Lost Till We Are Found
Lost 'Til We Are Found
We are lost 'til we are found
This phoenix rises up from the ground
And all these wars are over
"Dolphin's Cry" by Live
This is a work of fanfiction written for entertainment purposes only. The characters involved are lovingly borrowed and will be returned, mostly unscathed. This story is not intended to infringe upon copyrights held by Paramount, ABC, or any other persons or entities living, dead, or imagined.
It hurt to even open her eyes, but she had to see. Had to find out what they were doing to her. The harsh fluorescent light in the ambulance made the concerned face over hers look haggard, but not haggard enough. She knew the EMT was probably the age of one of her kids, and it didn't exactly put her mind at rest.
The young woman's lips were moving, and she appeared to be asking her questions as she checked and rechecked Laverne's vitals. Laverne tried to focus on the EMT's eyes. They were such a nice shade of brown. Calming, really. Like a big, gentle cow.
Laverne tried to talk through the oxygen mask, tried to tell the girl what hurt the most. It had become a toss up between her right side and her left arm. And why couldn't she breathe?
All the while, the ambulance lurched through the icy Milwaukee night.
Shirley Feeney-Meeney breathed a sigh of relief as the last real estate agent walked out of the Fillmore Ballroom in the Pfister Hotel. One thousand minor catastrophies in the last three days, and nine hundred ninety eight were fixed, she told herself with a smile of satisfaction. The job of being a meeting planner was usually a thankless one, but where else could she put her extraordinary organizational skills to use after being out of the job market for thirty years?
Organizing the vendors, coordinating the caterers, arranging the gift bags for the guests; it was still a lot like being a mother. Except, she now received a paycheck.
It was thrilling, most days, to be independent again. Even though she and Walter had reached an extremely generous divorce settlement, she had preferred to put most of her funds into savings. She was grateful for the generous nest egg, but she couldn't in good conscience tell Walter she no longer wanted to be with him, but still take his money in the form of alimoney. Their's had been an amicable, if sad parting.
Joyously waving at her youngest as she drives away to college, only to turn and look into the eyes of a veritable stranger had shocked them both. After much counseling, trial separations, and a half-hearted reconciliation; neither one of them could deny the truth.
They were over.
Surprisingly, the kids were remarkably resilient. Tim later told her that he and Elaine had expected them to break up years earlier. Funny how the parents were always the last to know, she mused.
The hardest part for her was embracing the concept of divorce. Unlike Laverne's string of broken marriages, she and Walter never experienced infidelity or abuse. It was hard for her to walk away from a decent person, but it was unthinkable to stay and let dissatisfaction fester into hatred.
No Feeney has ever been divorced, her mother had told her, it's unacceptable.
Yet it's acceptable to wait around after years of estrangement, and gleefully try to outlive your partner, Shirley had replied.
Maybe they had spent too many years in California, but they decided the divorce should become a "family project". To contradict her mother's glom and doom prophecies, if nothing else, she and Walter had encouraged the kids to take what they wanted as they put their home of nineteen years on the market. Pacific Palisades had significantly increased in value over the decades, and she blessed Walter's foresight in purchasing the house. The proceeds allowed Walter to relocate to the Florida panhandle where he could semi-retire and fill his leisure time with endless afternoons of golf.
Shirley's share and her children's inevitable independence allowed her to reconnect with someone she hadn't seen in years.
And she wanted to go home to Milwaukee.
Independent was one thing. Lonely was another.
Once again, she and Laverne had come to each other's rescue. While Laverne was still too proud to let Shirley help her financially, she wasn't too proud to need a roomate.
For half the rent in a three bedroom apartment in their old building on Knapp Street, Shirley was able to recapture, as much as possible, the good old days with her best friend. Only now, her best friend's youngest daughter lived with them half of the time, when she wasn't at her dad's. And instead of living the the basement, which they both had been dismayed to learn had actually been turned back into a real basement, they shared one of the larger two apartments on the fourth floor. It wasn't perfect by a long shot, but it was home.
How the hell did he let Squiggy talk him into this? Lenny Kosnoski looked into the bleary, blue eyes that stared back at him from the mirror behind the bar in the Pfister Hotel.
Granted, industry jobs were few and far between in the new economy, and when your producer tells you to go scout locations and organize cattle call auditions, you do it. But, of all the cities they could have chosen, Squiggy signed them up for Milwaukee.
Squiggy told Lenny that none of the other staffers knew the city like they did, and only they could tap into the eccentric nightlife and find some contestants that were truly watchable during sweeps week.
Lenny knew the real reason.
Squiggy wanted to look up everyone they ever knew that called them losers and rub it in their faces that he and Lenny were "in the industry" while most of them were still praying not to get laid off of what ever timecard assembly line job that they were holding.
Squig always had to be the bigshot.
He also probably wanted to flash around the picture of Svetlana, his fiancee in the Ukraine. Five foot ten inches, blond, twenty three, and she really, really wanted to come to America.
Well, Lenny reasoned, as he sipped his glass of Olde Shotz, they say the third time is the charm. Hopefully, this marriage would work out better for him than the one to the Filippino girl and the scary one from Cambodia. He didn't think he could stand by and watch Squiggy go through all the restraining order paper work again. And who could imagine 4'11" Quan being able to throw an axe that far?
Lenny smirked as a picture of Squiggy and Laverne starting a support group for compulsive I-do-ers popped into his head. Hmm... Laverne's been down the aisle four times, Squiggy's heading for number three, and Shirley's thirty-year-old marriage bit the dust. How sad for them.
How much sadder that he had never even made it that far.
Funny, after a certain night over twenty years ago, he was no longer interested in long term relationships. Since he wasn't rich and lived in L.A., that was not a problem.
As he ordered a Shotz Dark from the bartender, he caught another glimpse of himself in the mirror. He didn't look much like the young guy who used to come in here all those years ago to try to pick up classier women. The hair was thinning, the face and the gut were expanding, and judging by the sparse clientele perched on barstools, the Pfister no longer catered to the classier crowd.
In the four days they'd been in town, Lenny had gotten the obligatory visit to his niece and her kids out of the way. He hadn't seen Carrie since his sister's funeral in Chicago four years earlier. They both had endured about forty five minutes of awkward conversation that ended with bogus promises to stay in touch. Sadly, his only next of kin considered him little more than a stranger with the same last name. Not that he considered them to be much more.
With their facial piercings and weird hair, Carrie's kids were indistinguishable from the skate rats that got high in the alley behind his apartment building. He felt yet another pang of guilt that he hadn't stepped in and become more of a prescence in the fatherless boy's lives, like he had promised Basia he would on her deathbed.
He drained his glass quickly to chase the guilt away, and signalled the bartender for another round.
Aside from the visit to Carrie, he spent his time either working or holed up in his hotel room, while Squiggy checked out their old haunts. Considering the Pizza Bowl was now a Starbucks and Moby Dominick's was a Kinkos, he wasn't sure he was up to handling the new Milwaukee, anyhow.
Two more days, he said to himself as he stared into the amber glass of, you guessed it, Shotz Amber, in front of him. Two more days, and he'd be back on a plane to La La land, and never be within a hundred miles of Laverne again.
He looked at the wavering picture in the television set mounted to the upper right corner of the bar. The one thing he actually wanted to do while he was in town, see a Packer's game live, he couldn't because that's where she worked.
Damn her, anyhow.
Three weeks ago, it had all been so cut and dried. Laverne and Shirley appeared on the show, and he finally got to give her the big kiss off he had wanted to give her for twenty years.
It had felt wonderful.
For all of ten minutes.
By the time he had gotten back to the green room to apologize, they were gone. By the time he called the hotel, she had checked out.
It was all for the best, he thought as he drained his glass. The pattern would have repeated itself again. Him grovelling, her dangling the carrot, and they would have started to build up to the next round of hurt.
Lenny forced himself to stare at the screen, willing the image of her away so he could quietly root for his beloved Packers. Weird, he wondered, why are all those police cars in front of the arena?
A nasal voice interrupted his chain of thought.
"Yo, Lenny, look who I found littering around in the lobby," said Squiggy.
Lenny looked up and found himself frozen in the icy glare of one Shirley Feeney-Meeney.
Katie O'Brien's universe dwindled down to the piece of chewed green gum on the floor of the Starbucks. She tried to imagine the teeth, the jaws, the face that had left the indentations on the piece of semi-edible latex, that was unique in it's own way. Sort of like a repulsive snowflake.
It was easier than listening to the human resources wonk at the Arena tell her that her mother had been stabbed during an altercation in the first quarter of the Packer's game.
Funny how your brain stops working after hearing that word. The woman on the phone seemed a little annoyed when Katie asked her to repeat the name of the hospital where they took her mom.
St. Joseph's. Where her grandmother died.
Without a word to her boss, Katie grabbed her bag and ran out the door.
"Leonard," Shirley acknowledged in a tone that could have made a polar bear shiver.
"Shirl," he replied, as he became suddenly fascinated with his pilsner.
"Don't everyone hug at once," Squiggy quipped. "So," he continued brightly, "you hang out in hotel lobbies at night, eh Shirl? I guess the seventies really changed you."
Shirley pursed her lips, causing the fine lines in her face to become more prominent. "Not that it's any of your business, Andrew, but I work here."
"You're a in-house export?"
"No, you moron! I'm the hotel meeting planner. I arrange conferences and trade shows!"
"The other job sounds more exciting," Squiggy replied.
Shirley opened her mouth to retort, but was cut off by a high-pitched electronic sound.
"Damnit," she said, as Lenny raised an eyebrow. Shirley cursing? Maybe an acropolis was coming, he wondered.
Muttering to herself, Shirley fished through her tasteful black handbag and pulled out a cell phone that was annoyingly chirping the tune to "High Hopes". "Hello, this is Shirley."
Please don't let it be Laverne, Lenny prayed to himself silently. That's all I need right now.
The color drained from Shirley's face and her voice dropped to a whisper. "What? Where? Have you called her kids? No, don't call anyone else, I'll do it." Wordlessly, Shirley fumbled to turn off the phone and stuff it back into her bag.
"Shirl?" Squiggy queried, his dark eyes full of rare concern.
Shirley turned towards Squiggy and clutched his arm. Never a good sign, Lenny mused.
Shirley's mouth opened and closed a few times before any words came out. "Laverne," she gasped, "hurt..."
Immediately three sets of eyes were drawn to the television above the bar. Lenny couldn't hear what the newcaster was saying, but he could read the words "Guard Stabbed" at the bottom of the screen. He stared at the screen in amazement. What the hell had happened to his town?
"I have to go to St. Joseph's," Shirley mumbled quietly, to no one in particular, "Gotta see Vernie. Gotta call her kids." For once, the always organized leader he had always perceived Shirley to be, wasn't there. In her place was an older woman with a grayish face and a vacant look in her eye.
"It's going to be okay," said Squiggy in an eerily calm tone. "I'll get a cab, and we'll go," he said as he gently took Shirley's arm and led her towards the lobby.
Lenny threw a handful of bills at the bartender, and was quick on their heels until Squiggy's piercing gaze stopped him dead in his tracks. "If you go, you behave. Got it?" Squiggy said sternly as he drew himself up to his full five feet five inches.
Lenny was about to ask Squiggy what kind of a guy he thought he was. Then, he realized he didn't want to hear the answer at that moment. Instead, he nodded meekly and grabbed Shirley's other arm as they left the dingy bar.
The pain in her right side was more of a burning sensation now. And when did they let that elephant sit on her chest, Laverne wondered as she began to gasp. The EMT in front of her began to fade as the lights in the ambulance began to dim. Didn't they pay their electric bill?
Out of the corner of her right eye, she could see a tiny glimmer of light that seemed to grow increasingly brighter. She felt drawn to it, even though she knew it was a cliche.
I go into the light, she reasoned, no more worries, no more pain, no more anger, no more fear...
No more disapointing my kids.
And no more loneliness, she realized as Lenny Kosnoski's face flashed before her eyes.
It's about damn time. She'd been ready to give up for a few weeks. She knew that "fan" had a knife. She knew she should have called for back up. She had just decided not to delay the inevitable anymore. What's the point?
She smiled as she began to feel herself let go, and drift upwards into the warmth.
Only to feel two agonizing burns on her chest that caused her entire body to convulse painfully. Her left arm and chest hurt worse than before, and the pain in her side was agonizing.
"Muffin, no!" a voice hissed at her from behind.
The emergency room of St. Joseph's looked like your average Saturday night in hell. Shootings, stabbings, domestic violence, and the various tragedies that surrounded unsupervised toddlers. Lenny didn't know how people could roll out of bed and come to work knowing this is what they'd see every day. He tried to drown out the sound of the suffering humanity around him and focus on Shirley who was talking to the administrator behind the glass wall. Squiggy was still outside paying the cabbie.
Or showing him Svetlana's picture. Again.
