Ch 13

Friday

Tank paced round his room. He knew Steph was a total mess, Lula had filled him in. She'd apparently called from her apartment saying she wouldn't be going to her Mum's party in floods of tears.

Lula had talked her round saying that her Mum would be so upset if she didn't turn up so she'd relented but she knew she would run away if given the chance.

Tank needed to sort the whole mess out and he knew he had to do it now.

Ranger had run away to the Batcave. He couldn't believe Ranger would be such a coward. Lester was right, he had turned into a custard yellow chicken. He'd known Ranger since the three of them had been at kindergarten and he'd never known Ranger to behave like this, ever. Even in the thick of battle, Ranger had never flinched and here he was running from his feelings like a girl.

He suddenly realised that Ranger was not a robot, just beyond good at hiding his emotions. At least he was less afraid that his friend would rust up or suffer electrical failure as he got older. This thought made him snort and a chuckle sprang from his throat as he lifted the phone.

"Santos, in here now" he barked slamming the phone down. He wanted Lester to know he was angry, but he also needed his help to sort out the mess that was Ranger's and Steph's love life. If there was still time, that is.

"Les, you're his cousin and I'm his best friend. We can't let Ranger screw this up. We need to get him to that party, I have a plan, but we need to get Ranger there. Do you have any idea what song he'd planned on using?"

"As a matter of fact, I do" Santos said, smiling "I know exactly which song he'd planned on singing"

"Good" Tank replied. "Now all we need is an incentive to get him to the party".

o0o0o0o0o

Friday evening

Steph sat in her lounge waiting for Lula to arrive. She knew if she didn't have her support she was never going to make it to the evening. Rex was sitting in his can, twitching his whiskers at her, his beady eyes looking at her expectantly.

"Okay, I'll give you another piece of cake, but you and me need to get healthy if we're ever going to get our lives on track" she sighed, walking over to the kitchen. She found a small corner of birthday cake left over from her earlier binge and popped it into his cage. He shot out of his can, lodged it into his cheek and scuttled off to add it to his stash in the nest he had built.

At that moment the doorbell rang and she padded off to open it to Lula who was closely followed by Connie.

"Lula, I want to thank you for being such a good friend to me" she started

"Hey, white girl, you're the best, without you I wouldn't be here – literally" she replied, giving her a hug and wondering where the conversation was headed.

"Well, as I told you earlier, Ranger gave me some money as a thank you for helping sort out the trouble with Rangeman's break ins and I want to use some of it to repay that friendship"

"No need, White girl"

"But I WANT to, no I need to, please?" She then went on to explain that she would like to pay for Lula's dress and the wedding cake. Lula screamed with delight and gave her the biggest hug.

"I don't know what to say" she said between tears.

"Yes would be good"

Lula laughed and gave her another hug, Connie joined in and soon the three of them were sniffling and laughing at the same time whilst supporting each other. At that moment, Steph realised she was loved, not for the money she'd just persuaded Lula to take, but just because. She knew she'd be ok at her Mum's party – even though the main attraction was going to be missing.

"Right then, I suppose we need to get this show on the road" she said and all three of them started towards the bathroom.

Three hours later, the girls were ready to party. Steph picked up the small parcel she'd wrapped for her mother. It contained a lovely new apron and cookbook by her favourite chef, Paulo Tribeccio. It also contained a cooking day hosted him which she knew Ellen would be thrilled with.

The three women looked at each other, grinning. Steph was in a sapphire coloured jersey dress which stopped five inches above the knee and she'd teamed it with opaque black tights and black 4 inch FMP's. The whole outfit was stunning and showed off her figure without being slutty. Her hair was part up with curls edging her face. She had not over done the makeup but she had emphasised her eyes with deep grey eyeliner and plenty of mascara.

Connie looked like Betty Boop, the deep red dress she wore showed off her fabulous curves, especially her marvellous cleavage. She'd waxed her moustache especially and she'd teased her hair out so that it defied gravity – Hal was going to love it!

Lula had surprised the others and had decided on a deep purple wraparound dress with flared skirt which crossed proudly across and between her ample bosom. There was enough depth to the v at the front that Tank was probably going to get suffocated, but hey, he liked his women big, what else could you say. She'd gone for deep bronze ringlets which hung down her back and she'd kept her beautiful skin naked except for a hint of sparkle which she'd also swept across her bosom.

"Wow, ladies, I think you can safely say, we're ready to turn some heads, so if you're ready to party, let's go" Said Connie before putting her coat on.

They all piled downstairs, into Connie's car and out on to the main drag.

o0o0o0o0o

Steph's mobile rang and she looked down at the caller ID before answering it. It was Julie "Hi sweetie, how's tricks?" she asked

"I'm fine, but I need to talk to you – are you free?"

