"A REASON TO LIVE"
* * * * * * * *
"...And then, she said...," Jennifer tapped her on the arm. "Aunt Shannon, are you listening to me?"
Shannon put her fork down. It'd been suspended in midair somewhere between the plate and her mouth for quite some time. She gave Jennifer an "I'm sorry, honey" look and asked her to repeat what she just said. Jennifer eyed her suspiciously, trying to figure out if she was going to repeat the whole story for nothing, or if Shannon was really going to pay attention this time.
"Jennifer.... You've been talking nonstop for almost twenty minutes now... I think maybe Aunt Shannon needs a little break... why don't you go help your dad dish up some ice cream for dessert? I think maybe there's some cookies in the pantry, too." Joanne nudged Roy's knee under the table in case he didn't get the hint.
Almost nine-years old, Jennifer understood adult nuances better than anyone gave her credit for. "Sure, mom. How long do you want us to stay in the kitchen?" Of course, she assumed that it was her father who was supposed to be out of the way, not her.
Roy and Jennifer gathered up most of the empty dishes and carried them into the kitchen, discussing the ice cream flavor options available, while Shannon quietly thanked Joanne for the successful rescue.
Joanne puzzled over the change in Shannon the last few hours ago. When she first arrived, she'd been so excited about seeing Johnny yesterday, sharing the good news that he was going to be coming home soon. She'd also showed them the photograph from the ultrasound, which appeared to confirm her belief that the baby was a boy. She'd grown increasingly quiet during dinner and now seemed lost in her own world.
"Are you just tired, or has something else happened?" Joanne smoothed out a wrinkle in the tablecloth and swept some bread crumbs into her hand while she waited for Shannon's answer.
"I guess I'm just tired," Shannon sighed softly, "it's been a long day. If I stay too much longer, it'll be past my bedtime when I get home." Joanne looked at the clock and laughed, remembering how early she'd gone to bed during her pregnancies. It wasn't even seven o'clock yet. That was about right.
"There's so much to do before Johnny comes home from the hospital. I don't know if I'm going to have the time... or... the money... to take care of some things that need to be done. Johnny usually handles fixing things around the house himself, but there's some roof repairs that need to be made before it starts raining, and some other things, and I'm not sure he can afford to pay for it right now. His first disability check finally came, and that went straight to the mortgage company, and I'm trying to keep the rest of the bills paid. I have some money of my own saved, but I'm going to need it for the hospital bill when the baby comes. Since I changed jobs, I don't have health insurance." Shannon stopped. She hadn't intended to burden Joanne with her financial woes.
"Is there anything we can do to help?" Joanne offered sincerely.
"No... but thanks, Joanne. You and Roy have done so much already. I'll figure this out on my own. I just don't want Johnny worrying about anything when he gets home. He needs to worry about getting better and nothing else." Shannon got up from the table and rubbed the small of her back. "Speaking of getting home, I'm sorry to leave so soon after dinner, but I think I'll go now and crawl into bed when I get there."
Joanne got up too, and gave her a long hug. "Don't worry about it. Trust me, I understand. And Shannon, don't forget you have friends who'll be glad to help any way they can. You don't have to do everything yourself."
"I know. I don't want to bother anyone though. We'll be okay. I just want Johnny home, and we'll work on everything else one thing at a time." That's what Rick Wilson told her she'd have to learn to do. They weren't going to solve everything all at once. She'd have to settle for progress one step at a time.
Later that evening, Shannon stretched out on the couch in the den, with Jack curled up beside her. The TV was on, but she wasn't paying attention. Johnny had called shortly after she got home, happy to report that with Jill's help, he'd managed to stand up on the crutches today. No steps, just standing. A huge accomplishment. Jill had been there to share it with him.
Five more days, and Johnny would be home.
With her, where he belonged.
