Ghost of Christmas Past


Takes place in the AU hybrid universe where L&S meets BtVS. Only in fanfic, eh, people? Picks up a short time after Shotzette’s “The Conversation.”

Rating: PG (some language, moderate violence, some kissy-face)

All standard disclaimers apply


Laverne responded to the doorbell. She peered through the peephole, let out a sigh, and opened the door. “Trick or treating ended about two holidays ago,” she said. “Unless you’re going to try caroling this time?”


The vampire stared down at his shoes. “You think it’d help?”


“No.” She started to slam the door. He caught the edge and kept it from closing completely. He couldn’t cross the threshold himself, but apparently, he could reach inside to some small degree. “Carmine, please. What do you expect from Shirl already, huh?”


Carmine Ragusa – at least, the creature that used to be Carmine Ragusa – shook his head. “I don’t even know anymore.”


“She doesn’t want to talk to you. She doesn’t want to see you. She wants to forget you ever existed.” Laverne was tired of rattling off the same old litany. Vampires were apparently real slow on the uptake. Or was it only the ones cursed with a soul? The one great magical act she’d successfully accomplished. So far.


“I understand all that,” said Carmine. He looked so miserable. Laverne had to keep reminding herself that his unhappiness was the point. She had too much of her mother inside her. She had to learn to ignore that side, the one that wanted to reach out and offer comfort. She had to be more like Pop: stern, unwavering, not swayed by softer feelings that would only lead to getting hurt.


“Then why do you keep coming here? Go home, wherever that is now. Go hunt some rats for dinner, whatever. There’s nothing left for you here.”


“This is because I’m dead, right?” said Carmine. His dark eyes narrowed. “I didn’t choose to come back, Laverne.”


“No, but you sure as hell chose to go into a dark alley with some fanged bimbo, dint’cha?” Her father’s voice came out of her with surprising ease. It scared her a little. “You chose to kill, and you chose to stalk all of us, huh? Don’t act like your some poor innocent, downtrodden minority and we’re all a bunch of bigots, pal! You’re a vampire. Evil incarnate. So if you’re li’l feelings are hurt because your ex-girlfriend and ex-friends don’t want nothing more to do with you, well, tough…veins!”


Carmine’s eyes flashed. Laverne took an involuntary step back from the doorway. “Then she should kill me already!” He pounded the center of his chest with his fist. “Stake me, take me down, put us all out of my misery! Is that so hard?”


It is for Shirl, Laverne thought. Slayer or not, Shirley couldn’t bring herself to destroy what was left of the man she’d loved for almost two decades. Especially now that he had something of himself back inside, enough of something that he’d not killed another human being (that they knew of) since the curse took effect. Laverne wasn’t sure she agreed with Shirley’s decision to let him continue existing, but she understood.


“Of course it’s hard,” said Laverne. “For you, for her. For all of us.” Her mother’s voice, this time. Laverne felt tears sting the corners of her eyes. “Carmine, you know how hard it is, to see you walking around like…this?” She waved her hand at him. He lowered his eyes. Shame made his broad shoulders slump. “Shirl ain’t gonna finish you off. She’s not gonna forget what you’ve done, either.”


“I’ll never forget,” he whispered. “It’s shredding me inside. I can’t stop seeing. Feeling.”


A drop of red ran down his cheek. The sight of the bloody tear made Laverne’s stomach clench. Her mother’s kindness melted away. “Good.”


Carmine pressed his lips together tightly. He nodded. “I’m sorry I bothered you again, Laverne. Would you please tell Shirley…just tell her I said Merry Christmas.”


She was surprised saying the words didn’t cause him to burst into flames. “Don’t come back.” Laverne slammed the door shut, then leaned her back against it. She didn’t hear him leave. Then again, vampires were known to come and go quickly and quietly. Still, to be certain, she peered through the peephole again.


The hallway was empty.


“Quickly and quietly,” she murmured. “Silent but deadly.” She smirked. She’d have to remember to tell that one to Lenny. That’d crack him right up –


Her smile faded. That was the old Lenny, the blue collared illusion she’d scarcely tolerated, then befriended, then fell for…only to find out he never existed. This Lenny, the real Lenny, would probably just roll his eyes at her lowbrow attempt at humor.


God, but she missed her Lenny.


Laverne shook her head and went back to what she’d been doing before her undead old friend so rudely interrupted. She picked up another string of Christmas lights and slung them over the branches of the woefully undersized tree in the corner of the apartment. Shirl had said she’d pick out the tree a month ago, but had never gotten around to it. What with working all day, and training and slaying most of the night, how could Laverne blame her? So, without complaint, she’d simply gone out and gotten what was left on the lot. Shirley had given it the stink eye at first, but then put on a fake smile and praised it as a ‘determined little tree.’ She’d promised to help decorate it with so much tinsel, ornaments, and lights that it would look fat and full to anyone who saw it.


Yet here Laverne was, untangling lights and digging through boxes of chipped balls and figurines. Alone.


“Shirl gets to spend more time with Len than I ever did,” she complained to a Frosty the Snowman ornament with a broken pipe sticking out of his mouth. “They’re like the Dynamic Duo of the damned.” She sighed and hung the ornament on a drooping lower branch. “I guess that makes me Alfred. Poor Alfred, decorating the Bat Cave all alone.”


She felt petty for resenting Shirley’s time with Lenny. After all, the two of them weren’t bowling. They were ensuring that Shirl didn’t get her throat torn out by some dark creature. They were working together to keep innocent people safe. How could she begrudge that?


But she did. A whole heck of a lot.


It was time she did something about it.


Laverne went over to the light switch and flipped it on. The tree lit up briefly, blinked, then went out again.


Laverne stomped over to the strings of tiny bulbs and began investigating each one. She frowned. “This’ll take all night.” A thought crossed her mind. Something she’d found in her mother’s old book the other night. The book her father had finally, reluctantly, turned over to her as her mother had intended. As it had been passed from mother to daughter for ten generations.


A slow smile curved Laverne’s lips. “Wait here, I’ll be right back,” she told the tree. She jogged upstairs to retrieve the book.


She was so busy flipping through her mother’s book of spells on the way back downstairs, that she nearly tripped and rolled down the rest of the way. Catching herself, she flopped across the sofa, her finger holding the page she’d been looking for. The language was still tricky – a blend of Romany and Latin, with a little ancient Hebrew or Sumerian occasionally thrown in – but when she focused, it made sense. It was as if she were hearing the words in her head, whispered in her ear by some unseen, but tangible presence. She liked to think it was her mother’s spirit, but the words came to her without an identifiable voice pronouncing them.


“To Sort Out,” Laverne read aloud, automatically translating the text into English. “Well, that kinda sums it right up.” She glanced over at the tree, took a deep breath, and released it slowly. She looked back at the yellowed page and recited:


Objects alike,

Inseparate, intemperate,

One betrays,



The author hadn’t exactly been a poet. But usually, at least when it came to little things like this, the job got done. Which was more important than pretty prose, right?


