Author's Note: First of all, this story would not have happened without the awesomeness of Incog Ninja, who helped me actually get off my metaphorical ass and write, as well as enduring a lengthy philosophical discussion on the nuances of Rocco's character and just what makes him one of the "good guys." If you haven't checked out her stuff before, you should get on it.
This is the first story I've ever done that features Rocco so heavily. Also unusual for one of my Boondock Saints stories, I had a few of songs I listened to a lot while I was writing: "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding and "Bad Day" and "Sunburn" by Fuel. Dunno what that says about this story.
I would like to state for the record I am not trying to imply any sort of romantic interest between Rocco and our girl. For one thing, even if Rocco ever felt like that, I can't see him doing anything like that to Connor and Murphy. For another, I guess it might be silly, but I kind of see Rocco and the girl as besties, of a sort. Fair warning, the boys make only a tiny featured appearance in this, and only over the phone. There's one more story in this particular arc, a two chapter one that I'm really excited about writing which will give each twin their own chapter and will be called "Midnight Confessions." Which, I realize, doesn't lend any credence to my whole "there's no romance in this story" claim. I hope you enjoy, this one was interesting to write.
I haven't seen very much of my boys since our drenched attempt at an anniversary. Murphy and I had a lovely evening out together to make up for his having to stay late at work, and I actually found the courage to tell him the story Connor worked out of me under the bridge. He was just as wonderful and lovely and supportive as Connor had been, and I haven't for a moment regretted telling either of them. Since then, though, they've both been picking up extra shifts at work, and we haven't spent a lot of time together.
I don't know where this sudden desire to work so much has come from, but I suppose it's for a good reason. Not that I know what that reason is, of course. They aren't talking about moving to nicer, legal housing, I haven't seen anything new turn up around their place, and I know they aren't in any sort of debt they need to suddenly pay off, so I can only assume they're saving for something. Since they haven't gone out of their way to share this information, I figure they'll tell me if or when they need to, and it's not my business otherwise.
This morning, however, I was given multiple promises that I would get to see both of them at McGinty's tonight, so when I get to knock off from work a half hour early, I figure I'll head on over and see if they want to grab some food before settling in at the bar for the night.
It's still a little early for drinking, but there's already a decent crowd for a Wednesday night, and most of them seemed to be hanging out in the area right around Doc. Because of all the bodies, it takes me a minute or two to visually search the pack and realize the boys aren't there. Even though I've arrived earlier than we agreed, I'm still a little disappointed, so it takes me another couple of minutes to realize that Rocco is sitting by himself off in a corner instead of in the middle of the loudest, thickest part of the commotion where he's usually to be found.
I wave at Doc, who raises a shaky glass to me before setting it in front of someone, and maneuver my way through the bodies, chairs, and tables, to Rocco's booth.
"Mind if I join you?"
The look Rocco raises to me has to absolutely be the most forlorn, miserable expression I've ever seen on his face. It's particularly out of place because I'm not sure I've ever seen him look anything but happy, laughing, scared (of the twins), or confused and drunk. He nods despondently, so I slide in across from him.
"Meetin' the guys?" he asks. Even his hair looks sad, kind of flat and depressed instead of the usual fluffy and exuberant.
"Supposed to. They should be here soon. You okay?" It's fairly obvious he isn't, but that always seems to be the question to ask when someone looks as rough as he does. Plus, I'm still at a loss. His whole presence is kind of drooping and sagging, like a neglected plant in the living room corner.
"Not 'specially. Just…shit goin' on, y'know?" He hangs his head a moment before taking a long drink from the beer clutched in his hand. I notice the empty glasses littering the table in front of him and nod slowly.
"You been at it a while already?" I ask delicately, nudging one of the empties.
"A bit, yeah. Better'n goin' home."
Before I can reply to that bleak statement, I hear someone shout my name from the bar. I glance over and see Doc holding the phone up, waving it at me.
Oh, they had better not be…damn it.
