"What are you doing? This is your house," Sophie said. "Isn't the party at Mr. Kramer's?"
"Yeah, but I gotta get dressed," Ronnie replied, pulling into his father's driveway and shutting off the car.
"What…jeans aren't good enough?" she said, incredulous.
"It's an engagement party, Sophie," Ronnie said. "And I wanna look nice for them."
She rolled her eyes. "Like it's a big deal," she scoffed. "They've both been married before."
Ronnie's mouth fell open as he stared at her. "You are fricken unbelievable," he said angrily. "It may not mean shit to you, but it sure does to me and everybody else. My dad's been alone ever since my mom left him and that's way too long. He's been in love with your mom for over ten years now and he finally…oh, forget it."
"Wait…what?" she said, jumping out of the car, chasing him up the walkway.
"Nothing, I'm getting dressed," he said, hurriedly shoving the key in the front door and going inside, Sophie at his heels.
"How could he be in love with her for ten years?" she said following him up the stairs. "My dad's only been gone a year and a half."
"Ever hear of loving someone from afar?" he said getting to his room and shutting the door.
Sophie pushed the door open again and stared at him. "What do you mean?"
"I mean...Get out!" he said shoving her back and locking the door behind her.
"Come on, Ronnie!" she shouted, banging on the door. "He told me they met in February. Was he lying?"
"No, not lying," he said, hopping around as he pulled his jeans off. "He saw her a long time ago at the park in town at Simon's little league game and that was all it took… literally."
"What? That makes no sense," she said, her ear pressed to the door.
"My dad was lonely, okay?" he said, his voice muffled as he pulled his sweater and t-shirt over his head, tossing it into the corner. "Mom had left him and taken me and Simon away so…he saw your mom and it was… POW!"
"Whattaya mean, POW?" she said, just as he opened the door and she nearly toppled into his room.
"I mean…" he said, buttoning his shirt and tucking it into his dress slacks. "Love at first sight."
"But…" she said, her eyes glued to his bare chest as it slowly disappeared with each button. "My dad was still alive and…"
"That's where the from afar part comes into play," he said, running his fingers through his hair, which didn't making it neater looking, but it was certainly still alluring. "My dad didn't act on it because he knew Violet was happily married, but you wouldn't know about such things as love at first sight and loving someone from afar. You have everybody dropping at your feet. Come on, we're gonna be late!"
She opened her mouth to tell him she absolutely did know, but shut it again. Now what not the time for a confession.
"So, are you going looking like that?" he asked hopping into his car. "Or do you wanna stop by your house for a change?"
"Guess I should," she said. "Can't have you looking better than me."
He laughed and drove on. Several minutes later as he turned into Violet's driveway he said, "Oh, crap! Look who's standing on your mom's front steps."
"Shit," Sophie said, seeing the last person they wanted to be there…Frankie. "Should've expected this."
"What the hell we gonna do now?" Ronnie said. "We can't give Cassie up."
"We won't," she said firmly.
"But what if he starts with the cement shoes routine? I love Cassie and normally I would do anything for her but… self preservation…"
"Oh, will you get a grip!" she said, releasing her seat belt. "Don't say anything, okay? Let me do the talking."
"Can't I just stay here?" he said, trying to make himself shrink, so Frankie wouldn't see him.
"No! Man up!" she snapped, opening the car door. "Hey, Frankie, whatcha doing here?"
"Where is Cassandra?" Frankie said.
"Cassie? Isn't she home?" she said nonchalant.
"If she was home I wouldn't be here looking for her!" Frankie shouted.
"Well, how the hell should I know where she is?" Sophie casually said, climbing the steps. "Last we saw her was yesterday. We exchanged Christmas gifts."
"Hey, Frankie," Ronnie said, nervously following Sophie up the steps. "How ya doing?"
"Where is my sister?" Frankie bellowed, grabbing the front of Ronnie's leather jacket.
"He doesn't know either. He's been with me all this time," Sophie said, pushing Frankie away from Ronnie. "And don't you mean where is your daughter?"
"Yeah, she told us, and man, was she pissed," she said, with a nasty grin. She shook her head and added, "How could you do that to her?"
"I didn't mean to. I…Where is she!" he shouted, sounding very much like a broken record.
"We told you we don't know," she said. "She left the party after we ate…what was it like two or something, would you say, Ronnie?"
"Uh…right before we left for the city," Ronnie said, and by the look she gave him, he knew he put his foot in his mouth. "Cassie was really upset…felt bad for her."
"Not cool, Frankie," Sophie said quickly steeping in front of Ronnie. "Or should I call you Mr. Belarosa now? Creeps me out that Cassie's father not her brother was flirting with me all that time. Eww."
"Where's your brother? He was all over her!" Frankie said, glaring at Ronnie.
"She kinda likes him, too," Sophie said her voice bored.
"I'm sure she's with him," Frankie said.
"Then you'd be wrong," Sophie said. "Simon's at my mom's and their dad's engagement party which we are late to, so…I have to get dressed."
"I'm sure Cassie's okay, Frankie," Ronnie said as he allowed Sophie to shove him into the house.
