The Mother-In-Law

 

By Rona

 

“You look pretty glum this morning,” Johnny commented as he and Roy checked through the drug box. Roy was never usually as voluble as his partner, but it was kind of unusual that he hadn’t said more than a few words that morning. “You feeling all right?”

 

“I guess,” Roy sighed.

 

Now alarmed, Johnny reached to see if Roy was running a temperature. Roy batted his hand away in annoyance. “Stop that!” he snapped. “I just told you I was fine!”

 

“I know you, Pally,” Johnny retorted. “And it’s not like you to be so quiet!” He put his hands on his hips and studied Roy carefully. It was rare for his partner to be out-of-sorts and the last time he had been was when… The penny dropped. Johnny’s tense stance relaxed. “Your mother-in-law is coming to visit,” he diagnosed.

 

Heaving a martyred sigh, Roy nodded. It was no secret to the men at 51 that Roy and his mother-in-law didn’t get on. She thought Joanne had married beneath her and constantly nagged at Roy because he earned a lot less than Joanne’s sister’s husband. She didn’t appear to have any understanding of what a paramedic did and couldn’t have cared less either.

 

“I’ll come for dinner one night,” Johnny offered nobly. Roy’s mother-in-law hated only one person more than Roy and that was Johnny.

 

“Thanks, Junior,” Roy replied, smiling at last. “But I don’t think the department gives out commendations for that.” They both laughed and for a while at least, Roy was able to forget about the impending visit.

 

************

 

The whole crew knew when Margaret, Roy’s mother-in-law, arrived. His whole demeanor changed and he became hang-dog and sullen. They all prayed it would be a short visit, but when Roy was still out of sorts the following shift, they began to get worried.

 

Naturally enough, it was Johnny who finally brought the subject up when they were alone in the squad, returning from a call. “So how long is Margaret staying?” he asked.

 

“At least another week,” Roy replied. “Maybe more. Joanne,” and he made a face, “has told her to stay as long as she wants. And right now, it looks like she wants to stay for a long time, since I am being so clumsy, stupid and irresponsible.”

 

“Gee,” Johnny whistled in sympathy. “More clumsy, stupid and irresponsible than usual?”

 

There was almost a smile in response to that sally – almost. Roy heaved a huge sigh. “It really gets me down, you know?”

 

“Yeah, I know, Pally,” Johnny nodded. “I just don’t see why she doesn’t like you! After all, she’s known you since you were a kid.”

 

“I don’t either,” Roy admitted. “But she thinks that being a fireman is something that only an idiot can do. And she has no idea what a paramedic is and even less interest. The only way to get her approval is to get a job as an executive somewhere.”

 

“Are you thinking about doing that?” Johnny asked apprehensively. He had tried very hard to hide his feelings when Roy had passed the engineer’s exam and was going to take the promotion. But if Roy did quit, Johnny would miss him immensely.

 

“No, I’m not!” Roy declared firmly. “If that old…” He paused and bit back the less than flattering description that had sprung to his tongue. “If Margaret thinks she can run my life,” he continued, slightly more calmly, “she can think again!”

 

“You tell her!” Johnny cheered.

 

Heartened by his friend’s response to his problem, Roy felt that perhaps he could bear Margaret’s presence for another few days.

 

************

 

But the next shift showed no signs of improvement. Roy’s glower as he arrived warned everyone to tread carefully around him and when he caught Chet arranging a water bomb for Johnny, the look he gave the shorter man hastily persuaded Chet that staying alive was preferable to the Phantom getting one over on his pigeon that day!

 

“What’s she done now?” Johnny asked, as he put the biophone away after the morning calibration. He had been over for dinner the previous evening and had endured several barbed comments about his lack of promotion and how he was holding back what little chance Roy had of advancement. Johnny had kept his temper – not by much – and Joanne had looked mortified.

 

“Joanne and her mother are going shopping today,” Roy replied. He was waxing the squad and Johnny thought he would rub holes in it if he continued to use that amount of force. “Joanne asked me for some money last night. I gave her what I could, but her mother barged into our room before she had the chance to put it away and I had to endure a diatribe about how mean I am!”

 

“It’s none of her business!” Johnny interrupted indignantly. Roy was anything but mean!

 

“I know,” Roy responded through gritted teeth. “And I told her so. It ended up a hideous scene. She sobbed and wailed so much that she woke Jennifer and Chris came from in front of the TV to see what was happening.” Roy was so angry at the memory he could hardly see. Yet his feelings that day didn’t compare to how he had felt the night before. “She told them that I was so mean, I was keeping their mother short of money and making her beg for the money she ought to get by right.”

