Hope you've enjoyed this story… more to come…
In the meantime, these folks ain't mine! Thanks to David E. Kelley for creating such a rich world in which we can play…
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Two days later, Denny ran into Paul coming out of the men's room. "I'm surprised to see you here, Denny," Lewiston said. "Didn't I hear that Alan is getting out of the hospital today?"
"That's right," Denny answered with a smile. "The doctor said he's well enough that he can do the rest of his recovery at home."
"That's good news, indeed," Paul said.
"He's being discharged this afternoon. The hospital wants to do some last-minute tests and checks or whatnot first. I'll be heading out after lunch."
"That's very encouraging." Paul nodded, satisfied, and continued down the hall. Denny followed him. "I'm sure he's in good hands."
Denny followed. "Hey," he said, thinking, "I haven't seen that nun or that… McLaughlin fella here since the other day. Everything get sorted out?"
"Thank God, yes," Paul replied.
Denny nodded, self-satisfied. "So they listened to Denny Crane."
"Actually, Denny, they listened to Alan Shore."
"What?" They reached Paul's office. Paul continued inside, Denny entered more slowly. "What do you mean?"
"That session you walked in on, Denny, was a complete fiasco. Brad and I couldn't get George or his sister to see eye to eye on anything."
"That was his sister? I thought the nun was his daughter."
"That's a different nun, Denny."
Denny shrugged. "They all look the same in those… sheets they wear over their heads."
Paul raised his eyes to the ceiling but ignored the statement. "The only thing we learned at the meeting was that George hadn't told Alan that his sister was a nun, and when Alan found out, he was not pleased at all."
Denny snorted softly and smiled.
"The meeting ended badly," Paul continued. "But the next day, George came back to us and asked to drop the case. He said when Alan found out about his sister, he insisted that they talk and iron things out. And that if they didn't, he was going to mediate to avoid a trial, and to avoid breaking up the family."
"Alan did that?"
"He did," Paul confirmed. "Then, of course, the incident happened at the courthouse and everything came to a grinding halt. But Alan's words had already had an impact on McLaughlin, and eventually they sank in. I don't mind telling you, Denny, I was relieved."
Denny nodded, his mind elsewhere. "Yes…" he said distractedly. "Yes… it makes sense." He looked at Paul. "Got to get moving," he said. "Lock and load."
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"Alan, are you sure you won't just stay with me?" Denny asked, as the car pulled up in front of his friend's hotel. "Who's going to take care of you?"
Alan smiled fondly at the senior partner beside him in the back seat. "I'm sure, Denny," he said. "I just need to get some sleep, and have some time without any tubes attached to me, and I'll be fine."
Denny thought for a second about how to change Alan's mind. His eyes lit on the younger man's right arm, which was still in a sling to help avoid him jarring his wound. "But—what about—eating? Or—hanging up your clothes? Or—"
Alan lay his left hand on Denny's arm. "I'll manage, Denny. Really. You need to be in the office, and I need some time on my own."
"I'll call," Denny announced.
"I'll—I'll bring you something nice for dinner—maybe tomorrow night after—"
"Denny, I'll be fine. Thank you. Really. Thank you. For being here today."
Denny nodded, and Alan reached over awkwardly with his left hand to the handle on his right and pushed the door open. Denny resisted the urge to help, sensing Alan wouldn't want him to, and he watched as the younger man stepped out, awkwardly adjusted his long coat over his right shoulder, and disappeared into the building.
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"Good morning, Denny," Shirley greeted, coming into his office the next morning. "How's Alan?"
"I haven't spoken to him today," he said.
"Wasn't he going to stay with you?" she asked.
"He decided he wanted to be alone." Denny shook his head. "That man confounds me, Shirley. He should be with people now, not by himself."
"Everyone copes with things differently, Denny."
"Hmf," Denny grumbled. "He should be with me. Everyone benefits from being with Denny Crane."
Shirley suppressed a smile. "Perhaps he was afraid that… too much of a good thing…"
"He should be taking my calls. I can't check on him if he doesn't take my calls."
Shirley softened. "Despite his outward appearances, I think Alan would have found all the attention and fuss over the last few days a bit overwhelming. But if anyone knows his own mind, it's him. He'll talk to you when he's ready."
