Disclaimers: These characters are all mine, so dont use without my permission.
"Whats the address?" Nick Seeberger asked as he flipped the switch for the red lights
then hit the siren.
"1060 Royal Station 4-16," his partner, Jessie Marsten responded. "Building 4 is on the right side, in the middle of the cul du sac."
"Gotcha," Nick replied over the wail. "Hey, I thought we were gonna have a white Christmas," he said, turning on the windshield wipers as it began to rain.
Jessie snickered. "Um, no. More like a blue Christmas. I bet its still raining on Sunday." She made some notations on their report, glancing up in time to see a car slam on its brakes in front of them.
Nick barely missed the silver Thunderbird, just managing to keep the ambulance from sideswiping a car in the opposing lane. "Dammit! What the hell is wrong with people?"
"Stupid people. Job security," Jessie replied dryly. "Theyre driving this way in the rain. Let it snow and watch them really shine."
"Amen to that." Nick pulled the ambulance into the apartment complex on Royal Station, carefully maneuvering around the parked cars to building 4. "Um, is that our patient?"
Jessie followed Nicks gaze to the sidewalk in front of the building. Standing beside an old fashion leather suitcase was an elderly woman in a brown trench coat. "Sally. I should have known," Jessie grumbled as she reached for the handle of the door. "And this is why I became a paramedic?"
Nick laughed. "You became a paramedic to save lives. This is just one of the many perks."
"I hate you." Jessie ignored her partners continued laughter and got out. Sally met her halfway. "Cmon Sally, lets get inside the ambulance and out of the rain."
"Thanks honey." Sally grabbed her suitcase and followed the paramedic into the ambulance. Once inside, Sally removed her trench coat to reveal her multi-colored housecoat.
Jessie rolled her eyes and sighed. I bet her shoulder hurts.
"Oh Lordy, my shoulder is a achin today," Sally proclaimed, taking a seat on the cot. She covered herself with the blanket and settled the pillow behind her head.
"Comfy?" Jessie asked.
"Not really." Sally frowned. "Bring me some water?"
"You know I cant give you anything to drink, Sally." Jessie connected the seatbelt straps on the cot. "So, you want to go to Mercy Clermont?"
"No. I dont like the doctors there. Take me to Anderson."
Jessie took a seat on the bench beside the cot. "Sally, the doctors are the same at both hospitals and Clermont is closer."
"Nope." Sally vigorously shook her head. "Santa Claus is coming to town and his first stop is Anderson Hospital. I have to be there to ring the silver bells to let everyone know hes there."
"Okay." Jessie signaled for Nick to take off. She casually ignored her partners snicker and gave her patient her full attention. "So, your feet hurt. Anything else?"
"Huh?" Jessie waited for Sally to elaborate.
"Thats when it happened. 2001. September 11th." Sally turned bloodshot eyes to Jessie, locking gazes with her. "I was there."
"I know, Sally." Jessie patted the old womans arm, knowing full well that Sally was nowhere near New York or Washington DC or Pennsylvania on that particular day. Sally had been in the back of the same ambulance they were in now, on her way to the same hospital with the same phantom pain in her shoulder.
"Yes I am."
"What? What are you, Sally?"
"Im talking to my angel." Sallys eyes focused on the florescent lights above them. "She says Run Rudolph Run!"
"Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer."
Jessie had to smile. Sally was switching channels faster than a man with a remote. "Its okay, Sally. Well be at the hospital in a few minutes. You just sit back and relax."
"Hes up on the housetop. He can see everything." Sally grabbed Jessies hand with more strength than Jessie was expecting. "He knows. Its Gods will."
"Okay, Sally." Jessie peeled the old womans crooked fingers from her hand. "Place your hand on your chest, okay? Well be there soon."
"Hey Suzanne." Jessie greeted the charge nurse as they rolled Sally into the emergency room.
"Lemme guess," Suzanne was already writing Sallys name on the status board. "Her feet hurt?"
"Ding, ding, ding, you win." Jessie winked at the tall nurse.
Suzanne pointed down the hall. "Put her in 13. Ill be there in a few."
"You got it." Jessie and Nick got Sally settled on the hospital bed.
"Pretty paper." Sally grabbed the report out of Jessies hands. "Can I have it?"
"Nope, sorry." Jessie took the report then pulled up the bed rails. "See you later, Sally. Tell Santa I said hello."
Sallys face brightened. "You bet! Merry Christmas!"
"Merry Christmas, Sally."
"Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer had a very shiny nose," Sally began singing as Jessie and Nick walked out, her sore feet completely forgotten.
"I hate you."
"No you dont."
