Title: Good Enough
Summary: No one is good enough for Frank Plum's Kitten. But maybe, there is one who comes as close to it as it gets. Babe
Copyright: Sarah Diaz 2004
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of the Plum novels. They belong to Janet Evanovich.
Author's Note: This story could - very loosely - be viewed as a sequel to My Raison d'Être. But it also stands good as a one-shot. Hope you'll enjoy!
"Really, do you think it's appropriate to talk about such things in front of children?"
"Why not? I'm sure they've already seen enough, with their dad bonking their babysitter."
"Oh chill. Really, you two just have no sense for the real important things in life."
"Whadda talking about Granny?"
"Nothing, honey, just some boring adult things."
"Oh," Mary Alice said bored and shrugged. "Eww, that's sooo gross!"
My eyes flickered over to them and I had to suppress a chuckle at the identical aghast expressions on Ellen and Valerie's faces.
Edna though laughed gleefully and ruffled the kid's hair. "Oh, you won't think so in a few years."
Mary Alice wrinkled her nose. "Uh, uh, that looked like it hurt a lot the way Mommy panted and moaned. I rather gallop!" Thus said she galloped outside.
I took one look at Valerie's blushing cheeks and quickly averted my eyes back to the game.
"Way to go, Valerie. Never thought you had it in you!" Edna exclaimed, admiringly, and I grunted, stifling my laughter this way.
At the outraged cries I flinched. Wasn't it enough to hear Ellen yelling 'Mother' 273 times a day? Was it absolutely necessary for Valerie to join her now as well? But then, Valerie always had been the perfect little copy of Ellen. As Angie was the perfect little copy girl of them both.
"Am I not good? I made you panting and moaning!" Albert joined in, proudly.
"Albert!" Valerie hissed.
He seemed confused. "What?"
I threw a stolen glance at him and narrowed my eyes. My glorious son in law. I sighed inwardly. A true idiot. But at least he had his heart in the right place. And he treated my daughter well. For sure a lot better than the smiling false bastard charmer she married first. At the memory of him I gritted my teeth. Yeah, Albert was a lot better than the other asshole, but still, he had knocked up my little girl. Looking at him again, I wondered for the millionth time how he had ever managed that.
As if on cue, Lisa started to wail at the tops of her tiny lungs. I returned my concentration back to the game while Valerie and Albert hurried up to their ever screaming baby. Out of the corner of my eyes I saw Angie, who had sat stiffly in a corner of the couch the entire time since Valerie had arrived, a stoic expression on her face. Perfect little Angie. Another wail penetrated from upstairs and I wondered not for the first time how my third granddaughter would turn out. Perhaps she will be a healthy mixture between Angie's controlled obedience and Mary Alice's wild imagination. The future will tell.
Something shattering loudly to the floor made me glance over. Edna stood over the shards of an ugly porcelain doll. I smiled and said a silent thank you. I had hated the pink and white horrid nightmare and had tried to get rid of it for years. Of course, Ellen always caught me just before I could finish it off. Now it was finally gone. Maybe this day would turn out not as chaotic as I expected it after all.
"I just wanted to see if it was true that feathers fall as fast as something heavy. So not true by the way, the doll fell way much faster!" Edna defended herself, shrugging her shoulders.
"Of course it did. You first have to remove the air resistance. Only then will they fall at the same speed," Angie lectured.
"Really, Mother, how could you? This had been a present from Grandmother!" Ellen ranted.
"It was handy. And ugly,." Edna said, unfazed. 'Hear, hear' I silently agreed. It really had been ugly.
Suppressing an eyeroll, I returned my attention to the game and frowned. Damn! I had missed a touchdown. Well, the death of Nightmare Doll was worth it.
At this moment, Mary Alice galloped loudly neighing through the living room to disappear once again. Upstairs, the wailing got louder and I could hear Valerie screaming at Albert. So just like any other day in my house.
My eyes flickered to the clock and I frowned.
Where was she?
It was almost dinner time. About time she showed up. She promised she'd come. It was Thanksgiving dinner after all. And, as Ellen had told me, she said she would bring someone along with her. Said she had some news.