"Yeah, we're heading over to Andrelli's but I'm not driving so I'm good to talk, what can I help you with?" She hoped Julie didn't have news for her regarding that bitch who wanted Ranger to show her round. She was probably very lovely Steph thought to herself before focusing back on what Julie was saying.

"Well, you know I mentioned about my friend's Mum and that I wanted Dad to help her out? Well, it turns out Dad has other plans. Seems he's already thinking about someone else and doesn't want to hurt Janice by leading her on."

Ah, so she has a name, the bitch is called Ja – what! There's someone else he's interested in – when did he find someone else? "Oh, I see" Steph replied "But what has it got to do with me?" she asked bewildered

"Steph, do you really have no idea?" Julie asked incredulously.

"No, sorry, I don't" Steph replied sadly.

"Then think about it" Julie replied quietly as she put the phone down.

"Julie? Julie!" Damn, that child has as much phone manners as her father Steph thought grumpily. What did she mean? Who could he be interested in? A thought crossed her mind. Could Julie mean her? Ranger only wanted a fuck buddy, didn't he? He's made in plain that was all he could offer. She shook her head sadly. No, Ranger wasn't interested in her, was he?

o0o0o0o0o

The party was in full swing, Steph had danced with most of the Merry Men and several of the other men Frank had invited to her Mother's party. Most of them were old enough to be her father but she'd had a nice time anyway. She hadn't seen Ranger and knew that he was not going to come. He'd been in the wind since yesterday. Plus she would know if he arrived. She would sense him.

Several beers had passed her lips when she heard the DJ say he was about to start the Karaoke section of the evening. First up was Connie who sang "Take a Chance on Me" by Abba. Hal knew she was singing it for him and took her into his arms at the end and planted a great big kiss on her lips. The crowd cheered and when they both came up for air, everyone cheered again as Connie blushed.

Grandma Mazur was up next. She'd kept a fairly low profile until that point but she jumped up onto the stage and ripped off the demur dress she had been wearing to reveal a low cut top and high legged silver shorts before belting out "I'm Horney" by DJ Cammy. The whole room went into shock. Edna bumped and ground her way through the song oblivious to the effect she was having before throwing herself onto her latest beau who looked like he was the cat who'd got the cream.

Everyone was still in shock when Lester stood up hoping that everyone would recover in time for his number.

"Right, everyone, it should not be me singing this one, Ranger chose it and I think there's someone in this room who knows it's about them, but as he's too much of a coward, it's up to me to let her know how he feels" he looked pointedly at Steph, who looked back at him and blushed.

The opening few notes played and Steph gave a low sob before running out of the room and straight into a human wall.

"Oh no you don't" came the wall's reply. "You need to hear these lyrics" said the deep voice and Steph looked up into her father's eyes. He grabbed her hand and led her back into the hall.

I gotta take a little time
A little time to think things over
I better read between the lines
In case I need it when I'm older

Steph began to sob quietly in her father's arms. He pulled her closer and said "You know, this whole thing is getting out of hand. You both love each other so much, I just hoped tonight you'd get a chance to let each other see how much you need to be together. He's so right for you and you are so right for him too, Pumpkin" he whispered before the words continued.

Now this mountain I must climb
Feels like a world upon my shoulders
And through the clouds I see love shine
It keeps me warm as life grows colder

Steph felt someone gently pull her from her father's arms but she hardly noticed. She buried herself into the new chest, keeping her eyes closed. Lost to the words of the song and her own sorrow. How the words were killing her but Ranger would never know their effect on her.

In my life there's been heartache and pain
I don't know if I can face it again
Can't stop now, I've travelled so far
To change this lonely life

I wanna know what love is
I want you to show me
I wanna feel what love is
I know you can show me

She wanted to stay in the arms that held her forever, they were calming her and she felt safer than she'd felt for a long time. She didn't need to pretend anymore and it felt right to let people know how she felt. She loved him. Plain and simple and by tomorrow morning the whole Burg would know too. Damn!

She pulled her arms up front of her, resting her palms on the firm chest of the man who held her and laid her head against his solid front, her nose on the buttons of his shirt. She could feel his beating heart and she imagined it was Ranger, but he was on a mission and she couldn't think about that right now. She just didn't want the song to end. A single kiss was placed in her hair.

I'm gonna take a little time
A little time to look around me,
I've got nowhere left to hide
It looks like love has finally found me
In my life there's been heartache and pain
I don't know if I can face it again
I can't stop now, I've travelled so far
To change this lonely life

For the second time that evening, she was pulled from a man's arms into those of another. She didn't care whose they were, her grief was overwhelming and she began to cry slowly and silently. The arms around her held her more tightly, the man's head resting on top of hers. She just wanted to lie within the strength that the new arms offered her, wishing they were Ranger's, yet knowing that they weren't.

