BY JOHN GAGE

by ardavenport

- - - Part 3


John came in with Mrs. Teesdale, but even though he was early, he did not try to engage any of the girls in conversation. He just handed in his essay and went to his seat, carefully leaning his crutches by the empty desk behind him.

It seemed like he had exhausted his dating possibilities. None of the women looked hostile, but they made no effort to be friendly to him either. Maybe the ones he had dated had warned the others off, or maybe they just didn't want to go on a double date with him and Mrs. Teesdale since John had lost his ride when Chuck went off on his movie job. Now, he was sitting in the middle of class, surrounded by mostly attractive young women.

Maddie got up and handed back the last assignment.

Liz and Tina had definitely improved, learning how to write from one point-of-view instead of five, making it impossible to figure out who was doing what. Nadine was taking only three paragraphs to describe her protagonist and her history instead of five; it still completely stopped all the action in the story, but it wasn't as bad as it was in her first story assignment. Julie still needed to find less clumsy variations on 'said'. At the end of the last class Debbie had worked up the courage to ask for an autograph. Maddie had happily signed the paperback, but she wished Debbie's admiration could translate into more writing talent. Her essay had quite a few red marks, but that did not dim her cheerfulness as she took the corrected pages from Maddie.

Next to her, John noticed the smile and perked up a little.

"Hey, you did okay?"

"Yeah." Debbie politely lowered her green eyes and then looked away. To Maddie, John was like a cat stuck at the bottom of a tall canary cage, a chirping flock fluttering overhead, completely unattainable. She handed him his papers, a story about a raging fire in a warehouse.

"Thank-you, John." She smiled at him and his one-sided grin, dimmed by Debbie's coolness, returned. She finished handing back the homework and went to the front of the class again.

"Now we concentrated on action last time. Let's talk about how you're going to use it. . . ."


*** OOO *** OOO *** OOO ***


Fred Norris has not been married. He did not even have a girl friend. But he was an only child and his mother was a widow. She stood with a couple of other relations at the service, occasionally dabbing at her eyes under her black veil.

In dress uniform, John sat next to Roy with the other firefighters. Roy's wife, Joanne decided not to come; she did not know Fred at all, so John had come with his partner. There were a lot of other firemen and paramedics. Some reporters attended, to write about the man who had died in the line of duty. Fred had also been a veteran, so there were military honors, too.

When the service was over, Roy went to talk to the guys from Fred's station for a moment while John stayed in his seat. His cast was itching. Doctor Early was supposed to take it off the next day. Roy came back with the captain from Fred's station and John hastily reached for his crutches.

The older man waved him down. "No, stay where you are, son. I just wanted to say that I appreciate you coming, with your leg and all."

"Oh, it's not bad, Sir. It's almost healed up - - "

The Captain cut him off. "I know, I know. And I can see you're raring to get back in the saddle." He shook his head. "Fred was like that, too. I just . . . ." He paused, his lined face briefly stricken before he let the thought drop. "I just wanted to thank-you for coming." He patted Roy on the arm. "Both of you."

Roy and John watched him move on to a group of paramedics clustered together nearby.

"You ready to go?"

John looked up at his partner. "Yeah. I guess." Funerals were a lousy place to hang out.

They went to Roy's car, an old two-seat foreign convertible. Roy opened the door for John and put the crutches in the back before getting in himself.

"So what time to you need me to take you to the hospital to get that cast off?" Roy headed the little sports car out of the parking lot.

"Eight if you can."

Roy nodded. "Okay. Do you have any more physical therapy?"

"Just enough to get my leg back into shape so I can pass the department's physical."

"But Early's going to pass you, right?" Roy's tone rose with a little worry .

"Oh, yeah. He said I've healed up fine."

Roy drove down the street. Above, the sky was the usual brilliant, cloudless and slightly smoggy blue.

"Hey don't you have that class tonight?"

"Yeah."

"Well, don't you have to type up your assignment? Do you want to swing by the station?"

"Oh, I finished that last night."

"Really?" Roy looked from the street to John and back again in surprise. "You're not waiting until the last minute to finish it like you usually do?"

"I don't wait until the last minute."

"Yeah, I guess you leave an hour or two to spare. So, what was the assignment this time?"

