"A REASON TO LIVE Part 1"
THE FINAL CHAPTER
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When you look over your shoulder,
And you see the life that you left behind,
When you think it over, do you ever wonder,
What it is that holds your life so close to mine?
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Johnny was dead.
A single tear slid from her eye and trickled slowly down her cheek.
Shannon had no strength to lift her hand to wipe it away. The crushing ache in her chest was as real as any physical pain she’d ever felt. There was nothing... nothing... not even the great healer of time... that could possibly lessen the anguish of losing him.
She hadn’t needed to hear the words from Roy when he came into the chapel. She already knew. Shannon had thought she’d prepared herself to hear them, but she thought wrong. Her world had gone black and she collapsed in Roy’s arms.
Their whispered voices were slightly muffled, but she could understand them. They were talking about him. A pain-filled sob escaped when she heard Johnny’s name. Dixie was at her side instantly and Shannon felt her warm hand lightly touch her arm. Through her still fuzzy eyes, she could’ve sworn she saw Dixie smiling.
“Shannon?” Dixie’s distant voice sounded soft and soothing.
Shannon blinked her eyes and slowly looked around, finally realizing she was no longer in the chapel, but in one of the treatment rooms in the ER. There was an IV in one arm and a band aid in the crook of her other arm. She was tired and thirsty. The room tilted ever so slightly when she moved her head.
Sorrow and guilt engulfed her once again.
Johnny was gone, not knowing about his son... their son. She had tried so hard to tell him last night, but he wouldn’t wake up. Shannon knew she should've stayed in his room this morning when the doctors came. Instead she’d run off to pray for a miracle that simply wasn’t meant to be. She knew she should have been with him, holding him in her arms as his life slipped away. For once in her life, she should have refused to let him go. She had always let him go too easily. Only this time, Johnny was never coming back.
“Johnny.” She choked on her sobs as she cried out his name.
Joe Early now stood beside her. Gently resting a caring hand on her shoulder, he leaned over so she could hear him.
“Shannon, listen to me... Shannon, Johnny’s alive. He’s breathing on his own.” Joe Early glanced at Dixie and nodded to her to confirm what he said. Shannon held her breath as she stared through her frozen tears first at him, then at Dixie, in stunned disbelief.
“He’s right, Shannon. Johnny’s holding his own right now. It’s you we’re worried about.” Dixie’s eyes had that warm, reassuring smile even though her face conveyed her concern about Shannon.
Shannon’s voice was trembling. “He... he’s alive? But..., they said.... How? I don’t understand. What happened?”
The smile in Dixie’s eyes deepened. “It happens sometimes. Patients with a strong will to survive suddenly start breathing on their own. There's a medical explanation for it, but for now, let's just say it was that miracle you were hoping for."
Shannon couldn’t believe it was true. Not that they would lie to her, but she had to see him for herself before she’d be convinced this wasn’t all a dream.
“Hold on there, young lady. You’re not going anywhere just yet.” Joe Early spoke kindly, but firmly, keeping his hand on her shoulder. “You just lie back down there and I’ll decide when you’re ready to get up.”
“But... I need to see him....” Shannon protested against his restraint.
Dr. Early shook his head. “You can't. Not just yet. Johnny’s not up to having visitors. He was conscious for a short time, but he’s been heavily sedated, so you won’t be able to talk to him for a while. Right now, we’re going to talk about you.”
Shannon looked at Roy, silently pleading for his help. All she wanted was one look at Johnny for herself -- one look, one touch and she would believe it. Behind the smile on his face, she could still see the worry in Roy’s eyes. He couldn’t hide the truth. She understood then that Johnny was alive and breathing, but far from being all right. It only strengthened her resolve to see him.
Her tears were gradually replaced with tired frustration, and she lay back and closed her eyes and tried to relax. She heard Roy ask Dixie if she was going to be okay. Roy laughed a little at how much like Johnny she sounded when Shannon answered for herself that if they gave her a minute, she’d be fine.
“Shannon, when was the last time you had anything to eat?” Joe Early was in full professional mode now. “How long has it been since you’ve had more than a few hours sleep at one time?”
She resigned herself to having to answer his questions truthfully. She was too worn out to argue. “It’s been.... I don’t know... four or five days I guess? I fainted from hunger? Is that all that’s wrong with me?”
“Well, it’s a little more serious than just a fainting spell,” he explained quietly, “you’ve allowed yourself to become exhausted and dehydrated, and your blood sugar has dropped. You’ve been under a terrific emotional strain these last few days, and it seems everything caught up with you all at once.”
Shannon nodded tiredly. “I know. I haven’t felt like eating and I couldn’t sleep. I've been so worried about Johnny. When Roy came into the chapel, I guess I... I just couldn’t deal with it anymore. Dr. Early, am I going to have to stay here overnight?”
Joe Early paused thoughtfully for a moment before answering. “We want you to rest here for just a little longer. We’ve got you on an IV to help bring up your blood sugar and replace some of your fluids. By the time that’s done, we should have the results of the rest of your blood tests, and we can decide then if you need to stay or not.”
“Can I see Johnny then?” She wasn’t going to give up her quest to see him.
Dr. Early smiled at her determination. “I’ll make you a deal, Shannon. If you promise to start taking better care of yourself, I’ll see if I can arrange for you to spend a few minutes with him. I know you’re still worried about Johnny, but it’s time you started to worry about yourself... and about your baby.”