 

Johnny was silent. There was nothing he could say. He was appalled at Margaret’s behavior. Johnny had learned a sharp lesson about interfering between a man and his wife. “What happened?” he ventured finally.

 

“Just about what you’d expect,” Roy hissed bitterly. “Joanne and the kids ended up crying, too. Joanne had to calm the kids down and explain that Grandma didn’t mean it, when they knew perfectly well that she did. I went for a walk.”

 

“Joanne had a shopping spree last week, didn’t she?” Johnny remembered. He knew that Roy had given Joanne a lot of money for her birthday so she could go shopping and buy herself whatever she wanted.

 

“Margaret thinks I invented that as a face-saver,” Roy told him. Johnny was appalled. He wondered how anyone could be so selfish. It sounded like Margaret wanted to break up the DeSoto marriage – and for all Johnny knew, she might be succeeding. He desperately wanted to know, but had no idea how to ask without seeming nosy.

 

“Joanne has told her mother to go home tomorrow,” Roy added, more quietly. He seemed to be tired, but it had helped to vent his feelings to his partner.

 

“Oh,” Johnny murmured, not really sure how to respond but knowing that he had to acknowledge what Roy had just said in some way.

 

Reaching out, Roy put his hand on Johnny’s arm. “Johnny…”

 

He never got his sentence finished. That very moment, everything began to shake. Instinctively, both men looked up, holding on to the shaking squad. On and on it went, a deep rumble sounding through the earth. They both knew what it was. Earthquakes and tremors weren’t exactly unusual in Los Angeles. But this was not one of the usual tremors. This was a big one. Something fell over and smashed in the day room but neither paramedic went to investigate. Walking would have been all but impossible on the heaving floor.

 

And then, as abruptly as it had started, it stopped. “That had to have been a 7,” Johnny joked shakily.

 

“7.2,” Roy offered as they moved towards the day room to check out their colleagues. It was standard practice for the residents of LA to guess the size of the tremor. It usually helped relieve a bit of the tension. But not today. A quake that big could mean only one thing – trouble!

 

************

 

Sure enough, the tones went off within minutes. *Station 51, station 36. Mall collapse. Pentland Retail Park. Time out 10.30.*

 

The paleness of Roy’s face was all Johnny needed to tell him that this was where Joanne was going to be shopping that day. Silently, he took the keys from Roy and pushed him towards the passenger side of the squad. Hank Stanley, the captain, acknowledged the call and handed the slip to Johnny. He blinked at the unusual set up. Johnny mouthed at him, “Joanne’s there.”

 

Much as Stanley wanted to call in a replacement for Roy, he couldn’t do it. There wasn’t time. The mall – brand new and only open for a couple of weeks – had collapsed. There would be injuries there, possibly fire, too. They had to respond at once.  This would be a difficult and dangerous rescue. There would be further tremors. Nobody knew how many or when they would hit, but they would hit. Hank could only hope that none of his men got hurt.

 

***************

 

It was total chaos at the mall. The glass and steel structure had proven unequal to nature’s forces, despite its supposed ‘earthquake proof’ design. Hank Stanley knew that there would be questions to be answered here. It appeared that someone, somewhere, had cut corners. However, that was not his concern. His concern was getting the people out of there.

 

There were people milling about everywhere, looking shocked. Some had minor injuries, but Squad 36 had already set up triage area and were working one a few people.

 

“Hank!” Chief McConnike waved at the captain. Hank hurried over. “We’ve got reports of people trapped inside the store at the corner here. Send in your men.”

 

“Right, Chief,” Hank acknowledged. He beckoned to his paramedics. “This corner store, guys. There are people trapped.”

 

Nodding, Johnny and Roy headed over. Roy seemed calmer now that they had arrived and had a job to do. He still seemed pale and Johnny vowed to keep a close eye on him during the rescue. He longed to talk to his partner, but didn’t know what to say.

 

The store they had been directed to appeared to have been a woman’s dress shop. The plate glass windows were gone and toppled mannequins lay scattered here and there. The trapped people were at the back of the store where the changing rooms had been. As the paramedics pulled away the crumpled pasteboard walls, they realized that the floor had collapsed.

 

“HT 51 to Engine 51,” Roy said, raising the HT to his lips. “We’re going to need a stokes and manpower in here. The floor has collapsed.”

