Johnny return to work not long after the explosion in the restaurant and everyone was happy to have their favorite paramedic back at Station 51.
"Morning, Roy!" Johnny smacked the back of Roy's shoulder hard as he entered the kitchen, Roy's coffee sloshed out of his cup.
"Well, you are really upbeat – even for you. What's up?"
Johnny finished pouring his coffee and turned toward Roy with his lopsided grin beaming extra bright. "Nothing in particular, just happy!" He sat down across the table from his partner. "Oh man, Roy, last night Bree made me the most amazing Indian dinner." Johnny leaned back and patted his stomach happily.
"Roy finished wiping the spilled coffee off his fingers with a napkin and replied, "Oh? That's nice that she is learning your culture."
There was a pause as what Roy said processed in Johnny's brain. "Huh?" was all he could manage.
"Well, she is learning how to cook your family's type of food…right?" Roy wasn't sure what the confusion was all about.
Johnny twisted his face and gave Roy a 'you dummy' look. "Not Native American, Roy, Indian. You know like from India." Johnny scoffed and grabbed the newspaper from the table to scan the headlines.
Roy's mouth gaped open a bit as he dealt with this information. "Oh." He suddenly realized he had no idea what Native American food was and wondered if he should feel bad about that. He also had never had Indian food and so he let the subject drop.
They rest of the crew arrived shortly after and soon the day was off to a busy start.
Johnny and Roy were on their way back from Rampart after a run when Johnny began squirming in his seat. He had something he wanted to tell Roy and maybe this was the best place as Roy would need to keep his eyes on the road and it might make it easier to talk.
"What?" Roy said.
"What do you mean?"
"You want to say something, so say it." Roy glanced over at Johnny and smiled letting him know it was okay.
Johnny took in a breath.
"I said it."
Roy had a feeling he knew what Johnny meant but he still asked, "You said what?" He kept his voice soft.
There was a pause from the passenger side, then "I told her I loved her."
Roy grinned widely. He came to a stop and reached to put his hand on Johnny's shoulder. "That's great, Johnny!" Johnny blushed and looked down at his lap, but Roy could still see the slight crooked grin. He continued on down the street.
"So, how does it feel?" Roy wanted to know if Aubrey said it back but couldn't imagine she hadn't. These two were clearly nuts about each other.
Johnny stared out the side window, chewing on his lip before turning back to Roy. "Fantastic but not as wonderful as when she said she loved me too."
Roy couldn't contain himself and gave out a laugh as he banged the heel of his hand on the steering wheel. They arrived at the station and Roy expertly backed the squad up into the bay and shut down the engine. He looked over at the still blushing and beaming Johnny.
"I'm so happy for you, partner," Roy said softly, gently shaking Johnny's shoulder. "I won't mention it to the other guys. This is between me and you."
Johnny looked up at Roy and smiled, "I appreciate that, Roy." He turned to open the squad door and then turned back to find Roy looking at him like a proud father. He blushed slightly again. "And thank so much, Roy."
Roy knew what Johnny meant. He felt the same way about his partner. They shared a strong bond and where there for each other. They headed into the dayroom together.
~ E ~
The next day off shift was a weekday so Johnny headed to Roy's house. Joanne invited him to stay for dinner and told him that she had already spoken to Aubrey who agreed to join them. Johnny knew he couldn't fight it. When Joanne DeSoto wanted something, she got it. He agreed and Joanne clapped her hands happily. Roy wouldn't have been surprised if she had blurted out "Oh goodie!" and he laughed imagining it.
Later in the afternoon the DeSoto kids bounded noisily through the door and rushed right out the back door to find Uncle Johnny with barely a hello to their mother. Joanne couldn't contain her smile as she shouted, "You walk in this house, kids!" but they were already out the back slider by the time she got the words out. She signed and headed back into the kitchen.
Once again, Roy knew that his helper was gone as Johnny scooped Jenny up in the air and swung her around in the air above him. "Hi Princess!" he said as he put her back down on solid ground but not before giving her a tickle on her ribs. She erupted into giggles. "Chris, my man!" Johnny threw a couple of 'punches' at the boy who dodged them expertly. "How was school?"
Roy headed into the house to wash up and get a cold drink. "Johnny, you want something?" he hollered behind him to be heard above the din of the kids both telling Johnny about their day. He watched as Johnny managed to hear both the kids' stories and shake his head 'no' at Roy. 'He's going to make a great dad some day,' Roy thought to himself as he headed to the hall bathroom.
~ E ~
Later that afternoon, Aubrey arrived at the DeSoto's house. "Miss Aubrey!" Jenny squealed loudly. When Joanne had told the children to call her Miss Sherman, Aubrey didn't like it as it sounded too formal so they settled on allowing them to call her 'Miss Aubrey,' similar to how they addressed their teachers.
Aubrey knelt down to give Jenny a kiss on the cheek and when Chris came up to greet her, Aubrey did the same for him. Chris blushed and his eyes twinkled. Joanne could see that her son had a crush on Aubrey and it warmed her heart. Everyone now loved Aubrey almost as much as they did Johnny. Joanne's breath hitched in her throat and she covered it with a slight cough. 'I hope she becomes an ever bigger part of our family some day,' she thought to herself. She caught Roy looking over at her and averted her eyes, sure that the man she loved could almost read her thoughts.
"Hi Roy," Aubrey said, accepting the kiss on her cheek from her second favorite paramedic. She then slid her arms around Johnny's waist as he wrapped her in a hug.
"Hey, Guitar Man, she said leaning her head back and looking up him lovingly.
Johnny kissed her sweetly on the lips, "Hey yourself" he said, his voice deep. Roy glanced away, always getting skittish when anyone showed too much affection. Joanne smiled at her husband and rubbed her hand along his back, holding in a giggle.
"Joanne, it smells wonderful in here!" Aubrey said releasing her hold on Johnny and heading over to give her friend a hug. The women strolled into the kitchen arm and arm. Johnny and Roy watched them go.
"Those two are getting really close." Roy said to Johnny.
Johnny absently rubbed his hand on the back of his head, his other hand on his hip, "Yeah, no kidding. Makes me nervous what they are always whispering about." He glanced over at Roy.
Roy held up his hands and with a smirk he said, "Don't look at me, partner. I didn't say anything!"
"Yeah, yeah, I know. You wouldn't have to." He said nodding his head in the direction of the kitchen just as a loud girlie giggle erupted from behind the door. "Oh geez," Johnny said, imagining what the two were talking about. He flopped down on the sofa and stretched his legs out under the coffee table. Roy said down in his recliner.
Chris came into the room and sat down on the opposite end of the couch from Johnny. He liked to hang out with the men of the house more and more these days.
"Did you finish your homework?" Roy asked his son.
"Yessir," Chris nodded. Johnny glanced from Chris to Roy and back again. He smiled and rested his head on his hand, his elbow propped on the back of the couch.
"So Chris…do you have a girlfriend yet?" Johnny asked, ignoring the shocked expression from Roy.
Chris leaned back smirking. "Nah," is all he said but he glanced over at Johnny shyly. Johnny could tell by the look that there may just be a girl in Chris' future.
Roy watched the exchange between the two 'bachelors' and realized himself that it would not be long before he had to deal with girlfriends in his son's life, not just Johnny's. His stomach flip flopped at the thought. Just then Jenny danced into the room.
"Watch Daddy, watch Uncle Johnny," she said as he did a pirouette in the middle of the room. She then jumped into her father's outstretched arms and snuggled on his lap.
"That's beautiful, honey," Roy rested his cheek on her bright blond head and wrapped his arms around her. He relaxed knowing there was plenty of time before he had to worry about men in this little angel's life.
"She loves her Daddy." Johnny said smiling widely. He too relaxed back into the couch. His family was together, happy and healthy and he was on cloud nine.
A few minutes later, Aubrey came into the room to announce dinner and the group headed to the table. Johnny was last to leave the living room and he reached for her hand. Their fingers intertwined as he brought her hand up to his lips and softly kissed it.
Dinner conversation was light and everyone enjoyed the roast beef that Joanne had prepared.
Jenny was chatting away to Aubrey when she took a bite of meat and swallowed. Her chatting stopped abruptly which caused everyone to look her way. Aubrey was seated next to her and reached out to take her hand.
"Jenny?" she said, trying not to let the worry in her voice be heard.
The little girl opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. All four adults were out of their seats in an instant. Roy turned Jenny's chair around so he could look directly at his daughter. His heart was in his throat as he asked, "Jenny, honey, what's wrong?" but he could already see that his little princess could not take in a breath. She was choking. Joanne realized it too and let out a sob. Chris sat frozen in his chair, his fork in mid air.
Roy scooped his daughter into his arms, "Open your mouth, sweetie," she said, Jenny did as she was told but the panic in her eyes broke his heart. He reached in but could not feel the obstruction. Quickly he tipped her and struck her on the back all the while his vision becoming hazy around the edges.
When Jenny still had not taken a breath, Johnny reached and took Jenny from Roy's arms. "Let me try," he said quickly. He put Jenny's feet on the floor and knelt behind her. He wrapped his arms around her from the back, grabbing his left hand with his right and placed it on her stomach. With one quick upward thrust the meat popped out of Jenny's throat and landed on the floor. Jenny took a breath, and let out a cry as Joanne scooped her up and hugged her tight.
"Oh my God, Jenny, are you alright?" She rocked Jenny back and forth.
Roy reached out to rub his daughter's back, just needing the connection. He steadied himself by grabbing onto Johnny's arm. He shared a look of thankfulness with his wife and then turned to Johnny. No words were spoken but Johnny nodded back at him placing his hand over Roy's.
Roy turned back to Joanne, "Let's take her in the living room to be sure she's okay."
"No, I want to finish my potatoes, Daddy." Jenny whined wriggling wildly until her mother put her down, the incident all but forgotten by the little girl.