The lights on the tree blazed to life again, all but one bulb in the center of the third string down. Laverne rejoiced in her time saving success, until she realized that the rest of the lights were getting brighter. And brighter. Something must’ve been off, either in her pronunciation or translation. She returned her attention to the book and frantically flipped pages. There had to be a counter-spell.


She heard something crackle. Then there was a pop. “Undo!” she shouted. “Cancel! Um…cut it out!” She waved her hand at the tree, so bright now that she couldn’t look directly at it. Damn it, was that smoke coming from the top? She was about to burn the whole place down.


Illuminatus descendum.” A voice, strong and sure, came from the entry.


The lights winked out at once. A few, thin plumes of smoke wafted into the air, but no other sign of potential flame up remained.


Laverne heaved a sigh of relief. She turned and gave the tall blond man framed in the doorway a grin – equal parts embarrassment and gratitude. “Thanks, Len.”


“You’re welcome.” He nodded toward the tree as he walked inside. “So, what’d that poor tree ever do to you?”


She sidled over to him. She wanted to run into his arms, but held back. She always held back these days. She didn’t like it, but she couldn’t stop herself. She contented herself by looking up at him through the veil of her eyelashes. “I was, uh, practicing. Witch. Stuff.” She winced. Maybe it didn’t sound as stupid as she thought it did.


Whatever Lenny’s opinion, he was kind enough to keep it to himself. He rubbed her shoulder and smiled, though his blue eyes narrowed in concern. “I didn’t realize you were so serious about studying the dark arts.”


“Well, you know.” She squirmed away and stared past him at the door. The heat from where his hand had briefly rested made her shoulder burn. “Shirl has her heritage. I’ve got mine.”


“That’s all fine and dandy, Laverne, but you must know that magic is nothing to be toyed with.” Lenny tried and failed to hold her gaze. “It can be very dangerous to learn it on your own.”

He thinks I’m an idiot. Laverne’s cheeks grew warm. “You ain’t…you’re not…telling me stuff…anything I don’t already know,” she said. She hated having to think about every word out of her mouth around Lenny. She felt judged. It was so much easier before, when they’d just talk, like regular people. They’d laugh and the conversation just rolled so naturally, back then.


Lenny put his hands on her shoulders. “I just don’t want you to get hurt,” he said. “You mean way too much to me.”


She melted. Leaning against his chest, Laverne said, “I know, and I’m sorry. But if I can get good at this.” She bit her inner lip.


“If you get good…then what?” His tone was gentle.


“Then I can help you. Shirl, I mean. You and Shirl.” She looked up into his eyes. Desire, affection warmed her core. She rubbed his arms. Even through the tan raincoat he wore against the unusually blustery California weather, she could feel how hard his arms were. Taut, strong. Protective. “Len, just think about it. If I can learn to use magic, really use it, not just screw around with Christmas lights or levitating stuff – “


“You’ve levitated objects?” His eyes widened.


“Well, a hairbrush. For like five seconds. Then it kind of fell in the toilet.” She grinned sheepishly at the memory. “But if I practice enough and get really good, then I could do some serious damage out there.”


Lenny’s brows knit. “How do you mean, exactly?”


She squeezed his arms, her excitement growing. “I could, you know, make fires. On purpose, I mean. Just wave my hand and poof! There goes a werewolf!” She nearly bounced, her thoughts racing faster than her mouth could express them. “Or I could, I don’t know, lob stakes through the air into a whole bunch of vamps at once. And what if Shirl gets hurt, I could abracadabra the wound away!”


She wondered how much of what she was saying was actually possible. There might be no limit to the kind of power she could tap into. Hell, if she really got that good, Shirl might be able to slack off patrolling, at least once in a while. Let the good witch of Burbank take care of the baddies every other night. And Len was a Watcher, full of all sorts of knowledge about magic. “You could teach me,” Laverne said. “You’ve studied all this,” she groped for the word, “arcane stuff. We could work together…!”


“No,” said Lenny.


Laverne hesitated. She wasn’t sure if she’d heard him right. “Huh?”


“No,” he repeated. “It’s out of the question.” He pulled away from her and folded his arms across his chest.


“But why…?”


“Because this is not a game!” He turned away from her, as if not seeing her made it easier for him to continue. “Laverne, the things out there are real. They’ve got teeth and fangs and some of them have powers you cannot even imagine. You act like patrolling is some sort of a…a lark, a fun new past time. Something we could do on a date instead of going to the movies. But it’s not, it’s a damned dark, dangerous business and one you are completely unprepared for.”


Laverne felt the heat inside of her transform from thrill to humiliation to rage. “Don’t you dare talk down to me,” she said, through gritted teeth. “I know it isn’t a game. I just want to help, that’s all. Why is it okay for Shirl and you to risk life and limb, and not me?”


“Because she’s the Slayer. It’s her destiny.”


“How do you know being a witch, a real, powerful witch, isn’t mine?”


Lenny’s breath caught. He kept his back to her. Finally, he turned back to face her. “Perhaps it is,” he said, “but it isn’t what I want for you.”


Wow, thought Laverne. So now he’s my father? Her fingers curled into fists at her side. “I decide what I want for me, Lenny. Got that?”

He squared his shoulders. “Not when it comes to this.”


“Excuse me?” She could hardly believe what she was hearing.


“I am the Watcher for this Slayer.” His tone reminded her of one of her old priests back in her church-going youth. The voice of God, the only one who knew right from wrong, and heaven help anyone in the pews who might disagree with his interpretation. “I decide what will help Shirley’s mission, and what might hinder it, and I act accordingly.”


“And you’ve decided I’m a hindrance.”




The ice in his voice doused the flame inside her. She felt cold, all emotion washed out of her, even fury. “Get out, Mr. Kosnowski.”




“Get. Out.” She jabbed her finger at the door, willed him to be gone.


The door flew open. It banged against the outside wall of the apartment. Lenny flinched.


Didn’t know I could do that, did you? Laverne thought, with some satisfaction. Of course, neither had she. She hadn’t even uttered a single magical word to make it happen.


“Fine,” said Lenny. His voice shook, whether from being startled or angry, Laverne couldn’t be sure. “Just remember, you can’t kill a vampire with a swinging door.” He spun around. His long trenchcoat flared out behind him, and the belt caught on the doorknob. He continued through the door until the tangled belt brought him up short. He nearly fell on his butt.


Laverne couldn’t help but stifle a chuckle as his dramatic exit was foiled. Lenny shot her a look of exasperation. He yanked his belt free, then turned and stomped off down the hallway.


“Have a nice trip!” she shouted, “See you next fall!” She glared at the door, willing it to shut. It stubbornly stayed open, inanimate. She muttered a couple choice words that would’ve given her old priest a stroke, strode over, and slammed the door shut the old fashioned way, with a smack of her hand.