* * * * * * * *
Shannon buttered her toast from edge to edge while she waited for the tea to steep in the pot a little longer. She'd gotten up far earlier than she wanted to. It was Saturday and there wasn't much to do until she went to visit Johnny later. They were going to talk to Dr. Brackett today. Johnny was coming home on Monday.
The hospital bed they'd rented was being delivered this morning, and when she heard the sound of a truck in the driveway, she assumed it was the delivery company. They were a lot earlier than they were supposed to be. As she made her way to the front door, she could hear other cars arrive and voices shouting across the yard. She opened the door to find Roy and Joanne coming up the steps, arms laden with bags of groceries. At least a half-dozen men stood talking in the front yard.
"What's going on?" she asked in total surprise. "What are you doing here so early on a Saturday? And who are all these people?"
She stood back in the hall as Roy and Joanne came through the doorway, then followed them when they carried the groceries into the kitchen and put the bags down on the counter. Roy left Joanne to explain it to Shannon, while he went out through the sliding doors onto the deck.
"Roy called some of the guys and asked if they'd come help fix the things around here that need fixing." Joanne started putting the cold cuts in the refrigerator. "We brought some stuff to make lunch for everyone later."
"But, I didn't ask...," Shannon objected.
Joanne closed the refrigerator door, and gestured to Shannon to sit down and finish her breakfast. "I tried to tell you the other day that you have friends that want to help."
Shannon shook her head. "I can't ask them to do this...."
Joanne sat down and put her hand on Shannon's arm. "You don't understand, Shannon. You don't have to ask. We all know that Johnny would be the first one to show up if any one of us needed help. There's not a man out there that Johnny hasn't done something for in one way or another, and they're here because they want to be. These men are friends of Johnny's. Let them be your friends too."
Shannon felt a little overwhelmed by their generosity. "They'll do all this work just for lunch?" she asked somewhat sheepishly.
"Oh, no," laughed Joanne. "The first payment has to be made with donuts and coffee. I've got the donuts in the car, but you're going to have to supply the coffee. And we'd better get the beer on ice, so it's good and cold by lunchtime. Trust me, sandwiches and chips alone aren't going to satisfy this group."
"I don't know what to say. Thank you doesn't seem like enough." Shannon smiled at Joanne gratefully. "Let's put the coffee on, and maybe you can introduce me to everyone?"
By the time they went outside, a few more men had shown up, and some neighbors came over and offered to help too. Shannon pulled Roy aside and kissed him on the cheek and thanked him warmly. He actually blushed at the whistles and hoots the others gave him when she did that, and told her softly under his breath he'd get even with her one day soon. She laughed and let him know she'd be ready for him.
The afternoon ended with the shingles replaced on the roof, the steps off the back deck repaired, the trees near the house trimmed, the oil changed in the truck and her car, and Johnny's bedroom furniture rearranged to accommodate the hospital bed that he'd use for a while.
Shannon spent some time throughout the day talking to each one there, and in the process, not only learned a little more about Johnny's friends, but a little more about Johnny, too. It was obvious these men cared a great deal about him. She began to understand why being a fire fighter was more than just a job to Johnny. These men all shared something deeper with each other than just doing the same type of work. They counted on each other in more ways than one; they trusted each other with their very lives.
As everyone was packing up their tools and getting ready to leave, the neighbor from across the road came over, waving a piece of paper at Shannon.
"Hi, Sheila," Shannon greeted her happily as she joined them on the porch. "I'd like you to meet Roy and Joanne DeSoto. Roy and Johnny were partners at work for a lot of years. Roy, Joanne, this is Sheila Barnes. You met her husband, Tom, when he was here earlier helping with the roof."
"John's talked about you often," Sheila smiled in recognition, "I think I've met your children, too. They came to our community picnic this summer with him, didn't they?" Chris and Jennifer had talked about it for a week, wanting to know why their neighborhood never had parties like that.
