Weight Of The World
The Weight of the World
This is a work of fanfiction only, and is not intended to infringe upon any copyrights held by anybody anyhwere. This was written for laughs, not cash.
In response to Missy's "Pull of the Sun" Challenge.
The first sensation Laverne felt was warmth. Warmth and security. She was dimly aware of strong arms holding her and the gentle noise of another's breathing. Struggling against the embrace of her peaceful cocoon, she willed her self back to consciousness and clarity.
She opened her eyes, and smiled when she saw Lenny, sleeping peacefully against her, like a baby. She snuggled against him, enjoying the feeling of her skin rubbing against his, until she suddenly remembered the turn of events that led them both to her bed.
Laverne's heart sank, the tiny bit of warmth radiating from Lenny's flesh was no longer enough to keep her from shivering. A headache, born from last night's dehydration formed suddenly behind her left eye. She felt just as cold as she did last night, and just as alone.
Thought scurried through her ravaged mind like cockroaches. What should she do? Who should she call? What would Shirley want?
She didn't realize she was hyperventilating until Lenny's arms tightened around her. "I--" she began, but he shushed her and rocked her gently in his arms until her ragged breathing slowed. "Thanks," she managed to croak after several long minutes.
"Damn him," Lenny said, with unusual vehemence. At her puzzled look, he elaborated. "Walter. For sending you a telegram instead of calling you. Shirley-- the accident was last week. Why the hell did he wait so long?"
She shook her head weakly. "The phone service in the Phillippines is terrible, especially during the rainy season. Shirley wrote me that in her last letter, and said I would be hearing from her for a while." Something between a bitter laugh and a sob escaped her at the irony. "Walter probably tried to call and couldn't get through."
Lenny said nothing, and merely exhaled deeply as if he'd been holding his breath for hours.
She looked up at him quickly, "Does anyone else know?"
He shook his head. "Nah, when I picked up the crumpled telegram by the stoop, I came here right away." His blue eyes locked onto hers as he said, "I didn't want you to have to be alone."
She blushed, as better memories of last night returned. "Len--"
He shook his head again. "I ain't holding you to nothing you said last night, Vernie. I just didn't want you to be alone." His eyes widened suddenly, "You didn't think I came into your bedroom last night just to take advantage--"
"No!" She took a deep breath before repeating herself. "No, Lenny. You didn't do anything last night that I didn't all but beg you to do."
His grip on her relaxed slightly.
"I need to tell my Pop," she said, the idea coming out of nowhere. "Will you go with me?"
"Yeah, but we should both shower first."
She smiled sadly, "I'd like the company."
He surprised her by shaking his head. "Nah, I want to change my clothes," he said, indicating the rumpled cutoffs and tee shirt on her floor. "Besides," he added with resolve in his voice, "I gotta tell Squiggy."
Shame flooded Laverne. She was Shirley's best friend, but it hardly made her the only mourner. With all of his flash and bravura, deep down she knew that Squiggy had never really given up hope on Shirley. If Shirley's twelve years on and off with Carmine didn't deter him, a nine month marriage to a guy he only met once sure wouldn't.
She moaned aloud and pressed her hand to her throbbing temples. Another person to call and hurt. She sat like that for a few minutes with her eyes closed, the only sound in the room being Lenny dressing. She felt a gentle kiss on the top of her head and a reassuring squeeze on her shoulder; yet when she looked up, he had left.
Laverne sighed, then stumbled into the bathroom to throw some cold water on her tired and puffy face. Wrapping herself in her heavy chenille robe, a garment she hadn't put on since moving to sunny California, she slowly walked into her living room.
The number she needed was scrawled on the inside of their address book in Shirley's handwriting. Shirley's mother in San Diego. On a good day, Lillian Feeney was one of the last people Laverne wanted to speak to. On a day like this...
If only all of Shirley's brothers and her father weren't out at sea! Then again, if they stayed in one place, or in touch with Shirley; they wouldn't be Feeneys.