Roy’s head snapped up. He had no idea she was pregnant. A hint of anger flashed in his eyes. Johnny was going to have enough to deal with when he finally woke up, but finding out Shannon was pregnant with Brian’s baby was going to cause a huge emotional setback. One he might never recover from. No one noticed Roy's poorly concealed attempt to keep the look of shock and dismay off his face.
The phone on the wall rang and Dixie answered it. She listened for a moment and nodded as though the person on the other end could see her, then hung up. “Joe, Mike Morton needs our help in Treatment 2. Maybe Roy can stay here with Shannon for a few minutes?”
Roy nodded that he would, trying to hide his discomfort at being left alone with her with the way he was feeling. He knew the last thing Shannon needed was to get upset again, but he was already worried about how Johnny was going to handle the news, and wondered if she'd even given it any thought at all. He didn't know what to say.
When Joe Early and Dixie left, a palpable tension filled the quiet room.
Shannon began to panic as all sorts of thoughts ran through her head. “Roy, what’s wrong? Is there something they’re not telling me about Johnny?”
Roy struggled to answer calmly. “No. He’s holding his own, like Dixie said. His responses were pretty sluggish and he was in a lot of pain... a lot of pain... when he came to for a little while. That’s why they’ve got him sedated right now, to keep him quiet and let him rest. They'll probably bring him up in another five or six hours and check his responses again. My guess is he'll be on some pretty strong pain killers for at least a few weeks."
"Weeks?" she whispered. "I can't imagine how hard this is going to be for him."
"Shannon, this is only the beginning. The doctors say he's facing a long, hard recovery both physically and mentally. We’re going to have to make sure nothing gets in the way of that.”
Shannon was puzzled by that last, almost bitter-sounding comment, but then it dawned on her what Roy was talking about.
“Roy..., I want you to know that even if things don’t work out for Johnny and me in the future, I’m not going to marry Brian. It wouldn’t be fair to any of us now.”
In spite of what she and Dixie had talked about yesterday, Shannon had decided that no matter what happened, she couldn’t marry him. She would come home to Los Angeles and raise their baby by herself if she had to. She cared for Brian, but knew deep in her heart she could never love him the same way she loved Johnny. He deserved better than that.
“I... I don’t understand.” Roy was stumbling over his thoughts. “The baby?”
Shannon fully understood Roy’s confusion now. “The baby is Johnny’s, Roy.”
“Johnny’s...? Johnny’s going... to be... a father!?” Roy was floored by the sudden change of circumstances. “Does he... did he know?”
“No, he didn’t know,” she answered a bit sadly, “I tried to tell him last night, but I don’t know if he heard me. I’d like to believe he did. I’d like to believe that’s why he fought to stay alive.”
Shannon began to weep softly again, this time tears of joy and relief. Even if Johnny never forgave her for walking out on him, he'd at least be able to hold his baby in his arms, and father and son would know each other. It was the very least she could give him.
Roy swallowed back his own emotions. He couldn’t help wonder still how Johnny would take the news. He had so much to overcome, and the added prospect of fatherhood could prove to be somewhat staggering. But then a smile gradually stole across his face.
John Gage. A father. The picture in his mind made his smile broaden. Shannon knew exactly what he was thinking, and wiped away her tears. Their laughter swept away the last of the uneasiness between them.
Dixie came back into the room and was happy to see them laughing. She knew Johnny was going to need the two of them more than he ever needed them before. Dixie hoped their bond was strong enough to withstand the bumps in the road they’d all surely encounter along the way.
Little did she know the bumps would be major roadblocks, filled with detours off the main highway onto rough and rocky roads.
“Dr. Early said your test results all looked good,” she explained as she removed the IV from Shannon’s arm, “and he said you don’t have to stay overnight as long as you promise to eat something healthy and try to sleep for as long as you can tonight.”
Shannon eagerly agreed. She had no wish to spend any more time laying in a hospital room. “Does that mean I can see Johnny now?”
“They’re going to let you spend two minutes alone with him, then you have to go home and get some rest. And you’re not to come back here again until you’ve eaten and slept. Is that understood?” Dixie shook her finger and tried to sound gruff, but couldn’t quite pull it off.
Roy moved toward the door and told Shannon he’d wait for her in the lobby.
Sitting up on the exam table, Shannon waved him off. “You don’t have to wait for me, Roy. You look like you could stand to go home and get some rest yourself. I’ll be fine.”
Dixie and Roy both shook their heads. They wondered if she’d always been this way, or if Johnny had just rubbed off on her.
Roy could be just as stubborn though. “You’re not driving all the way to Johnny’s after what you’ve just been through. You’re coming home with me. Joanne’s expecting you to stay with us for a while so don’t even try to argue with me about it. I already called and told her about Johnny. I think maybe she’d like to hear the rest of the news from you."
Dixie stayed in the room to make sure Shannon was steady on her feet. When she finished getting dressed, Shannon surprised the veteran nurse with a long, warm hug.
“Can I ask you a favor, Dixie?”
“Sure," Dixie answered, extracting herself from the embrace, "as long as you keep your promise to take care of yourself and that baby now.”
