Disclaimer: This is fanfiction just for fun. I have no claims.
3-22-08/ late Saturday afternoon.
Nostalgia. It's a funny thing - that tender, sometimes overwhelming feeling for days gone by. The smallest moment can trigger it, and the most expected cause can leave you flat. From the window of her compact rental car, Joan Girardi stares at the house where she spent the first fifteen years of her life and waits to be overwhelmed. It doesn't come. There are a lot of good memories associated with this middle class home here in northern Chicago, but the house doesn't move her. Joan notes that there are few changes in the old place since the Girardis moved out nearly five years ago. The yard is a little messier than her Dad use to keep it, and the hedge beside the driveway could use some trimming, but not much different. A collection of toys, mostly girls stuff, is scattered about. Joan feels odd about some other little girl occupying her old room, perhaps taking ballet and piano lessons like she use to, dreaming of the day when she would be old enough to date boys and wondering what her wedding would be like…
Joan quickly drives on. She considered asking the current occupants to allow her a brief tour of the old homestead, but finds she really doesn't have the desire to look around. Next stop, the old high school. It is only a few blocks away, and on arrival Joan exits the car to get a closer look at Jefferson Staten High. This time Joan feels that surge of nostalgia. She only spent her freshman year here, but for the most part it was a good time. That year Joan had friends, lots of them and boys, lots of them too. Joan remembers those days well, but she cannot place herself back in those times in her mind. She has changed too much from the boy crazy, gossipy child who use to obsess about clothes, the mall, talking about various friends behind their backs and trying to decide between the several date offers she had for any weekend you cared to pick. That was her life, before…God.
Freshman year 2002 was the only time when all three of the Girardi kids attended the same school. Kevin was a senior, lettered in three different sports, and was the most popular guy in school. He and his girlfriend, Beth Rheinhardt, were Jefferson's power couple - the pinnacle of the elite social power structure that ran the school. Joan, as Kevin's sister and Beth's friend, was immediately sought out by various girl cliques, and she had her choice of which groups she would belong to. Luke, who annoyingly skipped a year to join Joan in starting at the same time, had a less successful begining at Jefferson Staten High (named after an obscure city councilman, and alternately referred to as 'Jefferson' or 'Staten'). Being a genius nerd, tall and skinny and the youngest student in school, he became the natural target of every bully. But once the word spread that he too was a Kevin Girardi sibling, the harassment eased to manageable levels.
Joan sighs. The year started so perfect, and everything was so great until November…and the accident. Kevin finished his senior year being home schooled by Mom and Aunt Theresa, and the two younger Girardis had to accept a lowered social standing. Not that they went all the way to the bottom – sympathy and remembrances of Kevin's enormous popularity prevented that. Still, they – especially Joan, had to take a social step down. In the long run that proved to be a better experience for Joan. She learned who her true friends were, and has never lost touch with them even after all of these years.
Joan returns to the rental car and drives on – one last stop before her final destination. At the edge of the school district, nearer to where the better houses begin, is the home of the Baker family. Andrew Sr., who could have easily afforded to live in a better neighborhood, chose to buy two lots in this middle class area, tore down the existing homes and erected a mini-mansion that was by far the largest, most expensive house in the vicinity. That was Andrew Baker Sr., a man who was only comfortable being a big fish in a small pond. He enjoyed drivng a much more expensive car than his neighbors, hosting elaborate parties that others could not match, and most of all, considering himself a respected man of influence. (He wasn't. Most of his neighbors despised the man for his smug habit of lording his higher status over them.) Only the Girardi family made a genuine effort to get along with the Bakers, and that was because since their freshman year, Andy Baker and Kevin were best friends.
Joan parks in front of the old Baker home and is surprised to see the Baker name is still on the mailbox. The Bakers hit hard times a few years back and were so desperate for cash, they sued the Girardis for Kevin not stopping Andy from driving the night of the crash – the same crash that put Kevin in a wheelchair. It was outrageous, all the more because it looked like they were going to succeed until Andy brought the whole ugly mess to a halt. Eventually hurt feelings were put aside, Andy was forgiven for his early part in the lawsuit, and he resumed his friendship with Kevin. For awhile they kept in touch, but Andy's lifepath of drifting about the country doing odd jobs made communication difficult. With Kevin now living in California, it has been over a year since Joan heard of Andy's whereabouts…
"Joan, is that really you?"
