A Charmed Life
Chapter 27: Summertime Livin
Copyright© 2016 by The Outsider
06 June 1992 - Avocado Street, Springfield, Massachusetts
Jeff was checking his ambulance in advance of a ten a.m. to six p.m. shift with Connie Willis; whoever used Ambulance Thirteen before them obviously forgot how to restock after calls. He’d quickly learned that one of the biggest lies in EMS is “the truck’s all set.” You checked your truck every shift, especially if the off-going crew was telling you that about your vehicle. If your partner said that, however, you took them at their word. Trusting your partner was essential.
Jeff looked up to see Connie climbing into the truck. “Hey, Connie. How are you today?”
“When were you going to tell me your Dad owns Valley Automotive?” she asked, casting him the Evil Eye.
“I didn’t want to color your perception by letting you know it was Dad’s shop. Is your car running better now?”
“Better? It’s running better than when I bought it! And he barely charged me anything!”
“Was it the distributor cap?”
“That and bad spark plug wires. You knew, didn’t you?”
“Dad taught me well. When did you figure it out?”
“I didn’t, actually. When he handed me the invoice I was stunned at how low it was. He said to me, ‘Jeff let me know a friend would be bringing her car in, and what the problem might be with it.’ It didn’t click who he was talking about until your Dad hooked a thumb at the wall behind the counter. You’d think I would have noticed the eight-by-eleven photos of you under that flag when I walked in.”
“I don’t know, Connie. I tend to blend into the background.”
“Right,” she snorted. “Dude, you’d turn my head.”
“I should be so lucky, Connie.”
She looked at him for a long moment. “It doesn’t bother you?”
“That I’m gay? That you’re this close to me for eight or more hours a day and I’m gay?”
“Why? Does it rub off? Is it contagious?”
Connie gave him another look.
“Look, do we work well together?” Most of his shifts were with her now that he was off orientation.
“I think we do. It’s only been about a week, but I like working with you already.”
“Does it need to be more complicated than that, Connie? My best friend died at twenty-two, killed on the last day of fighting in the Gulf War. Ken was my roommate in the Army for nearly three years; he mentioned a single girlfriend in all that time. He was looking forward to meeting a woman and settling down, but never got that chance.”
“We get, what, maybe eighty years on this Earth if we’re lucky? Why should I care how someone else is happy so long as they are and it doesn’t affect anyone else? Plus, you have to look on the bright side.”
“The bright side being... ?”
“I can help you spot chicks, and vice versa.”
“Guten Morgen, Frau Noke,” Jeff said as he pushed his stretcher into a nursing home bedroom; this was their first call of the day. ‘Frau Noke’ was Mrs. Gertrude Noke, a patient he’d met during training; they’d taken an instant liking to each other. Frau Noke was a chronic renal failure patient, someone whose own kidneys didn’t work. She needed kidney dialysis to filter the urine from her blood stream. She normally lived at home with her husband, Edgar. She was rehabbing from a mild heart attack at Pioneer Valley Nursing and Rehab, getting her strength back so she could return home.
“Guten Morgen, Gottfried,” she replied with a smile. She liked to use the German equivalents of CRVA’s staff’s names with them once in a while.
There was a thin older gentleman in an A-2 leather flight jacket sitting next to her bed. The jacket appeared to be original World War II issue. “Captain,” Jeff said to the man with a nod.
“Sergeant, how are you this morning?” Edgar Noke asked in return. Edgar Noke was once Captain Edgar Noke, U.S. Army Air Forces; he’d been a B-17 navigator and was veteran of twenty bombing missions over occupied Europe. He’d met Gertrude Osterlind while supporting the U.S. occupation troops in Germany after the war. They’d returned to the United States and married in 1946. They had five children and eleven grandchildren.
“Heartbroken now, sir. I thought I’d get diese schöne Dame aus Deutschland all to myself today, yet here you are.”
“I’ll arm wrestle you for her.”
