Title: Contract of Marriage
Disclaimer: Tina's etc
Spoilers: not really
Summary: Colleen wants Jack to be happy. With Liz. Soon.
As soon as they'd ordered their lunches, without drawing tears from the waitress as yet, Colleen folded her hands on the white linen tablecloth and regarded Liz with her characteristically flinty gaze.
"Do you know why I've called you here today?"
Liz smiled uncertainly. "Am I grounded?"
Colleen cleared her throat. "Elizabeth. May I be blunt?"
"Sure," Liz shrugged, not knowing Jack's mother to be anything but.
"I am not getting any younger--"
"I wouldn't say that--" she murmured, attempting to bring a little levity.
"You didn't," Colleen interjected: "I did."
She gave a nod. "Okay."
"What's more," she went on, one brow arched: "my son is not getting any younger."
Colleen narrowed her eyes. "Are you in regular contact with any of my other sons?"
Liz shrank a little in her seat. "No."
"Furthermore," she added, eyeing her up and down: "--and having known you as long as I have, I feel I can say this with perfect candor -- you are not getting any younger, either."
"You sound just like Jack."
"I love my son," Colleen told her firmly.
Liz nodded. "I know you do."
"And I want to see him happy."
"I've found some happiness, late in my life," Colleen mused, one hand playing with the pearls at her throat: "I've made peace with my life, I've seen all my other children settled. Now, I want to see my Jackie happy."
Liz lifted one shoulder. "I think he is happy, Colleen."
"No. He's not," she replied decisively: "A man isn't happy until he's married."
"Well, Jack's already been married--" she started carefully.
Jack's mother interrupted again. "That wasn't a marriage. That was a fiasco." She waved a dismissive hand in the air, her tone turning more urgent: "I'm talking about seeing him well-matched with a woman who can build a life with him, make him happy, give him children, keep his ass in line and grow old by his side."
Liz hesitated for a moment, looking down at the fancy place-setting in front of her. "I'll be honest, Mrs Donaghy, I don't know what this has to do with me."
Colleen shook her head either in pity or perplexity, or both. "I've waited too long for you two to get it together."
"Get…what together?" Liz muttered warily.
"I didn't want to push it…" she added, her tone displaying both her forbearance and her exasperation: "I didn't want to rush either of you. I realize these are delicate matters, that can take time."
Liz shook her head: "I don't think I understand..."
Colleen folded her hands again, one over the other, in a no-nonsense gesture. "I want grandchildren, Liz."
"Don't you already have grandchildren?" she asked gingerly.
"I'd like some…normal grandchildren," Colleen reiterated: "Sweet ones, curly-haired ones, chubby-faced ones. Who're not prone to violence or inbreeding, and without the innate talent for criminal activity."
Liz bobbed her head: "Okay…that makes sense…" Still, she did not see any connection.
"So, tell me," Colleen persisted with perfect frankness: "When is this going to happen?"
Liz opened her mouth, words stammering out a few seconds later. "When is…what…going to happen?"
"You. Jack," she pointed out impatiently: "You and my son."
Liz's eyebrows shot up. "Me? Jack and--?"
Colleen waved a hand, rolled her eyes. "Spare me the feigned surprise--"
"-- and just enlighten me, if you will, on what exactly is the hold-up here?"
"I…have no idea," Liz floundered, her eyes wide and wondering: "how to answer that…."
"Are you holding out for someone better?" Jack's mother demanded suddenly.
"Is my son not handsome enough for you?"
"Not rich enough? Not successful enough?" She held up a hand, pointing to her fingers as if checking off her son's attributes: "Is he not sweet and devoted and generous and charming and intelligent?"
"He's all those things--"
"He's too old for you then?"
"Not at all--"
"You don't find him attractive?"
"Jack is very attractive--"
"Of course he is." Colleen sat back in the plush booth, her steely eyes still fixed on her face: "And I know he adores you."
"As a friend, Colleen," Liz sighed, her tone soft but resolute: "as a friend. Jack and I have never -- we're not anything more than that."
Colleen sniffed imperiously. "Friends?"
"Friends," she nodded, feeling a brief lull in the interrogation.
"I don't understand." She leant forward again, asking bluntly: "Are you one of the gays?"
Liz was unable to help a slight, baffled smile. "No--"
Colleen's eyes skimmed her inquisitively. "Is there some sexual dysfunction I don't know about?"
"Oh my God…" Liz's face dropped into her hands.
"What, you don't want to get married, have babies?"