 

“Roger, HT 51,” came the response.

 

The gap in the floor was quite wide, but when the paramedics peered downwards, they could see that it narrowed considerably. “I’ll go down,” Johnny announced unnecessarily. It would be a tight fit for him, but impossible for Roy.

 

“Be careful,” Roy advised and Johnny flashed a grin.

 

“Always am,” he smiled and lowered himself down.

 

For several seconds, Johnny thought he was going to have to shed his turnout coat, an action that would have brought Cap’s wrath down on his head. But after some determined wriggling, the slender paramedic managed to ease his way through. He dropped down into partial darkness and landed awkwardly on a pile of rubble. He tumbled to the ground, unhurt.

 

“Johnny?” The voice was instantly familiar and Johnny felt like cheering to know that Joanne was all right. “Oh, Johnny, I’m so glad to see you.”

 

“I’m glad to see you, too,” Johnny replied, giving Joanne a careful hug. “Are you all right?”

 

“Just bruised,” Joanne smiled. “Where’s Roy?”

 

“Up there,” Johnny pointed. “Joanne, if you didn’t feed him so well, he could have come down here!” His teasing paid off. A grin broke out on Joanne’s face and she swatted his arm playfully.

 

“Johnny Gage! As if you don’t regularly eat me out of house and home!”

 

“Are you ready to get out of here?” Johnny asked. It was incredibly dusty in the basement.

 

“Mama’s hurt her ankle,” Joanne admitted. “She’s over here.”

 

“Hang on.” Johnny moved as close to the hole as he could and shouted, “Joanne’s here. She’s fine! I’m just going to check on Margaret!”

 

“Roger!” Johnny could hear the relief in Roy’s voice.

 

Moving slowly in the uncertain light, Johnny followed Joanne across the basement to where her mother sat. Margaret’s expression was a strange mixture of fear, disgruntlement and pain. “Hello, Margaret,” Johnny said. “Which ankle is hurt?”

 

“It’s her right,” Joanne answered, when her mother refused to say anything.

 

Kneeling, Johnny gently palpated the injured joint.  He didn’t think the ankle was broken, but it was so swollen it was difficult to be sure. “Let’s get you out of here,” Johnny suggested.

 

“About time!” Margaret snapped, but she was grateful enough to have Johnny’s strong arm to lean on when she regained her feet. In fact, Johnny practically carried her across to the hole.

 

In his absence, Roy had been busy. A line with a safety belt was already through the hole. Johnny strapped it around Margaret before he moved some of the rubble and loose flooring, widening the hole. When that was done, he helped Margaret to her feet and called up, “Ready to go!”

 

It only took a minute or so to get Margaret out of the hole. The belt dropped back through and Johnny turned to Joanne. “Now, don’t tell Roy I had my arms around you down here,” he joked. “He might be the jealous type. It’s always the quiet ones, you know.”

 

Laughing, Joanne kissed his cheek. “You can tell him yourself,” she returned smiling, the relief of almost being free allowing her to relax.

 

“Up you go,” Johnny ordered and called out, “Ready!” He guided Joanne upwards and then climbed onto the rubble to make sure that she was safe. It seemed that nothing was happening so he shouted, “Hey! Less canoodling and get that belt down to me!”

 

“Hold your horses, Junior!” Roy scolded. He dropped the belt back down and Johnny caught it, slinging it around his slender waist and buckling it tightly.

 

“Haul away!”

 

At that moment, the first aftershock hit.

 

***************

 

Opening his eyes, Johnny drew a constricted breath. The darkness was absolute and for a moment, he thought he had been struck blind. He moved, and winced as pain shot through his body. He was trapped, pinned down somehow and one of the reasons it was so dark was that his helmet had slid forward over his face. At least Cap won’t be mad at me, he thought.

 

Shoving his helmet back into place, Johnny winced as it hit a sore spot on the back of his head. Gentle probing told Johnny that the gash wasn’t deep, but it had been bleeding and it hurt. The darkness was less impenetrable now that he’d moved his helmet, but his eyes felt gritty and sore and he still couldn’t see much. However, he reasoned that he didn’t need to see to know what had happened. The aftershock had moved the pile of rubble he’d been standing on and most of it was now on top of his legs. He attempted to sit up, but his head swam alarmingly and he decided against trying it again for a few minutes.

 

“Roy?” he called and coughed as the dust was stirred up. There was no reply. Johnny didn’t know how long he’d been unconscious. He didn’t know if everyone had got out up top. He didn’t know if anyone was looking for him.