Joan looks up and smiles. Andy Baker himself. Joan leaves the car and rushes to give Andy a quick but affectionate hug.
"Wow, Andy, I didn't know you were living back here. How are you?"
"I'm good. I'm finally getting my life back on track. How about you, Joan? What brings you back to Chicago?"
"Spring break. I owed Aunt Theresa a visit, and…did you hear about me and my guy Jimmy?"
Andy nods, a sad look on his face. "Yeah, Kevin kept me updated in e-mails. I'm really sorry Joan. That was so rough – falling for a guy, getting engaged, only to lose him…"
Joan gulps hard before continuing. "Yeah, it was rough. Anyway, Jimmy's mother, Martha Danzig, lives in town and I owe her a courtesy visit."
"That doesn't sound easy either. When did you get in town?"
"Today. I rented a car and I was touring the neighborhood for old times' sake. I'm kind of surprised to see you here, considering how your parents kicked you out after you dropped the lawsuit."
Andy grimaces a little. "Yeah, that was like ninety-nine percent my Dad's doing. He was the one who originally pushed for the lawsuit, and he declared I had to go after I decided we had to end that madness. His parting words to me were: 'You have always been a disappointment'."
"Ouch. So how did you end up back home?"
"Mom invited me back. The whole lawsuit mess was the last straw for her and she divorced my Dad. The original plan was for me to help pack up her belongings and find a cheap place where the two of us could live. We were only a couple of weeks from being evicted by the bank since my parents went deeply in debt after Dad lost his share of the business."
Joan refrains from commenting on how Andrew Sr. 'lost' his share of the business. His old partner, Percy Burke, found out Andrew was swindling Baker & Burke (makers of shipping containers) and cheating on his taxes. Burke's 'generous' offer was to have Andrew walk away from their partnership with nothing or go to jail…
"Then how are you still here?"
"After the divorce, Dad disappeared on us. Then, at the last moment, he came through with a barrel full of cash. He paid off the mortgage, all of the debts, arranged to pay Mom alimony and is even paying my way through college. I'm studying education at U.I.C. I'm planning to become a teacher."
"That's great, but…where did all of that money come from?"
Andy shrugs. "Dad would never say. We hardly ever hear from him, and I don't even know where he lives or what business he is in."
Again, Joan holds her tongue. A man like Andrew Sr., becoming suddenly rich again, it had to be something illegal. From the look on Andy's face, she can tell he thinks the same thing too, but desperately hopes he is wrong.
"It was great seeing you again Andy, but I need to move along. Aunt Theresa is expecting me."
"Can't you come in for even a moment? I'm sure Mom would love to see you again."
A short response, but Andy catches the tone. "Joan, are you still bearing a grudge? I told you, it was my Dad…"
Joan sighs. "Look, Andy, we all still care about you, but your parents nearly ruined my family. Your mom may have been a passive partner in all of that, but she still participated. It's not like we were strangers. My parents were friends with your parents – probably the only real friends they ever had in this neighborhood. For them to turn around and sue us, when out of friendship we didn't sue you guys - even though we had every right to do so, that was outrageous. So no, I don't want to see your mother, not even for a moment."
Joan returns to her car, noting that Andy is fuming. She is sorry to have angered him, but sometimes you have to go with the blunt truth. Joan drives away.
It doesn't take long to reach Theresa Girardi's modest bungalow since she lives in the same neighborhood and is still a music teacher at the high school. (That was the one dark cloud at the start of Joan's freshman year, having an aunt who was a teacher at the school. At least Joan wasn't taking music that year.) Joan's knock at the door is quickly answered. Even before Joan can manage a 'Hello', she finds herself in a bear hug of affectionate greeting. Joan hugs back as she feels her aunt's genuine love…
"Oh Joan, it is so good to see you again."