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Alan came out of the bathroom, rubbing his eyes with his free hand and wishing he'd had a bit more sleep last night. He came into the dining area to find his breakfast laid out and the Boston Globe next to it, as he'd requested, hoping to make his first full day out of the hospital as normal as possible. The only concession he'd made to his current incapacity was to dress in what he thought of as "suit" pajamas instead of the sweatshirt and shorts he usually wore, and to then stay in his dressing gown, untied as it was, instead of changing his clothes before sitting down to eat. He'd made sure he'd ordered something from room service that he could easily handle left-handed: an omelette that he could break apart with little effort.
Alan pulled out the chair, sat down, and picked up his fork. He gamely drove it into the egg, pierced a piece and took a bite. Then he put it down and unfolded the newspaper so he could read the headlines. But after looking for a full minute he realized he wasn't really seeing anything, and he sighed and pushed it away. He picked up his fork again, trying to get himself refocused, but just held it without purpose. He sighed, dropped it onto the plate, and gave up.
He got up from the table and headed to the phone. Unlike so many of his peers, Alan was normally pleased that it was still an old-fashioned desk phone that required him to stay in one place to speak, not one of those cordless ones that let him wander around and get distracted from the conversation at hand. With only one hand fully useful at the moment, though, he lifted the receiver and put it on the table, then started to dial Denny's number. He got three digits in when he slowed, then stopped, unsure of what he could possibly share with his best friend at this time, when he wasn't even sure what he was feeling himself. Regretfully, reluctantly, he cut off the connection and replaced the receiver.
His chest was starting to ache more strongly now, as he knew it would, since he had not had any pills since last night, and he took a moment to simply concentrate on careful, gentle breathing. He went back into the bathroom, struggled with the cap of the medicine bottle, tossed two tablets in his mouth, and washed them down with water he scooped into his hand from the sink. Then he headed back to his unmade bed, and without even getting out of his dressing gown, climbed back under the covers. He'd been right not to stay with Denny, Alan thought. But it was going to be a long, long day.
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Three nights later, Shirley was working in her office when she was startled by a voice.
"Good evening, Shirley."
She looked up from her desk to see Alan Shore standing in the doorway. His right arm lay cradled in a sling, his long coat draped over it carefully. She was surprised to see him wearing a dress shirt and suit jacket, though it was less than perfectly worn and his tie was markedly absent, and she was struck by the paleness of his face and the quietness of his demeanor. She stood up and came around to him. "Alan! We weren't expecting to see you back here for at least another week."
"And yet here I am."
"And yet here you are." She studied him for a second. "What are you doing here?"
Alan considered. "I needed to be somewhere other than alone with my thoughts." Shirley nodded. "I thought, perhaps, Denny might still be here. And you," he added, as though to make sure she didn't feel second-best.
Shirley smiled and led Alan to the leather sofa, where she sat beside him. "You're right on both counts. I know I haven't phoned, but Denny said you weren't being very sociable and I didn't want to disturb you. I thought Denny could manage that all by himself." Alan smiled softly. "How are you, Alan?" she asked.
"I'm just perfect."
"You don't look perfect. You look…" She hesitated. Alan waited. "… exhausted."
Alan shrugged. "I appreciate the honesty if not the message." The awkward silence prompted him to capitulate. "If you must know, I have a thumping headache the size of New York and the three of you look lovely this evening. But I'll live, I assure you."
Shirley tried to appreciate his wry humor. "It's been a long week," she said.
"Alan," Shirley began. Alan gave her his full attention. His blue eyes were piercing. "I tried to say this when you were still in the hospital, but I didn't really know how. And I'm not sure at the time that you could hear me anyway." Alan furrowed his brow. "When I first met you, Alan, I was sure you were trouble. If you recall, I even told you that you were a self-loathing narcissist."
"With a small penis."
Shirley smiled slightly at the memory. "Alan… a narcissist would never have done what you did."
But Alan wouldn't take the kindness. "I was sucking up."
"There are far less dangerous ways of doing that," Shirley countered.
"Alan," Shirley said, taking his good hand, "I was wrong. And what you did probably saved my life. Thank you."
"You're quite welcome."
They said nothing for a moment, and then, uncomfortable with the attention, Alan stood up. "I'd better go find Denny and explain myself," he said.