“That self-righteous, judgmental, know-it-all prig!” She marched back to the sofa and dropped into it, arms wrapped around her. Her face burned with anger and disappointment. Who was he to tell her what she could and couldn’t do with her magic?


He doesn’t want you to risk your life, her mother’s voice whispered in her mind.


He could’ve just said that, she said to the voice.


He did.


Not so much. He told me I’m an incompetent nincompoop who doesn’t know what she’s getting into.


Ain’t that the truth? Her father’s voice now, as resigned to her shortcomings as the actual Frank DeFazio.


Maybe. But I’ll get better. I already am. She thought of the door slamming and a thrill shot down her spine.


Lucky shot, Pop’s voice snorted. Couldn’t do it when you meant to, couldja? Face facts, you’re no superhero, You’re just Laverne. Plain, ordinary, mostly-in-the-way Laverne.


“Shut up!” she shouted, hands pressed over her ears. Then she felt ridiculous, because even when she was scolding her imaginary father, she experienced guilt for talking back. Her hands dropped into her lap and she stared down at them. “I’m a dope. Of course Len doesn’t want me tagging along. I’m fine for some fun, but face it, only a dope would want anything more from someone like me.”


She used to think Lenny was that dope -- a big, goofy, adorable, warm-hearted dope. Honest, open to a fault. Not exactly bright, but street smart and sensitive. A hot tear squeezed its way out of her eye and dripped down her face, quickly followed by about a hundred of its closest friends. She buried her face in her hands. Rhonda was truly dead, and Carmine had sort of died. But the person she’d been mourning, the one she missed like she hadn’t missed anyone since her mother’s death, was Lenny Kosnowski.


Lenny and Carmine weren’t so different, when she considered it. Both of their real selves had died within days of each other. Yet both were still walking around, their bodies resurrected, but their minds, their selves forever changed. Strangers. Strangers without souls.


Laverne sat straight up, her hands once again falling to her sides. She blinked away her tears. “But Carmine has his soul again,” she said to the empty apartment. “I gave it back to him.” He was almost like his old self again, plus a whole lot of angst and guilt, but basically he was the original Carmine.


Why couldn’t she do the same for Lenny?


Laverne snatched her book off the sofa and stuck it in her lap. She sniffled and wiped at her eyes with her left hand while she frantically flipped pages with her right. Excitement made her breath come in short gasps, adding to her giddiness. Lenny wasn’t exactly minus a soul, but something was missing. The part of him he’d pretended at, the part that she’d fallen for. If she could get that back….


What are you thinking? Her mother’s voice, aghast. This is a human being you’re about to manipulate, not a string of Christmas lights!


And you screwed those up, remember? Pop’s voice, in full agreement that she was out of her mind.


She hesitated. What if she did screw up? What if she scrambled Len’s brain, or worse? Laverne’s shoulders slumped and she let the book slide off her lap onto the sofa cushion beside her. “You’re right,” she said to her imaginary parents. “What was I thinking?”


Her downcast eyes came to rest on the page to which the book had fallen open. It took her a moment to process the title at the top. Her heart thudded in her chest to a swing dance beat.


“To Restore a Lost Self,” she read. A smile twitched at the corners of her mouth. She glanced up at the cracked ceiling. “Thanks, Mom.”


She shoved her misgivings down deep inside and picked up the book again. She took several long, deep breaths, until her body felt warm. An electric tingle coursed over her skin, crackled her hair. She felt…strong. In control.




She focused her thoughts on Lenny, her Lenny. The man she still considered the real Lenny. She could see him in front of her, red satin Lone Wolf jacket over a white undershirt, ill-fitting jeans strapped around his waist with a cheap pleather belt, torn sneakers with laces trailing behind. His blond hair was slicked back with grease, Fifties-style, and his face – ah, that face – smiled with utter guilelessness. With the image fixed in her mind, the words of the spell flowed from her with ease:


Lost, but not forgotten,

Absent, but loved,

Return to me, as you once were,

My memory, my desire,

Be here.


The door to the apartment blew open again. The windows snapped up with such force that at least one cracked. The tree bowed dangerously low against the sudden, impossible gale. Laverne closed her eyes and basked in the surge of power. She laughed.


Abruptly, the whirlwind generated by her magic vanished. She opened her eyes and nodded. She snapped the book shut, then laid it reverentially on the side table. She caressed the cover. “If that didn’t do the job, nothing will,” she said.


It was nice to feel confident about something, for once in her life. This must be what her mother meant when she used to tell her that someday Laverne would come into her own. No stupid job, no amount of acceptance by others, not even the approval of her father could make her feel this good in her own skin.


“Goodbye, old sad sack, loser Laverne,” she whispered. “Hello, mistress of magic, self-reliant, powerful Laverne. Nice to finally know ya.”


She hopped off the sofa and headed out the door, whistling, “That Old Black Magic.” It was time to visit her new, old man.



“There you are!”


Laverne walked across the dining room of Cowboy Bill’s, over to the table where Lenny sat. She’d gone to his apartment, down to Carmine’s old apartment where he and Shirley often trained, then wandered around the corners of town Shirley most often patrolled. No Len, only a miffed Shirl, whom Laverne had interrupted mid-beheading of a Troika demon. Shirley had taken a moment to tell her that she hadn’t seen Lenny since earlier in the evening and that she would love to know where he’d disappeared to, as it wasn’t like him to blow off a live kill training session, and would Laverne please let Lenny know she did not appreciate his tardiness.


Laverne had simply nodded vigorously to all this, pointed out that Troika demons came in threes, then left while Shirley got back to swinging her axe at the dead demon’s pals. Their high-pitched death shrieks echoed behind Laverne as she jogged off to her father’s restaurant. At least Squiggy was likely to be there, and might have a clue where Len had gotten to.


Squiggy was there, sitting across from Lenny himself. As Laverne approached, her pulse throbbing with anticipation and not a little worry, Squig looked up and grinned. The expression didn’t quite reach his eyes, though, which reflected confusion and concern. “Oh, see, there she is,” he said, presumably to Lenny, although his eyes never left Laverne’s face. “I told ya she’d probably stop by.”


“Hey, Squig,” said Laverne, cautiously. She looked down into Lenny’s face. “Um, hello, Lenny.”


“Laverne!” Len leapt to his feet, knocking his chair to the floor. A broad smile split his face, his blue eyes wide. “Laverney, Laverne-o.” He play-punched her in the stomach a couple of times.


Oh, my God, oh, my God, she thought, it’s him! It’s really him!


“Uh…Len? How you doing?” She peered into his eyes, not even sure what she was searching for. “You feel okay?”


“I feel great!” he said, “don’t I look it?” He made a muscle with one arm, pushed the flesh of his bicep up higher with his other hand. He guffawed at his own joke.


