At the DeSoto's
With great effort and a sliding gait he wearily made his way up the walk to the door where he leaned heavily against the front of the house, planting both hands on the screen door to steady himself. If he hadn't promised the kids that he'd come straight to the party after he got off shift, he would have gone directly home to bed.
The overtime shift had been grueling and to top it off the last call to an apartment complex had lasted two hours after shift change. 'Why do I do this to myself? If it isn't bad enough that I get banged up on my own shift. I have to volunteer to work overtime too.' Johnny was beyond exhausted and although he hadn't told anyone, especially at Rampart, his wrist, now wrapped in an ace bandage, and his knee, that he knew had grown several sizes larger than its normal size, were throbbing to the beat of his heart. His throat hurt and his chest ached from smoke inhalation and his head felt like it had a drum line practicing a steady beat inside. Roy would have insisted he get checked out, but his temporary partner didn't know him that well.
'I better pull myself together before I face Roy. He's gonna know if I'm not careful. Then all the guys will find out. Cap'll make me take a shift off and I can't afford that right now.' Taking a few deep cleansing breaths Johnny rolled his head from side to side and pushed himself away from his perch. He could hear the festivities already started in the back yard through the screen door. He was thankful that his friends had left him his usual spot in the driveway. If he'd had to park down the street, he didn't think he would have made it this far. 'I'll just try to make it to the bathroom without anyone knowing I'm here, splash some water on my face and try to pull myself together.' He sighed. 'I hope no one sees me.'
Johnny pressed his face to the screen trying to see if anyone was in the kitchen before opening the door. He knew the hinges squeaked, and he didn't want to alert anyone to his arrival until he had time to freshen up. Seeing that the coast was clear he slipped inside the house and down the familiar hallway to the guest bath. He knew Roy's house like the back of his hand. He should, he'd spent more than enough time there for it to feel like home. He closed the door and leaned his forehead against it, willing the drums in his head to take a break.
He slowly turned to the sink and again placed both hands out to steady himself. After a few minutes he reached over and turned on the water and with his good hand splashed some on his face. Then he looked up into the mirror to see if he looked as bad as he felt.
To his dismay…he did look bad. His eyes had dark circles beneath them. He looked pale and tired. He'd gotten water on the butterfly bandage he had put on the cut at his hairline, and the bruising had already turned an ugly shade around it. Sighing deeply he grabbed the towel and patted his face dry. He decided another hot, but quick, shower would make his aching muscles feel better and maybe help him wake up, so he stripped quickly while the water heated up.
After standing in the heated spray for a few minutes, Johnny reluctantly turned off the water, slung the water from his hair, which he quickly regretted, and stepped out of the shower. He grabbed the towel and wrapped it around himself; picked up his clothes and peeked out of the door to make sure the coast was clear. He limped across the hall into the sewing room where his bed was. Joanne had set it up for him after he had been injured several times and Brackett wouldn't let him go home alone. She had insisted that it was not just for him. Roy's mother could use it when she visited too, but so far he had been the only person to sleep there.
Before sliding into his jeans, Johnny looked at the swelling around his knee. 'Must have really twisted it good this time. Oh well, a little ice later and elevating it will help. I just have to get through this party first.' He finished buckling his belt and sat on the side of the bed to re-wrap his wrist. It was never easy to wrap your own wrist, but he'd done it many times before. Sometimes after a long shift when he hadn't told anyone he'd hurt it, he would go back to his place and have it wrapped for a couple of days before having to go back on shift. 'If I keep having to wrap this up I'll have to get it x-rayed. Every time I think it's gettin' better I screw it up again.' Once he haphazardly wrapped the wrist he leaned back on the bed to fish in his jeans pocket for the extra band aides he had stuffed there before leaving the station. Without sitting up again, he felt for the cut on his forehead, tore open the bandages and refashioned a butterfly bandage on his still damp skin. If he hadn't been so tired he might have realized they wouldn't stick well. He was still laying half on the bed half off when he fell asleep a few minutes later.
"Hey dad!" Chris called from the 4' deep, above ground pool, in the middle of the back yard. "I thought Uncle Johnny would be here by now."
"He said he would be over after shift son. They probably had a late call." Roy and most of his crew mates and Captain glanced at their watches. 'Must have been a doozy he's already a couple of hours late.'
Chet popped up out of the water and called over to Roy. "He's already here." He looked around at everyone staring back at him. "What?" He shrugged.
Roy stood from the place he'd been leaning on the deck rail. "How long?"
"I don't know."
"How long, Chet?" Mike echoed Roy's question.
Chet knew better than to dodge the quiet man's question. Chet knew he could cause him real problems on the job and off. He and Mike were very close friends and the man, though he didn't talk much and never shared stories about their exploits, had been on some pretty interesting double dates together with he and Marco over the years. And at the station if the engineer was angry with a lineman the hose could be very hard to control. "Um…when I went to get my stuff out of the car, I saw him limping across the hall in a towel. I think he'd just taken a shower."
Having gotten an answer for Roy, Mike relaxed in his chair. Then all at once the men realized what Chet had said. Roy was the first to verbalize his concern, "Limping? He was limping and you didn't think anything about that?" Roy turned and headed for the sliding door that led into the kitchen.