"I do," she muttered, muffled: "very much."
Colleen leant closer, across the table. "You think that pretty face and perky body is going to last forever?"
Liz peered up at her, confounded. "…What?!"
"Look. Liz…" Colleen fidgeted with her napkin, a different expression passing over her face fleetingly: "you're good for Jack, I know you are."
"Well…" she let out a breath: "thankyou…"
Colleen went on, raising her eyebrows. "I also know you care for him more than you might let on."
Liz opened her mouth, her eyes dropping away.
Colleen continued, impervious. "But when I spoke to Jack about this--"
Liz looked up again, alarm etched on her face. "You spoke to Jack? About this?"
She nodded knowingly. "He seemed to imply that you were the one delaying the inevitable."
"Excuse me?" she answered, incredulous.
"He was fairly blunt, in fact. Said you've been playing hard to get all these years."
"Jack said that?"
"Well…" She gave a shrug: "Perhaps I read between the lines."
Her eyes rolled. "Oh brother."
"So what have you got to say for yourself, young lady?" Colleen demanded.
Liz shook her head back and forth slowly, at a complete loss. "I….don't know. I've got nothing."
"Then," suggested Colleen, an edge of kindness infecting her voice: "may I offer you a piece of invaluable advice from one old lady to another?"
Liz sighed a defeated sigh. "Sure, why not?"
Colleen took a moment before imparting her wisdom, knitting her spindly fingers together beneath her chin. "Don't spend your life, Liz, waiting for some ideal that doesn't exist. When something comes along that works, something special, something real, something that feels right to you -- grab it. You grab on tight, even if it's not what you're supposed to want, and don't you dare let go. Because it may just be your best and last chance at happiness."
Liz blinked at her, her voice sticking in her throat. In the end, she said nothing at all. Not that Colleen necessarily needed or expected a response from her.
Jack's mother glared about the hushed restaurant in search of their waitress. "Can we get our drinks over here?" she called out abruptly: "I'm as parched as a desert camel."
"So how was lunch?" Jack asked when she joined him on the elevator afterwards.
Liz turned to him, her face alive with a mixture of irritation and incredulity. "Well, let's see. Your mom got the fish, I got the steak, the waitress got fired. Oh, and if neither of us--" she flicked a finger between them: "is married in two years, I promised your mother we would get hitched and give her copious amounts of little Jackie and Lizzie babies."
"She even made me sign something."
"Don't worry, Lemon, I'm sure it isn't binding," Jack offered mildly.
Liz humphed. "I wouldn't be too sure. You didn't see her beady, little eyes, all lit-up with excitement. And, by the way, she also got naming rights on our first boy and girl."
Jack was silent for a moment. When he spoke, his tone was unmistakably amused. "Well. Certainly sounds like you two had a productive chat."
"Don't you even think about smirking about this," she warned, gritting her teeth.
"I'll attempt to restrain myself," he replied, a definite smirk playing about his lips.
She cast a sideways glance at him then shook her head. "Augh. Donaghys suck."
"Now, now, dear," Jack soothed smugly: "You mustn't disparage the family name."
She held up an angry finger. "You have no right to enjoy this. You knew she was going to ambush me and you didn't say a word!"
"You can't feign innocence around my mother," he remarked, unperturbed: "It only incites her further. Believe me, I did you a favor not telling you."
"Tell it to the judge, Jack," she retorted: "in two years time."
"I look forward to it," he mused, then turning to her, asked: "So any thoughts on where we should spend our honeymoon?"
"Oh, you mean your mom hasn't booked it already?" she shot back, brows raised.
Jack tilted his head, leering down at her as the doors slid open: "Some things remain sacred."
"Right. How about Niagara Falls?" She marched off the elevator: "Then I can throw you in."
He grinned, telling her proudly: "You sound like my wife already."
In the hall, Liz planted her hands on her hips, eyes narrowed. "You know, this marriage is never going to last if you always have to have the last word. And if you insist on being a total d-bag."
Still ginning, Jack made a zipping motion over his lips. Then he blew her a kiss before the steel doors closed over on his maybe, one-day future bride, in all her ire-fuelled attitude.
Whether she knew it or not, it seemed his mother had actually done him an enormous favor. One he could benefit from greatly in the long-term. So what if he had to name two of his kids after his rapscallion relatives? He could live with that because, for once, his mother's endless meddling may actually prove to make three different people very, very happy.
In two years time.
Or who knew -- Jack smiled -- maybe even less.