Free To Be a Trend
By Missy

SERIES: Free to be a Trend



PART: 1 of 1

RATING:  PG-13 (Adult Thematic Material)


DISTRIBUTION: To Myself  so far; any other archives are welcome to ask, but disclaimers must be included, my email left intact. send a URL, and provide full disclaimers as well as credit me fully. Please inform me if you are going to submit my work to any sort of search engine.  Please do not submit my work to a search engine that picks out random sets of words and uses them as key words, such as "Google"


Please contact me in order for this story to be placed on an archive, or if you want know of a friend who would enjoy my works, please email me their address and I will mail them the stories, expressly for the purpose of link trading. MiSTiers are welcomed! Please do inform me that you'd like to do the MiSTing, however, and send me a copy of the finished product. I'd also love to archive any MiSTings that are made of my work!



SETTING IN TIMELINE: post-show canon

SPOILLER/SUMMARY: "Where Are You Going To Now That The Going's Gone?" (Sequel to Asunder and Oneida County)

NOTES: This is a sequel to Shotzette's sequel to "Oneida County", "Asunder".  All lyrics by Amy Ray.




"Where I come up, we share the mortar and the glue.  What we built together, we share that, too.  And the wind may come, and the rain may fall.  But we stand together, or we don't stand at all.  I said where are you going to now?  Now that the going's gone?" - Amy Ray, Rock N' Roll Heaven's Gates




Shirley Angelli shaded her eyes and stood sharp and tall as her height would allow, her weight balanced on the steel toes of her taupe chunk heels.   The mid afternoon sunlight was unforgiving as it cracked the fresh pavement on Saint Boltoph's Street, giving an extra punch to the scent of roasting hot dogs and fresh lemonade, mixing with body odors, perfumes, trees, flowers. 


She gave the card table she'd gussied up with a green cotton tablecloth a forlorn brush with an open palm, sending crumbs onto the curb.  Carefully, she replaced the cellophane cover over her chocolate chip cookies before sitting down in a blue-wrought folding chair  and winced as her rear end came in contact with a particular uncomfortable dent.  Her pain abated as her stomach bubbled, making the charred hotdogs the Fiorellos were grilling across the street tempting. Her position on the street - a block away from the main stage, near the very hub of the neighborhood - befitted her status as  Block Party Captain.  She wasn't allowed to leave her post, she scolded herself.  Stupid rule, but one she had made up herself.  The rest of the watch committee had been opposed, but Tori had spoken up...


Shirley felt tears well up in her eyes.  Damnit - two years had gone by.  When was she going to be able to bring Tori to mind without crying?  Never - that was what she was afraid of.


She picked up a Tollhouse cookie and took a large bite, trying to allow the chocolate to anesthetize her.  The sudden twang of a guitar at the bandstand nearly made her choke.  Oh yes, the other part of her duty - shutting up the activists using megaphones at the end of the block so the people clogging Saint Boltoph and West James could hear the concert.


Though she wore a grim face as she abandoned her post, inside she smiled - the yearly concert was also her suggestion, and since they'd added a bandstand a year ago it had brought in local bands and musicians from all over California.  Occasionally the big-wig politician or local celebrity would show up to rail beside the local citizens; her son had nearly had an aneurysm when she described to him casually that some fellow calling himself "Michael Stipe" had gotten onstage to jam with the Zox last year.  Sam had wanted to go to school in Houston - his loss, she thought pertly.


At the foot of Saint Boltoph, she paused to look up at the king-sized and hand-painted banner draped between two stoplight posts.  No matter how many times she saw it, her heart stopped.


Saint Boltoph's Day Block Party: Food Games Music Crafts To Benefit AMFAR:  All Welcome!


The "All Welcome" part of the sign had always been important to Tori.  She never wanted anyone to be left outside of the circle.


With a great deal of effort, Shirley composed herself and addressed the line of chanting activists who'd lined the street before her.  She knew all of the faces; the thread-sized red-headed boy with immense blue eyes and freckles at the corner of his lip, wearing a sandwich board announcing his belief that AIDS was a lie created by conservative demons in the government and passing out hand-copied pamphlets; nurses from the free clinic on Peach Street offering anonymous screenings; people from the tourism board passing out flyers giving directions to Columbus Park, where they were displaying the AIDS Memorial Quilt; the AVNCares booth.  "All right, people," she bellowed, her big voice always taking them by surprise.  "They're getting ready to start the concert." 


