Disclosure and Acknowledgement:
I am using JE's wonderful characters for fun, not profit.
Thank you to Maggie, my wonderful content and copy editor.
It was a typical late July day in Trenton, New Jersey. The air was humid and thick. The temperature was scorching.
The four Plum grandchildren were in the living room of their grandparents' house watching a movie in air-conditioned comfort. Frank Plum and his two sons-in-law were in the dining room playing cards and minding the children. The Plum women, Helen, Valerie and Stephanie, along with Helen's mother, Grandma Mazur, were at Quaker Bridge Mall shopping.
All was still. All was quiet. All was good.
"Daddy, can you give Frankie a hug?" asked Lisa Kloughn, age four plus. She walked into the dining room of her grandparents' home pulling her younger cousin by the hand.
Albert, Lisa's dad, looked up from his cards and said, "A hug? Who me? Sure, I can give Frankie a hug. Why am I giving Frankie a hug? Does he need a hug?"
"Yes, Daddy, Frankie needs a hug." Lisa brought her cousin over to her father. Frankie was crying. He was hitching and gasping, his nose was running and tears ran down his cheeks.
Ranger, Frankie's father, who was sitting adjacent to Albert at the table said, "Big Guy, what's the matter. Come here."
"No, Uncle Ranger, Daddy needs to give Frankie a hug 'cause he gives soft hugs."
"That's okay, Lisa. I'm Frankie's dad; I'll take care of him.
Lisa went over to her uncle and squeezed one of his well-developed biceps. "No, Daddy has to do it. You're too hard to give Frankie a soft hug."
Ranger and Albert looked at Lisa, as each started to explain why he was the best suited to comfort Frankie.
"What are you two to going to do, debate over who's got the best hug?" interrupted Frank Plum. "Frankie, come to grandpa."
"No, Grandpa, Daddy has to do it 'cause he's Cuddle Umpkins."
The men sat in silence for a moment.
Albert Kloughn looked at his child with a mixture of bewilderment and pride. He reached out to Frankie and lifted the boy onto his lap. Frankie put his arms around his uncle's shoulders and buried his head in Albert's pillowy chest. "Frankie, tell Uncle Albert what's wrong," said Albert as he patted the tot's back.
"I want Mommy," said Frankie.
Ranger reached over to take Frankie from Albert. "Why do you want Mommy, Big Guy? Come to me and tell me about it."
Frankie clung tighter to his uncle and buried his head further into Albert's chest. "Mommy. I want Mommy."
"Lisa," said Ranger, "what happened?"
"We were watchin' Bambi. And you know, the part where Bambi's mommy goes away?"
"Well. You know how Aunt Stephanie is shoppin' with Mommy and Grandma?"
"Well. Bambi's mommy went away and Aunt Stephanie isn't here and Frankie started cryin' and he needs a hug from Daddy, because when I'm scared Daddy gives me hugs and makes it all better."
"Lisa," said Albert, "that was good thinking on your part. Very good thinking. See, you are just like me. Always thinking."
Frankie took a few deep soggy breaths. Albert said, "Lisa, I think Frankie needs a tissue. Will you go get some for Frankie?"
"I don't know where they are."
"Go ask Angie or Mary Alice to help you."
Lisa called out. "Angie, can you help me find a tissue for Frankie?"
Albert leaned over and whispered into Lisa's ear.
"I didn't mean to 'bare-ass him."
Albert whispered again to his daughter.
"Okay, no yellin' in the house."
Albert whispered something else to Lisa.
"Alright," said Lisa, exaggerating every syllable, "no yellin' period."
Angie walked in to the dining room with a box of tissues and a wastebasket. She put the tissues on the table and the waste bin on the floor beside her stepfather.
Albert smiled at his near daughter to say thank you. He looked down at Frankie and said, "Frankie, how are you doing?"
Frankie leaned back to look at his uncle. He was still weeping and the features on his little face looked smeared. "I - I - I want Mommy."
"I know," said Albert, "sometimes, I want my mommy, too."
"No. I want my mommy," said Frankie and he began to sob anew.
Albert took a tissue and had Frankie blow his nose into it. He took another and mopped Frankie's tears. After he disposed of the soiled tissues, Albert put Frankie's head on his shoulder. Albert made a telephone receiver with his hand. He held his thumb up to his ear and his pinky in front of his mouth. He looked over at Ranger and mouthed, "Call Stephanie. Frankie needs to hear her voice."
Ranger got his cell phone out of his pants' pocket. He slid out of his chair and walked into the hallway of the Plum's duplex. A few moments later he returned to the dining room, holding the phone out in front of him. "Big Guy, Mommy's on the phone. She wants to talk to you." Ranger put the phone near his son's ear. He heard garbled sounds come from the phone.
"Mommy, you comin' back?"
More garbled sounds came from the cell phone.
"Mommy, come home. I need you," sobbed Frankie.
Stephanie was standing at the clearance rack in Macy's shoe department with her mom, grandma and sister, holding a cute pair of strappy sandals in her hand, when she received Ranger's call. She stepped away from the rack so that she could hear Ranger's side of the conversation. Stephanie stood huddled with her phone for a few minutes.
Stephanie sighed as she disconnected the call and walked back to where her mother, grandmother and sister were standing. Worry was written on her face.
"Stephanie?" asked Helen Plum, Stephanie's mom. "What's wrong?"
Stephanie handed the sandals to her sister, Valerie. "Hold these for me." Stephanie opened her purse and began anxiously searching for her keys. "It's Frankie."
"Is he okay?" asked Grandma Mazur.
"No. We need to go home. I'll just pay for the sandals and then we'll get going." Stephanie continued to search through her purse. "Why can't I find my keys?"
"What's wrong?" asked Valerie.
"He was watching Bambi and when Bambi's mother got shot he got upset."
"Has he seen Bambi before?" asked Grandma Mazur.
"No." Stephanie's eye started to twitch.
"No wonder he's upset," said Helen Plum, "Especially with you not being there and all."
Grandma Mazur waved her hand dismissively and said, "Bambi. That damn movie has ruined more kids."
"That's the truth," said Valerie. "It scared my girls."
"Hell, it scared you two and your mother," said Grandma Mazur.
"I wasn't scared," said Helen Plum, "I cried because it was sad. The ones who were scared were Valerie and Stephanie. They cried and cried and clung to me for days afterward."
"Same thing with my girls," said Valerie. "They were all clingy after they saw Bambi the first time."
"And the worst one of all, was your mother. She clung to me like white on rice for weeks and weeks after she saw that damn movie. You know how it is with only children, you spoil them rotten. Every little scrape and cut is a big production-" said Grandma Mazur.
"Frankie's my only child," said Stephanie as she pressed a finger to the side of her eye to control the twitching.
"Well, then you're in for it. If he's like his grandmother, he'll be sticking to you like glue."
A week after Frankie Manoso saw Bambi; he strode into his grandparents' house, clutching his mom's hand and a plastic sandwich bag with a postcard in it. He was wearing a Rangeman lanyard with a plastic cardholder attached to it. In the cardholder was a photograph of Frankie and Stephanie by a Christmas tree.
Frankie had been so worried after he saw Bambi that he clung to his mother. He wanted her nearby, all the time. Ranger and Stephanie understood that Frankie was scared and worked to ease his fears. For the first few days, Stephanie didn't go to work to assure him that mommy wasn't going away. When he cried for Stephanie in the middle of the night, Ranger would gather Frankie from his bed and bring him to sleep with them. But after a few days, Ranger felt that they needed to get Frankie back to his normal routine. They had fought about it. Stephanie agreed in part. She did need to go back to work, but she felt that Frankie should sleep with them until he started to feel more secure. Ranger argued that Frankie might not feel secure until he went to middle school.
Frankie was wearing his parents out with his neediness. Ranger and Stephanie came up with a solution to have Frankie carry a picture of Stephanie with him so that he could see her whenever he needed to while she was at work and in the middle of the night. Frankie and Stephanie picked out the photograph together. She put the photo in the cardholder and hung it from the lanyard and then she hung the lanyard around Frankie's neck. The photo helped, but Frankie still clung to her when he could and cried for her several times during the night. Every time he cried for her, Stephanie went to her boy's side to comfort him until he fell asleep. Stephanie was exhausted.
Ranger's grandmother, Abuela Ana, had called to invite Ranger, Stephanie and Frankie to visit her and her honey, Irv, at his vacation house in the Catskills a few days after the Bambi incident. When Ranger told her what was going on with Frankie, she insisted that they come to visit. Maybe she could help. After all, she was experienced with this kind of thing. Ranger agreed that they could use some help with Frankie. They haven't slept through the night in a week. Abuela Ana sealed the deal for the visit by sending Frankie a postcard with an invitation to come to see her and Irv and to bring his parents with him. She knew that four year olds love to receive mail and that they love to visit their great grandmothers.
