Twice in a Lifetime - 1

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…an anthology of sequels to Chances Are
these are excerpts from the stories I'll be posting...




From Jackie's Chance

“Jackie…..uh….hon…honey….”

He stumbled over the words. Who calls their son ‘honey?’ But it grabbed him; as strong as anything he had ever felt when it dawned on him that he wasn’t calling his ‘son’ honey, but his daughter. In time he’d come to realize that his daughter had been there all along. But for now there would be stumbles and half-starts. He didn’t know exactly what to do when his kids were born, but he learned… and he’d learn about things that girls like or don’t. He’d learn about how some girls like football; that Jackie would never stop rooting for the “Huskers.” That it was okay to want to dress up one day and wear jeans the next. So he tried.

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Grand Island, Nebraska, mid-January…

“Dad, I’ll be alright.” Jacki looked over at her father as he maneuvered the mini-van around the maze of snow-bound cars in the parking lot. John turned his head slightly to speak, but quickly turned his attention back to driving after just barely missing a Camry that was jutting out of a snow bank.

“I’m not so comfortable…honey.”

The words were forced, but not the name. The more John used the endearment, the easier it got. His younger son Jimmy received the ‘brunt’ of his affection now that Jacki was living with Taryn and her mom. Jimmy struggled with the changes in the family, but he had made some great strides and had ‘rejoined’ humanity after a brief trip-up that led to the separation of the two siblings.

While he wouldn’t go so far as to echo his father’s words to Jacki’s face, he had actually gotten to the place of bragging about his sister to his friends. Being predisposed to settling his ‘differences’ with his friends in a somewhat rough manner had earned him a short time of suspension and a hurried appointment with his counselor. Both children had worked out their grief in completely different ways, but at the end of the day the family was once again intact and happily if tentatively stable.

“Listen, Dad…it’s fine. Taryn and Alison agree with me that we have to roll with it, no matter what.”

“I know…I know. It’s just that I didn’t think you’d be stuck with the job as Poster Child for Transgendered Skateboarding.” He resisted the urge to turn to look at Jacki as they just missed hitting the nose of an Audi A4 that was protruding from yet another snow bank.

Things were looking up...or so they thought.


From Lara’s Chance

But now, God's Message, the God who made you in the first place, Jacob,
the One who got you started, Israel:

"Don't be afraid, I've redeemed you.
I've called your name. You're mine….”

Making the way to the lectern for the inaugural message, the pastor nodded slightly; an unfamiliar face to many, which evoked a few murmurs and some applause. Instead of the usual casual slacks and button-down shirt and tie of the previous shepherd, the pastor wore black slacks and a teal silk blouse under a white jacket. She smiled.

“Good Morning,” Lara spoke softly, demonstrating a humility that would be a familiar and welcomed part of her ‘pulpit voice,’ as some put it.

“I am honored to be a part of God’s plan for us all. I’ll be reading my text from The Message today, since I believe it speaks to me, and hopefully through me to you, okay?” She bowed her head slightly and said a silent prayer, her shoulders shaking only a little; another DiNapoli ‘trademark’ that would be a familiar part of her ministry.

"The Book of the Prophet Isaiah…Chapter Forty-Three…Verses One through Four...

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Gresham Oregon…two years later…

“You’ve been so quiet, Lara. Is there anything wrong?” The petit woman spoke from the office doorway. No need for formalities between best friends, right? Lara had always been uncomfortable with titles anyway. She shook her head no, but the accompanying frown indicated otherwise.

“It’s our anniversary,” Lara said as she looked away. Remembering her late wife; no need to hide tears since Rachael could read her like a book, as the saying goes. In few short years since Lara took over as Senior Pastor, she had made strides in convincing the faithful few that she was there to stay. Rachael’s brother Jeff was holding his own and had been cancer free for almost as long, but was too weak to be of assistance as the church had doubled in size.

“Oh…I meant to tell you. Al called; he’s going to be in town and he wanted to know if you were free for dinner.” The words sent a chill up Lara’s back; her former brother-in-law was a bulwark of support when his sister passed; Al’s sister Nancy was also the wife of Major Dante Cerchierra. Danny Cerchierra moved on after his wife passed, becoming Lara DiNapoli. It would have been a daunting mess of confusion just for that alone.