The adults stood and watched as Jenny settled herself back into her chair and dug a forkful of potatoes up. She took a bite swallowing happily. "More gravy, Mommy?" she asked.
Joanne allowed herself to breath then and looked back at Roy. He shrugged at her. "She seems fine."
A collective sigh of relief was heard from the adults as they each sat back down at the dinner table.
Aubrey looked to her left at Johnny. "What was that you did, Johnny?"
"It's called the Heimlich Maneuver." I read about it in Emergency Medicine a few months ago and asked Dr. Bracket about it – remember Roy?" Roy nodded. "He said he is recommending it be taught not only to paramedics but to people in the community, especially restaurant personnel." Johnny looked lovingly at little Jenny as she finished her dinner. "Man, am I glad I saw that." He drew in a ragged breath, as the adrenaline left his system and he realized for the first time how scary the situation had really been.
"Wait'll I tell Chet; he's always ragging on me for reading that magazine!" everyone laughed lightly, glad to have everything back to normal in their world.
Aubrey wrapped both hands around Johnny's right forearm and leaned her head to rest on his shoulder. "You are amazing," she said softly.
Joanne and Roy looked at each other and back at Jenny. Joanne reached over and gave Roy's hand a squeeze and they sent up a silent prayer of thanks.
After dinner, Johnny headed out to his car and brought his guitar into the house. Aubrey saw him and lit up. "Are you going to sing for us, Johnny?" Roy was flabbergasted. He knew Johnny played the guitar a bit and wasn't…horrible. He had had once attempted to learn a lot of instruments – the worst of them being the bagpipes. Roy shuddered at the memory. And now he was going to sing?
"Yeah, if everyone doesn't mind."
Joanne settled into a chair and pulled Jenny onto her lap. She had not yet let the little girl out of her sight. Aubrey had volunteered herself and Johnny to clean up the dinner dishes and Joanne thanked her for letting her and Roy spend time with their precious daughter. Even Chris hovered close to his little sister than evening.
"What will you sing, Johnny?" Joanne asked happily. Roy knew his wife would be pleased with whatever noise his partner made and he smiled.
Johnny sat on the couch next to Aubrey and settled the guitar in front of him. He cleared his throat and glanced shyly at his audience. He then began to sing and strum the guitar. As soon as he sang the first few words, Joanne's face lit up. Roy recognized it – and was surprised that he actually recognized something Johnny was singing – as "If" by the group Bread. After the first few words, Johnny turned towards Aubrey.
If a picture paints a thousand words
Then why can't I paint you?
The words will never show, the you I've come to know
If a face could launch a thousand ships
Then where am I to go?
There's no one home but you, you're all that's left me to
And when my love for life is running dry
You come and bore yourself on me
If a man could be two places at one time
I'd be with you
Tomorrow and today, beside you all the way
If the world should stop revolving spinning slowly down to die
I'd spend the end with you
And when the world was through
Then one by one the stars would all go out
Then you and I would simply fly away
Aubrey wiped a tear from her eye as Johnny finished. Joanne and Jenny clapped gleefully. Roy simply sat back in his chair, eyes wide and mouth agape.
"That was great, Johnny." Roy said after getting over the shock. He now was beginning to understand why Aubrey referred to Johnny as 'Guitar Man.' Obviously, his partner had been practicing.
"Yeah? Thanks." Johnny said and blushed. He put the guitar down and Aubrey made short work of replacing it with herself in his arms.
~ E ~
On Friday, C shift was waiting at the station when A shift arrived from an early morning fire. The trucks were parked in the bay, information was exchanged between the two captains and the group dragged themselves into the dorm and latrine area to get ready to head home.
"Ugh, I'm exhausted." Johnny said as he peeled off his soot covered turnout gear. I'm not even going to shower, I'm just going home and drop in bed and sleep the rest of the day.
"I think I'm going to clean up before I head home. I hate it when I get the smoke smell in the car," Roy said slumping down on the bench. "What are you up to this weekend?"
"Aubrey and I are going to go for a drive tomorrow – maybe picnic at the state park and take a drive up Mandeville Canyon Road; she loves it up that way." Johnny finished washing his face and arms then pulled on a t-shirt and jeans.
"Sounds nice. I think Joanne and I are just going to stay home and relax this weekend. It's nice to have no plans…but that can change, we never know." Roy laughed.
"I know what you mean," Johnny said as he gave a friendly backhanded slap to Roy's chest and headed out the door to his car. "See ya on Monday, Roy!"
"See ya, Johnny." Roy said as he waved to his partner.
~ E ~
Johnny pulled up in front of Aubrey's apartment building just as she came out the front door.
"Hey, beautiful," he said, "good timing!" he jogged up the front path to take the picnic basket from her arms and placed a kiss on her lips.
"Hey, handsome," she said, kissing him back. "Are you sure you are up to this? You sounded exhausted when we spoke on the phone yesterday."
Johnny scoffed and smiled that Gage smile at her. "Are you kidding me? I slept almost all day just so I would be ready to spend the day with my lady." He leaned down for another kiss and then nuzzled her nose with his.
"Well, okay then, let's hit the road!" she said, bounding ahead of him to the white Land Rover.
Johnny climbed in and patted a spot beside him on the vehicles bench seat. Aubrey slid as close as she could while still staying out of the way of the gear shift. He maneuvered back on to the 405 and headed North. His plan was to cut west on Mulholland to Mandeville Canyon Road and from there south to the state park for a late picnic lunch. It was a beautiful day and they rolled down the windows to feel the air in their hair. Aubrey reached into her bag just then and pulled out a midnight blue ribbon and tied her hair back to keep it out of her face. She then settled back into her spot next to her love.
The smog visibly cleared as they neared Mandeville Canyon. Johnny enjoyed the long stretches of road where he did not have to shift so he could throw his right arm around his girl's shoulders and just enjoy the road.
Ahead he saw that the road was starting to hairpin so he removed his arm and got ready to down shift. Aubrey slid back over to her side of the car to give him room. Johnny made the first sharp turn to the right but as he maneuvered the Rover to the left a large red pickup truck appeared seemingly from nowhere. The driver could be seen slumped over the wheel and the truck was headed right towards Johnny and Aubrey.
"Johnny, look out!" Aubrey gasped. Johnny had seen it and cut the wheel sharply to the left to avoid the collision, his car bouncing off the battered guardrail. Behind him Johnny saw the pick up that he had just avoided careen right through the railing and disappear over the cliff. Johnny's tires hit the gravel and dirt alongside the pavement. He lost control of the car and it bounced back toward the guard rail but to Johnny's horror, the railing had been torn away.
"Bree! Hang on!" he shouted as he heard and felt his left front tire blow out. No amount of stomping on the brakes and shifting could stop the car's momentum. Johnny heard Aubrey scream in terror. This couldn't be happening, not now. Now that his life was where he only dreamed it could be. His life did truly flash before him in the few seconds that they were airborne. He heard himself yell out "No!" and then he didn't know anything more.
~ E ~
Dripping…something was dripping. He heard it. Where was it coming from? What his faucet dripping? Didn't he just fix that fool thing? Johnny tried to throw his arm over his eyes and go back to sleep but something was keeping him from doing it. What was holding his arm? Was he holding it up above the bed? His arms hurt, his shoulders hurt. He tried to shake himself awake when a blinding pain shot up from his leg and he cried out.
"Roy?" he asked dazed. Was he at the station? Pain seeped further into his consciousness. No, was he in a fire? He didn't smell smoke. He tried to open his eyes but they refused to obey. "Roy?" he groaned out again. His head hurt, bad. He tasted the coppery taste of blood in his mouth.
"Cap? Marco?" he still couldn't understand what was holding his arms above him. Johnny tried again to open his eyes. He expected darkness, smoke or flames but instead his pupils were assaulted by blinding sun. He gave his eyes time to adjust to the light. Slowly the blurriness faded and he tried to make sense of his surroundings. His head pounded as he looked around, his brain not comprehending what was in front of him. He blinked a few more times to clear his vision and then could make out something in front of him. A steering wheel.
The realization of where he was and what was happening came rushing back so quickly it took his breath away. He mouthed the quiet scream: Aubrey!
Johnny now realized it was gravity that was pulling on his arms. The Rover was upside down. He was still buckled into his seat hanging from the belt. He looked up to see a bright maroon puddle on the ceiling of the vehicle. Blood. The dripping he heard had been his own blood. Johnny didn't know where the blood was coming from and didn't care. He needed to find Aubrey. He flailed around frantically at first but the pain cut through him like a hot knife. His left ankle again shot needles of blinding pain up his leg though his entire body and into his brain. Johnny bit back a scream and forced himself to calm down. He turned his head slowly to his left. The passenger side door was ripped open and hanging from its hinges. He was alone in the car. Johnny's stomach lurched at the realization that Aubrey had been thrown from the vehicle. He forced the bile back down and reached for the steering wheel to support himself. While he tried to hang on as best he could with his left arm wrapped around the steering wheel, he reached down with his right and fumbled to find the seat belt release. Pushing on the button would not release the belt and he got frustrated. He reached back to the steering wheel and held on while he caught his breath. He remembered that he carried a knife in his glove compartment which had popped open, its contents spilled out beside him. He spotted the knife and unfolded it carefully. Still holding on to the wheel with his left hand, he cut through the belt with the knife. He fell down, landing on his back on the ceiling pulling on the trapped ankle. This time he could not hold back the scream. The echo of the pain bounced back from the canyon walls.
Johnny laid there in the puddle of blood and tried to pull himself back together. His ankle was caught somehow and he needed to free it before he could start to assess the situation and find Aubrey. He sobbed at the thought of her hurt, bleeding, broken – or worse. He reached and followed his left leg along until he could find what was holding him. The floor boards had buckled and his foot was trapped. He pushed with all his might at the metal, rested, then reached and tried again. His fingers sought out and found the laces holding his boot in place. He pulled at them, untying the laces. Maybe if he couldn't pull the boot free, he could get his foot free of the boot.
