Head Over Heels

A beautiful Saturday in mid-May, Roy had bribed Johnny into helping him with yet another project. This time it was helping to refurbish the back deck, and the reward was one of Joanne's fabulous home cooked meals. Just after noon time, the two of them were taking a well-deserved break after working since eight that morning.

While they were sitting on a small bench off to the side of the deck, enjoying some cold water, Roy smiled and let out a small chuckle. Johnny looked at him curiously. "What's so funny, Roy?"

Roy shook his head. "You are, partner. You are so easy. All I have to do is tell you that Joanne's cooking and I have you wrapped around my finger. You'll help me with anything."

Johnny smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "What can I say? I'm a sucker for your wife's cooking. Too bad, I can't come up with something to wrap Chet around MY finger."

Meanwhile, Chris was in his room working on an end of the school year project…Joanne was in the kitchen making sandwiches for everyone…and eight year old Jennifer was busy wearing a path in the living room carpet.

"Jenny, what are you doing?" asked an exasperated Joanne.

"I'm pacing, mom."

"I can see that. May I ask why? Is something bothering you?"

"Kind of." Jenny stood looking at her mother, biting her lip.

"Can you tell me? Maybe I can help you."

Jenny looked thoughtfully at her mother. "I don't want to hurt daddy's feelings."

"Jenny, you would never hurt daddy's feelings. I know you love your daddy very much." Jennifer looked like she was about to cry. "Did something happen, sweetie?"

With tears threatening to start coming down her cheeks, she let her mother in on what was bothering her. "Miss Valentine said that we can each bring in a special guest to school. We're all going to take turns."

Joanne was confused. She looked at her daughter questioningly. "What's the problem? That sounds like fun."

"I want to ask Uncle Johnny to come to school with me. But, I'm afraid daddy will be upset with me that I didn't ask him."

Joanne understood Jennifer's predicament. "Daddy was Chris's special guest when he was in third grade. I don't think he'd mind if you asked Uncle Johnny."

"Really?" Jenny looked at her mother with hopeful eyes. After a minute, Jenny's near tears turned to all smiles. "I'm going to ask him now."

Joanne smiled at her daughter. She certainly loved her Uncle Johnny. Jenny ran outside to where her dad and Johnny were working. "Uncle Johnny…Uncle Johnny," she called with such glee.

"What is it Jelly Belly?"

Standing in front of Johnny with a big smile and her eyes dancing, she asked him the"big" question. "Uncle Johnny, will you be my special guest at school? We all get to pick someone to bring to school for the day. I picked you. Will you come?"

Johnny was dumbstruck. His partner's daughter wanted him to go to school with her instead of her father. Johnny shot Roy a glance. Roy was sitting there quite amused with a smile on his face. "Jen, what day did you have in mind?"

"Daddy's off on Thursday. I saw it on our calendar. Can you come on Thursday?" She looked at Johnny with her big green eyes.

Smiling, Johnny responded. "Thursday sounds good. Do I have to do anything special?"

"You have to tell everyone what you do, and tell some stories about it. You can also bring in a snack for us. That way everyone will think you're really cool."

Smiling, Roy whispered to his partner. "I'm not the only one who has you wrapped around their finger, Junior."

When Joanne brought out the sandwiches, they all had a picnic sitting on a blanket in the middle of the back yard. "The deck's coming along nicely, guys. You think you'll be finished before supper?"

Roy looked at his watch. "Well, if we start up again in five minutes, we should be ready to eat by 6PM. What are we having for dinner tonight, Jo?"

"Well, I gave it a lot of thought. There was one special dish that I know you both enjoy….Stoker's spaghetti."

Hearing that, Johnny almost choked on the last of his sandwich. "Joanne…"

"It's alright, Johnny. I told Roy that I really liked Mike's recipe." With that, she gathered up the plates and got up, her laughter trailing behind her.

"Roy, your wife is wicked."

Six o'clock came and the fellas were done with the deck. Standing up, they both stretched and admired their handy work. Johnny smiled his crooked grin. "So, when are we breaking her in, Pally?"

"In a few weeks. Joanne wants to invite all the gang over for a barbecue."

Inside Joanne was just about done with dinner, and asked Chris to go outside.

"Chris, get your dad and Uncle Johnny. Dinner will be ready in ten minutes."

Going out to the deck, Chris called out. "Mom says dinner's ready."

"We're coming, Chris. Get your sister and the two of you wash up for dinner."

Joanne looked outside at the newly refurbished deck. She smiled as she saw two of the most important people in her life, her husband and his best friend. She stood there for a minute thinking about what her life would be like if something were to happen to either one of them. After a little shudder, she returned back to reality.

Everyone was now at the kitchen table, enjoying Mike Stoker's spaghetti recipe. Jennifer was sitting on one side of Johnny, Chris on the other. Jenny was talking non-stop about how Johnny was going to be her special guest at school the next week.

After a wonderful meal and a dessert of chocolate cake, everyone went out to the back yard. The kids were playing catch, and the adults were sitting on the deck talking.

"Johnny, aren't you dating anymore? I never hear a word about your latest girlfriends."

Johnny looked at Joanne for a few seconds, sat back in his chair and sighed. "I don't know, Jo. I guess I'm taking a break. I'm 28 now. Chasing after nurses doesn't seem to be as much fun for me, anymore."

"John Gage, I'm surprised at you. You sound like you're giving up." Joanne was looking Johnny right in the eye as she said this.

Johnny took a minute to gather his thoughts, taking a breath and exhaling before responding. "I'm not giving up. It's…I guess I figure if I take a break for a while, maybe the right girl will just….."

"Magically appear?" Roy offered.

"I don't know, Roy…something like that, I guess."

Roy had known that his partner hadn't gone out on a date in a couple months. It always pained him when Chet would start in with Johnny about being in a dating slump. But, he knew that was Johnny's choice.

Realizing that she inadvertently struck a nerve, Joanne felt bad. She adored Johnny and only wanted the same for him that she and Roy had.

After a couple minutes of awkward silence, the younger paramedic got up. "I should get going. I have some stuff to do."

"Johnny, I'm sorry. I…I didn't mean to pry." Joanne looked at Johnny with a mixture of concern and affection.

"It's okay, Jo. I'm just getting tired. Your husband is a tough task master and we are coming off a busy shift." Johnny smiled and added,"Thanks for dinner, Stoker's spaghetti was great."

"Uncle Johnny, are you leaving?" Chris asked, as he joined the adults on the deck.

"Yes, Chris. I'll see you soon." He said to the younger DeSoto, with a smile and a wink.

"Okay."

Meanwhile Jennifer had to come over to give Johnny a proper good-bye. "Uncle Johnny, don't forget Thursday. I'll call you to let you know what time. Okay?"

"Good deal Jelly Belly. I'll be waiting by my phone."

With green eyes dancing and her hands on her hips, Jennifer responded with a giggle. After giving Johnny a big hug, Johnny in turn gave Joanne a kiss on the cheek. "See you soon, Johnny."

"You will. Thanks again for dinner, Jo. It was delicious."

"I'll walk you out, partner."

As the two friends walked to Johnny's Rover, Roy studied his partner's face. "Johnny, you okay? You seem a little down. It's not what Joanne said, is it?"

Turning, Johnny looked at his partner. Sighing, he answered softly. "No, it isn't. I mean, not really. I'm okay, Roy. I'll see you on Monday morning."

"Thanks for helping me with the deck, Johnny."

"No problem. After all, what are partners for? Hey, tell Jo I'm okay."

"I will. Get home safely."

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

The next shift found Johnny in better spirits. When the shift ended on Wednesday morning, Roy and John were in the locker room changing to go home.

Johnny was sitting in his locker buttoning his shirt. "Do you believe I'm actually nervous about going to Jenny's school tomorrow?"

"Why?" Roy asked curiously.

"I don't know. I guess it's because I hated school when I was growing up. I got into a lot of fights and ended up in the principal's office, a lot."

"You never told me that you got into fights, growing up."

Johnny responded to his partner in a sarcastic tone. "You mean if I had kept my mouth shut I could have had you keep thinking I was perfect?" Johnny paused and then continued. "Roy, that was a long time ago. I was a kid." Johnny jumped down from his locker and picked up his duffle bag. "Tell Jennifer, I'll be waiting for her phone call."

Ten the next morning found Johnny nervously walking to the front office of Bradenton Elementary School, carrying a tray of cupcakes. Opting to wear a pair of beige slacks and a dress shirt instead of his uniform, he walked into the front office. Giving the secretary one of his patented smiles, he introduced himself. "I'm John Gage. I'm a guest of one of Miss Valentine's students. Would you mind giving me directions to her classroom?"

"Sure. Go down this hallway here, make a left turn and go down eight doors...Room 310. Miss Valentine's name will be on the door. Before you go, would you mind signing the visitor's log?"

"Of course." Johnny signed in the log and smiled at the woman before walking away. As he went down the hallway, admiring the colorful artwork on the walls, he was struck by two thoughts. The first one was about how the pictures on the walls reminded him of the dozens of pictures that Jenny had made for him over the years. The second and most ironic thought was that Miss Valentine's room number was 310. That's the same number of the hospital room at Rampart that he seemed to always end up in.