I wanna know what love is
I want you to show me
I wanna feel what love is
I know you can show me
I wanna know what love is
I want you to show me
And I wanna feel, I want to feel what love is
And I know, I know you can show me

Again, she was pulled into new arms, she felt as if each man was trying to give her the love she craved from Ranger and the friendly gesture was warming and comforting. However this time, it felt different, she realised she could smell Bvlgari and the arms wrapped around her felt familiar. She realised she was dreaming, hoping, fooling herself, Ranger was far away, saving the world. She kept her eyes shut wanting the pretence to continue whilst she listened to the words of the song.

Let's talk about love
(I wanna know what love is) the love that you feel inside
(I want you to show me) I'm feeling so much love
(I wanna feel what love is) no, you just cannot hide
(I know you can show me) yeah
I wanna know what love is, let's talk about love
(I want you to show me) I wanna feel it too
(I wanna feel what love is) I wanna feel it too
And I know, and I know, I know you can show me
Show me what is real, woah (woah), yeah I know
(I wanna know what love is) hey I wanna know what love
(I want you to show me), I wanna know, I wanna know, want know
(I wanna feel what love is), hey I wanna feel, love
I know you can show me, yeah

'I want to know what love is' by Foreigner

"Babe"

She looked up straight into Ranger's eyes. They were shining brightly as if they held a tear. He was totally focused on her and he leant down and kissed her tenderly. Her world stopped for a second as she realised she was truly loved by the man who was holding her.

"You came" she said, simply

The whole room was silent and the feeling of relief from all parties was almost tangible.

The silence continued for what seemed an eternity and then Lula stood up on the stage and coughed loudly, bringing the moment to an end.

"My turn, white girl!" she yelled, laughing and nodded to the DJ. "Hit it, man"

Ranger had moved Steph to the side of the room and they watched as she sang "I'm every woman" by Chaka Khan.

Tank grinned and everyone took to the floor forming a circle round Tank who was dancing and leering at Lula at the same time.

Under her breath Steph said "ah, the fat lady sings" Ranger just caught the comment and he looked at her eyebrow raised, she just smiled back at him, squeezing his hand.

o0o0o0o0o

Ranger and Steph moved to a quiet corner and sat down.

"Ranger, you came" Steph repeated

"Yeah, a small brown friend of mine reminded me of what I would be missing"

"Tank frightened you?!"

"something like that" Ranger admitted ruefully. "Babe, I think it's time to admit how scared I am. I've had feelings for you for so long now but it's only recently I realised that I need you in my life too. I'm ashamed of the way I've treated you, sending you back to Morelli, stealing kisses whenever I could. Treating you like a play thing. It's all been because I was scared. I'm really sorry for all the things I've said and done. Please forgive me?"

"What are you scared of, Ranger?"

"You hold the key to my soul and my heart is in your hands" he replied, smiling carefully before continuing "I've never been really in love before and didn't want to frighten you away, I'm totally out of my depth and control freaks don't do out of their depth. What if you realise I'm not good enough and go back to Morelli?" he added quietly.

She kissed him before continuing "I'm not ever going back to Joe and I'll prove that to you when it's my turn to sing" she said. He raised an eyebrow "Trust me, Carlos, please. And yes, I forgive you" she added, patting him playfully. "I didn't think you did commitment or relationships so I figured we would only ever be friends. I couldn't do the 'fuck buddies' thing with you" she continued, using her fingers to make quote marks round the words 'fuck buddies'. "I love you too much and another perfect night and then goodbye would have killed me. I just couldn't have done that a second time. I'm just glad we've finally realised what we could be to each other. I don't need another man to act as my safety net. I just need you. In my life. For as long as we've got."

"I think it's worth the risk, Babe, I love you and I'm playing for keeps too. Come here, silly" he said, opening his arms wide to let her in.

"Takes one to know one," she said grinning as she climbed onto his lap, her legs dangling down one side of his.

Steph put her hands round the edges of his face and pulled him towards her, touching his forehead with hers. She rested her arms over his shoulders as he slid his hands onto the back of her hips. They both sat in silence with their eyes closed, letting the contents of their conversation sink in.

o0o0o0o0o

"They make a great couple, don't you think, Ellen?" Frank asked, looking at Steph and Ranger.

"They certainly do" came the reply.

Frank leaned forward and kissed her "Happy birthday, Love" he sighed, happily.