"Well, I won't keep you long." Sheila handed over a large piece of paper that looked like a page from a calendar. "Shannon, I wanted to let you know that we've got things worked out so you won't have to worry about John being alone while you're at work these next few weeks."
Shannon had only mentioned it in passing during a quick conversation the other day, and wondered what Sheila had organized this time. Longtime residents of the canyon, Sheila and her husband Tom were well-liked and well-known for their volunteer work throughout the growing community, and were involved in everything from organizing the annual picnics to conducting food and clothing drives for needy causes to rasing money for local youth activities.
"What is all this?" Shannon studied the paper with Roy and Joanne looking over her shoulder.
Sheila smiled as she proudly explained. "We have people who've volunteered to stay here during the day while you're at work for the next three weeks. We can do it longer, if you need, but we thought we�d start with this."
"But, I can't ask...," Shannon began, only to be kindly cut off in mid-sentence. Joanne gave her a slight poke, reminding her of their own conversation earlier.
"You don't have to ask, dear. We had so many people offer to help, that we couldn't fit them all in, so we've found other ways for them to lend a hand. I don't think you're going have to worry about cooking for a while, and if you need anything done around the house, help is only a phone call away."
"I don't know what to say," Shannon was once again stunned by this outpouring of generosity, and struggled to find words to express her appreciation.
Sheila shook her head. "You don't have to say anything. John's given so much to the people of this community, and this is just our way of saying thank you. He's taught several first aid classes, and helped coach our Little League teams; he's organized softball games and taken photographs at our picnics. He's even taken some of our teenagers on camping trips in the mountains -- I dare say we have a number of young people here -- my own son included -- who plan on being fire fighters when they grow up just because of the wonderful example he's set."
Roy wasn't surprised to hear all that, but was at the same time. If Johnny had mentioned any of these things to him, it wasn't more than a passing comment. He missed Johnny. He hadn't seen him for weeks, but they'd talked on the phone several times. Johnny had called him first. Things were better between them, although there was still much left unsaid.
"Thank you, Sheila. We'll find a way to thank everyone, but...," Shannon looked a little uncomfortable, "...I'm not sure how Johnny's going to feel about this. I mean, he's been really sensitive about accepting help, and I... I don't want to sound ungrateful, but I don't know if this is going to work."
"Don't you worry about it." Sheila shook her finger briskly, reminding them all of one of those schoolteachers they'd had somewhere along the line -- the kind you loved, but never dared mess with. "I think most of us know John well enough to understand that we can't act like baby-sitters around him. We're not planning on being obtrusive... with the holidays coming, it'll give us some quiet time for writing letters and addressing Christmas cards and making out our shopping lists -- all the things we can't seem to get to when we're home. Several of the ladies are hoping you won't mind if they do some of their holiday baking while they're here. And, of course, if John wants some company, we'll be glad to spend the time with him, and if he wants to be left alone, we can do that too."
Sheila could tell by the look on her face that Shannon wasn't quite convinced. "Tell you what, Shannon. I'll tell John this was all my idea. He knows better than to argue with me once my mind's made up. It'll work out, trust me."
This whole day had been filled with surprises and answers to her problems. She couldn't think of anything to do but to hug Sheila. Shannon found herself doing that to a lot of people lately. Johnny had some wonderful friends -- the kind of friends she'd never really had because she'd never stayed in one place long enough to put down roots. It made her wonder why she had run so hard from this kind of life.... Why she'd run so hard from Johnny's kind of life.
Shannon wanted nothing more than to be a part of it now.
* * * * * * * *
They still didn't talk much about important things, but the time never seemed quite right. Most of the time when she was awake, he was asleep, and vice versa. Johnny had accepted the neighbors' help and had settled into a relatively comfortable routine of exercising, visiting, and sleeping.