Arriving at his destination, Johnny looked in the window of the classroom door. He saw about 18 children sitting at their desks, including a very sweet-looking little girl named Jennifer DeSoto. He also noticed a very attractive woman standing at the front of the classroom. She was slender, average height, and had long brown hair. She also had a very warm smile, and was wearing a blue skirt and a white blouse.

Summoning his courage, he knocked on the door. The attractive woman he saw inside came over to the door. Miss Valentine was smiling warmly. "You must be Mr. Gage."

Johnny smiled his best crooked smile. "Guilty. Please, it's John." He held out his hand to shake hers.

"I'm…I'm Miss Valentine…Emily."

"Pleasure to meet you, Emily." Their eyes met for a moment.

As Miss Valentine led Johnny into the classroom, she took the tray he was holding, and set it on a table. "Jennifer, you want to come up and introduce your guest?"

"Yes, Miss Valentine." Jenny went over to Johnny and held his hand. Before she started her introduction, she looked up into his brown eyes and smiled at him.

"This is my Uncle Johnny. He's a paramedic and firefighter with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. My Uncle Johnny is my daddy's partner. I call him Uncle Johnny because he's my daddy's best friend and because I've known him since I was really little. He's fun to be with. And, when he comes over for dinner he makes us all laugh. When he and my daddy are around I feel really safe, because if something bad were to happen, I know they would take good care of me and my family. And, because I love my Uncle Johnny and he's so important to my family, I wanted to bring him to school today as MY special guest. So, here's my Uncle Johnny." Jenny was beaming with pride.

Johnny was very touched by the heartfelt words of Jenny's introduction. "Thank you for that wonderful introduction, Jenny." He turned and looked at her, giving her a big smile. "I am a paramedic. How many of you know what that is?"

Some of the kids raised their hands. Johnny spotted a cute little red-headed girl and pointed to her. "What's your name, sweetheart?"

"April. Paramedics help people when they are hurt or sick and take them to the hospital."

Johnny was impressed. "That's right. I work with Jenny's dad. Sometimes we have to go to a dangerous place to help someone. Places like a cliff on a mountain, or high up on a bridge. That's when we have to be very careful and make sure that we keep each other safe. I am also a firefighter. If there's a building on fire, we go in and help put out the fire. If someone is hurt, we get them out and take care of them."

A little boy asked Johnny if he ever got scared. "Sometimes. It does get scary. But all of us are very well-trained and know our jobs very well. The people I work with are the best at what they do and I trust them all very much."

The kids continued to ask Johnny all kinds of questions. Johnny also told them about some of his adventures while on the job.

Now lunch time, the kids were sitting at their desks eating lunch. Johnny and Miss Valentine were at her desk having a conversation.

"It's wonderful to finally meet you, John. Jenny talks an awful lot about you."

Johnny laughed. "Jenny tends to exaggerate. I guess that's where she's more like me than her father."

"Maybe so, but not in this case. I gather her parents know what kind of affect you have on her."

"Yeah. Her father and I have been partners for over six years. She's a sweet girl. I've known her since she was about 1 ½ years old. From the beginning the two of us had this connection."

"Well, she absolutely idolizes you. I bet you have that effect on all the ladies."

Johnny smiled. "Well, maybe on the eight year olds and eighty year olds. It's the ones in between that I have to work on."

"Well, if I'm not being too forward, here's my home phone number. Please call me." She warmly smiled at him and touched his arm. Then, she handed him an index card with her number on it. Johnny put it into his shirt pocket.

After finishing his conversation with Miss Valentine, Johnny went over to sit by Jennifer.

"Uncle Johnny, mom packed an extra sandwich for you. She said you'd be hungry. Are you hungry?"

He looked at Jenny with a twinkle in his eyes and a sly grin. "What do you think?"

"Here's your sandwich. It's peanut butter and jelly."

While enjoying their sandwiches, Jenny asked Johnny about what kind of snack he brought in.

"Cupcakes…..chocolate icing."

Jenny's eyes got real big. "You made cupcakes? Daddy says that the only thing that you really know how to make are hot dogs."

"One of my neighbors made them for me. But, if your parents ask…I made them, okay?" Johnny said in a low voice.

"Okay, Uncle Johnny."

After the kids were all done eating, Johnny passed out the cupcakes. The afternoon went quickly. A geography lesson and a spelling lesson later, Johnny was ready to go. The kids all thanked him for the cupcakes and for spending the day with them. Jenny gave him a hug.

Miss Valentine walked Johnny to the door. "John, please call me." She gave him a big smile and turned to go back in the room. Johnny signed out in the visitor's log and walked to his Rover. He clutched the card with Emily's number on it and smiled all the way home.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

The next shift found Johnny in an exceptionally good mood. Roy and John were in the locker room getting ready for the start of their shift. "I hear you were a big hit with the kids, partner. When Jenny came home, she talked non-stop about you and the cupcakes."

"I had a lot of fun, Roy. They were really good kids."

The door opened, and Captain Stanley's voice could be heard. "Roll call in five minutes."

Once roll call was completed, the two paramedics were checking their supplies.

Lurking behind them was Chet. "So Gage, still no dates, huh?"

Turning slowly Johnny thoughtfully answered. "Chet, maybe my standards are just higher than yours. Did you ever wonder why some of the girls you dated, end up going out with me?"

Pretending to think, Chet tapped his head with his finger. "Maybe it's because, they lowered their expectations." Johnny glared at Chet, while Roy stood and shook his head.

Thankfully, the klaxons sounded and they were called away on the first run of the day.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

A few days after being a guest in Jenny's class, Johnny decided to call her teacher, Miss Valentine. They made plans to go out on Saturday night.

Arriving at her beach house at 5:30 PM, and carrying a bouquet of 12 yellow roses, he nervously walked up to Emily's front door. Ringing the bell, he waited for her to answer it, his heart beating quickly.

Emily answered the door wearing a pretty peach-colored sleeveless dress. She smiled warmly at the handsome man standing before her. "Hi there."

Johnny smiled back. "Wow, you look amazing."

"You look pretty amazing, yourself. Come in."

Entering her front door, he handed her the yellow roses. "These are for you."

Pleased with the thoughtful gesture, she took them from him, taking in their sweet scent."They are absolutely beautiful. I'm going to put them in a vase. Please, make yourself comfortable."

Sitting down on her couch, Johnny rubbed his hands on his pants."I've gotta admit something to you."

What's that, John?" She asked, as she looked at him curiously.

"I'm really nervous."

Emily laughed. "You run into burning buildings and rescue people from places 50 stories up, for a living…and you're nervous to go on a date?"

Johnny grinned sheepishly. "I guess the secret's out."

"Don't you date much?"

Wanting to choose his words carefully before responding, Johnny thought for a moment. "Not a lot, lately. It's my choice entirely. I just…got tired of it."

"You just haven't met the right girl yet, John."

Curious, Johnny asked Emily the same question. "How about you? You date much?"

"Actually, no. The men I was dating were more interested in a good time, but now…"

Johnny finished her sentence. "You're looking for something more."

Emily was surprised that Johnny was able to read her that well. "How did you know what I was going to say?"

Johnny smiled and shrugged. "Easy…I feel the same way."

Emily laughed. "What's wrong with us? We're two relatively normal people. Intelligent, have good jobs, and yet we can't find anyone."

Johnny started to chuckle. "My partner would argue the first two points…the ones about me being normal and intelligent."

"I don't think you have anything to worry about, John." She paused for a moment before continuing. "Well, I don't know about you Mr. Gage, but I am starving."

"I hope you're not one of those girls who picks at her food."

Emily smiled a big smile. "Me? I'm afraid you have the wrong girl for that. There's nothing wrong with MY appetite."

Emily grabbed her shawl and locked her front door. Johnny led her to his Rover and helped her in. "Sorry if you were expecting a fancy car. This Rover takes me where I want to go."

"It's fine, John. I don't care if you had a bicycle. I was never impressed by fancy cars, anyway."

Johnny turned onto one of the coast highways. "Where are we going, Johnny?" Emily asked curiously.

"It's a great little place up the coast."

After a half hour of nice conversation, the couple arrived at their destination. After entering the restaurant, they were greeted by a very fatherly looking dark haired man.

"Johnny, welcome." The man greeted the paramedic, hugging him warmly.

Johnny smiled brightly. Hi, Clancy. Good to see you."

Admiring the very attractive woman that was standing next to Johnny, he asked who the lovely lady was.

"Clancy, this lovely lady is Emily. Emily, this is Clancy." Emily held out her hand. Clancy gently took it and kissed it. "Pleasure meeting you."

"Thank you. It's nice to meet you, too."

Leading them to a cozy corner table overlooking the ocean, Clancy continued to smile at the attractive duo.

"I hope you two are hungry."

Emily answered before Johnny was able to say anything. "Starving." Looking over at Johnny, she laughed.

"Relax and enjoy each other's company…I will take care of dinner." said Clancy with a warm smile and a wink.

"Thank you, Clancy."

Drinking some wine, Emily proposed a toast. "I have a toast. This is to Jennifer DeSoto for bringing her Uncle Johnny to school." Lightly clinking their glasses together, they gazed into each other's eyes.