"Fantastic present, Frank" she said, nodding in the lovers' direction. He smiled, stood up and led her to the dance floor.

o0o0o0o0o

Towards the end of the evening, Lula came looking for Steph and told her that she was next up. She gave them a full on smile, obviously relieved that they had finally sorted themselves out.

Steph unravelled herself from Ranger, grabbed his hand and pulled him to his feet.

"My turn, Carlos" she said smiling and yanked him up with her onto the stage. She reached for the microphone and took a deep breath before turning to face him, still holding his hand.

She began to sing:

It must have been cold there in my shadow,
to never have sunlight on your face.
You were content to let me shine, that's your way.
You always walked a step behind.

So I was the one with all the glory,
while you were the one with all the strength.
A beautiful face without a name for so long.
A beautiful smile to hide the pain.

Did you ever know that you're my hero,
and everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
'cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

It might have appeared to go unnoticed,
but I've got it all here in my heart.
I want you to know I know the truth, of course I know it.
I would be nothing without you.

Did you ever know that you're my hero?
You're everything I wish I could be.
I could fly higher than an eagle,
'cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

Did I ever tell you you're my hero?
You're everything, everything I wish I could be.
Oh, and I, I could fly higher than an eagle,
'cause you are the wind beneath my wings,
'cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

Oh, the wind beneath my wings.
You, you, you, you are the wind beneath my wings.
Fly, fly, fly away. You let me fly so high.
Oh, you, you, you, the wind beneath my wings.
Oh, you, you, you, the wind beneath my wings.

Fly, fly, fly high against the sky,
so high I almost touch the sky.
Thank you, thank you,
thank God for you, the wind beneath my wings

Wind beneath my wings by Bette Midler

"An old friend suggested I sing this one to you, and I think the song is perfect, so thanks, Joe!" Steph yelled into the microphone.

Ranger stood, stunned. Steph nodded at his surprise and the unasked question on his lips. The truth dawned on him Morelli had told her to sing this song to him? Christ! She was never going back, ever! He grinned a full on grin and hugged her.

They climbed down from the stage as someone else took their turn with the mic. Ranger grabbed her hand. It was now or never, he thought. If he let go of her now he didn't know if he would ever have the courage again.

He ran, pulling her behind him, past all their friends and her family, some of whom were smiling at them, and out of the hall. They were in the car park before you could say wink and over to his Porsche. He knew this was her favourite car and he smiled to himself. He bundled her into the passenger seat and ran round to his side. He saw out of the corner of his eye that Connie and Lula had piled out of the door and were doing a happy dance and for once he didn't care.

For the first time in a long time he was going to do the right thing.

Hell, he'd gone into enemy territory with poorer knowledge of the final outcome and never been this scared, but he was excited at the same time. And for once he just didn't care.

The engine turned over and purred as the car sped out of the lot. Ranger turned and looked at his beautiful passenger and gave her a mega wolf grin.

Steph closed her eyes and breathed in the smell of the car, leather, Bvlgari and Ranger, yum, before snuggling into her seat. Beside her Ranger chuckled he had never felt so sure in his life.

"What?" she asked, looking at him shyly a smile forming on her lips.

"Babe."

"Where are we going?"

"Would you be terribly upset if I said the Batcave?"

She grinned a mega wolf grin back at him. "I hoped you say that."

He turned on the radio.

"Well, folks, it's that time of the day again, hellloooo young lovers! This next song has been requested by Pierre for a friend who's finally gotten his act together. He didn't give me any names, but I guess you know who you are..."

Babe I'm leavin'
I must be on my way
The time is drawing near
My train is going
I see it in your eyes
The love, the need, your tears
But I'll be lonely without you
And I'll need your love to see me through
So please believe me
My heart is in your hands
And I'll be missing you

'Cause you know it's you babe
Whenever I get weary
And I've had enough
Feel like giving up
You know it's you babe
Givin' me the courage
And the strength I need
Please believe that it's true
Babe, I love you

You know it's you babe
Whenever I get weary
And I've had enough
Feel like giving up
You know it's you babe
Givin' me the courage
And the strength I need
Please believe that it's true
Babe, I love you

Babe, I'm leavin'
I'll say it once again
And somehow try to smile
I know the feeling we're tryin' to forget
If only for a while
'Cause I'll be lonely without you
And I'll need your love to see me through
Please believe me
My heart is in your hands
'Cause I'll be missing you
Babe, I love you
Babe, I love you
Ooo-oo-oo-oo, babe

Babe by Styx

Steph sighed as the song finished.

"Babe" Ranger said and gently took her hand in his and placing it on his thigh.

"To the Batcave".

Thanks for all your feedback and constructive criticism. I'm hope you've enjoyed the ending as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

Incidentally, Wind beneath my Wings was the first song at my wedding to my husband of 11 years and soul mate for 18.