Disclaimer: The boys of 51 aren't mine, they belong to the lucky folks at Universal/Mark VII. I won't make a dime on this, but spending a little time with my favorite guys is priceless. Constructive reviews always welcome.
Molly's month at Station 51 was flying by, two weeks gone already and she was deep in discussions with the department about making the transfer to L.A. permanent. Negotiations were almost done and all that was left pending was which station would get her on a permanent basis. Things in Los Angeles were going extremely well and she'd never been so happy. She felt like she had truly found her niche with Paramedic work and things were even going good with the guys. They had come to feel like brothers to her and she had developed a strong relationship with each one. Johnny was the only "problem". They had been dating and were a solid item, but decided for the one month that she was in L.A. they wouldn't see each other outside the station. They felt that for their working relationship it would be best if there wasn't anything outside the station to affect how they acted in the station. The wisdom of this decision was obvious to both of them and things were fine, but the one month "hands off" policy was starting to get old for both of them. Still theirs was a happy relationship that felt as warm and comfortable as a favorite sweater in the middle of winter. She was thinking about these new relationships and how much they had affected her in such a short time as she came sliding in through the door into the kitchen. She was running late, again, and was afraid of making Cap mad. Despite the fact that Cap was her Uncle Hank she knew that he was too good a Captain to not separate their family relationship from their work relationship. She was already pretty sure she would draw latrines and didn't want to risk anything more than that.
Dashing through the door she nearly knocked over Johnny. He was standing right in front of the door showing the guys a map and some other papers he was holding in his hand.
"Ugh…oh, sorry John. I wasn't watching where I was going. What 'cha got there? Oh, never mind I'm late I gotta run. Be back in a min." The words tumbled over each other and 5 men stood there with mouths hanging open wondering how she could say so much without taking a single breath. Her habit of talking at top speed was something John had commented on the first time they'd met about 7 months ago. She said it was her "chipmunk on speed" voice. At first it was hard to keep up, but the men were surprised by how quickly they had adjusted to her rapid fire delivery. Amazingly, when she was on the radio with the docs at Rampart she had no problem taking it slow and steady. Molly took life in general at high speed and her speech was just one indicator of how much personality was packed into her small frame.
As Molly dashed from the room the men broke out into genial laughter and then went back to the map in John's hands.
Molly was stopped in her mad dash as she passed Cap's door when a gentle and yet, surprisingly firm, voice called out "Molly Stanely, roll call five minutes, you are late…again."
"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. It won't happen again, sir. Your daughters hogged the bathroom again and then I was out of gas, sir and had to stop at the station or not get here at all, sir. I'm sorry, sir."
Cap shook his head side to side, sighed and said, "Don't let it happen again or..." he paused, "I'll call your Dad."
"Please don't, Sir!" Cap simply arched his eyebrow at her and replied "Three minutes."
"Yes, Sir" rang through the bay as Molly once again made a mad dash for the locker room.
Molly yelled out as she ran through the locker room door, "Woman in the house!" She knew all the guys were in the kitchen, but they'd agreed on the code words indicating they should duck for cover if needed and she had gotten into the habit of calling out even when she knew it wasn't necessary. She figured that someday firehouses would be built to accommodate having both genders on staff, but Station 51 was sadly unprepared for a "woman in the house". Still, they had all made adjustments and gotten into habits that allowed everyone the privacy needed while still getting the job done.
Molly got dressed and rushed into the bay just in time to slide into line next to Chet Kelley a split second before Cap officially started roll call. She'd really have to work harder on getting to work on time. She'd never had this problem before and could only figure that she hadn't adjusted to living in a house with other women. She was used to having the bathroom pretty much to herself.
As she figured she landed latrines. She really needed some coffee before starting that disgusting job and went to the kitchen as soon as the group was dismissed. She'd get the latrines done soon enough.
Finding John making a new pot of coffee she leaned against a counter and asked, "What were you looking at this morning? I almost felt like I was running through one of those big signs they put up for football players to run through."
That got a chuckle from Johnny and almost caused a blush to creep up her cheeks. A symptom that was getting more and more common and she needed to put a stop to.
