A/N: Okay, so I lied...sort of. It wasn't over. DID YOU GUYS HONESTLY THINK I WOULD END IT THERE???? I just wanted to see how you'd all react...maybe for a good laugh. This is the real ending. There's no more after this, I swear!
This is the music you must listen to when reading this chapter, in this orderThe Freshman, by Vervepipe, and then Perfect by Maren Ord.
Please forgive me and...ENJOY!
Epilogue: Return to Third Street
-0-0-0-0------Nearly A Month Later ------0-0-0-0-
TJ strummed his fingers lazily upon the long conference table in front of him trying desperately to pay attention as Amanda Winchell and Chief discussed the new article topics for the next issue of High Society Magazine. He watched with disinterest as the eager new writers threw in their opinions and the senior staff preoccupied themselves with the free donuts and coffee while doodling on the paper in front of them. They knew better than to attempt putting out their ideas. The meetings were just formalities, just a way of assuring the employees that they had a creative say in what went in the magazine. Winchell usually walked into those meetings with the whole new issue already planned out in her mind.
TJ himself was lost in his memories of the night before, knowing better than to participate. He had been packing the remainder of Spinelli's things away. Her paints, and various art supplies had gone first. He'd been extremely careful to pack the things with the same care Spinelli would have used, knowing how she loved and cherished those objects. It had been a difficult month, waking up alone, coming home to an empty apartment, the silence. Just sorting through her things livened the severe emotions he'd been forcing down the past few days. He'd thought of crying, but he'd never really been much of a crier. He didn't feel he deserved the gratification of that kind of grievance, as it was his fault everything was so screwed up.
TJ couldn't recall ever feeling so torn from home before. He'd made amends with Gus and Mikey and was beginning to patch things up completely with Gretchen and Vince. Things were almost back to normal, back to the way they'd been those fifteen years before. One would assume that this would make him happier than he'd ever been, but without Spinelli, nothing else seemed to really matter.
"Ted…Mr. Dettweiler," Winchell screeched and TJ nearly jumped from his seat in surprise.
"Oh…me…" he mumbled, which caused laughter to erupt from all corners of the conference room.
"Did you have any input?" Winchell asked, rather snidely.
"Right. Well, I had assumed with your literary promise," she spat the words with an almost mocking air, "You might have some idea or input; but perhaps I was mistaken on your creativity levels. I apologize…." She began droning on again, about how many limbs she'd gone out on for TJ, how she was always giving him the best opportunities, and was it really too much to ask that he pay a slight amount of attention at the mandatory meeting and show a bit of interest in the future of the magazine.
Winchell was picking on TJ, of course, as he did more often than not prove to be the most talented of the writers in that room. She had to put him down, never let him know how good he was and how important to the magazine or risk losing him. That bitch.
TJ smirked slightly, reminded once more of his lost lover. Spinelli had a way of always making him feel better about his job and than turning around and making him feel worse.
Five weeks ago, TJ wouldn't have cared that Winchell had pointed him out and was now bullying him as only a boss could. At least, Ted wouldn't have. Good ol' Ted would sit in silence taking the abuse; nodding patiently and bottling up those frustrations only to take them out on a trashcan or wall or some other inanimate object on his way home. Yes, that's what Ted would do. But that time was gone now.
TJ could feel the red cap he'd unconsciously been carrying with him everywhere now conveniently shoved in his back pocket. Yes, good ol' Ted would never have done anything to stifle the old bag Winchell. But sitting there listening to the demeaning things Winchell had to say buzz in the background, the young man didn't feel like good ol' Ted.
"I quit." More like good ol' TJ.
"And further more…excuse me?" Winchell sputtered and a dead silence fell about the room. He hadn't realized he'd said those words aloud until that moment.
"He's joking," Chief chuckled, glowering menacingly at TJ, "Right?"
"No," TJ pulled himself up from his chair, a renewed sense of pride rising within him, flushing his cheeks, "I quit." There were so many more important things he needed to be doing. "I quit," he repeated more firmly. There were so many things he wanted to do but had lost the nerve so long ago.
