Free to a Good Home, Book 2 of the Heartbeat Series

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11. Paulie's Press Conference

Paul wiped his face and held the journal to his chest as he saw the hospital ahead. “I got to get upstairs. I can’t do that damn press conference, Daniel. Tell Alex to do it. I’m out until this is over. I don’t fucking care what I’m supposed to do. All that I NEED TO DO is on the 6th floor of this hospital here. You can tell Ace I said so.”

The limo lurched and Mick opened the door as Mack pushed through the crowd with hospital security who were on blow-horns telling the crowd to disperse. Mack reached for Paul’s arm and Daniel followed behind Mack as he and Mick pushed through the crowds for Paul.

Microphones, cell phones, cameras all in their path, extended on poles or outstretched hands that meant to get a glimpse or sound of him more than the rest. Still, the hospital security did their best inside and outside, forcing the crowd back from Mick and Mack’s path, barking at them to retreat and leave the premises if they couldn’t comply.

A reporter broke through their barricade and landed in front of Paul. He furrowed his brow at the petite Asian woman, then thought otherwise and bent down to whisper in her ear. He recognized her from the local NBC affiliate. He saw the cameraman where her mic was attached and pointed at him to follow. He led them into the breezeway between the automatic doors against the wall, pushing aside wheelchairs as Daniel followed wondering what Paul was up to while Mick and Mack and other security guards let the doors shut on both sides. He pointed to his throat.

“She’s dying. I can’t get to my press conference. Can I leave a vid with you?” she nodded and he put out his hand out for her microphone with a trusting smile. The cameraman counted him down and pointed to Paul.

“My sister is dying. Please let me and my family deal with this in peace. What she did to get to me,” he said clearing his throat, “was so dangerous…” a tear fell and Paul had to collect himself. “Please hear me and don’t do anything like that to get near another artist. I couldn’t bear it if another fan did this. I love you all. Please pray for Maia and my family. ACR will release a formal statement later.”

He handed her back the mic and hugged her and asked for her card. She fished one from her coat pocket as he shook hands with the cameraman and thanked him. Daniel patted Paul’s shoulder and they pressed on to the elevators.

Mack and the hospital security guided him inside. Paul clutched onto the diary as they pressed through the crowd and got him to an elevator.

“How is she Mack?”

Not good. She looks like a broken doll.

How’s Joey?

“About as bad as when Ms. Corrie died. Never saw him cry in public ever. He’s badass you know.

Fuck, said Paul.How’s dad?

Worse than Mr. Cravens.

Mama?

Herself.

When the elevator opened, Mack stepped out before Paul and heard Joey talking with the nurse.

They saw each other and Joey hugged Paul briefly in the hallway.

How is she?

Come and see.

Paul entered the room to find his father there crying in the chair Joey had slept in.

Dad?

Paul looked at the monitors as the lines were still scribbling.

He looked to Maia her mouth and nose encased in a plastic mask, the pillow swallowing her small head and the bed felt so much larger than it did when he saw her that morning.

What changed? Asked Paul.

The ventilator is off her, we are at palliative measures. She either makes it or she doesn’t.

How is she doing?

She’s hanging on. Your dad, not so much.

Where’s mama?

Stewing in the waiting room.

I think he needs a cup of coffee.

I will get it, said Joey.

Paul realized he still held the diary, and he set it next to her hand on the bed and wrapped her hand around it.

He bent down and kissed her forehead.

Baby sister, he whispered, ”you better wake up. I’m awaiting my concert. None of this guardian angel shit. You wake up. I got 14 years of teasing to catch up on. C’mon, kiddo,” he said as a tear dripped down his cheek. He touched her arm and saw how thin it was. He picked up her hand, saw the missing fingernails and the blackened spots on her fingertips.

“Better not lose these, kid, you need them all for classical piano.”

Saverio watched Paul and smirked as Joey brought him the coffee. Joey looked at the monitor and nodded.

What?” asked Paul.

“Better than expected. Father Kelly will be here in an hour. He will do the prayers—”

“Eh let them pray, huh kiddo? You got to wake up and play the piano for me.” He stroked her cheek with his fingertips.