 

At that depressing thought, Johnny once more attempted to sit up, managing the maneuver that time. He scrabbled frantically at the debris covering his legs, tearing his palms, but he didn’t notice. But the rubble wasn’t moving much and Johnny soon slumped back, exhausted.

 

He could do nothing but wait.

 

*************

 

As the earth moved beneath them, Roy instinctively flung himself over his wife, protecting her slender body with his. He felt Johnny’s lifeline burning through his hands and he tightened his grip, gritting his teeth as he fought to hold on to the rope. Just as he thought he was going to lose it, the rope stopped moving and Roy tightened his grip even more.

 

“Let’s get out of here!” Chet shouted. He picked himself up from on top of Margaret and motioned to Marco, who was at the other end of the stokes. “Come on, Roy!”

 

“Johnny’s down there!” Roy cried, sitting up. He still clung to the lifeline. “He’s on the other end of this rope!”

 

“Roy…” Joanne was disheveled and dirty, but she still looked fabulous to Roy. Tears were standing in her eyes.

 

“You go out with Chet and Marco,” Roy urged gently. “I’ll wait here. We’ve got to get Johnny out.”

 

“But the whole place could come down!” objected Margaret, who, although she wouldn’t admit it, had a good deal more respect for her son-in-law now that she had seen him and his partner in action.

 

“I know,” Roy admitted. He glanced at Joanne and saw that she understood. “But I can’t leave Johnny.”

 

“God be with you,” the older lady murmured and Roy was touched.

 

“Thank you.” Roy hauled the HT from his pocket as the others headed towards the exit, picking their way gingerly. “HT 51. Cap, we’ve had a floor collapse here and have a probable Code I. Please respond more manpower and another stokes.”

 

“10-4,” Stanley replied and frowned. He hoped that the Code I was not Johnny, but as he gathered the necessary equipment, he saw Chet, Marco and Joanne exit the mall and knew that he right. “Hang on, Johnny,” he murmured and he ran across to the building.

 

**************

 

While 51’s crew worked from above, 36’s tried to find the outer entrance to the basement of the store. It didn’t appear to exist, even though they had the building plans in front of them. Grim looks were exchanged as they reported back to Chief McConnike. By now, there were another three engine companies at the mall collapse. Luckily there was no fire and men were deployed on search and rescue duties. That allowed the Chief to send more men in to help 51’s.

 

It was painstaking work, for the rubble had to be lifted up out of the way. They had no idea where Johnny was and shouting had produced no reply. Roy had tried tugging on the rope, but there was no response to that either. Of course, the rope could be buried and the tugging not getting through to the belt, but with every minute that passed, it became more difficult to hold on to that hope.

 

“Take a break, Roy,” Stanley ordered. They had been working for more than an hour.

 

“I can’t,” Roy mumbled. He still clung to the rope; a lifeline for more than just Johnny.

 

Firmly taking the hemp from his man, Stanley fixed him with a firm glare. “I’ll hold the rope. You take a break!” There was no room for argument in the captain’s tone. Slowly, Roy did as he was ordered and stumbled to the outside where a bottle of water was thrust into his hands.

 

Looking down at the rope, Hank knew why it had been so difficult for Roy to let go. He felt as though he was holding Gage’s life in his hands. If for any reason the lifeline were to snap or go limp or somehow disappear, it would feel as though Gage had gone, too. It was an unusual fancy for the normally practical man, but one that Hank couldn’t shake off.

 

Twenty minutes passed before Roy returned, looking slightly fresher. He wordlessly took the rope back, nodding his thanks to Stanley. Leaning over, he peered into the hole, seeing how much rubble had been cleared away. And suddenly, the rubble seemed to move of its own volition. “Johnny?” he called and all movement ceased. “Johnny!”

 

A voice that seemed to come from under the wheels of the death-cart spoke. “Roy?”

 

“Hang on, Junior, we’re nearly there!” Roy cried and a cheer went up from the men around about. Gage was alive!

 

****************

 

Time went by without Johnny noticing it. He seemed to have been trapped in that basement for hours. His eyes continued to feel gritty and sore and he coughed every now and then. The pain he felt had localized into his ankles, both currently out of sight under the debris. After a time, Johnny felt slightly better than he had initially and decided that he had to do some more digging to free his legs.

 

Sweat trickled down the side of his face and he had to rest frequently, but after what he guessed to be about an hour, his legs were clear down to his knees. From there on down, though, he didn’t have the necessary leverage to move the bigger pieces. He was forced to rest again.