"Yes I do. I hate you times 1000." Jessie put the ambulance into gear and pulled away from the emergency room.
"You cant resist my charm. You love me."
"I hate you infinity."
"Well, that settles it. You must be crazy for me."
Jessie narrowed her gaze at him while they were stopped at a light. "The only crazy person here is you. Besides, if I wanted to "
"Oh, you do. I know your little secret, Jessie Marsten. You cant get enough of me."
"Oh geez." Jessie rolled her eyes, trying to look annoyed, but unable to hold back the laughter. "Youre cracked. You know that?"
"Yup. Mama Im strange, but you still love me." Nick giggled.
Jessie reached over to turn the volume up on the radio, deciding to drown out her partner. It worked until he started singing. "On the bloody morning afterererer one tin soldier rides away!"
"Oh boy." Jessie tried to ignore him and changed the radio station.
Another song started up and Nick began using the dashboard as a drum set. "Oh play me some mountain music. Like Grandma and Grandpa used to play. Oh play me some mountain music "
"How the hell do you know every word of every song?"
Nick winked at her. "I was raised on radio, baby."
"So, what are you doing for Christmas?"
"Ah, nice segue. Im going home for the holidays."
"You mean your little sister, Angelene, is giving you a free meal."
"Yep. My sister is doing the whole deck the halls, chestnuts roasting on an open fire thing. Gonna have a regular feast of food. I have to bring dessert though."
"Dessert?" Jessie laughed. "That ought to be good. You going to UDF or Krogers?"
Nick grinned. "Krogers. Best ice cream cake in the world. Im leaving Saturday night."
"Damn? Dont want me to leave, huh?" He nudged her arm.
"Of course not." Jessie glanced over at him while they were stopped at a light. "I figured it would be a silent night if you were on duty with me. Youre always a wheel chalk on Saturday night."
"Ha ha." Nick crossed his arms and stared out the window. "Youre getting a lump of coal for that one."
The firehouse was a flurry of activity by the time Jessie and Nick returned. Most of the firefighters and paramedics were busy decorating the bays for the Christmas party.
"Huh, looks like we dont get out of decorating."
"Nick you are such a scrooge! This is the best part of Christmas!"
Nick narrowed his eyes at Jessie. "Bah humbug."
She stuck her tongue out at him. "Go put our report away. I want to check on the status of dinner." Jessie made her way into the fire station kitchen and found her mother opening the stove to check on the turkey.
"Almost done," she announced.
"Mmm, smells wonderful."
Amanda Marsten closed the stove and turned to greet her daughter. "Well, hello there. That was a quick run? Everything go okay?"
"Yep. It was just Sally Johnson."
"Poor Sally. Didnt her husband die on Christmas Eve?"
Jessie nodded, taking a seat at the breakfast bar. "Three years ago. Its pretty much when she snapped."
Amanda leaned against the bar, smacking Jessies hand when she reached for a piece of fudge. "None for you until after dinner."
"Im your mother. Its my job."
"And you do it well." Jessie kissed her mother on the cheek. "Thanks for fixing dinner. Everyone here loves your cooking you know."
Amanda smiled fondly at her child. "Youre welcome. Now get into the bay and help with the decorations. Im willing to bet that your Aunt Carrie could use a hand."
"Heh. Shes got an entire fire department to order around out there." Jessie moved toward the door. "Besides, isnt there supposed to be some kind of perk to having your aunt be the fire chief?"
"Nope. None at all."
"Figures." Jessie left the kitchen and entered the main fire bay, her senses immediately assaulted by a mixture of Christmas music and loud voices arguing of something.
"Hey kid. I hear you had to take Sally in again."
Jessie smiled at how the quiet voice of her aunt Carrie seemed to rise above the chaos in the bay. The older woman was standing beside one of the fire trucks, one hand leaning against the side of it, the other adjusting a Santa hat. The image made Jessie laugh. "Are you Santa Chief?"
"Something like that," Carrie grinned and adjusted the coat of her dress uniform. "You dont think I look daper in my Santa hat?"
"Sure. Daper. Thats the word I was looking for."
"Hey Chief!" The bellow came from the opposite side of the bay. The two women exchanged amused glances. Jessie had a good idea who was bellowing and why.
"Im busy, Austin!" Carrie bellowed back.
Jessie watched as the man shed always known as Bear lumbered toward them. He had a scowl on his face and she couldnt help the giggle that escaped. Austin narrowed his eyes at her.
"Whats so damn funny?"
"Whats so damn urgent?" Carrie countered, getting the big mans attention.
"Weve got a problem."
"We cant agree on where to put the Corn Hole ramps."
Carrie lifted a single eyebrow in her best Mr. Spock impression. "You cant what?"
