Well, this is the final chapter. I want to thank those who have read the story, and I hope you have "enjoyed" it. I put more into this story than any other I've ever written. I want to thank Kenda, Peggy, and Donna, because it was they who really encouraged me when I was originally writing this story.
The chirping of frogs woke him up. At least, that's what he told himself as he crawled over to the fire.
Poking at the embers, he watched as the glowing wood began to glint in the darkness. Slivers of flame popped into existence.
Moving back a bit, he folded his hands on top of his knees, then rested his chin on his hands.
Staring into the growing fire, he felt his eyes relax their focus.
He knew that the tears were coming, but this time he did nothing to stop them. The memories had won, and he bowed before their strength, admitting that he could no longer fight.
It had happened.
"Why?" he whispered. "Why?"
He wasn't startled, but he jumped just the same, fighting one more time before giving in to his grief.
"Why did they hurt me? Why did they do those things to me?"
Roy's arm across his shoulder tightened. "Johnny, I'm so sorry."
"I don't understand why they did those things to me. I didn't do anything to them—" Johnny lost his voice in the midst of a sob. "I—I didn't do anything to them, so why did they hurt me?"
Roy whispered something in his ear. He didn't hear the words, but it was the voice of his friend.
"It was so bad! What they did to me…it was so bad!" Johnny's body convulsed, and Roy grasped his hand. "So many things…I didn't want to believe it!"
"I know, I know. It's okay now."
"I didn't want to believe that they did those things to me…" Johnny lifted his eyes to Roy's. "My God, Roy, they raped me! They raped me!"
Roy held him tighter, and as the frogs continued their cries, the young paramedic crouched in the arms of his partner and wept at the loss of his previous life.
Johnny sat by the lake, staring into the rippling splashes of sunlit water. Roy stood some feet behind.
"How're you feeling this morning?" Roy asked, settling next to John.
Johnny shrugged. "I've been better, I guess."
"Yeah, and I've seen you a lot worse, too."
Johnny finally smiled. "Okay, Mary Poppins. I'm feeling better." He took a deep drag from his cigarette, then coughed as he stubbed it out on a rock next to him.
"You really need to quit smoking, you know."
"Yeah, I know. Never should've started in the first place."
"Why did you start?"
"'Cause I was dumb." Johnny plucked a blade of grass and proceeded to pull it apart. "I guess I figured I needed to."
"I don't understand."
Johnny shrugged. "I guess…I thought that smoking fit the way I saw myself. Bad."
"Is that where the drinking came from, too?"
"Yeah. Mostly. I also wanted to forget…you know."
"Yep. I know."
"And when that wasn't enough, I…" Johnny stopped, studying the pieces that remained of the grass. "…I went to drugs."
Roy pulled his own piece of greenery from the ground. "I can understand what it was like for you. I mean, not exactly, but I'm not judging you. What you went through…well, I can't blame you."
"It was stupid," John stated. "Flat out stupid."
Roy cleared his throat. "Johnny, you…you dealt with it the only way you knew how. I don't blame you, and—"
"Well, it doesn't matter, because I'm probably out of the department anyway."
"Now don't give up. The committee is going to take everything into consideration. Everybody's behind you in this."
"I guess." Johnny managed a sardonic chuckle. "I'm gonna need all of the help I can get."
They sat in silence for a moment, then John spoke.
"It's weird, you know, that all this…this mess started with one small action so long ago."
He glanced over at Roy, found him listening intently, then continued.
"That drunk who puked all over me. I had to wash up. I had to go into the john. And look what happened. If only I hadn't gone in there."
"You can't second guess your decisions, Johnny. You didn't know. Nobody knew."
"But you can't help but think, if only I had done this, or if only I hadn't done that. It's enough to drive you crazy!" John paused, then added quietly, "I guess it did drive me crazy."
They were again quiet, watching the satiny water. Johnny dropped the blade of grass he had been picking apart.
"I wanted to kill them," he said flatly. "Especially the guy who kept calling me. Washington."
"That's understandable. I think we all have feelings like that."
Johnny faced him. "No, I mean I literally wanted to kill him, murder him. I wanted to take a gun and shoot him in the head. I went over the plan in my head again and again, until I knew exactly what I was gonna do and how I was gonna do it. I even knew where I was gonna get the gun. I played it all out, even the part where I get arrested and put away for the rest of my life." He shook his head. "It was so real. I mean, I really meant to kill the guy. Or—" He cut himself off.