 

Lying back with a sigh, Johnny resigned himself to waiting again. He glanced around, squinting in the darkness and realized that there seemed to be more light coming in from near his right side. Moving carefully, he pushed away some debris and a small cascade of stones followed it down. A voice called his name and Johnny recognized it instantly.

 

It took a couple of attempts to clear his throat and his voice sounded gravelly and rough, but it didn’t matter. He had been found.

 

“Roy?” he called.

 

**************

 

It was frustrating to everyone that it took almost another hour to get John dug out. Roy was the first person down into the basement, carefully shielding his flashlight so that he wouldn’t hurt Johnny’s eyes. He put the oxygen mask on his partner, his eyes checking him visually for signs of injury.

 

“Where do you hurt, Johnny?” he asked. “Did you lose consciousness?”

 

“Um, I think so,” Johnny admitted. “My head hurts and my ankles.” He started to raise his hand to the oxygen mask, but Roy stopped that movement.

 

“Leave it alone! Rampart ordered it.” He held onto Johnny’s wrist for a moment, taking his pulse, but also eyeing the cuts the bruises that marred his friend’s palm. “Look like you did a number on your hands, too,” he commented.

 

“Huh?” Johnny squinted at them, then shrugged. “They don’t hurt.”

 

“Maybe not now, but they will,” Roy answered. He looked up through the widening hole. “Cap, I’m gonna need a c-collar and backboard,” he called.

 

“Coming up,” Stanley replied cheerfully.

 

“I don’t need all that!” Johnny protested.

 

“You just lie there and be quiet,” Roy scolded, smiling. “I’m in charge here.”

 

Sighing, Johnny laid his head down and closed his eyes.

 

*************

 

A resounding cheer went up when the men emerged from the building carrying the stokes. Johnny was neatly packaged, an IV dripping into one arm to rehydrate him and splints on both ankles. His gritty eyes had been flushed with saline and lightly bandaged to protect them.

 

“What’s happening?” he asked. “Why are they all cheering?”

 

His throat tight, Roy could barely get the words out. “They’re cheering for you, pal,” he replied. “Its all for you.”

 

“But… why?” the bewildered young man cried.

 

“Because,” Hank interjected, “you saved Joanne and her mother. The crowds love a hero, you know.”

 

“I’m not a hero,” Johnny protested. He was exhausted and finding it disorienting not being able to see. He felt the stokes being laid down and knew it was on the gurney, which immediately started to roll. A moment later, it was lifted up and Johnny could sense the more enclosed space of the ambulance. The doors closed and the vehicle moved.

 

“How’re you doing there?” Roy asked, as he took another set of vitals. His partner was looking pretty good, apart from the possible broken ankles. There might be a mild concussion, but Johnny was oriented and Roy wasn’t too worried about that.

 

“I’m okay,” Johnny replied, dismissively. He winced as he tried to move. Both men knew that he was covered in bruises. “How are Joanne and Margaret?”

 

“Both fine,” Roy reported. “I haven’t heard about Margaret’s ankle, but Joanne had barely a scratch on her.” Roy’s hand closed on Johnny’s arm. “Thank you for what you did for them.”

 

“I didn’t do anything,” Johnny protested. “Like I told Joanne – if she didn’t keep feeding you so well…” He let his voice trail off. “I’m tired,” he admitted.

 

Slight alarm bells began to ring in Roy’s mind. It wasn’t like Gage to admit to feeling less than chipper. “We’ll be at Rampart soon,” he murmured. It wouldn’t be soon enough for him.

 

************

 

“Just what I wanted,” Dixie McCall teased as she leaned over the gurney. “A handsome hero.”

 

“Then I think you got the wrong man, Dix,” Johnny murmured, smiling slightly. His head was now pounding and he felt nauseous.

 

Brackett was waiting for them in three. “How’re you feeling, Johnny?” he asked. His eyes swept over the young paramedic, taking in the pale, cool skin and the tightness around the mouth that spoke of pain.

 

“Been better,” Johnny replied. He lay still, answering the questions Brackett put to him, enduring the poking and prodding as best he could. His nausea grew, but luckily, Dixie was watching and recognized the signs. Within moments, the paramedic was turned and an emesis basin in position. When he was finished heaving, Dixie gently wiped his mouth.