“I will, I promise. You know, my mom died when I was sixteen, and we were never really close... not like my dad and I were. You’re one of the most special women I’ve ever known, and I was wondering if... if you’d be this baby’s godmother? He’s going to grow up without grandparents, and I was hoping you'd be willing to help fill that void.” Shannon blushed, a little chagrined at how that sounded, and quickly added, “Not that you’re not old enough to be a grandmother, Dixie....”
Dixie smiled, and of course took no offense. More than flattered, she still hesitated to say yes. “Don’t you think you should wait and ask Johnny what he wants? I think maybe he’d like Roy and Joanne to be godparents.”
“Oh, I’d love that too!" Shannon's face was filled with delight at the prospect. "You know, there’s no limit on how many godparents a kid can have. Besides, I know Johnny wouldn’t want it any other way. He thinks the world of you, Dixie, and he’d be just as honored as I would if you said yes. Please say yes.”
“If you’re sure... then yes, I’d be the one honored.” This was getting a little too mushy for Dixie’s taste, and she shooed Shannon toward the door. “Now, you’d better get upstairs and see him before they change their minds. Remember you only have a few minutes, then I want to see you back down here and on your way home with Roy.”
* * * * * * * *
Shannon pressed heavily against the side of the elevator for support as she waited for it to reach the ICU floor. The cool metal wall felt good against her cheek. It had been an overwhelming week, and she was suddenly very, very tired. Nothing, though, could diminish the excitement that tingled her emotions. She couldn’t wait to see Johnny, even if it was only for two short minutes.
As she exited the elevator and approached the desk, she saw Dr. Fischer leaning against the counter, making some notes in a chart. He was one of several doctors who’d been taking care of Johnny since he came out of surgery. He’d been very kind to her through the whole ordeal, and now smiled warmly when he saw her coming. Shannon had long since decided that a smiling doctor was always a good sign.
“Miss Miller.” He held out his hand and shook hers gently. “It’s good to see you. How are you holding up?”
Taking further reassurance from his cheerful greeting, Shannon shook his hand, anxiously peeking around him, looking toward Johnny's room. “I'm doing a lot better since I heard the news. Dr. Early said I could see Johnny for a just a minute...?”
Dr. Fischer sympathized with her impatience, but asked her to wait for just a moment until the nurse finished drawing this hour's blood sample. Not missing the disappointed reluctance in her response, he sought to bring her up to date on Johnny's condition while she waited.
“Just so you understand, John was given a strong dose of morphine after he came around earlier, so he should be sleeping soundly when you go in there. It'll be another several hours before it wears off and he comes around again. We'll check his responses, and give him another dose after that. I expect that'll be the pattern for a while. It's important we keep him as still as possible and try to control the level of pain he's feeling.”
He stopped talking and looked at her with curiosity, wondering if she'd heard anything he just said, but continued with the good news.
“I have to tell you, though, we're pleased with his progress over the last several hours. His temperature’s almost back to normal and his kidney function is definitely showing signs of improvement. So far, I’d say things are looking a lot better than we’d originally hoped for.”
Shannon was only half-listening. She knew she should pay attention, but the medical details could... and she was sure would... come later. The news was good, but right now, she just wanted to be in the same room with him. She wanted to hold his hand and let him know she was there.
The second she saw the nurse come out of the room, she asked again, “Do you... do you think I could see him now?” Shannon tried hard not to sound ungrateful to the doctor.
He nodded with some amusement, and reminded her to keep the visit short. Despite her rush to get in there, she hesitated outside the doorway for just a moment, then took a deep breath to prepare herself and went in. The room was dimly lit by one small lamp near the bed; it was much quieter than when she had left hours earlier. The stillness had a soothing effect on her frayed emotions.
Johnny was lying so still beneath the blankets and she could barely see the rise and fall of his chest. The chest tube was gone, but the IVs and heart monitor remained. The vent was gone too, and an oxygen cannula took its place. Pillows peeked out from under the blankets, surrounding him, elevating and cushioning his broken pelvis and leg. Some slight color had returned to his face, but the dark circles under his eyes still accentuated his pallor. He looked so fragile, and it scared her all over again. Shannon could feel the tears threaten, but she refused to let them come. She had to be strong enough for all of them now.
Shannon gently brushed the back of her fingers across his cheek, then tenderly traced his lips with a fingertip. He still felt so cold. She thought his eyelids flickered slightly at her touch, but they didn’t open. She wrapped her hand around his, wanting so much for him to wake up and talk to her. At least she finally had her proof and could go to Roy and Joanne’s now and sleep, knowing that Johnny would be here when she woke up.
"Johnny?" she whispered in a voice as hushed as the room, "I'm so sorry for everything that's happened. I promise I won’t leave again, and that we'll get through this together."
She carefully leaned over the side of the bed and kissed him on the lips, a warm lingering kiss. "I love you, Johnny. I'll be waiting for the day you'll kiss me back. Please... make it soon."
She let go of his hand, and softly stroked his cheek and kissed him again. The nurse stood at the doorway and quietly beckoned for her to leave.
Johnny opened his eyes for a brief moment, listening for her voice. It was dark and the room was quiet and he was alone. Just a dream. His eyes slid closed, and he slept again.