"Alan," Shirley began. He looked at her. "When I told you that you loathed yourself… I still see that. I hope someday you can come to like and respect yourself at least as much as I have come to. From where I sit, you deserve that."
Alan looked at her for a moment without speaking, then began to leave. When he reached the door, he stopped and turned around. "I have a memory… I don't know, maybe it's a hallucination…" Shirley looked at him questioningly. "When I was first brought to the hospital, did you come to my room and talk to me about my penis?"
"I remember hearing you say… that you were wrong about it being small."
Shirley laughed softly and shook her head.
"Shirley, did you look under my johnny?"
"I wouldn't take advantage of you in your weakest moment, Alan," she replied.
Alan shrugged. "A shame. Good night, Shirley. Stay… safe."
"Good night, Alan. You, too."
* BL * BL * BL *
Denny looked over at Alan, sitting in his usual spot on the balcony, trying hard to regain some normalcy, despite the sling on his right arm and the awkwardness of trying to hold a drink and a cigar at the same time regardless of his incapacity. The younger man still looked terribly pale, Denny thought, and thinner, and more vulnerable than he remembered. How did someone look vulnerable, he suddenly wondered? Maybe it's when you know things about them that others don't...
"I still don't know why you're here," Denny said.
"I told you, Denny: I needed to get out. One's thoughts can turn rather morbid when one is alone, and having… had a… difficult… experience."
"I wish you'd stayed at my place like I offered," Denny said through his cigar, his voice gruff and gentle at the same time.
Alan smiled softly. "Denny, most of the time, I've been asleep, I've been in pain, and I've been grumpy. I definitely haven't been good company. I wasn't going to subject you to that."
Denny shook his head. "Pansy," he said. Alan didn't take offense. "I'd have taken care of you, you know."
"I know," Alan replied. "But I'm not good at being looked after. Surely you recognize that."
"I know you like it," Denny countered. "You just don't think you deserve it."
Alan let the statement pass, reflecting just for a moment on the truth of it. "You would have been here most of the time anyway."
"You didn't answer my phone calls," Denny complained.
"Denny, I was asleep or doped up on pain pills. And when I picked up my messages, it was one o'clock in the morning. Would you have liked me to call you then?"
"Forget it," the senior partner dismissed the issue. "I wouldn't hear you at that hour anyway." He took a thoughtful puff on his cigar. "Do you think they were gunning for you, Alan?" he asked. "Or did your ego just get in the way of the bullet?"
"I don't know," Alan answered, putting his drink on the table between them so he could move the cigar from his right hand to his left and raise it to his mouth to draw a puff. It hurt. But he needed the feeling of familiarity it gave him. So he kept the inhaling to a minimum, and blew the smoke out slowly. "The police haven't found the gunman yet."
"Did you see him?"
"I didn't see anything."
"Were you scared?"
Alan turned his thoughts even more inward. He grew quiet. "Yes."
Denny noticed the shift in mood, and decided to tackle it the way he always handled Alan's insecurities: head-on. "Pretty unnerving, having someone out there who might hate you enough to kill you," he probed.
Alan laughed very softly, happy that Denny knew how to draw him out of himself. "There have always been people out there who hate me, Denny. This one might just have been bold enough to do something about it. But when my time comes, it comes."
"Very fatalistic for a Democrat."
"You don't have to be a Democrat to think God may have it in for you."
"It helps," Denny said. "After all, we Republicans know God is on our side."
"What about President Lincoln? And McKinley and Garfield, while we're at it? They were Republicans. And they all got shot!"
"Kennedy was, too. Two of them. And they were Democrats. Back on target. Everyone makes mistakes."
Alan laughed in delight. "You think God makes mistakes?"
"Don't you? Look at the platypus! For God's sake, that animal looks like He had leftovers that He didn't know what to do with."
"I like to think of it as all part of a larger plan," Alan said.
"Like some things are just put on this earth to make us think… or wonder."
Denny waved his cigar dismissively. "What do you want to wonder about?"
"Have you ever seen a lunar eclipse, Denny?"
"You're not supposed to watch those; they make you go blind or something. No, maybe that's masturbation."