 

The examination seemed to go on forever. Johnny lost track of time slightly and was surprised to be wakened by a flash of light in his eyes. He batted at the offending light, but his arm was held in place by a soft hand. Dixie, he diagnosed from experience.

 

“Welcome back,” she smiled.

 

“Your eyes look good, Johnny. We’ll irrigate them again, but they’re settling nicely,” Brackett told him. “We’ll suture that cut on the back of your head and x-ray your ankles. You’ve got a mild concussion.”

 

“You don’t say,” Johnny murmured. He realized that he was free from the backboard and collar.

 

“We’ll be right back,” Dixie told him. “Don’t go anywhere.” She patted his arm as she left. The X-ray machine rolled into place.

 

***********

 

A couple of hours later, Johnny was finally settled into his room. Both his ankles were broken and in casts. His hands were bandaged. His sutured head was still throbbing, but the pain was dulled slightly by the painkiller he’d received in the treatment room.  He was exhausted, but he wanted, more than anything, to see Joanne before he slept, to make sure she really was all right.

 

He was fighting off sleep when the door opened and Joanne came in. She still looked a bit disheveled, but she was smiling at Johnny and she went straight over to the bed and put her arms around him. “Johnny! Thank you so much.”

 

“I’m just glad you’re all right,” Johnny replied. He looked at her more closely. “You are all right, aren’t you, Joanne?”

 

“Thanks to you, I am,” she responded. “I’m going home in a few minutes; the kids will be home from school soon and I’d rather they not see me like this.” She gestured to her grimy, torn dress.

 

“How’s Margaret?” he asked. His eyes were closing, but he had to know.

 

“She’s got a sprained ankle and they’re keeping her overnight as a precaution,” Joanne told him. “And tomorrow, my sister is going to take her home.”

 

“I’m glad… she’s fine,” Johnny mumbled. His eyes were shut now.

 

“Sleep,” Joanne told him and he obeyed her at once.

 

***************

 

It was a long night for Johnny. He was wakened regularly and felt just as tired when morning came as he had the night before. Breakfast looked singularly unappetizing and he only picked at it before dozing off again. He was roused by the door opening and blinked the sleep from his eyes.

 

Roy came in, pushing a woman in a wheelchair who Johnny recognized as Margaret. Except this Margaret was smiling at him and she looked like Joanne. It was the first time Johnny had seen such a resemblance between the women. Margaret generally wore such a disagreeable expression that Johnny had sometimes wondered if Joanne was adopted.

 

“Hi,” he croaked.

 

“I’m going to Eileen’s house today,” Margaret smiled. “But I wanted to come and thank you for what you did yesterday. I never really understood what it was you boys did, but I understand now. I’m very impressed. I’d never thought about the job that you do. It’s really dangerous, but if you didn’t do it, a lot of people would die, wouldn’t they?”

 

“Well, um, they might,” Johnny nodded, taken aback by this about-face.

 

“I’ve already apologized to Roy about my attitude,” Margaret went on. Color stained her face and neck. “He’s been gracious enough to accept it. But I wanted to apologize to you, too, Johnny. I’ve learned a lesson and I’m just sorry you had to be hurt for me to learn it.” She swallowed. “I am sorry for the way I’ve treated you, Johnny.”

 

“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” Johnny responded. “I’m glad you’re all right.”

 

“You’re a very kind man,” Margaret smiled, although he could see the tears standing in her eyes. “And I promise that things will be different from now on. I have two sons-in-law to be proud of and I was a silly old fool not to know it sooner.” She leant forward and put her hand on Johnny’s arm. “I hope Roy won’t think this is forward, but I do hope you’re going to join us at Thanksgiving this year. I’d love to see you there.”

 

“Johnny knows he has a standing invitation,” Roy agreed easily.

 

The door opened before Johnny could say anything and Eileen, Joanne’s sister, came in. “Ready to go, mom?” she asked.

 

“I’m ready,” Margaret replied. “Goodbye, Johnny and thanks again.”

 

“Bye.” Johnny watched as she was pushed out of the room and then his gaze swung back to Roy. “Tell me I didn’t just hallucinate that?” he begged.

 

“You didn’t,” Roy laughed, sitting down. “I could hardly believe it either, but the duty nurse told me she’s been singing our praises all night. Apparently, it was on the news and she kept telling everyone in the ward that that was her son-in-law and his marvelous partner who had saved her life.”

 

“Wow,” Johnny commented.

 

There was a short silence. Roy broke it.

 

“So?” he asked. “Are you coming for Thanksgiving?”

 

*****End*****

 

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