"You can't quit," Winchell argued, though the words sounded flimsy.
"I just did," TJ shrugged gathering up his things and making his way to the door, "I'm sorry, but I can't work here anymore."
"What'll you do?" Chief called after him and TJ paused, saddened for the man who watched TJ with envy. Chief had never gathered the courage to do what TJ had just done. A boyish grin found it's way across the young man's face as he slipped his red cap from his back pocket to the top of his head.
"Don't worry 'bout me Chief," he assured the older man, the cheekiness from his childhood easily returning to his voice, "I've got a plan. Now, if you don't mind, I have a plane to catch."
Without a chance for another protest, TJ was out the door and sidled up behind the kind personal assistant of Winchell and hung up the phone on her.
"Hey," she cried. TJ smiled, shrugging.
"Sorry," he told her, "I'm kind of short on time." He took the phone, dialing in a number he'd only recently memorized and cried in the phone when it was answered, "Mikey!…You're not Mikey?…Mikey Blumberg…Who's Mick?…Yes, yes, him. Put him on the phone!…What do you mean he's on stage now? Get him; tell him it's important. Tell him TJ's on the phone…he'll come…What? Tell him it's an emergency! No, no, wait; tell him it's a matter of the heart. Do it! He'll come…"
TJ only had to wait a moment before a breathless voice gasped excitedly into the phone; "You're getting Spinelli back!"
"I'm getting Spinelli back," TJ confirmed, "If all goes according to plan."
"She is your true love!" Mikey exclaimed, "But why are you calling me?"
"I need your help…I have a plan…now, pay attention…"
As TJ ran from the building he heard the secretary call after him, "Go get her, stud," and he felt his heart catch. He considered praying, but something told him it was all up to Spinelli and no amount of supernatural intervention would alter her decision. He ran most of the way to the airport and found Mikey waiting at the gate. Out of breath, TJ snatched the ticket from the lumbering youth's eager hand and both of them boarded the plane.
"I called Gretchen, everything's in motion," Mikey told TJ.
"Where are you going?" TJ looked questioningly at him.
"To support you, of course. Ah, dear TJ races to meet his Juliet," Mikey cried theatrically, gaining the attention of most everyone on the plane, "But will their love end with such undue tragedy?"
"Mikey…" TJ groaned, buckling his seatbelt and waiting anxiously for take-off.
"What do you plan to do?" Mikey asked.
'The only thing I can do," TJ shrugged distractedly, "Talk to her, tell her how I feel, if all else fails, beg."
"Ah, like a true man in love," Mikey smiled, patting his friend's shoulder.
Spinelli kicked at the sand beneath the jungle gym. She shielded her eyes from the sun and looked up to the clock on the school building.
"Gretchen's late," she mumbled unhappily, readjusting her bra beneath the spaghetti strap of her tank top. It was hot out that day; but not as hot as she knew it could get. She'd tied her hair back in a ponytail, but now the tip kept brushing against her neck and it was driving her crazy.
Spinelli was beginning to regret agreeing to meet Gretchen, Gus, and Vince at the school. She shook her head and ran her fingers along her burning skin, warm to the touch, slumping into one of the swings she smiled at her feet dragging along the sand.
"Just come to the school," Gretchen had prodded on the phone the night before.
"What for Grundler?" There was still a deep animosity between the two, but Spinelli needed the other young woman for a kind of support that Vince and Gus could not provide. It was helping their relationship to some extent, but they still needed to actually talk about their problems.
"There's a few things we have to take care of pertaining to…you know what."
Truthfully, Spinelli's first reaction was to run, to go nowhere near the school, and to turn down Gretchen's 'invitation' vehemently. But she couldn't do that to the others. So, that was why she sat there, impatiently stirring up dust storms in the sand.