"Hold that thought, Roc, I'll be right back." He grunts noncommittally, and I push my way through the layers of men. Doc hands off the receiver, and I press it hard to one ear, plugging my other ear with a finger. "Hello?"
"Lass, I know yer gonna be pissed, but could ye find it in ye t'fergive us if we stayed on a bit longer t'night?"
"That's the fourth night this week, Connor. You realize you've missed my last three off days, yes?" Despite my annoyance, however, I'm not angry. It's not like they're blowing me off for something stupid.
"An' we're real sorry, lass," Murphy breaks in, "but we've got a shot at some overtime if we stay t'night, an' it'll get us an extra day off next week just fer you, promise."
I'm about to protest, as the most contact I've had with either of them in the last few days has been mostly over the phone or through my answering machine, but then Rocco catches my eye again. He's drained the last of his fourth pint and is staring down at the bit of foam that remains in the bottom, looking for all the world like a little boy who understands what it really means when his parents tell him his puppy went to live on a farm.
"Something just came up, anyway, Murph, it's fine. Will I at least get to see either of you tomorrow?"
I can hear the blatant relief even with all the background noise of the bar filtering past my finger. "God as m'witness, lass," Connor rejoins. "Sure ye ain't mad? We don't hafta stay, only…" He trails off, and I know he doesn't want to explain further.
"I won't say I'm not disappointed and more than a little frustrated, but you're missing out on me just as much as I'm missing you. So, I guess if you really promise I'll get to see you tomorrow, we're fine. Just don't keep denying me your company. There're an awful lot of eligible bachelors hanging out at McGinty's tonight, and I've been so deprived lately, I may just have to jump one of them if I don't see you two soon."
Even through the phone line I can sense the pair of smirks. "Not one of 'em there would come anywhere near ye fer fear of th' beatin' that'd rain down," Murphy says. "Miss ye, lass. See ye soon, we promise."
There's a pause where I know what I want to say (what I should say), but the words stick in my throat, and what comes out is simply, "Miss both of you idiots. Tomorrow, then."
Shaking my head at my own cowardice, I hand the phone to Doc with a word of thanks and head back over to Rocco. He hasn't moved since the last time I saw him, and I figure a change of venue might be a better idea than letting him get shitfaced when he's in this state.
"Y'know, Roc, I haven't eaten dinner yet. How about I take us out?"
"What about the guys? They ain't comin'?" He doesn't even lift his head when he asks me this, so I know I need to get him out of here. I take his coat sleeve and tug gently to get his attention.
"Working late, said they'd get overtime if they stayed. Let's go to the diner, my treat, and you can tell me what's made your day so rough."
He stumbles a little as he stands and slings an arm around my shoulders for support. " 'F'I had a girl as good you, you'd never see me workin' all night," he confides, not quite slurring his words.
I grab his wrist and put my other arm around his back in case he tries to topple over backwards, leading the way out of the crowded room. "I know, Roc. And you'd treat her to champagne and steak every night, right?"
For the first time since I arrived at McGinty's tonight, I get a hint of a smile from him. "Fuckin' A, I would. And caviar. Chicks like caviar, right? What is that shit, anyway?"
It's an interesting walk to the diner, although Rocco thankfully regains his ability to walk unassisted before we've gotten too far. I'm no weakling, but he's a bit larger than me, and he can be rather heavy when he doesn't realize just how much he's leaning.
Since that tropical storm blew through, the weather has cooled off tremendously, and November is really making its presence known. The wind picks up, swirling my coat around my knees, and I gather it in tight, buttoning it up almost to my throat. The sun has long set, and the cloudy sky doesn't show any signs of giving up the moon tonight. The street is fairly well lit, though, and I doubt anyone will bother me with someone like Rocco keeping me company.
I turn my head a little, watching him as he keeps silent pace next to me. His hands are shoved deep in his pockets, his open coat flapping loosely around him. I don't know how he can see through all that hair flying around his face, but I figure he'd have gotten rid of it a while ago if it bothered him. His eyes are still downcast, not like they're avoiding anything, but more like everything is just too heavy to look at right now.
