"It's not like either of them are related to you."
Once she had heard that statement, Marie Patrice Beckett, who was not a violent person, but was, instead, flighty and selfish and superficial, slapped that Andorian model across her azure face so fast that both of them were surprised by the force and speed of her outburst of anger and violence.
"Don't you ever say that again about my Ma Melissa or my Ma Norri! Ever!"
And then she had fired that model, and gotten a transport to Lafa II, even though the next trunk show was in three days and MP Fashions of Andoria, Inc. was dependent upon its expected attendant sales and publicity.
On the USS Excelsior, Thomas Digiorno-Madden asked to see his captain, Erika Hernandez. She agreed for her Tactical Officer, an Ensign, to have a week's worth of leave on Lafa II even though that ship was nowhere near the area and there were, as there always were, it seemed, flare-ups at the Romulan Neutral Zone.
At the Beckett Veterinary Hospital on Lafa II, Joss Beckett explained to his Calafan assistants that he'd be occupied for several days, and they'd have to somehow carry on without him, unless there was a dire emergency. The stray cat had had her kittens and was stable. The injured linfep was eating tofflin roots again and seemed to be on the mend. The other assorted patients were going home and no new ones were expected. He'd lecture to schoolchildren about animal safety at a later date. This was more important. He and his wife, Jia, would come, as would their kids, Jay and Shaoqing.
Declan Reed gathered up his most necessary art supplies, a sketch pad, and a pair of small canvases, and boarded a transport as soon as he heard. He left a note with Oxford, as an artist in residence, and his request for emergency leave was quickly granted as the transport sped to Lafa II and he looked out a window or at his fellow passengers and sketched them on his PADD – a tall Imvari, a pair of Xyrillian men, a Tandaran mother with three children who seemed to overwhelm her, and a Vulcan MACO.
And on Lafa II, Neil Digiorno-Madden sent out a notice to the press that the celebrated restaurant, Reversal, would close for a week, possibly more, as there was pressing family business. His long-time girlfriend, Ines Ramires, would come with their two children, Marty and Jenny Lee. His nighttime woman, a Calafan named Yinora, would come, too, with her husband, Fepwev, and their children.
From light years away, they came. And on May the sixth of 2206, they began to arrive.
The Med Center was a cheery, well-lit place where most of the patients and medical personnel were native Calafans, silvery in aspect, many with bald heads, both male and female. There were even a few from the other side of the pond, another universe, and those were coppery in shade. But the family did not stop to see or greet any of them. They came to see but one patient.
The room was small and warm, but it had none of the touches that a home or even a hotel has. Instead, it was a sterile warehouse for equipment and one Leonora Digiorno, aged seventy, who had fallen and broken her hip. Leonora – Norri – was not alone. Sitting on the bed, distraught and confused, was her long-time lover, Melissa Madden.
"Your family is here to see you," announced a female Calafan nurse. The woman's almost Irish-sounding accent betrayed origins on Lafa V. Her mottled silver arms and very, very short hair gave away that she was maybe thirty years of age.
"Oh, uh? Mommy?" Melissa asked.
"Not your mother," Norri grunted from the bed. "Your mother died two years ago."
"Oh. Is Mommy coming?"
"No, Melissa." It was an effort for Norri to reply.
The nurse saved the situation by opening the door for the family. "Now," the nurse explained, "you can't all fit in here at the same time. You'll have to take shifts." She randomly pointed, and Neil and his small family, and Declan, were permitted to enter first.
"Doug!" Melissa cried out to Neil. "And Malcolm!" she exclaimed to Declan.
"No, Ma Melissa," Declan explained, "my name is Declan. My father was Malcolm."
"Not Doug, Ma. I'm Neil, remember?"
"Oh, uh, yeah."
"How are you feeling, Norri?" asked Ines.
"Like I was hit by a transport."
"How long will you be here?" Declan inquired.
"Malcolm!" Melissa called out, her voice childlike even though she was over seventy herself.
"I'm, I am not Malcolm," Declan explained again. He looked up a little. "He's only been gone for a year and a half." He sighed.
"Not to her," Norri said. "They're all alive – Lili, Doug, and Malcolm. And her parents, her sister Marilyn, my folks, my older brother, Phil – all of them are still out there, still kicking, still young." She paused. "At least she still knows who I am. Irumodic Syndrome is awful. It's a thief. It robs you of the people you love."
"How'd this happen, Granny Norri?" asked Jenny Lee.
"I was running after her," Norri gestured at Melissa. "She had pulled a roll of toilet paper out of a cabinet and unrolled it. It was getting everywhere. She, uh, she thought it was funny. I suppose it was. It's all fun until someone breaks a hip." Norri cringed a little. "When can I go back to things?"
The nurse turned. "You'll have rehabilitation and physical therapy for the better part o' a year."
"I can't be flat on my back that long."
"You're gonna hafta be."
"We, uh," Neil stumbled over the words, "we'll figure something out, whatever you want, whatever works best. In the meantime, we'll switch, and get Empy and Joss in here. Didja know Tommy's here?"
"He shouldn't have," Norri stated. "He can't interrupt a cold war for little ole me."
"Of course I was gonna come," said Tommy himself, striding in, still in uniform. "I wouldn't feel right staying away."
The family shifted around, and it was Neil and his family, and Declan, now outside the room, with the Calafans. "We need to do something," Neil said.