Finally, the woman at the desk found Laverne's file. "DeFazio, DeFazio. Oh, yes. The stabbing at the Arena."
Lenny's throat closed up at her words and he clutched Shirley's arm.
"She's out of triage and has been moved to ICU. Her daughter's with her."
"Please, may we see her?" Shirley asked.
"Are you family?"
"Uh, yes," Shirley started to reply.
"I'm her husband," Lenny blurted out, recklessly.
Before the officious woman behind the glass could reply, Lenny felt a sharp blow to his back that knocked him to the ground. Before he could move, his right arm was twisted painfully behind his back while a Doc Marten on the back of his neck menacingly pressed him closer towards the linoleum.
"We got him!" hollered a gleefully masculine voice. "Enrique, call 911 and tell him we got a perp who's violated his restraining order!"
"Dude," answered another voice, "only cops are allowed to use the word perp. It just sounds lame when you say it."
"Forget it, man! We just caught DeFazio's psycho-ex! Call the cops now!"
"Boys! Boys!" Shirley interrupted loudly, as the heavy boot continued to cut off Lenny's air supply.
"Hello, Mrs. Meeney." the two voices replied in unison.
"That's not Patrick," she explained, "That's Lenny."
"I don't remember her being married to a guy named Lenny," said the first voice.
"She wasn't," Shirley replied.
At that point, the woman behind the glass then let out a muffled, but triumphant, "I knew it!"
The boot was removed from Lenny's neck, and he felt strong arms lift him to his feet as the room stopped spinning and his nausea subsided.
"Thanks?" he managed to croak at the two freakishly large young men in front of him wearing Arena windbreakers and suspicious expressions.
"Mrs. Meeney, are you sure he's okay? He's pretty scuzzy looking," asked the larger of the two monoliths.
"Trust me, boys," Shirley said, "he's an old friend, and usually pretty harmless." The look in her eye told Lenny that even though there was a temporary truce, she still hadn't forgiven him for what he said to Laverne three weeks earlier.
Shirley turned back to the administrator. "Can I..."
"Listen, honey," the woman replied, "before you tell me you're her sister, I can tell you that you two look nothing alike."
"I need to see her," Shirley replied, frostily, "I'm her..." she swallowed before continuing, "I'm her...domestic life-partner."
Lenny's jaw dropped. "Uh, Shirl?" he started as the administrator started to process the necessary paperwork and buzz Shirley through.
"Shut up, Lenny! And, no, I'm not!" she hissed.
"Damn," he replied, "Squiggy always loved that theory."
Shirley shot him an angry glare as she was buzzed through the automatic doors.
Lenny sighed and turned back to the woman in the booth. "Excuse me, Bubble Lady?"
The administrator looked at him over her bi focals and replied. "Oh goodie. The husband again."
Ignoring the barb, Lenny continued, "Can you tell me anything about Laverne's condition?"
The woman leaned forward conspiratorally and said, "No. I can't. However, the attending physician will talk to her companion and daughter in ICU."
Lenny felt himself being shoved rudely aside by larger of the two security guys.
"Excuse me," the big oaf said, "which daughter is in with her? Katie or Loretta?
"Hippie chick with henna hands." the dragon replied.
"Katie..." the big oaf said, as a wistful expression crossed his face.
Shirley rushed down the dingy corridors and concentrated on following the green line on the floor. She hated this hospital, always had. Laverne hated it more.
Her mother had died here.
Shirley finally reached room 8134 in the Intensive Care unit. Reflexivley smiling at the nurse on duty, since she knew how far a smile and a few thank yous could take one, she entered the room.
And nearly fell down.
Laverne lay on the bed, more still than Shirley had ever seen her. She was hooked up to IVs and had a tube in her nose. Her skin had a grayish cast that frightened Shirley.
Oh, dear God, Laverne. How did this happen? Where were Enrique and Travis when you were hurt?
A muffled sob caught her attention from the chair in the corner of the room, and she peered out into the dim light to try to see the face beneath the unfamiliar blond hair.
"Katie?" she asked in amazement.
"Aunt Shirley!" the girl wailed as she launched herself into Shirley's arms, sniffling.
"There, there," Shirley said as she stroked the girl's hair. "You're mom's going to be fine. She's a fighter. She's gotten through worse than this and come out with flying colors."
The girl pushed back from Shirley and shook her head violently. "No, Aunt Shirley. It's worse. It's more than being cut." Shirley looked at her quizzically, while Katie continued. "Her doctor was in here a few minutes ago. She...she went into cardiac arrest when she was in the ambulance. They said they lost her for a few minutes. She hasn't regained consciousness."
Shirley said nothing, only stared at Laverne blankly as she held her friend's sobbing daughter.
Lenny shifted for the one hundreth time in the uncomfortable plastic chair. Shirley hadn't come back, Squiggy was nowhere to be found, and the human pitbulls were still glaring at him from across the Emergency Room.
It was going to be a long night.
At that moment, loud voices drew his attention back to the Bubble Lady.
"I don't care what your goddamn rules are! My daughter needs to see her mother now," bellowed a stocky, middle aged African American man. Beside the man, a beautiful young girl in a criminally short miniskirt and tube top sobbed loudly.
"Sir," the Bubble Lady replied, "if you continue to make a scene, I will have to ask security to remove you from the hospital. Patients in ICU are only allowed to have two visitors at a time, and Ms. DeFazio's other daughter and her lesbian companion are visiting her right now. When they leave you and," she looked down her nose at the girl's attire, "the young lady may see her. But not until then." With that, she turned back to her paperwork.
"Aaron," a familiar voice interrupted, "forget it." Shirley sat down heavily next to Lenny as she rested her head in her hands. He'd never seen her look so worn out.
"Shirley," the man replied coldly, then seemed to soften. "How is she?"
"She's still unconcious," Shirley replied much to Lenny's horror. She then turned to the girl and said, "Loretta, the doctor told Katie that your mom went into cardiac arrest in the ambulance."
Lenny's brain tried to reconcile Shirley's words with the Laverne he used to know so well. Girls that can dance until all hours of the night, then put in a ten hour shift at Shotz didn't have heart attacks. Laverne was the best shortstop the Shotz Suds ever had. She lived for Toho-scope monster movies, the scarier the better.
He thought she was invincible.
Shirley's voice cut through his reverie. "She's still unconscious, Loretta. Katie's with her, you should be too. Having you both in there may help. She's in room 8134".
The girl nodded quickly as she wiped at her runny eye-makeup and took off down the hall.
Lenny watched as Aaron sat down across from them, and eyed Shirley warily.
"Thanks for calling my cell instead of the home phone, Shirley."
She looked up at him with eyes full of exasperation and fatigue. "You don't think I would have called Loretta with terrible news like this not knowing if she's alone, do you?"
"I'm just saying thank you, that's all."
"You're welcome," Shirley replied dully and returned to staring at the floor.
Aaron glanced over at Lenny, apparently seeing him for the first time. "And you are?" he said.
"Lenny. Lenny Kosnoski," he replied.
"Aaron Roosevelt. Laverne's ex."
"Was that girl..."
"Laverne's daughter? Yes," Aaron replied, with a slight challenge in his tone.
"Yeah, I wish she'd remember the *kid* part more often." Aaron replied with a rueful grin. "I'll have you know she did not leave my house wearing that get-up tonight." He then turned to Shirley accusingly, "Did Laverne buy her that outfit?"
Shirley shot him a withering look as she replied, "Yes, Aaron, she did. Laverne took Loretta down to Tramps R Us for their big Labor Day sale." She then rolled her eyes and added, "What are the odds? Honestly Aaron, you can't blame Laverne for everything. Or me.".
"All I'm saying is that Loretta's behavior has gotten more out of control since Laverne and I split up."
"And I'm sure the fact that Loretta's now a teenager has nothing to do with it," Shirley retorted in a voice dripping with sarcasm.
Lenny shifted again in his seat and debated whether or not to go stand with the giants where it suddenly seemed to be a lot friendlier.
Then he saw her and his own heart nearly stopped beating.
Basia. Or so he thought, until he reminded himself that his sister had been dead for four years.
The girl looked just like Basia. Same nose, same slender build, same long blond hair.
But with Laverne's green eyes.
Laverne heard the voice calling to her, begging her to wake up.
She knew it was one of her kids, but couldn't figure out which one. Didn't matter. She'd do anything for them. She was their mother. It was her job to put their welfare ahead of her own.
That's what people usually told her after they called her a selfish bitch.
If they only knew what she had given up all those years ago...
Laverne awoke with a start and stifled a scream when she saw the stuffed iguana's horrible face illuminated by moonlight in the dark bedroom. As her breathing returned to normal, she remembered where she was, and glancing over to the man beside her, who she was with.
It had been a wonderful night! They had taken her kids out for pizza and "The Empire Strikes Back" to cheer them up about her latest divorce. It seemed to work. Marie and Terri liked the movie, and weren't as whiny as usual. Frankie was bouncing off the walls, keyed up as always.
She tried to explain divorce to him, but she could barely explain it to herself. Still, Frankie laughed throughout the movie, even at the part where Darth Vader told Luke he was his father. Kinda scary when she thought about it.
Say what you will for Lenny, she thought, the kids love him. Who else would start a pepperoni fight in a pizza parlor and let the kids play with water balloons in his living room? They had accepted him right away.
Laverne had just been grateful for a place to live. It was hard finding an apartment in L.A., and Lenny had unreservedly offered her Squiggy's old bedroom which had enough space for three camping cots. The kids pretended they were camping in the wilderness, while she figured out how to fix the mess that her life had become.
She and Alvin had a civil, if not friendly divorce. Much like their marriage, she mused. Still, Alvin had never disappointed his son. He called every Sunday at noon like he promised, and was very generous with child support. She could never fault him for that.
However, the subject of Lenny was their one bone of contention. Laverne had to practically swear on a stack of Bibles that she and Lenny were just friends, separate bedroom friends--of course, and not lovers. Alvin had a pretty rigid mindset when it came to "shacking up" as he so charmingly put it.
Ironic. While she was married to him, he didn't give a damn about her extra curricular activities, until the neighbors started to gossip. Yet, her being in a monogamous relationship with one man, albeit one she wasn't married to, made him threaten to fight for custody of Frankie. She knew if there was a custody battle, her track record would be used against her and she would lose her son.
Well, she said to herself, once again, you're a liar, Vernie. She rolled over to her left side and studied the face on the other side of the bed.
He looked so young, she thought. Lenny's two months older than her, but asleep, he looked like the world's largest ten year old. His face had none of the fine worry lines she had started to see on her own. He looked like he didn't have a care in the world.
As her eyes travelled down the sheet that covered the two of them, Laverne suppressed a smirk. Okay, his face is the only part of Lenny that looked like a child. She smiled as she remembered the passion and tenderness of a scant few hours ago.
Neither one of them meant for this to happen, or planned in any way for the eventuality. It was pure spontenaeity, born of a friendly peck on the cheek and a warm hug.
Or was it?
There had always been a spark of attraction between them, first beaten down by mutual adolescent awkwardness, then by his ever-increasing eccentricity.
She had always felt it when she had grudgingly slow danced with him, or hugged him during a tender moment, or was subjected to one of his cruder grabs. In the past, she'd rebuffed him with disgust--sometimes real, sometimes feigned--and walked away.
She hadn't wanted to walk away tonight. Maybe she had been lonely. Maybe she had been thinking about the string of men she'd been with during her second marriage and decided to add one more to the list. Maybe she was just greatful for a place to live.
However it started, she didn't think it would end up like this.
Lenny Kosnoski was, without a doubt, the most tenderly passionate man she had ever been with. Some guys are good from experience, but Lenny was just naturally fantastic.
And he loved her.
She wasn't naive. A lot of men say that when they come. Most men just don't repeat it afterwards when the blood returns to their brains just to make sure you heard them the first time.
He loved her. Her, Laverne Marie DeFazio Garagiola Weinstock. A twice divorced woman with three children who could never marry in the Church if her life depended on it.
She smiled as she curled up next to him, and debated on whether or not to wake him for round three.
Frankie's asthmatic wheeze from the other side of the wall brought her swiftly back to reality.
Laverne sat up, aghast.
What the hell was she thinking? Her kids were in the very next room, and she and Lenny had been anything but quiet. What if they had heard her? What if they had come into Lenny's bedroom? What if it got back to Alvin?
Laverne got out of Lenny's bed and began to pace silently back and forth across the bedroom floor. She couldn't drag Lenny into her mess of a life. He was too sweet of a guy. Three step kids, two ex-husbands... who would sign up for that deal?
Sure, the kids love him. Now. But wait until their fathers started pointing out his flaws. Wait until he has to act like a parent, not a baby sitter. Wait till he begins to hate them.
She was no fool. Laverne loved her kids, but she knew they were far from perfect. Frankie was perpetual motion personified and was always trying to make her laugh at his hyperactive antics.
