Holiday Challenge 2006
This is only a work of fan fiction, written for grins and giggles, not dollars and cents. It is not intended to infringe upon anyone’s copyrights or intellectual properties.
Laverne knew she should be cold, but she was beyond feeling, beyond numbness. She looked out over the navy waves as they crashed against the boulders, tons of water slamming into unyielding rock. She shuddered slightly at a memory of Sonny telling her that he was going to teach Carmine to hang ten juxtaposed itself with darker, and more recent memories; making his light words chill her. Shoot the pier, fall off of a trapeze into a tiger’s cage, dive into a vat of Jell-o—nothing ever frightened him. Sonny never realized how close he always was to losing it all, or perhaps he didn’t care. He couldn’t sell insurance, and she couldn’t wait on the sidelines wondering if each stunt would be his last.
It had almost been an easy decision to leave a stuntman.
She wished that she had realized that baby-photographers were just as dangerous.
Laverne drew in a deep breath and willed the thoughts of the Malibu mansion away. Neither Sonny nor Carmine had been hurt surfing on that particular day; their only grief came at the hands of a bored biker gang intent on proving their own manliness. None of them were too worse for wear after the encounter.
They were lucky, she countered with her intellect. Life was all luck. If you had good luck, you were able to jump out of airplanes into the frozen wilderness, defeat transvestite mercenaries who would sell out Uncle Sam for a few dollars, and safely land 747s without any training.
If you had bad luck, you died young of cancer and left your husband and daughter behind, or you spent your fifth birthday waiting for your mother to return with your birthday candles. Bad luck makes the wind change and causes a flaming roof to collapse, it causes the car the in opposite lane crossed over the line and knock your car over the guard rail…
She blinked and realized the wetness on her face was no longer her tears, merely the salt spray of the pounding sea. Men love pounding, she remembered Edna telling Shirley before they left on their cruise of the great lakes. If Shirley had thought it through, she probably would have figured that was a sure way to get Ensign Gary Benson to propose to her after their whirlwind shipboard romance, instead of her leaving the cruise alone and depressed.
Laverne herself had very fond memories of that cruise, and the scads of young handsome sailors that she’d enjoyed during her idle time. Young, handsome, and they had only interested in one thing—which had made them perfect for her. No feelings, beyond hormones and camaraderie. No futures planned, which meant no painful endings. It was the perfect solution, she realized, albeit far too late. None of pain, loss, and grief that she was all too familiar with; just excitement, adrenaline, followed quickly by blessed relief and oblivion. No promises, and no lies.
The voice behind her didn’t startle her a bit. She was far too familiar with it, to the point that it some days seemed merely like a disturbing and occasionally saner echo of her own thoughts rather than it being part of another person.
“Hey,” she mumbled, never taking her gaze away from the indigo water and the charcoal skies. She felt the sand shift slightly under her buttocks as it was displaced by a heavier weight; and was surprised that she could hear the granules crunch against one another quietly while her ears roared with the sound of the surf.
“Have you been here long?”
She shrugged noncommittally, still staring fixed ahead. “I don’t know. What’s long?”
“It’s starting to get dark,” he said, as if small talk was appropriate under the circumstances.
“It’s been dark all day, Len. It’s kind of fitting, you know?”
“I’m talking late as in nearly night.”
“Oh.” She squinted and indeed the silver gray of the sky was turning into a darker shade of pewter.
“Are you hungry?”
She shook her head.
“Tired? Do you need a ride home? I brought the truck.”
“I took a bus here.” Actually, she’d taken three; switching off and on the various lines by rote. She was probably lucky that she didn’t end up in San Diego.
“I better give you a lift home, then,” he said, ever the bumbling guardian angel. “It ain’t safe to stand out at a bus stop alone at night these days.”
“I ain’t ready to go,” she said as an edge crept into her voice. A glance to her right gave her a quick glimpse of his good brown suit, and the bright blue Hawaiian shirt trying to escape out of the front of it.
“I don’t mind. I don’t gotta be nowhere.”
The story of his life, she thought, and then felt badly for doing so. “Thanks,” she said instead.
He gave her a lopsided half smile, not his usual bashful smile that seemed to be hers alone; nor was it the smug smirk that he affected when he was trying to live up—or down—to Squiggy’s ideals. The smile was sad, knowing what today was about, but making the effort to cheer her.
“How was it?” The words tumbled out of her mouth without bidding, and she braced herself for the answer that she didn’t want to hear.
“How was what?”
She sighed as her irritation returned. “The funeral.”
“It was a funeral,” he stated. “We was in a church, there was a coffin in the front, and a bunch of people crying.”
“You don’t have to be mean about it.”
“If you wanted to know, maybe you should have gone.” This time the edge was in his voice.
She shook her head.
He looked at her, confusion evident in his features. “We were all there, Laverne. Me, Carmine, Squig, your Pop…”
“That’s why I didn’t go. I’ve already been to that funeral, Lenny,” she said as she finally turned and looked at him dead on in the eye.
The wind seemed to go out of him and his long arm draped around her shoulders clumsily. “I know you have.”
