|Maureen's new studio appartment|
The remainder of the holiday season passed in relative calm. Upon discovering that the O'Kenney's were away from their family during the festivities, the parish community quickly adopted them, and they spent the week between Christmas and New Years as special guests of various neighbors. By the time New Year's Eve arrived, both Kevin and his sister were exhausted, satisfied to spend the evening alone, feasting on take-out Chinese food, and watching the ball drop in Times Square.
Apparently, Maureen expected some type of message, presumably from Beckett. She was constantly checking her phone for texts or email, and when midnight rolled around without so much as a buzz or beep, he could tell she was terribly disappointed. After the customary toast to welcome the New Year, they both fell asleep on the couch during the course of an old black and white movie. It was Kevin who woke sometime after 2 AM, due to the incessant chirping of Maureen's cell signaling a new message. He shook her awake, and handed her the phone.
It was obvious, even to the romantically impaired Fr. Kevin, that the text was from the Sheriff. Though she was still half asleep, her mood instantly changed as she studied the message. Tapping away at the keyboard, she sent a reply.
He knew perfectly well what was going on, but asked anyway. "Who's texting you so late, Mo?"
"It's Ted Beckett. He just wanted to wish me...I mean the both us...a Happy New Year."
"Did he happen to mention where he was?"
"No. Just the thing about New Years."
"He doesn't say when he's coming back?"
She hesitated, as if she hadn't even considered asking that. "Actually, he doesn't. Just that he misses...us, and that he's looking forward to catching up. Then, I thanked him for the gift. For Betsy. But so far, he hasn't answered back."
They sat around an additional 45 minutes or so, but there were no further messages. Resigned to the fact that they'd hear nothing more, both of them tramped off to bed; Maureen to her room, and Kevin to his attic hideaway. As he rounded the landing to the third floor, he had a sinking feeling that his sister was not going home to Boston. At least not anytime soon.
Less than a week later, she made his prediction a reality. He knew something was up by the way she hovered over him when he walked through the front door. He could smell the pot roast cooking, and knew he was doomed. Maureen's pot roast was his favorite meal, the one she always held for "special" occasions, and overwhelming requests. Whatever was going on, he wasn't going to like it.
"Guess what, Kev? I've got the best news ever!"
Needing reinforcement, he grabbed a Guinness from the cabinet, and settled himself at the kitchen table. "Lay it on me, Mo. What's the best news ever?"
"You're never going to believe this, Kevin! It's totally awesome! I got a job! Here in Dollyville"
"A job? Where? I didn't even know you sent out any resumes."
"Oh, a resume wasn't necessary. It all just sort of happened."
He felt queasy. To his knowledge, good things never just "happened". "Wow. Out of the blue, huh? So which agency is the job with? Bristol County? Children Services?'
"Nothing like that, Kev. I've decided to go in a completely different direction."
He went from queasy, to positively ill. "What type of direction?"
"Well, here's how it happened. I walked down to the deli this afternoon. You know, the one right down the block. So... I was talking to the old guy there. His name is Mr. Schiller. He's German, and he owns the place. Nicest man ever. He's the one who helped me order the stuff for your Irish breakfast. Anyways, we were discussing the pros and cons of clementines versus mandarin oranges, and he commented on how much I knew about produce. We got to talking about food and cooking...and he was so impressed, he offered me a job."
"A job? Doing what?"
"Working in the deli, of course. Stocking, waiting on customers, cashiering...that kind of stuff. The Schillers are getting on in years. They want more time off, so most of the week, I'd basically be running the place." She paused, waiting, no doubt, for his approval and congratulations.
"A deli clerk? You? Maureen, you have a damn Masters in Social Work from Boston College! Why would you consider a job slicing lunch meat?" The ale churned in his stomach, and he could feel knots of stress growing in his temples. Patrick would have a fit. So would Jamie. And honestly, he couldn't blame them.