"Penny for your thoughts?" It's not that I'm uncomfortable with the silence between us. This isn't the first time we've hung out together, and though we don't usually spend time without Connor and Murphy, I'm completely at ease around Rocco. It's just that I can't stand to see him like this.
He shakes his head as if he's forgotten for a minute that I'm here. "Some…heavy shit's gone down in the last couple of days, and…I…I'm just havin' a hard time dealing. Sorry to be such a drag, hun."
"I wouldn't have invited you to dinner if I didn't want you around. You know I'm always willing to listen. Issues with Donna?"
He hesitates, and that's when I start to worry a little. Rocco doesn't hesitate. Rocco fumbles, Rocco jokes, Rocco screws up or cheers up or says something wildly inappropriate, but quiet hesitation has never been his thing.
"That's…yeah, I guess there's some of that. It's mostly work stuff, though, and I didn't think you'd want to hear about it. Can't…can't really tell you some of it, y'know?"
Now it's my turn to hesitate. It isn't as if Rocco never talks about his job. He talks about it often, actually, even gives random details. I know which delis in town have the best salami, which Italian restaurants have the best marinara, which subways routes to take to get from Southie to Downtown Crossing the fastest, and which bookies in town are most likely to give me good odds on the game, all because of Rocco and his job.
But he's always shied away from the more grisly details, almost anything blatantly illegal. I can think of a myriad of reasons, two of them being Connor and Murphy. Whenever Rocco brings up anything about work, it's kind of the unspoken rule that we don't ever say aloud that he's talking about the mob. I've never understood how a bumbling Italian mafia underling could get to be so close with a couple of devotedly Catholic Irish brats, but they've been friends for longer than I've known any of them, and I've yet to ask how they met.
"Maybe…would it…If you talked about it a little, but didn't give me any details, would that help you feel a little better?"
"I dunno. That whole talking shit out is kinda chick flick, dontcha think?"
I grin suddenly and dig my elbow lightly into his ribs. "I won't tell my super macho, Clint Eastwood-loving, Charlie Bronson worshipping, Irish meatheads if you won't." I get a reluctant smile out of him for my efforts, so I continue, "I mean, think about it, Roc: why would girls keep talking about stuff that bothers them if it didn't help?"
" 'Cause chicks like to talk?"
I shake my head wearily. "You wonder why you get smacked in the back of the head so much. It's because it helps to get things out, and sometimes you can even, oh, I dunno, think of a solution to your problem?"
I can tell he's thinking hard about this before he finally answers, "But if you're gonna use that argument, then why do guys never talk about stuff? They've been doin' that for at least as long as girls've talked too much about feelings and shit."
Not a bad point. Sometimes I wonder if Rocco's whole idiot routine is really just a show to keep people off balance, because he'll randomly come into a conversation with something surprisingly insightful.
"Because men are stubborn asses who think it's better to beat the crap out of each other instead of working through problems?"
"But…" Now I've really confused him. "Beating the crap outta each other is working through the problem. There usually ain't a problem once you knock the shit outta the other guy."
"And can you fix what's wrong this time by knocking the shit out of the other guy?"
Rocco's eyes slide uneasily away from mine, and I know I've hit upon something.
"Not really, no."
"Then maybe you should try talking it out and see if it helps this time," I conclude.
He doesn't argue, but I hear random grumblings about "fuckin' sissy talk" and his "ass getting' kicked if the guys ever find out." I let him mutter to himself for the rest of the walk to the diner, failing miserably at hiding my smile.
When we're settled in the usual booth and the waitress has taken our order, Rocco nervously swallows half his water in one gulp.
"So, how does this shit work? Do we, like…do each other's hair or somethin'?"
Don't tempt me...
"Why don't you start with what's bothering you the most?" I say, but he immediately shakes his head.
"Seriously, hun, I don't even know if I should tell you that. If nothin' else, the guys would give me matching black eyes and tell me I'm an idiot for tellin' ya something so dangerous. Not the kind of stuff you talk about at a sleepover, y'know?"