"I have one, too." smiled Johnny."Here's to the beginning of what could be a beautiful friendship."

With a gleam in her eyes, Emily added, "…or more."

"So, if we end up getting married, does that mean Jenny will be your maid of honor?" They shared a giggle over that one.

"So, how did you find this place? It's wonderful."

"Well…Clancy was at the same supermarket that I was. He was standing in front of me at the check- out line. He went down with an apparent heart attack. I helped him until the paramedics got there. He was so grateful to me for helping to save his life that he found out what station I worked at and invited me for dinner at his restaurant…the rest is history."

After a couple hours of great food and conversation, the new couple was ready to leave. They thanked Clancy for a wonderful meal and drove back to Emily's beach house.

Since it was such a beautiful night, they decided to go for a walk on the beach. Without thinking, they held hands.

"I can get used to this. The men I've gone out with…no sense of romance."

"I guess, I'm old school, huh?"

Emily nodded her head. "It's quite refreshing."

"Emily, I don't want to give you the impression that I do this with every girl I go out with."

"I don't think that, at all."

Sitting down in the sand, Johnny sat behind Emily with his arms around her waist.

"I feel so safe in your arms. I don't know if it's the wine, the sea air, or the moonlight…"

Johnny once again finished her thought. "…I think I'm falling in love."

She turned around and kissed him.

"You know, I am a paramedic. It's dangerous work and I love my job."

"I know. I wouldn't have it any other way. You could be a plumber and get hit by a bus. I don't care. I accept it."

Johnny looked into Emily's green eyes. "If things are heading to where I think they are…"

"My turn to finish your thought. You wanted to make sure that I understood the nature of your job and where you stood on it. No doubt, you've gone out with some girls who were unable to accept that fact."

Smiling, Johnny was impressed at how well Emily grasped the sense of whom he was and what his job meant to him. "Yeah."

After talking some more, Emily decided to make a leap of faith.

"I hope I'm not being too forward if I asked you to stay the night."

Johnny looked at her incredulously. "Are you sure? I don't want you to think that that's the kind of guy I am, or that that's the reason why I'm here and what I'm looking for."

Emily looked at Johnny with affection. "I don't think that at all. You know what I think? I think you are a kind, big-hearted, strong, compassionate, romantic, and incredibly sexy man….and I want to make love to you in the worst way."

"My, you sure are direct." He smiled and helped her up. "Lead the way, beautiful."

Returning to her house, they have a night full of passion and romance.

The next morning, Johnny woke up to see Emily lying on her side, next to him. Her beautiful green eyes were open. He smiled at the sight. "You've been watching me, haven't you?"

She sheepishly smiled. "Guilty. I've been waiting my whole life for you. Where the hell have you been?"

"Apparently, waiting for a certain eight year old little girl to drag me into your classroom. Not that I didn't go willingly." Johnny let out a little chuckle. "Gee, I'm really sorry that Roy's son didn't have you as a teacher, or we may have gotten together sooner." They kissed… a sweet, gentle, passionate kiss.

"Do you keep a well-stocked kitchen?" asked Johnny, after coming up for air.

"Of course. I told you there was nothing wrong with my appetite."

Johnny smiled proudly. "Well, among many other talents, I do know how to make a mean batch of eggs and pancakes. How about if I cook us some breakfast?"

"I'm all for it."

They got dressed and after an hour, were eating breakfast.

"This is delicious, John." complimented Emily, licking the very sweet maple syrup from her lips.

"Thanks. Why do you look so surprised? It is in the job description of a firefighter to be able to cook, at least a little bit." They both laughed at Johnny's assessment.

"So, how many more days of school are left?" asked Johnny curiously.

"Ten." came Emily's almost far-away response.

"Tell me Miss Valentine, how does a lovely lady like you spend her summers?"

Emily's look turned thoughtful. "In the past, I taught summer school. I would also tutor and work odd jobs here and there. I've been saving my pennies, so I don't have to work this summer."

Johnny was hopeful as he asked his next question. "Do you like camping and the mountains?"

Smiling and laughing, Emily's face practically beamed."Growing up with four older brothers, we would go camping a lot. Why do you ask?"

"Away from work, it's my favorite past time. When I'm out there, it gives me such a feeling of serenity. Sometimes, I'll just drive up to the mountains to get away for a while. When I come back, I have a renewed sense of calm. Maybe I could put in for a vacation sometime this summer and we could go."

Emily was very receptive to the idea. "I'd love that. Speaking of camping with brothers, is that something you did with your family?"

"No…it was something that I learned to appreciate when I was older."

Emily sensed that she had stumbled onto a topic that Johnny didn't care to talk about too much. "Look, I'm sorry if I hit a nerve. I didn't mean to pry."

Johnny looked at Emily for a moment and decided that if things were indeed headed to where they both thought they were, he needed to be honest with her. He started to talk about his childhood. "My father had made a tragic decision one night. When I was 12 years old, he got behind the wheel of a car after he had had a few drinks. My mother was in the car with him. He smashed the car into a tree. My parents both died in the accident. My brother Gavin fell in with the wrong crowd, and after getting involved with some bad stuff, hung himself a few months later. We were living on a reservation in Montana. After the accident and my brother's suicide, I went to live with an aunt in Los Angeles. Here I am."

Emily was speechless. "It must be hard to not have any family."

Johnny looked at her wistfully. "It's been so long, I don't look at it that way. As far as I'm concerned, I do have family. Roy, Joanne, their kids, and the guys at the station…they're my family. I consider myself a lucky guy."

"Tell me about you and Roy. The two of you are obviously a very integral part of one another's lives."

"That statement says it all. There's no one I trust more, than Roy. I'd lay my life on the line, if I had to." Emily looked at Johnny with soulful eyes. "Emily, remember what I said last night about being a firefighter?"

She answered softly. "Yes."

"Well, there's something else. It's sort of a promise that I made to myself. I'd rather put myself in harm's way than for Roy to do it. It's kind of my way of making sure that he gets home to his family at the end of every shift. Present company excluded, I don't have anybody in my life to worry about. So, I guess that's my way of justifying it."

Realizing she now had a stake in this. "What happens if you do marry and have kids?"

Johnny shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. Truthfully, I never really thought marriage and kids were ever going to be a part of my life."

"And now?" she asked curiously.

"A definite possibility." He smiled and kissed her.

They cleaned up in the kitchen and sat out on her deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean, talking some more.

Looking at his watch he was shocked at the time. "Three o'clock already. I don't know where the time went."

"Me, either." Emily replied sighing.

"I don't want to go, but I have to take care of a few things before I go back on shift tomorrow."

"I understand."

"You don't have to worry, I promise to stay in touch. I'll be calling you real soon."

They kissed one of their slow passionate kisses. Emily looked right into his soulful brown eyes. "I accept you for who you are and what you do. But, please be careful."

Johnny smiled at her. "I'll do my best.'

Driving back to his apartment, Johnny had a big smile on his face, unable to stop thinking about the last glorious day and a half. He was a new man.

When he arrived back at his apartment he started to listen to his answering machine. While it was playing, he went to the kitchen to pour himself a glass of orange juice.

He smiled as he heard Roy's voice on the machine. "Hey, partner it's Saturday about 7PM. I'm just calling to see what's up. Joanne wants to know if you want to come over for dinner on Sunday. If I don't hear from you, I'll assume you've found better company. Anyway, take care Junior. See ya in the A.M. on Monday."

Rocky Ramirez left the second message. Rocky was a fellow paramedic out of station 46. He and Johnny were good friends. "Buenas dias, amigo. This is Rocky. It's Sunday around 1PM. I've got Dodger tickets for Thursday night. If my calculations are correct, you're off. Call me if you want to go. I'll even spring for dinner. Adios!"

After listening to his messages, he undressed and got ready to take a nice relaxing shower. While in the shower, he couldn't seem to get Emily off his mind. After showering, he got dressed and prepared to do some laundry.

While in the laundry room, he met up with one of his neighbors. Calvin was the 18 year old son of Tom and Nancy McClain.

"Hi, Johnny." The boy's voice had no life to it and he looked like he just lost his best friend.

"Hey, buddy. How ya doing?"

"I'm okay."

"Really? You sound kind of down. What's up?" He never liked to see kids upset, so he thought maybe he could do some digging and find out what was going on with Calvin.

Calvin let out a sigh before responding in one word. "Life."

Johnny was a bit confused. "I don't follow."

"My friends are all going to college in the fall. I'm going to a county school.

"That's right your graduation is coming up. You should be really excited. That's a big accomplishment." replied Johnny with a big smile.

Calvin looked glumly at Johnny. "Excited? I feel like a failure. I have no idea what I want to do. And I have no girlfriend and…"

Johnny started to get the picture of why his young friend was so down in the dumps. "Hey, take it easy. You're only 18, Calvin. You have your whole life ahead of you. You'll find something you're passionate about and eventually you'll find yourself a nice girl. As for county college, study and work hard and in two years you can always transfer to a four year school."

"You think so?"

"Yeah Calvin, I do. You ever hear the expression 'good things come to those who wait?"

"I guess." Calvin didn't sound convinced.