The twins... Laverne groaned. The twins idolized their no-good, fuck-around of a father. At first, she went out of her way to never say anything bad about Ben in front of the girls. When she found out he didn't try to take the high road as well, she became more lax with her opinions and the volume at which she voiced them.
She was their mother, for heaven's sake. She had to love them.
Lenny had a choice. And one day he would make that choice and leave, or stay with them and hate them.
Besides, she needed a man who could help take care of her kids. Lenny was all heart, but she couldn't depend on a part-time ice-cream man to pay the bills. Lenny was so sweet, but so impulsive. This week he was selling ice cream, last week he was wondering if he could get Squignoski Talent off the ground again. There was no predicting what he would want to do next week. She sure as hell couldn't raise three kids on her own, could she?
Tears welled up in Laverne's eyes as she realized what she needed to do next. She needed to find someone else. Someone who could be more than her lover. Someone who could be a father figure to her kids. They deserved to grow up with two solid, responsible parents.
Her mind immediately went to Seargeant Patrick O'Brien. Everytime he came to the diner, which was becoming more and more frequently, he asked to sit at her station. He was handsome, gorgeus actually, except for once that wasn't a factor in her decision making process.
And, as he told her the last time he flirted with her as she poured his coffee, he was leaving town in a month. He was being transferred to a base in Georgia. He said it was a beautiful place to raise a family, not a cesspool like Los Angeles. They always ended up talking about how hard it was for her to be a single mom. He was always saying how she needed a guy like him to be there for her, to share the load. He was such a nice guy...
She allowed herself one last, guilt-filled look at Lenny's sleeping face as she tried to memorize it and this night. Laverne swallowed back a sob, and choked down the light-hearted giddiness that was trying to sing in her soul.
She left the bedroom and started to gather her and the kids' meager possessions so they could all be gone before Lenny woke up. She had to do this, she told herself.
It was time to start being a good mother.
"Katie," the big oaf exclaimed, as he nearly knocked over a row of occupied chairs to get to her.
The Basia-clone turned to him, her lower lip quivering.
"Travis," she sobbed, "what happened?"
"You're mom tried to break up a fight in the stands. Some loser got a blade in past the metal detectors somehow."
"So where the hell were you?" Lenny asked, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice.
Travis advanced on him menacingly, and Lenny was once again reminded that he was only six foot three and well past his prime. Not that it mattered, he thought to himself as he gritted his teeth, and prepared for pain.
"The call only came through DeFazio's earpiece," he snarled. "She took off on her own." The young man's eyes lost a bit of their intensity and his voice softened as he said, "I knew something was up, I just didn't know what. I took off after her and called back up." Travis looked at the ground. "If anyone cares, we got the guy."
"Son, it's not your fault," Aaron said soothingly.
"Hi, Officer Roosevelt. I didn't see you there."
"No," Aaron replied, as his eyes drifted to blond, "I guess you didn't. And by the way, it's Seargeant Roosevelt now."
Ass-kisser, Lenny thought.
"Excuse me," the blond girl said, as she apparently noticed Lenny for the first time, "but, who are you?"
Lenny said nothing, and continued to stare at the girl.
"My goodness," Shirley chimed in, "where are my manners? Katie," she said as she took the girl's hand, "this is Leonard Kosnoski. He went to high school with your mother and me. Lenny, this is Laverne's third daughter, Katie." Shirley paled, then looked quickly back to Katie's face and then back to Lenny's before continuing. "Katie...O'Brien."
Lenny smirked at Shirley, before offering his hand to Katie. Suprise Shirley, he thought angrily, I guess you've just figured out that Laverne and me were a little more than friends, didn't you?
Lenny felt an almost electrical shock as he touched Katie's hand. Judging by the way Katie's green eyes widened, she felt it to. "I'm in town for a few days on business," he said in an attempt to cover smoothly, "I ran into Shirley at the Pfister just as she got the news about your mom. I'm really sorry."
Lenny opened his mouth to say more, but was cut off by a familiar, nasal voice behind him.
Lenny spun around in surprise. "Squig, where the hell have you been? We've been in here for nearly two hours."
"Patience, my good man. I came in earlier, saw the ever-swelling up crowd, and brought some food," Squiggy replied with a flourish as he brandished two large pizza boxes. "I got both kinds, pepperoni and plain."
"Thank you, Andrew," Shirley murmured.
Squiggy smiled at her, then handed her the bill.
Sighing, Shirley reached for her bag.
"I've got it," Aaron said.
"No, I've got it," Shirley replied.
"I said I had it."
"I said I had it first!"
"Could you two give it a rest?" Loretta asked as she returned from the restroom, wiping her eyes.
"Don't be smart," Aaron replied, "and, could you cover up?" With that, he removed his Milwaukee PD windbreaker and handed it to her. "You're only seventeen, for God's sake," he added as he looked pointedly at the leering Enrique.
"But nothing." he said, sternly, "put it on and button it up. All the way up!"
Loretta snatched the windbreaker from his hands and stomped to the other end of the row of chairs, every step punctuating her bruised teenaged dignity.
"Really, Aaron, aren't things bad enough tonight without you jumping all over poor Loretta?" Shirley asked.
"Shirley, I've said it before and I'll say it again. Butt the hell out of my life!"
"Well," she said in an affronted tone, "I can tell when my presence isn't wanted."
"Yet you never seem to leave, do you?" Aaron countered, "You stick around like a bad rash."
"Hello!" exclaimed a slight young man in a leather coat as he approached the group.
"Frankie!" Shirley cried out, as she rushed forward and hugged him tightly. "I was so worried you didn't get my voice mail."
"I check it every hour on the hour, Aunt Shirley. You know that." The young man's blue eyes took on a more serious expression. "How's mom?"
"I was just heading back to see her. They're only letting us in two at a time. Would come with me?"
"Sure, Aunt Shirley."
They started down the corridor, when Frankie spun round on his heel and walked over to Lenny's chair.
Frankie peered at him closely, then a wide grin split his face.
"Cool Uncle Lenny!" he hollered, before grabbing him in an enthusiastic bear hug.
"Uncle Lenny?" echoed Katie.
"Cool?" echoed Travis.
"I didn't know we had an Uncle Lenny," Loretta whispered to her half sister, I thought Mom was an only child."
"No," Frankie said when he finally released Lenny, "he's not our real uncle, but the twins and I used to call him that when we lived with him in L.A. He and mom were roommates after she and my dad split up."
Lenny couldn't help but see Shirley's eyebrows raise at the word 'roomate'.
"I have to go see my mom now, but are you going to hang around for a while?
Overcome, Lenny could only nod stupidly.
"Great! We have so much catching up to do!" With that, Frankie trailed after Shirley at a trot.
Lenny watched the two of them until they turned a corner, before sitting back down. Everyone was still staring at him.
"Uncle Lenny?" queried Loretta and Katie again.
"Cool?" inquired Travis, Enrique, Aaron, and Squiggy.
It was a beautiful summer's morning. The not-yet-hot air gently wafted through the Georgia pines, as their gentle aroma permeated the back yard.
The day would have been even better if she wasn't icing down yet another black eye, Laverne mused. It wasn't the first time Patrick had taken his frustration with his career out on her, and with her luck, it wouldn't be the last.
If she'd only had dinner ready on time...
Her thought process was cut short by a happy squeal. Laverne smiled, despite her pain. Katie was in the sandbox giggling and the sand poured through her tiny hands. It was so good to hear her laugh, she was such a quiet baby. On the other hand, she thought, maybe I don't realize what a good thing I have. The twins had spent their first year colicky, and Frankie had been motion boy. Never wanting to sleep, always trying to crawl out of his crib, it was a wonder how she and Alvin had gotten through it.
You didn't get through it, she reminded herself sharply. He ended up spending more time at the office, and you took up with Frankie's pediatrician. You ignored each other.
Well, what I wouldn't give for a little ignoring these days, Laverne thought as she tenderly touched the swollen flesh under her left eye. She'd received worst in the past than just a black eye from Patrick. Bloody noses, split lips, and assorted bruises didn't really bother her anymore. Hell, she even thought he cracked one of her ribs once.
Her kids had never been involved, though. When there was trouble, the twins would just eerily go to their room and turn on their radio, until the volume of Heart or Journey drowned out the sounds of violence downstairs. They never talked about it.
Last night was different, however. Frankie tried to intervene. Patrick had shoved the boy into a wall and screamed horrible things into his face. Things designed to make the eighteen year old recruits he was supposed to mold into "men" weep.
Things no one ever had a right to say to a nine year old boy.
Her hands balled into fists. Why hadn't she intervened? Why had she let him raise a hand to her son? Why had she married the creep in the first place?
Her face twisted into a parody of a smile. Who could say no to Prince Charming? The handsome, steady, man with a career in the Marines who wanted to take care of her and her kids.
The man who kept telling her he saved her from herself.
She looked at the small, clapboard house to her left. She had been so thrilled when he announced he had purchased a home for his new bride. Something that would become their paradise, away from the hustle and noise of the military base.
Yeah, she thought, a crowded military base where someone would see the bruises and hear the screams. A place where she could have made friends. A place where she could have found a sanctuary.
Laverne looked over the rolling green hills. The nearest neighbor was over a mile away. An old woman who kept to herself and shot Laverne dirty looks on the few occasions they had seen one another.
Patrick drove their old Dodge to the base every day, leaving her isolated.
No car, no job, no money.
Paradise? More like a prison.
Katie's gurgling laughter jolted her back to the here and now. Laverne beamed at her daughter. She loved all four of her kids, but their was just something special about Katie. A sweetness, a fragility, something in her soul that made Laverne extra protective of her.
How such a little angel came out of Patrick and me, I'll never know, she wondered. Walking closer to the sandbox, she lifted the toddler out of the sand and lifted her high up to the sky.
Katie had beautiful green eyes and light brown hair, that was starting to bleach out due to the mornings in the summer sun. She was the most gorgeus baby Laverne had ever seen. She even seemed to have a slight calming effect on Patrick.
Laverne's smile faded as she realized how things were going to change as Katie grew older. Patrick had changed overnight from a doting stepfather into a sometimes distant, yet always abusive parental figure to her kids. She knew she shouldn't expect him to love her kids as much as he loved his own daughter, but was it asking too much for him to try?
They had recently been on a rare family outing to the commissary. Patrick was putting on his devoted family man act for some of the officers. He was holding Katie and fussing over her. He introduced her as "Daddy's little princess", then turned and coldly pointed out the other children as "Laverne's kids".
Why hadn't she spoken up then, either?
Tears of shame began to roll down Laverne's cheeks as she sat on the edge of the flagstone patio and began to cry, leaving Katie to sit in the green grass. Laverne sobbed helplessly as the pain and the humiliation of the last decade could no longer be held in check. All the tears she had been too proud to shed over Ben, too distracted to shed over Alvin, and too afraid to shed in front of Patrick bubbled to the surface.
Dimly, she became aware of a tiny hand stroking her cheek in comfort. She opened her eyes and saw Katie, who had pulled herself up by the edge of the patio, patting her mother's cheek with an oddly familiar expression of comfort on her face.
Laverne's heart nearly stopped as she realized who Katie reminded her of at that very moment. She hadn't spoken his name in two years. Hell, she hadn't even allowed herself to think of him.
Then there he was in miniature, doing what he did best. Trying to pick up all of her messy pieces.
Why hadn't she noticed before, or even considered the possibility? Granted, she'd made the less than glamorous leap from Lenny's bed to Patrick's in three days, but she'd never even considered the possiblity that Lenny was Katie's father.
Now, the similarities were all she could see. Katie's hair, fairer than Patrick's dark brown, but with none of Laverne's auburn tones. Katie's all to few smiles were pure Kosnoski in their sincerity and vulnerablilty. Why hadn't she seen the resemblence earlier?
Fear clutched her heart, and her skin prickled when her mind took the next logical step. What would happen when Patrick saw the signs? Started to see Katie's face mature into one that looked neither like his, nor hers? What would he be capable off when he realized he was raising another man's child?
Despite the rapidly warming day, Laverne shivered uncontrollably as she realized she had to act now. Pushing the terror and any thoughts of her own safety aside, she forced herself to focus on a plan. She clutched the now agitated Katie in her arms and ran into the house.
It took her nearly an hour to track down Shirley's current number. It had been over two years since she had spoken to her. She'd been too ashamed to face the questions she knew Shirley would ask.
Laverne's heart sank as she recognized the masculine voice on the phone.
"Walter, it's Laverne. I need to speak to Shirley right away. It's an emergency."
"Shirley's out with the kids and won't be back until later. Can I help?"
Laverne opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She felt her throat close up as the shame gripped her. Slowly, she started to hang up the phone...
"Laverne! Laverne!" Walter yelled into the phone, "What's the goddamn emergency? Laverne, talk to me!"