“Oh, Len!” She flung herself against him, locked her arms around his waist. “I missed you so much!” A sob clogged her throat.


Lenny gave her a squeeze. “I didn’t know I was missing. But, hey, if this is what I get when I am, I’m gonna go away more often.”


She felt him lean over her shoulder and make a strange, but remembered noise. “Len?” she asked. “Are you biting your palm?”


“He is,” Squiggy confirmed. He sounded completely flummoxed. “You ain’t done that in, well, years.”


“Stupid idiot,” said Len. He shoved Laverne to the side. She nearly collided with the table. “We do that all the time. Y’know whenever we get some…or are about to.” He leered back at Laverne, then bit his palm again and moaned.

A forgotten, but familiar irritation surged through Laverne. “Cut that out!”


“Aw, now, don’t play all hard to get,” said Lenny. He jabbed a finger at her. “The days of you hoping to wear white to your wedding are long gone, sister.” He elbowed Squiggy in the shoulder. “Am I right, or am I righter?”


Laverne looked over at Squiggy, who at least had the decency to look shocked. “Uh, yeah, pal. Laverne, can I talk to you, private-like?”


Uh, oh. Squiggy knew something wasn’t right with Len. Well, of course he did, what did she expect? Lenny was Lenny again, the old Lenny, the way they all remembered him before his big reveal. Still, she didn’t think the change would be quite so glaringly obvious.


She followed Squiggy behind the counter of the restaurant. Squiggy glanced back at Lenny, who had become very interested in unscrewing the sugar shaker. Squig shook his head. “So, did you happen to notice that Lenny’s insane?” he asked.


“Well, I wouldn’t go that far.” She tried to laugh it off, but the sound came out wrong. More like choking.


“Oh, no?” Squiggy crossed his arms over his chest. “He comes home tonight, all mister prim-n-proper. Then all of a sudden, he shivers all over and sits right down in the middle of the floor. So’s I think he’s having a heart attack or some uppity fit like that. But no, he pops up again, throws off his fancy coat, and starts running around looking for his old Lone Wolf jacket. When I remind him that he gave it to the Goodwill a month ago, he gets all ticked off, then rips off his clothes and changes into one of my tee shirts and one of the last pairs of jeans he had left.”


So that’s why his shirt was so stretched so tight, Laverne thought. She looked back at Lenny, now pouring a mountain of sugar onto the middle of the table while giggling. Her stomach clenched.


“Then, he grabs me and says, all in his regular Milwaukee voice, that we should go find us a coupla broads and have a little party.” Squiggy sniffed. “Now, back before I got all mature and stuff, I’d’ve been all for that.”


“Yeah, you’re a regular professor, these days,” said Laverne.


He ignored her glaring sarcasm. “But when I remind him that he’s sorta spoken for, by you, not to mention busy with Shirley and slaying, he just shoves me and laughs and tells me to pull the broom handle out of my behind.” He shrugged. “So I go with him, figuring he got hit on the head by Shirl during training or something, and we wind up here. He’s been whistling at chicks all night, pouring beer down his pie shoot like he ain’t drunk since 1958, and generally acting –“


“Just like the old Lenny,” she finished for him.




She smiled. “Ain’t that kind of cool? I mean, you’ve said more than once that you missed Lenny being Lenny.”


Squiggy cocked his head to one side. “Yeah.” He studied her face. “But that Lenny wasn’t really real. He kinda made that clear, more’n once.”


“Well, he looks plenty real now.” Laverne looked back at Lenny. His tongue was sticking out of the side of his mouth as he struggled to carve his sugar mountain into a castle. He wet the pile with a little beer. When the sugar melted under the liquid, he said, “Awwww!” and kicked the table leg.


Squiggy continued to stare at her. Finally, he said, “You did something, didn’t you?”


She raised her eyebrows. “Who? Me? What could I have done?”

“I don’t know.” Squiggy wiggled his fingers at her. “Maybe a little hocus-pocus, hm? You been messing around with the cult?”


“You mean the occult. And no, of course not. I mean, I can hardly do anything, yet, you know that.” She hoped she sounded as innocent as she meant to.


“Ri-i-ight.” Squiggy gave her the slow nod of I-don’t-buy-it. “Well, whatever it is you didn’t do, I hope it doesn’t mess him up but good, forever.” He nodded in Len’s direction.


Before she could respond, Lenny had jumped over to the counter. “What you guys jawing about over here?” He grabbed Squiggy by the collar of his leather jacket and nearly yanked him across the counter. “You ain’t hitting on my woman, are you?”


“No, no, no!” Squiggy tried to tug himself free.


Laverne quickly reached up and unhooked Lenny’s fingers from Squiggy’s collar. No matter what he remembered or who he was now, Lenny still had the skills and training of an active Watcher. She didn’t want him to accidentally snap Squig’s neck. “Whoa, whoa there, big guy,” she said. “You know you’re the only one for me.”


Lenny let Squiggy go. The smaller man rocked back on his heels and shot Laverne a look of both gratitude and accusation. She swallowed and returned her attention to Lenny. “Why don’t you and me hit the town?” She smiled at Lenny, hoisted herself up and over the countertop.


Lenny caught her around the waist and lifted her down. He kept his arms around her after her feet touched the floor. “Sounds pretty good to me.” He buried his nose in her hair and sniffed mightily. “Mmmm, Prell.”


“Yeah. You always did have a sensitive…nose.” She patted his chest and looked back at Squiggy. “If you see Shirl, let her know Len’s okay. Tell her we’ll see her tomorrow morning.”


“Hey, hey!” said Lenny. He play-slapped Squiggy’s cheek. “Tomorrow morning, man, did’ya hear that?” He leaned closed to Squiggy and said in a whisper more than loud enough for her, and anyone else at the restaurant, to hear, “I’m gonna get me some tonight!”


Laverne grabbed a handful of his tee shirt and yanked. “Come on.”


As they headed for the door, Len looked back over his shoulder and raised his palm to his mouth. Laverne slapped it down, the old reflex springing back to life. Strangely, it didn’t make her feel as happily nostalgic as she thought it might. In fact, it didn’t make her happy at all.



“Aw, c’mon,” Lenny whined. “What’s wrong with this place?”


Laverne looked around the dive bar he’d pulled her into. “Besides that cycle gang at the bar and the drunk lying in his own vomit in the corner?”


“Yeah, besides them.” Lenny pulled her inside by the wrist, spun her toward a table, and let go. She stumbled into a chair. “I’ll get us a pitcher.” He dug his wallet out of his back pocket and flipped through several bills. His eyes went round. He shot her a glance, slapped the wallet shut, and shoved it back into his pants. “Uh, you got a coupla bucks to cover it?”