"Well, believe me, it's true. I know."

"That's easy for you to say, Johnny. Your life is perfect. You have a great job, you have lots of friends. You probably can have any girl you want. You're a god."

Johnny looked thoughtfully at Calvin and smiled. "Calvin, your picture of me is quite distorted. I do have a great job, but it's hard work and dangerous. The friends I have are through work, but they are great friends. You're 18, let me tell you about women…they're a tough racket. I'm 28 and I am still trying to figure them out. All I'm saying Calvin, is enjoy each day as it comes and work hard. One day all the pieces will fall into place for you. I hope this little chat helped you, at least a little bit."

Johnny finally got a smile from Calvin. "It did. Thanks, Johnny."

"Hey, any time you want to talk, come over."

Calvin looked at Johnny incredulously. "You mean it?"

"Of course I do."

Calvin gave Johnny another smile." You know, you're the coolest guy I know. I don't have any brothers and my dad's always working…"

"Any time, Calvin." They high-five and Calvin returned home.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Roy was already changing when Johnny strolled into the locker room at the start of the next shift.

"Good-morning, partner." Johnny practically sang his greeting.

"Good-morning." Roy studied Johnny's face for signs on why his best friend was suddenly in an almost euphoric state of mind. "I guess you had other plans for dinner yesterday, huh?"

A hint of mischief on his face, Johnny couldn't help but to smile. "Yeah, I guess you could say that."

"What was her name?"

"If you must know, her name is Emily. But, she isn't the reason I couldn't make it. I was doing laundry."

When they were called to roll call, and they were all sitting around the kitchen table, they looked at Johnny and the big grin on his face.

"What are you all looking at me for?"

Mike eyed Johnny suspiciously. "We know that look."

Marco smiled at Johnny. "It's a girl, and boy, are you in trouble."

"You guys think you know me that well?"

In unison they all answered, "Yes."

"I'm happy for you, pal. But, can we get on with the proceedings?"

Johnny pretended to be hurt. "I was just sitting here minding my own business, Cap."

While Roy and John were checking the supplies in the squad, Roy carefully studied Johnny's face. "She must really be something, Junior. This is the first time in a long time that I've seen that gleam in your eyes."

Johnny softly responded. "I think she may be the one, Roy."

Roy's curiosity was definitely peaked. If Johnny, who just a week ago swore off dating, was now thinking commitment…well she had to be special. "Tell me about her."

"I'd rather keep it private, just for a little while."

"Just answer one question. Is she a nurse?" The senior medic asked curiously.

"No, she's not a nurse."

Interrupting their exchange, the alarms sounded. "Squad 51…woman in distress…4224 Hampton Avenue."

Roy grabbed the radio mike. "Squad 51 responding, KMG-365."

When they arrived on scene, they were greeted by a young woman at the front door.

"Thank goodness you're here. It's my grandmother. She's having trouble breathing."

Roy asked the young woman how old her grandmother was.

"She's 92. Her name is Sara."

They were led up to the grandmother's bedroom. "Hi, Sara. I'm Johnny and this is my partner Roy. We're going to take good care of you." The elderly woman nodded in acknowledgement.

After taking her vitals, they put her on O2. Roy contacted Rampart to relay the vitals and information on their elderly victim, and they proficiently carried out the treatment orders, then got Sara ready for transport to the hospital.

Smiling at the woman's granddaughter, Johnny acknowledged her. "Wendy, you can ride up front."

"Thank you." came a relieved reply.

Hopping into the ambulance with Sara, Johnny called out. "Meet you at Rampart."

After Johnny helped get Sara settled in the treatment room, he spoke to her in a soothing voice. "Sara, you relax. Everyone here is going to take good care of you." She nodded her head, causing him to smile at her and patted her hand.

After leaving the room, he bumped into Wendy. "How is she?" she asked anxiously.

"She's stable. I'm sure the doctors will want to run some tests on her, but I don't think it's anything too serious. Someone will be out to talk with you, shortly."

"Thank you so much…you and your partner."

Johnny smiled at her. "That's what we're here for. Try to relax. It'll be okay."

Johnny headed to the nurse's desk. There he saw Dr. Stanton. Dr. Stanton was one of the doctors, who along with Brackett, helped instruct during the paramedic training classes.

"John Gage." greeted the doctor.

Johnny grinned as he shook the doctor's hand. "Dr. Stanton."

"How've you been, John?"

"Fine. How about you?"

"Holding my own. Where's that partner of yours?"

Johnny looked around. "Roy should be here any minute. What brings you to the E.R.?"

"Dr. Morton is out with the flu. Hit him real hard over the weekend."

"Is he okay?" Johnny asked with concern.

"Stable, but he does have a 102 degree fever. Room 211 if you want to visit."

"Maybe another time. I have a propensity to pick up stuff like that."

Roy arrived smiling. "Dr. Stanton, it was you on the phone. I thought I was imagining things."

"No, it's me. How've you been, Roy?" asked the doctor as he shook the paramedic's hand.

"Terrific. And you?"

"As I told Johnny, 'holding my own.' Dr. Morton is out with the flu, so I'm covering for him." Dr. Stanton looked at the two paramedics and smiled. "Seeing you two sure brings back a lot of memories. Brackett and I must have done something right for you two to be considered one of the best teams in the business."

Johnny grinned. "How do you know that it wasn't our natural talent?" The three of them shared a laugh. "Hey, I want to make a quick phone call. I'll be right back."

Johnny went to a pay phone to call a local florist shop. He arranged to have twelve red roses sent to Emily at school. The card to read, "To the start of a beautiful romance. Love, John"

While Johnny was making his phone call, Roy and Dr. Stanton were talking. "So, how's Johnny doing?"

"He's doing great. Like you said, he's one of the best."

"He looks very happy."

Roy smiled and whispered. "Between you and me, I think he's ready to take the plunge."

"Marriage?" Stanton asked with more than a bit of surprise.

"Yeah. Apparently he's head over heels for some lovely lady that he recently met. He won't elaborate on it, but I'll tell you…he hasn't stopped smiling and he has a very mysterious gleam in his eyes."

Johnny returned after making his phone call. "Ready to go, Junior?"

"Ready. I guess we'll be seeing you around, Doc."

"Yes. Take it easy fellas."

As the two paramedics made their way out to the squad, Johnny's head was still very much in the clouds.

Sitting in the squad, Johnny made them available. Roy had been about to start the ignition when it hit him. "Emily…Emily Valentine? Jenny's teacher?"

Knowing he was found out Johnny smiled shamelessly. "Okay, if you must know, yes, it's Emily Valentine, Jenny's teacher. Well, last week when I was in school with the kids we hit it off. She asked me out and we went out on Saturday night."

"And…"

"And what, Roy? You know I don't talk about my personal life. Don't you remember what happened the last time?"

"Yeah…yeah…yeah."

"It nearly ended our friendship."

"But that was different. Karen was my cousin. Besides, I apologized and I told you I was wrong."

"Yeah. But, I'm going to stick to my guns on this one, partner. I promise, before too long, I'll have something to tell you. Just do me a favor in the meantime. Don't tell anyone about it, especially Joanne and the kids…and especially not Chet."

"Cross my heart." said Roy, doing the motion with his hands at the same time.

When they returned to the station, they found that the engine was out. Embarking on their chores, they had been in the middle of them, when the phone rang.

"Station 51, Firefighter Gage speaking." Johnny answered as he picked up the phone.

"Johnny, it's Rocky. I'm sorry to bother you, but you never got back to me about the tickets. Are you game or not?"

"I'm game."

"Great. I'll pick you up at 4PM."

"It's a date. Thanks. I'll see you around." said Johnny, hanging up the phone.

"Emily?"

"Emily? She's at school, Roy. No, it was Rocky Ramirez. We're going to the Dodger game on Thursday night."

Going off, the alarms again sounded. "Squad 51, respond with engines 46 and 54…construction accident…1811 Wainwright Road."

Roy answered on the mike. "Squad 51 responding, KMG-365.

When they arrived on scene, they noticed a collapsed scaffolding. Receiving their orders from Captain Ralston, they prepared to carry them out. Two workers were trapped under lots of debris. Because of Johnny's lighter size, he was the one elected to check out their victims. "Be careful, Junior. This whole thing can come down any time."

"I'm touched, Pally. I'll be fine. Just stand by with the bio-phone." Johnny crawled in to check the victims. "They're both unconscious. Pulse on both is weak. We need to get them out of here." Johnny looked around him. "This stuff can come down any minute."

After some hard work, they were able to get their victims out. Just as Johnny followed behind the second victim, the whole scaffolding collapsed down on the space formerly occupied by Johnny and the two victims.

"Wow, you cut that one close, partner."

Johnny looked behind him at the pile of rubble. "You're telling me."

After contacting Rampart, they got set to transport their victims. Roy riding in the ambulance.

"Thanks for your help, Cap." said Johnny as he smiled at the captain and left to meet Roy at Rampart.

When Johnny arrived, and saw Dr. Early he inquired about an earlier victim. "Hey Doc. How's that lady we brought in this morning?"

"Sara?"

"Yeah. She was a sweet little lady."

"She's resting comfortably." Dr. Early replied warmly.