"I want to put the Corn Hole in the bay behind the tables so we can play later. Rhonda insists that we put it in this bay behind the trucks so its out of the way during dinner. Youre the Chief, so we figured it was up to you."
Jessie snickered. "I cant believe youre going to play Corn Hole at the Christmas party!"
Austin shrugged. "Why not?"
"Just put it behind the trucks."
"Okay, boss." Austin turned away from them and hollered, "Hey Rhonda, you win!"
They could hear Rhonda laughing from somewhere on the other side of the bay-turned-banquet hall. "Cool. You can get these damn things moved then."
"Oh no." Austin started toward the bay. "You have to help me, Rhonda. Im not doing it by myself."
"You can lift both of those ramps in one hand!" Rhonda protested.
"Ill carry the corn bags. You have to carry the ramps."
"Ill put the damn things in the dumpster if you two dont stop arguing about them." Carrie winked at Jessie, who knew her mom enjoyed the game, which consisted of tossing sacks of corn into a hole carved into a wooden ramp. Similar to horseshoes, Corn Hole had become a favorite at the fire station.
"See! You always have to fight it out. Now youve done gone and pissed Chief off!"
Carrie just shook her head and steered Jessie out of the bay and into her office. "Okay, my niece who is more like a reluctant daughter. Whats on your mind?"
Carrie made the Spock face again. "Sally? As in Sally Peterson who calls once a week because her shoulder aches?"
"Yep, same ole Sally." Jessie leaned against the wall while her aunt rested on the edge of the desk. "I just cant help thinking about how lonely she is right now. I mean that is why she calls us all the time."
"Most likely. I think weve had close to fifty calls to her house since Gerald died on Independence Day in 01." Carrie shook her head. "But theres not much we can do about it."
"Thats not what Im getting at." Jessie glanced out the window at the freezing rain. It was barely three in the afternoon, but the rain had made it as dark as night. "I just want to do something nice for her. I cant explain it, but it just gets to me that her family doesnt even visit her. And her daughter has her power of attorney!"
"I know. I was there the night her husband died. The daughter couldnt even be bothered to show up. Probably part of why Sally keeps calling us. We were there during her worst time. People remember that kind of thing. Were familiar and we always take care of her."
"Maybe. Did you ever notice that huge portrait of her husband that hangs next to the door?"
Carrie thought for a moment. "Sure. Hes in the Navy uniform, right? Looks like it was taken in the 40s."
"1940 to be exact. And the inscription is To my dearest Sally. You are my heart and soul. I love you, Gerald."
"I never realized "
"Most of us would never see it, but I had to wait for her to go to the bathroom when we took her a few weeks ago. I was standing in her living room and just decided to take a look around. Did you also know that all the paintings she has are her own work?"
"Yeah, at least a dozen stills lifes and a lot of farm animals and such. Shes quite a talented lady. And next to those paintings are old pictures of her daughter and what I assume are her grandkids. Grandkids Im sure she never sees."
"Sad but true. So, what are you wanting to do?"
"Take her some dinner. Im sure shell get a cab and be home around six or seven tonight. Its Christmas Eve and weve got our entire extended family here tonight. I just cant bear the thought of Sally being alone."
"Ive got a better idea." Carrie moved behind her desk and started flipping through the address book there. "Let me make a few phone calls."
"What are you going to do?"
Carrie was about to answer when they were interrupted by the sound of Jessies pager shrill alarm. The dispatchers voice followed. "Squad 51 respond to 756 Elm Street for a laceration."
Carrie motioned Jessie to go. "Be careful. Ill take care of Sally."
Jessie headed toward the bay, wondering what her aunt had up her sleeve.
The freezing rain had covered the roads with a thick sheet of ice, making it hard for Nick to drive faster than twenty. "Itll be Christmas before we get back to the station," he grumbled. "They better leave us some damn turkey."
"They will. Its only a little after five, Nick. Besides, isnt Austin on the carb diet? I doubt hell be eating much."
Nick glanced over at his partner and in all seriousness replied, "He swore off the diet for the holiday."
"Oh." Jessie motioned ahead of them. "Can we go any faster? I want to eat too, ya know?"
Nick laughed. "Well, darlin, add some music and Ill do my best to slide faster."
"On second thought, I dont think I can take any more of your singing."
"Hey! Be nice." Nick turned up the radio and started tapping out a beat on the steering wheel.
"Look here little drummer boy," Jessie turned the volume down. "Just drive, okay? This damn freezing rain makes me nervous."
"Is that whats been bothering you?"
"I guess Im just thinking about Sally. In some ways she kinda reminds me of my mother."
