years of life a talent for being perceptive about the people around her. And she perceived something amiss about the dark-haired gentleman that tried so hard to appear only engrossed in his work.
Coldness? No. Aloofness? No, it wasn't that either. Detachment. That's what it was; only Eleanor was sure that it was a forced detachment. It was obviously not his usual manner of dealing with situations, but it was most definitely his preferred choice that morning. She couldn't help but wonder why.
They arrived at Rampart to find out that Mr. Murphy holding his own. When Johnny came out from checking in the treatment room, he told her that Mr. Murphy appeared to be stabilized and that he'd be going up to the CCU shortly. Eleanor turned to Johnny and said, "Thank you for helping my husband. I know he may be just an old man, who's lived a good long life, but he's the love of my life and I'm not ready to live mine without him."
"Yes, ma'am," John acknowledged, but with downcast eyes.
"Oh, son, I'm not sure what it is that's got you hurting, but don't let it swallow you up. You've got so much good in you; let that be your guiding light."
For the first time during that run, Johnny made eye contact with Eleanor Murphy. It was only at that point that she was able to see just how deep the young man's emotions ran. "You'll be okay, son. You'll see. And maybe you can come to Sean's birthday party, when he's well enough to have it, of course."
If Mrs. Murphy saw the slight cringe that overtook Johnny at the mention of her husband's party, she didn't say anything. She simply patted his arm both in silent thanks and comfort, and walked away to be with her husband.
Johnny stood and wondered how a stranger could read him so perfectly.
The ride back to the station was marked by silence; no matter how Roy tried to broach the possibility that something was eating at Johnny, he was cut off before even finishing the question. The paramedic team returned to base in time to see the new shift coming on board, though Cap and the others had already been relieved of duty.
The two men stood at their lockers, gathering dirty uniforms and shoes that needed polishing. Roy was determined to get Johnny to speak with him, and if nothing else, at least acknowledge that there was something bothering him. Roy said casually, "That Mrs. Murphy sure seemed nice. I'm glad she and her husband will get the chance to celebrate his birthday together."
Johnny froze at his locker. He didn't want to talk about it; he didn't want to talk about anything. Why couldn't Roy just accept that? Of course he realized that Roy wouldn't leave well enough alone until he received some kind of response from him, so John answered with a noncommittal, "Yeah." He quickly gathered his things and stuffed them into his bag. "See you in a few days, Roy," and he turned to leave.
But before he could get out of the locker room, Roy called out, "Junior, is it me that you're angry with? Did I do something to get you upset?"
John turned around with a slightly incredulous expression on his face. "No, Roy. You haven't done anything to make me angry, though I'll tell ya, I'm starting to get a bit annoyed with you and everyone else insisting that something is wrong."
"But something is wrong."
John stood and debated momentarily. How much should he let Roy in on what was going on with him? Too little, and he'll keep harping on him. Too much and he'll make it his mission to make everything all better. Not there was anything Roy could do, much as his partner would like to think there was. No, John realized he had to strike that delicate balance to give him just enough information to know that he wasn't dying of a fatal disease, but that it was personal enough that he didn't want him interfering.
"Look, Roy, there is something that I have to deal with, but it's nothing serious and I'm all right. It's just something I need to confront on my own. I promise, in a couple of days I'll be your old, cheery, happy-go-lucky partner. But for right now, leave it alone, Roy. Please."
Roy hesitated; he'd been told his concern was neither warranted nor wanted. Yet still, something was gnawing at him. He couldn't let it rest, not totally, without one last try.
"Ya know, partner, whatever this is, you don't have to deal with it alone. The guys and me; well, you know we're here for you if you need us."
John nodded; he knew and said as much. "But this time there's only one person I can rely on."
John gave him a wry smile, which didn't quite reach his eyes. He turned and walked out the door.
"Hey, Johnny," Roy said just as he was about to hang up the phone.
"Listen, um, feel like coming over today? I picked something up that's perfect for the truck," he asked in reference to the vintage fire truck the pair were restoring.
"Gee, uh, thanks, Roy, but I'll have to take a pass. I'm, uh, busy today. Doing lots of chores around the house, you know? I, uh, just can't afford to break away right now. But I can see it when we go back on shift, right?"
"Well, sure you can, but I was really hoping you'd come on over and see it today. I mean, I haven't heard from you since we left the station. I thought you'd come over, see the hardware and stay for dinner. Jo's cooking that veal stew you like so much," he mentioned as an inducement.