Laverne took a deep breath. She knew he had plenty of cash. Being a Watcher involved a generous stipend from the Council; he’d told her that more than once. And that wasn’t counting his family’s personal fortune. Yet here he was, shaking her down for her few dollars? “Yeah, sure,” she said, with a sigh. She pulled out her purse and handed him a five.


“Thanks, Vernie. I’ll pay ya back later. One way or the other.” He leered and strode over to the bar.


“I’ve created a monster,” Laverne muttered to herself.


Yeah, you did. Her father’s voice again, almost jolly for being proven right.


But isn’t this what you wanted? Her mother’s voice now, probing. Isn’t this the man you missed? Fun, easy – simple?


Simple, yes, but not a simpleton. Laverne watched Lenny wedge his way between two rotund bikers and pound on the bar for service. Had he really been like this? It had been awhile, but when she thought back on her Lenny…no. This man was closer to the guy she’d fallen for, similar, but something vital was missing. Folks, I think I might of screwed up, she thought. Again.


Lenny returned to the table and slammed down the pitcher. Beer sloshed over the top and foam dripped down the sides. “Drink up!” he said.


“You forgot the glasses.”


“Glasses?” He snorted. “Since when you get all Queen Elizabethy?” He hoisted the pitcher to his lips and chugged a quarter of it. He put it back down and slid it across the small, round table. “Your turn.”


Laverne closed her eyes briefly. “Thanks. You’re a gent.” She picked up the pitcher and took a large swig. She needed it, even if it was watered-down piss.


Lenny slapped the table. “Yeah, baby, drink up!” He walked his fingers across the table and took her hand. “It’ll help lube things up for, y’know, later.”


Laverne fought the urge to snatch her hand away. Instead, she put her other hand on top of his. Maybe he’s just getting his bearings, she reasoned. After all, the change had been abrupt. That had to be it, the guy just had to get his equilibrium back.


“Len, come on.” She smiled at him, putting all the love she felt for him behind the expression. “You don’t got to put on a tough-guy show for me. I like you fine, just the way you are.”


She expected him to duck his head, smile sheepishly, and give her a bunch of reasons why he wasn’t worth her notice. That’s what he’d always done, back before his big reveal. But this time, all he did was laugh. Flecks of beer-soaked spittle sprinkled her face. “This is how I am! What other way would I be?”


She pulled her hand away, wiped her face with her sleeve. “Len, cut it out. Can’t we just, you know, talk?”


He looked at her like she’d sprouted a second nose. Then he opened his mouth wide and nodded. “Ooooh, I get it now. You want some romancing before we do some…dancing.”


He reached over and caressed her with his fingertips. Her hair, her cheek. His expression transformed into one of kind concern. “What’s bothering you, Vernie?” he asked. “You need to tell me something?”


Finally! Hope surged anew, warmed her from head to foot. This was her Lenny, the man who’d helped her visit her mother’s grave all those years ago. The guy who’d won the chance to propose to her when she thought she was pregnant. The steadfast, fun and funny friend who always understood her. “Lenny, I’ve missed you so much,” she whispered. “I always knew you were still in there, that it wasn’t all just a show. This is you, the real you. I’m…I’m sorry.”


“For what?” he asked, still stroking her face. His fingers traveled down the side of her neck, leaving an electric tingle behind.


“Well.” She wasn’t sure how much he remembered about the past year, or how much she should let on. Swallowing, she went on. “Let’s just say I did some stuff that maybe wasn’t entirely my right to do, but I think it’s working out.”


“Oh, yeah? How’s that?”


“Well, you’re here. And you’re…you again. The real you. Well, maybe not the real real you.” She stopped and shook her head, hard. “I guess what I mean is that you’re the you I want, that I’ve wanted for a long time, and that’s all that matters.”

Her own words shocked her. Boy, was she really that selfish? So obsessed with her own desires that to hell with the rest? She’d taken away a man’s identity, literally remade him into the image of the guy she wanted without his awareness, or consent.


Kinda like that vampire did to Carmine. Her father’s voice accused, condemned.


Before her imaginary mother could leap to her defense – assuming she would have – Laverne was distracted by Lenny’s fingers wandering down past her collarbone and in between the buttons of her blouse. The tips brushed the top of her right breast. “There, there, I understand,” he said.


Laverne gasped and grabbed his wrist. She pulled his hand free, losing a button in the process. “The hell do you think you’re doing?” she cried. “We’re in public!”


It was then his eyes met hers again. The kindly look, the understanding set to his features, did not reach his eyes. They were bored. Distracted. My God, he’s humoring me! The realization chilled her to her very soul.


“I want to go home,” she said. It was hard to keep the grief out of her voice. She blinked back tears she refused to allow Lenny – this shallow ghost of Lenny – see.


“Now you’re talking!” He hopped up so fast his chair fell back.


Unfortunately, it fell back into one of the bikers’ girlfriends just as she was walking past. It landed on her toes, which were bare in her six-inch spiked heels. “Hey!” She picked up her foot and rubbed her pedicure.


“Aw, geeze, he’s sorry, miss,” said Laverne. She looked quickly over at the bikers at the bar, whose heads had swiveled in unison at the girl’s outcry. Eight sets of eyes landed on her and Lenny from high up on some very large heads. “It was an….”


“Watch where you’re going next time, chica,” said Lenny. He eyed the biker chick up and down and grinned lustfully. “Or at least have the decency to land in my lap.”


Laverne’s breath stopped in her throat. Was he trying to commit suicide?


The bikers sauntered over. The rest of the ratty patrons leapt out of their way and ran to either side of the bar, clearing the center of the floor until only Laverne, the biker chick, Lenny and eight large, leather-clad men remained.


Great. Now we die. Laverne’s fists clenched, an automatic reaction born of years of defending herself and friends at school. Still, she knew they didn’t have a chance against these big lummoxes in a physical fight. No, they had to talk their way out of this one.


“Apologize,” she hissed at Lenny. “Beg their forgiveness and let’s get out of here.”


“Yeah, like that’ll happen.” Lenny snorted.


“You just hurt Suzi,” stated the brawniest of the bikers. He cracked his knuckles and the sound echoed through the bar.


“He didn’t mean to,” Laverne said. She stepped between Lenny and the huge guy. “Really, it was a total accident.”


Lenny peered around her shoulder. “Yeah, man. Relax. What’re you, jealous or something?” He looked back at Suzi, who stood with her arms folded under her ample breasts, glaring. “I guess I’d be, too, if I had a piece like that.”


Laverne groaned.


“Oh, hey, not that you ain’t the hottest, Vernie,” Lenny quickly added. He grinned. It made her want to slap the stupid right off his face.


It seemed to have the same effect on the biker. He moved Laverne aside with a couple of fingers and loomed over Lenny. “And now you’ve insulted Suzi. That’s just not cool.”


The rest of his gang shook their heads and muttered their agreement. One began wrapping a chain around his hand. Another reached for a switchblade in his boot.