As always, the crowd was surprisingly obedient; they knew Shirley was in charge, and that she tried to keep things loose and civil.  They knew it was a mutually beneficial sort of relationship; no fights, no cops, and she would turn her head and allow them to smoke whatever it is they wanted to smoke and say whatever they wanted to say.  As long as they contributed to AMFAR she didn't care.


The boy in the sandwich board, of course, paid her no heed.  "Don't let them con you!  Take this - read about the AIDS lie!"


Shirley felt anger sizzle through her soul.  "AIDS," she snarled, "is not a lie."


He looked up at her with pot-saturated eyes.  "They want you to be afraid," he intoned.  "They need your fear to keep a generation in the closet!"


She stared at him in disbelief.  "I don't see anyone keeping me in the closet.  We're five miles from the biggest drag review in town!"


He suddenly lurched toward her.  "You're one of them!" he shouted.  She started searching her purse for her can of mase when a small but strong-looking hand clamped down on his shoulder.


A wildly familiar voice was attached to it.  "Leave the lady alone."


The protester looked up at her savior.  "Betrayer," he muttered, but let go of Shirley and walked away and up East James.  Shirley followed him with her eyes for much longer than necessary, because turning would require seeing him again.


He broke the ice.  "All these years later and you still don't know how to chase off muggers.  You gotta look 'em square in the eye and give 'em everything they ask for!"


She puffed herself up visibly.  "That's a dangerous proposition, Andrew," she allowed, falling back into their old rhythm, surprised at how good it felt.  She squeezed her huge floral tote bag close to her belly. "My keys are in here.  How else would I get home?" 


Cautiously, she spared him a look and was relieved to see he was the same old Squiggy, though a little grayer, with frown lines staining his forehead.  God bless him for never changing.  As she watched his face, Squiggy looked at her briefly, then away.  She had broken this man's heart, and it weighed still on her soul the same way their passion did.  "You look good for fifty-eight."


"Flatterer," she said conversationally.  "How have you been, Andrew?"


"Living," he said lightly. 


"All twenty-five years since we've been apart?"  she winced at her own intimate choice of words.


He shrugged.  "I got a job in Chatsworth," he explained.  "I write scripts for Paul Thomas."


She frowned.  "Paul Thomas; have I seen his films?"


"If you got cable."  She remained confused.  "But that ain't all I do," Squiggy said grandly.  "I just got back into the manger-erial game."


She couldn't stop herself from saying, "does it bark, bite or squeak?"


Squiggy pouted.  "What happened to your manners, Shirley Wilhelmini?  Don't say stuff like that about Len's kid!"


"Lenny has a child?"


"Yeah," he shuffled his feet.  "He and Laverne have - had - three.  But only one of 'em sings."


Had?  "How long have they been married?"  She winced at her assumption.


"Since '69.  'Course, by then they had to..."


She absorbed all of this information and, to her surprise, none of it hurt.  Not the way it had the first five years of her marriage to Walter, when all she could do was think of Laverne, all she could wonder was if Lenny was treating her right.  The voices got quieter the more she drank, she realized with a wince.  "I'm sorry I wasn't there."


Squiggy's eyes pierced her.  "You could have been."


No, Andrew.  I wasn't ready then.  But now..."Is their daughter singing tonight?"


"Yeah - she's on third, and that's why I'm here.  Lenny plays guitar and does backup.  They're kinda good."


"I'm glad you forgave him."  Squiggy's head came up and he glared at her.  "Laverne told me you weren't speaking to him, the last time we saw each other."  The time we walked out on each other.


"We didn't talk for a couple of years," he said.  She knew from the tone of his voice it was a long, boring year.  "Laverne asked me to come see them get married - me and her Pop and Missus D were the only people there."


Guilt twisted Shirley's heart.  "Is Laverne here tonight?"


Squiggy stood very still.  Then the old Squiggy, the one with a dirty gleam in his eye, leered at her.  "Why, you wanna play scissors under the band-ow!" he rubbed his shoulder as she tucked her hand in a ladylike way back into her pocket.


