Shirley sputtered angrily as she felt herself shoved through her open front door. "Take your hands off of me right now, Carmine Ragusa!" She spun out of his grasp and began to rub her upper arm to restart her circulation.
Carmine's attention was focused on her living room window. "It's okay, Shirl. I don't think Fonzie followed us. You're safe now", he said without sparing her a glance.
"Safe now? Really?" Shirley winced when her voice hit that high squeaky note that made dogs howl. "I just was physically dragged out of the Pizza Bowl and down Knapp Street by a lunatic, and now I'm safe?"
Carmine put an arm around her and forcefully led her to the couch like she was some sort of invalid. "Laverne called me from the Pizza Bowl and said you and Fonzie was arguing. I know how he is; this whole crazy thing you two have had going for the last few weeks was bound to blow up in your face, Shirl."
"Blow up?" She stared at him, her mouth gaping open like a fish. "Fonzie and I were having a perfectly civilized conversation until you, Carmine Ragusa, popped him in the nose and yanked me out of there. You're lucky to be breathing!"
"That's why we had to run!"
"What's this *we* nonsense? I'm not the one who punched Fonzie."
"I was protecting your honor!"
"Against what? You're usually what I'm protecting it from!"
"Guys like Fonzie don't take cold showers, Angel Face."
"Don't 'Angel Face' me right now. I'm furious with you! I've never been more humiliated in my life."
Carmine frowned. "Oh yeah? Think of how humiliated you would be if things between you and Fonzie went further and people started to talk." Instantly, Carmine's frown vanished, and was replaced by a charming smile. A smile she used to enjoy seeing. "Shirl, I know you are a girl with high standards. Believe me, I know... But girls like that don't stay that way around guys like Fonzie."
Shirley felt the blood drain from her face. She was beyond anger, beyond tears. However, throwing up on Carmine's good shirt was starting to sound like a plan. "Get out. Get. Out. NOW!"
He stepped back and blinked, as if in shock. "But, Shirley..."
"Fonzie and I weren't arguing, you numbskull," she snapped, "We were breaking up."
The hopeful expression in his eyes made Shirley want to vomit even more. "This shouldn't matter to you, Carmine. We're over as of now."
"You don't mean that, Shirl."
"Yes I do. You can let yourself out." It was almost a relief to hear her front door slam shut.
"I got some more ice for ya, Fonzie."
Fonzie winced, but begrudgingly held out his hand for the replacement ice pack. "I've had enough of your help tonight, De Fazio. Calling Carmine: not cool!"
"Shirl's my best friend! You can't yell at her and expect me to not do anything about it!"
Between his rapidly swelling left eye and Laverne's nasally whine, his wince was turning into a full-fledged grimace. "I wasn't yelling at her, Laverne. We were having a discussion."
Laverne shrugged and turned away. "I just heard yelling, is all."
"Yeah, I'm sure you heard a lot walking by our table seventeen times. I'm sure some of the other customers would have liked their water refilled, not just us."
"Hey, I through everyone out of here right before Carmine punched you! I didn't want that to get around the neighborhood."
He tried to follow her logic, with little success. "And..."
She rolled her eyes at him. "And, fewer witnesses would mean you wouldn't be quite as mad at Carmine later? I hope..."
His jaw tightened. "The squat dancer is just lucky this happened at the Pizza Bowl, not Arnolds! If that had been the case, his pretty smile might not be so pretty anymore."
"He loves her..."
"Sure... He loves her so much he don't want to take things to the next level."
Here green eyes narrowed and her voice took on an edge. "You're all about the next level, ain't ya, Fonz?"
He shook his head and immediately regretted doing so when the vertigo kicked in. "Not that, De Fazio. I mean, propose or something. He'd rather spend his time sniffing around that Lucille Whatshername, than make Shirley happy."
"They ain't ready yet."
Fonzie snorted derisively. "She is. He's not, and he's not man enough to let her go. He'd rather keep her on the line while he sows his wild oats."