Their father had passed away when Maureen was a sophomore in high school, and their mother had already been showing signs of her disease. When it came time for his sister to consider college, there had been a huge family discussion on how to pay the expense. Because Patrick was the oldest, and already established in his law career, he had volunteered to pay Mo's tuition. It was the only selfless thing he had ever seen his eldest brother do, and he was grateful to him for doing so.
Then, when Maureen finished her undergraduate degree, and insisted that she needed a Masters to do any type of social work, Jamie, the second oldest, stepped up and paid for that, much to the chagrin of his wife. Maureen was able to finish her education without the burden of student loans, at the expense of her brothers, who would find her current position a poor return on their investment.
Kevin could tell from the set of her jaw, and the pouting lower lip, that Maureen was displeased at his lack of support. She gave a dramatic sigh, and plopped down into the chair next to him.
"Geez, Kevin. You sound like a real snob. For a minute, I thought I was talking to Patrick."
He knew she meant that as an insult, and it annoyed him. Since her arrival in October, he had
been nothing but supportive, and resented the attempt to make him feel guilty. "That's really low, Maureen."
Sensing that his feelings might have been hurt, she immediately changed tactics. "Oh, Kevie, don't be mad at me. I thought I was helping out. Honest." She sat in the chair next to him, and laid a hand on his arm. "I know money is really tight. You can't be supporting me forever. I took the first job I could get. It's just something to tie me over until I can get a new resume together, and find a social work position. Please Kevin, I meant well. Really I did."
He never could stay mad at Maureen. Maybe it was a flaw in his make-up. Or maybe Patrick was right. The cause of Maureen's lack of responsibility might lie with him. But placing blame wasn't going to fix the issue at hand. "I guess you're right, Mo. In this economy, a job is a job. When do you start?"
Happy the worst was over, Maureen chatted on about her new adventure. "I'm starting tomorrow, 8 until 5. But, I haven't told you the best part yet!" She began to set the table, placing a bread basket in the center of the table with fresh, hot rolls. Another sure sign of a bribe.
Knowing there was more to come, made Kevin nervous. He wondered just how bad this was going to get. "More good news?"
"The Schillers have an empty studio apartment above the deli. Partly furnished. They said they'd rent it to me for only $100 a month, plus utilities. Can you believe it? Oh Kevin, it's so awesome! It has these cool arched windows. I can even see the church and rectory from them. I'd just be down the street from you. We can still see each other all the time." She pulled the steaming pot roast from the oven, and slid it in front of him. "We'll eat first. Then I'll take you over to see my new place."
His belly full, and his anxiety rising, Fr. Kevin strolled with his sister over to the prospective apartment. Schiller had lent her the key so she could let her brother take a look around, even though the store itself was already closed. They walked around to the back of the building, and into a small, gated yard where Maureen pointed out a narrow door.
"There is an entrance from the deli, and another here in back. Mr. Schiller says the yard is mine to do as I please, so if I want to garden or grill, I can. Picture how lovely it will be in the summer, with some rose bushes over in that corner, and maybe a mock orange bush here near the door."
The fact that she was already planning landscaping made his head ache again. He watched as she fiddled with the lock, and then followed her up three flights of steep, dimly lit stairs. She flipped on the light switch, and stepped back to allow him a good look.
Kevin was at a loss for words. There was only one word to describe the studio apartment. Awful. Simply awful. The entire room was covered in years of dust and grime, the windows cloudy with dirt.
To the left of the staircase stood what appeared to be the bathroom, minus any walls. The harvest gold fixtures were squeezed tightly in the corner, the space so small you could practically sit on the toilet and take a shower at the same time.
Maureen walked over to the kitchen area, and pointed out the appliances, all blanketed in a sticky layer of old grease. "Isn't the kitchen adorable, Kev? These are all vintage from the 70's, I think. Too cute! I was thinking maybe white wallpaper with tiny red hearts or dots. What do you think?"
