A/N This story takes place right after Fritz moves in with Brenda. Later, when Fritz told Gavin he was paying his retainer from money he inherited from his parents I wondered what had happened to them. This story answers that question and also explains why Fritz's sister Claire is such a lovable dingbat. I hope you like it. Nothing encourages me like feedback. Thank you in advance.
Brenda was spending a rare Tuesday morning at home. She had worked all weekend and finished up with a confession at midnight Monday night. Because Fritz had moved in just as her work had piled on, she had been unable to spend much time with him since all of his boxes moved from "that tacky U-haul" to the garage. Even though he didn't complain she knew he was feeling disappointed and a little neglected. She was still feeling guilty for mishandling his moving in due to her mother's unexpected visit. And since she actually had a day off she decided she'd do something nice for him. She would cook a delicious dinner. "After all, the way to a man's heart," her mother had always told her. Even though she didn't think that his stomach was the body part he was primarily concerned about when he pressured her to let him move in, she was going through the cookbook her aunt had given her when she graduated from Georgetown just the same. Her ringing cell phone pulled her attention away from the Vegetables section.
"If this is Will, I'm ignorin' it," she resolved. But the caller ID said it was Fritz. She quickly swallowed her piece of chocolate before she hit the Accept Call button. "Hi, Fritzy. How is your mornin' goin'?" Even though she knew he couldn't see the chocolate on her teeth, she moved her tongue over them to clean away the evidence.
"Hi, honey. Are you still at home?"
"Yes, since I worked all weekend I'm takin' the whole day off," Brenda explained.
"Good. Can you do me a huge favor? I'm missing a log book and I need it. Can you look and see if it's in one of the boxes in the garage?"
"Sure. What does it look like?"
"It's a gray, cloth-bound book with red leather corners. It's about 8 x 10 and, oh, I'd say it's about an inch thick."
"Ok. Where should I look?" Brenda asked thinking about the garage piled high with boxes.
"There are two boxes labeled 'Desk'. If it's at home it'll be in one of those two boxes."
Fritz claiming her house as his home sounded strange to her. "Ok. I'll look now and give you a call and let you know what I find."
"Thanks, honey. Finding that log book will save me a lot of work tonight."
Still thinking about how she felt about Fritz claiming her home as his, Brenda headed to the garage. When she opened the door she saw his boxes, neatly stacked in rows and all clearly labeled. "He is positively anal when it comes to bein' neat and orderly," Brenda mused. She walked down the aisles he had created when he stacked the boxes and readily found the two labeled "Desk". A box labeled "Books & Scrapbooks" rested on top of them so she moved it out of the way and opened the first Desk box. Quickly rifling through the papers and office supplies she realized that this was not the correct one. So she went on to the second box and found the log book. She set it aside and as she was moving one of the "Desk" boxes back into place, she accidentally knocked the box of books into the aisle, spilling its contents onto the concrete floor. Brenda picked up the books and put them back in the box. She paused when she picked up two scrapbooks, thought for a minute, and carried them along with the log book into the house and set them down on an end table. She then picked up the phone and called Fritz and told him she'd found the log book.
"Do you want me to bring it to you?" Brenda asked hoping he'd say no. She really didn't want to drive downtown today.
"No, that's ok. As long as I know it's there I can work around it and pick it up tonight. But thank you, honey. You have no idea how much work you just saved me. If I had to reconstruct each of those entries I'd be working on it for the next two weeks."
"Does that mean I get some kind of reward?" Brenda was toying with him.
And Fritz replied in kind. "Yes, I've got something you really want and I can't wait to give it to you tonight."
"Hmm. Somethin' I really want... What could that be?"
Fritz chuckled. "You'll get it tonight. All of it."
"I can't wait," Brenda grinned.
When the meat loaf and vegetables were in the oven, Brenda poured herself a glass of Merlot, went into the living room, settled into a chair and picked up a scrapbook. She smiled when she saw pictures of two darling babies. Claire's blonde hair was as curly as her own had been. And she was surprised to see that Fritz had been a blonde baby too. She smiled at the holiday family photographs. "His family did that too," she said to herself as she remembered her own formal family Christmas portraits. "I wonder if he fussed with his tie as much as my brothers did." And she lovingly touched his little boy face. "Fritz looked adorable in his holiday outfit," she thought. As she sipped her wine she continued to peruse the photos and mused "He really looks like his father. And Claire is just so darling."
Brenda heard the timer and reluctantly put down the scrapbook to continue making dinner. Just as she was getting ready to set the table she heard Fritz's car in the driveway. "Perfect timin'," she said, greeting him at the door with a kiss. "You can set the table while I slice the French bread."
The new recipe was a success. Fritz ate a hearty meal and complimented her several times. She repaid him by flashing lots of smiles.
As they were doing the dishes Brenda asked, "Do you have a lot of paperwork tonight?"
