"If it happens on the job, it kind of happens kind of quickly, you know? And we're not the ones that are left behind. That's the rough part."
-John Gage, Frequency
The Ones Left Behind
He shouldn't have come.
Johnny was sure of that now.
It wasn't that he didn't enjoy the company, because he did. Plus, Joanne was a great cook, and normally, it would have been worth coming over for the food alone.
It was just that he wasn't good company right now and he knew it. Joanne and Roy did too, judging by the looks they'd shared when they thought he wasn't paying attention. They hadn't actually said anything to him, but they didn't have to.
Roy had been worried about him for a couple weeks now. If his partner wasn't careful, that pinched look was gonna wind up being permanent.
Johnny bit back a sigh.
He understood why Roy was worried, and he appreciated the concern. There just wasn't anything his partner could do. Not about this.
Not unless he could bring Drew back.
What Johnny really needed was time. Time to wrap his head around it all…time to stop feeling guilty. Drew's death wasn't his fault. He knew that. There wasn't anything more he could have done for him, and based on the injuries Drew had, Brackett was right - those few seconds wouldn't have made any difference.
But he wished he'd had them anyway.
He wished a lot of things.
He and Drew hadn't seen much of each other in a while. They both had busy work schedules, and more often than not, those schedules hadn't matched up. On the few occasions they'd actually had some days off in common, Johnny hadn't wanted to intrude on Drew's family time.
Maybe Pam appreciated that now. She hadn't gotten enough time with Drew as it was.
Johnny felt his chest tighten at the thought and glanced down at his empty plate. He'd forced himself to eat, knowing that Roy and Joanne would only worry more if he didn't. Couldn't really say he'd tasted much of it, though.
"Can I take your plate, Johnny?"
Johnny blinked, then looked up to find Joanne next to him, her hand held out expectantly.
"Oh, right. Sure. Sorry."
He handed her the plate, watching as she picked up everyone else's plates as well and then headed over to the sink, turning on the tap.
Trying to find a new direction for his thoughts, Johnny leaned back in his chair and let his gaze wander around the familiar kitchen, taking in the beige floor, gold appliances, and brown cabinets. Yellow and orange plaid wallpaper covered the walls, and orange curtains framed the room's only window. The oval-shaped dining table where they sat filled most of the kitchen's open space, and it was covered in an orange floral tablecloth just a shade or two lighter than the curtains. The dining chairs surrounding the table, however, were a light oak, and not quite as well-matched to the rest of the room - something that, according to Roy, his mother-in-law had taken issue with the last time she'd visited.
Roy was sitting across from him now, and Jennifer was beside her dad, swinging her legs every few minutes, while Chris was sitting on Johnny's left side, his elbows perched on the table top, one hand propping up his chin.
Dishes clinked together again in the sink, and Roy seemed to take that as his cue.
"Okay," he began, turning to look at his daughter, "it's late. Time to get ready for bed."
Jennifer's reaction was immediate. "No!"
"Yes," Roy said patiently, standing and lifting the five-year-old into his arms.
The scowl on her face said exactly what she thought about the unfairness of it all.
"But Chris doesn't have to go to bed yet!" she argued, sounding indignant.
From his place next to Johnny, Chris stuck his tongue out at his sister when his dad wasn't looking. Johnny snorted softly, but quickly schooled his expression into something stern and disapproving when he realized that the little boy was watching him.
No sense giving him ideas.
"Chris is a little older than you are, Jen," Roy was saying.
"But I'm a big girl, Daddy!"
"Not big enough. Now say goodnight to Uncle Johnny."
The five year-old still didn't look happy, but she seemed to realize that arguing more wouldn't help her case.
"'Night, Uncle Johnny," she said sulkily.
Johnny summoned up a smile for her. "'Night, kiddo."
The smile stayed in place as he watched Roy climbing up the stairs, Jennifer's arms wrapped around his neck, but the expression slipped when he remembered another little girl across town - one who wouldn't have her daddy there to tuck her in anymore.
"Hey, Mom," Chris asked, "can I go out in the backyard and play?"
Johnny looked over at Joanne who now had both of her hands in soapy water, scrubbing away the evidence of the evening's dinner. She turned around to study her son, biting her lip in thought, then she glanced at Johnny, something flickering in the depths of her eyes. The expression disappeared before he could guess what it meant.
"Okay," she agreed finally. "But only for a half an hour. And I want you stay in the backyard, alright? Don't even think about going next door to see Tommy. It's getting dark."