Frankie was worried that when he went into his grandparents' home he would see that movie again, the movie where the little boy deer lost his mommy forever. Frankie didn't want to go into his grandparents' house, but his mom told him that he had too. He had to go in to that house to visit his grandparents before he could go on vacation. Frankie wanted his grandparents to come and visit him at his new house, but Stephanie said that they had to go visit his grandparents at their house.
Instead of bounding into his grandparents' and running to see his grandfather, Frankie stayed close to his mommy. He said, "Hi Grampa," as he walked past the living room. When he saw that his grandfather was watching a baseball game, Frankie let out a sigh.
Stephanie led her boy into the kitchen where her mom and Grandma Mazur were cleaning up from lunch. Helen Plum was busy wiping the top of the stove when Stephanie and Frankie entered the kitchen and Grandma Mazur was drying dishes.
"Well, look who's here," said Grandma Mazur. "Stephanie, there's something different about you. What's that thing at the side of your leg?"
Frankie giggled. "It's me, Gramma Mazur, Frankie."
"I guess it is you. Did someone glue you to your mother's side?"
Frankie moved closer to Stephanie. "I'm not glued."
Stephanie nodded, yes. She looked tired.
"Looks like you're glued."
"Show me," said Grandma Mazur.
Stephanie shrugged and Grandma Mazur rolled her eyes.
Helen Plum rolled her eyes too. She stopped cleaning the stove and turned toward her grandson. She said, "Frankie, come give grandma a hug," and spread out her arms.
Frankie was reluctant, so Stephanie pushed him towards his grandmother. He slowly walked over to his grandmother and gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "Hi Gramma." When Stephanie canted her head toward Grandma Mazur, he went and gave her a hug and kiss too.
Helen looked at her grandson and noticed that he was clutching a baggie with a postcard in it and wearing a lanyard with a plastic cardholder with a picture of Stephanie and Frankie in it. Stephanie had told her mom about the picture and asked that they not make a big to do about it. She went over to the dinette set and sat in one of the seats. "Frankie, come to grandma again. I want to see what you got there."
Frankie looked at his mom and then went over to his grandmother. "Lookit. I got this," said Frankie as he held out the baggie to his grandmother. In it was a brightly colored postcard that said Catskills on the front.
"It's a card from Bisa. She sent it me in the mail."
Helen was confused. Who was Bisa Ana? She looked to Stephanie for an answer.
"Bisa is short for bisabuela, great grandmother. Bisa Ana is what Frankie calls Ranger's Grandma Ana," said Stephanie.
"Not gramma, Mommy, abuela."
"Bisa Ana," said Grandma Mazur. "Is she the one that lives in sin with that man?"
"Bisa lives in My-am-ee Gramma Mazur," said Frankie.
"Really. I heard she lives in sin. I wish I lived in sin," twinkled Grandma Mazur.
Stephanie's eye twitched.
"Bisa Ana sent you a card?" asked Grandma Helen. "What does it say?"
Frankie flipped over the card. He moved his finger under the printing and read it aloud. "It says, 'Dear Frankie, come and viz-it me. Love Bisa.'"
"It does?" asked Grandma Mazur.
"Uh huh. I'm takin' Mommy and Daddy. We're goin' to see Bisa tonight."
Grandma Mazur looked at Stephanie and said, "You're going to Miami? In the summer?"
"No. Irv, Abuela Ana's friend, has a vacation house in upstate New York-"
Frankie flipped the card back to the colorful side and said, "Gramma Mazur, we're not goin' to My-am-ee. We're goin' to see Bisa here."
Grandma Mazur took the baggie from Frankie and looked at the card. "You're going to the Catskills?"
Stephanie's eye started twitching again. When Frankie received the post card, he asked what it said. She and Ranger said New York. They reasoned, why not? The Catskills are in New York. They figured that Frankie would meltdown if he heard the word Catskills. They decided not to add fuel to an already raging fire.
Frankie sucked in a large gulp of air. "Cats kill? Cats kill! They kill cats! Oh no! Did they kill Liar?"
"Who's liar?" asked Grandma Mazur.
"Lila. Lila, is Irv's cat," answered Stephanie.
"Mommy! No! We can't go see Bisa," Frankie cried. "They kill cats there. No Mommy. We can't go."
Stephanie pressed her finger into side of her eye to control the twitch.
The sun was just streaming through the mountains, marshaling in blue skies and a clear, sunny day in the upstate New York highlands. Stephanie wiggled Frankie's foot and said, "Wake up, Angel. We're here," as Ranger pulled the Cayenne off the road onto the gravel path in front of Irv's vacation home in the Catskills
Frankie slept in his safety seat in the backseat of the Cayenne, wearing his lanyard and holding Belfry, his Batman bear, and his baby blanket, for the drive from Trenton to Sullivan County. He had been so anxious about going to the Catskills that his parents waited until Frankie was sound asleep before starting their journey. The trip, which led them on many country roads, would have been beautiful during the day, but they only saw silhouettes of hills and valleys as they motored on their nocturnal drive.
He woke once during the drive, crying, "Mommy. I want Mommy," and insisted that Stephanie sit in the backseat and cuddle him. Ranger was more insistent and told his son that Mommy had to sit up front with Daddy to keep him company. Stephanie was ready to acquiesce to her boy, but Ranger reminded her that Frankie would never grow out of this stage if they continued to coddle him. Stephanie, who basically agreed with Ranger, but had pangs when her son was in distress, compromised by glaring at her husband and adjusting her position in her seat, so that she could hold on to her son's leg. Stephanie held on to Frankie's leg until she knew that he had re-entered R.E.M. sleep.
Frankie yawned and blinked his eyes to wake himself up. He looked out the windows and asked, "Where are we?"
"We're in New York," said Ranger.
Irv's gray two-story vacation home sat back from the road on a one acre parcel of land. A low stacked-stone wall edged the property from the road and a gravel driveway curved from the road to the front of the house. The house had a white front porch that spanned the width of it. Pink roses climbed up the columns of the porch and festooned the front of the house with their fragrance and color. The house was the image of the perfect farmhouse.
Bisa Ana and Irv walked from the porch to the path when they heard the crunch of the Cayenne on the drive. Bisa Anna called out, "Welcome. Welcome. Where's my baby boy?"
Ranger turned off the Cayenne. As he and Stephanie got out of the SUV, he said, "Here I am, Abuela."
Bisa Ana gave her grandson a dismissive wave of the hand. "Where's Frankie. Where's my Frankie?"
Frankie called out from the back seat, "Here I am, Bisa." Frankie put Belfry and his blanket to the side and started to unfasten the straps on his seat.
Bisa Ana opened the back door to the Cayenne and leaned into the vehicle. She gave Frankie kisses on his cheeks and said, "Welcome to the Catskills, darling boy."
Frankie shrieked, "Oh no! The Cats kills! Not the Cats kills. Mommy, Daddy, we have to go home. Bye-bye, Bisa. Bye-bye."
Bisa looked over her shoulder to Ranger and Stephanie. Ranger scrubbed his face with his hand. Stephanie closed her eyes and gently shook her head. Ana turned to Frankie. "Come to Bisa. I'm so happy to see you."
"No, Bisa. I have to go home," said Frankie as he squirmed in his seat and looked out the windows for dead cats. "Bye-bye."
Irv, who was greeting Stephanie and Ranger, asked, "What's wrong?" Stephanie had Irv move out of Frankie's earshot and explained the situation. Irv arched an eyebrow and assured Stephanie and Ranger that could remedy the situation. He walked into the house and reappeared a few moments later with a white bundle of fluff in his arms.
Irv walked up to the SUV, and asked Ana to step aside so that he could talk to Frankie. Irv slid into the back seat of the Cayenne beside the panicked four-year old. Irv put Lila, his aged, docile, Persian cat, on the tot's lap. "Frankie, look who's here to see you."
Frankie, hugged Lila and said, "Liar, you're okay. They didn't kill you."
"Why would they kill Lila?" asked Irv.
"'Cause they kill cats here."
"Huh? No, they don't kill cats here."
"Uh huh. That's why they call it cats kill," explained Frankie.
"No, that's not true. Who told you that?"
Frankie shrugged. "They call it cats kill."
"Catskills doesn't mean kill cats."
"No, Catskills is an old time word that means cat creek."
Frankie scrunched his face. "Really?"
"Sure thing. Would I go anywhere where they would kill Lila?"
"No. You love Liar," stated Frankie.