She didn’t know if his words, or his touch was her undoing as the tears that had stopped hours ago returned. “I thought I could handle it, Len. Honest! I went to the viewing last night, didn’t I? I helped Michael’s roommate pick out a tie for him, didn’t I?” her voice rose in volume, and she hated her nasal whine.
“You’ve been a real trooper, Vernie. I don’t know how you got through all of it as well as you did, especially…”
“Especially since I’ve done it all before?”
He had the good grace to look chagrined. “Yeah. Sorry.”
She snuffled against the shiny sleeve of his suit jacket. “Was I right, Len? Was it just like Randy’s funeral?
He swallowed noisily before replying. “There weren’t no firemen or spotted dogs, but yeah, pretty much.”
“That’s what I was afraid of, Len,” she said, as her own salt tears began to wash the sea spray from her face. “Michael was coming over to my place the night he—he…”
“Vernie,” he implored, his voice shaking with emotion.
“We were going out, he said he had something important to ask me…”
“Oh, God…” His eyes locked with hers in dread as if he knew what her next words would be.
She laughed sloppily through her tears. “We used to joke about how it would be when we got married. Y’know, the ‘you can’t have the air conditioning on so high when we’re married, cause I’ll freeze’, and ‘maybe we can save up some cash and we can hop a cheap flight to Hawaii after the wedding’ sort of remarks. He just never really proposed. But he was gonna, I could tell. He was gonna propose to me that night.” Desperately, she clung to him, as further words were lost in sobs. Lenny just held her, and rocked her as the sky darkened to ink. “It was just like losing Randy all over again…”
“I’m sorry,” he whispered against the top of her head.
“I know,” she replied as she inhaled deeply; the scents of Sen-sen, licorice and Bosco smelling like safety to her as they had many times in the past. “Shirley doesn’t know.”
The arms around her tightened suddenly, with a strength that she didn’t expect. “You mean…”
“What could she do? She can’t fly home from Germany being nine months pregnant, and I can’t drop news on a pregnant woman like that. I’d never forgive myself if…” Laverne’s breath caught as the implications in her thoughts became too much.
“Shhhh… Don’t think like that. Shirley’s going to be okay—so is Baby Mummy. Walter will probably get transferred back to the states in a year or two, unless…”
He smiled at her too brightly. “Unless they like Germany so much that they want to stay for another tour. I mean, I know the Army don’t always send you where you want to go…”
“They’d come back,” Laverne answered into his chest as she pressed herself closer to him. “Shirley doesn’t like it.”
“She don’t like living in a fancy house with her doctor husband? Isn’t that what she always wanted?” Lenny asked, his voice once again closer to his normally dorky guffaw.
“The house isn’t all that fancy, Len. It’s old, and drafty, and is squat in the middle of an Army base. Shirley hasn’t made any new friends there, and Walter is on duty at the hospital all of the time. She’ll want to come back,” Laverne repeated, for her own benefit more than his. “I should tell her. She always thought Michael was a nice guy.”
“He was.” His last words had a ring of defeat to them.
Laverne smiled. “Thanks,” she said as she returned his embrace. “Not just for saying that, but for understanding. Me. This,” she said as she gestured lamely at the dark Pacific.
Lenny stuck his chin out with a defiant air. “Ain’t nobody got the right to tell you how to grieve, Laverne.”
“I know.” She looked at the dark water again as she thought of Michael with his bedroom eyes, crooked nose, cocky smirk, and goofy hair—who had she been kidding? She was done for the moment that she had met him. “It’s time to go, Len.”
“Whatever you say. Are you hungry?” he asked as he rose, brushing the grains of sand off of himself and on to her.
Her stomach rumbled it’s answer loudly, a noise that would have embarrassed her in front of anyone else.
His walrus-like laugh competed with the pounding surf. “I’ll take that as a ‘yes’. Cowboy Bill’s?”
She shook her head. “No. Somewhere where no one knows me, or will care.”
“L.A. is full of places like that,” Lenny said, as his mood seemed to sober again. “Why don’t we just drive around for a while until something catches your eye, okay?”
“Are you sure?” A tiny part of her felt guilty for taking his kindness, knowing that there were—and always had been—stronger feelings behind it.
He shrugged and rocked back on his heels. “Like I said, I don’t gotta be no where.”
Laverne smiled despite herself. He was her guardian angel, lopsided halo and all. “Yeah, you do. You had to be here tonight.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Are you coming?”
“Yeah, just give me a minute, okay?” He turned towards the dark waves, his back to her.
“All right.” She turned and saw his battered ice cream truck parked near the lone streetlight by the pier. After a day of grayness, she was surprised to find herself wanting to be closer to the light, the happy.
Lenny Kosnowski quickly glanced over his shoulder to make sure that Laverne was walking back to the pier, before turning back towards the ocean. He gazed for a long moment into the dark waves before he reached into the front pocket of his good trousers and withdrew a lighter. The piece of paper was still in the front pocket of his shirt, over his heart and weighing it down heavier over the sad events of the last week.
“I ain’t gonna leave you, Vernie,” he whispered as he shielded the small flame from the wind with his back. The orange brightness crept up the side of his draft card, burning faster than he’d thought possible, as if the elements themselves were blessing his choice. He dropped the paper to the ground as the fire singed the top of his fingers and stamped out the embers into the wet sand. “Not ever.”