After resting again, he loosened the lace as much as he could. He felt the boot loosen slightly. He pulled at his lower leg. He felt the broken bones grind together and he let out another agonized scream. He didn't try to hold back. Maybe someone would hear him. Maybe Aubrey would hear him…and answer? He sobbed again and gave one last tug. His foot came free of the boot and the car and he fell the rest of the way onto the roof of the Land Rover. Darkness swirled around him and he lost consciousness.
Johnny slowly came to and this time the reality of his situation flooded into his mind much faster. "Aubrey," he groaned. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Aubrey! Where are you? Aubrey!"
He stopped and listened for her, for anything. There was only silence and the faint sounds of birds in the distance. "Hello! Anybody! Help us!" the words bounced back to him. There was no answer.
Johnny tried to tell what time it was by the placement of the sun in the sky but his eyes would not focus enough and the trees and canyon walls blocked his view. His head throbbed in time with the frantic beating of his heart. His stomach lurched again and he managed to push himself to his side before vomiting the contents of his stomach onto the ground. His left side pulsated with pain as he heaved.
Head injury? Yes, his head had been bleeding. He must have a concussion. His ankle was broken, he was sure of that. And by the feeling in his left side, he was sure a few ribs had cracked. He reached around with his right hand and felt his ribs but couldn't be sure if they were broken or not at this point. He tried to take in a breath. It hurt like hell but he could do it. Hopefully, none of the ribs had pierced his lung. After resting again, Johnny slowly turned his head to the left. His stomach rebelled but he managed to keep himself from vomiting again. He then looked to his right. He wasn't sure if it would be better to look above him or to try turning his whole body. He needed to find Aubrey and his own injuries frustrated him. He tipped his head back to survey the ground above him but it was the wrong move and his stomach ejected what was left in it.
Johnny took as many deep breaths as his ribs would allow to once again calm his gut. He needed to sit up. Finding Aubrey consumed his thoughts and he pushed himself up slowly. Half way to a sitting position, his stomach rolled but he fought it down. He slid himself back toward the Rover and leaned against it. He closed his eyes as he waited for the nausea to pass. From this vantage point he could better see the line of the sun and realized it must be well after noon. He had been unconscious for a long time and he let out a grief stricken cry knowing that it might be too late to help Aubrey. He felt his heart break. He had never felt such misery and it took his breath away even more than the blinding pain.
~ E ~
Joanne and Roy sat on the back patio watching the kids play in the sprinkler in the yard. Roy fidgeted in his seat.
"Roy, can't you just sit and relax for once, honey?" Joanne said looking over at her husband.
"I don't know, Joanne. I'm not sure why I can't sit still. Something is bothering me but I can't put my finger on it."
Joanne's brow furrowed, "Is it because of Jenny? She is okay, right?"
"Oh yeah, yeah," Roy said patting her arm. "It's not that." He sighed heavily. "Just ignore me."
Joanne got out of her lounge chair, "Well I am going to get you a beer," she said as she kissed the top of his head. Roy didn't drink a lot and he saved the beers for when he was working in the yard with Johnny but she could see he needed something to take the edge off. She was happy when he didn't protest.
She returned a minute later with an open bottle of beer and handed it to Roy, giving him another kiss on the top of his head before she sat down. Roy thanked her and took a long swallow.
"I hope Johnny and Aubrey are having a nice time today – it is a beautiful day for a drive."
It was Roy's turn to furrow his brow. "Uh huh," he answered simply.
"I'll ask Aubrey about it when she calls me later tonight."
"Are they coming over?" Roy asked, surprised.
"Oh no, it's just she and I didn't get a chance to talk the other night when Jenny…when Johnny decided to sing so she promised to give me a call when they got back. Just girl talk." She giggled.
Roy nodded still wondering what had him bugged. He took another long swig of the beer and put his head back to try to relax.
~ E ~
Johnny awoke with a start. He had lost consciousness again. His anger at his own weakness made him claw at the dirt. 'I need to find her.' He thought to himself as he threw a fistful of dirt out in front of him. He looked around to see if there was anything to use as a makeshift brace or crutch but there was nothing.
'Okay, Gage,' he thought to himself, 'pay attention.' Johnny surveyed the land in front of him. The road was above him but so far up he couldn't even hear the passing cars. He saw the wide path that the Rover had cut through the brush. He must have slid along on the roof for quite a ways. He needed to know when his vehicle flipped to try to understand exactly when Aubrey was thrown…" he clench his eyes shut trying to block out the vision of his wonderful girl being tossed like a ragdoll out of the car.
"Damn it!" he screamed. He remembered patting the seat next to him, encouraging her to slide closer which meant she wasn't wearing her seat belt. Why? Why did he do that? He cursed himself through gritted teeth.
He leaned his head back slowly and tried to remember what happened after he heard the tire blow out and the Rover left the road but the effort made his head swim. He took another deep breath. He would start to crawl up. He could follow the torn path that the car ripped through the vegetation. Hopefully he would see her but he needed to move before darkness started to fall. He had a sudden sickening thought that Aubrey was under the car he was leaning on and he pulled forward suddenly. His stomach lurched.
Johnny slid slowly away from his car and being careful not to jar his head, ribs or ankle, turned himself around to face the vehicle. Slowly he pulled himself along, sliding on his backside until he reached the back of the car. He saw the guitar, its neck snapped and hanging by the strings. His heart sank as he remembered singing to her just the night before. 'Gage!' he thought, 'the guitar neck just might make a good enough brace.' Again Johnny cursed himself under his breath for being so stupid. He reached up and was thankful the back opened easily. He pulled out the shattered instrument. He also leaned in to grab the picnic basket. He was going to need sustenance. 'WE will need this,' he thought stubbornly, holding onto all hope that he would find Aubrey alive.
With the guitar neck and some cloth napkins he found in the basket, he fashioned a makeshift brace for his shattered ankle. He then used the table cloth he found to wrap his sore ribs. He opened a soda and downed the liquid, thankful that the glass bottles hadn't shattered in the wreck. Audrey had packed everything so well. His breath hitched as he pictured her lovingly packing the lunch for him.
Pulling out a small day pack, he loaded it with a flashlight, a small first aid kit, the sodas and some bread. He closed the Rover back and slid to the far side of the vehicle. Aubrey wasn't there. He wasn't sure if he was disappointed or elated. He spotted a fairly long thick branch and grabbed it as a crutch. Holding the branch in his right hand, he grabbed onto the wheel well of the Rover with his left and carefully began to pull himself up off the ground. His ribs hurt but the tablecloth brace helped support them. He kept his head as steady as he could. Sweat poured from his forehead re-opening the cut he had long forgotten about. Blood ran down into his eyes. He cursed as he wiped it away with the back of his hand. With both the branch and the car to help hold him up, Johnny made it back to the driver side. He stopped to rest knowing letting go of the Rover and venturing up the steep slope was going to be very difficult. Looking back at the crumpled wreck that was once his car, Johnny leaned in and clicked the headlights on. After he thought he was ready, he leaned into the sturdy branch and took a step. He screamed as he felt the bones once again grind inside his ankle. He lost his balance and fell to the ground sobbing.
"Wimp!" he yelled out. "You're useless." He gritted his teeth as the anger made his head once again swim and his vision blurred at the edges. ' No, Gage, no! Keep it together, don't pass out now.'
Not knowing if he had enough strength to try to stand again, Johnny laid on his stomach on the ground and began to pull himself up the swath the truck had cut through the dirt and plants. It was slow going and his whole body ached but he finally felt he was making progress.
Johnny looked up into the sky to try to judge the time of day but the movement made his stomach turn so he continued on. He had gone about 500 feet up the path created by his Rover when he noticed the ground in front him was different. There was a divot in the dirt where it seemed the roof of the vehicle had hit before continuing down on its roof. Was this where he had flipped? He consciously moved his head slowly from left to right trying to spot any sign of his Aubrey. He tried to picture the vehicle careening down the slope and how it would be positioned – but he didn't even know if it had flipped multiple times. He let out a guttural sound of anguish but stopped when he thought he heard a noise; but it was not human that answered him, it was a coyote. He gulped at the thought of having to deal with the creatures – or any others. His ribs ached from dragging himself and he slowly pushed himself into a seated position. He looked from left to right again. Just as he reached the right and began to scan back to the left, he thought he saw something…something blue. Johnny started to scramble to try to rise off the ground but again forced himself to keep his movements slow and steady. He reached for a large rock with his left hand and managed to get himself to his knees, cringing at the pain in his ankle. With both hands supporting himself on the rock, he slowly rose up on his good leg and looked to the right. It was Aubrey! He had found her. Her light blue jeans and white top stood out against the green of the vegetation.
Johnny's heart started beating fast and he was sure it would leap from his throat. "Aubrey?" he shouted and watched carefully for movement. There was none. Johnny lowered himself back down onto the ground and steeled himself for what he was about to see. His heart cracked a little more as he began to make his way over to the motionless figure.
When he was close enough to touch her, Johnny stopped. He wasn't sure he could go on. Aubrey was completely still. He could not see her chest rise from this angle. Her long chestnut ponytail was lying across her face, still with the dark blue ribbon in it. Her limbs were sprawled in every direction. Johnny knew he had to find out if his world had ended on this day or if there was still hope for him.