"I was showing the guys a new hike I found out about. There is a rock out in Riverside County that I heard about and might want to climb one of these days, well there is a hiking trail that goes up over it and I thought we could all go check it out the next time we have four days off."
"Hmm. What's the name of the trail and rock?"
"The rock has an Indian name, Tahquitz. The trail has a scary name, but is supposed to be pretty easy for experienced hikers, just steep in some spots and narrow in others. It is called Devil's Slide."
"I know that hike. I've never climbed the rock. You'd love it though. It's big, it'd be a good challenge for you, but not too hard from what I've seen you do. The hike isn't easy, but it isn't hard either. Steep and long for the most part, it can be done, up and back in a day, no problem. The trail along the top of Tahquitz can be pretty narrow and people have been known to fall off, but usually when there is ice or something else that happens. Mostly it's as safe as can be. You have to drive to a little mountain town called Idyllwild first, the trail head starts at a park just above town. You might want to consider driving out right after shift on the first day and camping overnight and then hiking the next day."
She paused her monologue to see all six of the men standing there looking at her with mouths agape.
Roy laughed, "Nothing, it's just it seems like you try to make up for all the things Mike doesn't say."
All the men laughed at that quip except for Mike and Molly who shared an equally confused look.
"Molly, we're all just wondering two things. How do you know so much about Tahquitz and how do you say so much without breathing?" John asked.
"Sorry, Dad always said I could talk the ear off a statue. Once I get going I guess I just don't know when to stop."
"And what about the trail?"
Captain Stanley offered the explanation for that one. "John, you aren't the only person in this station who likes to camp, you know. Molly's dad takes the kids camping every summer and whenever he can in between. Their family knows the mountains between here and Mexico like the backs of their hands."
Molly blushed at the praise her uncle offered, but nodded her head in agreement.
"It's true. Dad dragged us to every trail and forest imaginable. We've camped Idyllwild and hiked Devil's Slide a bunch of times. It's kind of a family favorite."
"Huh, you should definitely come along then", Johnny proposed.
The men of Station 51 felt like they were spending an inordinate amount of time with their mouths hanging open today.
Chet blustered, "But, Johnny! The camping trips are a GUY thing. Why'd you invite a GIRL along?" Chet said "girl" like it was a dirty word.
"She knows the trail Chet, she could be a help."
Chet scoffed and turned his back on the group pretending he needed to get a fresh cup of coffee. Chet had had the hardest time adapting to a girl in the station. The fact that she had pranked him on her first day and a couple of times since hadn't helped matters any either. He had gotten used to having Molly around, but was the least close to her out of the men at 51. Roy and his wife, Joanne had taken Molly under their wing much the way they had Johnny. Joanne and Molly had quickly become best friends and would do things together on Molly's days off while Roy and Johnny worked on Roy's honey do list. Mike and Molly talked books all the time and seemed to get along well on a more intellectual level. Marco's mother had initially been shocked at the idea of a girl working as a Firefighter/Paramedic, but the instant they met they became good friends. Molly knew how to make tamales and enchiladas and wasn't afraid to step in and help Mama Lopez with the food at the last get together. Mama Lopez treated her like another daughter. Everyone knew that Molly and Cap were family. And, then of course, everyone knew about the strange situation that was Molly and Johnny. The two had fallen hard for each other last year and had maintained a long distance relationship until Molly was "borrowed" by L.A. to see how transitioning to having female firefighters and/or paramedics would work for the county. All this left Chet Kelley feeling a bit on the outside when it came to the Molly "fan club" as he called it. She didn't ignore him or make him feel bad, ever. They just hadn't developed the closeness the others had. Chet really didn't want her to come on the trip, but didn't want to make her feel bad about it either. He turned back to the group, asking, "So, Gage, when are we going to take this trip, it sounds like fun."
"We have a four-day next week. I know it's short notice, but I thought I'd head out there then. Who's in?"
In the end Roy and Cap had bowed out citing the need to spend time with their families and get things done around the house. School would be out for Spring Recess and their kids were looking forward to time with their fathers. The rest of the shift would be on their way to the mountains in a week.