This was seriously out of hand. Even if Lenny were in his right mind, and able to use all his skills as a Watcher/Slayer trainer, these guys could cream his corn. And what was she supposed to do? Pummel their knees and hope they fell over cause they were laughing so hard?


Nope, fists wouldn’t do it. But she had other weapons, didn’t she?


“You want to take it outside, Ripper?” called the bartender. He polished a glass with a dirty rag. His expression revealed that he’d seen enough brawls in this bar that he didn’t even bother to duck and cover anymore.


“Sure, Sam. Pour me another tequila.” He grinned at Lenny, revealing rows of silver-filled teeth. “I’ll be right back.”


Lenny’s bravado vanished when Ripper’s hand landed on his shoulder. “Uh, okay,” he fumbled. “Y’know, I was just messing around, right? I mean, I didn’t mean nothing by nothing.”


Ripper propelled him backward toward a rear exit. Lenny had to dance on the tips of his toes to stay upright. “You ain’t too bright, are ya, dude?” Ripper said.


The other seven bikers plus Suzi followed Ripper and Lenny outside. Laverne jogged after them, searching her memory for some spell that might save his bacon. Lenny might be an asshole, but that was all her fault. She had to keep him alive long enough for her to fix it.


If only Shirl were here. She almost chuckled at the thought. It still took some getting used to, thinking of mousy little Shirley Feeney as a fighting dynamo.


They were in the back alley now, penned in on either side by brick walls. “Hey, if it’s about the girl thing, I can make it up to you,” Lenny said.


Ripper slammed him back against the brick wall. She saw Lenny’s eyes fill with pain and growing panic. Back in the day, it was Carmine she’d have run to for help. Golden Gloves champ of Milwaukee, Carmine wasn’t the biggest guy, but that always worked to his advantage. Opponents would underestimate him, and he’d take ‘em down. How many times had they fought off blockheads like this, side by side? Her heart ached for that Carmine, and she missed him in that moment nearly as much as she’d missed her Lenny.


“Take her!” Lenny nodded in her direction. Laverne looked behind her, but no one was there. With a sinking sensation in her stomach, she realized he did mean her. “She’s a fantastic lay, trust me. Then we’ll be square, right?”


He really is a monster. She hadn’t brought back her Lenny at all. She’d given life to a faulty memory, a false image, while hollowing out all the substance. Instead of returning Len’s soul as she had done Carmine’s, she’d driven it away.


“You gutless son of a bitch!” she shouted. All her rage, at herself as much as him, surged up and filled her. Despair and disappointment nearly blinded her. “You’re not Lenny Kosnowski! You’re just some thing I made, some horribly screwed up, empty, plastic doll of the real man!”


It was a good thing Shirley wasn’t there, or Carmine, or any of their other friends and family, though she desperately wished for their help. They’d be so ashamed to see what her magic had done. Her selfish short-sightedness had ruined the man she loved.


The bikers laughed and elbowed one another, enjoying her meltdown. Hot tears burned streaks through her makeup. I must be quite the beauty queen, she thought.


Ripper barely spared her a glance. “Thanks, but no thanks, pal. That bitch is messed up. Kinda like your face is gonna be.” He balled up a huge hand. Lenny shrank back against the wall and his hands flew up to shield his face from the impact.


Laverne screamed and closed her eyes. She couldn’t bear to watch, couldn’t think of what to do to stop it. The spells she knew fell away before she could properly recall all the words. Besides, she’d probably scramble them up and turn Lenny into a newt or blow them all up, or make some other, stupid blunder.


She heard an impact and flinched. But it was Ripper’s baritone cry that followed. She opened one eye, followed by the other. Then she stood there and blinked.


“Now, now,” said Carmine. He had Ripper’s wrist caught in his hand and was squeezing. The bones inside crackled like paper in a fireplace. Carmine nodded at Lenny, still cowering against the wall. “Does he really look like that much of a challenge?”


“Let…let go,” stammered Ripper. He looked down at Carmine, beady eyes wide with confusion.


“Ripper, just pound him,” said one of Ripper’s biker buddies. They were equally puzzled by their leader’s reaction to the much smaller Carmine.


“Yeah, quit messing around,” said another. He pulled out a lead pipe from under his jacket and ran over. “I got a beer getting warm inside.” He arrived at Ripper’s side and swung at Carmine.


Carmine spun around, forced Ripper in front of him. The lead pipe cracked against Ripper’s ribs and the huge guy doubled over. Before his stunned buddy could register what had happened, Carmine grabbed him by the front of his shirt and pulled. Lead Pipe’s face collided with Carmine’s raised knee. The biker’s nose shattered. He dropped to the ground, unmoving.


The rest of the gang backed up, shock warring with fear and anger. Carmine reached down, dragged his forefinger through the blood pooling next to the unconscious Lead Pipe’s face, and licked it off like chocolate syrup. “Mmmm,” he said, eyes glowing faintly red in the strong moonlight. “Beer. With a tequila chaser. Very nice.”


Ripper let out a roar and dove at Carmine, who moved so fast all Laverne’s eyes registered was a blur. One moment he was there, the next, he was behind Ripper, his hand on Ripper’s jacket collar. Carmine yanked the large man back and off his feet, slammed him into the concrete. Ripper cried out, once, before Carmine’s fist busted his jaw. He was nice and quiet after that.


“Wh…what’re you doing here?” Laverne finally managed to ask.


Carmine paused, tilted his head to one side. “I’m not sure,” he said. “I heard you calling me and…I felt like I had to…help.” He shook his head slowly, as if waking up. Then he shrugged. “Whatever. I’m beating people. I’m happy.”


She wanted to ask him more, but the rush of the other bikers closing in on them all at once got in the way. They converged on Carmine, metal weapons flashing, and he vanished under their onslaught. She saw Lenny crawling off down the alleyway and tried to go to him, but Suzi abruptly appeared, blocking her way.


“Look, I got no argument with you, sister,” said Laverne.


She tried to dart around Suzi, but the woman stepped in front of her. This time she also pulled out a long switchblade. “Your other boyfriend over there hurt my man,” she said, in a voice made gravelly by too many cigarettes. “Now I’m gonna hurt you.”


Laverne’s heart climbed into her throat. There didn’t seem to be a way to avoid this, so she crouched into a defensive stance. “This really isn’t necessary,” she tried one last time.


Suzi’s only response was to slash at her. Laverne followed the arc of the blade and hopped back before it could slice her stomach. She took advantage of Suzi being off-balance and socked her in the cheek.


The biker chick was a lot tougher than she looked at first blush. She just shook her head and grinned. A couple of her teeth were gone: testimony to a life spent fighting. This wasn’t going to be an easy takedown. “That all you got?” she spat. She tossed her switchblade from her right hand to her left, and jabbed.