"Uncle Johnny's here!" the Desoto children screamed with glee. "Uncle Johnny's here!" Chris climbed out of the pool and ran for the deck where he was intercepted by Roy.
"Hey, son, give me a few minutes to check on him. Chet said he'd been in the shower. He's probably getting dressed." Chris peered up into his father's eyes, the smile disappeared from his face, and he nodded his understanding. Joanne kneeled on the other side of the deck having a similar conversation with Jenny.
Roy went into the house and down the hallway. The sewing room door was closed. He pushed it open slowly, quietly. There on the bed he found Johnny, clad only in his jeans, lying sideways across the bed with his feet still on the floor. His right arm rested across his chest and was wrapped haphazardly in an ace bandage. Roy studied his friend for a few moments noticing the band aides he had on his forehead in a makeshift butterfly bandage, the dark bruise that surround the bandage and the dark circles under his eyes. Roy knew someone had followed him into the house. He looked over his shoulder and without words the two quietest members of the A-shift moved into position to re-position Johnny fully onto the bed.
Mike backed away waiting for Roy to give him direction as to what he needed help with. Roy unbuckled Johnny's jeans and gently lifted him. Mike moved to the end of the bed and grabbed the hem of both pant legs. He pulled the jeans down the long legs until Johnny elicited a moan. Both Roy and Mike stopped and looked at each other. Roy pulled up the waist band of the jeans that had made it almost halfway down Johnny's legs. He winced when he saw how swollen Johnny's left knee was. The only option they had at this point was to finish removing the jeans the way they had started. Roy nodded to Mike and he pulled the jeans the rest of the way off.
Johnny remained asleep through the process, but had coughed harshly when they were finished. "In the closet." Roy calmly stated. Mike moved to the closet and got the pillows from the top shelf. They had been through this similar routine many times with their friend. "He must have taken in some smoke." Roy unnecessarily explained as he held Johnny up enough for Mike to position the pillows on the bed to elevate his head and shoulders to help him breathe easier.
Then Mike stepped back out of the way again. Joanne appeared in the door with Chris and Jenny right behind her. All three were there for a second and then disappeared. Joanne came back a few seconds later with the medical kit Roy kept at the house for emergencies. She walked over and handed it to her husband. Then she bent over and kissed Johnny on the forehead. "He's a little warm." Her hand passed over Johnny's forehead brushing the hair out of the way and removing the makeshift butterfly bandage easily from his damp skin, dropping it into the waste basket. "Could be from the hot shower." She patted Roy's shoulder as she passed him.
Jenny came back next with one of her favorite stuffed animals which she proceeded to place on the bed next to Johnny…his arm instinctively pulled it closer as if he knew she had placed it there. Jenny smiled at her father and skipped out of the room.
Chris was next with a glass of water and the bottle of Tylenol his mother had given him in the kitchen. He put the glass on the bedside table, patted Johnny's shoulder and followed his sister back to the party.
Mike smiled and leaned back against the wall to wait while Roy checked Johnny's injuries.
Joanne returned a few minutes later with ice packs for Johnny's wrist and knee. Experience had told her Roy would want them. She disappeared again only to return with towels to use between the packs and his skin.
Next Captain Stanley appeared. He cleared his throat as he looked over his youngest charge. "I called dispatch. They were at an apartment fire this morning, several stations and paramedic teams." He looked from Mike to Roy who was busy getting vitals. "I also talked to Rampart. Dixie said he was in and out of there several times with victims. The last time she noticed he didn't stay long. She said he came in with his helmet and turnout coat still on. She thought it was a little strange since he usually takes it off as soon as he starts treating a patient." He chuckled. They had all seen Johnny do that a million times. He said he could work better that way and it only took a couple of seconds. "She didn't notice anything other than that. She did say he sounded a little gravely, but then we all do after a big fire."
"So he didn't stay and assist with the victim?" Roy asked as he pumped up the BP cuff.
"No she said he had to get back to the scene. He caught a ride in the ambulance and that was the last time she saw him this morning. She said she didn't think anything of that either since you guys do that often when we're dealing with a lot of victims."
"He must have been covering up the wrist and knee." He reached his fingers up to the cut at Johnny's hairline. "And that."
Captain Stanley moved closer so he could see what Roy had pointed at. "I guess it looks like I'll need to get a replacement for tomorrow."
"I don't know, Cap. Maybe." Roy didn't want to be the one to decide if Johnny had to miss a shift. He knew Johnny had been a little short on funds lately. "I'll put some ice on his knee. I know it gives him some trouble since he got hit by that car, and the wrist is probably just sprained again. If he keeps it wrapped…" Roy let the sentence linger.
"Okay Roy, I'll wait and see when he wakes up." Captain Stanley had already talked to Johnny about his money situation when he had requested overtime two weeks ago.
"Don't thank me yet. I didn't say he could work." Hank said as he left the room.
"You need me?" Mike asked softly.
"Nah, I'll just re-wrap that arm and get the ice packs on. He's pretty out of it right now. Probably just tired."