He rested two fingers on her wrist – a pulse! There was a pulse! She was alive. Switching instantly into paramedic mode, Johnny calmed himself to count the beats. His watch had been smashed in the crash but his training and expertise told him it was about 120, weak and thready. He knew her systolic blood pressure was at least 90. He pulled himself closer and sat up to gently brush the silken tresses off her face. She was pale…as white as her white eyelet top. Johnny surveyed her body and quickly spotted a dark wet circle of blood on her right leg. He leaned over, wincing but ignoring his own pain. He felt down the leg. He didn't feel any broken bones there. He reached for the ribbon in her hair and carefully slid it out from under her head believing with any sudden movement, she would crack into a thousand pieces and be gone. He tied the ribbon around her thigh to act as a tourniquet and continued to check her. He ran his hands along her skull feeling for fractures or contusions. He didn't find any. The left leg was okay. Johnny's broken heart dared to mend itself just a bit as he continued to check Aubrey over. Her right arm was okay but her left wrist was broken.
Johnny took a deep breath, afraid to be too hopeful. He laid his hand on Aubrey's chest and closed his eyes. He leaned in closer to listen to her breathing. It was steady but slightly labored. He then palpitated her abdomen and his heart almost stopped beating. It was rigid. Had a rib broken and punctured an internal organ? He carefully ran his fingers along her rib cage, not finding anything until…his right hand felt something on her back. He leaned over closer, fighting back the vertigo the movement caused. He couldn't see clearly.
Remembering the flashlight in his pack, Johnny took it out and pulled himself closer to Aubrey's right side. He turned on the flashlight and peered under her. There it was; a thick branch had pierced her right side in the back. Johnny took Aubrey's good hand and squeezed it tight. She was bleeding internally. He thought his heart would turn to dust until a slight moan escaped her lips.
"Aubrey?" Johnny leaned down to whisper in her ear. "Aubrey, don't move, baby. I'm here, I'm here." Not hearing any other sounds, Johnny put his head down on her arm and quietly sobbed. "I'm sorry. I should have told you to wear your seat belt, baby. I'm so sorry."
Johnny raised his head and looked down at her face. Darkness was falling and he knew he could not move her now. If he pulled the branch from her back, she would likely bleed to death in just a few minutes. He needed to keep her still and wait for help. Johnny's spirits sank as he realized that no one knew they were missing. He sat back up slowly, covered Aubrey's ears and screamed out as loud as his aching ribs would let him.
"Hello! Is anybody out there? Please help us, please!" He sat silently, waiting for anything that would tell him his calls were heard.
Aubrey, stirred as he yelled and he held her head tighter. He leaned down. "Shh, baby, don't move, please. Don't move, Aubrey, stay still." His voice seemed to clam her and she settled back down. He thought about the small first aid kit he had in his pack and scoffed as he mentally went through what the box held. Nothing could help her. She needed an IV. He squeezed his eyes shut wondering if he should have followed his instincts so many years ago and slipped a few IVs into his own possession. But that was stealing and he couldn't bring himself to do it. He slipped his fingers into Aubrey's limp hand and wished he had had the nerve to do it. He felt so helpless now.
Johnny looked up at the sky and watched the streaks of color fade as night fell over the canyon. He needed to keep Aubrey warm if she had any chance of surviving he the night. He dragged himself to her left side and removed the table cloth from around his ribs. As carefully as he could, he tucked the fabric around her body, being sure not to dislodge the branch from her back. He finished by wrapping her head with the remaining cloth knowing that would help keep her body heat in. Before lying down next to her to share he own body heat, he once again covered her ears and shouted as loud as he could. No one answered him. He gently laid himself next to Aubrey and tucked his face into her neck. He could still smell her perfume and he quietly cried until sleep took him.
~ E ~
Roy had helped Joanne clean up after they finished the pizza they had ordered. He still could not relax or figure out what had been bothering him all day. Joanne had also caught his mood, especially when she had not heard from Aubrey.
"Joanne, they are young and in love." He reassured her as well as himself. "I'm sure she just forgot that she told you she would call."
Joanne nodded but remained unconvinced. "That's not like her, though, Roy."
It was Roy's turn to nod. He knew Aubrey well enough now to know she was a woman of her word. She would have at least called to apologize to Joanne and would have promised to call tomorrow.
"I'm going to call her," she said and went to the wall phone in the kitchen. Roy finished the last of the dishes while Joanne, not having reached Aubrey at her place hung up and then dialed Johnny. She let it ring at least ten times before hanging up.
"Something's wrong." Roy said simply.
Joanne looked up and mirrored his concern. "I'm nervous too, Roy."
Roy tossed the dish towel aside. "Maybe this is what has been bothering me all day, Joanne. I can't explain it."
Joanne wrapped her arms around her husband's waist and held on. She had heard the stories of how both Roy and Johnny seemed to have a 'sixth sense' when they worked together. They worked sometimes without words spoken and seemed to know what the other was thinking. Maybe that connection even worked from a distance. She looked up at Roy.
"Where did Johnny say they were going?" she asked.
Roy racked his brain. "They were going for a ride."
"I don't remember…wait, it was a canyon road….Mandeville – that's it! Mandeville Canyon Road and then they were going to stop at the state park!"
"Oh, Roy, that's miles of road!" Joanne exclaimed. "Could we call the police?"
"No, they would never do anything at this point. They would have to be missing for at least 24 hours, I think." Roy said, exasperated. He looked out the window at the fading light.
"Joanne," he began.
"Go." She stated. Roy's eyes widened. "You will jump out of your skin if you just sit here all night."
Roy left the kitchen and Joanne followed as he stammered, "I'll run by his place and then hers just to be sure they aren't, well…" he trailed off.
"Yes, good idea. Then will you head up to Mandeville if you can't find them?" she said putting her hands to her mouth.
"I…I guess I will." Roy grabbed a jacket and his car keys. "You know what," he said putting down his sports car keys and picking up Joanne's keys, "I'll take the wagon. They are just broken down and stranded, that's all," he said trying to make his tone sound light.
"Yes, maybe!" Joanne replied, kissing him on the cheek before he ran out the front door and down the driveway.
"Call me if you can, honey!" she shouted out the door, setting a neighbor's dog barking.
"I will, I will!" Roy said as he pulled out of the drive towards Johnny's place.
~ E ~
Roy had been disappointed to find that Johnny and Aubrey were not holed up in one of their apartments after all. He was now on the 405 heading north. He would cut over west to Mandeville and head south. It was completely dark by now and Roy knew the chance of finding them was slim – even if they did just have engine trouble. He was lost in his thoughts as he reached Mandeville Canyon.
~ E ~
Johnny's eyes opened slowly. He felt Aubrey beside him and thought that maybe everything that came flooding back into his mind was just a nightmare. He lifted his head and the wave of vertigo and blinding headache told him that the nightmare was all too real. He reached up and felt Aubrey's carotid pulse on her neck. She was still with him. He closed his eyes and listened, not sure what he was hoping to hear. Brave and sturdy rescuers crunchy through the brush? No, not yet. But he prayed that they would come and Aubrey would hold on until they did. He leaned in and kissed Aubrey's cheek. She stirred.
"Johnny?" she said, although it was just a whisper.
"I'm here, Bree. Lay still. Don't move."
"I'm cold," she said and Johnny's heart broke.
"I know, I know you are. You've been hurt, Bree. Don't move at all, okay?"
"Hurt?" she said sounding like a little girl.
"Yes, honey, we were in a car accident." Johnny remembered the tourniquet on her thigh and slid his hand down. He didn't feel any fresh blood so he gently removed the ribbon. Aubrey didn't seem to notice and his heart skipped a beat.
"Aubrey, baby, I need you to drink something. Can you do that for me?" he reached for the backpack behind him and pulled out the bottle of soda. There was no answer.
"Aubrey," he said a bit more forcefully. He saw her eyes flutter open in the moonlight. "Wake up, sweetie. Just long enough to drink some of this." He lifted her head slightly and put the bottle to her lips. He had no way of knowing how much blood she was losing and giving her fluids by mouth was a calculated risk. But without an IV, it was the only way he could replenish her depleting fluid volume.
Aubrey drank but then sputtered and the soda trickled down the side of her mouth. "Okay," he said soothingly. "Take a breath and then I want you to drink some more."
Aubrey turned her head away and groaned, "No more."
"Yes, baby, just a bit more. You need this and the sugar in here will help you feel better." That seemed to make sense to her so she took another good drink.
"Good girl." Johnny said as he gently laid her head back down. He swallowed the remainder of the soda and dropped the bottle nearby. The spirits would forgive him this once for littering mother earth.
Aubrey looked around her and up at the sky. "Where?" she asked simply.
"Somewhere off Mandeville Canyon Road." He saw the confusion in Aubrey's eyes and he reached up to again check her head for contusions. "Does your head hurt, Bree?"
"No," she said as her eyes started to drift closed again. Johnny didn't want her to fall asleep, afraid he would never see her open her eyes again. But she needed to rest. He laid his head down next to hers and prayed silently that she would make it to morning.
~ E ~
Roy drove the long straightaway on the canyon road and began to doubt himself. What was he thinking; he could never find them in this darkness. He cursed to himself as he lifted his foot from the gas to slow the car as he reached a sharp turn. Something caught his eye to his left and he hit the brake. He thought he imagined it as he could no longer see anything. He knew he was taking a chance backing up on this hairpin turn but he craned his neck to look behind him. No headlights, he better make this quick. He quickly shifted the station wagon in reverse and hit the gas. He backed up quite a bit and then shifted the vehicle back into drive. He rode the brake as he peered down the canyon to his left. There - he saw it. He putted the emergency flashers on and climbed out. He walked carefully to the shoulder of the road. It was then he saw the safety railing torn away. His stomach flip flopped. He ran back to the car and grabbed a flashlight out of the glove compartment and headed back to the broken railing. His heart flew into his throat as he shone the light onto the metal and saw that it was freshly broken.