“You gonna tell him?” Rachael winked and smiled.

“Tell him what?” Lara was like anyone else in the world; privacy was important because she felt guarded and secure by the secrecy. Rachael blasted past those defenses, as only a BFF can and said finally,

“Are YOU going to tell Al that you love him?”


From Alicia’s Chance

“Dad? You see what I’ve been trying to say? Ms. Capulano? What Alicia has been trying to say? This was our last chance to reach you. We need you two to know who we are. And we…I know you love me, Dad…but I need you to love ME…the me I am, you know? And she needs you to love her for who she is…trust us…we know?”

“I am so sorry, Danny…I should have listened.

“And I should have listened to you….” Julia struggled to say the name; as if letting go of ‘Alan’ was like finally letting go of another.

"Alicia."


A bit later...on the front steps…

“We did it. We did it.”

Alicia could hardly contain her glee, even if she was crying at the same time. She pulled Dana closer and hugged her. Their lips touched and they kissed. A moment later, the two pulled back and stared, tears in their eyes as they shook their heads no. Dana touched Alicia’s cheek softly and smiled.

“Sisters?”

Alicia nodded as she pulled her best friend ever into a warm sisterly embrace.

"Sisters!"

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Andover, New Jersey…late September...

“Hey, Narcisse.” Jack Pietrowski called from his doorway as Kenny Narcisse passed the house on the way to the bus stop. Kenny turned his head as Jack came bounding down the stairs off the front porch.

“You better get your act together, bro, or Coach is gonna be all over your ass!” Jack laughed as he patted his best friend on the back. To say that Kenny was distracted would have been a gross understatement under the best of circumstances. To say that he was confused, scared, happy, sad, ashamed, and joyous beyond anything he’d ever experienced before would be spot on. He put his head down and tried to ignore his best friend, but the boy was as tenacious as a pitbull on a postman’s leg.

“You hafta get focused, dumbass or…” Jack’s voice trailed off. He wanted to be an encouragement; mostly because he was barely tolerable as a teammate with the other members, and he’d likely be consigned to the very last seat on a long, lonely, and empty bench instead of at least doing special teams. But he also worried about Kenny, since nothing…nothing ever seemed to faze him.

“What’s wrong?”

“I dunno…” Kenny practically pleaded. He had been in a deep funk for nearly three weeks. The team was three and oh, despite his horrible performance in the defensive backfield, and he could only hope that he somehow blended into the secondary until he could adjust.

“Seriously, bro. You haven’t stopped anyone; they run all over you out there. If it wasn’t for Raheem, we’d be up shit’s creek!” He waved his arm in a broad gesture as if they were standing on the field. Kenny couldn’t argue with a single thing Jack had just said, even if he had wanted to. But the thing was, he was almost ready to throw in the towel and step back; at least from starting.

“It looks like you don’t want to play. You turning soft?You getting all doofy? Marie Petraglia got your head turned around?”

He laughed. Even as a starting star on the defensive side of the field, he didn’t have a ghost of a chance with Marie; not that he wanted to. Someone else had caught his eye, and it was both love and hate at fourteen thousand, one hundred and sixty-seventh sight, so to speak, since he had known the girl since he was twelve. And it wasn’t just love and hate for her, but love and hate for himself; that confusion he felt kept banging him upside the head. The shame alone was enough to get him so turned around the previous Saturday that he missed a wide-open pick-six that would have iced the team’s third victory. Happily for him the following play the opposing quarterback fumbled and Raheem Yusef fell on it to seal the win.

“What the fuck, Narcisse? What’s going on in that head of yours?” Jack actually rapped him on the top of his head with his knuckles. He hit him hard enough for him to wince, but he remained silent as he had closed his eyes in a state of dreamy distraction. He didn’t really take care for where he was going and he felt strong, desperate hands yank him back suddenly as he just missed stepping in front of a town dump truck that barreled down the road.

“Fuck, Narcisse, what the fuck is the matter with you?” Kenny would have told him if he thought Jack would keep a secret, but Jack talked more than an annoying passenger on a three-hour bus trip. He did allow himself the luxury of speaking the name that had enamored him in his mind. And for that he got distracted one more time as he walked directly into the tall post for the Stop sign on the corner of the intersection. The last thing he remembered before hitting his head on the curb was that Jack had his hand out in a vain attempt to keep him from falling. And in his mind’s eye, he gazed longingly and frightfully ashamedly at the face that launched a thousand distracting accidents; Alicia Capulano.


