I lay back on my bed and glimpsed at the world outside my window. The sun shone through the tall elegant stained glass work which projected beautiful, deep blue, red and green flowers across my tired fingers, over the gold silk comforter and onto the sumptuous cream carpet. I smiled at the simplicity of my joy, my breath laboured. Today was a good day for my final trip, I thought happily. Today was a good day to say my goodbyes. I glanced round my 'prison', absorbing the beauty of the room I'd been forced to spend so much time in. Cancer has a way of taking away your options, especially Esophageal cancer. What had started off as a slight cough a few months ago had led to where I was today.
Anyway, enough of the pity party, I've had a wonderful life.
My nurse, Harriet, helped me out of my bed and bathed me in the sinfully opulent white bathroom I had spent the last 6 months using. Large sink with shiny silver colored taps; large step in bath and a shower that I would have loved in a previous life. One I remembered from so long ago.
One I was clean and sparkly she moved me to my dressing room where she get me ready for my important day.
I was pulled from my reveree by my daughter, Paige as she bustled in.
"Mom, are you done?" she asked, smiling through watery eyes. "You look fab." She knew. I knew she knew.
"Any time you like, Captain!" I managed to say through aged teeth. Yep, still my own, I thought proudly as I looked at her through my rheumy eyes which had faded over time from the bright blue they once were. Oh how my late husband had loved my blue eyes and my curls and my... I giggled to myself.
Paige wheeled my chair out of the room and down the hallway. A few minutes later we left the hospital for what I knew in my heart of hearts was to be the last time and headed out to her car.
Her driver, James, opened the door and transferred me to the back seats. "Nice day for a drive, Ma'am" he said gently as he re-arranged my blanket over my knees. Despite the clear blue May sky, there was a nip in the air and my ancient bones were feeling it today.
I smiled sweetly at him as he made way for Paige to join me. I watched as he folded my wheelchair and lifted it into the trunk.
"OK, let's get this show on the road." I wheezed as Paige rolled her eyes in magnificent Burg fashion. It had been a while since I'd been back there, but today I needed to see my Grandson, Román, take his first steps as CEO of my company.
The car softly roared into life and we left the hospital grounds where Jack frost had worked his magic – sections of the lawns were still white waiting for the sun to come along and warm them to green. And the cobwebs, Oh the cobwebs. Spectacular bejewelled lacework that sparkled and danced in the slight breeze. I knew my time was soon – everything was so crystal clear this morning and it invigorated me so much filling me with the strength I needed.
Half an hour later we turned down Slater street and my mind wandered back to Bob, Joe, his wife Sandra and their three kids, Mia, Elwood and Zak. They were great kids and they made a great family. Joe died three years ago from a heart attack and Sandra still lived in their duplex even though it was full to busting when all seven of the grandkids were there.
I smiled as I remember the last time I'd visited. It had been a great day, celebrating 42 years of the Morelli marriage. We'd all known our time was coming to an end. The circle of life that was completed by the children and grandkids we had all produced. It was a good and contented day as we figuratively patted ourselves on our backs at what he had achieved on the roller coaster ride of life.
I smiled. What a wonderful life I've had.
I wouldn't have changed any of it for the world. Although I would have liked Ric to have been round to see Paige's Grandchild Cody being born. Yeah, I'm a great Grandmother – who would have ever predicted that one. I have four Grandkids, three from Paige: Román, the eldest, Elisha and Tom. Cody is Román and Annaisse's son and my only great grand child.
Luca was my second born and lived a full, action packed life but he died in his late twenties from enemy fire whilst on a mission with the Seals. His girlfriend, Lucy, was pregnant at the time but he never knew. She'd only just found out herself. Luca Junior was born nearly eight months later and is the spit of his father and just as determined to experience life. At his last update he'd been guarding orang utangs somewhere in Africa. He must be in his 40's by now I realised. I wondered if his chat up lines were still as corny - he was as big a player as his Uncle Lester had been before he settled down.
We reached Haywood a few minutes later and Rangeman came into view.
I sighed a deep sigh. I am so proud of my other family and all that it has achieved. Rangeman now has ten offices spread over the east coast. We have over 300 staff and specialise in some really state of the art gizmos and do-hickeys as I still call them. The first time I'd referred to Hector's specialised equipment in those terms we'd been in Comms Room 3 in a meeting and Lester had nearly had a heart attack and sprayed everyone with coffee, Tank had guffawed so loud I'm sure Lula had heard it at the hospital where she was nursing Ethan, their first born and Ric had simply raised an eyebrow and said "Babe" but inside I knew he was laughing his little cotton socks off.
Memories, such wonderful memories.
