CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS


By


LaraLee


Okay -- so what’s the plan for tomorrow?” Johnny Gage asked handing his partner, Roy DeSoto, a wrench as they worked on the squad’s squeaky fan belt.


“Same as last year,” Roy grunted as he tightened a bolt.


Johnny shook his head; his boyishly attractive features becoming exasperated. “Roy, that was 365 days ago. I can’t be expected to remember the details from something that long ago.”


Roy straightened, wiping his hands on a rag before climbing behind the steering wheel. A few years older than his partner, he had a fair complexion and light brown hair that contrasted sharply with Johnny’s darker image. Putting the key in the ignition, he said, “Well, if you want to see the kids open presents, come by after our shift ends. They’ll more than likely be awake and going nuts. Otherwise, come by about 11:00 and we can play whatever new game we get before we have dinner. That’s one of Joanne’s Christmas traditions.”


“I think I’ll skip the presents. Last year it was fun just having them show me everything they got. Can I bring anything to go with dinner?”


“Joanne’s going to cook a ham and Chet said he’d bring dessert. You can bring some chips and dip if you want. ”


“Oh yeah, I forgot Kelly would be joining us this year,” Johnny grimaced. The bickering between the paramedic and fireman was part of Station 51’s A-Shift lore, with the paramedic usually at the losing end of it.


“It’s Christmas Johnny, so maybe you can both show a little good will toward your fellow man,” Roy said, hearing the squad’s motor running smoothly without the whine of the loose belt. “Besides Chet didn’t have anywhere to go, so Joanne and I figured he could spend it with us.”


“Yeah, I know” Johnny replied glumly, dropping the squad’s hood back into place as Roy switched off the engine and climbed out of the driver’s seat. “Is Marco still making tamales and pushing for everybody to watch ‘Rudolph’ tonight?”


“Yep, same as last year. But Cap found out that ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is on at the same time so he may pull rank as to what’s on TV tonight.”


Johnny’s face broke into one of its characteristic lopsided grins. “Good thing. ‘Frosty the Snowman’ was on a couple of nights ago or Stoker and I wouldn’t have stood a chance. It was bad enough that you tried to veto it in favor of ‘Santa Claus is Comin' to Town.’”


Smiling, Roy put the toolbox away in a closet then walked around the squad to begin an inventory of the medical supplies. “Everybody’s got their holiday favorite,” he commented, pulling out the drug box


Walking over to where his partner squatted next to the drug box, Johnny removed the oxygen tank from the compartment and began to run a test on it.


“Hey, Roy” he said quietly. “I really appreciate your letting me spend the holiday with you . . . Joanne and the kids . . . it means a lot to me since I can’t get home to see my folks.”


“We like having you spend it with us. Two years in a row -- it’s becoming a tradition.”


“Yeah,” Johnny nodded. “Maybe next year we could --”


The sound of the alarm and the voice of the dispatcher cut him off.


“Squad 51. Man down inside the supermarket. 5250 Mineral Avenue. Corner of Mineral and Cherry. Five two five zero Mineral Avenue. Time out 16:21.”


Johnny quickly loaded the equipment back into its compartment while Roy hurried to write down the address before both men climbed into the squad.


Due to the holiday, traffic was light and they quickly reached the address. Pulling into the parking lot that surrounded Jack’s Market a young man wearing a white shirt, tie and apron ran up to the truck


“Boy, am I glad to see you guys,” he told them as they climbed out of the squad and began to unload their equipment. “We were just getting ready to close when this old guy slipped and fell in aisle four. Guess there was a broken bottle of Crisco.”


“Do you know how badly he’s hurt?” Roy asked, following him inside.


The freckled face teenager shook his head, leading them through the store. “He says he’s all right but he looks like he’s hurtin.’ Jack didn’t want him to move until you guys got here . . . you know . . . lawsuits . . . that sort of thing.”


Reaching aisle four, they found it held all the necessities of baking; including cooking oil. In the center of it, amid the shattered remains of a bottle, lay a man in his late sixties. Running a hand through his white hair and beard, he adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses then tried to sit up only to be stopped by a younger man who was crouching beside him.