Her job wasn't difficult, but Shannon found it tiring and usually went to bed early. Her doctor encouraged her to watch her diet and monitored her weight carefully . She hated worrying about it, but she tried to carefully follow his advice. She had none of those weird cravings she'd heard about from other women, but noticed that ice cream had begun to appeal to her more and more. Chocolate Chip ice cream. Rocky Road ice cream. Hot fudge. Whipped cream. In the middle of the night. But it wasn't a craving. Not really. Neither were those hot pastrami sandwiches she had for lunch several times a week. The greasy kind. With mustard and dill pickles. Lots of pickles.
Thanksgiving Day had come and gone uneventfully. Shannon had cooked dinner herself for a change, and they spent the day resting quietly, without any visitors. The baby was moving occasionally now. It felt more like a flutter than a real movement at first, and it always took her by surprise. Johnny still didn't say much about it, but she saw the look of tenderness on his face when he put his hand on her stomach and felt it too. She wanted so much to know what he was thinking, but he never left the door open long enough for her to ask.
When Johnny was up, most of his attention was focused on exercising. The cast was coming off early next week, and physical therapy would start almost immediately. He'd still have to wear a heavy brace and use crutches to get around for a while, then basically he was going to have to learn to walk all over again. It was going to be a long, slow, painful process. He seemed eager to start, but refused to talk about whether he would be able to go back to work. He had told Roy again that he didn't want to.
Having four days off work was heavenly for Shannon and she was excited about spending the day with Joanne. Johnny still didn't want the kids to see him yet, so they were going to drop Chris and Jennifer off at their grandmother's, then Roy was going to stay with Johnny while the women went shopping.
Shannon was eager to get out of the house for more than one reason. Johnny had gotten up in a really rotten mood and wanted to be left alone. She felt sorry Roy was going to have to deal with it, but realized he was probably far more used to Johnny's moods than she was. Maybe Roy could get him to talk about whatever was bothering him today.
Roy and Joanne drove up and met Shannon on her way to check the mailbox. Jack was especially delighted to see Roy, and stood there with a tennis ball in his mouth, wagging his tail, looking hopefully at Roy as soon as he got out of the car. Johnny hadn't played ball with him in a long time, and Roy took pity on the poor dog as he pulled the ball from his jaws.
"You know, your arm'll wear out long before he ever gets tired of chasing that ball," Shannon teased. "He's just conning you with that sad-faced look of his. I throw that stupid ball for him every night, and he always looks so disgusted when I'm ready to quit before he is."
They watched the bright yellow ball sail through the air as Jack took off at high speed after it. "I think he misses playing with Johnny," Shannon said quietly. "I know Johnny misses being able to do the things he used to do. He feels so confined to the house. It'll be a relief to get the cast off, but I really think he's looking forward to physical therapy just to get out of the house a few days a week. I wish he didn't have to go all the way to Rampart for it." Roy and Joanne noticed the odd look on Shannon's face when she added that almost as an afterthought.
Hearing that Johnny was in his room resting, Roy wandered off to play with Jack some more, while Joanne headed for the house with Shannon. "Can we take a look at the bedroom before we go? You can show me what you have in mind for decorating it." Joanne smiled, remembering how much fun she and Roy had fixing up Chris' room before he was born. "I haven't shopped for things for a nursery for so long. This is going to be fun."
Shannon admitted she'd been looking forward to it a lot herself. She'd been pouring over the Sears and Penney's catalogs in bed at night, looking at cribs and changing tables and all the bedding and accessories that went with them. The budget was a bit tight, but she'd saved every penny she could to do the room up right. Roy had offered to help with the painting and putting the furniture together. It was still four months before the baby was due, but she wanted to get the room done before she was too far along to be able to enjoy the work.
She peeked into Johnny's room and saw that he was sleeping, so she pulled the door closed a little so they wouldn't disturb him. Shannon was using the bedroom down the hall from the master bedroom, and the one across from hers would be the nursery. It was a small room at the front of the house, with several large windows that made it bright and cheery in the daytime when the blinds were open. Johnny hadn't used the room for anything in particular since he'd moved in a few years ago, so other than painting the walls and polishing the wood floor, it was ready to be turned into a nursery.