"What happened to her?"

"I'm not really sure. Everything checked out fine. She was asking for 'those two handsome young men' who helped her this morning. She's in room 364."

Roy rejoined Johnny after speaking with a fellow paramedic. After looking at his watch, he nodded his head. "We can see her for a few minutes, Johnny."

Arriving at Sara's room Johnny gave the elderly woman his best smile. "How are you, Sara?"

"I'm fine. I want to thank you boys for helping me. You are both so kind and so gentle."

Roy also smiled at the kindly woman. "Thank you, ma'am."

"Such handsome young men like you, are you married?"

"I am, but Johnny's not." Johnny shot Roy a look. At hearing his partner's reply.

"My Wendy is a sweet girl, but she's had such bad luck dating. Maybe…."

"Uh, partner, I think we need to get going. Doesn't Captain Stanley have a meeting with us?"

Roy looked at his watch. "Yeah, you're right Johnny."

"Take care, Sara."

Sara smiled at "her" paramedics.

Back in the squad Roy made them available.

"Thanks for playing along, partner."

"Yeah…yeah. Let's go home, Junior."

"So, what's Emily like?"

"I told you Roy, I'm not talking about it. Besides, you've met her before."

"Twice. Chris had Mrs. Whitmarsh. Be glad he didn't invite you in to meet HER. She's about 5"4 and 200 pounds, and has the temperament of a drill seargent. I don't think she would have been your type, Johnny."

"How come Jenny didn't have Mrs. Whitmarsh?"

"I don't really know. I guess it was just the luck of the draw."

When the paramedics arrived back at the station, they were greeted by a most delicious aroma. "Whose turn is it to cook lunch today?"

Roy thought for a moment. "I think it's Mike's turn."

Going into the kitchen they got the full aroma of Mike's cooking.

"You made your spaghetti sauce, Mike. Smells great."

"Want a taste, Roy?"

"You don't have to ask me twice." After tasting a spoonful of Mike's sauce he offered his opinion in one word. "Magnificent."

Out of the blue Chief McConikee strolled into the station. "Good morning, gentlemen."

Almost choking, Captain Stanley went over to the Chief and shook hands. "Chief."

"At ease, fellas. It's a social call. I just wanted to say hello."

Johnny was the first to break the ice. "Stoker just made his special spaghetti. Care to join us?"

The chief smelled the fragrant aroma. "I think I will. Thanks for the invite, Gage."

"I'll set an extra setting."

"Thank you, Lopez."

Now eating, everyone including the chief seemed to be enjoying the meal.

"Stoker, my compliments to the chef."

In his usual calm, low-key manner Mike responded in kind. "Thanks Chief."

"The engineer's exam is coming up in a few months. Any of you taking it?" He looked at Roy and John.

"Not me, chief. I'm content being a paramedic."

"How about you, DeSoto?"

"I'm happy being a paramedic, too."

The Chief continued to smile. "If you two did get the promotion, it would mean leaving the paramedic program. According to Dr. Brackett, he says you guys are two of the best in the program."

Johnny took on a hopeful tone. "But, a raise wouldn't hurt."

"Well, if it was up to me we'd all be making a lot more money. But, it's not up to me. However, if it's any consolation, I always did have a soft spot for this particular shift." The chief gathered his things. "Thanks for lunch, boys. Keep up the good work."

Leaving with Captain Stanley walking him out, the chief again smiled. "You have a great bunch of men, Hank."

"I know that, sir. They are the best."

"Why do you look so nervous, Hank?" McConnike asked with a grin.

"I…"

"It was a social visit, strictly off the record. I told you that. I have a fondness for you and your men. Well, I'll be seeing you. Thanks for the visit."

When Captain Stanley returned inside, his expression was that of relief.

"Everything okay, Cap?" Mike asked curiously.

"Yes, Mike. Everything's okay. It's like the man said, he just came for a social visit."

"Come on, Junior. You wanna wash or dry?" Roy asked his partner.

"I'll wash."

Just as they finished the dishes, the alarms went off. "Station 51…Engine 39…structural fire… 1931 Halsey Avenue."

Captain Stanley responded to dispatch with the customary, "Station 51 responding, KMG-365."

When they arrived at the scene, they saw a two story house with flames and smoke billowing out of it. An excited woman came up to Captain Stanley and pulled on his arm. "My son Rob is in there. He's 16."

"My men will get him out." Hank replied calmly.

Roy and John got their equipment on and went inside to search for the missing boy. They found him in his bedroom. He had apparently been doing drugs when the fire broke out. By the time they got to him, he was coming to and becoming very agitated.

Roy tried to calm the boy down. "Easy, we're here to help you."

"Leave me alone!" The boy was shouting.

Johnny looked at Roy. "You got any ideas? If we don't get him out of here quick, we're all going to go up with this house."

Roy got on the radio and told Captain Stanley to call Rampart and to send up the drug box, stat. Rob was becoming increasingly agitated. While waiting for the orders and drug box, Johnny got slammed hard into the wall, when Rob suddenly lost it.

"Johnny, you alright?" an excited Roy asked his partner.

Johnny took inventory of himself. "I think so."

The drug box came to the window. Roy prepared a needle and quickly gave it to their victim. The kid mellowed out and they were able to get him out. Carrying Rob over his shoulder, Roy made his way down the ladder. Just as Johnny started down the ladder, there was an explosion. Getting knocked off the ladder, he landed extremely hard on the ground.

Roy carried the boy to safety, while Chet and Marco carried Johnny to the same spot. While Roy examined the boy, he glanced quickly over at Johnny. "You alright, Junior?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." replied Johnny as he continued to rub his right shoulder. Nodding in the direction of the boy, he asked,"What happened to him?"

"Drugs." Roy called Rampart, updating them on their victim, as well as the Code I…Johnny. "Cap, they want Johnny to come in."

"I'm fine," Johnny protested.

"That may be John, but let the doctors determine that. Marco, you take in the squad."

At the hospital Johnny was now getting examined by Dr. Brackett.

"You were very lucky, Johnny. Falling two stories… I think you just got the wind knocked out of you. How's the shoulder?"

Moving it around, Johnny tried hard not to grimace. "It's a little sore, but I can move it."

"What about your back, Junior?"

"His back?" Brackett asked curiously.

"Yeah, our victim slammed him hard against the wall during his drug induced state."

"Did you hit your head, Johnny?"

"No, I ducked. My back took most of the force."

Johnny begrudgingly took his undershirt and shirt off so Dr. Brackett could more fully examine his back. "Hurt much, Johnny?" asked the doctor as he poked around various places.

"A little." Johnny tried not to wince too much.

"You do have some bruising. I don't think anything's broken. Take some Tylenol. If the discomfort in your shoulder and back doesn't dissipate in 24 hours, come back and we'll take some x-rays."

"Thanks, Doc."

Dr. Brackett handed Johnny some Tylenol and a cup of water. "I'll see you guys later."

Johnny got his shirt back on and hopped off the examination table.

"So, you gonna tell Emily about this?"

Johnny was getting slightly annoyed. "Don't even go there, Roy." Johnny sounded tired. "Let's get Marco and head back to the station."

Arriving back at the station, the first person they saw was Captain Stanley. "What's the verdict, fellas?"

"I'm okay, Cap. It's just a bruise and a strain. Dr. Brackett said to take some Tylenol and come back in 24 hours if things still bother me. I'm going to lie down for a while." Johnny went to the dorm.

"He's okay, Roy?"

"That's what Dr. Brackett said. He'll be a little sore, though."

"I don't have to remind you that where your partner is concerned, little things tend to become big things."

"Don't worry, Cap. I'll keep an eye on him."

As Roy went to sit on the couch, the alarms sounded.

"Station 51…man down…2110 Fillmore."

Arriving on the scene, the crew were greeted by the foreman.

"It's Tom. He's up on that tower. I don't know what happened. He went down about 15 minutes ago, and hasn't moved since."

Johnny looked up at the high tower. "I know, I know we're going up," he said in a tone of resignation.

They got their equipment and started climbing up the tower. When they got to the victim, Johnny grimaced, a sight that didn't quite go unnoticed by the senior paramedic. "You alright, Johnny?"

Trying to catch his breath, "Yeah…I'm fine."

While working on the victim, Johnny spotted a medical bracelet. "He's a diabetic, Roy."

Roy called Rampart with the vitals. The victim started to come to, but was a bit confused as to what was going on. "What happened?"

"Your sugar is too low. Did you forget your insulin this morning?" Roy asked the man.

Things started to come back into focus for Tom. "Yeah, I guess I did. I was really late for work."

"Well, we're going to take you to Rampart to get checked out."

They got their victim down and loaded into the waiting ambulance. Roy went in with him.

While waiting for Johnny to come in, Roy spotted Dr. Brackett. "Doc, when Johnny comes in, you think you can run some x-rays? He's really hurting."

"His back and shoulder?"

"Yeah."

"Okay, Roy. When he gets here bring him to Room #5. I'll be waiting for him."

Johnny came into the ER walking very gingerly.

"Johnny, Brackett's going to take some x-rays. You look like you're in some pain."

The junior paramedic gritted his teeth. "I'm not going to argue with you."

