(Author's note: This takes place about a year after the last installment.)

Good Times, Chapter 3

The only one in the building outside of the Evans family who knew Lisa's true parentage was Wilona. It was decided for the sake of the children and Florida to tell those who asked that Lisa was a relative's child that they'd taken in.

It wasn't exactly a lie, either.

"Florida, at your age, do you really want another baby in the house?" Gertie from downstairs asked, both marvelling and shaking her head.

"The Lord only gives us what we can handle, Gertie," Florida said, while folding laundry in the downstairs laundry room, with Lisa sitting up in the laundry basket, playing with a sock, babbling to herself and smiling from time to time up at Florida and Gertie.

"I don't know how you do it," Gertie said, done with her laundry and bidding goodbye to Florida. Florida, when Gertie was out of earshot, glanced at Lisa, managing a smile back at the little girl, and sighed, "Neither do I, sometimes, Lord, neither do I."

Don't get her wrong..she did learn to love the little girl, but not as intensely as her own children, which was only normal. Florida prayed for strength and the ability to love Lisa as her own, but only the strength part was delivered. Michael became closest to Lisa, and often volunteered to watch her to give Florida a break, as well as to show that he, as he said to the baby when she'd first arrive, that he "ain't the littlest anymore."

JJ, for the most part, straightened up his act, after the household began to adjust to the baby. All except Thelma gathered around excitedly as the baby took her first few steps. The pediatrician down at the clinic was given a brief history of Lisa's health, and told the Evans that they were very, very lucky that the child was hitting her milestones at the right time. Having a drug-addled mother in many cases injures the baby, but Lisa Evans escaped seemingly unscathed.

"Thank the Lord," James said, on one of the visits he took his daughter to, alone, as Florida was busy at Michael's school for a conference.

"She looks a lot like you," the Doctor said and James smiled slightly. "Well, she is an Evans," James said quickly, not letting on any more than that, yet there was some fatherly pride. While the circumstances of how Lisa came to be were seedy at best, the little girl was here, was with him, with his family, and he made a promise to himself to do right by her.

He also cut his legitimate children major slack. Rather than being the hot-tempered, quick-to-remove his belt Daddy he was, he tried to pick his battles a bit more wisely. The last thing he wanted to do was alienate his children, especially Thelma, further, but this doesn't mean he was a complete pushover, either. There was an incident with JJ that almost came to blows recently.

Around the dinner table, Lisa in her highchair nibbling on cornbread and the rest of the family talking about their day, JJ mentioned that he'd had a hot date after dinner, "And don't expect me home til dawn."

It was a school night. "JJ," Florida said, "You'll do no such thing. School comes first."

"Ah, Maw," JJ said, almost smugly, and with a sidelong glance at James.."I'm a handsome cat that prowls in the night with the girlfriends of Kid, ah-" clapping his hands and grinning, "DYN-o-MITE!"

None at the table were amused, except for Lisa who giggled whenever JJ said his catch phrase. It was Lisa's action, though, that caused Thelma to speak up. "Better be careful, JJ, with your girlfriends, or there'll be another one of THEM in the house."

James stared hard at Thelma, and slammed his fork down. He rose, to walk away from the table for a moment silently, when JJ said, "Nah, Thelma, Dad already reached the family's quota. And you'd think they'd be afraid of me making them grandparents--"

JJ's sentence was cut short when James lunged, grabbing JJ by the skinny arm. "JAMES!" Florida shouted, intervening and wedging herself between them.

"That's no way to handle this," she admonished James, but then turned to JJ.."And that is NO way to address your father. No matter what happened, he IS your father, JJ. How many of your friends even have one. He's a good man, and I don't ever want to hear that kind of talk in this house again."

JJ rubbed his sore arm and said quietly, "Sorry, Dad." James repeated the sentiment, but wasn't hungry anymore. The rest of the dinner finished tersely.

After dinner, Florida and Thelma were doing dishes, while James, Michael and Lisa were watching the small television in the living room. JJ'd gone out, but had agreed to come home at a decent hour. Florida and Thelma were chatting when all of a sudden, Florida doubled over. "OH!" she cried, the dish in her hand shattering on the floor as she held her stomach.

"Ma!" "Florida, what is it?" All but Lisa running to Florida, although Lisa was toddling quickly as she could. Florida had broken out in a sweat. "Just..just a cramp," she said, but Thelma put the back of her hand to Florida's forehead. "Ma, you're burnin' up!" James doublechecked...Florida's forehead could have an egg cooked on it. "She's right, baby. Come sit down." James leaned to help Florida, and she took his assistance, but could barely move.

"Ma's been having those cramps more and more lately," Michael said quietly. "And she don't look too good."

"Just..just an aspirin and some water, please," Florida managed, before she passed out from the pain.

The ambulance was called, and she was admitted. James rode in the ambulance with his gravely ill wife, while Thelma left a note for JJ, and Michael got Lisa's diaper bag together.

"Wilona," Michael asked, after she opened her door in response to Michael's pounding, "Could you please look after Lisa? Mama's in the hospital."

"The hospital!" Wilona cried with concern. "Michael, ain't no way the hospital's a good place for Lisa. Babies can pick up all sorts of bugs. Do you want to stay here and watch her, and I'll go help your mother?"

"No, please, Wilona, just watch the baby, I've got some change in my pocket and I'll call you soon as I know anything."

Wilona took Lisa and the bag and Michael ran to catch up with Thelma, to grab a bus to the hospital. Eventually it came, and they met up with James in the emergency room's waiting area.

"It's her gall bladder," James said, as he paced. "This didn't happen overnight, Michael, you was right when you said she had them pains for awhile. They had to rush her into surgery."

"Surgery!" Thelma shouted. "Oh, Daddy," tears in her eyes and running for her father to hold her. Michael put his hands in his pockets and paced, a miniature James.

Hours ticked by. Michael called Wilona to tell her that there was no news, and James got on the line to ask her if she was alright with Lisa. "Yes, James, we're fine, and JJ ain't home yet, but I'm sure he'll come down there to be with y'all soon as he can."

Finally, a doctor came out to see them. "The surgery was a success," he pronounced. A wash of relief came over the Evans. "Can we see her?" They all asked in stereo.

"Not yet..she's in recovery, but as soon as she's moved to her room, you can, for a little while."

Time passed, and they were told they could go up to see her. It was a short visit, as Florida was very tired and visiting hours were coming to a close anyway. "James," she said weakly, as they were filing out, "just a minute."

The nurse said, "Only a minute," and left them be.

"What is it, baby?" he asked, holding Florida's hand.
"I'm sorry I got sick," she said, woozy and tired.
"Baby, don't be silly," he said. "Just get better"
"I'll try, James."

And she did try, she really did. James and the children rode the bus home together, talking about how strong Florida is and taking friendly bets on how soon she'd be home. Maybe 35 minutes from departure to arrival to the projects. They did not expect, when they reached their apartment, to find JJ sitting there, despondently in the darkness, with Wilona and Lisa on the couch, Wilona sobbing quietly and holding onto Lisa.

James knew instantly and began to tremble, JJ's words confirming...

"The hospital called. Ma passed away...from complications of the surgery. Just about 15 minutes ago."

(To be continued..and feedback most certainly welcome. :)