"A REASON TO LIVE"
Contrary to popular belief, it does rain in Southern California.
Slowly parting the heavy drapes with his fingertips, Johnny stared out into the darkness beyond the windows. From where he stood in the tiny second-floor hospital waiting room, not even a pinpoint of light was visible on the horizon. Ominous jet-black clouds choked the night sky, completely obliterating the solacing light of the moon and the stars. Endless torrents of water cascaded down the tightly closed windows and collected in muddy puddles on the ground far below. Deep in his aching bones he could feel the wintry dampness that forced its way in through the cracked and crumbled weather stripping.
Waves of wind-whipped rain lashed at the building like a battering ram; trees trembled and bent, straining to stay rooted in the ground, offering up their leaves and branches in sacrifice to the ferocious force of the frigid storm that had traveled down the coast from Alaska. Seldom-heard thunder rolled long and loud, building to a deafening crescendo that shook and rattled the thin panes of glass in the old windows; seldom-seen lightning streaked through the clouds and flashed in sudden, stuttered bursts, creating a brief, eerie strobe light effect on the grounds outside.
Though warmly sheltered within the sturdy walls of the small hospital, Johnny shivered in response to Mother Nature's visual and audio display of unabated fury on this cold, miserable January night. Softly sighing, his breath collected on the icy-cold window pane in a small, round patch of fog. He absently drew a finger across the spot on the glass, then dropped his hand to his side and watched as the circle slowly faded away. His head throbbed and he instinctively raised his hand again to rub his forehead, but was stopped by the large bandage and the painful row of stitches that ran just below his hairline underneath it.
Letting the drapes fall together again, he stood there for a long, silent moment with his eyes closed, then turned from the window and limped slowly toward the other side of the room. He could feel the muscles in his neck and shoulders begin to twist and tighten as he gingerly lowered himself onto the surprisingly comfortable couch. Gently guiding his left leg onto the coffee table in front of him, he winced when his bruised and swollen ankle made contact as it came to rest on the hard surface of the table.
While grateful that Sean was in the protective care of Joanne DeSoto tonight, Johnny nonetheless wished he was here with him, so that he could wrap his arms around his little boy and hold him close... not so much for Sean's comfort, but for his own. He groaned softly as he carefully cradled his aching head in the soft, cushioned back of the couch and closed his eyes once again. Pain and exhaustion now dueled with worry and anxiety for control of his body and mind.
He and Shannon had traveled such a long, difficult road to finally find their happiness together, and now... now all Johnny could do was wait in solitary silence for the words he needed to hear. Shannon was his wife... his best friend... his passionate and playful lover... she was the center of his world. She gave meaning to every breath he took, and he couldn't imagine life without her beside him.
Johnny hadn't been at the station when they first called, and it wasn't until hours later that he finally got the message. Ignoring Brackett's medical advice, he hastily checked out of the Rampart emergency room in the middle of the night, and made his way to this small hospital as quickly as he dared on the dark, rain-slickened roads. He knew he should have been at Shannon's side hours ago, holding her... telling her everything would be all right... telling her how much he loved her.
The muscle relaxant he took when he first arrived was beginning to take effect, and his heavy eyelids refused to open again. Pain and exhaustion had claimed their prize.
With the steady beat of the winter rain drumming on the roof overhead, Johnny slowly drifted off... thinking of the time when he had almost given up hope of ever finding real happiness... remembering how, in that brief moment he was granted that night to choose between life and death, Shannon had given him a reason to live.
Sometimes it rains really hard in Southern California.