Of course Ellen was reeling with that little announcement. I on the other hand wasn't so pleased. Sure, I wanted her happy. Still… she was my little kitten. 'News' from a daughter never sounded good to a father. Mostly it meant that she either got engaged or was pregnant. Or worse, both. Alone at the thought I gritted my teeth and balled my fists. I just hoped my kitten would like always defy the odds and have some different news. Still... I feared a man still had something to with those ominous news.
I wondered who it was going to be. Ellen was convinced it would be the cop. I hoped not. Joseph Morelli was a decent cop and I admit, he had turned out to be a pretty decent man - but he didn't deserve my little kitten. Nor did he show her the right respect. No, I didn't think my kitten would let herself be trapped again. Besides, I knew for a fact that she had called it quits with him for quite some time now. My bets were on this strange bounty hunter. Not my ideal choice either, but at least he seemed to encourage my kitten in her dreams, instead of stomping them like the cop. Still, he was a dangerous man. And he didn't deserve my kitten either.
I sighed inwardly. Then again, no one deserved her. She on the other hand deserved one to make her happy. As her dad I could give her a lot, but not everything. So I guess I could live with a strange fellow as a son in law as long as she chose him and he made her happy.
Again, my eyes flickered to the clock. Almost six o'clock.
Blindly, I stared at the game, though I had no idea where they stood right now. Nor did I care anymore. I had a bad feeling. My kitten sure wasn't the perfect example of punctuality, but she knew her deadlines. Especially for a Thanksgiving dinner, the holy family gathering time, only beaten by the dinner on Christmas Eve.
Not able to shake the uneasy feeling, I got up, restless. After a moment I went into the kitchen and straight to the backdoor.
"Frank Plum! You will not leave right now. We're just about to begin dinner and you have to cut up the turkey," Ellen scolded instantly, moving to stand between me and the door, her fists in her side. "Regardless if your", she poked me in the chest, "daughter will be here or not."
Despite my concern I smiled, put my hand on her shoulders and gave her a quick kiss. "Just having to go get something. Be right back."
And out the door I was. Quickly, I moved to the little shed behind in our garden and went straight to my radio station. I switched it on and after a moment the voices came through. For a moment I listened to the usual banter between us taxi drivers.
A bit calmed, I switched to the police channel. Just the usual as well. No cars exploding or burning, no mention of my kitten's apartment or my kitten at all. Just some bumps annoying rightful citizens, some kids making trouble, some gang members fighting each others, some minor break-ins, one gunshot wound on the way to the hospital, some car thefts and accidents, one fire in a warehouse. But no mention of the Bombshell Bounty Hunter.
I sighed relieved, but I still couldn't shake the uneasy feeling. Shaking my head, I frowned and switched off the station. Best to go back before Ellen got really mad. And perhaps my kitten had arrived in the meantime.
When I came back into the living room the dinner was already set up on the table, the turkey waiting for me to cut him up. But no kitten. With a glance at the empty chairs I moved und automatically worked on the turkey, silently listening to the usual buzz at this table.
"I wonder where Stephanie is," Valerie said. "It's not like her to miss Thanksgiving."
"Probably busy with that bounty hunter stallion. I'd forget the time too if I was entertained by that excellent package!" Edna voiced her opinion.
"Mother!" Ellen said, then to Valerie. "I called her and told her message service and her answer machine that if she doesn't show up in the next twenty minutes with a good excuse she can forget her pineapple upside down cake until Christmas."
I stayed silent as usual.
Ellen stood up and started to serve the freshly cut parts onto the plates. Soon, we all sat around the table with our filled plates in front of us, said our thanks and started shoveling. For once it quieted down at the table, like always when this family was eating. I wasn't very hungry though, let enjoying the juicy turkey, not with worrying about my kitten. But if you once had been in a hell like the war over in Nam, you learn to eat whenever you can. You never know when you need the strength. Or when you get something to eat the next time.
Sure, now, there was not much need for such survival tactics, but some habits you never get rid off. Besides... You never know.