"Well, it's the last assignment. She just asked us to write another essay about ourselves. So we could compare it to what we did for the first class. So, we can see how we improved."

"Oh. So, did you improved?"

One side of his mouth curled upward. "Yeah. I think so. I learned a lot."

"Oh. That's good."

Roy drove down the road, stopping a couple of times at lights.

"So, did you get any dates?

John's expression turned sour.

"No. At least, not any good one." He slouched in his seat. "Unless you want to count Mrs. Teesdale."

Roy grinned. But it was a good and sympathetic kind of grin and Johnny joined him.


*** OOO *** OOO *** OOO ***


A couple of months ago, I was hit by a car. It was a hit-and-run accident. At two in the morning the station got a call for a lady at a bar. She was fine. She was just spaced out. So, we go back to the squad and I heard a car rev it's enginge engine. It did not have it's lights on, but I could see it coming right at me under the street light. It was weird, because you see cars all the time, but this one was coming right at me and I did not have time to be really scarred scared. I had just enough time to think that I should get out of the way before it hit me. It was like getting one side of my body smashed. It was so quick, but I could feel things breaking inside. And everything just flipped and spun all around me.

Then I was on the ground and the guys were all around, looking down at me and I did not want to be there so much. But I couldn't get up. I did not hit my head; I had my helmet on. It could have been a whole lot worse if I hadn't. A whole lot worse. My partner, Roy, is there and he takes my vitals and puts me on a backboard with the other guys. I have been hurt on the job before. But this was way worse than any of the others. I hurt so bad, I don't even know if I hurt my back. I didn't. Roy is upset, really upset. That is bad, because nothing gets Roy upset. He is doing everything right, but I can tell. And the longer I lie there, the more pain I feel. I know my leg is broken really bad. The only way I know that there isn't any bone breaking the skin is because Roy doesn't have to apply a pressure bandage, just the split. I'm not losing blood. At least, not on the outside. I am sure something is wrong on the inside. I've seen victims of accidents like this and if there's internal bleeding it can go bad really fast. I had a friend who was a cop and he got hit by a car and died at the hospital. Roy and I were on that run. We knew it was bad and I was lying there after getting hit by that car and thinking it must have been like this for him. I could taste blood and that's bad.

Roy takes me to Rampart General Hospital in the ambulance and all the way there I am thinking how I really, really do not want to be there. I am thinking about what I have to do to get out of this, but that's crazy. It's crazy, but I still wanted to not be there really, really bad.

We get to Rampart and the doctors are people I see all the time when I'm working and I can see they thinks it's bad. And my belly starts hurting worse and worse and I know what that means. Roy is still there and I can see that he really, really doesn't want me to be there just as much as me. I want the doc to give me something for the pain really bad. And I really don't want to die on Roy, too.

They take my spleen out in surgery. You can live without a spleen. But it hurts a whole lot the first day or so after that. And then I'm stuck in the hospital for a couple weeks, because of the spleen and I need physical therapy for my leg. Hospital food is really bad. Everything is soggy and soft and you have to eat what they give you, and the jello always has a thick skin on it. Roy smuggled in some cheeseburgers a couple of times. And he and Marco Lopez from the station got hurt in a fire and ended up in Rampart with me for a couple days. But it wasn't bad for them, not really. Except for the nurse we had. She was a drill sargent sergeant. A man shouldn't have to take what she did to us.

The doctor says my leg will heal clean and I can go back to work, but I have to pass a physical with the department before that. I'm sure I'll pass, but I'll be glad when it's over. I still really, really wish that it all didn't happen. I think that if I had time to see that car coming at me, and know it was going to hit me, then why didn't I have enough time to get out of the way? But I didn't and there's no point in crying about it. Not that I ever cried about it. No way. But I still feel that way and there's no point in saying that I don't either.

They say you're supposed to look on the bright side of things. But I really can't think of anything good coming out of getting hit by a car ecepth except maybe one thing.

If one of us had to get hit, I'm glad it was me and not Roy.

Maddie finished the essay, her red pencil at the ready, but she really could not think of anything that needed to be marked. John still was not a good writer ( he used too many 'really's ), but he was a better one. She wrote a note that his focus and structure were much better and then scrawled a star in the upper right corner.