I sigh, scrubbing my face with my hands for a moment. "Alright, why don't you talk to me about Donna. That's a girl related problem anyway, guys are supposed to ask their female friends for help with that sort of thing."
He brightens at this idea, looking visibly relieved. "So, you've met Donna, right?"
A dry, half-smile crosses my face for a moment. "I've had the pleasure, yes."
"So, after the…after the shit day I had yesterday, I don't get home 'til about one in the morning, right? Like, pretty late, but nothin' weird for me. I haven't seen Donna in a couple of days, but that's nothin' I'm worried about. Sometimes she just doesn't come around, stays with some of her druggie bitches…er…friends, sorry."
I shrug indifferently. I've not met any of Donna's friends, but if they're anything like her, I'm not too bothered by Rocco using that particular term to describe them. "You're fine. Anyway, like you were saying."
"Yeah, so, I'm worn the fuck out and completely wrecked after my day, and I get home, figurin' I'll have the place to myself for at least another night, but I walk in and there's like twenty fuckin' people in the damn living room. Music blastin', bottles and cups and drugs and shit all over. The kitchen's even worse, and damned if there ain't two bitches and some asshole fuckin' in my bed. MY fuckin' bed!"
I start to point out that he's thrown some fairly similar parties himself, a couple of which I've attempted to attend before giving it up as a bad job, but I refrain for the moment. He's worrying at his bottom lip with his teeth, and I think there's something he's not said yet.
"Rocco," I start gently but pause as the waitress comes back with our orders. Instead of diving in with his usual gusto, Rocco stares gloomily down at his burger and fries. Something clicks in my head.
"I'm not trying to pry, but, um, who exactly were the two…women in your bed with the guy?"
He drops his chin onto his hands with a resigned sigh. "Donna and this new 'friend' of hers, some stripper named Rayvie. Donna said they met when she was auditioning to work at the strip club where Rayvie works. The fuckhead in bed with both of 'em was the manager of the club. That was the only coherent thing I could get outta her."
He says this all so matter-of-factly that I pause mid bite, teeth sunk deep into my burger, and simply stare at him. "Rrrphukkinwme," I manage to get out around the sandwich.
"Jeeze, I wish I was fuckin' with you."
I chew slowly, eyebrows knitted together, trying to think of any sort of appropriate response to this revelation. I mean, seriously, what do you say to something like that? I finish chewing, swallow, and frown before saying, "Did she at least get the job?"
Rocco looks stunned for a second, his eyes wide, then he lets out a sudden shout of laugh that startles a passing group of teen girls so badly that one of them squeaks and the others glare at us. I glare right back, daring them silently to say something, and they scurry nervously from the diner. Rocco is still laughing when I turn back.
He takes a minute to get himself back under control and starts on his burger, snickering in between bites. "Dunno. Didn't stick around for the rest of the night. Fed her damn cat and spent the rest of the night on somebody's couch. Thought about callin' the cops on all of the assholes over there, but it didn't seem worth the trouble."
"You didn't stay at Connor and Murphy's place?" I ask, perplexed.
Rocco gives me a patient look, replying, "And how much shit would the two of'em gimme if I told 'em that story? They'd still be ridin' me now. Just couldn't handle it, y'know?"
Having been the target of plenty of their teasing, I definitely know what he's talking about. "Fair point." Then something else occurs to me. "Donna has a cat?" I ask. "This is the first I've heard of it."
"Sorta. Think it might actually be a stray that wandered around one night and was too hungry to run. She was actually sober at the time and got it some food an' a box to shit in, and it's stuck around ever since. Ain't a bad little shit really, sits around and purrs and junk, but she only remembers it's there every five or six days, so I gotta feed it. She called it Benji for the first couple of weeks, but these days, the damn thing's lucky if she remembers it's even in the apartment. I gotta feed it or it starts cryin' and whinin'."
As fascinated as I am by the idea of these two trying to take care of an animal, I figure I should steer Rocco back on topic. "Are you going to break up with her?" I ask and take another bite of my burger.