"Shannon, this room is perfect. It has plenty of room for the crib and a dresser and a changing table. What color are you going paint it? Blue, by any chance?" Joanne hadn't thought too much one way or the other if she had wanted a boy or a girl when she was pregnant the first time, but knew that Shannon was simply in love with the idea of having a boy.
They walked back down the hallway to leave, still talking about baby things. "Are you sure Roy doesn't mind helping with everything, Joanne? I hate to impose, but I don't think I could do it by myself." Johnny's door swung open just then, startling them both for a second.
Neither Joanne nor Shannon could quite read the look on his face other than to know it wasn't a happy one. Joanne sensed the tension and quickly said hello to him, then when he failed to acknowledge her, continued toward the front door, telling Shannon she'd wait for her in the car.
As soon as Joanne was out the door, Shannon exploded at him. She'd tried hard to be patient and understanding, but her nerves were wearing thin. "Johnny, I know things aren't easy for you, and you're entitled to your bad moods, but there was NO excuse for treating Joanne that way. What is your problem today, anyway? You haven't said more than two words to me all morning, and as usual, I have no idea why you're mad at me. I'm tired of trying to figure it out and I'm tired of trying to tiptoe around you while you're like this. I wish you'd just say what's on your mind for once."
Shannon wasn't sure what was making her so mad. She wanted to understand what he was going through, but he simply wouldn't talk to her about it. Maybe that was it. Even now, she was getting almost no reaction from him. Shannon stormed off down the hallway to leave before she said something she'd regret later.
Johnny's words stopped her cold at the front door.
"Have a good time shopping for your baby." He went back into his bedroom and slammed the door.
Tears were rolling slowly down her cheeks when she got into the car. Almost as though she expected this, Joanne handed Shannon a few tissues that were always kept handy in her purse. Shannon wiped the tears away and they sat quietly for a few minutes. Joanne watched Roy throw the tennis ball for Jack again while she waited for Shannon to tell her what happened.
"Sometimes I wonder if I'm ever going to grow up and stop doing stupid things. Maybe Johnny was right. Maybe having this baby is a big mistake." They both knew she didn't mean that. "I keep asking Johnny to talk to me and I say that I want us to share our lives, then I go and make all these plans for the nursery, and I don't even tell him about it. Just because he's in no physical condition to help, doesn't mean I shouldn't have asked him to be a part of it." Shannon paused before adding under her breath, "When will I ever learn?"
Joanne was still back on one of the first things Shannon had said. "Johnny told you that he thought having the baby was a mistake?"
Shannon nodded miserably. "When he first found out. I thought he'd change his mind. Sometimes when he feels the baby move, I can tell by his touch how much he cares, but other than that, he won't talk about it. Joanne, I feel so alone in this pregnancy. I never know how much to say. I guess that's why I haven't talked to him about the room. I didn't think he'd be interested. I should've known better."
Joanne started the car and waved good-bye to Roy. She thought about calling him over and filling him in, but decided maybe it'd be better if he heard Johnny's side of it first. They could compare notes later. "Let's go to the park and talk awhile, Shannon. We'll see if you feel up to shopping later. If not, we can do it another day."
It was a beautiful day for a walk in the park. There was a crispness in the cool air, but the sun was warm and bright. They strolled casually along the leaf-strewn pathway that curved around the duck pond for a while, then finally sat down to rest on a wooden bench under an old oak tree near the playground. There were about a half dozen kids playing on the swings and the slide, and their laughter floated across the park like a feather on a breeze.