Laverne turned towards the receiver, and in a hoarse, barely audible voice said, "Patrick..."
"What about Patrick? Laverne, please talk to me!"
"He...he...hit me. He hit me," she said as she finally, and for the first time, said the words aloud.
"Sonofabitch. Do you need a doctor? Is he still in the house?"
"N-no," she stammered, as she sank down against the wall until she and Katie were on the floor. "He hit me last night, and he's at work right now. My kids and I need to be gone before he gets home tonight."
"Laverne, calm down. What's your phone number? What is your address?"
"Why do you need that?"
"Laverne, Shirley hasn't seen or heard from you in nearly two years! She's been worried sick! I just want the information in case we get cut off."
"Don't call the police, Walter!"
"I won't until you're gone."
"No, ever. You don't know what Patrick's like when he's angry. If I got him arrested and he got a dishonerable discharge, he'd have nothing to lose by hurting me or the kids. Except he'd do more than hurt."
Laverne was rewarded by silence on the other side.
"Walter? You gotta promise me, okay?"
He sighed, "I don't like it, but okay. Where's the nearest big city near you?"
"Can you get there this afternoon?"
"I think so..."
"Good. I'm going to wire you some cash to get out of Georgia, and come back to California."
"No arguements! You and your kids aren't safe," Walter sighed again, and his voice sounded more tired, "Laverne, I did my residencey in a Philadelphia emergency room. I saw hundreds of battered women come in for treatment, only to leave with the guys who beat them. I eventually saw most of them in the morgue. You can't stay with him."
"I know that, and believe me, I don't want to. I just can't go back to California is all. That's the first place Patrick would look for me. I ain't bringing that sort of trouble to your doorstep," she said, then added as Lenny's face flashed before her eyes, "or anyone else's."
"Where will you go?"
"I don't know. New York, maybe. I still have some family there... No. I'm going back to Milwaukee."
"Milwaukee is home. More than New York or California ever were."
"Milwaukee, fine. When you get to Macon, go to the Western Union office. I'll call you there and wire you cash for plane ticket's to Milwaukee."
"We can take the bus. I'm not borrowing that much money from you."
"Let's compromise. You and your kids will take the train, how about that?"
"Okay, just get your kids and get the hell out of there."
Laverne's mind was moving two steps ahead as she took down Walter's phone number. With the $140 in emergency cash that Patrick had stashed in a cigar box in the back of his sock drawer, she knew she could bribe her kid's bus driver to get her and the kids as least as far as the Macon city limits. After that, she still could have enough left over for busfare to the Western Union office.
"Oh, and Laverne?", Walter said, interrupting her train of thought.
"It's not your fault. The hitting, I mean."
Laverne managed a small, tearful smile as she replied, "You don't know the half of it, Walter. You just don't know."
"So," Squiggy said as he wiped the rest of the pizza sauce off of his chin with his sleeve, "do I get a scorecard, or what?"
"Well," Lenny replied as he pointed to Enrique and Travis, "those two bozos work with Laverne, the guy kicking the candy machine over there is one of her ex-husbands, and those two girls over there are her daughters. And the lady behind the glass is very mean."
"Okay, I'm up to speed now. Can we leave?"
"But, Squig, Laverne's still, you know..." Lenny began as his eyes darted back to the ICU corridor.
"Relax, she'll probably still be unconscious if we come back tomorrow."
"Whaddya mean if?"
"Well, let's face it. I just came here tonight because I didn't want Shirley to be alone. With all of Laverne's spawns around, she ain't alone no more. Besides, we've paid our respects."
"She ain't dead, Squig!"
"I know, but it's not like we're all still friends anymore, is it? I mean, you weren't exactly friendly to her a couple of weeks ago, were you?"
Lenny opened his mouth to reply, but words failed him. Sullenly, he looked at the hideously frightening linoleum floor. "You can go if you want, Squig. I'm staying."
"If you stay, I'm staying. Besides, this is the most interesting place I've seen since we got back to this one horse town. We should tape an episode here."
Several minutes went by before Lenny looked at Squiggy again. Squiggy was staring at the girls intently.
"What?" Lenny asked.
"Both them girl's are Laverne's daughters?"
"Are you sure? Neither one of them look like her."
"Katie has her eyes."
"That's the blond one, right?"
"Does she remind you of anyone?"
"No," Lenny lied.
"She's sorta hot..."
Squiggy's next words were cut off by Lenny's hand grabbing his throat.
Lenny smiled grimly at the startled crowd as he propelled Squiggy around the corner to the vending machine alcove. " 'Scuse us," he murmured.
"Should someone go after them?" Katie asked.
"Nah..." said Travis, Aaron, Enrique, and Loretta, before returning to their own thoughts and worries.
Once they rounded the corner, Lenny's hands migrated from Squiggy's neck to his lapels and he slammed him into the wall.
"Never, ever say anything like that about Katie again. D'ya hear me?" he hissed in Squiggy's face.
Breaking free from his friend's grip, Squiggy retorted, "What's your damage? We always say that sort of stuff about girls."
"Well... We shouldn't. It ain't very nice."
"When did you turn into a big girl?"
"Squig, I'm warning you... Besides, Katie's too young for you, anyhow."
"She and Svetlana are probably the same age, and I didn't hear you complaining about her when I showed you her picture off of the Internet."
"Yeah, 'cause Svetlana don't look like your sister."
Lenny looked at Squiggy in shock. "I don't know what you're talking about, Squig."
"Yes, you do," the shorter man countered. "Katie looks just like Basia. Back when Basia was young and hot," he finished defiantly.
Lenny just glared in response.
Squiggy's expression softened slightly. "There, there, you big idiot. I know why you're so rattled about Laverne's kid looking like your sister."
"Of course I do. And, under the circumstances, I know why you're so upset. I don't know how I'd handle it if I found out I was related to a woman I once wanted to vodey-oh-do..."
"Laverne and I ain't related, Squig."
"Oh c'mon, Len! Then how do you explain the resemblence? Laverne's got to be a long lost Kosnoski cousin, right?"
Lenny shook his head.
Squiggy eyes widened, "You mean..."
"Katie's part of a secret government cloning experiment, like on X-Flies? I read about stuff like this on the Internet. She's normal except for the fact she has two belly buttons." He paused momentarily, "I'm not finding her all that hot no more..."
"Squig! Katie ain't a clone. I think--know, she's my daughter."
Squiggy's eyes threatened to pop out of their sockets. "You're part of the secret government conspiracy? My very best friend..."
Lenny sighed before slamming Squiggy against the wall again. "There's no governement conspiracy," he snarled, then paused and added, "well, about this anyways. I think Katie is my daughter because she looks like Basia. And yes, Laverne and I were--" his brow wrinkled as he tried to think of a more delicate term, "together twenty two years ago." He slowly unclenched his hands from Squiggy's jacket, as his friend backed away and eyed him warily.
Lenny slumped against the wall, the emotion of the evening finally catching up with him. "I told you about it, Squig, remember? How Laverne and I finally wound up in bed together, only to have her and the kids gone by the time I woke up."
"Well, I thought she ducked out on the rent and you said you two vodey-oh-doed just to be mean." Squiggy brightened momentarily, "Hey, now you have proof for that story!"
"That story don't leave this hallway! I gotta talk to Laverne first, find out what's going on."
"Find out why she kept your kid away from you all these years?"
"Ain't it obvious?" Lenny replied angrily, "I wasn't good enough to be her boyfriend, you think I'm good enough to be the father of one of her kids?"
"From the way I see it, Laverne's more into quantity than quality on that count."
"Shut up!" Lenny flared.
Squiggy smiled at him sadly, "Nothing's changed, Lenny. She snaps her fingers and you come a-running. You think you'd learn after twenty years." With that, he walked slowly back to the group.
By the time Lenny walked back to the lounge, it was empty save for Frankie, Katie, and Loretta. Frankie had his arm around Katie, and flashed Lenny a quick smile over his sister's head.
"Where'd everybody go?" asked Lenny.
"Well," Loretta started in a tone of teenaged superiority, "your friend who brought the pizza got into it with the Bubble Lady when he tried to show her pictures of his girlfriend. She called hospital security and they hauled him off. My dad, Enrique, and Travis are back there trying to straighten the whole mess out. They went through that blue door, if you want to go help," she finished, reaching for the last slice of pizza.
Lenny weighed the option of spending more time with the four people he was the least interested in, then shook his head. "Nah, I'm sure they'll straighten it all out." Or not, he added silently.
Lenny sat down across from the three of them, noticing for the first time how tired and strained their young faces looked.
"Can I get you kids anything?"
"Who are you calling a kid?" challenged Loretta.
"All three of you," he replied with a smirk. "Seriously, are you guys hungry? Thirsty?"
"We're fine, Lenny," Katie replied, as she wiped the new tears from her eyes.
"Why are you crying? Omigod! Has Laverne gotten worse?" he asked, his heart threatening to explode.
"There's been no change in Mom's condition, Uncle Lenny," Frankie replied, as he stroked his sister's hair comfortingly, "Katie's just upset. Again."
"Frankie, don't pick on her," Loretta said, crossly, "We're all tired and scared. None of us are coping too well right now."
"Which is why I'm telling this one," Frankie said, as he gestured towards Katie, "not to take the weight of the world on her scrawny little shoulders, as usual."
"Could you not talk about me like I'm not even in the room, dickwad!" Katie yelled, as she angrily pushed herself up from her chair and started to pace nervously. "I'm not taking the weight of the world on my shoulders, as you so charmingly put it, Frankie. I'm taking responsibility for my actions. I'm the reason Mom had her heart attack!" With that outburst, she covered her face with her hands and dropped back into her chair, sobbing.
"What the hell kind of crap is that?" Frankie demanded, as he slid out of his chair and crouched down in front of her. "C'mon, Goofy..."
"Mom and I had a fight," Katie said haltingly. "Three days ago. I hadn't been able to see her since she got back from California since I was studying for midterms. She took one look at my hair," she said as flipped the golden end of her tresses with her fingers, "and flipped out. I've never seen her that way before. She got all pale, then blotchy, then insisted I change it back to brown. I told her it was none of her business, and it was my damn hair, not hers. Then I stormed out. We haven't spoken since."
"You're kidding?" Frankie asked. "Mom's hair's been every color found in nature twice, and a few that aren't. Why would she care?"
"I know, that's what made it so weird," Katie replied. "She looked at me like she was seeing a ghost."
Lenny shifted uncomfortably in his chair, but said nothing.
"That still doesn't make any sense," Frankie continued, "We're talking about a woman who was totally calm when she saw Terri's tattoo, didn't freak out when I told her I was gay," he continued, ignoring Lenny's startled stare, "and only got mildly irritated when she found out about Loretta getting her belly button pierced."
"Loretta got her belly button pierced?" bellowed Aaron's angry voice from behind them, causing them all to jump two feet in surprise.
"Thanks, a-hole," Loretta hissed as she glared at Frankie.
"We'll talk about this later, young lady," Aaron said sternly to Loretta, before turning to Katie and saying, in a softer tone, "Katie, your mom's condition has nothing to do with you. She's lying in that room because some violent criminal decided to take in a sports event. That's all," he finished, with a quaver in his voice belying his calm words.
"My dad's right, Katie. You're not responsible," Loretta interjected, "Mom's been acting weird ever since she got back from California. We were supposed to go shopping last Saturday, and she backed out at the last minute. That's not like her."
"That was so strange," said Frankie, "She was so hot to go and so excited about being on TV. Then, she and Aunt Shirley come home, and neither one of them will talk about it." Shrugging, he added, "I guess they didn't make the final audition, or something."
Or something, Lenny thought to himself, feeling lower by the moment.
"Or," Aaron said as he rolled his eyes at the bunch of them, "It couldn't be job stress, high blood pressure, and until recently, smoking three packs a day, could it? You know, the stuff her doctor has been giving her crap for over the years? That's the trouble with you kids today," he grumbled as he walked towards the men's room door, "you can't see the most probable answer when it's biting you on the ass."
Katie's bloodshot eyes followed her stepfather's retreat down the corridor. "None of you were there," she whispered, "you didn't see the look on her face."
"Katie," Frankie said firmly, taking her hands in his again,"Mom carries a lot of stress around with her, always has. For every one loud thing shooting out of her mouth, there are about five she's holding in." He looked briefly over at Lenny, startled by his guffaw.
"Sorry, Frankie." Damn, he thought, that kid can read Laverne like a book.
"We're talking about a woman," Frankie continued as he turned back to Katie, "who's been divorced four times, has raised five kids totally on her own, and who's been forced to retire from a dangerous, low-paying job in the next three months. Maybe we should wonder why it took her so long to have a coronary?"
"Frankie! That's horrible," shouted Loretta.
"I'm not trying to be mean, I'm just saying that everyone has a breaking point. She hasn't had an easy life, Loretta. Luckily, most of the worst was over before you were even born," he said as his eyes slid towards Katie.