* * * * * * * *
There’s a difference between being conscious and being awake. At the moment, neither one particularly appealed to Johnny. Not that lying in a coma was a good thing, but at least then he hadn’t been aware of the pain that now relentlessly assaulted him. Sometimes when he was conscious, he felt vaguely disconnected from it... it was there, loitering just off in the distance, waiting to torture him as soon as the morphine began to wear off. A fresh dose soon brought sleep and relief from the agony. Those first few days Johnny really hadn't been awake in the truest sense of the word, and if he'd been able to think rationally, he wouldn't have wanted to be. He would've been afraid to wake up and find this hellish nightmare was real.
Through the first forty-eight hours after being taken off the vent, the cycle was maintained... morphine, sleep, pain, consciousness, questions. Each time they'd put him through the same routine.... Squeeze my hand, open your eyes, Johnny can you hear me, do you know where you are, Johnny do you know what happened to you.... At first all he could do was moan as though the requests and questions themselves were a cruel form of torture. By the end of the second day, his responses had begun to improve... after much deliberate thought and hesitation, he was able to haltingly answer most of the questions, except the one about what happened to him. The only answer Johnny could give was "hurt." It wasn't a wrong answer, it just wasn't as complete as they wanted to hear, nor were they sure he was telling them he knew he’d been in an accident, or if he was telling them he just plain hurt.
By the third day, he was opening his eyes when someone came into his room; he was able to recognize the people who came and went, and could hold brief conversations.... If you could call them that. Most consisted of him slowly answering questions or responding to what his visitors were saying. Focusing enough to initiate a coherent conversation was beyond his ability at the moment. He'd often fall asleep in the middle of a sentence, only to resume where he left off hours later when he woke up. With no concept of time, he wouldn't realize there was a different person beside him.
Johnny's days and nights were filled with a steady stream of nurses constantly drawing blood, changing IVs, checking his catheter, and carefully trying to shift him to make him more comfortable -- an almost impossible task. Then there was the excruciating respiratory therapy that had already begun. He was being urged to eat, and was constantly being asked questions.
Everything exhausted him and sleep was a welcome respite from it all.
Familiar faces hazily floated in and out of his room during those days, but the two he counted most on seeing were Shannon and Roy. Morphine controlled the savage pain, but dulled his senses. Johnny still wasn't able to process whole conversations or comprehend everything he was being told. He just knew he felt better when one of them was near. He’d wake up and see Shannon sitting beside the bed, and ask why she was there, although he didn't know why she wouldn't be. Her answer was always the same. She was there because she loved him.
* * * * * * * *
Shannon squirmed in the rigid chair, trying to find a position that would lessen that nagging ache that developed in her lower back when she sat in one spot too long. She'd spent a lot of hours sitting in that chair the last few days, and wasn't going to miss it in the slightest while she was gone. Johnny was sleeping restlessly, having dozed off while she was trying to get him to eat some Jell-O. Just as she settled in, Roy came into the room. Putting her finger to her lips to let him know Johnny was asleep, she rolled her eyes at the thought of having to stand up just when she'd finally found a comfortable sitting position. She joined Roy where he stood on the other side of the bed, taking a serious look at his friend.
"How's he doin' today?" Roy asked quietly.
"Well, he'd already been awake for a while when I got here and was... I guess cranky's a good word for it. The nurse said he's starting to fight them when it's time to draw blood. He grumbled something about not being a pincushion and didn't offer his arm very willingly." Shannon smiled hopefully as she looked at Roy. "I figure that's a good sign, don't you?"
Roy chuckled softly. "Not so good for the nurses though. I imagine by the time he's ready to leave the hospital, every one of them will offer to drive him home just to get him out of their hair." He paused and solemnly studied Johnny's face again. "Maybe they won't have to draw blood so often now... his color seems to be a lot better."
Shannon agreed without hesitation. Johnny no longer looked like an apparition, though while he was awake, he complained constantly about being cold. "The doctor said his red cell count is coming up and the anemia should be under control soon." A little of her own color drained from her face as she recalled the discussion with Dr. Brackett this morning. "He said Johnny almost bled to death, and if you hadn't gotten him out when you did, he... he...."
Roy gave her arm a gentle squeeze. "It's all right, Shannon. He's gonna be fine now."
"I know.... It's just been so hard to see him like this." Shannon was a little embarrassed, but knew that any woman just about to enter her fourth month of pregnancy was entitled to a few emotional moments, even under normal circumstances. She gathered herself once again, appreciating Roy's gentle encouragement. "Johnny was asking me earlier where you were. I told him you were coming by, but I guess he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer."
Roy was sorry he'd missed him. "I'll stop in again after I take you to the airport. Maybe he’ll be awake then. Are you ready to go?"
Shannon gestured toward her suitcase sitting in the corner. "As ready as I'll ever be, I guess."
"Is Brian meeting you at the airport?"
Shannon shook her head no, her eyes filling with sadness and regret over the consequences of her decisions. "My friend Cindy is picking me up. Brian's working today, but I'll be seeing him later this evening."
"I guess this must be really hard for you," Roy sympathized, "Are you sure this is what you want to do?"
Shannon gave him her best attempt at a small smile. "It is. Really, Roy, I'll be fine. I appreciate everything you and Joanne have done for me this last week. I knew this moment would come sooner or later, so I might as well go now before too much more time passes. I just wish I could've told Johnny about the baby before I left."
"Yeah, but Brackett's probably right about waiting to tell him. Johnny's got more than enough to deal with right now."