"No. Since you found the log book I suddenly find myself with extra time on my hands. Are you still thinking about your 'reward'?" he teased.
"Oh, I'm always thinkin' about my 'reward'," she laughed, "but I've got another idea first."
"Are you telling me that you think there's something better than my 'reward'? I'm crushed, I tell you. CRUSHED!" Fritz teased.
Brenda laughed. "Wait a minute and I'll show you." She put down the dish towel, went into the living room, and returned carrying the scrapbooks. "Could we go through these?"
Fritz's surprise showed on his face. For a minute he hesitated, let his breath out slowly, and then said quietly, "I guess. If you want."
His reaction took Brenda by surprise. "Wasn't I supposed to find these? I didn't think you'd mind. We've looked through my scrapbooks before. I didn't think you'd mind." She realized she was repeating herself so she stopped.
"No... No, it's fine. Let's sit in the living room and go through them," he said trying to cover his initial reaction.
They sat on the couch and Brenda picked up the first scrapbook and just as Fritz explained that his grandmother had made scrapbooks for both him and Claire, Kitty decided to hop up on Brenda's lap and lay down on the scrapbooks. Brenda moved "him" to the couch beside her.
She had the feeling that she shouldn't let Fritz know that she'd already looked through the first one so she pretended she was seeing the pictures for the first time. Fritz identified people and places for her and told her the backstory of the photographs and she teased him about what a gorgeous, curly-headed, blonde baby he had been. And when she saw the picture of him crowned King of the Somerset County Fair Toddler Beauty Pageant, she just had to tease him by calling him "Your Highness".
The first album was mostly baby and toddler pictures and ended with the pomp and circumstance of Kindergarten graduation. Brenda laughed at his report card and read the teacher's comments. "I'm glad you got over your habit of picking your nose."
"So am I. I would have had a hard time reaching my goal of Chick Magnet in high school."
Brenda snorted, "And you wouldn't be here on my couch with me, either."
When Brenda picked up the second scrapbook she noticed Fritz's arm which was around her shoulder tense just a little so she asked again, "Are you sure it's ok for me to see these?"
"Of course it is, honey. Why do you keep asking me?"
"You hesitated a little, that's all."
"I just wasn't sure you could handle all the glamour and fame of the Somerset County Fair Toddler Beauty Pageant King," Fritz teased.
"Should I kneel before you?" Brenda teased back.
"Well, yes. But not now. I'll let you know when," Fritz winked.
Again, Brenda snorted. "I see the King has big dreams for this evenin'"
They both laughed and she turned her attention to the second scrapbook. She studied Fritz's Little League pictures and those of his Pop Warner football days. "You were quite the jock. Who knew?" She continued to look at photos of Fritz and Claire in Halloween costumes, tearing the wrapping paper off packages in front of Christmas trees, and holding up Easter baskets brimming with candy and trinkets.
High school class pictures, prom pictures, more family portraits, more vacation photos, and more baseball and football team photos followed. When she saw his National Honor Society certificate, Brenda smiled and said "I've got one of those too. It's not in my scrapbook, though. My father hung it on my bedroom wall. And it's still there."
She saw a letter from Yale University admitting him and awarding him a full academic scholarship alongside his high school graduation pictures. "So you were smart as well as cute. Some things never change," she said.
"It's amazing what you can accomplish in life if you're not picking your nose," Fritz said.
Brenda rolled her eyes and retorted, "I'll remember those words to live by".
She turned the page expecting to find more of Fritz's high school graduation pictures. But there were no more photographs, just several newspaper clippings folded up and loosely stuck between the pages. As she unfolded them she anticipated that they would contain more accounts of team wins. Again, she felt Fritz tense.
Brenda was shocked when she saw the headline "Local Family Killed In Plane Crash" with pictures she recognized as Fritz's parents. One clipping had a photo of a smoldering small plane wreck.
Fritz cleared his throat, sighed deeply, and began. "My grandfather had a small plane. My grandparents, my parents, my aunt and my cousin were on their way to a Syracuse University football game when their plane went down. People on the ground said they heard the engine sputter and then die just before the plane crashed. There were no survivors. The black box said engine failure," he added in a quiet voice.
"Oh, Fritzy, I'm so sorry. How horrible. I'm so glad you weren't on that plane."
"I was a Freshman in college and I was in the middle of exams so I couldn't go. Claire was supposed to go but she caught the flu and was home with a neighbor. That was my entire family. After the crash it was just Claire and me."
"How old were you?" Brenda asked.
"I was eighteen and Claire had just turned fourteen," Fritz replied.
Brenda stared at the clippings struggling to comprehend. "That's too young to be left with no one." Brenda's eyes welled up with tears thinking about two teenage kids all alone and having to deal with suddenly and unexpectedly losing their entire family.
"There's not a lot I remember about when it happened. I don't even remember who notified me. Someone came to my fraternity house, but I don't know who it was."