“What, and have you tear mine off and beat me with it? No thanks, sir.”
“I don’t know, Edgar, his accent is better than yours...”
“Trudy, don’t you start...”
“Okay, Mrs. Noke, the warden’s signed your release ... Oh, good morning, Mr. Noke.”
“Hi, Connie. It was a good morning until your partner started talking about absconding with my war prize!”
“Well, that would leave the door open for me so I can’t say that I share your level of concern.” She batted her eyelashes at the man.
“Well, my spirits seem to have suddenly improved! Maybe this won’t be such a bad day after all!”
All four in the room laughed. The Nokes were favorites of the staff of CRVA, and they were still deeply in love after nearly five decades. This kind of banter was common when the crews picked Mrs. Noke up at home; the crews were certain that it occurred all the time. The Noke household must have been a wonderful place to grow up in.
Mr. Noke stood as Jeff got the stretcher ready for Mrs. Noke. “Well, Liebchen, I’m off to change the locks and throw your stuff in the street. That’s what you kids do at the end of a relationship these days right, Connie?”
“That’s what I did to the last loser I dated, sir.”
“Sounds like a fool to me if he warranted such an occurrence, my dear Constance,” Mr. Noke said, tipping his cap. He kissed his wife after she settled onto the stretcher. “I’ll see you tonight, Trudy. Love you.”
“Ich liebe dich auch, Edgar.” Mrs. Noke smiled while he left the room. She looked like a girl of nineteen when she did; she’d told Jeff that’s how old she’d been when she’d met the dashing Captain Edgar Noke in 1945. She still had a hint of that smile as Ambulance Thirteen started its fifteen minute ride to Riverside Hospital’s dialysis unit.
“I hope my future wife and I will be as happy as you and the captain after fifty years, Frau Noke,” Jeff said while he rode on the bench seat next to the stretcher.
Mrs. Noke sighed, the smile expanding again. “There are times when I still have to pinch myself, Jeff. Germany at the end of the war was not a happy place; there was so much fear at what the Allies would do once it was over. Edgar brought me here and I’ve never regretted coming; I certainly haven’t regretted becoming his wife. What about you, Jeff? There must be a young lady in your life.”
“Well, that’s sort of a strange story, ma’am.” Jeff told her of Keiko, Allison, Heather and the strange relationships that bound them, both individually and collectively, to him.
“My, my, Jeff. Quite the ladies man, aren’t you?”
Jeff chuckled. “What a difference a decade makes, ma’am. Ten years ago I couldn’t have gotten a girl to say my name if I’d tripped her in the hallway. The other events in my life since high school have been direct results of deciding to change how I was in 1983. These ladies... ? The Fates have smiled on me.”
“Jeff,” Mrs. Noke said, looking at him like she was explaining something very important to one of her grandchildren, “you don’t think that they’re all part of your life for the same reason? They’re there because of who you are.”
“Hey! Jeff!” called Bill Harris, CRVA’s operations manager, when Jeff passed through the office the following week.
Jeff walked over to Bill’s office. “Hey, Bill. What’s up?”
“You interested in any overtime on the Fourth of July? Overtime pay plus double-time for the holiday?”
“Free money? Ah, yeah! The hardware store I work at part-time will be closed that day, so I wouldn’t be missing work there.”
“You’re working two jobs? You’ve been working here less than a month and you’re already adjusting to EMS life?”
Jeff laughed. “Well, I worked at the store in high school and live in the apartment above the store now. It’s a great commute!”
“I’ll bet! Anyway, the overtime would be in your home town of Enfield. The town’s asked for a truck to cover so their fire department ambulance can take part in the events they have planned that day. I figured since you’re from Enfield, you might be interested and would be able to help out with finding your way around if you get any calls.”
“Yeah, definitely! I’ve never seen the town do this before.”