"I know it can wait until he's doing better," Shannon agreed, "but I still feel guilty about keeping it from him."
"You'll be able to tell him soon enough." Glancing at his watch, Roy cocked his head toward the door. "We'd better get going if you don't want to miss your flight." Roy picked up her suitcase and was surprised at how light it was. He wondered if she could teach Joanne how to pack.
Shannon moved the few steps to the bed and lightly touched Johnny's arm. He visibly recoiled, but didn't wake up. "He must've thought I was one of those vampire nurses out for his blood," she joked lightly, then leaned over and kissed him on the lips. His head moved, but he didn't open his eyes.
"I'll tell him good-bye for you if he's awake when I stop in later." Roy glanced at his watch again. "We really need to get going."
Shannon gathered her purse and draped her heavy pullover sweater over her arm, and with a last glance at Johnny, left the room with Roy. It was cold and stormy on the other side of the country and she was glad she'd only be staying there a short while before coming home to stay in sunny LA.
Stepping inside the elevator, Roy put the suitcase down and pushed the button for the ground floor. "Have you figured out yet when you're coming back? Joanne and I’ll be glad to help you get settled in at Johnny's place when you do."
"It's going to take me four or five days to get everything squared away at work and get my few things packed and ready to ship. I told Joanne I'd call as soon as I know for sure." Shannon closed her eyes and sighed. This was not going to be an easy trip. She dreaded telling Brian and felt terrible for hurting him. Nothing had been easy lately, and she doubted it would be for a long time. Between Johnny's recovery and her pregnancy, she hoped they could survive the next six months. Shannon relaxed and smiled, reminding herself that they'd survived the many ups and downs of the last eight years.
A mere six months should be a piece of cake.
* * * * * * * *
“I don’t know what’s wrong!”
Kelly Brackett banged his fist on the break room tabletop for emphasis. “He'd been doing so well.” He rubbed his forehead in frustration as Dixie handed him a cup of coffee. “Thanks, Dix." The warm coffee was good, but it didn't solve his dilemma. "I just don't get it.”
Joe Early sat back in the chair across from Brackett, and played with his stethoscope while he thought about it some more. “It’s almost like he’s gone into a state of depression. But that doesn’t seem likely just yet."
“Why not?” Dixie inquired as she joined them, “Wouldn’t that be normal for someone who’s been through as much as Johnny has lately?”
“Well..., it’s something we’d definitely expect to happen down the road... but not this soon. Johnny’s only now beginning to comprehend what's happened to him. I don't think he fully understands yet how severe his injuries were or how long his recovery's going to take. He might be feeling confused right now, but... not depressed.” Brackett shook his head. “No, I don’t think that’s the problem.”
“It seems to me it started right after Shannon left,” Dixie offered, “Up until then....”
Early interrupted her with a shake of his head. “I agree with Kel, Dix... even though he's able to recognize people and have short conversations, I don't think Johnny's always aware of who’s been in his room, let alone of who hasn’t been there at any given time.”
“I know I’m just a nurse and shouldn’t be correcting the doctors....” There was the usual trace of sarcasm in Dixie's voice as she looked from one to the other.
Brackett leaned forward, folding his arms on the table, arching his eyebrows as his eyes met hers. “And just when has that ever stopped you before?” He matched the tone in her voice perfectly with his own.
Dixie gave him one of her ‘don’t mess with me, buster’ looks before continuing. “As I was saying..., he took a turn for the worse right after she left. I guarantee you he knows that she's been there. You say he still isn't processing everything he's told -- well, maybe Johnny can't remember why she isn’t here now.”
“I suppose it’s possible," Brackett conceded, slumping back in his chair again. “We sure can’t afford to rule anything out right now. For Johnny’s sake, I hope she’s coming back.”
“Oh, she’ll be back,” Dixie assured him, “You can count on that.”
“Then maybe someone should make sure Johnny understands that.” Early suggested, looking straight at Dixie. “The sooner, the better.”
She pushed her chair back and started to pick up her coffee cup, but set it back down on the table with an exaggerated thump. “All right, I’m going to pay him a visit right now. Why don't one of you gentlemen wash out my cup for a change?” She left the room quickly, wondering how long they would sit there and debate over which one would do it. She had no doubt all three cups would still be sitting there when she got back.
Johnny was sleeping fitfully when she entered the room; his eyes blinked open slowly when she switched on the small lamp and began to check his IV drip.
It took him a few seconds to work through the fog in his mind. “Dix? ...That you?” he asked in a thick-throated whisper.
“Hey, handsome. It’s good to see you awake." Dixie rubbed his arm. "Johnny, the nurses tell me you haven’t been wanting to eat or stay awake these past few days, so I thought I’d come by and see if there’s anything I can do for you.” She picked up a tumbler from the bedside table and offered him a spoonful of ice chips to soothe his throat, but he shook his head no.
“You could... g'mme outta here. Wanna... go... hhome.” His speech was slow and slightly slurred.
“Oh, let’s not start that already,” she gently admonished, “you're going to be a guest here for quite a while, but you know the sooner you start eating and getting some of your strength back, the sooner they’ll think about letting you go home.”
“... don' like... hos... pital food.”
“Well, no one does, but you’ve got to eat, Johnny.”