"You too, Aunt Theresa." Joan says, noticing for the first time how much Theresa looks like a grownup version of her baby sister - the same large Girardi nose with slightly smaller but still prominent ears, and a chin that recedes only a bit, unlike with E.T.
"How do you manage to keep getting prettier every time I see you?" Theresa asks.
"I'd guess your memory is getting faulty." Joan says with a laugh. "You're looking good. Lose weight?"
"A few pounds." Theresa says as she helps Joan in with her bags. "How was your flight? I wish you had let me pick you up at the airport."
"Like I told you, I wanted to rent a car."
"You could have borrowed mine."
Joan recalls her aunt's enormous old Buick, a land yacht/rust bucket, and manages not to shudder. "I didn't want to inconvenience you."
"No inconvenience. But let's get you settled, and then I want you to fill me in on all that has been happening in Arcadia..."
Later, after dinner, Joan and Theresa sit in the living room...
"How is Helen?"
"Doing well. She just finished physical therapy and is already back painting. Mom was concerned that the wound she received might impair her skill, but it hasn't. Not one of her portrait clients cancelled on her."
"Wonderful. And how is Willie's campaign for mayor going?"
Joan smiles. Theresa Girardi, two years older than her brother, is the last person to still refer to Will Girardi by his boyhood name. "It's going okay, I guess..."
"But he won the primary easily."
"No one ran against him. In fact, all three candidates were unopposed in the primary."
"The Green Party is putting up a candidate, a local environmentalist named Norman Naylor. I met him once. He's a bit of a kook. Not that it matters. Green Party candidates usually don't get more than two percent of the vote. It's the other guy, Cyrus Cornwall, who's going to be Dad's biggest challenge. He's rich and apparently willing to spend a small fortune in order to become mayor." (Footnote.)
"But Willie is a town hero."
"Who is being outspent three to one. In a presidential election year, it's going to be hard to capture voter interest in local politics. I know I couldn't take my eye off of the Obama versus Clinton campaign, and was surprised when Hillary lost Maryland. At the start of the year I was sure Hillary Clinton was going to cruise to victory. I was looking forward to the first woman president."
"Well, get use to the phrase 'President Obama'." Theresa says with a smile, an obvious supporter of the hometown favorite.
"It's begining to look that way. I can't imagine the Republicans winning again after eight years of Bush."
"Enough about politics. I want to know about the family. Luke and Grace?"
"They're doing great - still very much in love, and Annie is so smart and beautiful..."
"And Kevin...is it true he and that...'girlfriend' of his are not getting married even though there is a baby on the way?"
"Yes, and don't frown so much, Aunt Theresa. Barbara has a lot of issues when it comes to marriage and babies, and this is probably the best choice for them - for now." Joan tactfully says. She will not mention Barbara's brief consideration of an abortion to her very Catholic aunt.
Theresa sniffs. "If you say so. And what about my other neice, Eleanor 'Theresa'?"
"Growing fast and it's begining to look like we are going to have another smart kid on her hands. You can tell E.T. is bright, even though she isn't very interactive."
"What does that mean?"
"She...'doesn't play well with others'. E.T. has minimal tolerance for traditional baby type games."
"If she is as smart as you say, maybe those games are too boring for her. Try challenging her more."
Joan smiles and nods, but she knows that isn't the problem. Normal social interaction, even at baby level, isn't possible for her sociopath sister. People to her are, and always will be, little more than objects.
Theresa continues, "And what about you, Joan? How is your life going? I saw you on that horrid game show."
"Yeah, that wasn't a particularly great experience, but there was one good thing that came out of it. I...met a man."
"Oh...?" Theresa asks with an automatic tone of disapproval.
"He lives here in Chicago."
"I see. So your visit has less to do with a visit to your aunt, or a condolence call on Martha than it does with this 'man'. What exactly are your plans?"
Joan blushes and blurts out a truth that is far blunter than she intended to admit. "I'm going to seduce him."
To Be Continued.
Footnote: The characters Norman Naylor and Cyrus Cornwall first appeared in my Scooby-Doo/JoA crossover, MERCER CREEK MYSTERY.