“She looks like Pena.”

Saverio nodded. “More like Catrina than us. Her nose is Lenci, her music, Lenci. Brilliance, Prescott.

What did her mother do for a living?

She was a scientist when I met her. She had Maia and didn’t return to the University to finish her work. Dominic says she worked at the Jewish deli down the street.

He’d go in there and saw Maia. She would play it for customers on Sundays. He’d always put a dollar and a Hershey bar in her tip jar.

Why?

It’s what I used to take her mama. Catrina loved Hershey Bars with almonds.

I wish he was in Chicago instead of Phoenix this winter.

He does too. He phoned me today.”

So, she worked at the University too? How did you meet?

I was going to buy the brownstone where she lived.

Why didn’t you?

Asbestos. Wouldn’t pass inspection. I told her to move. She refused.

Why did you leave them instead of mama?”

I couldn’t—leave my family.

How old was she?”

29.

Wait…you were 68 when you were banging her?

67.

Fuck. Wait until Joey does the math he will be putting my swimmers on ice.

His dad smirked. Your mama would love a grandbaby from you.

You had a 29-year-old woman pregnant and in love with your old ass and you stayed with mama?

Paul stopped and thought back to those days. 14 years ago—1994. He was at the top of the charts with his solo debut album “Graffiti” on top. He barrel-rolled the competition, hit after hit, dethroning music royalty from the top ten and charting higher than Mitch and Andy’s debut albums a couple years earlier than his, but Paul wrote his own music.

It wasn’t about family. It was about money. His money supporting them. Discovery of this betrayal would have probably ended him as Mama’s mafioso’s family ties would’ve killed his father, Catrina, and maybe Maia too. He could conjecture until his father took his last breath but never would he ask. What he asked already crossed plenty of lines as he had already been awarded too many liberties already.

Saverio drank his coffee and Paul stood back as her monitor began to Joey rushed in, reached down and pressed the electrodes on her chest and it stopped beeping and Joey saw the journal.

What’s that?

Her journal. Daniel had it. Paul gently lifted her hand off the book and handed it to Joey. Her fingers curled about his and he stopped, feeling her move.

“She just moved her hand,” he said. “Maia, hey, can you hear me?” he croaked.

She did not wake, but her hand held on as he set both down on the mattress. His thumb rubbed the back of her hand and seemed larger than the breadth of her wrist.

Joey pulled the doctor's stool to the bedside. “Sit and stay,” he said. “Talk to her.”

Joey opened the journal.

“Go to the end--start there.”

When Father Kelly arrived, Joey was still reading the journal, taking notes on paper as he did so, chiming in from time to time, paraphrasing or reading snippets to Paul and Saverio. A nurse came in to announce the spry elderly priest who matched his father in his crooked back but about 12 years his younger. Saverio stood and walked around the bed to greet the padre, thanking him for coming. In his hand was his rosary from Rosa’s purse, and thankfully, Rosa’s stories were still on the tv in the waiting room so she wasn’t here for the festivities.

“Father Kelly,” said Joey, standing and seeing him enter.

“Joey Cravens, its good to see you again.”

“Thank you so much for coming.”

“Well, how could I not? Father Tim called me this morning after he spoke with Paul, asking me if I would go check on you all and administer the rite to Maia.”

“Hello, Father,” said Paul, still holding Maia’s hand.

“How is she doing?”

“She had a second heart attack this morning, while still on the ventilator.”

So, they removed the life support.”

“Yes.”

“Is she rattling, Joey?”

Surprisingly not yet.”

The priest nodded. “Well, here’s hoping that she doesn’t start and wakes up soon enough. Would you like me to do the anointing of the sick since she’s still unconscious?”

“We do not believe she’s been baptized, Father,” said Paul.

“Well then, we best get to that before she deteriorates further.”

“What do we need to do that?” asked Paul.

“Are you certain she has not been baptized?”

“Her mother was a Buddhist,” said Joey. “I found that in the journal. She hasn't been raised anything. They expected her to figure that out herself.”

“Mr. Lenci, as her father, do you consent to an emergency baptism of Maia?”

“I do.”