“Tired. 'm too... tired. Hurt... all the time. 'Sides soup 'n Jell-O's... not... food.” He almost managed a smile for her.
“You don’t want Shannon to come back and find you’ve withered away to nothing, do you?”
Dixie watched him shut down immediately. She’d been right.
“Johnny, she’s coming back," she explained with firm conviction, "there were some things she had to take care of. She’ll be back in a few days. Shannon's been waiting a long time to talk to you.”
The unexpected bitterness that underlied his weary voice took her by surprise.
“I don’t... I don' wanna talk to her, Dix. I... I don’ want her... t' come back.”
A bump in the road. So soon. Too soon. At least she'd confirmed the cause of his despondency the last few days. More or less.
“I'm not sure I understand why you feel that way, Johnny. Don’t shut her out. A lot’s happened and you need to give her a chance to explain.” Dixie wasn't sure what was going on in that head of his, but didn't want to push him too hard.
“Already know... all... I need t' know, Dix." He was drifting off. "... don' wanna... see her again. Ever.”
"Why, Johnny?" she questioned gently, but no answer was forthcoming.
He was asleep again.
* * * * * * * *
Dixie slowly dragged her eyes away from the chart she was working on. Tired as she was, she managed a special smile for the owner of that voice.
"Roy, it's good to see you. We've missed you around here the last few days." She finished jotting a few notes and put the chart away before giving him her full attention. "So, how are things working out at your new station?"
"It's different, but it's going great. I’m finding out I’ve still got a lot to learn. I've got a couple days off now, so I thought I'd come spend some time with Johnny. When I talked to the ICU nurse on Monday, she said they were putting the body cast on and that they'd be moving him out of ICU when they were done. I didn't have a chance to talk to him, though. How's he doing?"
Dixie gave him one of those looks only she could give, as she shook her head in consternation. "Let's put it this way, Roy. From what I hear, it's a good thing he's still asleep more than he's awake, or the nurses in the orthopedic wing would really have their hands full with him. You know, they're used to difficult patients, but he's setting new standards by the minute. He is not happy about being in that cast. I guess I can't blame him, but if you try to tell him it's only for eight weeks, he acts like that's the rest of his life. Maybe you can talk to him and see if you can get him to settle down a little. Hopefully, he'll listen to you... because he sure isn't listening to any of us."
Roy couldn't think of anything that would drive Johnny more insane than having to be so immobile for so long. "I'll give it my best shot Dix, but I'm not promising anything. He can be pretty stubborn when he wants to be.... But, I guess you already know that.” They shared a knowing smile. “Maybe when Shannon gets back she can spend more time with him and help relieve the nurses a little."
Dixie's brows knit together in a frown. "Roy... um... did anything happen before Shannon left that would've upset Johnny?"
"Not that I know of. Why? Is something else wrong?"
"Well..., I don't think it's just being in the cast that's bothering him."
Roy thought back to the last time he'd been here. Johnny'd been asleep both times he'd stopped in, and he couldn't recall anything in particular being wrong.
Dixie continued to fill him in on the events of the last few days. "Johnny's been one angry young man since she left, and he's taking it out on everyone who sets foot in his room. He's refusing to eat and doesn't want any visitors, and is complaining about every little thing, right down to a tiny wrinkle in the sheet. At first we thought it was because he thought Shannon left and wasn't coming back, but that doesn't seem to be the problem. Just the opposite. Roy, he told me the other night he didn’t ever want to see her again. I was hoping that was just his bad mood talking, but when I talked about her this morning, he got upset and told me to never mention her name again. I tried to find out what the problem was, but he just clammed up and refused to say any more."
Roy tried hard to envision what might have caused this sudden change of direction, but couldn't think of anything. From the time he first woke up, Johnny had seemed relieved she was there.
"Dixie, I don't know if he'll tell me anything either, but I'll see what I can find out." Roy turned to make his way to the elevator, when she put her hand on his arm, stopping him for another moment.
"Johnny's making it really hard to be his friend right now," she cautioned him, "but he's going to find he needs his friends one of these days soon, so don't take anything he says too personally. Just let him know you won't give up on him, no matter what." Dixie knew Roy's loyalty to his friend ran deep, but she wasn't sure he'd ever seen this side of Johnny before. She never had.
As he rode the elevator up, Roy turned over in his mind what might have happened between Shannon and Johnny before she left that day. Johnny had been asleep when he came in, but Shannon had given no indication that anything was wrong, other than saying Johnny had been cranky when she got there.
Roy stopped at the nurse's station in orthopedics to make sure it was okay to go into Johnny's room, and got the green light. He thought he heard the nurse mutter "good luck" under her breath as he walked away. Knocking softly, he entered without waiting for an invitation.
Even in his sleep, Johnny looked pained and miserable. A full body cast, ribs to knees, both legs, for eight weeks. Roy couldn’t imagine what that was going to be like for him. Even after the cast came off, there'd be months of braces and crutches and physical therapy. Months of frustration. Dr. Brackett said that it was possible Johnny'd be able to return to work before his year was up, but that it would take an extraordinary effort on Johnny's part to make that happen. Roy could only hope that the possibility would give Johnny something to focus on... something to work toward... something to take his mind off what he was going through right now.