"I want to see Laverne," she remembered Tori's words about making the circle wide, and bringing everyone inside.  "I miss her," she admitted quietly - and admitted to herself, not in the way she thought she had.


He looked into her eyes - the old spark flickered in her heart.  She hadn't felt that in years...


"Okay," he said.  "Go hang out by the bandstand, I'll see what she says."




Shirley looked down at her hands-which carefully balance a tray of chocolate chip cookies - and wondered why she'd picked them up for this impulsive mission.  During her disappearance from the bake sale booth, half a cake and some turnovers had disappeared; she hid the rest in a cold pack under the table, placing a sign up explaining she'd be back in the next fifteen minutes.


What was she going to say?  What COULD she say?  Despite herself she tried to blend into her surroundings.  Her nervous attention pulled focus on the people around her - there wasn't a familiar face in the bunch. And there are more people this year, she realized sadly.  When she'd participated in her first AIDS fundraiser, there had been a hundred people marching with her.  In less than three years the number had swelled to several hundred, and now there seemed to be an infinite number of people walking the block wearing memorial ribbons.


She knew well the look of someone who had lost a loved one.  Sadness seemed to cloud their smiles, draw down the corners of their eyes like a clown in a funhouse mirror.  She saw it in the mirror every day.




Her head whipped around to catch sight of her ex-everything as she parted the crowd gathered by a mixing board. 


Shirley had replayed this moment in her mind over and over again.  Laverne would come to her, put her hand on her back and say I don't love Lenny.  I love you.  And there would be a kiss that melted the humiliation, the self-degradation, away.  But it had been years since she'd replayed this fantasy in her mind - and to her surprise the anticipatory tightness, the deep sensual tingling she felt when she'd always conjured it up was absent now; only a deep poignant regret filled her for the missed opportunities they'd had.


Laverne looked good; her hair was fire-engine red and her body clad in a heavy navy sweat suit.  Her eyes were luminous and bright green as she walked toward her.


The hug was satisfying and completely welcome.


Something amazing happened.  It was like touching a childhood boyfriend, the person you thought you were going to marry when you were eight.  Warmth and fondness filled her; but not lust, or loss, or even angst. 


Laverne gently forced their bodies apart.  She finally said, "how are you?"


"All right.  How have you been?"


She winced.  "How've you been is a loaded question nowadays," Laverne said quietly.  Shirley had been looking at her face, but her eyes drifted down guiltily toward her chest - and a round photo badge with the face of a blond-haired boy on it.  "I'm fine.  It doesn't matter how I feel."


"Oh Vernie," Shirley murmured.  "Your son."


She took a deep breath.  "Two years ago.  He went full-blown four years after they diagnosed him."


"I'm so sorry..."


"He was a nice boy," she winced.  "The one I named after my Pop.  They wouldn't let me bury him in the church..." she bit her lower lip.  "We didn't care if he was gay, Shirl.  We loved him."


"I understand."


Laverne gave her best friend a puzzled look.  "How?"


Shirley took a deep breath before delving in.  "I got my doctor," she began.  "His name was Walter.  He took me to San Diego and we settled there, and had three children; Sam, Shannon and Stephanie."  She pulled out her wallet and mutely showed Laverne the latest family picture she'd taken.


"Sounds like everything you ever wanted."


"For the first few years it was.  It was kind of like living in the inferno, only we'd put plastic over the flames."


"How long were you married?"


"Fifteen miserable years.  I started drinking during the tenth."




"I've been clean for ten more," she immediately corrected herself - what was it about this woman that always caused her to leave the worst impression?  "But I never would have stopped if I'd stayed with Walter."


"What happened?"


"I met Tori."


Laverne's eyebrow went up in mute surprise, but she made no rush to judgment so Shirley continued.


"She was working at Walter's hospital - in pediatrics.  My son Sam was running a high fever and I couldn't get in touch with Walter - she saved his life with ice baths."  Shirley's cheeks pinked.  "I always had a way of turning hero worship into love, didn't I?"


"Yeah," Laverne smiled.