“Something new that the Selectmen want to try. I think the Sheriff’s Department, the State Police and the other fire departments in the area are going to help out, too.” With July Fourth falling on a Saturday this year, the towns in the valley were having a weekend-long celebration by spreading their celebrations out. Enfield was the town holding their celebrations on the actual holiday.
“What time do we have to be in Enfield that day?”
“The parade steps off at nine o’clock, so eight? That way you can get to their fire station and check in.”
“So, get here at seven to check the truck and drive back? Or earlier?”
“6:30 to be safe. We figure you’ll be done in town by four or five in the afternoon. The town’s gonna let you go to the cookout they’re having on the Common, too; you’ll have to stay available from there.”
“Sounds good. Who am I working with?” Jeff smiled at the answer.
“So you woke up at 5:30 a.m., left Enfield before six, got to CRVA for 6:30, checked the truck so we could leave by 7:15 and get back to where you started by eight? All of that so you could go to a cookout you would have been at anyway?”
“Yes, but you left out three very important pieces of information.”
“And what would those be?”
“One: I’m getting paid to go to the cookout now. Two: we can post at my apartment if we want to. Three: I get to work with you, Bubblehead.”
“I’m gonna kick your ass if you try to hold my hand,” Stu Masterson warned him.
“I’m sure I’ll get to hold hands with prettier people today, Stu. Sorry to disappoint you.”
“You didn’t tell me you had a brother.”
“You didn’t tell me you were missing your two front teeth, either.”
“I’m not. What are you talking about?”
“You mean you’re not yet.”
Stu chuckled. “Where are we going, hotshot?”
Jeff waved him up Route 21 towards the center. They checked in with the duty officer at the fire station, picked up a portable radio and headed for the Town Common. Jeff directed Stu to the shady spot he’d asked to be reserved for them. They’d be right across the street from where the cookout would be held.
They checked the ambulance one more time then did what any good EMT would do while waiting for something to do: take a nap. They both stretched out in the back of the ambulance after they checked the function of the radio first. They also set their alarms on their watches so they’d be awake before the volunteers arrived to set up for the cookout. Two hours later the alarms went off, rousing them both.
“I wonder how loud the snoring got in here?” Stu asked, rubbing his face.
“Doesn’t matter. We slept through it. We would have been up in an instant if they’d called us, too.”
“Well, let’s see if anyone’s here yet.”
The two stepped out of the back of the truck. Crossing the street they saw that no one was setting up just yet. They stood on the sidewalk gazing across the expanse of green. A few minutes later two pickups arrived and the occupants began to unload a large, flat charcoal grill. Jeff and Stu pitched in; they helped set up everything before the parade ended at the other end of the Common. They moved off to the side to allow the residents to line up for the cookout.
Jeff spotted familiar faces in the crowd almost every minute. How could he not after spending his whole life here? When he spotted the faces he’d been waiting to see in the line he led Stu over to them, keeping out of sight. He stepped up behind one girl in the line and blew into her ear. She swatted at her ear, then turned to see who was there. After punching Jeff in the chest she hugged him.
“I thought you said you weren’t coming, you big meanie!”
“I said I was working, Kara, not that I wasn’t coming.” He released his little sister and hugged their Mom. His father, Heather, Jane and Alice were next. He pretended he was about to hug Tom, but Tom drew his fist back; Jeff smiled and shook his hand instead. Jeff turned to introduce Stu, but Stu was staring at Kara, mesmerized. Jeff snapped his fingers in his face. Stu was startled from his reverie and looked at him.
“Now that you’re back with us, Stu, I’d like to introduce my family and friends. This is my Mom, Marisa; my father, Joe; and my little sister, Kara; I’ll get you a towel to wipe the drool off your chin in a minute, by the way. The beautiful young ladies over here are Heather Donnelly; her mother, Jane Donnelly; and her mother, Alice Cavanaugh. The ugly old bastard with them is Alice’s husband, Tom Cavanaugh. Everyone, this is my partner for the day, Stu Masterson.”