"I'm no better than he is," Johnny whispered.
"Johnny, you're a lot better."
"No, you don't understand. I wanted to do to him what he did to me."
Roy swallowed uneasily. "I don't blame you."
"Maybe not," John said, pulling out another cigarette, "but I blame myself. Those men took everything from me…my dignity, my self-respect, my sanity." He stopped to light the cigarette.
"And after all that, I helped them along with poor decisions and thoughts that dragged me down to their level." He shifted his position so that he faced Roy. "They raped me, Roy," he said, his words choked. "Not just that night in the bar, but again and again, and the sad part of it is that I've been allowing them to assault me. I've allowed myself to remain their victim, to the point that my career may be over—" He was forced to stop, and he felt Roy's firm hand on his arm. "I'm not gonna let them rape me anymore," he continued, his voice thick. "I know now what they did to me, and I accept it, but I'm out of that bar, and they aren't holding me down anymore."
He caught Roy's eye. "And I don't blame you anymore," he went on with a glimmer of a smile. "I put you through hell, and I'm sorry. You didn't deserve it."
Roy bowed his head. "I don't know…"
Johnny heaved himself to his feet. "Come on, partner," he grinned, "let's catch dinner!"
When he received the verdict of the committee, John Gage nearly collapsed back into his chair. Roy's strong hand on his arm steadied him enough to keep him on his feet, however, and he managed to thank the committee with a voice that was perilously close to choking.
Twice-weekly counseling sessions, once a week drug counseling, one month's suspension without pay, and a frank lecture on the gratitude that John should feel for the multitude of friends who came forward on his behalf; the chairman of the committee didn't pause until the end.
"Mr. Gage, you stand before this committee having committed a crime that is diametrically opposed to everything the paramedic program stands for. It is with some misgiving that I agree to allow you to continue in the program, but with the support of people like Dr. Brackett, Dr. Early, Dr. Driscoll, Captain Stanley, and Roy DeSoto, I don't believe that you will disappoint us." The man smiled. "I wish you well, sir."
Johnny stood straighter. "Thank you, sir," he replied, returning the smile. He turned to shake hands with Roy, who then embarrassed him by pulling him into a hug. Captain Stanley, Chet, Marco, and Mike also wrung his hand, as did Drs. Brackett, Early, and Morton, and Dixie pushed her way in to also hug the paramedic. Dr. Driscoll stood to one side, smiling broadly as he watched Johnny and his supporters.
Johnny insisted that he was okay when Roy looked concerned about his going home immediately after the committee's verdict.
"Really, Roy, I'm fine. I just need some time to think about everything."
"Are you sure? You can come over to my house, or I can go home with you for awhile…"
John grasped Roy's arm. "I'm okay, partner," he said. "Believe me. I'm okay."
He waited to assure himself that Roy understood, then quickly headed for his Rover. He had something to do.
Once in his apartment, he gathered the ashtrays that he had scattered throughout. After emptying them, he put all but one away. Opening a drawer, he pulled out a Marlboro package, then fished out the final cigarette.
He smoked it quickly, watching the smoke swirl around his head, flicking the ash frequently. The final drag tasted bitter, and he purposely drew it in longer than normal, wanting the sensation to be unpleasant.
He snubbed the butt forcefully, almost angrily, then crushed the empty pack. Walking over to the garbage can, he tipped the ashtray and watched as the pack and butt dropped.
He then picked up the black book.
"No more of this. Good-by, black book." He ripped out the pages, then threw the cover and papers into the garbage.
"It's over," he whispered. "It's all over."
He stood outside the station, scared to death, mortified, embarrassed, longing to be with his friends.
Home…with men who believed in him, who cried with him, who fought the fight with him. He lifted his arm and looked at the fading needle marks, and he knew that the battle would continue, but he also knew that he could fight it with the help of his friends…his family. Now that he had finally faced the horrible truth of what had happened that night, he could at last purge the denial that had plagued him for so long. True, the memories would always be with him, and the John Gage who had walked this same path was gone forever, but the essence of his being had survived, and he would go on.