"Johnny!" he said out loud. He aimed the flashlight down below the broken railing and saw it; the tailgate of a red truck. He tried to let out his pent up breath as he realized it was not Johnny's car but knew all too well, that there may have been a collision with this vehicle. Roy inched his way to the edge to see that the truck had been caught in midair by the heavy branches of a tree just off the road. From his vantage point there didn't seem to be much damage. He decided to make his way closer to the tree. He pushed the image of Joanne's disapproving face from his mind.
Roy's shoes slipped on the gravel but he reached out and stopped his descent with the trunk of the tree. The door to the pick-up was slightly open.
"Hello? Can you hear me?" He could now smell the strong odor of gasoline and assumed the tank had been punctured. It was amazing that nothing had caught fire. He gingerly pushed the driver-side door open a bit more. A limp arm fell out of the door and hung lifelessly. Roy felt for a pulse. There was none. The arm was bone cold. This man had been dead quite a while, he surmised. Roy shone the light into the cabin of the truck and seeing there was no passenger, made his way back up to the road. A car came around the turn just then and swerved to avoid Roy's station wagon. The person blew their horn and continued on. Roy shook his head in disgust. He needed to flag down someone to call in this wreck but there were few cars on the road at this hour.
Once back on solid ground, Roy inched his way along the side of the road further to try to see what had originally caught his eye. Had he imagined it?
Light. There, down the canyon – he couldn't judge how far but it was very distinct now. There was a light shining below him.
Roy cupped his hands to his mouth. "Johnny? Hello? Is anybody down there? Johnny!"
Far below the road, Johnny stirred. "Roy?" he said before coming fully awake. He shook the thought from his head. He was dreaming. He then tensed, afraid the sound that woke him was an animal. He instinctively reached his arm over Aubrey's still form. And then…
"Johnny?" he heard it again; faintly. Was his head injury that bad that he was now hallucinating? He sat up wincing from the pain in his ribs and his shattered ankle.
"Hello?" he shouted back.
Up on the road, Roy had taken a breath to shout again but stopped. He listened again, his heart beating too loudly in his chest.
"Roy?" he heard faintly but distinctly. He resisted the urge to go bounding down the canyon cliff.
"Johnny! Are you okay?" he yelled while he looked up and down the winding canyon road praying with all his might that another car would pass by and this time stop. There was a much too long silence until…
"Roy, help us!"
Roy's heart constricted in his chest. Johnny was down there but how bad were they hurt?
"I'm getting help, Johnny! Hold on. Just hold on!" He said backing up across the road to the car. He did the calculations in his head of how long he would have to drive to find a phone and get help. He had decided that going back the way he came would be the better choice when he heard the distant sound of an engine coming down towards him. He stepped out of harm's way but hoped against hope they would either stop and help him or at least avoid smashing into his own car and stranding him out here.
The sports car whisked down the road, he could hear music blaring from stereo. He stepped back bracing himself against the railing and waited. As the car came around the hairpin turn, it swerved suddenly at the sight of the wagon's flashers and then screeched to a halt. Roy sent up a silent prayer of thanks as he ran toward the small orange car.
"Help me!" he shouted. The driver and passenger, looking over at the station wagon, whirled around at the sound of the voice behind them.
"Whoa, man, you scared the sh*t out of me." The driver said. The young girl in the passenger seat laughed manically into her hands.
"Please, help me. There is a car down the cliff. My friends are down there and they are hurt. Please, can you go back and get help?"
The young blond driver looked Roy up and down, "Yeah, man, sure. Did you break down, man?"
Roy was exasperated by this point. "No, I need you to call for help. Tell them there is a car over the cliff here," he pointed behind him down at the lights almost hidden in the trees."
"Ya wanna come with us?" the girl asked, just a bit too perky considering the circumstances.
"No, I'll stay here. Please, hurry!" Roy wasn't sure he could trust those two but knew he had no choice. He just couldn't face driving away and leaving Johnny down there.
"Okay, okay." The young driver said. He pulled ahead and made a quick three point turn and sped back up the road. In the moonlight Roy could make out the hands of the female passenger sticking up through the open sun roof.
Roy ran a hand through his hair and contemplated his next move. His heart told him to try to get to his partner but his head told him it was suicide and to stay where he was. He remembered the length of rope he kept in the back of the wagon and his heart won out. He only hoped that the two in the sports car would remember what they were supposed to do.
Roy pulled out the rope and tossed it down the cliff side. The rope wasn't as long as the ones he used at work and he had no way of knowing if it would even reach down far enough for him to get on steady ground but he couldn't just stand here and wait.
"Johnny!" he yelled, "I'm coming! Help is on the way!" He didn't wait for a reply. Hooking the handle of his flashlight through his belt, he began to make his way down the side of the steep drop.
Down below, Johnny closed his eyes tight, the tears stinging the back of his eyelids. "Hold on, baby, hold on just a little while longer." Johnny kissed Aubrey's cheek as a tear sprung from his closed eyes and splashed on her cheek. She stirred.
"Johnny?" she said weakly.
Johnny's eyes popped open at the sound of her voice. "I'm here." He whispered.
"Don't cry, Guitar Man." She said as she reached over to caress his face with her right hand.
Johnny let out a laugh followed by a sob. "Okay, baby. Just stay with me, please." He felt her nod in the darkness.
Just then he heard something up above him. "R-Roy?" he said afraid it might be an animal.
"Johnny?" he heard Roy yell out. Roy had been heading down towards the lights of the Land Rover and was surprised to hear Johnny close by to his left. He had left the rope behind but was thankful that it landed him on fairly solid and only slightly sloping ground.
"Keep talking, Johnny, so I can find you." He shouted.
"We're here, Roy, over here." Johnny could now see the light from Roy's flashlight and he remembered his own. He turned it on and flashed it quickly at Roy's approaching form.
"Johnny!" Roy let out a breath and ran the remaining distance despite the danger of falling. He reached the couple without incident.
"Roy, be careful. Don't jostle her. She has a branch imbedded in her back!" Roy's heart sunk at the sound of desperation in his friend's voice.
Roy got down on all fours and carefully made his way over to the couple. "What about you, Johnny?"
"Never mind me, help her, please." Johnny's voice cracked and he stifled a sob.
"Okay, Johnny, okay." Roy shone his flashlight up and down both Aubrey and Johnny. Aubrey was wrapped in what appeared to be a tablecloth so he could not see the extent of her injuries.
"She is bleeding internally, she has a large gash on her right leg but I think I got the bleeding to stop."
Roy ran the light along his partner as Johnny rambled off all the information he had on Aubrey. Roy saw the gash on Johnny's forehead and the makeshift brace on his twisted ankle. Johnny's voice was beginning to slur.
"Help's on its way, Johnny. Just take a breath. All we can do is wait at this point but I'll get you out of here. I'll get you both out of here soon, partner."
Johnny's head dropped back down onto the ground as he allowed his worries to be taken onto the shoulders of his best friend. Far off in the distance, he heard sirens as the world faded into black.
~ E ~
"Johnny? Can you hear me, Junior?" it was Roy's voice coming from far away. Johnny felt himself moving. He felt a stokes beneath him. His arms flailed up and out. "No!" he yelled out. "Aubrey! Take Aubrey!"
He felt Roy's hands grab his arms and push them back down to his chest. "We have her, Johnny, don't worry."
Johnny tried to clear his mind of the cobwebs that filled it. He heard another voice.
"Rampart, pulse is 120 and weak, bp is 75/40. She is pale and diaphoretic but does respond to pain stimuli."
Johnny tried to lift his head but was rewarded with his stomach lurching.
"Don't let him aspirate. Tip him on his side." He heard the voice say. In the distance he heard a helicopter approaching and then once again blackness enveloped him.
~ E ~
"John…" a new voice but a familiar one. "I need you to wake up now, John." The voice said sternly but still was comforting.
Johnny slowly opened his eyes. The lights were bright and he shut them quickly.
"Dixie can you turn down the lights a bit?"
'Dixie? Dixie was here?' Johnny thought hazily. He was warm and although pain nagged at him from his head and ankle, it wasn't that bad….
"Aubrey!" Johnny yelled out and then Roy was there with him, holding onto his arms again.
"Whoa, whoa, settle down partner." He heard Roy say but Johnny continued to fight reaching out to find his love, his Bree.
"She's hurt, Roy, she's hurt bad!"
Johnny felt soft female hands in his hair. "Sh, sh," Dixie whispered from somewhere close. "Johnny, Aubrey's okay. She's okay."
"Okay?" Johnny let Roy push his arms down to his sides.
He heard Brackett's familiar voice coming from his left. "She's out of surgery, Johnny. We stopped the bleeding. The branch lacerated her liver. She's got some recovering to do, but she's going to make it."
A tear slid from Johnny's eye and pooled near his ear. He felt Dixie wipe it away. Could it be true? His Bree was alive?
Roy felt Johnny relax and let go of his arms but rested one of his hands on his friend's shoulder, not wanting to lose the connection. "You saved her, Johnny." He said softly.
Johnny shook his head but instantly regretted it, the room began to spin. "You aren't lying to me, are ya?" he mumbled.
Roy took his hand as Dixie took the other.
"No, Johnny, we aren't lying to you," Dixie said, "We wouldn't do that." You kept her safe until Roy could find you. She looked across at Roy and shook her head in disbelief that Roy had climbed down that cliff in the darkness to rescue his friend. Roy blushed at Dixie's 'I can't believe you' expression and looked down at Johnny.
"I want you to sleep now, Johnny. I'll come back soon and see how are doing, okay?"
Johnny looked from Roy to Dixie and then over to Brackett hovering nearby.
"I need to see her."
All three friends tensed but it was Dixie who spoke first. "You will, Johnny, you will." She's not even awake yet so let yourself and Aubrey rest and then we will see about reuniting you two, okay?"
"Mmkay," came Johnny's mumbled reply as he fought to keep his eyes open.
Dixie smoothed the hair from his forehead and was thankful when Johnny closed his eyes and slept.