The rest of the shift, anytime they had some down time, Johnny and Molly could be found sitting at the kitchen table, heads together, maps spread out, campsite information piled to the side and a notepad listing the things they would need before heading out. Chet felt left out.
The appointed day arrived. Thankfully the night had been relatively peaceful and the camping crew members were awake and ready to leave as soon as the B shift arrived at the station. They had loaded their gear into Johnny's Rover the day before and were ready for their adventure. The trip to Idyllwild would be long, a little over 2 hours if traffic cooperated, which it probably would not, so they had figured three hours before arriving at their campground. Happy chatter was heard all the way to their campsite, except from Chet, who was uncommonly quiet.
The drive passed quickly and soon they had left behind the freeways of Los Angeles and found themselves on a small highway road driving through farmland and dairy ranches.
Chet finally piped up as they passed by a field with content looking cows munching away on piles of hay, "Where are we? Podunkville?"
"It's a small town called Hemet, we drive through this town to get to the mountains," Molly answered.
"Never heard of it," answered four voices in unison.
Molly chuckled, "Not many have. My Mom's sister lives here. It's a nice, quiet little town if you don't mind the sidewalks being rolled up at 6 p.m. and the smell of cows."
Soon they were driving through what appeared to be an orange grove with the road going down the middle and could see the mountains rising behind the trees. As the grove ended, the road began to rise. The passengers in the car could feel the changes in the air as they climbed higher into the mountains and soon they had left behind palm trees and orange groves for stands of pine trees and manzanita bushes.
"Johnny, make a left at the fork and then watch for the sign for the County Campground," Molly announced.
During the planning sessions at the station Molly had shown that the opportunities for wilderness camping near Idyllwild were slim and the ones that did exist were on trails heading away from where they wanted to go. Johnny had, reluctantly, conceded to staying in a "regular" campground. Molly's family had stayed at this particular campground often and she knew the best and most secluded spot for their camp, where other campers would be least likely to disturb them. Johnny hated the campers that came to the woods with their radios, campers and generators. He came to the woods to get away from all that and had a healthy dislike for those that insisted on dragging it along with them.
"Hey, guys. If we get camp set up and eat a quick lunch I can take you on an easy, quick hike before dinner."
Molly laughed as again, four voices answered in unison, "Sounds great!"
With the same efficiency that they fought fires, the 51s crew had their tents staked out and some quick and easy sandwiches ready from the cooler that Molly had packed.
True to her word the hike was easy, but went through some really pretty areas of the mountains. The trail was almost entirely empty of other humans and they enjoyed the easy camaraderie as they walked through the forest.
Molly got them back just before sunset. A campfire quickly cooked up some fish Johnny had pulled from his freezer, saved from his last fishing trip. The group sat around the campfire for a while sipping coffee and enjoying the easy chatter that was always found during down time at the station. Chet continued to be quieter than usual, but everyone was having such a good time that nobody really noticed much. Chet liked Molly, he really did, but he was having a hard time with a girl in HIS world. He had seen first-hand that she had considerable skills when it came to fighting a fire. He knew first hand that she had considerable skill and bravery in her paramedic work. He'd been awed by her actions during the bus crash that had been Molly's first introduction to the men her uncle worked with. He still had concerns about a woman doing rescue work. She was so small. He was already the shortest of the regular crew members and she was even smaller. He doubted that when push came to shove she would be able to keep a member of the crew from coming to harm if there were an emergency on the scene of a fire. His resentment of her caused him to be uncommonly quiet around her, he just didn't have much to say to her. His mama had taught him the old saying "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."
Gradually the men splintered off, heading for the tents and sleep so that they would be ready for the much more strenuous hike in the morning. Soon it was just Johnny and Molly sitting at the fire quietly sipping their last cups of coffee.
"So, Molly, your dad is an outdoors enthusiast?"
"Of the worst kind," Molly's sweet laugh drifted through the campfire smoke. "You know he trained all of us to be firefighters since we could walk. He figured rock climbing and rappelling were good skills for us to have and camping has been a family event since the dawn of time. Or so he'd have you believe in any case. It didn't help me out that I was tacked on after three boys. My sister is a girly girl to this day and only tolerates us for the sake of familial peace, but I was practically raised by the boys."