"You're the expert on sowing wild oats, aint ya?"
The manipulative tone in her voice sickened him. "The Fonz never made phony promises and left some girl home pining while he's out with other ladies. I've always been straight about that."
"Yeah, it ain't that easy when you're the girl sitting home by the phone."
"Yeah, right, he sneered, "You ain't exactly the wait by the phone type, Laverne." He barely caught her hand before her palm connected with his already battered face. "Take it easy, De Fazio. I've had enough of that for one night."
She spun out of his grip angrily. "No you haven't ! I ain't gonna sit by and watch you use and then abandon my best friend. I know how you operate, Fonzie, and you ain't gonna do to Shirley what you did to me!"
He looked at her in askance. "What I did to you? I remember, both of us was saying yes at the time. Nothing happened between us that we both didn't want to happen. Is this the real reason you called Carmine, Laverne? What happened between you and me years ago? Are you jealous of Shirley?"
Realization struck him when she wouldn't meet his eyes. "Whoa. I had no idea." He braced himself for another slap, but he'd come too far to turn back. "You're not jealous of *Shirley* being with me, you're jealous of *me* being with Shirley."
It was a little after two in the morning when Shirley heard knocking at her door. "So help me, Carmine... I'm going to call the police!"
"It ain't Carmine."
She opened the door. "Hey," she said, softly.
Fonzie walked in. "Hey, yourself. I just wanted to check on you and see if you're okay."
Her lips tightened. "I wish everyone would quit treating me like a child. I'm fine, as you can see."
"Sorry. I see I guy pull a hundred and five pound..."
"One hundred and TWO!"
"One hundred and two pound girl out of a restaurant after punching me in the face and I start to think that the fella involved might be a few beers short a six pack. It would not be cool for me not to check on you."
"I'm sorry," Shirley said, shaking her head. "I'm just sick and tired of everyone thinking they have to protect me."
"I dunno, you seemed pretty tough tonight."
"We were right in the middle of something before all H-E-Double-Hockey -Sticks broke loose."
"Yeah, we was. I was trying to propose to you and you were trying to dump me."
Shirley flushed, and then looked away. "That might be one of the reasons we shouldn't see each other anymore. We're both sort of in different places and we don't communicate too well."
Fonzie shrugged. "I don't know. I start to date a wonderful girl..."
"Which you've done a hundred times..."
"But it's more than that, he interrupted, "I started to want more than to just date you, Shirl."
"I know, and you thought you couldn't get there without proposing."
He shook his head. "That's not what this is about. Do you think I'd use my Grandma Nussbaum's engagement ring that way? Seriously, she's from the Old Country--the scary part of the Old Country, if you know what I mean. I don't even want to think about all the bad ju ju that using her ring that way could bring."
"I'm serious, Shirley."
"I know you are. I just... I hadn't thought about us seriously. Like that, I mean. "
"So what, I was a fling? Boy, do I feel cheap..."
"Not that, okay well, that sort of... I've honestly never been on this end of the conversation before."
"Yeah, this is kind of new for me too."
"I think we are where we were before the punching and yelling started."
"Maybe, but it don't mean we have to stay there."
"I don't get it."
"Let's go out on a date tomorrow night."
"Again? Haven't you had enough?"
Fonzie shook his head. "No. I think we may owe it to ourselves to give this a shot. I don't think we were on the same date tonight if you know what I mean."
"I really can't handle another night at the Pizza Bowl..."
"Me neither. For a lot of reasons," he mumbled.
"How about Phister Phongs?"
"Neutral territory? I like the way you think."
Shirley looked a little nervous and cleared her throat. "Okay, just because we're going out tomorrow night doesn't guarantee that there will be anything..." her eyes darted to her bedroom and back to his.
"I wouldn't expect it."
She pulled herself up to him and smiled. "But don't not expect it either," she said before kissing him.