Swallowing her bitterness, Laverne began to dial.
She was curled up, crying on the couch when Lenny walked through the front door, a shell shocked Squiggy in tow. Lenny immediately ran over too her and took her into his arms.
"It was awful!" she sobbed into his chest. "Walter sent Mrs. Feeney a telegram too, and she can't reach Shirley's father or any of her brothers.
Lenny wasn't surprised, but said nothing. Not all of us were lucky enough to have a pop like your's, Laverne, he thought. Glancing out of the corner of his eye, he saw Squiggy, still standing awkwardly in the middle of the floor.
"Squig." No response. "Squig!"
The smaller man shook his head, as if to clear his vision before looking at his best friend.
"Get Laverne a glass of water. A clean one!" he added.
For once in his life, Andrew Squiggman quietly did as he was told.
Between gulps of water and hiccups, Laverne told them that Shirley's mother was going to take the bus up to Camp Pendleton, the Army base where they were burying her best friend in three days. Walter and Shirley's body were due to arrive in California tomorrow.
Lenny stood up and began to pace around the living room. He tried to concentrate on songs he had written, his favorite Godzilla movie, the Heckle and Jeckle cartoon he had seen yesterday. Anything not to have to dwell on the imagery Laverne's words inspired. "Laverne, why don't you go upstairs and get yourself changed. Then we can go see your father."
She walked past him on her way to the stairs, reaching out for his hand and squeezing it before going upstairs.
He watched her ascend, his gaze filled with concern instead of it's customary oggling of her backside.
When he turned around, Squiggy was looking at him with a hard look in his dark eyes. "I guess it was a good thing you didn't leave her alone last night, her losing her best friend and all," Squiggy said, a challenge in his voice.
Lenny's gaze never wavered. "I stayed on the couch," he said flatly, in a tone that closed the matter once and for all. Lenny closed his eyes and forced himself to breathe normally and then counted to ten. Giving Squiggy a grim smile, he then said, "No one's told Rhonda yet. Maybe you should go next door and do that so she don't hear it on the streets." Wordlessly Squiggy nodded, then left as if in a daze.
Lenny then sat down on the couch, pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket and began to dial.
One long, hot shower and three outfit changes later, Laverne walked down stairs.
"If you don't come, you are dead to me, Carmine Ragusa! Y'hear me? Dead!"
Lenny hung up the phone loudly before he began to pace around the living room, arms waving and eyes flashing angrily. "That bum! He ain't coming to the funeral, Laverne! Can you believe it?"
"Lenny," she replied gently, "he's all the way in New York. It would take him nearly a week on the bus, and you know he can't afford to come any other way."
"It don't matter! He should be here. Be with her!"
"Why'd you call him, Len?"
"So you wouldn't hafta! All of this is falling on you! Telling Shirley's Mom, your Pop... It ain't fair that you have to do it all when you're the one hurting the most, Laverne!"
"None of this is fair, Lenny," she said gently, reaching up to stroke his tear stained face. "It ain't fair that the taxi Shirley was in was hit by a bus. It ain't fair that they couldn't get her to the hospital at the army base in time to save her. It ain't fair that all of us are hurting so much, but we are."
"It's his fault," Lenny sniffled, burying his face in his hands.
"Carmine's! If he'd married Shirley, she wouldn't have met Walter, and she wouldn't have gone to no Phillipines and died!"
She smiled sadly and embraced him, feeling him snuffle against her neck as he clutched her desperately in his arms. "It's just as much my fault as it is Carmine's, Len."
He jumped back, shock written all over his wet face. "It ain't your fault, Vernie!"
"Oh yeah? If my Pop hadn't moved out here, and we didn't know we'd have waitressing jobs lined up for us, Shirley and I never would have moved here." She looked at him defiantly. "So, if you're gonna blame Carmine, you gotta blame me, too."
He shook his head vigorously, then returned to sobbing onto her shoulder. She stroked his head, and his back, and prayed that they would all get through it together, somehow.
