It was never right around the station when Roy and Johnny fought.
It’s like the balance of the universe is off or something. They get along real well most of the time. Sometimes they snip and snark at each other, but when you live cheek-to-jowl for twenty-four hours straight, you get on each other’s nerves. I’m an expert on that.
Mostly Roy just regarded John with affectionate amusement, especially when he was on a rant. They’re like peanut butter and chocolate, y’know? The best of firefighters and the best damned paramedics I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t do that part of their job. First aid, sure, but all the other stuff? No way.
Anyway, Roy can get real protective of Johnny, especially when he thinks the Phantom is goin’ too far, but he’ll let John take his lumps, to be one of the guys.
It still shocked everyone whenever we heard John and Roy really fight like we did a few hours ago.
The guys had been run ragged on this shift, having way more runs than us from the engine. Bad runs, too. They’d lost a victim and had come close to losing others, and it all built up.
Roy and Johnny hadn’t looked happy coming back from the last run. When Roy got out of the squad and slammed the door, we knew something was up. Mike was polishing Big Red, and Marco and I had just come back from hanging hose and were getting something to drink in the kitchen. Cap was in his office.
Marco and I heard Roy snap, “Drop it!” while John said, “I can’t. You know that wasn’t right, Roy.”
“I said, drop it!”
It sounded like they went off to the dorm. Marco and I couldn’t hear what was being said, just agitated voices. Mike came into the kitchen, shaking his head.
Suddenly Roy’s voice came ringing loud and clear across the apparatus bay. “You don’t know when to leave it alone! You push and push…! Just leave me alone!”
Angry footsteps pounded across the bay floor. A door would have slammed if Roy had gone out a conventional door instead of the bay entrance.
A few minutes later, John came into the kitchen, mumbled something, and went out the back door. He looked like hell.
Mike, Marco and I stayed in the kitchen, not talking. Everything felt off-kilter, like it all could shake apart if we talked too loudly or made the wrong move. Tension was definitely in the air. Even Henry looked uncomfortable, though gotta admit, sometimes it’s hard to tell.
I rubbed my stomach, not from hunger but from an ache. I didn’t much like this kind of tension. Neither did the rest of the guys. The world just wasn’t right when Roy and Johnny fought.
Cap came into the kitchen. “Where are they?”
Mike pointed. “Roy’s out front.”
Marco pointed. “Johnny’s out back.”
Cap sighed. “I’ll let Roy cool off a little while longer.” He looked toward the back.
“I’ll go see if Johnny needs company,” I volunteered. I patted Henry, who nudged my hand with his nose, and I got up off the couch.
I went out the back door. With John, you had to gauge things (sorry about the pun). Sometimes it was best to leave him be. Other times he really needed someone.
I know, ironic that I’m the best choice after Roy. John and I have a strange relationship, but it works for us.
He was sitting on the concrete wall that bordered the parking lot. When I drew up close to him, I could see his legs swinging back-and-forth, and I hoisted myself up to sit next to him.
His eyes were shimmering. I patted his knee. “Talk to me, babe.”
Johnny wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “I don’t like it when Roy and I fight.”
“I know.” I handed him my handkerchief.
John wiped his eyes and his knuckles whitened as he crumpled the cloth. I didn’t care. It was just a cheap hanky.
John’s legs swung a little faster. He stared at the traffic whizzing by on the highway, located several yards from our station.
The breeze was warm as we sat there, listening to the hum of the traffic and watching the sun begin to set.
The sky sure looked pretty, all rosy-pink and gold and orange. Huh, my old man and brothers and uncles probably would say I was gettin’ all girly with that description, but then they would have made fun of Johnny for crying.
I know where I’m from and who I am, and I’m a tough firefighter like my old man and brothers and uncles, but I can be a little Alan Alda when I have to be. Besides, the chicks dig a sensitive guy.
John crumpled up my hanky a little more. His voice was low. “I know I talk too much and don’t know when to quit. I…I just don’t want Roy to…” He wiped his eyes again.
“Hey, Roy knows you. Don’t worry.”
He looked at me briefly, attempting a watery smile. “I know.”
“Keep the hanky.”
He laughed a little and blew his nose.
John’s always been a little insecure. He grew up on the reservation (he calls it the rez), and from what little he says about it and the few things that Roy has mentioned, the statistics hold true: high levels of poverty, alcoholism, and unemployment. I don’t know if John had problems other than that, but he’s always been a little…I dunno…vulnerable?
So we continued to sit, John keeping up his legs swinging, and the sunset grew prettier.
I heard footsteps behind us, and Roy appeared. He stood quietly for a moment. “Nice sunset.”
John croaked, “Yeah.”
I slid off the wall. “I think I’ll get a cup of coffee.”
John smiled a little at me, and I winked at him. I gave an encouraging look to Roy, who appeared tired, but gave me a little smile of his own.
I walked across the back lot, and just before I went inside, looked back.
Roy was sitting in the spot I had just left. Their heads were close together, and Roy quickly ran his hand through John’s dark hair.
I smiled as I went inside the station to report that all was right with our world again.