"I dunno," He says gloomily, picking at his fries. "I mean, I don't even know if she could make it on her own if she didn't have me to fall back on. We've been together almost as long as I've had this job. Knew her in high school, she used to make eyes at me when I was a senior and she was a freshman. Didn't see her for a three or four years after I graduated and started workin' for the…for my boss. Then she just popped up at a party one night, lookin' hotter than anything I'd seen in a while and a helluva lot hotter than any other chick at the party. Then she was just always around after that."
I pause, knowing I'm about to head into truly "girly" territory, but I really want to ask him this question. "Roc, do you even love Donna?"
He looks uncomfortable for a minute, avoiding my gaze and busying himself with his burger. We eat in silence for a few minutes before he finally gives up and answers me.
"I guess…Y'know, sometimes when she's sober, and she thinks to do somethin' besides bitch at me, an' she actually talks to me like I'm not just the moron that fucks everything up, I think I do. And some days she's wanders in after a two week binge, and she smells worse than the bums in the back alleys and has track marks down her arms and half her clothes missing and she can't even remember my name…"
He stops, looking worn-out and absolutely deflated. He's never said this much about Donna before. Unlike work, he usually never mentions her except to say whether she's pissed at him or he has to get something for her or that he hasn't seen her in a while. But definitely never details this intimate. His jaw works agitatedly under his beard for a moment, as if he's chewing on what he wants to say next. When he finally speaks, his voice is reluctant, as if he doesn't want to admit something but feels like he has to.
"I'm used to her. It's been me an' Donna for so long now, I can't really see me without her, but when she comes home with some other asshole's bite marks on her neck, smellin' like a cum dumpster from some back alley, I hate her just a little. I don't think I could ever kick her out, but some days, I can't stand the sight or the sound or the smell of her. That's why I don't mind that she stays gone for so long most of the time."
"Have you…" I don't know how to phrase the question I want to ask; honestly, I'm not even sure what I want to ask him. This isn't typical, everyday conversation for me and Rocco. Not that any conversation with Rocco is ever normal, but this one is definitely beyond the border of what I'd been expecting.
"I guess I just don't know if I love her. Not sure I ever did, but I know I used to like her a hell of a lot more than I do now," he admits. When I don't have a reply for that, he tucks back into his hamburger with determination as if he might find answers inside.
After some thought, I finally ask, "Have you two…talked lately? Have you ever told her how you feel?"
He glances up at me, eyes suddenly sharp. "Good question. I could ask you the same thing. You told Connor an' Murph how you feel yet?"
Yeah, the idiot routine is definitely an act.
I have my own turn at avoiding his gaze, finishing off my burger, asking the waitress for another coke, and Rocco grins at my sudden flurry of activity. I think about posturing for a minute, but I decide that there's really no point.
"How the hell do you know I haven't told them yet?" I ask. "I thought this kind of conversation was girly stuff that guys don't talk about. You can't possibly tell me you three have discussed this."
"Because you walk around all the time lookin' like you want to spill some sort of secret but you're afraid to. Can't think of anything else you'd be keepin' to yourself. Besides, I didn't really know 'til just now, anyway."
"You are insufferable, and I may decide not to buy you dessert," I snap, stuffing a couple of fries in my mouth before I say anything else.
"Honey, that ain't even the worst thing I've been called today," he laughs at me before polishing off his own burger. "So which part are we at in the chick flick yet? Do we paint nails and eat ice cream now? I'm okay with the ice cream, but I gotta tell ya, pink don't do much for these fingers."
I'm not mad at him, not really, but I'm a little shocked that I'd been so obvious about holding something back. I wonder for a minute if the boys have picked up on what Rocco's noticed, then I shake my head at my slowness. Of course they have.
They notice everything I don't want them to.
And now I'm curious.
"So, if you're so observant, then tell me, oh wise one. Why have they been working so much lately? What's going on with them that they don't want to talk to me about?"