He wasn't sure what to say. She seem so excited, seeing only the possibilities, and none of the flaws. It was Maureen's way, and what made her uniquely herself. But the place was not inhabitable. And somebody needed to make her realize that. "Mo, I know you want to be on your own. I can understand that. But this apartment...honestly it's...it's a dump. You can't possibly live here."
She folded her arms across her chest, and planted herself firmly in the center of the room. "You're not being open minded, Kevin. I realize it needs a lot of work, but it has potential. So much potential." She pulled him over to one of the flat's many arched windows. "Just look at the view from here. I can see most of the town. Think of how much natural light I'll have. Oh, I can picture the whole thing in my head. It will be absolutely darling."
Kevin shook his head. She wasn't listening. Not one little bit. "We can keep looking, Maureen. We'll find a nice place for you, I promise. Trust me. This isn't the one."
"Look, Kevin. I brought you here because I wanted you to see it. But honestly, I don't need your permission. I'm a grown woman. I like this place, it's what I can afford, and it's where I'm going to live. I would hope you'd be happy for me, but I can deal with it if you're not."
He prayed for the right words to say that might change her mind, but none came to him. Maybe she'd have to learn the hard way. Sign a lease for this disaster of an apartment, and live with the consequences. "Okay, Mo. If this is what you are determined to do, then I can't stop you. You have to live here, not me."
"Thank you, Kevin. It's going to be great. You'll see. I just have one more favor to ask."
He was worried she'd ask for cash, something he had little of these days. "What do you need, Mo?"
She hesitated only for a second, and then spoke, "I was hoping you'd let me take Basil. We've grown quite attached, and I'd feel terribly lonely without him."
"You want to take the dog? With you? Here?"
"If you wouldn't mind? Mr. Schiller said it would be okay. I have the backyard for him, and since I work down stairs, I could let him out on my breaks. And he'd be a good watch dog, don't you think?" She looked at him hopefully.
Kevin couldn't believe his ears. He'd be rid of that damn dog. It was like a miracle. "Well, sure Maureen. I guess I wouldn't mind if you moved Basil with you."
"Then it's all settled!" She clapped her hands together in obvious glee. "This is so wonderful. My very own place. The first one."
Happy himself, Kevin wandered back over to one of the filthy windows. No more constant barking. No more snarling. The whole rectory to himself. A regular bed, in a regular room. Peace and quiet. He said a silent prayer of thanksgiving, and rubbed a clean spot in the cloudy window. "You know, Mo, you're right. The view from here is pretty spectacular."
|Guess who's back?|
Despite her brother's misgivings, Maureen was delighted with her new job. She loved chatting with the customers, getting all the town gossip, hearing about their lives and families. The elderly Schillers quickly came to trust her honesty and business sense, and left her to run the place on her own, taking a well deserved semi-retirement. Each night, after she finished counting up the day's receipts, she'd lock the shop, and head upstairs to work at getting her apartment cleaned and ready.
On this present Friday, she was rushing to finish stocking the shelves behind the counter with a line of gourmet canned goods she hoped would entice new customers. It was nearly 5, and she had promised Kevin she'd go straight back to the rectory after work, and not linger in the flat. They hadn't had dinner together in over a week, and the goal was to go out for some pizza and beer, and just relax.
It was taking longer than she had planned to set up the display. Marketing was all about appearance, and she shuffled the cans around once more, so that their labels were neatly prominent. It was the bottom shelf that was giving her the most trouble. It was an awkward place to get at, stuck low as it was, behind the counter. Therefore, when the little bell on the front door tinkled, announcing a customer, she was bent in half, her head stuck under a shelf, and her ass poised in the air.
Pushing the last can in place, she spoke behind her. " I'm sorry. I'll be with you in just a sec."
"Take your time, sweetheart. I'm totally enjoying the view."
She recognized the voice instantly. With pulse racing, she went to turn around and greet him, forgetting that her head was still underneath one of the shelves. With a loud thump, the top of her head connected with the upper tier, causing an avalanche of cans to come crashing down on top of her, a large container of imported olives whacking her right above the left eye.