~ E ~
Johnny opened his eyes slowly. 'What time was it?' he thought. 'What day was it?' he looked around the familiar room. It was then he spotted Roy dozing in the chair to his left. He let out a sigh and his breath hitched in his throat as he remembered everything Roy had done for him. Cap was going to have his hide for climbing down that cliff in the dark alone.
He surveyed himself, taking in the ankle suspended above the bed. He remembered a similar contraption back when he was in that building that blew up before he could get out. Was it the same ankle too? Yes, he believed it was. Johnny then prodded his side and felt the brace under his hospital gown. Not too bad. His hand went to his head and he felt the large dressing on his forehead. He glanced up at the IV pole and squinted to see what he was being given. Johnny let out an exasperated sigh knowing that all this was going to make it pretty difficult to get out of the room and in to see Aubrey.
Roy stirred at the sound and opened his eyes, "Oh hey, you are awake." He smiled.
"I'm sorry I woke you up, Roy," Johnny said glumly.
"No, don't worry about it, Pal." Roy said getting up out of the chair and stretching. "I was just dozing. I went home and went to bed but couldn't really sleep…you know how it is."
Johnny smiled weakly and nodded. He had spent a few restless nights worrying about his partner but Roy had the market cornered on that as Johnny seemed to get into these situations a heck of a lot more. Johnny wondered why that was and scratched his head with his free hand.
"Roy, have you seen her?" he asked worried.
"Yes, they let me in to see her for a few minutes last night. She's pale and still sedated but really," he patted Johnny's shoulder, "she's going to be okay."
Johnny shook his head in disbelief. "I thought I lost her, Roy." Johnny's voice caught in his throat and he lowered his eyes. Roy took Johnny in an awkward hug.
"But you didn't, Junior. She's still here and so are you." Roy stood up and looked into his friend's eyes, his own glistening with tears. "I thought I had lost you, Johnny."
Johnny looked up at Roy and studied his face. "Roy, how did you find me? I remember it was just you there. Am I remembering correctly?" Johnny's mind raced trying to recall the details of that terrible night.
"I don't know how or why I did what I did, Johnny." Roy said humbly. "I was out of sorts all day and when Aubrey didn't call Joanne as she promised, I knew I just couldn't sit still any longer. I remembered what you had told me about driving down the canyon road and I just drove until I spotted you."
Johnny had been listening intently but looked up sharply as Roy said those words. He took a breath to steady his rolling stomach, "It was dark as pitch out there, Roy. How did you see me?"
"I saw light." Roy said softly. "Turned out it was the headlights on your car."
Johnny leaned his head back into the pillow and remembered now. "I turned them on. Just before I went to look for Aubrey, something made me turn my headlights on." He looked back at Roy with a look of astonishment on his face. Roy just nodded, his face reflecting the same astonishment.
Just then Dixie peaked in the door. Seeing the two men awake, she came in.
"How's Aubrey, Dixie." Johnny asked nervously.
"They took her off the sedation and she's already starting to come around." She smiled brightly.
Both Johnny and Roy let out a pent up breath.
Johnny looked down at the contraption on his ankle. "I need to get out of this thing! Get me a wheelchair."
Dixie stepped closer to Johnny, "Now look," she began but could already see Johnny starting to protest.
"Uh uh," she said holding up a hand and stopping him before he could start, "You aren't going anywhere – at this moment." She paused, letting it sink it to her stubborn patient's head. "If Aubrey continues to do well, she will be moved to a regular room soon." Johnny's eyebrows raised, glad to hear that his love was doing well.
"Once she is there, I promise I will see about wheeling you down to see her," she motioned towards his ankle, "contraption and all." She nodded once to punctuate her speech and Roy smiled.
Johnny laid his head back on the pillow. It was going to be hard to wait but he knew there was nothing else he could do. He nodded then added, "Thank you, Dix."
"You're welcome," she said coming over to plant a kiss on his cheek. She turned to leave but returned to stand on her tiptoes and plant a kiss on Roy's cheek too. She smiled warmly and left the room.
Johnny sighed and Roy put his hand back on his partner's shoulder. An attendant came in the room with a breakfast tray for Johnny.
"I'm going to make some calls, Johnny, and let everyone know how you and Aubrey are doing. Joanne has been beside herself and has been trying to find someone to watch the kids so she could come in to see you two."
Roy moved to the door but Johnny called his name and he stopped. He turned back to see Johnny begin to say something and held up his hand. "Hey, I owed you one," he said remembering how Johnny had saved his daughter just the other night.
He smiled widely and left the room as he heard Johnny call out, "One, just one?" he laughed and headed down the hall to find a phone.
~ E ~
Johnny was poking his lunch around the plate. Roy had gone home to give Joanne a chance to visit and he looked forward to seeing his 'big sister.' There was a knock at the door and Chet poked his head in.
"Hey, Chet." Johnny said, happy to see his friend and crewmate. Chet was then followed by Mike and Marco. "Hey, guys." Johnny smiled although his heart was still heavy from worrying about Aubrey. He pushed the food tray away.
"Johnny, it's so good to see you, man," Marco said.
"Me too, John." Mike said quietly. Johnny smiled warmly at the shy man.
"Yeah me three, Gage," Chet said wryly. "Leave it to you to fall off the road." Chet joked. But Johnny knew the humor only partially hid the relief he saw in Chet's face.
Johnny blushed and looked down at his hands. "Thanks for coming guys. Roy went home so Joanne could come in and see us." Johnny fidgeted. "At least she can see Aubrey," he whined and let his head sink back in the pillow.
"Yeah well, you can too – sort of." Chet said with a devilish twinkle in his eye.
"Whatya mean, Chet?" Johnny asked lifting his head up.
"Okay, Cap is coming soon so don't breath a word of this." Chet glared at Johnny as he reached into his shirt pocket.
"What are you talking about?" Johnny said with mocked anger. He was beginning to sound like his old self.
Chet handed Johnny the object from his pocket. It was a Polaroid picture…of Aubrey!
"What the…Chet how…guys…" Johnny stammered. He sat up straighter and studied the picture. Aubrey was propped up in a hospital bed and smiling sweetly at the camera.
"Aubrey," Johnny said, his voice catching. He looked at Chet then over at Marco and Mike. All three men were beaming.
"We knew you weren't going to be able to see her so the three of us snuck my brother's Polaroid into her room.
"Yeah," Marco added, "Chet got ready to take the picture and Mike and I stood in the hall and made enough noise to cover the sound. The two men laughed at their deception.
Johnny glanced at each man's face and down at the picture of his lady. "Oh man," he said, his voice cracking. "Thank you so much," he croaked out, fighting tears.
"Hey don't get all sappy on us, Gage." Chet said but placed his hand on the paramedic's shoulder. "You're welcome." Johnny wasn't sure but he thought he heard emotion in the linesman's voice.
The three men shuffled awkwardly until Johnny could tear his eyes from the photograph. "So, forget about me, what have you all been up to?" The friends chatted lightly for a few minutes until it was time for them to go. Johnny said his goodbyes and then propped Aubrey's picture up against his empty water cup and grinned.
Just then Joanne, opened the door and rushed in. "Jo!" Johnny said, happy to see her.
Joanne stopped short, not expecting such a jovial welcome after talking to Roy earlier. She steadied herself by holding on to the footboard. Johnny tried to reach for her.
"Hey Joanne, come here," Johnny said waving her towards him. "Are you okay? Slow down."
Joanne took in a deep breath and pulled herself together. She rushed to little brother's side. "Oh, Johnny! I've been so worried about you!" She said wrapping her arms around his shoulders. She started to cry.
"Oh come on, Jo. Don't cry," Johnny said not quite sure what to do. "I'm okay." He pushed her to a standing position. "Look at me." He grinned crookedly and Joanne cried even harder and buried her head in his chest again.
"Oh man," Johnny said quietly, not quite sure what to do with the woman. Dixie came into the room and saw Johnny's predicament.
"Oh Joanne, you are getting Johnny's johnny all wet." She pulled Joanne into her own arms and pushed her head down onto her shoulder, stroking her hair. She motioned to Johnny to pour a cup of water. He fumbled with the water pitcher and handed the cup to Dixie after she had Joanne settled in the chair.
Joanne took a sip, glanced at Johnny again and sniffled. Dixie handed the woman a tissue from Johnny's tray and she blew her nose.
After a moment she was able to eke out a thank you and took a deep breath. "I didn't know what to expect, I was so worried…" she took in two quick breaths and Johnny was afraid she was going to have another meltdown. He spotted the picture of Aubrey and turned it toward Joanne.
"Look, Jo. Look what the guys brought me." He spotted Dixie's disapproval at the photo and shot her a 'just be quiet' look followed by his best puppy dog face. Dixie grinned back at him. He knew she was a sucker for that look and he smiled back.
"Oh my gosh, she looks good, Johnny." Joanne said taking the picture from him. She put the photo against her chest for a moment and looked back at Johnny. "You two really are okay?"
"They sure are," Dixie said as she headed for the door. "So, no more tears, okay?"
Joanne nodded as she rose from the chair and put the photo back in its spot against the water cup. She took Johnny's hand and smiled at him. "Sorry about that."
"Nah, don't apologize, Jo. Makes me feel good that you care so much." He cheeks turned bright red. "Can I ask you a favor, Joanne?"
"Will you go see Aubrey now and then come back to see me? They haven't let me see her yet and…"
"Of course I will do that." Joanne said patting his hand. She breezed out the door saying, "I'll be back in a little bit."
Captain Stanley and his wife came in the door not long after Joanne left. The three chatted for a while before Hank broached the subject that weighed on his mind.
"John, I'm sorry you had to go through all that. I just can't believe Roy climbed down there in the dark." He ran his hand through his dark hair.