Alan ignored the Denny-ism and continued. "That's a solar eclipse, Denny. I'm talking about a lunar eclipse. When I stand there and… watch the moon being darkened by degrees… it always makes me marvel that what's darkening it is the shadow of the Earth. The planet I'm standing on is more than two hundred thirty-eight thousand miles from the moon, and it's casting a shadow on that lonely, desolate hunk of rock that's hanging, magically, in the sky. And that means that something behind us is even bigger. Doesn't any of that ever make you wonder, Denny?"
Denny shook his head distastefully. "That stuff's for sissies."
Alan sighed and took another small puff of his cigar. "Aristotle is rolling in his grave at that statement, Denny."
"Let him roll. I've got more important things to wonder about. The female shape, for instance. Now that's something to consider."
"It is, indeed," Alan agreed.
The pair sat quietly for a moment. Then Denny asked, "Did you mean what you said in the hospital, Alan? That hearing me say my name comforts you?"
"Because it means you are near me, and that, Denny, brings me great comfort."
Denny paused to think about this tribute. "Why didn't you tell me you were going to mediate instead of going to court with McLaughlin?" he asked finally.
Alan took a long time to answer. He didn't want to hurt his friend, but somewhere in the depths of his heart, there was still an echo of the devastation he had felt at being locked out of Denny's life, at being the target of such anger and venom. Finally, he said quietly, "I only found out the morning of the shooting that Alice was a nun. I didn't… have a chance to… tell you."
Denny absorbed the younger man's demeanor, and understood immediately. "You mean you couldn't come and tell me," he said. "I wasn't going to listen."
Alan shrugged. "I didn't say that."
Denny leaned forward earnestly in his chair. "Alan, I'm sorry about what happened between us. I want you to know that I—"
"You don't have to apologize to me, Denny."
"Yes, I do, Alan. Yes, I do. I realized what an ass I was. You're a lawyer. I'm a lawyer! We take cases we don't personally agree with all the time—"
"I'm Denny Crane!"
"But what I mean, Alan, is that I should have known you wouldn't let it affect your dedication to me, to us. I shouldn't have let it get in the way of our friendship. And I'm sorry about that. I truly am."
Alan smiled softly, and managed a sip of scotch. "Thank you, Denny."
Denny gestured loosely toward Alan's glass. "Should you be drinking that stuff? Don't you have medications to take that don't mix with alcohol or something like that?"
Alan let out a short, sharp laugh. "Denny! Since when does that kind of thing concern you? Don't worry. I have no intention of turning into Karen Ann Quinlan. I didn't take any pills tonight."
Denny's worry moved from one problem to another. "But you've got a hole in your chest—doesn't it hurt?"
"The hole was quite competently closed up by the doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital, Denny," Alan replied. "As for pain, the scotch and your company are sufficient balm for my wounds right now." He took a long, slow drink from his glass. "I'll save the pills for when you're not beside me."
"You'll be saving them a long time."
"I hope so, Denny."
The two sat in silence for another moment, just savoring their renewed closeness. "It works for me, too, you know," Denny said finally. "The name thing."
Alan laughed softly. "You mean you feel reassured hearing your name, too?" He laughed again and shook his head. "What strength of personality, Denny."
"No, no, that's not what I mean," Denny answered. "I mean your name, Alan. When I hear your name, I feel a little less alone—whether you're in the room or not. If someone says your name, I feel stronger, I feel… supported."
"I suppose that's what friendship does," Alan agreed.
"Say it, Alan."
"What?" Alan replied, amused. "What, now?"
"Now," Denny said, leaning forward, in earnest. "Say it now, Alan. For awhile back there I was afraid I wouldn't get to hear it come out of your own mouth again. Say it. For me."
Alan let a soft smile just touch his eyes. "Okay, Denny. For you." He put his drink down on the table, then maneuvered his cigar so it lay across the top of the glass. He gritted his teeth as he leaned forward with just the slightest difficulty, stopping Denny's immediate attempt at solicitousness by holding up a hand just briefly, and stared into his friend's eyes, trying to convey everything in his heart, which, he knew, he could never manage, not if he had all the time in the world.
Denny returned his stare. Then he said in his best "Denny Crane" voice, "Alan Shore."
Denny drew himself up almost haughtily and added, "Denny Crane!"
Alan nodded, then replied softly, "Denny Crane."
"Flamingoes!" Denny reminded him.
Alan smiled, at peace, and warm to his very heart. "Indeed."