"I love Liar, too," said Frankie as he gave the cat another hug.
Bisa Ana grabbed Ranger's arm and held him back from traipsing into the house with Irv, Stephanie and Frankie. She said, "Carlito, I need a word or two with you."
Ranger smiled, stopped mid stride and waited for his grandmother to start their conversation. Ana gave her youngest grandson a hug. "I'm so happy to see you."
"Really," Ranger mock pouted, "I thought you were so happy to see Frankie." Ranger immediately felt his head being cuffed. "Abuela!"
"If I didn't love you so much, I'd really give you what for."
"For being sassy, Señor Smarty Pants."
Ranger put an arm around his grandmother and drew her near. "I love you too," he said, as they started to walk towards the house.
"As you should. You know why I invited you to come this weekend?"
Ranger shrugged his shoulders. "You miss me?"
"Sometimes," said Abuela Ana with a twinkle in her eyes. "I invited you so I can celebrate your birthday with you and Frankie's birthday with him."
Ranger said, "But my-"
"I know, it's early for your birthday and late for Frankie's. Doesn't matter, we'll still celebrate. I've been thinking about Frankie. I can see he's still, you know, skittish."
"Yes, he's still skittish."
Abuela Ana stopped walking. "We've got to nip that in the bud."
"That's what I told Stephanie."
"But gently. We don't want what happened to you to happen to him."
"What? What happened to me?"
"Don't you remember what happened when you saw Bambi for the first time?"
"Nothing. I was fine with it."
Abuela Ana smirked. "Yes of course you were fine with it. You're not so different from your son. Frankie's wearing a picture of him and Stephanie around his neck and you wore your mother's gold pendant under your clothes for months."
Ranger dragged his fingers and thumb around the front of his neck as if he were feeling a phantom chain and pendant. "I forgot about that."
"You were young, about Frankie's age. Bambi scared you, like it scared him. We handled it wrong with you. We let your brother and sisters tease you. That wasn't good. We have to be gentle with Frankie. That's why I'm sending you and Stephanie away for an evening to a bed and breakfast for your birthday present."
"That's supposed to help Frankie?"
"Sure. He has to learn that you and Stephanie will go away and come back."
"Of course it's a good plan. I thought of it, with some help from my honey," said Abuela Ana.
Ranger controlled a shudder when his grandmother referred to Irv as her honey. He liked Irv, he really did. Ranger was happy that Irv was in his Abuela's life and that he made her happy, but he did have difficulty reconciling his beloved grandmother as sexual being and possibly a hot tamale in the sack.
"You two will go in a few days," continued Abuela Ana. "After Frankie gets used to this place. We'll keep him so busy, he'll forget to miss you. Besides, being outside in the fresh air and sunshine will tire him out. I guarantee you that the child will sleep through night while he's here."
"That'll be nice. He hasn't slept through the night for over a week."
Abuela Ana put her hands on Ranger's cheeks and looked into his eyes. "I can tell."
Ranger took his grandmother's arm in his and they walked into the house.
Irv handed Lila to Stephanie to carry. Lila, who was an indoor cat, was not used to being outside and Irv, who was a responsible pet parent, wanted to ensure that his fur baby wouldn't get loose in the yard. Irv then hoisted, the pajama-clad Frankie on to his hip and they walked with Stephanie and Lila into the farmhouse. Ranger and Bisa Ana stayed behind to talk.
When Irv opened the door to the house and entered the kitchen, they hear the clattering of paws on the tile floor. Pugsley, Bisa Ana's newly adopted pug, appeared to greet the family. Lila jumped out of Stephanie's arms. She licked Pugsley on the head and then found her way to her bed. All the indoors and outdoors stuff had worn Lila out. The dog went over to Irv and walked his front paws up Irv's legs. Irv laughed and said, "There, there."
Frankie looked down at Pugsley from his perch on Irv's hip. He reached out his hands and said, "Puppy. Lookit Mommy, Biso has a puppy."
Irv put the child on the floor. Frankie went over to the pug and gave him a big hug. "Puppy."
Irv squatted near Frankie. "Frankie, this is Pugsley. He's Bisa's dog. Pugsley, this is Frankie." Pugsley licked Frankie's cheek.
"I think Pugsley likes you," said Stephanie.
"I like him too Mommy. Can we keep him?"
"No. He's Bisa's dog, but you can play with him while we're here."
Abuela Ana and Ranger walked into the house as Frankie was asking about playing with the dog. "Frankie," said Abuela Ana, "do you like my little Pugsley?"
"If you're nice to Pugsley, he'll play with you. He may even sleep with you." Frankie beamed and hugged the pug again. Ranger started to grimace, he didn't like the idea of a dog sleeping with Frankie, but his grandmother elbowed him in the ribs and whispered, "It's all part of the plan." Ranger rubbed his ribs and nodded.
Frankie sat at the head of the large farm table in the eating area adjoining the kitchen of his Biso Irv's vacation home. He was freshly groomed, freshly dressed in a polo shirt, shorts and the ever present lanyard and hungry. A large Belgian waffle with fresh berries was nestled in a plate in front of Frankie. Bisa Ana stood beside him shaking a can of whipped cream. She said, "Frankie, close your eyes and open your mouth."
"Because I have a surprise for you."
"Abuela, please no." said Ranger. "Too much sugar's-"
Bisa Ana gave her grandson a look that would turn fire into ice at fifty paces. She said, in a measured tone, "Fine. None for you, Señor Smarty Pants, but why deny Frankie?"
Stephanie flashed her two hundred watt smile, then said, "Yeah, why deny Frankie? Go ahead, Angel, do as Bisa says."
Frankie closed his eyes and opened his mouth, wide. Bisa Ana squirted a dollop of whipped cream into his awaiting cavern and said, "There."
Frankie closed his mouth and swallowed. He opened his eyes, which were now sparkling with delight. "Bisa, what's that?"
"It's whipped cream," answered Bisa.
"Whipt cream. It's good. More." Frankie closed his eyes, opened his mouth and waited for more, which his obliging great grandmother provided. "I like that, Bisa."
"That's enough," said Ranger. The rest of the group gathered round the table looked at him as if he had a mental defect. "For now."
Bisa sprayed whipped cream on to Frankie's waffle and cut it up into bite size pieces for the tot. Then she went to her grandson, and squirted whipped cream down his throat. "You used to like this when you were his age."
Frankie was amazed to see his dad eat whipped cream, since Ranger rarely ate sweets. He pointed at his father and said, "Mommy, lookit. Daddy's eatin' whipt cream."
"And I like it," replied his father.
The family spent the rest of breakfast making polite conversation about everyone's health, the relatives and the drive from Trenton. After a small lull in the conversation, Frankie said, "Bisa, is this sin?" as he looked around the kitchen and dining area.
Stephanie gasped. Ranger looked at his son and then at his wife. Irv looked at Frankie. He gently shook his head and smiled. Bisa, who as a mother, grandmother and great grandmother, was accustomed to outrageous statements from toddlers, didn't flinch. She asked her youngest great grandchild, "Why do you ask that?"
"Grandma Mazur says you live in sin."
Ranger looked at Stephanie. "Babe."
"Abuela," said Stephanie. She canted her head towards Frankie. "I'm so sorry. My grandmother was just making some idle chatter and I guess he remembered it."
"Babe. You're grandmother's-"
Bisa waved her hand in front of her face and said, "Shhh" to Ranger. Then to Frankie, she said, "No, I don't live in sin." She winked at Irv and he winked back. "I live in Miami. But for now, I'm living here, in New York."
"Oh," said Frankie. He was sure he remembered what his Grandma Mazur said. "But Grandma Mazur said you live in sin. She wants to live sin, like you."
"Frankie, tell your Grandma Mazur that if she wants to live like me, she'll have to move to Miami."
After the breakfast table was cleared and the dishes had been washed and put away, it was time to get on with the Manoso's first day in the country. The family stood in the kitchen, not knowing what do to next. Ranger and Stephanie were clearly tired. They hadn't slept the night before because of the drive. Frankie, who was well rested and now well fed, was full of energy and ready to play.
Irv said, "Frankie, why don't you, Bisa and me, take Pugsley to the dog park and then we can go to the tot lot?" Pugsley who was sitting in his basket in the living room, came to Irv's side when he heard his name. He laddered his fore paws up Irv's legs and gave him his large eyed, Please, look.
"Okay. Mommy, Daddy, c'mon. We're goin' to take Pugsey to the park."
"Big Guy. I'm tired. I'm going to stay here and take a nap."
"Frankie, Mommy's tired, too. I'm going to stay here and take a nap, too."
Frankie frowned. "Okay. I'll stay here, too."