"I won't, Mom, I promise. Can I go now?"
Joanne nodded, and Chris jumped out of his chair. The door shut behind him a moment later, and Joanne laughed softly, shaking her head.
"Honestly, if I could bottle their energy, I'd be rich."
Johnny smiled in answer, but it probably seemed as half-hearted as it felt.
Joanne must have been able to guess what was on his mind.
"Johnny," she began hesitantly, "I wanted to say that I'm so sorry about your friend."
"Thanks." He clear his throat. "Drew was…Drew was a good guy."
"I'm sure he was. Did he have a family?"
"A wife and a little girl."
Joanne's eyes filled with sympathy. "If there's anything I can do, please let me know."
Johnny nodded. "I will."
Silence fell, and Johnny let it, his gaze dropping to the floral table cloth in front of him, but he wasn't really seeing it.
He'd told Roy on the way back from Rampart that maybe he should feel about every patient like he felt about Drew, but he knew, deep down, that it would never work. In order to do his job, he needed to deal with what he felt and move on, rather than clinging to regrets and what ifs. Sure, some rescues were harder to move past than others, but dwelling on every death he saw would be a sure-fire way to drive himself crazy.
Rule number one: never get emotionally involved with a patient.
But that was the problem. With Drew, he was already involved, and try as he might, he just kept seeing Drew laying there on the pavement, bloodied and dying.
Johnny felt a muscle ticking along his jaw, and his hand curled into a fist in his lap.
He'd always hated feeling helpless.
That was part of what had driven him to become a fireman in the first place, then a rescue man and a paramedic. He didn't want to be the guy standing on the sidelines, watching. He wanted to help people, to make a difference - a real difference in people's lives.
But he hadn't made a difference for Drew. All he'd had to offer was some oxygen, a couple IVs, and a few empty words.
What good was that?
Johnny shook himself out of his morbid thoughts and saw that Joanne was watching him with concern. She'd finished the dishes and was now leaning against the sink facing him, a towel held loosely in her hands.
"Sorry," he offered. "I'm fine, I just…uh…" His throat closed up unexpectedly, and he found himself blurting out the truth. "I just keep thinking about Drew. Pam…Drew's wife…she's taking it hard."
"I can imagine."
Joanne's voice was so soft that Johnny's gaze darted back to her, and he immediately started cursing his own stupidity. Joanne was probably worried about the dangers of Roy's job already, and she didn't need him reminding her that there was another woman out there who'd just suffered her worst nightmare.
He started to apologize again, but Joanne held up a hand, cutting him off.
"It's okay, Johnny. I've been a firefighter's wife for a long time now. I know what the risks are."
She bit her lip, then tossed the towel on the counter, walked back over to the table and sat down across from him. She folded her hands on the table-top, a faraway look in her eyes.
"Roy doesn't like to think about it, I know," she began. "But I can't help it. I have to think about it, because if the worst happens, I have to deal with it. I guess that's why it's always in the back of my mind somewhere." She smiled wanly. "Do you know…even after all these years, I still jump a little every time the phone rings when he's on duty? And don't tell him I said that. But it's true."
Johnny grimaced. That had to be hard.
He worried about Roy, but that…well, that just went hand in hand with being partners. It was his job to worry about Roy, just like it was Roy's job to worry about him. And at least if Roy was in trouble, Johnny was pretty much guaranteed to be the first one on scene.
He didn't have to wait and wonder.
"Are you ever sorry…?" The words slipped out before Johnny could stop them, but he bit them off before they could go any further.
Asking if she was sorry that she'd married Roy probably wouldn't go over very well, even if a part of him really did want to know.
He'd always pictured himself being married…someday. But Drew's death…it made him think that maybe he was better off alone. That way, there wouldn't be anybody left behind if something happened to him.
No anxious wife jumping every time the phone rang when he was on duty. No little girl having to grow up without her daddy.
Johnny swallowed hard.
"I mean," he asked instead, "don't you wish Roy had a safer job?"
Joanne nodded. "Yes, sometimes. But…and this probably sounds crazy…but there are days when I'm really grateful that he does what he does." Joanne sighed. "It's not easy…don't get me wrong. If I don't have gray hair in a few years it will be a miracle, and if I do…it will be Roy's fault. You can tell him I said that, by the way."
Johnny huffed softly in amusement and nodded.