Roy sat down in the chair beside the bed. Resting his elbows on his knees, he leaned over and studied his shoes, trying to come up with encouraging things he could say. He couldn't think of many that Johnny would listen to. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Johnny lift a hand, then drop it back on the bed with a defeated groan.
"Hey, Johnny. I see you've got some new body armor there." Roy hoped a little humor would work. It didn't. There was a menacing glare in Johnny’s pain-filled eyes.
"I don't feel like talking right now, Roy." Johnny turned his head away.
"I'll talk and you listen? That'll be a switch." Roy's second attempt at humor was not going over well at all either.
"Not funny. Go away."
"Johnny, I know this is hard...." Roy knew immediately he’d said the wrong thing.
"You don't know anything about it, Roy." Johnny made no attempt to control the hostility in his voice. "Don't even try to make it sound like you understand, because you don't."
"But..., Johnny, this is only temporary. Six months from now you'll be back on your feet, and before you know it, you'll be back at work." Somehow it didn't sound as encouraging as he meant it to be. He could tell already Johnny wasn’t going to be placated by anything he had to offer.
"I'm not goin' back to work."
"The doctors say you can."
"I didn't say I couldn't. I said I wasn't."
"I don't wanna argue about it, Roy. Drop it. I'm tired. I hurt. Just go away."
"Johnny, I just got here. We don't have to talk about work now." Roy hesitated. "Shannon called last night. She's...." He was saying all the wrong things, and Johnny was becoming more upset by the moment.
"Roy... I don't give a shit, all right? I already told Dixie. I don't want to see Shannon. Now, I'm tellin' you. She doesn't need to come back." There was no question that he meant what he said.
"But she wants to, Johnny. She's coming back the day after tomorrow."
"I don't care. I don't need her.”
"I think you do,” Roy argued right back. “What's wrong anyway?"
"She's just coming back out of pity. I don't need her and I sure as hell don't need her pity."
"Johnny, that's not it at all." Roy’s frustration was mounting.
"Well, why, then?" Johnny lashed out, "Because she feels guilty? Like maybe none of this would've happened if she hadn't walked out on me? Or if she'd just talked to me that night I called her? Well, you can tell her for me she can save herself the guilt trip and just leave me alone. I've gotten along without her all these years. I can get along without her now."
Roy was stunned by his outburst. "Johnny, I don't understand what's changed your mind all of a sudden. Shannon wants to be here with you and she wants to help you get through this. But it's not out of pity or guilt. She wants to be with you now." Roy was trying to reason with him, but Johnny was only getting more agitated. "I think almost losing you made her realize that."
"In other words... she wouldn’t have come back if this hadn’t happened.”
Roy stammered as he sought a way out. Johnny had twisted what he was trying to say.
“It doesn’t matter. It's too... late... for...." Johnny's voice caught in his throat.
Roy saw the beads of perspiration pop out on his forehead and upper lip as he paled and his breath suddenly came in rapid, shallow gasps. Johnny gripped the sheet beneath him with both hands and pulled and twisted it as pain shot through his whole body. His eyes watered and he choked back the cry that quickly rose in his throat.
Roy stood up and rested a hand on Johnny's shoulder while reaching for the call button with the other. "I'll call the nurse to come give you something."
Johnny weakly pushed Roy's hand away and tried to slow his breathing. "No... no... they're trying to get me off the morphine... making me wait longer between doses. It's all right... I'm tired of being drugged like that. The pain'll pass...in... a minute." He spoke in a breathless whisper, waiting for the worst of it to subside.
Roy watched carefully, ready to get a nurse if need be. Johnny finally seemed to get it under control. "Johnny. I'm sorry. If there's anything I can do...."
"You've done more than enough already." Johnny made it sound like an accusation.
"What do you mean by that?" Roy asked in surprise.
"This is your fault. You should've just left me in the warehouse. I'd made my peace with everything. I was ready to
die. I wasn't ready for all this."
Roy swallowed hard. "Johnny, you can't mean that." That was the last thing he'd expected to hear from John Gage.
"I'm tired of people telling me what I do and don't mean," he shouted, "Just go away and leave me alone now Roy. I wanna go back to sleep and forget this nightmare. Don't bother me anymore. I don't need you either."
Roy decided it was time to leave, remembering Dixie's advice as he walked toward the door.
"I'll see you later, Johnny." he said quietly and left the room.
Roy felt like he had only added to Johnny's considerable pain today. He went to talk to the nurse to see if they couldn't give him something to help take it away. At least the physical pain. There was nothing he could do for the other.
< < < <> > > >
Seems like a dream now, it was so long ago
The moon burned so bright and the time went so slow.
And I swore that I loved her and gave her a ring
The bluebird was high on the wing.
Whatever happened to Saturday night
Finding a sweetheart and holding her tight?
She said, "Tell me, oh, tell me, was I all right?"
Whatever happened to Saturday night?
The years brought the railroad
It ran by my door.
Now there's boards on the windows
And dust on the floor.
And she passes the time at another man's side
And I pass the time with my pride....
< < < <> > > >
Johnny woke up and saw Shannon standing across the room, staring out the window as the slowly setting sun drew down the shade on the daylight hours. Sunlight replaced by moonlight were the only things that told him he'd made it through another day. She looked tired and lost in thought, but as beautiful as always. Maybe more so. He closed his eyes, hoping she would disappear long before he opened them again. He couldn't look at her. He had loved her so deeply for so long, but in spite of her promise, she'd chosen not to wait for him.