Bisa asked, "Frankie, are you tired?"
Frankie shrugged. "Kinda."
"Kinda?" said Irv. "Why don't you come with Bisa, Pugsley and me."
"Nope. I'll stay here."
"Why? Your parents will be sleeping. If you're just kinda tired, it won't be much fun here. You won't have anyone to play with," said Bisa.
"Uh huh. I can play with Liar."
"Frankie, you know that Lila only likes to play when she wants to," said Irv. He walked to Lila's basket in the living room. When he came back into the kitchen, he reported, "Lila's asleep."
"Frankie, it would be best if you came with us. Then your parents can take a nap and not worry about you."
"Nope. I'm not goin'. I'm stayin' with Mommy."
"Frankie, come with us."
"No. I have to stay with Mommy."
"Young man," said Bisa.
There was a silence that fell with a thud in the room. The adults waited, each not knowing what to say, each not wanting to break the silence.
"No, Bisa, that's not how you do it. You have to do it like Daddy does."
Bisa looked at the youngster quizzically.
"First you call me 'Frankie.' Then you say, 'Francis Albert.' Then you say, 'Francis Albert Plum Manoso'."
"Francis Albert Plum Manoso?"
"Yep, Plum Manoso. Then you say, 'Young Man'. That's how Daddy does it."
Bisa and Ranger exchanged glances. Ranger gave his grandmother a knowing nod. "Well, then, Francis Albert, get ready, we're going to the park," said Bisa.
"No!" shrieked Frankie. He started to cry. "I have to stay with Mommy. She could get lost."
"Ah," said Irv. "Frankie, if your mom stays here, she won't get lost."
"No." Irv pulled a handkerchief from his pants pocket. He made a great production of fluffing it. He dabbed the little one's tears. "Your dad will watch her. And we'll lock the house. She won't be able to get out, so she won't get lost."
"Absolutely," said Biso.
Frankie, who was still sniffing a bit, walked over to his mother. "Mommy, you be okay if I go?"
Stephanie crouched so that she was eye to eye with her son. "I'll sleep better if I know you're having fun."
"Really? Will you miss me?"
"Sure. But I'll be happy that you're having fun with Bisa, Biso and Pugsley."
"Okay." Frankie gave his mother a kiss. He went over to Bisa and said, "Okay" in a resigned tone. "I'm ready to go." Pugsley rubbed his body against Frankie's legs. He danced away from the dog. "Pugsey, stop ticklin' me. You ready to go?"
Irv said with a smile in his voice, "You're not quite ready to go, Young Man. It's a bright day out there. Where's your cap?"
Frankie looked at his parents and shrugged. Stephanie and Ranger looked at each other, each silently saying, did you pack a cap for him? "I don't have a cap, Biso."
"Well let's see what we can do about that." Irv went to the hall closet and rummaged around. He came back with two Yankees' caps, one for himself and one for Frankie. He put his cap on his head and Frankie's on his pate. "Here you go. A Yankees' hat for me and one for you. I bought this cap especially for you."
Frankie took off the hat and looked at it. "Who's the Ankees?"
"Only the best baseball team in the world," said Biso. He took the cap from Frankie's hands and re-lidded the boy.
"You like the Ankees, Biso?"
"Ah, Frankie," said Bisa, "Biso Irv loves the Yankees."
"I love the Ankees, too," said Frankie, not knowing much about baseball or the Yankees. But if Biso Irv loved the Ankees, then they must be the best.
On his way out, Frankie gave each of his parents a kiss good- bye. Just before he left the house, Frankie came back in and ran to his father. "Daddy."
Frankie motioned for Ranger to bring his ear to Frankie's mouth. He whispered, "Don't lose Mommy."
Frankie put out his right hand. "Shake."
Ranger shook his son's hand and then drew him near. He gave his boy a hug and a kiss. Ranger turned Frankie around and patted him on the behind. "Go have fun."
Frankie scurried out of the house calling, "Bye, Mommy. Bye, Daddy."
Ranger waited until he heard Irv's car drive away from the house. He took Stephanie's hand and pulled her towards the stairs. "Woman, to bed with you."
"Woman, to bed with you," said Stephanie in mock horror as Ranger led her up the stairs. "That is so caveman."
At the landing, Ranger flung Stephanie over his shoulder and walked down the hallway into the bedroom they would be sharing during their visit with his grandmother and her honey.
"Put me down," squealed Stephanie. "Put me down right now, Tarzan."
Ranger was going to fling Stephanie onto the bed, but then he imagined it breaking. He quickly ran a scenario in his head.
"¿Carlito, te rompiste la cama?"
("Carlito, did you break the bed?")
"Y así ¿cómo rompió la cama? Hmmm?"
("And just how did you break the bed? Hmmm?")
"Yo estaba jugando cavernícola con Stephanie-"
("I was playing caveman with Stephanie-")
"Usted jugaba al cavernícola. En el dormitorio? "
("You were playing caveman. In the bedroom?")
"¿No te digo que no jueges cavernícola en la casa?"
("Didn't I tell you not to play caveman in the house?")
He then imagined her calling him "estupido" and cuffing the side of his head. Ranger did a cursory look at the bed's frame. It was in good order, but he decided not to chance it.
Stephanie looked over her shoulder and said, "Yo, he-man, I'm waiting."
Ranger pulled back the coverlet and gently placed Stephanie on the bed. He looked at his wife, arched an eyebrow and climbed onto the bed.
"Oh, no." giggled Stephanie. "You've got that look in your eyes. We're tired. We're supposed to be napping."
"I have just enough energy to make us both happy."
"You usually have enough energy to make us both happy," murmured Stephanie.
"Wait. Wait. Did you take a picture of Frankie before he left? You usually do in case anything happens to him. He looked so cute in his Yankees' cap."
"No. Did you?"
"No. You're the paranoid, distrusting parent, not me."
"I'm on vacation. It's your turn to be the paranoid distrusting parent."
"Not me. I'm mommy." She waited a few beats and said, "We're parents, we're never on vacation. You're not worried?"
"He's with my abuela." Ranger nuzzled Stephanie's neck. His ten a.m. version of a five o'clock shadow bristled her cheek.
"Hey, that scratches. When was the last time you shaved?"
Ranger surveyed his jawline with his hand. "I better shave before Abuela comes back or she'll give me the Miami Vice speech."
"The Miami Vice speech?"
"Yes. She'll say that with my stubble that I'm trying to look like Don Johnson and disapprove."
"Miami Vice. Wasn't that show on a hundred years ago?"
"To my abuela, it was yesterday."
"You should want to shave so that you won't give me a brush burn."
Ranger, rubbed his stubble along Stephanie's neck and whispered, "Babe."
"Wait. Stop," Stephanie said weakly. "What did Frankie tell you before he left?"
"He said, don't lose mommy," answered Ranger as he started to peel off Stephanie's clothes.
"He said that? He's the sweetest child in the world."
Ranger, said, "Only to us." He proceeded to kiss his wife's neck and nibble her ear lobe as he continued to undress her.
"What? You don't think he's the sweetest child in the world?"
"Babe," said Ranger, as he hurriedly undressed himself. "He's the best little boy in the world."
"Why isn't he the best child in the world?"
"Because I have a daughter. Julie's the best girl in the world and Frankie's the best boy in the world. Happy?"
"Okay. Maybe," said Stephanie as she bit her lower lip. "But we're raising Frankie together. Doesn't that give him the edge?"
"Stephanie, I may not be raising Julie, but she's all Manoso. Don't forget that she shot Scrog to save me."
"Yeah. She was brave. When you walked in that door, I was so scared that that would be it. Scrog would kill you, I'd be a widow and Julie and Frankie would be fatherless." Stephanie snuggled in Ranger's embrace and kissed him. She felt the warmth of this skin on hers. "Ranger! I'm naked. You're naked. How did that happen?"
Ranger smiled and said, "You're easily distracted. But since we're both naked . . ."
"Here? In your grandmother's house?"
"More like my grandmother's love nest. Yes, here. We're alone for the first time in days. When was the last time that we made love?"
"Yesterday, right after Frankie fell asleep and before we started the drive here. A few days ago in your office, while Ella was watching Frankie-."
"Those were quickies. Lately, every time we get close, Frankie calls out for you. It's been childus interruptus for over a week."
"But, but-," stammered Stephanie.
"We're here alone. They'll be out for hours. The nearest neighbors are about a quarter mile away. We can take our time. We can be as loud as we like."
"I know. What if they come back early?"
"They'll call if they need us."
"I don't know. The mobile phones don't work well up here. What if Frankie gets scared? What if he needs us?"
Ranger outlined the phantom pendant on his chest with his hands. "He'll be fine. My grandmother will take care of him."