"It all happened innocuously; a lunch date here and there.  One afternoon I was telling her about the time we were extras in a Troy Donahue film - getting into it.  She said I was beautiful when I laughed," Shirley shook her head.  "Poor Walter didn't stand a chance."  She didn't really see Laverne anymore; she was back with Tori and her soft blond hair, her bright black eyes that snapped whenever she laughed.  "Walter made the divorce as miserable for me as possible, but I didn't care, long as I had Tori with me.  She gave up her career in return, thanks to him.  He wouldn't let me see the kids until they were over sixteen - I don't talk to my girls, but Sam remembers me...Anyway, Tori and I moved to San Francisco, but even then we had to pretend we were roommates." despite herself, she blushed again.  " I stopped drinking and went to nursing school during the day - she supported me while I got on my feet.  Soon we were living openly as a couple.  It was a new time; after Stonewall.  Everyone was coming to the town and it was like paradise had come to earth; we even had a commitment ceremony, and I took her name...we worked together for pennies at a free clinic.  I never felt so useful, Vernie.'


"I really wanna meet her," Laverne smiled brightly.


Shirley's eyes closed.  "You can't."


"Shirl, are you still mad?"


"No.  Not anymore.  Vernie, Tori's dead.  She died two years ago of AIDS."


Her friend's arms were around her instantly.  "I'm so sorry."  As they held on, a sniffle came from Laverne. 


"What's the matter?"


"It's all my fault," Laverne whimpered.  "If all of that didn't happen back then, you wouldn'ta even met Walter."


"Vernie, I've come to believe that what happened between all of us was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me."




"If I had never met Walter, I would have had my children; and if I had never had my children I wouldn't have met the love of my life and had the ten best years of my life," Shirley smiled.  "It was a long road, but worth the bumps."


Laverne's eyes turned downcast.  "I though it was 'cause, yanno - you and me..."


There was no kind way to tell her that the love she'd had for this woman had tortured her for years, but had mutated under Tori's teachings.  It had turned out she'd known nothing of love.  A weight had come off of Shirley this day - they could be friends.  Things would never be as they were, but they could make peace with each other.  "You were right - I didn't do anything that night I didn't want to.  Or," she admitted guiltily, "because I wanted to keep Carmine."


Laverne stared at her incredulously.  "All of this was because of Carmine?"


"I needed to change to keep him.  But he wasn't worth changing for." 


Laverne's confession came abruptly.  "I always thought God took Frank to punish me for all of this."


Shirley's arms tightened around her friend.  "That's not the God I believe in."


Her old crush looked deep into Shirley's eyes.  "Do you think we can ever be friends again?"


"I would love that."


Excitement filled Laverne's features.  "After the concert, we could go to Friendlys and have shakes and Coke floats..."


That sounded safe.  "I'd love that.  Really."


"Mama?" they both looked up, and to the stage.  A girl with a head of red curls approached them - and blue eyes, Shirley noticed.  She wore a navy sarong and a tattered baby doll tee-shirt promoting the band "Hole" - bare toes peeping out from beneath both as she walked.


"Wha?" Laverne whined.  Shirley grinned; she was home.


"Dad says he needs the extra string you packed."


Laverne reached into the pocket of her sweatpants and pulled out a curled stack of wire.  "Let me know if that's enough."


The girl nodded thoughtfully, but had turned to look at Shirley.  "I'm sorry if I interrupted."


"This is - was my best friend," Laverne smiled.  "Shirley, this is Janis."


"Hello," Shirley mumbled, taken by the girls' eyes - wide as her mother's, blue as her father's. 


"Mom," the girl rolled her eyes.  "I told you to stop calling me that."


Laverne rolled her eyes.  "Right.  Okay, Billie - take those back to your Pop."


"Billie?" Shirley asked when they were alone.


Laverne watched her daughter as she nearly skipped offstage and began chatting with her father, who was busy fiddling with a cheap-looking electric guitar.  "Her full name is Janis Willhelmina Kosnowski."


A tear came to Shirley's eyes.  "You never forgot me."


"You were my best friend, Shirl.  Just 'cause I did something stupid that don't stop being true."


"I never forgot you, either."


Laverne gave her friend another squeeze.  "I'll wait for you at the foot of East James," Laverne said casually.


"How did you know about East James?"


"I live on West James!"  Laverne called, rushing across the stage and taking her place beside her husband.  Shirley drifted back to her booth, amazed; they had been living just blocks apart for the past ten years.




Back at her booth, Shirley found herself serving a line of booth workers.  The sun was setting far in the east, and music wafted over the audience.  Shirley could make out the first mangled notes of "Save The Country".