From Melina’s Chance

“You have a daughter, Nicko. I think you should take the time to get to know her. She works harder than your sons ever did combined. And she loves you. After all that you’ve shown her? After the teasing and the hitting and the insults? She loves you, Nicko. Your sister still loves you, but you won’t have her. Make room in your heart before it’s too late. I can never hold my Alexandra…ever again. Hold her while you have a chance, my friend.” Alex stood up and patted his friend on the shoulder before walking toward the door.

“Come, girls. You come to my house with Ari here, okay?”

He smiled and helped his daughter Ariadne to her feet. Ari in turn stood and waited while Stephanie Elias made her way out of the booth. And finally, needing a lot of assistance was a very sweet Emo Girl with a face streaked with makeup from crying; Melina Macros stepped gingerly out of the booth and to the door. She waved to Helen who just sighed as her daughter walked out of the restaurant with her friends. And Nicko sat at his booth still shaking his head.

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Hawthorne, New Jersey, Christmas Eve

“Mel?” The voice called from the bedroom. Melina turned and walked down the hallway. She heard her name, but any attempt to hold a conversation with three rooms between them under the best of circumstances would have been difficult at best. And even now, things were getting more difficult in some ways though ever better in others.

“Yes?” She poked her head into the bedroom doorway, finding her bride lying on the bed in a come hither pose. Stephanie patted the bed and waved in beckon to Melina. She walked over and stood. A smile was met by warm and caring hands pulling her down on the bed, and quickly following the embrace with an even warmer kiss.

“We have some time, you know.” Stephanie grinned and pointed to the clock CD player sitting on the night stand. Three O’Clock; their guests weren’t due for another two hours, and even at that, at least one of the four would arrive late anyway, if at all. Dinner was going to be simple; intention to detail would be focused solely on the company and the hope of some interaction between both sets of parents. Actually the interaction would hopefully be between three and one, since it was the estrangement that they had hoped to at least bring to some tentative conclusion.

“I’m scared, Steph,” Melina said as she mumbled between kisses. Undaunted, Stephanie continued to keep her focus and continued to kiss Melina. The attention was greeted with a different if understandable reaction than what Stephanie had hoped for as Melina began to sob. Sometimes even the kindest and most assuring acceptance can be trumped by past hurts and rejection.

“It’s okay, honey. It’s okay.” Stephanie continued to kiss Melina, but with much greater attention; redoubling her efforts. Soon the two lay side by side; spooning they used to call it. Melina’s sobs had subsided to soft weeping as Stephanie etched hearts and ‘I love you’ on Melinas’s back with her nails. A bit playful perhaps, but necessary for both of them given the evening they had in front of them.

It would be nice to spend time with Stephanie’s parents, of course. Melina loved her mother and welcomed any time together with her, but considering the circumstances for both her and Helen, it would be difficult at best. That they had chosen to reach out to Melina’s father once again after three years was going to prove the most difficult.

Too many old hurts mixed with too many new challenges; not a very appetizing menu for a Christmas Eve dinner. They could only do what they had done all along; hope and pray, since Nicko had been estranged from his wife and daughter for nearly four years. How they managed to get him to agree to a visit remained a mystery even though it seemed that he was eager if completely out of character in insisting that he indeed would attend dinner.

Melina and Stephanie had so much to share with Stephanie’s parents and with Helen Constantanopolous. What Nicko had to share with all of them would change their lives forever.


From Susan’s Chance

“I don’t care where you’ve been other than that it’s part of who you are. You need to know me…that it’s where you end up that counts. Not where you started from.” He said, echoing what his mother had said only days before.

“It doesn’t matter to you that I can’t have kids? That I can’t be the wife you deserve? The companion you need?” By now she struggled to speak, her voice choking at times.

“Of course it matters. Because it’s how things are! But it’s not the end all or even the beginning of what I want….like you said…what I need.”

“How can you say that? I’m nothing close to what you need!”