“No you don’t Pop. I’m not gonna take a chance on you coming back to sue me if I let you walk out of here when I think you’ve been hurt,” the younger man said.


“Look, if I don’t get home with powdered sugar so my daughter can finish putting frosting on cookies, she’s gonna be mad. And her kids are waiting for me to tell them the story of baby Jesus. So let go of me.”


Reaching them, Johnny sat down the drug box and biophone before kneeling beside the victim and his keeper. “We’re with the fire department. We’ll take it from here.”


“I’m Jack King. I own this store,” the younger man replied, glancing over at the paramedic without relinquishing his hold on the patient. “It’s not our fault. We had a clean up crew on the way but this guy slipped in it before we could get to it.”


“I’m all right. Just got the wind knocked out me,” the elderly man said, wincing as he managed to prop himself up on an elbow. “Good God! Don’t you people have anything better to do than keep an old geezer like me from getting home to his family?”


“Well, since we’re here,” Johnny said, carefully easing him back to the linoleum, “why don’t you let us have a look at you and if nothing’s wrong, you can go home, Mr. . . . uh?”


“Sheffield. Nathan Sheffield but you can call me Nate. Everybody else does” the man answered as the paramedic began their examination. As he watched them carry out their duties, his bearded features formed into a smile. “I’m sorry fellas,” he said. “You’ve probably got better places to be rather than wasting time on me.”


“It’s no problem Nate,” Roy said with a reassuring smile as he took a wrist and began taking the pulse. “That’s what we’re here for.”


Johnny pressed a hand against Nate’s left side and heard a sharp intake of breath. “That hurt?” he asked.


“Well . . . yeah . . . sort of,” Nate answered, running a hand against his beard as he broke out in a sweat. “But it’ll be okay.


Johnny pulled loose the buttons of the man’s shirt and lifted the T-shirt beneath it. Nate’s left side was black and blue with swelling at the ninth and tenth ribs. His respiration was also shallow.


“We’d better get Rampart. Looks like he’s got some broken ribs,” Johnny informed Roy.


“Uh huh,” Roy nodded, picking up the biophone.


“Rampart? The hospital?” Nate asked, becoming agitated and once again trying to push away from the floor.


Johnny gently stopped him, taking the hand that extended toward him. “Yeah Nate, you’ve got to go to the hospital. But it won’t be too bad. You’ll probably be home in time to spend Christmas with your daughter and her kids.”


“The folks at the hospital’ll let Tara know what happened?” Nate implored him. “Why I didn’t come home with the sugar? I don’t want to ruin things for her.”


Assuming that Tara was his daughter, Johnny nodded with a reassuring smile. “They’ll make sure that your family knows where you are.”


Nathan Sheffield sighed then looked up at the paramedic with a weak smile. “Okay -- so long as that’s taken care of, I guess you can take me to hospital. And you fellas have been real nice to me. Merry Christmas to ya!”


***


Climbing into the ambulance, Johnny looked back at his partner and said in an aside, “Hey Roy . . . did you notice anything?


“Yeah,” Roy answered, handing him the biophone and drug kit. “He bears a strong resemblance to St. Nick.”


With a smile, Roy closed the doors of the ambulance then knocked against them to signal that that the cargo it carried was safely inside.


***

Roy met Johnny in the hallway of Rampart General’s Emergency Room, asking about Nate as they began to walk down the corridor together.


“He should be fine. Looks like a couple of cracked ribs and he’ll be sore for a while. They’re gonna keep him overnight but he should be going home tomorrow,” Johnny answered. “Funny thing is, I can see him dressed in a red suit and handing out presents.”


“I know what you mean,” Roy replied as they approached the nurses’ station. “It’s a little weird.”


Head Nurse Dixie McCall had just come on duty and was scanning the list of patient’s currently being treated in Rampart’s emergency room, noticing that thus far it was a silent night.


Dropping the drug box onto the counter, Johnny said, “Hi Dix. Looks like you’re pulling night duty again this year.”