We pulled into the underground parking lot which now housed up to 50 cars at any one time. Twenty years ago we'd bought up several more buildings on Haywood so that now we could now park over 100 vehicles in one of the other parking lots. My body may be failing but my mind is fully aware of its surroundings. Plus of course I've had nothing better to do than plan Rangeman's future - ever since my diagnosis came through.
Damn cancer, I thought petulantly. No, no, I'll soon be with Ric and I've had a marvellous run so suck it up and let it go! I said, chastising myself.
A fresh bout of coughing stopped my mental tirade.
James pulled into my parking space, right by the elevator. Ric had always teased me about my poor parking karma so when we changed the layout of the lot he'd made my space the best of the lot as a surprise. It was bigger and wider with extra lighting. Damn handy when wielding buggies though. I sniggered to myself. Now it needed to be the biggest to get me and my wheelchair sorted.
The elevator opened as soon as we left the car. Paige was pushing and waved James away when he offered to take over.
My daughter was many things, strong minded and fearless were two of the traits she'd picked up from me. She was a perfect blend of Ric and I. Calm in the face of adversity but intuitive and sassy as well. Oh and drop dead gorgeous, much to my husband's distress. I can still remember the one and only boy she brought home. She was sixteen and the poor lad must have wondered what he'd walked in to. Needless to say, the next 'boy' she brought home was Lando, who'd just proposed.
We rode up to five where Román was waiting to escort us out. I smiled as he stood nervously in front of me. Am I really that crabby these days? I thought to myself. Paige brought her mouth down to my ears and whispered "yes". Damnit! After all these years I still can't stop myself thinking out loud. What else had my daughter heard as we had driven over. I looked at her and she grinned back smugly before raising one perfect eyebrow. I rolled my eyes and chuckled.
Román led us to Conference Room One where the senior team were settled. Men and women from all of the offices were in attendance. Tank's son, Pierre, ran Boston. Lester's daughter, Tally ran Miami and his son Ferdi ran Texas. Hector's nephew was here from the New York office and the rest, well let's just say I was proud of every one of them, young and old alike. I had watched them turn into the extraordinary and talented team that they now were. They were all part of my extended family, the one Ric had started all those years ago.
It just saddened me how few of my friends were still alive.
Bobby broke his neck in a skiing accident twenty year's ago. Les slid away in his sleep last year. Lula caught pheumonia just after Cody was born – he's five now. Tank died a little over a year later from a broken heart. Ella and Louis had retired to Miami and had died of old age surrounded by their family.
I looked round the room, expectation hung in the air. Yes, my job was done here. It was time for me to let go.
I motioned to Paige who pushed me to the centre of the room over which silence now hung and Iturned and handed my beautiful, wonderful daughter the speech I'd written over the last couple of weeks in preparation of today.
"Ladies, gentlemen and fellow 'thugs'" she began. Gentle chuckles drifted around the room at my reference to thugs – my Mom still referred to Ric as such until the day she died, even though it was said with affection by the end. She'd long ago realised that he was right for me. My Superhero. My soul mate. Batman.
"We are brought here today to honour the man who long ago had a vision and with the help of his friends made that dream reality. Ranger was, and will always be, a man who was respected and loved by those who knew him and respected and feared by those who he brought to justice. The vision he had was for a united band of dedicated people who strove to do their best within a team, with partnerships formed between brothers – and sisters – not work colleagues."
I looked round the room at my family and sighed, soon I would be leaving them. Part of me was sad that I would never share a joke or a boston crème with any of these wonderful people again, but part of me was proud to have been instrumental in bringing this team together.
I knew I would miss Pino's and Shorty's, Point Pleasant and my empty home on the outskirts of Trenton, but mostly I missed my husband. I missed Ric. Soon, oh so soon, I hoped, we would be together again - I missed him so much. It was time.
"When Ranger died many thought Rangeman would die with him, but the close knit family that he left behind continued his good work. Rangeman has flourished. Grown to a company that still keeps to the values he insisted upon all those years ago. Although my husband has been dead for fifteen years, his legacy goes on. First through our daughter Paige and how through her son Román."
I looked round to see the looks of consent. Román had earned the right to run my company through hard work and long hours. He'd started at the bottom and worked his way up and today, though he didn't know it yet, the company he'd sweated and bled for would be his. Paige and I had discussed it and she would remain as a significant shareholder, but it was time for new ideas and new energy. Román had the drive, commitment and loyalty of his Grandfather and I loved that about him. He would continue to be a positive influence on the company that would soon be his.
"Today I will be stepping down from this business and handing my shares to Paige and Román." A collective and very subtle gasp rang round the room as understanding dawned on its occupants. I was saying my last goodbye. They all knew how sick I was but few knew the time line I was on.
"Today marks a new beginning for this company. Román has free reign to do with it as he wishes - away from my meddling intervention."
I grinned at the reaction I got from that one.