Johnny got led to treatment room #5 where Dr. Brackett took one look at him. "I'm pulling you off duty."

Johnny didn't say anything. "Boy, you must really be hurting, Johnny, you're not even putting up a fight."

Dr. Brackett helped the paramedic to take off his shirt, and the x-ray technician came in.

While Roy and Dr. Brackett waited outside, talking about the last rescue, Johnny's friend Rocky Ramirez came up alongside of them.

"Hey Doc… Roy. How's it going?"

"I'm fine. You might need a new date for your ballgame, though."

"Johnny?" he asked in disbelief.

"Yeah. Nothing serious, but he's in considerable pain."

Rocky let out a little chuckle and smiled. "That sounds about right. Hey, what are you doing on Thursday night, Roy?"

"I don't know. I gotta talk to my wife."

"Well, if Johnny's not able to go, call me on Wednesday night if you want to go…Station 46."

"It's a deal." Roy answered with an appreciative smile.

"Tell Johnny that I hope he feels better."

"I will."

Rocky left to find his partner when his radio went off.

Joining Roy and Brackett out in the hallway, the x-ray technician came out. "I'll have these back in 20 minutes, Kel."

"Thanks. How's he doing?"

"He's in a lot of pain. He didn't say anything, but it's etched on his face."

When the two men returned inside to see Johnny the paramedic was lying there with a grimace on his face, and his eyes half closed.

"Johnny, I'm going to prescribe some pain medication for you. If you want to get some rest, it will be necessary." The whole time Roy and Dr. Brackett were in there, Johnny never said a word. "Johnny are you feeling okay, otherwise?"

Johnny paused before answering. "I'm feeling a little nauseous."

"Probably from the pain. You're sure you didn't hit your head?"

"Positive, Doc. Look, if you want me to stay overnight, I will. Can you just give me something for the pain?"

While waiting for the x-rays to come back, Dr. Brackett gave Johnny a shot for the pain.

As Dr. Brackett was looking at the x-rays, Roy stood next to him. "Severely bruised and strained back, no serious damage there. The shoulder…separation and some strained ligaments." When they turned around to talk to Johnny, he was sound asleep.

Returning back to the station, Dwyer was waiting for Roy."How's Johnny?"

Captain Stanley was also anxious to hear the news.

"Well, I've never seen him admit so readily to being in as much pain as he appeared to be in. He bruised his back and separated his shoulder. He'll miss several shifts, I'm sure."

After dinner, the station got called to a car accident. While at the hospital, Roy and Dwyer asked how Johnny was doing.

"Dr. Brackett, how's Johnny?"

"He's asleep, Roy." He shook his head before continuing. "A separated shoulder. I don't know how he made it as far as he did, given the amount of pain he was in."

"That's Johnny for you. What's the prognosis?" an anxious Roy asked.

"Well, he'll miss a bunch of shifts. He'll undoubtedly need PT before returning to work."

"How's Dr. Morton doing?"

"Stable, Roy. But, he sure is a lousy patient." Brackett smiled at the paramedics and left.

The next morning after an early morning car accident, Roy was visiting Johnny.

"How are you doing, Johnny?"

"These pain pills are wonderful. I don't feel a thing." The extreme tiredness was very evident in his voice.

"Johnny, you're sure when you got slammed into the wall yesterday, you didn't hit your head?"

"Positive. He pushed me hard into the wall and I landed on my back. I definitely tucked my head. Why do you ask?"

"I'm just concerned about you, that's all."

"Don't you mean 'worried', Roy?" Johnny replied with a weary smile.

"Okay, I'm worried about you. With everything you've been through over the years, this is the most pain I've ever seen you in…with the exception of the hit and run accident. And the injuries don't seem as severe as some of the others you've had."

"I've never hurt my back before. And my shoulder's killing me. Look, I'll be fine. I'll go home and sleep. I'll be good as new, before too long."

"By the way, I ran into Rocky and told him about your misfortune. He invited me to go to the game. Do you mind?"

"Enjoy, Roy. Have a hot dog on me."

Dr. Brackett entered the room to check on his patient."Good-morning, Johnny… Roy. How are you feeling?"

"Not bad."

"Are the pain meds helping?"

Johnny sheepishly smiled. "That's why I'm feeling okay. When am I getting sprung?"

"Are you up to going home, Johnny?"

"Yeah, I'll be fine." He tried to insist.

"Roy, when is your shift over?"

"Thursday morning."

"Look, I'm okay Doc. I have a friend who can probably pick me up this afternoon."

"Who?" Then a light bulb went off in Roy 's head. "Emily?"

"Yeah."

"I'll tell you what, I'll stop by the school and talk to her."

"She doesn't even know I'm here." Johnny said exasperatedly.

"Relax, partner. I'll talk to her. I gotta go. You relax…I'll talk to you later." After patting Johnny on his good arm, he left.

Dwyer was waiting for Roy in the squad.

"Charlie, you mind if we make a quick pit stop?"

"Where to?"

"My daughter's school. I need to talk to her teacher."

"No problem." Came Dwyer's easygoing response.

Getting on the radio, Roy called ddispatach. "L.A., Squad 51 10-8 to Bradenton Elementary School."

"10-4, 51."

Fifteen minutes later, they arrived at the school.

"I'll be right back, Charlie."

"Take your time, Roy."

When Roy went into the front office, he was promptly greeted by Mr. Rafferty, the school principal.

"Mr. DeSoto, Good-Morning. What can I do for you? Is something wrong?"

"Oh…uh...no. I need to talk to Miss Valentine. It's kind of important."

"Go ahead down to the classroom." The principal replied with a nod, sensing a bit of urgency to Roy's voice.

"Thank you."

When he got to Miss Valentine's door, he knocked.

"Miss Valentine, my daddy's at the door." said Jenny, noticing that her father was at the door.

Emily told her teacher's aide that she'd be right back, and with Jenny coming out with her, went to see Roy.

"Daddy, is everything okay? Where's Uncle Johnny?"

Roy and Joanne had decided a long time ago to always be honest about his health and that of Johnny's. "Uncle Johnny's okay, sweetie. He just got a little banged up."

"Are you sure?" she asked, looking up at her father, still convinced that something bad had happened.

"I promise. You can see Uncle Johnny in a few days." Giving her a big hug, he encouraged her to return to the classroom. "Go back inside. I'll see you on Thursday when you come home from school."

"Bye, daddy." She went back into the classroom, though she was still unsure that her Uncle Johnny would in fact be okay.

Emily's face was full of concern, as she thought of the worst scenarios. "Is he okay?"

"He'll be fine. He hurt his back and shoulder. Look, I realize this is a little awkward, but he needs a lift home from the hospital. I don't get off shift until Thursday morning. He doesn't want to wait that long." Roy smiled. "He hinted to me that the two of you had gone out over the weekend. I'm happy for you."

Emily breathed a sigh of relief and smiled. "I'll be there after school, between 3-3:30."

"Thanks. He's in room 310."

At 3:15, Emily arrived at Rampart to pick up Johnny and bring him home.

Johnny smiled when he saw his beautiful Emily walk through his hospital room door. "Did you get the roses?"

"I did. They're absolutely beautiful." They kissed, but the concern quickly returned to Emily's face. "What happened?"

Johnny related the tale of how he got hurt, once again in the line of duty.

"How bad is it?" she asked, trying to make sure that he would in fact be okay.

"I bruised and strained my back, and I separated my shoulder." Seeing the look of concern on her face, he tried to allay her fears. "I'm okay. It's nothing serious." He then added with a smile," I've been hurt far worse than this."

"Are you in pain?" She asked worriedly.

"I was yesterday. But, they gave me some pain meds. Beautiful, I told you I'm fine. Just relax. All this comes with the territory."

When Dixie arrived with a wheelchair, she smiled when she saw Emily. "Who's this lovely lady, Johnny?" Her voice was warm but curious.

"Dix, this is Emily Valentine. Emily, this is Dixie McCall. She runs the E.R. downstairs."

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Now two months later. Emily had stayed at Johnny's until school got out. After school got out, Johnny had spent most of his recuperation at Emily's beach house. After much hard work in physical therapy, Johnny was getting ready to go back to work.

Jennifer and Chris DeSoto were staying over friends for the night, and Roy and Joanne were out on the deck eating supper.

"How's Johnny doing, Roy?"

"He must be doing okay. He goes back to work on Monday."

Joanne let out an audible sigh. "I miss him."

"Yeah, I do too, Jo." Roy replied in an almost wistful tone.

"At least you'll still see him at work. Emily's great. I…I guess I'm just jealous."

Roy looked at his wife incredulously. "Jealous? Of what?"

"I know it's silly, Roy. But since he's been a part of our lives, I kind have been like the woman in his life. I know how stupid that sounds. I've just gotten so used to having him around all the time."

"Do I have to remind you that he's not a kid. He's almost 29."

"I know, but to me he'll always be the 22 year old that you first brought over for dinner."

In the middle of their conversation the phone rang, Roy getting up to answer it.

"Hi Pally. What'chya doing?"

Roy laughed into the phone. "Who's this? Jo and I are just eating dinner. What are you up to?"

"Nothin'."