“Godparents?” asked Joey as Alex entered, “Hello Father,” he said, seeing his priest.

“Father Kelly is going to baptize Maia and do the anointing of the sick,” filled in Joey.

“Want to be a godfather?” asked Paul.

“Joey? Are you sure you don’t want to be the godfather?” asked Alex.

“If she makes it, I’ll be a co-parent, so the job is yours if you want it.”

“What if she wakes up and finds out you baptized her, and she had no choice in the matter?”

“She wouldn’t have had a choice in the matter as a baby if her mother had not breached the contract with Dad,reasoned Paul.

“Padre, is this still kosher with you?” asked Alex, stepping forward and making his priest chuckle as he embraced him.

“Yes, Saverio is her father. He wants his unconscious daughter baptized.”

“Then count me in.”

Father Kelly went to the sink and washed and dried his hands. He moved over the bed tray and set up his sacrament kit, kissing his stole’s cross and slipping it behind his neck. He took out his holy water pitcher and set out his anointing oil. They all stood around her bed and held hands as the priest asked for her full name.

Father Kelly picked up the small bottle of water began to pour a little out onto the top of her forehead three times. “Maia, Catrina Lenci, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” The cold water dripped down the bridge of her nose to the BiPAP mask and rivulets dripped onto her eyelids and down her cheeks as if she was crying as it pooled in the crease of her neck. Father Kelly made a sign of the cross with the anointing oil on her forehead and as they prayed, Maia’s eyes flinched and she squeezed Paul’s hand. He wiped her cheek with a Kleenex from the box and as he did the priest finished praying, Maia’s head moved a little towards Joey and her shoulders relaxed into the pillow.

“Hey,” said Paul, pointing at her as Father Kelly continued with the anointing of the sick prayers. Joey looked at her monitor and it seemed fine, her heart rate was a little more elevated than what it was before.

“Maia Catrina Lenci,” said the priest louder. Her eyes fluttered open. Paul squeezed her hand and she turned her face to him and he smiled at her. She tried to focus on him and hearing the Latin her eyes blinked faster.

Father Kelly stopped and smiled at the girl, continuing with the prayers in Latin as they all did the Kyrie Eliason. Joey beamed and tears dripped down his face seeing her. He picked up her other hand and held it and she tried to focus on the rest of them there. She turned her head back towards Paul and closed her eyes again and wouldn’t release his hand. He kissed the side of her head.

“Everything okay in here?” asked Dr. Brown, rubbing hand sanitizer into his hands and looking fresh as if he was just starting his shift.

“She looked as if she was waking up,” said Joey.

“She’s stabilizing, which I didn’t expect her to do after resuscitation. This girl is a fighter, I’ll say that much for her.

“What should we do?”

“Let her rest. Were her eyes open?”

“They fluttered open. She moved her head from one side to the other and moved towards Paul.”

“She’s actually squeezing my hand more than before.”

“That’s progress. What did you do--”

“I baptized her,” said Father Kelly.

“I see,” said Dr. Brown.

“Should we wipe her face with cool water?” asked Joey.

“Let’s allow her to rest. She had a rough start to the day. The facial reaction and head movement, as well as the muscle movement in the hand, are all great marks of progress. She may wake later.”

Joey sighed and kissed the side of her head and his and Paulie’s eyes met.

“Thank you, Father Kelly,” said Paul, opening his arms for a hug. Father Kelly obliged him.

“Where’s your mama?”

“In the waiting room.”

“How is she taking this?”

“Terribly.”

“I will go see her.”

Joey watched the old priest saunter out of the room and met Paul’s eyes as they both held her hands.

“She’s doing better, Joe.”

Joey nodded and wiped a tear from his face. “It’s too soon yet. She could have just rallied briefly. Her soul might have been waiting for just that.”

“Hey, don’t cry—”

“I can’t help it. Seeing her open her eyes, even for a moment—I wish they would wake her up so we can see her.”

“You want her to connect.”

“Yeah.”

“Doc says wait. We wait.”

“What about your press conference?”

“I handled it.”

“I will say he handled it,” said Alex, pushing his blazer back and stuffing his hands into his pockets.

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