He shrugs, and there's no sign of dishonesty on his face. "Dunno. I've seen 'em less than you have lately. Figured they were savin' up some money for somethin'."
I nod and reach for the menu to looks at the dessert options. I figured as much, but I suppose it was worth a shot. "So, about that ice cream…"
"Hang on," he says, wiping his mouth. "You got dinner, let me get dessert. I know a place a few of blocks up and over; they got the best spumoni in town, and if you don't want ice cream, they have all these little cakes and shit, too."
"That sounds perfect."
Rocco is completely steady on his feet as we wander through what he claims is a series of short cuts, so at least I don't have to half drag him to the next place.
"How long had you been at the bar when I found you tonight?" I ask him. He's recovered rather quickly from his earlier tipsiness, but Rocco is also more than capable of handling large quantities of alcohol at a time.
"Maybe an hour or two? Dunno. Was thinkin' about yesterday."
"I'm really sorry about the whole Donna thing. I'd offer advice, which is what you're supposed to do at this point in the girl talk, but like you said, I'm kind of the pot calling the kettle black at the moment. I guess we're both due for a serious conversation or two with our respective idiots."
He nods and is thoughtfully silent for a while before replying quietly, "I know you're right, about the Donna thing. But…really, that ain't what's botherin' me. I mean, it's botherin' me, don't get me wrong, but that ain't what's got me so down. If that was all, I'd just be kinda pissed and get over it eventually. Ain't the first time she's cheated on me. But after yesterday, it was just kinda the icing on the cake, y'know?"
I kind of do, but since he's not very forthcoming on any details, I can't really respond, so I tell him as much.
"I know. Just…lemme figure out what I can say, and I'll tell you what I can over dessert. Deal?"
Well, I can't really argue with that.
The place Rocco takes me to is warm and cozy, and the smell that wafts out to greet me when he opens the door nearly causes me to drool down the front of my coat.
"Pastries, Roc. Definitely pastries."
The workers there apparently know Rocco, and there's a lot of good natured shouting and back clapping and typical male greetings before we're told to have a seat anywhere, and they'll bring us the special for the night. Rocco hangs our coats on a little stand by the door, assuring me the special is some sort of fantastic pastry I've never heard of and that I won't be disappointed.
What a man in a snowy white apron brings to our little table a few minutes later is some sort of delectable looking, oblong, double-peaked, miniature mountain, with one side covered in chocolate and the other side covered in a white icing.
My eyes are huge and glued to the miraculous confection between us. "What is it?" I ask, practically drinking the hot, rich aromas down.
The waiter grins at my enchanted expression and explains, "Think of it like piles of the best tiny donuts you've ever had covered in the best chocolate and lemon icings you've ever tasted. It's still hot, so I'd recommend a fork. This knuckle head comes in and burns his fingers on it damn near every week and tries to blame me."
"You make it too damn hot," Rocco shoots back, already reaching for the chocolate side of the dish. He pulls out a steaming lump of chocolate and pastry, hissing and swearing under his breath as steam erupts from the pile and heats his fingers.
The waiter winks at me and retreats. I glance at Rocco's now bright pink digits and reach for my fork. The next few minutes are spent in relative silence as I discover the new food love of my life and wonder why Rocco has never mentioned this place before.
"Any reason you were keeping this place a secret?" I accuse, a mock glare on my face.
"Yeah, I figured I'd have to start sharing my pignolata with somebody, and I really didn't think I could handle it."
I snort and spear another lemon piece with my fork. "Have you thought about it yet?" I can tell he knows I don't mean pastry custody rights, and he sighs, licking chocolate off his fingers and wiping them on a napkin.
"Yeah. I can't really tell you much, but…Okay, so, you know that I run a lot of errands and shit, right?" I nod, chewing, and he continues, "So, sometimes I have to pick up people and take 'em places, play chauffer. And sometimes they're really cool, a couple of 'em even tip me an' shit. But sometimes it's for, like, really heavy jobs. Like, stuff you don't talk about with anybody, and…I see shit sometimes, and…I ain't…"
He trails off, but I don't think I should say anything. I'm definitely not going to ask him any questions right now; I don't even know if he's allowed to talk about stuff from his work, despite how much he typically runs his mouth, and I'm rather fond of both of us being free of bullet holes. I give him a couple of minutes to regain his train of thought and figure out what he can say.