“Susan…let’s get one thing straight. You can’t tell me what I need. Only I get to say that. Not you, not my mother, God bless her. Me. And who I need is you! This is my chance, and I hope it is for you as well.” She shrugged her shoulders as if to say I’m not sure; she was entirely sure of him but was totally unsure about herself.

Jackie may have been brave before but right then and there he did the bravest thing he ever did and leaned over the table and kissed her; nothing as spectacular as he had ever expected, but a monumental moment for both of them. Two brave souls taking a risk like never before. She found herself unable to resist, and kissed him back. After a few moments they felt awkward and oddly not alone.

“Will you be ordering desert?” The waitress tried not to but laughed softly anyway as the rest of the diners applauded.

“Coffee?” Jackie asked with a smile. Susan put her hand on his face and felt his grin.

“Coffee sounds just fine," she sighed. "Just fine."

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Paris France, Christmas Eve…

“I’m so sorry.” Susan was sitting upright on the edge of the bed; clothes that had only moment ago laid in a neat pile now were strewn on the floor by her feet. She put her hands to her face and began to weep.

“Don’t…Sue….please?” Jackie touched her arm and she pulled away before he had a chance to even grab her. She stood up, still weeping, but with head down and leaning against the tall armoire across from the large bed. Jackie hopped up and walked quickly to her. Only recently had he begun to set aside his prosthesis on occasion, but even if he had it, nothing in his power would be able to pull Susan back from the brink of shame and hopelessness.

It certainly didn’t seem like a honeymoon; especially when she had turned to him at the reception only the day before and shook her head. Was it a cruel joke she had played on her husband? She looked down at herself and shook her head in the same, sad manner as before; wondering just what she could do to get out of what promised to be a sham of a marriage.

Even if Jackie was aware of her past, it still felt like fraud to her that she talked and walked correctly and wore the right clothes. But she didn’t have any idea when they got engaged that when they came together she would not have any feelings; her emotions had become almost disconnected overnight. And her body had seemed to shut down; bringing the honeymoon to an abrupt halt as she wept and cried and screamed in utter shame over her lack.

Jackie held his arm and stump apart, beckoning her to come to him. It had to be that way, since she had to be the one to decide, since he had decided long ago that he would never ever love a woman the way he loved Susan. Forgetting himself and her impairment, he gestured with his arms; as if to say, ‘come on!’

She heard the motion of his good arm and shook her head no and spoke.

“I think we shouldn’t…we….I’m so sorry.” She put her hands to her face once again; her body convulsing in sheer panic at her words; since even if she was convinced they shouldn’t be married that it wouldn’t break her heart. Jackie walked slowly to her and pulled her into a tentative embrace with his stump while patting her back with his hand.

“Maybe you’re right, Sue….just maybe you’re right….”


From Allie’s Chance

“So I have the two of you. I love you both dearly, but I can’t keep this up. I feel like I’m in a circus and I’m spinning pie plates….something starts to slow down and it all looks like everything is going to come crashing down. You need to talk…you love each other, so there’s nothing either of you can say that should make a difference. This is your chance!” She sighed, hoping she was reaching then both.

“No…he won’t…it won’t work. I’m sorry.” Alan sobbed. He went to get up but felt a hand grab his arm; an unexpected gentle tug instead of a cruel demanding yank pulled him back down. He turned and saw his father look at him for the first time with a measure of acceptance. Blake shook his head, not in denial but in sorrow and regret. He pulled the young man closer to him and touched his face, still unable to speak.

“Dad?” A one word question that was vague at first hearing, but the nod by the older man gave everyone hope that things would change.

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Ardmore, Pennsylvania, 2020…

“You get to those papers on your desk, sweetie?” Allie called out to Regina from the bathroom between face washing and teeth brushing, so to speak. Her voice sounded only a wee bit sudsy. Regina poked her head into the bathroom and smiled.

“On it right now. We still getting together after work with Andrea and Betty?” She looked out the window as if to ‘see’ the clinic down the street where they had met. If it hadn’t been for Betty, the two might never have connected, but it was Andrea who really pushed them once they met.

“Unless something comes up, but you’re not on call and I’m on vacation.” She giggled, since it was odd for Allie to be the one with time off, but it was really only for a few days. She leaned closer and rubbed her partner’s tummy, seeking some movement.