Soon, the plates were almost empty but I noticed a little surprised that the conversation still hadn't picked up again. I looked over to the clock. The twenty minutes were up. Still no kitten. I glanced at Ellen and saw her looking at the clock herself, her mouth tightening. But there was also worry in her eyes. She knew as well as me how atypical this was for our kitten. Sure, she'd miss dinner before. But then she always called. And it wasn't a Thanksgiving dinner, and it wasn't after she had promised explicitly that she'd be there.
Glancing over at Edna, I watched as she too threw stolen glances at the clock and the empty seats. For once, there weren't coming any crazy or embarrassing things out of her mouth. I took in the rest of my family. Valerie's attention was focused on her children, but she too seemed tense. Angie was her silent self, Albert his confused self. But even Mary Alice was unusually silent.
I was about to stove the last bit of turkey into my mouth when the doorbell rang and I froze. My eyes slowly swung towards the door.
I turned my head to Ellen and saw the same shocked denial there in her eyes. And the same fear. My kitten wouldn't ring. And you didn't get disturbed at a Thanksgiving dinner for anything good.
The bell rang again. Slowly, I put the fork down onto the plate, stood up, moved over to the door and opened it.
It was Eddie. He looked at me and I saw the raw emotions in his eyes. The worry. The regret. The sorrow. "Frank," he said quietly.
My heart clenched and a cold fear surged through my body, making it impossible to breath for a moment.
No, no, no!
"How bad?" I chocked out.
Eddie paled, if that was possible at all, and gulped. Then he shook his head, sadly. "Not good. She's alive, barely. But…" His voice cracked. "It doesn't look good," he whispered.
A cold hand snuggled into mine and I gripped it tightly, looking down at Ellen. She was white and tears were already pooling in her wide eyes. Behind her I could see the rest of the family, all of them white as sheets, the shock clearly written on their faces. I looked back at Eddie, who clearly fought himself against his emotions. No wonder. Besides Mary Lou he was my kitten's oldest and closest friend. He was like a big brother to her, always had been. This must be as hard for him as for any of us.
My throat was tight when I managed to speak again. "What happened?"
"She took a bullet into the chest. For Ranger," Eddie answered flatly.
Suddenly, I remembered the notice about a gunshot victim over the police scanner. That must have been my kitten. I closed my eyes and fought for control. Oh God. But it was so much like her, giving everything to protect another being.
"Where is she? St. Francis?" Ellen asked, tear stricken but fairly controlled.
Eddie just nodded. "I'm here to drive you over. And I called Shirley. She's on her way over to look for the girls so you can all go to the hospital."
Valerie nodded thankfully. "Thanks Eddie. Albert and I'll wait until she gets here. You go on. We're coming as soon as we can." She was crying, but I could see that she fought for control, for her children's sake. I quickly hugged her, then followed Eddie out to his car, Ellen's hand clasped tightly in mine, just leaving her enough time to grab her purse. Edna followed us closely and before we knew it we were flying through the streets towards St. Francis and my hurt kitten.
Once we had gotten to the hospital they told us that they had to take her into surgery and that we should wait in the waiting room. So we went there and waited.
A bunch of Rangemen were already there, silently waiting with stoic faces. But their boss wasn't with them, which surprised me. And made me mad. My kitten had taken that bullet for Manoso, had she not? So where the hell was he now? The least he owed her was being here now!
The first opportunity I had, I marched over to a big tank of a man and demanded to know what had happened. And where the hell their boss was.
His eyes looked blankly at me for a moment. Recognizing me eventually, he sighed. Then he reported in a few short words what had happened. Apparently, my kitten and Manoso had just left his house to drive over to our home when two FTA's of Manoso ambushed them. One from the front, one from the back. Manoso had immediately shoved my kitten behind him, trapped her there between himself and the car, shielding her as best as possible. But for a moment he had to concentrate on the one coming from the front. The one in the back had used the moment to shoot him through the car windows. My kitten had seen him aiming just on time and had moved to save Manoso, getting hit by the bullet herself.
I remembered his cold eyes as I had asked him what had happened to the two bastards that had hurt my kitten. "Dead," he'd said flatly, but not without satisfaction. Can't blame him. They didn't deserve anything else for almost killing my kitten.