"How do you know?" Frankie said suspiciously.
"Cuz she's not dumb, that's how," Sophie said. "She's probably staying with some friends and she'll call you when…"
"She did…just a couple hours ago. She said she was fine, but…Thought for sure she would be here with you," Frankie said, pushing his black hair out of his eyes with his one good hand. "I gotta find her!"
"If she said she's fine, then she's fine," Sophie said. "You should just leave her be for now."
"She probably just needs some space and time to think," Ronnie said, looking over Sophie's head because she insisted on keeping between him and the murdering menace Frankie represented.
"If she comes by I'll let you know, Frankie, okay?" Sophie said.
"How do I know you're not hiding her in there?" Frankie said pointing to the dark and quiet house.
She scoffed. "Come right in and check all you want. All you'll find is my mom's stupid cat and a few dozen dust bunnies under the sofa."
He looked like he was actually thinking of doing just that, but after a moment he stepped back from the door. "You will call me if she comes by?"
"Sure, Frankie, but I doubt she will. She knows I'm moving to the city to start a new job so I'm not even gonna be here after today," Sophie said. "Really, we hafta get going. We're late for the party and it's like a really big deal and everything."
She shut the door in his face and pushed Ronnie up the stairs.
"What? You expect me to help you get dressed?" Ronnie said.
"I don't trust Frankie not to bust open the door and beat the hell out of you until you give in and tell him what he wants to know so…MOVE!" she said.
Those cement shoes and a reluctant swim in the frozen East River upper most on his mind, Ronnie gave in and rushed up the stairs.
"Oh, Lordy," Sophie muttered, seeing the long line of cars parked outside Morris' home. "The whole town's here."
"It's great!" Ronnie said parking behind a beat-up looking minivan.
"We sure have different ideas of what great is," she said.
"Please, please, Sophie," Ronnie begged before letting her out of his car. "Be nice."
She rolled her eyes and tugged her arm out of his grip. "Stop being a pussy. I'll be on my best behavior. Everyone will think I'm like totally into this. You'll see."
Ronnie shook his head and followed her into the house. He barely got to remove his coat and hang it up before he was accosted by a jubilant Julian who bounced excitedly in front of him saying in a sing-song voice, "I got a new mommy, I got a new mommy!"
Ronnie laughed and picked him up whirling him around like he always did to make him laugh. "See, I tolja you would one day," he said. "So, you're a little bit happy, huh?"
Julian nodded and hugged him tight. "I got a new mommy, and you got two mommies now," he said.
"Hey, you're right!" Ronnie replied. "How cool is that?"
"Real cool!" Julian said.
Ronnie had just been about to ask him about the other kids when he spotted Georgiana across the room surrounded by a dozen or so kids, some of which would soon be her cousins. She was smiling slightly, but something in her eyes made her look haunted. Ronnie could see it even from this distance.
"Is Georgie okay?" he asked.
Julian shrugged. "She's been weepy all day. She says she's excited we're getting a new mommy, but then why is she crying so much? She's so weird."
"All girls are, Jules. Might as well get used to it now," Ronnie replied.
He put down his little brother and told him to go play just as Georgiana caught sight of him and made a bee-line for him. She rushed into Ronnie's arms.
"Hey, baby," he said, holding her tight. "How ya doing?"
"Okay," she said, her voice muffled in his neck. "So glad you're here. I already miss you so much."
"Aww...you know I will come home all the time," he said, giving her a squeeze.
"Not the same as having you live here," she whined.
"But you're happy about the good news, right?" he asked. He could feel her nod. "Me too. Dad's been in love with Violet forever and she's gonna make a great mom for you and the boys."
She nodded again.
"You look a little sad too, huh?" he said.
She nodded. "Don't know why. I love Violet. She's the best," she mumbled.
"I think maybe you're thinking about your real mom and that makes you feel guilty," he said.
She looked at him. "What is guilty?"
"Like um…well, Violet will take the place of your real mom, right? So you might feel bad cuz you love Violet but you still love your real mom," he said.
Georgiana was quiet for a long moment. "I think … I know I love Violet more cuz my mom was horrible. She hit us and never cared about us. She never had money to buy food for us cuz she used it for drugs." She bit her lip. "Then she killed herself and left us all alone. Violet would never do that! She's way better than my mom."
He sighed. "Your mom had problems, Georgie. She was sick, but…she's still your mom so…no matter what she did or didn't do, you gotta remember she did the best she could and deep down you do love her, so, that's why you feel guilty," Ronnie said. "But you know what? I bet your mom is in heaven looking down on you and your brothers right now and she's happy that you will soon have a great mom, one that loves you so much and will always take good care of you, cuz she wasn't able to do it herself."
"Do you really think so?" Georgiana said.
"I do," Ronnie said. "You don't have to feel guilty anymore, Georgie, cuz even if things don't at first go as planned, it all works out in the end. Be happy, okay? You're allowed."
She hugged him again and looking much happier she joined her soon-to-be cousins.
Ronnie was smiling until he saw Sophie going up to Violet and his dad. He held his breath and sent a silent prayer up to heaven.