“Greg and Marsha seemed to be taking some time off as well. It’s more like them turning over and going back to sleep than any kicking the past few hours.” She shuddered.

“Oh, don’t….honey? They’re okay. They just seem to respond to my voice with a little more…” She paused and pulled her hand away, raising it up as if to get attention.

“See….they waltz for you and cha cha for me.” She patted Regina’s tummy once again before lifting her hand to touch her partner’s face.

“Have I told you how much I love you?” A stock if well-intended question. Regina nodded and kissed Allie’s cheek.

“Every day in every way….I love you too!” She grabbed the bottle of Scope and took a swig.

“Ewwwww….orange juice and mouthwash….ewwww.” She spat the liquid in the sink, just missing Allie’s pajama top.

“Gotta run.” She kissed Allie once more and hurried down the hallway.

“Love you!” she called before running out the doorway. Allie cocked her head and listened. Hearing the car drive off, she walked back to the bedroom where she closed the door behind her, and opened the closet. Never one for dressing up, it was a rare if odd and completely understandable occasion. Pulling off her pajamas, she grabbed an outfit hanging on the back of the closet door. She padded on the thick carpet over to Regina’s dresser. Pulling out some items, she proceeded to get dressed for the day; the moment, actually.

“Not bad,” she sighed. She closed the closet door and looked at herself in the mirror. Standing across from her was a woman who very strongly resembled her, but with one decided difference. While it was merely a throw pillow, the bump in her outfit gave her the appearance of a woman who was ‘great with child,’ as her grandmother might have said. She turned slightly and viewed herself in profile, with her hands placed on her tummy. It was really meant to be a way of connecting; she wanted so much to be a part of what Regina was experiencing.

And of course, they had made careful plans that allowed for her ‘pre-change’ condition to bring their hopes for children to fruition. But in spite of that connection, there was something deep inside, perhaps, that Allie missed. No womb meant no birth on her part. And as silly as that might sound to some, considering the blessing they were about to enjoy, she began to cry softly. Incomplete, some might say. And inauthentic, Allie would say all too frequently, despite reassurances by Regina. She was so ‘into’ her grief that she didn’t hear the bedroom door open. Regina stood there, almost incredulous but for the tears in her own eyes.

“You’ll make a great mom, honey.” Regina said. Allie turned; her face grew beet red and she shook her head.

“This isn’t…I’m sorry…I…” She stammered. Regina stepped closer and drew her partner into a warm hug; faux and real baby bumps coming together softly. Allie kept shaking her head, and by then was unable to speak but for saying ‘I’m sorry’ over and over. Regina stroked her hair and kissed her cheeks; oddly savoring the salt of Allie’s tears, which were dear to her. She kissed her again and spoke.

“It’s alright, Allie….it’s alright.”


From Helen’s Chance

“It’s….I hate myself. I’ll never be what Daddy wanted me to be. I’m not a hero….I don’t even know what I am.” She sobbed into Sandy’s sweater. The woman pushed her back just a bit so they could see eye to eye.

“You can never be what anyone wants you to be, honey. You can only be who you are. I know that your father was a very brave and a very good man, and I’ll never replace him. But neither will you. He was just a man; a good man, yes, but just a man, sweetheart. Jimmy is not like his bio father at all, and is a pretty good young man, but not much like his dad. But I still love him. And your mom loves you. And from what I know of Aldo?

Your dad would love Helen if he got the chance to meet her. If you two had the chance to know each other? Well? You and me and your mom and Jimmy? We all have a chance to be a family, and I think that’s a good thing, don’t you?” Helen looked at Sandy and saw the same accepting expression his mother showed her every day. She nodded.

“Now, since we are all going to be a family, and since dinner is a very nice but very reheatable Chicken Meniure, why don’t we sit here for a few minutes and maybe relax before we get you ready.” She pulled her close and kissed her on the cheek. The girl pulled away slightly.

“Ready?” She bit her lip slightly and wiped her face with her sleeve.

“I’m sure Helen has some clothes to wear, right? We need to get you ready so Jimmy can meet his new sister, right?” She beamed with an acceptance that only a mother, step or otherwise, can have for her child. Helen nodded before looking over at her closet. She turned back and the two put their heads together and giggled like school girls and exactly like they'd known each other all along.