Three Days Later
The chapel at Camp Pendleton was as cold and utilitarian as the chaplain who led the funeral service. It rankled Laverne to see her best friend's life summed up in twenty minutes. "New bride of Captain Meaney... Seven months along with child...Co-Chair of the Manila Children's Outreach Program..."
Shirley had been so much more than that.
Laverne sighed heavily, as she continued to pat Lillian's hand, throwing the occassional "there, there" as needed. Shirley's mother barely bothered with the girl when she was living, and when she did make an appearance, the stress drove Shirley to anxiety attacks and nausea.
Laverne's heart twisted when she caught her Pop's eye on the other side of Mrs. Feeney. He, clutched her other hand, as his lips moved, silently saying the rosary in honor of his other daughter. Telling her father about Shirley had been the hardest. She was so glad Lenny had been with her. She hadn't seen her father cry so hard since her Mama had died.
Lenny's hand reached for hers and squeezed it as the chaplain droned on and on. Laverne saw her father's eyes glance at her and Lenny's intertwined hands. Before she could react, her father simply smiled at her and gave her a small nod of his head, as if in blessing.
Laverne's scanned the room for familiar faces. Walter sat across the aisle from her, an Army guy on each side of him as if they were propping him up. Squiggy, Edna, and Rhonda sat behind him; all looking like they didn't understand a word coming out of the chaplain's mouth.
Who the hell does? None of this made sense to Laverne. Her friend had been too bright of a light in this world to only be mourned by a handful of people and commemorated with a gaudy casket spray courtesy of Rosie Greenbaum and the other Debs. If only they'd had more time. She could have thrown together a wake, called more of their friends in Milwaukee in time for them to fly out, arranged to have the service in St. Paul's down the street. Anything to make it worthy of Shirley.
But, she reminded herself, those aren't my decisions to make anymore. They were Walter's. A guy who had known Shirley a little over a year.
Afterwards, Laverne downed some horrible punch, courtesy of the Ladies Auxilliary, as she watched her father lead Shirley's sobbing mother over to a couch in the reception area. Thank God, she thought, if anyone can help her through this, it's my Pop.
"Laverne," said an unfamiliar voice behind her.
She turned around to see a pale, thin, Walter Meaney.
"Walter," she said carefully, "I'm so sorry."
"We both are, Laverne. We both are. Can I see you alone for a moment?" he said, motioning to the empty chaplain's office.
She shrugged and followed him inside.
Walter closed the door, then turned to her. "I'm sorry, Laverne." At her puzzled look, he continued, "I'm sorry that I took Shirley with me. I knew it wasn't the safest of postings, but I took it anyhow. I wanted Shirley to stay with you, here, where it's safe," he broke off, his voice cracking, "I should have put my foot down, should have been more of a man, should have kept my wife and my baby safe..." He broke off as sobs racked him, and he leaned against the desk for support.
Ice ran down Laverne's spine as Walter gave voice to the accusations she'd held inside for three days. Hearing them however...made her realize how foolish they were. Putting her hand on his shoulder, she said steadily, the words surprising even here, "It ain't your fault, Walter."
"It ain't your fault," she repeated, imagining the look on Shirley's face if she had known her doctor husband was about as logical as Lenny in times of crisis. "Shirley was where she wanted to be, with the man she loved."
He shooke his head furiously, "No! I should have made her stay in the States. Plenty of military families have trial separations because of transfers. Keeping my wife safe--"
"Would have been impossible," Laverne finished for him. "Do you think that's what Shirley would have wanted? To raise the baby on her own, away from it's father? Do you think she married you to NOT spend time with you?"
"It doesn't matter, Laverne!"
"Yes it does! Shirley's father was never around when she was growing up. He was always out to sea, leaving Shirley, her mother, and her brothers all on their own. Oh sure," she said at Walter's horrified expression, "he sent money home. Shirley needed her father, not a check every month. She always swore she'd never been in that situation. I think it's why she always wanted to marry a doctor, they come home at night."