"This reminds me of when my mom would take me to the park when I was little. It used to be a real special time for the two of us. She'd push me on the swing until her arms got tired, then we'd get ice cream cones and sit on the grass under a tree and she'd read to me." Shannon could picture it in her mind like it was yesterday. "I don't know what happened. It seems like one day she just kind of disappeared. Not her, but who she was. We stopped going to the park. She stopped reading to me. She seemed so unhappy all the time. I didn't know how to talk to her anymore. I always thought it was something I did, but I could never figure out what. After a while, I just gave up trying. I know this sounds terrible, but I didn't even cry when she died. She was almost a stranger to me then."
Joanne waited patiently to see where this was leading.
"I'm really scared, Joanne. I'm scared because I don't know how to talk to Johnny any more. When we first met, we talked all the time about everything except his family. We shared everything else with each other. Or I thought we did. Even after we stopped seeing each other, we were still friends and we always talked. But now, here we are, living under the same roof getting ready to have a baby, and it feels like we're two strangers who have nothing in common. I don't want to lose him, but I don't think we can go on like this. Johnny has to want to be a father, and if he doesn't, then we're better off apart. I know he never planned on having this baby, but neither did I. It happened and there's nothing I can do to change that. I don't want to change it."
"Have you and Johnny talked about any of the things that happened since you told him you were going to marry Brian?" Joanne was no counselor, but she knew that these two were never going to solve anything if they didn't get their feelings out in the open.
Shannon shook her head and smiled a little ruefully. "Johnny and I can't talk about painting the baby's room, much less about things like my planning to marry someone else, or whether or not he wants to be a father, or if he wants to go back to being a fire fighter. I keep thinking that those things have got to wait until he gets better, but after this morning, I'm not so sure waiting is a good idea."
"I don't want to take sides, and I'm not necessarily defending Johnny," Joanne explained, "but I can see where this would overwhelm anyone in his shoes. I can't imagine what it must be like for him -- first to have been inside that warehouse, thinking he was going to die, then to wake up and find out his whole world has been turned upside down. I think there's a lot more on his mind than you and the baby. He needs to talk someone whether he thinks he wants to or not. Shannon, I really believe you two belong together, but the way it looks to me, you're going to have to be the one to make it happen."
"You know, Joanne, I've talked to Rick Wilson about this several times. He's been so nice to me, and he says the same thing. He's helped Johnny before, and I know he can again, but not until Johnny's ready. Until then, I guess it is up to me. I don't want to give up on him like I gave up on my mother. I've spent my whole life giving up too easily. Maybe it's time I fought for what I want, don't you think?" Just saying it made her feel a little stronger, a little more determined.
"I think that's a great idea." Joanne agreed with a smile. "So, what do you want to do now?"
"Would you be upset with me if I asked you to take me home instead of going shopping?" Shannon felt lucky to have a friend like Joanne. "We can go another time. After I ask Johnny what he'd like to do with the room. It is his house, after all. And his son."
The ladies got up and linked arms and walked back to the car, listening to the happy sounds of the children as they played in the warm November sun.
* * * * * * * *
It was now or never. They had to start talking. Shannon said good-bye to Roy and Joanne and headed for the house. Roy said Johnny was in the den, watching TV. He apparently hadn't been very sociable.
When she came into the room, Johnny was standing in front of the bookcase with his back to her, balancing on his crutches. He was looking at the music box and the carousel horse that Shannon had so painstakingly glued back together. He glanced over his shoulder when he heard her, then turned his attention back to the horse.
She came up behind him and rested her hand on his shoulder and apologized from her heart. "Johnny, I can't tell you how sorry I am that I broke that. I know it must have meant a lot to you."
She could feel his arms shake from the strain of holding himself up. She wasn't sure what she expected him to say, but his response still surprised her. "You would've liked my mom. Everyone did. She was the kind of person who was always doing something for someone else. If anyone ever needed help, she was the first one there, and never asked for anything in return."
The son comes by it naturally, Shannon thought to herself. It was the first time he'd ever mentioned his mother to her.