"You mean when my dad," Katie said, spitting the word out like it was poison, "was using her as a punching bag?"
Lenny felt the color drain from his face, as three pairs of eyes turned his way. Remembering he was there. "I didn't know..." he stammered, helplessly.
Frankie flashed him a disturbing grin, but the cheerfulness never reached his eyes. Funny, Lenny realized, for someone who's always making with the jokes, he doesn't seem like that happy of a guy.
"It's not something that she brags about, for sure, Uncle Lenny. Katie's dad was," he paused as he glanced at Katie, "not a very nice guy."
"What my, ever-glib brother is trying to say," Katie interrupted, with an edge in her voice, "is that my biological father was a misogynistic sociopath with violent tendencies."
"Gee," Frankie replied sarcastically, I'm glad that psych course you're taking at night has increased your vocabulary. It will make things so much easier at the family reunions."
"Could you not make a goddamn joke out of everything, Frankie?"
"Sorry to bruise your feelings, Loretta. Besides, it almost had a fairytale ending. If she hadn't left Psycho-Patrick, we wouldn't have come back to Milwaukee, and she wouldn't have met your dad when she was filling out the restraining order." Ignoring the glares of his sisters, Frankie continued, "Sort of like something the Brother's Grimm would write, if they wanted to be especially grim."
"Hey, Carrot Top," Loretta replied, "why don't you save it for your act? And by the way," she said, "I think it's our turn to go visit mom."
"That's a phrase I didn't think I'd hear you say until we were in our fifties," Frankie quipped. The three cold pairs of eyes subdued him somewhat, and he and Loretta walked quietly down the corridor.
Turning back from Loretta and Frankie's retreating forms, Katie said, "I have to apologize for my brother. Believe it or not, he's very worried about her. He just," she appeared to grope for the words, "not really good at dealing with his emotions."
"I remember him when he was a kid," Lenny replied, "always such a happy little guy, with a big smile on his face."
Katie frowned. "That's the problem. He pretty much has two speeds, joking and mean. Unfortunately, there's not a lot in between."
"What did Loretta mean when she said *his act*?"
"Frankie does stand up comedy on the side. Don't worry," she said at Lenny's stunned expression, "He's not quitting his day job anytime soon. I think he'll be selling Toyotas for quite a long time," she said with a fond smile. "I know he likes to make people laugh, but sometimes, I wish he'd just shell out the bucks and get into therapy."
Lenny looked at the ground awkwardly before speaking. "I know things were hard on you kids growing up, but I didn't realize how bad it was. I'm sorry."
Katie looked at him with a puzzled expression on her face, "Why are you sorry? Mom made some not-so-good choices, especially when it came to the lowlife who fathered me, but she's always put us first. She's always tried to give us better than what she had. I'm sorry," she said, as Lenny tried to hide his rapidly reddening eyes, "I know you're worried about her too."
"S'all right," he replied, his voice thick with emotions that warred within his soul. The anger he felt towards Laverne for keeping his daughter away from him was gradually being replaced by a blind rage at the thought of someone raising his hand to her. The same someone who would have raised his daughter had Laverne not fled, children in tow.
They sat in an uncomfortable silence for several minutes.
"Aunt Shirley said you and she and Mom all went to high school together, right?"
"Yeah." He sighed heavily, "Class of 1958. It seems like a million years ago."
"What was she like back then?"
At his quizzical look, she continued, "Mom doesn't talk a lot about her past. Loretta and I didn't even know she grew up in Milwaukee until we saw her crying in front of the television the day they tore down Fillmore High."
"They tore down Fillmore?"
"About eight years ago. Loretta's going to graduate from Ford this spring."
"They tore down Fillmore," Lenny repeated, shaking his head. "Milwaukee's sure changed since we all lived here."
"Were you and Mom close? Growing up, I mean."
"She used to say I was her best guy friend," he replied cautiously.
Katie smiled for the first time, and Lenny's heart swelled with joy. While he had thought her to be pretty before, he now saw she was beautiful. "I'm glad she had you in her life," Katie said as she reached over and squeezed his hand, "she's always seemed so alone."
"Your mom always had a lot of friends around her, she was very popular in high school, especially with the boys," he said, a tinge of regret and bitterness coloring his words.
"Please," Katie said in an exasperated tone, "that's not the same as having friends. I've never seen her lonlier than when she's been with some guy or the other."
Yeah, Lenny thought, you've never seen her with the right guy.
Shirley clutched the still, limp hand in hers.
There was no two ways about it. Her very best friend of the last fifty four years looked old. Very old.
She looked over the beloved face before her, taking in the gray pallor, graying roots, and the lines that were etched deeper now than they were a month ago.
She then caught a glimpse of herself in the reflective surface of a nearby piece of medical equipment and shuddered.
"When did it happen, Vernie? When did we become old ladies?"
Neither one of them was a spring chicken anymore. Long gone were the days of dancing all night, bowling all day, and all the other crazy tomfoolery she and Laverne had indulged in all those years ago. Funny, she mused, you were so busy trying to become something during those years, you forgot to enjoy them.
They truly had been the best of times. Shirley allowed herself to flashback ever so briefly to that little golden place in her mind. The place where she slow danced endlessly at the age of twenty two in the arms of Carmine Ragusa. The place where her whole life was ahead of her, and there had truly been no limits. Only those limits you put on yourself, a mocking litle voice in her head said. If she had it all to do over again... She would have only changed on thing. She definitely would have slept with Carmine. She also would have married Walter, and shared in the beautiful dream that had been their marriage. For a while, at least.
Well, kiddo, she said as she mentally shrugged it off, there are no do-overs in life. You make your choices, and you face up to the consequences and rewards. Sometimes, she thought, as she again looked at Laverne's still face, you can go home again. Other times, you can't she thought, as she felt fresh tears well up in her eyes.
Not tears for Laverne this time. Tears for Carmine, who was the victim of a fatal mugging at the age of thirty four.
She'd never have a second chance with him.
Speaking of second chances...
"Vernie, he's here. Lenny's here in the hospital. We're all waiting for you to wake up and come back to us," she said as she rubbed Laverne's hand between hers, trying to warm it if nothing else.
"Laverne, why didn't you tell me? I just figured it out tonight when I saw him next to Katie. You're my best friend! I'm so sorry you felt you couldn't confide in me."
"Is that why you two had words after the show? Was he angry to find out he was a father?"
Confusion and fatigue undid what was left of Shirley's control. "Damnit! Why didn't you tell me? Or tell him twenty two years ago? He would have helped you get away from Patrick. I know he would have helped out with Katie. For god's sake, he offered to marry you all those years ago when you thought someone else got you pregnant! You didn't have to keep this to yourself, and you sure as hell didn't have to let Katie go through life thinking that monster you married was her father. Damnit, Laverne! Why do you always have to be so proud?" Her words ended in a choked sob, as she finally let loose the tears she had held all night.
Tears that ended in a startled yelp as Laverne's hand suddenly gripped hers.
Lenny's head fell forward, jarring him to wakefullness. He glanced at his watch, then grimaced. Four thirty in the morning. No wonder he dozed off. He wasn't a kid anymore, and was no longer used to burning the midnight oil.
Instinctively, his eyes drifted to his left where Katie had been sitting. She was hunched up in her chair, scribbling maniacally into a spiral notebook as she gnawed her lower lip furiously. He watched her intently for several long moments, until her green eyes locked with his blue ones.
"Did I wake you?"
"Nah...Sorry I drifted off like that, and left you alone." It was all he could do to swallow the word "again".
"No big. You don't snore. Much," she added slyly.
Lenny fought back a blush, and a quick hand to his mouth reassured him he hadn't been drooling, this time.
"Whatya doing there?" he asked, his attention drawn to the notebook.
"I haven't decided if it's a stream of consciousness or poetry. Most likely, it's just crap."
"You're a writer?"
"No, I'm a barrista who likes to write. There's a difference."
"Nah...I bet you're terrific."
"You're sweet," she replied, as Lenny's heart all but skipped a beat, "But the general consensus is that my work is depressing and melodramatic. At least that's what everyone but Travis thinks."
"Travis is the bigger one, right?"
"How long have you two been going out?" he asked, trying to look nonchalant as he picked a bit of imaginary lint off his sleeve.
She blinked a few times before replying. "We're not going out, we're just friends."
"Oh, I just thought--"
"Well, you thought wrong," she said, with an edge in her voice.
"I do that a lot," he mumbled as he reached for the two year old issue of Highlights Magazine on the small table in front of him. Way to go, Kosnowski, he said to himself sarcastically, you've pissed your own daughter off after only knowing her for a couple of hours.
"I'm sorry," she said, looking suddenly contrite. "Just because I'm stressing out doesn't mean I need to take it out on you." Shaking her head ruefully, she added, "This was definitely not the day Brian should have switched the decaf and regular pots around." At his blank look, she elaborated, "I work at Starbucks."
An eerie sense of deja vu coursed through Lenny's being. "The one on Knapp Street?" he asked.
He nearly fell out of his chair.
"The one that used to be the Pizza Bowl?"
"The Pizza what?" she asked, confusion evident on her pretty face.
"The Pizza Bowl! Great pizza, great bowling! It was a Milwaukee landmark," he finished, as he searched her face for some sort of recognition. "Your grandfather used to own it! I can't believe Laverne never told you about the Pizza Bowl," he said, as he slumped into his seat in exasperation.
"I told you, my Mom never talks about her past," Katie said, a little defensively. Then, after a few moments, she asked, "What was he like?"
"Who are we talking about? My grandfather!"
Lenny cocked his head to the side, and thought for a few moments before replying. "Tough. Stubborn. Very old-world Italian. I don't think he had an easy life. He loved your Mom a lot, but he was very tough on her. Expected her to get married to an Italian guy and have a lot of kids."
Katie gave a tight smile that conveyed little joy. "Well, she surpassed his expectations; she married four guys and had a lot of kids. I guess that didn't go over to well, did it?"
"No," Lenny replied, as he looked at the floor, "It didn't. Frank never got over your Mom's first divorce. By the time he died, they hadn't spoken to each other for a couple of years."
"Frank?" Katie echoed, "Weird. She didn't speak to him for years, yet she named her son after him."
Lenny shrugged before continuing, "As I said, he was stubborn and tough. Y'know, I think that's what made your Mom so tough. You never wanted to get on Laverne's bad side when we were kids," he said as he smiled at the memory of a seven year old Laverne pummeling Big Rosie in the playground, both fists and pigtails flailing in the air.
"I have a hard time imagining that," said Katie as she shook her head. "I mean, she was always protective of us kids, but I never really saw her stand up for herself very much. At least not until Aunt Shirley moved back here, and Mom and Aaron split up. Come to think of it," she added, as her brow wrinkled slightly, "I don't remember seeing Mom laugh a lot until Aunt Shirley returned."
"She and Shirl have been best friends since first grade. Just like me and Squig."
"Must be nice. I mean, having someone around you can always count on."
"You should know how it feels, Katie. You've got your brother and your sisters."
"Frankie's great. In small doses. Too much of him is like playing football without a helmet," she confided. "But, he's always my emergency contact guy. No matter what happens, if you call Frankie,he's always there with bail money, or an ice pack, or whatever. Especially if Mom calls," she mused.
Glancing around the slightly less crowded waiting area, and profoundly pleased to see another administration person had replaced the Bubble Lady, a question posed itself in Lenny's head, then tumbled out of his mouth within seconds. "Call me slow, you won't be the fist," he added with a wink, "But aren't we two people short? Where are the twins?"
Now it was Katie's turn to stare at the floor. "I left a voice mail on Terri's cell on the way to the hospital. I'm not surprised that she and Marie aren't here. They live in Seattle, and as far as I know, neither one of them has spoken to Mom in over a year." At his questioning expression, she merely shook her head. "I have no idea why. None of the three of us are really close to the twins. You can add that to the laundry list of things my Mom doesn't talk about," she added bitterly, as she attempted to stifle a yawn.
"Why don't you shut your eyes and try to catch a few winks? You must be really tired."
"I am, but between the coffee and chronic insomnia, I know I won't be able to sleep. Thanks, though. For caring, I mean."
"If you want to go back to your writing, I can shut up for a while," Lenny offered, helpfully.
"No," Katie replied as she closed her notebook and shoved it into her voluminous backpack. "I'm getting writer's cramp, anyhow. Besides," she added, with a grin, "I'm almost enjoying this. You're very easy to talk to."
"Do you write a lot? Have you written anything I could have read? If I were the type that reads, y'know," he finished awkwardly.
"No, I haven't had anything published. All I've written is some sad poetry and a few tragic short stories. It used to drive Mom crazy back when I lived at home," she confided. "She'd get so upset when she'd come into my room and find me bawling my eyes out over something I'd written. She actually made me go see a shrink when I was in high school."