"I didn't know. Shirley never talked about her family much."
He shook his head. "She talked about you and your father all the time. And Lenny and Squiggy. And Carmine. And Shotz, the Pizza Bowl, and the Angora Debs. You were all of the parts of her life that were important." He smiled sheepishly, then looked at the floor, like a shy twelve year old. "After hearing about all the wild times, and fun, and interesting things you all have done together, I still can't believe she was ever attracted to a stick in the mud like me."
"Shirley talked about us?" Laverne was flabberghasted. Then again, Shirley had talked non stop about Walter to her. It was only logical to assume the reverse was true. "Shirley never thought you were a stick in the mud, Walter," Laverne said, smiling through her tears. "She thought you were kind, romantic, smart, and she used the word "adorable" a lot."
"Apparently. And, most important of all, she said you gave her goosebumps. That's the biggest truth of all, Walter. Shirley may have gone out with you because you were a doctor, but she married you because you gave her goosebumps."
Walter smiled, a smile that quickly trembled down into tears. "Oh, God! Laverne, I don't know how I'm going to go on without her."
"None of us do, Walter. When do you have to go back to Manila?"
"I'm not," he replied, shortly. "I asked for a transfer. I can't go back there. I see Shirley everywhere, and it just hurts too much. I report to Fort Bragg in North Carolina on Friday."
"You're not staying here?"
He shook his head. "Too many memories, Laverne. I can't go anywhere without remembering, that's the restaraunt I took her to on our first date, that's the dry cleaners she liked best, that's the movie theatre we made out in during "Mary Poppins".
"You two made out during "Mary Poppins"?"
He smiled shyly and nodded ever so slightly. His face quickly sobered, though. "Laverne, I know this is not the time to ask you this, and I'm sorry. Some of the other Army wives volunteered to pack up Shirley's things for me, since they knew I wasn't coming back. Would you like them to send them to you?"
Once again, Laverne surprised herself that day, "No, I wouldn't. Like you said, it would hurt too much."
"But I thought, perhaps you could wear her clothes..."
"Walter, I could, but I wouldn't. The chaplain said she was doing charity work, right?"
"Yes. Shirley was the co chair of the Manila Outreach program."
"Could the people she was trying to help use her clothes?"
"Laverne, they could use anything. Unfortunately, there's a lot of poverty in the Phillippines. Both Shirley and I were shocked to see how bad it truly was when we first arrived."
"Donate the clothes, then. It's what Shirley would have wanted."
"Thanks, Laverne. Shirley always said she had the best friend in the world."
"No, she didn't. I did," Laverne said, eyes misting up again. "Wait a second, Walter. I changed my mind. There's one thing I want."
"Boo Boo Kitty."
"Boo Boo Kitty?"
"Yeah. You know, Shirley's stuffed cat."
"Uh, I don't know if I can do that, Laverne."
Her eyes bugged out, "You want Boo Boo Kitty?"
"No! I couldn't stand the damn thing. Shirley had it in the bedroom with us on our wedding night. Do you know it's eyes follow you around?"
"I knew it! I always said that, but Shirley said it was all in my head! So, if you don't like Boo Boo Kitty, why can't I have it?"
"Well..." Walter said, his eyes darting nervously, "You know how Shirley loved that thing..."
"And, uh well, it's with her."
"You mean you--"
"Yes, I did. The chaplain didn't want to let me do it, but I insisted."
"You put Boo Boo Kitty in--"
"It's what she would have wanted, Laverne. At least, that's what I think." His eyes looked into her's searchingly, as if hunting for validation or atonement.
Laverne felt some of the horrible weight she'd been carrying for the last few days leave her soul. Smiling, she said to him, "Walter, you only knew Shirley for a little while. But, you really knew her. I mean, really," she said, squeezing his damp hand for emphasis.