So instead, I had asked him again where Manoso was. He had looked at me as if I had asked the stupidest question ever. "With your daughter of course," he had snapped and then had gone back to sit with his colleagues.
As it turned out, Manoso had refused to leave my kitten's side for even a second the whole time. Knowing enough people from the head stuff he even had managed to be able to watch the operation from the observation room where students or other doctors could watch an operation.
It's now hours later and we still haven't gotten any words. Edna and I look after Ellen, who gets more hysteric the longer we have to wait. By now the waiting room is packed. From what I've heard the nurses even have to send more concerned friends of my kitten that keep arriving to other waiting rooms. Soon after our arrival the news had gotten out and Mary Lou was the first to show up, dissolved in tears, her husband in tow. More and more have come, her co workers, friends in the police force, and others I don't know. But from what I gathered some of them were even regular skips of my kitten.
Looking at the bunch of people, most of them crying or nervously pacing, I'm touched by the amount of love I can feel in this room for my kitten. I'm not too surprised though. My kitten sure has many faults, but she has a heart of pure gold, makes friends easily and then cares a lot for them, doing whatever she can for them. Sadly smiling, I hug Ellen closer to me, absentmindedly stroking over her back.
I don't cry. I don't pace. Not that I am not as desperate or nervous or afraid. I guess I'm just numb with fear. This is my kitten after all. Probably no one in this room loves her as much as I do. But I can't lose it right now. My kitten wouldn't want this. And the rest of my family needs me to keep it together for now. But I know that later, much later, when this is over and I'm alone, I will break down, the fear and pain of this shock finally getting to me. But not now. Later.
A commotion at the door breaks me out of my thoughts and I look up. When I see the tired looking doctor entering the room and looking around, I gently let go of Ellen. She looks up at me and I nod over to the doctor. Wiping the newest tears away, she nods and we stand up, moving over to the doctor just as she asks for the 'Plums'.
"We're her parents," I tell her.
She looks at me. "Mr Plum, I'm Doctor Spinel. I did the surgery on your daughter."
"How's my baby?" Ellen asks, desperately.
My inside clutches when I see Spinel hesitating. Then she sighs. "She's alive. Which is, frankly said, a miracle enough. The bullet stopped only few millimeters from her heart and she was bleeding heavenly. We lost her twice on the table. But we managed to get the bullet out in the end and revive her both times." She pauses for a moment. "We moved her to ICU. She's in a coma now. That's not necessarily bad, it is a way of the body to recuperate. But I want to be honest with you. She's far from over the edge. It's still a long way for her and I fear her chances don't look too good. But she's alive and she seems to be a fighter. So I think there's at least hope."
I close my eyes. My kitten's alive. The doctor is right in two things. First, being alive is all that counts for the moment. And second, she has no idea how stubborn my little kitten can be. My kitten's a fighter and by God, she'll survive this. There is no question about that.
Ellen sobs relieved into my chemise, which is already damp from her tears, not that I care. I hold her close and look at Dr Spinel. "I want to see her."
She hesitates so I throw her my darkest glare. There won't be a discussions about that. I need to see my kitten, see for myself that she's alive.
Dr Spinel sighs, recognizing my determination. "Ok, but only you and your wife. I'm afraid I can't let you go in together, that would just be too much for her. And only for five minutes."
I know I should let Ellen go first, but hell, my need to be with my kitten is just too overwhelming. Thank God Ellen can feel and understand this. Me and my kitten, we always had a special connection, ever since the night I came home from war only to arrive just in time to see my baby girl be born. She draws me closer for a moment, clinging to me, but then she releases me. "Go," she whispers only.
Not caring where I am, I draw her in for a deep kiss before I gently pass her over into the waiting arms of Edna and Valerie. Without another glance back I follow Dr Spinel as she leads me to the ICU and my kitten.
Finally, she stops before a door and turns to me. "Remember, only five minutes," she reminds me sternly while she pushes open the door for me and lets me enter. The first thing I see is my sweet little kitten, laying on a hospital bed, hooked to a dozen tubes and monitors. Her eyes are closed. She could be sleeping if it isn't for this unnatural paleness. This stillness that is so unlike her, who's usually always glowing and sizzling with life. No, this here can't be my kitten, not this small fragile broken little girl.