"Want to come over?" Roy asked hopeful that he'd be receiving a positive response.

"Sure. I'll be there in 30 minutes."

Roy returned to the deck, smiling. "Speaking of Johnny… he's on his way over."

When Johnny walked in the door, he was greeted with a big hug from Joanne. "I'm glad you're here, Johnny. We were just talking about you."

Johnny hesitated. "Uh oh. Do I want to know?"

"We just miss you." She said with a warm smile.

"Come on out to the deck, partner. Hungry?"

Johnny grinned that famous Gage grin. "What kind of question is that?"

"I'll bring out another setting. Sit down and relax."

When Joanne went into the kitchen, Johnny whispered to Roy. "Am I missing something?"

"I'll tell you, later." He replied with a knowing nod.

Enjoying their meal, Roy and Joanne were happy to see Johnny so relaxed.

"So how are you feeling, partner?"

"Terrific. It was hard work, getting myself back together. The PT was tough. I was getting scared. I was in so much pain, that I was afraid I'd get hooked on the pain pills. So, I stopped taking them, probably sooner than I should have. Never mind me. How are you and the kids doing?"

Roy sat back and listened to Joanne. "Fine. The kids are doing well. Jenny's so excited to be going into fourth grade in September. How's Emily?"

Johnny grinned at the mere mention of her name. "She's doing great. I know I haven't been around much these last two months. I don't want you to think I've forgotten about you or the kids. You'll always be a very important part of my life. You took me in and made me feel a part of your family. I'll always be grateful to both of you."

Roy looked thoughtfully at his partner and smiled. "Johnny, you don't owe us an explanation. You're 28 years old. You have your own life. Besides, the two of us work together. It's not like we won't ever see each other."

A sense of relief washed over Johnny's face. "I'm glad you feel that way. It really weighed on my conscience."

"You're in love, Johnny. I'm happy for you." Joanne paused before continuing. "It's just kind of strange to think you have a serious girlfriend. For almost seven years, I've kind of felt like I've been the woman in your life. I know that's silly."

Johnny laughed. "No it's not, Jo. It's true. I think Emily might be the one, but no matter what happens…you'll always be an important part of my life." Leaning over the table, he kissed her on the cheek. "I love you for it."

Roy responded to that gesture in a playful tone. "Easy, pal….that's my wife."

Johnny kissed Roy on the cheek. "I love you too, Pally."

After two hours of talking, and a couple beers, Johnny decided to sleep over.

"You have your pick of rooms. The kids are over friends."

Johnny smiled. "I'll take Jenny's room…I kinda dig the Barbie décor. Thanks for everything, Roy."

"Don't mention it, partner."

The next morning the three adults were in the kitchen eating breakfast when Jenny returned home.

"Uncle Johnny, you're here." She squealed, running over to him and giving him a big hug.

"I'm here, Jelly Belly."

"How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine. I go back to work with your dad on Monday. How've you been?" he asked interestedly.

"Really good. I've had such a good summer, but I've missed you, Uncle Johnny."

"I missed you too, sweetheart." He said with a smile.

"That day when daddy came to school to talk to Miss Valentine, and I didn't see you…I thought something really bad happened."

"It was nothing serious. I hurt my back and shoulder. But I'm good as new, now."

"I'm glad." Jenny went over to hug her parents and headed up to her room.

Joanne smiled affectionately at Johnny. "Never mind me. I think Jenny's the one female who will ALWAYS be a part of YOUR life."

Looking at his watch, Johnny saw the time. "11:30 AM . I better get going. Thanks for dinner, thanks for breakfast…thanks." He kissed Joanne and slapped Roy on the back. "See you on Monday, partner."

When he returned to his apartment he heard the phone ringing. Picking up the phone he heard Emily's voice.

On the other end of the phone was Emily, speaking in her most seductive voice. "I understand one of the best paramedics in the county lives here."

"You must have the wrong number." They shared a laugh and made plans for dinner.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

After dating for six months, Johnny decided that he was ready to pop the question. He bought a ring and methodically planned the details of how he'd carry it out. He set up an evening out with Emily…a Saturday evening. He packed dinner in a picnic basket, including champagne, and met her at her beach house, promptly blindfolding her. After leading her to his Rover, he drove around for a while, to throw her off, before heading back to her house. Being careful not to loosen the blindfold, he carried her onto the beach, gently putting her down. He spread out the blanket and led her onto it, then pulled out his tape player and pushed the play button. Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable" started to play. Barely unable to contain himself, he took off Emily's blindfold. She opened her eyes to the most magnificent sunset that she had ever seen. Johnny pulled her close and kissed her.

"Emily…you hear that song playing?"

Smiling, Emily acknowledged the song. "Unforgettable."

"Yes…and…and it's saying everything I feel…about you…about us. Emily Valentine, I love you. I think I fell in love with you the first day I had laid eyes on you. I want you to always be a part of my life. Will you marry me?"

Stunned, she looked deeply into Johnny's brown eyes. Smiling warmly she responded. "John Gage, I would be honored to be your wife. I love you with all my heart. Yes, I will marry you."

They embraced and kissed, a long passionate kiss. He took out the ring and gently placed it on her finger.

"Johnny, it's beautiful. You have made me so happy. Everything is perfect…the sunset, the music...the proposal."

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

The next shift found Johnny arriving a full hour early. C-Shift was out on a run. Changing quickly, he went out to the squad room and brewed a fresh pot of coffee. By the time the rest of his shift-mates arrived, he was in a totally euphoric state.

"Uh oh, Gage. What's going on? What did you do?"

"Even you, Chester B. can't dampen my mood. Oh, I forgot. Here are some donuts. I picked them up on the way in to work this morning."

"Gage getting donuts for us? Now, I know something's wrong."

"Chet, nothing's wrong. In fact, everything is right. Guys sit down, I have some news for you."

Everyone sat down, not quite sure what to expect.

"John, are you running a fever, pal?"

"Cap, I feel fine. You guys are all the first ones to know… I asked Emily to marry me. She said yes."

Johnny received congratulations all around.

"Welcome to the club, pal."

"Thanks, Cap."

Through it all, Roy sat quietly taking it all in. It gave him great joy to see his best friend so happy. Emily was a great match for him. "Congratulations, Junior. When's the big day?"

"End of June. Emily said she always wanted to be a June bride. We're going to have it after school gets out for the summer."

"Well Johnny, now that you're officially off the market, I guess there are hearts breaking all over L.A."

"It was bound to happen, Mike."

"Wait a minute, Johnny. This is coming from the man who said and I quote, 'marriage is a great institution, but then again, so is jail'."

"What can I say, Chet? I'm a new man. I'm doing you a favor. I'm leaving all the nurse chasing to you, buddy." replied Johnny, playfully slapping Chet on the back.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Six months later. School was out and the wedding was two weeks away. A Friday evening, Emily and Johnny were on the way to their favorite restaurant for dinner. In Emily's car, with Emily driving, an apparent drunk driver swerved and forced them off the road and into a concrete divider. Witnesses called for help right away. Emily and Johnny were both taken to Rampart with extremely critical injuries.

Travis, one of the paramedics from the scene of the accident had called Roy to tell him about the accident. By the time Roy and Joanne had arrived at the hospital, Johnny was already up in surgery.

Deep fear and concern etched on his face, Roy spoke with Travis. "How is he?"

"He's in surgery, Roy."

Roy raised his voice. "I didn't ask WHERE he was, I asked HOW he was."

Travis understood why Roy was upset. "It's serious. He...he never regained consciousness."

"How's Emily?" Roy waited for a response. Not hearing one, Roy knew…Emily didn't make it.

Travis's radio went off. Patting Roy on the shoulder, he left.

Vince happened to be one of the cops at the scene of Johnny's accident. "Any word, Roy?"

Roy looked at Vince blankly. "I just got here. Travis said Johnny's in surgery."

"I found a number for the girl's parents. I called them. They'll be here in the morning."

Dr. Brackett approached Roy and Joanne. "Roy… " The look of concern was evident in his face, as well.

"How…how is he?" asked Roy, deathly afraid of hearing the doctor's answer.

"He's still in surgery. Dr. Gomez is doing the surgery. He's got the best working on him."

"Is he going to make it?" Roy choked on his words.

"It's too soon to say. He has a lot of injuries and lost a lot of blood. He has a skull fracture, as well as several internal injuries. His lungs are collapsed and he has some broken bones."

"Any brain injury?" Roy was petrified of the answer.

"No, he was lucky. The CT-scan didn't show any other head injury other than the skull fracture."

Deep concern registered on Roy 's face as he asked the next question. "Emily…what happened?"

Brackett's infamous twitch started, a sign that the news wasn't good. "She never had a chance, Roy. She died shortly after arriving here...major head injuries." He paused before continuing, knowing the next bit of news would be difficult to hear. She was two and a half months pregnant."

Joanne started to cry. Roy hugged her. In a very subdued voice he asked Dr. Brackett if Johnny knew about the baby.

"I don't think so, Roy. Emily told me yesterday. They were on the way to dinner where she was going to tell Johnny about the baby." When Dr. Brackett got paged, he looked worriedly at Roy. "I have to go. I'll be by later." Leaving, he patted Roy on the shoulder as a show of support.