"But…and this sounds clichéd, I guess…just knowing that I could lose Roy makes me want to treasure every minute I have with him. And when little things start to bug me…like Roy throwing his black socks in with the whites, or drinking the last of the orange juice, I always try to take a step back and remind myself that…none of that really matters. I'm not perfect…I still get mad about the silliest things…" She gave Johnny a pointed look, "Like spaghetti, for instance."
Johnny cringed. Man, he really wished he'd kept his mouth shut about that.
"But," she continued, "when I calm down enough to think straight…I realize that, in the long run, if something does happen to Roy…I'm not going to care if he remembered to mow the lawn on his day off, or if he fixed that squeaky back step."
She looked down for a moment, then looked up again to meet Johnny's eyes. "I don't want to waste time being angry. I don't want regrets. I don't think anybody does. But, being a firefighter's wife…I think I'm more aware of that than I would be if Roy was in a nice, safe profession, like an accountant."
She drew a deep breath, then let it out slowly, like she was bracing herself for something. "And," she added finally, "if…if the worst does happen some day, then I'll be able to tell my children that their father was a hero. Not everybody gets to do that."
Her eyes shown briefly with tears, but she stubbornly blinked them back, and when she looked at Johnny again, there was something different in her gaze…he wouldn't call it peace exactly, but acceptance.
When she spoke again, her voice was soft but firm. Certain.
"I can't imagine my life without Roy. If anything happened to him, I'd never stop missing him, ever. But, you know what? I wouldn't trade my life with him now for anything. Even a nice, safe accountant."
This time, it was Johnny who found himself fighting an unexpected rush of emotions. He swallowed hard and looked away.
Joanne didn't try to ask what was going on in his head, and for that he was grateful, because he wasn't sure he could put it into words.
Given enough time, was that how Pam would feel? When…when the grief stopped being so overwhelming, would she be able to look back and treasure the life she'd had with Drew? Would that be enough?
He hoped so. He hoped the good outweighed the bad. And he hoped that…that someday he could find somebody like that. Someone who could accept what he did, enjoy the time they had together and keep going, even if the worst happened.
Johnny finally turned back to Joanne and opened his mouth to thank her, but he closed it again just as quickly, not really sure what to say.
Fortunately, Joanne didn't seem to mind. She just reached out to give his hand a brief squeeze, and then she was pushing herself up from the chair, her eyes on the staircase behind them.
Roy's footsteps could be heard a moment later.
"Jennifer finally in bed?" she asked when her husband reappeared.
"Yeah. Once she had her bath and got her teeth brushed, she settled down pretty quickly. Didn't even get halfway through her bedtime story."
Joanne smiled, obviously relieved, but her expression turned rueful when she glanced in the direction of the backyard. "One down, one to go. Chris is outside playing."
"Do you want me to get him?"
Joanne shook her head. "That's okay. I'll do it." She started for the back door, pausing only to nod towards the refrigerator. "There's some apple pie in the fridge if either of you feel like dessert."
The door closed behind her a minute later, and Roy was already headed for the fridge.
"Do you want some, Johnny?" he asked.
"Huh? Oh, yeah, sure."
Pie didn't sound too bad.
Roy nodded and pulled the pie out of the refrigerator, then grabbed a couple of forks from a nearby drawer. He took out a couple of new plates next, using a knife to cut generous slices for both of them.
Johnny accepted the pie when Roy handed him his plate, but as soon as he was poised to sink his fork into the slice, he found himself staring at it instead.
The last time he'd had apple pie, he'd been at Drew's place.
Johnny hadn't been kidding when he'd told Roy that Pam hadn't been able to boil water when she'd first married Drew. But, she'd been determined to figure things out, and spent the first couple months of their marriage reading every cookbook she could get her hands on. Apple pie had been one of her first projects, and Drew had raved about the results, claiming his wife made the best apple pie in the whole state of California.
Pam's face had lit up like Christmas when he'd said that.
Johnny's hand tightened a little on the fork he held.
It wasn't fair, what had happened, and it wasn't right. It never would be.
But Pam and Drew…they'd crammed a lot of love and a lot of happiness into the time they'd been given. And Johnny knew, suddenly, that if he ever asked Pam if she regretted marrying Drew…the answer would be a resounding no.
Johnny looked up to find Roy watching him with that familiar pinched look on his features. This time, the worried expression made Johnny smile faintly.
"You okay?" Roy pressed
"No," Johnny answered honestly. "Not really. But I think maybe I will be."