"Yeah, well, it's tempting, but I can't." The tone in John's voice was firm.
"Okay, well, okay...um, everything -?"
"-Fine. Everything...everything's just fine, Roy. I'll see you tomorrow evening at the station."
"Right. Okay. Goodbye, Johnny."
Roy hung up the phone, but something in his partner's voice didn't quite sound right. Almost weary, though if he were busying himself with chores around his ranch that would be a given. But there was something more...there was still that tone of melancholy. He decided that since Johnny wouldn't leave his chores, then Roy would play Mohammed and go to the mountain.
E!E! E!E! E!E! E!E! E!E! E!E!
"Jesus Christ. Go home, Roy," he said angrily as he blocked the doorway.
"Johnny, I just wanted to show you the emblem for the truck, and I figured it wouldn't hurt for you to a short break from the chores to look at it."
"I don't want to take a break. I want you to go home."
"I will, as soon as you tell me why you look the way you do."
"What the hell are you talking about?" asked Johnny with annoyance.
"Look at you, Junior. You're a mess. You haven't showered since we went off shift, have you?" he asked rhetorically. "Your hair is dirty and uncombed, your clothes are the same grimy ones you probably worn for three days after you took care of the 'north forty', and don't tell me I'm wrong," Roy declared.
"Fine I won't tell you you're wrong. Now go home."
"Johnny, please." Roy attempted to muscle his way in, but John held firm.
"I don't want you here today. Not today, Roy. Please," he repeated in a whisper, "not today."
Roy looked at his friend and noted his forlorn expression. "What can I do to help you?" he asked earnestly.
"You can leave. Let me deal with this on my own, please."
Roy nodded slightly, which gave John enough of a reason to let down his guard and start to close the door. But Roy had other ideas.
"No, John." And Roy pushed his way through the door and into the living room of Gage's home.
"Damn it, Roy. Get out!"
"I don't understand. Help me understand," Roy pleaded. Roy's eyes followed Gage's movement to the kitchen. He too walked into the kitchen, only to watch Gage gather the things that were on the table into his hand.
"John?" Roy tried to discern what was hidden in his partner's hands. "You're kicking me out 'cause you don't want to share some Hostess Twinkies?"
John glared at him for several moments and then finally, as if giving into defeat, sat down in a heap on a chair while dumping the contents of his arms back onto the table. "Yeah. You snagged me. I didn't want to share the Twinkie. Go ahead. Take one. Hell, take 'em both. It doesn't matter anymore."
Roy tried to understand what was upsetting his friend, so he took a more careful inventory of the contents on the table. Paper plates, Twinkies, matches, and a box of candles.
Shit. Oh, shit. He'd forgotten his best friend's birthday?
But wait a minute, Roy thought in confusion, we've never celebrated Johnny's birthday. Why not?
Because he'd never mentioned it, he'd never put the subject on the table...but there the candles lay.
What the hell is going on?
"What the hell is going on?" Roy finally said aloud.
John sat silently; he stared at the package of yellow cakes with cream filling and the box of candles.
"Happy birthday to me."
"Today?" asked Roy, incredulous.
Roy sat and waited. Johnny would tell his story in his own time, and Roy was willing to wait and give him as much time as he needed. It didn't take that much longer.
"It's not something I ever wanted to share with anyone."
"Oh, well, personnel knows, I suppose." He attempted a small smile at the small joke.
"Johnny, birthdays are something to celebrate. Why are you hiding here with a couple of Twinkies and candles?"
"I don't want to celebrate with anyone else. There is no one else now..."
"What the hell are you talking about? You have me and the guys, and my family... What do you mean there's no one to celebrate with you!"
"Roy, I didn't mean to insinuate - I'm sorry. Don't you think it's time for you to go now?"
"No." Roy crossed his arms in front of him in a defensive posture and remained firm in his seat. He was not going until he got some kind of an explanation from his friend as to why he was hiding like a hermit on a day that most would milk for all its worth.
The silence grew between them, and Roy wondered if he would break first, give in and leave. Roy tried hard to not fidget; he was amazed at how still Johnny managed to sit...so unlike him, it made Roy that much more restless.
Finally, when Roy thought he'd not be able to sit another second, Johnny spoke in a toneless, quiet whisper.