"It's been years since I heard that one," she muttered to herself. 


"Me too."


She looked up and nearly fell out of her chair when she locked eyes with Carmine Ragusa.


He had aged fairly well, she thought to herself.  His afro was thinning out a little, and he had a big walrus mustache and had gained a gut, but otherwise he looked pretty good.  "Hi." she offered meekly.


His eyes were shiny with fondness.  "How are you?" he asked.


"Laverne just  asked me that," she smiled.


His eyes widened.  "Laverne's here?"


"Her daughter's playing the festival," Shirley said.  "Her daughter Janis, who has a nose piercing."


Carmine grinned, the old memories apparently returning to him, too.  "Christ, Shirley, how's it going?"


Now she laughed.  "I'm okay."


"What do you do?"


"I'm a nurse; I work at the free clinic near Columbus Street.   Are you still acting?"


He winced.  "I was, up until a couple of years ago."


"You stopped acting?" she eyed him judiciously, and though he looked a little thin to her eye it wasn't too bad.   "Why in the world would you stop?  You were wonderful..."


He winced, as if he were used to this line of questioning.  "It's not the kind of acting you can do unless you're a hundred per cent healthy," he said, sounding vaguely embarrassed.


Confusion still marred her features.  "Are you..." realization dawned on her; she'd been through this conversation too many times in recent years, as she'd tested panicked personnel from the Valley.  "Oh, Carmine..."


He managed a pale version of his shit-eating grin.  "I'm managing it.  My doc put me on a new cocktail two months's not paradise, but I'm alive.  And it's only HIV, not full-blown, so I should be grateful."


His voice told her he wasn't.  Her mouth moved before she could stop it.  "How did you - I'm sorry, that's a rude question..."


He winced.  "If I had a buck for every time someone asked me who gave it to me, I'd be a millionaire," he winced in self-condemnation.  "It could've been that Vivid shoot in San Pedro, or the Caballero shoot in Venice.  When you work both sides of the game, you say your prayers."


Shirley suddenly understood just what kind of movies he'd been working in.  "I meant how did you get into adult films," she blurted out, using her worst Lillian Feeney voice.


He shrugged.  "That time on Lenny's gutted me.  Our relationship went splat, and the only person I could look in the eye without wanting to jump out a window was Rhonda.  Turns out she was working the nudie reels down in the Valley, and she knew someone who could get me into black sock pictures..." he squirmed under her non-condemning gaze as he continued, "they liked what I could do better than anyone in Culver City.  So I got signed to a ten-picture deal with Falcon Pictures; I finished my first set in about two weeks," he continued to shrink down under her gaze.  "I lost track of the number of films I did.  The people I did it with.  I always tried to be professional, give 'em a good show - didn't leave any bruises..." he drifted off.  "Back then it was like you were really acting.  They had costumes and sets and you had to be a good enough actor to hold people's attention between the 'action'," he added, trying to make himself sound professional.  "By the 70's, I was clearing millions.  I had a little red Cadillac and too much cocaine...Sorry, you ain't my therapist.  Anyway, I got clean, and I met my boyfriend in rehab.  I'm here working the AVNCares booth, actually, but he supports us.  I'm finally a kept man!"


She felt a wave of pleasure for him.  "Is he here?"


"Yeah - I think you're gonna laugh," he cupped a hand around his mouth, yelling to be heard over the music. "Baby!!"


Shirley was mildly amused to see Sonny Saint Jacques, his hair tinted slightly grey but otherwise unchanged, trundle up to Carmine.  "You made me lose my place in the caramel apple line.  AGAIN."  His eyes filled with delight as they rested on her.  "Shirley Feeney?!" she found herself swept up in a bear hug.  "I don't believe it!"


"Shirley Angelli now.  You look good, Sonny," she said lightly.


"He keeps me young," Sonny said lightly.  His eyes fell momentarily to her breasts.  "Oh honey, I'm sorry."


She touched the badge she wore, bearing Tori's face and the dates of her birth and death; it was such a regular part of her uniform that she never remembered wearing it anymore.  When she met Carmine's eyes she saw horror and realized he thought he'd turned her gay.  She barely stifled a laugh.  "Bless you.  She was my life."


