Only One Promise
By Lizabeth S. Tucker
"Honey, you'll like him," Roy DeSoto said, helping Joanne set the kitchen table. "Johnny is…well, he's just Johnny!"
His wife listened with mixed amusement and concern. Roy hadn't been this enthusiastic about anyone or anything in years other than the proposed paramedic program. Now it was 'Johnny did this' or 'Johnny said that' almost every day.
When Roy said he was bringing John Gage to the house for a study session, Joanne insisted on having him to dinner. She wanted to get to know this man Roy was so taken with.
"If you like him, Roy, I'm sure I will. Now, why don't you see what Chris and Jenny are up to while I start dinner. John should be here soon."
Roy was walking back down the stairs from the bedrooms when the doorbell rang. He opened it to see a nervous man in a soft brown suede jacket and new jeans holding a bouquet of wildflowers in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. A grin spread over Roy's face as he opened the door wider. "Johnny! C'mon in." He turned and shouted over his shoulder, "Jo! He's here!"
Johnny walked into the house, darting glances at the hominess of the place. He liked Roy and desperately wanted Roy's wife to like him. He had never met the woman, but Roy talked about her sometimes during their classroom breaks. He was stunned when she walked out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a towel. "Wow, Roy, she's beautiful!" he said before he thought, then felt his face burn.
Joanne heard and smiled. "Why, thank you, Johnny."
He shoved the flowers at her, stuttering, "T-these are f-for you. I hope you l-like flowers."
Taking pity on him, Joanne took the flowers with softly murmured thanks. "Roy, why don't you see what Johnny would like to drink and take his jacket. Dinner will be in about an hour, guys."
After Joanne walked back into the kitchen, Johnny blew his breath out. Somehow, he had expected Roy's wife to be pleasantly plain. He gathered his wits about him and handed the bottle of wine to the slightly older man.
"Beer?" Roy asked.
"Yeah, if you wouldn't mind." Before Johnny could say more, two children come thundering down the stairs. The boy was about 8 years old, towheaded and stocky like his father. The girl, about 5 or 6 years old, had her mother's delicate looks and wispy blonde hair. They stopped at their father's side and stared at Johnny. He stared back, and then smiled. "Hi."
"Johnny, these are my kids. This is Christopher and this is Jennifer. Kids, this is a friend of mine from work, John Gage."
"Hello, Mr. Gage," Chris said softly.
"How do you do, Chris."
Jenny stared at Johnny with her finger in her mouth, clutching her father's leg.
Johnny knelt down to her level. "Hello, pretty lady."
"She's a little shy," Roy apologized. He took Johnny's jacket from him and hung it up in the hall closet.
"She knows not to speak with strange men, that's all," Johnny responded. "She'll be fine."
"I'll get our beers. Let's go outside and sit at the picnic table." Roy led Johnny through the house and into the kitchen. He picked the beers out of the refrigerator and then headed out the back door, Johnny and the kids trailing behind.
As the two men sat at the table, discussing the classes, Johnny could see Jennifer edging closer and closer to him. Finally she leaned against the seat, her tiny elbows resting on the wood. He reached down and helped her up onto the seat without breaking his conversation with Roy.
"Roy!" Joanne called from the kitchen window. "Telephone for you."
"Be back in a minute, Johnny."
Johnny waved his hand at where Chris was tossing ball up in the air and catching it in his mitt. "I'll just throw a ball around with your son."
"Roy, come look." Joanne was standing at the window, watching the children play.
Roy came up behind her and looked out at the back yard. Johnny was running around the yard at slow speed, chasing Jenny and Chris in a game of tag. Their laughter filled the air. When he caught the little girl, Johnny tickled her then was jumped by Chris. The three tumbled about like puppies on the grass.
"He's awfully young, isn't he?" Joanne commented.
"Not really. In age, he's probably about 22 or 24. He's been a firefighter about four years and you have to be at least 18 before you can join. I know he's acting like a kid now, but if you saw him in action. Jo, he's like a completely different person."
"Well, bring all the children in and have them wash their hands. Dinner will be ready in about ten minutes."
They trooped in and the kids ran up the stairs, followed by their father and Johnny. Johnny returned first and walked slowly back into the kitchen.
"Can I help?" he asked shyly.
"Yes, if you could get the platter off that top shelf. It's too high up for me to reach."
He managed to get it off the shelf for Joanne. She set him to other little jobs while she took his measure. Roy was still upstairs helping the children clean up.
"He's thinking of asking you to be his partner," Joanne commented.
"I'd like to be. If you wouldn't mind, that is."
"I don't know you, Johnny, but I like what Roy has become since he's met you." She sat at the table, waving him to sit on the other side. Johnny settled carefully in the chair. "He was becoming too serious, like he was when he first lost his father and when he came back from Viet Nam. You've brought out the Roy I fell in love with, a man who has time to laugh, time to look at more than the seriousness of life. For that alone, I would be inclined to like you, John Gage. I'm been a fireman's wife for a lot of years, Johnny, and I'm well aware of the dangers in this business. I'm also aware of how much more dangerous the life of a rescueman's is, after living with one. If you want my blessings, I will ask only one promise from you. Keep him as safe as you can."
Johnny looked over to see Roy coming into the kitchen, his son and daughter chattering at him. He smiled, turning back to Joanne. "I'll do everything I can to send him home to you and the kids. You have my word."
Joanne touched him on the arm. "Then let's eat."
The End (and the Beginning)