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Exotic Thai Restaurant, Davenport, Iowa, Christmas Eve…

As much as Helen enjoyed her time as chef, finally owning and running the restaurant gave even more purpose to her; as if she didn’t have enough with degrees in Psychology and Social work to back up her cooking. She smiled as her manager handed her a copy of the new menu. Traditional Thai and Vietnamese, which had been less of a challenge than she expected when she first started, but now with a great new Chef de Cuisine, she could concentrate on other aspects of the restaurant. Nom was more than personable and probably even more capable as a chef than Helen ever hoped to be. She didn’t mind, since she had learned very early on with the help of a great mother and terrific step-mom that nothing would hold her back if she had faith.

She nodded and handed the menu back to Liu and pointed at the top.

“Green for the font for the restaurant, but everything else is just great.” She pulled the older woman in for a congratulatory hug. Liu smiled and nodded back before gathering the menu and some other papers.

“I’ll send this to the printers today.” With that she went to walk out, but two men were standing silently and almost patiently at the doorway of the dining area. She bowed her head slightly and smiled; causing the men to step further apart, allowing her to exit. The taller of the two men was an African-American; a vaguely familiar acquaintance to Helen, even if she did recognize the clothing. Blue with a silver bird on the shoulder. The other man was entirely familiar; he wore a gold-looking oak leaf on his shoulder and a grim expression on his face, which was puffy and red. Helen stared blankly at the second man, hoping it was all a mistake.

“Helen….There…there’s been an accident.” He struggled with the last word before putting his hand to his mouth to choke back a sob. The other man stepped forward and place his hand on the younger man’s shoulder in reassurance over something that could never received any assurance whatsoever. She tilted her head slightly and her eyes widened as she shook her head no.

“I’m sorry, Ma’am. I am so, so sorry.” The older of the two knew Jimmy Nichols as his instructor in flight school. The younger man, Lt. Col. Jensen Davis had been….had? Jimmy and he had been best friends. And Col. Louis Washington just shook his head; putting his hand once again on the younger man’s shoulder to steady him. And Helen trembled only slightly before she collapsed into the booth where she had stood, fainting dead away.


From Lauren’s Chance

“I know about cutting, honey,” he said softly. “We’re talking about the scar across your wrist. None of that…you’re much too important. “ She shook her head in disagreement before Melanie grabbed her hand and patted it.

“Trust me on this, kid. Jimmy Muldoon doesn’t care about anything more than the Eagles and one other thing, and that’s kids. You listen to him, okay. We care about you, and we’re gonna see this through with you. When I was your age, I had someone just as special as Jimmy say the same thing, and I’m here today because of her. Listen to us….okay?”

Thankfully, for once in the girl’s brief life, being exhausted and stretched beyond her means was actually a good thing, and she relented, pulling Melanie close as she laid her head on Melanie’s arm and wept.

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Norfolk, Virginia, week of July Fourth

“Who thinks it’s a good idea to hurt girls?” Lauren lowered her head slightly. The question always invited more than a variety of answers; some of them quite profane and very telling. One boy raised his hand timidly but was ignored in effect by the loud shouts from the other boys in the group.

“Depends on who’s doin’ the hurtin’” one boy laughed and fist-bumped the kid next to him. Another placed his hand on his crotch and gyrated slightly in his seat. Mr. Rolonzo rolled up the notes in his hand and swatted the boy in the back of the head.

“Okay.” Lauren took a deep breath. Twelve year old boys had no business being stuck in a treatment facility, much less juvie, but behavior dictates how we are received, and these boys were as incorrigible as they came; not the marginally bratty ‘incorrigible’ of the von Trapp boy in the Sound of Music, but mean and unforgiving and downright dangerous on occasion.

“Any of you have a sister?” Several boys raised their hands; almost looking proud of something other than their own existence.

“You have Aunties?” Nods and more hands. The boy on the side still hadn’t lowered his hand, but just waved it from side to side.

“What about you, Theus? You have an Aunt?” The boy nodded.

“And Moms? I know some of you don’t have Moms, and I’m sorry, but some of you do, right?” Rolonzo leaned back and smiled and nodded; he knew where Lauren was going with this.