With a sigh, Spinelli pumped her legs sailing through the air and feeling tear drops fall and stain her jeans. For the past month, TJ had been sending her things to the Spinelli residence. With the first packages, her clothes mostly, had come a note to Flo and Bob, because "I know she won't want to hear from me." He'd explained in the letter that he wanted to save Spinelli from having to come out to New York and get her things herself, that he wanted it to be easier on her. But he was taking his time shipping her things and she thought at first he was slacking or maybe even changed his mind and wanted her to come back to New York to get the rest. It was Gretchen who pointed out how hard it probably was for TJ to pack the stuff and how confirming it was, Spinelli's things no longer in the apartment. It made the split more realistic.
Another package had arrived the night before, after Gretchen had called. Spinelli had sat tracing the words written on the box by TJ with her finger; trembling and fighting futilely against the sobs rising within her. Flo, wanting to cheer her daughter up, had set Spinelli up on a date with a young man. Conveniently forgetting to tell Spienlli about it until the man, a twenty-nine year old manager of the local grocery mart, stood on their front porch. Needless to say, it didn't cheer Spinelli up. She'd been going through her things moments before he'd come and found one of TJ's shirt mixed in with her own clothes. It still smelled like him. So, of course, she was bawling her eyes out when the man arrived. It wasn't a pretty picture.
"Damn it, Gretch," Spinelli snapped, jumping from the swing upon hearing footfalls along the pavement, "You're late," she started, as she spun on the newcomer, but fell short, her words catching in her throat.
"Hey," TJ greeted nervously, standing awkwardly before her, straightening his cap.
"What do you want?"
"You know, I was in the neighborhood…" he joked, but found himself frowning at his feet, "I want you back."
"It's a nice sentiment, Teej, but you should have thought about that before…"
"I know I screwed up but…"
"But nothing! This is more than screwing up, and you know that…" Spinelli shook her head, turning to leave, "It doesn't matter…"
"Wait, alright, please. I know what I did was wrong, and I don't deserve to be forgiven."
"This is the very thing that's pissing me off," Spinelli snapped, turning back to him, "Something Gretchen said made me realize, I'm not mad about what you did. Why should I be mad? We weren't together at the time, right? Teej, I'm tired, and I'm sick of wondering where I stand with you. I'm tired of feeling that sometimes…sometimes…you want something else…and it's not like you're making any effort to change that! You ain't the person I fell in love with, Teej, not anymore…you're just some facsimile of him…"
"No, I'm done with this, alright. The guy I loved wouldn't stand there and beg for something, and snivel about how he doesn't deserve to be forgiven…the guy I loved would always have some plan to get what he wanted that didn't involve losing his dignity. Teej, you used to know what you wanted, you used to know you were better than…than this. I've got to go."
"Hey, who's out there?" Spinelli and TJ turned their heads as the elderly man made his way out. He was dressed in a regular brown suit, now more gray hairs than brown. But the face was one that held prominence in their childhood memories. For a short moment, he blinked at them, and they blinked back.
"Principle Prickly, sir," TJ gulped, speaking up first, "I know we're trespassing…" Slowly, a smile slid across the man's mustached mouth.
"Miss Finster, you were right, it is a bunch of hooligans. Everyone, get out here!" Prickly called into the school, and before there could be any protest, the playground filled with familiar elder faces and some new ones. Finster, a heavy cane clutched in her hand, limped forward followed by a gentle faced, middle-aged dark haired, dark skinned woman, who was none other than Miss Grotke.
"Grundler, LaSalle, Blumberg, Griswold? Get out of that bush!" Finster screeched to a green shrub and the four young men and woman rose to their feet, receiving a look of pure anger from Spinelli and confusion from TJ.
"My word, children, what are you all doing here?" Miss Grotke asked.
"We were…well…we're talking…" TJ explained sheepishly.
"Were talking," Spinelli stated scathingly, "I'm leaving."
"Spin…" TJ attempted, he chewed the inside of his cheek, searching for the words to call her back, "If that's how you feel…" he mumbled, his heart pounding in his chest, eyes searching the blacktop for answers, "Then just marry me."
"What?" Spinelli spat, stopping.
"Oh my…" Miss Grotke stuttered.