Sitting down on the couch, Roy faced his wife. "Jo, it's going to be a long night. Why don't you go home. I'll call you as soon as I know anything."

Joanne looked at her husband and shook her head. "No, I'm not going anywhere. Besides, I don't want you to be alone."

"I'm going to call the guys." Just as he started to get up, the rest of their shift arrived. They all embraced.

"Captain Reynolds called us. Any word on Johnny?"

Roy looked sadly at his captain and shook his head. "No, Cap…and Emily didn't make it."

Hearing the news of the Emily's death, the rest of the men were near tears.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

After five hours, lots of coffee, and lots of pacing, the men of Station 51 finally got news on their fallen friend.

"Gentlemen." Called out the voice of Dr. Gomez.

They all looked at the doctor questioningly.

Roy was the first one to say anything. "How's Johnny?"

"He made it through surgery. He's not out of the woods, yet. The next 48 hours are going to be very important for him."

A devastated Chet was the next one to speak up. "He's going to make it, right Doc?"

"We won't know for a few days. His injuries are quite severe. He's in recovery now. You'll be able to see him in a couple hours. He'll be in ICU. I'll get you when you can see him."

"Thank you, Dr. Gomez." They shook hands and the doctor left. Softly and to no one in particular, Roy said, "She was two and a half months pregnant."

"Oh man. Did Johnny know, Roy?"

"No, Mike." Roy replied as he shook his head sadly.

Chet, although devastated by the news, tried to remain positive. "Johnny's a fighter. He'll overcome this."

"His physical problems may be the least of his issues. He's going to have a lot of emotional scars when he finds out about Emily and the baby." It was evident in the captain's voice how concerned he was for Johnny, especially for Johnny's mental well-being.

"Cap, do you mind if I put in for some time off? I need to be with Johnny."

"Of course. I'll talk to the Chief. I can bring the paperwork by the hospital, tomorrow."

"Thanks."

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Johnny was in a coma. Roy had been keeping a vigil at Johnny's bedside for five days. Having fallen asleep in the chair next to Johnny's bed, he woke up to find that Johnny had woken up from the coma. Seeing Johnny's brown eyes looking right back at him, Roy also noted that Johnny was struggling with the respirator.

"Easy, Junior. You're on a respirator." Roy soothed, at the same time he pushed the call bell to get a nurse.

Dr. Brackett arrived a couple minutes later. "Johnny, you know where you are?" Johnny nodded his head. "Good. You're breathing is much better. I'm going to take you off the respirator." Telling Johnny to cough, he removed the tube from Johnny's mouth.

"Let me get you some water, partner." Giving him some water, Roy watched in relief as Johnny sipped slowly through a straw.

"What happened?" Johnny asked in a raspy voice.

Roy looked at Dr. Brackett before responding. "You were in a car accident. Do you remember?"

Johnny closed his eyes in a way that made Roy realize that he did indeed remember the accident. "Emily, where is she?"

Roy once again looked at Brackett before responding softly. "She didn't make it. She was in the accident, too." Johnny didn't say anything after hearing the news. "Her family is here in L.A. They've been awfully concerned about you."

Johnny was obviously still processing the news of Emily's death. Roy decided that it was best to not say anything about the baby…at least not at that point in time.

"The funeral, I missed it?" Johnny asked in a barely audible voice.

"Yes, Johnny. It was three days ago. You were still in a coma."

"I didn't get to say good-bye. My beautiful Emily… I didn't get to say good-bye." When Johnny started to sob, Roy did his best to console him, tears threatening to fall down his own face.

"I'm so sorry, partner….so sorry."

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Two weeks later, Johnny was now in a private room. The chest tubes were out and he had regained his faculties. He did however, continue to struggle with his extreme sadness and depression.

"Johnny, there's something I have to tell you."

"What is it, Roy?" Johnny wasn't sure if he wanted to hear it.

"Emily was 2 ½ months pregnant. She was going to tell you the night of the accident."

Johnny was numb.

"I would have had a family, Roy. Now I'm back to where I started…nobody. I still have nobody. My shot at real happiness...it's over."

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Two more weeks had passed before Johnny started to come out of his depression. A visit from Emily's oldest brother Kyle had convinced Johnny that he needed to move on with his life…because Emily would have wanted him to do that.

Stopping by to visit Johnny the day after Kyle's visit, Roy noted to his amazement, Johnny's depression seemingly having lessened. Roy entered Johnny's room and saw his friend sitting up in bed, seemingly deep in thought. Unsure of whether or not he should disturb him, he called out Johnny's name softly.

"Johnny…"

Johnny looked at Roy before softly responding. "I'm sorry, Roy."

Roy looked at his friend questioningly. "What are you sorry about, Johnny? You haven't done anything wrong."

"It's something I said to you a few weeks ago. I said I was back to having nobody. That's not true, Roy. I know I have you, Joanne and the kids. I'm really grateful for that. I don't know what I would do without you guys."

"You'll never have to find out, Johnny. When you get out of here, you're going to stay with us until you're back on your feet. Is that okay with you?"

Johnny smiled warmly at his partner. "I'm counting on it. You guys are all I got. It's going to take time, but I'm going to get through this…I am."

"And I'm going to be beside you the whole way."

Entering the room to check on the paramedic was Dr. Brackett. "How are you feeling, Johnny? Much pain?"

"I'm okay, Doc. When can I start physical therapy?"

Dr. Brackett was both confused and surprised by Johnny's new sense of optimism. "What's the hurry, Johnny?"

"I'm ready to move on with my life…the sooner…the better."

"I must say, I'm pleasantly surprised. May I ask what helped turn it around for you?"

"What does it matter? The point is that I have. So, what do you say?"

"Maybe next week, Johnny."

"Next week it is. I'm holding you to that, Dr. Brackett." Johnny said with a grin.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

A month later, Johnny was out of the hospital and staying with Roy and his family…still with a cast on his leg and using crutches.

On this particular morning, Johnny was out on the deck playing cards with Chris and Jenny.

Joanne and Roy were watching from inside the house. "I'm glad he's here, Roy."

"Me, too." Roy agreed with a nod.

"He's handling things better than I thought he would be."

"I guess, Jo. He has his good days and his bad days." Roy let out a little chuckle. "The kids are being so wonderful. I think being here is the best thing for him."

Joanne couldn't help but to smile. "With his family. Do you think he'll ever find another 'Emily'?"

"I don't know. I can't predict his future. I don't think he even knows. But, he is only 29 and anything is possible. I just want him to recover, so I can have my partner again."

At noon time Joanne went out on the deck to check on Johnny and the kids."Are you guys hungry?"

The three of them nodded their heads. "Johnny, ham and cheese sound good?"

"Anything you make sounds good." smiled Johnny as he answered.

"Why don't you guys get ready to eat?"

When the kids got up to wash up, Roy sat down.

"How are you feeling, partner?"

Johnny grinned. "Pretty good. I feel human again. It feels really good to be here."

"You want to talk about things?"

Johnny shook his head and sighed. "I'm not ready yet, Roy. Soon, I promise."

"Okay. When you're ready…I'm here."

After Joanne brought out lunch, the five of them were enjoying the meal. Roy looked around the table, enjoying the time with his family and best friend.

"So, what are we doing this afternoon?" asked Roy.

"How about if we let Uncle Johnny decide?"

Johnny grinned. "I'm going to teach you guys how to play a new game. It's called spoons."

"That's a silly name for a game." giggled Jennifer.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

When suppertime arrived they decided to have a cookout.

"Daddy, when do you have to go back to work?"

Roy looked at Jenny curiously. "Soon. Why do you ask?"

"Because it's fun having you and Uncle Johnny home all the time."

"Jenny, eventually Uncle Johnny's going to get all better and he's going to go back to work, too. But for now, we can just all have fun being together."

After dinner was over, Roy and John were on the couch talking. "You ARE planning to come back to work at some point, aren't you Johnny?"

"Of course I am. Not sure when, but I will."

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Seven months later Johnny returned to work. He arrived at the station early. Little did he know that his friends had planned a surprise party for him. When he entered the squad room, he heard a chorus of "Surprise". His shift was there, C-shift and B-shift, as well as Early, Brackett and Dixie.

"Welcome back, Johnny! We missed you!"

"Thanks, Cap." Johnny was overwhelmed.

Everyone greeted him with a hug. When everyone had a cup of coffee, Roy proposed a toast.

"This is to my partner and best friend. It's good to have you back where you belong."

Johnny felt compelled to offer his own speech. "Thank you all. It's good to be back. This is indeed where I belong. I love you all!"

While everyone was enjoying coffee and donuts, Roy pulled Johnny over to the side. "Johnny, you going to be okay?"

Johnny looked upward. "I'll be fine. I have my angel looking out for me." He smiled and added, "She won't let me down."

Johnny didn't know what the future held for him. But, right now he didn't care. He had his health back, his job back, and he was once again surrounded by all the people who mattered the most to him.

He was also comforted by one thought. "It was better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all." Johnny learned the truth in that. He was thankful for the love he found with Emily and for the time that he had had with her. He was a better person for it. He knew one thing...next time he fell in love…it would be forever.

The End