I reach for her hand and take the cold limb hand into both of mine, desperately wanting to warm her up a little. It's only then that I finally notice that I'm not alone with her after all. Actually, I can't see how I could have missed the dark man at her other side for even a moment. Then again, I was so anxious to see my kitten that I wasn't really aware of anything but her.
Besides, it doesn't look as if the boy has noticed me either yet. He sits on a chair, her other hand tightly clasped in his, his eyes never leaving my kitten's face as if he's afraid that if he looks away she would vanish. I look closer at him. It's obvious that he's completely exhausted. I doubt he would otherwise allow anyone to see him so openly. He looks completely lost, clinging to my kitten's hand as if she's a lifeline for him. And I guess, in some way she is. I have known enough men like him to know that these men don't open up easily. And that if they love, they love with their whole being.
I should now. Once I was just like him.
His eyes are bloodshot, but I doubt that he has cried. He never has struck me as a man to spill many tears. No, he shows his grief in other forms. Like the unwavering vigil of my daughter now. The uncharacteristic unawareness. It's like has drawn back into a special zone where only my kitten exists and nothing else.
Still looking at him, I reavaluate. What I know of this boy and mostly, what I know of him and my kitten. Eventually, I nod. Oh yeah. My Kitten will be alright. She hasn't saved his life just so that he'd loose it with her d…
Stopping that trail of thoughts abruptly, I close my eyes for a second. But then I open them again to look at my little kitten. A stray of her wild hair has fallen into her eyes again and I smile. This hair of her has done that ever since the first curls had grown on top of that stubborn head. I reach out and slowly stroke it away, like I have done it countless times in her short life before, savoring the feel of her silky hair and skin. If her skin just wouldn't be so cold…
My movements though must have finally alerted her other visitor as I can see him tensing out of the corner of my eyes. His eyes flicker to me and when he recognizes me he looks as if someone has just punched him, hard.
"Mr Plum," he says slowly, his voice trailing away. For a moment he looks into my eyes, his eyes full of pain and sorrow, before he returns his gaze back to my kitten. And guilt. Oh yeah, there has been a whole world of guilt in that one gaze.
I silently watch as his thumb starts to make slow circles on the back of my kitten's hand, like he needs to remind himself through touch that she's still here.
He swallows and looks at me again. "I'm sorry, Mr Plum. I'm so sorry," he whispers.
The agony screaming at me out of those dark eyes touches my heart. "For what?" I ask him quietly.
His face darkens and he closes his eyes before he opens them again to look at the still figure of my kitten. "I got her hurt. I failed to protect her. Failed her," he says flatly, self hate, guilt and remorse overriding everything else.
For a moment I look down at my kitten, one of my hands still stroking over her cheek and hair, the other firmly holding her hand. There is not a single doubt in my mind what Steph would have to say to those words and I feel like I owe it to her to set her boy straight. I look up to Ranger again and smile. "You didn't, Ranger," I tell him softly.
His head jerks up and he looks incredulously at me. "But…"
I shake my head. "No, Ranger. I spoke with one of your men. You did everything you could to protect her. But you can't have your eyes on a man in front of you and in your back. You're Army, you know that. Stephanie knew that too, so she watched your back. You didn't get her shot. She simply did what we taught her. She protected the one she loves. Nothing more, nothing less."
The boy looks stricken by my word and shakes his head, vehemently. "I should never have let them get so close."
I sigh. "You're good, Ranger. From what I've heard you're actually one of the bests. But even you can't control fate. It happened. Without you, Steph probably would be dead now. Several times over. But she isn't. Thanks to you. And when she chose to save you - that has been her decision alone. So you really have absolutely nothing to be sorry for."
Clearly, he isn't convinced, but he seems to exhausted to insist further. Instead, he only slowly nods before his gaze travels back to drink in my kitten's still features. I doubt that anything or anyone less than my kitten can truly convince and reassure him, chasing those feelings of guilt away. He needs to hear from her lips that he's not responsible for what happened. To be honest I wouldn't want it otherwise. I'm certain though that at least some of his guilt has eased by my absolution and that that is exactly what my gild would expect from me. I just hope Ellen will give the boy some further relief.