"I picked up this guy yesterday and took him…drove him to…a job, yeah? And the job was bad. I mean, real heavy stuff. But the guy…man, he just creeped the shit out of me. No emotion the whole time, barely said a word to me the whole night, and he scared the hell out of me. And after I dropped him back off, I started thinkin' some, like what if this is the rest of my life? What am I gonna do fifteen, twenty years down the road? Am I still gonna be drivin' around scary ass guys like this, takin' orders and stuff, or…am I gonna be like him? Givin' orders to guy who's scared shitless of me while I go do…that…kinda stuff?"
The half of my brain that is trying very hard to ignore what Rocco isn't saying quietly pushes the part that is freaking out over what the other man probably did to the back of my mind and closes a door on it. I know Rocco works for the mafia. I know that he occasionally does things that are technically or even blatantly illegal, like gambling related things and delivering decidedly sketchy packages. And deep down, I know that he's seen things and possibly even passively participated in things that are more than just technically illegal.
But it's Rocco. This is the man who helped clean up my living room after the twins destroyed it. This is the man who has never yet let me be in a bad mood without trying to cheer me up. He has never hesitated to come to the defense of the waitresses at McGinty's (despite being the cause of some of their annoyance), even bodily throwing a couple of guys out of the bar when they got inappropriate. And despite the fact that his girlfriend has cheated on him more than once, he still feeds her cat and doesn't throw her out on the street because he's worried she won't be able to take care of herself. And despite all the assholes and lowlifes and hard core criminals that make up the majority of his acquaintances, he chooses to spend most of his free time with a couple of devoted Catholics who think actively ridding the world of criminals would be a good thing.
"Rocco," I saw slowly, setting my fork down, "I don't think there's a chance you could ever become a person like that man."
He doesn't say anything, but his eyes stay glued to mine with a look that begs for reassurance. I pick through the frantic thoughts flying around my head, keeping my face concerned and serious and very much avoiding any sense of rising panic at all the things that neither of us is able to say aloud.
"I know…you aren't always happy with your job, Rocco. I don't suppose you'd be able to do something else, would you?" I'm not confident at all of a positive response, and the dismal look that flashes through his eyes confirms my worry.
"Hun, even if I could get out of the business, what would I do? Flip burgers? Work at the plant with the guys? I'm not old, but I'm way too old to start somethin' like that. Besides, you know I can't just get out like that. Doesn't work that way, been with the business too long. I know too much and too many people. Can't even give 'em the hint that I want out. 'Sides," he adds, making an attempt to look hopeful, "I could always still work my way up a little. Ain't too late for that. I just gotta…keep my shit together, y'know?"
I nod, feeling a rather sad all of a sudden. "You know you're a good guy, Roc, right? You take care of people, and you care about them. The man you were talking about from yesterday? He doesn't do that, probably never has in his life. I don't think you could turn out like him, partially because you don't want to, but mainly because you just don't have it in you to be that cruel. I think…I think the people you work for know that you just don't have the cruelty in you that you would need to be a k…an enforcer type person. You like making people laugh, you're the Funny Man, isn't that what you told me once? You care too much to be one of their heartless soldiers. Does that make sense?"
A long, loaded silence hangs between us. We both know what I stopped myself from saying just now, and we also both know I'm right. Rocco isn't ruthless or malicious, and I don't know if he could be truly heartless even if he tried. Maybe if he was really driven to it, but I feel like there'd have to be some serious motivation behind his actions if that were the case. I mean, I've seen him be a dick to other guys at the bar, but I've never seen him actually behave vindictively towards anyone.