"I can't either, Cap." Johnny said. "He's not going to be reprimanded, is he?" he asked, worry creasing his brow.
Hank blew out a breath. He was off duty but he still represents the department…but after talking to him, I don't think he could have helped himself. Johnny nodded his agreement.
"Hank, let it go, please?" Emily asked holding her husband's forearm. "Johnny and Roy are special friends and this was extenuating circumstances."
"Extenuating circumstances?" Hank laughed, "Now you sound like me."
Johnny gave Emily a 'thank you' look and hoped this would be the end of the matter. After a few more minutes, they said their goodbyes and exited the room.
Johnny heard Joanne greeting the Stanley's in the hall and sat up straighter, eager to hear about Aubrey.
Joanne popped through the door a moment later with a big smile on her face.
"Well?" Johnny asked with trepidation.
Joanne leaned over and placed a kiss on Johnny's cheek. "That's from Aubrey," she said laughing.
Johnny put his hand on his cheek and closed his eyes. "She's really okay?"
"She's wonderful and anxious to get out of here already!" Joanne continued to laugh. "Johnny, I think she just may be a worse patient than you."
Johnny's eyes widened at the thought. "Really?" he laughed the first real laugh since this ordeal began. "Really?" he said again, holding his ribs as he laughed.
~ E ~
The next morning, Johnny relaxed in his bed reading a book that Joanne had left for him. The guys were back on shift so he didn't expect much company except for maybe Joanne while the kids were at school and Roy when he came in with a rescue. Dixie poked her head through the door.
"Johnny, I have a visitor for you." She said, slipping in and shutting the door behind her quickly.
"You do? Who?" Johnny asked, not sure who would be coming by this early in the day.
Dixie swung the door open to reveal Aubrey sitting in a wheel chair.
"Aubrey!" Johnny shouted wincing at the pain in his ribs.
"Johnny!" Aubrey squealed.
Dr. Brackett pushed Aubrey into the room slowly. Dixie laughed as the couple reached out into the air, not able to contain themselves until their hands touched.
"Easy now," Brackett scolded his charge. "I told you not to move much. And watch that wrist." Aubrey pulled her hands back a bit but finally was able to grasp onto Johnny's outstretched hands.
"What are you doing here?" Johnny said stunned. Dixie came around to the other side of his bed smiling. "I told you I would let you see her but since she was doing so remarkably well and you were in traction, we decided to bring her to you."
Tears streamed down Aubrey's face as she rubbed Johnny's arm with her uncast hand and kissed his hands. She wanted to leap out of the chair and climb into the bed with him but Dr. Brackett had been very stern in his warning that she was to remain in the chair and not jostle too much or he would return her to her room immediately.
"I can't believe you are already out of bed." Johnny said and Aubrey nodded.
"I can't believe how fast this woman heals, Johnny. And if I hadn't agreed to let her see you, she would have gotten down here on her own speed. I didn't think it was possible to have a worse patient than you, John. This one does not listen well." He said glaring down at Aubrey who flushed and then smiled sweetly back at the doctor. Brackett's anger quickly dissipated and he simply shook his head.
"Are you okay, sweetie?" Aubrey said looking Johnny over from head to foot.
"Me? I'm fine, Bree, but you…." Johnny stopped, unable to say anything more as the emotions of the other day overtook him.
"Hush, Mr. Knight in Shining Armor," she said adoringly.
"Okay, you two. Times up." Brackett grabbed onto the handles of the wheel chair.
"Nooo," the couple said in unison.
"Hey, she'll be back again soon," Dixie said seeing the heartbroken expression in Johnny's eyes.
"Oh, Johnny," Aubrey said quickly as Brackett opened the door to leave.
"My parents will be here later today. They can't wait to meet you." She waved as the door shut.
Dixie looked back at Johnny to see his smile waning. He audibly gulped and looked over at Dixie. "Parents?" he said weakly.
"Parents." Dixie said, smiling at him. She walked out the door and left him to his thoughts.
~ E ~
It was lunchtime before Roy had a run and a chance to check in on his partner. He found Johnny sitting up watching a soap opera, his left hand propped behind his head.
"Hey, Roy," Johnny said, shutting off the television with the remote. "How are ya?"
"Oh I'm okay, but how are you?"
"I'm fine, just fine, thanks. Aubrey was here to visit me this morning!" he said happily.
"Aubrey...here?" Roy said, confused. "She's out of bed already?"
"Yeah, isn't it amazing? Brackett said she heals fast." He grinned. "And both he and Joanne said she is a worse patient than me? Worse than me, Roy!"
Roy laughed, happy to see Johnny's spirits finally lifted. He took a deep breath, letting himself believe that everything was going to be alright.
"Hey, Joanne came by a while ago. I was glad to see she had calmed down for this visit." Johnny said, whistling silently as he remembered Joanne's earlier tearful visit.
"Yeah, she told me she pretty much fell apart when she saw you."
"What the heck was that all about, Roy?"
"Well she loves you, Johnny. And don't forget she also had Aubrey to worry about. Having her in your life gives her extra things to worry about," Roy said rolling his eyes at the thought. "And extra things to love."
Johnny smiled. "I like that – the love part anyway." They laughed. "Oh and speaking of family, Aubrey told me that her parents are coming here today." Johnny shook his head as he stared off at a spot on the wall.
"Well of course they are coming, Johnny."
"Yeah but…I – I'm not prepared for this."
"They don't blame you, Johnny. They know that the man in the pickup truck had suffered a heart attack."
"No, that's not what I mean, Roy." Johnny said scrunching up his face. "It's her parents, ya know?"
"Ah," Roy said realizing what Johnny meant. "And you are the perspective mate."
Johnny showed his disgust at the statement. "Aw, cut it out would ya?"
Roy patted Johnny's shoulder. "Hey, don't worry about it. It's not like you have asked her hand in marriage." Roy saw the strange expression on his friends face and gave Johnny's shoulder a shake.
"Yet." Johnny smirked.
Roy pulled the chair from the corner and sat down for this. "You mean...you are going to ask her to marry you?"
Johnny blushed red and looked down at his hands and then back at Roy. "If she'll have me." He said quietly.
Roy beamed and jumped out of the chair. He slapped his friend on the shoulder. "Johnny, I'm so happy for you."
With his best 'aw shucks' grin Johnny said, "Thanks, Roy. It's been on my mind but since the accident…"
"You don't want to miss a minute with her, right?"
The two men were lost in their own thoughts when suddenly Roy remembered that he was on duty. "Oh man, Johnny, I have to go. I'm sorry."
"Hey, that's okay. Tell Dwyer I said hi." Roy agreed he would and quickly left the room.
Johnny's stomach flip flopped as he thought about meeting Aubrey's parents later today. He turned the TV back on and settled back to watch the soap operas that always entertained him while he was in the hospital.
~ E ~
Johnny flipped absently through a magazine as he waited for Aubrey to arrive with her parents. He wasn't even seeing the pages and butterflies danced in his stomach. Finally there was a knock on his door.
"Come in," he said dropping the magazine on the tray beside his bed.
The door opened and an attractive older woman walked in and held the door as a man came in pushing Aubrey in a wheelchair.
"Hello." Johnny said simply, nodding in the direction of the couple then smiling brightly at Aubrey. She was beaming at him and looked so beautiful, her color almost back to normal and her freshly washed hair shining as it spilled over her shoulders. Johnny noticed she had even put on a little pink lipstick.
"Hi, babe," he said reaching out for her hand but couldn't quite reach. Aubrey's father quickly wheeled her closer and they grasped each other's hands.
"Johnny, I'd like you to meet my parents Dave and Irene Sherman she glanced behind her. Mom, Daddy, this is John Gage."
Johnny let go of Aubrey's hand and reached his right hand out. Mr. and Mrs. Sherman, it's so nice to meet you. Mr. Sherman took Johnny's outstretched hand and shook it warmly.
"I'm very happy to meet the man that saved my little girl," he said stepping back behind the wheelchair and putting his hands on Aubrey's shoulders. He gave them a squeeze.
Johnny then reached over to Mrs. Sherman who had been standing back with her hands clasped in front of her. She placed her fingers in his hand with the palm down and Johnny suddenly felt that he should kiss the back of her hand but dismissed the thought, especially since he certainly couldn't reach from the bed.
"Hello," the woman replied simply as her eyes scanned him and she studied the cast on his leg and the traction restraints.
Johnny suddenly felt very exposed and pulled the covers higher to cover his pajama shirt.
"How you doing there, Johnny," Mr. Sherman asked.
"Oh I'm doing pretty well, thank you very much, Mr. Sherman."
"Oh call me Dave, Son. We had a call from your Captain…Hank Stanley, and he told us all about the accident and what you and your partner did," the big man's voice hitched slightly and he laughed to cover it. "I'm just so happy to have my little girl safe and sound." Aubrey reached up put her right hand over his and leaned her head to the side as his kissed her cheek.
Johnny grinned, already liking Aubrey's father. He had a big voice to match his obvious big personality.
"Yes, thank you, Mr. Gage." Mrs. Sherman added lightly.
"Oh call me Johnny, everyone does, Mrs. Sherman." The woman nodded but Johnny noticed that she hadn't told him to call her by her first name.
Mr. Sherman continued, "The staff here seems to be tip top. I met…." He paused trying to remember the name.
"Dixie." Aubrey reminded him.
"Yes, Dixie! She was visiting Aubrey when we first arrived. What a smart woman. She doesn't even work on Aubrey's floor and she came to check on her, can you believe that?"
Johnny smiled down at Aubrey but out of the corner of his eye was sure he saw Mrs. Sherman roll her eyes behind her husband.
"Well they are the best in the County, Dave." Johnny boasted. "How was your trip? I'm so sorry you had to travel back from vacation so early."
"Well, it had gotten dull on the cruise, don't you think, Dave?"