"What in the blazes in going on here?" Finster questioned.
"Are you kidding me?" Spinelli reeled on TJ once more, "You don't go from being someone I'm hugely pissed at to proposing to me! It doesn't work that way?"
"Why not?" TJ asked, the idea sounding better and better as he thought about it, "I mean…you love me, I love you. You said you feel you don't know where you stand with me, well here it is. You're the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with. I can't really afford to buy you a ring yet…because I kind of quit my job…" Spinelli crossed her arms over her chest, narrowing her eyes at him. He couldn't possibly be serious. But there he stood, on that playground they'd rampaged years before, wearing that red cap, and smirking somewhat cockily. He'd rushed there from New York, tricked her into meeting him on that spot, and proposed to her. All that was missing was an armful of roses, thousands of white doves, and a cheesy orchestra playing in the background.
"We have a lot of talking to do," she told him evenly, and he lowered his eyes slightly.
"Yeah…" he mumbled. A smile slipped along her lips.
"But I guess we have plenty of time…weddings do take a while to plan, don't they?" she said. He looked up, met her eyes questioningly as she stepped forward, "What do you have to say to that? Huh?"
"Only one thing to say," he whispered, a grin brightening his face as he lifted her chin and drew her in for a kiss, "Tender."
"Well," Prickly chuckled, taking the attention away from the two lovers, "I can't say I'm surprised. I knew those kids were meant for each other since they first met in…what was it now?"
"Kindergarten," Finster supplied.
"Yes, and I hadn't a moments peace since then," Prickly laughed reminiscently, "They were a perfect pair…partners in crime. They were the two biggest troublemakers in the history of this playground. I can only say, I found it was only a matter of time before…"
"Cough up the cash," Miss Finster interrupted, holding out her hand. The gang perked at this, looking a bit confused at the faculty. Principle Prickly growled softly, reaching into his wallet and handing over a few green bills into Finster's greedy outstretched palm.
"Ridiculous, I tell you," Prickly muttered, "I could have sworn that Grundler was a shoe-in for Dettwieler…"
"What are you talking about?" Finster chuckled as other faculty members placed their own money into her hand, "My girl's the only thing Dettwieler's ever been able to see, ever since she socked him in second grade!"
"Um…" Gretchen cleared her throat, as she and the others had been watching the exchange, "Miss Grotke…did they…did the teachers bet on us?"
"I must admit Gretchen, I am a slight bit appalled that my collegues would…" Miss Grotke started when Finster nudged her slightly, "More along the lines of…uh…betting on whom TJ would fall in love with."
"Hand over the two large," Finster snarled, "And don't think that prim hoity-toity attitude will get you out of it."
"Sorry, kids," Grotke chuckled, "But the odds of TJ following an alternative lifestyle were too high to pass up…"
"Hey, you guys want to take a tour of your old alma mater?" Principle Prickly inquired, "It's all cleaned up, spruced and ready for the new school year."
"Sounds good to me," Vince conceded.
"Certainly," Gretchen nodded, then turning to briefly glance at TJ and Spinelli still kissing, "I think they're a little busy now…"
"Right," Prickly chuckled, "We'll take the tour without them, then catch up in the teachers' lounge. This way…"
"Hush little baby, don't say a word…mama's gonna buy you a mocking bird…" a shaky voice sang through the dark of the old Third Street Lake boathouse. A young woman sat on a chair, rocking back and forth, her hand lying atop her slightly bulged stomach. She paused in her singing, "Hush, don't worry little one," she cooed softly, "Daddy will come back soon…" She pushed a strand of her dark black hair behind her ear; it seemed a contradiction against her pale skin. She touched the charm on the cheaply made pewter necklace dangling from her collar. She was wearing a cotton dress, barefoot, "That's right…daddy will be back real soon…"
END A/N: Do I smell a sequel? Maybe. If I choose to write one. No one's given me suggestions for a one-shot fic? WHAT DO YOU GUYS WANT TO READ? I know...more of my other ff's....heheh...
This is it, the end...for reals this time. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!
Or is it?