Laverne feinted to the side, but the edge of the blade sliced through her blouse. Laverne slapped her hand over the torn fabric, felt a searing sensation. Uh, oh, I’m bleeding! She spared a quick glance at her wound, assessed it was pretty minor. She was more concerned that Carmine would smell it and come over for a sip.


Suzi pounced. Laverne skipped backward and kicked her in the stomach. Suzi let out a, “Whoomph!” of escaping air and fell to her knees.


“New York and Milwaukee,” said Laverne, feeling a rush of old bravado. She popped Suzi in the teeth, hard enough that her whole arm vibrated at the impact. Suzi toppled onto her back, the knife falling from her limp hand. “Better believe it, sweetheart.”


She turned her attention to Lenny, who was still crawling for all he was worth. “Len, stop!” she shouted. She shot a quick look over at the rest of the gang. Carmine was just slamming two of them together, cracking both their skulls. He tossed them away to either side and noticed her watching. He grinned and waved.


“Glad you’re having fun,” she muttered.


She caught up to Lenny, grabbed him by the back of the shirt, and tugged. “Relax, it’s under control.” He squealed and slapped at her hands. “Len, cut it out! It’s me!”


He hesitated, looked up at her. He collapsed on the asphalt. “Oh, thank goodness. I thought they were gonna beat me into a puddle of mushy goo.”


“I’m fine, thanks,” she snarled. She hauled him to his feet and stared into his eyes. Searching, searching for the man he was supposed to be. She couldn’t have erased him entirely. “You were gonna trade me to those goons to protect your own hide!”


“Yeah, uh, sorry ‘bout that, babe,” he said, without looking all that sorry at all. “Man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, and all that.”


“That ain’t what a man does!” she said. “That’s what a spineless jellyfish does. More to the point,” she took a deep breath, “that’s not what you do. Lenny, in all the years we’ve known each other, you never, ever would’ve behaved like you did tonight.”


“What am I, your son now? I had a mother, thank you very….”


“Shut up,” she said, more weary than furious. “The Len I went to high school with, the neighbor I hung out with, the man I came to love…that’s not you. Oh, you dress like him, and you joke around kinda like him, but the man himself? That’s not you.” She paused and rubbed her chin. “The Len I loved cared about people. He wasn’t always the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he knew stuff, deep down. He could see us – me – for who we were.”


Lenny stared at her blankly, mouth slightly ajar. My Lenny was smart, she thought. He was loyal, and kind, and knew what to say and when to say it. “You’re just the surface, aren’t you?” she said. A shiver of recognition went through her. “But the heart, the soul, that was the other Lenny, Leonard Wyndham-Kosnowski the Third. The man – the real man – underneath the goofy surface. One without the other is incomplete. Empty. Wrong.”


Lenny blinked. “I don’t understand…what is…?”


She pressed her fingertips over his lips. “I made a terrible mistake,” she said. “Please come back. I’m so -- ”


Before she could add anything, she flew face-first into a brick wall.


Laverne blinked, her vision hazy, as she struggled to process what had just happened. When she could see again, she was on the ground and Suzi was standing over her. She’d found her buddy’s lead pipe and had it poised to slam down into Laverne’s head.


Laverne flung her arms up defensively. But as the pipe swung down, a hand appeared, caught it, and snatched it away.


“That’s not very lady-like,” said Lenny. He tossed the weapon aside and studied Suzi as if she were something he’d just scraped off the bottom of his boot.


Suzi snarled and swung at him. Lenny caught her fist easily, spun her around, and shoved her face against the same brick wall Laverne had just kissed. Suzi cried out and struggled, but Lenny held her in place with ease. “Now, here’s what’s going to happen,” he said, as calm as if he were chatting with her at a cocktail party. “I’m going to let you go with only a sprained arm. You are going to walk away, steal your boyfriend’s motorcycle, and zip along home. If you don’t do precisely what I said, however, I will be forced to give you a compound fracture. Like so.”


He wrenched her arm higher up her back. Suzi shrieked. “Are we clear?” Lenny asked.


“Y…yes! God…yes!”


Lenny released her. Suzi cradled her arm, shot him a baleful look through her tears, and quickly scampered away down the alley. A few moments later, the sound of a motorcycle engine beings shotgunned filled the night.


Lenny nodded his satisfaction. Then he extended a hand to Laverne. She put her hand in his and he easily hoisted her to her feet. He turned her so that he could inspect the gash on her arm. “I don’t think you’ll need stitches,” he said. His tone was clipped, polite. Chilly.


“L…Lenny? Is that, uh, you?” She studied his face, hopeful, yet worried.


“It is,” he said. His blue eyes bored into hers. She felt them burn straight down into her soul. “All of me.”


“I’m sorry,” she said. Tears filled her eyes. “I’m so, very sorry. I thought…but it was a mistake. I should never….”


“No. You shouldn’t have.” He turned away from her, looked over at the melee behind them.


Carmine let the last biker drop onto the rather neat pile of bodies he’d made in the middle of the alley. His dark eyes pierced the night, resting first on Laverne, then Lenny, then back again. “So. Am I done here?”


Lenny nodded. “I should think so. It’s…interesting, that you came to our rescue, all things considered.”


Carmine shrugged. “Eh. I was bored tonight anyway.” A sly smile crossed his face. “Hey, make sure you tell Shirl that I saved your bacon here, all right? Make sure she knows I can still do some good.”


Laverne nodded. “Fair enough.”


Carmine strolled down the alley, wiping the blood splatter off his leather jacket. He started to lick it off, then caught her look of disgust, and let his hand fall back to his side. He had the good grace to look embarrassed. “Can’t help who I am,” he said.


Laverne managed a smile. “Yeah, you can. But that’s up to you, nobody else.”


He hesitated. In his eyes she saw the same self-loathing she’d seen since his soul returned, but now it was accompanied by something else. Hope, maybe? Determination?


Carmine looked over at Lenny. “We square now? You know, that whole me almost killing you thing. Are we good, after tonight?”


Lenny studied him, and sighed. “As good as possible,” he finally conceded.


A ghost of a smile played over Carmine’s face. “That’s two,” he said. He gave them each a nod, then left the alley without another glance back.


Sirens wailed. Lenny nodded toward the street. “We shouldn’t be here when the police arrive.” He started out of the alley.


Laverne hurried after him. She caught his arm. He paused, but didn’t turn back. “Len, you and I, we gotta talk.”


“Yes, indeed we do,” he said. “Just not here.”


She gulped and followed him into the night.




He’d heard her out. He’d listened to her apologize a dozen times. He’d sat quietly while she wept.


And when she was finished, he’d left anyway.


Laverne sat slumped on the sofa in her apartment, arms wrapped around a throw pillow. She had the hiccups from crying so much. Her eyes ached, but at least they’d finally run dry.


Forget him, Muffin. I told ya, he wasn’t good enough for ya. Her father’s voice in her head, sympathetic yet still the undertone of self-righteousness.