"We should have a family meeting, I think," Declan replied.
Yinora looked up. "I have an idea. Let Fepwev and me, we'll have the kids over – all four of 'em. Give the rest of you a chance to talk. We'll abide by anything you say or do. We really shouldn't be making this decision, anyway. This is a job for all of you."
"Right," Declan sighed, rubbing his light eyes, a genetic inheritance from his mother, Lili O'Day Beckett Reed. "This will be, as they say, where the men are separated from the boys."
"Or the women from the girls," Ines offered. "Don't forget Empy, or me and Jia, yanno."
That evening, they all sat around Lili's old dining table at the house that she had shared with her first husband, Doug. Lili and Doug had been Joss and Marie Patrice's parents. Lili, with Malcolm, was parent to Declan. And Doug and Melissa had been parents to Neil and Tommy and Kevin, but Kevin had died in infancy, buried in the back yard. Joss and Jia now lived in the old Beckett house.
Jia looked out a window to the yard, at the graves of, from left to right, Kevin, Doug, Lili, and Malcolm. "I look at them, and I think of my own folks, also gone. Aging stinks. I don't move as fast as I used to, and neither do you," she said to Joss.
"That may be so, but we've still got a lot of time left."
"We do. But this is gonna age us even more. I, I don't, please don't misunderstand me. It's not that I don't care. It's more that I know how stressful it'll be."
"Yeah, it will be," he agreed. "I'd give you a bright side to look at, but I'm not so sure there is one."
"Let's get down to it," Ines suggested. "I can't just hang around and complain. I feel like we need to get things settled. But nothing without Norri's okay. I mean, right?"
"You're right," Declan agreed. "So let's take an inventory."
"Their Fep City apartment is okay," Marie Patrice began, "but the doorways are narrow. Norri will have a wheelchair or crutches or a cane. A narrow doorway is going to make that difficult."
"What about a facility?" asked Ines.
"I think all the Calafan buildings are like that," Joss explained. "When the vet hospital was built, the locals couldn't understand why I wanted wider doorways."
"Yeah, Joss's coworkers can't get over the wider doorways in this house, either," Jia added.
"Same with Reversal, after it was renovated," Neil commiserated.
"So we need a house built for humans. That's either here, or the old Reed house, up the rise," Marie Patrice pointed out.
"My parents' old place?" Declan asked.
"Well, nobody's using it," Jia said.
"Right, that," Declan agreed. "I, uh, it was a painful place, after Louise left me." He bit his lower lip. "But my messy divorce was far enough back in hist'ry that I suppose I can allow someone to take the sheets off the furniture and use it."
"We could get a nurse in, I guess," Marie Patrice offered.
"I think they need a companion," Jia opined. "A nurse won't help clean, or read to them, or anything like that. Plus someone that skilled will be expensive."
"We are not gonna economize here," Joss countered. "This is Ma Norri and Ma Melissa we're talking about."
"I'm sorry; I didn't mean any disrespect," Jia backpedaled. "But there is an economic component to this; you can't deny that."
"Right, and I'm sorry," Joss backed off. "Still, I don't want this to be bargain basement care."
"It's only for a half a year, a year or so," Marie Patrice said.
Neil had been sitting quietly for a while. "No, it won't be. It can't be."
"What is it, Bro?" asked Tommy.
"We can't just leave Norri to do this. Not anymore. It's not fair. Even if Norri wasn't hurt, we still wouldn't – we still shouldn't – just leave her to do all the dirty work by herself."
"What are you suggesting?" asked Ines.
"Someone's gotta step up and be the caregiver. I volunteer," Neil declared.
"You've got Reversal to run," Marie Patrice said.
"It's just a restaurant," Neil said.
"No, c'mon, it was Dad and Ma Lili's dream," Tommy stated. "You can't just chuck it."
"Neil," Declan said, "you can't. But I can present the solution, if I may." They all looked at him in anticipation. "I'll do it." The words leapt out of Declan's mouth, seemingly of their own accord. "I shall gather them together and the three of us will live in my parents' old home. And their Fep City apartment, well, perhaps you can use it. I suspect the rooms would be larger, so that would appeal to Jenny Lee and Marty, right? It's not much farther from Reversal, yes?"
"Dec, this is a ton of responsibility," Tommy cautioned.
"I, I have no reason to stay, physically, at Oxford. I can continue to produce artwork and then just send along the imagery. If they need anything in their hands, I can either send it on a transport or take it over myself, say, once or twice a year."
"We could handle the times when you'd have to be on Earth," Ines volunteered. "Right, Neil?" He nodded his agreement.
"We could take over sometimes, for breaks and stuff," Joss suggested. "Have you over for dinner once a week, on a regular basis, all right?"
Declan nodded. Marie Patrice added, "I could handle the finances."
"I'd better do that, Empy," Neil said.
"Then let me do something." She thought for a minute. "I could visit you, I dunno, every quarter, maybe? That would break things up, and give you something to look forward to. And write to me; I'll answer. Make me your sounding board or just bend my ear if you need to vent."
"All right," Declan agreed.
"Write to me, too, okay?" Tommy requested. "And I'll try to write more, and send images and stuff, things you can use to distract Ma Melissa or amuse Ma Norri. We'll all, we'll try. We'll help any way we can, right? We're all in this decision together."
"Together," they all answered in unison.