"Nearly twenty years I been workin' for these people," he sighs heavily, "and now you tell me I got a snowball's chance in hell of impressin'em. Where were you when I finished high school? Coulda used your advice back then."
I smile sadly and set my hand on the table, palm up. He lays his heavily in mine, and we just sit like that for a while, not talking or eating, as the people around us chatter obliviously and generally go on about their evenings.
Eventually, we finish our dessert, and I ask Rocco if he wants to go back to McGinty's.
"Nah, don't have it in me to drink anymore tonight. Lemme walk you home."
The walk back is silent and a little sadder than I would like, but for the life of me, I just can't think what to say to make this better. There probably aren't any words that could.
Rocco makes sure to walk me all the way up to my door before he says goodnight. I slide the key into the lock then glance back at his retreating form.
"You gonna be okay tonight?" I ask.
He stops near the end of the hallway and half turns to me, shrugging. "Guess I'll head home. Don't really want to see Donna, but if I'm lucky she's probably holed up with her new girl friend and boss in a crack den somewhere."
I hesitate, then offer, "Do you want to stay on the couch tonight? I mean, if we're going to do the chick flick thing right, don't you have to sleep over and eat junk food and stuff?"
"You sure? I don't have to, really—"
"Come on, I've got an extra pillow and some blankets. I'm going pretty much straight to sleep after some television. I wouldn't want to see Donna right away after yesterday, either."
I end up fixing us some popcorn and hot chocolate, and Rocco even enjoys himself a little, although he makes me swear to never tell the guys that we really did have a chick flick sleepover party. I settle into the arm chair next to the sofa, munching on popcorn and contently watching the talk show until I realize that Rocco is staring at me with a confused look on his face.
"What?" I ask, raising my eyebrows and glancing down at myself. I've changed into my favorite t-shirt and sweats, which are completely hole free, to my knowledge. I don't think I'm showing off anything I shouldn't be.
"Well, I thought you were s'posed to, y'know, wear one of those tiny little teddies or nighties or whatever they're called."
"Why in the hell would I do that?" I ask, dumbfounded.
"Well, y'know, in the chick flicks, they have those sexy pillow fights and shit, and they're all wearing those little lingerie numbers. You don't wear one of those?"
And the best part is that he's being completely serious.
"Rocco," I begin, keeping my tone even and casual, "what chick flicks have you actually seen? Like, titles and such?"
He thinks for a moment, crunching on a handful of his own popcorn. "Well, my favorite one was the one where all the sorority girls would sit around in their little nighties and stuff and talk about boys and have the pillow fights and the wet t-shirt contests at their sleepovers. I don't remember the name of it, though."
Wet t-shirt contests, huh? "Did they, by any chance, have rather nice things to say about each other's physical appearances, like how perky their breasts and asses are and how sexy they all look?"
He brightens as if remembering. "Yeah, and they started making out after that, too, and…oh."
"Yeah, Roc, that wasn't a chick flick, that was a porno."
Okay, so maybe the idiot routine isn't entirely an act.
We decide to call it quits for the night after Letterman. Rocco actually helps me straighten up the kitchen, and I grab him a sheet, a blanket, and a pillow from the hall closet.
"Not for sexy pillow fights, though," I add with a raised eyebrow as he grins at me.
He starts to shuffle toward the living room with his arms full, but I stop him abruptly with a hand on his shoulder. He turns back to me, his eyes curious.
"Roc, I…I just want you to know that, whatever happens with your job, I think…I think if you just keep trying, you'll be fine, but…even if you never get that promotion, you've still got me and Connor and Murph, yeah? We're here, and even if those idiots don't admit it, we care about you. And I think you're a great guy who deserves better, even…even if you and the assholes you work for can't see that. You don't have to let your job change who you are, and I don't think you will. The world isn't ready to lose such a great Funny Man."
His smile is tired but genuine, and impulsively I throw my arms around him, blankets, pillow and all.
"G'night, hun…and thanks."
Author's Note: If you enjoyed what you read, please take the time to leave a comment or review. Thanks very much, and keep an eye out for the next story.