Sonny looked at Carmine.  "I know that feeling, and," he teased her gently.  "I think you know what it's like to feel that way about Carmine."


She wondered suddenly if Carmine had told Sonny about their wild, long-ago night, but she realized he was talking about love.    Shirley couldn't help but laugh.  "I think the two of us knows everything there is to know about Carmine.  Like his tendency to drink apple juice straight out of the bottle and put it back...."


"....And the way he has to eat everything alphabetically..."


"And the fact that he's still wearing Lucile Lockwash's husband's suits," they said together, looking Carmine up and down.


Carmine blushed, but took their ribbing in good nature.  "Wanna see my bald spot?"


"As the hat says, it's a solar panel for a sex machine," Sonny continued.  He wore a wan smile that suggested he had been deprived of that sex machine for obvious reasons.


"Don't tell Lenny and Squiggy that - they'll believe it," Shirley teased.


"Lenny and Squiggy are here, too?" Sonny gaped.  "I saw Laverne with her kid down by the popcorn cart - they say hey," he told Carmine.


Carmine went a little white. "Don't tell Len I'm here.  I still owe him a free punch, and I just ate two hot dogs and a thing of nachos."


"Yanno, you guys were always as thick as thieves," Sonny mused.  "I dunno what happened to drive you all in different directions."


Shirley and Carmine traded looks.  "It was stupid," Carmine said.


"And not worth going over," she added.


"But it's over now," Carmine finished.


"Yep," Shirley smiled.  He smiled back, and it filled her heart up with joy.


"And we DO see Squiggy when he stops by the studio," Carmine reminded him. 


"Who do you think edits his scripts?" Sonny winced, but then he said to Shirley, "make sure you give him your address!  We do Christmas cards every year.  Us and the dogs."


She dug into her purse and handed Carmine a small card she'd ordered from a catalog.  He read her address and smiled.  "I love it; it has kittens."


Shirley laughed.  "You know I always loved cats."


He slipped it into the front pocket of his suit, then took her into his arms once more.  "I'm sorry," he whispered in her ear.  "I wanted to call you a million times afterwards, but I couldn't make myself face you."


"It's okay."


"I didn't want things to end that way.  You deserved better."


"You do, too - but I think you've got it right."


He hugged her a little tighter.  "I do."


They separated and studied each other fondly.  "Do you think you could meet me at the Friendly's on East James?  Laverne's bringing her family for sundaes..."


Carmine squared his shoulders; he seemed to pause, and Shirley knew he was weighing the worth of seeing Lenny again after all of those years.  "I'll ask Sonny.  We might be meeting our personal trainer after..."


"Eh, forget him," Sonny said merrily, locking his hand into Carmine's.  "We'll be there."


Shirley saw mild anxiety on Carmine's face; it was almost instantly soothed as he touched his boyfriend.  They were beautiful together in a way that was right, loving.  She remembered that Carmine hated holding her hand in public as they blended into the crowd. 




As usual Shirley sat alone on the steps of her apartment building, 44 and 1/2 Saint Boltoph's Street, to listen to the bands play.  The summer heat had dimmed now, and the loose covering of her skirt and tee shirt felt comfortable and consoling.  She cheered as Janis was brought to the stage and she studied Lenny as he plugged in his amp.


The years hadn't aged Laverne as severely as Lenny, Shirley thought;  he had sort of a grandmotherly doughtiness going on.  His black Iron Maiden tee-shirt camouflaged his middle-aged spread pretty well, and the blue of his eyes firmly marked him as the Lenny she remembered.


As Janis began to sing, Shirley thought she was aptly named; her voice had a sharp blueswoman's wail that probably came directly from her mother's pitched whining.  They broke into "Got a Revolution!" and Shirley was forced to sing along as she had as a baby hippie back in the suburbs.  Heaven knew, revolutions didn't just spring up out of nowhere...




She looked down to see Squiggy watching her at the foot of the stairs.  "Come on up," she smiled, and he ambled up and sat down beside her.  They watched Lenny and his daughter sing.  "They're not bad," Shirley said when they concluded the first number.


Squiggy continued to watch the stage.  "The lighting's off.  Those're supposed to be gold spotlights..."


She eyed him.  "You always were one for details, Andrew."