The day was clear and bright. The clouds billowed against their blue canvas. The leaves of the rose bushes fluttered and shimmered on the porch's trellises when the breeze volleyed. Stephanie lounged on the glider at the end of the porch and paged through a magazine. When a car whirred along the road, she would peer over her reading to see if it would turn into the driveway. When it was apparent that the car had driven past the house, Stephanie would return to her magazine.
Ranger paced the width of the porch in long, quiet strides. Back and forth. Back and forth. His silent treads were echoed by occasional squeaks from the wooden planks. He stared at the road as he walked the part of the lap that took him toward the driveway. Back and forth. Back and forth. He stroked his phantom pendant as he marched his path.
The couple had spent the morning and midday enjoying time together sans child. They made love and slept. The sex and the nap were restorative. A tonic. After they woke, Ranger went for a run and Stephanie soaked in a bath. They ate lunch. They didn't worry if the foods on the plates touched each other. They didn't enter into collective bargaining for cookies. They didn't answer endless questions on this or that. It was quiet and serene. Too quiet. Too serene. They missed the clamor and activity of their boy.
Ranger continued walking the porch. He stopped and checked his watch. It was after two. They were out longer than he expected. Ranger pulled his mobile phone from his pocket and punched in the code to speed dial his grandmother. Nothing. He checked to see if he had reception. The reception was low, but there was reception, one bar. He called again. Nothing. He resumed his vigil.
"Ranger. Stop pacing."
"Babe." Ranger continued to walk.
"Everything's fine. They'll get here when they get here. If something happened, they'd call."
"They'd call the land line."
"Do you know that?"
Stephanie huffed a puff of air. "No, I don't know that. He's with your grandmother. He's fine."
"I don't know, Babe." Ranger shrugged a slight shrug.
"You always worry and he's always fine."
Stephanie shook her head and went back to her magazine. She thought about the few times that something had happened to Frankie when he wasn't with them. Minor scrapes and bruises. Each time he was at Rangeman being minded by his Merry Uncles, who tended to forget that, while he was a solid little kid, Frankie was just a child.
One time, Frankie careened into the corner of a filing cabinet at Rangemen while playing tag with the Uncles. Ranger heard Frankie scream and ran from his office to get to his son. When he got to the scene, Frankie was on the floor crying. A group of tall men stood around him in a circle. They just looked at the tot dumbfounded. They were worried that they had broken the boss's kid.
Ranger pushed through the crowd to tend to his boy. Frankie had a gash that ran through his left eyebrow and it was a gusher. Stephanie had it on good authority that her usually unflappable husband had turned ashen when he saw blood seeping from his son's head. Ranger calmed his boy and held the cut together until they could get Frankie to the emergency room for stitches. Frankie would forever have a hairline scar that ran through his eyebrow. And the Merry Uncles, well let's just say that the experience damaged them, too. The scar was, as Ranger teased him, Frankie's first war wound and he wore it with pride.
Ranger looked at his watch several more times. He mentally prepared the speech that he would give his grandmother about staying out too long with his son and not calling to check in. He liked teasing her because she gave it back to him. That didn't happen often to Ranger. He was an imposing man. Tall, broad-shouldered and muscular. He presented a stoic façade that veneered a mercurial temper. Most of Ranger's employees had seen Ranger in action when crossed. It often ended in bruises, bloodshed and broken bones. Abuela Ana was not intimated by Ranger. She had changed his diapers. She had watched him take his first steps. She had straightened out his sorry ass when he was a teenager. Why would she be intimidated by him?
Irv's Volvo crunched the gravel as it came into the driveway. Ranger walked to the porch's steps and rehearsed making a production of looking at his watch. Stephanie put down her magazine and waited for her son to bound onto the porch, full of stories of his adventures with his great grandparents and Pugsley.
They heard the doors of the car open and close in sequence. Frankie pushed out of the back seat of the sedan. He barreled toward the porch using his sturdy legs and arms to propel him forward. Pugsley trailed behind him. Frankie flew past his father and stopped short of the front door. He tried to open it. He couldn't turn the knob, so he rattled it. Then he pounded on the door's wood frame. He cried out, "Mommy! Mommy! Mom-mee! Where are you?" His voice was full of desperation and panic.
Frankie frantically turned his head from side to side. He looked at his mother, then at his father, then at his mother again. He took a sharp breath and hurled himself onto his mother. "Don't die, mommy. Don't go away."
Stephanie bundled her boy in her arms to comfort him. He hung onto her and sobbed. "Don't die, mommy. Don't go away. Please, mommy, please. Don't go away."
Stephanie drew Frankie closer and said, "I'm here. Mommy's here. It's okay."
Frankie put his head on her shoulder. "Mommy, don't die. Don't go away. Promise."
Stephanie closed her eyes and inhaled. She couldn't promise Frankie that she wouldn't die. She would die someday, of course. Not soon, but someday. She wouldn't lie to Frankie about death since it was likely that he would experience the death of his great grandparents during his childhood. Stephanie wanted to postpone this discussion until he was older, but the time was here. "Frankie. Someday mommy will die."
Frankie started to sob anew. "No! No! Mommy, don't die."
Ranger started to walk towards his wife and child, but Stephanie motioned for him to stay away. "Frankie, everybody dies. It's part of life. Someday, I will die, but that's not going to be for a very long time."
"Promise." Stephanie smoothed her son's hair and kissed his head. She cuddled him until she heard his breathing become shallow and even. When she tried to lay him down on the glider, he whimpered and pulled her closer to him. Stephanie held her son while he napped.
Biso and Bisa climbed onto the porch shortly after Frankie. Biso held a basket filled with vegetables, herbs, peaches and blackberries. Bisa fidgeted with Frankie's cap. Ranger looked at his grandmother. "What happened?"
Bisa looked over to Stephanie and saw that she was comforting Frankie. She motioned to Ranger, "Come into the house and I'll tell you."
Abuela Ana and Ranger sat at the large farmhouse table while Irv poured sweet tart lemonade from a heavy cut glass pitcher into three matching tumblers. He passed glasses to Ana and Ranger. Ranger sat at the table with his hands forming a barrier around his glass of lemonade. He quietly stared at his grandmother as she settled into her place at the table like a bird sitting on her eggs. Abuela Ana took a large gulp of lemonade and had Irv top off her glass with more.
"What happened?" asked Ranger.
Irv and Abuela Ana told Ranger about their day. They had gone to the park. Frankie and Pugsley both played and played. Then, because Frankie claimed that he was starving, they went to McDonald's for lunch.
After lunch, they went to the farmer's market, the one in Callicoon that they liked so well. The one that was half a football field away from the local grocery store and close to the river. They took a stroll around the market to see what the farmers had to sell. Irv sniffed and inspected vegetables, herbs and fruits. They greeted their acquaintances and made small talk. Abuela Ana said that everyone made a fuss over Frankie and his Yankees' cap. They all asked if he was a fan and Frankie told them that he loved the Ankees.
While Ana was chatting with a neighbor and Irv and Frankie were surveying the goods at one of the stalls, a little girl came up to them with a quart of blackberries in her hands. The girl, who was about Frankie's age and was named Emily, held out the quart to Irv and said, "Buy."
Irv canted his head and smiled at the child. "Buy?"
"Uh huh. They're good."
"Are they really good?"
Emily nodded her head.
"May I taste one?"
"Nope, you gotta buy." Emily handed the berries to Irv. She looked at Frankie and pointed at his lanyard. "What's that?"
Frankie looked at the photo. "It's me and mommy."
Emily scrunched her face. "Why you wearin' that?"
Irv tried to intervene by saying now, now, but the children went full on with their conversation.
"Did you lose your mommy? Is that why you're wearing that?"
"Then why you wearin' it?"
"Cause. Did you lose your mommy?"
Emily took a deep breath. Her grandmother, who operated the stall and was watching the children, also took a deep breath. Emily's eyes hardened then welled up.
"You lost your mommy?" Just like that little deer in that movie. Frankie looked up at Irv, then returned his attention to Emily and said, "Why'd you do that?"
Emily railed back, "My mommy died. She died and went to heaven."
Irv squatted down and drew Emily, into a hug. He patted her back and said "There, there. I'm so sorry."
Emily's grandmother ran up to Irv and her granddaughter. Abuela Ana went over to Frankie and took him by the hand.
"My daughter, Emily's mother, died a little over six months ago," explained the woman.
"I'm so sorry", said Abuela Ana.
"She was sick for over a year. Cancer. It's been hard on Emily"
"Of course it has been. I'm sure that it's been hard on all of you," said Abuela Ana.