She put it with his first essay of the class. It was the only assignment that she had the students hand back after she read them. She did not want them looking at them when they wrote their personal narratives again.

Taking the class list, she marked 'pass' on the twenty-two who had made it through the whole eight weeks. Sandra and Helen had dropped out after five weeks. Sandra had whined about how unfair it was that it was too late for her to get a refund.

Maddie picked up John Gage's essays again. She had seen the news story about the fireman who got killed falling off a burning building and wondered if John knew him. But she couldn't ask. It seemed a shame to her that he had not met anyone special in the class. He did the all the class work. And, with a bit more enthusiasm than some of the girls. He at least had a decent character.

If he was fifteen years older, Maddie might have considered going out on a date with him herself. Even if all a firefighter-paramedic could afford was hot dogs.


*** OOO *** OOO *** OOO ***


Roy looked up from the lawnmower in his front yard, the air around him scented with dry, cut grass with a hint of gasoline. Johnny's white rover had just stopped in front. Roy shut the mover off as his partner practically bounded up out of the car.

"You passed?

Hands raised in victory, Johnny demonstrated his fitness with a little fancy footwork. "I passed! Fit and ready for duty. Be on the next shift with you." He slapped Roy's arm. "Partner."

"Well, that's great!"

"Oh wait." Johnny dug up a folded paper from a back pocket of his jeans. "Look, I passed the creative writing class, too."

Roy squinted at the typed page. "Wasn't it pass/fail anyway?"

"Well, yeah, but it's still a pass." Johnny looked disappointed that Roy wasn't more impressed.

"Roy?" Joanne, a slim woman with auburn hair and eyes as green as her husband's were blue, came out the front door. "Hi, Johnny!" She joined her husband.

"Oh, hey, Joanne."

"Johnny just came by to say he passed his physical."

"That's wonderful. Maybe we should celebrate. I could make something special for dinner."

Johnny suddenly looked worried. "Oh, that's great, Joanne, but I've got a date tonight."

"A date?" Roy raised his eyebrows.

"Yeah. There's this new girl at headquarters." He grinned. "Eleanor. I'm taking her to a movie. But - -" he waved his hands in inspiration, " - - we can celebrate later."

"Yes, Johnny." Joanne nodded her permission to her husband's quirky partner and put her arm around Roy.

"Great! I'll see you tomorrow at the station." He bounded off to his car, started the engine and was gone.

"Why don't I cook something special for us tonight anyway?" Joanne had spent a few long nights with him after the hit-and-run that came too close to killing Johnny. They had known each other since grade school, married and had children years before Roy had become a paramedic when the program was just getting started. Johnny seemed to come with the package, they worked so well saving lives together. She did not want to know what her husband would suffer if Johnny's life was one he could not save.

She kissed him, a quick, affectionate peck and went back to the house to defrost a roast. Roy started up the mower again.


*** OOO *** OOO *** OOO ***


Maddie sat down at her typewriter and put in a fresh, blank white paper in it, her notebook on one side, some completed typed pages on the other. Her cat meowed for attention and hopped up on the desk. She picked the cat up and put her back down on the floor.

"Not now, Georgette. Mommy's got to pay the rent." Eyes on the handwritten pages she started typing.

Her home was a total loss. Everything gone. Hungry yellow flames filled the black skeleton of the frame; the tall streams of water from the fire hoses were only meant to keep it from spreading. There was no hope of saving it. Her books, her research, her record collection, her toothbrush. Sitting on the running board of the fire engine in her torn and dirty nightie, a blanket over her shoulders, tears ran down her sooty cheeks.

"Ma'am?" The fireman who had carried her out had divested himself of mask, helmet and air tank, changing from the black menace emerging from the flames to a man not much older than she, mid-twenties, with thick dark hair and dark chocolate brown eyes.

"Ma'am, are you hurt? My name is Jimmy Sage and I'm a paramedic . . . "


*** OOO *** END *** OOO ***


Disclaimer: All characters belong to Mark VII Productions, Inc., Universal Studios and whoever else owns the 1970's TV show Emergency!; I am just playing in their sandbox.