"She would've liked you, too. She always told me if I ever found a woman that could put up with me, I should hang onto her, because I wouldn't find another one." He smiled to himself at the memory of how many times he'd heard that when she scolded him.
"Tell me about her, Johnny."
"Maybe, someday I will. Not now."
"I'd like to know. When you're ready to tell me." She could wait. This was a beginning.
"You did a good job putting it back together. I sat here and tried to do it.... I couldn't figure out where to start. I wanted to put a lot of things back together that night... but... I couldn't."
The phone call. The hang up.
He turned his head and looked at her. "I still don't know if I can do it."
"It isn't easy, I know," she said softly, "but you can if you want to, Johnny. Just like I put that back together. One piece at a time."
"No, it isn't easy. I don't think I could handle it if it broke again." He wasn't talking about the music box.
"Johnny, we need to talk about this. I need to explain. I need you to understand." He'd finally opened the door just a little.
"Not now, Shannon. I don't want to talk about it. I'm tired. I need to go rest for a while." He shifted a step back on his crutches and her hand fell away from his shoulder.
"Johnny, you can't keep walking away from me."
"Funny advice coming from you, Shannon. I seem to recall you didn't have any trouble walking away from me."
All the heartache of that day came racing back to both of them with blinding speed.
"I made a mistake," Shannon confessed. "A big mistake. It was harder for me than you think."
"Why didn't you talk to me when I called?" he asked.
"This probably sounds really childish right now, but I was mad at you because you let me leave. You didn't ask me to stay. You didn't come after me. I honestly thought it meant your job was more important to you than I was. I didn't want to be a firefighter's wife. I wanted to be John Gage's wife. I didn't think that would ever happen. I'm sorry that I hurt you. I want you to give me a chance to talk about it. I want you to give me a chance to start over again. I want you to forgive me."
"I don't know if I can forgive you, Shannon." He shifted on his crutches again to face her. "Tell me, is that why you're here now...? Because I can't be a firefighter any more, so you think it'll be safe to marry me? Or is it because of the baby? You wanted to marry someone else until you found out you were pregnant by me. You think you owe it to me to be here because of that? Or are you just here because you feel sorry for me? Face it, If this hadn't happened to me, you'd be married and someone else would be raising my son."
His words cut her to the quick, but he had every right to ask those questions and say those things. As much as it hurt, Shannon knew this is what they needed to do. Tears of remorse filled her eyes as he voiced his distrust of her motives for being there, yet her heart skipped a beat when she heard him say "my son."
"Johnny... do you still think having this baby... is a mistake?" Her heart was pounding in her ears so loudly she could barely hear her own voice.
"I don't know," he answered honestly. "We'd always talked about not having kids for a reason. Maybe that reason is gone now."
"Are you talking about not going back to work?" For years, she had wished he had been anything but a firefighter... a used car salesman would have been fine with her. But now, to actually face the prospect that he couldn't do what he loved frightened her almost as much as it did him.
Before he could answer, she saw his right hand slip off the crutch and he lost his balance. She tried to catch him, but he fell anyway. Shannon quickly dropped to her knees as she listened to him groan in pain.
"Johnny, do you want me to call the station? If the squad's there, they can be here in a few minutes. They said it was okay to call direct if we needed them...."
He grimaced and shook his head. "No. I'm okay. Just leave me alone for a minute." His breath was coming in short pants and he looked awfully pale.
She started to get up. "I'm going to call them...."
He grabbed her wrist and pulled her back down. "No. I'll be all right." He didn't let her go until she promised not to call.
She felt helpless and miserable. That made two of them. Shannon sat behind his head and offered what little comfort she could to help him relax before trying to get up. She ran her fingers through his hair and gently stroked his forehead while she thought about what he'd said to her. She knew she was here for only one reason. She loved him. He obviously had his doubts, and she was going to have to work hard to erase them. Shannon knew it would take some time, but she could do it.
She was never going to let him walk away from her again.