"Right after my daughter died, Emily wore a pendant with her mom's picture in it, kinda like your boy's doing. It helped. Then, out-of-the-blue, she said that if her mom wasn't coming back it was silly to look at pictures of her. She tore off the pendant and threw it in the trash. When Emily wasn't looking I fished the pendant out of the bin and put it away for her."
Irv cooed to Emily. "I'm so sorry. Do you miss your mom a lot?"
Emily nodded and continued to sob. Frankie stood by his Bisa and was very quiet and listened to every word that everyone said. When Emily's tears were dried, Irv bought the berries from her and they drove home.
When Frankie woke, he found himself on the porch in his mom's arms. He smiled and kissed his mother on the cheek and she kissed his. He felt a bit better. His emotions were tender and he wanted her nearby. They went into the house where they found Abuela Ana busy in the kitchen and Irv and Ranger watching a game in the sunroom.
"Frankie," said Irv. "Do you want to watch the game?"
"Is it the Ankees?"
"No, it's the Mets?"
"Who are the Mets?"
"Some other team."
Frankie shook his head, "Nah."
Abuela Ana walked into the sunroom. "Why watch when you can play?"
Irv said, "You're right. Frankie, want to play ball?"
Frankie looked at his parents. He took a step closer to his mom. "We can't play ball here."
Frankie leaned into his mother's side.
"Outside, in the yard."
Ranger got out of his seat and walked toward Frankie. "Irv, let's go play ball."
"Daddy, you playin?"
Ranger, nodded. "You playing?"
Frankie looked up at Stephanie. "You playin?"
"No. I'm going to help Abuela. But I'll be right here."
Stephanie peered out a kitchen window and watched her son, her husband and Irv play ball. Abuela Ana joined Stephanie at the window.
Frankie stood at home plate, wearing his Yankees' cap and holding a plastic bat. Irv stood behind him, adjusting his stance, guiding his swing. Ranger lobbed the ball at his son, but his tosses were too high, too low, too fast or too far from Frankie's reach.
Abuela Ana said, "Does Carlito play with Frankie?"
"Sometimes," answered Stephanie.
"If Carlito played with Frankie, he'd throw the ball to him to show him how to play. How much time does Carlito spend with Frankie?"
Irv called time out and went to confer with Ranger.
"A lot. He makes Frankie breakfast. He puts him to sleep sometimes. He watches him in the afternoons, sometimes."
"Watches him? Watches him? Babysitters watch children. Parents take care of their children. Carlito needs to do more."
Stephanie bit her lip. "We're fine. Ranger's a wonderful father. He loves Frankie."
"Of course, he loves Frankie. But he needs to spend more time with him. These early years are special. He needs to make up for Julie."
Stephanie sighed. "I guess so. Did your husband spend a lot of time with your children?"
"My husband, God rest his soul, spent so much time with our children, I thought he was one of them."
Irv took over the pitching duties and Ranger became the batting coach.
"See, Irv's taking over. Frankie will do better now. Irv and his wife never had a family. But he was like a father to his sister's sons. Poor thing, her husband died in a car accident when the boys were young."
Irv pitched to Frankie and with his father's guidance, Frankie began hitting the balls tossed to him. After each hit, he ran the bases for a home run.
"Is Irv still close to his nephews?"
Frankie continued his hitting streak. Abuela Ana nodded. "And their families. Both nephews came to visit a few times this summer."
"Is that why you have toys and sports gear?"
Abuela Ana nodded again. "Irv's like me. We love to have family visit." Abuela Ana gently elbowed Stephanie and smiled.
Frankie ran onto the porch and rattled the door. "Mommy, Bisa. Come see. Come see."
Bisa opened the door and Frankie rushed in. Bisa turned toward Frankie and put her hands on her hips. "Why? What are we going to see?"
"Me. I'm playin' baseball."
"Uh huh. Come see." Frankie grabbed his mom's hand and pulled her toward the door. "Come on, Mommy. Come on." Frankie led his mother out to the porch. He went back into the kitchen. "Come on, Bisa."
"I'm coming. I want to see the next A-Rod."
Frankie grinned and led his mom and Bisa to the playing field. He took his place at home plate. Irv stood on the pitcher's mound in profile to the batter.
Ranger chattered, "You can do it, Big Guy. Knock it out of the park."
Irv wound up the ball and tossed it to Frankie. The ball cracked against the bat as he hit it. Frankie ran the bases for the home run. Stephanie and Bisa clapped and cheered. Ranger gave his son a high five.
Irv tossed a few more pitches and Frankie hit them and ran his home runs. After his last home run, Frankie ran to his mother and hugged her. "How's that?"
"That was great," said Stephanie.
"Yep," said Frankie.
Irv came up to Frankie and gave him a tap on the chin. "You're some baseball player, Kiddo. A regular A-Rod."
"You," said Irv. "Ana, I think the slugger's worked up a thirst. Got any more lemonade?"
They drank their lemonade on the porch. Afterword, Abuela Ana sent Irv to the showers, and Ranger and Frankie into the garden to pick tomatoes. Stephanie and Bisa watched Frankie and Ranger at their task.
"It's so sweet to see Carlito with Frankie."
When Frankie and Ranger returned to the house with a basket of tomatoes, Bisa inspected them. She assured Frankie that he had picked the very best tomatoes. Then she sent them to the showers, too.
The family passed a quiet evening together. They had cocktails on the back porch. Frankie enjoyed his root beer in the frosted mug that Irv gave him. At dinner, Stephanie and Biso raved over the salad made with Frankie's tomatoes.
Later that evening, after Frankie fell asleep on the back porch while looking at the stars in the night sky, Ranger carried him to bed. Lila and Pugsley trailed behind. Frankie woke once during the night. He looked around the strange room. Pugsley and Lila were in the bed with him along with Belfry and his blanket. Pugsley snuggled into him and Frankie fell back asleep.
Two Days Later.
Ranger held his son under his arm as he walked from the Cayenne to the porch. Frankie was a mass of frenetic energy. He was tossing his head left and right, flapping his arms, kicking his legs and crying. Frankie had caught his father in a few of his kicks, so Ranger changed their positioning and held his son away from his body with his arms ramrod straight. It looked like he was carrying out last week's smelly garbage. Ranger deposited Frankie on the porch. The boy scrambled to the glider and screamed, "I hate you. I hate you."
Bisa and Biso came to the screen door.
Ranger grinned. "You hate me? You can't hate me, I'm your father." Ranger knew that at some time in their lives, sons told their fathers that they hated them. It was part of the father-son dynamic. This usually happened when the son wasn't getting his way, like now. He remembered screaming 'I hate you' to his own father a few times. He knew this day would come with Frankie, but he expected it to be when Frankie was a teenager. Ranger was surprised at the intensity of Frankie's anger. Typically, Frankie would obey Ranger after he would sternly say to him 'Young Man', but not today. Today Frankie showed that he had a temper that could match Ranger's. While he understood it, Ranger started to get angry. He walked over to Frankie and tried to take his arm.
Frankie pulled back and recoiled. "I hate you. You're takin' Mommy away."
Ranger looked at his grandmother. She smiled and said, "Carlito mantener la calma. Él es un bebé y está molesto." (Carlito, keep calm. He's a baby and he's upset.)
Ranger thought, he's not a baby, he's four years old, almost a man by Manoso standards . . . but then, he is my baby. He took a few cleansing breaths and centered himself. "Yes, I'm taking Mommy away, but I'm going to bring her back tomorrow. I promise."
"I don't believe you." Frankie pointed his finger at Ranger and said, "You're mean. I hate you."
This reminded Ranger of when Frankie had bronchitis last fall. Ranger was taking care of him and they were playing a game. Ranger was being a stickler for the rules and Frankie told him that he wasn't playing nice. Ranger had to admit that it smarted when his son told him that he wasn't playing nice, and being told he was mean, smarted now. "I'm mean?" Ranger went up to his son. He spread his arms to show he was unarmed, It was a reflexive move from many years of successfully outmaneuvering his opponents. In truth, Ranger was armed. He always was. Today, he was casually concealing two guns and a knife. "I love you."
"Nuh-uh. If you loved me, you wouldn't take Mommy away."
"Frankie, you're my son and I love you, but your mother and I are going away tonight and we will be back tomorrow. We talked about this."
"So. I don't want Mommy to go." Frankie crossed his arms over his chest and stomped his foot. "I want Mommy to stay right here," yelled Frankie as he pointed at the floor.
Ranger calmly said, "That's not going to happen. Your mother and I are going and we will see you tomorrow. Give me a kiss good-bye."
"No! I hate you."
Ranger reached over and ruffled Frankie's hair. He gave his son a kiss on the head and walked back to the Cayenne. He waved and said, "Good night, Big Guy."