He surprised her by enveloping her in a fierce hug. "I'm glad you approve," he whispered in her ear. "Now I know I made the right decision." He then stepped away from her.
"I ain't gonna see you after today, am I, Walter?"
He shook his head, his dark eyes never leaving hers. "No, Laverne. I don't think so."
"That's your choice. But, if you ever need anything, or anyone, call me. It's what Shirley would have wanted."
Lenny entered her apartment like he usually did, without knocking first.
Laverne looked up from the open refrigerator door. "Hey," she said, cautiously.
"Hey, yourself. i just wanted to see how you was doing. looked around for you after the service, but you'd already left."
"Yeah. After I talked to Walter, I just felt drained. My Pop and Edna were taking care of Shirley's mother, so I came home and went to bed.
Looking at Lenny questioningly, she asked, "If you were so worried, why didn't you come by last night to check upon me? It's not like it was out of your way."
He blushed slightly before replying. "I meant to, Laverne, but something else kind of came up."
"Oh." Her brow furrowed as an unfamiliar wave of jealousy suprised her. Stupid! It was just one night. Neither one of you was in your right mind. Besides, it's not like you've got any claim on him.
As if reading her mind, Lenny's blush deepened as he let out his usual guffaw. "It wasn't nothing like that, Vernie," he said, almost as an apology. "I called Carmine in New York last night."
"Len! You didn't call him long distance to yell at him, did you? You can't afford to be that angry with anyone!"
Lenny rolled his eyes, exasperation clearly written all over his face. "Laverne! I didn't call him to yell at him. I did that the other day. I called Carmine last night to..."
"To apologize," he mumbled.
"Don't get all mushy! I felt bad about what I said the other day. As awful as it's been the last few days, we had each other. I mean," he said, eyes dashing uncomfortably around the room, and his voice taking on a tremulous quality, "All of us had y'know, all of us. Poor Carmine's all alone in New York." His eyes grew bright as he continued, "We was on the phone for nearly two hours. Most of the time, Carmine just cried." Lenny let out a short, forced laugh. "I don't know how the hell I'm gonna pay for the call. The talent business has been a little slow lately. I'm sorta wondering if this might be Hollywood's last year," he babbled as his voice broke with a sob.
Laverne said nothing, but simply walkedover to him and put her arms around him. She held him for several long moments, understanding better than anyone how much physical contact meant, no matter how brief. She smiled as she felt his arms snake around her waist and draw her closer to him. Then abruptly, his arms released her and he stepped away.
"Sorry," he said, softly.
"I don't remember complaining, Len."
"You didn't. At least not, out loud. I know we, you and me," he clarified needlessly, "we was a one time thing."
Laverne opened her mouth, but he cut her off.
"I ain't complaining! I'm just grateful we had that night because...because," he said, in an almost defiant tone, "I meant what I said that night. I love you. I think I always have, and with my luck, I always will. I'm sorry," he said, as he turned around and headed towards the door, "I know that ain't what you want to hear."
Moving more quickly than she ever believed possible, Laverne was between Lenny and the door in a heartbeat. "Who said that ain't what I want to hear?"
"You did," he replied harshly, "back in Milwaukee, four years ago."
"Well, that's how I felt back then..."
"Now... I don't really know. I mean, the other night meant a lot to me. We were more than friends that night, and we know it. I don't know if I can describe what we are now, but it's different. Better." She reached out and touched his face before continuing. "I ain't in a position to offer much, or honestly promise you anything. And, what we might have is important enough to me, to take it slow--make sure it's right."
"You don't gotta promise me nothing." His face clouded over. "We both know that our lives can change in a second, without any warning. I don't wanna waste time worrying about things that will, or won't happen. Let's," he paused, as he took her hand into his, "just think about now. I mean, it's a beautiful day outside right now, and that kinda means a lot to me. Let's just go out and enjoy it, together."
She smiled as she took his hand. As they stepped out of her front door, she felt the weight of the world ease off of her heart.
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