“He was better than me,” she said. Her own voice sounded as flat and phony as her imagined parent’s. “All he ever did was treat me like I was on some pedestal, but he’s the one who should’ve been up there.”


Because he loved you as you were. Faults and all. Her mother – tender, sympathetic.




Because he never asked you to change.




But she’d done more than ask him to change; she’d actually made him change. The outcome of which was she’d realized that she’d been pining for a façade, and wasted time she could have had really getting to know and enjoy the real man. And now it was too late.


She glanced over at the book resting on the coffee table. Maybe there was some sort of spell in there to erase the past day and night, or to make Lenny forget….


What are you thinking? Have you learned nothing after all? Laverne wasn’t sure if it was her father’s voice she ‘heard,’ or her own. In any case, it cleared her mind like a splash of ice water. No more magic, not in service of her little desires, anyway. No, if she was going to fix this – if there was a way to fix it – she was going to have to do it without any magic tricks.


She stood up, but hesitated. She wasn’t sure she could take it if Lenny turned her away again. It had been hard enough to beg forgiveness while gazing into his ice-cold blue eyes. His face hadn’t betrayed a single emotion other than a haughty disapproval before he’d quietly stood up and walked out of her apartment. How could she invite his rejection a second time?


I’ve got no choice, she thought. If he’s really finished with me, then, I’ll just have to suck it up and move on. But if she didn’t at least try to fight for him, for them – well, there was no way she could live with the ‘what might have been.’


She marched out of her apartment and up to his, fists tight at her sides. It took all her will to keep one foot going in front of the other, until she was at his door. She clenched her teeth and knocked.


A moment passed. Then another. Just as she was beginning to think he wasn’t home, the door opened. Lenny looked out at her, and for a second, his austerity fell away. She saw the wounded boy underneath, the insecurity that had plagued him all his life. She saw Lenny, all of him, as he’d been and as he was. Her knees nearly gave out.


Almost immediately, his quiet reserve reasserted itself, and his expression re-set into one of calm disinterest. “I thought you’d said all you wanted to say earlier.”


“I did,” she said. “Now, it’s your turn.”


He pressed his lips together. She pushed past him and went into his apartment, over to his couch, and sat down. And waited.


Finally, Lenny let out a heavy sigh, closed the front door, and joined her inside. He sat down next to her and stared at the opposite wall.


The silence grew uncomfortable. At last, Laverne said, “If this is it for us, I need to hear you say those words. Cause otherwise, I’m gonna keep wondering, and waiting, and hoping.”


“It’s what you deserve,” he said. His voice had an edge of anger, hurt.


She shifted to face him. She took his chin in her hand and turned his face until their eyes met. “You’re probably right.”


Lenny closed his eyes, briefly. When he opened them again, the iciness was gone, replaced by a raw pain that made her wince. “You’re damned right I’m right!” he said. “How could you do that to me, Laverne? To me?”


Well, what do you know? Her tear ducts hadn’t run completely dry, after all. “I explained all that….”


“Yes, you did. You missed my old persona.” He spat the last word. “You loved my false identity more than me. Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?”


“Not exactly,” she said, “but I can guess. Second best? Insignificant? Rejected?”


“Spot on.” His jaw muscles bunched and he looked away again.

It would have been easier to get up and leave right then. Just try to escape from the emotions she felt at having so deeply wounded this wonderful, complicated man. But she owed Lenny better.


She took his hand. He tried to pull it away, but she tightened her fingers around his. “I know how that feels, cause that’s how I felt my whole life. The only person still alive in this world who could ever make me feel different was you.”


Lenny’s hand went limp in hers. “You always underestimated yourself.” She nodded. “I just didn’t realize you underestimated me quite as much.”


“Never,” she said, firmly. Then she reconsidered, and said, “Well, maybe I used to. Some of the stuff you used to do…but that wasn’t really you.”


“Yet that’s who you wanted!” He stood up and started to pace. “The dumbed down version of me. He was pretend, Laverne! I thought I’d made that clear. I thought we’d reached an understanding, a new start to our…whatever it is we have.” He pointedly added, “Had.”


She folded her hands in her lap. “I thought we had, too. I thought I could accept this new Lenny. But, damn it, I couldn’t help what I felt!”


“And how did you feel, Laverne? Disappointed by the real man?” He wouldn’t look at her.


“I felt like you had died!” she cried. He paused, his back to her. She went on, “I felt like the man I’d known and loved had died and in his place was this new guy. Oh, sure, he looked the same, he had the same memories. But he was someone else.”


“You make me sound like Carmine,” Lenny said.


She absorbed his words, and nodded. “Yeah, it was like that.”


Lenny turned around to glare at her. “I’m not a vampire, Laverne!”


“No, but you’re not the man you were, either. So, yeah, I’ve been having trouble getting used to it. You. And when I realized I had a shot at bringing you back – the you I remembered, and was comfortable with – I took it. It was wrong and selfish and all kinds of stupid, but I did it.”


“Because it worked with Carmine.” Despite his tone, his expression softened slightly. His glimmer of understanding gave her hope.


“Yes. But I know now that you’re not like him. He really did become someone – something – else. But you, you’ve been this guy all along.” She stood up and took his hands. He didn’t try to pull away, but he couldn’t look at her, either. “Lenny, I get it now. It wasn’t the doofus you pretended to be that I fell for. It was you, the man you really are, and were deep down that I fell in love with. All the times you showed me kindness, support, and unconditional love, that was you letting the real Leonard Wyndham-Kosnowski out.”


She saw his Adam’s Apple bob in his throat. When he spoke again, his voice was soft. “I’ve loved you so long, Laverne. I wanted you to know me, the real me, but I just…I couldn’t give you more than glimpses.”


“I know.” She risked putting her arms around him. He stiffened, but only for a moment. She felt his hands press against her back and her heart rejoiced. “I love you, Lenny. I’ve loved you for longer than I’ve known you. As weird as that is to say, it makes sense to me now. I only hope that you can find it in your heart to….”


His mouth was on hers before she could finish her sentence. His lips enveloped hers, warn and moist, and filled her with a surge of adoration so powerful that she could hardly remain standing.


They stood there, lost in each other, for longer than she could remember, and not nearly long enough to satisfy. When they finally, mutually, pulled back, she gasped for breath. “Does this mean…?”


“I shouldn’t forgive you,” he whispered.


“I know.”


“You violated my very being.”


“I’m a bitch.”


“You almost got me killed by very large men.”


“I suck.”


He squeezed her tighter against his chest. His heart beat in her ear – a familiar, soothing sound. “Ah, screw it,” he said, and his voice was all Lenny’s. Old Lenny, new Lenny. Just Lenny. “Want to do it on the sofa or the kitchen counter?”


“How ‘bout both?” she said, slyly, and wrapped her leg around his.


Her penance went on for many, blissful hours.




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