For a second, she couldn't move, the top of her head throbbing, and a trickle of something warm dripping from the gash over her eye. Then Beckett was next to her, pulling her up off the floor, and pressing a paper towel to her forehead.
"Damn, Maureen...are you alright?" He gathered her in his arms, and sat her on top of the counter, keeping the towel pressed to the bleeding cut. Running this other hand over the top of her head, he felt a lump beginning to rise, and decided on a course of action. He placed her hand over the gash, urging pressure on the wound. "Keep your hand on that cut. I'm going to leave you for a few seconds to get some ice for your head. Do you think you can remain upright on your own?"
She nodded her yes, and he left her to look for ice. Returning quickly, he placed a bag of frozen peas over the bump, and checked the bleeding under the paper towel. "Good. The blood seems to have slowed down. How are you feeling?"
"Okay, I think."
" I don't think so." She was embarrassed. Mortified, actually. Wanted to slide under the counter and evaporate. She had planned this meeting in her head a thousand times since that kiss on the rectory porch. What she'd say. How she'd say it. Now it had come and gone, and she had made a total idiot of herself. Romance dead on arrival.
"I think we should probably go to the emergency room, just to be on the safe side. A concussion is a distinct possibility."
At this point, she just wanted to be left alone in her misery and shame. Pick up the cans, crawl her way back to the rectory, and pull the covers over head. Maybe cry buckets, and then eat something full of calories. "No, I'll be fine. Honest. No doctor. It was just a little accident."
Beckett made a face, and then began to pick up the cans, replacing them on the shelves in no particular order. "Let me finish here, and then we'll head to the hospital. We'll also swing by the church on the way, and pick up your brother."
"Really. I'm okay. I don't want to go the emergency room."
He came around to stand in front of her. "Yeah, you already said that. Now, put your arms around my neck. I'm going to carry you out to my car."
"Please, Ted. I'm not hurt. I appreciate all your concern. Really, I do. But, I certainly don't need to be carried around like a child. And I don't..."
He cut her off, frowning, and repeated, "Arms, please," his expression accepting no refusal.
Reluctantly, she put her hands around his neck, and he lifted her off the counter. Reaching the front door, he shifted her to his left hip, and maneuvered the handle with his free hand. "You really are a little thing, aren't you?"
That comment, and the rather intimate contact, made her blush. He slid her into the front seat of the Mustang as if she weighed no more than a bag of groceries, and buckled her in tightly. Before they pulled away, he made sure the deli was securely locked, and then drove to Holy Family to pick up her brother.
For the entire ride to the hospital, she had to contend with both Kevin and the Sheriff discussing her as if she weren't even there. It was annoying, but gave her the opportunity to look Beckett over with side long glances that went unnoticed. He had surely lost weight since she had seen him last, his face tight and gaunt, with purple crescents beneath the eyes. His hair was longer than he normally wore it, hanging over the collar of his leather jacket in dark waves, and giving him the look of a distressed rock star. When he caught her staring, he gave her a grin, and she turned her head away, embarrassed to have been caught gawking.
Because they had arrived at the hospital in the company of the town's Sheriff, they were seen to rather quickly. The ER doctor concurred that she had a concussion, and advised observation and bed rest. She needed stitches for the gash above her eye, and went home with a huge bandage covering the left side of her face. As they were leaving, she caught sight of her self in the mirrored lobby, and shuddered. A thing of beauty she was not.
By 8:00 PM, she was back at the rectory, tucked into bed, with Kevin on one side of her, and the Sheriff on the other. Although they would occasionally check on her well being...ask her how she was feeling...offer her something to eat...their main focus was settled on the Bruins game, and the Italian subs they had picked up on their way home. During the commercials, Beckett would reach under the
blankets and squeeze her hand, and when the game was over, and he was getting ready to leave, he leaned over and kissed the top of her head. As if she were a 5 year old.
She sighed, and laid back on her stack of pillows, thoroughly disgusted. This damn sure wasn't the way she had pictured his homecoming.
|A missed opportunity|
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