Dixie looked up at the paramedics with a smile. “Hi guys. Yeah, but it’s not such a bad night to work. It’s usually a quiet one. You two spending tonight at the station?”


“Uh huh,” Roy answered, handing her a list of supplies they needed.


“Station 51’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.’ That’s kind of scary to think about.”


“Not really,” Roy informed her. “Marco’s making dinner, which is a Mexican feast. Then we all fight over the TV before we go to bed. And hopefully, there won’t be any flaming
Christmas trees before the night is over.”


Laughing, Dixie asked, “You two spending Christmas day together again this year?”


“Yeah. The DeSotos are kind enough to allow Chet and I to partake with them,” Johnny answered with a grin before his features filled with curiosity as he watched the nurse rummage through the supply cabinet. When she turned away from it, he asked, “How do you spend Christmas, Dix?”


Setting down the drugs they needed, the nurse answered with a demure smile, “In my own way.”


Johnny leaned across the desk, his features becoming mischievous and his eyes holding a twinkle. “And exactly what is --”


“Come on, Johnny,” Roy interrupted, tapping Johnny on the shoulder. “Unless the engine had a run, Marco’s going to be putting dinner on the table soon and I don’t want to miss it. Plus there might be a chance we can talk some of the guys into a game of poker rather than ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ I really don’t like that movie. Merry Christmas Dixie.”


Following his partner, Johnny lifted a hand to the nurse. “Merry Christmas, Dix.”


“Same to you,” Dixie said watching them leave. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Dr. Joe Early exit a treatment room and walk toward the desk.


“Dix,” he said hurriedly, “I’ve got a patient in three who’s got some cracked ribs but is stable. He’s waiting to be moved to a ward for overnight observation. Dr. Gannon is aware of the situation and ready to take over if any complications arise. ”


Dixie nodded in understanding.


“I’ve got a plane to catch if I want to be home for Christmas,” Joe went on, glancing at his watch. “Do you mind waiting with the patient until he’s moved? He’s a little worried about spoiling the holiday for his daughter and her kids. They’ve been called and are on their way over.”


“Sure. It’s no problem.”


Joe Early heaved a sigh of relief. “Thanks Dix, I appreciate it,” he said, giving her arm a squeeze. Rushing away from the desk, he added over his shoulder, “Merry Christmas!”


“You too Joe,” she called out to his retreating form.


***

The opening of the door had Nathan Sheffield looking up from where he sat propped up on a treatment room table. A nurse with dark blond hair pulled back in a bun had entered. Carefully turning his head, the mere fact that he was lying in a hospital had him nervous about making any sudden moves, he watched her as she studied a chart then approached him. She was small in stature; her cobalt blue eyes barely met his when she stood next to the table. But all of it combined with her reassuring smile made her a lovely creature to his eyes, especially on this night.


“Merry Christmas Little Lady!” he told her.


“Merry Christmas to you too, Mr. Sheffield,” she replied. “My name’s Dixie. Your daughter’s on her way over, but I’m going to stay with you until she gets here and you’re moved to a ward.”


“Call me Nate,” he said, taking the hand that was examining the dressing across his ribcage. “You know this wouldn’t be so bad if wasn’t Christmas. Every year about this time, while Tara finishes things up, I tell my grand kids the story of Mary and Joseph and how Jesus was born in a stable because the damned inn was full.” His bearded features became troubled as he added, “Guess I won’t be doing that tonight.”


Dixie smiled and touched her free hand to his cheek. “Well, I’ve got some pull here. Once you’re settled in, I’ll see that your grandchildren come up and you get to keep that tradition.”


“You’d do that?” Nate asked, his soft brown eyes taking on a look of hope.


“Sure,” Dixie nodded.


“That’s great,” he responded with a smile then looked at her closely. “So what’s a pretty girl like you doing working on Christmas Eve rather than being home by the fire with some good lookin’ fella?” he asked her.


Dixie shrugged. “My family lives a long way from LA so it’s hard to get home. I’ve got other nurses who should spend the night with their families -- so I fill in.”