"You were in shock," Brenda observed.
"Yes, I'm sure I was. He nodded his head. I do remember a social worker coming to the house the day before the funerals and telling me that they were placing Claire in foster care since she was a minor with no responsible living relatives. She told me that they would be filing court paperwork to become Claire's legal guardian. I didn't really understand what that meant but it felt like I was losing her too."
Brenda could see Fritz was reliving the nightmare. The painful memories were playing out on his face.
"Oh, honey..." Her voice trailed off as she fought back tears.
Fritz continued, "DCF allowed the foster parents to bring Claire to the funerals. At first I felt like they were the enemy, trying to keep Claire away from me. But they turned out to be wonderful. They invited me to their home. I couldn't live there permanently since I was eighteen, but they invited me to stay a few days as their guest. There were rules about that sort of thing but the foster father told the social worker that I needed to stay because I needed them as much as Claire did and Claire and I needed each other. And the social worker backed down.
"The Dennings invited me for every holiday and special family occasion. At that Christmas they had presents for me under the tree too – just like I was family. They were wonderful people. I guess you could say that they became our surrogate family. We still keep in touch with them and Claire is one of their grandchildren's godmother.
"Well, anyway, the foster parents sat me down and explained that the purpose of DCS petitioning to become Claire's legal guardian meant that they would then be free to place Claire for adoption and they urged me to attend every court hearing that was scheduled. So I had to leave Yale."
"Oh, my God," Brenda groaned. "It just kept getting worse."
"It did for awhile. I had to transfer to Fairleigh Dickinson University so I could be closer to Claire. But that meant that I lost all my scholarship money. The foster parents told me I needed a lawyer of my own but I didn't have any way of paying for one. I had no money at all and everything my parents had was tied up until the estates were settled. So the foster father called a lawyer he knew and asked the man to handle my case pro bono. When he heard my story, he agreed.
"At one of the court hearings, my lawyer entered my objection to the DCF petition for guardianship and he filed a petition asking the court to appoint me as Claire's guardian. He also asked the judge to release money from my parents' estate to pay my expenses until everything was settled. So I got a small living allowance. The judge also ordered money be released to pay my tuition and pay expenses so I could afford to live in our house.
"It took a long time and a lot of jumping through hoops but I was finally granted temporary custody of Claire, provided I stayed in school and continued to get good grades. The judge didn't want me sacrificing my future. And he ordered DCF and the Dennings to supervise us. It was about then that Claire started going nuts – sneaking out at night, shoplifting... You name it. So we had to go to counseling. I think I got more out of it than she did, though. The therapist became my parenting coach."
"Wow. I don't know how you did it," the admiration and love hanging heavy in Brenda's voice. "Is that why Claire is the way she is?"
"I think so. Her therapist said that she was flitting from obsession to obsession because she's trying to find what's missing in her life. You know, she was barely fourteen when the plane crashed."
"That's so sad. I couldn't have done it. If that had happened to me I think it would have driven me crazy."
"Claire is eccentric. But I guess it's her way of coping. She's a survivor. At one time I was afraid she would get into drugs. I caught her with a roach clip once. But I think she was just experimenting with her friends. She never developed a serious drug problem. Now she has all these obsessive interests, but she never sticks with any of them for long so I guess they're harmless."
"Fritzy, why don't we invite Claire to come out here for a visit? We could put her up in a hotel if she doesn't want to sleep on the pull-out," Brenda offered.
"I have no idea whether or not she'd come. It depends on what her burning obsession is at the moment, I suppose."
"Ask her anyway. Whether she decides to visit or not I want her to know that she has a family here."
"Ok. Thank you." Fritz kissed the side of Brenda's head. "But you would need to be prepared. She would blow in here like a hurricane."
Brenda smiled, "I think we can handle a little fresh air blowing through here." And then she became serious. "Thank you, honey, for sharing all this with me. That took a lot, I'm sure."
"I wasn't intentionally hiding this from you. It's just that, even after all this time, it's still hard to talk about," Fritz admitted.
"So you're ok, then?" Brenda asked.
"Yes. As a matter of fact it feels good to have finally told you about it," Fritz sighed in relief.
They sat on the couch awhile longer looking at the baby pictures again. Finally Fritz said, "I'm going to go get ready for bed" and kissed the top of Brenda's head before getting up from the couch.
"I'll be there in a minute," Brenda replied as she flipped back through the pages once more savoring the pictures. Finally she put the book down, made sure Kitty had food and water, turned out the lights, and entered the bedroom to get ready for bed. As she began to undress she saw Fritz in bed, leaning on one elbow, watching her and grinning rakishly. His expression was rewarded with a little strip tease.
"You'd better hurry up if you want your 'reward'. It might not be around for too much longer," Fritz teased.
Brenda slipped on a negligee, slid into bed beside him and kissed him hungrily. After awhile Fritz gave her her "reward". All of it.