"Yeah…tired." Mike nodded. 'Exhausted is more like it.' Mike hesitated at the door, looking back at the supine figure in the bed. 'I hope that's all it is.'
When he was finally alone with Johnny, Roy brushed the hair from his face like he would his son. He applied a "real" butterfly bandage on the small cut on his forehead after putting some antibiotic cream on it. Then he elevated the knee and placed the towel over it before putting the ice packs in place. He gently rewrapped the arm, elevated it and repeated the icing process as he had the knee. Through all of that Johnny never woke up. Roy stood up pulled the blanket out of the closet and carefully covered his friend. 'I hope you haven't hidden any other injuries, Junior.' He ran his hand through his hair. 'I didn't feel any ribs out of place or tenderness in your abdomen.' He sighed. 'Rest easy my friend.'
When Roy came back out of the sliding glass doors onto the deck he was met by two dripping men with towels wrapped around their shoulders. He looked into the worried eyes of Chet and Marco. They had wanted to check on Johnny, but respected Joanne too much to track through her house dripping pool water along the way. "He's okay…a little banged up and tired, but he'll be okay. I'll have to go move the ice packs in about twenty minutes and then replace them again a little later, but he'll probably sleep for a while."
"Well all right!" Chet broke out into a huge grin.
"Good." Marco smiled as well.
"What can I do to help?" Chet asked without thinking. He was giving himself away. Even though they all knew his act of not caring was just that…an act.
Roy smiled broadly. "Well since you "care" so much Chet…"
"Hey I never said that." Chet blushed.
"No…no of course not." Marco patted his buddy on the shoulder.
"What I meant was what can I do to help you, Roy?" Chet straightened his shoulders and cocked his head sideways with his eyebrows wiggling.
"Oh…I see…well Johnny promised to play with Chris and Jenny in the pool."
"Okay…come on Marco." He turned and threw his towel over the deck rail and ran across the yard yelling. "Look out kids! Here comes Chester B!" He jumped up and over the side of the pool. Really he was almost too short to jump over the side of the above ground pool so he kind of rolled over it and made a big splash. Everyone laughed at him for acting so silly.
Marco moved a little slower, with a little more dignity, and actually climbed the ladder before jumping from the top rung and curling into a ball. "Cannon Ball!" He also made a big splash causing both children to giggle happily.
"I want to try!" Chris yelled and he made his way to the ladder.
"Okay buddy, but first let me give you the rules." Chet stopped Chris before he could climb the ladder to explain about being careful in such a shallow pool and not to do anything like that without adult supervision.
The other adults, including Roy and Joanne, knew that the children were in good hands and returned to their earlier conversations. Roy grabbed a cold beer and joined Mike at the grill. "How's it coming?"
"Almost ready." Mike lowered the lid. "Did you get him all settled?"
"Yeah, he'll probably sleep most of the day." He turned the bottle up and took a long draw. "Do you think Cap's mad?"
"Nah, he cares too much about all of us to get too mad."
Roy looked at Mike with questioning in his eyes. "You really think so?"
"I know so. He told me he couldn't ask for a better bunch of men to have under his command." Mike patted Roy on the back. "Of course he'd had a few drinks at the time." He chuckled as he walked over to the cooler and got himself another drink.
After several hours Johnny stirred. He cracked open his eyes and looked around the room. 'Roy musta found me.' He thought as he moved the towel that held the ice pack on his wrist, sat up slowly and repeated the process on his knee. Then he pulled the blanket down and checked his knee. The swelling was almost completely gone. He flexed it a few times. Satisfied that it would support him he turned and put both feet on the floor. He smiled when Jennifer's stuffed animal fell on the floor. He reached for the glass of water he knew would be there and the bottle of Tylenol, popped the top off and got out a couple of tablets. He smiled to himself. Knowing the Desoto's cared a lot about him gave him a warm fuzzy feeling inside.
He got up and slipped his jeans on and crossed the hall to take care of some business before he finished dressing. Then he returned to his room and pulled his shirt on, leaving it unbuttoned. It was warm and the cool air felt good against his skin. He knew that even though he had been asleep for several hours his friends would be waiting for him in the back yard.
When he walked through the glass doors he saw all of his crew mates and their families there on the deck. They were finishing their dinner. "Um…can a guy get something to eat around here?" He teased knowing this was probably the second time the group had eaten today.
Roy got up and gave Johnny his chair. Joanne ducked into the house to retrieve the steak they had been keeping warm for him in the oven. Chet placed a cold beer on the table in front of Johnny. Mike picked up the beer and replaced it with a glass of milk. Marco passed Johnny some silverware and a napkin.
"How are you feeling Johnny?" Captain Stanley leaned his elbows on the table and looked over at him.
"Better…uh I'm sorry I fell asleep." Johnny couldn't meet his superior's eyes.
"Hi Uncle Johnny!" Jennifer tugged on Johnny's arm. Johnny reached out and pulled her into a hug.
"Hey Jenny Bean."
"You were asleep and we took care of you." She beamed up at him.
"I know." He looked from person to person sitting around the table and felt that warm fuzzy feeling inside again. "You always do."