"My last birthday party was supposed to be when I was twelve. Never had it." Johnny closed his mouth; he was thinking of what to say next and he prayed that Roy would have the good sense to keep his mouth shut. This was hard enough without feeling like he was being interrogated. Thankfully, Roy obliged.
"Mom needed to run out to the store for last minute supplies for the party. Extra soda and ice; August in Montana was a bitch, you know..."
Even if Roy hadn't known, he nodded anyway.
"Well, she went out but she didn't make it back. The kids all came, but Mom never made it back to the house."
Roy swallowed back every question he had. He knew John would tell the story in his own time. He wondered now if he really wanted to hear it.
"The doorbell had started ringing and my dad went to answer it. I followed him and saw it was a couple of cops. They were talking real soft, ya know? I couldn't hear what they were saying from where I was, but I could tell that Dad was upset.
"He invited the cops in and Dad called the kids over to the door. He'd said something important came up and we were going to have to cancel the party. The cops said they'd give lifts to those kids who didn't live within walking distance and who couldn't get hold of their parents. Somehow, everyone was cleared out of the house within fifteen minutes, but I still hadn't known why.
"My birthday had just gotten cancelled, but no one was telling me why. I was really pissed off, lemme tell you...."
Roy tried hard not to imagine the horror that had awaited a twelve-year- old Johnny, but that was next to impossible. Still the words stung Roy, and he could only wonder how his friend was holding it together enough to tell the tale.
"I was so damned angry that I started yelling at my dad. I screamed, 'How dare you cancel my party!' and 'Why did you do that to me?' You think I rant and rave now? Man, I'd honed that skill to perfection that day...." He sighed and then dry scrubbed his face with his hand.
"My dad let me scream and rant until I finally shut up. Then he told me that a drunk driver crashed right into my mom's car as she was pulling out onto the road from the supermarket. Apparently there were cans of soda rolling all around the accident scene; at least from what I could tell from the newspaper photo. She died instantly. Never knew what hit her; that's what the police report said at any rate."
"Johnny, I'm so sorry."
"Yeah, well, thanks. After getting the news, Dad wasn't exactly in the mood to celebrate my birthday on that day, or any other year for that matter. It was too much of a reminder that she died. So, I never mentioned it again, and I celebrated it by myself, and with my mom. Well, you know, her memory."
"John, you don't need to do that by yourself, though."
"But my mother died on my birthday, Roy."
"She died while doing something that made her very happy, because she was celebrating something that was probably the happiest day of her life...the birth of her son."
Johnny looked a bit overwhelmed at that statement and quickly looked away from his friend.
"Don't you see, John? Celebrating your birthday with people who love and care about you would be like celebrating your mom's memory. Don't you think it's time to end the mourning period and start celebrating not only your life, but hers?"
"I don't know....it feels almost as if I'm betraying her memory."
"Betrayal? No! C'mon, this one isn't that tough to figure out, Junior. I'm sorry your dad couldn't handle celebrating your birthday, but think about what your mom would have wanted. I think the last thing she would have wanted was for her child to go through a yearly grieving period and neglect himself."
John kept his eyes averted; he didn't want Roy to see the conflicting emotions that surely his eyes would show. He wanted to believe his partner; he knew Roy would never knowingly steer him wrong. But he'd been having his private parties each year for so long, that he didn't know what felt right to him any longer.
"I don't know if I can."
"I don't know if you can either, but you can try, right?"
John gave it some thought and then nodded. "I can try."
"So, you'll come back to the house for some ice cream?"
"Yeah. Ya mind if we bring the Twinkies? Mom and I would always share a pack; never mattered that I'd have a fancy birthday cake. We always stuck a candle into a Twinkie and shared that."
"The kids love Twinkies; you will definitely be their favorite uncle for life if you bring Twinkies."
John smiled at that thought. That was a role he wouldn't mind taking on. "Thanks, Roy, for not going home."
"No problem, but do me a favor and go take a shower. You're a little ripe."
John chuckled at that and agreed. "Be out in a couple of minutes."
"Um, John, feel free to take a more than a couple, okay?" he said, wrinkling his nose.
"Yeah, yeah," John replied as he waved his hand in response.
As the bathroom door closed, Roy picked up the phone and dialed home.
"Hey, Jo? Yeah, I'm still at Johnny's, but we'll be leaving as soon as Johnny gets done with his shower. You'll never guess whose birthday it is today..."
Happy One-year Birthday, Johnny's Green Pen!! Here's to many more!
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