“Somehow, that doesn’t seem right,” he responded, giving the hand that rested in his a squeeze.


Orderlies wheeling a gurney pushed the door open. “We’re ready to move him upstairs,” one of them said. “And somebody named Tara Livingston is waiting to see him.”


Helping to move Nate, Dixie gave his shoulder a farewell pat. “Trust me, it’s not a bad way to spend it. I’ll see you in a little bit and I’ll bring your grandchildren up,” she said, her face once again filling with a beautiful smile.


“Thanks for everything Dixie. You’re a Little Lady with a big heart,” Nate told her as he left the room, blowing a kiss in her direction. “Merry Christmas!”


***


With the hands of the clock approaching 11:00 p.m., Dixie went to the nurses’ locker room and removed from her compartment a brown paper bag containing a package wrapped in festive holiday paper. Walking through the deserted waiting room, she knocked at the door of a nearby office then entered. Desk lamps gave it a soft glow and “O Holy Night” could be heard playing quietly from the radio on the credenza.


Dropping the bag into a chair, she said, “Merry Christmas, Kel.

Dr. Kelly Brackett looked up from where he had been taking advantage of the quiet to play catch up on the never-ending paper work that being head of the emergency department provided him. But his usually stern expression became tender and his gray eyes took on a glimmer of delight when they saw who had entered.


Stepping around his desk, he took her in his arms and placed a kiss against her forehead. “Merry Christmas, Dix. Have the usuals arrived yet?”


The “usuals” were a customary topic between them on Christmas Eve and Dixie smiled up at him. “Well, the guy who looks like Santa Claus arrived a few hours ago. But he’s a nice man who was worried about his grandchildren not getting to hear the Christmas story this year . . . unlike the department store Santa who threw up on me last year.”


Kel chuckled at the memory of the bearded figure that had spewed vomit all over the nurse then proceeded to curse her and everyone else for the germs small children carried along with the fact that his image led him to picking up some extra cash over the holidays.


“How ‘bout the mother claiming she’s giving birth to the Christ child?” he asked.


She shook her head. “Not yet. But you’d have to go a long way to top the woman who bit you while waiting for the Immaculate Conception a couple years ago.”


“Yeah. That one was a bit strange,” he agreed, placing a hand against Dixie’s face. “You still on for breakfast at Benny’s?”


“How else would I get something to eat on Christmas day?” she asked, remembering a Christmas morning when he had asked her out to breakfast after they had worked the night shift. The only place they had found open was a truck stop called Benny’s Gas & Grub. After eating, they had gone to her apartment where they alternated between lounging in bed, making phone calls to family, and playing Yahtzee. Now all of it had become a tradition for the holiday.


“Good,” Kel said with a smile before walking around the desk to open a drawer and remove a slim box wrapped in red foil paper with a frilly gold ribbon adorning it. The exchanging of gifts at the hospital had become another part of their routine. His features took on a slightly boyish grin as he handed it to her.


“Pretty package,” Dixie commented, lifting an eyebrow and smiling slightly. “You have a definite knack when it comes to gift wrap, Dr. Brackett.”


“It’s the surgeon in me,” Kel replied with a wink. “Come on, open it.”


Watching her unwrap the gift, he crossed his arms against his chest and waited; reminded of his wish that she would just rip things open rather than the methodical removal of the bow then the careful peeling back of the tape. However, wide eyes and a gasp were his reward for being patient.


“Oh my God . . . Kel,” she whispered, looking at him then back to the box in her hand. “It’s beautiful but you shouldn’t have done that.”


It wasn’t often that they stopped at a jewelry store window but on the rare occasions that they did, he had always noticed Dixie’s attention focused on pearls rather than diamonds or other precious stones. An eight-inch strand of the most lustrous gems that the Orient had to offer rested against black silk within the box. And watching her react to his gift was the best thing he could ever receive for Christmas.


Kissing her cheek, he took the box from her. “I wanted to,” he said, removing the necklace and fastening it around her neck then emitting a low wolf whistle. “Looks pretty good.”