"Really?" Lenny asked as his heart sank. Dear God, it was genetic!
"Really. The shrink was pretty cool though. He told Mom that it was a cathartic way for me to deal with my adolescent angst and my dysfunctional, multi-ethnic, blended family situation. Then he told her to chill." Katie's cheeks reddened, "I don't think you want to know what her response was."
He grinned broadly, "I can imagine."
"I wish I had more time to write, but with working full time and going to school part time, there just aren't enough hours in the day."
"You're in college?" Lenny asked as his heart threatened to swell with pride. The wonderful sensation was immediately replaced by shame when he realized that he had nothing to do with any of Katie's accomplishments."
"I eventually want to major in English, and possibly minor in psychology, both of which should be of use to a writer."
"Your Mom must be so proud!"
"Well," Katie hedged, "I know she'd prefer if if I concentrated on something more practical than writing." Slowly, she shook her head, "I wish she understood. It's not that I want to write as much as I have to write."
Lenny found himself nodding his head in agreement as he looked into her young, earnest, face. "I get it," he replied, "I used to write songs myself."
"Really? Anything I may have heard?"
"Nah, none of my stuff was ever really good enough for an audience."
"I'd love to hear some of your work one day."
"Really? Hell, if we weren't in a hospital, and I had my guitar with me, I'd play you every song I ever wrote." Except one, he thought as the bittersweet memory of "I'm in Love with Laverne" washed over him.
"When this is over?" Katie suggested. The jovial mood was instantly interrupted as they both seemed to fixate on one of the possible outcomes of the night's events.
"Yeah," Lenny piped in. "When your mom is all better and back at home," he hopefully added. Her wan smile matched his as they both clung desperately to hope.
"Thanks," she replied quietly. "Lenny, I'm glad you stayed here tonight. I know you probably have a couple other hundred things you'd rather be doing, but your staying has meant a lot. Especially to me. I really wish I had known you before tonight," she said, as unshed tears brightened her eyes.
"Me to. Your Mom and me kinda lost track of each other after she left California," he replied, while his eyes glanced briefly away from her face. Seconds later, he forced himself to look her in the eye. She was his daughter, damnit. She needed him now more than she knew.
"It was more than losing track, though, wasn't it?" she said, as her eyes locked onto his, rendering him incapable of further deception.
Lenny's mouth opened, and everything he'd been holding in that horrible night threatened to explode out of it. Yes, he wanted to tell her, your mother and I were more than friends. I'm really your father, not that monster your mom married who hurt you all so much. I would have been there, helped you, done anything I could. I'm the real reason your mother had a heart attack, not you. I hurt her before she could tell me about you. "Katie," he began...
Both Katie and Lenny nearly jumped out of their skins at Shirley's shrill scream.
"Did you hear me?" Shirley hollered again as Aaron, Travis, Squiggy, and the hospital security guard rushed out of the administration office, their mouths agape, "Laverne's awake! The doctor said she could have visitors, but only in groups of three," she finished, as everyone lunged toward the corridor at once.
"Mom's awake?" Frankie echoed disbelievingly, as he and Loretta stepped out of the elevator.
"Let the kids go in first. They should at least be the second to see her, if not the first," Aaron said, as he glared at Shirley.
Katie, Frankie, and Loretta all dashed down the corridor without a backward glance.
Lenny looked around the waiting room. Aaron and Travis were walking over to the coffee machine, while Shirley headed towards the elevator. He and Squiggy were alone.
"C'mon Squig, let's go," he said tiredly, wincing as he reached down for his coat.
"Whaddya mean go?" asked the shorter man in astonishement. "Are you hearing compared? Laverne's awake! You can talk to her and find out why she never told you about Katie!"
"What do I need to know? She needs to talk with her kids now. They've been up all night worrying--"
"So have you!"
"It ain't about me, right now. She needs Shirley, she needs Aaron, hell, she even needs to talk to that big oaf," he said, gesturing towards Travis with his thumb. "I'm just some bum that knocked her up twenty three years ago. She moved all the way across the country and married a creep that hit her--a lot--to get away from me. Then, when we finally meet," he said, his unshed tears choking his voice, "I treat her like dirt and lie and tell her how great my life had been without her in it. Why the hell would she want to see me?"
"Because," Squiggy said quietly, with a rare tone of clarity in his voice, "you're Katie's father. No matter how you and Laverne feel about each other, that fact ain't gonna change. And you're right about something. It's not about you. It ain't even all about Laverne no more. It's about Katie. She deserves to know the truth."
"I don't know if she deserves to know her real dad wasn't there for her..."
"Yeah. That might hurt her. But she might be glad to know that she ain't flesh and blood with that bastard that hurt Laverne."
Lenny shot him a quizzical look.
"Travis and I had a long time to chat while Aaron was trying to convince the doctors that I hadn't escaped from the mental ward," Squiggy explained. "Your daughter's guy is pretty cool. Once you get over his hugeness, and all."
"He ain't her boyfriend," Lenny snapped.
"Not yet, but it ain't for a lack of trying on his part," Squiggy retorted. "By the way, Katie's never really had a boyfriend."
"Yeah, right. As pretty and smart as she is?"
"Pretty and smart AND scared." Squiggy broke off, as if he was afraid of breaking a confidence, then plunged ahead, "She ain't never had a real boyfriend cause she's afraid. Travis has been chasing her for two years now and he ain't been able to get further than a free crappuchino when he meets her after her shift.
"Maybe she just don't like him that way," Lenny replied as he rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Maybe he's just thick-headed and goes for women who don't want nothing to do with him? Maybe the big oaf and I have more in common than I thought?" he yelled, as the inhabitants of the emergency room started to stare.
"Or maybe, Katie's always been afraid of bringing home a guy like dear, old dad?" Squiggy hissed. He looked away from Lenny, and stuck his chin out defiantly while he squared his shoulders, as if trying to bluff an unseen enemy, "Take it from someone who'd love to find out the creep who raised him wasn't his real father, you'd be doing the girl a favor."
Wordlessly, Lenny walked out of the Emergency Room and into the dawn.
Again with the pain...
Laverne opened her eyes slowly and moaned as the harsh flourescents assaulted her retinas.
She gritted her teeth and opened her eyes again, only to see three of the most beautiful faces in the world stairing back at her.
"Am I dead?" she croaked, wincing at the rawness in her throat.
"You were," replied Frankie, as he wiped away a tear, "but you got over it."
Laverne tried to laugh, but it came out more like a wheeze.
"Mom," interjected a sobbing Katie, "I'm so sorry we had that dumb fight--"
"Not your fault," whispered Laverne. "None of this is because of you." God, she thought, doesn't Katie have enough problems without adding this to the heap?
"Mom," Loretta interrupted, "you've been unconscious most of the night. Dad's here, Aunt Shirley's here, and so are Travis and Enrique. We've all been so worried and scared."
A flash of memory overtook Laverne momentarily, and she inhaled sharply, sending the machines around her into a chorus of beeps and chirps. "The guy with the knife! He--"
"They caught him," Katie cut her off, as she watched the fluctuating readings with alarm. "Travis and Enrique got him. He can't hurt you anymore," she said soothingly as she gently took her mother's hand.
My rock, thought Laverne, as her breathing returned to normal. She and Frankie have always put my welfare before their own, she realized with a pang of guilt as the tears rolled down her cheeks.
"Mom? I'll get a nurse, Frankie said with alarm in his voice as he rose and started for the doorway.
Laverne shook her head weakly. "No, I'm fine. Just being emotional is all, and--Loretta? Did your father let you out of the house dressed like that?" she asked as her eyes took in the brief outfit.
"Uh, no. And uh, speaking of Dad, I'm sure he wants to see you right away. I'll go get him," the teenager replied as she clutched the oversized windbreaker around her and left the room.
"I'll go with her, Mom," Katie added with a teary smile. "I know there's a few other people who've waited to see you all night." She kissed Laverne's forehead and gave Frankie's shoulder a friendly squeeze before following her sister out the door.
"Other people? Frankie, are the twins here?"
"No, Mom. Katie left Terri a voicemail, but neither one of them are here."
"Don't be so sure," came a familiar voice from the doorway.
"Terri," Laverne whispered.
Shirley Feeney-Meeney watched as the white globules of artificial creamer absorbed her coffee then sank to the bottom of her styrofoam cup like pebbles. Why don't hospital cafeterias ever have those little containers of real cream, she wondered to herself. The voice in her head soon became Walter's, lecturing her about the sanitary repercussions of unrefrigerated dairy products.
As she tried to alternately stir and spear the unappetizing chunks, she relayed various scenarios that would soon take place between Laverne and herself in her head.
No doubt about it. Any way you slice it, Laverne was going to be pissed that she had already paid a significant portion of her hospital bill.
Shirley wasn't naive. Thirty years of marriage to a doctor had taught her that the meter started rolling the second you dialed 911. There was no way that Laverne's meager health insurance was going to pay a significant portion of her already high bill. Knowing those corner-cutting numbers crunchers at the Arena, they'd probably find some loophole that would make it Laverne's fault she had been injured. The same people who apparently purchased sub-standard metal detectors wouldn't give a flying fig about a loyal employee of fifteen years, whom they were already forcing into early retirement. As much as Laverne had counted on her mandatory three percent yearly cost of living raise, apparently the suits at the Arena felt it was no longer cost effective to keep on a security guard at her pay level.
The sad part was the fact that she knew, deep down that Laverne hated her job with a passion. Sadder still was the fact that her job was the only thing that got Laverne up in the morning, now that Loretta spent most of her time with her Dad. Job prospects for a sixty-plus year old with Laverne's limited skills were few and far in between.
Resolvedly, she stuck her chin out and set down her coffee stirrer. She and Walter had been living in Germany when Ben was cheating on Laverne. They were stationed in Guam when Laverne was so out of her mind with loneliness in San Francisco that she'd screw any guy that looked at her twice. They had moved back to California by the time Laverne was staying at Lenny's. "Staying" was the way her mind still preferred to categorize that period. Laverne had called her sobbing, shortly after she and the kids moved in with him.
All she had done was scold and lecture Laverne on the break up of her second marriage. Some friend, she chided herself. No wonder she thought she couldn't talk to you. No wonder she married Patrick so quickly. You proved to her she couldn't count on her friends, didn't you?
A chill ran down Shirley's spine. Was that the real reason Laverne never told her about Katie's true parentage? Was Laverne afraid that she would have looked down on Katie? Shirley wished she truly knew the answer to that question.
They say people who look down upon others look down most harshly on themselves, Shirley mused. If she had known the truth back then, would she have tried to distance herself from Laverne to attain her lifetime goal of being the perfect doctor's wife?
Her mind raced back over dozens of images; heading the PTA, volunteering for hospital social committees, being the Brownie troop leader. Doing everything she could to make herself and her children above reproach. She was determined that no one would ever know the difference in her and Walter's backgrounds. They'd never know that the popular and successful doctor had married a former blue collar, brewery girl with only a high school diploma to her name.
Why had she always been so afraid of not being perfect? When had anything been good enough for her, including herself? How many opportunities had she denied herself by fearing what other people would think? She thought briefly again of Carmine, and then of Walter. The two great loves of her life.
Both men were gone since she had been too preoccupied with grandiose plans and dreams to appreciate what she had at the time. One had died, while the love she had known with Walter had died of disinterest.
I've got to hand it to Walter, she thought. It must have been hard being married all of those years to someone who didn't respect herself very much. Angrily, she picked up her stirrer again and started spearing the white lumps with renewed vengeance.
"So, which one of those lumps is me?" queried a deep voice behind her.
Shirley gave a start and painfully wrenched her neck as she turned to the left too quickly.
"Aaron!" she shrieked, as she hastily grabbed at her spilling cup of coffee.
"Here, let me help," he said as he reached for some napkins at a nearby table.
"Don't bother," she growled from between clenched teeth. This is all I need, she thought.
"I'm sorry," he repeated as he sat himself down into a chair next to her as he handed her a wad of paper napkins.
"Well, if I had known you would have eventually wanted to sit at this table, I would have sat across the room."
"I deserved that."
"Yes, you did." She eyed him with suspicion. "What gives? You've been here for fifteen whole seconds and you haven't insulted me yet."
He held up his hands in front of him in mock surrender. "No more insults, Shirley. I'm here to call a truce."
"This is some sort of a trap, isn't it?"
"Nope. I'm on the up and up." He sighed loudly and rubbed his hand over his bloodshot eyes before continuing. "We both agree, it's been one helluva night, don't we?" He waited for her nod before continuing. "The situation between us is ridiculous. We are two adults and we can't seem to act civilly when we are in the same room. It's affected my relationship with Laverne, and it's been bothering Loretta for some time now."
"I never wanted to be your enemy, Aaron."
"I know that," he said, rolling his eyes in what she believed to be exasperation.
"I was jealous."