The door opens and Dr Spinel appears in the doorway. "I'm sorry, Mr Plum, but the five minutes are up."
My heart sinks, but I nod and look down at my kitten again. Only half aware I register the doctor discretely closing the door again. I don't want to leave my kitten's side. But I know that Ellen needs to see her too. And after that… I look at Manoso. She already has someone guarding her, holding on to her. And I'm needed by the rest of my family.
So I reluctantly bend down and press a kiss to her forefront. "I'm proud of you. And I love you, my little kitten. Come back to us. This boy here desperately needs you. We need you. And I need you to keep me sane in the craziness that's our family. So come home, Kitten," I whisper into her ear and have to close my eyes for a moment as I feel my emotions threatening to overthrow me.
When I'm sure I have my control back I lightly kiss her the top of her head again and straighten up. I give Manoso a nod and move to the door, but, remembering something, I stop after a few steps and turn around.
Apprehensive, he looks up.
"What are the news Steph wanted to tell us?" I ask, curiously.
He stares at me for a moment before a tiny smile tugs at his lips. It's a sad smile, but still, a smile. "She wanted to tell you that she has undergone an intensive RangeMan training during the past few months. And that she passed it with flying colors," he added, proudly.
I smile proudly back at him. That was my kitten! And I'm immensely relieved to hear this. I think she's perfect for the job of a bounty hunter, but she definitely had needed to get some training in. I'm glad she finally realized this herself. Certainly with help from this young man here.
But I certainly doubt that this was all she had wanted to tell us. So I raise an eyebrow. "That all?"
Manoso hesitates for a moment, then shakes his head, looking at her. "No," he says softly. "We decided to move in together."
Aha. "No marriage? No pregnancy?"
His eyes spin back to me. "No, Sir" he said warily. "We're not ready for that, no fears there, Mr Plum."
I sigh contently. I totally agree with them. "Congratulations then." I look back at my kitten. "You'll have a chaotic life," I inform him, keeping it light though.
But the boy grows very serious. "I'm aware of that, Sir. And I'll take it. I love her, Mr Plum."
"I can see that," I tell him, no less serious than he. "So, was that all now?"
He smiles, almost a real smile this time. "No. We wanted to warn you that we're going to spend Christmas down with my family in Miami. I want her to meet my daughter."
I raise an eyebrow. So the boy has a daughter. Interesting. I give him a feral grin. "Her mother won't like that."
Manoso made a face. "Yeah, my Babe mentioned as much. Mumbled something about her never seeing a pineapple upside down cake again," he chuckles, looking lovingly at her while shaking his head.
The love for my kitten shows through this gesture more that through anything else I've seen so far and I suddenly feel a lump in my throat. I narrow my eyes. "Manoso."
He looks back to me, his eyes instanly alert. He's no fool. Good.
"Just to make one thing clear: You hurt her and I will kill you. In a very slow and very painful wa," I warn him icily.
His back stiffens. "Won't be necessary, Sir. If I hurt her I'll take care of that myself."
We lock eyes for a minute. He's serious. Good. I am too. I nod. "Watch over her."
"I will," Ranger says silently. And it's not just a promise for the next few days.
I nod again and go over to the door, just as Dr Spinel appears with a disapproving scowl again. I wave at her and look back at my kitten and her boy at her side. "And go get some sleep, son. You look like hell and she needs you strong and fit right now."
The last thing I see before the door closes is his startled look. I smile and quickly draw Ellen, who's already impatiently waiting for her turn, into a tight embrace. Then I release her and she hurries inside.
"Oh my little baby!" I hear her gasp.
For a moment I'm unsure if I should wait here or go back to the waiting room. I know that Ellen will need me once she has to leave. But the others need to hear about my kitten as well.
Making up my mind I hurry to the waiting room to tell the gathered family and friends that my kitten is going to be just fine. I'm certain of it. She's strong and stubborn and has many good reasons to come back to us.
That boy in there with her clearly the most important reason of them all. It looks like my kitten indeed has chosen someone for her at last. And I must say, it looks like maybe, the boy is just about as good enough for my little kitten as anyone can get.