Shannon was having someone else's baby. The pain of his injuries didn't begin to match the pain he felt being reminded of that again. He swallowed the burning lump in his throat and blinked back the tears. Johnny hadn't lost control of his emotions since he was a seventeen-year old, watching his mother's casket being lowered into the ground. He wouldn't do it now. Not in front of anyone. Especially not in front of her.
He startled and jerked his arm away when he felt her touch it and whisper his name.
She pulled her hand back in surprise, even though Dixie and Roy had both told her what Johnny had said the other day. Shannon hadn't wanted to believe it was true.
"Johnny, what's wrong?" Her face was clouded with worry and fear. "Are you all right?"
"Just... go away and leave me alone...." He desperately wanted her to hold him. "I told them. I don't... I don't want you here." The halting words he spoke didn't match the yearning look she saw in his eyes before he turned his head away.
The despair in his voice made her cringe, but she tried to keep her voice from wavering. "I don't understand, Johnny. Everything was fine the other day. I told you I had to leave for a while, but that I'd be back. There were some things I had to do. I'm back to stay."
He summoned courage he didn't think he possessed, and looked at her again. This time there was a forced harshness in his words. "I don't care what you had to do. You didn't need to come back. I want you... to... go away."
"You can't mean that, Johnny. Please tell me what's wrong." She was pleading with him now, unsure of what she’d said or done to upset him so much.
Johnny didn't think he could stand her innocent act any more. He could be heard out in the hallway, yelling at her to get out, and a nurse quickly showed up. Shannon stood at the foot of the bed, stunned and unable to move. Johnny had suddenly stopped shouting. His face was bathed in sweat and he was writhing and groaning in agony. The nurse quickly pulled her out of the room in an effort to get him to calm down, leaving Shannon standing alone in the hallway while she went to check his chart to see what he could be given for the pain. Another nurse paged a doctor.
Shannon braced herself against the wall outside the door to his room, trying to come to grips with what had just taken place. Her shoulders began to shake and she felt nauseous. Her vision grayed and she felt herself begin to slide down the wall when strong hands grabbed her by her arms and held her up.
It was Joe Early. She couldn't help herself.
She put her head on his shoulder and let the tears come.
< < < <> > > >
Oh, whatever happened to Saturday night?
< < < <> > > >
The darkness outside the window and the quiet hallway outside the door told him it was late. All but one dimmed light was off, and he was wide awake for a change. And alone. He preferred being alone these days. He couldn't stop everyone from coming by to visit, but his tendency toward not joining in conversations, and his habit of falling asleep didn't encourage anyone to stay long. Sleeping was the only thing that made life tolerable.
Johnny heard the door swish open and quickly closed his eyes.
"I haven't been a nurse all these years without being able to tell when someone's really sleeping and when he's just faking it. Come on, Johnny, open your eyes."
He'd never been able to fool Dixie.
Even in the barely illuminated room, she could see every ounce of misery he was feeling at the moment illustrated by the lines on his face and the loneliness in his eyes. Dixie pulled up a chair close to the bed and sat down.
Johnny noticed she wasn't in uniform. "You haven't got someplace better to be than this hospital when you're off duty?" He was hoping she'd stay. He wanted company tonight.
"I do have someplace to be. Right here, spending a little time with a friend of mine."
"I don't feel like talking, Dix."
"Then don't talk. I'm just going to sit here quietly in the dark for a while. It's kind of relaxing in here. Away from all the craziness going on in the ER. You know, they brought a man in today who...."
"Dixie, please,” he implored, “I'm tired."
"I'm sorry. You're right. You just lay there and I'll be quiet." She settled into the chair and gazed at him.
"There's nothin' to talk about."
“I didn’t say anything. I’m just here to keep you company for a while,” she answered very matter-of-factly.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Dixie recognized an opening when she saw it, and took it. "I think you do. This isn’t like you, Johnny. You're shutting yourself off from everyone who cares about you. You're driving the nurses on the floor crazy.... One minute you're yelling and complaining and the next you're refusing to talk or eat. Everyone's worried sick about you. Especially Shannon. Whatever happened between you two before the accident is none of my business, but I don’t think she deserves to be treated like this."
Johnny was silent. This time instead of the anger she'd seen before, there was sorrow so deep it made her heart ache for him.
"I don't get it, Dix.” His voice cracked and was barely audible even in the quiet of the night. She leaned closer to hear him. “Why is she here? How can she stand there and say she loves me, when...." He couldn’t get the words to come out.
The look on his face almost made her want to cry. "When what, Johnny?" she prodded softly. She knew she had to make him tell her now, or they might never get him back.
"When... she's... going to have... someone else's... baby."
So much for Brackett's idea of keeping him in the dark until he was feeling better.
"How’d you find out she was pregnant?" Dixie knew everyone had been cautioned to keep quiet about it. "The doctors didn't want you to know yet."
"I heard her 'n Roy talkin' about it the day she left. They thought I was asleep. But all you have to do is look at her and you know. She looks so... so... happy."
Dixie thought if it was possible to watch a heart literally break in two, she was just witness to it. She was thankful the room was darkened, certain there were tears in his eyes that he'd be embarrassed for her to see.
Mending broken hearts isn't something they teach in nursing school.