Frankie started to run to the SUV, but Biso opened the screen door and caught him by the arm. "Frankie, come inside. You'll see your parents tomorrow. We have a surprise for you."
Frankie wiped his face with the back of his hand and said, "I don't wanna surprise. I want Mommy."
Bisa stepped onto the porch. She looked directly into Frankie's eyes and said, "You'll see your mom tomorrow. Now come inside."
"I don't wanna."
Biso said, "You're coming inside," as he gently ushered Frankie in the house.
When Ranger got into the Cayenne, he saw that the other member of his little family was crying. Stephanie said, "He's so upset. We should stay."
"Babe. We talked about this."
Stephanie sniffled. "I know, but I didn't expect . . . I didn't expect . . ." Stephanie sniffed to correct her breathing. "I didn't expect this."
"He'll be fine. He'll cry for a while, then my grandmother will give him a treat and he'll be fine."
"I don't know. He's never acted like this before. We should stay."
"I disagree. He has to learn that we will go away and come back.
Stephanie shook her head. "I don't know."
"Babe, this is the perfect opportunity. My grandmother is willing to go the distance with Frankie to help us with the saran wrap problem."
"The saran wrap problem?"
"Ever since he saw Bambi, he clings to you like saran wrap. There's no one else who's willing to help with this."
Stephanie pointed at finger at her husband. "This is your fault."
"My fault?" Ranger enclosed Stephanie's pointer in his hand. "How?"
"If you'd been watching him, really watching him, you wouldn't have let him watch Bambi without us." Stephanie slid her finger from Ranger's grasp. "But you weren't paying attention."
"It's true. You weren't paying attention. So he watches Bambi and freaks out. Now it's weeks later and he's still freaked out."
Ranger squared himself in his seat. He stared out the windshield and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. He remembered how scared he was after he saw Bambi. "Babe. You're right. But we have to get him through this. I think this is the best way to do it."
Stephanie chewed on her lower lip. "I know. You're right. But it doesn't make it easy. He's my baby. This is hard."
Ranger reached over and swiped a tear from Stephanie's cheek with his thumb. "It is hard." With that tacit agreement, Ranger started the Cayenne and they drove to the bed and breakfast.
Irv gently pushed Frankie into the house. The child sulked into the kitchen with his head down and his lower lip pouted. Pugsley brushed up against Frankie and licked his calf. Frankie shoved the pup out of his way and shouted, "Get away from me, Pugsey!"
The pup yelped and skittered across the floor. "Frankie!" said Bisa, "Why did you push Pugsley?"
"Cause why?" asked Bisa.
"Cause." Frankie shifted his weight from foot to foot. "He was . . . he was . . . he was in my way."
"Young man," said Irv, "you've earned yourself a time out."
"Yes, sir. You were mean to Pugsley and we're never mean to our pets." Irv led Frankie to an empty corner. "Go over there for your time out."
Frankie inched into the corner. "If my mommy was here, you'd be nice to me."
"If your mom were here and saw that you pushed Pugsley, she'd give you a time out, too," said Irv.
"Nuh-uh. My mommy loves me."
Irv turned Frankie face into the corner. "Your time out starts now." Frankie fidgeted and babbled and fussed and Irv gazed at his watch. "Frankie, you have to say you're sorry to Pugsley."
Frankie turned and faced Irv. "Why?"
"Because you were mean to him."
"Nuh-uh. I wasn't being mean."
"You were," said Irv.
Bisa nodded her head in agreement. "Frankie, until you're ready to make nice to Pugsley, you stay in the corner."
"No buts, young man. When you're ready to be nice to Pugsley, you can leave the corner." Bisa turned Frankie's face back to the corner.
"You hate me!" Frankie sniffled. He turned to look at his Bisa. "You love Pugsey more than you love me."
"I love you. But I don't love it when you're mean. Now face the corner and stay there until you're ready to say you're sorry to Pugsley."
Frankie called out in distress from his corner, "I need my mommy."
Bisa went to him. "Why?"
"My tummy hurts." Frankie wrapped his arms around his mid-section, bent slightly and groaned.
Bisa nodded. "Some applesauce will fix that."
"No!" Frankie groaned. "It hurts bad. I need my mommy."
"It hurts bad?"
"Real bad. I need my mommy."
Bisa said, "Irv, start the car. We need to take Frankie to the hospital. He has a bad stomach ache."
Irv walked over to Ana. "A stomach ache? Guess he's going to need that medicine that will make him throw up."
"Throw up? I don't need to throw up. I need my mommy. She'll make my tummy ache go way."
Bisa went over to her youngest great grandchild. "Frankie, if you have a very bad stomach ache, then you have to get the bad stuff out of you. That's why we have to take you to the hospital so the doctor can give you the medicine so you can throw up."
Frankie's eyes opened wide. He gulped. "I don't need that medicine, Bisa."
Bisa felt Frankie's forehead and cheeks. "I don't know. You feel warm. Irv, what do you think?'
Irv looked at Frankie. "Ana, I think we should take him to the hospital to make sure he's okay. I'll go start the car. It's too bad that Frankie has a bum stomach. We were going watch movies and have popcorn "
"You're watchin movies?"
"The Toy Story movies."
"All three Toy Story movies?"
Bisa smiled at Frankie. "Yes. You're mom said they are your favorites," said Bisa. "And . . . she said you like popcorn."
"Your dad said you could stay up late to watch the movies," said Irv.
"Daddy said I can stay up late?"
Irv nodded. "We were going to have ice cream sundaes as a special treat. But if you have a stomach ache-"
"My tummy's better."
"Really?" asked Bisa.
"Then back to the corner until you're ready to say you're sorry to Pugsley."
Frankie went back to his corner.
Bisa and Irv left Frankie in his corner and went about their business. They made popcorn and put on Toy Story. They placed a small bowl of popcorn on the table near Frankie's favorite chair, the one with the matching ottoman.
Pugsley curled up on the ottoman. Ana and Irv sat on the sofa with Lila perched on Irv's lap. They watched the movie and waited.
Frankie turned from his corner when he heard the beginning of the movie. He leaned sideways to listen. The aroma of the popcorn, which was buttered and salted, perfumed the air. Frankie inched from his corner over to the chair. Bisa and Irv saw Frankie's furtive movements. They arched their eyebrows and exchanged a silent "I told you so" to each other.
Frankie stood by the back of the chair and watched the movie for a few moments. Then he skirted around the side of the chair to the ottoman. He hugged Pugsley and sat on the chair stretching his legs out onto the ottoman. Frankie said, "Come here, Pugsey." The pug cuddled up against the tot. Irv handed Frankie his bowl of popcorn.
Morning After Stephanie and Ranger Stayed at the Bed and Breakfast.
Bisa stood in front of the door of the guest room that Frankie was using and gently knocked on it. There was no answer. She knocked again, a bit louder this time, and called, "Frankie." Still, no answer. Bisa turned the doorknob, opened the door and walked into the room. Frankie was asleep, in a cloud of covers and pillows, bookended by Lila and Pugsley. Frankie snuggled Belfry and his blanket. They looked cozy and serene.
Bisa smiled at her youngest great grandchild. Frankie's long, thick dark lashes fluttered softly. He hugged Belfry closer to him. Frankie looked like Carlito at the same age, except for the blue eyes, his mother's blue eyes. What did Julie sometimes call him . . . Frankie Blue Eyes? Yes, like Sinatra. She thought that he was so dear, so sweet, so temperamental. Just like his father.
Bisa was happy that her prescription of fresh air, play and chores was helping with Frankie's separation anxiety. Every night since Frankie came to visit, he was so tired out by the day's activities, that he fell asleep while watching a movie or sitting on the back porch gazing at the sky and slept through the night.
She was also pleased that her other prescription for helping Frankie was working too. She felt strongly, and Stephanie and Ranger agreed, that Ranger needed to be more actively involved in Frankie's life. Bisa was glad that Ranger agreed to be Frankie's primary caregiver during their visit and to give Stephanie a much-needed rest.
Bisa decided to let Frankie's internal clock wake him. She walked out of the room and closed the door.
Two Days Before Stephanie and Ranger Stayed at the Bed and Breakfast.
Lightening cracked the morning sky into large chunks. Thunder rolled by like an avalanche. Nature's noises woke Frankie from his sleep. He nudged his sleeping companions, Lila and Pugsley, but they were still asleep, and could not and would not be budged from their spots. Frankie was stuck between the cat and puppy, sealed under the covers by their leaden bodies. He tossed Belfry and his blanket to the floor. Then he wiggled and tugged and pulled. When there was enough slack between the covers and the mattress, Frankie got out from under the covers and scooted down the bed to the floor.