"I would ask that you all stand with him and help him to continue to put the scum of this earth where it belongs and to continue to help the world sleep safe in its bed at night."
Most of the people in the room had been Special Forces – even Paige, Román and Luca had served their time. Special ops were things that many Rangeman staff still carried out. Much of our work was still with alphabet agencies on behalf of the Government. Hell, some of our work was things that the CIA and FBI looked to us to do for them. I was proud of what I would be leaving behind and I knew it would all be in safe hands.
"Please be upstanding and raise a Krispy Creme for your new Captain. I give you Román."
The room erupted in cheers and claps as Román stepped forward.
"Thanks for your vote of confidence, Maman. I think!" Román chuckled out, giving me a huge smile. "Your company will be safe in my hands, I promise." He added slightly more soberly.
"No, it's all yours, Chica." I managed to reply although it was barely a whisper.
He nodded his head to me then turned back to the room, gently grabbing my fingers between his own as he did.
"Ok folks, show's over. Time to get back to work. Let's hope the scum haven't noticed our absence." He brought my fingers to his lips and kissed them. "Lunch on 7?" He asked, gently.
I nodded in reply and Paige turned my wheelchair before anyone had a chance to say anything more.
The ride to 7 was quick and quiet. Much like many I'd taken before. My life had been lived in snippets in this lift. The first kiss. The first hug. The first lust filled grope. The first apology. The first make up sex...
The doors opened and the same calmness that had overwhelmed me all those years ago when I came to hide from the Slayers reached out and held me again. I was sure I could smell Bulgari, but I knew this to be wishful thinking. I hadn't been up here for years, yet nothing seemed to have changed. Same lights, same flooring, same aura. Román used it periodically as the need arose, but it was not his first home. That was closer to mine and Ric's at Point Pleasant.
The Batcave as I called it was located on the beachfront and had been the natural progression of my relationship with Batman as I still called him in my dreams. We'd been married there and each of our children had lived and loved and left us from there. Most of my happy memories were from there. But being here, right now, somehow this felt right.
I knew I was home.
Paige opened the door and pushed my chair inside. The latest housekeeper, Rita, had obviously just left and I could smell some sort of chicken dish, probably with rice and probably blended so that I could swallow some of it. Cancer has a habit of removing dignity. By hey, having spent most of my formative years covered in garbage, I had little consideration for such trivialities.
Lunch was a gentle affair, spent with my family. The only one of my off-spring missing was Luca but I'd spoken with him a few days before via webcam when he'd gone into the local town for some supplies. I was proud of him and the work that he carried out and I'd told him so.
"Proud of you, Luca" were the last words I would ever say to him and it seemed a fitting end.
One by one, my grand children said their goodbyes and left to return to their own lives. The mood was light but each person in the room knew they'd not see me again in this life and they respected my unspoken wish to keep things upbeat. I had never been one to wallow in self pity and I wasn't about to start now, I said through my body language.
At last it was only Paige, Lando, Román and Annaisse who sat with me.
"I'm tired, I think I need a rest" I said to Paige.
"Stay here, Mom" Román ventured. "You might even recognise the sheets. Rita found them at the bottom of the ottoman. I think they're yours and Dad's" he added.
I smiled and nodded. A fitting to end to a wonderful life. I knew that as soon as I felt them I'd be back to the beginning.
"Fab" I croaked out as he scooped me out of my chair and took me through to the inner sanctum that was now a pale green colour, laying me down gently on the million thread count that I remembered so well. He'd pulled the cover back so I snuggled in, once he'd taken my shoes off, of course!
I closed my eyes as I heard the door slide gently over the carpet then opened them again and the door clicked shut.
The room was still as I remembered, hadn't it been green moments earlier? Must have dreamt that, I thought. They same dark colours that screamed of masculine strength and inner calm.
The bed. When had the bed changed? I thought Román had put a metal one in to replace the wooden one Ric and I had moved to Point Pleasant. Oh well, perhaps I was losing my mind after all.
Then I heard the shower. The shower?
Who the hell would be having a shower whilst I was resting? I looked across at the door, wondering who was behind it. Then I smelt it. Ah! The unmistakeable smell of Bulgari. Batman..
I smiled as the door opened and the man stood before me in all his naked glory. He seemed younger than I remembered, but still beautiful as water droplets ran over his chiselled chest . My heart missed a beat as he walked across the room to greet me, his powerful aura enveloping me as he reached the bed. I raised my arms out to meet him. When had they become so toned? I wondered. Ok, so I've really lost my mind I thought.
"Babe, it's time" he whispered.
Understanding flooded through me as I stood up to embrace him. He kissed me deeply and I sighed as we pulled apart and I sank against his beating heart, his kisses peppering through my hair as I drank in his strength.
Yes. It was time to go.
Home with Batman.