“Yeah” and “Fuck, yeah!” It didn’t matter, like some might expect, which neighborhood they called home. No matter what color or what language. All of the boys were hardened for the most part beyond their tender years. No baseball or football in middle school. No skateboarding or video games save for the six year old Playstation in the unit lounge. Even that was a sad testimony as it was surrounded by clear plexiglass for protection. The shouts died down.

“Well, we have boys who have girls in their lives, Mr. Rolonzo.” Several of them looked at her like she had two heads, as the old saying goes. Rolonzo suppressed a laugh.

“Okay, guys. This is easy. How many of you would get pissed off if someone hurt your sister or your Auntie or your Mom?”

“I’d kill the motherfucker!” Winston said it sullenly, unlike his usual boisterous bravado. An underlying and ever-present current of anger seemed to move him along daily. This wasn’t his usual self talking, but a boy hurt by countless disappointments and harm.

“Fuck that. I’d kill em’ and use magic to bring em’ back to life….” Danny looked around and paused for effect.

“Then I’d kill em’ again.”

“What the fuck? There’s no such thing as magic,” one boy said; evoking a punch in the arm from the kid next to him.

“So….it’s okay for you to hurt girls, but it’s not okay for anyone else, right?”

“Hell, yeah.”

“What does that mean, guys? What am I asking you?” They knew she knew, and they all resisted the temptation to laugh and joke about how she didn’t know what she was doing.

“I don’t give a fuck!” Winston turned his face to the wall and closed his eyes. Usually the one to shout out obscenities that would make a sailor blush, he just tuned everything out and in moments appeared to be sleeping.

“Miss Lauren?” The boy who had been holding his hand up waved it slightly; his voice, as slight as it was, carried across the lounge when the group calmed down.

“Yes, Davey?” She leaned forward to focus.

“Man…shut the fuck up,” another boy shouted, earning a swat in the head from Rolonzo. He glared at the boy and he slumped in his chair and quieted down. Davey spoke.

“I think it means like when you know how someone else feels.”

“Dude, would you just shut the fuck up?” Winston murmured from his nap.

“That’s right. We want to be respected and to have our friends and family okay, but what does it say if we can’t do the same thing for others?” Rolonzo looked over the group. Other than Winston and the boy who slumped in his chair in a sullen pout, all the other boys….seven of them…stared at Lauren in wide-eyed recognition. It was a daunting task to reach the boys. And these were the ones with promise. Picked specifically for the unit because they had some glimmer of empathy lying underneath the angry surface.

“Yeah…” and “Oh shit…yeah, I guess.” A tallish woman appeared in the doorway.

“Hi, Miss Tanika!” Lauren said.

“Miss Martina is ready for them in the gym,” she said, causing most of the boys to jump up from their slouches.

“Hold it!” She stood in the lounge doorway. “Everybody out in line and no poking or hitting, okay? I’ll stay here with Davey and Winston and Mr. Rolonzo will take you guys over.” The boys did as much as they could to obey the instructions; only a bit of poking and no hitting at all. Winston looked up and shook his head. Most of the time a unit restriction would have brought angry outbursts. He was improving, however slowly. Davey’s behavior hadn’t been sudden and acute, but he was consistently failing to follow the simplest of directions without argument or downright refusal. He rose slowly and walked over, sitting next to Lauren as the other boys walked off the unit to gym.

“Miss Lauren?” His voice, even in a near empty room, seemed to be almost a whisper. She turned and faced him, noting that he was staring at her. While boys of that age might think staring was flattery, and that Davey might be just such a boy, Lauren noticed an almost fear in the boys eyes.

“Yes, Davey?” He lowered his head at her words; appearing ashamed of a mere question, but he continued, much like someone might run through a small fire to get out of a burning house. He lifted his face once again and she was sure there was more than just fear; that hopeless look she had seen countless times since she started working with kids. He bit his lip and spoke.

“Miss Lauren….I got….can we talk?” She nodded and rose.

“Let’s go to my office, okay?” The boy’s fear seemed to abate and grow at the same time; talking about things can do that to a child. He swallowed hard and walked out into the hallway, not waiting for her. She stepped out of the lounge and watched him as he went down the hall; looking all the world like a dead boy walking.