"Well, theyre both widows." Jessie stared out the window watching the familiar landscape of her hometown roll past. "And I would never even consider leaving town and leaving Mother to fend for herself, but thats exactly what Sallys daughter did. I mean she decided to live in freakin San Francisco, two-thousand miles away, just a few weeks after her fathers funeral. Its not right. "
"Youre right, Jess. But youre a better woman than Sallys daughter."
They grew silent for a time, both lost in thought.
Jessie laughed softly. "When I was six I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus and I got even more upset when I thought that she might leave Daddy for a big fat guy in a red suit. I think I was ten when I figured out that my father was the big fat guy."
"Yeah? I told my second grade class that my grandma got run over by a reindeer."
"What? Whyd you do that?"
"It sounded cooler than saying she broke her hip falling out of the bathtub."
Jessie shook her head. "Youre bad, Nick."
"Oh yeah, baby. Bad to the bone."
Dinner was well under way when Jessie and Nick returned to the firehouse. They were pleased to find that, by order of the Chief, enough food had been left for both of them. A spot at one of the tables had been kept for the pair as well. They had no sooner gotten settled when Carrie stood to make an announcement.
"Okay, before we get too full of turkey, Id like to make note of a special guest we have here with us tonight." She cleared her throat and winked at Jessie.
"I dont think anyone here would disagree that were a bunch of lucky people. We all have families we were born into, but for us, the family we belong to here at this station is just as important. And its the love that we have for each other that binds us closer than blood ever could. We love together, we share joy together and we mourn together.
"But some people arent so lucky. They dont even have friends to talk to, much less a real family. And in this business, we seem to find more and more of these folks every year.
"But I wont get too sappy." Everyone laughed a bit. "For years now weve been making calls to 1060 Royal Station 4-16 and we are all very familiar with Sally. But Id be willing to bet that none of you knew that Sally was a nurse during WWII. She served aboard a medical ship in the South Pacific. Her ship came under fire more times than could be counted and during one of those times Sally was wounded. But, despite the hole in her shoulder, Lieutenant Sally Davis continued with her job of tending to the injured Marines and was subsequently awarded The Navy Cross for her bravery. Id like to make a toast to Lieutenant Sally Davis Johnson."
Everyone raised their cups and cheered for Sally, who was seated near the front of the bay. She was no longer dressed in her housecoat, but now wearing a dark blue pants suit and a slightly large Santa hat. The old woman blushed when she was cheered and motioned Carrie to sit down, telling her to stop all the fuss.
Carrie dutifully sat down with her family, settling across from Jessie.
"Thanks Aunt Carrie," Jessie said, watching Sally chatting away with Austin and his wife, Rhonda. "She looks so happy. And howd you find out about her being in the Navy? Ive never seen any pictures in her house."
Carrie shrugged. "I talked to Sally. Nothing more. Sometimes, all it takes is a few minutes of conversation. Shes a good gal once you get to know her."
"So are you." Jessie raised her glass to toast her aunt, then made her way over to Sally.
"Jessie! Hi!" Sally nearly fell trying to get out of her chair to hug her young friend. "This is such a nice party! Are you having fun?"
"You bet, Sally. Are you?"
"Oh my, yes." Sally turned her attention to the window of the bay door. "Hey, its snowing!" She moved closer to the window, so close that her breath appeared when she tried to look out. "Its a real winter wonderland out there now." Sally turned around to Jessie, her eyes glazed over with sudden tears. "Gerald loved the snow. Did you know my Gerald?"
"No, Im sorry, but I didnt know him, Sally." Jessie moved forward, wrapping her hand around the old womans arm. "But why dont we sit down so you can tell me about him?"
"Sure. Id like that."
"Corn Hole time!" Austin announced as he dragged the ramps into the dining area. Rhonda was right behind him with the corn bags, ready to go. "Whos my partner?"
"Corn Hole! I love Corn Hole!" Sallys face lit up. "Well talk later, dear. I need to teach these younguns how to play Corn Hole."
"You go right ahead Sally." Jessie started to join them, but the sound of nearly twenty pagers going off at once stopped her in her tracks. The dispatchers voice once again echoed through the station.
"Squad 51, respond to 5116 Beech Ave for a sick person."
Nick rolled his eyes as he and Jessie started for the ambulance. "Isnt that Harold Lumbowski?"
"Yep." Jessie glanced back as the Corn Hole game got underway. Sally was laughing and thoroughly enjoying herself. "Weve been there twice this month." She found Nick was watching her as he pulled the ambulance out of the bay. "But hey, its Christmas, right?"
"Yep." Nick was grinning. "Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful "
Jessie reached for the siren, hoping the sound would drown out her partners voice.