He shook his head.  "Talent ain't the only thing that sells an act.  You gotta raspberry-mataz 'em.  Otherwise, they ain't gonna remember your name when they get home."


"I suppose so - but you know show business isn't my home turf."


"Yeah," he snickered, apparently remembering the millions of disastrous attempts she and Laverne had made to get into the movies, not to mention the Shotz Talent Shows they'd all been through together.  "Len told me you're a nurse."


"I am."


"That figures - you always liked taking care of people."  The implied made him harrumph and look away, but it barely bothered her. 


"And-Squiggy," she said softly, "I'm sorry."


"Why?" he asked the wall.


"Because I hurt you."


He stiffened under her gaze.  "Hurt me?  No one hurts Andrew Squiggman."


"But I did.  You moved all the way across town and into Rhonda's building..."


"How did you know about that?"


She winced.  "Rhonda sent me a postcard a few weeks after she moved in to thank me for the party.  She mentioned you were living downstairs from her."


"She moved a couple of weeks after that.  I can't blame her; that place didn't have no action.  But it was a great move, cause she invited me to her going-away party."


Shirley felt a mild stab of surprise, but indicated Squiggy should continue.


"One of the guys she knew someone who needed a script writer.  Me and Lenny sold them 'Cannibal Orgy Princesses' and the rest, as they say, is history."


"Cannibal Orgy you have a copy I could borrow?"


Squiggy's brow went up.  "That's the kinda stuff ladies shouldn't watch." But he added in a conspiratorial voice, "don't you got cable?"


"No," she laughed.  "Oh, Squiggy - I wish we hadn't stopped talking."


"Like I said," he repeated.  "you didn't pick me, Shirley."


"I'm sorry.  You know what kind of girl I was."


"You wasn't a bad girl," Squiggy said quickly.


"I know that now, but back then - I couldn't let myself consider you and me.  I couldn't even fathom what would happen between me and Tori might happen..." she showed him the badge on her chest before he could ask.  "I wanted a boring, normal fiancé and a boring, normal relationship.  To pretend nothing had happened between us at all."


Squiggy winced.  "You wouldn't be the first, woman."


Shirley frowned, wishing she could properly explain herself.  "I was the one at fault," she took a deep breath. "But you can feel better about it.  After all, I got paid back."


"I didn't want you to get pay-back," Squiggy said dully.


"But I did, because I was so slow to change in the right way.  And then I only got ten beautiful years with Tori before the accident."


Squiggy went quiet; he was good at listening to her, though she suspected he was re-running the latest issue of 'The Black Scorpion' in his mind.  "Just after we'd met, she and I had gone out drinking.  It was one of the rare nights Walter was willing to watch the children alone, so we went out dancing.  Back then, I was on a half-bottle a day habit, but I could function.  She didn't know I was drunk when she gave me her keys..." She shivered a little.  "I wrecked her car into a ditch; I was fine, but she needed two transfusions.  That was the only thing we could think of when she tested positive ten years later.  So you see, Andrew - I paid for hurting you.  I hurt myself and the woman I love because I had to drink to deny my true self."  Saying all of that out loud felt incredibly liberating to Shirley, but it apparently made Squiggy feel worse.


"Geez, Shirl; you been living the life of Foster Grant!"


She laughed, he glowered.  "I'm sorry, Squiggy.  I don't want you to feel bad about this anymore."


He looked at her warily.  "I don't feel bad.  That's your job."


She held out her hand, feeling the tingly suggestion of possibility.  There was a lot of 'maybe' in the air tonight.  "I'm meeting Lenny and Laverne and Billie and Carmine and Sonny down at the Friendlys on East James.  Can you come?" 


He stared at her warily.  "You gonna gimmie a little extra sugar with that?" he asked, puckering up.


She responded by putting out her hand.  "Slow down."


He did, and shrugged.


She left her hand out.  "Would you hold my hand?"


Her request amused and took him by surprise.  "No one's watching, right?"


"No, Andrew.  No one's watching."


His hand was hairy, small, and boned as a monkey's must be, little fingers sharp from playing the clarinet constantly.  But it fit perfectly into hers.


Down on the stage, Lenny and his daughter were singing together, and though she didn't know the words she hummed along:


"So here's to your survival.  Swimming up a stream.  Crossing over one dam after another until we get to rock n' roll heaven's gates..."