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

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15. Debriefing

Joey sipped a cup of Starbucks coffee while he awaited Paul and Saverio’s arrival. He texted them both that there would be a family meeting that morning before anyone went upstairs to see Maia. As he watched for the Hummer, he stood there at the entrance to the parking garage. Joey’s phone buzzed. Here, said Paul’s text.

He looked up and saw the vehicle he hated the most, Paul’s triple black Escalade, otherwise known as The Black Lung, with Mack behind the wheel and the windows closed. Joey opened the passenger door and let the smoke waft out, getting hit in the face with it before climbing inside, only to immediately open the sunroof for more to escape.

Joey chastised Mack for not doing it sooner with only a look and Mack apologized. “OMG, this is so over!” Then turned to them in the back seat, expecting only Paul and Saverio. There sat Paulie, Saverio, and Rosa.

“Why are you here?” He asked Rosa.

“I want to see her.”

“No, absolutely not. They had to sedate her last night because she was getting upset.”

“How is she?” Asked Paul.

Joey shook his head. “She’s ... not what I expected. Maia’s probably closer to what you expected. She’s not a little girl even though she’s tiny like one. Maia’s got grit and maturity. She swears. I warned her that was not acceptable. Neither is her nicotine habit. You are back on the patch tomorrow. So light them up, what’s left is going in the garbage. No argument, it’s non-negotiable. She’s going to be oxygen dependent for a while.”

“She’s a fan of your music. Do not take that wrong. Don’t get how you get. Lastly, she guessed that I’m your partner and wants to know why you are not out.”

“That’s none of her business! How dare she even bring that up! How did she know?”

“According to Maia, she was raised by a pair of queens and a lesbian, so she has pretty astute gaydar. Furthermore, Jim and Jon are her dads and she doesn’t want that to change regardless of their recent abandonment. Maia’s afraid something happened to them.  When she got upset last night she said they were the only parents she ever had and didn’t understand why they left her with Cat, which is not just an animal, it’s what she calls her mother. There’s a lot more to Catrina than she’s going to tell us right away, but that she hinted that Catrina had manic episodes and violent tendencies for property destruction.”

“Look at that man’s caddy,” said Rosa. “She’s probably a mental case like her mother.”

Joey rolled his eyes, ignoring the walking PSA for Senior Mental Instability. “When it comes to the guys, she said they were supposed to be home in September. She doesn’t know why they didn’t answer their email and she’s tried repeatedly to reach them.”

“They will answer to me for this.”

“We need it calm in there. I mean it, Paulie, no drama. And Rosa, I swear to God, you’re not allowed in the room. I don’t care how much you want to have it out with this child, you cannot see her. You cannot even talk to her, so we should get you a cab back to the hotel.”

“Saverio, ease into it with her. She’s been through a lot. I’m just asking you guys to be gentle with Maia. The goal right now is to get her well and out of there and home so she’s out of the public eye and we can work through everything.”

“Is she awake yet?”

“No, she’s still sleeping, but she should be waking up soon. We had to put her back on the BiPAP last night because she just wasn’t getting enough oxygen on the tube. Please, Paulie, regardless of whatever comes out of her mouth, be nice. That’s all I’m asking.”

‎“Okay, Joe, I get it. Mama, you’re not allowed in there. Why don’t you wait here until Mack gets me inside, then Mick can drive you back to the hotel when he goes back to get some sleep?”

‎“No, I’m going upstairs. You don’t tell me what to do! I don’t know who you think you are Paul Anthony Michael Lenci, but you do not tell me, your mother, what to do.

Saverio finally spoke. “Please Paulie, I need your mama.”

Paul looked at Joey. Infuriated, Joey agreed to nothing. He did not want Rosa anywhere near the girl. Rosa was coming unglued and no one in Paul’s family ever admitted it until after another onslaught of insane behavior was exhibited by Rosa. She frequently lashed out but they always protected her toxicity by refusing to acknowledge that she’s capable of such violence even if they had just witnessed it.

“I mean it. You go nowhere near her. She’s very fragile. I’m telling hospital security that you aren’t allowed in there. So, you might as well go do something else today.”

“Joey, she won’t go in. Dad says he needs her.”

“Fine, whatever,” said Joey conceding, realizing that now he has three children to babysit instead of just the one. “But we are going in before you. Give us at least a five-minute head start,” said Joey, opening the Black Lung’s door. “Have another coffin nail while you are at it. One less to toss tomorrow.”

To Mack, he said, “I won’t forget this, Mack.”

“Ignore him, Mack. You were following my orders.”

As Mack got out of the driver’s side door, Paul said, “Hey Joey, I think today is stressful enough, don’t you? How about you let go of something irrelevant for a change?”

“Irrelevant? Irrelevant? Your health is hardly irrelevant to me,” said Joey, slamming the door and walking away from the Caddy SUV.

“I’ll see you,” his mother said to Paulie. “You are a good son.”

‘Good son? who was she trying to play?' thought Joey. Paul never met her standards, ever. No matter how much money he threw at Rosa, paying her bills, buying their condo, monthly paid expenses, lavish trips and such, no matter what he did it wasn’t enough. He didn’t marry a woman and give her grandchildren. Paul wasn’t going to carry on the Lenci name. That was unforgivable and she threw that in his face at every holiday and gladly took whatever he gave her. Paul looked at her strangely and lit another cigarette as Mack helped them down and onto the pavement.

‘Good son, my ass,’ thought Joey looking into the car at Paul whose strange expression matched what he was thinking. That did not stop Paul from spitefully taking a deep first drag off the cigarette. Paul just didn't get how Joey felt about them. Every time he saw a cigarette in Paul’s hand, Joey thought of the ravages of emphysema, COPD, and the lung cancer he saw while he worked in a hospital. This time, he thought of a closing coffin lid as he shut the Black Lung's door, quickly blocking that morbid thought from his mind just then, wondering why he thought of that right then and there.

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