It was cool and Frankie shivered. He walked to the window, which was partially open. The sheer panels that dressed the window danced with the in-coming breeze. Frankie caught one of the panels when it reached out to him and pushed it aside so that he could look out. The air was crisp and rain sheeted down from the sky. Frankie frowned. No playing baseball or going to the playground today.
Frankie opened the door to his bedroom and went out to the hallway. He looked around. He wasn't sure where everything was in the dim light. He called out. "Mommy. Daddy. I'm up."
A few moments later, his dad bounded up the stairs. "Hey Big Guy. Ready for breakfast?" Frankie nodded and his father led him downstairs to start another day at Bisa's.
After breakfast, Frankie dressed for the day and did his morning chores. He watched Sesame Street. Then under Irv's supervision and with his dad's help, he counted stuff and spelled the names of other stuff. By mid-morning, he was bored. He couldn't go out in the yard to play because it was still pouring. He could play on the porches, but it was damp and chilly outside and there were no other kids to play with.
Bisa saw the youngest of her brood go from room to room and fidget. When he made yet another pass through the kitchen, she called from the adjoining laundry room where she was busy folding towels, "Frankie, do you want to play with the Wii?"
Frankie stopped mid stride. "Huh? What's a Wii, Bisa?"
"It's a-. Don't you have a Wii at home?"
Bisa shook her head. "Carlito," she called out. "Come here"
Ranger, who was on the porch doing push-ups, said, "Be there in a few." He finished a set of ten and went into the kitchen.
"Explain to me why this child doesn't have a Wii?"
Stephanie and Irv wandered into the kitchen from the nearby dining area. They enjoyed the theater of Bisa interacting with Ranger.
"I-, I mean we-"
Stephanie rolled her eyes. "Don't pull me in on this one, Batman; you're on your own."
"I don't believe in video games for children."
"Carlito, come here." Bisa motioned for Ranger to come near to her.
"No. I'm fine where I am." Frankie looked his dad. Did he really say no to Bisa? Uh oh, Daddy was in trouble.
"Come here. Now." Ranger walked across the kitchen to his abuela and she slapped his head. Irv, Stephanie and Frankie sniggered in the background. "A Wii isn't a just a video game. It's way to get him to move around and tire him out." Bisa shook her head in disgust. "Irv set up the Wii and show my boys and Stephanie how to play. Now everyone out of my kitchen."
Bisa heard Frankie's squeals of delight as he bowled, canoed and played tennis. She heard Stephanie and Irv cheer every time Frankie scored, which was often. A few times, Frankie dragged her into the living room to watch him play. He was doing well, and playing with the Wii was capturing his attention and using his energy.
After an hour or so, when it was time for lunch, Frankie came into the kitchen. His face shone with a large smile and a thin coat of sweat. "Bisa, I'm hungry."
Frankie nodded and outstretched his arms. "I'm this hungry."
"Hmm. That's a lot of hungry."
"What do you want for lunch?"
Frankie canted his head and put his forefinger in front of his mouth. He thought for a few seconds. "Amen noodles. I want Amen noodles, Bisa."
"Hmm." Bisa mimicked Frankie by canting her head and put her forefinger in front of her mouth. "Amen noodles?"
"Yeah Bisa, you know, Amen noodles."
"Carlito," called Bisa, "what are Amen noodles?"
Ranger came into the kitchen. He put his hands on his son's shoulders. "Amen noodles. That's what Frankie calls Ramen noodles."
"Oh. I don't have Amen noodles."
Frankie frowned. "Phooey."
"How about tomato soup?"
"Got oysters?" asked Frankie.
Bisa and Ranger exchanged glances. Bisa wasn't sure that she understood Frankie's food choices. Ranger said, "Oyster crackers."
Bisa nodded. "Don't have oysters. But how about a grilled cheese sandwich?" Frankie nodded. "And how about you make the grilled cheese sandwich?"
"Oh boy. Can I? Can I Daddy? Pull-ease?"
Ranger whispered to Bisa, "I'm not sure."
"Don't worry, I have a sandwich grill. All he has to do is lower the top and push a button." Bisa whispered back.
Ranger said, "Sure." With that, Bisa and Frankie made lunch, tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, for the family.
The family sat in living room passing the afternoon together. Frankie was coloring and the rest of the family was reading.
"Bisa, can I have a cookie?"
"Bisa, may I have a cookie, please?" Bisa replied.
"Bisa may I have a cookie, please?" Frankie parroted.
"No. Why? I was good." The adults exchanged glances and grinned at each other. Frankie was always good when he wanted cookies.
"We don't have any cookies."
"No cookies? No cookies! Phooey."
We need to bake some." said Bisa with a wink. Baking cookies was an excellent way to pass the time on a rainy day.
"Okay. I know how to bake cookies."
"You do?" asked Bisa. She looked at Ranger and Stephanie. Stephanie nodded and Ranger shrugged.
"Uh huh." Frankie nodded then walked from living room to the kitchen and stood in front of the refrigerator/freezer and waited.
"Frankie, what are you doing?" Bisa called to him as she made her way to the kitchen.
"Waitin' for you to get the cookie dough from the freezer."
"No dear boy. We have to make the cookie dough."
"Oh my God!" exclaimed Frankie.
Stephanie and Ranger rushed into the kitchen to see what happened to their boy.
Frankie looked at them and said, "Bisa makes real cookies. Just like Gramma."
Frankie seemed to be reconciling with his anxiety over losing his mommy while he was in the country. He didn't seem to need Stephanie to be nearby all the time and he was sleeping through the night. Stephanie and Ranger decided that they would take Bisa's offer to stay at the bed and breakfast the next night. At dinner, the family explained to Frankie that his mom and dad were going to a sleep over and that he would stay with Bisa and Biso. At first, Frankie was hesitant, but Biso and Bisa promised him treats and he acquiesced.
That night, after a long day of playing Wii, cooking, baking and dealing with the idea that his parents were going away to a sleep over, Frankie fell asleep, while watching a Yankees' game with Biso Irv and Ranger. Ranger carried his boy to his bed and tucked him in with his sleeping crew: Lila, Pugsley, Belfry and his blanket.
All was good with Frankie. Well, all was good in Frankie's world, until the next evening, when his dad led his mom to the car to take her to the bed and breakfast for their sleep over.
The Morning After the Sleepover at the Bed and Breakfast.
"Babe, ready to go?"
Stephanie lay curled into a comma on the large bed. She turned onto her back, yawned and stretched arms above her head. She looked around at the room. It was a touch Adirondack with its exposed beams and log furniture and a touch English country with the floral chintz curtains and cushions. The room was a marriage of rustic and refined, masculine and feminine, Ranger and Stephanie. "No." She smoothed her arm on the bed and then patted it. "Come back to bed. Check out's not for a while."
Ranger stroked the phantom pendant, then looked at his watch. "It's seven. I want get back to my grandmother's."
"Really? Your grandmother hasn't called. I'm thinking that all is well." Stephanie stretched again. "It's nice to have the morning to ourselves."
"Stephanie, my grandmother signed on to take care of Frankie for the night. I don't want to push it."
Stephanie pouted. "She told us to have a good time and not to worry about rushing back in the morning."
"Did you have a good time?"
"Kinda." Stephanie winked at her husband. "I've seen better."
"Really? From whom?"
"You." Stephanie winked again and patted the bed. Ranger winked back. They left the bed and breakfast just before check out.
The Cayenne rounded the corner from the road and crunched onto the driveway. Frankie was sitting on the porch playing checkers with Biso. He looked up and smiled when he heard the SUV pull up near to the house.
Stephanie thought he looked fine, but she braced herself for his greeting. Would it be cheerful or tearful? She and Ranger hadn't received any S.O.S. calls while she and Ranger were at the bed and breakfast, but she wondered, hoped, that her boy had fared well without her.
Ranger pulled the SUV into its appointed space and turned off the engine. Stephanie reached over and grabbed his hand and squeezed it. "Here goes."
"Here goes," replied Ranger.
They opened their car doors in unison. Stephanie started walking toward the house and her baby.
Frankie ran off the porch and zoomed past his mother. He flung himself into his father's arms and said, "Daddy, you're back.
Stephanie stood in the dust, as it were, and rolled her eyes.
All was good again in Frankie's world. Bisa's prescription was the tonic that Frankie needed. Stephanie had to adjust to the notion that her baby was growing up and didn't need her in the same way that he had needed her in the past. She had to adjust that he went to his father for some things and to her for others. It wasn't her fault. He was growing up and she wasn't always the center of his universe. She wasn't sure that she liked that.