Dixie blushed then pressed her mouth to his. “Thank you, Kel,” she said when they drew apart, her fingers sifting through his dark wavy hair. “I’ve got something for you too but it’s not nearly as spectacular.”


“Why don’t you let me be the judge of that,” he told her.


Dixie reached for the brown paper bag she had left in the chair. Glancing at him shyly, she removed a cylindrical object adorned in reindeer paper with two hastily tied green pieces of ribbon securing its ends.


“You definitely wrapped this yourself,” he teased, taking the package from her and studying it.


“What can I say, gift-wrapping isn’t my forte,” she replied with a shrug, “and having it done wasn’t an option where I bought it.”


Kel took the package and shook it. “Hmmm . . . I don’t seem to hear any moving parts,” he commented, his expression becoming one of exaggerated perplexity. “Whatever could this be? A map?”


Dixie shook her head, smiling slightly. He always liked to keep her waiting until he was ready to tear the paper away.


“Just open it,” she told him, hooking her thumbs in the pockets of her uniform.


Grinning at her, he tore away an end of the package. Pulling out the scroll it contained, he moved to his desk and began to unroll it across the surface. His features lost their smile and became one of amazement at what spread out before him.


“Dix, where on earth did you get this?” he asked staring down at the schematics of a ship with a scribble of writing in one corner and a bold signature in another.


Dixie put an arm around his waist and looked over his shoulder, her lips curving upward. She was one of the very people who knew of his love of an adventure that lay beyond the “final frontier” and the ship that carried the crew on its voyage.


“At the Star Trek convention,” she told him. “A booth with engineering gurus had the Enterprise’s design, in detail, and there were special guests. I got them to sign it for you -- not an easy feat, I might add.”


Kel looked up at her then back down at the writing in the corners. “From one doctor to another,” the scribble read. “DeForest Kelly -- Bones.” The other was simply the autograph of William Shatner then James T. Kirk in quotations.


Straightening, Kel took her in his arms. “Dix, this is incredible. But you didn’t have to go to all that trouble.”


Leaning back in his embrace, Dixie looked up into his gray eyes that were glowing like those of a young boy who had just opened the new bike he had wanted for Christmas. “It wasn’t any trouble. I knew you were working that day so I decided to do my shopping. I’ll have it matted and framed once you pick out the frame. I’m glad you like it.”


“I love you,” he murmured, brushing his lips across hers then stroking the smooth bun of her hair as he held her. “Maybe next year, we can get away from here and go someplace where there’s snow -- where it might seem like Christmas. Without patients who look like Santa Claus or expectant mothers who think they may be giving birth to Jesus.”


Resting her head against his chest, she sighed. Another Christmas tradition, she thought, you always say that but we always seem to end up spending it here.


Lifting her head, she placed her palms against his face and looked into his gray eyes. “It doesn’t matter where we spend it. We seem to do all right just being together here,” she told him. “I love you more than enough to compensate for any snowy retreat into the backwoods.”


“Dix --,” Kel began only to have the PA system summon him to the base station. With a shake of his head he squeezed her hand then turned to leave the room, hearing her footsteps behind him. It was time to go back to work.


***


At 5:00 a.m. a woman in the final stages of pregnancy entered the emergency room doors. While she didn’t claim to be giving birth the Savior, she swore with each contraction that the child’s name would be “Jesus Christ” and that her husband would find a whole new meaning to the word hell if he ever tried impregnate her again. The husband, who was nervously pacing the edges of the room, found himself wondering about the Lamaze classes they had taken -- this wasn’t quite what he had expected. Kel and Dixie stayed with them until a healthy baby girl was delivered and the mother’s face took on the serenity of a Madonna’s when she reached out for the father. They named the child Gillian as they had originally planned if it was a girl.


Tapping Dixie’s shoulder, Kel motioned with his head for them to leave the room and allow the happy parents a moment of privacy. Both mother and baby were doing well so they were no longer needed -- obstetrics would take over from here.