"Johnny had to laugh at that last statement. "So, you were just one of the guys then?"
"Yep. By the time I came along my mom was so used to the boys ruling the roost that she barely noticed that I had pigtails. I grew up in jeans and sneakers. I liked doing all the things the boys did. My sister made sure I learned the proper manners for a girl and made sure I knew how a girl should act, but my nails always had dirt under them and you were much more likely to find me in a tree than having a tea party."
"I can see how that would be the case. Not many girls can do the things I've seen you."
"That was something my brothers taught me well, keep up or be left behind. I learned to be strong and fast."
"Bet nobody messed with you on the playground."
Again Molly's laugh rang out. Johnny really liked hearing her laugh. "No, nobody ever did. I was never bullied. Not so much because of what I could do as out of fear of my brothers. In addition to being last, I am a bit of a caboose you might say. There are five years between me and my next oldest brother. My parents thought they were done. My brothers all played football as well as other sports and the kids were well aware that these giants were on this earth strictly to protect me." She laughed again thinking about the fear she had seen when her brothers came to pick her up from school. She continued, "There was a boy once, thought he should get my lunch money. He'd just moved to town and didn't know any better. I told him to leave me alone or my brothers would 'take care of him'. He wasn't scared until school let out and my oldest brother, who happened to be home on a visit from college, came to get me. When I put my hand in his to walk from the school I turned and found the little boy who had picked on me. I looked him right in the eyes and stuck my tongue out at him. He never bothered me again."
Johnny shook his head picturing the event she had just described. He'd spent enough time around her family members to know that every word was true. "You were well loved. Still are."
"Yes, yes I was and yes, yes I am. You know, I only have a week left after this. I'm still not sure what decision I'll make when that week is up."
"I know, I'm trying to figure out how I'll feel when you are gone. Not sure I'm going to like having you all the way back in San Diego. I've gotten used to having you up here. One week isn't long at all."
Molly laughed, gently and softly this time. "No not long. Are you sorry I came on this trip? I kind of invited myself and took over. Sorry about that."
"No, I'm very, very glad you came."
"Thank you, Johnny. For everything."
"For you, anything."
"It's getting late, we've been out here awhile. This was nice, but I think I'm going to turn in now. G'night Johnny."
"Good-night, Molly. Sleep-tight."
"Don't let the bed bugs bite."
They both laughed and headed for their respective tents. If they hadn't been so wrapped up in their own conversation they would have noticed a distinct lack of snoring coming from the tents. If there had been any light to see by they would have seen two sly smiles and one distinct frown on the faces of the "sleeping" men.
Mike's smile was probably the biggest. He thought back to the events that had preceded this camping trip. It had been about seven months since they first met Molly, but only a couple of weeks since Chief McConnike had personally delivered Molly to the station because she was Cap's niece and more importantly and more obviously, she was a she. They had had to make some adjustments because Molly would stay at the station for a full shift with the rest of the men. A few changes had to be made to ensure privacy for everyone. There had been a few awkward moments, but they'd gotten used to having Molly in the house and she'd quickly become a little sister to most of the regular members of 51 A shift, except for two. One was jealous of a girl taking over his world, and the other definitely did not see her as a little sister. One member was head over heels for the green-eyed girl. Before she came to Station 51 Molly was already working full-time in San Diego and she had a steadfast rule that she refused to date any man she was stationed with. It caused too many questions and potential problems she just didn't want to get involved with. The two had agreed that her plan was best and that they would be co-workers only during her placement at Station 51. Mike thought Johnny would go crazy before then. He'd never seen him more in love and less able to do anything about it. They all knew that Molly being along on the camping trip would be interesting, but their conversation showed that they were hanging strong. Mike didn't worry that this relationship would stand this particular test of time and would most likely stand every test of time. He'd never seen two people more appropriate for each other. It wasn't long before there were soft sounds of sleep coming from every corner of the campground. Tomorrow would be a challenging day.