"Heck, speak for yourself, Irene; I was having a blast." He chuckled. "But I couldn't get off the ship fast enough when I heard…" he let his words trail off not wanting his emotions get the better of him. He then looked up at the clock on the wall. "Oh come on now, Aubrey, the doctor didn't want you out of your bed for more than 30 minutes and it has almost been that long."
"Oh, Daddy, can't we stay a few more minutes with Johnny?"
"Nonsense, Doll Face, you need your rest." Just as he turned Aubrey away Johnny was able to mouth 'doll face?' to her and she blushed.
Johnny heard a "Tsk" next to him. "Honestly, Dave, you don't have to follow the rules so rigidly," Mrs. Sherman drawled.
Mr. Sherman had maneuvered the wheelchair out the door. "Come on, Irene!" he bellowed a bit too loudly for a hospital corridor. "Johnny, we'll stop by before we leave tonight."
Mrs. Sherman gave Johnny another glance up and down, waved demurely and was gone.
Johnny let out a breath and put his hand behind his head. He stared up at the ceiling and thought about the visit.
About forty-five minutes passed before he heard another knock on his door. The Shermans entered and Johnny greeted them warmly.
"Aw, you didn't have to come back, Dave…Mrs. Sherman. But I appreciate it." He grinned his most winningest Gage smile but still didn't see any warmth in the older woman's expression.
"Well, we won't stay long," she said, "You also need your beauty sleep." She snickered softly at her own joke. Johnny forced a smile although he felt that he had somehow been insulted.
"Well, I'm glad you did stop back, though. I'd…I'd like to ask you something."
Mr. Sherman bumped his wife's arm with his elbow and grinned while Mrs. Sherman's face paled.
Johnny chose to ignore Aubrey's mother and instead focused on her father.
"I just want to tell you that I love your daughter very much."
Mr. Sherman's grin only widened while Mrs. Sherman closed her eyes.
"Go on, Johnny," Mr. Sherman encouraged.
"Well, it's just that…after what happened…I know now that I care for her deeply and, if you would agree, I'd like to ask her to be my wife." Johnny's heart was now pounding in his chest.
Mrs. Sherman made a movement that Johnny could only describe as 'clutching her pearls' despite the fact that she wore none. Instead she grabbed onto the expensive looking gold sailboat pendant hanging from her neck. Mr. Sherman's smile faded as he came closer to the side of Johnny's bed.
"Now listen to me," Johnny gulped at the sudden change in the older man's demeanor. "That little girl is the most important thing in my life." He ignored the quiet 'hmph' that came from his wife and continued, "I expect you to take care of her and never let anything happen to her, do you understand me?"
Johnny nodded for a moment not quite able to get any words to come out of his mouth. He finally managed a quiet but firm, "Yes, sir."
Suddenly the big grin was back on Mr. Sherman's face and he slapped Johnny on the shoulder. "Oo, sorry, I didn't hurt you did I?" he asked.
Johnny shook his head and laughed slightly. "No, sir."
"I like you, Johnny. Welcome to the family!" and with that he reached for Johnny's hand and shook it so hard Johnny's teeth chattered.
After a few minutes, the couple said their goodbyes. Mr. Sherman took Mrs. Sherman's elbow as he held the door for her.
Johnny dropped his head back on the pillows and let out a sigh of relief.
~ E ~
The rest of Roy's shift was too busy to check back on Johnny and he wondered how the visit with Aubrey's parents had gone. He finished changing into his street clothes and headed out to the parking lot behind the station. He had called Joanne to tell her that he would be stopping at the hospital before heading home and she had said she would not have expect anything else.
Roy coughed having breathed in a bit too much smoke on that last run.
"Bye, Cap, see you in a few days." He called out behind him.
"Bye, Roy. Maybe I'll see you at the hospital at some point. Tell John I'll be by to see him soon. I just need to get some sleep first. That fire last night was pretty rough." Roy nodded in agreement.
A few minutes later he was at Rampart and decided to stop and see Aubrey first. He knocked softly on the door and waited for her to answer before entering.
"Hi, Roy." She said sweetly, reaching out to take his hand. Roy kissed her on the cheek.
"Hi, Aubrey. You look great, how are you feeling?"
Aubrey smoothed the sheets on her lap. "I feel wonderful now. I just had my first shower. Boy, I can really appreciate being fully clean after that." She laughed.
"Oh I know exactly what you mean. And those sponge baths…" he trailed off suddenly embarrassed at the topic.
Aubrey giggled and patted his hand. "Oh tell me about it; some of these nurses are down right rough." Roy laughed along with her now, relaxing a bit.
"And how is Johnny this morning?"
"I haven't seen him yet. I stopped by here first."
"Aw, that's so sweet of you."
"I heard your parents finally arrived?"
"Yes, they did. I was so happy to see them but felt bad that they cut their vacation trip short because of me." She pouted.
"You know they wouldn't have it any other way," Roy winked and Aubrey nodded.
"Well, you take care. I'm going to see Johnny now."
"I always send a kiss along to him when Dixie or Joanne is going to see him but I don't think that will work with you, will it?" Aubrey giggled as Roy's face flushed red again.
"No and I'd appreciate you not asking me to do that." Roy chuckled shyly and waved at Aubrey as he exited the room.
After a quick elevator ride, he walked into Johnny's room to find him struggling to lean forward.
"What are you doing, Johnny? Sit back." Roy coughed as he tried to push Johnny back.
"Hi Roy. Man, my ankle is really itching under there. Can you find a pen or a butter knife or something…"
"No, I'm not going to do that," Roy cut him off with a cough and Johnny flopped back on the pillows dejectedly.
"What's with that cough?" Johnny asked one eyebrow rising.
"Oh, it's nothing. We were at a fire last night. So how did the visit with the parents go?" Roy asked excitedly.
Johnny paused considering what his friend had said and looking him over with a trained eye. "It was good. Aubrey came in with them and we had a nice visit. Her father is great, although a bit scary at the same time."
"What about her mother?"
"I don't know, she is pleasant enough but she's a bit…snooty? Ya know what I mean?"
Roy was amazed at how calm his friend seemed. "And?"
"And I told them how much I loved their daughter," Johnny grinned.
"And?" Roy prodded.
"And I asked them if it would be okay if I asked her to marry me." Johnny beamed as Roy let out a whoop then covered his mouth realizing where he was. He erupted in a coughing fit and Johnny handed him a cup of water.
After swallowing the water and waving away Johnny's concerned look he said, "Johnny, that's fantastic. When will you ask her?"
"Well I sure as heck have to get out of here first, right?" Roy nodded, "I'm in no rush. I want to make it special."
"Oh I wish I could be here when you tell Joanne." Roy said laughing.
"I think I had better wait until you two are together to tell her. I don't think I'll be able to catch her when she faints!" Roy slapped Johnny on the shoulder, happy he would be there to see Joanne's reaction but also not sure if he could keep this secret until then.
"Maybe you shouldn't tell her, though." Roy suddenly seemed deep in thought.
"Hmm," Johnny said, "Those two are awfully close. I think you are right."
The men nodded in silent agreement that for now this news was just between the two of them.
"Now about that cough…"
~ E ~
"Aw, that's just not fair!" Johnny complained when Aubrey arrived in his room and announced she would be going home the next day. "How can you be going home and I'm still stuck here?" he smacked at his left leg still suspended above the bed.
"I know, sweetie, I know." She put her index finger across his lips to shush him, "Look at this way," she said running her fingers through his soft brown waves, "I can spend a few days recuperating at the DeSoto's and be back home at my place by the time you get there. Poor Jo certainly can't take care of the both of us now, can she? That wouldn't fair."
Johnny nodded and then looked contrite. "I'm sorry, Bree. I'm happy you are doing so well and getting out of here so soon. I just wish I could go with you."
"I know you do. Although everyone has been simply wonderful, I now understand why you dislike being here so much." She wrinkled her nose and Johnny reached up and put his hand behind her neck. He drew her to him and kissed her on the tip of her nose. Aubrey giggled.
"I promise to visit you every day that I can. I won't be driving for a while, she said, wrinkling her nose again but my boss has told me to take all the time off I need." She smiled.
Johnny tipped his head to the side and studied the woman he loved.
"What are you thinking, G-Man?" she asked, abbreviating the now familiar Guitar Man nickname.
Johnny grinned at her. "Just thinking how much I love you and how thankful I am to have you with me still."
Aubrey's face turned serious and she looked away making Johnny's heart jump into his throat.
"Hey what is it, Bree?"
Aubrey turned back to Johnny and he saw tears glistening in her eyes. Johnny's stomach now tried to join his heart up in his throat. He felt something was wrong and he was afraid of what she was going to say.
"I…I can't…" she began but her voice caught in her throat.
"Aubrey…what are you trying to say?" Johnny's voice was hoarse with emotion. He realized his left hand was griping the railing so hard his knuckles were white.
"I can't believe you had to go through that. I know we haven't talked about it much but Roy told me most of what happened."
Johnny searched her face, still not sure what she was trying to say.
"I'd do anything for you, don't you know that?" he looked away, embarrassed.
"I do know, Johnny. I feel the same way." She put her hand under his chin and turned his head to face her again. "And when my love for life is running dry, you come and bore yourself on me…"
Johnny began to smile slowly. "Tomorrow and today?"
"Beside you all the way, Guitar Man."
Johnny reached for her as his heart and stomach settled back into place. He thought he would burst with love. He pulled her on top of him and kissed her deeply. When they separated, they were both crying. Johnny was at a loss what to say now. No words could convey his love for the woman in his arms.
The door opened and the attendant came in with Johnny's food tray. The couple quickly wiped their eyes and Aubrey slid off the bed. If the young woman noticed, she made no indication. "Enjoy your dinner," she said brightly and closed the door behind her.
Aubrey and Johnny started to laugh.