"Excuse me? Aaron, you know that domestic-partner story was just something I made up to get past the Bubble Lady, don't you?"
He shot her a withering look before replying, "Give me some credit, Shirley. I was jealous of the fact that Laverne enjoyed spending time with you rather than me. I was jealous because until you moved back to Milwaukee, I didn't know my wife of thirteen years was capable of smiling so much. I was jealous," he finished, "because it was easier to blame you for breaking up my marriage than admitting to myself it had been dead for years. Easier to focus on being angry with you than accepting the fact that all Laverne and I had in common anymore was Loretta."
"I'm sorry, Aaron. You have to believe that I never wanted you and Laverne to break up. I just wanted her to be happy, and I know a fourth divorce didn't help."
"You still have to bury what's dead, Shirley. You can't go back in time."
Shirley inhaled sharply as his words chilled her, having paralleled her own thought to closely. Dear God, she thought, if I ever have another chance for happiness, please don't let me be too shortsighted to recognize it.
She looked up suddenly to find Aaron staring at her with a concerned look on his face.
"I'm sorry," she replied automatically, "It's just been a very long night."
"I understand. By the way, I was just down at the admissions desk. It seems some good samaritan has paid a big chunk of Laverne's bill. You don't know who could have done something like that, do you?"
"Nope," she said as she sipped her tepid, and somewhat lumpy, coffee."
"Shirley," he said with a hint of his old steel, "I want to pay for half."
She opened her mouth, ready to tell him she and Laverne could take care of themselves, that it was her duty to help her friend out since she hadn't been there in the past, that he couldn't possibly afford it on a cop's salary while simultaneously saving money for his daughter's college fund.
Instead, for once she just said, "Thank you, Aaron."
He blinked in surprise. "I won? You're not going to dig in your heels and argue with me." She shook her head and bravely took another sip of her horrendous coffee. "Is this some sort of trap?" he asked, a smile threatening to overwhelm his lips.
Once again, she shook her head, "As you said earlier, it's been one helluva night. Life is too short to waste by acting like to spoiled children playing tug of war with a toy."
"Okay, who are you and what have you done with the real Shirley?"
"I'm serious," she said, breaking into a grin, "a woman we both love very much is going to recover. I want to concentrate on happy things, life affirming things."
"How's this for life affirming? When Laverne's released and feeling up to it, let's have a party!"
"I can get us a great deal on one of the smaller meeting rooms at the Pfister!"
"I love the food at the Pfister! Laverne and I used to go to their karaoke bar when we first started going out."
"You heard Laverne sing karaoke and you still married her?"
"Hey, I was in love. Besides, she used to like hearing me sing."
"I can't picture you singing in a karaoke bar."
"I have a terrific singing voice."
"I'm sure you think you do."
"I'm serious. Up until the very day I joined the force, I considered becoming a professional singer."
"No, really! In my neighborhood, they used to refer to me as the black Tony Bennett."
"Tell me more," Shirley purred as she scooched her chair slightly towards his.
"Hi, Mom," the slender young woman in the leather duster said as she glanced coldly at Frankie.
"Hey Ter, you made it," Frankie responded, his manner slightly more manic and his grin showing more teeth but no warmth, "guess Katie didn't mention in her message that we weren't going to be pulling the plug anytime soon."
"You're such a bitch when you're on the rag, Francesca--"
"Stop it, both of you," came a strained whisper from the bed.
"Sorry, Mom," Frankie said, before turning on his sister, "See what you did?"
"Frankie, leave me and your sister alone for a while, will you?"
"No buts." Seeing the rare hurt in his eyes, Laverne softened her words, "I'm going to be all right, and if I'm not, the nurse is a call button away. It ain't your job to have to take care of me all the time, Frankie." She cut him off before the words of denial could leave his mouth, "I know I've relied on you that way too much in the past, and it wasn't right. It can't be that way anymore. You need to lead your own life, and not worry so much about mine."
"But, nothing. Now, get out of here before I start nagging you to adopt me a grandchild."
"You're becoming a mean old lady, you know that don't you," he asked as he bent to kiss her forehead.
"You don't know the half of it."
"I'm just going to be down the hall if you need me," he said, his eyes boring holes through Terri as he left.
After the door swung shut, Terri turned towards her mother and said with a wry grin, "Aren't you glad Frankie and I are getting along better?"
The light mood evaporated quickly as the evidence their whereabouts brought the drama of the last night to the forefront of their minds.
"How are you doing?"
"I've been better. It's good to see you, Terri. Where's Marie?"
"One of us isn't good enough for you?"
"I didn't mean that."
"We're identical twins, Mom. Not conjoined."
"Siamese, but it's not PC to say that anymore."
"I'll have to remember that since it comes up so often in conversations."
"Y'know, I really don't have the strength for this right now, Terri," Laverne said, as she felt her short lived hope ebb.
"I'm sorry," the younger woman blurted out, as she ran her fingers through her burgundy-streaked dark hair, "I didn't fly all the way here to see you just so we can fall into our usual pattern."
"Why did you come out here, Terri? It's not like we've even spoken to each other in the last year. For you to fly all the way out here from Seattle--"
"I don't live in Seattle anymore, Mom. I've moved back to L.A. six months ago."
"Oh. Why did you leave Seattle? I thought you and Marie loved it there."
"Once again, could we not drag Marie into this?" Terri growled as she began to pace the sickly green linoleum floor in agitation.
"Oh geez... Did you two have a fight or something." Those two never fought, with each other at least, Laverne thought. It was always the two of them against the world, just like me and Shirley, only I was the big, bad, world most of the time.
"Or something. Mom, I don't want to talk about it."
"Fine. We won't."
"God, I want a cigarette."
"I don't think they let you smoke in ICU, Terri."
"I can't believe you're as calm as you seem. If I'm craving one, you must be two steps away from insane."
"Really?" Terri asked, cocking her eyebrow.
"Yeah. Cold turkey, about three years ago."
"Congrats. I thought you looked a little heavier since I saw you last."
"Thanks," Laverne replied with a sour smile, "Well, I didn't have much of a choice about quitting. Shirley gave me an ultimatum. Said she didn't endure thirty plus years of marriage to a cardiologist only to drop dead of second hand smoke two years after leaving him." Laverne's eyes flickered upwards to her daughter's face. There were fine lines around Terri's reddened eyes, making her look older than her thirty four years.
"Terri, what's wrong?"
"Just tired, that's all. Christ," she exclaimed, pointedly ignoring her mother's dirty look, "I get a voicemail telling me that my Mom's been stabbed, so I hightail it to the airport in rush hour traffic and catch the first standby flight to Milwaukee I can get. I've been up all night."
"It's more than that, isn't it?" Laverne prodded gently, as instinct replaced tentativeness.''
"Hello? You almost died last night."
"Actually, I did die. Lucky for me it wasn't a permanent condition."
What little color there was in Terri's pinched and thin face drained away as she sat down heavily in the vinyl visitor's chair by Laverne's bed. "You what?"
"Died. I had some sort of heart attack thing in the ambulance, but I'm going to get better, I promise," Laverne said in what she hoped was a reassuring tone.
"Omigod. My mother died last night.." Terri mumbled, her eyes darting nervously back and forth as she reached into her purse and pulled out a pack of Marlboros.
"Sorry, Mom," she said guiltily, as she shoved the pack back into her bag, and started to breathe rapidly.
"Terri, calm down! Put your head between your knees and breathe deeply! Try to relax!" Laverne all but shouted.
"It's just... I've had this awful feeling for the last few weeks..."
"What sort of feeling?" Laverne asked, unable to keep exasperation out of her tired voice.
"It's not as much a feeling as an overwhelming sense of dread..."
"Damnit, Terri! Would you just spit it out!
"I've been afraid you'd die before I had a chance to tell you something, Mom!" Terri said quickly, her words tumbling over each other.
"What did you want to tell me?"
"That I don't blame you anymore!"
Her words hung in the air between them, the room silent except for the rhythmic chirping of the monitors. For long moments, the two women just stared at each other, their expressions unreadable.
"Blame me for what?" Laverne asked, in a voice of gravel.
"For leaving Dad, for dragging us to San Francisco and making us live with Alvin, for those two hellish years in Georgia, for" Terri made an angry gesture with her hands, "for uprooting us yet again and bringing us to this crappy city! For...everything."
"Well," Laverne said slowly, "considering this is the longest conversation we've had in three years, I should die more often."
"Don't even joke about that!"
"You're only telling me part of the story, aren't you Terri? And don't make that face," Laverne admonished, "I'm your mother and I can read you like a book. You've been sitting on this for a while, it's not something that just occurred to you."
Terri looked away, her lower lip hung out in a pout and she slumped her rounded shoulders even further into a slouch. Laverne had never seen so much of herself in any of her children before.
"Well, I sort of found out first hand six months ago what you must have felt like when Dad cheated on you." Terri coughed, and her eyes became even more red. "His name was Jeff. He was a keyboardist that played with this lame cover band that played in this lame club back in Seattle."
"Do you love him?"
"I thought I did. If things had gone differently, I probably still would." Her voice trembled as she continued, "It's amazing how walking in on your boyfriend while he's in bed with your sister can change your perception of love, trust, and fairness in the universe, isn't it?"
"Terri, I'm so sorry..."
"Forget it. He's history, and as far as I'm concerned, so is Marie."
"I'm still sorry you got hurt."
"That's life, Mom," she replied with a brittle edge to her voice, "Besides, it just made me remember that men come and go. I learned watching you all those years that you can ever really rely on them."
"I'm even more sorry that is the only lesson you learned from me," Laverne said, as a tear rolled down her cheek.
"Mom, don't cry," Terri said, her own voice becoming choked with tears. "This is why I didn't want to tell you about Marie. You've been though too much, and for once, I don't want to add to it."
"I can't help it! What you just said makes me realize even more what a lousy mother I am. How many times I screwed up your lives!" Laverne's body shook as her tears overtook her.
"Oh crap, don't do this! Mom, aside from your horrible taste in men, my Dad included," she said with a meaningful look in her eye, "you were great. I just wish," she hesitated, as Laverne peered into her dark eyes, "that you didn't always feel you needed to have a guy around. I'm sorry," Terri added hastily, "I didn't say that to hurt you, I just think, maybe, we would have been better off with just you."
"You mean it?"
"Please, have I ever said anything nice just to spare your feelings?"
"Good point. The joke's on me once again," Laverne said with a bitter laugh, "all those years, I felt like we weren't a whole family since you didn't have a Dad living with you. I felt like I was never enough."
"You were wrong. Whatever problems, issues, and in Frankie's case, psychosis, we have; it has nothing to do with you not being there for us. I mean," she continued, "you told Frankie five minutes ago to lead his own life. When are you going to start leading yours?"
Laverne opened her mouth to argue, but Terri cut her off, "You spent your life trying to make ours better. Except for Loretta, we're all grown ups. It's our responsibility to fix our problems, not yours."
Suspicion crossed Laverne's face. "Have you been in therapy?"
"A little." She blushed under Laverne's piercing green gaze. "Okay, it was sort of somewhat court-ordered."
"Let's just say I didn't handle the whole Marie/Jeff thing with a lot of maturity or class. Don't worry," she said when she saw Laverne's stricken face, "I plea bargained it down to therapy sessions, and I'm no longer on probation."
"What every mother loves to hear," Laverne said drily.
"Mom, didn't you break a four foot high ceiling mirror over Dad's head when you caught him with your friend, Renee?"
"I did not! It was a three foot wall mirror, she was never really my friend, and the bimbo's name was Rhonda."
"Well, that makes a world of difference," Terri said, her eyes rolling. Her expression sobered, and she picked nervously at her sweater before adding, "It's not like it's a big secret or anything, but I don't want you to think I'm keeping things from you at this point. I've been staying with Dad in L.A."
"Aren't you going to ask about him?"
"No. But if you have a burning desire to unload, by all means go for it."
"He's okay. He's still the same old Dad." Terri fidgeted and tugged at the pendant she was wearing before continuing. "He's remarried."
"That's nice. I mean, it's nice you have a place to stay with L.A. being so expensive and all."
"Yeah. I'm still sort of hunting for a job."
"You moved to a new city without having a job to go to? What are you, crazy?"
"Hey," Terri replied defensively, "it's not like I moved across the country in an ice cream truck with no prospects. That is the height of insanity" she said, flashing the first truly happy smile Laverne had seen on her face in years. "By the way," Terri added, "it was great seeing Uncle Lenny again. He's porked out a bit. I wouldn't have recognized him if I hadn't heard his voice."
"Uncle Lenny. Here." Terri took in her mother's panicked face before continuing. "I ran into him in the parking lot. He gave me your room number so I wouldn't have to talk some mean lady in a bubble. I really didn't understand the last thing, though," she finished with a puzzled expression.
Laverne didn't even hear Terri's words.
Laverne caught her breath sharply when she woke up in the strange room. She blinked several times, trying to shake off her grogginess.