Stepping out of the room with a heavy exhale, Kel leaned against the wall, closing his eyes and bending a knee to place a foot against it. For a moment he allowed himself to marvel at the never-ending miracle that was the birth of a child. It was always special but there was something about the holiday that added to it. Opening his eyes he saw Dixie standing close-by, her face a reflection of what he felt.


“Come on,” he said, placing a hand against her shoulder and guiding her down the hall. “I’ve got a few things to tidy up, then let’s get out of here.”


“I’ve got some things to take care of myself but I’ll be ready whenever you are,” she said, sliding behind the nursing station desk and picking up a pen as he continued down the hall.


***


Nathan Sheffield found himself counting his blessing when an orderly wheeled him out of Rampart General Hospital at 8:00 in the morning. Although he would have to take it easy for a while, no more rough housing with the boys until his ribs healed, he was being discharged with a clean bill of health that would only require him to check in with his doctor once a week. He had also been able to keep alive a Christmas tradition that had begun with his daughter’s birth and spread to his four grandchildren. Telling them the true meaning of Christmas had been made possible thanks to a nurse.


Waiting for Tara to pull around the car, loaded with grandchildren eager for Grandpa’s return home so that they could begin celebrating, he saw Dixie exit the hospital. Her arm was looped casually through that of a man Nate suspected of being a doctor, and against her throat he glimpsed a strand of pearls he hadn’t noticed before. The man held a rolled piece of paper in his free hand and they were engaged in conversation.


So that’s why you work Christmas Eve, Nathan thought, a smile spreading across his bearded features when he saw her look up into the doctor’s eyes. Your handsome fella spends it here, so you do too.


“Merry Christmas, Little Lady!” he called out to her.


Dixie turned at the sound of the greeting. It held a familiar ring to it and she wasn’t surprised to see Nathan Sheffield sitting near the doors while he waited for his ride.


“Merry Christmas to you too, Nate,” she said, disengaging her arm from the doctor’s light grasp so that her hands could hold his. “It’s a beautiful day and I’m glad you’re going home to spend it with your family.”


Seeing Tara’s station wagon approach, he quickly thread his fingers together with hers. “Yeah, time to get home to the mad house that I love,” he said with a grin as his daughter got out of the car and her children screamed their delight at seeing their grandfather.


The doctor gave him a faint smile and a “Merry Christmas” before taking Dixie’s arm to lead her across the parking lot.


Nate hesitated before getting in the car, watching them walk away. She’s a special one Doc, he reflected. I hope you see that too.


Climbing into the passenger’s seat, he began a dialogue with his grandchildren over what might be waiting at home from “good old St. Nick.”


***


Holding open the car door for Dixie, Kel saw a station wagon pull away and its passenger waving in their direction. Dixie’s hand lifted in response before she dropped into the bucket seat of the doctor’s sedan and he closed the door behind her.


“Who was that?” he asked sliding behind the wheel and starting the engine.


Dixie’s expression held a note of amusement as she turned to face him. “That was this year’s Santa Claus,” she told him, patting his knee. “I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.”


Kel nodded and put the car in gear. It was time for them to begin their own Christmas tradition.


***


When they returned to the station on December 26th, both Johnny and Roy found a box of iced sugar cookies waiting for them -- the notes attached reading simply “Thanks,” with a grateful patient’s signature.


Taking up her position at the base station, Dixie McCall found a similar box with a card. Prying open the envelope, she removed a card that held a picture of a star hovering over a stable with a line of shepherds walking toward it. Inside were a few lines from “The First Noel” then a handwritten wish to a “Little Lady” that her “handsome fella” had made her Christmas day special.


Leaving a treatment room, Kel saw Dixie sitting behind the desk and wearing a soft smile. Walking over to her, he asked, “So what has you looking so happy today?”


“Just a note from Santa Claus hoping that I had Merry Christmas.” Dixie lifted her eyes up to him, her features becoming affectionate as she studied him. “I did -- the best one ever.”


** All standard disclaimers apply as to who owns the characters and who just has fun with them.





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