From Marta’s Chance

“You will be okay….I am going to take some time to visit my parents in Krakow and then I will be returning here, but not to work. I am going to get married.”

“What….” Marta turned around on the table and faced the girl, almost in a panic until the girl smiled, her grin almost silly and playful.

“That is, if you’ll have me?”

“If I’ll……” Marta turned away as if to question what she had just heard. She turned back to see that Dagmara’s grin had turned into a broad smile, her eyes welling with tears. She nodded and spoke softly, almost in a sing-song weeping combination,

“Marta, bÄ™dziewampojÄ…Å‚bymnie?” She tilted her head slightly to one side. Marta’s Polish still left a bit to be desired, but her eyes widened in both recognition and tentative joy.

“Marry?” She stammered and Dagmara said simply but beautifully,

“Tak, Ty możeszbyćmojażona.” She nodded enthusiastically and drew close and kissed Marta.

“Wife? Yes…oh yes….”

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St. Barnabas Hospital, Livingston, New Jersey…a few years later

“So it’s decided? And I don’t get a say in this,” Dagmara pretended to pout. Of course she was glad for the gift that she was about to receive, even if it meant risk for both her and Marta. It’s rare to find donors who are compatible in such a short time; much less someone in our own family. That she and Marta shared enough markers for a transplant was truly amazing.

“You don’t have to do this.” She protested; not to put off Marta’s concern but to instead let her know that nothing between them was an obligation. Marta just smiled and leaned closer to kiss her wife…domestic partner, actually. Nothing yet on that front other than that everyone seemed to hedge their bets regarding any position; preferring to allow someone other than themselves to make a decision that should have been decided decades before.

“It will be my honor and my privilege, moja droga.” It would prove to be an honor and a privilege, but in much more in ways that would be far reaching and eternal.


From Michaela’s Chance

The girl stood off to the side, her heart pounding and her eyes welling with tears. The four figures sat down at the news desk for the broadcast. Meanwhile, a man sat on a stool at Tully’s Good Times Bar and Grill and looked up at the TV on the wall behind the bar, counting down the seconds as the opening credits for the newscast rolled,
“Eyewitness News TV Thirteen with Rachael Barnhart and Jane Flasch, Meteorologist Patrice Walsh and Michaela Parente with the weekend sports……And now…Eyewitness News….”

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Syracuse, New York, several years later

Cindy Parente looked up through sleepy eyes and shook her head.

“They going to roll with this tonight?” She used her hand to point to herself and then to Michaela.

“I was so sure things had changed, honey. I’m so sorry.” Michaela put her head down, feeling as if the story was her fault. In a way it was, but not as a fault but as a natural consequence of good decisions not held in respect by everyone. Most folks, even in the more ‘conservative’ places in upstate New York, believed in a live and let live attitude. And certainly, while Michaela had never been ashamed of her past, she still never felt called to be the spokesperson for transgendered sports reporters. Just being a woman in the business was difficult enough, as Hannah Storm had sadly discovered at ESPN.

“It’s not fair!” Cindy sighed. Neither woman dealt with fair vs. unfair; she really meant it was unjust that someone in the management of the local affiliate thought it good to draw attention to the couple’s life choices to boost ratings. Even before the teasers regarding the report had aired, Michaela was already receiving enough hate via twitters and e-mails at the station. Mostly traditionalists who liked their sportscasters to be either male or decidedly attractive women. Michaela wasn’t unattractive, but she’d never grace Elle or Vanity Fair either. And in every aspect save one, she was never really a male. She had, however, been Michael Parente. That would never change, since whom she had been prior to her surgery was just as much a part of her.

“No, but it’s what it is.” Michaela sighed. She sat down on the bed and covered her eyes and began to cry softly. Before Cindy spoke again, Michaela had turned to her.

“I’m sorry you have to go through this. It was never my intent…” Cindy cut her off with a finger to her lips. She pulled her wife close to her and kissed her on the cheek.

“I know. But I am so glad to be a part of your life…of this life we share. No matter what, we’ll be fine, okay?”

It was going to be fine, but how and why and when were yet to be determined. And the ‘going through it’ part of becoming fine in the end would be the hardest thing either woman would ever endure.

Next: Jackie’s Blessing



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