Then, she remembered. The blade. Her pain as she fell atop the hard stadium seats.
The hospital. The damn hospital where her mother died. The place where they wake you up every four hours only to give you a goddamn sleeping pill.
That's when she saw them.
A beautiful bouquet placed on the table at the foot of her bed, where she couldn't miss them.
It was at that moment when she realized that she wasn't alone in the room. She saw a shadow move out of the corner of her eye.
He was sitting in the visitor's chair, slumped over with his chin resting in the palm of his right hand. Staring at her, his blue eyes were unreadable.
"Len?" she asked, not really believing her eyes, even though Terri had said she'd seen him. The man in the chair beside her looked ten years older than the one who told her he was better off without her three weeks ago.
"What are you doing here?"
"Work," he stated, like one word would explain everything.
"How long have you been sitting there?"
"About an hour. Do you know you snore?"
"No, I don't!"
"Yeah. You do."
Their eyes met as neither one of them could keep up their flippant charade for too long.
"Len, I--I'm so sorry," she stammered, as tears welled up in her eyes.
"Sorry? Why should you be sorry? All you did was run out on me twenty three years ago and never tell me about my kid while you married some creep who put everyone you love in danger." He rose out of his chair and began to pace frantically as is face grew more red with each angry word, "Gee, Laverne, is that what you're sorry about," he asked sarcastically.
Unable to speak as the force of his accusations hit her, she nodded and allowed her tears to flow freely down her face. A moment later, a box of Kleenex landed ungently on the side of her bed.
Silently, she freed a tissue from the box and dabbed at her eyes, all the while trying to get her ragged breathing under control. She finally looked up into his eyes and saw the same cold anger there she had seen three weeks ago.
Can you blame him, she asked herself. He never even gave you a chance to tell him about Katie in California, how did you expect him to react now?
As if reading her thoughts, Lenny closed his eyes and exhaled sharply. He took several deep breaths and slowly counted to ten under his breath. "No," he murmured softly, as if only to himself, "I ain't gonna do this again." When his gaze met her's again, she was once reminded of how much older he looked. And tired.
"Laverne," he said, his voice shaking slightly, "I am angrier with you right now than I have ever been with anyone else, ever! But," he continued, "That don't matter. What matters is you almost died last night. Hell, you did die, for a little while, anyhow."
He looked away for a moment, as if he were trying to choose his words carefully for once, to speak with his head instead of his heart. "It felt great when I told you off back in L.A.," he said.
Damnit, she thought, as she felt her world cave in. Why did they have to bring me back just for this? It would have been kinder to let me go.
"But," he continued, as tears welled up in his eyes, "I felt like the lowest scumbag on earth five minutes later. I didn't think it was possible for me to feel any worse than I did that second, until I heard you got hurt last night. Losing you, again," he said, choking back a sob, "ain't something I can do."
"Len," was all she was able to say before he was sitting on her bed, his arms wrapped around her in a crushing bear hug. They stayed that way for several long moments, neither one speaking, but breathing as one as they held each other desperately. He smelled of chocolate, licorice, and Aqua Velva. Laverne wondered briefly how he was able to get his hands on Bosco and Sen Sen in this day and age, but let the thought go. For the first time in over twenty years, she truly felt safe.
It was too good to be true.
He broke away from their embrace abruptly. "Laverne, I've asked you twice before. I was planning on asking you after we spent the night together. I love you more than anything, or anyone in the world. We have a beautiful daughter we made that night, and I can't believe that it wasn't meant to be that way." Lenny took a deep breath, before tilting her chin up and looking into her eyes solemnly, "Laverne, will you marry me?"
Her breath caught in her throat, and she reached up to lovingly stroke his face.
Lenny Kosnoski awoke, his breath catching as he saw the empty expanse of the other side of his bed, instilling him with a feeling of abandonment.
Which, was quickly replaced by blow to the small of his back followed by muffled squawking.
"--can't breathe!" Laverne wheezed as she attempted to extricate herself from the crevice between the edge of the bed and the wall.
"Why were you on my side," Lenny whined, as he rolled himself away from her and squinted at the clock on their nightstand.
Eight o'clock in the morning.
On a Sunday, he groaned to himself.
"I was on your side," Laverne replied with a mock growl, all the while tickling his very sensitive rib cage, "because someone was sprawled across my side of the bed when I got in last night."
"I couldn't help it," he giggled, while trying to capture her tormenting fingers in his grasp, "I'm used to holding something on that side of the bed now, and last night all I had was your pillow."
"Not for long," he countered as he finally was able to grab her hands and pull her astride him.
"I'm on top," Laverne crowed, childish glee lighting up her face.
"Yeah, but I win either way," Lenny argued before pulling her down into a breathless kiss.
As their kiss broke, Laverne sighed as she burrowed against his chest.
"You and Terri have fun last night?" he asked. God, he could never get over the fact he got to wake up with her every morning. Laverne coming back to California was the best thing that had ever happened to them. Well, he amended mentally, as he remembered the way they christened their new apartment, one of the best things.
"We had a blast! She took me to a wonderful seafood place downtown that has the best calamari I've ever had."
"Calamari? Oh, squids, right?" At her nod, he wrinkled his face.
"Hey," she said, gently swatting his side, "don't knock it till you try it."
"Are you going to try a Bosco, lard, and taffy sandwich anytime soon?"
"No, and good point. Anyhow," she continued as she resumed her snuggling, "we had a great time. It wasn't as much mother-daughter fun, as it was two friends hanging out. We ain't never been that before. By the way," she said as she glanced up into his face, "you're a forty-two long, right?"
"Depends what you mean by long," he leered.
She groaned, then said, "Shirt size." At his puzzled look, she continued, "Terri wanted to buy you something. Y'know, as a thank you present." At his still puzzled countenence, she added, "For getting her that job at the studio?"
He snorted in disbelief. "All I done was hand her resume to the one hairdresser that hasn't thrown anything at me. Yet. Terri got the job on her own. They really like her work."
"Well, she's grateful to you anyhow. At least now she can move out of her Dad's and get her own place."
"Just glad to help."
"And speaking of thank you's," she whispered huskily as her hands began to roam his torso more aggressively, "Terri ain't the only new employee on the lot. I should thank you to."
"You can do that, anyday," he replied thickly before kissing her.
Although they could make it on his salary and the settlement Laverne collected from the lawyers at the Arena, retirement was not something she had embraced. Three weeks into their cohabitation, she was circling want ads in the Times and trying to set up interviews. Once again, life proved to be a circle.
She went back into security.
Unlike her previous job at the Arena, which involved frisking potential criminals for weapons, her new job at the studio consisted of waving people through the main gate and asking B-listers to move their cars. Laverne found it very dull.
He and Laverne were able to spend his previously miserable hour's commute together, they had lunch together daily, and she spent her breaks in the tiny office he shared with Squiggy.
It was just like the good old days back at Shotz. Better, in fact, since they were both enthusiastically trying to make up for the years they were separated.
He held her against him tightly, revelling in the feel of her. She had given him a new lease on life. He hadn't realized how long he had been sitting on the sidelines since that horrible morning he had woken up alone.
Those days were over, he reminded himself. They were together, forever, or as she put it, "shacking up for keeps". Try as he might, he still couldn't get her to marry him. As she put it, she loved him too much to make him part of the mostly horrible crowd of husbands she'd had. The longer they were together, the less important the piece of paper was to him as well. She had learned long before he did that marriage wasn't a safe hiding place from the world, and it didn't guarantee happiness or security.
All in all, it was for the best, he reasoned. Besides, he didn't think any of Laverne's kids would be too happy with yet another trip down the aisle.
He broke away from the kiss, as a lightbulb went off in his head.
"Mmm?" she moaned, with a questioning look upon her face.
"I forgot to tell you. Katie called last night."
"Katie?" All of Laverne's attention went immediately to that name. They had told their daughter the truth about her paternity two days after Laverne had been released from the hospital.
Katie's reactions were mixed, to say the least. While she was superficially relieved to find out she shared no bond, familial or otherwise, with Patrick O'Brien; she was having a hard time forgiving her mother for twenty three years of deception. The once close mother-daughter bond they had was damaged, perhaps irreparably. They were both trying to work things out. Unfortunately, that meant Laverne having to do the hardest thing a mother could do. Back off.
On the bright side for him, it was a helluva lot easier to talk Laverne into moving back to California. She had new interests, a new job, and old friends to look up to distract her from the rift between her and Katie.
It also gave her an opportunity to mend fences with Terri.
"What did Katie say?" she asked him breathlessly.
"She just called to say 'hi', but we ended up talking for nearly two hours. She was very happy that you were out with Terri," he added, seeing the minute bit of jealousy in Laverne's eyes. Lucky for him, Katie's anger towards Laverne didn't extend to him. They had called and emailed each other semi-regularly during the last six months. Laverne likened it to two timid little bunnies trying to get up the courage to nibble the same cabbage leaf. He didn't care. He wasn't about to do anything to endanger their tentative bonding.
"Was she really happy, Len, or just saying she was happy 'cause it's what she thought you'd want to hear?"
He rolled his eyes in exasperation. "She was happy, trust me. Anyway, she sends her love and she got the CDs I sent her last week. She's going to look through some of her poems and see if some of them would work as lyrics." He said, beaming.
Another wonderful thing happened when he and Laverne reconnected. He was finally inspired to start writing music again. The living room of their new apartment was mostly empty, the television and DVD player banished to the crowded bedroom where they battled for space with the new queen-sized bed. All that remained in the expanse between the bedroom and the kitchen was a sofa bed (for when one of Laverne's kids visited), a stool, and his battered acoustic guitar. In his dreams, he and Katie would co-write the next big hit. Suceed or fail, he reasoned, he'd get to spend time with his daughter.
Laverne grinned before replying, "I'm just glad she has someone besides Travis, who understands her writing. I really couldn't get into it."
Lenny's face darkened momentarily. "Oh yeah. Travis. It seems that they are officially going out with each other," he grumbled.
Supressing a smile, Laverne tightened her arms around his mid-section. "He's a nice guy. I liked him enough to hire him three years ago, didn't I?"
"Yeah, but you got awful taste in men," he said, before wincing when her fingers knotted into his flesh.
"He's a good guy," she insisted, "He adores her. If anyone ever messed with Katie, he'd tear their lungs out."
"Nuh-uh. That line starts behind me."
"You be sure to tell him that when we see them next month."
Lenny squirmed against her with a childlike glee she hadn't seen since Loretta was two. "I can't wait, Vernie! It's going to be great to see Katie again."
"Yeah, but remember, the real reason I'm going back is to see Loretta graduate. I know you're excited about Katie and all, but it's Loretta's big day, okay?"
"Okay," he mock grumbled. Then feeling a little guilty, he said, "Y'know, if you want to go back to Milwaukee earlier, to be there for Loretta's prom, I could rearrange a few things..."
She favored him with a withering look. "Between Aaron being a chaperone, and Shirley taking her dress shopping, I think she's had enough interference from the over forty-five crowd. The poor kid's head will be ready to explode as it is," Laverne said, softly chuckling.
"Are you okay with that?" At her confused expression, he elaborated, "Y'know, Shirley and Aaron dating? Each other," he clarified.
"I'm thrilled," she said, with sincerity shining out of her green eyes, "they have a lot of fun together, and they've both sounded happier the last few times I've talked to them than either one have sounded in ages."
"You don't think it's weird? I mean your best friend and your ex?"
Now it was Laverne's turn to roll her eyes at him. "Of course it's weird, Lenny! The best things in life are weird," she said, crawling atop him as she giggled, "you taught me that!"
"I did, didn't I?" His smile dropped a notch. "I really wish I could stay in bed with you all day, Vernie."
"What's stopping you," she asked coyly.
"I got to go in to work today."
"Work? On a Sunday?" she whined.
"Yeah. Squig has to meet with his lawyer and the immigration guys tomorrow afternoon, and I'm going for moral support."
"Squig's still in trouble with the INS?"
"Yeah. You think they would have dropped the charges when everyone found out Svetlana was really a guy, but..."
"Never mind. You're a good friend, you know that, don't you?"
"Am I still you're best guy friend?" He asked, in a childishly sing-song voice.
"That, and much more," she said as she kissed him soundly.
"I almost forgot!" He exclaimed, breaking the kiss and bounding across the bed to bureau. He opened the bottom drawer and pulled out a plastic bag with the words "Acme Video" printed on the front. "I got something for us to watch, Vernie."
"Len," she said, in a surprised tone, "did you rent us a dirty movie?"
"Better!" He whipped the DVD package out of the bag with a flourish. "Mothra!" He said, then added proudly with a raised eyebrow, "The director's cut."
Laverne reclined against the pillows by the headboard as she regarded the love of her life.
It didn't get any better than this, she realized, and marveled at the beauty of her new life.
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